Monday, June 30, 2014

5 Pillars. 9 Dragons. 272 Steps. "1Malaysia."

One part chocolate, one part strawberry, and one part vanilla, Neapolitan ice cream provides a world of consumption options for the dessert-lover. You can take a sniggle of each flavor separately, snag a dollop of two flavors, or take a cross-sectional scoop collecting a bit of the pink, white, and brown for one fusion of flavor.

If Malaysia were an ice cream, it would be a lopsided version of Neapolitan, with a slightly larger proportion of ethnic Malays, a sizeable chunk of Chinese and a spattering of Indians. For the most part, the three ethnicities coexist in relative harmony despite their desires to maintain their separate identities. Each group has unique foods, styles of dress, educations systems, benefits from the government (or lack thereof), languages, traditions, and religions, of which they are proud. From this cacophony of varied ethnic traditions and perspectives comes the diverse Malaysian society.

The first Sunday of our study abroad, we packed into a van and got to “taste” a little of each of these ethnicities by visiting three religious worship areas: a Muslim Mosque, a Buddhist Temple, and a Hindu Shrine. Check it out:

5 Pillars of Islam (Putrajaya Mosque - Ladies, time to cover up!)

9 Dragons (On the Buddhist Temple... not the brides maids!) 

272 Steps to the Batu Caves (Hindu Shrine)

Time for some cultural math... 5 pillars + 9 dragons + 272 steps = “1Malaysia”

Here is a shout out to PM Najib for helping me figure out this equation of Malaysian society! (The government launched a campaign in 2010 called 1Malaysia to promote ethnic tolerance and national unity. But seeing as Najib’s ruling party is largely responsible for sustaining the political structure that racially divides Malaysia, this “unifying” campaign is arguably farce. He gets kudos for trying though.)

Jokes and propaganda aside, the trip to these three centers of worship was memorable, particularly as the excursion coincided with the first day of Ramadan and several members of the group were fasting. It is to be celebrated that despite the racial difficulties that exist in Malaysia, different ethnicities are allowed to practice their religious beliefs and celebrate their heritage through faith. The rituals may be different, but the purity of heart is the same.

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