Thursday, October 20, 2005

# A Melting Pot of cultures

A familiar picture among stacks of envelopes caught my eyes when I was rummaging through the mountain of mails. (There are 4 flats sharing the same mail box, at the place I stay now...)

A postcard from Malaysia! What a delight! It's from my dear friend, Low, who himself loves collecting postcards. Somehow, we have started to exchange postcards, hence started this series of postcard stories. Just two days ago, I was surprised by the appearance of my Big Ben on his blog, 1979.

Anyway, here is the wonderful postcard that tells the story of Malaysia.
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Batu Caves (Left), Thean Hou Temple (Top Right), Masjid Jamek (Bottom Right).

Such was the variety of races, cultures, and religions in Malaysia. While Batu Caves has always been a site for Thaipusam celebration by Indians, Thean Hou Temple is one of the grandest chinese temple not only in Malaysia, but in Southeast Asia. Also, Masjid Jamek is a significant starting point of the history of KL.

Besides the historical values exhibited by the places, I am impressed by the implicit meaning conveyed through these snapshots. With the three religious sites of three races, the pictures potray the multi-racial and multi-cultural society of Malaysia. Malaysians have always been proud of the rich culture and strong unity in our country. And the tolerance and freedom of religions have enabled places as such to be built, and cultures to grow and integrate with one another. The wonderful thing is, despite the differences in backgrounds, Malaysians easily mix among races and celebrate various festivals together, no matter what race you are or what religions you have. There is an evolution of Malaysian culture, rather than the distinctive cultures of different races, that makes us feel at home, and feel together.

One special Malaysian culture is the "Open House" culture. During festivals and celebrations, Malaysian fellows love to throw an Open House party, which invites anyone around the neighbourhood to come and celebrate together. With such 'policy', no specific invitation is needed at all, everyone comes and gives good wishes to the host, who happily welcome anybody. With such concept, people are friendly to any visitors, and the atmosphere is filled with trust and friendship.

Another strictly Malaysian culture - Mamak Stalls - the best hang-out place for youths at night. Sometimes people see this as a unique version of pubs for Malaysian, but of course, no alchohol is served. :-) We prefer Teh Tarikkkkk...

Well, I should stop going on and on.. Once I have started, I always get excited and would get deeper and deeper into discussion. hehe...

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One last thing I gladly noticed on Low's postcard, the Stamp which depicted the 600th anniversary of Malaysia-China diplomatic relation, and showed a picture of the Chinese Junk sailing. I love this stamp! Maybe it's because of my interest in reading Cheng Ho's (or Zheng He) exploration, especially in the recent debate about the extent of his ships' travel around the world, after the "1421" came out. Cheng Ho has left quite a legacy in Malaysia, with some of the chineses today still visit the Sam Po Temple erected to venerate him.

Thanks so much Low, for the lovely postcard, and for the chance for me to launch into another ramble. hehe...

P/S: Thean Hou Temple is a very significant temple for Hainan people in Malaysia, and I am a Hainanese. This means a lot to me, thanks so much.


@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

Glad you like the postcard, YD! I like the stamp as well, it means something. That's where we're from, our roots :)

I really don't mind you get deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper...into discussions, haha! It's not easy to tell everything about a country to reader, let alone multi-cultural country like Malaysia! So the more words and photos(in my case:p), the better!

And...OMG! I am a Hainanese as well!!! Now you can save you thanks, hehe...

YD said...

GOSH!!!! you are a HAINANESE too???!!!! We are of the same root!

My dad has always told me, Hainanese people are a close-knit community, they look out for each other even know they haven't known each other. there is some sort of bond that makes the community spirit strong. :-)

it's really great to know about this! hey hey... i m from the 25th generation, what's urs? let's see whether i m your senior or junior, wakakka...

Pandabonium said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pandabonium said...

I am enjoying the discussion and history lessons about Malaysia. Many things remind me of Hawaii in general ways - a mix of many cultures who live together, yet maintain their unique heritage and customs to varying degrees.

