Thursday, August 31, 2017

Musings on Malaysianess and Malaysia on Malaysia's 60th Merdeka Day

The bunga raya (hibiscus) may be Malaysia's national flower 
but it also is Hawaii's state flower, and 
can be found growing in Hong Kong's country parks!

 A Hong Kong tram bearing advertising for 
my home state of Penang :)

On Malaysia's 60th Merdeka Day, I find myself -- as has been the case more often than not -- outside of the country where I was born.  What with my having lived for two thirds of my life (and the great bulk of my adult years) outside of Malaysia, it can be hard -- well nigh impossible, even -- to feel 100 percent Malaysian; and this even without taking into account that my ethnicity and Malaysia's Bumiputra policy makes it so that I often feel like a second class citizen in my homeland.

At the same time though, as a result of my having spent the bulk of my childhood in my native land, there are parts of me that I think will forever be Malaysian -- or, more narrowly, specific Penangite (including, I often joke, my stomach and tastebuds).  Also, it is indeed the case that, say, whenever I see a hibiscus, my thoughts invariably turn to Malaysia since I learnt decades ago that that whose name in Bahasa Malaysia nicely translates into English as "festive flower" is Malaysia's national flower.       

In addition, especially in my childhood but even after I grew into adulthood, I've actually have had a number of heroes and heroines who are Malaysian.  Among them are the Malaysian football team of the Soh Chin Aun-Santokh Singh-Mohktar Dahari-James Wong-R. Aramugam-Shukor Salleh era (commemorated last year via hit movie OlaBola, whose beautifully multi-cultural and multi-lingual -- music videos are really cool!), writer Adibah Amin (whose Sri Delima columns in the New Straits Times I'd regularly and eagerly read), singer Sudirman Arshad, cartoonist Lat and the late, great Yasmin Ahmad.    

When I think of them collectively, I realize that all these individuals made/make me proud to be Malaysian, and all embody a Malaysia I truly love: one that is multi-ethnic and -cultural, and often warmly and comfortably so.  On a not unrelated note: I've had the good fortune to meet two of them (Lat, at a book-signing event back when I was in primary school(!); and Yasmin Ahmad, after a Hong Kong International Film Festival screening of Talentime, which -- unbeknownst to us then -- turned out to be her final film); and I found it rather telling that, in both cases, us Malaysians communicated very naturally in English -- which I often think of as a politically neutral medium of communication for Malaysians -- rather than Bahasa Malaysia.

More than incidentally, Lat published his autobiography in English last year.  In another stroke of luck, I happen to come across an autographed copy of Lat: My Life and Cartoons on my trip back to Penang last month (to eat durian) and, of course, immediately snapped it up.  And reading the following snippet from this great and wonderful Malaysian's account of his childhood made me love him all over again, if not all the more:-

"We... visited one another's houses -- to listen to records, discuss books borrowed from the town library and to organise movie outings. Our varied skin tones and cultural differences brought us youngsters even closer together. Our friendships were so close we felt as if we would be best friends till we grew old..." 

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