Publication date: October 2010
Retail Price:
RM 34.90 / S$ 18.60 before GST
Format: 130 mm X 198 mm ;
208 pp with colour photographs
Category: Fiction / Asian Heritage
Territories & Rights:
World / All languages
Imprint: Marshall Cavendish Editions

 

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A Nyonya in Texas:
Insights of a Straits Chinese Woman in the Lone Star State

About the Book

Tired of Europeans describing “exotic” Asian cultures? Here is a refreshing twist with Lee Su Kim, a Straits Chinese writer, observing Americans as she writes about her ‘expat’ experiences in Texas, the Lone Star State, USA.

Originally, quirky and sometimes hilarious. A great read, always entertaining, tinged with delicate satire, poignant and touching at times, scathing and ironic at others.

The author regales us with her brilliant and funny insights into life and society in Texas, highlighting the complexities of cross-cultural encounters, its joys and travails.

Writing in the winning style we’ve come to know her for, she reveals delightful oddities when Visiting Alien meets Resident Americans, and pokes fun at Texans, Americans and even fellow Malaysians aren’t spared!

 

 

Excerpts from the Book:

From "Staying True”

When I was about to leave for the USA, a good friend gave me a piece of advice.

“Remember, Su Kim, always stay true to yourself.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Just be true to yourself,” he said.

“Stay in touch with your inner being, enjoy the new experiences, adapt to your new life but do not change the essence of what you are.”

Who me, change? No, I don’t think so. I wasn’t exactly in my formative years anymore, and I happen to be proud of my Malaysian identity and cultural heritage. I wasn’t a likely candidate for change at all. Although I had travelled to various parts of the world, I guess I qualified as a true ‘home-grown’ product. I was educated at a local school and received my tertiary education from the University of Malaya. I had never experienced living in a foreign country, except for holidays abroad.

And now I was off to the US to pursue a postgraduate degree as well as to accompany my husband on an international assignment. My whole family was about to be relocated to Houston, Texas, including my dog and cat. A secret dream—the opportunity to study abroad—which I had thought could never be fulfilled, was now materialising. So soon and so suddenly. I wasn’t quite prepared but I resolved that nothing would change—I would always still be me.

Was I in for a big surprise! If anything else were to change, one would think that one’s name would at least stay intact. What’s in a name? A name is something encoded in black and white print that you respond to when called. On the other hand, it is the one constant in your life. It is your very first possession at birth, and stays on forever in the memory of others after you have departed from this world. To me, my name summed up the essence of me … or so I thought.

Well, my first experience in culture shock on arrival in America was that it was a real struggle trying to hold on to my name. Whenever I was asked by an official or a service counter person for my name in order to fill in a document or an application form, I would reply, “My name is Lee Su Kim.”

Then came along the perplexing questions. “What is your last name, Mam? Is it Kim?”

My initial reaction was to laugh, thinking that the person was pulling a fast one on me … surely anyone who has had some contact with anything remotely Chinese or eaten some kind of Chinese food would know that Lee is a Chinese surname. Besides, wasn’t this the country of Bruce Lee fame? And aren’t there, like, one billion Chinese in the world? But, as time went on, it began to dawn on me that there really was a problem here—many Americans do not understand the structure of a Chinese name!

To the Chinese, the surname is of paramount importance. It always comes first, followed by two more syllables which comprise the actual name of the person. The Chinese surname identifies one with an entire clan with the same surname and links you to your roots. In the United States, the common frame for a name is one’s first name, a middle name (optional), then one’s last name, for example, William Jefferson Clinton—Clinton is the last name and William is the first name.

Not a problem, you might say. But for a Chinese Malaysian just arrived from Malaysia, where everyone of all races sort of know how our different names are aligned, it took some mental concentration to focus and remind myself that now my surname i.e. my first name was now my last name!

“What’s your first name ?” the blonde American bank teller asked me when I tried to open a savings account.

“My first name ? Err … oh yes, it’s Lee!! Oh wait a minute … My first name is still Lee but now, over here, my first name is er Su Kim and my original first name is now my last name Lee. Grooannnn …”

The bank teller looked at me blankly, blinked and said,

“Mam, could you make up your mind, please?!”

For a long while after my arrival in the US, I struggled valiantly to preserve my name in its original form. I could give up sambal belachan, teh tarik, but hey, I was NOT going to buckle under and change my name just because of this all-encompassing paradigm.

Well, after six months, I confess I cracked under the weight of the system. Don’t tell my ancestors this but I … groan … have had to shift my precious Chinese surname to the back instead of its former prestigious frontal position.

This is because it was just too much hassle having to explain every time a misunderstanding occurred. Getting called Lee Su is no fun when one isn’t named Lee Su.

“Hello, Lee Su. Could I interest you in making a small donation to the Paralyzed Veterans’ Society?” I would receive a telephone call from out of the blue. How they get my name and telephone number I don’t know but—arrghh, don’t call me Lee Su!

