Look at the bright side: The Lima Puluh Tujuh project

  • Arts
  • Tuesday, 26 Aug 2014

An online initiative aims to combat doom-and-gloom rhetoric that has become all too common.

Looking at the brighter side of life isn't always easy and writer Niki Cheong knows it. Dismayed by increasingly negative and divisive sentiments that have clogged the media all year, Cheong decided to launch Lima Puluh Tujuh – an online initiative to combat the doom-and-gloom rhetoric that has become all too common.

But instead of hitting directly at the source, Cheong is betting on the words of ordinary Malaysians to do the trick. At the heart of the project is the website – limapuluhtujuh.com – where he is currently soliciting and publishing short, anecdotal stories of joy, compassion and positivity in Malaysia.

On Aug 31, Lima Puluh Tujuh will kick off its on-ground element at Fashion Avenue in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. The installation will remain there until Malaysia Day (Sept 16). In between those two dates, Lima Puluh Tujuh would be making stops in areas such as Cheras, Kampung Baru, Sentul and Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur to encourage further participation.

A former editor of The Star’s youth platform R.AGE, Cheong, 34, currently helms a cross-platform media consultancy called NICHE creative. His column Bangsar Boy Returns is featured in StarMetro.

He hopes that by sharing and reading such stories, Malaysians will realise that harsh lines of division didn’t build our country; it’s the everyday human contact, mutual respect and a shared sense of commonality that holds us together.

We asked Cheong, who is one of the faces featured in The Star’s “Voice of the Moderates” campaign, to share other details about his project.

What inspired you to start Lima Puluh Tujuh?

Lima Puluh Tujuh is basically an extension of the 50x50 My Malaysia project, which I organised last year in conjunction with the 50th Malaysia Day. I have spent the past year and a half working on various projects aimed at bringing Malaysians together, so Lima Puluh Tujuh – which celebrates 57 years of independence since 1957 – continues in that vein.

Could you describe what Lima Puluh Tujuh is all about?

We’re asking people to share their stories about Malaysia over the past 57 years. We’ve collected some stories and put them up to help give people an idea of what kinds of stories we’re looking for. Each story ends with a question as a guide for anyone who wants to contribute.

Are there any stories on the site that personally struck you as poignant?

Two stories resonate most for me. One is called “I don’t think there’s a Malaysian festival that I don’t like” because it describes the Malaysia I grew up in. Even before there were intercultural marriages in my immediate family, I grew up with such a diverse group of people that every celebration was my celebration.

I’d go to neighbours’ houses during Raya, for example, and play the host, as though I was the tuan rumah (master of the house). But it was all in good fun.

The other one is called “Got listen to your cikgu or not?” because it brings back so many memories. It also reminds me of my parents’ childhood stories. They grew up in a time when there were no buses so the neighbourhood kids would walk to school together.

Why do you think such stories make inspiring reading?

I think childhood stories are great because they are sentimental. They take us out of our busy lives to look back and reflect. That’s what I’m hoping people will get out of Lima Puluh Tujuh, a chance to consider their current lives in the context of the past. We always hear people say, things have changed or Malaysia was better back then and the like. But, is it really? Have we changed that much?

What’s your take on that? In our pursuit of a better life, have we changed for the better?

It’s hard to say and I can only speak for myself as I reflect on my history and the history of the country that I grew up with. I’m terribly disturbed by the increasing negative rhetoric that’s tearing apart the social fabric that holds us together. I’m trying not to get caught up in these sentiments and constantly remind myself that, in general, we’re very much united. I look at my family and friends and I truly believe that. But, of course, it’s not just me. Everyone else needs to feel the same for this to continue.

What would you say to Malaysians who perpetuate the doom-and-gloom rhetoric?

Have faith. If we succumb to negative sentiments, then it will be doom ahead. But there’s always hope. We just need to look for the little things to hang on to and amplify them. If we truly believe that things were better before, then it’s proof that good things are possible.

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