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Unity in Diversity

Written by Teh Aik Loon of Sri Kuala Lumpur International School

You flip through your newly acquired travel guide on South-East Asian countries by a local author to kill some time, briefly surveying the vibrant images of scenery encapsulated by photographs. All of a sudden, one particular phrase catches your eye — “Malaysia, truly Asia”. The catchy slogan echoes in your mind as you journey deeper into the alluring text. You are instantly bedazzled by a cornucopia of local dishes and gargantuan skyscrapers. The excerpt reads: “Malaysia boasts a myriad of different practices gastronomical wonders and a treasure trove of untapped natural potential.” An image is parked right under it. You see before you an exuberant country with dynamic landscapes right out of fabled fairytales. Intrigued, you continue reading...

Chapter 1: Culture

“Kuala Lumpur rises out of steamy, equatorial, Southeast Asian jungle, Malaysia’s capital city — a chaotic, multiethnic, multicultural modern metropolis” – Anthony Bourdain

A nation without heritage would be no different than a blank batik and culture provide the kaleidoscope of colours that will complete the work of art.

One of Malaysia’s many hidden beauties lies within its diversity. Various ethnic groups from the Indians to Kadazan-Dusuns, all live harmoniously like a mellifluous orchestra of instruments. Whether it be returning to clean and visit the graves of loved ones during the Qing Ming or stopping by a relative's house to enjoy a warm meal during Hari Raya Aidilfitri, these traditions form core memories within us. When I left Malaysia for University overseas, I often found myself yearning for the irreplaceable warmth that can only be found in Malaysians. After completing my degree, I came right back!

Throughout the year, due to the intertwining ethnicities, countless holidays and celebrations take place from West to East Malaysia. Take Chinese New Year as an example - zealous festivities are carried out for 15 days according to the Chinese calendar; on top of that, Eid al-Fitr celebrations take place for an entire month of the year to conclude the holy month of fasting. This is what connects us all as Malaysians - we’ll always have joyous occasions to celebrate, commemorate and bond over. Somehow, we’ve managed to reach an equilibrium of sorts and achieved unity.

Chapter 2: Food

When you close your eyes and think of the word “food”, what do you think of? If you were to ask any Malaysian this question, the most common answer would be our nation’s pride and joy - nasi lemak! This fragrant dish is known worldwide for its decadent yet heartwarming coconut milk-steamed rice, slathered with a generous dressing of sweet yet spicy sambal. Not a single soul would be able to turn down a warm banana leaf-wrapped packet of nasi lemak. It’s simply irresistible.

When we talk about beauty (of food), we usually think of expensive Michelin standard 10-course meals. However, the irony is that Malaysian food would be on the opposite spectrum of this perceived ‘beauty’. Malaysian food isn’t pompous; Malaysian food is humble and down to earth. Malaysian food does not need to be gastronomically revolutionised into some minimalistic sphere of goo because its familiarity, rustic and home-cooked sensations are what bring us together. All you need is a hot cup of Teh Tarik to go along with your favourite Malaysian classic and I’m sure that you’ll be as happy as a lark.

During Ramadan, bountiful bazaars will be in full force all around the country, displaying an assortment of unique dishes. It is the perfect show of all of Malaysia’s interweaved cultures. It ranges from murtabak to dim sum and even more lavish meals like lamb biryani is available. Without a doubt, food is what gives us Malaysians our identity. We can all put aside our differences and enjoy a delicious meal together.

Chapter 3: Nature & Architecture

In East Malaysia rests Mount Kinabalu - a protected world heritage site that towers over Malaysia like a guardian angel. Across the sea stands its industrialised sister - the Petronas Twin Towers, the world’s tallest twin towers. A feat of human engineering propelled Malaysia into the international limelight and secured our spot on the global map. These two monuments are important symbols of our nation’s progress toward modernisation while remaining undeniably and uniquely Malaysian.

Malaysia was not always known as Malaysia, it was once called Malaya - which translates to “the land of the Malays”. We were colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch and British and with each period came inevitable changes to our country. Many of which persist today as historic landmarks, such as Christ Church in Malacca, which was built in the 18th century with maroon-red bricks that never fail to steal glances from passersby.

Although these buildings remind us of a poignant past, they inspire much of the elements of intricate architecture found around Malaysia today. Much like the mighty ascension of the twin towers, our ancestors persevered through it all and emerged a diamond in the rough. We found a way to navigate through the darkness and harnessed Malaysia’s limitless beauty within it.

Closing thoughts

Unlike the spiky durian, Malaysia’s beauty is not an acquired taste - it is easily seen in our culture, nature, and food. However, to experience Malaysia in all its glory, you’ll have to dive deeper into our contrasting, bottomless ocean of history and experience Malaysian life first-hand. By walking through the zealous streets of Kuala Lumpur, exploring the limestone hills of Ipoh, threading water in the crystalline seas of Sabah, dancing the Sumazau with the Kadazan Dusun or perambulating the paddy fields of Kedah, you’ll soon realise it’s the little things that complete the jigsaw puzzle of Malaysia’s charm. This diversity, in food, landscape or culture, is what unites us all together as - one Malaysia.

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