“Oppa, saranghae!” is a phrase I’ll never utter to a man. More like it’s doubtful I’ll ever get the chance to, unless I somehow manage to snag a Korean fella along the way. I like the ring to the word, it sounds respectful but at the same time, it gives away a hint of ‘something’ that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. ‘Oppa’ is equivalent to ‘older brother’ or ‘Abang’ in Bahasa Malaysia, with the exception that ‘Oppa’ can also be used as a term of endearment in the Korean culture, like say when a couple has gone steady or when an older guy has a close yet non romantic relationship with a girl who is younger than he is. Not bad eh? I don’t know why but I can’t, for the love of me fathom the reasons why, we (us Malays) tend to call our partners ‘Abang’ even after we are married. It sounds so wrong, in so many ways. Of course, we ought to treat /address our husbands with utmost respect, but isn’t a partnership supposedly equal? Why not use the meaningful and beautifully appropriate term ‘Sayang’ (which means ‘love’) instead? Or call each other by (nick)names or anything that is unique and significant only to you both? It makes better sense don’t you agree? I remember when I was a sophomore in college during my undergrad years, my older cousin whom I am very close to, decided to end his glory days and marry his high school sweetheart. I have been calling him ‘Abang Faizal’ which literally means ‘older brother Faizal’, because that is his given name; ever since I was a child. Over the years, I simply call him ‘Abang’ just because. Unbeknownst to me, my now cousin-in-law had decided to also call him, yep you guessed it right : ‘Abang’. So one day, when we were all back home for a family (and by this I mean, extended family members, surrounded by very close neighbors and all) gathering, one of my great grand aunts who missed the wedding ceremony and had not seen us all since like forever, heard me calling him ‘Abang’ all the way from the kitchen and casually asked if we are now married. Yes, married. I squealed and shouted “Eh, taaaaaaaaakkkkk!!!” (translation: Hell, NO!) while my dear cousin was grinning silly trying to introduce his newly wedded wife to my great grand aunt. As how things were back then, the wife wasn’t exactly a fan of mine ‘cos she thought we were way too ‘close’, so you can imagine the chaos that took place with both my cousin and I were trying to clear things up. The rest of the family members had a blast at our expense and since then, I vowed to myself to never use the term ‘Abang’ so carelessly again. In fact, unless I’m told to do so, usually by my mum as a sign to display some level of respect, I shall refer to that person by his name. Period, thank you very much.
Culture and custom both play a vital part in ensuring that we don’t ever have to find ourselves caught in unpleasant situations but most importantly, they help us to feel grounded and have a sense of identity of sorts. I’m proud to be raised in such a environment where tradition meets social modernization in almost a perfect unison. I may not be all traditional in the literal sense and will most likely continue to question certain aspects of its practice (like this one) but I know my place, where and when to draw the line even though the lines can be somewhat blurred at times.
So that’s that. And yes, I’m biased to the term of endearment ‘sayang’ (love). See? I’m traditional that way.