Updated: Nov 23, 2021
“To trust that I know what you want and you can trust that I am going to support you, I am going to trust that you are going to support me and when things are not happening, I cannot say why you are sabotaging.” - Carliff
“I want my husband to be the best kind of human that he can be, and he wants me to be the best kind of human that I can be, in order to do that, we need to support each other whenever support is needed.” - Niney
Niney Chong from Sabah and Carliff Rizal Carleel from Selangor have been married for thirteen years. Carliff’s parents are from Kelantan, whereby his mum is a Kelantanese Malay and his father has Chinese heritage. Niney’s dad is a third generation Chinese from China while her mum is a mixture of Javanese, Pakistani, Kadazan, Bajau and Bruneian descent. They have two children, a twelve year old son named Carliff Isaac Chong Li and an eight year old daughter named Cahya Nara Chong En.
Carliff shared that he loves his mother’s Kelantanese Malay food the most, such as daging bumbu and nasi kelambu, whereas Niney enjoys Jamu, Belacan, Sambal, Ambuyat and Sabah’s Bambangan. Despite the challenges they went through before getting together and the opposition from their families, the couple decided to follow their heart. It was really inspiring to see how this couple are willing to go the extra mile and maintain their loving relationship.
Were there any challenges before getting married?
Niney: During Chinese New Year, I thought it was a good time for me to introduce him to my family. But at that time, I just finalised my divorce and my family didn’t even know about it. When I arrived home, everyone was asking me about my ex-husband and I told them I divorced him and then I showed them my boyfriend. I think the challenges were to stand on our grounds and the difficulty in getting a divorce for myself.
Carliff: I think the only challenge was in the beginning because people took sides, there were dramas and a lot of other things happening.
What was your parents reaction when they knew you two were dating someone who is from different ethnicities?
Niney: I think my parents are very open in terms of dating other races because my father and my mum are living proof of mixed marriage.
Carliff: My parents are okay because when I was in high school my girlfriend was a Chinese girl. So, it’s a norm in my family to see me growing up with a Chinese girl. I think because there is a little bit of Chinese blood inside us, and we all look Chinese because we have fair skin. We tend to also find our spouses who are either Chinese or Chinese-looking.
What is important in your marriage and why?
Carliff: I think what is important in marriage is trust and honesty. It’s tough because we are not brought up to just be honest and just say what we feel. When I was growing up, we were secretive about what we wanted because we were afraid that people might sabotage us. So, I think the most important thing is to voice out for ourselves. Secondly, is to trust and support one another no matter what happens. I cannot doubt that someone is going to sabotage me and trust that they will help me.
Niney: For me, it’s definitely communication because I like to talk as I am an extrovert. Although I think ever since MCO (Movement Control Order), I am becoming more introverted, but I still love to talk and he doesn’t. He does when he is angry, but lately he has been speaking out, which is good.
Another thing that is important is to listen. Both sides should speak up and also listen. One of my goals this year is to ask him questions so that he can tell me things and to just shut my mouth and only give feedback when I am asked for feedback. I guess another thing that is very important in a marriage, especially when you have children, is letting the other partner take care of the children in his or her own ways. Although we use our respective methods to take care of the children, we need to trust each other because our intention is to always give our best for the children.
What similarities do you find between Sabahan and Kelantanese culture?
Niney: One of the similarities is having small towns. Since both states are next to the border, we have mixed cultures. like we are infused with the neighbouring country’s cultures.
Carliff: We have similar food cultures as both of us love to eat. Another similarity is family gatherings. My family loves to have all these gatherings and used to have them every weekend. Same thing with her as well because every weekend is like a party, so I think this is quite aligned and similar. The people are also very entrepreneurial. Like my Kelantanese family, half or majority of us have a business mindset, sometimes we are also quite entrepreneurial.
Did you face any cultural shock? If yes, how did you overcome it?
Niney: One of the challenges is language. I speak a lot as I’m a Conference speaker, and if I need to speak in Malay, I will still speak in my Sabahan accent as I am more comfortable with that. But I am nothing like how my mum-in-law pictured me as a very polite and “lemah lembut” lady. So, sometimes the way I speak is making my mum-in-law very uncomfortable.
My family also has a very strong sense of togetherness, but his family very much respects private space. Another thing is his family is very independent, as the children can just go out, and do anything they want, but I have extremely overprotective parents. My dad was so protective over me that when I first went to college, he sat in class next to me, for one whole month. I think the solution is to pick our battles, because not every battle has to be fought. For example, my children shouldn’t have any Chong in their names, but Bin or Binti instead. Since my father insisted on it, Carliff compromised, so that my children still have their Chinese names in their birth certificate.
