If you knew me, you’d think I’d never date anyone other than someone Chinese, let alone a refugee from a place as far away as Syria.
Born and raised in a traditional Chinese family, I was mostly Chinese educated, with a very poor grasp of English and Malay.
I always imagined my future would be to date and marry a Chinese guy. A banker, or lawyer or a doctor would do, as that would make my parents proud.
But then I met Adam.
How We Met
We met at university.
I was working on improving my English, and to my surprise, Adam’s English was a lot better than mine, so he offered to help me out.
Immediately, I agreed. Mostly because I thought he was extremely cute; tall, fair, with wavy brown hair and hazel eyes, his face was always with a smile and his aftershave was alluring.
He told me he was from Damascus, Syria, a place I never heard of, except from the Bible.
He confessed that he never really tells anyone about where he’s from, because he would often face a lot of discrimination or ignorant comments from others.
Despite that knowledge of how people treated him, I found that I really liked him and decided to go out with him.
Adam’s idea of a date was far more interesting than any other dates I’ve been on.
On our first date, he took me to the Philharmonics, on the second, the performing arts theaters. We went to many more cultural events.
It was ironic that an outsider showed me more of our Malaysian talents than anything I knew.
Also, the people he knew and introduced to me came from different nationalities and backgrounds. It really opened my eyes to the outside world.
It awakened my innate curiosity about other people and their stories.
Of course, as time passed, people from my circle of friends found out about our relationship.
And in true Malaysian ‘kepoh’ style, started sharing their ‘concerns’ about him. Most of which were very ignorant and full of assumptions.
Here’s what I wish Malaysians would stop saying about him:
1. “What If He’s Just Dating You for the Visa?”
For the sake of argument, let’s say he really is dating me for the visa. Is there any real benefit for him? Not really.
Unlike the Green card in the US, foreigners who marry a Malaysian may get a spousal visa, but it’s highly unlikely that they could get citizenship, even years after living here.
If the marriage was indeed a sham, the Malaysian can cancel the spousal visa anytime and the kids would most likely live with the Malaysian spouse.
Besides, aren’t there plenty of Malaysians who are also marrying the Westerners for the possible visa overseas as well? Let’s be honest here.
2. “He might be one of the ISIS fleeing the country.”
First of all, that is highly racist. Just because he is a Muslim in Syria, doesn’t make him a terrorist.
While the ISIS group was started by a minor group of Muslims, the real victims were also Muslims. And millions of them died during the war.
Believe it or not, Syria is a highly diversified country where multiculturalism is a norm in the community, just like in Malaysia.
As one of the oldest civilizations in history, Syria is the birthplace of some of the biggest religions in the world; Christianity, Islam and Jewish.
The Umayyad Mosque, one of the oldest and largest Mosques in the world is located in Damascus. Believe it or not, it was originally a church, and it was dedicated to John the Baptist (Yahya), honoured as a prophet by both Christians and Muslims.
You would also be surprised to know that it was also once a land of scholars and educators, and religions are fully embraced and celebrated there.
Even though Adam is a devout Muslim, he has regularly taken me to church on Sundays and would even participate in the mass celebration.
At first, I used to question if he’s really ok with that, and his reply was simple, “Does that make me any less of a Muslim if I were to participate in your culture?”
The portrayal of Syria and most Middle Eastern countries are highly biased by the media, showing only the most negative parts, especially when it comes to Muslims.
In fact, Muslims are one of the most discriminated groups in most parts of the world thanks to the media. Because of that, jobs are lost, opportunities are taken away and they are the ones who are mostly at a disadvantage.
But will the media ever highlight that? Highly unlikely.
3. “You will live in Poverty because he’s Syrian.”
Oh, and I’m living in poverty now?
I think it’s sexist for people to assume that women would be depending on men for financial support in this day and age. If this relationship would be the other way around, would you assume the same thing?
More than that, I believe in choosing a partner who is both ambitious and hardworking rather than their financial background. Even the richest men have gone broke, but it is their character that cannot be taken away.
In my observation, I believe refugees and migrant workers are the most hardworking group of people in the country, contributing to society and taking on jobs most Malaysians won’t do.
In Adam’s case, I think it’s admirable that he could put himself through university, teach himself English and even get a Masters through his own ability and connections.
If given the opportunity, I believe people like that will excel.
4. “He’s lying about studying, so he can live here illegally.”
Please. If he’s out to cheat someone, he has a higher chance of targeting older women who are lonely and can afford the things he needs. And with such good looks, that wouldn’t be a problem either.
To target a young millennial like myself is laughable. After all, we are known as the most broke generation in society. Buy a house? Hahaha! Let’s rent this crappy apartment instead.
On top of that, such claims of living illegally can easily be checked out. If you’re highly suspicious, one can easily find out through some quick checks. In my case, I could just check the university’s registrar. Duh.
When my parents first found out about him, they were highly suspicious of him. They wanted to interrogate him, question everything.
And yet, Adam pulled through. He sat down with them, shared everything about himself, answered every question and was completely transparent.
That alone told me that he was genuine because people with ill-intention would never put themselves through that trouble.
5. “He’s gonna get you pregnant so you’re forced to marry him.”
First off, no one can force you to marry anyone even if you’re pregnant. In this day and age, it’s hard to believe that Malaysians are still set in the ways of ‘saving face’ by getting married.
However, nobody ever talks about what’s best for the child and whether marriage really is the right choice. I feel fortunate to have many options as to how to handle the situation these days.
You can choose to keep the baby, put it up for adoption, or for the brave, or get an abortion (which is only legal if the foetus is endangering the life of the mother).
Adam has always been respectful of my choices and how I feel.
While we never truly discussed this, he has never forced me to do anything that I’m not comfortable with, and as a partner, I believe he would support me in what I choose to do should an accidental pregnancy happen.
To Stay or Not to Stay
I would be lying if I said I didn’t panic when I first started receiving such comments. Not going to lie, I cried, because I was so worried. “What if they’re right?”
I told Adam everything. I couldn’t stop.
All the horrible things they said about him, half-fearing that perhaps he thinks I’m too crazy to deal with and no longer worth the time. All while I was ugly crying with snot running down my face.
He calmly listened, and instead of panicking and adding to the drama I created, he said:
“I understand how they feel. You shouldn’t be so angry with them for they were thinking of the best for you.” That took me by surprise.
Before I could say anything, he continued, “I love you and want to be with you. And if it means dealing with your family and friends, I will do my best to convince them and show them that I have genuine feelings for you.”
Since then, I rationalized the comments and where these thoughts and feelings are coming from.
And while I believe that some are genuinely out of concern for my well-being, I realize that we still have a long way to go when it comes to accepting people of different backgrounds.
I believe every culture and religion should be acknowledged and embraced and one shouldn’t feel so threatened about something different.
It’s very sad to see the prejudice going on in our country, despite being a multi-racial country.
I can’t change the way other people feel, but I can make the first step towards a more understanding society.
Perhaps you might think that I may view things with rose colored glasses and I could see no wrong with Adam.
But when you’re in doubt, I honestly believe in keeping the relationship open among your family and peers help put things into perspective.
And that was it. We are currently dating 2 years onwards with serious plans to move in together. I’ve never been happier in a relationship since.
For more stories like this one, read: 5 Ways To Know If You Have A Future With Your Partner In Malaysia and The Racism I Experienced Dating In Malaysia.