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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Malaysia. A citizen's memory


I just recently heard about and read a bit about the big Hoo-Hah raised by Perkasa over a song recorded by Jaclyn Victor. After that I received a forwarded post on my Facebook. It's a comment and it was written by an old friend, William. I thought you might like to read it too. It's long but worth the time. Enjoy......

The furore over a song recorded by Jaclyn Victor five years ago is a painful r
eminder that religious and racial extremism continues to freely haunt and divide Malaysia under a 55-year-old government.

Immaterial of the song's religious sentiment, Malaysians will always have to contend with people like Perkasa's Syed Hassan Syed Ali, who will insist that Islam must reign supreme with an iron fist in spite of a secular federal constitution.

The divisiveness has not only gone unchecked by BN for decades, it has been fanned and encouraged.

I was born weeks before Merdeka, and the Malaysia of my youth was never secular in practice or its government openly discriminatory to my Catholic faith. My religion and Indian heritage were my cross.

The township of my youth, Sentul, just off Jalan Ipoh in Kuala Lumpur, was a bustling and thriving concoction of Chinese, Malays and people from the wider Indian subcontinent.

Within a square-mile radius were mosques, churches of various denominations, Hindu temples and places of prayer for Buddhists, Sikhs and others.

Add the coffee-shops, stalls, cafes and restaurants that offered banana-leaf fare, laksa, chap fan, mee rebus, mamak mee, char siew pau and nasi lemak, and you had a wonderful township that embraced all ethnic backgrounds, races, religions and cultures, notwithstanding the baggage that came with it.

Most public schools were non-denominational, and boys and girls from myriad backgrounds studied and played together. Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali and Christmas would see whole, mixed-race groups of us visit our friends' homes en masse and 'halal' was not yet a force that segregated us.

Underlying it all, sadly, was a system that had already begun to make life difficult for the non-Malay and non-Muslim. Ultimately, my school record suffered, I descended from a straight-A student who consistently made the top five in primary school, to an angry, disillusioned young Malaysian who only managed less than his best in the LCE, MCE and HSC examinations.

Deep and meaningful friendships with Malays were lost and I developed, even nursed, a strong distaste for many things Malay and Muslim, resented every new mosque and call to prayer, and couldn't believe that pork-sellers at the wet market were suddenly relegated to a partitioned corner at the back.

Through the wonderful help of my best friend, a former classmate and Malaysian Baba who also grew up in Sentul as a Catholic, many of those friendships have been rebuilt through very happy reunions that he has organised on my every single trip home.

You cannot buy Malaysians like him, but you can corrupt a whole nation.

I now stand as a Malaysian who has thrown off the yoke that made me, in a sense, racist and bigoted. I no longer blame an entire faith because of some of its followers, and have awakened to the beautiful rainbow of races in Malaysia.

I can only speak from painful personal experiences, which I will recount here in hope and prayer that a new government will forever wipe out the destructive, soul-destroying practices and policies that allowed both institution and individual to make so many of us, impressionable and innocent, to see ourselves as 'us' amid the ever-encroaching presence of 'them'.

Discrimination and division

While this is only one Malaysian's story, the experiences I now share played out in a thriving and beautiful multi-racial community close to the heart of the nation's capital.

And from everything I heard and read about, Sentul was not the exception to the debilitating rule of discrimination and division that has dragged us to the Malaysia of today.

St Joseph's Church, 10am, Sunday morning, early 1970s

What was once a low sidewalk outside the church along Jalan Sentul, which allowed scores of cars to park after whole families were driven to weekly Mass, is rebuilt overnight by the local council, to a height that simply makes parking impossible. Suddenly, we have to park streets away from the church, if not simply take the bus.

Today, whole cities in Malaysia face transport gridlock as Muslims double-park on thoroughfares and main roads for Friday prayers, with the assistance of traffic police no less. We simply live with it, acceptance has descended into the irritable and ultimately insulting notion of tolerance, and we are long resigned to policies overt and covert that make the free practice of religion ever more difficult.

Form 2, La Salle Secondary School

I wake up one morning at home to read in the newspaper that I must achieve a certain minimum score in the Bahasa Melayu paper if I am to hope for a Grade 1 in the LCE. I immediately develop a mental block to learning that language, and in an ultimately self-defeating and warped exercise in resistance to the wider education system, I go on to pay the price in all subsequent exams.

Form 3, La Salle

Students are being registered to sit for the LCE in the school classrooms. One by one, each of us stands as the teacher in charge reads out our names and residential addresses, and asks us to confirm the details.

My turn comes up, and the Malay teacher reads out my full name (including my middle name and the name I have chosen for the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation): "William John Martin de Cruz," he reads out, pauses, and then adds for all to hear: "You don't want to add son of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, ah?"

