Ruminations of an impassioned mind

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Instead of asking for change, perhaps if we begin working as though change is near and is about to happen anytime now,  the future will seem less distant, says Yap Soo Huey.

I recently found myself lying on soft green grass watching the stars of a clear night through tree tops in a garden filled with calm yet invigorating music. I was in the Treasury Gardens of Melbourne in Australia, where the city had sponsored free music to be followed by free screening of aboriginal films – a variety of shorts, documentaries and comedy.

Sharing the garden with couples, families and groups of friends from all walks of life, I wondered to myself, “How can this become a reality in Malaysia? What is needed for me to be able to lie down like this in Malaysia, amongst Malaysians who are relaxed and happy with life, in a garden of Malaysian native flora and with Malaysian musicians playing their own music in the background?”

Many Malaysians have fought long and hard for a better Malaysia for all. The veterans and new blood continue to fight in their own ways, demanding change and a brighter future. In my hometown in Penang, louder pleas for more public/green space and a better public transport system are being made to indifferent governments.

On a summer’s night in Melbourne, I wondered if perhaps we should “stop fighting”. In the same way Pakatan Rakyat should stop running Penang and making speeches as though it is still in opposition and instead start acting and sounding like a credible government. Perhaps activists should start to move beyond fighting and begin implementing an alternate society.

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What if the Penang that we want isn’t two, five or ten years away, but a reality for tomorrow? In our struggles, frustrations and disappointments, the light can sometimes seem so far away; and so we keep fighting for when things will become better… But what if it is already here? What if tomorrow, all will be possible? When that happens, when the government is suddenly ready for change, what will we need in Penang so any one of us can lie on soft green grass and believe all is good in this world?

I want to be ready when the time comes. I want to make my dream a reality.

Firstly, we need more green space in Penang, so Penangites can lounge and feel like they are part of a bigger world – beyond the packed crowds of the heavily-paved “Botanic” Gardens where avoiding mobs of sweaty joggers is part of the sport of a “lazy walk in the garden” . It would be a world where each Penangite can find a quiet sanctuary within walking distance of their home, a sanctuary that is not over-run like the present Youth Park, where everyone and anyone is desperate for space to move and play.

Calling for green space is one thing; visualising how green space can happen in Penang is another. We need to ask ourselves: what types of green space do we want? leafy gardens and parks for families and relaxation? grassy fields for sports and play? a combination with a playground and picnic facilities, with each green space suited for a need? Where can we put them?

Why wait for the State government to plan for our well-being? Why not map out Penang and work out where we want and insert green space in each district and residential community on the island and mainland Penang? How can we best integrate this green space into each community and also link them (via bike routes and public transport) to other communities? How can we make it possible for the state government – because leaving development just for them to work out simply isn’t working?

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Secondly, we need a well-planned and integrated public transport system, so people can connect not just via handphones or online in the isolation of their private cars and walled-in homes. Decongesting traffic will also help clear the constant fog in our air so when we look up at night, the stars will shine through on us and we can feel invigorated, not suffocated, by the crisp night air.

We need to lay the groundwork and carry out credible technical studies to answer the following questions:

  • What types of public transport are most suited for Penang?
  • What types of material, systems, construction, selection of vehicles and tracks would be most cost-effective and appropriate for our needs?
  • Can we begin identifying locations for stops and stations while taking into consideration community needs, integration between systems as well as maximising the fluidity and efficiency of each type of transport?
  • How can we make longterm management and maintenance of the systems viable for the state and affordable to the people?
  • What are current public perspectives and hesitations on public transport, and how can we address these?

Thirdly, we need a better mosquito management system than the nominal fogging. The question of mosquitoes comes up commonly whenever I talk amongst the girls who are my ex-classmates about dining out in Penang. For any of them to lounge comfortably in a park in Penang at night, they must feel safe from mosquitoes – as well as snatch-thieves and other criminals.

To me, addressing the problem of mosquitoes involves awareness of the little things that all come together to make the big things possible. Perhaps we should more often take time out and ask ourselves what we want in Penang, and what are the big and little things we need to make it possible… So that when tomorrow comes, we’ll be ready.

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Instead of asking for change, perhaps if we begin working as though change is near and is about to happen anytime now, perhaps if we begin painting the picture, building the blocks and laying tangible designs and blueprints, the future will seem less distant. Perhaps then the purported reasons to dis-enable its coming will finally be banished and proven to be folly.

Perhaps if fighters can become painters, planners and engineers – and indeed architects, planners and engineers too can become fighters -then maybe those who now mull in idle indifference, because alternatives seem too obscure to rouse imagination, will awake and be inspired to move together. Maybe then a meaningful future for all will no longer be a dream, but an inevitable practical foreseeable reality.

Yap Soo Huey is a young Malaysian scientist who spends time overseas dreaming for Penang.

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