Fighting the overwhelming images of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17


As an Asian American visitor to Malaysia, I climbed the steps of Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine just north of Kuala Lumpur. There I was both panhandled and entertained by an enterprising macaque.

One in particular struck me as especially curious, charming, and wise.


(© photo by Emil Guillermo)

I took him home as my screen saver, and I think of him and his country often.

More so now.

On my trip late last year, there hadn’t been Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, nor a Flight 17, with a combined total of 537 people dead or missing.

But I imagine there are many people in Malaysia mirroring my screen saver wondering what has happened to the luck of their country?

On the map, that protuberant strip between Thailand and Singapore, Malaysia–specifically West Malaysia, also known as the Malay Peninsula–looks like a blunt instrument that seemingly has wedged and split Indonesia and Borneo (where East Malaysia is located) in two.

The Asian Tiger is indeed a force. Its tin-shack image has been transformed by its shiny pewter industry. And it’s constantly adding another glass edifice of modernity to its Kuala Lumpur skyline.

But over the Petronas Twin Towers now hang the images of the twin air disasters.


(© photo by Emil Guillermo)

The Asian Tiger has a PR problem and an impending crisis of confidence.

“It is very sad and so tragic–it feels like the nation is going through a shaking,” wrote Katharine Chua, whom I met in Malaysia. With her husband, she runs the Tropical Spice Garden, an eco-tourism spot outside of Penang. It is a garden built on a protected rain forest filled with the natural tastes and wonders of Malaysia, the very things that lured the European imperialists.


(© photo by Emil Guillermo)

Chua says that in the aftermath of MH17, people aren’t glued to the TV as when MH370 went missing, because the answers in the new air tragedy come quickly. But something’s not right.

“You are still left with a grieving and very sorrowful nation,” she writes. “There is a feeling amongst my friends of being very sorry for Malaysian Airlines–a recognition that they have been a good airlines. But to have two major tragedies is too uncanny. People say bad luck, but I regard this as a shaking upon the nation, not just upon our national carrier.”

When I visited, you can’t help but notice the diversity of the country and how its people coexist as one Malaysian blend of different ethnicities and religions. Chua herself, ethnic Chinese, educated in England, and Christian, is proud of her Malaysian heritage. And with that comes the recognition and respect of the different opinions she encounters in her daily life.

“At my church there is the urgency to pray and intercede for what God is about to do in the nations, including ours,” she writes. “These seem to be urgent times-I do believe this is only the beginning of more tribulation to come.”

“Amongst my other group of friends, there is a feeling of unsafety and precariousness and vulnerability about being anywhere in this world–no man is spared from danger. Amongst others, there is anger that such incompetency from the pro-Russian rebels or carelessness could exist.”

“But I think anyone coming into Malaysia for the first time wouldn’t necessarily see the effects of mourning–it may be happening only in the consciousness.”

No doubt, the tragedy is weighing heavily in Malaysia.

No one is blaming the country, nor is there any suggestion that the two tragedies are related. But the coincidence hangs like a shroud over what I had found to be a country full of life and flavors and rich Asian history, like the old Blue Mansion in George Town of Cheong Fatt Tze, the man called the “Last Mandarin and First Capitalist of China.”


(© photo by Emil Guillermo)

I had many good memories of my visit, from my first taste of durian to my amok ride through old George Town on a rickshaw.

I try not to let MH17 have the last word.

When I close Katharine’s email on my smartphone, only my screen saver remained.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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