Malaysia and A declining standard of social behaviour

Today is the 46th Malaysia Day. We have come a long way from 1963.  Malaysia today is vastly different from 1963, at least in West Malaysia and especially in urban areas like Klang Valley. Even between early 1980s and now, there are alot of changes.

Remember the stretch of LDP in front of 1 utama? It was only a narrow road and part of the windy Jalan damansara in the early 80s , one lane going and one lane coming. There were not many cars travelling on this road, and Taman Tun was just being leveled and built stage by stage. 

Today , this stretch of LDP is so busy that often there is massive jam especially along the 1 Utama and Ikea stretch, even though the 2 lane road has been upgraded to a multi-laned expressway. . There are  many housing estates developed along this stretch, among them are  Bandar Utama, Damansara Mutiara, Damansara Perdana, Kota Damansara, Sri damansara and so on. The stretch also has a few big shopping centres: 1 Utama, Ikano, Ikea ,  the curve and 2 cinemas.

The development there typifies the physical progress of our country. We have grown, definitely, even though not as much as some of our contemporaries and, perhaps many people would like to add,  we have not lived up to our potentials.

We have one of the tallest  buildings ( it was the highest once) in the world. We have good roads in West malaysia and the North South Highway is as good as any highway in the world, even though the the tolls can be killing and the increase in tolls comes as  regularly and predictable as the common colds.

While physical development has been impressive, human development has not always been positive. Academically, we have many more universities and many more graduates than before, but some of the products are not as knowledgeable and analytical as those products of an earlier era.

Social behaviour wise, we having taken a turn for the worse.

I will quote an incidence here which I saw with my own eyes  as an example to substantiate my statement above.

 A truck, the type with an enclosed box-like structure with 2 doors latched at the back , was some distance in front of  me at Jalan University heading towards the Rothsman Roundabout. It was already 7.30pm and traffic at this time of the puasa month is light; the earlier jam has resolved. Suddenly, it made a turning through a no entry sign  and went into the road leading to Section 17 of PJ.  By right,  it should have gone into the roundabout and came back through the opposite side of Jalan University to make the turning into Section17.

This happened a few days ago. There were a few cars waiting to come out from Section 17, and most of the drivers must have been shocked by the behaviour of this truck.

This type of incidence would have been uncommon just 5 years back. But now, it is almost a daily affairs, if you care to observe.

The driver’s attitude typifies many of the Malaysian attitude now. While before, we were very scared of the law and would never break any traffic rules knowingly, like turning into a no entry area, nowadays people are not scared to break traffic rules simply because they know that there would not be any actions taken.

In the morning rush hours, many junctions are manned by police, and at these junctions, it is not uncommon to see motorcyclists defying police and sneak through the  junction while police is allowing the other side to move. This blatant defiance of law goes unpunished even when there are 2 or 3 traffic policemen at that junction. Why this type of lackadaisical attitude?

I have seen able bodied people parking their cars in bays reserved for the disabled. I have seen a car with 4 young men parked in a bay reserved for single lady. I have seen people smoking in an enclosed space in restaurants and hospitals when there are clear signs that say ” no smoking”.

Sometimes when I take LRT home, I can see healthy young people sitting comfortably in seats reserved for “kurang upaya”  while pregnant women in their 8th month pregnancy standing and swaying dangerously in the aisle, and old ladies performing acrobatic acts to keep themselves from falling.

When law breakers are not punished and people around them observing these law breakers going unpunished, people’s mentality changes and become emboldened.   More will behave in such lawless manners.  With peer influences, more and more rule breakers are going around breaking rules and laws, and the end result is that a culture slowly evolves that disregard rules and laws; a culture that is slowly making everyone so self-centered that eventually leads to a whatever-i-do-cannot-be-wrong type of attitude evolving. Malaysians have become more selfish and self centred as a result.

While the material comfort level of the nation has gone up , social behaviour has gone from good to bad.

The evolvement of this type of behaviour  is of course multifactorial;  partly because of the education system , partly because of parents who do not bother much about correct behaviour, and partly because the law enforcers are too busy doing something else and tends to turn a blind eyes to minor  offences.

I have driven in overseas roads on a few occasions, and traffic rules are followed so strictly that it is rare to see anyone doing faster than official speed limits. In NZ and Australia, sometimes the road speed limit is only 30km along those stretches where road works are being done, and not a single car would dare to go above 30, even during after office hour, when there would be no policemen around. When most of your peers do that, you tend to follow.

