WHEN I was really young, I admired the things I saw on television. I wanted to visit Disneyland, meet Arnold Schwarzenegger, live with people who made all the computer games I enjoyed playing so much.
My young self felt frustrated to be growing up here. The cinemas were not good enough, there was no arcade centre, I did not like my school teachers, most of all, I just felt “uncool” to be from Kuching.
Just imagine, I often told myself, there are kids growing up in Hollywood! The outside world seemed so much larger than Kuching.
At 17, I left for Melbourne to study media and communications.
I do not mind telling people I never completed the degree.
I was never much of a student. I always enjoyed working and trying to be independent more.
Fast forward over a decade, and I am glad I returned to Kuching. I am a proud Sarawakian.
It’s almost cliched to say Sarawak is where harmony is most alive, but it is true.
In Sarawak, I feel at home. I like the people I have around me.
To be sure, I still lament Kuching is not cool enough culturally.
There are practically no concerts I can go to. My favourite bands will likely never play in Kuching.
To watch movies I want to watch, I have to order the DVDs online.
The Sarawak Museum has had pretty much the same exhibits for the last 20 years.
But Sarawak has things other places do not have.
Most of these “things” are intangible.
In peninsular Malaysia, there are a lot more tall buildings, but in Sarawak, we have strong bonds.
It is easier to build tall buildings than it is to maintain harmony.
We coexist and value one another like it is in our nature. When there are cultural clashes elsewhere in Malaysia, we just carry on with our lives.
No one here makes a fuss about religion (which is great for an atheist like me).
I eat with The Star’s photographer, Zulazhar Sheblee, all the time when we are at work.
We have never talked about where to eat. It’s just a given that it’ll be halal, or at the very least at a restaurant that does not serve pork.
There have been numerous times when I’m clearly consuming non-halal food and drinks, and Zul is there too.
He’ll just sit around and talk. It’s no big deal. I can enjoy my beer while he drinks his “Teh-O-Panas”.
Reading the news, I often get the impression that, elsewhere in Malaysia, it is really easy to offend and to be offended. That frustrates me.
Why can’t we just all get along? In my daily life here, I have always felt that it is so easy to get along.
Recently, I was sent on an assignment to interview a Christian-Muslim family in Dalat, near Mukah.
I met with a village chief’s family. His second daughter had converted and married for love.
Everyone in the family still lives under one roof. The family celebrates Christmas and Hari Raya.
Towards the end of the interview, I tried asking a family member more about their religious differences, and he told me that religion was not something they thought about when interacting with one another.
They were a family first and foremost, he said.
But is this sense of togetherness enough to keep me contented about living in Sarawak?
Well, it would be nice to see more development coming our way.
It is the wish of every Sarawakian to have the same opportunities taken for granted by wealthier Malaysians.
People in Selangor might be exasperated by their water woes, but what about Sarawakians who do not have water supply connections?
The better educated among us can complain about our low university rankings, but what about rural Sarawakian youths who must live in boarding schools away from their families?
It must be true that part of the reason fewer people here kick up a fuss over religious matters is because they still have basic necessity issues to worry about.
For many Sarawakians, as harmonious as they are in their villages, the outside world must seem incredibly out of reach.
It is not enough for peninsular Malaysia decision makers to congratulate us on harmony alone. Their responsibility is to harmonise all.
The writer says it’s almost cliched to say Sarawak is where harmony is but it is true. I feel happy to be in this part of the world.