The good old days syndrome

I REALLY don’t quite like the expression ‘the good old days’. It has a negative and pessimistic connotation. It is like a cry of despair. A couple of years ago Patrick Teo (Malaysian actor and radio personality) published a video clip on YouTube, which is unashamedly of the ‘good old days’ genre.

“As a 66-year-old Malaysian, I have lived through the years of the Malaysia that could have been, and now living in a Malaysia that we have sadly become. We were all Malaysians in the early years, nothing divided us, not race or religion or culture or politics. Now, we are all divided by the things that should have made us great.

“Increasingly we are told that we are not the same, we are of this race and they are of that race; we are of this religion and they are not. We can have this but they cannot and what is worse we are entitled to this but not them. How did we become like this? I want the Malaysia that I grew up in. I want a Malaysia that celebrates our diversity; I want a Malaysia that unites us for the common future; I vote for a better Malaysia.”

Another commentator put it more explicitly when he posted on Facebook under the handle of Muntoh OR Monti (comedian, emcee and actor).

“I can’t recognise Malaysia any more – No I have not been away or anything like that. Been in this country all the while, but reports and stories coming out of this country are getting incredulous. We have super scandals happening right in front of my eyes. The scandals are super duper mind-boggling. Big financial crime just breezed through the legal system but small-time bargain hunter charged in court. Where once we were free to believe and think and dress to anywhere, any place, anytime is looked upon as taboo.

“Now we have the tyranny of minorities of a few self-righteous Pharisaic clowns wielding and issuing life conforming rules for all. It was once cool to be mixing but now I am thinking twice where I eat, when I eat and with whom I eat with … and oh, what I eat too. I feel like I’m living in a society phobic of anything and everything that does not conform, which was only seen in the Middle East or some obscure lands that I cannot even pronounce names of. I can pronounce Malaysia but I don’t see Malaysia. I do not understand what is Malaysia and what she stands for any more. I remember the Rukun Negara that I recited on our lips and held on dear to in my heart. Where are you my Negara, tanah air tumpah darah ku?”

Well, both are lamenting though Patrick Teo did inject a somewhat uplifting appeal at the end, like working for a Malaysia of yesteryear. However, I don’t agree 100 per cent with this sentiment. The ‘good old days’ were not as pristine as implied. They never were. In the face of what we perceive as a despairing present world, we have a tendency of focusing only on the ups of the past – selectively erasing out the downs.

In 1984, Bruce Springsteen (American musician, singer and songwriter), released a song called ‘Glory Days’. The last verse goes like this:

“Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture  a little of the glory of,  well time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days.”

Perhaps he was alluding to the futility of dwelling on the romanticised version of our past because in so doing there is a danger that we might not recognise the challenge of the present.

In fact every era has its own challenges. In the case of Sarawak (and Sabah), the biggest challenge was during the build-up to the formation of Malaysia in 1963. Of course many were not born yet then and those who were around might have been too immature (in terms of physical age) and still others were too immature mentally and politically to rise up to the challenge of the age. Their challenge then was to ensure that we did not get a raw deal from the Malaysia arrangement.

This last year we have been revisiting those events and governing documents of yesteryear and our Chief Minister is trying to renegotiate our position in Malaysia. It has been over 50 years and Sarawak has been firmly placed as one of the 13 states of the Federation and presumable entitled to a budget allocation of that of a state. Fifty years is a long time. Can we ‘uncook’ the rice from the porridge that it has become? I am not sure.

But one thing I am sure of is that we Sarawakians must immunise ourselves against the disease of bigotry and racism that seem to be prevalent across the waters. Patrick Teo said, “I want the Malaysia that I grew up in. I want a Malaysia that celebrates our diversity.” Well Patrick, that Malaysia does exist – it is here in Sarawak.

A few days ago I attended a conference entitled, ‘Shaping a shared future in Malaysia’ organised by the Association of Churches in Sarawak and the Kairos Dialogue Network. One of the speakers (in reference to the topic of building bridges between communities) noted that in Sarawak they are existing bridges of unity built by our forefathers.

He is from Peninsular Malaysia and perhaps it takes a person who lives in an environment where certain elements are busy constructing walls of separation to appreciate the beauty of what we have.

So, we don’t have to dwell on the sentiment of ‘the good old days’. Let us appreciate our present, protect it and offer it as a roadmap for the rest of the nation.

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