Johor Against Malaysia
JBians often felt as if they were living on the edge. A new resident in JB hailing from the state of Perak, told the authors that he could understand this sense of detachment on the part of JB residents.
“We’re all Malaysians, but we have such different views on national issues.” he said. “They (JBians) are not so attached to this country as we are. Sometimes, we feel that they may love Singapore more.”
Malaysian activists felt that JBians lacked the drive to change the country for the better. They also seemed to lack a sense of belonging to Malaysia. They even celebrated on the 9th of August. Some would even sing along during the NDP live broadcast.
Singapore’s strong influence on JB has led many Malaysians to call it Third Singapore (Second Singapore being Batam). The Malaysian government had been trying hard to imbue JB residents with the pride of being Malaysians, often to no avail because they were constantly watching Singapore’s TV channels.
This puts many JBians in a state of flux. While their relationship with Singaporeans became less and less based on kinship and friendship and more like transactions, losing that emotional connection, they were also drifting apart from their fellow countrymen in other states. While they hated being despised by Singaporeans, they also longed for the same level of wealth and efficiency. Everything they could wish for was right there across the border.
Ironically, Malaysians who criticised Singapore mostly (in private) were those who worked and lived in Singapore. Many were even PRs out of convenience. When travelling, they would often identify themselves as “from Singapore” to save time explaining even though only a small minority of these folks would consider giving up Malaysian citizenship.
This book was written 20 years ago. Fast forward to the present and many parts of JB are now as glitzy and efficient as Singapore. Thanks to capital flight from China, there was even a time in the recent past when JB was not considered overbuilt. But one problem remains; a lot of these improvements and development are still meant for foreigners. The massive crowds of Singaporeans notwithstanding, there are still many “sophisticated” Singaporeans who take Lee Kuan Yew’s words about JB seriously.