Your Malaysia Isn’t My Malaysia

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.

7 Replies to “Your Malaysia Isn’t My Malaysia”

  1. There wont be any ’16 September 1963′ if ’31 August 1957′ didn’t happen right? I didn’t pay much attention in history class. 🙁

    Anyway thanks for sharing. I’m sorry to hear about YOUR Malaysia, I’m glad that I’m not living in YOUR Malaysia, but am living in MY Malaysia. I think it’s the same Malaysia that Yasmin Ahmad and most Malaysian live in. The Malaysia where everybody get along fine and understand each other.

    Maybe you would want to visit my Malaysia one day? 🙂

    I always like to think that we, ourself shapes the world we decide to live in.

  2. ditto. we seriously might as well be two countries. bila i kena ask, where u from? borneo. aduhai, i can’t even get the “M” word outta my mouth. i have issues with the M mentality, but thank goodness i’ll never be alone in this.

  3. i cant tell you, how much i agree with what you’ve written.

    i was born and raised in sarawak, and after spending 3 years in australia in attempting to complete my degree (in which i failed to) i decided to return to malaysia. i opted for a college in kuala lumpur to spend my final year in uni.

    and i can tell you this.

    the rate of development here, is unprecedented, and uncomparable to any other cities or states in malaysia.

    the people here seems like they have a fish stuck up their behinds all of the time.

    i could also list down 100 things which is wrong with this country. i also detest the fact that western malaysia strips sarawak and sabah of their natural resources, only to end up to those greedy western malaysia politicians, with us getting only a speck out of the whole pie.

    but you know what, all of this, is just natural. in america, people from the east coast hates people from LA or from the golden gate bridge. in the UK, there seems to be a thing between scousers, and those from manchester. in australia, if you’re from perth, you’re considered as someone who still lives without internet.

    my dear writer. i can understand your concern. but do note, that one day, when we do run out of resources, it is west malaysia has a responsibility in taking care of us. you have to understand. KL is overly developed and poorly planned, and honestly, spending 5 months here already, it is hell. and im glad that my hometown in sarawak isnt overly developed like this.

    but i have to admit. after spending 3 years in australia, during the first week i came back here, i realize one thing; i just traded a foreign country, for another.

  4. …and for the record, as a Sarawakian, we didn’t even want 16 Sept to happen if we had a choice.

    I agree with what you write.

  5. bagus lah. i used to go around Sabah and Sarawak to lure students to a college in the Peninsula. and i used to be so amazed with the mindset of the lovely people over there. i made many lifelong friends all through my travels over there. sadly i now live in the uk and every time i return to the peninsula, i can’t seem to find the time to enjoy that section of the country.

    truth be told, everytime an englishman asks me about travelling to m’sia, i always recommend the east (borneo) where the air is fresh and the water is clear. and there is so much to explore. compared to the concrete jungle we call kl. and the maze my dad calls putrajaya…

    i’m sure i have reminded lots of people about malaya vs. malaysia independence day, you’ve just reminded me about it!

  6. I really wish September 16 didn’t happened. Then, they will call us ‘Orang Putih’ and our currency will be 6 times theirs. Hahaha….

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