Country, race, and cultural trinkets

Ahhhh, the National Museum.

Two years ago, when I was doing SAM, Esther, Paige, Catherine and I decided on a whim to go to KL after class (actually, no wait, I think we skipped LAN class lol), and somehow ended up in the National Museum.

It felt a little weird, that it was exactly the same as when I used to visit it so often as a kid. Ten years, and it hadn’t changed a bit.

The same blue tiles, same two staircases, even the same exhibitions. That wayang kulit show, the different cultural wedding chamber displays, the preserved crocodile, that mini rumah melayu model. Same, same, same, same.

Actually, not exactly the same lah. The difference was that it was more run-down loh. I remember someone pointing out water marks on the ceiling.

SIGH, so sad. And then someone also mentioned that instead of charging us only RM2, they could charge us a little higher, and use the money to update-update a bit lah.

All I wanna say now is —

Esther! Paige! Catherine! You guys must visit the museum again!

Seriously!

I went there again yesterday, and it is a huge, huge, huge, HUGE improvement from two years ago!

Now it actually looks REALLY GOOD.

Back then, when you walked up the stairs, it feels like you’re in a normal government building. You know what I mean lah. Like you’re walking in a basement stairs like that. Now, it’s proper, prim and proud. Big improvement.

They even changed pretty much all the exhibits. Now they have an interesting system. You walk through 4 different galleries, and it’s like a walk through time. Natural history of our land. Ancient Malay empires. Colonial Malaya. Independent Malaysia.

Plus the galleries look damn nice. I think there’s a good dose of irony in the fact that the natural history gallery has dimly lit downlights, is completely black from ceiling to floor, very nicely air-conditioned, and has expensive-looking glass casings all over. In other words, it looks CRAZILY sci-fi, like it could be the inside of a spaceship. But natural history gallery wor!

Zaman Paleolitik, Neolitik dan Gangsa Besi artifacts, all displayed in casings and chambers from Zaman Futuristik. Or Zaman Spes-syip.

Now there aren’t anymore wayang kulits and wedding chambers and various songkets on display. (Or maybe they moved them to a new building that we didn’t see.)

I’m so going to miss those man! I used to visit the museum so often as a kid, that those mannequins (museum dolls?) in their traditional clothing, precariously perched on their chairs in their respective chambers, have, in my mind, become the things that represent Muzium Negara.

Oh, but it’s still RM2 per person, so no worries there XD

It does look damn good now, but frankly I am not too happy with the gallery on Malaysian Independence. It gives a somewhat biased account of Malaysian history. It doesn’t cover events like the May 13 race riots, and that leaves a gaping hole there, like something’s missing. And plus they paint such a rosy picture of the Now-Malaysia, with all that three-races-united stuff, it feels ridiculously cheesy.

We were studying race in sociology class, and during a discussion I described how institutionalized racism is in Malaysia. My friends were surprised. Like, actually surprised.

Some how, it feels as though these Americans are a step ahead of us when it comes to social ideas and theories. While we patriotic Malaysians believe in the idea that all races are equal, that there is no one superior race, my sociology mates are a step ahead. They believe that “race” is NOT biological. It is, in fact, merely social and geographical.

Long story short, people who live around the same geographical location would have similar physical characteristics (Darwin’s theory, bla bla bla), and racial categories like “Indian” and “Chinese” were created to label groups of people who look similar. It’s not like we are born with “Indian genes” or “Chinese DNA”. In many cases, what a person’s race is, is defined by the laws of the country the person is in. Which means, a person can actually change races from one country to another leh!

In other words, race is not real lah.

When we began our very first classes, it felt as though all my classmates already had that understanding. But I’d never heard of it before, it was COMPLETELY new to me, and it was such a shock. It opened my eyes so much, I couldn’t see the world the same anymore. I tell you, sociology is amazing, it gives you ideas and makes you understand the world in a way that it seriously changes the way you live your life. If nothing else, it makes you see the world as it really is, and makes you damn semangated in wanting to change it.

Oh anyway, as I was saying. I told them about how racism is institutionalized by the government, and because in class we had already established that race is not real (when I use the word “race” in my papers, I had to put it in quotation marks somemore), suddenly you feel so embarrassed, like your country is doing something very stupid. Bad analogy: It’s like your old man going out into sea everyday to try to catch a mermaid, and you feel silly telling people because everyone knows mermaids are not real.

And as my group mates discussed further about racism in government laws, racism that happens when people pretend there is no racism (of which Malaysia is also guilty, I realized then), I could feel one thing – that my group mates were glad they aren’t Malaysians, that even though they have many criticisms about the US government, they are glad that racism is not as bad there as it is in Chooi Yen’s country.

I then felt the need to say good things about my country to make up for that SIGH.

*Okay back to present*

After our museum visit, we went to Central Market so that I could buy “Malaysian stuff” for my host parents and my college friends.

And the thing is this – even though the Malaysian government will always recognize race, even though there will always be laws and citizen rights that differ for different races, the Malaysian people, for the most part, do not see race as an issue.

There were such a good mix of races in Central Market, all selling exciting culturally-influenced trinkets, that for a moment there, when you see something that is essentially Malay or Indian or Chinese in nature, you just go, “WAH, so Malaysian!”

And I love that. In college, in the beginning I was the ONLY person who ISN’T from South Asia who could understand the Indians very well when they speak in their Indian accents, and who knew what briyani and naan are. I was so proud okay! Then eventually people got used to their accents (or they got used to speaking in less-accented English?), and I wasn’t special anymore =(

Anyway, I got a damn nice wayang kulit puppet for my host parents, and some other trinkets for my friends. Now I feel so much more lega, ’cause I was always worrying about what to buy back to college, and time was running out, I have to go back to college in two weeks.

Fwuah. The topic of this post is all over the place!

Okay I shall go now bye bye!

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