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What does being Malaysian mean? 8 young adults share why there’s really no place like home

By Natalie Yap

This 16th of September we celebrate Malaysia Day once again! On this day, we commemorate the joining of Sabah and Sarawak with the Peninsular in the establishment of Malaysia. In light of this, we have asked a few people to share their thoughts on what it means to be a Malaysian. 

In the many responses, two things stood out – the beauty of diversity and the comfort of having a homeland. We thank God for placing us in this beautiful nation, Malaysia, and that we have the privilege of calling it home. As citizens of Malaysia, may we continue to be faithful to God’s Word in putting others before ourselves and loving all without prejudice. 

“Seeing people from different races working together to make Malaysia more inclusive and harmonious” – Caleb Kan

As I travel around Malaysia, I’ve gotten to know so much more of the cultures and people that live in Malaysia that a lot of people don’t get to see very often. I wasn’t always appreciative of these experiences when I was young, but as I grew older it became more apparent to me how blessed and wonderful it is to live here.

Coming back after studying abroad, I began to appreciate the diversity that is often attributed to Malaysia. We are diverse in culture and in food, but what impresses me the most about our country is seeing people from different races working together to make Malaysia more inclusive and harmonious. That is not an easy thing to achieve. It takes a lot of hard work to make Malaysia into what it is today, and it’s heartwarming to see that as a nation we strive towards that. As a citizen of Malaysia I feel proud to be a part of that.

  • Caleb comes from the Land Below the Wind and is a true Malaysian in that he really loves all of its food 

“Being a Malaysian… is like being part of a plate of rojak”- Joan Lee

Being a Malaysian to me, for lack of a better phrase, is like being part of a plate of ‘rojak’. Each fruit and vegetable has a specific role to play, all mixed together in a humongous dish, that we sometimes fail to see and remember. The beauty is being a body, together. I would always remember friends from other countries telling me how nice it is that the average Malaysian is bilingual or even trilingual, and we understand so much more of each other’s customs, religions and traditions than many countries in the world do. What a privilege! 

  • Joan’s favourite local holiday destination is Penang, but is proudly born and bred in Kluang, Johor 

“Being people who laugh together in solidarity, embracing our many differences” – Wong Yi Khen

Out of many things one can say about being Malaysian, I think being Malaysian is fundamentally about embracing pluralism. It is understanding that one cannot fully describe Malaysia without gushing about nasi lemak, roti canai, hor fun and manok pansuh in the same sentence or without explaining why Malaysia has on its calendar Hari Raya, Deepavali, Chinese New Year, Gawai and Kaamatan. It’s about speaking and understanding Manglish perfectly – “Dei, bagi I satu teh  peng!” 

It is about becoming acquainted with what the crosses and the crescents stand for, and what the temples and the bells are all about. It’s about being people who laugh at each other not with a sneer, but a people who laugh together in solidarity, embracing our many differences.

  • Yi Khen grew up in Kuching, Sarawak and his best-loved Malaysian food is kolo mee

“It means not being embarrassed to end your sentences with lah and call non-blood related elders ‘Uncle’ and ‘Auntie'” – Ashleigh Chow

Being a Malaysian means being accepting of our diverse culture. It means realising that we aren’t so different after all, that beyond our politics of race and colour, despite the variations between us, we have more to gain by being united and empathetic than being comfortable in our own isolated shells of familiarity and apathy.

It means that I’ve had the privilege to surround myself with people of different races growing up, understanding multiple languages and trying all sorts of food. Being Malaysian means cheering on Malaysian badminton players and exchanging friendly banter with Singaporeans on why our food is significantly better. It means not being embarrassed to end your sentences with ‘lah’s, and calling non blood related elders, uncles and aunties. To me, being a Malaysian means the privilege of calling Malaysia my home.

  • Ashleigh is currently working in London as a business consultant, but dreams of returning to Malaysia soon

“My home state, Sabah… a place where you can be your most authentic self” – Carolyn Boin

In my twenties, I travelled a lot. In my thirties, however, I began to feel a greater yearning to find a place to land and call a place home. Little did I know that the place had always been my home state, Sabah, Malaysia.

Sabah, to me, is best described with this Spanish word, “querencia”. It means a place where you can be your most authentic self. In other places, I had to adjust to unfamiliar cultures and lifestyles. I realised, in my recent home trip, that this is what it means to be a Sabahan; a Malaysian: That no matter how far the places I travel to, the longing for home is always there. I find that here, I am accepted. That means, as a Malaysian, it is upon me to help many others find their rest here as well by showing hospitality, and not reserving our beautiful culture from many who want to be a part of it.

  • Carolyn comes from the Dusun Lutud tribe and finds that the best part of Sabah is the beautiful nature

“Late-night mamak sessions are something we can all relate to… sipping teh tarik, Premier League on the television and sharing stories” – Elizabeth Tsan

Being a Malaysian means being part of a special community where people from different backgrounds, cultures, and races come together to create a unique and colorful society.

As a teenage student, my fondest memory of Malaysia Day would be sharing the joy of Merdeka celebrations in school, where we remember our freedom and unity as Malaysians together. Not to mention, late-night mamak sessions are something we can all relate to. Gathering at a local mamak stall, sipping on teh tarik (with “ikat tepi”!), Premier League being played on the televisions, and sharing stories with friends is a cherished tradition that brings all of us closer.

Our “rojak” languages also symbolize our ability to communicate in different tongues, showing our acceptance of each other’s backgrounds. It’s all about celebrating our differences and finding unity in diversity.

  • Elizabeth is a nursing student in Subang Jaya. Most people call her Eli for short. She loves capybaras and pastries a lot!

“Our diversity is the very bed-rock of how our nation was built” – Loke Yew Joe

Growing up in a culturally diverse society, I learnt from a young age to not only accept and respect one another, but to co-exist despite such diversity. This diversity is the very bed-rock of how our nation was built; a unique melting pot of languages, beliefs and values which makes us one people. 

While there are many flaws, nevertheless, this is the place where I was born, bred and formed, making this my home. And as cliché as it sounds, there is no place like home.

  • Yew Joe is a father to 3 boys and currently works for the government in the Attorney General’s Chambers

“I love that I get to serve in the local church in a place I call home” – Sophia Chai

I genuinely smile whenever I think of the word “Malaysian”. There is a sense of warmth, pride and love that ties with the word. Yet, at 22 years old I found myself having to choose between Malaysia and Scotland, where I was residing at the time for my studies. It was a tough decision to make but I knew the best decision was to return home, and home for me was Malaysia. 

What encourages and assures me till today is that by God’s providence, I was born and raised in Malaysia. He has placed me here and my heart desires to serve in the local church in Malaysia more than anywhere else. Therefore, being a Malaysian to me means being home with the people I love in a familiar place. It is doing the things I love with the people I love. And I love that I get to serve in the local church in a place I call home; Malaysia.

  • Sophia hails from Selangor and her birthday falls on Merdeka Day!
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