JULY 16 — “Finishing my final SPM paper, I was excited about what lies ahead. I have the opportunity to further my studies abroad. In the midst of the excitement, I feel a sense of sadness within me. My feeling of homesickness kicks in, even before I board the plane for New York City. The yearning for my friends and family, great food, fun places and the spirit of togetherness during sporting events kept my heart heavy as I marched on for a better future”.
It has been almost a decade since I boarded the plane from KLIA to JFK. Whenever I look back at the pilgrimage, I always ask myself “Did I really start a new life, or did I put my ‘REAL’ life on pause and I am waiting for the right moment to restart what I have known and grown up to”. The answer has not always been clear to me up until July 9, and I realised that it has always been the latter. As our brethrens and sisters marched on in Kuala Lumpur, bracing the acid-laced water and tear gas, I did the same, albeit in a much calmer fashion, in New York City. Bersih 2.0 has not only united Malaysians, regardless of creed or religion, but also has awaken the fighting spirit of Malaysians, a people who have sometimes been labelled as having a carefree (tidak apa) attitude. People are dissatisfied and enraged at the injustice and the lack of accountability of what the current government and its administrations have shown for the past half a century. Their greed for power has infested their body and mind and it is the same greed that is rotting their soul, blinding them and causing them to ignore the plights of the rakyat.
I am very grateful that I have the opportunity to study and work abroad but I have always felt that I am a “penumpang” (squatter) in the United States. Not that anyone here has or would label me as such but I don’t feel that I truly belong here despite the American accent that I have developed and the many hamburgers that I have eaten because of a void in my heart. I might seem ungrateful for a country that has offered me vast opportunities but as the saying goes “Home is where the heart is” and my heart always longs for Malaysia. People whom I have expressed the sentiment of “going back to Malaysia one day” would call me foolish and ask me the logic behind my feeling. My usual answer to them is: “Because I love my country and Malaysia is and will always be my country”.
I remember my younger days when the minds of my friends and I were pure and naïve, and we were just kids playing hide and seek, football (or soccer as the Americans would call it), police and thieves (maybe one day our kids will play police and Bersih marchers?) and “guli” during recess or after the school bell rang, signalling the end of the school day. I played and laughed with my Malay, Indian friends and of course my “Lain-lain” friends. Back then, the race labels in the report cards didn’t mean much to us, nor should it mean anything in today’s world. We saw each other as Malaysians and each and everyone interacted harmoniously together. Only when I am in New York did I realise the ugly side of Malaysian politics where races are pitted against each other — stereotypes (which by the way do exist and are pretty humorous sometimes — no offence) manipulated to the advantage of some irresponsible politicians and people are constantly reminded that they are different and should not mingle closely because of “ulterior motives”. (I always rebuff people who said, we are different by saying “Yes, we may differ in character and in thinking but if you and I suffer a cut, do we not bleed red?”).
When Bapa Kemerdekaan Tunku Abdul Rahman led the crowd to the famous roar of “Merdeka, Merdeka, Merdeka” on August 31, 1957, he, Tun Tan Cheng Lock and Tun V.T. Sambanthan envisioned a Malaysia (Malaya) that is built upon a foundation of trust and mutual friendships among the different races.
When I was 15, I wanted to buy a pair of sandals but I couldn’t afford them. I was looking at the shoes outside the store for a while and my best friend, Akmal Hisham, whom I have known since Primary One, noticed my behaviour. He came over and asked me if I liked the shoes to which I replied yes. The next thing I know, he took some money out from his wallet and say this to me “Boon, Kamu ambil duit ini, belilah kasut itu. Bayar, tak bayar jangan bimbang, OK?” (Boon, take this money and buy those shoes. Don’t worry about paying back, OK?). His act of kindness forever changed my life and it shows that many if not most Malaysians are colour blind. Looking back, I was never the “budak Cina yang miskin” (the poor Chinese kid) and he never thought “Eh, patut kah saya tolong budak Cina ni?” (Should I help this Chinese kid). He genuinely saw me as a friend and in today’s context, a fellow Malaysian. I still keep in touch with him. Parents should encourage their kids to play and interact harmoniously with one another. We should refrain from talking about people’s shortcoming due to race but instead attribute the shortcomings due to human imperfection and ignorance.
Bersih 2.0 has confirmed my conviction that Malaysia can and will be a better place for us and our future generations. The day when I will achieve the dream of “going back to Malaysia one day” does not seem so far away. Change may and should come slowly but I am hopeful that it is better late than never.
Looking at our neighbour, I believe that Malaysia can achieve similar changes that occurred to Indonesia in 1998 if we, the rakyat, do our part. While many might say that it is the responsibily of politicians to change the country, Bersih 2.0 has proven otherwise. Malaysia belongs to the rakyat and it is the rakyat who put the politicians in power. If replacing politicians is what we must do to secure a better future, replace we shall. Let us register to vote and encourage others to do the same. In your quest to create awareness, you might be faced with rebuttals and cynicism, but fear not. Plant the seed and it shall grow.
I shall end my story with a quote from Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the US Declaration of Independence and the third US president (1801-1809):
“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
Dear Malaysians, now is the time to rise up against tyranny and vote for change!