Yet over time the cultures blend. My granddaughter in Hawaii has ancestors of Hawaiian, Portuguese, German, English, French. and Cherokee (native american) blood.

For myself, I do not consider my blood heritage important other than in understanding where some traits come from. I am human being of planet Earth and have chosen to adopt my own friends, loves, countries, cultures and religion by choice. In my humble (hehe) opinion, it is what thoughts go through our minds, not what genetic material flows with our blood that is important.

Places which have multiple cultures sharing the same space go through stages. The first stage is to be separate and to preserve the divisions along racial, religious, and native nationality. Over time that breaks down as a new identity is forged that is unique to that place. It can be along and difficult process.

In Fiji, the people are devided largely between Fijians and Indians, Chirstian and Hindu. It is still in an early stage.

In the US, the Europeans have blended, but more recent arrivals from Asian countries and Latin American countries are still divided. And of course, the US has the shame of both the annihilation of the Native Americans and the slavery of Africans, neither of which have yet been adequately addressed let alone resolved.

Hawaii is unique in US states because people of all bachgrounds do live together in as much harmony as can be found anywhere. Where is Malaysia in this process? Is it a melting pot as you say (I don't think the US ever lived up to that). Is that even a desireable goal? What do you guys think?

Sorry to go on so long. I am joining a 12 step group for people addicting to saying to much. It's called: And on and on and on Anon! :^) haha

Thanks for all your thought-filled posts, YD (and LOW). It is an education and food for thought.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Nicely said, Pandabonium, and I enjoyed your posting, YD.

Yes, Malaysia is truly an interesting place. It never ceases to amaze me how so many totally different (and sometimes almost totally opposite) cultures are able to coexist there, whereas in my own country, which prides itself on its tolerance and togetherness, people tend to be so intolerant and so isolated.

And now I live in Japan, which is about as insular as they come!

Jumpa lagi!

YD said...

I like this sentence by Pandabonium, "it is what thoughts go through our minds, not what genetic material flows with our blood that is important." Really true and meaningful.

In terms of differentiation and integration (sound like i'm talking math here) of the races and cultures, I don't really know at what stage, comparatively or absolutely (now i sound physics), Malaysia is right now. I am hoping it is already at a stable state.

I remembered there was once a time period our last P.M. Dr Mahathir pushed our country with a series of modernization, and I clearly remembered a few like the production of our national car Proton, the building of the Petronas Twin Tower, Multimedia Super Corridor
MSC, Commonwealth Games 1998, and the Vision 2020 towards becoming a developed country by 2020, etc etc... All these are aimed at developing our country, and at a more subtle layer, to boost the confidence and the nationalism of Malaysians. I must say Dr M is a person I salute very much, for his visions, his proactivity, and his far-sightedness.

The aim to boost nationalism among Malaysians reminds me of another idea of Dr. M - the "Malaysia Boleh" spirit, which means 'Malaysia can do it!' Such spirit not only boosted our confidence in many matters, but it makes us feel as one. We identify ourselves as Malaysians primarily, and only by our ethnics secondarily. It is interesting how we can feel as a 'Malaysian race' from a broader perspective, and yet maintain our own traditions and cultures. More interestingly, I am happy to see the integration of the cultures and the all-come-together spirit during all different celebration, be it Malay New Year, Chinese New year, Deepavali, or Christmas.

Of course, it's not always a good and happy picture. We Malaysians have to admit, to some certain extent, there is some racism, intolerance and unfairness. But I think such phenomena exists in all places no matter how 'integrated' people are. I love the Avenue Q's song of "Everyone is a little bit racist". It tells adeptly that a little bit of racism would actually helped us live in harmony.

I have gone overboard again. I wonder whether there is a word limit for Comment Box?

YD said...

Dear Moody Minstrel,

where do you come from? I have visited your blog, you have an interesting writing style!

but i still don't know where you come from. haha.

Thnx for stopping by. i shall flood your blog with essays, erm, comments, too! Jumpa lagi!

Pandabonium said...

As if I haven't commented enough...

