Friday, September 23, 2005

An Unfamiliar Malaysia

A Wrong Turn

I got lost. I don't often get lost, but I did last night. It happened while I was making my way to a studio in PJ for a jamming session. I've been to this studio numerous times. I know the way there like I know the back of my hand. However, there must have been an aberrant gene in me which caused me to think "Hey, I think I'll try taking a short-cut".

How foolish those words would seem a mere 10 minutes later.

Familiar, but yet...

I was lost. I didn't even realise it at first. To me, based on my uncanny inner compass, I thought I was heading in the right direction. As I drove on, the roads began to narrow. I noticed more and more people walking about on foot, a strange sight indeed in our day and age of autmobiles. I passed by a brightly lit night market where traders were hawking their wares of fresh meat and vegetables. However, I only counted a handful of stores. It must have been a really small night market. No Ah Beng's peddling illegal DVDs, no dance music blasting from portable stereos, none of the stores which we usually associated with pasar malams. Just vegetables and meat.

The people looked different. Gone were the snappy outfits, designer jeans and funky hairdos which are ubiquitous in most parts of PJ. As Malaysians, their faces weren't alien to me, but their surroundings were. The houses became increasingly small and rundown the deeper I drove. Roads whittled away to become little more than badly tarred pathways, with debris and dirt strewn about. The streetlamps were cracked and dim, casting a desolate glow on the surrouding houses. Houses which by now, were little more than wooden contraptions topped with rusty pieces of zinc.

There were motorcycles aplenty. People rode about without helmets, pausing only to give me suspicious looks as they passed by. Although I was just within a stones throw from Bandar Utama, I felt like a complete stranger. Hastily making a u-turn, I made my way out. After driving for less than 5 minutes, I noticed my surroundings have changed again. This time, the roads were wide and smooth. The houses consisted of luxurious bungalows, with a host of Mercs and BMWs parked in the driveways.

Amazing how much difference 5 minutes can make isn't it?

Have We Become Complacent?

I know Malaysia doesn't consist solely of middle class and upper class folks. I know that there are many people who are living just above the poverty line. I pass by their neighbourhoods every morning by LRT as I make my way to work. I do notice the squatters and the slums which although at most times, seem invisible, are there just beyond our periphery. But I can't remember the last time I actually took a drive through one of these neighbourhoods, getting a close up look at just how the living conditions are for these folks.

I am glad I did however. To me, Malaysia is a land of gleaming skyscrapers, good food, a jumping nightlife and boundless opportunities. How different these people's experience of Malaysia must be. It must be of a Malaysia which is entirely unfamiliar to me.

I feel that everyone of us city folks in our relatively comfortable homes, with our cushy jobs and nice cars should take a break from our hedonistic schedules and take the time to actually see what is happening around us. So many times we complain because we didn't get that pay rise we wanted, or that new electronic gadget, or something equally as frivolous and insignificant. Have we forgotten that there are more than a billion people who live on less than a US Dollar a day? Or that there are 640 million children in the world without even a roof over their heads?

I know I am but one person, but hey, we all can make a difference. Like what a famous singer once sang (I'm sure you know him, the Gloved One), "I'm starting with the Man in the Mirror".



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