I CONSIDER myself an advocate of the 1Malaysia concept, simply because I’m a Straits-born Chinese with Indian relatives and Malay in-laws, not to mention lifelong friends of all races.
For me, our cultural diversity is our strength, and it’s what makes us attractive as a nation, not some issue to be debated on. This outlook has led me to come up with the Neo Nusantara garden, or what I’d like to call the Malaysian garden.
Now, 1Malaysia is a noble idea, but I think it needs some unifying symbol for people to recognise, or some common ground that all races can identify with. Instead of architecture, fashion or language, which are still very much race-specific, I believe a garden concept can be created to best reflect that idea. So, here’s a short story of how my version of the Malaysian garden came about.
Making of the Malaysian garden It’s obvious that a garden concept based on our cultural diversity should inculcate elements of our shared culture and craft, much the same way that a Balinese garden reflects Indonesian culture.
Now, what exactly is Malaysian culture? Apart from traditional elements from the major races, I believe a strong connection with nature and the spirit of community best describe the Malaysian way of life. To come up with the Malaysian garden, the choice is to create a warm, inviting facade that reflects the hospitality of its people. Instead of a dramatic statement, I decided on a muted, yet infinitely charming aesthetic appeal that also mimics the cultural sensibilities of the Asian people. Its core layout is centred on the element of water, an allusion to ancient settlements that sprung up near natural water sources such as rivers and lakes. It’s around water where communities are founded, where people gather and live. From there, the direction is set and the rest of the design progresses naturally, using everyday Malaysian traditions as guide.
For example, instead of Western-styled garden chairs, a raised timber platform called pangkin is used. This contraption, commonly found in farmland and paddy fields, not only serves as a seating area, but also blends well in the surrounding natural landscape like a custom-designed piece of art.
The lattice is based on traditional kampung houses with louvred walls that promote airflow and provide privacy for occupants. Its chequered pattern is influenced by the kain pelekat or traditional sarong worn by locals. An interesting aspect of the kain pelekat is that it can become a symbol of a united Malaysia. It’s a staple of our local lifestyle that transcends race — you see Chinese, Malay or Indian men wearing the sarong in villages while women use it as a cot for their babies. So, its inclusion as part of the look of the Malaysian garden is valid.
Design-wise, the Malaysian garden makes use of the country’s rich heritage of artistic carvings as motifs for the water feature and garden lamps. Popular styles such as Bunga Ketumbit (flowers) or Awan Larat (clouds) that depict nature or Tree of Life motifs favoured by the Orang Asli are used. When it comes to material selection, this garden maintains a tropical flavour, and this can be seen in the unifying element of wood and clay. In fact, clay pottery, a staple of local craft for centuries, is used as ornaments of the water feature or garden lamps while wood is used predominantly for the other components.
This, briefly, is how the idea for the Malaysian garden came about. Although already in the market for close to 10 years, my Neo Nusantara concept is still evolving, reflecting the maturing Malaysian society and hopefully serving as a unifying symbol for our 1Malaysia ideals.