Are we going to his hometown or hers?
A yearly argument that could be avoided if…
Hi, it's Jeannette. I’m on day 3 of a five-day weekend (Malaysian public holidays ftw!) which means I’ve been working intensively on my MRes thesis. I have so much self-hatred during these rewrites but I am dragging myself along. This is the 21st issue of The Sex Beat, a newsletter documenting my research on sex. Don’t want to get these newsletters? Go ahead and unsubscribe.
Ramadan just ended, which means Aidilfitri (or Eid al-Fitr) has begun. In Malaysia, we also call it Raya, which means celebration. Like Chinese New Year – which we also celebrate with public holidays – there are songs written and played specifically during this period.
Last week, a friend sent me this music video of a Raya song that was written and performed by a local entrepreneur, Datuk Seri Aliff Syukri Kamarzaman and his wife. Titled Kelopok Raya, it was almost immediately controversial and less than a week after the song came out, Aliff apparently spent almost five hours at the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s (MCMC) headquarters.
Why? Because of the effeminate background dancers featured in the video, which some people deemed offensive, especially because it was released during the “holy month of Ramadan”.
This reminded me of another case I looked at for a teeny portion of my thesis – a case that many Malaysians have come to know as Alvivi.
Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee were lovers who blogged about and shared explicit videos of their sex life. In 2012, colleagues amusedly shared these videos with me. We watched them and then we moved on.
But during the Ramadan period in 2013, Alvin and Vivian posted a photo of themselves eating pork bone broth (bak kut teh) on Facebook, with an accompanying greeting about breaking fast. This became a HUGE issue.
They were charged under Section 298A of the Penal Code, as well as under the Sedition Act. Suddenly, their videos from 2012 became an issue again and were used to increase their charges.
The controversy surrounding the Kelopok Raya music video seems to be running along similar lines. Because there’s a lot of online content featuring effeminate men. (I think there are some on government-sanctioned TV channels too but I haven’t watched TV in so long that I don’t know.)
In a video promoting a coffee brand, which I’ve written about before, a woman catches her newly virile husband having an affair with what appears to be a large woman. When the wife starts to attack her, she starts screaming “Aku jantan! Jantan kunyit!” (which means something along the lines of I’m a gay man).
As I write this, the video has almost half a million views and most of the commenters think the video is hilarious.
So it seems as if prohibitions in Malaysia are operating in a different way. And I find this highly fascinating.
But here’s what I also find interesting
Although Kelopok Raya sounds like the usual upbeat celebration song, it is really about a husband and wife arguing about where they will be spending Raya – his hometown or hers.
This is increasingly becoming a discussion topic in Chinese families during our New Year celebrations as well.
In the past, there would be no question – the reunion dinner is always with the paternal side of the family ie. an unmarried woman would go back to her father’s side of the family and a married one to her husband’s.
Recently though, some families have begun alternating – one year on his side and another on hers. Others do reunion dinner at his, then the first day of new year at hers. My mom even recently suggested a combined dinner.
According to a Malay friend, alternating is common for Raya. This is also mentioned in the song, when the man tries to persuade his wife to go back to his hometown. He says, “This year we’ll go back to my village. Next year we’ll go to yours.” (Tahun ini balik kampung abang. Tahun depan balik kampung sayang.)
But his wife says no and that it’s not fair. She goes on to say that she misses her village, her friends, her family, and even her paddy fields!
He then says that his head is spinning, and that he has to layan sikap (roughly translated as “put up with her attitude”). He wonders why it even has to be a fight.
Her response: “If you had just listened to me, our lives would be a lot more peaceful.” 😂 Somehow, in this patriarchal society, where women are supposedly restricted and oppressed, no one found this controversial.
This is a common enough sentiment. In fact, my husband’s go-to advice for marriage is this: Happy wife, happy life.
Tell me again about how Asian women are obedient and submissive?