Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Of customs and culture or cultural customs

One of the first things I learned when I got here was how I would be mistaken by the local people for a Caucasian due to my fairer skin tone. Being of Chinese descent, I was a little annoyed and have set out to educate my colleagues on the difference, but sadly, to no avail (I was told, "you look the same!").

Another was to get accustomed to the shocked look on their faces when I inform them that yes, I am single, and yes, I don't have any children. And thank you very much, I don't have a problem with that (and generally don't have a problem, period)! It was similar to the experience I had when I served with YWAM in Papua New Guinea mid 2012; women my age would be on to their third or fourth child and any deviation from the norm was seen to be an aberration to be avoided at all costs!

One of the biggest difficulties for me, however, was in how the local culture dictates that women should always wear skirts or dresses. Back home, I practically lived in shorts, jeans or pants with the occasional foray into foreign territory for special occasions. I half-expected that from my aforementioned trip to PNG (over there, women in jeans were seen as prostitutes!). What I wasn't expecting was to have to don the same apparel at work in the hospital; nope, no exemptions for docs! Although part of that could be explained by how there seems to be no female doctors in the country. The pastor and I had a good laugh when she related how the kids from the orphanage came up to her on Sunday (after I was introduced to the church congregation) and asked how I could be a doctor when I wasn't a man! Anyway, that explains the pic above. Reluctantly, I can now be found in a scrub skirt (which I didn't even know existed) at the hospital.

As the wife of the (other) Aussie missionary doctor quipped, "if wearing a skirt means I can do missions better and not offend the local people, then I'll wear a skirt!". The Apostle Paul also eloquently elaborated on the same theme in his epistle to the Roman church:

Romans 14:15-21 "Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak."

Indeed, the kingdom of God is not food and drink (regardless of what most Malaysians may think!) - or for that matter, clothes, a nice house, a good salary with a tidy sum for retirement, etc. An upside to all this? I've to say it's probably more comfortable than pants in the heat!

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