“Find positive people, and don't just look at the negative side of things. Every human is born to be positive - even criminals have positive attitudes. Everything and every person has a bright side. Take the bright side, don’t take the negative side.” - Arthon Lim
Arthon is a Chinese Buddhist Penangite, while Vinnitha is an Indian Catholic born in Penang but raised in Selangor. They are currently living in Saudi Arabia and have been happily married for over a year now.
The couple met while studying in the same college, but got into a relationship much later (after they started working together). It was not an easy journey, but they were determined to make the relationship work. Both of them believe that understanding and giving each other space is the most important in a happy marriage. We listened to their experience being in a rojak marriage and how they combined the best of both cultures in a foreign land!
They are such positive and bright people, and this really left a deep impression on us. Like they said, looking at the positive aspects makes our life much easier. We enjoyed talking to the loving couple who shared their love for hawker food and the mixed (or rojak) culture in Malaysia. Arthon and Vinnitha are a proud parent of one (at the time of the interview, they were waiting for this bundle of joy!).
How and where did you two meet?
Vinnitha: We studied in the same college, I was his senior of 2 years. Back then, we were just friends. Eventually, he joined my workplace as a junior. I left to Saudi Arabia for work shortly after that. A year later, Arthon found the courage to ask me out, but I said no because it’s a long distance relationship. He didn’t give up of course, and after several attempts, I said “yes” to dating Arthon.
Arthon: She didn’t even talk to me at all! It was a difficult courtship and I played every card I had. The challenge made me want to pursue her even more! I came to know that Vinnitha would take bi-monthly trips back home, as she is by nature a homely person. So, I took the opportunity to hang out with her family members as her “good friend” and after several trips back and forth, we found ourselves becoming a couple. When an opportunity arose to work in Saudi Arabia as well, I took it and never looked back.
Can you share a funny or a good memory you had with your family?
Arthon: One of the funniest memories I have is that everytime i visit her family, the first thing her father offers is “Arthon, let us play cards or poker and gamble”. That is such an Indian and Chinese practice combined! It’s Chinese New Year every night at her place. I thought it would only be a Chinese culture thing, but surprisingly it's part of her family as well so I am happy with that. I will always take a shower when I arrive so I’ll have good luck before we play.
Vinnitha: We are nomads every time we return to Malaysia because we don’t own a house there. In Penang, we stay with his family, and when we come back to Selangor, we stay with my family. We don't demand for a separate space and because of this, we adjust quite well. My parent’s place is quite small since I have a big family (5 siblings), so we have to sleep somewhere else if anyone comes by. We’ll spend time playing PS4 or chit chat, so it’s quite fun actually. He never had any problem fitting in or complained about anything.
Arthon: For my family, our style is that we sleep on the floor. My siblings will be sleeping beside me even though I am 28, my brother is 18 or 19, and my sister is 24. When we got married, she came in and just slept in between them! When I go to her house, I sleep with her brothers and we will be sleeping outside the living room.
What was your parents' reaction when they knew you two were dating someone from different ethnicities?
Vinnitha: Firstly, our religion was different - I am a Catholic and he is a Buddhist. There was not much of a challenge because my parents were very understanding. Of course they hoped we would marry someone who has the same religion, but they could see how happy I was and how good he treated me. I didn't receive any backlash or anything. They were very supportive of my decision.
Arthon: As for me, I think I had some challenges when it comes to breaking stereotypes. The typical Chinese mentality is usually a Chinese girl dating a Indian guy, because she likes the way they speak and he looks sexy. But it’s the opposite for us. When we started dating, everyone stared. She refused to hold my hand for the first year of dating because of this. Family wise, any Chinese family wants a Chinese man to marry a Chinese girl, but I’m a bit nnaughty and thick skinned, so I ignored my family's culture, customs, and decisions..
Vinnitha: His immediate family members are very nice and accepting, including his maternal grandmother. 3 months into dating, I surprised him in his home to see the reaction of his mother and his grandmother because I didn't want to enter a relationship that would be problematic. But they were very accepting, and it was only the uncles and aunts who had their doubts.
What was your wedding like?
Arthon: We combined everything. Faye was there - she experienced it. As we know, Chinese have this gate crushing ceremony and tea ceremony. In an Indian-Christian culture, the pair has to be married in the church.
Vinnitha: In Indian culture, one day before the wedding there is this ceremony called the “nellengu” like only for the bride. We made sure we followed all the ceremonies but mixed it. For our attire, we wore Chinese clothing for our Registration of Marriage, and for the church wedding, it was English, and the dinner reception, it was Indian-themed.
Did you face any cultural shock? If yes, how did you overcome it?
Vinnitha: In his culture they share the same spoon. He said it’s convenient since “you don’t have to wash extra dishes”. It’s fine, but for me, I need a spoon for each dish. Another example would be when he says, “I don't mind if there’s leftover food, but I would prefer fresh food than food in the fridge”. These are the little clashes we face, but we respect these differences, so we don't have a big problem.
Arthon: I will give only 2 words: “Freedom and culture”. Like she said about the food. If she wants to eat it that way, she can do it. I can eat my way. She watches me eat with chopsticks and bowls, while she is eating with hands. Sometimes I eat with my hands and she teases me saying, “ayy you’re so Indian today”. There is no right or wrong way to do things because that’s how our culture is growing up.
As for similarity between the cultures, I think it revolves around food - the generosity to give food. If you go to a chinese house, the first thing they will ask you is what you want to drink. Even if you don't want to drink anything, they will give you some water. Probably even offer to share some biscuits or something.
