We all know the history of our country. The tall, centurion trees have made way for Light Rail Transits and the highways, the shopping malls, and now the houses. We know the importance of infrastructure in a thriving and developed economy.
The remnants and the British-built railway tracks that have lasted for decades are reminders of the importance of a thriving economy in development. You wouldn’t have the expansive railway tracks if it did not have the function of expanding the British economy (then).
Looking at today’s world, however, the effort in development itself is met with a challenge as we grow fully aware of the consequences that follow suit. In Malaysia, we cut trees and clear land to make room for a thriving economy, but then contribute towards the greenhouse effect. We end up having to bear with the rising average temperature. To deal with the heat, we make full use of the air-conditioner and have it at 16°C. Which, unfortunately, only solves the short- term problem of us sweating on that hot and humid afternoon.
The irony is that it seems that we have created problems for ourselves that never existed before. The beautiful wooden kampung houses were suited for our tropical country, but how practical is it having a condominium made of nothing but wood, or having a wooden house next to a major highway?
As a developing country, we are in a rather awkward position. It’s like being in that teenager phase where you’re not quite an adult, and you’re not a child either. It’s the phase that Britney Spears sings about — “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman”.
We have the best of both worlds: Most of us have access to most of the things a developed country has: the basic necessities of food, water, a home and education. But, we also have those who unfortunately, do not have access to these things. We complain of leaving our culture and identity behind as we leave the baju kurung to collect dust in the closet, and opt for the corporate suit and skirts. Our life goals have slowly materialised into an association with development.
For instance, a life goal now is to be able to own a spanking new sports car. That seems to signify development. To the Western eyes, our agriculture-based life, a lifestyle grown organically and naturally, in response to our surroundings does not mean development. It is also not worth arguing to establish our own definition of development.
There are trade-offs and consequences in development. Environmentally, we have witnessed floods, landslides and warmer weather. All of it a retaliation of mother nature against us. However, we grow frustrated by the differing sizes of the economy. We fight to play this trade game with other bigger economies, because we want to escape a “poverty trap” and ensure that our fellow Malaysians are able to feed their families while enjoying the urban life.
On a major scale, development has brought us many benefits: from economical and medical to social. However, just like any other thing, there is a limit towards the good that something can give before it yields problems. Development has introduced an eradication of morale amongst the societies.
We struggle to maintain a balance in life. If you work too much, you might sacrifice your health. If you don’t work hard, you might not get that promotion. Development itself has given a certain standard of life to many. However, in maintaining that standard, we face many struggles. Our lives consist of spending money for everything, when the Earth has given everything for free. We’ve learnt that now, because even clean air is now a luxury. Walking around in the city is now a lot more difficult, with ever-expanding roads and lack of pedestrian walkways. Getting into a car is a lot better than walking. It should be that walking is a lot easier, especially for short distances.
The western world has witnessed an alternative lifestyle. There are minimalists, those who have stripped their world of colours and instead seek comfort in the black and white. Maybe, that is indicative of the mess that we have made of the world. In Malaysia, there are those who would rather seek treatment in other methods, as long as they are not Western-approved drugs, because these drugs would have a side effect.
There is no doubt that there is a growing sense of realisation of the world today of the dangers of development. There has also been an effort at recycling. We have, and are, providing ourselves with solutions to the problems that we face. Research and development continues at a parallel fast paced trajectory alongside development. We have learnt from the already developed countries.
However, it is the irony beneath it all that I aim to highlight in this article, in hopes that it enables you to take a step back from reality and think: Did we create the problems that we face now?
The writer, a grand-daughter of former prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj, is a fresh law graduate trying hard to find her place after spending some time in northern England during her university years at the University of Manchester