I drafted the post below for a different site and I am reposting it here.
Ok. I don't know how many of you have read this piece of fantasy like article but to the uninitiated, this is the story of a Malaysian who made it kind of big in America thanks to her heritage and of course, hard work. However, before you start to wipe those tears away or awe in the awesomeness of her rags to riches story or wonder how backward this "exotic" little south East Asian country called Malaysia is, I need you to get your facts right.
1: Mamak is not a tribe! And it is not certainly the lowest caste in Malaysia. I, and million other Malaysians are not aware that Malaysia practises caste system. We have your usual favouritism, and to some degree, discrimination perhaps, depending on your definition of the word discrimination but that is not the same as caste system. But come on, tell me one place on earth that has zero discrimination. Anyway, back to Azalina and her claim of Mamak being the poorest, denied this and that due to them being on the bottom rung of the social ladder, that is such an intriguing point for her to say. Why? One of our most brilliant prime ministers is of Mamak descent. Quite a number of the top guns in the government service and even private sectors are Mamak. To get more personal, some of my fb friends are of Mamak descent and they are very brilliant ladies and gents, and I wouldn't dare say that they are poor or not successful in life. These Malaysian India Muslims who still speak Tamil and practises certain cultural things their ancestors brought from India to Malaysia are certainly not as deprived as the authors and Azalina wanted you to think.
2. Orang Utans are natives to Borneo! Not Penang. They are endangered, protected and could not be kept as pets. Neither could elephants for that matter. The way the writer wrote about Azalina's childhood which should not be thaaaaat way back in the past made me assume that either this writer was just plain stupid, or whether this Azalina fellow is such a brilliant story teller, to be able to spin such tale that sounded like something that could have appeared in the Jungle Book.
3. We have fridges and computers in Malaysia since I was small.. It's not recent technology. I won't dwell further into this, but that's it. This article is just too much. Yes, we are very happy that you are successful in the states, we are very very proud of that too. You should have seen how it was reported by the Malaysian media. They love you Azalina! But I think you should not exaggerate so much to sell your story. You have your talent in culinary. Make full use of that instead.
It's 3am and I need to sleep. But I could not just go to sleep thinking that somewhere in this world, some naive web readers believe every single word written on this darkrye.com website.. Sigh..
I am copy pasting the original article for your reference. Please don't sue me for plagiarism. What you are going to read below are originally posted on http://www.darkrye.com/content/story-azalina-eusope
Azalina Eusope is a San Francisco street vendor who works 18 to 20 hours a day serving up delicious Malaysian dishes from her Penang style hawker stand. She spent her childhood days hanging out with an orangutan named Madu and her blind chicken. Wait. What? Is this the Malaysian norm? Come to think of it, where exactly is Malaysia?
For myself, I had no idea until I met Azalina. The Internet has so shrunk the world that other places have diminished into a vague out there that’s not here. So let’s start with your finger on Australia. Go north, halfway to mainland Asia, and then west until you hit Borneo. Malaysia, consisting of two pieces separated by the South China Sea, occupies a good chunk of northern Borneo, and Peninsular Malaysia dangles off Asia south of Thailand. You with me? Now, off the northwest side of Peninsular Malaysia, there’s an island called Penang, which also happens to be the food capital of Malaysia, known for having the best street food in Asia. Let me repeat that in italics so you can soak in the full impact of that statement: The tiny island of Penang has the best street food in ALL of Asia. And that’s where Azalina grew up.
As a result of being a part of the ancient spice route, Malaysia’s ethnic recipe consists of Chinese, Indian, Thai, Javanese and Sumatran cultural influences. Articulating Malaysia’s diversity and its impact on her, Azalina called it a “bold, spicy, delicious and rich culture of flavors that shaped the person I am today.” Though growing up and stewing in the totality of this rich variety of cultural flavors, Azalina herself is a member of the Mamak Tribe. She described the Mamak as “a lower caste subcommunity born from Indian descent and rubber tappers or anyone with dark skin.”
Azalina was raised by her “coconut rice grandmother,” so called due to her “exquisite coconut rice, flavored with tons of spices, dried fruit and fresh nuts.” Her grandmother’s workdays started at 2 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m., during which she mumbled to herself a lot. After making and packing rice in the early morning, she shooed her 10 grandchildren off to school, sold herbs, rice and curry out of a little shack, and then, with a full basket on her head, walked from village to village selling rice.
Azalina described her “lush, green, beautiful village” as a place of “delicious memories spending time with my family surrounded by food, ritual, cultural celebration, my pets and our spice farm.” With her orangutan Madu, an inseparable sidekick, she explored the farm and hillsides, swam in clear rivers, and shared food from the same banana leaves. Madu loved playing hide and seek and spent her free time hanging out in the village with cows and elephants. She also loved banana fritters and lentil curry and never backed down from a good fight with a boa constrictor. A respected member of the family, Madu worked right alongside them, grinding and pasting spices. The blind chicken accompanied them too, pensive, no doubt bathing in the aroma of Malaysian spice.
The Mamak’s relationship to spices is original and complex. Says Azalina, “Spices are bits and pieces of who we are. They’re used in all of our cooking which brings us together in food, ritual and ceremony. Both in food and in us, spices seem to at first fight one another but in the end they marry each other.” Here, spices both participate in and transcend their normal roles in the creation of food by merging with the Mamak’s sense of themselves psychologically and spiritually.
On a Mamak baby’s first birthday, they participate in their first Coming of Age Ceremony, where they confront approximately 200 spices and randomly choose one. The chosen spice then merges with their identity. “Spices,” Azalina says, “are the foundation for everyday life.” When baby Azalina reached into the multitude of spices at her own Coming of Age Ceremony, she came out clutching star anise. Reflecting on star anise’s influence on her life, she says: “I don’t easily give up. I just get back up and do it again. That’s the star anise kicking in me.”
Guided and consoled by the soul of star anise, Azalina left Malaysia when she was 15 to be a pastry chef in Singapore. Cooking took her to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia and Tokyo before arriving in San Francisco 10 years ago. As fluent in language as adventure, she speaks Tamil, Hindi, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Bahasa Malaysia, English, Japanese and “a little broken Arabic.”
When I asked her how common it was for a woman from her caste to escape that subcommunity and accomplish something like she’d accomplished, she answered enigmatically: “The only person that can break you is you.”
In San Francisco working as a street vendor, Azalina has successfully launched a nationally recognized Malaysian food empire. She caters, teaches cooking classes, has 12 products available for purchase at Whole Foods Market, and she even catered an event with her signature Malaysian street food for President Barack Obama. That’s quite a path for a woman who used to sleep outside with an orangutan and a blind chicken, a little girl dreaming big dreams beneath the stars, by the power of star anise, guided by spices.
If you have more free time, here's the video of an interview with her.
However, Azalina did not mention anything about Mamak as a tribe or orangutan or elephant in the video so my guess is, the author of the above article really knows how to spin his/ her story.
To Azalina, as I told you, proud of you, and all the best in your venture!