14 interesting facts you probably didn’t know about Malaysia

Think you know everything about Malaysia?

As we gear up to celebrate Malaysia Day this 16 September, we’ve compiled a list of interesting facts you probably didn’t know about our beloved country:

Jalur Gemilang was designed by an architect
1) The Jalur Gemilang was designed by an architect

Yup, you read that right! The Malaysian flag was designed by a 29-year old Public Works Department architect named Mohamad Hamzah in 1963. When the Federation of Malaya replaced the much-loathed Malayan Union, there was a contest to design a new flag. Out of hundreds of entries, three were selected for public voting and you could probably guess which design was chosen. The Jalur Gemilang was first raised in front of Istana Selangor on 26 May 1950.

2) The “Negaraku” was originally the state anthem for Perak

At the time of Independence, the country did not have a national anthem. Therefore, Tunku Abdul Rahman – then the Minister for Home Affairs – organised a worldwide competition to find a suitable national anthem.

They received a total of 512 entries, but none were deemed suitable. In the end, Tunku opted to use the Perak State Anthem, titled “Allah Lanjutkan Usia Sultan”, as the national anthem. Together with a Panel of Judges, Tunku wrote the new lyrics for “Negaraku”.


3) The REAL date (and location) Tunku Abdul Rahman announced Merdeka

We all know that on 31 August 1957, Tunku Abdul Rahman stepped onto the stage at Dataran Merdeka and declared independence with seven shouts of “Merdeka”, but do you know when Tunku actually announced the date of independence? The Father of Independence announced the date of independence on 20 February 1956 at Padang Bandar Hilir in Melaka.

Why Melaka, you ask? Well, it was because the state was where the foreign invasions began (the Portuguese invasion in 1511 and the Dutch invasion in 1641) before the whole Peninsula was colonised by the British, therefore Tunku thought it was only appropriate that Melaka be the place to proclaim the independence date.

Holding a 100-year-old ‘keris pukal’ in his right hand and shouting ‘Merdeka’ several times, Tunku announced 31 August 1957 as the date of independence in front of an ecstatic crowd of 100,000 people.

4) Malaysia’s first national service experiment was 50 years ago 

The three-month National Service Training Programme officially started in 2003, but did you know that Malaysia’s very first ‘experiment’ with the national service programme took place more than 50 years ago? In 1962, during the deadly Indonesian Confrontation, the government has decided to call up youths aged between 21 and 28 for a two-year military training.

5) What is Malaysia’s oldest name? 

Way before Malaysia got its name, Greco-Roman geographer Ptolemy named our lovely country Aurea Chersonesus, which means ‘peninsula of gold’. The name was found in Ptolemy’s book Geographia, written about A.D. 150.

6) The Kedah Sultanate is one of the oldest in the world

The Sultanate of Kedah is the earliest sultanate on the Malay Peninsula, and it is said to be one of the oldest in the world. Allegedly founded in 1136, Sultan Mudzafar Shah I was listed as the first Sultan of Kedah. The present Sultan, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, is the 28th Sultan of Kedah.

Image credit: penangmuseum.gov.my

7) The oldest English school in Southeast Asia is located in Penang

Celebrating its 199th birthday this year, the Penang Free School was founded by Rev. Sparke Hutchings all the way back in 1816, making it the oldest English-medium school in Southeast Asia. Famous ‘Old Frees’ – a term used for its alumni – include the likes of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, local screen legend Tan Sri P. Ramlee and badminton hero Dato’ Eddy Choong.

8) Borneo is the third largest island in the world

With an area spanning more than 743,000 km2, the Borneo Island – made up of Sabah-Sarawak, Brunei and Indonesia – is the third largest island in the world, after Greenland and New Guinea. Here’s another fun fact about Borneo: it is home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world.

9) The world’s largest underground cave chamber is located in Sarawak

The Sarawak Chamber in the Gunung Mulu National Park in Sarawak boasts the world’s largest underground cave chamber. Legend has it that the corridor of Gua Rusa – a 2km-long passage of caves which is a part of the Sarawak Chamber – could house five rows of eight Boeing 747 jetliners parked nose to tail!

10) Malaysia’s total highway length is longer than the Earth’s circumference

We’re not joking. In total, Malaysia has 65,877 km (and counting!) of highway. The Earth’s circumference? Only 40,075km! No wonder we have tolls everywhere.

11) The world’s longest ever King Cobra was caught in Malaysia

Speaking of long things (ahem!), the longest King Cobra in the world was caught alive in Port Dickson in April 1937. Measuring in at an astonishing 5.54 meters (!!!), it is one-meter longer than a Proton Exora! But that’s not the end of the story: when it was transferred to the London Zoo, it grew to 5.71 meters long.

12) The General Elections coincided with the World Cup five times

We don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but the first five General Elections after the formation of Barisan Nasional in 1973 fall on a World Cup year: 1974 (Germany), 1978 (Argentina), 1982 (Spain), 1986 (Mexico) and 1990 (Italy). The coincidence ended the very next General Elections, when Malaysia went to the polls a year later than the 1994 World Cup.

13) Malaysians have the highest number of Facebook friends

Malaysians are the friendliest people in the world…at least on Facebook! According to a 2010 survey conducted by international firm TNS, Malaysians have an average of 233 friends – the most in the world! This is followed by 231 in Brazil and 217 in Norway. Considering that we spend almost nine hours a week on social media sites – also the most in the world – it’s no wonder we have so many online friends.

14) Local time has been adjusted EIGHT times!

Well, there’s really a reason for the infamous Malaysian timing phenomenon. Local time in Malaysia has been adjusted a total of eight times throughout history: in 1932, clocks were advanced by 20 minutes to “lengthen” daylight; in 1941, the time was sped up another ten minutes; in 1942, it was fast forwarded another two hours to follow Tokyo’s time; in 1945, they reversed the clocks to the time observed in 1941, and finally, on 1 January 1982, Tun Dr. Mahathir decided to push the time forward by 30 minutes to sync up with Sabah and Sarawak. Interestingly, Singapore also adjusted their clocks on the same day.

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