A letter from an East Malaysian

This letter has been circulating on the Internet lately. It is a heartfelt opinion from our fellow citizen across the South China Sea. It certainly gives us something to think about this Malaysia Day.


Your Malaysia Isn’t My Malaysia

by Erna Mahyuni

I hate Merdeka day. There, I said it.

I hate that people call it ‘Malaysia’s birthday’ when Malaysia didn’t exist before 16 September 1963. 31 August 1957 is the date of Malaya’s independence from British rule so please, mainstream media, can’t you at least get that right?

Though I love Yasmin Ahmad as much as the next Malaysian (at least Malaysians who don’t havetheir heads up their behinds), I could never really connect to her rose-tinted views of Malaysia. Because her Malaysia wasn’t mine. Her Malaysia had only three races and they got along – when in real life, they don’t understand each other at all. But her Malaysia seems to be everyone’s Malaysia on this side of the South China Sea.

I am not Malay, Chinese or Indian. So am I not a Malaysian?

Any Sabahan will tell you that East Malaysia and West Malaysia might as well be two different countries. The divide is more than distance – it’s mindset, it’s priorities, it’s environment.

In Amir Muhammad’s Big Durian, I described how Sabahans make friends. I got to say this line: “Kau makan babi, tak makan babi?”

Meeting someone new, we’d ask just so we’d know whether to take you to a halal or non-halal joint. No hangups, no complexity.

But I found it the reverse when I moved to West Malaysia to study. It annoyed me that West Malaysians seemed so hung up about what God I worshipped and what race I was. It got to the point I refused to answer questions about my religion or ethnicity. If those two things mattered to you, then you didn’t matter to me.

I’ve met angry West Malaysians who say it’s our own fault for the lack of integration – that our immigration laws prevent unrestricted passage of West Malaysians into Sabah.

To that I say:

– Even with our restrictive immigration policies, West Malaysians still head our civil service departments in Sabah.

– That our timber, oil and mineral stores are still plundered to fund West Malaysian development.

– Come to our interior and see children who have to walk miles to the nearest school, witness villagers without piped water or proper electricity.

– We are the second richest in natural resources after Sarawak but we are the poorest state in Malaysia.

It’s partly our fault too. What makes us good people also makes us easily exploited. In Sabah, the days are slow. No one’s in a hurry. Three cars in a line – that’s a traffic jam. We’re so used to life being hard that we get by with living simply. It’s easy to be lulled into complacency in a state with the most beautiful sunsets in the country, where seafood and vegetables are cheap though everything else isn’t.

“Tak apa, bah (Never mind)”, we say. Life is difficult for everyone, so why complain? We sing a lot. We laugh a lot. It’s too easy to forget that life is hard and not everyone takes things as easy as we do.

Despite the raw deal we get, we celebrate the 16th of September every year without fail. We remember what it was like to become part of a country; even if it is one who forgets who we are and that we matter. We call ourselves Malaysian but when we come over to West Malaysia, we might as well be aliens in hostile land.

We don’t understand your hangups about alcohol.

We don’t get why you can’t build religious buildings that aren’t mosques without hassle.

We don’t see why you’re always in a hurry to get everywhere and drive as if you’re the only one who wants to get home. Why you won’t wait for the pedestrian to cross when we do that all the time.

We don’t understand you at all. And that’s a shame.

Because we don’t need National Service to teach our youngsters to hang out with each other. We know that tolerance isn’t ‘Saya tak kacau kamu, kamu jangan kacau saya’ (I don’t bother you, you don’t bother me)

We’re just sorry that you still haven’t figured that out after 52 years of so-called independence.

6 Responses to “A letter from an East Malaysian”
  1. MsMatch says:

    Thats the truth and nothing but the truth about Malaysia.
    Bagus tulisan kau Erna .
    Leaders take note .

  2. Meng says:

    My sympathy with you guys in Sabah and Sarawak. Make sure you vote for the right government otherwise you will be poor forever.

  3. A Single Vote says:

    I used to travel regularly to East Malaysia in my work but has not done so in the last 15 years.

    My visit recently was a beautiful experience and we have decided to go back as often as we can. We were in a coffeshop where they serve both halal and non-halal food (I remember, we used to that here, err, meaning West Malaysia, as well). A young lady in tudung with lunch in hand walked right over to join her friend who was enjoying her tak-halal meal as naturally as we would all wish it to be. God Bless the untainted society in East Malaysia.

    Your Malaysia is not my Malaysia? No, you certainly do not want my kind of Malaysia!!!

    Who needs 1Malaysia? In East Malaysia we have been one and still are one. Here, we were one till they separated us. Some of us are wise to it now, but clearly there’s more that needs to be done.

    My friends of the East, they are coming to your shores, the evil ones. You will have to stop them, gather all your friends now and work towards it with all your heart. You can see what they have done to us all, and they are coming to you for more. People in the East are trusting and giving, and for that, they will make mincemeat of you, believe me.

    You have no time to lose, act fast as you’re still sharing the same lunch table……for now.

    Take heed, my friends in the East

  4. shaful says:

    Dear Erna,
    i’m one of the west malaysian that had the opportunity to live and work in Sabah for more than 3 years. I must say that i didnt regret that decision ( i just graduated then and accepted a job in a place where nobody… really nobody knows me) and hoped i ‘ve stay longer! I didnt only find aquintances, friends but also people that i regards as families!. I’ve left them and moved on but they will forever be in my heart.

    During my first few months there, yes i admit i found some of the things are strange to us west malaysian (Jos John for a muslim name for example… there are many more but … nahhh! maybe some other time). But for me that is what interesting about Sabahans. They dont care whether you are Bajau, Kedayan, Dusun, Kadazan etc….. they are all proud to be Sabahan! I learned lots about living in harmony and be tolerant to others (even when they don’t share the same skin colour, religion or any other things bigots make excuse as an issue) during my short stay in Sabah.

    Erna, some of what you’ve stated are true (mindset difference, immigration laws, too concious about race and religions) but i believe the way we being brought-up (read: educated – formal and informal) is the real difference here. This is where the seed of bigotry and intolerance were sowed and it will be later fired-up and fanned to become a big flame. See what happened to the Shah Alam incident and u get what i mean. For that i thank my Sabahan friends who had showed me the real application of trust and tolerance, not just ‘talking’ about it like what our politicians do. (Btw, i’ve noticed that when somebody or anybody becomes a politician, they don’t talk with their brain turned on – be it east or west malaysian! – eureka! we’ve found our similarities..LOL)

    I wish to have more and more friends from East – at least i can believe that this world have more to offer than all the kiasu’s that i face day in day out in my life.

    Take care Erna and all Sabahans….. God bless.

  5. ronydzull says:

    i’ve been tauch by this blog…thanks
    maybe it true….but thanks….

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