Malaysia’s Historic Change

It’s been two weeks now, and it’s really real – Malaysians voted on 9th May to bring in a new government after 61 years of the same ruling coalition, and after increasingly serious abuses of power by the previous government and Prime Minister in the last ten years or so.

Despite all sorts of issues with the Electoral Commission over the fairness of the elections (gerrymandering, postal votes not being issued in enough time to be returned, ballot boxes going missing, etc etc.), the election, with an 82% voter turnout, delivered a win to Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope). We now have a former Prime Minister back in place, but under a very different banner.

For me, what’s fantastic is that for the very first time, Malaysia’s coalition government is not formed around racial/ethnic groups as before (literally ‘the Malay party’, ‘the Chinese party’, ‘the Indian party’ and others), but parties founded on justice, civil rights, and the good of the nation, across all ethnicities and backgrounds. Individuals who formerly clashed came together for a greater purpose. So we now have our very first female Deputy Prime Minister, as well as the oldest Prime Minister in the world at 92, and the youngest MP in Malaysia at 22.

So along with everyone else, I’m delighted for my homeland; delighted to see change. Now it’s about cleaning up the messes of the recent past (already so much wrongdoing is being properly investigated and literally suitcases of cash being seized), and all about actual stewardship and development of the country. The voices I’m hearing from this new government, made up of old faces and new, are refreshing and inspiring. This isn’t the end but the beginning of the journey. Well done, Malaysia!

Our weddings – KL

A couple of months after getting married in Aberdeen we had a Hindu wedding ceremony in Kuala Lumpur. This is the sort of thing I’ve grown up with, so I was thrilled that Gareth and his parents were on board for this and my parents were up for organising it.

As Hindu weddings go there were several events involved, and ours were fairly typical for Hindus of Sri Lankan Tamil ethnicity.
KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding Continue reading

Merdeka

Young and Flag
Image by muhd amirull / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Happy Independence Day, Malaysia!

There is so much that is wonderful about my homeland, but there is so much that’s wrong with its governance. At the weekend hundreds of thousands of Malaysians came together across Malaysia, and overseas, to do something about it.

The 4th Bersih rally went ahead as planned, calling for free and fair elections, reinstatement of the independence of public institutions, and an end to political corruption – and this year was dominated by calls for the Prime Minister to step down. I don’t think a simple change of PM will change much, as it’s just replacing the name of the problem, not dealing with the actual issues. But I do believe that being able to say so, and calling for a change like this sends a strong message to the entire government that the people will not be taken for fools.

It was a sight to behold – a beautiful act of civil disobedience (among other things, large public gatherings are highly restricted), with the police acting truly as peacekeepers and not just government pawns as in previous years. This is muhibah (harmony, goodwill, respect for others) in Malaysia at its finest.
Bersih 4.0 (10)
Image by Pocket News / CC BY 2.0

The rally in Kuala Lumpur started on Saturday, and ended peacefully on Sunday night as the clock struck midnight, signalling the start of our 58th Independence Day. I was unable to participate in any events here in Aberdeen, but seeing the images of masses of people in yellow, I was proud of my friends and family and fellow Malaysians, and with them in spirit.

Selamat Hari Merdeka!
Happy Independence Day!

Bersih 3.0

I don’t usually wear yellow, but I bought a yellow hoodie this morning, and wore it with pride. I, like many other Malaysians, wanted to be a part of the historic events shaping my country’s future.

The Bersih (clean) coalition calls for clean elections and true democracy, which, despite what our ministers may say, is not what we have had in Malaysia for a loooong time. In 2007 the first Bersih rally was held in Kuala Lumpur. Last year the Bersih 2.0 rally brought together thousands of Malaysians at home and around the world.

Things just haven’t changed, so today Bersih 3.0 brought us all together once again, to stand up for ourselves and for our country. “Duduk Bantah” (sit-in protest) events were held across the globe, and I was so pleased when I saw an event for Aberdeen, so I went along and got involved.

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It was a small but determined group of us on King’s Lawn at Aberdeen University. We chatted, ate, played frisbee, and even got a photo with a piper who’d just been at a wedding. We had a pleasant afternoon, made some new friends, and went home feeling proud to have played our part.