Today, a single utterance of this nature, made against a Muslim or Islam, is punishable by law, while the BN government has publicly shown how it will dilly and dally as it mulls what to do with people who bring along a decapitated head of a cow to protest against the presence of a Hindu temple in a mainly Muslim neighbourhood.

For the record, this same teacher would go on, in that same year of my Form 3 exam, to distribute 'leaked' questions for the BM paper. I was given the chance to pay for the questions, late at night on the eve of the exam, but chose not to fatten his wallet.

Form 3, La Salle

My brother, his best friend and I form a singing trio that takes part in ‘Bakat TV’, a nationally televised talent competition that has us all riveted to black-and-white screens every Sunday night. Neighbours from my Jalan Kovil Hilir home crowd my living room on our performance nights.

Fanfare magazine, The Malay Mail and various Tanil newspapers give us publicity we never dreamed of; my teachers despair at the 'distraction', and say so in the remarks column of my report cards.

About noon of the Sunday when the finalists are to be announced in a special TV show, a RTM representative telephones us at home, to ask if it is true that our trio will be cut down to a duet - the national broadcaster has come to know that my brother's friend is due to leave for Britain to further his studies, and his departure will come before the date of the finals.

That night on TV, our group is named as a finalist. It is then announced that we have been disqualified - because if you begin as a trio, you must close as a trio. The women in my family cry, my brother and I are devastated, speechless.

Not long after, in the same talent quest, an all-Malay five-piece singing group enters the finals despite the fact that they have been reduced to four, and they go on to win.

1973/74, RTM headquarters, Angkasapuri

My brother and I are invited to perform at a Christmas TV special. We arrive at the briefing early one Saturday. As the performers and RTM backing band mingle, a clerk comes up to us and shows us a sheet of paper, with a list of words and phrases, typed out one after the other to make almost one-and-a-half pages.

It's a Christmas show, but according to that piece of paper (RTM policy on the run), any song we sing cannot have words such as Jesus, Mary, Joseph, God, saints, angels, Bethlehem, Alleluia, Christ, holy....it goes on, ad nauseam.

We nevertheless end up singing a Kris Kristofferson classic, ‘The Pilgrim (Chapter 33)’, which sounds religious but actually glorifies a legend among musicians who drinks, takes drugs and loves like the best and worst of them. We have thrown a stone at the fools on the hill, but a blindly ignorant RTM just doesn't get it.

1975, Registration Department

Despite the fact I was born in a Petaling Jaya hospital, and have the papers to prove it, I have lived with a red identity card (IC), which makes finding permanent work near impossible.

Upon my first application, I am told I am ineligible for that prized blue IC because my family cannot show proof of my late father's place of birth. Any number of people will attest to his being Malaysian, including respected government officials and professionals, but it is not good enough simply because we have no papers to prove it.

But there is a bit of light - I can attend an interview that will re-assess my eligibility. It comes down to one question that I now cannot recall, but I have the correct answer. I am granted a blue IC and get on the road to citizenship.

Ahead of me, in the queue of other 'Malaysians' also wanting that vital, blue IC, is an old, bent Chinese woman, whose chances of getting the correct answer immediately look dismal to me.

I clearly remember the question that is posed to her (it is simply put to her from across a counter for all to hear) - Who is the king of Malaysia? She replies, "Agong". She fails.

I later learn that she should have said, ‘Duli Yang Maha Mulia Seri Paduka Baginda Yang diPertuan Agong’. The poor woman was probably illiterate.

Today, we all hear stories of how citizenship is being doled out, constituency by constituency, to build voter blocs in any number of elections.

This is part of my story as a Malaysian of Indian background and Catholic faith.

This is why I must return to Malaysia to vote, as soon as the 13th general election is called, to help Pakatan Rakyat in any way I can.

And this is why I will be very vigilant of a new and welcome Pakatan government in Putrajaya, as a member of society who will strive to ensure such bigotry, extremism and racism as I have endured may only be relegated to the scrapheap of an ugly history we must all leave behind.

(William is an old friend. He resides with his family in Australia and will be home to vote in the GE13)

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is the same story. They say they love their country Malaysia and yet they abandoned ship and moved their entire family to another country typically Australia and write about the good old days... and tell everyone to fight and live the dream of a better Malaysia...

patrickteoh said...

