By Faith Ling Hsern Zhen
Edited by Raeesah Hayatudin
In August, just a few days before Merdeka Day, I took a trip down to Singapore. Immediately, I fell in love with the circuit board-like organisation of the city, with the over-the-top infrastructure that forms buildings like the Marina Bay Sands; I fell in love with the greenery that balances the fields of grey, with the way the city is connected in all four corners with fast, efficient transport. So one can imagine the way I felt when I came home to the sweltering streets of Kuala Lumpur. As I examined the dirty, trash-ridden roads, and sat unamused in the crawling traffic jams, I longed more than ever to be back in Singapore, walking the sparkling sidewalks of the Lion City.
As Merdeka Day approached, I found myself comparing every aspect of Malaysia to Singapore, pitting both countries against each other, rarely weighing in Malaysia’s good points. I jeered at the vast stretches of shopping malls and ugly office buildings; I frowned upon the inefficient public transport; I shook my head at what I thought was the mediocrity that was our education system. I felt ashamed of our crumbling economy, of how the ringgit continues to weaken against superior currencies. But most of all, I was angry at the people in power, who were given the chance to make Malaysia a highly developed country – to strip away the elephantine presence of racism and partiality – and to rule the country with complete justice, and yet did nothing. Malaysia, to me, was inadequate.
However, I failed to realise that Malaysia’s accomplishments and good points far outweigh the bad. I failed to remember that Malaysia is a gorgeous country. We have the bustling metropolitan that is Kuala Lumpur, studded with our Twin Towers, and the never-sleeping Bukit Bintang. We have rocky mountains like Kota Kinabalu and hills like Broga that reward tired climbers with breath-taking scenery saturated with colour and mind-blowing contrast. We have gleaming natural beaches with waters the colour of sapphire, and forests teeming with wildlife. We balance tradition with modernity by preserving our temples and longhouses, letting them stand out in a jungle of skyscrapers.
I failed the recall the vibrancy of our food and culture. There is no other country in the world that has kopitiams that offer a mixture of Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisine, that serves roti bakar and kopi ais all under one roof, for prices that make our wallets sing. Neither is there another country that has mamaks running all through the night so that midnight crowds can get their fix of roti kosong and football. It’s comforting to know, that every member of every one of the many cultures residing in Malaysia contributes to our happening food scene and to our diverse heritage. Besides, where else in the world does the sentence: “Matcha! Can tapao one roti kosong please!” make sense?
What makes me proud of this country is our unity. Our unity for sports, and the way we’d stay up late just to watch Dato’ Lee Chong Wei play; the way we ferociously support our local athletes like Pandelela Rinong and Welson Sim by following their Instagram feeds, and sharing every single online article we find about them. I love the way we unite for justice. The way we know something has gone wrong in the hands of power, and the way we fight to remind the people in authority that the Rakyat has the magnitude to make a change, together. I love the way we care and stand up for the ones in need. I love the way we hope. The way we hope for a better Malaysia, the way we believe in our hearts that our independence was not at all in vain.
There are times when I think I could have a much better life in another country, but there are more times when I know and believe in my heart that Malaysia is my home. Sure, we have our flaws, but what country doesn’t? The truth is: we are still growing. Malaysia is still finding its way; still learning to hold onto power correctly, still learning to positively build itself. And Malaysia has grown so much. We’ve grown in science, represented by Malaysians who’ve made ground-breaking discoveries in the gravitational wave and black hole theory. We’ve grown in our entertainment scene, where we now have film producers like JinnyBoy and musicians like Talitha Tan and Paperplane Pursuit. And we continue to develop our transportation, trade and economy, carefully hopping onto each stepping stone. So today, on Malaysia Day, I will express my pride in being a Malaysian. I will embrace my manglish, and clothe myself in white, red, blue and yellow–because Malaysia is growing, and will one day grow into the nation our forefathers dreamed it to be. Because Malaysia can exceed its potential. Because Malaysia boleh.