Divyang Hong speaks perfect Mandarin, so when he saw advertisements offering rooms to rent only for “male Chinese”, he was confident that he fit the bill.
But he was in for a surprise.
He contacted about 10 prospective landlords in Bukit Mertajam, all of whom wanted only “Chinese male” tenants.
Each time, he was turned down, with most of them hanging up when Hong revealed that he was not a pure Chinese.
“Only two people allowed me to speak right until the end before letting me explain about my race. The other seven to eight did not bother and decided to quickly cut me off,” he told FMT of his experience hunting for a room in Penang.
The 25-year-old had come from Sungai Petani to Penang to take up a job as a programming tutor.
Being a “Chindian”, a common reference to those of Chinese and Indian parentage, Hong’s looks betray his flawless Mandarin.
Hong said he had no choice but to ring up the rooms listed for Chinese, as almost every listing had a racial preference.
“I am not really a Chinese looking Chindian, but I thought by virtue of my dad and grandad being Chinese, I would qualify on a technicality,” said Hong, who said the rooms were advertised on online sites such as mudah and iBilik.
“The owners wanted a young working professional, and I was. And they wanted a Chinese person, and I am, too.
“I spoke in Mandarin also. So, I checked all the boxes,” he said.
Hong said each time he spoke in Mandarin, the owners were agreeable on all matters including the rental amount.
“After sorting out all the details with my prospective landlord, I thought I will be honest and tell them I am of mixed race. I tell them ‘I am not exactly pure Chinese but mixed’.
“They would then reply: ‘Mixed ah… then ah we must see. We do not want to rent out to mixed people, we want to rent out to a Chinese-Chinese’.”
Hong said he decided to tell them so that they would not be shocked when they saw him in person.
Hong, an engineering graduate, worked for a year as an engineer, but decided to take up a temporary job.
He now stays at a house belonging to a family friend.
Hong’s paternal grandfather was from Tongshan, China.
Hong also speaks fluent Tamil. He said the Chinese side of his family also speak Tamil, having mingled with the Indian estate community in Sungai Batu, not far from Sungai Petani.