To be fair, Anonymous 1:07PM William is like many other Malaysians. They live abroad not because they love their country less but that they love the education of their families more. Like many other Malaysians living abroad, William and his wife participate in the politics of the country. They keep abreast of the news. They do what they can within the confines of their circumstances. And they fully intend to come home to vote in the next general elections as they have been doing in the past. Which is more than can be said about some Malaysians who live here. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Given a choice most if not all would want to reside abroad and vote the opposition because they have nothing to lose but for those who are still living here they have to face the consequences because maybe the mindset is that it is better to deal with the known devil than an unknown devil and they take whatever opportunity that is available still and strive to send their children overseas while they endure the shit here and continue to vote the same. That is the sad fact Patrick and that is why nothing has changed and all these bashing and anti rants will not change their mind but instil more fear that may be all..

ordinary malaysian said...

What a great, revealing read! If I should decide to reproduce the whole article in my own blog, do I have your permission, Patrick?

Anonymous said...

pat,
This all because of a devil named ibrahim, which look like a katak.
have you seen a katak biting a coin? I think he is from hell where come to ruin the community and the country.!! even everythoing also he want to put his mouth on.

megaman said...

Totally support what patrick said...

Those that left are not necessarily unpatriotic or worse traitors.

Those that stayed are not necessarily freedom fighters or patriots.

It's like our Chinese or Indian immigrant forefathers. They left their homeland primarily because situations were so bad that they were compelled to take risks and leave for better opportunities elsewhere.

Do you call them traitors or unpatriotic ? If so, all non-bumiputras are descendants of traitors.

BUT we are NOT unpatriotic and we are definitely NOT traitors to anyone or any countries.

I am a honest man, I returned to Malaysia after more than 10 years abroad not because I have made enough or there's a red carpet waiting here. I returned because I am homesick and I miss my family members here.

BUT I am also a father, and things don't change in 5 years time, I will have no choice but to leave with my wife and children. Simply because I want to give them the best education, healthcare and security that I can afford.

Things that the current government doesn't seem to care enough to do a good job.

NIAMAH!!!

Sandy said...

I support the views of Anonymous 1:07PM.

99% of those who left Bolehland can only talk but no action. that's why they left in the first place.

I hope William is not one of them.
Do not just provide your past memory, act for a better Malaysia.

patrickteoh said...

Sandy are you implying that we do nothing? That's very presumptuous of you. Are you acting for a better Malaysia yourself? Tell and teach us how. Thank you.

daniel said...

Reading William's story was like looking at several parts of my own life experiences. The discrimination, the school (my cousin had to learn jawi in school although he was chinese and his family was taoist), the pork seller, the double parking on fridays, the azan, prayers and sermons through the loudspeakers, the christmas tv show (our church choir was supposed to record carols for rtm radio but cannot have songs with those 'dreaded' words) all happened also but in Johor Bahru instead. I couldn't leave, but like Pat said, for the sake of my children's education, I sent them overseas. That does not make me any less Malaysian. I, too, intend to exercise my rights.

Anonymous said...

Some people call these 'ex'-M'sians runners.

While many of these 'ex'-M'sians term their actions as prepare to fight for another day. Thus they still keep their old nationality despite the donkey-years of oversea residency.

In between, many do actually give up, for whatever reasons, & turn their back on the 'good-old' M'sia.

Only memory remains, for them!

For those who stay - many do that bcoz they've no alternative to choose, due to financial &/or skill requirement. In a sense, they r stuck with the system. They can either take all within & remain silence or they turn desperadoes & fight every which way.

Of course, there r those who choose to remain despite all the opportunities to emigrate. These r the idealists, & their fight would be solid & uneasy to sway.

So of the 3 categories, which one R U?

Anonymous said...

As a person, I understand what William's feel of he had been treated unfairly by the government servant who is Malay. As a Malay, I've experienced how Chinese and Indian being racist, favoritism on their similar ethnic although other Malay are more qualified. I think all the ethnics are having similar habit which is racism and favoritism.

Anonymous said...

As a person, I understand what William's feel of he had been treated unfairly by the government servant who is Malay. As a Malay, I've experienced how Chinese and Indian being racist, favoritism on their similar ethnic although other Malay are more qualified. I think all the ethnics are having similar habit which is racism and favoritism.

Anonymous said...

wat if i can't get a decent job here despite my qualifications ..but no kulitfication...can u feed my family so that i can stay in malaysia...can't i be there and still comment about things b4 and now here

Anonymous said...

since i am working and staying out of malaysia i can't comment or put forward my views of things in malaysia despite am still a malaysian...hmmm makes a lot of sense

Hello~ said...

Sandy,

It is easy for you to say those who venture out are just talk and no action

What would you suggest if the system itself discriminate the people in preference to a certain race?

People don't just leave their home and family just for the fun of it and people staying here doesn't mean they approve the situation here. It is because they have no choice.

