The journey back to Thailand has left its mark, again, on the psychological age-ing of the body. A few weeks in Malaysia have enabled me to wrap loose ends on an outreach project, a combo of counselling and trouble-shooting on poverty concerns, and not forgetting the reporting.
Such is the work that is expected of me, and one that I have done since the start of the ’90s. A two-hour flight from a terribly muddled KLIA2 (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), landed, then with rapid glances for a taxi to take me to my apartment in Bangkok. The well-used black backpack on my shoulder felt heavier this time. I entertained thoughts of an island, somewhere far, a paradise and solitude. Sigh. That will have to wait.
My country Malaysia, with its usual share of radical doctrines followed by ideological conflicts, often separating common sense from the idealism of a right-wing fanatic. And there are many of those racially-charged nationalists, though more often I encounter them in cities, such as Kuala Lumpur than the countryside.
Malaysia, which once had a growing agricultural community, hasn’t changed for the better with modernization, nor am I expecting it to gradually
evolve on a sensible note.
History plays a part in the growth of fundamental extremism, at least among the educated; when you have race-supremacists re-branding historical facts to meet their delusions and political ambitions.
Little is done to improve the quality of life amongst the poor, both rural and urban, most often in a grappling exercise between elitism against the have-nots. No secret to Malaysia’s brand of repression, and with the recent police crackdowns of dissent and subduing of independent thoughts, it has made it worse. Malaysians with a non-conformist streak, or those who tend to consciously deviate from social norms are punished, ostracised and driven underground by media-hungry racist-inspired NGOs.
Two weeks in Malaysia, travelling from Sungai Pelek plantations to Kuala Lumpur, and then around the Klang Valley vicinity.
I talked, I listened and I remember.
In most cases, Malaysians take pride in having the opportunity to talk, and in all fairness to the diverse views of my compatriots, it’s that urgent need to share the thought with someone of the same wave-length or someone who is seen as neutral. People are at times prone to report the negativity to the authorities or to the ruling party, in order to show their loyalty to the system.
Issues, Needs and Concerns
The rising cost of basic goods and necessities, the lack of post-university career growth, banks hounding young people to repay heavy loans, the dwindling quality of education, inaccessible housing schemes, tattered marriages, and the suffocating haze that hangs heavily in the air.
Oh aye, the government is on a massive spending spree, all for the sake of so-called development that seems to truly benefit the few. Ridiculously budgeted government agencies are in fashion, again, with accountability down the drain.
The East Malaysian territories of Sabah and Sarawak continue to be the debate of the dominating power as the gap between the Borneo elites and the mass poor is widening.
Political dynasties and their conquests benefit only the few within privileged families. Indigenous tribes are forced to endure a modern reinvention of western colonization from the encroaching power influence of The West Malaysian Peninsula.
Capitalistic extremes run deep,
and in turn influence public policy.
Ventures devoid of the active participation of society, particularly the stigmatized and the most-at-risk; a few brave natives advocate for social justice and self-determination, and my respect for them grows with their activism.
Poverty is officially decreasing, but statistics often conflict with sober observation. Oh hell, I distrust such lopsided numerical nonsense, and the exaggerated talking points of how the ruling party has been able to eradicate poverty. Try telling that to the homeless women on the streets of Johor Bahru, or the hardship faced by workers in the palm oil plantations.
The reality is, even those working in the city, earning RM3,000 (US$900) a month, are barely making enough to survive from day to day. The government is fond of taxing its citizens into a maddening state of social bankruptcy.
Dengue epidemic has taken its toll, with a healthcare system run by clueless officials and an apathetic society, though I see no signs that health agencies are succeeding in reducing the cases, much less prepared for the months ahead. Already over 76,000 cases. And what of HIV/AIDS? Seems the upcoming Millennium Development Goals have been lost in local bureaucracy and stagnancy. I wonder, how many Malaysians, stateless community, refugees are aware of the MDG and are actively participating in the UN’s expensive programs?
Sex workers are facing the brunt of the regular harsh raids, conducted by the police, religious authorities, immigration officers, normally accompanied by local media, such as TV3.
The media’s sensationalism has further stigmatized the women and transgenders, all in the name of “anti-human trafficking” — apparently by demonizing local and foreign workers under the glare of spotlights and running cameras, they believe it will halt the demand for prostitution. Moralizing and penance, something the local media enjoy inflicting on ostracised communities. I still view many mainstream local reporters and their desk-hugging editors with contempt.
Grumbling Complexity Consortium
One can never truly understand the complexity of a grumbling, educated Malaysian population, much to the joy of right-wing sensibility.
In such a climate of uncertainty, folks depend on the specialized gifts of the few, where radicalised ideology of chest-thumping race supremacy is given the highest priority. And if you have an opinion to express against such dogma, the authorities are quite proficient in bringing up the British legacy of the colonial-era Sedition Act to silence you into oblivion. Best to remain silent, and “hope for the best” as expressed to me by a middle-class 27-year-old man during a teh-tarik midnight session.
Aye, my Thai friends are quick to point out similarities, some are bold to say that they’re living in a worse repressive-era, with their coup-masters and their ‘reformed’ consortium of baht-loving politicians and military sympathizers. I’ve heard this before, too often, as people from Thailand and Malaysia make comparisons of the repression, and the gutter bitching of whatever-nots.
The issue is, what are people doing about it? Its fine and well, when we compare notes of human rights violation, and the incredibly long list of unmet basic needs of the population, what more the marginalized communities living in a consumer-driven world.
Unfortunately not many are willing to voice out, to actively leave their mark on the institutional flow, and make those changes. Its quite common to find speechless people in such a climate of fear, especially when intimidating authorities stalk the internet, consuming and documenting all that is said against the establishment. Censorship has been part of the establishment for a long time, even when our British colonial masters were administering the country.
The attempt into understanding the social, economic, religious and political impact leaves a foul taste to the afterthought. Malaysians seek order, one that makes a distinctive balance between nationalistic (race) pride and liberalism. Sadly the dogma of repression has also seeped into the system that governs us, a defective mechanism that has been repeatedly refined by the elites for the sole purpose of rule.
Political parties have sought to dominate it, promising reforms or sustainability of the status quo, yet failing to realise that we have adapted to the image and deeds of our former colonial, and present masters. We age, and with the growing absence of common sense, we mature into the institution that we loath so much.