KUALA LUMPUR: It’s fascinating to behold – a Malay mother and her daughter, clad in headscarves, conversing fluently in Mandarin. It’s a great example of what makes Malaysia special, our identity as a melting pot of cultures.
Meet Arba’a Ali, 51, and her daughter Fatimah Noryyah Mohd Noor Kosygin, 15, who are certainly not your typical Malay mother and child.
“Actually, we always converse in Chinese at home,” Arba’a, who is better known as Syam, told FMT Lifestyle.
Syam, whose maternal grandfather was Chinese, said she had been educated in a Chinese school upon the decision of her late father.
“I’ll never forget what he said: ‘Syam, I am sending you to a Chinese school. I want you to learn and master the Chinese language, because when you grow up, if you know Chinese, wherever you go, you will rise. You will not sink’,” she recalled.
She was the only one out of nine siblings to study in a Chinese school. Her initial days at SJKC Pay Hwa in Melaka were challenging: she didn’t understand a word of what was being spoken, and stuck out as the only Malay girl in her class.
But she also experienced the Malaysian spirit of muhibbah. “My teacher didn’t see the colour of my skin. If not, I wouldn’t be like this today because she really gave me her full support and encouragement,” the housewife said.
“When I started making friends with my Chinese classmates, they were very, very, very, very kind to me.”
With such warm memories of her school days near and dear to her heart, Syam desired to have at least one of her children walk in her footsteps.
So, while she and her husband enrolled their four sons in religious and national schools, they sent Fatimah, their only daughter, to a Chinese school.
Unlike her mother, Fatimah didn’t find herself being the only Malay student in SJKC Wangsa Maju in Kuala Lumpur. But there was still something similar in both their experiences – on her first day, she, too, didn’t understand a word of what was being spoken around her!
Still, as a second-generation Malay-Mandarin speaker, Fatimah has the advantage of practising Mandarin with her mum and, consequently, made faster progress compared with the other Malay students.
Syam regularly posts content on TikTok of herself conversing with her children in Mandarin. Her followers are of various races and backgrounds, with some from even as far as China.
And while Syam revealed she has occasionally received unpleasant comments, she doesn’t let these faze her. After all, mastering Mandarin and studying in a Chinese school have proven beneficial for both mother and child.
“I was brought up in an environment where discipline was strong, and it made me feel more confident to face people,” Syam said. She added that speaking Mandarin also came in handy when applying for jobs.
For Fatimah, who is a talented singer, her ability to belt out songs in Mandarin opened doors to perform overseas. In fact, she was only nine years old when she took part in a talent show in China called “Let’s Sing Kids”.
Two years later, she joined “Jungle Voice 2”, a talent competition in Taiwan. Since then, she has acted in local shows aired on Astro Ceria and Ria.
During FMT Lifestyle’s visit, she performed a beautiful rendition of a popular Chinese song, “The Moon Represents my Heart”, on the piano.
As for the rest of the family, Syam said her husband understands a little Mandarin, while her sons can speak a little of it. In fact, one of her older brothers picked up the language later in life and the duo converse in Mandarin whenever they meet.
For Malaysia Day today, the charming mother-daughter pair shared what unity means to them.
“Whether you’re Malay, Chinese or Indian, we have to unite for the future of Malaysia, to progress together to live a peaceful and happy life,” said Syam.
This sentiment was echoed by her daughter. “We can’t be divided, because united we stand, divided we fall,” Fatimah concluded.
Check out Syam’s videos on TikTok.