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Malaysia: Truly Asia?



It is a brilliant and catchy marketing slogan: ‘Malaysia, truly Asia.’ How many tourists this phrase has attracted I don’t know. Yet it does raise the question: what does it mean and is Malaysia the role model of Asia?

Asia: From Beirut to Beijing

Since I have completed my 12th trip to Malaysia and umpteenth to Asia, it is time to make some comments. Regarding Asia, I have found that this continent -- the world’s largest -- is both diverse but amazingly homogenous. It is Asia that has the majority of the world’s population with 2 countries, China and India, claiming to have over 1 billion citizens each. Asia is the birthplace of all the world’s major religions. It arguably can be called a ‘democracy-challenged’ land mass, since only a handful of countries can be truly called democratic.

Another way to describe Asia is ‘From Beirut to Beijing.’ So what else can we say about Asia? Asia is noted for its hospitality, importance of family, respect for education and the elderly. Its cuisine is hot, spicy, and popular. At the same time, there is a general fear of man, summarized by the phrase ‘What will the neighbours say?’ Pride is also a major issue, whether ‘honour’ in the Middle East or ‘saving face’ in the Far East. Admitting wrong-doing and apologizing takes much effort, if it happens at all. In addition, Asia can be notoriously ‘thin-skinned,’ with people getting easily offended, even while you sleep. Tantrums, shouting, ostracism, and long-term grudges may result.

As the West declines, Asia is rising economically and spiritually. The greatest growth of the church is happening here. Though Europe and Asia are part of the same land mass, European identity emerged and evolved because of Greco-Roman culture and Judeo-Christianity.  How ironic that as the once ‘Christian continent’ de-christianizes, Asia is christianizing!

The Other ‘Rainbow Nation’

Malaysia has some nice scenery, plenty of colourful food, and exceptionally nice people. Some of these traits are ‘truly Asia.’ Like South Africa, it, too, is a rainbow nation of ethnicities and cultures. Yet there is another side of this nation that sets it apart.

In a tract called ‘Malaysians are Super-Special’ by Interserve, I noted some remarkable things: Malaysian believers are well suited for cross-cultural service. First, it is at the cross-roads of SE Asia, Australasian, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. While westerners do come for a visit, there are lots of Asians, including Arabs and Iranians. They love the friendly people, food, and familiar culture. Malaysia, as a mix of Malays, Chinese, and Indians, are well-versed in other cultures and religions. Ramadhan, Hindu festivals, Chinese New Year, Christmas and Easter, are all familiar to them. Malaysians can, on average, speak 3 languages or more. They are adventurous in cuisine, possess a ‘cast iron stomach’ which adapts to all kinds of sanitation conditions, and have no problem eating fiery-hot chillies. Furthermore, since they can ‘squat,’ they are also adaptable in many more cultures. Their passport is welcomed around the world. Apparently, they can visit Iran without a visa and their budget airline, Air Asia, has direct flights to Tehran.

The majority of the population are Muslim while the Chinese and Indians represent the two Asian superpowers. This means that most Malaysians can understand and connect with over 50% of the world’s population.

Could it be that this ‘rainbow nations’ with its diverse cultures, growing churches, educated population, and advancing economy, is uniquely placed to reach Asia and the world? Unlike the rest of Asia, it is a parliamentary democracy, possesses basic freedoms,  and has a high degree of communal harmony. We have experienced wonderful Malaysian hospitality over the years; it is time to acknowledge Malaysia -- of yet apart from Asia -- as a special nation under God, especially for the harvest time ahead.

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