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Monday, 11 January 2016

Reminiscing about Change in Malaysia and the World - Expat Go Malaysia

Twenty years ago, before Asia was even a glint in my eye – and probably long before I had even heard of Kuala Lumpur – The Expat was launched as a black-and-white newsletter in a bid to bring useful information to the expat community in Malaysia.
Two decades later, not only is The Expat significantly different, so is the country in which it’s published, and perhaps even more strikingly, so is the world.
In January 1996, Kuala Lumpur was a very,very different city than it is today. The 800-km North-South Highway had only recently been completed, neither the LRT nor the monorail had yet been built, KL Sentral was still in the planning stages,and One Utama was a brand-new mall.
Even the iconic Petronas Towers, whose construction had begun almost three years earlier, were not quite yet officially complete. In fact, of the 15 tallest buildings in Kuala Lumpur today, only three existed in 1996.
It’s been a heady period of growth and expansion for Malaysia, and though many things in the last 20 years have of course improved, sadly, some things have gotten markedly worse, too.
The broader world seems much more fraught with danger than it did 20 years ago. Terrorism hasn’t been confined to the last 20 years, of course, but its proliferation has unquestionably defined modern times and framed much of the conversation on everything from national security to personal travel.
Violence on scales large and small seems to be cropping up almost everywhere and it seems at times the world has gone mad. If anything, Malaysia and indeed Southeast Asia are generally among the areas in the world least affected by the scourge of terrorism, though there have been sporadic cases in this region, too.
But for Europe, America, and the Middle East, the last 20 years have stoked the fires of fear, anger, and resentment on an increasingly worrying level, and I’m not at all sure how it will play out, though history suggests it won’t be pleasant. People under this sort of duress are not given to thoughtful, measured action, and fear does not often inspire rational discourse.
Here in Malaysia, a country suddenly teetering between an emerging democracy and a de facto dictatorship –a question that may well be answered by the time this gets published – it’s probably safe to say that the unbridled sense of hope and optimism which was so pervasive when The Expat was launched is rather muted these days.
These are uncertain times in the world, and Malaysia shares in that, plus piles on some unique challenges of its own, too.

The Pale Blue Dot that is the Earth

Among the many events of 1996, one more was the passing of noted American astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan.
A respected scientist who was the recipient of dozens of honours and awards, Sagan worked tirelessly to make science and astronomy accessible to the layman. He also humanized the vast infinity of space, perhaps never as poignantly as he did in one of his seminal works, The Pale Blue Dot.
Six years before his death, at Sagan’s request, NASA radioed the probe Voyager I as it was leaving the fringes of our solar system. They turned the spacecraft around for one last look at its home planet, Earth.
From some six billion kilometres away, Voyager I snapped a photo of our planet, seemingly suspended in a “ray” of sunlight scattered along the ecliptic plane by the camera’s optics. From that staggering distance, Earth appears as nothing more than an infinitesimally small pale blue point of light.
The photo compelled Sagan to write, and in his inspired prose, this excerpt stands out and deserves to be carefully read:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest.
But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.
The aggregate of our joy and suffering; thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings; how eager they are to kill one another; how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.
There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot: the only home we’ve ever known.
This article was originally published in The Expat magazine, which is available in print via a free subscription for resident expats in Malaysia.

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I have traveled far and wide and lived in South Africa, the UK and Malaysia. 

I am a technical person that never forgets anything. Recalling it at the right time though is a struggle.

I have always worked with IBM technologies and worked for them for many years. I now do my best to migrate people away from IBM technologies.


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