Side Views

The election virgin… no more! — Lydia Koh

May 05, 2013

MAY 5 — I was checking my Facebook feed last night. My primary school friend Christopher Tock updated his status, saying that the polling centre he was heading to was Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Megah (SKTM). What a coincidence because that was the same polling centre I was assigned to. 

I commented on his status, saying that it would be good to re-live our childhood memories together. We made plans to meet up at 8am to vote together at our alma mater. We were Standard Six in 1996, so do the maths.

The drive to my primary school was barely five minutes but at 7.45am there was already a crowd outside. I couldn’t find parking nearby so I parked near a playground at the residential area. 

Crossing the playground to my school, I could hear the birds chirping, see a woman walking an Australian Silky Terrier just like any other ordinary day. 

Then I spotted them, a cluster of brightly coloured flags under a tree. Malaysian Spring.

Behind me I could hear people speaking in Mandarin, deciding where to go for breakfast. My steps quickened, not wanting to be the last in queue.

Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Cina) Yuk Chai was on my right. There was a queue there as well. I spotted Xandria Ooi in a fashionable H&M dress, Mulberry bag and stylish dip-dyed hair. She was taking photos of the queue with her smartphone.

Checking the time, I realised I was early. The walk was only one kilometre but it felt like an eternity.

Spotting two police officers outside my alma mater, I went up to them.

“Encik, mana tempat register?” I said haltingly in my rusty BM.

“Tempat khemah tu,” he replied, pointing to the tent on the school field.

“Terima kasih, Encik,” I smiled gratefully, walking towards the tent.

I decided to call Tock and tell him about the queue. Surprisingly, he said he was already inside. He told me I didn’t have to go to the tent if I knew my saluran.

Elderly folk in wheelchairs, familiar faces from the past, the heartthrob of SKTM were all there. 

Friends I have lost contact with, mostly primary school friends, were also there to make a difference.

Tock stood among the sea of people, his game face on. We greeted each other.

“I think we have grown up. Everything looks so small,” I commented.

Tock smiled. We reminisced about SKTM, noticing that the paint on the wooden doors were new. Remembering where we used to buy erasers with country flags for that eraser game. 

Pointing out that there is a hop-scotch outlined on the road and laughing when we realised that we used to draw with chalk instead. Thinking about those days when we stood at that exact same spot in the sun for Monday assembly.

“We used to get detention here!” exclaimed Tock. “And have assemblies here! Do you remember what we used to do during assembly?” his eyes twinkled with excitement.  

“We would sing Negaraku, and then that Selangor song,” I tried to recall. “Oh, and Rukun Negara. Then, the school song.”

Standing beside Tock, I realised that we were still the same enthusiastic 12-year-olds now crossing an important milestone for our country. Him, a successful technopreneur, and me the writer, reuniting and voting for the first time together. 

Who would have thought the mischievous 12-year-olds would grow up to be discerning young adults, crossing paper ballots in a classroom where we used to study?

As we got closer to the classroom, our conversation about our yesteryear shifted to the matter at hand: it was our turn to vote!

Trembling inwardly, I forced a brave smile. Like a lost little sheep, I approached the first voting clerk apprehensively.

Noticing my discomfort, the clerk greeted me “Good morning”. I wished her back, my voice slightly hoarse.

After identifying me and saying my name out loud, I moved on to the next table where I showed the second clerk my left hand.

“Both hands, please,” the lady said. I apologised, my voice barely a sound.

Showing her my hands, she gave me a quick manicure on my left forefinger. I was given two ballot papers by the next clerk. 

After a thorough check to see if there were any spots, I was satisfied that my ballot papers were good to go.

As I marked my Xs, a sense of pride washed over me. Like standing underneath a waterfall after being too long in the searing sun.

Dropping my ballot papers into the transparent boxes, I felt that I had done my duty as a Malaysian.

Whatever the outcome, I’ve fulfilled my responsibility as a citizen. I waited outside for Tock.

The expressions on our faces were the same: Grinning ear to ear because what we did was priceless.

And that, my fellow Malaysians, was how I voted for the first time.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.