“I think what makes our friendship special is that we don’t care about what our background is. … Do not make our differences an issue because the difference is the thing that mencorakkan (frames) diversity of Malaysia.” - Mufida “You should really try to come out of your comfort zone, and make friends with people from other races. … Embracing a friendship is to do small, meaningful things for each other that really counts.” - Melissa Yau
Born in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, Mufida is a Bengkulu Malay who has resided in Sarawak for the past 19 years. Melissa is a Chinese-Cantonese who has grown up in Selangor. Through the interview, we were given the opportunity to find out more about the story of how their friendship blossomed.
When asked about what they loved about Malaysia, Mufida started off by mentioning she loved the culture, friends and food here. In comparison, Melissa talked about the diversity of cultures in Malaysia and how her involvement in The Rojak Projek allowed her to get to know more about them.
The session was filled with fun and laughter as the girls recounted their first meeting with each other. When asked about their favourite Malaysian dish they could not live without, it was surprising to know that both of them shared the same dish - nasi lemak. They shared about their various moments together that made them closer and how it feels to be friends with someone from a different cultural background.
What was high school life like for you?
Mufida: I attended high school in Johor Bahru (Sekolah Menengah Islam Hidayah). High school experience is so much fun because it was the most hectic phase in your life. I think it's because of SPM and living in hostels. We did everything together. The best memory is when you had fun and even struggled together. I used to lepak (hangout) at either my friend's dorm (dormitory) or in school.
Melissa: I attended high school at Bandar Utama Damansara 3. I can agree that high school was very hectic and a very memorable part of my life. If you give me a chance to go to high school again, yes, I will go again. I had SPM, tuition and basketball, so it was very busy but very fun. Like every morning, you see your friends and can talk to them. For me, my school is near 1U (One Utama), so we always go to McDonald's or like 1U.
Did you mix around with other classmates of different races/ethnicities?
Mufida: Coming from an all-Muslim school, there wasn’t much diversity in terms of race. There are some different races that we can recognize, but probably just two or three from my school. We still just mix like normal friends.
Melissa: For me, yes, my class consists of Chinese, Indian, Malay. So I actually mixed with them, like I sat behind a Malay and Indian student, so sometimes people will turn their head behind and talk to us. Sometimes we want to ask how to do homework and stuff, then we can ask them because they’ll be very good.
Can you share with us what makes this friendship special?
Mufida: I think what makes our friendship special is that we don’t care about our background, we just like being friends. We understand each other and accept what each other is lacking. It’s like because we are from different races, so we mostly don’t know about each other's culture so sometimes we need to accept each other’s practices that are different.
Melissa: Yeah, we didn’t put race as our priority, but we found it interesting to actually mix with someone from a different race as we get to know more about their culture. If you just mix with Chinese, you know what it is like, but if you get to mix with another culture, you find that they actually do certain things that I didn’t know of before. That’s special, I guess.
What language do you guys speak to each other?
Mufida: We usually speak English with each other.
Melissa: I’m waiting for Mufida to speak Chinese to me. Usually, we speak in English, but sometimes it’s rojak (mixed). Sometimes she hears some Chinese words because sometimes my friends and I speak in Chinese to each other. If Mufida heard some words she might understand, she would ask us to confirm the meaning of those words.
How and where did you two meet?
Mufida: Actually the first time we met each other was during Foundation in Taylors (University). Melissa was a friend’s (Jia Hui) friend, and she will bring Melissa along when we eat somewhere or anything. My first impression of Melissa is that she’s really friendly because she's always been the one who starts a conversation among our group of friends.
Melissa: The first time we met and actually talked together was in one of the restaurants in Taylors. We had lunch together. From there, we ate lunch together everyday.
Can you share some memorable stories about your friendship?
Mufida: Melissa invited me and a couple of our friends to her house during Chinese New Year. It was a new experience and I had the opportunity to know Melissa’s high school friend as well. I felt touched and appreciated from her small gesture.
Melissa: A funny moment for us would be that time we went to Penang for a trip with a group of our friends (including Beth and Jia Hui). We visited one of the theme parks in Penang. On one of the rides Mufida and I went on, we had to pull a string that would cause us to fly down. I am not sure about Mufida, but since it was a pair ride, I pulled her to ride it with me. After discussion, we decided Mufida would pull the string but she was too scared to. It was funny how she only pulled the string after 30 seconds passed. We shouted on our way down.
If you could swap life with one of your friends for a week, who would it be, and why?
Mufida: I think it’s either Melissa or Beth. Because if it is Melissa's life, I know her mom, I know her sister and I know some of Melissa’s friends. I think it’s easier for me if I need to swap.
And then another one I think is Beth because I don’t really know her that’s why I’m curious about knowing how her life is. She has two little dogs that are cute but I can’t touch them. Once when we went to her house, it came into the room. Actually Beth didn’t allow the dog to come in because I couldn't touch it, but the dog came inside the room through the toilet door. Suddenly I realize something beside me, like a soft thing and when I see it, I terus menjerit (screamed straight away). The dog also was shocked because I suddenly shouted at it. In the end, Beth took the dog away. If I swap to her place, I think I can have one full day to play with the dog.
Melissa: I think I’ll swap with you (Mufida) or Beth also because Jia Hui is quite similar to mine for her life. For Beth right, she’s really good at art. When we go to her house, she has a lot of sticker chops and her drawings are really nice. We also ask her to teach us how to do the art and craft stuff.
Do you think making friends of different races is important?
