Singapore as we know it is the West in the East boasting of being culturally diverse with people from all walks of life calling this puny island, home. What started out as a fishing village when Sang Nila Utama first arrived, this island was a place where Malays lived. It soon changed over the years when immigrants and colonial imperialism as well as war brought a whole new breath of life into the once, quiet fishing village. This island was then filled with Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Britons and Americans just to name a few.
Since then, Singapore had since developed and reinstated itself to be the a nation where cultural diversity is in abundance. I was having a dinner conversation with a friend yesterday and this topic of culture popped up and I was posed with the question, “How much of a Malay are you?”
I’ve always expected such a question but not during dinner and I always knew what my answer would be. Hence the conversation continued as followed:
Me: “I’m a Malay as far as my language simply because I speak Malay”
Her: “I think the Malay culture is beautiful because we’d ‘Salam’ when we meet and when we intend to cross someone’s path, we would seek permission and cross the path with our hands and head bowed down”.
Me: “I think that’s simply being courteous, other cultures may not do as such but when intending to pass in front of someone, they’d just tap their shoulders and say ‘Sorry’ or ‘Excuse me’. It’s simply just a form of courtesy. As for the ‘Salam’, well its more of a religious thing.
I grew up in Malay household, educated in a Chinese school and had the chance to experience several cultures throughout life. In school, it has always been a lot of Confucianism since it was a Hokkien Clan school. I then went on to experience a western culture when I was in Australia for 2 weeks in Secondary school. More recently, I had the chance to experience the Japanese culture, Vietnamese culture, Thai culture and several more when I went on my Ship for Southeast Asia Youth Programme trip.”
Her: “So that’s really good for you because since you have experienced several cultures, you know the best and what’s good to take out of it”
I agreed and proceeded on.
Me: “Yes. I agree and I have to say that I don’t think any of us (Malays) now would be able to survive in Japan. Simply because the Japanese are anal with punctuality. 5 minutes means 5 minutes. This applies even to the buses. Sit in a bus and if the bus shows that it’ll leave an 1000hrs, the moment the clock in the bus hits 1000hrs, the bus driver will close the door and drive off. And that is what I like about it. In Indonesia it would be the total opposite, we were made to wait for close to 2 hours for the Guest of Honour to arrive and it had simply knocked the schedule, off-schedule.
If you go to Vietnam, you will realize that they love to eat rice and vegetables. Put on the table a variety of sumptuous food and they will go for the rice and vegetables first. What I’m trying to say here is, I’m trying to instill in each and every single one of our members that punctuality is important but I don’t think anyone is getting it. It is such a good feeling when things are running on schedule because you get to move things fast and this is the reason why the Japanese economy has been able to progress tremendously fast since World War and Asian countries have not been able to.”
So, the conversation didn’t proceed much further from there because all the other friends arrived and it was joy time but every single day, I pray that Malays will change. Change begins with themselves and the first step to change would be to embrace punctuality because the Malays especially, have had a negative label attached to them for being late all the time.
I am especially saddened by the fact that I am Malay by race in my Identity Card due to political reasons because I am in fact not one. I should be listed as others. In fact, my whole family should be listed as others due to our ancestral heritage. But back to the point – What these Malays do not realize is that the names that they have, represents their religion of which most of them are Muslims. It therefore creates a double-edge sword and has a negative impact on the religion as well and the beautiful religion of Islam does not preach being late. While this may be generalizing but majority of the Malays in Singapore as well as Asia are Muslims and practice late coming more than anything else.
Though no research papers have been conducted to prove this fact, I think just for your own testing purposes, especially my non-Malay readers, try asking your Malay friend out and see how long they take to arrive. Do your own survey and create your own general consensus because my words are simply through my wealth of experience living in a world surrounded by Malays.
If Malays are reading this, I hope it knocks some sense onto you cause I’m losing my faith in Malays. Doesn’t help too that they like to dream big, talk big but rarely fulfill their promises or honour their words. Or is it just the system that we are being placed in?
I just came to realize that at the end of this, I sound extremely anti-Malay. Don’t get me wrong readers, my best friends are Malays and well, there are some things about my Malay best friends which is why they are MY BEST FRIENDS – 15 years and 11 years on.