Categorised | Found in Malaysia

“Hokkien is my second language”


Anas Zubedy (all pictures below courtesy of Anas Zubedy)

ANAS Zubedy, 46, sent out an appeal in September 2008, pleading for politicians from both the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to stop politicking and focus on the economy instead. In addition to uploading it on his company website, Anas also published the appeal as an ad in The Star. According to Anas, the response, especially from the business community, was very encouraging.

In fact, his company, Zubedy, takes out advertisements annually to commemorate Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Christmas, Wesak, Vasakhi and of course, Malaysia Day. On 20 Jan 2010, Yayasan 1Malaysia announced that it had appointed Anas one of its honorary members, among others.

A self-professed “centrist”, Anas met The Nut Graph in Petaling Jaya on 21 Dec 2009 to tell us about the Malaysia he grew up in, and the Malaysia he wants to see.

TNG: Where were you born?

Anas Zubedy: Georgetown, Penang, on 4 Feb 1964. I think I was born at home. You know how in those days the mak bidan would come and deliver babies? I was the fourth and youngest child.

Where did you grow up?

In Fettes Park, Tanjung Bungah, in Penang. We were the only Malay [Malaysian] family in the area. Behind our house was a Chinese [Malaysian] new village. Our neighbourhood was mostly Chinese [Malaysian], with two or three Indian [Malaysian] families and some Eurasian [Malaysians].


Anas’s parents, Omar Isa Zubedy and Zahrah Zain Zubedy, on Bukit Dumbar after their wedding

That’s how I learnt to speak Hokkien. Hokkien is my second language. The first is Malay. Then I learnt to speak English as I was growing up. The neighbours opposite our house were Eurasian [Malaysians], and they took a liking to my elder sister. So they would give her books and so on, and that’s how she picked up English and passed it on to the younger siblings.

Can you trace your ancestry?

My grandparents on both sides came from Hadramawt, [which is now known as] Aden, Yemen. My grandpa on my dad’s side came to Penang, and my maternal grandfather went to Medan. We still have family in the Middle East and Indonesia.

My paternal grandfather was a migrant worker just like these guys (gestures towards migrant South Asian service staff at the stall), and that’s why I have always said we need to treat them with respect. My grandpa became the richest person in Penang, but then he died young.


Anas, a day before his circumcision, seated with his uncles
and maternal grandfather

My dad and his brothers partied and then we became poor again. You know the (Tan Sri) P Ramlee film Tiga Abdul? Well, we used to joke that among my uncles and my father we have no Abdul Wahub, the intelligent brother. So when my father got married to my mother, they were practically in poverty. The New Economic Policy (NEP) saved us.

On my mother’s side, my grandfather lived to a very old age. Mum would send me to Medan for holidays and so on. My grandfather would constantly be giving me advice like, “You cannot take bribes; every cent you earn must be halal.”

He taught his grandkids how to read the Quran, and would assume those who learnt it fast were smarter. He believed that to make me smarter, I had to eat an entire otak kambing. So he slaughtered a goat in Medan and made me eat the brain.

I adored my grandfather. He was my first role model Muslim. He would say things like, “The person sweeping the roadside is a good man because he keeps the place clean, so you must respect him.” He took me to the pedalaman in Medan to houses of people poorer then us, and he would brief me before we entered, “They will serve you food and it might taste bad, but you must eat it, because they are happy for you to be visiting them.”

school boys
Anas sporting an afro in Form 4, Penang Free School
What is your strongest memory of the place in which you grew up?

When I go back to Penang, what is nice is that I can understand people; it doesn’t matter if they are speaking Malay, English or Hokkien. Maybe I’m biased, but Penang Hokkien is very nice. I like to bargain, tawar-menawar, in Hokkien. You can tease the salesgirls, tell them, “Lu siaow”, and it’s all part and parcel of the process. It’s a very manja kind of Hokkien. I also love the mamak-ness of Penang. I love how Indian-Muslim [Malaysians] speak Malay there.

How do you connect with all of this as a Malaysian?

Look, I think it is not technically wrong to say that the Chinese and Indians were pendatang in the past. But that was before 1957. We cannot call the current batch of non-Malay [Malaysians] pendatang. This is their home. How can you call them pendatang? Gila? It’s spiteful.