In another 11 years, we hope to become an advanced developed nation. We may become a first world country by wealth and income level, but we will never become a first world country by mentality and behaviour if we go on like this.  I feel sad and helpless because 11 years is too short time to change a culture and a habit that has become so ingrained in many of us.


30 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Arrowhead
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 18:39:31

    Hi Dr. Hsu,

    You are very optimistic to think that we can become an advanced developed nation in 11 years! However in my opinion we can never become a developed nation in 11 years let alone first world mentality and behaviour. Examples are abound for you to see. Let’s look at the recent ones. A Professor and a PhD holder were caught plagiarising. Can you simply imagine, a PROFESSOR for crying out loud! Our government openly practices racism with impunity. Our citizen, we turn a blind eye when Penan girls and women were raped and abuse, people who commit murders and corruptions are scott free and many more. I think you get the picture because it’s just too sickening to go on.
    It’s just beg the question HOW in just 11 years can we transform something rotten to the core to something to behold?


  2. klm
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 19:02:17

    Dr. Hsu. Malaysia works to teochew music. The whole system in Malaysia play this song. The govt and politicians dance to this tune. The bosses dance to this tune. The workers, drivers, delivery boys and everybody else follow the dance.

    This behavior is driven by the uncaring and dog eat dog society we live in.


  3. mccann105
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 19:30:50

    few years ago, we were driving in kepong for lunch,.,,,as we were approaching the restuarant…this was a 2 way road…one car…a driver just stop on the left ..and just park his car..he was rushing to buy empat ekor..all our cras heading were halted and have to wait for him..maybe he got god given sure win empat ekor…
    what we see today is normal.we become immuned to it..the abnormal become normal.
    the good old days are just dog eat dog….people just do what other are doing..if i dont take someone will take…we are getting more kaisu ..this is the new age malaysia…..should we be sad about it?


  4. mccann105
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 19:36:09

    another experience i had..few years ago.a family friend invited me to his church service….it was fully packed and great music..alot of promises of heavenly treasure after this world..after the service, i was formally introduced to some very senior usual handshake smile hugs and all seemed so heavenly.cheekily, i asked ..seemed we have great time here..everybody is so happy….what do you guys think of the coming election?are you guys voting?
    suddenly there was absolute silence.
    one brave one, ” we leave all these to god. he has plans…just trust god”
    i came home bewildered ..i didnt know god does vote in malaysia?


  5. DG
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 19:55:48

    Doctor, I agree that it is so frustrating to see Malaysians declining in social standard.
    I have only one thing to say, it must start with us.
    Like Mr Khoo who ask nothng in return but that those who “received” go share it with others.
    It’s a daunting task but however small our numbers are please do go out and be examplanary citizens. For those who are parents it is very important to instil high social standards in our children. They are the future we hope would be better.


  6. Peter Sng
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 20:33:14

    Msians in general like to make fun of S’poreans as kiasu & kiasi.
    Now you have exposed Msians with their pants down!
    Like the saying goes – when you point 1 finger at other, you are at the same time pointing 3 fingers at yourself.


  7. Anne
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 20:41:55


    While I agree that lawlessness will flourish when bad behaviour goes unpunished, I would also say that self censure and parental guidance play important roles.
    How many of us will wait for the light to turn green when no other car is around?
    How many parents do we see flouting the law even when they know that they put their children’s lives at stake?
    The reason why the majority of our friends in countries like Australia and NZ are law abiding is not only because the law is not negotiable but also because they value themselves as civilised citizens of the country.
    They do what is right rather than what is easy or convenient.


  8. Saddened
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 20:43:51

    We have the same situation happening here in Sabah. But the main offenders are often ‘citizens’ with dubious id cards (illegal immigrants). They disregard red lights while glaring and shouting at any motorists that protest.


  9. Disheartened
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 22:11:40

    Most of us have the same opinion but how many of us can honestly say we stood up and say our piece to those who blatantly disobey the law?
    By being a passive observer and then keeping silent, what right have we got to condemn their acts? We have became their accomplices.

    In those yesteryears, when one notices a wrong doing, he/she will voice it out without fear. Those days have long gone…


  10. A true Malaysian
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 23:05:56

    Today 16 September, 2009 is also Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s birthday? Coincide with Malaysia Day? Anyone can verify?

    which read,

    TOC wishes MM Lee Kuan Yew a happy 86th birthday and thanks him for his nation-building endeavour.


