This documentary starts with a familiar scene to most Southeast Asians: people deep in prayer, women carrying jugs of milk carried on head and men carrying gigantic kavadis that pierce their flesh.
This is Thaipusam, a festival to signify the triumph of good over evil celebrated by Hindus all over the world.
It’s a festival unique to Indians yet there is a Chinese female in the procession. She’s not the only person with a different skin tone there, but she stands out for her devotion to the ritual and practice.
This isn’t a mere tourist but a woman of utmost faith.
Meet Chew Leeying, Sham.
Leeying is married to Miles, and has been so for close to 15 years now. She’s his Cheena manaivi – Chinese wife. They met when they were 19 and finally married when she was 28 years old. In the course of her marriage, she has embraced the Hindu faith and customs, celebrating Chinese New Year alongside Deepavali and Thaipusam.
The course of this interracial union did not come easy though. Leeying speaks about the hostile reactions and prejudices she has had to overcome, even from those closest to her.
“My dad is a very typical Chinese and he feels that why of all I actually choose an Indian. Because he has this thought in his head that they will always drink and they come back and abuse the wife.”
They joke about it now, in their deadpan manner. But the stereotype and objection is an issue that still faces many interracial marriages. She’s matter of fact about it, but there’s a tinge of hardened defensiveness to her words, likely a shield from years of fighting all the assumptions tossed her way.
In addition to that, Leeying speaks about the unspoken pressure of representing both races accurately. Having grown up celebrating different customs, there is the added pressure of ensuring that her adoption of the Hindu customs and rituals are without errors.
There’s also the next generation to think about. Davian, their son, carries the torch of both cultures and while he practices Hindu customs, he has adopted Mandarin as his mother tongue. The choice didn’t come without conflict, but it was the practical choice for this globalised world. This same globalised world that continues their archaic thoughts about interracial marriages.
As Leeying says, you can’t choose the family you’re born too, but you choose your partner, and it’s plain to see that regardless of what people say and think, mutual respect and love is very much alive in this union.