Anas (left) on an Interact Club outing in Teluk Bahang, Penang

On the other hand, I think non-Malay [Malaysians] should not do similar idiotic things like calling Malay [Malaysians] pendatang, too. It’s childish. It’s like, “Oh you say my father like this, so I say your father like that.”

Personally, I know why my family is considered Malay or Bumiputera. It’s in the Federal Constitution, and I think this is practical. The problem now is that we have forgotten the spirit of 1957, when a contract was made by our [founding leaders]. You can call it whatever you want, the social contract, perjanjian keramat, whatever.


Family photo in Cameron Highlands during Raya in 2009

But in this perjanjian, the Malay inhabitants decided to share this country with those who were then considered pendatang. The contract also clearly upheld hak keistimewaan orang Melayu. But at the same time, there was compromise. They allowed what no other country allowed, for example [vernacular] schools. They wanted to create a nation by integration, not assimilation. What do we want now?

Ketuanan Melayu has always existed, but at different times in history it carried different meanings. Today, ketuanan Melayu should mean that Malaysian culture must have budaya Melayu at its core.

It doesn’t mean a Malay [Malaysian] is more superior than a non-Malay [Malaysian]. It doesn’t mean other cultures are not Malaysian, but that they play a supporting role to Malay culture. It’s a question of whether or not all Malaysians can speak Bahasa Melayu fluently. If you can’t, then there’s a problem somewhere.

Describe the kind of Malaysia you would like for yourself and future generations.

We achieve Wawasan 2020, especially the first goal which is unity.


Celebrating Hari Malaysia 2009 in the Zubedy training suite

But in terms of politics, I would like to see us moving beyond a two-party system. I think we need a two-plus-one system. In this system, we’d have BN and PR, and also 30 to 40 Members of Parliament who are totally independent and who can vote entirely according to their conscience. I think this will make us a stronger country.

This can happen if all the Malaysians who can afford it, and want to give something back to society, decide to run for politics as [this independent force]. We need 30 of them. That’s all. favicon

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26 Responses to ““Hokkien is my second language””

  1. tillie says:

    ” Look, I think it is not technically wrong to say that the Chinese and Indians were pendatang in the past. But that was before 1957″

    What about the Babas and Nyonyas (Straits-born Chinese) whose ancestors came and settled in Malaya during the reign of Parameswara? Before 1957, were their descendants also considered pendatang?

  2. Peranakan says:

    I am a Baba (Peranakan Cina). My family has been in the country for nearly 480 years. I am the 26th generation to have been born here. I also have Malay great-grandmothers. Why am I the pendatang, while you are the bumiputera? Am I somehow less local than you?

  3. prussiablue says:

    Your grandfather is from Yemen while my grandfather was born here. You are considered son of the soil, while I am an outsider/pendatang. You benefit from the NEP while I am a victim of its implementation. Most important, you are rich while I am poor, but you still get discount for the bungalow that you bought? [...]

  4. Sarawakian says:

    I am a non-Muslim bumiputera from Sarawak. My ancestors have been here so long I simply cannot tell you when the first lot “datang”. Even within the bumiputera “system” we are discriminated against.

    If a hierarchical society is to be imposed, it would be more acceptable to me if the Orang Asli came at the top of the ladder, for surely they are — as the term suggests — the true originals. In comparison to them, we are all “pendatang”.

    Are we Malaysian or not?

  5. Mixed Parentage says:

    I used to regard you highly thanks to all the newspaper ads that you have taken out in the past, but after this interview, I am not so sure anymore.

    Your comments on why you think you are regarded as bumiputera and why it’s practical according to the constitution mystifies me. I do not see how you can be called bumiputera/ Malay at all since your grandparents are from Yemen. Unless there were Malays in Yemen.

    Like Peranakan, my family has been in Malaysia for generations, so it’s strange that we are the pendatang, and someone like yourself who can only trace your “bumiputera” ancestry up only two generations reap the rewards of affirmative action.

    I’m not saying your family didn’t deserve NEP help, however… if they were struggling like you said there were, I’m all for government assistance. But it just rankles because every single Malaysian in need should get it, not just so-called “sons of the soil”… and especially not those who have gone on to be successful. You still need discounts for your luxury apartment/car/bungalow?

  6. Hayabusa says:

    This guy is speaking Hokkien as his second language, which should appeal to a yellow-skinned guy like me, but why am I getting the feeling that I’m reading an article [about] a hypocrite instead?

