When I first read reports in the mainstream media attributed to the Malaysian Foreign Minister’s statement commenting on the presence of foreign elements during the recent Bersih 3.0 debacle, my first thoughts were that they had to be from the US Embassy or some US-based or US-linked NGO (apologies to my American friends and sincerely, no offence meant).
After all, it’s an open secret that the Malaysian opposition leader Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim (DSAI) has many US-based political admirers and backers including one former US Ambassador to Malaysia. This may explain (partly and maybe) the frequency of his visits to the US to give speeches, participate in a think tank and what else have you.
Imagine my surprise when it was revealed that the foreign elements the Minister was referring to were actually members of a diplomatic mission of a fellow ASEAN country and our immediate neighbour to the south, the island republic of Singapore. But then again, I must clarify that I do not have much of an imagination and therefore it does not really come as a surprise.
Why do I say that, some of you might ask? Let me clarify.
First and foremost, I am from Johor Bahru, born and bred. It is a well-known and established fact that many of us Johoreans have family ties and links with Singapore, ties and links that go back to the days before Malaya was granted independence by the British, before Singapore gained independence when joining Malaysia and before Singapore was expelled thereafter from the Federation. Heck, back to the days before my parents were born for that matter. That’s a lot of days and therefore a lot of history.
These ties and links are not confined to the Malays only. Do not be surprised if you were to come across a Singaporean Chinese who have family origins in Johor (especially Batu Pahat), Perak, Melaka or even Penang or a Singaporean Indian having family in Negeri Sembilan and Perak besides that in Johor itself. Many a Singaporean leader have such family ties and this is common knowledge especially amongst Johoreans, especially those in Batu Pahat and Kluang.
The ties that bind Singapore to Malaysia, especially Johor (since Singapore was once under the rule of the Sultan of Johor), are many. Even the gangsters have have their initiations done in plantations in Johor. But rumour have it that they may move these initiation sites to the kelongs instead, as more and more plantations get raided or converted into commercial property. But wherever these gangs do their initiation rites, they will be well advised to remember that the police forces on both sides of the Causeway do actually cooperate and exchange information. Talk about the irony of international relations.
We Johoreans have no qualms about the origin of food. We enjoy eating red mee goreng mamak, rojak Singapore and what have you, just as much as the Singaporean family sitting at the table next to us at Geylang or at the once famous Newton Circus, just as the Singaporean family enjoy the mee rebus, laksa johor, soto, briyani and what have you, just as much as the Johor family sitting at the table next to them at Larkin or even Tepian Tebrau.
Should there arise any misunderstanding on the issue of the origin of food, we Johoreans just laugh it off cos we know we have so much in common that its ridiculous to argue about trivial matters like food.
Except for that one occasion, I was told, when the rambutan suddenly became Singapore longans once they crossed the Causeway and got exported as such. That almost caused an international incident, one big enough to almost provoke a protest note from the many rambutan growers and lovers in Johor. Talk about a makeover. The most recent was the ‘porridge-gate’ which became a catalyst for such a heated debate, but then again the controversy died as fast as the porridge got cooked.
Singaporeans must admit that we Johoreans are and have been very accommodating. We know that Singapore is critically short of land and space, and so understand and welcome them every weekend when they flood Johor Bahru to get a bit of breather from the confines of their HDB flats and the routines of daily life. So accommodating are we Johoreans that the highways we built for ease of traffic, they use to speed and rev up their cars and motorbikes (never a two-stroke kapcai, mind you), to the point of driving us Malaysians off the road sometimes. Some even turn our highways into a driving school circuit by having their children’s driving lessons, especially on the Second Link.
And yes, not to worry. We do have ample parking space here. Enough space for you to park your car and get out from both sides of the car without encountering problems. And mind you, these spaces are well-marked, so our Singapore guests need not double park their cars or park haphazardly, regardless whether their car is red-plated or otherwise, weekend or otherwise.
And no, you only pay toll on highways. And yes, there is no levy for Singapore cars, for that matter any foreign registered vehicle, entering Malaysia. And by the way, those beams across the roads (if there are any) as you approach the city centre is not a gantry, and hence there are no extra charges for driving into the city centre.