Let's give a good example which I am sure you guys are aware of

Property in Msia. Certain race gets a special discount while others don't. One may say it is because of a certain policy created long ago to balance wealth between all races. After so many years, with the tremendous changes and all, they are still maintaining the policy. With property prices reaching 1mil & above, one might think only a rich person could afford such luxury. However certain race is bound to get between 7% - 15% discount just because they are the so-called priviledged ones. Bear in mind 15% of 1mil is already rm150k, you guys do the math (if you can afford such house, or even a 400k house, why they still get the special treatment which originally meant for the poor?).

This is 1 of the many unequalities here. Tell me, is this fair?
People leave because they do not have a choice, and now their choice is here, via their vote which they hope can bring a change to this biased system.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Patrick, but WIlliam is a moron who should not come back to Malaysia.As a citizen of a new country, he has no right to meddle in our affairs and vote, as the impact of his vote will not affect him not his family.

While we sympathize that he misses his silly past when halal was not a barrier, it is no excuse to degenerate the Malays and their way of lie.

Like it or not, Malaysia was formed from the Malay states with the Malay culture as it foundation the Malay as the national language and Islam its official religion.

I am appalled that one comment says he was forced to learn Jawi, excuse me, jawi was the exclusive written language of Malaysia until the Tunku absorbed the likes of you and Khr Johari killed off Jawi so ingrates like the extremist chinese and anglophiles do not struggle through the jawi script,the abolishment of the Jawi was a great sacrifice of the Malays, if was letters written in Jawi that propagated the Merdeka movement and stopped the Malayan union in its track.

As for the inconveniences during Friday prayers, we have no apology for that, it is our religious obligation and we Muslims also tolerate the inconveniences of other religions, the traffic at temples, the claiming o every mango tree with a yellow ribbon as sacred Hindu ground, the fire crackers, the thaipusan procession that caused the cities to stand still, the tokongs under every tree with sacrifial animal or food left rotting, the hungry ghost festival with its burning effigies, the catholic churces with its child abuse. It is us the Malays who should be offended, In williams new country, all thise things that the Malays face will baneed, the tokong under atree, no no, the fire crackers, absolutely not during the dry season, burning effifgies, see ya in court mate...

SO what if halal food is a barrier, the non Malays have their exotic diets, vegetarians,beef, no eating meat on Friday by devout catholics...demeaning halal requirement as a barrier to friendship is shallow on WIlliam;s part or he is just a anti Muslim bigot.

Why should you impose your values or way of life on the Malay when you clearly despise theirs.

It is strange that William have left our shores yet bear ill grudge bu writing foul of the Malays, before you tell what is wrong with us, look what is wrong with you and the other non Malays/Muslims.Because it takes two hands to clap.

Your coming back to vote is farce, because you have no passion for the country and its intricate socio politics. Since you are happy with the non halal and no friday prayers gridlock in Australia, stay there, you are no Malaysian and we do not need your vote to impose your alien values on the majority of Malaysians.

Anonymous said...

What happen to the teachers in school now? My daughter gets her certificate naming her as Cheryl Teoh d/o Peter Teoh! We never ever name a chinese girl this way.
And it get better..... she can not bring food from home for her own food. Haram to have babi in school. No home burger or sandwich suspect pork meat.

Hello~ said...

Hi, Anonymous (3.05pm)

You gotta be joking right? Did you not read the entire post or you're just shooting blanks on religion?

William is just saying that the old way of living which promotes racial harmony being diminished because of policies implemented by the gov which clearly promotes race supremacy against others. When the policies are biased, people from other race will be discontent thus the comments. Based on your post, clearly you chose to highlight some and being ignorant on the larger pic at hand. Or are you too blind to look deeper on the root of the problem?

William has no issue with islam but is discontent with the implementation by the gov. It used to be equal, but currently other races seemed to be expected to pave way for one particular race just because their so call guranteed rights. What about the rights of others? Don't give me the crap of "you guys are given citizenship so shut up" or "if you don't like it here, piss off"

It is just like during Japanese occupation, Chinese is being execcuted while the Malays are given jobs. Given the majorities' level of education, it is understandable to hate. However for the situation here, is your intellect that low until you shoot others races before checking why there is discontent at the first place?

Since you brought up the Merdeka issue, you should know that if race is the issue, there won't be a unification back then. Thus race/religion is not prob as they stand united before.

Nobody likes to disrespect other race for no reason but presently there are alot of issues which show unfairness ; housing quota which reserve best lots for 1 race, education quota which reserve space for 1 race even if the students don't deserve it, and more. Again, it is not about the race, it is the biased policies

Get your head straight before you bash other race without checking first

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