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Eurasian Splendor by Nicola Koh | Word Riot
Creative Nonfiction

March 15, 2016      

Eurasian Splendor by Nicola Koh

Sunday morning. There are a hundred different places I’d rather be right now: ninety-one of them involve beds. None of them remotely resembles a Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Calvary Church service. But my family would see me burn in hell before they let me skip church. And when your family is Eurasian, where “family” means the whole damn shebang—grandma down to grandkids who get together three-to-four times a week and spend almost all of Sunday together—you think long and hard before upsetting them.
      Eurasians are the thousand or so descendants of European colonial men who raped, whored, adulterated, and occasionally loved Asian women. Older Eurasians call these unions “marriages,” but really we’re the bastards of Europe and Asia. We have no cultural identity, pilfering from the Asians around us who barely know we exist and from our vague concept of what Europeans do. Which somehow involves mince pies and fruitcake at Christmas. Apart from our descent from some form of European, there is little that objectively links Eurasians.
      But there are some things you can always expect from us. 1) We greet every family member every single time we meet them, kissing those of the opposite sex on the cheek; 2) we love Western culture and think we’re better than pure Asians because of our European ancestry; 3) we like to dance badly; 4) we like to pretend we’re cowboys; 5) we have a tendency towards alcoholism, which probably explains numbers 3 and 4; and, since neither Europe nor Asia really wants or cares about us, 6) Eurasians stick together. No matter what.
      So I’m trapped in this church as the service grumbles to a start at 10:37 AM (Malaysians are never on time). My brother and oldest cousin start banging on the drums and bass along with the rest of the worship team. For the first ten minutes of worship, my youngest aunty, her son, and I are the only representatives of our clan in the congregation. Then the rest saunter in like royalty: Nanan, aunties, uncles, cousins. Mom comes after wrapping up the class she and Dad teach. We’re all here other than my youngest cousins who are in “Carpenter’s Workshop” (because Jesus was a carpenter’s son). We sit in our usual spot, of course.
      No one ever, ever, sits in our spot. We’re hardcore. Legendary. Seventeen strong, no family in the twenty-five hundred plus member church comes close to matching our dominance. In this congregation of about three hundred, a satellite to the main church, we’re a pillar. They might as well engrave out names in the chairs.
      Being a part of such a well known family is hard, and it’s worse since my parents are especially famous. My whole life I’ve been “Michael and Yvette’s son.” My parents have been involved in the church since right before my brother was born, five years before me. They’ve taught the basic doctrine class “My Faith,” correcting Calvary’s shoddy official theology as they go, and taken care of visitors to the church since before I can remember. They also directed three of Calvary’s gargantuan quasi-Evangelistic Christmas presentations. Mom cut such a formidable figure there that years later some still tremble slightly at the name “Sister Yvette.” Dad is head usher for this satellite congregation.
      My brother managed to step out of their shadow by being popular in Youth group, drumming for them and church, worship leading, and doing the whole leadership jazz. Which just means I’m also “Jeremy’s brother” on occasion.
      But back to the worship, not because it’s good, but because you should suffer too. Every week it’s the same old thing. Songs that have no theology or tune, most of the congregation barely singing, faces frozen in boredom, and a smattering of people going into a frenzy of hand waving and wild gesturing. Occasionally the worship leader stops to pray, which in a Pentecostal church inevitably ends with the caterwaul of rolling tongues. The congregants raise their arms straight into the air, their hands swiveling like satellite dishes, looking for the Holy Spirit’s reception.
      The preacher today is none other than the head man himself: Reverend Doctor (Honorary) Dato Senior Pastor Prince Guneratnam, which is how his name appears on the PowerPoint sermon outline. (He graciously leaves out the honorary.) Many people have called Pastor G. many things, but short of breath is not one of them. His sermons take forever to reach their this-will-change-your-life-forever point. He also has the annoying habit of pacing around and shouting randomly, leaving me no choice but to pay some attention to what he’s saying. And, like with most Pentecostal sermons, I agree with about ten-percent of the words coming out of his mouth.
      Most of my family adores the man. They love his sermons, his shouting, his fire and brimstone. They never complain about him, which, considering that like most Malaysians we complain about everything, is a pretty big vote of confidence for the G-man. Most of the family, like other Calvarites, love Calvary and Pastor Prince. Most of my family.
      Me and my immediate family, not so much.
      To prevent my brain entering into a coma I doodle on the little sermon note cards Calvary so conveniently provides. I give the impression that I’m taking lengthy notes so that Nanan, who still thinks all her grandchildren are three-year olds, won’t cluck at me and smack my knee.
      It’s at times like this that I half-think the Catholics have got the right idea about services. Read; sing; chant; say your Hail Mary’s, Lord’s Prayers, Christ Have Mercy’s, and The Lord Be With You’s (and you and you); listen to a ten minute sermon; consume the flesh and blood of Jesus, and bam: forty minutes tops— done. In, out, the peasants rejoice.
      Most Eurasians are Catholic, and so was my family seven years before I was born (my oldest cousin was baptized a Catholic). My clan left the Church of Rome pretty much at the same time, before all settling down in Calvary a few months later. That’s what Eurasian families do—they flock.
      Days like these I wonder, why do we have to flock here?
      The oh-so beautiful sermon bleeds into the even more wonderful altar call that seems to prove that God’s faithfulness isn’t the only thing that lasts forever. Pastor Prince gives three calls:
            -is anyone sick?
            -is anyone struggling with sin?
            -does anyone have a burden on their heart?

