About Kwai Loh’s, Ang Moh’s, Mat Salleh’s and more

A Dutch friend asked me, why is your blog called “The life of a Kwai Loh”?
Some of my Chinese Malaysian friends are a bit shocked, and ask me the same question.

Shocked, because Kwai Loh is a “bad” word  :-). It is Cantonese for “Ghost Man” and used for Caucasian people, maybe because of their often “white” complexion. It is generally considered to be a slightly racist word, although not as bad as the N-word in the USA.

But I liked the sound of it, and when I was looking for a suitable nickname for my Multiply website, I thought, why not Kwai Loh? That’s how it started and when I was in Beijing a few years ago and found a shop where an old man made traditional chops, I ordered one with the two characters for Kwai Loh. He was surprised, but did it..:-) A chop, by the way, is Malaysian/Singaporean English for a seal.

My “Kwai Loh” seal

In Malaysia two more “slang” words are used to describe Western foreigners. One is also Chinese, Hokkien dialect: Ang Moh, meaning Red Hair. Not really offensive, I would say.

Then there is Mat Salleh, which is Malay. Origin not clear, it might come from “Mad sailor”, referring to the wild colonial past of Penang ..:-) Quite common these days, not offensive.

I hope you will agree that Kwai Loh fits me best. Especially because, being a secular humanist, I do not believe in the existence of ghosts/spirits at all. Period. More about this topic in future posts..:-)

Talking about offensive, what do you think about this? This monkey is endemic to Borneo and you can find it in Sarawak. Official name is Proboscis Monkey.

Proboscis Monkey

Do you know how it is called in Malay language? Orang Belanda!  The Dutch Man! That I call offensive.

And what about this. In Asia it is quite common to have a bolster on your bed. Nice to cuddle when you sleep alone. This is our own bolster.

Our bolster

Now, guess how this bolster is sometimes called in Malay and Indonesia language!

A Dutch wife!

I leave it to your imagination to give an explanation…:-)


3 thoughts on “About Kwai Loh’s, Ang Moh’s, Mat Salleh’s and more

  1. Thanks for the explanations, Jan. I had wondered about Kwai Loh for a long time. As for the “Dutch wife”, I have a dim recollection of that, or a similar term for a bolster, from wa-a-a-y back in my youth! I haven’t heard the expression in decades, and now I am not sure of the nationality that was used–Dutch sounds possible, but it might have been something else. In its usage here in the USA, I think the only reason it might have been Dutch is that it is one syllable and makes it easy to say, along with “wife”. Here, at least, it would have had no explicit connotation that a particular nationality was being targeted, it would just be easier to say than “Argentinian wife”.

  2. Proboscis Monkey is Monyet Belanda (Dutch monkey), a Malay reference to Dutch noses. Check the Wayang Kulit dolls from the colonial era for more about Dutch noses (red and shiny)

    The reference to Dutch wife may come from the style of the collar or openings of the bolster pillow case. In the old days they were frilly cotton like the collars of Dutch women (and men) in old paintings and photographs of the colonial era.

    The expression is British and, like most references to their colonial rivals the Dutch, uncomplimentary e.g. Dutchman’s courage (from the bottle), Dutch defence (retreat) etc.

    So one just throws a leg over the Dutch wife who lies there

    • “Dutch noses (red and shiny)”
      You know how to rub it in, don’t you…:-)?
      About the Dutch wife, what do you think about this explanation:

      You can cuddle her, but she will not be responsive…LOL

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