I grew up watching Petronas Hari Merdeka advertisements portraying little Ah Chong, little Ali and little Raju playing happily together as children, and 30 years later as old men these three multi-racial friends would still be able to sit together having coffee at the same table.
As a school student, I noticed that the National Textbooks would always portray multi-ethnicity in their contents, having characters like Siti, Kumari and Mei Ling harmoniously interacting and co-existing with one another.
I grew up having that image of Malaysia in my head and my heart, and living in Sarawak does not make it difficult to believe that this is indeed what Malaysia truly is.
It is not a strange scene for the multi-racial (we have different ethnic groups in Sarawak) and multi-religion people (Muslims, Christians of different denominations, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Pagans etc) in Sarawak to sit together having coffee and mee goreng at the same table all the time. Some even don’t care whether the stall is owned by Ah Chong or whoever, as here we praticed something simple that we call, respect each other.
Uniquely Sarawak is a good name to refer to the Sarawak Truly Malaysia. I remembered during the time of my secondary school, my friend with a name “bin” always sit together with me in a chinese stall after class, he’s not muslim though his name look exactly like ons, for Sarawakian, its perfectly normal, “Bin/Binti” could be Melanau. And the others with a chinese/iban name could be muslim. Dispite all that, we still be able to sit and eat in the same table in the same stall.
What does this portray? Mix marriage is absolutely normal here. Why? Because of the hormonies and tolerate that keep us together ever since before Malaysia became Malaysia, until now.
In the early 1990’s, I set foot for the first time on the land of what people called school, where the teacher teach you to become a good boys and good girls. My first friend greet me “Ni Hao Ma?”, I’m blur for a while and reply him “Sorry I don’t get you, I couldn’t speak chinese” And he say “Huh? You’re not chinese a? Cos you look so chinese. Due to the language barrier, for quite some times of the 1st year in chinese primary school, we speak Malay. That’s story number one, the summary of that is, hard to tell what race does one sarawakian belong too, without knowning his name, and even if you know the name, hard for you to tell the religion.
In 2006, I further my study at one of the local university, where in this circumstances, I mix with lots of Semenanjung students. Throughout the years, I was being asked a lot of questions by my fellow Malay Semenanjung friends, among others:
“Is it true that Sarawak still live in the jungles?”
“Do you live on trees?”
“Do people in Sarawak wear ‘cawat’ all the time?”
“So how was your first time on an airplane?”
And as for Ah Meng, Balakrishnan and Ahmad having coffee together at the same table, it was almost non-existent that at that time I thought I was in another country other than Malaysia. The Malaysia that I thought I knew.
Malays would never set foot on a Chinese restaurant. Once I was having a meal with some friends in one Chinese stall by the roadside. A Malay man who happened to pass by spat on the ground near our table. I thought about the beautiful Petronas advertisement, and felt betrayed.
In the university itself, Malays would mingle among the Malays, If there were Chinese, among themselves, the Indians likewise. Always unsure which ‘group’ we should ‘belong to’, Sarawakians (Muslims and non-Muslims) would always opt to mingle among ourselves, and of course with our fellow Sabahans (Muslims and non-Muslims).
I could still remember the time when the University decided to implement its ‘integration’ policy, in which they decided that allocations of hostel rooms for students should not be based on races and religions anymore. A hostel room should be shared by students of different races and religions, to promote unity.
This recent squabble over the name of God in Malaysia shocked us Sarawak, not because of the possibility of non-Muslims being denied the right to use the word ‘Allah’ to worship God, but because after so many years, surprisingly, there are still a lot that our Malay Semenanjung brothers and sisters do not know about Sabah and Sarawak.
Along with the questions on whether we still live on trees (Yes, they still ask that!), in their protest over the use of the word ‘Allah’ among non-Muslims, we could hear these remarks being made:
“Kita sudah cukup bertoleransi dengan mereka, tapi mereka pula mahu pijak kepala kita”.
“This is a propaganda to confuse Muslims and convert Muslims to Christianity”.
“The fact that you and your family are still a devouted Christian living in Sabah is a proof as well as a testament that for years ever since Merdeka, you fella have been allowed to practice your religion freely”.
“Jumlah mereka cuma 9%, tapi Santa Claus ada di mana-mana.”
Sarawakians are natives of the beautiful island of Borneo, we were proud to call ourselves Malaysians after this small island happily joined Tanah Melayu to form Malaysia in the 1960’s.
As natives of Borneo, we share the same Indigenous title with our Orang Asli and Malay brothers and sisters in Semenanjung Malaysia. And as such, we hold every single right as Bumiputra, or ‘sons of the soil’ as some people like to call it.
Some Malaysians are now proudly proclaiming how much they have ‘tolerated’ us all these years.
We are Bumiputra Malaysians, not PTI (Pendatang Tanpa Izin) that anyone should feel the need to ‘put up with’ us (are we unpleasant?). Yes, we appreciate it that you recognize and respect our rights and beliefs, but doing so and still treat us like aliens in our own land makes us wonder whether we are ‘second-class’ citizens in your eyes.
We ‘fella’ practise our own religion freely not because we are ‘allowed’ to do so by any human organisations, but because we have the human right as God’s creations to do so.
Bantah 1Malaysia? What is 1Malaysia? Even before ‘Merdeka’, Sarawakian Muslims and non-Muslims have always been able to live together harmoniously and peacefully, despite our differences.
Most of our Muslim brothers and sisters in Sarawak have no problems sitting together having coffee with their non-Muslim friends at the same table not because they ‘tolerate’ us.
It is because they embrace us.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters in Sarawak are aware of the existence of the word ‘Allah’ in Indonesian-translated Bibles of their Christian friends for many many years, but they never accuse us of having secret agenda. They never get confused or get accidentally converted to Christianity. Is it because they ‘tolerate’ us?
No. It is because they embrace us.
Occasionally after work or during the weekends, we like to have meals together with our Muslim brothers and sisters. Sometimes we would have roti canai at Ammah Curry. The next day it would be the Japanese at Sushi King. If we want to have nice enjoy relax chit-chat night with coffee and satey and a entertainment from ESPN, we’ll go to Siang-siang/Warung 2000, where the Chinese Stall and Malay nextto each other, I ordered a kolo mee from chinese stall, they’ll send it to the Malay’s Table.
Is it because we ‘tolerate’ each other? Yes, when my friend insists on having ais kacang while I am craving for roti canai, of course we need to be tolerant with one another in coming up with the best solution.
But more than that, we also embrace each other.