The music swells in a completely non-manipulative way, drawing a third of the congregation forward who feel that Pastor Prince is speaking directly to them. Many of them were there last week too.
      When the service finally ends, after the protracted singing of The Lord’s Prayer, I always think the same thing: Good riddance to bad rubbish.


The third of July. I’m in the States and it looks like I will be for a while.
      But I’m not an American, so tomorrow won’t belong to me. I wonder if I’ll ever celebrate my country’s national day and if that country will ever be Malaysia again.
      I have chosen this. I have distanced myself from my birth country. I rarely talk to my family, even to my parents living in this same house.
      I have chosen to be an individual, the Western dream I and so many of my kin have longed for.
      I have no regrets.
      But tonight I’m crying.
      Nanan’s had a heart attack, and the doctors think she’s too old for another by-pass. There’s a photograph of a man in my bedroom who from the back looks like Nanan until I walk too close. It reminds me of when she was visiting for a month and how I would resent her uninvited cleaning of my bedroom. I remember how I was almost happy when she left.
      My cousin calls, and we talk about Nanan, the family, even Calvary. It’s been nearly four years since my parents, brother, and I left that church. Or were effectively forced out when Pastor Prince told my parents they could not serve in the church because they did not publicly support his $200 million building project.
      I left bitter and angry at the church and at my extended family who took the church’s side and gave us emotional hell for leaving.
      So I didn’t think I’d be sad to hear the latest ugly development in a bitter internal church conflict over the same building project my parents had objected to. My clan’s devotion to Pastor Prince now marks them as targets for derision among disgruntled quarters.
      My cousin hangs up and I lie back.
      I remember sitting in my usual place in a Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Calvary Church service, and how much I’d hated being there. But I remember what it felt like to be surrounded by a family who, for all their flaws, loved me and whom I loved.
      They saved our seats at Calvary for months, hoping against hope that one day they’d find us prodigals there again. We never did. Tonight that hurts.
      Tonight a part of me wishes we’d remembered that we were Eurasians.
      Because Eurasians stick together.

Nicola KohAbout the author:

Nicola Koh is trans-androgynous, an atheist with two seminary degrees, and a Malaysian Eurasian who’s been in America for eight years. She is pursuing her MFA at Hamline University and is a fiction editor at Red Bird Chapbooks. When not writing, reading, or working, Nicola enjoys being perennially disappointed in Liverpool FC, being overly good at Tetris, hanging out with friends, and bothering her dog pal, Anya.

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