Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan
IT’S NOT easy being a Sabahan in Kuala Lumpur. Kota Belud MP Datuk Abd Rahman Dahlan will vouch for that. Whether it is the language or lifestyle, he took a while adapting to life in KL when he moved to the capital in the 1980s from Kg Serusup in Sabah’s Tuaran district.
For 18 years, Rahman, a Bajau, made his home in KL before he finally decided in 2008 to uproot his family of five and return for good to his home state. Reminiscing, he said life in the bustling city was a culture shock when he arrived as a young man in his 20s.
“If you’re not careful, you’d become a silo, (that is), you would only interact with certain people or groups. And if you were not good with the Peninsular Malaysian dialect, that could be a stumbling block. I had the same problem. They couldn’t understand what I was saying, and I had to change the way I talked,” says Rahman, secretary-general of Sabah Barisan Nasional.
“As a politician, I was envious of development in KL, thinking that my hometown was yearning for the same kind of development. I was worried that Sabahans would get left behind. Sometimes I tried to rationalise by saying KL was the nation’s capital and it had to have the best of the best.
“But then when you think about it, the Government is willing to spend billions of ringgit to build yet another highway in the peninsula just to cut travelling time by 15 minutes. I thought to myself, if you would only give up just one highway and do a road linkage in Sabah, then Sabahans would be very happy,” he says.
Rahman studied at the California State University in the United States after his SPM in 1983, and came back six years later to work in the financial sector in Sabah. However, he found Sabah lagging behind in development, and agreed to work in KL.
One thing he could never get used to in KL was the traffic. Having visited some of the busiest cities in the US, like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, Rahman found the traffic in those places to be more tolerable compared to KL.
“I stayed in Ampang, and my office was in Menara Maybank next to Puduraya. You might be in a good mood when you start out but by the time you reach the office, you’re messed up because it had taken one and a half hours to get to work!”
Rahman says whenever he walked into a Chinese coffee shop in KL, he drew attention.
“In Sabah, I can enter any coffee shop and have my coffee without anyone looking at me, but here I get stares,’’ Rahman says.
The 46-year-old, who travels back and forth between KL and Sabah to fulfil his duties as Member of Parliament, says he enjoyed every minute of his time in West Malaysia. And why not? After all, this was where he met his wife, former NTV7 senior anchorwoman Datin Norazlina Awang Had, with whom he has three children, aged 8 to 11.
For all the differences between Sabah and the peninsula, Rahman does notice various similarities, particularly the willingness to work hard and help each other out.
He sees his marriage to his wife, who is from Kedah, as his small personal contribution to national integration.
“I used to joke with her that I married her because it was payback time, as many West Malaysians came to work in Sabah and ended up marrying Sabahans! But I am lucky because I have the best of both worlds. I know the peculiarities of Peninsular Malaysians. I understand them. So when I go to Parliament, I know how they will react to certain issues,” he says with a smile.
While he strives to bring more development to Sabah, Rahman wants Malaysians across the country to focus on the similarities they have instead of harping on their differences.
“My hope for Malaysia Day is that we would look at the common denominators like respect for the flag, royalty and the Constitution … these are the building blocks of the country. We live in a fragmented society and are facing tough times now, no thanks to politics. There is a lot of polarisation because of religion, race and parochialism, and that divides us,” he says.
Rahman believes Malaysia need not look far for the best model of integration. “I know this is a cliché but Sabahans have a genuine warmth about them. There are no problems among the races.”