Thursday, October 28, 2010

Malays = Malaysians?

Australians tend to think Malaysians are all Malays. Even Chinese Malaysians and Indian Malaysians are Malays. And all those "other" races are also Malays. It's naive but it's a nice notion...

Girls from Tourism Ads wearing costumes of the main races in Malaysia:
The girl in the middle is Malay, she is flanked on either side by an Indian and Chinese girl.
While the two girls on the far left and right are from indigenous tribes (Iban and Kadazan).
The Malay girl is symbolically always in the middle. Always. And the Iban and Kadazans are sometimes left out, too.

I've always struggled to explain who the real Malays are to my Australian friends.
Malays in Malaysia are called "bumiputera"- Literal translation: "bumi" = soil, earth; "putera"= prince. But are they indigenous? Not really. As our Malaysian history books (Sejarah Malaysia) tell us, the Malay race is descended from the Javanese Hindu Prince Parameswara from Temasek (modern day Singapore). He founded the spice trading port of Malacca in 1402. It is sometime during his reign that he converted to Islam, so all his subjects followed suit, so Malays in Malaysia today practice Islam.

Do ALL Malays practice Islam today? YES. This is protected by law. "Marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims is forbidden under Malaysian law. Under the Shariah/Islamic Jurisprudence; the non-Muslim is required to convert to Islam under Malaysian law."- Wikipedia. No Malay is allowed to embrace another religion unless the courts grant them permission.

"Bumiputera" status entitles Malays to have access to government contracts, company and land ownership, scholarships, loans... etc. entitlement to nearly everything under the sun in Malaysia. This affirmative action written into the constitution nearly 40 years ago to help Malay race economically. Until about 15 years ago, indigenous tribes of Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) who mostly practiced Christianity were NOT entitled to the same"bumiputera" status of Malays.

Go figure. Why indeed?
It is these same indigenous people in Sarawak who are protesting against their homes and land being torn down in the name of building progress. And NOT real progress either: it's the building of a huge dam (the Bakun Dam) that will ultimately benefit Malay politicians and their Chinese businessman cronies. If there is any trickle-down benefit to the people, it will be the people living in already developed urban locations around Kuala Lumpur. The indigeous tribes will not see an iota of return in exchange for their homes and land being destroyed. Read more about it here and here.

A documentary about the Bakun Dam (in Malay) that was aired on Malaysian TV.
Watch it here.

The Malaysian government forced its TV network to get this documentary off the air in April 2010. Write to Amnesty International. The situation in Malaysia is not all about tall glossy skyscrapers, land of smiles and multiculturalism. It is NOT "truly Asia".

I have mixed feelings. The result of mixed blood. Hahahaha...

Will debunk the myth of "TRUE MALAY" in a future blog post.
Preview: "Malays don't eat pork, right? WRONG!!!!"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

1 million Malaysians reject the proposed 100-storey Merdeka Tower.

Any Malaysian with a facebook account has probably come across this Facebook page with the same title.

Malaysia was once a young, new nation eager to prove its worth. Malaysia gains respect in the international arena in the 80's, buoyed by an economic boom, under its ambitious leader Dr. Mahathir. He urged Malaysians to "Look East" (post-war rise of Japan as an example to follow) and oppose western-style globalization. The leader embarks on mega projects-at first, infrastructure developments, then commercial developments. In the 90's, it became obvious some projects moved from ambitious to ridiculous. Many of these projects were handed over to companies owned by political cronies. But that's another story.

The 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers had supposedly "put Malaysia on the map" in the mid 90's, just before the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. Malaysia had the tallest building in the world- lasted all of a year before the next few buildings like Taipei 101 and Shanghai World Trade Centre took over.... etc- you get the picture.

Nations in economic boom tend to produce phallic symbols of their supremacy in the form of these skyscrapers. This is true for China and Dubai UAE, both nations which experienced huge amounts of growth in every sector in every financial quarter in the last few years.

Now, just as the Burj al Khalifa in Dubai has finished, Malaysia announces in a fit of kiasu-ness plans to commence building the 100 storey Merdeka Tower next year. Read more about it here and here.
This tower will cost RM $ 5 billion or roughly just over US $ 1.6 billion. Who ultimately pays for it? The problem is: Malaysia is NOT experiencing growth rates like that of China or the United Arab Emirates.

A popular hypothesis is that skyscrapers are often seen as economic indicators for a financial downturn-
"Of course economic booms tend to coincide with real estate booms, if not bubbles. I think that the moment project developers start planning a new "tallest skyscraper" the beginning of the end is at least not far. It means that hubris has become a factor again and that money has become too easy."Ivar Hagendoorn writes about the correlation between architecture and finance here.

And, looking at the price tag, it's enough to send Malaysia into recession.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel. (1563)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"All you Asians look the same."

Here we go again- yet another experience at the front door this morning.

Some background:
A new Asian neighbour is moving in and in the process of renovating in the last few days.
Their house is number "X" on our street- two houses away. Our house is number "Y".
My husband is in London. I am alone with a child.

Before 7am this morning, two burly guys show up downstairs at the door.
I answer the door, still half asleep.

Burly guys: We're a couple of carpenters- we're here to do the skirting.

Me: You've got the wrong house.

Burly guys: (Pointing at the name on our doorbell) It says "ABCDE" (insert Asian surname) doesn't it? Is this house "X"?

Me: (Points to the big number "Y" on our house) That says "Y". *slams door in their face*

I know, I know, I know........ AGAIN!!!
Confusing one Asian with another?
I am half Asian, so I look Asian but don't have what looks like an Asian surname to the average Australian. BUT my husband has an Asian surname and it's on our doorbell.

Get used to it, Australians. At this rate, we'll REALLY be everywhere in 10 years' time.

What will you do then?