Malaysians vs Singaporeans – let’s get this over and done with!

~ By Melissa Tee ~

I don’t know how many can relate to this experience of mine, but I am certain I am not the only one. As a Singaporean student studying overseas, I encounter a lot of other Malaysian students. As the Singaporean community is small and we have heaps of similarities with Malaysians, we interact on a daily basis.  Once in a while, there is the friendly debate about whose food is tastier or whose water is purer (yes, NEWater, we get it). However, there are times where the debate gets out of hand. It becomes a verbal spar between who is better. Sometimes when you are the lone Singaporean against three other Malaysians, you feel like you are losing a battle.

So I’m going to get the facts straight once and for all.

1.  Race/Religious-Relations

As much as we would like to compare our racial policies against our neighbour’s, the truth is, we are very different. Singapore has adopted a multi-racial/religious policy while Malaysia has adopted a policy that prides Malay (and Islam) hegemony.  This may be a weak example but Article 3(1) of the Constitution of Malaysia states that ‘Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation’ while Part IV(15) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore states that ‘Every person has the right to profess and practise his religion and to propagate it.’  If we compare the statements, both imply that they practice multi-culturalism but Malaysia has an added level in which there is Malay/Islam hegemomy.*

2.  Language

“Singaporeans have an identity crisis because their national anthem is in Malay and yet they cannot understand it.”

Part XIII 153A of the Constitution of The Republic of Singapore

(1)  Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English shall be the 4 official languages in Singapore.

(2)  The national language shall be the Malay language and shall be in the Roman Script.

Looking at Part XIII 153(A) (2) of the Singapore Constitution, it is not surprising our national anthem is in Malay.

But why then do many non-Malays not understand the national language? There are two reasons. First, English has become the main language of communication. In the early years of Singapore, Malay was the main language of communication. As we moved towards the 21st century, English permeated such that it became an integral, unshakable part of Singapore.

Second, Singapore’s bilingual policy is such that if you are Chinese, you learn Mandarin, and if you are Malay, you learn Malay etc. Hence, while Malay may be the national language, the fact that we do not practice it daily has hindered us from truly learning it. However, schools do make an effort to teach the meaning of the National Anthem to students. For the reasons explained, we do not have an identity crisis.

3.  Malaysia/Singapore Food is Better

In 2009, it was reported in Malaysia that “Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen said there were many dishes synonymous with Malaysia’s identity but they had been “hijacked” by other countries” (Laksa and nasi lemak among our pride, says Yen Yen, The Star, 17 Sep 2009).

Singapore has also made similar claims in the past.

If you are a foodie like me, you will realise that when you compare Malaysian food to Singaporean food, you are comparing apples to oranges. Our food is different and is suited to local taste and ingredients. Ultimately, each man to his own.

Here are some examples:

(1)  Malaysia’s Hokkien Mee is black while Singapore’s Hokkien Mee is white

(2)  Malaysia’s Bak Ku Teh has loads of different ingredients while Singapore’s Bak Ku Teh is usually made of pork ribs and is peppery

(3)  Malaysia’s Char Kway Teow is savoury while Singapore’s Char Kway Teow is sweet

(4)  Malaysia calls their fried Indian bread Roti Canai while Singapore calls it Roti Prata

The list goes on, but the Laksa must be mentioned. There is Penang Laksa, Katong (Singapore) Laksa, Johor Laksa, Assam Laksa, and Sarawak Laksa. Even Thailand has their own version of Laksa. How can we compare?

4.  Water

The argument often goes

Argument 1 by Malaysia: “If Malaysia turns off the tap, Singapore won’t survive”

Retort by Singapore: “But Singapore sells back treated water to Malaysia!”

Argument 2 by Malysia: “So what?! The water you drink is from the loo”

On Argument 1 on turning off the tap, the reality is that it is highly unlikely because of the close relations between Singapore and Malaysia (Introducing newater: The city state's bid for self-sufficiency, The Economist, 09 Jan 2003). However, it must be noted that water has always been (and will always be) used as a political tool.

On Argument 2 on 'loo water', honestly, Singaporeans are perfectly fine drinking recycled water. I remember when NEWater was first introduced, I felt a bit uncomfortable but after a while, I got used to it. Apparently, NEWater is purer than many other sorts of drinking water. And you cannot deny that NEWater is a creative manner in finding ways of reducing water imports (on top of the traditional desalination plants and reservoirs).

5.  Resources

“Malaysia has more people and land.”

Alright, we agree. No disputes. Singapore makes up for it with human capital.

The list may go on but the point is this. As much as we like to compare both our countries, we are pretty different. There are many similarities in our roots but as time has shown, it is pretty clear that we have taken different paths. So I’m just settling the record once and for all – stop reusing the same arguments and put each other down in such a demeaning manner. In all reality, we work pretty well together, and Singaporeans and Malaysians actually complement each other.