WE are surrounded by a sea of discordant noise in our surrounding public sphere.
We are so used to the noise pollution all around us that we think nothing of it. Indeed, we accept it as a given fact of life. But there are mavericks like me who hate noise of any kind, so that at times I find the public places in Malaysia intolerable.
Take the ubiquitous coffee shop for instance. The space inside the coffee shop is the most polluted public utility, bombarded by all kinds of ambient noise all day long. It seems as if Malaysians have lost the ability to talk in whispers, or measured tones. The celebrated coffee shop sounds like a fish market at all hours of the day.
One of the worst offenders against the public peace is the handphone user. In a public area, from the moment he or she switches on the mobile phone, the average Malaysian person turns into a noisy monster. He or she shouts and screams a private conversation into the instrument for the whole world to hear.
Another culprit bent on destroying our public peace is the truck or car driver who turns on his or her engine for half an hour, leaving the drone of his or her machine to drown out all possibilities of a private conversation within a quarter mile’s radius. The most amazing thing is that the offenders are not even aware or embarrassed that they have become a public nuisance to the peace of the social environment around them.
The number one public enemy of the tranquillity of our open public space is the ever present TV set, especially in our coffee shops.
No matter how much I hate it, I am compelled to listen to the Cantonese TV drama being broadcast from the neighbourhood coffee shop. Perhaps Malaysians are fearful of silence, and that is why they have to fill their public domain with all kinds of noise. Very often though, in so doing, people forget that noise pollution is an invasion of other people’s privacy.
We often forget that when we become noisy, we are robbing our neighbours of their rights of the enjoyment of their inner peace. Any person who respects other people’s privacy will take pains not to create a noisy environment in public.
But we are a loud nation, and everybody makes a tremendous amount of noise everywhere. In the end, it is as if we expect the negative impacts of various sources of noise pollution to cancel one another out. In the end, are we doomed to forever be a noisy country?
Years ago, I used to live in a quiet neighbourhood at Mile 6 of the Kuching-Serian Road. I enjoyed the peace and calm there, until one day, my next door neighbour decided to set up a workshop in his house. For years, I suffered from the cacophony of workmen and machines attacking metals, and one another, every day. I wanted to take legal action against them, but then it became easier to sell the house off when the opportunity arose.
I am quite sure it was against the law to set up a factory in the residential area around my old house. Unfortunately, Malaysian businessmen are generally not too concerned about adhering to the laws and regulations that govern their business activities.
Currently, I live in a sedate neighbourhood in an urban centre in Malaysia. With my advancing age, I treasure peace and quiet above all else: a sentiment that only the aged will understand. I evade all noisemakers except one.
My neighbourhood has seen a dramatic increase in the number of newborn babies. There are now new babies crying their lungs out in the houses behind me and in front of me. There are also more and more young children playing in the front yards of my neighbourhood with all kinds of toys. Once in a while, this din can be irritating.
But I remind myself that the noise made by the new lives is a sign of the miracle of our human existence. The crying of the young babies is part of the celebration of the vibrancy of my existence on this earth. It is to be celebrated instead of being taken as a source of resentment.
So nowadays, I enjoy hearing the orchestra of babies crying as music to my ears. If only I could think more kindly of other sources of noise.