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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The way to tell a S'porean and a Malaysian apart is ...

The way to tell a S'porean and a Malaysian apart is ... the way they open, or try to open a durian
By Tan Dawn Wei

UP UNTIL she was 16, Grace Sagaya Chia used to have only one meal a day, made up of rice, water and onions in her hometown of Kuantan, Malaysia.

Her driver father made barely enough to feed the family of seven but her mother dreamt that her only daughter would grow up to be a music teacher.

She cut grass and cleaned houses to pay for her daughter's organ classes and asked the local parish priest to let her practise on the church piano.

Today, the 31-year-old Mrs Chia tinkles the ivories at St Bernadette Catholic Church in Zion Road for the 6.30am mass every day.

She also runs five successful child-related businesses with 16 staff members and a monthly turnover of $150,000: a children's music studio Rhythm In Me; play centre Busy Buddies; My Gym Children's Fitness Centre; Jolly Party which sells party supplies and plans parties; and Thin Crust Cafe, a cafe at My Gym.

The businesses, the first of which was started in 2003, were all inspired by her children, Suzannah, five and Elijah, two.

Home is a five-room HDB flat. She and her husband, John, 33, an engineer, do not own a car and take the bus to work.

Even so, it is a long way from her early days working in Kuala Lumpur. She was a property and insurance agent by day, hockey coach by evening and pub DJ by night.

If she could squeeze some time in between, she went around to restaurants and cafes peddling anything from pens to books.

'That's what made me who I am today,' she said of her six years of juggling.

'So If I fall, I'd say, so what?'

Q What do Malaysians really think about their Singaporean neighbours?

A Kiasu, kiasi. That's the answer we always hear but a lot of Malaysians who work in Singapore are really happy with the opportunities they get here.

I wasn't doing any less in Malaysia, but I went nowhere. If you're a bumiputera, you might have gone somewhere. I won a nationwide singing competition at 19, representing Pahang. But when it was time to sign the contract, they said: 'You can't put out a CD. You're not beautiful and you're not the right colour.'

Singapore respects you for who you are. It treats you as an equal.

Q How do you tell a Malaysian apart from a Singaporean?

A By the way they open, or try to open, a durian. I can show you how to open a durian without a knife.

My Dad told me: 'If you have two legs and two hands, you can open it.' Press it down hard enough and you'll find a small opening at the bottom where you can pull the durian apart.
People don't do it because they are afraid of the thorns. I can juggle and throw a durian around if I have to.

When I first came here, I was shocked to see durians in plastic wrap displayed at supermarkets.
In Malaysia, nobody will buy durians if they are open. It's no longer fresh.
Also, a Malaysian driver hardly reverses his car into a parking lot. We simply go head in. Maybe it's because Singaporeans are more cautious while Malaysians don't often think about the consequences in most things we do.

Q If Singapore and Malaysia merged, what should the new country's name be?
A Let's call it SMU - Singapore Malaysia United. Both these names are part of who I am, and I can't bear to change them.

Q If you were Kuantan's tourism ambassador, how would you sell the town?
A A very laid-back place where you could go around in your shorts and slippers. Kuantan is a perfect holiday destination: There's the beach, massages and interesting food. All very cheap.

Q Jimmy Choo, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, Michelle Yeoh: who's done more for Malaysia's name in the world?

A To be fair, they are all accomplished and have done Malaysia proud. During my teens, Michelle Yeoh was very popular and I guess I relate more to her simply because we are both in the arts.

Q Teach us a uniquely Manglish phrase that will top any Singlish you know.
A Manglish sure can fight with Singlish. Manglish more terror. But to be honest, I speak more Cantonese than I speak Manglish. Where I come from, everyone speaks Cantonese and I speak it fluently. Mou tak ting (Cantonese for formidable) ah!

TIPDon't behave like an expat or you may be charged extra for things from food to cabs.

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