Colours of Malaysia – a celebration of diversity and tolerance

Filed under Roderick Eime

Bright costums add to the Colours of Malaysia celebration (R Eime)

by Roderick Eime on location in Kuala Lumpur

Judging any country by foreign news headlines can always be a risky practice. Urban violence, political ructions, unsafe water and dangerous roads are just some of the negative reports that help us form opinions of countries well before we even visit. This reporter has been travelling to Malaysia regularly for almost two decades and I’m pleased to say the fascination with this multicultural land has not diminished.

Sure, we may look upon Malaysia’s rumbustious political scene with some wry scepticism, but I don’t think Australia can hold itself up as a model of seamless democracy either, especially of late. When I visited KL in February as part of their pre-election tourism festival, the opportunity for political grandstanding was not missed. International and local guests alike were issued with colour-coordinated slogan t-shirts and dinky little ‘I [heart] PM’ flags to wave in obedient unison after the leader’s sage words (in Malaysian, no translation provided). I recall describing that event, sarcastically of course, as a cross between Pyongyang and Nuremburg.

Malaysia’s new tourism minister, Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri, works the crowd (R Eime)

Last Saturday’s vibrant Colours of Malaysia extravaganza in downtown KL was certainly toned down on the political scale, despite the jubilant, newly anointed Minister for Tourism & Culture making a high profile entrance followed by a rousing and patriotic welcome speech. Instead the VIP spotlight was shone more befittingly on His Royal Highness, Yang diPertuan Agong and the First Lady, who sat regally on their podium enjoying his subjects’ adulation.

The ensuing parade was a two hour celebration of Malaysia’s cultural diversity and much trumpeted racial and religious tolerance. Compared to some of the neighbouring countries, Malaysia can justifiably lay claim to a far more liberal and secular society, although the unrelenting skeptics will quickly find cracks in that idealistic veneer.

Costumed performers celebrate Malaysia’s diversity (R Eime)

Light rain and distant lightning may have kept the crowd and performers on edge, but the alcohol-free party proceeded regardless, albeit with predicable Asian timing. The patient masses cheered and applauded, wide-eyed children gazed on and the spectacularly bedecked dancers, some as young as six, carried on with obvious enthusiasm in a parade that alternated between Santa Claus and Mardi Gras. Police and security stood by almost aimlessly, gently ushering guests back behind an imaginary barricade as they crept forward for a better camera angle. Occasionally a scowl was required to move a persistent offender, but all a far cry from any NYE in my own city of Sydney.

This writer may be at odds with the politics, but any nation is truly judged by the quality of its ordinary people and for that, I only have praise for Malaysia. It has to be one of the safest destinations anywhere in the world and if you treat the people, their laws and customs with respect (as you should anywhere), the visitor can duly expect regal treatment.

Ready as we might be to poke fun and criticise the regimes of SE Asia, Malaysia continues to demonstrate their tourism prowess with an ever expanding and sophisticated tourism offering, one that bolsters their claim of being a world standard destination with a diversity of product to keep even the most cynical of critics coming back.

For more details on travel to and in Malaysia, see

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