Young and Sarawakian/Malaysian | Selangor Times
Issue 118


Young and Sarawakian/Malaysian
Writer: Lee Lian Kong
Published: Fri, 29 Apr 2011

Good things come in pairs.

In my case, they came in threes. They came in the form of three close friends from St Joseph, Kuching, who flew across the pond to pursue their A Levels.

As fate would have it, we ended up in the same college and class. My best memories of college were with them. They were the ones I went to for help in Physics, bawled to when I had my first heartbreak and had regular mamak sessions with.

It didn’t matter that I was from the peninsula and they were from East Malaysia.

Politics rarely surfaced in our conversations. Sure, I teased them [a lot] about living in tree houses and they shot back saying they would one day lead Sarawak to independence from Malaysia and leave us broke from lack of revenue from Sarawak.

Our political differences ended there.

Then came the Sarawak state elections. Things started shaking up a bit. A previously politically apathetic friend starting taking DAP’s Ubah doll (a hornbill bringing change to Sarawak) everywhere. Another posted in his Facebook status update that he was going back to vote. My Facebook News Feed showed a significant increase in the number of Sarawak-related articles.

The young have always been politically vocal. In the Malaysian context, and particularly post-2008 political tsunami, young Malaysians found their voice in the Internet, blogs and alternative news portals.

However, Carol Y, 25, who is currently studying in the US, remembers the media control in Kuching, where she grew up politically unaware, “the papers made certain of that”.  

Wen Li (not her real name), 24, a Bintulu girl now  studying in the US, said she only became politically conscious when she went over to the peninsula to further her studies after secondary school.

Now, armed with Facebook and the Internet, the communication barriers have certainly been broken down. Young Sarawakians certainly do not want to miss out on all the action.

There is even a new independent radio station, Radio Free Sarawak, to broadcast more neutral political news to the less connected, more rural areas. Says Carol, “It is an incredible initiative.”

Courageous, too, as it is able to reach places where the Internet cannot reach, she adds.

The voice of these young Sarawakians sing the tune of their beloved state. “Most East Malaysians feel more devoted and loyal to their states than the country,” says Wen Li. Despite 48 years together, young Sarawakians call Sarawak home, not Malaysia.

Like me and my three Kuching stooges, we may be friends, but we may not be fellow-citizens. When politics is discussed, it is as if we are from different countries.

Danny C, 31, thinks it is because of the lack of awareness of East Malaysia in national politics. “The common misconception is that we are rich for our oil and certain businesses such as timber, bird’s nest and other typical tycoon-types ... Hence I feel insulted each time they say I am rich when the oil/timber money is used to build the infrastructure in the west, but only if they push the topic”

It is as if the South China Sea is our Berlin Wall, dividing Malaysia into an East Malaysia and another West Malaysia. As Wen Li puts it, “Most East Malaysians have the impression that, one, West Malaysians do not care about East Malaysia. Two, West Malaysians are coming to East Malaysia to get our resources, and three, West Malaysians in general are pretty ignorant about East Malaysia.”

Misconceptions thrive on both sides. Our differences are many and unresolved. But so was the case in the Middle East revolutions. That didn’t stop youths from different countries helping each other out with rallies in their respective countries. Tips on how to shield oneself from tear gas, advice to mobilise youths were among those exchanged through Facebook messages.

Solidarity prevailed here, not political differences.

In Sarawak, the state elections have revealed the youth movement is gaining serious momentum. Voter turnout increased significantly, and the young generation’s call for change of government is overwhelming. Bridget Welsh, a political analyst, estimated in her article that there was  a 16% increase in young voter turnout, with overwhelming level of support for Pakatan.

Rural or urban, Chinese or Bidayuh, the revolt was across the board.

This gives me hope. They were united by their love for their state.

They say it’s a shame that it takes a war to inspire people to be politically creative, that maybe if we got off our asses between wars and said something, we can give the next one a miss.

Aye to that! Let’s use these elections to be politically united. Those living in tree top jokes can stay but the corruption and the injustices must go. It’s okay to still want to remain young and Sarawakian but I hope that one day, you will be just as proud calling yourself young and Malaysian.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some catching up to do with my Sarawakian friends.

Leelian finds the Ubah doll adorable and kolo mee delicious. She welcomes all feedback to


 Selangor Times



Also by Lee Lian Kong:

A Critique on KL : It’s Alive

A 20-something year old girl, dressed in the current trendy look (loose patterned blouse, denim shorts, aviators, brown highlighted hair) walks with her DSLR camera in her hands. She flings it to the sky and the video sweeps into the (as per usual) spectacular aerial view of KL’s cityscape, highway and suburbs.

A man with no shoes

He didn’t have shoes on. A pair of rubber soles with the top part of what used to be a shoe, hanging by a thread or two, hardly count as shoes. On them were his feet, his black feet covered white, only possible through the harshness of the cold, chapping away at skin. I could not take my eyes off them. For three months, I’ve only seen smooth feet, covered in proper shoes or the eye-rolling hipster Toms. Feet and shoes that belonged to the haves.

Music lost on KL

That Kuala Lumpur exists and her beauty lost to so many is beyond me.

Erykah Badu and the free speech paradox

Free speech has its limits. That’s the paradox of the First Amendment.


It had been a 14 hour long flight, after an earlier 6 hours flight. I was flying to Evansville, Indiana, to undertake a one semester study grant by the US Department of State. So there I was, jetlagged and tired but finally, on United States of America soil. It was my first time on a plane and crossing oceans. There was excitement but my tired body was struggling to keep up with it. It didn’t help that at the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport where I was transiting, there was a long line at US Customs. I was not in the best mood.

A Lawyers’ March … Fuh!

Labels – most commonly used by confused hormonal teenagers desperately grappling for an identity; may be manipulated by the media and bitchy, good-looking girls and boys to determine social hierarchy in high school. The thing about labels is that we usually grow out of them when we graduate from high school and discover that there are more pressing things at hand like mortgages and stagnant wages.

Why I don’t enjoy nasi lemak any more

The Auditor General Report 2010. Nasi Lemak 2.0. What do they have in common? Yes, that’s right – our nation is bankrupt.

Our merciless society

Amy Winehouse was a soul singer from a town called Camden in England. Her powerful voice was first discovered by Simon Fuller, found critical acclaim in her first album Frank and phenomenal worldwide success in her breakthrough album Back to Black.

First-class Malaysian sporting heroes

They’re everywhere! Flying, reading minds, attracting metals, smashing buildings into pulp. It’s hero-invasion season now. X-Men: First Class had barely ended before The Green Lantern swooped in, and soon, we will have Captain America.

Girls and subcultures

Don’t accept the old order. Get rid of it.So says Johnny Rotten, vocalist of the Sex Pistols. That’s what subcultures are all about: rejection of mainstream society, whether in the form of music, fashion, visual arts, dance, literature, films, etc. A subculture’s intention is to differentiate itself.

A refuge for the young ones

"We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” - Sean Parker, The Social Network


Let's create more P Ramlees

This song will continue to resonate timelessly. P Ramlee was not a one-hit wonder. His songs spanned decades, from the infectious Bunyi Gitar to the aching Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti. His is a genius sorely missed in today’s creatively barren music industry.

A fun riot, indeed

"We can do what we like, no one can stop us." Early last month, London and a couple of other cities were held hostage by rioters. The English's castles were looted by 14-year- olds in hoodies.

Though this sounds comical, the underlying issues of the youths involved are gritty and not to be taken lightly.











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