Sunday, February 11, 2007

Whose Desk?

Whose writing room? Find out and view even more famous authors' scribbling spaces on the Guardian website. Must say, though, that this is the one I like best. (And the author is one of my favourite people!)

And if you have an interesting space for your literary endeavours, send me a pic or a link and I'll feature it.


YTSL said...

I realize she's old and all but Beryl Bainbridge uses the term "Chinaman" in that Guardian piece. :o Is it just Americans who consider it offensive (when applied to a human being)?!

Anonymous said...

This is awesome. Thanks, Sharon. I would love to have a writing space like Beryl's. But first, I have to be a writer!

Chet said...

The first name that came to mind was Beryl Bainbridge, but then I remembered you said she uses an ancient computer so I thought it couldn't be her desk. Nice to know that I was right first off. You should post your desk to show us sometime, Sharon.

bibliobibuli said...

it's already posted chet. click the tag "writers desks" and scroll down.

agree w. ystl about the term "chinaman" tho' i do here my chinese friends use the term to refer to themselves when they aren't being too serious

Anonymous said...

Its so interesting to see their workplaces and hear what they say about it. Makes them more human somehow. The fact that Byatt gets tempted by Freecell (her too?) and the image of Sarah Waters under her glass desk peering at the shapes above her..
I can't decide whether I like Byatt or David Hare's space best.
I've read/watched them all but Sarah Waters so this was a fascinating insight.

YTSL said...

Hi again Sharon --

Just to confirm: You agree with me that the term "Chinaman" is offensive? If so, thank you!

As for your hearing your Chinese friends use the term: With some of them, I'd wager that they use it the way that some African-Americans do with the word "nigger" or homosexuals do with the word "queer" (i.e., claim it to give it a meaning of their own). With others though, I think that it's a case of their not having kept up with the English language's evolution. (E.g., in parts of Africa, local people persist in using the term "tribe" for what social scientists, etc. now prefer to describe as "ethnic group".)

bibliobibuli said...

i think when the chinese talk about themselves using the term they are emphasising stereotypical qualities e.g. that whole thing about eating anything with it's back to the sun ... and yes, i think it's equivalent to the other terms you mention ... but not as pejorative

wonder if the guardian editors or ms. bainbridge actually realise the word might cause offence? ... actually are YOU offended?

as for 'ethnic group' vs. 'tribe' ... i lived in nigeria for 2 years and all my african friends including the most literary and highly educated and overseas travelled said 'tribe' and there was no offense given or taken

the only person who did get deeply offended and cut me dead when i used the term was a very snooty british phd student doing her research ... (who decides on PC labels? the same outsiders who colonised you in the first place?)

i think political correctness can get ridiculous!

my african students also referred to themselves as "black" and were proud of the terms, my british students of west-indian origin were offended by the term and preferred "coloured" (which is a silly term to my mind as i am coloured too - sort of pinkish) ... and now i guess we say "afro-caribbean" (like african- american) to be pc even though many thus labelled are every bit as british and i am. in a simular way i shall object to being called "white" and ask to be called "anglo-saxon british"

btw one of my proudest moments in nigeria was when i was asked as i sat waiting in a taxi - park what tribe i belonged to - i answered "none, i'm british" and another little man from my town who was sitting there answered "yes she does, she belongs to our tribe, she's Alago"

just respect each other, sudah lah

and for the record, you can call me mat salleh as much as you like. i know it means you love me!

YTSL said...

Hi again Sharon --

"wonder if the guardian editors or ms. bainbridge actually realise the word might cause offence? ... actually are YOU offended?"

I guess I am to some extent. Otherwise I wouldn't have brought up her use of the term.

Actually, the term tends to strike me as more linguistically awkward than anything else. This since we don't write and/or talk about "Franceman", "Austriaman", "Japanman", etc. So why "Chinaman"?

"as for 'ethnic group' vs. 'tribe' ... i lived in nigeria for 2 years and all my african friends including the most literary and highly educated and overseas travelled said 'tribe' and there was no offense given or taken."

