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LETTER | I am standing at the threshold of a new year. In a few more hours, people will be on the street celebrating. Most of them will be looking forward to the new year. They are filled with hope and anticipation. Yet there is a small group of people who see only bleakness and despair. The question is, which is you?

Me, I have big dreams for my beloved Penang. My vision is a Penang where the people enjoy the highest standard of living in the country. I see a place which is so densely populated, and yet there is hardly any poverty. 

I see parents telling their kids, they can be anything they want to be, whether a neurosurgeon or an architect, a banker or a lawyer, and they can get first-class education, from first-class universities, right here in Penang. If anybody should be sick, the best hospitals are right here, in Penang, and they can afford the treatment. 

People born in Penang do not have to move to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore or even further away, for the best life is found right here, the place they were born, where they speak their native dialect and celebrate their own festive days.

I envision a Penang where we can go anywhere by public transport, and arriving there within reasonable time. I see a population sufficiently pragmatic to not fear the construction of new expressways, or LRT lines, or bridges, or tunnels, or even undersea tunnels, and at the same time, wise enough to keep their rivers clean – cleaner than it has ever been, their hills forested, and their seas teeming with fish. 

Can that be possible? Yes indeed. Dreams will be, when we will them to be.

How we see the future is how it will be. Our future is in our own hands. The decision we make today determines the outcome of our tomorrow. But how is that possible? Let me explain it with an analogy.

A sorry story

A little girl is standing at the upstairs windowsill of a burning house. The entire ground floor is ablaze. All the other rooms are burning. She is at the last upstairs room the fire has not reached. She stood there, trembling.

A crowd gathered outside the house. Her mummy and daddy were there, huddled together. They could not get into the house to save her, and there wasn't a ladder to reach her. People were holding out a canvas in their hands, and they cried out to her, telling her to jump. They would catch her.

But the little girl would not jump. She was crippled with fear – the fear of falling, the fear of breaking her legs, the fear of a great many things that were magnified in her mind, that they crowded out the one thing she ought to fear, and that's the fire.

The little girl was burned to death. It is a tragedy that should not have been. She had the option to jump, and save her life, but she allowed her fear to defeat her.

The one who dreamt big

In today's Penang are a small group of people living in fear. They are afraid that a new highway would destroy the hills. They are afraid that land reclamation would destroy the sea. They are so allowed their fear to rule their judgement, that the thing they ought to fear, they could no longer see. Do you know why?

It has been a long while since Penang went through hard times. Let me take you back in time. To be precise, to 1969.

It was the worst of times in Penang. We had lost our free port status just a couple of years earlier. We were a densely populated state with limited natural resources, and yet many mouths to feed. Race relations were not at their best. Things did not look rosy for Penang.

And then came a brilliant man who taught Penang to dream big. At a time when Penangites were despondent, he took charge and created jobs. When we were questioning our own capabilities, he showed us what guts is about, by building the longest bridge and the tallest skyscraper in the country, right here in Penang. 

And for that reason, it is entirely worthwhile that the largest monumen – Penang Island's only expressway – should bear his name.

Of course, today it is easy for some to criticise Lim Chong Eu for the many decisions he made. But these people are not in the driver's seat. It is easy to criticise when you are not the one in charge.

Komtar Tower and the Penang Bridge is more than just a skyscraper and a bridge. It is to give Penangites the guts to dream big, to show them that when you dare to dream big, big things can happen.

How many of you have a son or daughter working in the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone? How many of you actually work there? Do you know that area before it became this huge industrial park of multinational corporations.

I am one of those who were old enough to have seen that part of Bayan Lepas before it became the FIZ. Phase I area was a semi wetland with coconut trees. 

Phase IV area was sea that was reclaimed, and as part of the reclamation, a whole stretch of mangrove swamp had to be cleared. I remember riding my motorcycle, as a young man, exploring and surveying the area, as reclamation was in progress.

Who's the culprit who created Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, and in the process destroyed all the mangrove swamp on the eastern coast of Penang Island? The same Lim Chong Eu.

Of all the people who are opposing Penang Transport Master Plan and the Penang South Reclamation scheme, who among them can say that the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone is a big mistake, a gargantuan environmental disaster. 

For the sake of fish breeding, the Bayan Lepas FIZ should be scrapped, the land returned to the sea and to the mangroves, and everybody who is working there should find new jobs as farmers and fishermen?

So often, it is easy to stand on high horses when you disregard the sacrifices necessary to give you this good life you take for granted.

Every person has his own strengths and weaknesses. A ballet dancer may dance very well, but makes a poor sumo wrestler. A sumo wrestler may wrestle well, but dance ballet poorly.

Similarly, every state should understand its own strengths and weaknesses. Let's compare Penang with its neighbour Perak. Penang is densely populated, Perak is less so. Each state has to work within its own strength. We can be a centre for many high-tech industries. We can be a centre for education, for research and for medicine.

Perak can be a centre for agriculture and for fisheries. If Penang attempts to be a Perak, it will make a second-rate Perak. Similarly, if Perak attempts to compete with Penang according to Penang's strengths, it will be a second-rate Penang.

What we need to do, is to acknowledge our own strengths and weaknesses, and be the best of ourselves. The people who oppose PTMP is trying to create a second-rate Perak out of us, even to the extend of sacrificing our strengths.

Boldness deficiency

If you perceive a glass as being half empty, then it is. After the time of Lim, Penang entered its 'dark ages', when we began to doubt our own capabilities. During that period, other states such as Johor and Malacca, swiftly developed while we are mired in self-doubt and poor leadership.

Ten years ago in 2008, Penangites brought an end to its self-imposed 'dark ages' by ushering in a new state government. Since then, the new administration is working to reverse the rot and neglect that has festered for so long. 

But by then, a small group of people has already made the "cannot do spirit" fashionable, that they took it upon themselves to pull the brakes on every initiative. They do so "in the interest of the public", never mind that the public was not actually consulted.

It is time that we, Penangites, embolden ourselves once again. The vocal opponents of PTMP cannot be silenced, but they could certainly be ignored, and so ignore them we should.

There is a bright new future for all of us, and it's ours to take, when we have the guts to dream big. As I write this, we are just a few more hours to the year 2019. 

It is a point in time for us to reflect on where we are, to remember the contributions of the late Lim, of the many, the most important being the guts to dream big.

My message to this, on behalf of AnakPinang, is to stand together, be strong, and be bold to dream big, for a better Penang. As long as we have the guts for it, it will happen.

Happy New Year!

TIMOTHY TYE is the spokesperson for AnakPinang. He authors Penang Travel Tips and served as Council Member of Penang Heritage Trust from 2005 to 2011.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.