Yes, we Malaysians and for that matter, Johoreans, are so accommodating. So accommodating that we allow Malaysian property developers to build houses designed for Singaporeans (just look at the kitchen, as my wife would always say) in Johor and points north, and from the goodness of our hearts turn a blind eye to Singaporeans owning property below the permitted range in Johor Bahru, Melaka, Muar and elsewhere in Malaysia.
After all the interests of our property developers and the interests of the Singaporean property buyers and agents must come first. Never you mind the locals. Johor Bahru is after all the most expensive property region in Malaysia and is therefore a niche market and must be so maintained, so goes the mantra of our property developers. The question that needs to be addressed is, are the developers pushing us Johoreans out of Johor Bahru?
We have our spats, like any normal neighbours. They have a ‘Keep Singapore clean, throw your rubbish in Malaysia’ mentality. Whilst we say ‘Malaysia boleh’, they say ‘Singapore also can, but in Malaysia ma’.
As we are always reminded by our Singapore cousins, Singapore is a mighty ‘fine’ country where its people are so well-educated and so well-trained, more so than the average Malaysian. Hence, Malaysian laws and rules are only for Malaysians, not for Singaporeans. So the ‘ No Smoking’, ‘Engines Off Please’, and ‘Please Do Not Use Your Handphone at The Pump’ signs plastered at our petrol stations in Malaysia are only for show.
After all, should a mishap happened, the ensuing flames of fire will recognise a Singaporean and not engulf him or her. I guess that’s the power of the Singapore passport. Show it and no one can touch you, so it seems. Sincerely hope it does not turn into a national philosophy, otherwise I may have to continue ticking off those Singaporeans talking on the mobile while filling their car at the petrol pump or like that lady biker who smoked openly at a petrol station.
If the foregoing indicates some sort of Singapore-bashing, please think again. These are facts, facts that Johoreans especially those of us in Johor Bahru have lived with for a very long time. I can’t speak for the rest, but for me it irks me tremendously. It just shows a lack of respect for Malaysia, its people and its laws. Never mind the norms and culture of Malaysians, for the Singaporean norm and culture may evolved somewhat over the years (despite the many ties and links that bind).
So, for the ladies of the Singapore High Commission, to be seen amongst the crowds taking part in the Bersih 3.0 debacle, it is just not on. Whether you were off duty or otherwise, you are still members of a diplomatic mission. I do believe you have received instructions on how to conduct yourselves as responsible members of a diplomatic mission in another sovereign country, otherwise you would not have been selected for a posting. That I am pretty sure, even for a person like me who may not be as highly trained and highly educated as the average Singaporean. Or do these members of the Singapore High Commission need to be re-trained and re-instructed on the etiquettes and proper conduct of a diplomat?
Judging from his response, HE Mr Ong Keng Yong, Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia, must have been in the dark as to the activities of his charges. Otherwise, how do you explain the difference in his response and that of the Singapore Foreign Ministry? No matter how you spin it, the responses differ and maybe therein lies another story. But we will leave that to the conspiracy theorists or Round 2 of Wikileaks.
Nevertheless, Malaysians can expect the Singapore media, be it Channel News Asia or the terrestrial TV stations and even the radio stations, to go on the offensive on this issue in the coming weeks. Living in Johor Bahru, you do receive Singapore TV transmissions and as we Johoreans have got used to, be prepared to hear the news, be it in Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil, with bags of salt. When it comes to running down Malaysia or putting Malaysia down and anything Malaysian for that matter, we in Johor Bahru have heard it all. Most times, offensive it really is.
It may be even time for the authorities in Putrajaya to permanently station a unit in Johor Bahru, just to re-butt the offensive reporting on Malaysia. Otherwise, those who do not know better, especially non-Singaporeans and the tourists will think its the gospel truth, as they always say. What with Iskandar coming to the fore, the petrolium hub in Penggerang and other developments project now in various stages of development, the proposal warrants serious consideration.
So, to the three ladies of the Singapore High Commission, wouldn’t it have been less controversial and much more fun to go window shopping instead? After all, it was your off duty hours, was it not?