“A lot of young people or even people in general - couples especially, the easiest thing to do is to break up. You never deal with things. You just kind of like, I don’t like the person, I quit or even get divorced. Break up was never an option for us. We just need to be honest with one another. If I am not happy, or she’s not happy with me about something, we are able to deal with it.” - Syed Sadiq Obaidi Albar
Meet a wonderful couple, Syed Sadiq Obaidi Albar and his wife, Tracy Jane Gomez, who have been friends since Standard 1 (in primary school) and are now married for 15 years. Sadiq has Arabic heritage and has gotten the name ‘Syed’ from his parents and grandparents who were named Syed and Syarifah as well. However, since they live in Malaysia and are Muslims, they are recognized as being Malay. Meanwhile, Tracy is a Chindian as her mother is Chinese and her dad is an Indian. Fun fact, they also met in school, almost similar to where Tracy met Sadiq too.
They shared about their friendship, love for Acha Curry House (they had good memories of the shop in PJ), and parenting style. There were some ups and downs throughout their relationship, but the key is to always be understanding and accepting towards one another.
The couple is blessed with 3 sons, and hopes their story is able to bring some hope and comfort to the younger ones who might be going through similar experiences in life.
How and where did you two meet?
Tracy: We met at Standard 1 when he joined my class. All he did for one month was cry every day - from the start of school till the end. And that was how I remembered him. He switched to another school a few months after that and so did I after a few years. In primary school, the teacher decides who you sit next to, and usually pairs up a girl with a boy so that we won’t talk so much, and I ended up sitting next to him. That’s how we met.
Sadiq: I didn’t know how to do the homework because I just moved back from the UK and everything was in BM. Tracy was the smart girl in class and she would decide who could borrow her homework. I actually memorized her house phone number until today, that’s how close we are.
Tracy was my advisor for friendships that I had with other people. We always kept in touch and always been friends. In our mid-20s, we have a mutual friend that has been wanting to set us up. We never actually entertained the idea because we were such good friends. After I asked Tracy out for dinner, lightning struck and finally we got together. We dated for a couple of years before we got married.
Where there any challenges before getting married?
Sadiq: Tracy and I were from a different religious background, so for our Muslim sister here, Tracy has to convert. I gave her time to actually think about this because this was actually a big step, but alhamdulillah (praise to God) we overcame that first hurdle and we both accepted that this is going to be a new chapter in our lives. Certain changes have to happen and we embrace that.
One of the challenges we faced was the court process, which was terrible. Majority of Malaysia’s court systems are very good, but unfortunately on that day, the Syariah judge was very unnecessarily hostile to Tracy. When she went in there to face the judge to ask permission for marriage, then you need to be appointed a wali (custodian) because Tracy’s family are not Muslims, so the court will assign a wali to you. When she went in, the judge wasn’t very nice about it. He could have been more considerate since Tracy is a ‘saudara baru’ (new convert).
What is important in your marriage and why?
Sadiq: Understanding because we made a promise to ourselves that when we became parents, no matter what, we will not let the issue of the children divide us. Sometimes you don’t realize it, it’s like such a small thing and you actually fight over it, for example, the way I handle the kids. We cannot hold on to that because we are just trying to do what is the best at that moment and it is not intended for conflict. That kind of understanding and acceptance is something which is very important for us because it transcends culture and even religion.
What similarities do you find between Arab-Malay and Chinese/Indian culture?
Tracy: Food and Asian values. We’re very respectful towards the elders to the point where sometimes you are not expected to speak your mind to keep the peace.
Did you face any cultural shock? If yes, how did you overcome it?
Tracy: Not much because we both grew up in the city, which it’s like a big melting pot of people and culture. All my neighbours consist of Indian, Malay, and Chinese neighbours, and we all grew up embracing a lot of each other's cultures.
Sadiq: Hari Raya is interesting because Tracy is not used to this. When you go to Hari Raya, we keep on hopping over to houses, different houses but you see the same people and some of the old relatives insist that when you see them again at the other house, that you are going to salam them when you actually just saw them even if it is just less than an hour ago. And then after that you go to the next house and you still salam the same person. And it goes on and on and on and even for us it’s robotic already. We just do it and I actually have to prep Tracy last time. Just do it because this is just the way it is and we don’t need to try to create a new culture there. That’s something that is a bit interesting for someone that has never been in that kind of environment.
What are your vision and hopes for your children?
Tracy: That they will be happy and successful in whatever they do.