Just so where you know I'm coming from: I lived in Tanzania for two years. When we spoke in English, my African friends would talk about their "tribe". When we spoke in Kiswahili, they would talk about their "kabila". In summary: it seems that somewhere along the line, they learnt/were taught that "kabila" directly translates into English as "tribe". Hence their using the term when speaking in English.

However, I found as a social scientist that the traits of many of their "kabila" were more akin to "ethnic groups" than "tribes" per se. I also know that in the past, when many social scientists referred to African (and other) "tribes", they were implying -- and sometimes more than that -- that those groupings were more simple and primitive than, say, ethnic groups and nations. Hence my own personal as well as professional preference to use the term "ethnic group" rather than "tribe" in those instances.

For all this though, I can see your point that PC-ness can get ridiculous. A case in point: While studying in the U.S.A., anyone and everyone who hailed from outside of that country was described as an "international student". However, the way I saw it, this seemed to imply that Americans couldn't be international as a matter of course! Which, of course, isn't exactly what was intended...

...Still, given a choice between being called "alien" (e.g., by the U.S. Immigration Service(s)) and "international student", guess which I'd be more likely to go for! ;b

And yeah, just respecting each other would be nice too. :)

bibliobibuli said...

hey - you lived in africa too!! do tell me more ...

yes, really do hear what you're saying re. the term ...

actually you had the single word "kabila" in mother-tongue - useful! we didn't have a unifying mother tongue - apart from hausa which was a language of convenience in the area where i lived but not all mys tudents spoke it because they came from other parts of the country - my form 1 students came from 63 different ethnic groups with different languages!!! (don't ask how big the classes were!) so english was the language of officialdom

Eliza said...

Thanks for the link - I never tire of these (and especially so now since I am on a decorating drive). My faves are Mantel's and Frayn's. Neatness and symmetry make me work better!

YTSL said...

Hi once more Sharon --

"hey - you lived in africa too!! do tell me more ..."

Let me know what you'd like to know and maybe I'll write about it on my blog! ;)

And in the meantime, if you go to it and click on the "Tanzania" label, there'll be snippets which hopefully will interest you. :)

If you don't mind my asking: Is there little inter-ethnic group marriages, etc. in Nigeria? I ask because Tanzania has a lot of different ethnic groups too. But, yes, many -- if not most -- people speak Kiswahili (Tanzania's national language); in part because they interact a lot with members of ethnic groups and/or are the children of inter-ethnic group marriages.

As for classroom sizes: I knew of schools in Tanzania with classroom sizes of 100 or more... :(

Sufian said...

A gun?

Oh, come on!

Ruhayat X said...


for what it's worth, here's another usage of the word "Chinaman" among Chinese:

Some of my Chinese friends typically use the term "Chinaman" to refer to other Chinese who represent a group of "Chinese" characteristics or behaviour that they don't wish to be associated with.

These characteristics usually being racist, myopic, rigidly conservative or otherwise outmoded (ie, not modern). Like, for example, whenever someone beats us in a queue, picking their nose in public or talking really loudly on the phone in a restaurant.

In other words, it represents their rejection of something they dislike in their culture. They have never, as far as I can remember, used the term as synonymous with the way blacks use "nigger", nor are they unaware of its connotation.

One can argue that the usage comes from a position of superiority. But the way I see it, it's just a shorthand for referring to everything that's undesirable within one's culture. It's usually an expression of frustration or annoyance. The Malays have it too. Or at least, I do.

Ruhayat X said...

Sorry, just to clarify:

"The Malays have it too."

I meant, the Malays have a similar word (words, actually! Malays are very liberal with this sort of thing, I suppose) to refer to undesirable characteristics within their/my culture.

I was't referring to the Malay term(s) that could be construed as racist in nature. Which, of course, there are as well. But that wasn't my point in the posting above.

Ruhayat X said...

By the way, if I'm African I'd probably prefer using the term "tribe" rather than "ethnic group". Tribe connotes a sense of belonging, which is the whole point of defining yourself. Ethnic group... what's that?

Social-scientifically-speaking (hehe), though, I suppose ethnic group is better; it's more clinical and detached.

Ruhayat X said...

