I am Malaysia

— Jun Watanabe
The Malaysian Insider
May 13, 2013

MAY 13 — I cannot seem to shake off this feeling of grief. Like many other urbanite non-malays I had voted for an non-BN candidate in my constituency, and the indelible ink on my finger was coming off. At 40 I had just taken part in my first elections, fueled by the responsibility I felt as a parent and a tax paying citizen. But I never used to care.

I speak English, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Mandarin better than I speak Malay. I was born in a foreign land and look foreign.

I was never educated in Malaysia- growing up in Johor in the 80s it was an easy choice for my parents, and I started at age 7 commuting to Singapore everyday, and later the US.

Like many other stories out there I grew up with prejudices and pre-conceived notions of how the other races were, how the civil service was, how everyone was different, cloistered in my own community, sheltered by something unwritten that you live and let live.

Yet I am Malaysian, strange as it may seem to most. Over the years I have given up the chance of citizenship in another country, permanent residency in 2 others. Like many in forums who recounted that they grew up a certain race but once they were abroad they identified themselves simply as “Malaysian”, I have never felt any other. I feel tied to the land, to my friends and family, to the neighborhood where I live, to my neighbors, to nasi lemak and petai bee hoon, and teh tariks sessions in mamaks. I am proud of P. Ramlee and Sheila Majid and Tan Twan Eng as I am of Lee Chong Wei and Nicol David.

And funny how it is when you “awaken” and you start to care – mine was six years ago the day Maya was born. When it is that you know that you have the ability and the immense power to shape and influence a person’s life, you must experience, in your own time, a myriad of differing but not mutually exclusive feelings, and some of which should be pride, anxiety, helplessness, despair, stoicism, sacrifice. You become acutely aware of your limitations, but the impulse of wanting to protect her and a hand in nurturing her makes you strive to overcome your fears and your imperfections.

For the sake of my daughter I resolved to be a better person.

I write this essay to recount the things that transpired in my life that culminated in me queuing up in a saluran and casting a vote that helped decide the fate of the nation. There are many others out there with their own stories of how they got to that queue, and many like me were voting for the first time in GE13. But I like my story. I am grateful that somehow an altruistic urge of wanting the best for my child made me start to look at my surroundings in more detail.

That her best friends are Eurasian kids- Jade and Maloe. That she learnt to sing Malay songs in kindergarten. That she speaks mainly in English but professes that she prefers speaking to me in Chinese. That she goes to a government primary school next year, but should it be an international school? Am I earning enough? Why I am spending a third of my income on a car? Should I get medical insurance? What is this thing about math & science subjects? Which box should she be ticking under bangsa? What are her chances of higher education in this country? As much as I am careful to balance with expectations and the modern pressures of a kid growing up, I had severe doubts with the political and economic system we have in this country.

As it were, it was not as if I had my eyes closed the whole time before this. As a working adult I drive across potholes and uneven roads on tolled highways that cost 3 times more per km to build than in Singapore or Switzerland, to get to government offices that reeked of inefficiency, and officers who blatantly hint that you-help-me-I-help-you in speeding up applications. I have interviewed countless young engineers who have no clue of their value in society, much less be able to articulate what they could bring to my firm- why should I hire them?

But like so many I had merely complained in mamaks, and lived and let live.

As paternal instincts hastened those feelings of anxiety and helplessness and despair and morphed them into anger, I am faced with a choice not uncommon to many who are able – do I plan to join the brain drain and run, or stand with fellow stakeholders. The choice wasn’t clear in the beginning. Bersih 1.0 passed and I scarcely knew that it even happened, but as social media picked it up, it fueled my imagination as I’m sure it did many others, that a grassroots apolitical group of citizens have started the first probably most effective method of exacting change in this country. I did not go to Bersih 2.0 as well, but the poignant images of Auntie Bersih and Karpal Singh in his wheelchair probably did me in.

At Bersih 3.0 I sat at the front on Leboh Pasar Besar and got tear gassed and sprayed with chemically laced water.

Before GE13 I had already posted in several other articles that I thought it was highly unlikely that the opposition would win. We should acknowledge that money politics and gerrymandering were far greater impediments to a fair election than phantom or bogus postal voters ever would. Yet I ran around with friends that day shuttling between the different Lembah Pantai polling stations, joining the thousands in the human wall hoping to safeguard what little we could of the integrity of the electoral process.

