(function() { (function(){function c(a){this.t={};this.tick=function(a,c,b){var d=void 0!=b?b:(new Date).getTime();this.t[a]=[d,c];if(void 0==b)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+a)}catch(l){}};this.tick("start",null,a)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var h=0=b&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-b)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load;0=b&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,b),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt", e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&0=c&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var f=!1;function g(){f||(f=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",g,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",g); })();

M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Name:
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.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Plotical Versus Mental Merdeka (Independence)



Political Versus Mental Merdeka (Independence)
M. Bakri Musa
www.bakrimusa.com

Much has changed in the world since 1957 when Malaysia achieved its Merdeka (independence), with the pace ever accelerating. Great Britain is no longer great, and the Austins and Morris Minors that used to ply Malaysian roads are today found if at all only in the junkyards and collectors’ garages.

            The social landscape too has changed. The Lake Club, a cool oasis in the heart of humid bustling Kuala Lumpur, was once the bastion of colonial privilege where British miners, planters and civil servants retired during the heat of the day to enjoy their stengahs (stouts) and steak, uninterrupted by the offensive sights of the natives spitting on the ground, Chinese maids grunting to clear their throats, and Indian laborers incessantly squirting blood-like betel nut juice through their rotten teeth. Those disgusting and unsanitary habits of the non-colonials could spoil one’s appetite in very short order regardless of the physical ambience.

            The staid upscale Robinson Department Store was then thriving despite its lack of customers, at least the native variety. Exclusiveness equaled profitability, a concept that is still being aggressively pursued by today’s advertisers in their endless search for lucrative niches. For Robinson, there was little need to cater to the natives; they did not have the money anyway. The few wealthy ones spotted inspecting the store’s merchandise were only too happy to pay the exorbitant prices for the privilege of rubbing shoulders however briefly with their colonial counterparts. For the store, that was an opportunity to jack up the prices and rake in the profits. Then, as now, there was always money to be made catering to people’s vanity, up to a point.

            During a recent visit to Malaysia, I had difficulty finding the old Robinson store. I mean of course the building, as the company itself had long ago disappeared, a casualty of Schumpeter’s creative destruction. As for an evening at the Lake Club, the food–even the Malay cuisines–was way below par compared to those found at the many luxury hotels now in KL. As in those hotels, the Malay food at Lake Club was prepared and served by non-Malays or even non-Malaysians. As for ambience, those foreign hotels are much more luxurious or “exclusive.”

            Tourists cannot be faulted for being impressed with Malaysia, especially upon arrival at its gleaming Sepang Airport. At Customs and Immigration, polite English-speaking officials would be there to greet them.

            That was not always the case. There was a time when the two departments would, to put it kindly, serve as a good introduction to the country. The negligent services were matched only by the tidak apa (lackadaisical) personnel. Since then, frequent comparisons with the efficient operation at the neighboring Singapore airport, only 30 minutes flying time away, had embarrassed the officials sufficiently into making the necessary improvements.

            That is the good news; Malaysians are capable of learning when sufficiently shamed. The bad news is that comparisons with the definitely First World Singapore would rattle most Malaysians, especially the leaders.

            When visiting Malaysia, I too like to play tourist, at least for the first few days to ease my transition. There is no point complicating the inevitable jet lag with routines that I have long forgotten, or giving up comforts I have grown accustomed. Once I have recovered, and with the old Malaysian smell and ambience slowly creeping back to re-excite the neurons in the deep recesses of my memory, I yearn to return to the familiar Malaysian ways.

            Then I would return to my old village. There, time seems to have remained frozen. This is true of rural Malaysia generally. If there is any change, it is for the worse. Whereas in my youth I had to wait listlessly under the blazing sun for the erratic village bus, today even that service is gone. As for schools, in my time teachers were highly regarded and more than adequately compensated; today the profession is inundated by the bonded and unemployable.

            True, during my youth education was a privilege enjoyed by far too few. However, why do we always have to choose between quantity and quality? Strive for both!

            Thomas Wolfe’s “you can’t go home again” obviously does not apply to me. When I go back to my village I am indeed returning home and to the time of my youth. Chatting with the old villagers immediately confirms that. It can be unnerving. Sometimes I wonder whether the time I was in medical school and living in North America had just been a dream; awakened, I am back in the drudgery of my kampong life. Only the presence of my wife beside me reassures me otherwise.

            In many respects life is now worse for today’s kampong youngsters. At least when I was young I could dream that if I did well in my studies I could escape. Today, even that aspiration is beyond contemplation for most. They may excel in school, but their limited English skills would confine their opportunities and any chance at upward mobility.

            There have been many development initiatives introduced over the years, as our politicians constantly remind us, and they all carry exorbitant price tags. Yet for far too many of the villagers and their children–the next generation–life remains unchanged.

            It is time for a radical change in approach. Instead of emphasizing the physical aspects of development–freeways, gleaming skyscrapers, and billion-ringgit GLCs–we should focus on changing mindsets, on liberating them. Malays have been longing for a free mind for far too long.

            Consider that we had to agitate and at times resort to violence to get our political merdeka; the British did not acquiesce readily or enthusiastically. As for our minda merdeka (free mind), expect even greater obstacles. No one can grant us that; we have to strive for it ourselves, collectively and individually.

            It is not in the nature of humans to be cooped under the coconut shell. That is not Allah’s grand design; He wants us to be free so we can undertake our responsibilities as His vice-regents in this universe.

            There are only two options. One is the default setting, meaning, we do nothing but wait passively. If we were to do that, we would reduce ourselves to being victims of circumstances. Rest assured, eventually outside events will topple our shell, as has happened before with the Japanese Occupation. Then ready or not, we were flung out onto the outside world. Though we benefited from the change, the collateral damage was unpredictable and at times unbearable.

            The better alternative is to topple our coconut shell on our own. That way we could choose the timing and method, thus minimizing possible collateral damages. Doing so would also empower our people and help create the results we desire.

Next:  Toppling Our Coconut Shell


Adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home