We have enjoyed two weeks in Malaysia. It is an exciting country, with scads of potential. Our host’s parents and his wife’s parents were from China, and our guest spent a decade in Australia as a Commerce student at Melbourne University and then working for a major accounting firm when young. Their three children all obtained degrees in Australia and look like staying here.
View from hotel window in the Cameron Highlands
Our host explains the main reason. ‘At the level of individuals there is no racial conflict. People of all races and religions live happily together. The problem is national policy, which is formed by Malaysia’s government.' We saw printed evidence that non-Malays are systematically treated less well than Malays .
Our host returned to Australia in the expectation and hope that national policy would become fair to all races. But no, in his opinion nothing has improved on this front. We visited a wonderful house now open for inspection in Kualua Lumpa. It belongs to the Chan family, whose ancestor arrived from China seven generations ago. Clearly Chinese immigrants have done well, as has our host. Our host asserts that China does not interested to take over other nations but simply to create friendships and have relevant influence.
By simple observation, the Chinese in Malaysia are the most entrepreneurial and dynamic. The native Malays seem like lovely people but move and perform simple tasks slowly. As one example, registering at hotels takes ten minutes or so. Passports need to be produced and forms filled in, and this happens with international slowness. Of course, government regulations and lack of competence in English help to explain the slowness. But Henry certainly feels after our visit that Australia has accepted and amalgamated with its many and varied immigrants far better than has Malaysia.
Apart from this troubling matter – which incidentally creates many fine Chinese-Malaysian immigrants for Australia, which is to our advantage - we enormously enjoyed our visit. We spent time with our hosts in KL, a highlight of which was a wonderful show at a new hall on reclaimed land. A large cast sang and danced, and the threads of Malaysian history were followed in Malay, Chinese and English. The audience seats rotated, making it seem as if the large screen was moving, and there was nary a rumble or anything to indicate it was us, not the screen and cast, that was moving.
The electronic part of the show was stunning, simulating brilliantly heavy rain, heaving seas and other fascinating events. Afterwards the cast spent a lot of time posing for photos with patrons. Everyone, cast and patrons alike, seemed cheerful and having a great time. This show demands international export, though lack of moving audience seats will require modifications.
This event was hard to beat. Our main events outside KL included three days in a lodge on the Kinabatagan River a three hour speedboat away from Sandekan. Here we had many trips on open boats with a knowledgeable and friendly (Malayan) guide. We saw Orangutans, various other types of monkeys, numerous colourful birds, and occasional crocodiles pretending to be large logs floating in the river. Taking the open boat up creeks was great fun, as was a stunning kilometre of multiple green vegetation on the river that looked to Henry like a large scale English garden. Its image in the river, especially when the water had small waves from a passing boat, was simply stunning. We met an engaging couple from Denmark and two entrepreneurial young persons from the southern tip of England.
The other, more serious, event was to visit the war memorial in Sandekan. Paid for by the Australian government, the RSL, the Malaysian government and other entities this was a moving account of the treatment of Australian, British, New Zealand and Indian soldiers by the Japanese army. Treatment was unbelievably barbaric, including regular bashings, torture (one example was to force prisoners to swallow dry rice and then to drink water, creating enormous pain), massive food deprivation and shooting prisoners too weak to work. The presentation claims the Australians did a great deal to sabotage Japanese plans, and of course paid a disproportionate price.
The greatest crime was the infamous death march. Approximately 2,500 prisoners were marched in three groups around 150 miles through sludge and up mountains, starving, barely dressed and with bare feet. Those who could no longer walk were simply shot, and their bodies left by the side of the track. At the end of three separate marches, all except six Australian prisoners were dead, and they only survived due to escaping. (More that this number escaped, but died or were shot as they somehow found their way through often nearly impenetrable jungle.) All six ended up back in Australia, but thousands died either in the Sanderkan camp or on the march.
It is hard to understand how Japan today is perhaps our closest nation in Asia. Pragmatism rules when trade dominates relationships it seems.