On the other hand, now that I've thought about it, I think social-scientifically as well, "tribe" is more precise. It denotes a set of criteria present within that particular tribe, but not necessarily within that "ethnic group".

That is, ethnic group refers mainly to surface appearance. Very shallow, if you ask me, even if DNA similarities is used as a basis. Tribe, on the other hand, encapsulates (and, more importantly, acknowledges) the whole worlview of that particular people.

I'm thinking, for example, of the Negri Sembilan "tribe" within the "Malay" (n quotation marks because I'm not sure if this label can be cast as widely across the Nusantara as it has been) "ethnic group". Ad I'm sure in China there are hundreds of tribes within that one ethnic group, at each extreme probably difering enough that they could even be classified as different races.

I'd better go before I flood Sharon's comments section. And besides, "arguing" with a professional social scientist? I can hear my late grandmother's voice nagging me already.

bibliobibuli said...

eliza - i can never be neat so i prefer the cluttered look

ruhayat - there's a book called "the ugly chinaman" ... yes, a term of disparagment but not racist

ruhayat - yes... ethcic group sounds v. racial ... what about groups tightly bound memetically rather than genetically? "tribe" does rather conjure up the idea of common culture and value system ...

the social science discussion here has been fascinating!! thanks for my sunday's entertainment. don't worry about filling up the comments ... i love debate

ystl - am definitely coming over to read you

bibliobibuli said...

ystl - just to answer an earlier question - nigeria is a v. large country w. 3 main african groups and hundreds of others - there is no one unifying african language and at one point there was talk of introducing swahili (no-one's mother-tongue!) as a common language to replace english the colonial language (though technically nigeria was never a colony but a protectorate)

Ruhayat X said...

Sharon, I said the usage of "Chinaman" above can be argued to come from a position of superiority. I would say it actually comes from a position of marginality.

Ie, from a handful of people who are - consciously or not - struggling to find an identity, or even seeking to create their own "tribe". And this "tribe", I propose, is not going to be racial in nature -- it can and probably will include members from other ethnic groups.

It's no accident, I think, that my Chinese friends who tend to use the term in that manner are all English-educated and have lived overseas. I can identify with them because we Malays have the same phenomena.

Ruhayat X said...

And besides, "ethnic group" wouldn't be able to account for my cousin, who is a Chinese adopted by my Malay uncle and aunt from birth. Or the Tamil one adopted by another close relative.

Nor, I'd say, the mixed parentage children whom the Ministry of Information seems to have singled out as a threat to the Malay good. I dunno why. I quite like these mixed women.

Anonymous said...

R X, You like me???

From a Banned Face (Sharon can no longer post pictures of me on her site).

Anonymous said...

Animah: and I thought that was already so obvious.

Bloody heck. I'm terminating all my non-shared Blogger blogs effective tonight. Google is forcing me to sign up for a Google account, and since I passionately disagree with the Google philosophy, I suppose one of us has to yield.

Goodbye, cruel blog world.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. Now THIS is interesting... it seems that the googlegod will not allow suicide in its universe. You can lop off your hands, head or whatever, but once created you just cannot extinguish your Self from its universe.

Ooo. That should keep me preoccupied for the next couple of days.

Anonymous said...

Wow, now that's quite an interesting albeit lenghty elaboration, how typical of a melayu, heh heh heh - ampun.

IMHO I wouldn't be offended if Beryl Bainbridge said "I got the typewriter in 1958 from a Malayman".

As for one thing, should it be an insult, I wouldn't bleed as much if its done by someone famous (try being insulted by a homeless hobo for being broke, now that's a double slap, and I got that last week when I said I didn't have money to spare).

Two, how else is she going to adress a perfect stranger? I AM a malay man.

Although the line - "You can't get them mended anymore so I have to be very careful with it." - got me wondering if she wasn't talking about the typewriter at all. haha.

Speaking of google, yeah I did suspect they were up to something fishy, suddenly I couldn't log into my blogger account. Ahh google schmoogle.

Anonymous said...

SB - beautiful! have been doodling on a notepad, my future study... great post!

Elviza Michele said...

