10 Minutes With… Same Same (Paulius Staniunas)

source: Paulius Staniunas

Kuala Lumpur’s nightlife regulars already know Paulius Staniunas as the person behind All is Amazing. But it wasn’t just the parties that endeared this Lithuanian to our country – Paul came to Malaysia four years ago and discovered an amazing melting pot of cultures and traditions that persuaded him to set up camp in KL. Admiring the heterogeneity here, something that Lithuania doesn’t have, he’s recently taken it upon himself to remind us of the fortune we have on our land. JUICE speaks to the man about Same Same – his new project celebrating diversity, his favourite Malaysian slang, and why Malaysians don’t seem to really appreciate their own culture.

What sort of beauty and charm have you found in Malaysia? 
It’s like you are looking at a very beautiful artwork; the colours, shades, and shapes match perfectly, that’s how I saw Malaysia. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is amazing and I want to live here!” I have never felt so welcomed and at home than I do in Malaysia (keep in mind that I come from a tiny country in Europe – Lithuania, which is very homogenous, with totally different cultures and traditions). You might say, “Yeah, he’s mat salleh, so he’s welcomed anywhere in Asia,” but I don’t think so. I believe that Malaysia, in comparison to very homogeneous countries, doesn’t have the issues of “others” (based on differences; language, culture, race, etc.), because your neighbour is Indian who is married to a nyonya, your dad’s sister is married to a Chinese, who comes from Bintulu, who was adopted by a Malay family, where his wife’s grandfather is Indian… I could go on and on. You see, isn’t it beautiful? And you all are united under one beautiful name – Malaysians. That’s your power, that’s your beauty, that’s the charm that I found and I kept rediscovering in Malaysia.

It’s interesting that you (a visitor, as you call yourself) want to remind us Malaysians of our culture and how fortunate we are to be living in a diverse country. Why do you think it’s difficult for Malaysians to realise that for themselves? 
I think it’s in our human nature to take things for granted until we lose them or aren’t exposed to it for a long time. That’s why I love travelling, because once you leave your own country, you start to take things back home into perspective and realise how lucky you are to have all those customs and traditions that you’ve become numb to. For example, how lucky you are in Malaysia to be able to get any hawker food you please at 11pm — try doing that in Europe. How lucky you are to visit open houses at least three times a year — try using the term “open house” in the States. Or how lucky you are to speak five languages without any effort (ask your British friends how many languages they speak). I guess it’s not only a Malaysian thing to go numb on your daily life advantages, it’s like this everywhere in the world. For example, I too didn’t appreciate my own language and its beauty until I stopped speaking it and realised how beautiful it sounded once I spoke it years later.

Sometimes we just need to step aside from our daily routines (by travelling) and take a fresh look at who we are and then everything falls nicely into place. You know, it’s like assembling a puzzle, the longer you look at it from a close proximity, the less of the big picture you see, because you’re focusing on that small detail to fit in, but once you step back from the table and take a look at the puzzle from afar, you start seeing the big picture and appreciating the beauty of it.

Since you’ve lived here for a few years now, surely you’ve picked up a few slangs. Which is your favourite?
“Jom!”, “So how?”, “Lepak”. My Malay, Chinese, and Indian colleagues in the office are a Pandora’s Box of the Malaysian slang.

Finally, someone’s favourite slang is not lah. So what’s Same Same about?
It is a platform for everyone to celebrate the beauty that is Malaysia’s diversity. There’s no country in Asia quite like this one and I want to remind Malaysians of how lucky they are to coexist in a multiracial and multicultural society.

How’s the progress been thus far? Have you received any shocking stories yet? 
All stories are shocking! Chindian and Malay family celebrating Christmas, Eurasians speaking Tamil, Malays being adopted by Chinese families, Indians celebrating Chinese New Year! On a serious note, progress has been good and the project has been greeted very warmly by almost everyone who’s taken part in it. I say almost because there were cases where I have had to take posts down because some of the family members wouldn’t accept what has been said in the interview. But nevertheless, there is a photo exhibition in Penang in conjunction with George Town Festival called Same Same: A Dan Lain-Lain Project, where multiracial families from Penang share their stories. So if you are there [in Penang], drop by Dewan Sri Pinang and check it out.

Is that one of the goals you have for this project – to ease the disapproving family members into accepting diversity?
My end goal is to have national mixed-race family day celebrated (at least in Malaysia), but now I am happy to inspire people and remind them that they can be whomever they want to be, they don’t need to put themselves in boxes and labels. I really want to remind Malaysians that ‘race’ is just a scientific term; love is the real driving force of your nation.

We have an awful amount of tough love here. If there’s one lesson that you could teach human beings, what would it be? 
That we are all born with a clean slate – same and equal. It’s just later on society labels, categorises, and separates us in many ways. I would teach them to ignore these separations and always look at the world with the eyes of the child; pure, curious, and always questioning everything. Heart of a mother – non-judgmental and loving – and mind of a father – brave and proud to be a citizen of the world.

Same Same: A Dan Lain-Lain Project is held throughout the whole month of August at Dewan Sri Pinang, Penang. More information here.