I am back in Kuala Lumpur after two terribly disruptive Covid years. The sense of deja vu that greets me on my arrival is a reminder of the closeness enjoyed by Singapore and Malaysia. The climate is similar. No one can like Singapore food without enjoying Malaysian food, and vice versa. Indeed, to step into Malaysia is to enter a special zone of comfort. Culturally, we are similar. I do not feel like a foreigner here, any more than Malaysians who travel to Singapore do. I do not have to be defensive about my culture or ethnicity. True, Malaysia has several problems, but which country is free of problems? From my hotel, I look out at an expansive city whose natural habitat reminds me of Singapore’s. Malaysia is the friend next door.
It is this affinity which strikes me on my travels through the region, particularly to Indonesia. The countries of Southeast Asia, whether continental or archipelagic, have more in common with one another than are defined by what distinguishes them from one another. Culture, encompassing everything from food to religion, possesses a healthy diversity, as it should, but national differences are subsumed by a sense of region-ness. This is why Asean is one of the most successful regional groupings in the world. Someday perhaps we will call ourselves Aseanites much as people already are Europeans or Asians. Today, we are unspoken Aseanites.
Meanwhile, my work is taking me to places with a vengeance, from Southeast Asia and the Middle East to Europe and North America. Every journey literally brings a whiff of fresh air. After two years of enforced domesticity, my travels are bringing a spring to my steps. I have regained the energy of yesteryear. I look forward to the next day, the next meeting with a client, the next flight, the next airport, the next hotel.
I hope that you, too, are regaining the rhythms of life that you and I lost collectively to the dark nights of Covid. Let us enjoy the sun every morning.