The slogan “Malaysia, truly Asia” has a certain degree of truth ringing for it. Like it small neighbour to the south, it is a country with a large minorities descended from migrants over the last two centuries. Some can trace their lineage to folks that came from an even further back in the spectrum of time.
As a tropical country, it boasts of :
- beaches and resorts for those who want the sun, sand and sea
- highlands for the sort that climbs and are not afraid of biting insects
- coasts which bluffs you into thinking you are in the Maldives
- diving sites that actually restrict the number of divers per day
- places to gamble catering to those whose hearts flutter on a punt
- conservation areas where aspiring Jane Goodalls can start their journey
- food havens to satisfy even the snooty Michelin star gourmands
- shopping that will leave credit cards red hot from the swiping
Had the British not dominated the entire peninsula in the 19th century, there probably might NOT be a federated state of Malaysia today. This is how Mel interprets the historical development of the country.
Before Malaysians interject. Let us explain through the lens of history.
You need to understand that until the late part of the 19th century, the peninsula was comprised of disparate sultanate states. In fact this fragmented landscape of polities was rampant all across the archipelago just across the straits as well. The advancement of the colonial Dutch and British led to gradual domination and erosion of sovereignty in these states. Empires are cobbled together and they frequently erase previous borders and fault lines (be it ethnic or religious). In this case, the various states were eventually brought under the sway of British administration.
Governed as colonial units and protectorates, Malaya as the peninsula was called – gradually led to the current federation for which Singapore was once a member during the independence movement in the post war years. Interesting that Brunei continued as a British protectorate until 1984.
IF, had history could be changed and the British had not coalesced these disparate and sometimes bickering states, would a federation have emerged naturally? It could be questionable. You see, this is one of life’s many ifs.
To close to be considered a holiday?
In our respective childhoods, making the journey across the causeway (not many flew) was not really considered a foreign holiday. Afterall the two countries used to be one and today many on both sides of the border still call on relatives.
We recall of road trips made driving along the roads cobbled together by each state and strung up to mimic a highway all the way to Kuala Lumpur and eventually to the northern island of Penang.
Or alternatively the route that took the eastern side of the peninsula till we ended in Kuantan to watch giant sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs (usually in October if we recall correctly).
There is this local phrase to emphasize how distant (in terms of time) these memories are. It’s when someone says “when policemen wore shorts”, a reference to the times in the 1960s when law enforcement folks DID wore uniforms of khaki shorts.
So when the policemen did wear shorts, driving trips to Malacca, Ipoh, Penang, Genting (highlands ringing KL) etc was the norm and occurred almost every school holiday. Mel even recalls a journey where his parents did not book a hotel and could not find one (in Malacca), and the family of four slept in the car by the sea…memories indeed. Or taking a trishaw ride in Penang, when it was considered something for the foreign tourists to do in Singapore…LOL…
You know there is this not necessarily friendly rivalry between Malaysia and Singapore. We will have to be honest to assert that the bulleted selling points can be also be matched in Singapore too, in the confines of a supposedly slightly more sterile environment.
Sure some might not agree. But feel free to make the journeys and experience the difference.