Mufida: I think that we are lacking the exposure to being friends with other races. People need to experience it themselves because it's actually fun. I mean, if you are always with your own race, then you will only be used to your own adat (traditions), your own thing. I’m afraid that people will grow up without being able to accept other people.
Melissa: I feel like it’s important to make friends with other races because usually parents would tell you not to get a Malay boyfriend. But then I think you should really try to come out of your comfort zone, and make friends with people from other races. I mean you can learn from each other, since there are so many things that you don’t know about other cultures and maybe their culture has something that’s positive, then you can take it and apply it with yourself as well.
Have you ever encountered difficulties in understanding the other person's culture?
Mufida: I think for Melissa, I don’t really have difficulties in coping with her culture.
Melissa: Maybe choosing places to eat, you have to be more careful. You can’t just be like “Oh, want to eat this, want to eat that.” Like see whether if halal or not but how we overcome it by choosing together and we usually agree.
What have you learned from your friendship?
Mufida: I think a lot of it for me will be how I adapt with new culture because, you know I’m from a high school that is fully Muslim. When I entered Taylors, actually I wasn’t culture shocked because before this in high school, I joined debates. Usually if we go to tournaments, we get to know more people from different backgrounds. So it’s not really challenging for me, but there are times when I feel like people around me are not doing the same thing as me. That’s why I feel like it is kadang susah (a bit hard).
I’m grateful that Melissa will listen and not judge. Once, when something happened, I told Melissa and then Melissa said “it’s ok, just be yourself, people don’t know what you’ve gone through” and said she will support me. I felt so relieved and so grateful.
Melissa: I guess it’s like always to be accepting and tolerant, and think of others before yourself first. I feel like every friendship has that, not only friendships with other races. Because even coming from different families, sometimes they have a different mindset. So you also have to accept it. It’s not just for different races, so if you make friends with different races, why can't you accept?
What was a shocking discovery you made about each other's culture/cultural practices?
Mufida: I think for me first it’s their religion because before this I thought all Chinese is Christian. And so that’s why one time when I went to Melissa’s house during Chinese New Year, I asked Jia Hui and Melissa about it. The other thing is that I just knew that it’s not really compulsory for you to wear Cheongsam during Chinese New Year.
Melissa: I don’t know what I’m shocked about. Maybe like all the small things. Like you have to pray in a certain direction, which I didn’t know about before.
Is there anything you want others to know about your friendship?
Mufida: I think it’s how valuable the experience is to be friends with other races. I want to let people know that sometimes they have this mentality, like “it’s ok lah, I don’t have friends from other races; I don't need to and I don't want to”. For me, it doesn't require a platform or a medium to actually get to be friends with them. You just make friends like anyone you meet.
Melissa: I don’t think it’s a problem to make friends with other races and I think it’s actually very fun also.
How do you think Malaysians can embrace each other?
Mufida: I think we should not make our differences an issue because the difference is the one thing that mencorakkan (frames) diversity of Malaysia. One thing that I realised is that Malaysia always talks about how diverse we are. I mean like we have different races, but like there are less incentives shown to actually make it special.
Melissa: I feel like to embrace a friendship is the small things you do for each other, which counts a lot. Sometimes, like Mufida says, we think of her because of differences in culture. We would try to help her with things like finding halal food or anything related to the culture. Like praying, we respect that she has to pray. I think these small things make our friendship become closer.
What is your vision and hopes for Malaysia?
Mufida: I hope that Malaysia and Malaysians will be more rational towards things. Especially not jump to the conclusion. What I see on Twitter when something or an issue is happening, most people will say it based on their point of view. They say, “why do people do this like that?” But they don’t really consider the reason behind why it is happening; they rarely find out even if the media expose what is actually happening. Rarely will people read the actual story; people just want to hear gossip. I think we need to have a good mindset. That would be what could make Malaysia better.
Melissa: Malaysia is doing quite well, but sometimes there’s a little bit of bad influence from some people like badmouthing other races. I hope that people that have a really positive mindset can like to mix more with the people that have bad influences. So they will get used to each other, and understand each other better.
What is your advice for people who do not have friends of different race(s)?
Mufida: I think the only way is to start from me, because I have neighbors from different races, right? I always feel like I want to start approaching them but I don’t know how or when. I always think, “ok later la, maybe once I’m older, it might be a bit easier for us to say hi with them”. Actually, we should just start.
Melissa: I feel like everyone should just like to make friends with everyone because we are all human right? So just make friends! If you are picky about friends, you would end up with none. So just go for it.
It was truly heartwarming for us to have witnessed such a beautiful friendship, especially when Mufida and Melissa both talked about how they were able to work out their cultural differences and be respectful towards one another. Specifically, we found it very admirable that both of them were very attentive towards each other, and would prioritise the other’s happiness above their own.
When it came down to asking about their opinions on friendship with different ethnicities, we resonated with their idea that friendship should be of no boundaries and that difference is something to be embraced, not avoided.
Based on their friendship, we would like to encourage everyone to expand their friend groups and to make valuable connections with people transcending race, culture and backgrounds. Like what Mufida mentioned during the interview, sometimes all we need to do is take the first step to reach out to someone else. We hope that their friendship will continue to be steadfast for many more years to come!
___ Interviewee: Melissa Yau Pui Yi & Mufida Qatrunnada Azzahra Interviewer: Evelyn Chen Siaw Yin & Gan Zhi Xuan Written by: Evelyn Chen Siaw Yin & Gan Zhi Xuan Edited by: Yasmin Mortaza