Carliff: Language is a challenge. One of the examples was when I went back to Kota Kinabalu, her brother was playing around with Niney, and then he said, “Niney, aku gigit pantat kau”. I was very shocked when I heard this. Actually, pantat means bum over there, but pantat is a Malay word for lady parts (explicit: vagina) here in Semenanjung (Peninsular) Malaysia. It’s like we are talking in Bahasa Malaysia, but we are not. My mum got offended many times although she was speaking in a very polite way, but in Sabahan dialect.
Another thing is when I go to her place, I do not have personal space. I learned that I have to find my own space. When going out with Niney’s family, everyone just does whatever they want, it is just chaos. In my family, we can do whatever we want, but her family is different because activities will be carried out together with all the family members. Actually we just have to live with it, there’s nothing we need to confront, or change anything. Today, I have accepted our differences. In the beginning it was tough, as I had to learn to adapt to their practices.
What is it like at home? How are you raising your children in this rojak (mixed) culture?
Niney & Carliff: We want our children to have great experiences and memories celebrating their cultural diversity. Since we have strong family cultures, we still celebrate Hari Raya with our children, and cook some Hari Raya food because we want them to have those experiences and know their roots and cultural background if one day they move somewhere outside of Malaysia. We still put up the Chinese New Year decorations and Christmas trees, because we like the presence and it is a thing that we will wait for the whole year. As for food, Niney cooks Chinese, Western and Malay food, and she even learned how to cook my mother’s food - sometimes better!
What are your vision and hopes for your children?
Niney & Carliff: First and foremost, I want my children to be kind human beings, because I feel that nothing beats being kind. I think that being kind with a big heart will open up so many opportunities for them. Another thing is doing their best at anything that they do and give it their all.
Can you share some advice for inter-racial or culturally diverse couples out there?
Ms. Niney: To communicate ahead about the kind of people we are and respect each other. For example, if Carliff expects me to be the kind of woman who stays home, takes care of the children, and makes sure that everytime he comes back everything has been settled, it wouldn’t happen, because I’m just not that kind of person. Another thing is back again to pick your battle. Not everything you want to fight and win.
Mr. Carliff: The most powerful thing is to make sure the relationship is clear: What do we want? Why is it important? What do we want to create? Then whatever comes we can handle it. If we don’t be clear and don’t say it, then we will never have that kind of life we want. There is a risk of rejection. But if we get over that rejection, then everything will be clear and okay.
Any life lessons from your marriage so far?
Niney: It is very much about parenting. I am very lucky, because when I gave birth to my son, Carliff took the night shift to take care of him for 4 months, while I took the day shift. In our relationship, we do not stereotype that the husband will do certain things, and the wife must do certain things. I think that he is more disciplined, he will stop working on time for the family. I am the one who is more workaholic, and he will support me. Just don’t get drowned in the stereotyping of how a father or a mother will look in a marriage, because being in a tag team is the most important thing. I want my husband to be the best person that he can be, and he wants me to be the best person that I can be. In order to do that, we need to support each other whenever support is needed..
Carliff: We work as a team, we already have a goal as a family, and we support each other to get there and not sabotage it. Again it boils down to the first question about what is the most important thing for us in a relationship, which is trust and honesty in communication. We also quite realise that everything that we do, everything else, all the breakdowns come down to communication and us being unwilling to just tell the truth.
How can we embrace one another better as a nation?
Niney: I believe that people need to step up and become leaders who are open to collaboration and work together with each other towards a mutual mission to live harmoniously. Be kinder than how you feel. When you love yourself, then you can love the people who are in your space. Another thing is to stop cancel culture. Cancel culture is like if you don’t like someone, you rally everyone to ignore them. Collaborate and be kinder instead.
Carliff: There is going to always be a small minority of people who no matter what, their values do not align with us. But for the majority of people, I think we can find a common ground, even though we believe in different things. We need to pick our battles. We don’t have to fight for every single thing, because we have limited time, energy and resources.
Second is about self. Do what you need to do so you are the best version of yourself. As long as you are not hurting anyone or taking away other people’s opportunities, just do it if you feel that the thing is bringing you closer toward your ultimate self. As long as we are focusing and working on ourselves for the ultimate goal then everything is fine.
We love how Niney and Carliff make a wonderful tag team and provide unconditional support for each other no matter what happens. We learned that communication plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy relationship especially in marriage. Apart from that, listening is equally important because conversation happens in two ways - when one person talks, the other person has to listen instead of talking so that the information can be passed on to the person and also to avoid misunderstanding.
We also strongly agree that we should not be drowned in the stereotyping and make assumptions about the partner’s duties in a relationship.
___ Interviewer: Ivy Ng Shie Yin & Rica Hiew Sheng Mei, facilitated by Faye Lim Written by: Ivy Ng Shie Yin & Rica Hiew Sheng Mei Edited by: Yasmin Mortaza