Chapter 18: Malaysians, Proud of their country


Serena: “Singapore was certainly different than Malaysia or Thailand.”

Laurie: “That’s for sure.”

Miranda: “It was the most like the US.”

Me: “Most like the US?”

Miranda: “Yes. I would say that as we have come south it has become more and more Westernized.”

Serena: “I agree. Thailand was most different. Malaysia closer. But Singapore was closest of all to American culture. Everything was so modern.”

Me: “You’re right. We Californians are also ‘free thinkers’. We too do not belong to any particular religion.”

Miranda: “Americans are also mesmerized by fun.”

Genting Highlands

Me: “I guess it is a universal tendency. Remember the first place we visited in Malaysia, the Genting Highlands.”

Laurie: “Yuck! So strange, with its theme park and casinos, especially after Thailand with all its Buddhist temples.”

Me: “I was certainly tricked. When I saw it listed on our tour, I was immediately reminded of the isolated Scottish Highlands with all their natural beauty. I was expecting to see some of the natural beauty of Malaysia. Instead we were confronted with one of the elements of American culture which I was trying to escape - the emphasis on mindless fun.”

Laurie: “I wonder why they would include that as part of our tour?”

Miranda: “A lot of people like that sort of thing. The Japanese always go to Disneyland when they visit California.”

Serena: “I was proud that no one in our group wanted to stay there.”

Me: “At least it was a nice opportunity to drive into Malaysia’s interior.”

Laurie: “I had always wanted to see a high altitude tropical rain forest. It was so incredible as we climbed up.”

Me: “I missed it. I was still recuperating from the excruciating pain I felt on the 2 hour plane flight from Bangkok from the pressure.”

Miranda: “I missed it too. I was nauseous after the plane flight and was just trying to lie still on the bumpy road up the hill.”

Laurie: “I saw plants that I’d never seen before. Super-sized Ferns, Palms and Philodendrons that thrive in the moist tropical environment. Plants I don’t even know the name of. Then came the Genting Highland with all the high rise hotels. It made me sick to my stomach. It was the first time that I had seen first hand the rape of the rain forest that I’ve heard so much about.”

Miranda: “An abomination on the earth.”

Serena: “Mother Earth is ravaged for Fun.”

Me: “There must have been at least 3 or 4 twenty story hotels at the top of the mountain - not to mention the theme park, casino and golf course. A self enclosed resort for the wealthy. What emptiness.”

Serena: “How about the Tele-Tubbies on the hotel soap? Miranda and I laughed so hard.”

Me: “Tele-Tubbies?”

Miranda: “It’s a popular TV show for kids. The characters of the show were on the packaging for the soap in our hotel room.”

Laurie: “Strange. And they didn’t provide hand towels. If you wanted one you had to buy them as souvenirs.”

Me: “Why would you want a hand towels as a souvenir?”

Laurie: “The hotel’s name is on it.”

Me: “Woo hoo!”

Miranda: “This is probably like the Disneyland of Malaysia.”

Me: “After Thailand, why did they take us there?”

Miranda: “Lots of people like theme parks and casinos.”

The Members of our Tour - Americans, born in Southeast Asia

Me: “No one in our group.”

Serena: “We are all Americans. But May and Anna were both born and raised in Hong Kong, while Elizabeth and Ernie were both raised in the Philippines.”

Me: “Even the couple that left the tour early were both born and raised in Cambodia. How interesting that each met in the United States after being raised elsewhere. The first couple met in Long Beach.”

Serena: “It’s not strange at all. I live in Berkeley. Cultures of a feather tend to flock together. Chinese hang out with Chinese. Indian with Indian. And White with White.”

Me: “It’s interesting that we’re the only Americans on the tour who were not born and raised in Southeast Asia.”

Miranda: “Not really. Most Americans are too afraid to travel to foreign places like this. They’re afraid it’s dangerous. They would rather go to Hawaii or Europe, where its safe.”

Serena: “Many Americans only visit Cancun when they go to Mexico.”

Laurie: “Some of my jewelry customers said they couldn’t even find any Mexican food in Cancun.”

Virtuous Malaysia, where everyone gets along

Me: “It was so beautiful driving down the mountain. The beautiful plants and then the skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur gradually emerging out of the rugged terrain.”

Serena: “I liked our Malaysian guide, Danna. He was much more friendly than the grumpy driver who picked us up at the airport.”

Danna: “The Genting Highlands mountain is owned by one man - a reclusive Chinese who doesn’t even speak Malay. He’s in his 80s now.”