Dear Sharon,

I am your ardent fan. I have been reading your blog for a year now. Like you, I am also drunk on books. Currently reading "the Reluctant Politician". I also read your recent features and columns in the Quill magazine, I must say that they are very insightful.

I am compelled to leave a comment about your post today. The space you featured is to die for. I have been longing to have this kind of writing space to indulge my dream to be a writer. Alas, I live in a small confined space called an apartment. Sigh.

Be that as it may, even if I do have the space of my dream, it does not mean that I will write my master piece anytime soon. Feeling discouraged at the moment.

Keep up the good job Sharon. Hope to see you soon.

Justice to Rocky Bru

Elviza Michele
Advocate & Solicitor
Kuala Lumpur

bibliobibuli said...

thanks elviza. sorry that you feel discouraged ... give that inner critic a bit boot up the backside

YTSL said...

Hi once again Sharon --

Actually, I knew/know that Nigeria has three main African groups (Yoruba, Hausa and Ibo, right?). And thinking some more about the (ethnic) politics, etc. of Nigeria, I can see how it came to be that none of these groups' languages can be used as a national language...

To ruhayat x --

"By the way, if I'm African I'd probably prefer using the term "tribe" rather than "ethnic group". Tribe connotes a sense of belonging, which is the whole point of defining yourself. Ethnic group... what's that?"

Why can't ethnic group connote a sense of belonging? After all, among other things, ethnicity has been defined/described -- in this case by Charles F. Keyes, an anthropologist who specializes in the study of ethnicity -- as possessing both cultural as well as social dimensions, "being a cultural construal of descent" and "is a form of kinship reckoning" (cf. Charles F. Keyes, ed., "Ethnic Change". University of Washington Press, 1981).

"...ethnic group refers mainly to surface appearance."

Sorry, but I have to ask: Where did you get that idea from?!

"And besides, "ethnic group" wouldn't be able to account for my cousin, who is a Chinese adopted by my Malay uncle and aunt from birth. Or the Tamil one adopted by another close relative. Nor, I'd say, the mixed parentage children whom the Ministry of Information seems to have singled out as a threat to the Malay good."

Yes, it would! E.g., see the above quote re ethnicity being "a cultural construal of descent". Therefore, if your cousin chooses to, (s)he can self-identify as Malay. Or Chinese-Malay. Or Malay-Chinese. Or, since one doesn't have to have just one identity, Malay *and* Chinese. Etc.

And to amaruhizat --

"Two, how else is she going to adress a perfect stranger? I AM a malay man."

Well, it's not like Bainbridge couldn't have written "Chinese man"... ;S

bibliobibuli said...

i fink you jus' won ystl


bibliobibuli said...

i mean ... the brain power that visits this blog. staggering!!

Anonymous said...

Haha. Now I know why my grandmother used to nag me so much about the folly of putting my foot in my mouth.

Anyway. My main objection is basically to cultural arrogance. Don't have much time, so I shall just post this for now:

if I were an African I would take back the old term that my culture is used to using, "tribe", and use it in the same way that blacks in America use "nigger". Since my tribe has been using "tribe" for generations, it would actually mean something to me, whereas this new-fangled thing called "ethnic group" that these foreign people are saying is good for me... what's that?

The way I see it, the negative connotations that have been attached to "tribe" and "nigger" or "negro" was done not by the people themselves, but by others outside their community.

Did anyone bother to ask the Africans themselves whether they would mind if they were referred to as a "tribe" instead of "ethnic group"? As Sharon's experience relates above, only the academic outsider protested, while the natives were quite happy to keep using the word "tribe" - naturally, since they never assigned a negative meaning to it the way the academic world did.

This lingustic "arrogance", I argue, is typical of "modernity". If I were a native, I would resent being labelled by someone from outside.

Eg, "Lazy Malay", if applied by someone external, I would construe as pejorative. But if it's the Malays themselves who go around saying that, yeah, Malays are indeed a lazy bunch, then I'd say it's a characteristic that they acknowledge as being part of their culture.

