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 firstname.lastname@example.org