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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

To Be, or Not To Be, First World

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Walski recently made a short trip to Singapore. This time, the path taken was a little different than usual - by executive coach, versus the usual fly-in method. And this route gave Walski the opportunity to travel via the Second Link. A few thoughts came across this travellers mind, as the coach made it's way down south. And a few more on the return trip.

But first, let's get a few definitions out of the way. These, by the way, come from Wikipedia - yeah, yeah, not the best resource, Walski knows, but it's convenient because it covers a heck of a lot of ground.

Whether a country is First, Second, Third, or (even) Fourth World, is based on the UN Human Development Index. According to this index, Malaysia ranks #61, while our neighbor to the south come in at #25. Singapore, by the way, ranks third in Asia, after Japan and Hong Kong. All the rankings are out of a total of 178, the total of UN recognized nations. So, one could suppose that we're not too badly off, right?

Ok - now that we've gotten that little bit out of the way, on with Walski's thoughts... mainly: exactly how far away from being a First World nation is Malaysia?

The first indication that we have a long, long way to go to reach a level of a world-class society came at the immigration checkpoint on either side of the straits. The next time you travel down to Singapore via the Second Link, compare our Immigration/Customs complex to theirs. It didn't hit me so much going into Singapore, but the realization really HIT HARD on the way back.

A large, spacious, world-class passenger arrival/departure complex, as nice as the one in Changi Airport, vs. a shed. This shed is the first thing that greets travellers coming into Johor from Singapore. Hmmm... you know what they say about first impressions, right?

The second thing was the road conditions - not traffic conditions, but the quality of the road surface. If you travel by coach, put your notebook onto a surface attached to the bus (food tray, or whatever), and see the difference in vibration whilst travelling on a Singapore road, and on the North South Highway. Personally, Walski put the notebook on his lap, not wanting to cause too much damage to my computing equipment. But, you get the idea.

Enough has been said of the public transportation system, and the comparisons between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, so we don't even have to elaborate.

Third, the work attitude exhibited by the Singapore Immigration personnel, versus their Malaysian counterparts. On the one hand, a visible efficiency and good work ethics, based on service level (i.e. making the Immigration procedure as fast as possible). My turn took a little longer, because the passport was brand spanking new. On the other hand, a visible "why am I here" look, and slow, relek brader attitude.

No prize for guessing which side of the border one can associate the exhibited behaviors with.

Walski has not experienced the LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) in either country. However, from what's been read in various news reports and blogs (an example of the KLIA LCCT experience can be found here) indicates that the one in Singapore (called Budget Terminal) is better planned. It may not be prettier than our LCCT, but at least it doesn't accuse the traveller of being cheap. And it is air-conditioned.

Word is that the LCCT treats you like a Low Cost customer; no airconditioning, 20km from the KLIA Main Terminal Building, not so easy to get to (taxis are apparently not keen on servicing it)... and the list goes on. Not to mention the notion that the LCCT was rushed for no other reason than to be in operation first before the Singapore Budget Terminal.

And the reputation Malaysia has in the music world? The answer to that may explain why world-class acts like Coldplay (who are scheduled in Singapore this July), Bill Bruford's EARTHWORKS (in Singapore tomorrow), and many more, choose to bypass Malaysia, for other less bureaucratic venues like Bangkok, Singapore or even Jakarta.

Now, don't get Walski wrong - this is not a Singapore-is-better-so-lets-bash-Malaysia post. (more in the full post)

It really is about wondering why we cannot transcend the mentality of the Third World, into the First World. The answer to that can probably be found just by looking around us, at how the Civil Service operates, at the dialogues and news reports...

It almost seems like as much as we don't want to, we are, ourselves, keeping the Malaysian mindset entrenched in the Third World.

Just look at what our policy is for female citizens marrying from outside the country, versus her male compatriots. If you are female, and choose to marry a foriegner, your spouse can almost forget about getting PR - at the very least, it's very, very difficult. Very Third World, if you ask Walski. It's almost like the lawmakers (who are mostly male) giving retribution to the female half of the population - Malaysian not good enough for you? Serve you right!

No wonder Marina Mahathir claims there exists a sexist apartheid in our nation... this is but one of the discriminatory laws against women that exist in our law books. So very Third World.

And in fact, several recent events indicate that we are regressing further and further back to the Third World mental state. Or, should it be said, Third World Mental Status Quo.

The unwillingness of the police to accept the IPCMC - and the apparent support from Umno Youth through their silence. Is a more accountable Police Force a threat to UMNO's holding on to Third World supremacy? Perhaps so. An epitome of Third World thinking.

Censorship merely as an appeasement to one single political demographic viewpoint. The one step forward taken by the Malaysian Censorship board negated by the action of the Home Affairs Minister - three steps back. So Third World one.

The pervasiveness of corruption at various levels of Civil Service - so much so that it has been accepted by some as a facet of Malaysian culture. Very Third World, if you ask Walski.

And many, many more examples of how we're knowingly regressing, as a society, can be quoted. And who ultimately suffers? The society.

The same society that wants very much to be on the forefront of the world - well, dream on. It's going to be a long, long time before we get there. Probably never in Walski's lifetime.

But if we are only willing to learn, lessons about how to be First World can be found in abundance. The recent actions of a certain Datuk Shahrir, stepping down as the head of the BN Back Benchers Club - that's a First World type of action. The Royal Commission proposing a body to oversee police action, ensuring they work within the bounds of the law - First World.

But there's a long way to go yet, believe you me. And for a glimpse of what a First World Malaysia could be like, all you need to do is take a drive south...

It's just a matter of whether or not we want to be there, not a question of can or cannot.