Near the Bar Council building the night before. Listen to the students from Occupy Dataran. Into their 15th day. Syabas!!!
If you didn't go to Bersih 3.0 on April 28, you missed a wonderful event and a day in which, in my opinion, Malaysians gathered to celebrate a new-found freedom. A liberated voice. And it was a good feeling. Min and I went to Dataran
Merdeka the night before Bersih 3.0. We walked around the Jamek area and stopped in front of the Bar Council building where the students from Occupy Dataran were gathered to 'discuss' and come up with a plan for the next day. It
brought a lump to my throat watching and listening to these young Malaysians. No harsh words were uttered. No ill-will against anyone, least of all, the government. They wanted to voice their demands and their rights to have that
At the front entrance of the Masjid Jamek we met Haris Ibrahim chatting with some people and we walked with him towards Dataran Merdeka.
People gathered around a boot sale of Bersih 3.0 merchandise.
We strolled along the river behind the HSBC building to the fringe of Dataran Merdeka. There were about a thousand people already gathered there. Mostly yellow-shirted Malaysians checking out the area for the rally in the morning. There were chants and occasionally a shout but the mood was generally very civil
and very carnival-like. And very soon Haris was absorbed into a group of Bersih 3.0'ers and disappeared from sight. We walked up Jalan TAR and turned right into the road where our hotel was located. In front of the hotel a noisy bunch of people, some in yellow were laughing, chatting and joking about what was expected to happen the next day. Inside the hotel a group of anxious tried to beg the hotel receptionist to spare them a room. The hotel was full.
Me and Max about 40 meters from the razor wire barrier in the early part of the day.
The next day we walked out to the area of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman where our hotel was located. By that time, about 11AM the road was already beginning to fill up but it was sparse enough to allow us to walk comfortably right up to the edge of the area where razor-wires were put up. This is the end of Jalan TAR just before Dataran Merdeka. There was police presence with police manning the barricades of DM but nothing intimidating at all. I found a shaded spot on the kerb and seated myself next to a senior gentleman who told me that he had
travelled from Terengganu for the rally. We chatted and I found out that he and I were of the same age. He was Bersih veteran having attended all 3 rallies. This kind man politely told me that my Malay was very good. I stifled a laugh at myself and thanked him. Strangely, after that comment I didn't say much more to
We found a shaded place on the kerb to sit.
As the morning wore on the crowd increased and soon we heard chants and larger and more organised crowds walked into the area from the direction of Jalan TAR leading to Coliseum and further on, SOGO. Nothing untoward happened with people generally enjoying the rally in a Malaysian way. Talking to people they just met. Taking photos with fellow-rally-iers they hardly know. And of
course, talking about where to eat later.
Overhead, helicopters circled and each time they came over our area the crowd looked up, waved and cheered. Why? I don't know. After a while the crowd tired of the circling choppers and didn't look up anymore. Then I noticed that the
choppers didn't come round again. Instead, they were replaced by a couple of powered-paragliders who circled the Dataran airspace.
Who they were we didn't know but assumed that they were Bersih 3.0 supporters. Otherwise, who in their right minds would choose April 28 to fly over Dataran Merdeka?! The paragliders made several passes over us each time to thunderous
applause from the gathered mob. Someone voiced the thought that they might try to land on Dataran Merdeka. Whether they did or not we never found out. But they would be arrested someone said. Ya la but they can always plead engine failure. It was either land or crash into the people below. Somehow my cynicism didn't allow me to believe that had they landed the police would be in a mood for jokes.
Part of the almost unending row of policemen marching past towards Dataran Merdeka. Because I am vertically-challenged this photo is from a shitty angle. Sorry.
At about 1145 (I think) a HUGE contingent of policemen came marching up from Jalan TAR towards DM. There must have been hundreds of them because the marching line kept passing us and didn't seem to end. One of the onlookers
commented that the uniformed men didn't reallylook like real policemen. I looked a little closer and did feel that something (although I don't know what) was not right about the look of these "policemen". The colors of their berets weren't consistent. A lot of them looked too young and clearly had terror in their eyes and demeanor. They kept marching towards DM and I began to wonder where they were going to store them. Well, I suppose they could all gather at DM since it was out of bounds to anybody else. I reckon DM can easily hold 50 thousand policemen or pretend mata-mata. This police parade was cheered, not jeered mind you. Cheered! By everyone at our section of Jalan TAR. Less than 20 minutes later another loud cheer announced the arrival of an equally large contingent of yellow-shirted Bersih supporters who also kept marching towards DM. Where got space for so many people, I wondered. We were standing merely 40 meters from where the razor-wires began. True enough the line stopped marching and on order the Bersih people sat on the road. Some fanning themselves furiously and others trying to chat with other Bersih supporters like us seated on the side of the road under what little shade we could find from the noon-day sun that was blazing out from a passing cloud. After a few minutes the yellow shirts stood up and continued marching toward DM. Gonna be a tight squeeze over there for sure I thought.
From the direction of the DM we heard shouting and I stood up to observe the arrival of 2 FRU trucks. One clearly a water-cannon and the other a personnel carrier with red-helmeted FRU standing on the open turret top. As all rally 1st-timers, I'd expected some of us to react with trepidation at the sight of these
vehicles and the FRU uniforms. But there was strangely no worried looks or suggestions of moving away.
But around 1245 we decided to go look for somewhere cooler to rest since nothing much was happening at the sit-in. Someone spotted a cafe across the street and we crossed the still accessible road to Restoran President Kafe. It was packed! It was pure luck that we managed to find a table by the window that has just cleared.