Vinnitha: That’s probably a Malaysian thing. I have family members who are Muslims, and it’s the same everywhere. Even if you go to a Chinese house, Indian house or Malay house, you will be offered food and drinks.
What is it like at home? How are you raising your children in this rojak (mixed) culture?
Vinnitha: We plan to introduce them to all languages - English, Malay, Mandarin and even Tamil. Of course, we want to introduce them to all cultures, but slowly so we don’t overwhelm them.
Arthon: He will probably speak some Arabic also, “Habibi is good.”
What are your hopes and vision for your children?
Vinnitha: To have my children going to school and not having to choose a box for Indian/ Chinese/ Malay or lain lain. There should be only one box that is Malaysian. Even when I came back to Malaysia recently, I had to submit a Covid form - what did my race have to do with Covid? I don't think it is necessary to display our race or ethnic background, so my vision is very simple. We are united as Malaysians, but at the same time, this categorisation could be a bad influence on the future generations, which might make them think highly of their own background. So that should go off. When the box becomes Malaysian, we will become more united.
So your family is currently based in Saudi Arabia. Do you have any plans to come back to Malaysia?
Vinnitha: We would love to be in Malaysia, but of course we have to look at the current economic situation as well. If we go back today, we might not get jobs, so we decided to stay here for awhile. People ask us if we want to migrate somewhere else, but we always say we will go back to Malaysia because there is no other country like Malaysia, you know? We do want to raise our children in Malaysia. In shaa Allah, maybe in 2 to 3 years time, once they need to start school. It will be better then, so we can introduce all our cultures back home!
Arthon: Time has changed, and Covid has changed a lot of things drastically too. As for me, home is wherever our family is. The future is bright and we will “go with the flow of the world”.
Can you share some advice for itner-racial or culturally diverse couples out there?
Arthon: Find positive people, and don't just look at the negative side of things. Every human is born to be positive - even criminals have positive attitudes. Everything and every person has a bright side. Take the bright side, don’t take the negative side.
Sure, we had some cultural differences, but there are so many other plus points! I mean, who doesn't have problems? We are all humans after all. Instead of words, take actions. She’s my wife today because she did not listen to whatever people were saying - especially the negative things. People probably said that I was a playboy and stuff, but that’s only one side of the story. She ignored words from all the other people and took action to really get to know me. She took her time to find out about me before making her own judgement. That is the solution to any cultural clashes, really.
Vinnitha: Definitely - ignore the negative side. I had people who came over to me and were like, “are you sure you wanna marry him? He is like this, he is like that..'' But if I listened to them, I wouldn't have led a happy married life right now. If you love somebody, it should not bother you. If that person is having some problems, it is because of the surrounding people, a bad influence or something.
Marrying him was not decided in one day. I was very practical, I noted down all the pros and cons of marrying him. I made sure it was not influenced by what other people were telling me. My decision was totally based on me, myself, and I. I did not let anyone else take the upperhand in our relationship. If this works for you - why not? At the end of the day, marriage is about unity. We hold hands and not let anyone come into the circle. I have his back, he will have mine.
Any tips for newly-wed couples who may be in the same boat?
Vinnitha: Everyone said the first year of marriage is gonna be the toughest year. We actually enjoyed it. I think a lot of people found it tough because you don’t like something about that person and see it as a problem. If we have different opinions, we don't fight or scream and all that. We just talk it out.
Arthon: Listen to others - especially our elders (parents, grandparents, etc.). This applies to everyones, regardless of race. Sure, they lived in a different era where there is no technology, social media, and all that. You know, writing letters instead of having face-to-face interactions. However, don’t ignore their advice because they have experienced it all.
How can we embrace one another better as a nation?
Vinnitha: Respect. Respecting each other's culture and not feeling like “my culture is better than yours”. Some people are still ignorant about other cultures that exist in Malaysia, but it’s time to learn to respect them. When I was younger, respect was much better between the cultures. When our fellow Muslims were fasting, we didn't bring food around them and everything, but now you see during Ramadan, people just walk around with food and everything. Our way of life is evolving, but I hope it will evolve for the better.
Arthon: I also remember growing up being stereotyped by our parent’s generation. There are sayings like, “if you don’t behave, an Indian uncle is going to catch you”. Back then, people said it without realising that it would be racist, it was just how we described people. I hope this stereotype vanishes in our generation.
Unity is created without ignorance. Back then, if the Indians were celebrating Deepavali, the Chinese community would go, “there’s so much traffic jam because it’s deepawali”. Why did you go out in the first place? Shouldn’t you make way for their celebration and avoid traffic in the same area? Or even better, celebrate together with them! Personally, I would probably dance along with them in the streets. We need to embrace other cultures rather than ignoring them. This would make Malaysia a better place and strengthen the unity of Malaysians.
From this interview I learnt that Respect and Trust are the most important pillars to build up a healthy and everlasting relationship. The way Arthon and Vinnitha opened up to each other’s cultures inspired us a lot.
I love how they treat each other and tease each other throughout the interview, keeping the spark between them alive. I grew up in a mixed-cultured family. It was not common back then, but seeing all these beautiful interracial couples nowadays makes me feel extremely euphoric! In my opinion, mixed cultured couples are very unique and bring out the best of both worlds to their kids. I learnt a lot through this interview.
As an international student, it’s really good to see all the love Malaysia has to offer irrespective of race, color and gender. It was amazing to interview them and learn about their experience on intercultural marriage. They gave very sincere advice on this matter which made us believe that mixed culture relationships can be successful and beautiful.
___ Interviewer: Ramisha Adil and Alex Oi, supported by Faye Lim and Masturina Hani Mansor (Wafa) Written by: Ramisha Adil and Alex Oi Written by: Yasmin Mortaza