It is often said that we Malaysians are friendly and charming people most of the time. But when we get into a vehicle, we turn into psychotic drivers who terrorize the roads!
But of course, we respond that rude drivers are not representative of the average Malaysian, Truly Asian. It’s almost as if we blame the electrical field of the engine or the exhaust fumes for triggering this Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation.
Well, I think it’s rather the other way around. That is, the amiable faces that we meet every day are just a shallow facade. Malaysians only show their true selves when protected by the relative anonymity of a road vehicle – kiasu, unforgiving, self-serving, rude and quite merciless! Yeowch!
What makes me draw such an unflattering conclusion? Well, let’s begin by taking a look at the Malaysian-Singaporean cross-border phenomenon.
In Johor Bahru, pedestrians cross the road at any point they like. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 70-km/h main road, or that there is a jejantas (elevated pedestrian bridge) a few metres away, or that there are barriers in the middle specifically meant to stop jaywalking (I think we need electrified acid-drenched spikes to have any noticeable effect).
No, JB-ites cross where and when they feel like it, safe in the knowledge that if a vehicle hits them, the driver will be the one in trouble rather than the ‘innocent, defenceless’ pedestrian.
Locals will also run red lights, break the speed limit, park randomly if it’s after traffic police hours, litter and spit at leisure. And of course, don’t forget the infamous Malaysian public toilet habits!
But when these same Malaysians cross the Causeway into Singapore, a miraculous change comes over them.
They cross roads only at designated zebra crossings when the light says ‘WALK’… Even on little lanes. They keep to the speed limits and obey the road rules. They actually seek out garbage bins to drop their trash into!
What has happened? Were they inspired by the civic-minded example of their Singaporean counterparts? Did the pervading First World mentality of the island republic sweep thru their Malaysian minds, a sort of brain-wash-cleaning?
Hardly, if the attitude of Singaporeans visiting Malaysia is any judge.
The normally law-abiding, rule-obeying Singites appear to revel in the freedom Malaysia’s lax law-enforcement offers. Break the speed limit. Ignore the red lights. Shove the tiny Malaysian cars to the side. Spit and litter. And if they actually DO get fined, well… “Only RM30 ah? That’s only SGD 13, so cheap!”
In other words, they become indistinguishable from Malaysians… Apart from regularly exclaiming that “Wah, everything velly cheep one!”
So if it’s not the Singaporeans themselves who propogate civic-mindedness… Then what really does the trick? My answer is: The very strict Singaporean laws keep their behaviour in line.
Singapore has been called a ‘nanny state’, meaning that it is highly regulated by the State. This can be seen in its exacting laws for just about everything, from where you can smoke to what you can say in print. To encourage compliance, the punishments for rule-breaking are heavy and the police are alert and un-bribe-able.
Those in Singapore have no viable choice but to follow the rules. And when carefree Malaysians cross the border, they soon learn that if they want to sing “I did it MY way” (Malaysia way), they have to pay fines in 2.3045-times bigger Singaporean Dollars. So they too become nice, civilized folk, at least until they get back to the JB Customs.
The opposite happens when Singaporeans ‘escape’ to Malaysia, where suddenly Big Brother’s electronic gaze no longer emanates from hundreds of sceurity cameras. The true-blooded Asian person in them screams “Freedom!” and leads their ethics on a binge.
But is it really the enforcement of rules that brings a semblance of civility? Surely these are limited cases that do not reflect the larger part of society in the Nanyang (South Seas or Southeast Asia – Sorry, I’ve been reading Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs lately).
Point taken, but I shall back my hypothesis up with additional observations. Here is one I gleaned from the borderless world of online gaming.
DotA Allstars is a highly popular custom map based on the Warcraft III game engine. It has a huge following in Malaysia and Singapore, with large percentages of cybercafes taken up by DoTA Allstars players.
In the game, two teams compete against each other, with a maximum of 5 players per team. Naturally, an equal number of players on either team makes for a more balanced and more satisfying game experience.
This brings me to the much hated phenomena of ‘quitting’. What happens is that when a player feels bored of the current game, or is being beaten too much for his liking, or isn’t the top-scoring player, or is sleepy, or for some other semi-valid explanation… He will just quit. No qualms, no worries, NO HONOUR. This leaves the teams imbalanced, often spoiling the match for the rest of the players.