  7. Anonymous Coward says:

    “Ketuanan Melayu has always existed, but at different times in history it carried different meanings. Today, ketuanan Melayu should mean that Malaysian culture must have budaya Melayu at its core.”

    You seem to have a different understanding to Ketuanan Melayu than those in Umno.

  8. kahar adam says:

    I agree with Anas. Malaysians should be like him.

  9. kahar adam says:

    Yo, peranakan! If you are the 26th generation to be born here after 480 years, that means, each generation gets a child every 18 years at most! Did your dad have you when he was 18? Did your granddad had your dad when he was 18? And this continued till the first generation born 480 years ago. So illogical. You sure you got your family history right?

    And why do you, after being part of a family in Tanah Melayu/Malaya/Malaysia for 480 years still want to behave as if you are still a citizen of Chinese Republic?
    Shouldn’t you be talking and walking like a true baba? Speaking Malay and eating baba food (which essentially is kuah asam pedas)…

    Are you?

  10. Greg Lopez says:

    Wonderful to read this story of Anas. I think Anas is a wonderful guy.

    He notes that non – Malays who are born here after 1957 should not be called pendatang but I presume they would not be bumiputera.

    I was wondering how he would categorise himself. He says that his ancestry is not from the Peninsular. How does that make him a bumiputera?

    Here is where I fundamentally disagree with wonderful people like Anas. The failure to recognise historical injustice.

    His approach of working together is wonderful but it does not address the systemic discrimination against certain sections of Malaysians.

    I would be very happy if Anas would start his discussions by saying that what the Malaysian government is doing in relation to race & religious based policies are inherently wrong and that a great injustice has been done to non – Malays in this country.

  11. Naidu says:

    Bumiputra! Even Indonesian married to Malay [Malaysians] or Muslim [Malaysians] are bumiputra (pendatang bumiputra). Malaysia is just an apartheid-practising country which is trying to justify itself. [...]

  12. Lion says:

    A guy with Yemeni ancestry can become bumiputera?

    And he telling us about “Social Contract”?

    Oh, c’mon!

  13. animah says:

    This is a fascinating story, and in all I think this The Nut Graph series has shown what amazing backgrounds Malaysians have – from all around the world.

    I am stunned with some of the comments here. Anas himself is saying that those of Chinese and Indian ethnicy should not be called pendatang.

    Guys, there are many bumiputras who are with you – who believe that the NEP should be dismantled. So let’s work towards that, ok – merely attacking bumiputras is just going to make everyone all defensive.

    Let’s focus on promoting meritocracy and assistance for the unfortunate regardless of race, religion and gender.

  14. tillie says:

    Those Chinese following Admiral Cheng Ho would have come here more than 600 years ago (same time as Parameswara) and those following Princess Hang Li Po would have been here for more than 500 years.

    I have Perakan friends, when they speak with each other in Malay they are so, so fantastic and they speak so fast. There are also some till now who do not know or converse in any of the Chinese dialects – but unfortunately they are still considered pendatang.

  15. muslim says:

    if Anas did not disclose the fact that both his grandparents were foreigners, then I would never ask. For his entire person seems ‘local’ to me. His many languages and his memories and of course, his political belief looks like he intends to stick around and support this country for good, through thick or thin. He doesn’t appear to me like someone who is ready to bolt back to Hadramawt at the slightest provocation from a government policy…Instead, he uses his own unconventional methods to appeal for improvement. It makes me proud to be his fellow countryman.

  16. Peranakan says:

    @kahar adam
    I’m 14. And I don’t like people insulting my family.

  17. sang kancil says:

    I agreed with various commenters. Anas is WRONG to call us pendatang. My great grandfather came to Malaysia before his grandfather and he calls my family pendatang. He is an ARAB, not Malay [Malaysian]. My family are more Malaysian than his family. Just because we are Chinese [Malaysian] he calls us pendatang. NEP helped you but not me. Whatever my family had and have is all from our own hard work. NEVER a sen from Umno [...], who stole from us and gave to you. You may be able to speak Hokkien but you are [like Umno]. The only difference is you are able to gloss over and pull wool over others’ eyes. I now see the true colour of this Anas.

  18. Rom Nain says:

    The problem with a smug, centrist position such as the one consistently held by Anas, is that it makes excuses for everything, assuming discrimination to have occurred by accident. To avoid offending the powers-that-be, it dehistoricises and ends up as an apology for all the wrongs that have been – and continue to be – committed.

