I hate Merdeka day. There, I said it.
I hate that people call it ‘Malaysia’s birthday’ when Malaysia didn’t exist before 16 September 1963. 31 August 1957 is the date of Malaya’s independence from British rule so please, mainstream media, can’t you at least get that right?
Though I love Yasmin Ahmad as much as the next Malaysian (at least Malaysians who don’t have their heads up their behinds), I could never really connect to her rose-tinted views of Malaysia. Because her Malaysia wasn’t mine. Her Malaysia had only three races and they got along – when in real life, they don’t understand each other at all. But her Malaysia seems to be everyone’s Malaysia on this side of the South China Sea.
I am not Malay, Chinese or Indian. So am I not a Malaysian?
Any Sabahan will tell you that East Malaysia and West Malaysia might as well be two different countries. The divide is more than distance – it’s mindset, it’s priorities, it’s environment.
In Amir Muhammad’s Big Durian, I described how Sabahans make friends. I got to say this line: “Kau makan babi, tak makan babi?”Meeting someone new, we’d ask just so we’d know whether to take you to a halal or non-halal joint. No hangups, no complexity.
But I found it the reverse when I moved to West Malaysia to study. It annoyed me that West Malaysians seemed so hung up about what God I worshipped and what race I was. It got to the point I refused to answer questions about my religion or ethnicity. If those two things mattered to you, then you didn’t matter to me.
I’ve met angry West Malaysians who say it’s our own fault for the lack of integration – that our immigration laws prevent unrestricted passage of West Malaysians into Sabah.
To that I say:
- Even with our restrictive immigration policies, West Malaysians still head our civil service departments in Sabah.
- That our timber, oil and mineral stores are still plundered to fund West Malaysian development.
- Come to our interior and see children who have to walk miles to the nearest school, witness villagers without piped water or proper electricity.
- We are the second richest in natural resources after Sarawak but we are the poorest state in Malaysia.
It’s partly our fault too. What makes us good people also makes us easily exploited. In Sabah, the days are slow. No one’s in a hurry. Three cars in a line – that’s a traffic jam. We’re so used to life being hard that we get by with living simply. It’s easy to be lulled into complacency in a state with the most beautiful sunsets in the country, where seafood and vegetables are cheap though everything else isn’t.
“Tak apa, bah (Never mind)”, we say. Life is difficult for everyone, so why complain? We sing a lot. We laugh a lot. It’s too easy to forget that life is hard and not everyone takes things as easy as we do.
Despite the raw deal we get, we celebrate the 16th of September every year without fail. We remember what it was like to become part of a country; even if it is one who forgets who we are and that we matter. We call ourselves Malaysian but when we come over to West Malaysia, we might as well be aliens in hostile land.
We don’t understand your hangups about alcohol.
We don’t get why you can’t build religious buildings that aren’t mosques without hassle.
We don’t see why you’re always in a hurry to get everywhere and drive as if you’re the only one who wants to get home. Why you won’t wait for the pedestrian to cross when we do that all the time.
We don’t understand you at all. And that’s a shame.
Because we don’t need National Service to teach our youngsters to hang out with each other. We know that tolerance isn’t ‘Saya tak kacau kamu, kamu jangan kacau saya’ (I don’t bother you, you don’t bother me)
We’re just sorry that you still haven’t figured that out after 52 years of so-called independence.