KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 — Yellow was not outlawed, a common word was not outlawed, trains were running as usual, no unnecessary roadblocks from far far away, no fear of arbitrary arrests just for being on the street in downtown KL.
As a first timer, quite a good ‘introduction’ to rally-ing.
In the last 10 days before 428, my decision to attend the Melaka protest was changed to going for the KL main event after the last straw of April 19.
Come Saturday, an early start to the train station. It was absolutely full. Think of a working day’s peak hour crowd. That was just at the first station! It got so packed as the train progressed that you couldn’t fall even if u lost your balance. Someone pointed out that yes, its just like any other working day but the difference was... “everyone is smiling”. :o)
I met up with friends along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. We milled around outside the CIMB waiting for others to turn up. In the meantime, we got ourselves packets of Kopi-pengs from the nearby coffee shop.
Really almost like a carnival (with costumes of yellow, eating snacks, photo-taking, cheering some random group...). At about 10am plus, there came word that Ambiga was at Central Market. We made our way there to catch any speeches being made. A short speech and a few chants later, the crowd which had gathered to see her was asked to tone down the chanting. They didn’t want to provoke the police with too early a gathering. Obediently, the crowd disappeared. We returned to our spot outside CIMB. Towards 12pm, some went to get lunch.
1pm saw us all back at Central Market, waiting for the order to start marching.
And we’re off! At 1.45pm the Unit Amal guys led the way and the rest of us fell in line. There was no pushing, no rushing, a slow stroll. My group included a few senior ladies and we stationed ourselves around them to prevent jostling. But mainly, it was unnecessary as the crowd calmly walked.
Shouts of Bersih! Bersih! Hidup Rakyat! were enthusiastically repeated by both the young and old. A first discordant chord was when an anti-BN and reformasi shout was given. But Bersih participants made it clear that that was not what they had come for. The volume level was very obviously louder when the shouts returned to a non-partisan phrase.
We walked til just before the intersection of Lebuh Ampang and Jln Tun Perak. After 10 minutes of waiting, we realised that this was as close as we were going to get to Dataran Merdeka. The way ahead was a mass of bodies. So, we sat down. This is what we came for.
After sitting for about half an hour, two Unit Amal guys came walking along and telling everyone that everything ‘sudah habis’, ‘boleh balik’… We looked at each other in surprise since we were prepared to sit until 4pm. We contacted friends back home to confirm the news. Yes! News had gone out that Ambiga had given a speech, declared the sit-in a success, and asked that we dismiss. It was about 2.50pm.
So that was that. We slowly got to our feet, affirmed our intentions of being there, making a statement to the authorities about clean elections. Then we started to head back the same route we had come.
The surprising thing was, most people either hadn’t heard that announcement or were too caught by surprise at it’s early appearance. The crowd was still either sitting or standing around. As my group slowly made the way out, we kept repeating the announcement to go home.
We walked fast. Cos a bit ‘kia jam’ (takut jam) at the LRT station. Took us a bare 10 minutes to reach the Pasar Seni station which we were relieved to see was operating. We got on, and to our shock discovered the train almost empty. Plenty of seats, cool aircon... heaven!
But then, within five minutes, we received an SMS from a friend who was further in front at the sit-in that tear gas was being fired and they’re running for it. We looked at each other in shock and surprise! I texted back to ask where was my friend now and the answer was HSBC!!! That was where we had vacated just 10 minutes ago! What was happening???
Now the funny thing was, my brother, sis-in-law and I looked at each other and I think we felt a bit serba salah for not being there to ‘suffer’ with the crowd. And hey, we were already in a nice air-conditioned place, safely moving farther away from the ‘danger’. Almost like we were ‘deserting’. But we talked about it and agreed that we did the right thing. Go, be peaceful, follow instructions, leave.
On reaching PJ, we stopped by to have cendol outside the Taman Bahagia station, only to find it patronised by other Bersih participants! One man saw our T-shirts and turned around to ask how we got back cos Pasar Seni has been closed. We were surprised... having just come from there.
