I’m a proud Australian of Malaysian heritage. I like to tell people that I grew up in Perth, and when I tell people that I’m Chinese, I always add “from Malaysia”. I’m proud of every component of my upbringing and my culture. I like to think of myself as a rainbow of colours and influences.
My first 14 years of life was spent in Kuala Lumpur. My dad was second generation Malaysian Chinese, and mom was first generation. Both were born in Penang. Dad was English educated and mom was Chinese educated. So while they both look Chinese, culturally they were different but what they had in common was being Malaysian. They both studied university in Australia (dad in Ballarat and mom in Sydney). They didn’t meet until they went to KL for work. I’ve written a bit more about them previously.
I’m telling you all of this to show you the stuff that I was born into. Then, living in Malaysia up till my early teens I enjoyed going to school and learning three languages (English, Malay, Mandarin) and thought that was the most natural thing ever. And also picking up Cantonese and Hokkien on the side – the dialects that the Chinese speak in KL and Penang, respectively. I enjoyed switching between all of that as much as I enjoyed celebrating each other’s religious and cultural holidays. I enjoy eating Chinese food, Malay food, Indian food and everything else in between. I hate to use the word “fusion” but it really was that. And I enjoyed seeing Malaysians of all races enjoying each other’s foods unless not allowed to by their religion (ie. halal vs. non-halal).
I enjoy speaking in the colloquial English shared by both Malaysians and Singaporeans, better known as “Singlish“. I enjoy the rivalry between our two peoples – hey Singaporeans, Hainanese Chicken Rice was invented by us ok? Just give it up already. Hahahah!
All of which is to say, yes I’m proud to have come from Malaysia and all that it entails. But, I’m not proud of Malaysia as a country. As John Oliver has joked, Australia can be a bit too comfortably and casually racist. However, at least the racism is not systemic and built into the laws like it is in Malaysia. The affirmative action policy in Malaysia (one that overwhelmingly benefits the dominant race in the country) ensures the following:
- 30% of the equity of publicly-listed companies are reserved for a Malay person(s) or entity
- 85% of the civil service (besides teachers) are Malay
- And the biggest bugbear and cause of brain drain from the country, and why my parents uprooted us to move to Australia in 1988 – 75% of university places are reserved for the Malays. Ostensibly, this quota system was removed in 2002 but bias persists still.
And yet, more than 50 years after independence from the British ultra-nationalistic Malay politicians in the UMNO party (United Malays National Organisation) still refer to the Chinese and Indians in the country as immigrants even though both races have been there way before the Dutch, the Portugese or the British. They constantly play to the racist view that their special rights as Malays are being impinged upon, especially by the Chinese. All of this where the laws are written in favour of them and where important levers of the government (political, judiciary, military) are dominated by Malays. All of this when UMNO is the dominant political party in the ruling coalition since independence.
Bersih4 rally in KL
What prompted me to write this post are the events that happened recently, whereby USD700 million of funny money appeared to have been funneled into the PM’s account and how he subsequently fired his deputy PM who was critical of this, and the attorney general who was leading the investigations into it. And people who participated in the massive street rallies that followed did so under threat of arrest.
But the depressing thing about this is, it has happened before when another PM (Mahathir) fired another deputy PM (Anwar Ibrahim) in 1998. And before that, he has also locked up anyone who dared questioned his behaviour and policies.
And what is hilarious about it is that Mahathir seems to have felt that the current PM has gone too far, even by his standards.
I want to say that not all Malays are part of or agree with UMNO (just like not all Australians agree with Tony Abbott’s stance against refugees – a topic for another day) but the rot will not stop until UMNO decides to stop it which is unlikely. Why would they when the current system perpetuates their dominance, their existence and their illicit ways? And that is what is depressing about Malaysia as a country. Malaysia may be close to being “Truly Asia” but it is not even close to being “1Malaysia”.
Nasi Lemak – the one thing that all Malaysians agree on
ps. If you are Malaysian and you can vote, please exercise your civil rights and do so. Thanks for reading. This has been a long one.