Growing up in a small town in Sarawak, I was taught Aug 31 was our country’s Independence Day.
I was taught how our forefathers shed blood, sweat and tears to gain freedom from Britain.
For the longest time, we were taught to celebrate Aug 31 with the grandest of parades. It was only much later did I realise Sarawak and Sabah were never really part of Merdeka.
Many forget Sarawak and Sabah helped formed Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963, six years after Malaya gained independence.
Hence, Merdeka Day does not really have any significance for East Malaysians.
Truth be told, Sarawak seems distant from many West Malaysians. Sometimes, it feels like the stepbrother or sister.
When I moved to Kuala Lumpur for work, I experienced first-hand how ignorant some West Malaysians were about East Malaysians.
While Sarawak has been part of Malaysia for decades, I was once asked by a friend: “When are you going back to your country for the holidays?”
Some also think Sabah and Sarawak are the same.
Living in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor for more than 15 years has made me prouder to be a Sarawakian.
So it was a relief that in 2010, the Federal Government finally declared Sept 16 – Malaysia Day – a public holiday to mark the union of Sarawak, Sabah and Malaya.
Sarawakians have a sense of pride in their state despite its many ethnicities. Mixed marriages are never an issue.
And unlike in West Malaysia, Malays and Chinese stalls are located in the same shop and Sarawakians sit together to have their respective meals.
There is so much respect for one another as everyone view themselves as Sarawakian first.
This was an eye-opener for Ooi Peik See, from Kuala Lumpur, who first step foot in Kuching 16 years ago.
Prior to that, she was working in the corporate world in Sydney.
“I realised that was not my thing. At that time, I was drawn towards my brother-in-law’s family’s acts of kindness and generosity towards me.
“Then an opportunity came by to start an early childhood education business in Kuching. So I thought, why not?”
“After I moved to Kuching, I began to interact with the people and realised how they were so much friendlier, kinder and easy going,” she said.
“Sarawak is truly harmonious, a land blessed with the richness of its people. I have grown so in love with this place … and if I say ‘balik kampung’ it would mean ‘balik Kuching’.”
Those living in Sarawak are used to hearing of the racial issues in the Peninsular. we are glad none of that happens here.
To West Malaysians who still think we live on trees, do take time and come over for a holiday.
You will see how we don’t live in tree houses, do have malls and the internet, and that we are not situated in Sabah.
Happy Malaysia Day!