Minister Of Urban Tourism: A Short Story By Amir Muhammad

Minister of Urban Tourism Amir Muhammad
Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

As we prepare to publish the KISAH Futures anthology, a new book compiling the top 50 shortlisted entries in Think City’s disruptive storytelling competition KISAH Futures, we thought we should return to the pen of one of the competition’s judges, the celebrated Malaysian writer, publisher and filmmaker Amir Muhammad.

Created in partnership with UNDP Accelerator Labs, Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and MIGHT, KISAH Futures sets out to explore how ordinary Malaysians imagine the future of their towns and cities could unfold. With almost 700 entries to the competition, the anthology is the result of the hard work of everyone who entered, not to mention the many hours put in by Amir to edit and contextually the 50 selected entries.

Never one to miss a challenge, Amir wrote his own story for the competition, which he, of course, excluded from the judging. In conversation on our Reflexive City podcast, he remarked that the competition entries in Bahasa Malaysia tended towards the utopian, while the English entries had more a dystopian flavour.

Is Minister of Urban Tourism a dystopian delve into a dark world, or an exercise in uplifting blue-sky thinking? Read on and decide for yourself.

Minister of Urban Tourism

Courtesy of Buku FIXI

You wonder how many other states in Malaysia are represented as road-names in the heart of KL. You’re sure you’ve seen Jalan Melaka and Jalan Perak, but others? 

If you could take over the city, you would make sure each state is represented by a long road. But name-changes alone won’t be enough. After all, you still say “Jalan Duta” and your parents still refer to “Batu Road”. The character of the roads themselves didn’t change.

What if everything along those eponymous roads would reflect the actual states? The most obvious examples would be food. You will get authentic mi kolok along Jalan Sarawak. The best keropok lekor in Jalan Terengganu. The people serving them will also be authentically from those states — or be very good actors.

No need to stop at restaurants. Characteristics of each state would also be found. For example, this particular road would have the most cheapskate people. Another would have a higher prevalence of child marriages. Another would get frequent water disruptions.

What’s the point of all this? Ah, it would be this: To encourage people not to travel long-distance. Imagine if this system was implemented in all Malaysian cities. Each denizen would stay in their own city. If they wanted an inter-state experience, they need only take a short car-hailing ride. Much less chance of transmitting or catching anything, since we will all be somewhat contained.

Yes, this will affect the travel industry; more people may get axed because now, no one needs to fly. But think of the other job opportunities that will open up.

“Such as what?” you ask yourself, hoping that people in the car next to you will assume you’re rapping along to the radio.

Well, for states known for beaches, think of the enormous effort it would take to replicate these experiences in the middle of the city. Waves and sand and lifeguards can’t be created out of thin air, not to mention the attendant need for vendors, conservationists, fishermen, marine researchers and, depending on the state, anti-khalwat personnel. These are all jobs.

But what if people travel to states not just for replicable experiences, but to visit specific people? This is where technology at its peak would come into play: You will interact with holograms. Imagine you miss Grandpa. Now you will get to visit an approximation of him that’s so real, you won’t be able to tell the difference. It will be like almond milk instead of oat milk. In fact, you will only be jolted when you remember that Grandpa actually died a decade ago. As long as you ignore this, you will have a great time talking about the communist insurgency with him.

This is beyond Mini Malaysia; this is closer to Maxi Malaysia. Tourism revenue in each city will increase. People do need to get out of the house, people do want to explore the country — they just don’t want to go that far. This is the answer.

You think this plan has potential. You start thinking of which Ministry to pitch it to, or should it be a GLC?

Meanwhile, the radio remains inane and the air-cond uncooling. You want to get fresh air and so you wind down the window — but not too much.

Join us for the launch of the KISAH Futures Anthology on Thursday 08 April at 8.30pm.