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The Malaysia that could have been

December 8, 2013

FMT LETTER: From James Ang, via e-mail

Recently, I came across some Visit Malaysia 2014 promotional videos being played on TV, in our public transportation and on Youtube. I have to say that I was deeply touched by them. Touched, not because of how superbly made they were, but because of how they reflect the deficiencies of our beautiful motherland, or in other words, the Malaysia that could have been.

I have always been a patriot deep down myself. Wherever I go, I always find great interest in talking about and promoting my motherland and her wonders to all my foreign friends. I always tell them about what my motherland has to offer: mouth-watering gastronomies, the unique cultural heritage of sorts, the wonders of Mother Nature and her constituents (the most well-known to foreigners being the orang utan), world-class shopping malls, both modern and quaint buildings, and much more. I even have a collection of photos in my iPad for this very purpose. And I offer my foreign friends the services of a free tour guide (none other than yours sincerely), if he is available and if ever they feel swayed enough by my “promotional talks” to take up this offer.

Those promotional videos by our Ministry of Tourism and Culture reflect exactly the Malaysia that I want and am so proud to show off to my foreign friends. Unfortunately, reality sometimes bites in a very painful way, and in our country’s current condition, it stings even more. Yes, it stings even more for me because I have lived and am aware of the cruel realities and some of the utopic lies that those videos try to impress on unsuspecting foreigners.

Fallacy number 1: An impression that the different races and cultures live in perfect harmony. This, to me, stings the most, especially when we are all aware how race relations and the powers-that-be that manipulate them have been recently. While many of us may not show it in real life, suspicions and disliking for each other along racial lines have become more ingrained amongst Malaysians recently. Take some time to read some of the Facebook comments under FMT’s articles or in the fanpages of some of our country’s prominent politicians from both sides, and you’ll understand what I mean.

Politicians spewing out racial nonsense, even in UMNO’s general assembly, is nothing surprising; what upsets me more is the fact that there are gullible young and old folk out there who are willing to swallow these politicians’ interpretations of phrases like “ungrateful,” “opposition’s secret agendas,” “political stability” and “immoral leaders,” and parade them in social media as and when it is favourable for them to do so. And yes, many Malaysians prefer to view themselves as Malay, Chinese, Indian or Bumiputera first rather than Malaysian first. If at all there were to be different races living in perfect harmony with each other, I seem to see them the most among the English-speaking groups, or those who frequently associate with such groups.

Fallacy number 2: An impression that Malaysia is a clean, neat and safe place to go to. When I was in Melbourne, I had a few friends who told me that they have been to Malaysia before, and one of the things they witnessed was a motorcyclist snatching a lady’s handbag in front of a restaurant in broad daylight. Another friend once noted how shabby areas like Midvalley, the Old Klang Road and Petaling Street were. And there was once when I was in the KTM, when I saw boarding passengers pushing against alighting passengers at the Bandar Tasik Selatan station, and there was this Caucasian family with small girls who was hardly given way to exit the train, although they managed it in the end. These are just to name a few, and I’m sure many will concur with me with their own experiences.

Fallacy number 3: An impression of ease in transit in and around our capital city. If ever there was a plague in the Klang Valley, I would call it the “caronic plague,” in which the non-ownership of a car or personal mode of transport can be deemed handicapping or even paralyzing, depending on where one lives. As a non-owner of a car myself, and as such as a frequent rider of public transport, I can vouch with certainty how primitive our public transport system is compared to the other world-class cities I’ve lived in before.

Yes, buses can be delayed due to the rampant traffic jams in and around our capital, but if they were efficient and passenger-friendly to begin with, why the increasing need for cars and thus jams in the first place? And yes, the lack of proper route maps in every bus stop, vicinity maps in every railway station and visible signboards along every street serve even to confuse me whenever I venture out into a new area in the Klang Valley, all the more foreigners.

Don’t get me wrong. Not all that are in those videos are inaccurately or falsely depicted. Yes, Malaysia does have pristine islands, lush rainforests and clear waters that can wow even the most ardent nature-lovers out there. Yes, Malaysia does have an extensive range of multicultural delicacies that will sufficiently fatten any foreigner before they return home. Yes, Malaysia is still peaceful and politically stable, despite worsening race relations as of late. And yes, Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak is still the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

But let me say this: if what those videos intend to illustrate ring out to be absolutely true, then more can be done to improve things. I want a Malaysia that can have signboards in all the major Malaysian languages in every mass transit station, with all those who claim that this challenges the position of the national language silenced. I want a Malaysia that is clean, safe and convenient for my foreign friends to walk around. I want a Malaysia that has visible signboards, untainted by loanshark stickers, along every street.

I want a Malaysia that has proper route maps in every bus stop and proper vicinity maps in every mass transit station. I want a Malaysia that has an efficient public transport system in place. I want a Malaysia that has proper walkways and trails for pedestrians to walk about. I want a Malaysia where we can see more people of different skin colours and spiritual affiliations sitting on the same restaurant table, sharing laughter and jokes together. I want a Malaysia in which I can show my foreign friends those videos and proudly say to them, “Welcome to Malaysia!” (in The Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Sao Feng’s tone).

Sadly, to me, the videos somehow reflect a distant Malaysian utopia. Ironically, to me, what I mentioned above, I see more of them in the little red dot across the Straits of Tebrau.


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