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I’m always in awe at how well people speak English in Malaysia

I’m always in awe at how well people speak English in Malaysia. I’ve been struggling to learn Bahasa, it’s a phonetic language, and I’m learning slowly. Besides Bahasa there is: English; many Chinese dialects: Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, and Foochow; then there are the Indian languages: Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam and Panjabi; and finally, in Eastern Malaysia there are several indigenous languages.

I find myself speechless when my friends here ask me to explain why Canada has such a problem with two languages.

The British ruled Malaysia until the late 18 th century. During World War II the Japanese invaded and occupied the peninsula from December 1941 until they surrendered in September 1945. After the war, in 1948, the British ruled territories formed the Federation of Malaysia which became independent in 1957. In 1963 Sarawak and Sabah joined the Federation and Singapore chose to succeed in 1965.

After a few days in Penang I went back to Kuala Lumpur to meet up with my friends and find a place to live. I had thought Kuala Lumpur meant, ‘the meeting of two rivers’ but my friends told me it was much less romantic, that it actually means, ‘muddy estuary’ in Malay.

KL, as the locals call the city, was founded in the mid-19 th century. Originally it was a staging post for Chinese tin miners. By 1896 the British made KL the state capital and imported British architects to design buildings and Tamil laborers from India to build them.

Today it’s the youngest capital city in Southeast Asia and the most economically successful after Singapore. With an unemployment rate of 3%, the nation’s economic growth has been largely driven by the export of electronics. Two million people call KL home and the Petronas Twin Towers host the tallest sky bridge in the world. The towers were built by the Petronas Oil Company. It's 458 metres tall; and my friends tell me that the towers are evidence that Malaysians believe in Malaysia.

I have marvelled at the amount of construction happening throughout the city. It seems that everywhere you go there is either a new condo building going up or a new roadway being built. As a result, KL has horrific traffic jams and the bad public transit system makes it challenging to get around the city.

Islam is the official religion, but there is freedom of worship in this Islamic nation; Islam 52%; Buddhist 17%; Taoist 12%; Hindu 2%; Christian 8%; and Shamanism is practiced in East Malaysia.

Today Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badaw, a Moslem, states he is not a leader of Moslem’s; he is a leader of Malaysians.

In today’s wars of religious undertones, his message is of tolerance. He is confident that Malaysia, population 24,000,000 can be a showcase to the world to promote moderation of all faiths.

On Independence Day, August 31 st 2004, his message to the people of Malaysia was, "Let all citizens of Malaysia, without feeling inferior, without feeling sidelined, irrespective of race or religion rise to become statesman in our own land. We’re equal, we’re all Malaysians. No individual in this country is more Malaysian than another. Unleash your potential and shape this country of yours the way you want it to be…..What we need more than ever today is a concerted effort to initiate inter-faith dialogue."

The world is an ugly place today and I applaud anyone’s efforts towards the cultivation of religious and cultural tolerance. Political, religious, and cooperate leaders cultivate divisiveness. It’s nice to read about one politician who chooses to celebrate similarities.

I don’t think we, the human race, actually realize how serious our responsibility is for everything that is happening on this planet.

People are always flabbergasted at war and destruction, but if we look at ourselves and see how we all carry our own ideologies, our religious beliefs, being a nationalist or a separatist, it’s no wonder that divisiveness exists in the big picture.

Here in Malaysia I have Moslem, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, and Christian friends. They have taught me a lot, and I still have plenty to learn.

Malaysia to me has always felt like a cross between the orderliness of Singapore and the chaos of India. Its virtually hassle free, the tropical climate is appealing; and I look forward to calling Malaysia home for awhile — once I find an apartment!

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