I was sent to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as substitute speaker in the 2nd Annual Prisons and Correctional Facilities Asia and it was both very educational and informative.
It was very educational because there I learned a lot of approaches, advancements and programs which can be introduced back home in my country, the Philippines. During the two day conference, I was able to take note that Mexico, Curacao, Netherlands and Antilles were exploring administrative policies on early releasing. Columbia has already operated a house arrest and GPS tracking system. Brazil is on pre-trial and early release programs; Luxemburg concentrating on short sentence and early release, much like Andorra, Spain, Austria and Israel.
Well, that was par for the course. But the most significant insight I gained from my Malaysian journey, are the following: 1) That Malaysian Prisons are never experiencing congestion like most of its neighboring countries in Asia. The reason for this is the fact that the Malaysian government has an arranged correctional procedure in farming out prisoners to military camp for service of sentence. It has been referred to as the “Blue Ocean” approach. I have not received a clear explanation on why blue ocean. Anyway, the Malaysian prison has built a facility good for 40 thousand prisoners but it has only 33 thousand prisoners, 25% of which are foreigners. That means, according to a Malaysian prison official, they still have a “vacancy” for 7 thousand more.
2) That there are three major “races” dominant in the socio-cultural life of Malaysia. There are the, well, of course, the Malay, a strictly Muslim race. (Filipinos are closely related racially to the Malaysian nationals, even the language, the way it is delivered, the accent and all, everything seems a bit Filipino) There is the Chinese and the Indian. Moving around the capital of Malaysia, the city of Kuala Lumpur is a very revealing socio-cultural exposition.
In the Philippines, the Chinese and Indian play also a socio-cultural role and may have been mixed through inter-marriages, but in Malaysia, there is a distinctive separation and a sociological divide. The Malay are spiritually and conservatively on the side of Islamic faith. The Chinese are mainly Buddhist and the Indians have their respective beliefs based on their (or their ancestral) cultural upbringing. According to a Military observer, those from the Middle East—the pure Muslims—would rather spend their R and R in Malaysia than any other place or country in the world. Malaysia on the other hand plays a good host to their spiritual brethren, even offering economic expression in the country’s entrepreneurial landscape.
A cab driver, of Chinese descent, expressed his sentiment when asked how Chinese have assimilated into the Malay culture quipped, “Oh, over here in Malaysia, we, the Chinese and the Indian occupy the lowest rung in the society. We are the runners, the laborers, the marginalized here. We are never important except in running the wheels of the daily routine of the strictly Malay race. The Malay are very nationalistic next to no one in the South East Asia region.
No foreigner with dollar denomination could buy anything in Malaysia unless he converts it into Malaysian Ringgit. Any foreigner for that matter cannot use his currency unless it is in the local currency, much like Japan and any advanced country. In the Philippines, which I think would advance later, dollar are even preferred than its local currency.
But what amazed me is something I have as yet to find out the reason. I spent a great deal of time taking my meals in the so-called Food Street or Jalan Alor. It is one avenue, an ordinary alley about a kilometer stretch and on both side of the lane were restaurants whose tables have already spilled over the street. There were Chinese dishes, Malay, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, delicacies from Asian countries, but I have as yet to see a stall from my country. Seems like there are none. But what amazes me, despite the splatter of excess food and spoilage of left over, there were no signs—no aroma of decay actually, and here is the clincher, there were NO flies at all! The scent of boiling broth, of grilled food, of leafy greens sautéed and heated along marinated meat and yes, there are exotic foods galore and of all meat supplies, there were different presentation of Asian cooking, especially on the manner of making a frog look delicious! I never tried eating one for fear that my throat would have warts later. My mother used to scold me before for playing with toad because I might get a skin disease all over—and it stuck in my memory, to the detriment of enjoying exotic food for a change.
I have seen Japan; I have toured Australia; dropped by Singapore for a while but Malaysia is something I could relay my racial connection with gusto except for the fact that at the exchange rate for my peso as against the Malaysian Ringgit which is 15 times greater—that is my P15 is equivalent to MR 1, indicates a situation where my country needs 15 more years of sincere governance to achieve what Malaysia has achieved at present. And, to think that sometime four or five decades ago, my country was above everyone else in Asia.
And by the way, there is also something that I observed, trivial it may seem. Unlike in the Philippines, 7pm in Malaysia is still daylight! But of course, at 6am in Malaysia, it’s still pitch dark while in the Philippines, the sun is about to burst. But there is something worth the local pride in Davao City where I am based if I will compare it with Malaysia. Davao cab drivers are a very, very honest lot than their Malaysian counterpart. I am also personally inclined or biased in favor of Indians, they act with cordiality, a bit humble and easy to get along with than their Chinese neighbor.
But on the whole, Malaysia is very much like Australia, Japan and Singapore—countries I have been to. Strolling around downtown is like malling in the Philippines. That is right, Kuala Lumpur is one big mall I have visited.