  19. Nemo says:

    Anas used to be very popular at PFS, with his groovy Michael Jackson moves and afro hair :) What he says makes sense. However he may have to revisit his bumiputera stand. Even in Penang there is selective interpretation of who can be considered one. I see my children go through a lot of prejudice at school due to this. I really don’t want it to leave a permanent scar on them and I’m sure other parents don’t want their children to go through such experience either. So social contract or not, Anas, it has been 50 years since Merdeka, can we not look at some of these policies from a 21st century perspective? If you haven’t noticed, the world has moved on to take a bigger, more complex form than simplistic stereotyping by one’s race. But I guess other races must make compromises too. They cannot build barriers and behave like cartels. Maybe it’s time for some “assimilation”.

  20. sun from east says:

    Why should the core of Malaysian culture based on Malay culture? Those from the West never give a [care] to East Malaysians, as if Malaysia is is only Malaya. Come on, why form Malaysia – just like the [British] and [Japanese], to exploit the riches of East Malaysia and bring back all the money back to Malaya? This guy limits his thoughts and thinking to those in Malaya and like many, damns all those from East Malaysia. What social contract for non-bumis from East Malaysia have to do with Merdeka in 1957?

  21. Farouq Omaro says:

    Apart from Sabah and Sarawak, the only other state in Malaysia I like is Penang. Why? I don’t know why.

  22. YJ says:

    I’m fourth generation [Chinese Malaysian], with no mixed parentage, absolutely Chinese, my grandparents, mom and dad, my entire family members are all Malaysian citizens – why are we still considered pendatang? Am I still the same as those who live in mainland China?

    I love Malaysia, a multicultural and multiethnic country, berbilang kaum, everything here can be considered as rojak-style of living. Why the heck are all those racist and religious things still [separating] us?

    Nationalism, it will be Malaysian, not Malay, Chinese or Indian nationalism,or else just make it a Indonesia-Raya,that will be easy for those racial extremists.

  23. secret says:

    After reading this interview, I begin to question what you are really trying to promote and propagate in all the newspaper ads of Zubedy. Thanks for the interview, it has at least opened up my eyes to see that what I have seen so far in Zubedy ads is just another illusion.

  24. ahoo says:

    As far as the constitution is concerned, what Anas said is correct with regards to bumi status. Many of them (bumis) will interpret what is relevant and useful to them rather than looking at the bigger picture. The constitution also mentioned many other things like freedom of worship etc. Why look at the articles that are beneficial to you but ignore those which are beneficial for others? By right the govt of the day should allocate places of worship for all people in new townships. But in reality only one religion is important whereas the rest can worship in sheds, shoplots, factories etc. Don’t we all contribute to the nation’s welfare in term of taxes and human resources?

    Why is it that Malaysians of other races with proven results cannot have places in local universities despite the fact that many are from poor families? The real concept of NEP was not wrong but the implementation by the racist “warlords” contributed to the many wrongs in society today. Worse still the politicians took the issue as a political game and tried to outdo each other causing the poor and marginalised to continue in their poverty cycle. We need more enlightened bumiputeras to see that after this country had assisted them, now it’s their turn to ensure that all Malaysians who are poor and needy irrespective of race need assistance. Not for those with power and priviledge to continue robbing this nation blind. We need a cohesive society in harmony to take this nation back to its former glory days. So the ball is now in your court, Anas Zubedy.

  25. KT Rahman says:

    This interview, in his own words, has shown Anas Zubedy to be nothing more than Umno’s tool. No wonder it was so suspicious when Najib was so wholeheartedly championing Anas Zubedy on Najib’s own website.

  26. Shooter72 says:

    I believe we still do not understand the phrase “move on”. What has been done is done; we cannot undo it. [But we can] move forward. Injustice and unfairness will persist everywhere. What Anas is saying is that we [must] not abandon what we’ve always had, the very fundamentals that we built this multiracial society of civilised people on — harmony.

    When [did we become] so spiteful [towards] our neighbours? We have had more than 50 years of independence, with healthy relationships [without] racism. Suddenly we are so protective of our rights just because some politicians [play] the race card.

    We as rakyat Malaysia are surely smarter than this. Let’s get over this. Let the politicians say what they want to say and fan racism; we are mature enough to ignore it … [and] not be swayed by it. We should stick together regardless of race, age and religion, as Malaysians!


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