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A Melburnian Merdeka and other Matters

Nigel Chee

Fri Aug 29 2014

WHAT does being Malaysian mean to you? Nigel Chee reflects on the various definitions of being a Malaysian living in Australia as the nation celebrates her 57th year of independence this coming Sunday.

This week, I think there won’t be a shortage of stories related to Merdeka (that’s ‘Independence Day’ in Malay). Over the years, I have written many stories about Malaysia’s Independence Day, and after awhile, what does one have to say about Malaysia? There is only so much that can be said, and then repeated, and repeated again.

I could talk about how we’re a (over-used phrase incoming) melting pot of races and cultures. I could talk about the food, all of the food, but I won’t name them because:

If you don’t believe me, just follow a Malaysian friend on Instagram. You may be wrecked with hunger pangs at random times of day or night. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I could talk about the beautiful places to go to, from the majestic heights of Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, to the sandy beaches of Langkawi where you can get a 1l bottle of Smirnoff for less than AUD 10, to the forests of tropical Borneo. I could go on and on about the political landscape in Malaysia, but I already have.

Walk around in Melbourne town and you’d be hard pressed to not find someone hailing from Malaysia. There are plenty of us here, and with Melbourne being the Australian city with the highest growth recorded in 2013 according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, chances are that there are even more Malaysians now than before.

I mean, why wouldn’t we want to come over? Melbourne is great. If, dear reader, you are reading this from outside Melbourne, and you have never been to Melbourne before, I do suggest that you find some time and come to the Most Liveable City in the World (fourth year in a row, I must add) and find out why it’s been voted that. It’s not a big surprise that so many Malaysians flock here; we’re a pretty smart people.

Do you miss anything about Malaysia?, you may ask. Of course I do. It’s where I grew up. But I feel completely at home here in Melbourne. Oh, you now say, you’re one of those people who want to stay abroad after they finish their studies.

On the contrary, I have every intention to go back to Malaysia and lend a hand in prospering it in the future. Too often have I spoken to fellow Malaysians who tell me with absolute conviction that “there is absolutely no point in me going back, so why should I?” I don’t blame them; our leaders have done nothing to ease the concerns of those of us who have had the privilege to live abroad. I mean, why come home to a country where politicians have told the Chinese Malaysians living there to go back to China? Ah, but I am starting to talk about politics. Let me digress a little.

I’m not one of those kids who has no interest in politics. I do not believe in being apathetic about the political state of my country. I was part of the Bersih 2.0 rally on the 9th of July 2011, and was tear-gassed by my government a total of three times. Have you been tear-gassed by the very people who you are supposed to look up to for protection, or at all? It suffocates; it chokes you, and you feel like just lying down, rolling over and giving up.

I have always cared about the state of the nation, because I lived in it. I care about Malaysia, and I love it deeply. Politics is just a game, and there is a lot more to Malaysia than just that.

It wouldn’t be a 2014 Merdeka post without the mention of the two aerial tragedies that happened earlier this year. The MH17 crash and the disappearance of MH370 have both made international headlines. There are almost no words to describe the grief it has caused to those affected.

It is both unfortunate and tragic that both flights were flown by the Malaysian national carrier, Malaysia Airlines (MAS), and it has been the target of a great deal of bad press, so much so that I have heard news of people frantically scrambling to cancel their reservations. I have never had a single bad experience flying MAS; on the contrary, they have upgraded me to First Class on a New Year’s Eve flight once, and a friendly air steward taught me a card trick on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Adelaide, back in 2001, when I was a small boy of eight, a card trick that I still remember to this very day.

I actually tried to get in to a local watering hole here in Melbourne, the Lion Hotel at Melbourne Central, and when I produced my Malaysian passport as a form of ID, the bouncer asked me ‘where the plane was’. I was a little confused at first, but I figured out that he was referring to the disappearance of MH370. You know your country has it bad when a bouncer starts asking you questions just because of your passport. All I wanted was a drink.

We are a strong people, and truly believe that we are also a smart people. Our leaders, probably not so much – from public figures saying things like “Long Live Hitler” (see said tweet above), to the whole Selangor MB fiasco, to the whole Allah debate. As Malaysians, we have a lot to worry about without the rest of the world scrutinising us, like where to get the best roti telur or char kweh teow or ayam penyet.

There are many things that are horribly wrong about Malaysia, but at the same time, there are many things to love about it. Just look at that kid who received a letter from Obama, or the retired Malaysian Armed Forces personnel who just received a Nobel Prize. We will bounce back, kawan-kawan (dear friends). There is much more that the rest of the world needs to hear about Malaysia, and let’s hope – nay, let’s work towards it being only good things.

My name is Nigel Chee. I am a 21 year-old Chinese Sino-Kadazan hailing from Penampang, Kota Kinabalu, and I love my country. When our country celebrates our 57th independence from colonial rule this year, I will be away from my homeland, but I will take a moment to sing the national anthem and all our favourite national songs (don’t tell me you’ve never shouted Jalur Gemilang/Keranamu, and then mumbled the rest of the words after). I will take a moment to grieve the losses our country has suffered, and then I will take many more moments to go out and eat some beef rendang.

And on the 16th of September, I will celebrate our nation’s birthday, and I will go out and eat more beef rendang, and I will lament our forefather’s decision not to secede and become an independent Sabah and Sarawak (we’d call it the United States of Borneo and our national animal would be a proboscis monkey – you can tell I have already put a lot of thought in to this matter), and then I will eat some more.

Regardless, I am a proud Malaysian. To all my fellow Malaysians celebrating our independence, Selamat Hari Merdeka, and to my non-Malaysian friends, Happy Random Sunday!

1) I miss them alreadyand

2) if you’re Malaysian like me or know anything at all about Malaysian food, you will know that it is mouth-wateringly easy to eat.