First thing we did when we reached home was to check online news.
There were pictures of peaceful crowds, heart-warming scenes of muhibbah and patriotism. There were also starting to come in pictures of the chaos, tear gas, crowds running, water cannons, etc… Those were sad.
But for me personally, I was most saddened by the rubbish left behind. Pictures of streets full of rubbish. Just like the litter of a huge pasar malam site. I could just think of “This is not why we went there, not to make shop owners, the public, the bandaran, wish Bersih never happened”. I wonder how many heeded the instructions of the organisers to bring plastic bags to take back their own rubbish. If everyone had done that, there wouldn’t be any piece of plastic bottle, food wrapper, strewn all over the streets.
At 5pm, I went to Kelana Jaya to pick up the group of friends caught in the chaos. We had an early dinner and sat talking about the day. We felt we just couldn’t stand leaving the streets like that for DBKL to clean. We had a legitimate call for clean elections. But we left KL dirty. What kind of ‘reputation’ did we want for Bersih???
Just as we were thinking of whether we could go back into KL and bring some friends to pick up some rubbish, we got an SMS saying another group is also thinking of the same.
We hustled through dinner, and went back home to ‘re-arm’. We took off the Bersih T-shirts, salt, wet towels, etc… We equipped ourselves with black rubbish bags and gloves. by then, a few others had called to say they wanted to go too. So a more ‘organised’ effort had to be made. In the end, six of us went in two cars to Brickfields. We wanted to take the monorail into Medan Tuanku to start cleaning from Jln Tunku Abdul Rahman. On arriving at Brickfields, an earlier group who had headed there earlier called to report that police had stopped them from collecting the rubbish and shooed them away and that the situation was still very tense and arrests were still being made. That was 8pm. Six of us stood there and although we were afraid of entering a still-volatile area, we were reluctant to go home. It was just not acceptable to leave the place looking like an unruly mob had gone by. So we decided we’d take the monorail to Medan Tuanku, and then have a look around. Maybe by then it’ll be calm already? On reaching Medan Tuanku, we headed for the junction of Jln TAR. There was hardly anyone along the streets. Quite eerie and we were all glad for each other’s company. 50 meters from the junction, we spotted them. Big police bikes, with officers standing around.
At that point, we decided, it may not be wise to continue. None of us wanted to be arrested for ‘wanting to pick up rubbish’.
My heart was just screaming to be allowed to ‘right this small wrong’.
I am not sure why this issue saddened me so much. There are ‘bigger’ issues at stake here, the violence (both sides, protestors and police), the government’s stance towards the demands of Bersih, the overwhelmingly loud voice of the people of Malaysia in KL and all over the country and the world all (well, most of them) asking for simply a clean election process.
But I felt, in wanting to right a wrong (election issues), why did we, the ‘protestors’, also do this UNPROVOKED WRONG (rubbishing the streets).
In processing what happened on Saturday, one precious gift it gave me (a first time street protestor in Malaysia) was the removal of the unnecessary fear of the government. The removal of the fear of speaking up for something I believe in.
You know, the tears didn’t start when the gas came. Milling around Central Market, my eyes were tearing almost every five minutes. For no matter where I turned, there I saw patriotism, I saw brotherhood, I saw no-racism, I saw elderly seniors calmly being there for me and my friends (the younger generation). I saw young people for the first time not living di bawah tempurung, engaging with their country, I saw rich and poor stand side by side, i saw the disabled and the able heading down the same road. I heard nervous laughter, I heard apologies (stepping on someone else’s toes) and many ‘its ok, no problem’ accompanied by smiles. I heard surprised and proud ‘Hello! YOU’re here’.
So here’s a toast to everything and everyone who brought ‘non gas-sy’ tears to mine and many other eyes.
My only wish, that there was also no ‘rubbish induced’ tears…
For Malaysia, Tanah Tumpahnya Air Mataku.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.