Written by Tereza Zetko
It was only the first week of our internship when one of our colleagues told us that voting for the 2018 Malaysian general election would be held the next day; we would be getting the day off as a result. Intrigued, we asked a few questions about the candidates and issues and then admittedly slept in the next morning, still feeling tired from our multi-leg trip from Toronto to Kuala Lumpur a few days before. Meanwhile, Malaysians were voting in what would turn out to be the first democratic transfer of power in the country since its independence from Britain in 1957. We were somewhat oblivious until after the results came out that night and the national mood changed so drastically, staying that way during our few months there, that we inevitably learned all about the issues and opportunities facing Malaysia at the time.
A few weeks later, Ramadan started, followed by Shawwal. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be in Malaysia during those two months. Attending Iftar banquets and Eid al-Fitr celebrations and visiting mosques brought us closer to our coworkers and helped educate us on various Islamic perspectives. Through other festivals, we also took the opportunity to engage with other religions and to further embrace Malaysia’s multi-confessional society. In some parts of the country, this coexistence was especially inspiring; the Street of Harmony in Penang, for instance, houses four places of worship belonging to four different religions, all of which participate in festivals and a parade together each year.
On other outings, we seemed to be equally fortunate. Finally organizing ourselves to visit Kuching, Sarawak on the Island of Borneo, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that we were going at the time of the Rainforest Fringe Festival and the Rainforest World Music Festival. These festivities led us to several museums and to the Sarawak Cultural Village where we engaged with many other non-Malay, indigenous people such as the Dayak (comprising the Iban and Bidayuh), Melanu, and Orang Ulu minority groups. Each with their own languages and traditions, these chance encounters astonished us, expanding our understanding of life in Malaysia, as per their unique perspectives.
Interestingly, a recurrent theme throughout our trip were the feelings that we were in Malaysia at just the right time, that our internship fortuitously aligned with all the best events and happenings, and that, when considering our unique experiences, visiting at another time could have never measured up. Months later, I no longer feel this way. My experiences in Malaysia were exceptional, but as I continue to engage with the country, I have come to realize that there is no one perfect time to visit Malaysia. Seriously, visit Malaysia at any time – any day, any month– and you will be greeted with great kindness and hospitality by those living there and mesmerized by all of the nation’s events, traditions, and celebrations that just never seem to end. When all is said and done, Malaysia is amazing for many reasons. Not least, it is very multicultural and tolerant of different faiths, with many citizens that are furthermore engaged in improving the country’s current political and social situation, as their civic engagement and spirit has already revealed to me.
… Malaysia, I’ll be back one day!
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