And like the guy above, I would take back "Lazy Malay" and be proud to claim myself as one because it just shows that we are a people who are wise enough to live with our environment rather than against it. (The suggestion being that the weather has a significant role in forming of cultural attitudes, in time-keeping and time management for example).

bibliobibuli said...

i can only speak of my bit of nigeria, mr x

i admire 'lazy' mr x. 'tis an art form i would love to emulate

Anonymous said...

Let's face it - whatever I say here won't have a dent in the world other than to make for entertaining discussion, if that. I doubt the academic world is suddenly going to decide not to use "ethnic group", since the term has been so well defined and accepted for common usage.

And I'm sure the term has been debated and discussed in endless academic forums and then further refined before it caught on. So I am indulging in this as purely idle entertainment.

To me the term "ethnic group" is simply too diverse and inelegant, as the example with my cousin shows. If she were to refer to herself as "Malay", which Malay is she referring to? Negri Sembilan Malay? Pahang Malay? Kedahan?

If she were to refer herself as "Chinese-Malay", how is she Chinese apart from her genes? And would she then belong in the general "Chinese-Malay" construct meaning she shares similarities with others who call themselves "Chinese-Malay"?

The Malays used to refer to themselves as "clans". This is not just between bigger clans - eg, Peninsula Malay clans vs Bugis clans vs Javanese clans. Today all these clans are described as one: "Malay", but once upon a time those who caled themselves Malays viewed these other clans as foreign, probably the way today's Malays view the Chinese and Indians.

In Pahang itself there are hundreds of clans. For the sake of simplicity, I suppose, these clans - with their own vocabulary and dialects etc - were defined by their geographic origins. Thus, the clans are defined by "district", eg you have the Jerantut clan, the Lipis clan, etc.

But then, within the "districts" themselves, there could again be many other sub-clans, if you like. In Lipis, the clans used to be distnct enough that we could tell where that person came from just by their manner of speaking, standing or walking. And when I was growing up it was still common to hear old folks say, "He is not of us."

using that single word, "clan", allows us in those days to quickly understand who such and such a person or stranger is, enabled us to anticipate his/her behaviour, and allowed us to "know" how to react to him/her.

Ie, I can simply say, "Oh, he's from the Ulu Cheka clan", and that would have been enough.

Anonymous said...

Sharon, hehe, actually, since we can assume there are a lot of social scientists from Africa also, we can also conclude that they too would prefer the new term to avoid the prejudices of the old.

This reminds me of Achebe's novels, where the older generation protagonists are proud of their heritage and are puzzled - if not downright outraged - when the newer ones, having sampled "civilisation" and "modernity", rejected th old terms they used to be defined with.

So no "tribe" for Okonkwo, Jr, thank you very much. In fact, they came to use and view the old world concepts the way some of my Chinese friends today use the term "Chinaman" or even "Cina apek".

I find all this most fascinatng.

Anonymous said...

Heh. It also reminds me of that event when an old aboriginal leader from Australia hopped onto a flight to the UK, went to Greenwich and popped an Aboriginal flag into the grassy mound, declaring, "I claim this land in the name of the Aborigines."

The British authroities didn't find the irony amusing, but my cultural studies group did. It was too rich for words.

I really should be working on my scriptwriting now but work has a habit of procrastinating, donnit.

bibliobibuli said...

i'm procastinating too ... awful innnit

great story, really made me laugh

Anonymous said...

By the way, did we manage to sell any copies of Elarti at the event at all? (By "we" of course I mean you and Nic... much thanks!). Been meaning to ask but I've been a bit preoccupied lately.

With work, before you ask.

Anonymous said...

To YTSL --

"Well, it's not like Bainbridge couldn't have written "Chinese man"..."

So by that logic, I am supposed to be offended if someone is refering to me as "Malaysiaman" instead of “Malayman”?

I still don’t get you.

When people say to me – You are nothing close of a Malay (which often than not, was uttered by another Malay) - that would be offending...Wait…if someone said that to me, I should be flattered! (And yes, I am referring to the "Malay" that points to the stereotypical statement of a typical melayu(s), which Mr. X have stated some of the qualities above.)

