The Malaysian Insider
May 27, 2011
MAY 27 — An overwhelming wave of civic negativity is sweeping through Malaysia; not a day has gone by for the past two-and-a-half years without one hearing the drums of depression beating throughout the country.
And while the ranks of rejectionists swell, a small but increasingly loud group of people are barking back about the greatness, exclusivity and perfection of Malaysia.
It seems that in the midst of this civic recession and polarisation (a temporary and short-lived one, I hope) the media has failed to highlight the vast middle ground: the real Malaysia.
From my limited exposure to Malaysia, I have found the fabric of the country to be extremely resilient. Countless Malaysians courageously wake up every morning, enduring horrendous traffic jams to attend to their professional obligations in a timely manner.
Countless other Malaysians are also quietly but patiently laying down the building blocks of a vibrant civil society by setting up community grass-roots initiatives: neighbourhoods jointly working with the police force to ensure a safe environment, Malaysian youth congregating online in order to debate critical issues pertaining to Malaysia’s economy, society and well-being.
Hardworking Malaysians taking up one, two or even three jobs in order to cough up cash for their stacking bills and to keep up with an increasingly material and expensive life-style.
Malaysia rocked my 90s when the country used to make it to the forefront of each and every global newspaper and media outlet (for good reasons). I still remember my geography high-school classes when we intensively discussed the rise of Asia and Malaysia was constantly cited as an example.
Having spent my high-school years in France, a deeply socialist-minded country, my classmates and teachers were intent on seeing new countries challenge the crushing hegemony of the United States in the post-Cold War era we lived in.
My friends and I dived deep into Malaysia’s economic data making projections in order to forecast when and how Malaysia and Asean could become a global economic and geopolitical powerhouse.
The French — and Europeans — (at least on a student level) were in admiration of Malaysia’s leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement. My friends and I dreamt of being part of a country that aspired to change the status quo of the time: provide stability, wealth and services to its people but also striving to become the voice of a “third world”, then mired in poverty and desperation.
This was the Malaysia I knew. And the Malaysia I wanted to be part of. Be part of a success story. Not merely ride on one. But build with one.
And here I am, eight years later, working in Malaysia for a Malaysian company.
By the time I packed my bags and left the United States, I had become a lifeless robot dragging along an empty soul. I barely survived through an educational system which systematically upheld the value of success in a very superficial and materialistic way.
Malaysia was a wake-up call. Wandering through the streets of KL, I finally saw happy people, smiling and congregating around a drink as simple as “teh tarik”. Poor, rich, yellow, white and black, irrespective of any human denominator, entering their mosques, temples and churches to thank the Lord for, in the end, less material “blessings” than their Western counterparts. Outstanding!
Walking in the park and seeing families — mother, father, brother and sister — hand-in-hand enjoying a colourful weekend was a fantastic sight to behold. Hearing the call to prayer every early-morning, echoing through a sleepy Kuala Lumpur provided me with the conviction that Malaysia was a place where people would not surrender as easily to the endless and lifeless quest for consumerism.
My Muslim, Buddhist and Christian Malaysian friends sometimes excuse themselves from late dinners because they have to be back home signifying the sanctity of family and respect.
So as the debate over Malaysia’s future, economy, society and politics rages on, I urge all my Malaysian friends to take a step back and relax (just for a little, though). The little a humble French-American can share with Malaysia is that the defining platform for Malaysia’s success will ultimately be cemented in respect, love, simplicity and smiles.
Wander around your neighbourhood, help the elderly and needy. Give your seat to the disabled. Touch the burning forehead of an orphan, sympathise with his/her pain and give whatever you can give. And only then will you feel the soft and enchanting pulse of Malaysia: a place of contradictions, yes, but also a treasure for those who love simple things.
I love my Proton Persona because it’s a humble car that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. I love my “roti canai” because its bland taste is what makes it so wonderful. And I love my P. Ramlee songs because they constantly remind me that the fabric of this country, in essence, is one of peace, respect and modesty.
Do not be carried away by non-verified facts and emotions. I hear swirling statements about Bangkok and Jakarta being a better place to live than Kuala Lumpur. Or maybe Malaysians enjoy two- to three-hour commutes in Jakarta traffic?
Or maybe Malaysian families enjoy exposing their children to Bangkok’s blinding prostitution and decadent nightlife? If Bangkok is such a good place to live in then surely, Kuala Lumpur must be the seventh heaven. Let’s stay realistic and factual, friends.
I have seen countless Malay, Chinese, Indian and indigenous Malaysians thrive in the Malaysian corporate world. But none of us can expect fulfilling our ambitions, both professional and familial, without sweat, sacrifice, hard work and most importantly integrity, honesty and diplomacy.
I will always be thankful to Malaysia for teaching me what I believe to be life’s most valued motto: most of the time a lot is not enough, but little suffices. And Malaysia is a heaven for life’s most cherished yet basic moments: family, diversity, spirituality and affordable happiness.
Just be yourself, Malaysia!