It has been 49 years since the Union Jack was brought down, but somehow the legacy of that occupation remains. Malaysia may have progressed from some backyard jungle nation to one that makes International impact, has its own satellites, and sending men to space, but somehow little has changed.
We were colonised for 446 years: by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British (through manipulation), the Japanese, then back to the British. When the British came, they brought in labourers from China and India to work on the tin mines and estates. It was the policy of the British that the Malays be kept to administrative work; the Chinese the economy; the Indians, being the minority, the labourers. Somehow this policy has embedded within the minds of most of the people of Malaysia now. There is not many Chinese working in the civil service, probably because it doesn’t pay as much, or it is seen as a Malay domain. The Malays tend to think of it as a Malay domain, and the prospect for non-Malays to progress isn’t as bright as it is for the Malays. The Indians will try to fit into any of the categories as best as they can in order to be accepted by the rest.
I remember when I was small, a little over a year after the May 13 tragedy, I was sent to a Chinese kindergarten in Malacca, and was the only Malay there. I made friends with the non-Malays; after all I was the only non-Chinese in that kindergarten. In the evenings, my father would take me to his friend’s house: and the late Uncle Ah Boon and his sons would converse with me in Mandarin and teach me the Chinese characters. We moved to Petaling Jaya a little over a year later, and still, my father sent me to a Chinese kindergarten. Together with my neighbour’s son, Fazrin Azuar (son-in-law of Rafidah Aziz who got into controversies of sorts over some allegations), we befriended everyone, not knowing any boundaries especially that of the colour of skin. I also had a crush on a very cute chinese girl (well, 6-year olds are all cute anyway) called Sharon who used to live somewhere in the SEA Park area.
Then I went to St John’s Primary (1) Institution at Jalan Bukit Nanas. Among my best friends were Yong Choon Wah, Chow Kah Sung, Adrian Lim, Lee Yew Wing, in addition to Mizan Yahya (now married to a member of the Johor Royal Family), Harith Iskandar (yes, the funny guy), and Zamri Ridzwan (now Haji). Still, we knew no boundaries. Even when I was in the Malay College, most of my friends, especially those who came from the cities, ignored racial barriers. And Audrey Foo of Ipoh (now married and living in Teluk Intan) was my favourite butt. Yes, she’s beautiful too.
However, as we grew up, it is the elders, the self-centered ones, the ones with self-interests and own agendas…the ones before us who fed us with stories about race, language etc that had us all then look at each other with contempt. That had caused the racial barrier to be drawn between us..old friends. I remember bumping into one of those best friends mentioned above in England. As freshmen, we got on well, until he was enticed to join this grouping chaired by some students from Hong Kong. Then slowly he withdrew from me, and one night over the dinner table, muttered something racist at me.
That was a blow to me. Coming from a family that is pretty well mixed (we have inter-racial marriages in my family), I found it hard to comprehend this friend’s behaviour. However, that is the reality.
Now, even as a member of UMNO, I hold dear to my friendship with those within and without parties such as the MCA, MIC, Gerakan, DAP, KeADILan, PAS…as to me, friendship surpasses the importance of politics. And in 2003, I am proud that the Government had accepted 2 out of 3 proposals made by my division for the introduction of English in the subjects of Science and Mathematics to bring the Malays at par with the rest, as we believe that the Malays should equip themselves with knowledge to better themselves rather than be spoon-fed all the time. I am still disappointed with the shooting down of the third proposal – to make Mandarin a compulsory subject for students – by language extremists.
49 years down the line, people are less tolerable, there are extremists amongst us who would rather see the division of races continue in this great nation. Office mates still flock by the race to go out to lunch, the Malays still prefer to live in a mainly Malay area, so do the Chinese in mainly Chinese area.
We may have concrete built around us, but somehow we still have that jungle mentality. The legacy of our occupiers still run thick within our blood.
Selamat Menyambut Hari Kemerdekaan ke-49. Make sure you are also liberated mentally.