From The Day of Separation
“Lee Kuan Yew is crying!” people in JB were exclaiming. It was a scene that shook as many people residing in Singapore (technically Malaysians) as it did throughout Malaysia.
18 -year-old 陈俊平’s first reaction was that of shock, but as life went on, the initial drama of “Lee Kuan Yew crying” was brushed aside. Interestingly, the narrative on the Malaysian side has always been 分家。Singapore describes it less amicably as being “kicked out” of the Federation. JB was remarkably quiet even when the news of the separation reached the majority of the people who were without TV sets. Ironically, JB residents were the first to feel the effects of this separation.
By October 1965, immigration checkpoints were set up on both ends of the Causeway. Many people on both sides first heard about a document called a “passport” which they had to show when crossing a 1km land bridge just to visit relatives or do shopping. 陈俊平, who was 53 when the authors interviewed him, found the new immigration procedure most annoying. Overnight, JB had turned into a border town. Going to Singapore felt like travelling in space and time.
When Singapore first became independent and very few people had international passports, Malaysia introduced a restricted passport. Malaysians carrying it could travel to Singapore or Brunei without clearing Malaysian immigration and the passport could be issued within just one hour. Singapore followed suit by introducing its own restricted passport for travel to Malaysia. The scheme was abolished in 2001.
A little history on the Causeway. The British colonial government decided to make travel between the island of Singapore and Peninsula Malaya more convenient. The iconic structure was completed on 17 September 1923. Train service began on 1 October 1923. The British army destroyed the Causeway on 31 January 1942 to prevent Japanese troops from entering Singapore. That of course, did not stop the Japanese as they quickly rebuilt it. Following separation with Malaysia, the Causeway marked the border between two countries. Traffic was sparse until the strength of the SGD became apparent and Johor began to develop into a shopper’s paradise. All these issues were touched on in later chapters.
As a small island with a small population and without any natural resources, many JBians who had blood ties with Singapore were genuinely concerned about Singapore’s survival – a point which is seldom mentioned or admitted in Singapore. As a Chinese majority country surrounded by Chinese minority states, the anxiety of Singapore’s leaders was palpable.
With close relations and ready access to each other’s media and newspapers, JBians had a tendency to be supportive of Singapore in times of conflict. Apart from a couple of dramatic diplomatic incidents in 1980s initiated by either the federal government or interest groups from other states, there had been no border clashes initiated between JBians and Singaporeans.
Nevertheless, JB is often used as a thermometer to indicate the warmth of relations between the federal government and Singapore. When relations were at a low in 1998 at the height of the railway land dispute, then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir went to JB (an unusual move due to his dislike for the sultan) to deliver a scathing speech against Singapore’s leaders. This time the crowd cheered for Dr M. This book was written in 2000 and attempted to rationalise the rising tensions.
While some of the JBians the authors interviewed were generally in agreement with Singapore, the authors noticed a disturbing irony. As the economies of the two cities became more and more closely tied, the disparity between the two populations was also widened. They believed that it was time to take a serious look at the changing trends and increasingly awkward undercurrents between the two cities so that we do not drift further apart.