Monday, August 31, 2009

52 years of freedom: But how free are we?

As I'm writing this, I'm waiting for my flight back to Kota Kinabalu. After a week-long break from school (and an even longer break from this blog!), a bit of spare time has provided me the perfect opportunity to leave a little of my thoughts again in this long neglected blog of mine.

Oh, before I forget: Happy Merdeka! Yes, that yearly celebration of that great momentous event in our nation's history is here once again. And after 52 years of independence from foreign rule, more than ever, this day is perhaps the best day to reflect and ponder about how far we have actually come.

As far as physical development of the country is concerned, I would say it has changed dramatically. Even in the rather slow pace of life in a town like Kota Kinabalu, you'd be hard pressed to find anything that hasn't changed even in the last 20 years. Tall, modern buildings have shot up; spacious shopping complexes are mushrooming left, right and centre; massive projects to improve infrastructure like roads and water supply and housing are constantly seen.
Yet, I can't help feel that such tangible advances haven't quite gone hand in hand with the less tangible, perhaps more important aspects of the nation.

For example, how much more progressive is our attitude now when it comes to using a basic facility like the toilet as compared to years ago? How about when it comes to common courtesy like giving up your seat in a bus or train for those who need it more, or even when it comes to boarding such a vehicle - do we line-up and patiently wait our turn?

Do we try our best to turn up on time for an appointment, or do we think why bother when other people will only be late anyway? How good are we at saying a simple word of thanks after others have helped us no matter how small the favour, or even when it is part of their duty to do so?

When I think of these and other things, I see how far Malaysia still lags. During my recent trip to Thailand, a total stranger who runs a shop offered to drive the five of us to a restaurant which was at least a five-minute drive away. And we were not even customers! All this done with a smile.

We may bowl over people who come to this country with the tallest towers, the most beautiful beaches, the most delectable foods, but I think what leaves the deepest impression is the people of the nation. And in this respect, we can be a whole lot better.

I suppose, ultimately, we're still not free from one aspect that still shackles us- fear: the fear of losing - position, comfort, money, votes are some I can think of right now. I'm sure you can add a whole lot more to the list.

So, this Independence Day, what would you like to be free off? And where can one start? Just before boarding the plane, I'll sign off with a line from one of the late Michael Jackson's songs:

"I'm starting with the man in the mirror."