Indonesia, the Chinese, Names, and the Languages

If you’ve read my previous post, you are probably wondering why “The Lady” is the only person on earth to ever address me as Mr. Chai. It has everything to do with the culture of the Chinese community in Indonesia. In short, my surname is not Chai. In fact, I don’t have a surname or lastname at all.

First, let’s talk about the language system over there. Our national and official language is Bahasa Indonesia (which literally means Indonesian Language). All literate Indonesians must know how to speak Bahasa Indonesia. But besides the national language, most of us also speak in dialects such as Javanese, Sundanese or Batak. For the Chinese, we speak in Chinese dialects like Hokkien, Hakka or Cantonese. However, most of the Chinese in the Java island (one of the 5 main islands) doesn’t speak Chinese at all. They speak in their local Indonesian dialect instead. For us who live in North Sumatra, we speak Hokkien.

When it comes to naming, most Chinese will give two names for their child; an Indonesian name to be stated in the birth certificate and a Chinese name. The Chinese name is unofficial. But, since Hokkien is often spoken more than the Indonesian Language, the Chinese name is used more often. In fact, we only uses our official name during official stuffs like school and sh*t.

So, when I told “The Lady” that my surname is 蔡 (Chai), I was officially lying. Unless I lives in China (which I am not and I’ve never been), people will never call me Mr. Chai. Therefore, she will be the only person on earth to call me that.

And finally, as of having a surname at all, my official name has only one word, the first name. In fact, many of my friends doesn’t have a last name. That’s just how things works over here. So people, please, stop asking me why I don’t have a last name!.

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