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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Malaysia in the Era of Globalization #46

Chapter Six: Malaysia: Assets and Liabilities

Bless Our Geography!


Allah has been generous to Malaysia. Malaysians are reminded of this every time they read about natural disasters occurring elsewhere. There are no earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, or devastating floods. God has spared Malaysia such natural calamities.

Then there is the climate; it is not visited by extremes of heat or cold. Whereas Californians have to pay to warm their houses in winter and cool them in summer, Malaysians are spared such expenses. And if Malaysians were to design their homes well with cross drafts and adequate natural ventilation, air conditioning would not be essential. It is only for comfort. In temperate zones heating a home is essential lest you freeze. Home designs in temperate zones must necessarily be more complex to cope with both winter and summer. Unlike Malaysians, those living in temperate zones need two sets of clothing.

Roads in temperate countries are subjected to extremes of temperatures and the consequent wide range of contraction and expansion. Thus maintenance costs are high. Malaysia is spared such added costs. Municipalities in cold countries spend substantial sums of money to keep their streets free of snow.

In Malaysia, construction work occurs year round, except for brief interruptions during rainy season. I am always astounded at how fast buildings get built in Malaysia. In America outside work is curtailed during inclement weather and shorter winter days.

Apart from the climate, Malaysia is blessed with fertile soil and abundant natural resources. Its earth supports a variety of plants. We are a major producer of rubber, palm oil, cocoa, pepper, and hosts of other agricultural products. These are all renewable resources. The country’s immense old world jungle contains a variety of valuable hardwoods. It is also a source of alkaloids and other natural products that have wide pharmaceutical applications. Carefully managed these resources could last indefinitely; unscrupulously treated they will not only be destroyed but in turn create monumental environmental disasters. Soil erosion, flooding, and smog are just some of the horrors of less-than-wise treatment of the land.

Malaysia is also blessed with deposits of valuable minerals and hydrocarbons. The old standby was tin, and just as its market dropped, the country discovered vast deposits of hydrocarbon. How blessed!

The country has vast stretches of beautiful beaches bathed by welcoming warm waters. These are prized tourist destinations. But compared to Hawaii or Cancun, Malaysia’s tourist industry is not well developed. Hawaii caters for the large mainland domestic market as well as the equally lucrative Japanese market. Visitors to Hawaii can enjoy not only the beautiful warm beaches and sunshine but also partake in other attractions that have been well developed – cruises, golfing, and aquatic activities.

Cancun prides itself in being rationally planned. In the early 1970’s the Mexican president assembled a group of professionals and asked them to design from scratch a tourist industry for what was then an impoverished fishing village. Using computer simulations they designed the entire region to cater for tourists from Europe, North America, and Latin America, all lucrative markets. They built a modern airport to accommodate jumbo jets that could fly the maximum distance. To ensure the pristine beaches and clear waters would not be polluted, they built modern central sewage and water treatment plants, and instituted strict guidelines for coastal constructions.

Today Cancun has hundreds of luxury hotels catering to millions of visitors annually. What was once a sleepy coastal village is now a world-class tourist destination. Like Hawaii, Cancan also offers many other attractions, in particular the nearby Mayan ruins. The hotels too offer a variety of options including timeshares and all-inclusive packages. Cancun is my favorite vacation destination as I can book everything with one phone call (or via the Internet). With one bill I can prepay for everything: hotel, food, airfare, and also the taxi to and from the airport! Maximum convenience! Non-Spanish speaking guests have no difficulty as most of the workers speak English. Besides, there are ample signs in English. Very convenient!

The tourist industry in Malaysia is still very much “work in progress.” There must be a full scale and comprehensive plan a la Cancun; otherwise we would squander this wonderful potential. Already we are seeing what were once premier tourist sites like Penang and Port Dickson losing their appeal because of haphazard construction and poor planning; their prime attractions – the fine beaches – soiled by pollution. When I visit Port Dickson, I dare not dip my foot in the water as it is so polluted. The stench and the litter on the beach are something else.

Malaysia’s strategic location between East and West could be leveraged to turn it into an aviation and maritime hub. Presently Singapore, only a couple hundred miles away, is capitalizing on this fortuitous geography. It is successful because of its superior services. If Malaysia can improve its services, given the markedly lower cost structure, it should be able to take business away from that republic. Already Johore’s Port of Tanjung Pelepas is siphoning traffic away from Singapore because it offers comparable services at markedly reduced prices. Malaysia’s Sepang airport could do likewise to Singapore’s Changi.

The country’s unchanging climate can be a liability. As one day merges into the next, there is no sense of urgency. It is easy to fall into the trap of continually postponing things and then suddenly, months and years have gone by. There is no tangible seasonal reminder of a deadline. As there are no obvious climatic changes to spur Malaysians to a preset timetable and deadline, these must be created artificially to avoid the manana (postpone to tomorrow) syndrome.

Lastly, it has been claimed that Malaysia’s heat and humidity are not conducive to intellectual activities. At least that is the convenient excuse. If that were true it is easily remedied. Simply air-condition our offices and colleges. Thus the only downside to Malaysia’s climate is readily solvable.

Next: Big Government, Big Problems

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