  11. cv
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 23:21:34

    Want to see the worst drivers in Malaysia? (Well, as far as my personal experience goes)

    Try live in Pulau Pinang and drive around for a few days; My advise, don’t try if you are not ready for extremely fast responses and having ability to read other drivers’ mind.

    These days Malaysians are undoubtedly having way more IQ then used to be, but sadly, severely missing mind set of respects, patience, considerations, responsibilities, and most all… EQ


  12. Ree
    Sep 16, 2009 @ 23:53:21

    I remember that Damansara stretch in the 80s. I was always a bit aprehensive driving that stretch of the road late at night because the road was supposed to be haunted. How times have changed!

    On the decline, this is what happens when the govt itself showed no respect to the law. The citizens follow. Leadership by example. The rot started in the late 80s with the Salleh Abbas affair. The Malaysian legal system fell into disrispute. It was downhill from thereon.


  13. Justin Choo
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 00:17:56

    Dr Hsu,
    Same old story. Same old answer…from down south, the little island.

    Do you know? In Penang, you got to watch the head of the motor cycle rider to make sure whether he is turning left or right??!!

    Who cares, no one is going to catch me. After all, the others are doing it, so can I!



  14. klm
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 09:50:05

    Justin. You got it. We are a sick society. There is no doubt about it. Malaysians have low esteem of their country and the society they live in. Or maybe it is just me. I am so pissed these days that sometime I do not give a damn about traffic rules. I was not like this. I used to be a mild person.

    The behavior of the politicians taking advantage of us. The behavior of the govt .The behavior of people in the street. These get me into a rage. I feel like killing some people.

    The events of today makes me think ex-judiciary killing, like James Bond 007, is justified.

    Is Malaysia social behavior declining? You bet. You can start with me.

    p/s cilipade. dont you start the morality line on me. :O


  15. klm
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 09:56:48


    I was shown a video recording of an accident near Komtar in Penang. The video showed a car coming out a one way street in the wrong direction and hitting another car at the junction. This driver blamed the other driver for being in his way. Even with clear evidence. That is a Penang driver for you.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you on Penang drivers.
    I hate Penang drivers.


  16. Trackback: A true sad story « Dr. Hsu's forum
  17. Dr Hsu
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 10:51:26

    Some time ago, I wrote about my experience in helping a former deputy minister who had since jumped over the PR, and he was the son of our famour Mr Opposition of the bygone day.

    SOmetimes when I drove with him, he would ask me to speed through red light. He had no qualm of aasking me to park at no parking zone, ad when I complained, he would said he was an MP and woul not be summoned. And even if my car was summoned, he said, he would ‘gao tin” (meaning he would settle it)

    This is the type of attitude from someone who is a professional and from an aristocrtic background.

    When the top behaves like this, the bottom would follow…



  18. Dr Hsu
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 11:01:12


    You may be right. On a recent trip to Penang, I almost had an accident when a car just jugged out from side parking without even giving signal. Luckily I am still quite agile and was able to avoid the accident.


  19. clearwater
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 11:13:17

    Dr Hsu,
    Don’t even think 2020 to be 1st world. Don’t hope to live in a gracious society. I feel just as sad as helpless as you in so far as Malaysia is concerned.

    I know the feeling. But then reality bites and we need to march on.

    We can always vote for change and do our little bit to make change happen, each in our own way making society just that little better. Have a good weekend.


  20. A true Malaysian
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 12:37:56

    No way Malaysia can achieve developed country status by 2020 without intellectual development. We can see a lot of physical development like KLCC, Putrajaya, PKFZ, KLIA, Sepang F1 circuit, just to name a few, but these come with heavy price paid through our hard earned money, and we are still paying to maintain these dinosaurs. If a small fraction of the fund is spent on intellectual development, I am sure we are in more a much more condusive environment. If a small fraction of it is spent on public transportation, there will be no traffic congestion, no rude driver and no such write-up by Dr. Hsu.

    This shows that intellectual development should come first before physical development if we still want to achieve developed status in future. Malaysia is good in putting the cart before the horse.

    We are spending billions of RM to maintain these soul-less structures. I prefer to live in jungle if I have the choice than to wasting my life on traffic jams. On average of 2 hours per day caught in a jam for 5 days week, how much hours we spend during our lifetime on the road? Worthwhile?

