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Malaysia, a name so unique
Three emotions tend to be evident whenever Tun Malaysia Venecia Zaman Riera introduces herself to other people, bewilderment, amusement and finally, acceptance.
Those mental states probably showed on my face, too. Malaysia coyly laughed when I greeted her before our interview at DiGi Telecommunications’ headquarters in Shah Alam, Selangor.
But then again, it isn’t every day that you come across an individual named after our country. For the 18-year-old private university business student, though, her name was something of a burden in her formative years.
“I got teased a lot. Kids at school would just come up with all kinds of things: Malaysia Boleh, Cuti-Cuti Malaysia …,” she trails off, referencing the various slogans associated with the country.
Having spent the first four years of her life in Venezuela, all the name-calling initially baffled her. But as she grew older, the realisation set in, and along with it, strength and perseverance.
“Whenever they shout ‘Malaysia Boleh!’, I’ll respond by saying: ‘Of course, I can. Can you?’” Malaysia says, her dark brown eyes lighting up.
Born to a Malaysian father and a Venezuelan mother, the story of how she was named Malaysia is simple, yet meaningful.
Her mother was mesmerised by a poster of the magnificent Blue Mosque in Shah Alam when she was pregnant. That prompted her to name her third child in honour of her husband’s native land.
Malaysia’s middle name, Venecia, means Little Venezuela, after her mother’s birth country. As for the Tun title, she explains that it comes from her being a descendant of Megat Terawis, the Chieftain of the Perak Sultanate.
Malaysia in the kitchen with mum and dad. – Screengrab from Finding Malaysia: Digi Malaysia Day 2015
‘The teenager speaks Malay, English and Spanish. And she’s thinking of picking up the Chinese language as well in the future. She reckons it will be useful, considering China’s economic growth.
At the same time, Malaysia harbours dreams of becoming an ambassador.
“I want to represent the country,” she offers, as her fingers trace the intricate henna pattern on her right wrist, “Malaysia representing Malaysia.”
The confident young adult grew up with traditional values. It was reflected in what she wore that day: a cream-coloured baju kurung paired with striking red Converse sneakers.
But just because she shares the same name as the nation does not mean she loves the spiciness of the country’s signature cuisines.
“I tried spicy food once, and my throat was in so much pain!” she exclaimed. What she does love about her homeland, though, are the citizens and the culture.
“The people are very welcoming and the culture is beautiful,” she offers, adding that she’s intrigued by traditional Malaysian dances. She also feels that all the gorgeous promotional tourism videos do justice to our tropical landscape.
Malaysia is refreshingly opinionated, a trait she tempers with a good sense of humour. “Well, I don’t want to go to jail,” she jokes.
Without going into detail, she says headlines that paint the country in a bad light do affect her emotionally. Such news has even made her the butt of cruel jokes among her peers.
But if anything, Malaysia is glad she’s not alone in shouldering such a monumental name. Through DiGi Telecommunications, she recently met another Malaysian who shares the same name.
Malaysias together: A touching scene in the video when Malaysia Rani, 53, meets teenager, Tun Malaysia for the first time. – Screengrab from Finding Malaysia: Digi Malaysia Day 2015
“It makes me feel less lonely,” she says, and in her wry humour adds, “and also less special.”
The #KitaMalaysia project brought together the teenager and 53-year-old Malaysia Rani. The younger Malaysia describes the first meeting she had with the older woman as very touching and awe-inspiring.
“Malaysia Rani hugged me and just cried. And I was just telling her that everything is going to be OK,” Malaysia says.
Malaysia Rani couldn’t make it for the interview as she just welcomed a grandchild who, through happy coincidence, shares her birthday – Aug 31.
Although the two women are from different generations, Malaysia says they have something in common.
“Like myself, there’s that confidence she has in holding her name,” Malaysia says.
Moving forward, the spunky teenager hopes that all Malaysians will stay united through thick and thin. “Let’s stay strong, fight through the bad times, and stay together as one,” Malaysia implores.
After all is said and done, would she name her child after a country?
“I would. But then, they would probably have to go through the same thing I did,” she retorts.
She has come to terms with her name, for better or worse. She’s also brushed off all those instances when social media commenters linked her name to unfortunate incidents in the country.
“It’s not my fault that I’m named Malaysia. It’s a privilege,” she concludes, with a smile.
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