I thought about it a lot, but I did not go to Kelana Jaya. I did not want my struggle to be associated with any political party. I do not trust politicians, period. Even if the opposition had personalities like Lim Guan Eng, who once spent time in jail under ISA for defending a Malay girl, or Nurul Izzah Anwar, who I see as the great big hope of this nation, I could not see myself taking part in a rally under a political banner.

But that grief I felt at the beginning of my essay has now given way to hope. I feel that my story should also get to represent the middle ground in Malaysia, part of a sea of stories now emerging in the zeitgeist of our times. The socio-political landscape has changed. The way we naturally want to live is peace and prosperity for all. Little by little, society should naturally veer towards inclusiveness, the division across racial lines should diminish incrementally. Religion should have no place in governance, serving only as moral guides. The excesses and abuses by people in authority will continue to shift public perception, and this 48%/51% gap should get even wider.

As a society we will only consider our work done when we have nurtured a populace who can constantly hold those in power accountable. The rakyat must be masters and politicians its servants. There is no room for complacency in this endeavor. The work will not be done at the end of a general election.

I dream of Maya growing up in a beautiful country where she and her rainbow colored friends have equal opportunities to learn and contribute in building a clean, safe and respectful community, and I’d wish that her voice never be silenced, and her will never be diluted.

“Whenever I despair, I remember that the way of truth and love has always won. There may be tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they may seem invincible, but in the end, they always fail. Think of it: always.” – Gandhi

  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 9:02 am

    Appropriately only when Gandhi was “in despair” he thought of “truth and love has always won over tyrants and murderers”. This (triumph of love truth over hate evil and falsehood in the end) is nice to believe when one is in despair but it has to be recognised in sober moments that this axiom is hardly supported by facts of whether life or history and neither are we anywhere near the end to predict the victorious outcome of Good over Evil. Gandhi himself was killed by a murderer. After 65 years of his kicking out the British is either India Pakistan or Bangladesh free from shackles of sectarian racial and religious strife? Closer home who is more successful politician & PM in terms of tenure and impact on country- the inclusive Tunku or the one who helped ushered out of his leadership position? And if one thinks that education or intellect is a factor, one has to think again: there are so many “educated” and intellectual opportunists in our midst leveraging (rather successfully) on race and religion for their own personal ends and political ambitions.

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 9:15 am

    It is also human nature to prioritize self interest connected to interest of one’s race bound together by common culture history and religion as against suspicion and distrust of the Other outside. Then come in politicians – same as all others thinking of how to get the prized public position that gives a measure of power wielding that can be utilised for one’s benefit. However the personal qualities necessary for attaining public office (whether by oratory or playing on race and religion) are the opposite of those (trust and people’s welfare) demanded by the office itself. So how is this challenge overcome? How does one educate respect of other’s rights and nurture a feeling of inclusiveness arising from belief that all humans have rights and belong to same family? It seems at least here that to many it is easier to do the contrary.

  3. #3 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 9:35 am

    We rose in full force but umno’s cheating ways, abuse of the system and umno’s loyal foreign voters just could not be beaten.

    But we must stand firm on our hope for hope is much more powerful than umno. Hope will bring umno down and put the criminals in umno in prison.

  4. #4 by sheriff singh on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 9:47 am

    ”..Yet I am Malaysian, strange as it may seem to most…” Jun

    These days this is already quite common and normal. There are now Pashtuns, Javanese, Bugis, Nepalese, Myanmars, Bangladeshis, Cambodians, Suluks, Bohsias, Pinoys, Kazakhs and many other walla-wallas in the same position as you in this place called 1Malaysia. Some even hold position of responsibility and influence and are very visible like our Bugis PM or having a Turk as the Home Minister.

    We are now a people of many shades of skin colours each bringing with them their unique flavours. Isn’t this a wonderful place where there are opportunities for all ?

    The ‘dll’ (dan lain-lain) category percentage is growing very large now and 1Malaysia is no more Malay-Chinese-Indian and we must welcome our new citizens with open arms and hearts.

  5. #5 by Winston on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 10:21 am

    Wednesday May 15, 2013
    Large crowd at rally despite venue change – End of quote

    Would you believe that!!!
    That’s the headline of one article in the Staronline!!!