    Forget about spiritual development (as many wrongly interpret or abuse their religion teachings), intellectual development is the direction to go for us.

    No point crying over split milk.


  21. A true Malaysian
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 12:52:57

    Below is copy and paste from The Malaysian Insider, a good example of lacking in intellectual development. These are not common people like you and me,

    “Tunku Dara Naquiah Tuanku Jaafar, the eldest daughter of the late Tuanku Jaafar of Negri Sembilan, has called a press conference today to provide details about the alleged assault last year of her son by a senior member of the Johor royal household.

    Together with her lawyer, she is expected to pose questions about why the authorities have not charged anyone yet over the alleged assault.

    It had been reported in Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper last year that her son, Tunku Nadzimuddin, and his friends had been thrashed by a grandson of the Johor Sultan and his bodyguards at a hotel here.”

    They can be born with silver spoon, rich, priviledged, powerful, yet… what?


  22. Clarence
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 14:30:32

    If you have been following the news this past week, you would have seen or read about the faux pas committed by tennis star Serena Williams, rapper musician Kanye West, and South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson.

    Serena shouted profanities at a line judge who made a questionable call during her US Open semi-final tennis match. Her tirade was pivotal and cost her the match and the game.

    At the recent Video Music Awards show, Kanye hijacked an award acceptance speech by singer Taylor Swift when he snatched away her microphone to make a protest speech of his own.

    Finally, Rep. Joe Wilson flouted congressional decorum and protocol when he shouted “You Lie” at President Obama as he was addressing Congress on Health Care Reform.

    The news and videos of these 3 incidents spread like wildfire on radio, TV, and the Internet. They drew severe criticisms, scorn, and condemnation from media commentators and the general public. Ultimately, the harsh glare of the media spotlight and caustic commentaries from the public pressured the offenders to apologize privately and in public.

    In the US, serious breaches of social etiquette and protocol are not tolerated. You can count on TV networks, newspapers, and ordinary citizens to expose, lambast, and shame you if you did something socially unacceptable. Celebrities and
    politicians with their arrogance and inflated egos usually bear the brunt of much public outrage and are often put in their places. The little man in the street is certainly not spared. Their foolish and loutish antics often appear on local TV news programs. Offenders face fines, humiliation, public censure, sanctions, and loss of prestige and goodwill.

    We need such blunt and in-your-face commentaries from the Malaysian media and public. How often do our Malaysian TV stations report on things like double/triple parking, people smoking in non-smoking areas, Dr. Hsu’s manhole syndrome, rude people talking loudly on cellphones inside movie theaters, the “not-in-my-backyard” public littering problem, road rage bullies, and the “tidak apa” mentality.

    Malaysians in general lack social etiquette. People are not civic-minded and do not show consideration towards others. The coarsening of our social behavior and the lack of civility will only get worse if parents, teachers, and leaders do not teach our children important lessons on civics, social graces, and manners. Adults must always be aware of how they conduct themselves in front of children. Kids are like sponges that soak up everything we say and do. They will become our mini-me when they grow up.

    Some Malaysians say we do not have a First World mentality. I’d rather say that we do but we prefer not to practice it. Instead we are guided by a herd mentality. We go with the flow and follow whatever bad things others do even if we know that they are objectionable. Malaysians have been known to behave like saints when visiting or living in foreign countries but upon returning home, they revert to being impolite and crude. The mantra “if you cannot beat them, join
    them” resonates loudly within our society. It does not help that most people turn a blind eye, remain silent, and avoid confrontation for fear of retaliation and bodily harm from the bullies.

    It is indeed strange and ironic that in our society where our culture values “face” above all things, we forget that collectively, our uncouth and boorish social behaviors portray an ugly face to the rest of the world. Some argue that as long as bad social behavior is not immoral, we can condone it. Well, it may not maim or kill us directly, but over time, it certainly stresses us out, makes us cynical, damage our psyche, lowers our standard of living, and cheapens our values.

    So, the next time we consider joining the herd and perpetuate an unacceptable behavior, let us take a step back and decide to make a difference by being different. One by one, if we all do this, things will start to change in Malaysia. I certainly hope so.


  23. klm
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 14:40:10

    A true Malaysian. With regard to the story posted, in the old days, war would be declared. Warriors would be dispatched to invade the state above the red dot. Honour would be satisfied. Today, this act of aggression is not an option. No steam is let.

