Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily
As we are counting down on the Merdeka Day, is the country still staying united, given the fact that racial issues have continually been raised?
Well, it does look this way on the surface, at least seasonally. During general elections or party elections, there are bound to be people who delight in raising ethnic issues to their advantages.
With the GE13 now behind us, racial relations in the country have shown signs of delicate changes. Racial issues have unfortunately become more extreme and polarising, and could potentially trigger racial conflicts if not handled with care.
There are people who do not agree to the term "Chinese tsunami" as the support or non-support of BN by Chinese voters has nothing to do with race, but rather differences in their perceptions or expectations of politics.
Opportunists have banked on this to hit out at vernacular education, claiming that Chinese and Tamil primary schools are counter-productive in bringing about national unity, and that solidarity could be secured if these schools are closed.
As a matter of fact, the impression of disunity is more of a fabrication of politicians, while Malaysians of various cultural backgrounds in general still live in harmony with one another notwithstanding the acts and talks of irresponsible politicians.
Ask around you these questions: Do you have friends of a different race from you? And will you stop seeing them just because of what the politicians have said or threatened?
We should be able to discover that no matter how instigating the politicians have been and no matter whether the policies are fair or not fair to certain races, Malaysians continue to mingle perfectly in full sincerity regardless of race.
Although East Malaysia and West Malaysia are one country, the level of racial harmony is not quite the same here and across the South China Sea.
Anyone having visited Sarawak will be able to tell you Sarawak is a true cultural melting pot.
There are 27 ethnic communities in Sarawak speaking some 45 different languages and dialects. However, most Sarawakians are kind and sincere, and their genuine smiles constitute an alternative language that could at times bridge the gap between individuals speaking different languages.
These people are unpretentious, harbouring absolutely no complicated and taut racial prejudices. They have manifested the true "1Sarawak' spirit long before the "1Malaysia" slogan was even coined by our PM.
Visiting a sundry shop run by a Chinese Sarawakian probably provides the best clue to how spontaneous the mingling among people of different cultural backgrounds is.
So, we conclude that there is no better place to start our series of stories on inter-racial mingling than the Land of the Hornbills.
"They helped build my house!"
If was a breezy and sunny afternoon.
Stepping into the Foochow village, you would be impressed by how amicable and friendly the Malay residents here are.
Foochow village is a typical Malay kampung surrounded by Chinese-majority residential estates. When we arrived at the village, pensioner Abang Awang was seen busily renovating his house, which has come a long way since the tiny wooden hut he built decades earlier.
Talking about his impressive mansion now, Abang Awang said smilingly most of the tiles had been sold to him by his Chinese friend at half price.
A devout Muslim with seven children, he speaks some Hokkien, Hakka and Mandarin, not that fluently but understandable. More notably, he sent all his seven children to a local Chinese primary school.
"Racial harmony is built upon mutual understanding and respect. More importantly, we must try not to sensationalise some of the more sensitive issues."
Recalling his past, he said he started working at the age of 15 owing to poverty, helping to load and unload goods at the port, where he came to know many wealthy Chinese merchants and started to pick up some Chinese dialects.
"I listened to Chinese radio stations after work. I can sing Teresa Teng!"
Without a formal education in Chinese, he felt something lacking in him, and decided to send all his children to a Chinese primary school.
"My fellow kampung residents were shocked by my decision back then, but I knew mastering an additional language would only work to my kids' advantage.
"I believe Malays and Chinese can learn from one another. If we open up ourselves, so will other people accept and respect us."
Abang Awang's 32-year-old eldest daughter Dayang Noramirin told Sin Chew Daily, "My colleagues admired my competency in Mandarin, and I have plenty of Chinese friends who would share with me everything, including what they think of religion and food."
Auntie Bee Kheng, the mother of Dayang's Chinese friend, said Dayang would come back home from school together with her daughter back in those years, and she would prepare another set of utensils for the girl if they ate together.
"I feel that any misunderstanding could be avoided if we stay away from sensitive issues and respect one another."
She said her departed husband used to be a good buddy of Abang Awang, and they talked about everything through the night on a packet of groundnuts.