Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Let's all Be Malaysian instead

Walking down the Kuching waterfront shows up interesting things. There's the water-fountain in front of the former court-house, fountains that on a given evening dance to contemporary tunes. You can sit lazily watching the free show or turn your eyes to Fort Magarita on the opposite side. Built by the White Rajah to protect the waterways, it is now the official residence of the Governor.

Walk slowly to the left of the water fountains, in the direction of the Hilton and you come across drinking outlets selling, according to a Semenanjung friend, the most expensive teh tarik in Malaysia. I can personally concur.

Take a seat and order a teh-tarik. Yes, it's expensive but think of it this way: you are sharing in a claim to fame for teh tarik-dom. For RM12, order a teh tarik giant; trust me, it's enough for three persons. Savour the drink (every drop counts for RM12) and take in the atmosphere. You will notice that Sarawakians are really laid back. They take their time, they enjoy jokes, laughter, humour. It's been that way for a long time.

Another thing you will notice: we Sarawakians are proud of who we are. We are proud to speak Bahasa Sarawak, regardless of which ethnic group we belong to. And Sarawak has 27 groups in all.

You can find Sarawakians eating and sharing a meal regardless of religious beliefs and ceremonial taboos. Sarawakian tend to speak more than one language: it is common place to hear a Sarawakian being able to converse in four languages — Bahasa Malaysia, English, their mother tongue and Bahasa Sarawak. Yes, Bahasa Sarawak unites all Sarawakians and thus enjoys the status of a language on its own.

1Malaysia? Take this simple example.

The sense of mutual respect begins at the table, evident when I sit down with some of my brothers of different faiths for lunch, dinner or supper. We are secure enough in our beliefs to be able to eat what we want to eat without fear that the other would run amok along the lines of “insulting another’s religion”. Neither am I afraid to have a religious discussion for fear I may be deemed to be trying to evangelise another. These are petty issues, like those children fight over in the playground.

So is there a need to evangelise 1Malaysia in Sarawak?

A slogan is a slogan, meant to rally support and to galvanise a group of people into supporting a common cause. At times it is meant to point diverging views towards a common focus. It's a means to bring individuals to a single track and thus move the train of thought in a common direction, though one clearly dictated by the power in charge.

1Malaysia is a smart slogan. But after 53 years of independence, when we sing this battle-cry with gusto, does that imply that all along we have been 2Malaysia or 3Malaysia? Or that Malaysia has been really a federation all along, comprising of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and at one time Singapore?

1Malaysia is applaudable, but which 1Malaysia do we aspire to? Which 1Malaysia do we adopt as the model? Or do we merely comply with the majority? Because if you walk along Kuching's streets you will quickly notice that the demography is not the same as in Kuala Lumpur or Ipoh or George Town.

That’s the crazy meme about 1Malaysia. It is so big an idea there are no specifics. It is what we make it to be. And now we argue the origins of 1Malaysia. So what if a Timbaktu firm came up with the idea? Would the fall-out be as great as that of an Israeli-linked firm?

Instead, why not focus on Being Malaysian. Celebrate what makes us Malaysian. Celebrate that we are different. Celebrate the fact Malaysians can converse better in English than the Japanese. Celebrate the fact that our children do not know the difference between races or creed and only know that a friend is a friend, and friends play together.

Forget championing a singular idea of what Malaysia can be. Instead, celebrate that Malaysia is an organised mix of people. A melting pot of nationalities who chose to seek and build their fortunes in a fair land called Malaysia.

Look beyond political issues because that’s what most issues are in Malaysia. The lay person is blind to politics. What are they interested in? To live a life that is peaceful, fulfilled and in the company of loved ones.

Ask the penambang man ferrying people across the Sarawak river. He’s more concerned that his children get an education. The half-witted arguments between our politicians in Parliament over the origins of 1Malaysia are light-years away from this simple man.

That seems to be the biggest problem in Malaysia. Our leaders are fixated with the devil in the details, but miss out the Creator in the bigger picture. Which is clearly our loss.

comments by Maclean Patrick, who is a webmaster and author in Kuching. He is a contributor to Free Malaysia Today. Courtesy of FMT

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