Are there two distinct Malaysias?
COMMENT by PJ GOH
Recent headlines and events have made me ponder over this: Are there two distinct Malaysias today – one the politicians’ Malaysia and the other the people’s Malaysia?
How is it that Malaysians of Malay, Chinese and Indian origins outside of Malaysia treat each other affectionately like brothers and sisters and are proud to say that they belong to Malaysia and yet newspaper headlines give a totally different picture?
What has gone wrong recently? It was so much easier to be a Malaysian some time back.
True, there was May 13. And don’t I know it as I was right in the middle of it. I was a cub reporter then in 1969 and during a two-hour curfew break my news editor assigned me to go out to “take the temperature” of the prevailing situation and atmosphere. Riding comfortably on my Honda Dream 350cc I left Jalan Riong and was heading for Lembah Pantai in Bungsar when I decided it was more prudent to make a U-turn back as there was a group of Malays high up on the overhead bridge there (waiting for me?) To cut a long story short thanks mainly to two towering Prime Ministers Tunku
Abdul Rahman and then Tun Abdul Razak things gradually returned back to normal.Then way way back in 1974 I managed to find a place in MU. I was in fact one of two non-Malays who took Malay Studies as an optional subject in my first year. When the Malay lecturer praised my essay and read it out in front of the whole group of Malays there was no jealousy but genuine appreciation that a Chinese had done better than them. It also showed that the lecturer was not biased against a non-Malay student. Some of my fellow undergraduates then (all Malays) even asked me to lend them my copy. Like all Malaysians during that period I too had Malay and Indian friends as a matter of course. The question of their racial origins did not arise at all. If we fought it was because we couldn’t get along together as classmates and not because one is a Malay and the other a Chinese. People then were more broad-minded. I had a female Malay pen-pal in Kedah who even came to visit me in Penang with a relative. At one time I even studied together with a Malay girl at her home and her father, a high-ranking police officer, treated me so gentlemanly although I could well imagine it must have caused him some uneasiness. Well, those were the good old days of P. Ramlee and Pendekar Bujang Lapok.
So today as I go through the newspaper headlines day in and day out I can only shake my head in disbelief. Instead of genuinely trying to build up this dear Malaysian nation of ours, our leaders (knowingly or unknowingly) are just trying to break it all up into pieces.
The writing is on the wall. True, there have been talks on the importance of racial harmony and the pride of being Malaysians, but like most talk of such nature, it is not translated into action. Many politicians only pay lip service to it and say it because it is the politically-correct thing to do. But when it comes to the ground it is always “us versus them”. Same old same old.
And yet as a Chinese I can vouch that there can never be a more affable person or race than the non-political Malay (or the Umno member when he forgets that he is one). We hear so much talk nowadays about not making the Malays go amuk. What we don’t hear about is the positive side of the Malay nature – their “tidak apa” attitude. In fact I could never understand why their “tidak apa” attitude was often considered a shortcoming. To me that is in fact their strong point for to me being “tidak apa” about things is being easy-going, cool and level-headed. And when I know how hot-headed some Europeans are by nature, I begin to appreciate the “tidakapaness” in Malays even more. Only last year (November 2005) when I was in KL to apply for my MyKad and renew my passport I was gladly surprised when some Malay government officers called me “Uncle” instead of “Encik”. This indeed is a very endearing term as it implies that one is accepted into the group – and that there is no such thing as “us and them” as the politicians would have us believe. Two personal experiences on the ground further made me see how affable the non-political Malay is. Mind you I’m not a Chinese director who might command respect because of his immaculate tailor-made suit. I was dressed just like Ah Kow and am not the type to gain respect by my mere appearance. Yet when I asked this middle-aged Malay woman at the Melaka bus station how to use the public telephone (I am ashamed to say that although I tried I just couldn’t get through to my friend in KL) she not only took the trouble to dial for me but once I was connected and started talking she, seeing how little amount of money I had put in, did not hesitate to put in a number of coins from her purse. And as I continued talking she disappeared from the scene. After my telephone conversation was over I went round the whole bus terminus to search for her to repay her the money. Luckily I managed to find her as she was waiting for her bus to depart. How touching – a total stranger and a Chinese to
boot, being shown such kindness by a Malay. Then there was this young Malay couple at the Registration Office in Shah Alam. They were just behind me in queueing up for a number in order to be interviewed. We did not exchange a single word. When my turn came it was Murphy who was up to his tricks again. “Sorry, no more tickets for this morning, uncle. You’ll have to come back in the afternoon.” Unconsciously I turned back to look at the Malay couple more for mutual consolation than anything else. On our way out of the building I asked them if there was a bus to go to KL. “Sure, you just cross over the road there and you’ll find the bus-stop”. But on second thoughts the Malay man said, “In fact we’re going to KL too. We can give you a lift.” How kind, we are total strangers and not only that, these Malays didn’t mind inviting Ah Kow, a Chinaman, into their car.
Even in Kota Bharu, the humble taxi-driver who drove me from the railway station at Wakaf Bahru to Kota Bharu treated me like a brother divulging his innermost thoughts without the least suspicion or fear of talking to a Chinaman. And yet the politicians would have us believe that Kota Bharu is a very “closed” and parochial Malay society.
This then is the Malaysia that I know – not the politicians’ Malaysia that foreigners glean from the recent reports in the papers. Or that our leaders
would like us to believe. People are not stupid. They can see the true situation beneath the surface. As the sage Confucius said: There are three things that cannot long be hidden – the sun, the moon, and the truth. No one can make me believe that the Malays hate the Chinese and Indians.
No one can make me believe that the Chinese and Indians hate the Malays.
Our leaders must live up to their responsibilities. Let it not be said that the Malaysian nation did not materialize not because Malaysians of all races do not want it but that the leaders of the moment messed it all up.