I didn’t know what would be the purpose this January advernture to Asia. The Astrologer in Bangalore told me in December: the stars are not very favourable until May. Interpreting that to my cultural vista of the world, I decided I would travel until May and then concentrate on other aspects of my life later..
I set off 16 January 2008, on a very cold day , from the reservation of the Indians that I work with, a comfortable flight with American Airlines to Tokyo and connecting with Northwest Airlines to Singapore, arriving there feeling relaxed and even more relaxed at the user friendly airport of Changi.
From the beginning, I had the premonition, nothing would go as planned, and that itineraries had to be changed. A visit to HoChiMinh was postponed, I was in no mood to spend a weekend at a beach area, eventhough my good friend Nga had already procured a Visa on Arrival for me.
Tried to get hold of the old lady who looked after me during the first two years of my infancy, now living in some anonymity near KL in Malaysia. No avail. Uncontested telephones and undecipherable messages in the handphone number that I had dialed.
So, I shall go to Brunei. Negara Brunei Darusalaam, the official name of this Sultanate in Borneo.
A place of innocence in memories, made me realize what I had become and what I might have been. Grateful to Brunei.
Cambodia was a catalyst. The affections of Brother Maung Maung. The surge of Siem Reap. The development of Siem Reap is very different from that of Singapore or Kuala Lumpur or even HochiMinh. For in Siem Reap, small it may be, the taste has been well blended. European elegance is blended with Cambodian charm without either of them dominating or giving away their character. Cambodia with its recent history of horror and sacrifices, is telling us, yes it is possible, without slogans or catchy phrases (like Berisan 2020), yes, it is possible (si, se puede), to build your body back from the skeleton you had become.
It is there after a very emotionally satisfying visit to Brunei, that I realized that this January trip could be termed Resolution Trip, resolution of some conflicts , some of which perhaps are even generational.
Malaysia to which I am umbilically connected but cut off before it could influence me in any fashion, was the last issue to resolved after this trip to Brunei, which brought back such pleasant thoughts.
I am not a Malaysian Indian, eventhough local people ask for me directions in Johor Bahru, as it happened recently at the Senai airport, I politely told the elderly Indian lady that I could help her in Havana but not in Johore Bahru.. Native American Indian wisdom always comes to my rescue when I need it, and it does arrive..
The explanation to my personal dilemma, was to look at Malaysia differently.
It came in the person of a Chinese Malaysian, somewhat unconventional, whom I met in Siem Reap on this trip.
If the Chinese were allowed a free reign in Malaysia, as they were in Indonesia and are in Thailand, the local Malays would be discriminated against and oppressed and in the end and become violent. You only have to remember what happened in Indonesia in 1965, when aided by a demagogue, Aidit, the local people cut the throats of up to 500 000 chinese people, adults and children and friends and colleagues, any one who happened to be Chinese.
Like the banned song Negarakku (a Chinese rap by a Malaysian Chinese now exiled to Taipei), Malays need the Chinese for everything, but they cannot compete. But they too aspire to a better lifestyle, rather than the poverty they were assigned to for centuries. They will do anything to improve their lifestyle, isn’t that natural and human?
They need the Chinese, so murdering them en masse is not an option
They need the government which uses them as pawns, the Malay Dilemma by Mahathir, talks of this option of preference to Malays
This policy of Bumiputra preference was instituted in 1970 for a period of 20 years, to give equality and preference to Malays so that they can catch up with the Indians and the Chinese.
20 years is too short a period of time, to take an agriculturally based people and ask them to run modern industries. You set them up to fail and fail they would. Just look at Malaysian Airlines and then turn around and look at Tony Fernandes (an Indian) and Air Asia, which in three years has changed the face of tourism in south east asia. In Malaysian airlines they show the direction of meccah when you are flying them from Buenos Aires to Cape Town (why in the hell are they plying this route, just to let the world know they exist?)
Malays would obey, wear top to bottom desert gear, listen to Imams about a liturgy so foreign to them.
But this Malay preference has solved the Dilemma.
Since 1969 there has not been any riots of any sort in Malaysia
It is a peaceful country where the richest man is an Indian, a descendant of a Tamoul labourer.
Chinese are doing very well. They know what needs to be done to get businesses done so they go by it. So what if they have to pay a Malay for a certificate of ownership, Chinese are used to much worse landscape than that through their illustrious history.
Social inequalities exist, Malays are in the majority not well educated, are selling noodles at bus stations, but their lifestyle has become better, they live better and they can aspire better and they can go abroad to study and they do come back ( Indians and Chinese students tend not to come back)
The ending is a peaceful one. A peaceful country, slightly absurd claims and self importance. At the Davos meeting in January 2008, India and China was worried about the decline in the economic hegemony of USA but the Prime Minister of Malaysia boldly states that they are not dependent on US economy any longer, a rather naïve statement from a politician but it suits the malay to hear that they have done well and now they are free of any foreign economic influences for their good life.
When you think about it, life in Malaysia is more peaceful, less violent than: Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand and more interesting than in Singapore, and it is more equitable than in Cambodia and Vietnam and perhaps even less corrupt than these countries.
This discussion in Siem Reap about Malaysia with my new friend from KL. Felt very good after the conversation, felt that someone had given me a gift to remove some conflicts whatever their origins in my mind.
As if the Indra with thunderbolt in his right band depicted at the gates of Bantey Srei temples in Angkor, something suddenly hit me, strongly, I felt a cloud of apprehension about Malaysia had lifted off my mind.
After this trip to Asia, I feel much more Whole than before. Some dark patches, mainly Brunei and Malaysia has been cleaned and now they shine. I have not changed. My heart is Parisian, My soul is Cuban. My passport is Australian. I am a Jew loyal to Israel. I am a medical anthropologist.
Someone asked, what is medical anthropologist. For those interested, this is my reply:
Medical Anthropology is a mode of interpreting and analyzing, to assist social scientists and epidemiologists/medical doctors to focus “the diverted gaze of medicine to the body”, of anthropology to the rituals and symbolism, on Structural violence in societies, especially among those who are marginalized in those societies, to understand oppression and suffering in open or closed societies as a source of violence, and expressed as diseases in the body.
Travelling is definitely a part of this attempt to analyze, assist, the wider perspective than just the simple, selfish perspective of living or surviving, sobrevivir like we say in Cuba.
I am interested in Living and not Just surviving.. perhaps it is the luxury of our times.
Good night to all of us, as I write this sitting on a wooden cot, brought here by the hospitable Brahmin friend of mine from madras who met my incoming flight from Cambodia (via Kl, JHB and SIN) A little hungry, close to midnight, but no one had died just because they missed a meal, many meals missed would damage but one, in no way. I am sure my Brahmin friend will take me to a nice vegetarian restaurant with smiling Tamoul waiters tomorrow morning (which he did)
I complete this missive on 30 January surrounded by my new books from Premier Bookstore in Bangalore, at home in Paris.
I am content for more than one reason.
This trip, unstructured at the beginning, had been very meaningful.