They say when in Rome, do as the Romans do. And that’s what I found myself having to do during my recent trip to Johor Bahru (JB). While I am usually friendly to locals when I am there, this time, it was more out of necessity. Coming hot on the heels after the toll hikes were announced on both sides of the causeway, I could sense tensions rising on the ground.
The first instance occurred when I was taking a cab in JB. This was a day after Singapore announced it would be increasing the Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP). The cab driver was blaming Singaporeans for causing the massive jams in the city and that Malaysia would soon retaliate. Malaysia subsequently announced its toll hikes.
He also said he found some Singaporeans rude when driving in to JB. Dressed in my traditional baju Melayu, I pretended to be a Johorean the entire journey as I listened to what the cabbie had to say. It was an unsettling feeling, needless to say. I had often seen my Malaysian friends as, well, my friends. In fact, most of my good friends are from Malaysia. I never saw our differences, except, of course, by our nationality.
I swallowed my pride as I put aside my Singaporean identity for a few minutes. During those moments, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a Johorean with an unfiltered lense. “Are we really that awful?” I asked myself.
While it was painful to hear, perhaps there is some truth to what he said. I am sure most Singaporeans don’t mean any harm. Perhaps unknowingly, sometimes how we conduct ourselves across the causeway leaves plenty to be desired.
I think this misunderstanding could be due to our cultural differences. As Singapore has progressed, I feel some of us have lost our graciousness. Perhaps due to our rat race society, we sometimes forget to exercise graciousness when we cross the border.
In this case, you can take the Singaporean out of Singapore but the true blue Singaporean sometimes remains – the good and the bad. For instance, I have come across some friends who tend to talk loudly or act flashy which might rile the locals.
And when it comes during sensitive times like this, our differences become even more magnified. Singapore is often seen as the wealthy sibling who comes across as unfriendly while Malaysia is usually seen as the more laid back big sister who feels she has been too nice and patient.
Blood is thicker than water and I’d like to believe, despite the highs and lows, both nations will always find a common ground to bridge our differences.
Yes, we may have had our differences but like all siblings, we would often kiss and make up and perhaps laugh at how silly we both have overreacted. Rather than looking at our differences, we stand to gain from looking at how similar we are – our culture, background and history is not that much different.
It has taken so long for both Singapore and Malaysia to develop good bilateral relations. Let us not let small issues like this erode the many years of goodwill between both countries. After all, we were formerly part of the same country.
This article was first published by PropertyGuru