Going home for Raya
AUG 7 — For many east Malaysians living in the West, going back home for any length of visit is a complicated affair. Even more so for Raya; everyone wants to go home and unfortunately taking a flight is the only way to travel. Unlike many of our friends in the West, driving or taking a bus home aren’t viable options, and the South China Sea is a tad too big to swim or paddle a boat across.
With options limited to one mode of travel, careful planning is essential for a good trip home. Generally, the farther East you’re from, the more expensive it is to fly back — today a flight to Kota Kinabalu on the day before Raya costs RM808 to book in comparison to RM592 it takes to fly to Kuching on the same day. And that is just one-way, without taking into consideration the return flight.
Of course, those prices are the norm for last-minute bookings less than two weeks before Raya. Getting around it means booking much earlier. Theoretically the smart traveller would book his Raya flight home many months in advance before a mass of homesick souls begin snapping up seats like a crowd with diarrhoea fist-fighting over a small number of toilet cubicles while desperately trying to hold it in.
But in practice that presents a different problem: deciding on the departure and return dates. It’s easy to get excited when we find cheap AirAsia flights and rush to book. But once booked, the costs involved means the dates are more or less written in stone. Most of the time we can’t afford to re-book or change the dates, especially since the prices will be guaranteed to rise the closer we are to Raya.
So booking early means taking a calculated guess on how long we’ll be able to take leave from our jobs or studies. As an undergraduate I had some difficulties: while my friends could just look at the academic calendar and book accordingly, I had geological field trips and sometimes the inter-varsity sports (MASUM) after the semester ends, and I always needed to wait before finding out their exact end dates. By the time I got to book, the cheap promotional-price flights were gone.
Working today, the question is different but similar: how many days of leave can I take from work, and can I afford to take them?
On the surface it sounds easier when working. We are entitled to a set number of days of leave and taking leave for Raya means calculating how many days would be available for Raya and how many days we would like to spend at home. But it’s not that easy, especially when your work involves multiple deadlines spread across the month, every month.
So, often it is figuring out what you can do about those deadlines. Most of the time it means spending your weekends miserably at work just so you can finish everything before flying home for Raya. And most of the time it means flying back home on the last day of Ramadan, just so you can maximise the festive time at home as well as the time we can spend finishing up work.
Of course, that means being extra careful when booking; someone I know once mis-booked the date and ended up flying home on the first day of Raya itself — at night. I can’t imagine how it feels to celebrate the first day of Syawal at the airport, resplendent in new clothes while passing time at the LCCT McDonald’s.
So going home to the east for Raya is not just a matter of booking flights well in advance and then dreaming of the food day in, day out. It takes careful consideration, long discussions with our bosses and long extra hours at work. Going home for Raya is not just an event; it is a process that often begins right after the previous Raya. Because otherwise, booking late means spending half your monthly salary on flights and exploring the varying brands of cup noodles for a few weeks.
So when you see a friend going home to east Malaysia for Raya, spare a little thought for the huge effort that must have gone into it. It’s not easy to go back home for Raya.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.