There was a time when if you said Malaysia, people would give you the kind of blank stare so popular with cows the world over.
As recently as 20 years ago, people would go “Right, Malaysia. That’s that small bit above Singapore innit?”
Of course, fortune’s as important - perhaps more so - than fame, and we’d already become quite well known to condom and tyre manufacturers for our high quality rubber. We were also the leading exporter of tin back then.
By the time I was in Australia (circa 1996), things had improved dramatically. When my new Ozzie class mates discovered my country of origin, they immediately recognized the name. Our two countries recently having had a bit of a diplomatic spat which resulted in then Ozzie PM Paul Keating calling our own Prime Minister a ‘recalcitrant.’
“Oh, you’re from Malaaaysia…” Yes, mate. I am.
By coincidence, I’ve been seeing a whole slew of movies recently on cable that mentions my homeland. We just keep popping up:
Val Kilmer visits well-to-do shrink Nicole Kidman and spies an ethnic-looking wood carving among the items of office décor. It is a doll with hair made of hemp-like rope in ragged strands, its body sleek, shiny and charcoal-dark. “It’s a Malaysian Dream Doll,” Nicole says. It really is beautiful. And if my country actually had such a thing, we would definitely flog it to the tourists for a pretty penny.
Airhead supermodel (is that redundant?) Derek Zoolander is hypnotized so when he hears the opening bars of ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, he will assassinate the prime minister of Malaysia whose support of worker unions have are wreaking havoc with the fashion industry’s practice of using child labour to make their garments. They make Malaysia look like communist China, and unsurprisingly, the PM looks like Mao. Complete fiction of course. We’re a multicultural society, as a quick trip to KL (or a good bookstore) will reveal, so making us look Chinese really ignores about 70% of the population. And for reasons I can’t go into here (I’m allergic to jail) the likelihood of a Chinese PM in Malaysia is rather low. In the way zero is very low.
Michael Douglas is having his life turned upside down by corporate bitch and sexual predator Demi Moore. Who should come to his aid but his Malaysian friend Abdul (or something) whom we only hear as a voice on the phone. Abdul’s accent is extremely Indian:
“My wife dink you are fool of sheet. Bud I like you Tom. When are you cumbing down?”
We do have Indians, the way we have Chinese. But most Malaysians don’t sound like that. Truth be told, there is no one Malaysian accent. Disclosure does however mention a fictitious TV station named ‘TV Tiga’ (‘Tiga’ means 3). That we do have.
Season 1, Episode 1: Open on an aerial shot of the twin towers of the KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Center), for now, the world’s tallest buildings. Cut to a terrorist on a cell phone making ominous plans. Ironically, the least inaccurate depiction is also the most irrelevant. Terrorists can operate anywhere, and Malaysia is never referred to again in the storyline. It’s also the one with the most potential for real offense, if you’re the sensitive type.
But I think there’s something here. People keep mentioning us. And not, I feel, for (consciously) negative reasons. There’s seems to be something appealing, exotic even, about our country that people seem to want to portray, resistant to the molding hands of progress.
Why, just the other day I saw a re-run episode of Star Trek: Enterprise and Lieutenant Malcolm Reed was speaking to his estranged parents – via subspace radio - who reside in the tiny town of Ipoh, Perak in a country named Malaysia. A town which incidentally, was the world’s leading exporter of tin. Nice to know they're still talking about us in the 22nd Century.