15.11.2014

Sarawak a good example of 1Malaysia

It is understood a lot of soon-to-be retirees, both in the public and private sectors, were told Sarawak is the place to spend the last few years of one’s career. It is far from the hustle of the federal capital, the people are very friendly, the air is cleaner, and there is so much to see compared to the concrete jungle of Kuala Lumpur.

Those who moved here discovered in the first few months that Sarawak is not only amazing, but a totally new culture – its people, its concept towards religion, its perception on racial differences, and also the general attitude towards life.

The first thing that one notices when amongst people here is that they can chat away in their own mother tongue with someone, but turn to some common language, like English or Bahasa Malaysia, when another person of a different language background comes into the scene. It reminds one of the bilingual nature of the people in the Philippines, where switching Tagalog to English is second nature. Language, to the first timer, does not seem to be a barrier to communication.

But one of the most amazing things that feature well as far as racial integration is concern is how the locals see the freedom of practicing religion. In other parts of our country, it would be a prudent decision to say that it is difficult to conclude seeing people of different ethnicity and religion living in harmony. It is common to hear of a Sarawakian to talk of having a Chinese father and a Muslim mother and having their grandparents living in one happy community without any hint of inter-religio difference amongst them. It would be unimaginable to see this in some of the East Asian states.

A brief trip to the town of Miri also indicated the presence of a church and a mosque complete with the two denominations’ burial ground in one single compound. The people are still together even in death. A query whether there was any difference of opinion or objections from the two parties evoked a blank stare from the locals, a strong indication that living together between the two religion is a common matter.

It raises a strong emotion for someone who has lived through some of the harrowing experience of a racially incited communal violence evident in the late 1960. It is also sad when recalling violence in other countries where religious intolerance is very much evident.

The size of Sarawak is also one of the things that first-time visitors, especially those from West Malaysia, find intriguing. The friendly locals would not hesitate to remind that the state is the size of Semenanjung Malaysia, minus the state of Perlis. One would not have realised this until one travels say, from Kuching to Sibu. The monotony of seeing hours of roads and the jungle quickly overcomes the initial excitement of “seeing and admiring the green country side”. It reminds one of the emptiness of driving in Australia, where the green of the vast country side is punctuated by the occasional road crossings of hundreds of sheep at the isolated farms that jotted the journey.

Living here has thus become an adventurous cultural lesson, if only one would look into it with a holistic viewpoint. Take food, for example. Other than the standard fares found in Chinese and Western restaurants that dotted the city, one would find the local food somewhat fascinating. Even as a Malaysian who has been able to venture out eating a rich mixture of cultural cooking when living in the Semenanjung, the local food is somewhat strange to the palate when one first touch base with it. Trying to understand that it would be a fusion of the various races found in the state is an understatement. Only after having tasted it for a couple of months would one realised that it is a blend of not only the Malays and other Bumiputra cuisine, but also contains a dash of influence from nearby Sabah and Brunei.

To say that living in Sarawak is an experience of immersing oneself in two cultures would be an understatement. For those who have lived in several states in the Semenanjung, experiencing the rich cultures of the various races and their modifications following strong influence from visiting cultures of other countries, one would still have a lot to learn upon living in this culturally interesting state.

It is like coming to a new experience altogether. The people, the food, the size of the land, and the rich perspectives of new friends towards life. One would even be forgiven if one is being exposed to a new culture altogether, despite a reminder that one is still in Malaysia.

It is an experience visitors, even among fellow Malaysians, is willing to be submerged in when deciding to live here. It is a learning of living in two cultures, harmonised by friendly people, fresh air and the promise of finding peace away from the concrete jungle of other capital cities.

It is a good example of 1Malaysia

 

The views and conclusions in this article are the personal opinion of this “orang Malaya” writer.