Wednesday 19 September 2012

Whither the true Bangsa Malaysia? ― A. Kadir Jasin

SEPT 19 ― In a Malaysia that is becoming more racially polarised and economically dichotomised, the passing of my Chinaman friend, Yap Keng Hock, on August 14 was a sad moment.

We, his Melayu friends, called him China Yap and he loved every bit of it. We could very well be the last Malaysians who could call each other by our “bangsa” and not a bit offended by it.

But in public, we would refrain from calling out to each other by our bangsa ― Melayu and China ― for fear that we might offence the sensibilities of the new Malaysian generation who are not used to the kind of camaraderie that once defined our multiracial and cross cultural relationship.

Our group comprised the late Captain Mahyuddin Ahmad of Kulim, Kedah; Yap, the executive director of Media Prima Berhad; Ahmad A. Talib and yours truly.

Mahyuddin and Yap collaborated in business. When Mahyuddin was a manager at Marco Shoes in Klang, Yap supplied moulds and dyes for Nike shoes that the company was then manufacturing under licence. Yap learned mould and dye making in Japan when he was sent there by his early employer, Matsushita.

Mahyuddin went on to set up a mill in Kulim to produce castrating rings for animal husbandry. Mahyuddin’s business was inherited by his children and all of Yap’s four children are working in the family business together with Yap’s younger brother, Gary.

When I was introduced to Yap in the late 1970’s, he was running a makeshift foundry in Klang. I noted in my report in the Business Times newspaper that his foundry looked more like a pigsty than a factory.

He enjoyed every bit of the report and told me later that even American bankers found his story inspiring. When the factory caught fire and was totally destroyed, he built a better one.

Yap was indeed a kampung boy who made good thanks to his Malay and English education, and the fact that he was born and raised in a mixed rural town in Negeri Sembilan.

Today, there aren’t that many Malays like Mahyuddin and Chinese like Yap, who attended bilingual multi-ethnic schools where the command of the Malay and English languages built bridges and tore down communal fences.

Sadly today, the Malays and other Bumiputeras attend national schools, the Chinese go to Chinese-type national schools and Tamil-speaking Indians go to Tamil-type national schools.

They all call themselves national, but they are separated by geography, language, culture and quality of education. To add to the confusion we also have private and international schools where the better-off parents are free to send their children.

Little surprise that when products of this fractured school system meet each other in later life, they are already influenced by deep racial, religious and cultural biases that makes the fostering of a true bangsa Malaysia nearly impossible.

As I grow older and many of good friends of those unprejudiced times are either dead or struck down by age-related illnesses, I look back at the past with a mixture of satisfaction and nostalgia that we were once true Malayans (and later Malaysians). Wallahualam. ―

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