The quitting can even start a chain-reaction, where the suddenly unfair conditions cause the rest of the team to quit too. In one fell swoop, the game is over, spoilt for everyone by one single inconsiderate, selfish b******.
Now, Battle.net is a public server run by Blizzard (the company that released Warcraft) for the purpose of letting gamers play together online. This inludes games of DoTA, and Battle.net’s Asian server is notorious for its high number of quitters. I can hardly get even one single game that lasts to the end before someone quits.
Contrast this with the more exclusive Blue Server which was set up mainly for the use of Southeast Asian players. Quitting and other unsporting conduct is several orders less frequent on Blue server than on Battle.net Asia.
Why is this so? For the simple reason that if you quit a DoTA game on Blue server, your account can get banned for 30 days (referred to genteel-like as a ‘holiday’). Suddenly, every player has a vested interest in not ruining the game for everyone else every time he is losing.
Whereas for Battle.net, everyone has free use of the server and accounts are only banned for serious offences like profanity and hacking. Minor problems like wasting half an hour of everyone else’s time are not punishable. Even if other players start to watch out for your ID, you can always change your screen name by re-logging in.
The conclusion? Again, it is that: Only strict rules force SE-Asians to behave decently. And dare I say, this applies to Asians in general.
Even locally originating bloggers are not exempt. Their blogs can be filled with rude epithets and manners of speech that they wouldn’t dare utter out loud in public (for fear of other mamak stall patrons with differing views mob-executing them).
They probably seem very cultured and refined in person, surrounded by their trappings of upper-middle class prosperity. Yet they are as vulgar and finesse-less as the average message board flamers and trollers once online.
This is sometimes justified as perfectly within free-speech rights, as it’s THEIR blog anyway, stop reading and post on your own blog if you disagree. (If you deeply suspect that I’m referring to YOU when I say this, you’re probably right – You know who you are.)
Once more, the conclusion is: All appearances of refined and cultured behaviour are but an elaborate Masquerade (paper faces on parade, hide your face and the world will never find you – Phantom of the Opera, ‘Masquerade’). As long as your business dealings and target voters are not insulted, then it’s open season on the Net!
If you’ll notice I strive to maintain certain standards of politeness, respect, non-prejudice and objectivity (not neutrality however). I also do not resort to slurs, insults and flat-out provocation. This is ostensibly because I am a gentleman and cannot be accused of being a hypocrite, but it may also have to do with the looming presence of the Lidless ISA.
When Truly Asians have anonymity, whether it is a tinted-glass car or an online screen name, they will run riot without fear of repercussions. When there is no authority around or bothered or capable of enforcing the rules, the rules will be flamboyantly flaunted.
This becomes many magnitudes worse when there are countless other faceless, nameless people gathered into a massive mob. Mob mentality brings out the worst that is hiding deep inside us peaceful, tolerant, muhibbah neighbours – as we’ve seen more than a few times the recent history of the Archipelago.
Why is this so? Why can First World nations in the West have populations that are generally naturally polite and respectful, even when their civil laws are so lenient? (Well, at least the West used to be a generation ago, before liberalism took over, and not counting America after the 19th century of course.)
This is not to say that we SE-Asians have no redeeming qualities. On the whole, we’re a pretty decent and peaceful bunch, especially considering how many points of contention there are in a multi-multi-religio-politi-cultural region like ours, that could easily flare up into hate and sectarian violence. Yet, we are still alive, kicking, and spreading our annoying habits onine.
But still, why the conspicuous dichotomy in our public and semi-private personas? Is it because of the local culture? Maybe the different religious values that are emphasized? Perhaps the effect of a rapidly industrializing and highly competitive envrionment?
Or it could simply be that the accepted standards of civility and public behaviour that are used to judge our collective behaviour are not suitable for our corner of the world, having originated from Anglo-Christian norms introduced by the Colonials.
Whatever the reason or reasons, I from my little vantage point cannot authoritively say. Thus, I leave it open for your debate. Remember not to be rude, now. (Hahaha! As if.)