Monday, August 31, 2009

Another year, another Merdeka day...

That's 'independence' day to you foreign devils. 31 August 1957 is when M'sia gained its independence from the British. Others may remember 31 August as the date when Princess Diana expired in a car crash 12 years ago. And of course, others still may remember this date for any number of reasons, which may or may not be recorded in the Wikipedia article on this date.

I'm no patriot, and was very quick indeed to ignore the silly nationalist propaganda that they called history textbooks in my day. I'm already hearing from my younger friends (ooh, just typing that put another grey hair on my head) that the infamous May 13 incident has been omitted from the curriculum, such is the nature of the all-corrupting cancer that is Malaysian politics. Here's hoping Malaysia's youth spends more time on Wikipedia than on those so-called textbooks, eh?

But no, I'm not here to bitch about M'sia. Not this time, at any rate. I figured that now's as good a time as any to engage in the intellectual exercise of thinking positive about Malaysia. At this point in time, this is not easy, especially with this, this and this sitting in front of me. But there are about 27 million people in this country at the time of writing, not all of which, as the papers suggest, are a bunch ignorant, avaricious, shallow-minded degenerates. Society is not collapsing and I daresay we're still a long, long way from, say, hyperinflation and trading in bags of rice for guns and ammo.

So... what's good?

Well for a start, the Constitution still actually defines Malaysia as a secular nation. It's something that's worth being positive about, never mind the fact that the Malaysian Constitution has been amended more times than in most civilised nations. Or that even our own government and mass media seems to be confused regarding when Malaysia was actually established*. Or even that articles still remain which firmly entrench Malaysia's position as one of the last racist regimes on Earth. Despite all this, Malaysia is, in theory, secular. When people tell you that Malaysia is a Muslim country, what they're actually saying is that Malaysia is a secular nation, the majority of the population of which is Muslim, and that the whole portrayal of Malaysia as a Muslim nation is there to:

a) keep the conservative (read: anal retentive) religious right** happy; and

b) help with branding Malaysia as the go-to place for Islamic banking, which is quite possibly the most ridiculous piece of mass hypocrisy of our time. Usury by any other name is still bloody usury.

So, Malaysia is actually secular. Honestly. Never mind the opinion of the tyrannical, ignorant masses, it's right there on the Constitution at this point in time. I hope.

The other good thing I managed to think up regarding Malaysia is that it's a tremendously interesting social experiment in multiculturalism. This is not to say, as the present government would try to have you believe, that it's all hunky dory and we're all getting along fine. But Malaysia is young and still looking for it's equilibrium. Unfortunately, these days, I get the impression that, like many toddlers, Malaysia will have to fall down and do itself a mischief before it really learns to stand. I really do wonder sometimes what the government has planned for when Malaysia's glorious hydrocarbon riches run dry.

But anyways, Malaysia really is a melting pot of tremendously different cultures, and most of us do actually get along, and some even make an effort to understand each other. Here, everyone knows that the best languages to cuss in are Cantonese and Hokkien!And I think Malays and Indians show tremendous forbearance in enduring the Chinese penchant for murdering every language they come into contact with. And a very, very rare few, actually take the opportunity to take a good hard look at their own culture and understand just what it is that keeps people apart. So, yes, in this respect, Malaysia really is worth keeping an eye on, in the academic anthropological sense.

I suppose Malaysians reading this may find fault, and ask: What about the food? The malls? The food? The jungles and wildlife? Especially the food?

Let me tell you something about Malaysian food: It's nothing to be proud of. I mean it. It's cheap and tasty and there's loads of variety, yes, but does any Malaysian stop to consider the cost? No, not in MYR, I mean the cost in the more far-reaching sense? That is, the cost in hygiene standards, petroleum subsidies, nutritional value and especially quality? I suppose the upshot to this is it means most Malaysians have ruff and tuff stomachs. I recall that, during my first few weeks studying Mandarin in Beijing, many of the foreign students, particularly the Japanese, had weeks of indigestion before getting use to the horrors of Chinese university canteen food. So, yeah, thanks for that, Malaysia.

And that's all the positive things I can think up about Malaysia. Yay. When reading the local papers get me down, I will come back and read this post, and remember why I don't despair at the banality of it all. Happy birthday, Malaysia.

* 1963. No, really. 1957 was the Federation of Malaya, which only covered the Malay peninsula. Only in 1963 was the bit where I was born, i.e. Sarawak (and Singapore, too!), actually included in what is now Malaysia. A minor error quite likely born of typically Malaysian sloppiness in use of language.

** Honestly, I'm quite tired of the phrase "religious right", but you can't go around calling them the religious
wrong, can you?

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