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Land of contrasts

I’m just back from Malaysian Borneo, and this is by far the strangest country I’ve ever been to. It even beats the contradiction in terms commonly known as Belgium hands down. Amazing!

The strangeness of Malaysia lies mainly in the huge and almost incredible contrasts found within its borders, and is best exemplified by an item found at breakfast buffets at posh hotels from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan: Halal certified beef bacon.

Like the typical breakfast buffets found in upscale Malaysian hotels, Malaysia itself is a complex mixture of cultures and traditions. And, of course, religions. As Malaysia is officially Muslim, hotels have to provide their customers with a fully halal breakfast, and serving pork is of course out of the question. On the other hand, both Malaysia and its hotels want to come across as modern and open, and cater to businessmen from all over the world, including bacon-craving Americans and Englishmen. Enter the beef bacon!

Some might argue that real bacon isn’t made from cows, just as others might say that true freedom of religion doesn’t mean shariah courts imprisoning people for teaching “wrong” forms of Islam, and that a government-owned and -controlled car maker whose director got fired for voicing his opinions of the government isn’t exactly what you expect when you hear the phrase “market economy”.

In Malaysia, however, such strange paradoxes are so common that people don’t even seem to notice them. Malaysia itself seems like one big paradox, full of contrasts and contradictions. It is one of the wealthiest countries in Asia, but many of its citizens are still dirt poor. Malaysia is proud of its ethnic and religious diversity, and official tourist brochures proudly state that the country’s citizens enjoy freedom of religion. This is true, but only if you’re a Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or other non-Muslim. If you want to practice Islam, make sure it’s the right kind, or you’re in for a stint in prison!

Even the nature of this country is full of contrasts as everything from the highest mountains to swamps and beaches can be found within the borders of Malaysia. All this makes Malaysia a confusing and overwhelming place, and I can’t even start to imagine what it would be like to live there. I do, however, have three weeks of experience as a tourist in the Malaysian state of Sabah, and in this blog I will try to offer my very own traveler’s guide to this strange and wonderful country.

Something rotten

After returning from Borneo, I have found that something is indeed rotten in the land of Malaysia. A bit of reading confirmed my suspicion that the ethnic minorities of the country are the victims of highly racist practices, policies and even laws. Censorship and harassment of journalists, editors and now bloggers is another ugly blemish on the pretty face Malaysian politicians are so desperate to show the world. Still, brave Malaysian bloggers have decided to unite and stand up to the government. One of them is Susan Loone. If you want to know more about the dirty reality behind the beautiful facade of Malaysia, please check out her blog.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2007 9:09 pm

    Hi, I am so honoured to be on your blog. Thanks for the support. And thanks for joining us in our blogger united stand. We need all the support we can from bloggers all around the world. Thank you also for introducing me to your blog. It’s great to know a blogger from Norway. Keep up the interesting blogging. But dont stop visiting our country. There are wonderful people out there who want to see things change. Its starting with us, and we’re not giving up. As they say, we live only once, and we’ve got to do it now. See ya oneday!


  2. January 17, 2007 8:00 am

    Thank you very much, Susan!

    I really do hope to visit your country again someday, if I can find the combination of time and money. As you say, Malaysia is full of wonderful people, and I really hope and believe that you can make things change for the better. Keep up the good work!


  3. January 17, 2007 2:08 pm

    heya bro SiPM has a reaction from YB Maya Minah Black to this story…

    and I had an earlier post on it too!

    Let us know what you think!


  4. January 18, 2007 12:56 pm

    @ Dek Mat: I do understand your frustration that your comments are not approved, and in principle I certainly agree that you have the same right to free speech as anybody else. However, I do not have the furthest idea what reason Jeff Ooi or anyone else have for not approving your comments. For all I know, they might have their reasons, and I leave it to them to decide what comments to allow on their blogs, just as I reserve the right to decide what comments go on to this one.

    You also mention yourself that you “urge these bloggers on to continue what they are doing for, yes, they are practising their democratic rights of free speech, and we stand by the credo: We may not agree with you but we would defend your right to say it.”

    That sums it up rather nicely, don’t you think?


  5. January 18, 2007 6:20 pm

    Indeed but you also forget to mention that while we will defend anyone’s right to air their views but we will also defend anyone’s right to sue for defamation if bloggers act irresponsibly


  6. January 18, 2007 7:40 pm

    Well, yes, you do.
    While I also support a sound and solid judicial system which protects people from slander and libel, I am very much opposed to any attempt to use unjustified claims of libel to shut up one’s opponents. I am even more opposed to people using the law as a tool for shutting down bloggers voicing their legitimate concerns about shady dealings in a country’s goverment and among it’s civil servants.

    I would rather risk a certain amount of libel and slander than have politicians, police and/or prominent citizens using cencorship and abusing the law for their own benefit if I have to chose.


  7. A Voice permalink
    January 23, 2007 8:07 am

    Thank you, sungame for telling off these dispicable group of human calling themselves Siber Party of Malaysia and spamming all Malaysian blogs which support our Blog Brothers of Rocky and Jeff Ooi.

    The character Dek Mat and YB Maya Minah Black plus few others are “hired”guns of the suing party.

    They are propagating the use of financial power and the law to seek justification to limit personal freedom of expression to silence discenting views.

    That is what the newspaper News Straits Times (NST) has been doing … churning out lies, spins, and venomous words to the pleasure of their croocked political master which have been faking a pious Islamic face.


  8. January 23, 2007 1:10 pm

    While I would refrain from using strong language like “despicable group of human”, I agree that the so-called Siber Party, or at least Dek Mat seems to be “propagating the use of financial power and the law to seek justification to limit personal freedom of expression to silence discenting views.”

    I did not know anything about said party before Dek Mat commented on this post, so I wouldn’t know whether or not he is a hired gun.

    What I do know, is that I strongly oppose the abuse of both financial and political power anywhere in the world. The Rocky/Jeff Ooi case seems to be a particularly ugly case of power abuse, and I feel obliged to speak out.


  9. January 29, 2007 4:55 am

    I found your blog via google by accident and have to admit that youve a really interesting blog 🙂
    Just saved your feed in my reader, have a nice day 🙂


  10. March 12, 2008 7:10 pm

    Agree with Loone that ‘But dont stop visiting our country. There are wonderful people out there who want to see things change. Its starting with us, and we’re not giving up. As they say, we live only once, and we’ve got to do it now.’

    Malaysia Boleh!


  11. March 13, 2008 7:46 am

    Leo, at this time at least, I agree with Susan myself.Susan and other brave Malaysian bloggers have shown me time and again that there really are lots of wonderful people out there who not only want to see things change, but who work hard to make things change.

    It is a long journey from Norway to Malaysia, and I do not know if or when I will have the time and the money to visit your beautiful country again. However, I certainly hope that if i do return, it will be to a better, fairer country than the one I left three years ago.



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