Happy 58th Independence Day, Malaysia!

“Merdeka! !مرديكا Мәрдека!”

Image courtesy of Waikaitomalaysians

On the 31st of August, 1957, the glorious chants of this word echoed across the nation as the sun of the British Empire set upon the land of Malaya. It merged to become Malaysia in 1963 with the Bornean states of Sarawak and Sabah, and Singapore too (which left later and achieved its own independence). On this day, all states of the Malaysian peninsula are celebrating 68 years of freedom after more than two centuries of European colonial administration.

What does being Malaysian mean for me, an expatriate who spent most of his primary-school and teenage years abroad? I don’t know the exact meaning myself. There are too many things that set me apart from other Malaysians. Malaysia is not my home for most of the year. I would rather live as an expat than as a local in my own country. I detest speaking Malaysian-accented English, Malaysian tropical weather and the Malaysian education system. I am more fluent in (RP-accented) English than my own national language. I don’t add ‘lah’ at every other end of my sentence like most Malaysians do. Despite all of this, I am eternally bound to this country where I was born and raised, where all of my extended family members and a lot of my friends call home. It is a frequent marker of my identity wherever I travel etched on the cover of my passport. If I am asked “Where are you from?” I have no choice but to answer “Malaysia”, no matter how foreign it might seem to me…

Yet I am proud to be Malaysian, although I admit that my patriotism is not very passionate unlike my other Malaysian compatriots. It is a well-respected nation around the world and I have no plans to change my citizenship for any other. Just because I like living overseas doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the beauties of living in my own country. In fact, there are times I miss living in Malaysia from my school years in IISM (2013 to mid-2015) because of the friends I made there. I am still firecely protective of my mother tounge and national language, Bahasa Melayu, which I speak at home on a regular basis. I feel really happy when anyone praises Malaysia or say they’ve been/lived there.

Other things I love about Malaysia are listed here:

  • Peace and stability: We are one of the few countries in the world where we can have a multiethnic, multireligious society without civil war and fear of terrorism. While race issues still persist, Malaysia is faring very well compared to other Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar.
  • Higher economic status: It would be wrong to class Malaysia as an LEDC or a Third-World country. That could describe Malaysia 30 years ago, but a lot has changed. Malaysia is not a country stuggling to feed its own people on the brink of famine. Not only it is a prime exporter of natural resources like palm oil, but it is a renowned manufacturing, trading and most importantly tourism hub!
  • Shopping malls: With better economic standards, come greater consumer confidence in spending on all kinds of products. I may not be a shopaholic, but the shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur are absolutely fantastic places to hang out with friends! The best memories I had about life in Malaysia were going out to eat, shop and watch movies in the cinema with my friends from school. If you want to visit KL, you MUST visit the Pavilion in Bukit Bintang, where you can find literally everything under one roof.
  • Malaysian food and drink: I can’t stress this enough: MALAYSIAN CUISINE IS AWESOME! Thanks to the fusion of Asian cultures in one country, a vast array of fresh, colourful and exotic ingredients put together to cater everybody’s tastebuds! Bread-based, rice-based, noodles, veggie and meaty, it’s all here! Granted, it’s not the healthiest, but one cannot simply visit Malaysia without having tried nasi lemak (with spicy sambal paste!) and roti canai, the unofficial national dishes loved by people regardless of their status.
  • Cheap, cheap and cheap: Never mind what they say about GST, because compared to expensive Europe and East Asia, Malaysia is hella cheap, especially if you’ve lived in countries like Oman (which I have). I buy most of my clothes there and shopping malls hold sales pretty regularly. That’s why foreign brands like Adidas and Nike are so popular.
  • …and many other reasons that would take ages and ages to write so I will stop here.

Indirectly, I am reaping the fruits of Malaysia’s independence. My family can move overseas because of my parent’s preofessional career. My parents would not have had the opportunity to pursue their careers if they did not go to universities abroad. They would not get that far if it weren’t for government-funded scholarships. These scholarships would not have been in place if the government had no money. If we were not independent, the economy would still be favouring Britain and keep most of the populace and local gov’t in poverty. In short, without independece, my family background would hinder me from this life I am having now. Prosperity after independece was what helped raise better living standards for all Malaysians as a whole.

Somehow, I must at least show some kind of gratitude for all the sacrifices my forefathers had gone through to make this country a better place for all. I need to help Malaysia and make it better for everyone because right now, Malaysia is facing a lot of trials and tribulations from all sides. Internally, Malaysia is suffering political incompetency and social inequality. Corruption is rife and politicians are simply too quick to point fingers at each other than getting anything done. Ethnic and religious differences are being exploited at the expense of political gain, while normal people suffer from poverty and discrimination. The BERSIH 4 protests happening right on the eve of this year’s Independence Day bears a testament to this.

Externally, Malaysia is at the mercy of a shaky global economic uncertainty, with falling oil prices and China’s slowdown in economic growth. Combined with corruption, it may well result in total a recession if not handled properly and soon. On an international level, Malaysia is weakening. I don’t mind friendly relations with the USA, but I will oppose any attempt to turn Malaysia into an American proxy state. It is too vulnerable due to the proximity of Malaysia to China and rising tensions between it and the US. What’s worse, the losses of flights MH370 and MH17 shows just how insignificant the nation is to the world: a small fish surrounded by lots of big fish in an increasingly shrinking global pond. China was angry at Malaysia for losing the Beijing-bound plane, and while nobody blamed Malaysia for MH17, it was inevitably dragged into the Ukraine crisis.

That is why I feel a sense of obligation towards my country. I am not sure how I can contribute, but I wish I could wave a magic wand to make all of the problems disappear. I am deeply conflicted myself, because of my love of travel outside of my own country and future aspirations to live and work abroad. I don’t know how to do this without being seen as some kind of selfish betrayer. I have a lot to learn about Malaysia because there is still a lot I don’t know in terms of history, politics, law and real-life conditions in the country. My outlook is mostly from a previliged middle-class perspective, and I don’t live through the strife poorer Malaysians face everyday. I criticise Malaysia a lot, but there are still a lot of things I am ignorant about, making my harsh judgements unfair and unjustified, even offensive.

Maybe the best way for me to become a better Malaysian citizen is to learn more: read more books about the country’s founding, visit musuems and monuments, travel all over the country and so on. Living there for a few years would be good too. Perhaps from here I can learn to appreciate the country’s independence better and help create a better future for all Malaysians. This is my Merdeka resolution for 2016. Do you have one?

Selamat Menyambut Hari Kemerdekaan! سلامت مڽمبوت هاري کمرديکاءن! Сәламат мәңамбут ҳари кәмәрдека’ан! Happy Independence Day!!!

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