JULY 7 — I wrote a letter to the New Straits Times in May 2004 regarding an essay written by Joyce Tagal, daughter of the late Dr Judson Tagal ( former State minister from Sarawak who died in a helicopter crash), who described her mixed heritage and how she realised the benefits of being campur or “mixed.”
In that letter, I detailed my own mixed heritage of being Chinese and Iban and my wife’s mixed heritage of Punjabi and Kadazan.
I had also detailed how my children’s total mixed heritage makes them truly Malaysian.
I had also said the true beauty of Malaysia is its diversity of races and people and that my hope and dream is for my children’s generation to grow up in a truly progressive Malaysia with everyone being colour blind to all races, and that the only race we know is the race called Malaysian.
It’s been now exactly 10 years since I wrote that letter and many events have unfolded in the last decade, from the political tsunami of 2008 to the historic visit by the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.
Malaysian life has been dominated by political ups and downs.
That letter was triggered by the sad event of the helicopter crash and 10 years later, the disappearance and tragedy of MH370 unfolded before our very eyes.
We prayed and grieved together as a nation when these sad events and tragedies happened.
My daughter has just started her first year at university and soon she will join the workforce and contribute and stand tall and proud with all her generation of Malaysians.
Why is it then that I am full of apprehension and anxiety instead of hope and anticipation?
Because there are too many whys and no real answers...
Why am I seeing Malaysians arguing about which race contributes more to Malaysia instead of contributing to each other’s welfare?
Why are Malaysians ridiculing and slandering each other when they should be praising each other about their goodness and strength?
Why are they arguing about who pays more taxes when taxes they pay can help each other?
Why are they putting each other down when they can build on each other’s strengths and prosper together?
Why are they trying to divide the races when they should be uniting all races?
Why are Malaysians telling each other to leave the country when they should act as a glue and stay together?
Why are they arguing whose ancestors were the original inhabitants of this country when almost all of us were born here?
Why are we not proud of the great Malaysian diversity and celebrating the uniqueness that is truly Malaysia, instead of trying to put down other races and make this country a singular race?
Why do we want to show each other who is more powerful and who owns and controls more wealth instead of sharing the power and wealth together for that will make us even more cohesive and appreciative of each other?
Why are we fighting over certain words or deeds when all Malaysians’ rights and legal protection should be the same?
And the latest, why are we telling those who feed the homeless and the poor to get out of the city when instead we should be helping them even more as their acts truly come from the heart?
And why are we threatening to jail and fine those who live on the streets and those who are homeless when life has already given them the worst of deals?
Come on Malaysia, whether we are Chinese, Malay, Indian, Punjabi, Kadazan, Iban or campur, we are all Malaysians with the same colour of blood flowing in our bodies.
Whether we have the Datuk or Tan Sri title, whether we are top ranking government officers or a minister or whether we are homeless and street dwellers, we are all the same, reduced to the rigor mortis of the lifeless as doctors call it and the colour of our blood turning dark red when it’s time to go.
So what’s the difference?
It’s to make a difference to the lives of others while we can, however small or big our contribution is, and to do things from the heart so that others can have better, more rewarding and meaningful lives.
That is a life that is truly worth living as a Malaysian
That my fellow Malaysians, is what makes a truly great Malaysian.
* Dr John Teo from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah reads the Malay Mail Online.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.
a) Truly Malaysian : Describe what this means to you
What is a Malaysian? This is a tough question indeed. How does one define a Malaysian? Is it nationality, creed or colour? Is it a geopolitical location that defines a Malaysian? To me , these minutia are of little consideration. I personally believe that regardless of any and all the factors above, one can still be considered Malaysian if one calls Malaysia as home.
How does one behave at home? Well, for starters, we'd be extremely comfortable. I doubt that you would take your shirt off at your friends place, but if you were at home, you'd probably be doing it with your legs on the coffee table to boot. With respect to that, a true Malaysian would be very comfortable doing things that are only acceptable in Malaysia, and nowhere else. How many other countries have you been to where you can find a mixture of peoples from different creeds and cultures congregating together to boo down Olympic badminton champion Lin Dan? The very same people who get up at 2am to watch their favourite team play in the Champions League and yelling their hearts out at the local mamak. No, I doubt you could find another nation like this.
Perhaps the quintessential trait possessed by all Malaysians is our unabashed dedication to good food. From the unhygienic but indubitably popular drain side hawkers, to the shirt and tie establishments in the high rises of the capital, Malaysians are drawn to good food as much as the moth is drawn to the flame. Foreigners who are unaware of our ways are often astounded by the amount of food an average Malaysian can put away, not to mention the amount of meals, tea breaks and mid afternoon snacks we have. Before you foreigners heap the blame on us Malaysians though, you might want to try to understand the situation. How could one possibly say no towards a freshly made plate of nasi lemak for breakfast? In a hurry for lunch? Not a problem because your roti telur will be ready in less time than you need to pull out your smartphone to check in. Need a big dinner? Why not try a traditional Chinese eight course meal?
Another striking feature available to us and not many others around the world is our language ability. The average Malaysians speaks at least two languages. No offense intended, but that beats out the advanced East Asian nations Korea and Japan where they are limited to one. It gets better. With increased globalisation, more and more parents are enrolling their children in language classes. Another positive move by the Education Ministry is to ensure that each child learns a minimum of three languages by the year 2015.This will increase the ability of Malaysians to survive, adapt , compete and most importantly, communicate in the increasingly connected world.
Malaysia is a land of many creeds and colours. Despite being a Malaysian, I am occasionally astounded by the different creeds I meet. I have friends who do not fit the stereotypical Malaysian textbook. They include a half Korean, several Portuguese who stuck around after the fall of Malacca to the Dutch, and even have an acquaintance who is Caucasian in looks but very ,very much a Malaysian at heart. These, in addition to the school textbook defined creeds, make up the known Malaysian world to me. However, I believe that those who have chosen to make Malaysia their home, regardless of their origins, deserve to be called Malaysian as well. A Japanese expatriate who invites you to his Bon Odori festival, and in return attends you open house gathering for any of the big Malaysian festivals is no less of a Malaysian than you or I.
So what is a Malaysian? To me, the answer is simple. It is the heart that makes me a true Malaysian. Regardless of where life takes me, you can take a Malaysian out of Malaysia, but you can't take Malaysia out of a Malaysian.
Ooi Mo Han is a (self proclaimed) professor of psychology from a private institution of higher learning in Kuala Lumpur. He used to educate at a public institution of learning in Malacca. In his free time, he wonders why he was born in a land so blessed while eating his char kuey teow.