Me: “Hope he has a big family.”

Danna: “All his sons manage these big resort hotels.”

Me: “A family business.”

Danna: “Right. Malaysia is primarily made up of three cultures. Our population is 60% Malay, 10% Indian, and 30% Chinese. We coexist peacefully together.”

Me: “No racism?”

Danna: “Not at all.”

Me: “What about religion?”

Danna: “Religious affiliation reflects ethnic background. Most Malays are Muslim. Most Indians practice Hinduism and most Chinese practice their religion.”

Me: “No cross over?”

Danna: “Very little.”

Me: “Intermarriage?”

Danna: “Not much. Besides the Muslims make the couple convert to Muslim no matter what religion they were.”

Me: “What if they don’t?”

Danna: “They act as if there were a death in the family. The husband or wife can never go home again. Not only that, if say I, who am Hindu, decide to marry a Muslim girl and become Muslim myself, I must choose a brand new name. I must create a Muslim identity for myself. And (pausing significantly) I lose the name I was born with.”

Me: “A bit of a discouragement. Do these religious differences bring any hostility?”

Danna: “Not really. We are all tolerant of each other.”

Me: “Muslim, Chinese and Hindu all get along?”

Danna: “That’s right.”

Me: “Wow! What happened in the rest of the world?”

Danna: “What do you mean?”

Me: “The countries of Pakistan and India were created to separate the warring Muslims and Hindus in Southern Asia. The Muslims and Christians are warring in the Middle East. But here you get along. What’s your secret?”

Danna: “We realized that we had to get along to throw off our common enemy - the British. Divided we would have fallen. United we survived.”

Me: “Amazing! What system of government?”

Danna: “Democracy. We vote for a new president every five years. There are 14 states in Malaysia. We also vote for a new governor every five years. By law there is only a week of campaigning before the election. Then after the election in one week everything must be cleaned up of everything related to politics.”

Me: “Heavenly! In the US campaigning starts years before the election.”

Laurie: “It gets real old by the time we vote.”

Danna: “We also have a ceremonial king with no real power who is rotated and elected by the 9 traditional Muslim caliphates, which correspond to our states.”

Me: “What do the Hindus and Chinese think about your Muslim king?”

Danna: “We all love our king and our country.”

Miranda: “Everyone should have a king.”

Danna: “Notice the tall buildings as we drive through Kuala Lumpur. Many of these are apartments for sale.”

Laurie: “We call those condominiums.”

Danna: “The government builds them to provide affordable housing. Each time a new building is created the apartments are distributed by culture.”

Me: “Explain.”

Danna: “Say there are 100 units. 60 are reserved for Muslim families, 30 for Chinese, and 10 for Indian. Furthermore everyone needs to apply. If the applicant makes too much money he’s not accepted.”

Me: “Amazing! The government has eliminated real estate speculation which drives up the price of housing.”

Danna: “It happens a little here, but it is against the law.”

Me: “Are there any slums?”

Danna: “No. That’s why the government created these huge apartment complexes.”

Me: “Any homeless people or beggars?”

Danna: “No. The government provides housing for everyone. No matter how poor.”

Me: “How about medical care and education?”

Danna: “All provided by the government.”

Me: “Sounds like heaven.”

Danna: “It is. We are well taken care of. We are very proud of our country. Most of us are very happy here.”

Me: “Malaysians gives me hope for the future of humankind. Now I know that there is at least one country on the planet where people of different religious persuasions coexist peacefully together. Malaysia shows that it is possible.”

Danna: “Well here’s your hotel. After you’ve rested and had lunch we will go to the Batu Caves.”

Back at the hotel with my family:

Me: “Contrast the attitude of Danna with that of our fast moving Guide in Singapore. Her government provided nothing for free and life was hard because they had to save up so much money to provide for emergencies. So what if they had a larger average income than those in Malaysia, they had to store much of it away. So what if they had large savings. It all had to be used to pay for education, health, and taking care of parents. The supposed free enterprise of Singapore has sent real estate prices soaring due to rampant speculation - forcing the average citizen to move out of town, while the socialist system of Malaysia has provided housing for all of its citizens - like a benevolent father. Singapore is based on meritocracy which means that those who are talented survive and those who aren’t fail. Malaysia provides for all its citizens. Malaysia has encouraged all their cultures, while Singapore has worshipped wealth and the modern at the expense of traditional culture. The price of progress.”

Miranda: “Sounds like America.”


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