    The underlying unhappiness will burst into problem at some point in the future. For one, if Muhyiddin who is DPM and is close to Johor Royalty, he will not be welcome in NS. Johor politicians from Johor will not be welcome in NS – see Bagan Pinang. It is getting really interesting in Malaysia.

    Malaysian problems are so multi dimensional that it will take a political Einstein to solve it.


  24. Dr Hsu
    Sep 17, 2009 @ 14:47:32

    Clarence ,
    I agree fully with you…Maybe everyone of us should confront these socia wrongdoers and tell them. If everyone sneers at them , they would feel shameful in doing so…And like you have so eloquently put it, the media should play up these types of social issues instead of keeping a closed eye on all these.

    Media are supposed to be a watchdog for society. Our media have not played the part well, sad to speak. that is why a free press is so important..


  25. Chauncey Gardener
    Sep 18, 2009 @ 11:15:38

    One of the more despicable acts is the indiscriminate parking of cars in the “disabled” parking bays. The transgressors are stupidly making the life of the less fortunate ever more difficult.

    Why aren’t there enforcement officers to clamp the car wheels and make these law breakers pay for their misdemeanours ?

    A start has to be made somewhere to crack the whip. If civility is not willingly volunteered, then it has to be forcibly volunteered.


  26. 1MY
    Sep 18, 2009 @ 12:56:55

    It does not matter whether Malaysia is a developing or developed country. Important that her citizens possess:

    1. Tolerance to different races and beliefs
    2. Integrity and moral values
    3. Mutual respect
    4. Loyalty to his/her country.

    We have looked east for past 20 years, looked west for last 7 years (Maths and Science in English) and today we are neither here or there.

    We craze about the space programme two years ago and now we are going another big step into F1 programme.

    We are creative Malaysians.


  27. klm
    Sep 19, 2009 @ 11:20:17

    Do not look at the authorities on clamping hard on anything. The govt machinery has lost confidence and is not incline to any unpopular action. The slightest storm of protest will cause a reversal of policy. The purpose is to maintain a semblance of any feel good environment as much as they can.

    Go to Putra Jaya. Go to the ministries. You can feel it.

    The F1 program is another political move to create the feel good atmosphere.

    What the BN govt is doing is akin to what the Roman emperors were doing in staging spectacles like Gladiators fight in the Coliseum. These expensive spectacles were staged so that the emperors could gain favour and support from the Romans. It was like feeding them opium to numb their feelings. It was creating a feel good atmosphere to divert miseries from the Romans mind.


  28. Dr Hsu
    Sep 19, 2009 @ 12:07:18

    I agree with klm that the government is trying very hard to win the hearts of the voters, and they will flip flop whenever there is any objection to any decision, except when certain interest is involved.

    It is actually easy to win abck the hearts of the people. Just adopt whatever recommendations this blog has been advocating…Reform the police, tackle corruptions, reign in the warloads, let the judges be independent, and let meritocracy be the guiding principles in governing as well as education, ahve a freer press, and be transparent and accountable.

    While the govenrment tries to be popular in piece meal fashion, they have not touch the bigger scene because of the interest of warloads and napoleons.

    I think what the govenrmnet should do is to be strict and fair in dealing with all the issues. WHen it is for the long term good of the people, it should persist and should not flip flop..

    I wanted to write an article on FOrmula one, but klm has writtenthe gist of it above .. It is to rouse the patriotic as well as feel good feeling, even at the expense of spending a billion dollars, just like the passenger to space some time back… It is to made the rural people feel proud and thus gain the votes of the more conservative and less analytical people in rural areas mainly.

    But there is a catch. What if our 1malaysia team does not do well in the races? It may have the reverse effects ..


  29. klm
    Sep 19, 2009 @ 14:09:54

    Dr. Hsu. My apology for taking a bit of the thunder away. Please write the article on the Formula 1.

    As for the 1Malaysia team being in the top team, it will take a lot of effort, skills and knowledge. Look at Sauber which was partly backed by Petronas. It is never in the top 3.

    A winning team requires drivers, a vehicle, technology, a strong engineering team and R&D.
    Even starting with Lotus as the base, it will still take many years. Lotus last raced was 10 years ago. The 1Malaysia team will not deliver anything the first year and maybe even the second years. By then the next election will be on us.


  30. Atila
    Oct 05, 2009 @ 01:27:30

    All starts from home.


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