Great location as it was under a powerful, circulating fan and we had a view of the rally action. The view out the window was towards Menara DBKL and part of one of the razor-wire barricaded entrances to Dataran Merdeka. We ordered some snacks and teh tarik and kopi-peng and teh-o ice limau etc. Some of us had Maggi mee goreng. The restaurant was doing a roaring business.
Hishammuddin Hussein and other BN flers who say that Bersih and other street demonstrations are bad for business are clearly not very suited to be businessmen. Earlier on, on the street I saw mak cik's and pak cik's doing brisk business selling bottled water, ice lollies, juices and there was even a stall set up selling keropok lekur!!! Bersih 3.0, like other rallies before it was clearly very good for business despite a minority of belly-aching shopkeepers and taxi drivers who keep getting interviewed and quoted in the MSM. There were also unidentified volunteers going around distributing bottles of cool water to mostly senior citizens. FREE!
But Restoran President's food was more business than taste so we decided to go find our lunch somewhere else.
Every square inch of space contained a Malaysian.
We came out to find a whole new scenario. The area where we had been casually walking around and seated earlier in the day was now packed with people. Almost every square inch of ground was occupied by Malaysians of all shapes and sizes. Some standing some sitting. There were balloons in the air. People were singing. Rasa Sayang. Negara-Ku. Chanting Bersih, bersih. Hidup bersih to the tune of Jingle Bells.
Next to me a mak cik was seated on the floor texting on her mobile phone. She was oblivious to the sea of legs that seemed to drown her presence at Bersih 3.0
Someone then suggested that it would be a good idea to walk up the road to the historic Coliseum Cafe for lunch. What a great idea! The Coliseum where Tunku and his colleagues had gathered to plan Merdeka, our country's independence. What better place? What better atmosphere? And we inched our way through the gathered crowd and I experienced what the authorities will refuse to have us believe. That Malaysians gathered for Bersih 3.0 were truly united as one nation, one people.
I was using a walking stick as side stepping the thousands of people standing and seated along the road was not easy for me. And each time I stumbled people around me jumped to my assistance. With genuine concern.
When we arrived at The Coliseum, dozens of other Malaysians had already had the same thought about the historical significance of being there on this fateful day. We found a table and I noticed that business on this Sunday was more than what the staff normally expected. And so an order for 2 jugs of beer took more than 35 minutes to arrive from the bar situated 10 ft. away. The mood in the Coliseum was jovial and relaxed and friendly. Chants of Bersih, Bersih. Hidup Bersih resonated at regular intervals from the bar. In the dining room people were
happily eating the house specialities of the historic cafe while chatting about their
experiences out on the streets. I met many friendly people who offered drinks and company and debate about the day's event. Then I felt a sudden sting in my nose and eyes. Seconds later, the staff of the cafe rushed out and hurriedly closed all the windows. Tear gas! The police fired tear gas. I heard someone shout. But the mood in the Coliseum hardly shifted. Such was the sanctity of the old drinking hole of Malaysia's first prime minister. People put wet towels to their faces in between bites of their Hainanese chicken chop or sizzling steak. Reports of high-
handed actions of the police came streaking in on everyone's Twitter, Facebook and sms. But the mood in the restaurant remained one of calm resilience. The old ghosts of The Coliseum would have been pleased. Outside the pop-pop-pop of
tear gas guns being fired could be distinctly heard. There was a small commotion when someone rushed to the Coliseum's doors and forcibly tore them open much to the protest of the people inside. Then the news filtered through that the police or someone had locked us all in. From the outside. Funnily enough the rear doors
were wide open. Some people at this stage tried to leave but soon came back inside saying that tear gas was still in the air. More tear gas filtered in through the cafe's air vents and people start pulling out wet towels to cover their nose and mouth. All the while not breaking the rhythm of their conversation or meal.
The lively and congenial atmosphere inside the historic Coliseum Cafe.
While waiting for the tear gas to disperse we organised our own Beer-sih rally around the Coliseum bar.
My wife and some friends decided to go upstairs to The Coliseum's balcony to take photos of what was happening outside. The photos she brought down showed an almost deserted section of Jalan TAR. A few stragglers were running for cover and some ran into the nearby Kamdar store which strangely kept its doors open. A waiter went round telling people not to go up to the balcony anymore. Later I would learn that the restaurant we'd been in earlier, the President
was right smack in the middle of the initial tear gas assault by the police. There was also a story circulating that the Swiss Inn hotel next door was where police broke in and hauled out and beat up some guy.
FRU personnel outside The Coliseum area of Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman
At about 5PM we decided to move out of the historic bar and make our way home after hearing that the situation outside was calming down and the crowds were dispersing peacefully.We went out through the cafe's rear door and turned across into Jalan TAR and then cut across to Masjid Jamek LRT. On the way there through a street bazaar which still had some stalls open we saw a large group of people in yellow running across. We retreated into a bank ATM lobby with its doors helpfully held open by the security guard. Seconds later it was quiet
again and we walked the few steps to the LRT station. The aluminium shutters to the station lobby had been ripped open and was hanging like a limp banana leaf from its hinges. Inside the LRT lobby life looked normal with people queueing up at the ticket machines and going to the trains. We made our way to the platform and boarded the waiting train and went home.
Looking back it wasn't so much a rally for clean and fair elections. For me it was a rally for Malaysian citizens to celebrate a new-found freedom and a new-found and LOUD voice.
It was a damn good day.