Malaysia, Truly Asia

There's a place not far away
Different faces yet all the same
With a million dreams in one golden celebration (Malaysia)

Come and spread your wings
There's so much to see
There's a million colours right before your eyes
It's time to celebrate
One golden celebration

Malaysia truly Asia
Malaysia truly Asia

Malaysia celebrated its 50th year of Independence in 2007 and the commemorative tourism TV commercials were still playing in Korea well into 2008. The song from theses ads was quite catchy; it seemed as though no one could say "Malaysia" without adding "truly Asia" afterwards. Emails from friends read, Have fun in Malaysia Truly Asia! or, So how is Malaysia Truly Asia? I never thought of it as more than an ad campaign---until I arrived in Malaysia, that is.

I was picked up from the airport by a new friend who I only recently found out was Malaysian. He took me to a small outdoor restaurant where I met three of his co-workers and enjoyed a snack under the cool midnight moon. Over "pull tea" and crepe-like pancakes, he introduced me to Malaysia's unique and diverse cultures.

There are three major ethnic groups in Malaysia (Indian, Chinese, and Malay) as well as several traditional ethnic groups. It's not easy balancing the needs of all these different cultures in one country. "Malays of Chinese background say they're Chinese, not Malaysian," my friend said. "Malays and Indians are represented in government, but there's not so much Chinese representation, so Chinese-Malays don't feel Malaysian."

Over the next few days, when I was walking and riding though KL, I was impressed by the mixture of people. Unlike Korea, in which everyone has black hair, black or dark brown eyes, and white skin, I was suddenly surrounded by a potporri of people---dark-skinned Indians, Buddhist or Taoist Chinese, scarf-wearing Malays---who not only looked different but also spoke different languages and practiced different religions.

My friend told me that the Indians, Chinese, and Malays were about equal, each taking a third of the population. Travelling around the city, that estimation seemed realistic. But Malays actually form the biggest ethnic groups with about half the population, while the Chinese-Malays account for roughly 25% and Indian-Malays roughly 10%. Malay is the official language, which all students must study in school even if the primary language at the school itself is Chinese or English. Islam is the official and predominate religion, but Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, and other religions are also practiced in large numbers.

The diversity couldn't be overlooked; it wasn't long before I realized that "Malaysia Truly Asia" was more than a slogan. No, it's not perfect and the groups don't always get along, but Malaysia, in all its varieties, is Asia---truly.