“Excuse me, don’t call me Lee Su. That happens to be the name of a very cruel minister of the Emperor Shih Huang Ti of China!” I snap in exasperation. Somehow that little fact stuck in my head from a Form Two History textbook all these years.

Then a few minutes later, another call, “Hello, can I speak to Miss Kim?” After months of hearing my name mauled to bits, to sound bites of sulees and leesus and kimlees, and months of trying to educate name-manglers the structure and exquisite order of a Chinese name, I gave up. If you can’t beat them, join them, and so alas, I have to confess I became Su Kim Lee over here. True to myself still but alas, somewhat mutated. Not yet hyphenated, and still resisting punctuation. (Many Chinese here hyphenate their names so that there is no confusion over their first and middle names, for example, Min-Fong Lee.) My Malay friends here don’t have it any easier too. My friend Haslinda, told me that when she registered her two sons, Muhammad Amin and Muhammad Azman in school, they of course entered their father’s name Sharif as their last name which is how the Malay name structure works. But now she says, the teachers in the school “must be wondering why we are so short of ideas for names” because the two sons end up having the same names—Muhammad Sharif (middle names are usually not used) and the poor dad is now addressed as Mr Sharif Sharif! At a class last semester in the graduate studies programme I was attending, we all had to introduce ourselves briefly.

An Indonesian classmate introduced himself, “I have only one name. My name is Soekarno. No first name and no last name. But you can call me Ass!” I saw some eyebrows shoot up but no one said anything. We all remained politely politically correct. After class, I couldn’t overcome my curiosity. I walked over and asked Soekarno softly why he said we could call him Ass. He replied in not-so-good English that he was tired of having to explain that he had only one name, something not uncommon in Indonesia. Out of frustration, he decided to give himself a first name by taking the first letter of his name, ‘S’ for Soekarno.

“Oh,” I muttered, and walked away.

He was about to leave for his homeland soon. Let the man return home in blissful innocence. Who was I to tell him that he had made an ‘S’ of himself in his choice of a name!

 

Read ‘A Nyonya in Texas’ for the rest of this story and more!

 

 

 

PRAISE FOR A NYONYA IN TEXAS

“ Like a fireworks display it’s colourful, flashy and loud but ends too soon” “I am glad however this book was written for it is an honest homespun tale about how travel broadens one’s horizons and how everyone has pride in their heritage."

The Star 7 dec 2007

“ This book is perfect for foreigners ( especially Westerners who still seem to hold the notion that we live on trees) and Malaysians ( who want an untainted view of the great USA alike. I’ve read Lee’s book on ‘Manglish: Malaysian English at its Wackiest ‘ and I liked it a lot but I must say that this is way better. "

Usha Ong

“ Combining her academic excellence, creative talent and an unfailing eye for the details, Lee Su Kim weaves together a tapestry of ordinary events and episodes that bring out the extraordinary nature of life in a foreign land.  Added to interesting tidbits are the author’s highly insightful comments on the social, cultural and linguistic quirks of American life. The result is an absorbing narrative that is at once devilishly satirical and delightfully humorous. ”

Professor B. Kumaravadivelu
Professor of Applied Linguistics
San Jose State University California, USA

"Scintillating!  A unique eye-opening and hearty discourse on the experiences of a Malaysian Nyonya in the la-la land of the bighorn scribed in a very readable earthy style! "

Mano Maniam
Malaysian Theatre Practitioner, Fulbright Scholar

“ She juggles the serious and the funny, sometimes making our laughter catch in your throat and sometimes making us smile even when we want to sigh. Her tales gain deeper dimensions from the fact that she speaks both as a member of a diminishing minority in a small country in a globalised world, and as a carrier of ancient cultures at the same time.”

Ooi Kee Beng,
Ph.D Fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore

" Every story is a lesson in humanity. This witty and comical expose is a must for everyone who travels and works or visits America and wants to appreciate American culture and habits. "

Dr Lawrence Freeman,
President and Chief Executive Officer, Global Business Consultants, Inc., USA

" This book vividly captures the obvious and subtle differences of Asian and American culture in a humorous yet enlightening way.  This is a must read for anyone who is interested in understanding various cultural differences - Asians, new immigrants and Americans alike!"

Lili Zheng
International Tax Partner - Deloitte Tax LLP Deputy Managing Partner - Chinese Services Group, USA

" Initially, I thought that this book would sensitize me to how immigrants feel coming to the U.S.  It did but it does so much more.  It builds awareness of some American habits and tendencies that certainly have room for improvement.  This kind of enlightenment makes it a must read for all. ‘A Nyonya in Texas’ is clever, witty and enjoyable reading too."

Professor Lloyd Shefsky,
(Clinical) Professor of Entrepreneurship at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, Author of the acclaimed 'Entrepreneurs are Made Not Born'

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