Friday, August 18, 2006

KL and the Contempt of Familiarity

KL and The Contempt of Familiarity

When I was living in Jakarta, I used to blog a lot about Sukarno, historical annecdotes about Jakarta, Indonesian culture, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Chairil Anwar and other observations on Indonesian life, which I find interesting. It was a lot of fun observing Indonesians as an outsider, occassionally blending in with locals, and as and when I chose to, playing the ignorant foreigner. You get to learn a lot that way.

When I came back to KL almost 3 years ago, I wanted to do the same here--to observe Malaysians like an outsider. But it proves to be a more difficult challenge because I'm a Malaysian myself and I know Malaysians too well. It's the same reason why we sometimes treat friends better than how we treat our own family members. We often behave in a less forgiving manner towards people closest to us. Familiarity, inevitably breeds contempt.

I get a bit disappointed with fellow Malaysians sometimes because I tend to judge them by a higher standard. I can tolerate litter, pollution and haphazard parking in Jakarta but such things cheese me off in KL. The dirt and squalor of a Jakartan slum is 'exotic'; the squatter settlements in KL, an 'eyesore'.

Life in Jakarta was like the courtship phase in a romantic relationship. Life in KL is like a marriage. Husbands and wives quarrel because there are expectations from each side which are not met. How do we maintain the romance of courtship in a marriage? How do we prevent familiarity from breeding contempt?

If we seek to understand first instead of insisting on meeting our expectations all the time, then the situation might improve. During courtship, we see everything in a positive light. We are more forgiving. We have hope and optimism. We laugh together at each other's mistakes. We have patience. Why can't couples do the same after marriage?

Well, I don't know. I'm thankfully, single (and still loving every minute of it). I'd rather deal with my relationship with KL first. I must learn to see squalor as 'exotic', be more forgiving towards the rude and reckless drivers that I see on Malaysian roads everyday and try not to have too high an expectation on my fellow citizens. Only then perhaps, I'd be ready to tackle the challenge of marriage--that is, if I'm even interested to do so.