Sadiq: I want them to enjoy what they do. I hope and I pray that I can actually live up to this. We come from a generation where our parents tell us what to do, but I want them to enjoy what they want to do. Also, most importantly is for them to be a good person.
Can you share some advice for inter-racial or culturally diverse couples out there?
Sadiq: I think it requires a lot of patience. Don’t expect everyone to accept something the way you have. And don’t see opposition as always a bad thing. It could just be their immediate reaction. You know how some of your friends were never your good or close friends at the start. Some of them could be annoying, but suddenly you realize after a couple of years, they’re not that annoying because you guys learn to accept one another. It's the same thing when someone looks at your relationship - whether it’s family or friends, you can’t expect a positive reaction immediately. People will respond in their own way, but if you give them time, they will understand and accept you better. The key takeaway here is for you to learn to appreciate time because some things just take time.
Any life lessons from your marriage so far?
Sadiq: A lot of young people or even people in general - couples especially, the easiest thing to do is to break up. You never deal with things. You just kind of like, I don’t like the person, I quit or even get divorced. Break up was never an option for us. We just need to be honest with one another. If I am not happy, or she’s not happy with me about something, we are able to move past it because we know that the relationship is worth holding on to. We keep reminding this to ourselves as a couple.
Above all, things were even more challenging because of all the differences before we got married. But you shouldn't use that as a weapon, you must take it out of the equation. This will solve a lot of things.
Can you share a funny or a good memory you had with fellow Malaysian?
Sadiq: I was driving my brother’s old car - a very old 1970s Mini. The car overheated and broke down at the side of the road. Tracy told me not to drive the car, but we were in a hurry to get some durian. So many people stopped to come and help, chat with us and check. “Are you guys alright?” “Do you need something?” Somebody even gave us mineral water and this was just regular folks. As annoyed as Tracy was with me because I insisted on driving the car, we actually felt very blessed and it was really nice. When the car cooled down, I could move it a bit, but the car overheated again so I had to stop, and the same thing repeated itself. Tracy ended up walking home (it was quite close) and I waited for the car to cool down, there were people who were chatting with me. That experience is something that always gives us hope about why Malaysia is a wonderful place because of its people.
Why did you choose to stay in Malaysia? Have you thought of living somewhere else?
Tracy: It’s like by default progression. You get married and you live here. Not actively seeking to work abroad. If an opportunity then falls on my lap, maybe I would have explored it. I wouldn’t say that I chose 100% to live here, but it’s just how things turn out. Sadiq wants to move to New Zealand - okay it's a joke, but we both like to be outdoors, go hiking, and it seems like a multicultural and tolerant country to be in.
Sadiq: This is home, it’s a natural thing. We never thought of being somewhere else. After we finished our education, the idea was to come back to Malaysia. Of course, you do think of what it would be like to live somewhere else. We choose to raise our children here because of one very important factor, family. Home is where your family is. If let’s say for example the opportunity did come like what Tracy was saying, I think the most important thing is wherever I am is actually to have them around. Whether it is here it would be wonderful to explore different experiences, apart from Malaysia, doesn’t mean you don’t love Malaysia.
In Obama’s book, he was talking about wearing the pin of the American flag. He said he took it off at one point because it is just a symbol. The most important thing is your actions and how you feel. We’re very clear about how much we love our country but if the opportunity comes, as long as my family is with me, I’m open to it. At the end of the day, we will still love Malaysia.
How can we embrace one another better as a nation?
Sadiq: Anything that stops us from understanding each other is not a good thing. I hope for better understanding amongst people because we don't make an effort anymore which is really strange.
For example, recently for Chinese New Year, a guideline was issued on what you can and cannot do. We had a good laugh about it because it was meant for the Hungry Ghost Festival, not Chinese New Year. When you don't make an effort to understand, you come up with this guideline which makes you look very ill-informed. It’s not like we’ve only lived together for 5 or 10 years, we’ve been living together for a long time and many generations already.
I don't know how many Chinese people actually know that during the night before Raya, we have our version of a reunion as well. We really need to make an effort to do better and understand each other. If the government cannot do it for you, we need to do it ourselves as people.
After talking to Sadiq and Tracy, we realised that when it comes to love, be it with your family, friends or couples, the challenges you face should not be something that hinders you from being together. Being rational, understanding and patient are some of the efforts needed in the relationship. We as Malaysians should make an effort to be more understanding towards one another especially considering the fact that we are living with an amazing diversity of different races and backgrounds.
Liew Kang Xuen & Lim Yuan Theng, supported by Faye Lim, Ramisha Adil and Alex Oi
Liew Kang Xuen & Lim Yuan Theng