I fell ill after the new year so I am writing this through the dizziness of food poisoning and the haziness of medication.
My apologies in advance if this is not the greatest piece you’ll read this week.
American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway said one of my favourite quotes. Having spent a lifetime travelling and writing, Hemingway described his birth town of Oak Park, Illinois, as a place of “wide lawns and narrow minds”.
By this, he was referring to people living comfortable lives but having small world views. In his lifetime, the author had been involved in World War One in Italy, lived in Chicago, Paris, the Caribbean, reported on the Spanish Civil War, wrote one of his best loved books from Cuba, among other localities.
I feel his description of “wide lawns and narrow minds” could easily apply to Malaysia today. There are only five years left until “Vision 2020”, when we are supposed to be a developed nation, yet national discourse points to an increasingly backdated, untrusting, reactionary mindset.
Consider the growing religious and racial segregation in this country. It has gotten so bad the Sarawak government has begun banning what it considers Malaysian extremists into this state.
I find it sad when people from Peninsular Malaysia come to Sarawak and Sabah and express how “delighted” they are that halal and non-halal food stalls can operate side by side. Why? Because in the first place, that is not supposed to be an issue.
As a Chinese Malaysian, I am sometimes also made to feel less patriotic just because I speak Mandarin more than Bahasa Malaysia, and that English was my favourite subject in school.
Today, there are social circles in Malaysia who seem to genuinely believe non-Bumiputras must wake up everyday, rub their palms together and ask: “How can I steal the wealth and political power of others?”.
While these people might constitute a fringe movement in the past, of late, they do seem to have a growing presence and louder voice in the mainstream.
As a young Malaysian, this worries me a great deal. It also does me no good to wonder if I had made the wrong decision to return to Malaysia when I had the chance to stay back in Australia.
If there can be a silver lining to the tragedies Malaysia faced in 2014, it must be that, whenever we were in hard times, not only did Malaysians stick together as one, but we received external help.
The recent floods that devastated Peninsular Malaysia is case in point. Financial aid poured in from all facets of Malaysia. The Sarawak government donated a commendable RM2mil, while other non-governmental bodies like the Indian Association of Kuching also chipped in with fund-raising drives.
The Chinese government donated US$100,000; the Japanese, RM500,000; Singapore, nearly RM1mil; and the United States, RM525,000, just to name a few.
Interestingly, the Taiwanese sent over a team of medical workers and volunteers with 12 vehicles loaded with supplies and rescue equipment to enter the flood-hit areas and offered relief services to victims.
All these goodwill should help to open the minds of the closeted Malaysians. We should be more trusting rather than suspicious and embrace the fact that we are part of a global community. By 2020, to be developed must also mean having wide lawns and mindsets.
Happy new year everyone, let’s make it a good one!