Friday, 31 August 2012

What It Means to be Malaysian to Me

I promise this will be a shorter post compared to the long posts in my blog.

Happy Independence Day, Malaysia! Technically, it is Malaya who is 55 years old, Malaysia as a country is only 49 years old, formed by Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo, Singapore (who then left about two years later) and Malaya (now referred to as Peninsula Malaysia). Malaysia Day is celebrated on 16th September. :-)

I guess I need to write an essay on what it means to be Malaysian in my opinion.

Here goes.


TO MY FAMILY: My late grandpa (who passed away at the age of 95 in 2007 a week before my weddding) always said: "Malaysia is a peaceful place. You can earn a living as long as you are hardworking." He came from China in the 1930s, when times are hard after the 1911 Chinese Revolution. He travelled with valid travel documents and settled down in Kuching, Sarawak, a state in Borneo, where he started his family and became part of the newly formed nation in 1963 through naturalisation - he was official "British" before 1963.

Same goes to my mom's parents, my parents' birth certificates showed "British" as their nationality as both my parents were born before 1963. British or no British, we are all Malaysians now. We are not even that state-centric anymore, we have relocated from Borneo to Peninsular Malaysia, my siblings and I have found non-Sarawakian
partners, we cannot afford to be state-centric anymore anyway!

TO FELLOW MALAYSIANS: Generally we young people (sweeping statement here, pardon me please) does not really bother about National's Day after we left mainstream education, where we had to line up and sing patriotic songs as well as the National anthem on a day before or after the actual public holiday in the spirit of Merdeka - in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language, Merdeka means - Independence (Free from Colonialism).

The first time I was part of a National Day countdown was on August 30, 2005. I was still a reporter back then, I sat very close to the grand stand (main stage) where all the VIPs were at. By the time the countdown of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and MERDEKA! was shouted by everyone at Dataran Merdeka - the place where Malaya's Independence was first declared and shouted by the first Premier, Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj - I tell you, I actually felt a lump threatening to choke my throat, I was moved. The feeling was surreal. Here I was, at the same venue where our forefathers fought for independence and with everyone shouting "Merdeka", and I joined in as well, it beats watching a game at the Stadium or shouting for your idol anytime, the feeling is totally different! I blogged about it on Friendster but sadly, it has died a natural death, so I lost all data and pics of that night.

The people globally usually refer to Malaysia as only Peninsular Malaysia and shorten our citizens' name to the MALAYS. That is from the olden pre-Independent days where Malaya was called Tanah Melayu, the Land of Malays. Paintings of South East Asia map labelled Peninsular Malaysia as Malay. Even when I went to Hong Kong and mainland China, they referred to us as Malays. Fine.

For the record, Malaysia is a multi-racial country with Muslim as the official religion while non-Malays can profess any religion of their choice. Malay is the majority, with about 60% of the population, the rest are the Chinese (Chinese descent, not China-Chinese), Indian (Indian descent from India, but not India-Indian), the indegenious people in Peninsular Malaysia like Sakai, Jakun, and also 26 ethnic groups in the state of Sarawak in Borneo (Iban is the majority) and 27 ethnic groups in the state of Sabah in Borneo (Kadazan is the majority) - the two states in Borneo comprises East Malaysia, separated by South China Sea from Peninsular Malaysia.

Inter-racial marriages, and even inter-religious marriages had turned Malaysians into a colourful potpourri. I promised a short blog post, so for more information, feel free to google up Malaysia.

One thing synonymous with Malaysians are its food.

FOOD, FOOD, oh glorious food.

It doesn't matter what style of cooking it is, the Malays will cook Halal (ALMOST equivalent of 'kosher') food, but in Chinese or Indian style, we will have Malay style Chinese Fried Rice, or Indian style Fried noodles, and even the uniquely 'Mamak' or 'peranakan' cooking which is the result of racial integration of mixed marriages. Oh, don't get me started on the food for rest of the ethnicities in Sabah and Sarawak, my homeland of Borneo.

Pix shows some traditional cooking (meat in bamboo over the fire) by my friend's mom during Gawai Harvest Festival in mid-year in Sarawak.

I will not be telling the whole truth if I say we are truly tolerant with each other. However, let me remind you that even in a close-knit family, there will be squabbles and disagreements, what more to say in such a diverse community like what we have in Malaysia? Whoever we vote for, be it pro-Government or pro-Opposition, we are all just Malaysian voters exercising our rights. At the end of the day, we eat the same food, breathe in the same air, stay in the same country.

We are far from Utopia but generally, Malaysians are peace-loving people and once you get to know us and we overcome our initial 'shyness', we are always ready with a smile and will render any help we can. Just don't provoke us or call us names as we pride ourselves in our rich heritage and languages.

Selamat Hari Merdeka to all Malaysians! *Peace be unto all of us*

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