I want to clarify that I don't want to leave the impression that I think all differences between peoples should be erased. Only that over time, changes do take place in ethnicity, nations, religions, and so on. But it is an evolutionary process and takes a long time and it is impossible to predict.

I just wish for everyone to live in peace and respect each other as they are, and not to push people to change nor force them to stay the same.

We all value our, traditions, cultures, etc. and want to carry them forward (and hopefully those of others). But we also need to recognize that over long periods of time all things will change. All things are impermanent.

I probably didn't clairfy anything. Oh well.

The Moody Minstrel said...

I think we should all be the same in that we respect each other's differences.

YD said...

Regularity in chaos.
Unity in differences.

Lrong said...

I love collecting postcards too... when my missus and I travel, we buy a postcard each and write to each other... Fun, but quite silly, isn't it?

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

More than just a postcard, now :)

Since we've been discussing it, let me continue with - - why integration?

I learn from the nature, really.

I wish the definition for human is much simpler, like we are all mammals. I had a funny thought of we are actually naming mammals into different RACE, like tiger, lion, rabbit, orang utan, etc. I mean tiger will be always tiger, even if it's really possible that they can evolves into something like rabbit due to extreme changes of weather, genetic, or whatever, it will take millions of years!

Of course our consciousness separate us from animal world. But so-called conscious-integration will make an Indian a chinese in no time. While some adjustment and minor assimilation will do just fine, it's awful to think that something lost forever along the way...

Just like the fact that some languages are lost forever. Some animals extinct, some plants exist only in green house...

At some point, i agreed with yd that somehow, little racism, intolerance and unfairness is healthy, just like we need some opposition power in political world.

In nature, the first real extinction happend when the so-called alien species introduced into new habitats—intentionally or unintentionally. Again, all thanks to homo-sapien.

Do you think you've done something good by releasing Amazon Anaconda into the Malaysia swamp? Think again.

Just like history for some countries and places change forever due to immigrants. Or like those days, slavery. Don't be surprise to see James Brooke's photo being prayed as god by some aborigines in Sarawak.

Having said all that, we are all, just discussing. Take it from Pandabonium, i didn't clairfy anything, no? :) I felt heavy sense of mutual respect, understanding and great friendship in this room, so i am not worried ^_^

So, tomorrow, i'll still drive to my office, have my usual lunch at mamak shop while thinking what can i do, other than just talking... :p

P/S : Seeing some points of our discussion, i wish to post all the comments here into my blog. I hope we have mutual agreement here, haha!

The Moody Minstrel said...

You have a point there, Low. I guess the difference between an alien animal species destroying a native ecosystem and an alien culture (i.e. immigrants, colonists, etc.) wrecking a native culture is the fact that humans have the ability to choose.

Here in Japan, you may see a McDonalds in every town, but people can choose to go to a sushi or ramen shop instead, and many do. It's all a matter of personal choice.

On the other hand, the Japanese language seems to be fading. Young Japanese are using more and more English words (that they think are Japanese), and they often don't even know the original Japanese words that mean the same thing. Why is this happening?

a. Use of English words is considered "cool" in popular culture.
b. The English words are often shorter and simpler than their Japanese equivalents.
c. Because of the education system here in Japan, children are spending far more time studying English than their own language.

Reason b. is just a fact of life. People will tend to choose an easier path, so easier words will win out over difficult ones. However, both a. and c. are the results of choice. Japanese popular culture was created by Japanese people (in emulation of Western culture). The Japanese education system was also created by Japanese people (again, in emulation of the Western system). For whatever reason, they chose to do things the way they do, and now the country is suffering the consequences. They could choose to try to reverse the process, too, if they really wanted to (but that would mean less money for English language education and foreign brand-name goods!).

ikxuz - Isn't that what's written on those fish you sometimes see in churches?

s said...

wonderful post, YD! and great blog too. very informative, and i got to learn so much about Malaysia & its culture from your one post! keep up the good work!

YD said...