So, if Malaysiaman or Malayman is offensive, what will it be then? "That sawo-matang-skinned, flat-nosed, next to the Singapore country-East Asian?" fl Now that sounds offensive, or displaying the lack of basic geography knowledge of the person who said it.

I don't see the rationale, the reason why it would be offensive or discriminating to be referred to my origin - be it ethnic/tribe/race/clan. While it is the truth?

I am born a malay, raised as a malay, I do have the stereotype persona of a malay (lazy, no vision, procrastinator, short sighted, short), then why would I be offended if someone call me a malay?

Unless I no longer want to retain any relationship with my racial identity, ashamed perhaps, of my own heritage.

And who set these standards of labelling this person as ethnic or tribe or race as being offensive anyway? I am putting the dollar on the scholars, so they will have a topic to write for their thesis.

Anonymous said...

I jumped on Nic and sold three copies for him, or rather you.

Anonymous said...

Not long after I moved into my new house last year, I caught my 3 year old calling out to the old man next door, "Apek". Shocked, I corrected my daughter and lectured my maid telling her that it was derogatory. My maid said she didn't realise and agreed to address him as "uncle" in future.

The next day, my daughter called out "Uncle". He turned round and said to her "Panggil Apek lah. Apa Uncle, uncle ni?"

Now we all call him Apek. It's what he wants. He is quite a character - good subject for a book - I will drop hints to the writer in residence.

But the point is that what may be derogatory to some, may not be to others. It's about being sensitive and respecting others.

YTSL said...

To ruhayat --

"To me the term "ethnic group" is simply too diverse and inelegant, as the example with my cousin shows."

I, OTOH, think that its flexibility (I think this is what you meant with the "too diverse" pronouncement) is one of the main attractions of ethnicity as a term.

To amaruhizat --

"So by that logic, I am supposed to be offended if someone is refering to me as "Malaysiaman" instead of “Malayman”?"

What I was and am trying to say is that the term "Chinaman" has historical baggage that the term "Chinese" (or, if you would like it, "Malayman") doesn't have.

And you may not get me or ever get me. So instead of continuing the discussion in my own words, I'll refer you to the following four links:-

In summary: suffice to say that I am far from the only person who thinks that the term "Chinaman" has offensive connotations.

"So, if Malaysiaman or Malayman is offensive, what will it be then?"

These may not be offensive but surely you would agree that they sound linguistically awkward? And this especially since accepted/acceptable alternatives to them already exist in the form of -- the gender neutral to boot! -- Malaysian and Malay!

Anonymous said...

Understood. But...

The academics might know there is/should be a distinction, but the daily news tells us that the rest of the world don't.

So these days we have people getting persecuted or killed simply because they are "Jewish" or "Arab" or "Tutsi", despite the fact that the victims may actually be from different tribes with totally different worldviews than the ones that have been deemed dangerous to the perpetrators.

In the history of Medinah during the time of Prophet Muhammad, one of the Jewish tribes that settled in that city betrayed the Muslims to their enemies in Mecca. The Muslims waged war against that tribe, and just that particular tribe. If in those days they had been known only by their ethnic grouping "Jew", the entire Jewish population in Medinah would have been attacked and a great injustice would have taken place.

I celebrate the diversity of cultures. Each one should be recognised on their own terms. That's why I have a reservation against the Western-style method of uniformising everything in order to study them.

Anonymous said...

Animah the Barred: I've always called elderly Chinese men whom I am familiar with "Apek". It's a term of endearment to me, a mark of respect. I don't think any of them have been offended.

And I used to call young Indian boys "thambi". Since I don't use it patronisingly, I never thought there was anything wrong with it. These days, though, I've been told not to use it anymore. But the South Indian waiters at my regular mamak restaurant don't seem to mind.

Anonymous said...

ytsl - urmh...Touché!

Poppadumdum said...

Someone should point Ms. Bainbridge to this discussion! And she's say, after reading all of it, "Sod PC!" :-)

Chet said...

Ruhayat - I also bought one copy of Elarti.

Animah - Apek is actually Ah Pek, which means Uncle in Hokkien. It's not derogatory.