Malaysian Nationalism and Singapore

by norman on September 27, 2011

We arrived yesterday from China. Malaysia is not surprisingly very different from other Asian countries. It is the first country in Asia I’ve visited that is ex-colonial. First it was the Portuguese then the Dutch and finally the British except for a short period of time when it is was under Japanese control during World War 2.

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Malaysian Flag

The Malaysian flag is everywhere. I've never seen so much nationalism. Maybe it is more pronounced in North Korea.

Arriving immediately from China, it appears on a similar level of development, albeit not for long until China pulls ahead. Secondly, western influence is here in a big way, especially in the people on the street, there must be somewhere between 100 and 1000 x (I’m not exaggerating) the number of Westerners on the Street compared to the three Chinese cities we visited including Shanghai, and I once again heard American (as in USA) accents, where I heard none, as in zip, nil in China, plenty of Germans and Russians in China though.

Talking about the USA, Malaysia is the only place on Earth that I’ve visited (and I’ve visited many) that nationalism seems more pronounced than the USA. Malaysian flags are everywhere, I mean everywhere. Pictures of the prime minister are on bus shelters, it almost seems, and things do when they are so in your face, they’re insecure about something. Maybe I’ve just got it wrong. When I went to their national museum it was very pro Malay Malaysia, as if the Chinese and Indian and indigenous populations don’t count, and they make up 50%, they certainly didn’t make up 50% of the “feel” of the museum, maybe 1%, maybe none. Even in the discussion of the Federation of Malaysia when they got independence from Great Britain there is little, actually none, discussion of the huge split that occurred between Singapore and Malaysia. Originally the state of Singapore was in the Federation but owing to the racism here, including the killing of hundreds of Chinese people and the burning of their businesses, the people of Singapore felt they couldn’t belong to such a nation. Hence, they went alone, without the enormous natural resources they still managed through hard work to build an economy that now has a per capita standard of living 5 x (yes that is an enormous difference) more than their previous partners they certainly left behind.

Malaysian National Museum

Norman Wood standing in front of the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia.

Other things you notice: all the police (I’m looking hard now) and government officials (immigration) I’ve come across seem to be Malay. This can’t be a good thing. I’m not saying that Malay people are bad, it is just not a good idea if you are trying to build a truly harmonious society (they talk about this all they time) that you should have institutionalized racism. Maybe this is the insecurity I’m picking up on and hence the “in the face” Malay nationalism. I always wondered why I came across so many ex Malaysian Chinese in New Zealand, in a similar way you come across ex Fijian Indians. New Zealand’s gain their loss I say.

On a positive note.  The National Museum of Malaysia is a beautiful building and the exhibits are very well done, very.  Puts Te Papa to shame, although we New Zealanders can still be very proud of the War Memorial Museum (like our true National Museum of New Zealand) in Auckland.  Anyway, there was a fantastic display of airplane models in the foyer.  Inside the displays go from the Neolithic period up to modern day, albeit lacking much of the non Malay component, but then again, it does have a lot of history about the various colonialists, such as the Portuguese, the Dutch and British.  I just wonder why there is nothing of the Chinese and Indian cultures, has me really thinking.  And of course one can’t forget the wonderful Proton Saga display.

Proton Saga

The Proton Saga, the car made in Malaysia. Looks suspiciously like a Mitsubishi Mirage from the 1980s.

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