Thanks lrong for stopping by! It's great to find a Kedahan in Japan! Speaking of sending postcards, my housemates and I did some silly but fun things too. Everytime we go travelling we will send a postcard back to ourselves. *^_^*

Thanks for the good elaboration on the issue of integration, evolution, and colonization, Low. And thanks Moody for the argument of 'Choice' too.

Civilizations build on evolution of cultures, traditions and systems. New cultures and values are being born every moment. Whether they are preserved and maintained depends on whether it has contents, meaning, and also the adaptibility to survive the changes in the world. As Moody said, I also agree that it depends strongly on human' choice.

It is a pity that many cultures and traditions are lost in our way to search for modernization and so-called progress. For the name of development, many values are discarded. Although it is true that unpractical burdensome traditions will lose its attractions in the environment of Darwinian survival model, it is a great loss that many other cultural practise/values with much intrinsic values were trampled along the way too.

There is a fine line maintaining the balance between progress and tradition; much care is also needed in the differentiation/integration of various cultures. We all have what we are proud of, so do others. And yet, we all have some common grounds that we share and cherish. Unity in difference, I would say.

Many circumstances in life depend on choices. Human have made lots of great leaps in the past, alongside with many huge mistakes. What is important is we learn from the wrong things instead of watching the same misfortune happening again and again. Racism, colonization, clashes of cultures, xenophobia, etc.. have happened again and again. History keeps on teaching us, but have we learned?

YD said...

Moody, reading your comments about the westernization process and the usage of English reminded me of the arguments back in Malaysia regarding the usage of English language too.

There were a time when it was thought to have caused the deterioration of our own national language, and much campaigns have been done to revive the national language.

Later on, people realized, learning English does not makes people neglect our own national language, nor does it reduce our nationalism and patriotism. It is just a language that is practical, not only in business activities, but also as a common communication mode among all the different races in Malaysia. Right now, there is many campaigns (again) to promote English language, knowing that people are mature enough to retain their own cultures and open enough to accept new cultures.

However, care must be taken so as not to let the 'English-ization' (I wonder what is the correct term for the colonization of language, hehe) get carried away too much. Forsaking our own traditional values in the name of westernization is degrading ourselves. Venerating foreign cultures while throwing our own roots away is a shame. A society must have the the open-mindedness to accept new cultures, and yet resillient enough to preserve our own pride.

Will come back again after my class. Right now in computer lab doing programming with statistical package R. Shouldn't let my teacher caught me doing this! hehe...

Pandabonium said...

The influence of power and commerce in the changes in languages and cultures cannot be ignored. Sadly, in my view, much in the way of community is sacrificed in the name of commerce and "progress" which in the end fails to deliver any long term benefits.

It will require a major paradigm shift in what people view as "progress" to change that. At present, monied interests rule the day. Perhaps it has always been so in one way or another, but I find it sad as lanuages and entire tribes and culture are crushed under the wheels of globalized trade.

bvwktram - an ancient means of public transportation in South East Asia long ago replaced by pedicabs and motor scooters.

YD said...

s... thanks for dropping by! I learned lots in your blog too!

and it's great seeing BOTH of your eyeS now.. they exude warmth and caring nature! pretty!

Happy Halloween+Deepavali+Eid!!

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

Yes, Pandabonium my friend, paradigm shift is the word.

But sometime, sadly, paradigm shift is the last thing to happend, after those whatever "progress".

We learn ballroom dancing, couple it with traditional Hawaiian Dance. Jokes in okinawan language while reading Stephen Kings'.

Sounds confusing, but is there any other better options?

The Moody Minstrel said...

Translating classic poety into modern slang?

Mad Magazine did that once with Shakespeare, translating the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet into beatnik talk. It was pretty sad...

YD said...

Re-reading the comments made me realized Low has asked a question which noone has yet answered. :P

Low, I'm fine with quoting some comments for your blog, let's see others' opinions ya. Panda n moody have really put up good arguments here. I wonder there's a way to highlight comments. :D

moody, worse translations include Hamlet's 'to be or not to be'...