Land of contrasts
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.
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.