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Thursday, 12 January 2012

Social climbers in Malaysia: Race, Datuk, Datin or Puan Sri, not professional meritocracy

Social climbers aplenty

A Writer's Life By Dina Zaman

In Malaysia, titles carry a lot of weight. People lie about their names, and some second wives even insist on being addressed as Datin or Puan Sri.

IT all began when I met a fortune teller in Butterworth who chided me for not using my honorific title before the name that you see now. In other words, a family title.

“If you acknowledge this heritage, this name that your family ancestors gave you, you will become very, very, very rich!” she said.

I thought, I could live with that. I am tired of being a financially struggling writer.

A month or two later, I edited my LinkedIn profile and put, ahem, the title in front of my name. Boom! Boom! Boom! I received a monthly average of three potential connections to link with.Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...

Now, I have been a member of for more than seven years, and I would receive an invitation to connect like, perhaps, once every two to three months.

This very strange phenomenon affirmed the following to me: First, I’m not a celebrity, hot, and popular. These new friendships confirmed to me that a lot of Malaysians in general are social climbers and will only befriend you if you have wealth and social standing.

My charming personality and some brains have nothing to do with my instant popularity. Tsk.

Before we go on, allow me to clarify a few things. I do have a title tagged to the name my parents gave me. I do not understand why there are women who want to marry into the firm, because having an honorific is hell on forms and documents.

I am grateful that my parents gave me a beautiful name. Maybe at that time of registration, in 1969, there were many tiny boxes to fill in my title and name, but 21st century forms are horrible to fill in your particulars.

Two. Maybe I am related to some very titled and privileged people and maybe I am not. So don’t bother befriending me. I cannot guarantee you an invitation to the istana or a royal event.

I myself do not attend such dos. The one or two times I had been invited, I had to cover an event. If there ever was a personal invitation, and I cannot remember any, I chose to sleep.

I have always invested in very nice beds and mattresses. They win hands down all the time.

Also, if I am related to some Tengku or Raja, it would be 100 times removed. I call myself a SociaLIKE. I only mingle with people I like.

That LinkedIn caper left a bitter taste in my mouth. Surely all the work I had done over these 18 years would have amounted to something. I worked very hard to get to the little mountain I am on now. I can do this, and I can do that.

Actually, I am smarter than some of these titled people. Still, was an honorific my passport to professional and social success?

Unfortunately in Malaysia, titles carry a lot of weight. People even lie about their names.

Friends who work in events and public relations will call me, laughing over guests’ pretensions. “Wah, since when ah, did this person become a Tengku, or Datuk?”

I myself have seen a business card which had the grandfather’s datukship! Since the person’s father was not a datuk but the grandfather was, the person insisted on having it on the card.

How do you take someone like this seriously? Obviously many do, because the person is a director of a public-listed company.

I have also met second wives who insist on being addressed as Datin or Puan Sri. Darlings, think what you will, but that privilege belongs to the first wives only. Non-negotiable. Lu sudah sapu sama laki, mau sapu title pulak?

There is little professional meritocracy practised in this country: it’s not just your race, it’s who you are related to, who you know in this country, (and perhaps also the bomoh you’ve hired) that gets you places.

This may be 2012, but Malaysia is very much a feudal society. A title may not get you that timber deal, but at least the waiting staff or sales clerk will stand to attention.

And perhaps this is why we hold on to social status like a limpet: because there are so few honest successes in this country.

I have been asked before what I thought of the monarchy in Malaysia. If there is one legacy any monarchy should have, it would be that it has served its people well.

It should act intelligently and be compassionate. It should not be known for excess and wastefulness,
especially in times of austerity. Granted, there are a number of royals who have contributed to the country, but how many have left proper legacies?

I do enjoy reading the Malayan history of monarchy and aristocracy. Reading the Hikayats make me yearn for simpler days. Modern day aristocracy has lost that romance, refinement and adat.

Three months into my experiment, I was already getting irritated by requests to connect. My e-mail was constantly alerting me of new possible friends I could network with. And I still have yet to hit the jackpot. So I called the fortune teller in Butterworth.

“Aunty! Apa dei, I put the title in front of my name and I’m still not rich la!”

Aiyo, it is the month. The stars are not aligned … you see, my dear …”

I squawked on the other side of the phone. I had no time to deal with astrological alignments. I went to my laptop and edited my profile. Goodbye title.

And what a marked change. To date, I have only had two requests to network with me, and these were old friends from university. I like it that way.

To those who added me on the basis of my name, I don’t want to do business with you. And to those who appreciate my work, and think that there are possibilities, you know how to get me.

> Dina Zaman is a writer based in KL. She is interested in Malaysian religious histories and its people.

Related post:

Rightways: China Wen:Serve the people well, aim for big ... accomplishments, not big titles!

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