  6. #6 by undertaker888 on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 11:55 am

    lim guan eng, while you are busy atending rally, do you know that there is a bald hill cleared in Bukit gambir penang. WHat is going on in your administration?This is not what we voted for.

  7. #7 by Bunch of Suckers on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 12:31 pm

    Yeah! UMNO suckers look you as foreigner, dude! The same treatments are applied to Chinese, Indian and other minor races!

  8. #8 by waterfrontcoolie on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 12:53 pm

    The angry reaction by Utusan clearly tells them that they have had FAILED in their programme of curtailing the thought of the Malays, many of whom have believed in being Malaysians. So their anger and frustration all over the place. The ordinary Malaysians are concerned with how to progress beyond racial intonation but those who have proven themselves so dependent on the Gravy Train would find it hard to lose it.

  9. #9 by digard on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 4:23 pm

    Yep. Very nice reading here! And yet, despite all your good upbringing, you cast a doubt on your leanings by your self-professed a-political stand for almost all your life. You ought not become politically aware for the betterment of Maya, and her friends. Everyone ought to be political in a democracy for everyone else’s better fortune.
    The latter is what made the race-based BN-model the success it used to be: a Malaysian of Chinese origin is subdued, and subsequently contacts the MCA Complaints Bureau. Due to their intervention the problem gets solved. And the majority of the Malaysians still think (and vote likewise) that their MP is the person to intervene in constantly in troubles of the constituency, the pot-holes and Lynas’. Democracy, however, is actually supposed to be different, and the MP is chosen due to his / her political opinions; in order to speak for you politically in parliament.
    Luckily, the current situation in Malaysia is gradually moving into this direction; and only the rural people still elect the best person to get the broken streetlights mended. The culture was – and still is – to thank Encik So-And-So for repairing one’s broken electricity supply; instead of scolding TNB for lousy maintenance in the area. It is the duty of Encik So-And-So to repair the fault, and he is being paid for that, handsomely. A “Terima Kasih” is in order, but any feeling of gratefulness would be wrong.
    In the pre-election Al-Jazeera broadcast, an old Malay lady was shown; being grateful for a handout. Luckily, the younger generation is losing the feudal feeling; the notion that ‘the ruler hands out his own money’. No, it is the other way round: the politicians receive the money through taxes for a fair redistribution according to the needs of the state and the people.
    No, Maya should not be your primary concern, sorry. Like religion, family is a private matter, and of private primordial concern; while at the same time a concern ought to be there for a fair and equal treatment without consideration of colour of skin, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation nor nationality: the human brother and sister.

  10. #10 by Oppenheimer on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 5:15 pm

    I think the writer is just describing his political awakening. It is probably just slower than yours! There are all kinds of ppl in Malaysia – more educated, less educated, more informed, less informed, and most ppl have frankly more immediate things to worry about than politicians promising things (from both sides). There are also ppl who will never awaken, and society cannot judge them, much less to say that they are wrong for not taking part in a democracy. More enlightened ppl like yourself should help educate them and show them that taking part in a democracy ensures that their voices are heard and allows them take part in their children’s futures.

    Maya is his main concern, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But from the writing it seems that he has broken out from just caring for his himself & his family nucleus to starting to look at his community at large – that is why he went to bersih, and also voted at GE13. That is why he writes letters to the editor. He was describing his love for his daughter as the catalyst in his actions.

    Again I feel that he used his feelings for his daughter as a springboard into action. Society is made up of expanding networks from the smallest family nucleus to larger communities to nations to humankind. I believe it is how every individual acts in every level that helps determine the course of society or mankind.

    How a person acts or behaves in society should start with himself at home.

  11. #11 by on cheng on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 - 8:30 pm

    HOW DO YOU FEEL? if someone blame the Johor, Sabah, and Sarawak voters for not waking up yet n still vote BN ?
    Anyway, it is NOT true that only Chinese voted for Pakatan, there are probably more Malay who voted for Pakatan than the Chinese did ! Why ? well simple, Chinese only made up about 25% of population !
    Why is it that when urbanized Malay voted for PAS or PKR or DAP, there is no blame on them ??

You must be logged in to post a comment.