Meanwhile, back at the main event in Kuala Lumpur, things weren’t quite so rosy. Once again the authorities behaved ridiculously, closing numerous roads and public transport stations, and basically causing more chaos. Sadly the violence was repeated also, on both sides, although the authorities were again unnecessarily heavy handed.

Instead of closing down the individual troublemakers that are always present at any rally, they take out entire crowds of peaceful protestors with water cannons and multiple canisters of tear gas shot directly at them. In this particular video, the people and the police face off, then by 4:14 the crowd moves forward and starts sitting down right in front of the police line. Then the police attack. Even the press (and freedom of) suffered along with the protestors.

Edit: This video is well edited, and beautifully sums up what it was all about, and what happened in Kuala Lumpur.

Why the need for police barriers at all? Why all this chaos? Simply because a government refuses to let citizens gather peacefully in their own public spaces. The public venue that the organisers requested for this gathering was denied to them on the grounds that the nature of the event was not appropriate for this venue. Not health and safety, not that the event itself was banned. No, citizens just can’t gather to discuss government corruption and electoral reform in the nation’s Independence Square. Since our independence in 1957 the same government has been in power, and they really don’t like this idea that they serve the people and not the other way round.

Thankfully the gatherings in other Malaysian and international venues seemed to have carried on quite peacefully. We hope there won’t have to be a Bersih 4.0, but if things don’t change we will persevere. We will keep turning out in the thousands, everywhere. We will show the government that they can’t keep fooling us, that we know all about their scandals, what they’ve done to our country and what they haven’t done for our country. All we want is a government, any government, that is fair, and does right by its people. We will keep doing what we’re doing until change happens. It will happen.

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Cameron Highlands

During our last week in KL, Gareth and I also drove up to Cameron Highlands, about 3 hours north of KL. It’s really only about 2 hours north, but takes another hour and a bit to get up the mountain. Especially if it’s raining, and you’re also not used to the winding roads that go round and round to get up to the top, but that’s all part of the road trip.

Cameron Highlands (named in the late 1800s, after surveyor William Cameron) is a “hill station.” Back in the day when Malaysia was a British colony, the poor British residents and officers had to find a way to cope with the heat and humidity, so they developed areas in hills and mountains to enjoy the cooler temperature there. So places like Maxwell Hill in Perak, Penang Hill, Fraser’s Hill in Pahang, and Cameron’s, also in Pahang, were developed as places for “rest & relaxation,” and were (and still are) popular holiday destinations. In addition their climate, with cooler temperatures but with good rainfall and sunlight, is great for agriculture. Cameron’s has plenty of farming activity, best known for tea, and for me it’s always been the place where the most gorgeous flowers come from. What I also didn’t realise was just how big the strawberry industry, and obsession, is up there. You can’t go 5 feet without seeing some form of strawberry merchandise, be it toys, magnets and souvenirs, clothes, hair accessories, or, wait for it, earmuffs! Which I bought, of course! Definitely very useful in Aberdeen anyway.

Here we are at the BOH tea plantation.
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Tea, up close
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More tea hills, looking all moody in the cloudy, rainy weather.
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What I find really interesting about the photo above is that you can see all the little hills and valleys that make up that part of the mountain range, and that’s because the only plant growing there is a neatly cultivated shrub. If it was jungle it would be covered by all sorts of trees, and of course all you see are the tallest ones that cover up the entire area. I’ve grown up seeing jungle covered mountains, usually when driving interstate, but I never really thought about what the land might look like under all those big trees.

We stayed the night at a guesthouse which used to be a school back in the Colonial days, and the next day we went to the Butterfly Farm, and saw some beautiful local butterflies. This is Malaysia’s national butterfly – Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing (named after James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak)

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One of my favourites, the common tree nymph.
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At the butterfly farm there were of course lots of flowers for the butterflies to feed on, and there were many of “the gorgeous flowers” I expected from Cameron’s. One of my favourite moments of the trip has to be The Hibiscus As Big As My Face.
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