Interesting to see the different reactions to the Rasa Sayang(e) controversy both in Malaysia (see comments here) and in Indonesia (see comments here). On both sides of the Straits we have nationalism come to the fore, good sense go out the window, fear and loathing of the other.
But what should the real issue be in the Rasa Sayang(e) issue where different countries have many things in common like food, culture and sometimes even history?
Is the issue one of rights or of marketing savvy?
If it is one of rights then Indonesia wins hands down. Rasa Sayang(e), Unspun is willing to bet, almost certainly originated from Maluku, Negara Ku is probably a spinoff from Terang Bulan, Batik was probably developed and refined in Pekalongan long before Malaysia got its hands on it, Orang Utans are more plentiful in Indonesia, Sate Padang was probably being fanned on the fire longer than the satay in Kajang.
If, however, the issue is one of marketing savvy, then Indonesia losses big time to Malaysia. It falls flat in packaging its cultural icons so that they come to be associated with the country. This is nothing new.
When Unspun was growing up and during his first years in Indonesia Unspun used to resent the fact that restaurants here would sell Singapore Laksa when the real home of laksa was probably Penang in Malaysia. Singapore even had the gall to appropriate Chicken Rice from the Hainanese. And what is Singapore fried rice but plain old nasi goreng or chow fan? Singapore fried noodles? Pluhese! Go north of the border and you’ll find real tasty noodles.
The point here is not to start a culinary debate but to point out the fact that the country that is most adept at marketing becomes the perceived “owner” of something.
Therefore the answer to stopping others from stealing what is perceived as rightfully yours is not to moan and groan about how someone’s taken our lolly but to be better maketeer than them.
In this way, Thailand’s monthong durians are now world famous (well, in the civilized world anyway;) ) even though Malaysia and Indonesia has excellent durians (Unspun, a durian fanatic, thinks the Medan and Taiping ones are more delicious. Similarly even though Indonesia has probably the best traditional and modern batiks, Malaysia is more well known for its batik, at least among the mass tourist market.
It’s all, as a commentator in Rocky’s blog said, about globalization. Like it or not, we all live in a highly competitive world. The spoils go to those who are most nimble and competitive. Competition here is for the attention of the world at large, for brand equity.
Indonesia, as Unspun has written about here, is a great country with tremendous resources, but it falls flat when it comes to marketing. Example: Indonesia has the world’s best coffees, from Toraja to Madheling and the exquisite semi-mythical Luwak coffee, the most expensive coffee in the world. Yet does it maket its coffee well? Is Indonesia associated with the world’s best coffee in the tourist mind? No. Even Bolivia does a better job in this area.
Ditto with the world’s best dive sites, the best orang utan sanctuaries, tourist attractions, the best raw leather (no kidding – Indonesia apparently produces the best raw leather but falls flat on processed ones, so raw leather is exported for processing and then repurchased for manufacturing or as expensive ibu-ibu handbags and shoes)…so whose fault is that? The thief’s or the man who let the thief steal his most precious goods — because he can’t be half arsed to take proper care of them and market them effectively to his customers?