Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgement Seat,
But there is neither East nor West, Border nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth!
Here is Kipling extolling the belief that Asian and European are equal.
This statement was put to the test on the 13 hour flight from KL to London on 10 March. We were seated behind a Malay family made up of the father, a well-built man sporting a goatee beard (which seems to be increasingly a trade mark of Malay-Muslim men in Malaysia), a hijabed mother and two children - a little girl of about 5 and a boy of 7-8. I reckon the parents were in their mid to late thirties. Mother was sitting comfortably as the two children perused the Flight Safety document and happily chatted away about the parts of the plane - all in English. Father was reading a newspaper. It was a lovely picture of a normal family.
Soon the stewardess handed round the headphones and the Flight Entertainment System was switched on. Suddenly, this sweet, normal family was transformed into something quite different. From then on, we felt we'd been trapped in the living room of a gang of electronic barbarians, with mother and father engrossed in their "grown-up" movies (Hollywood soaps for wife, exploding bodies, spraying bullets, and car chases for hubby), while their two offspring went almost berserk playing electronic kiddy games - over and over and over again.
"Mummy how do you start this game?" "Press the Y," said Mummy. "Daddy, teach me to play this". And Daddy would lean over, click something. and go back to his blood and guts. There were constant outbursts of jubilant screeching and jumping on the seat from the boy-child (which spilled my drink as I was seated behind him) when he made a 'hit': "Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!", "Gotcha!", "Kill the bad guy! Kill the bad guy!" These exclamations went on for six or seven hours - the kid's favourite game was set in a jungle clearing, and he must have wiped out all living creatures ten times over.
The little sister eventually got to sleep although her "High Five" programme (made in Singapore) was never switched off. We had Aussie teenage-entertainers doing a half-hour bobbing-up-and-down routine for the kids repeated six or seven times during the flight. After about six hours, the boy-brat gave us a breather of about an hour. When he woke up, the fun and games started all over again and by the 10th hour of the flight, Iain had to ask the father (who was seated just in front of him) if he could please tell his son to stop shouting. Daddy was quite taken aback because he was seemingly unaffected by his son's antics! He was otherwise glued to his screen watching his endless series of movies. It was also obvious that the word "sorry" was not part of his vocabulary even though the two parents spoke only English to their children.
Finally, three-quarters of the way into a 13 hour plus journey, there was peace and quiet. Finally, we had escaped from the hell of being confined in the living room of this hi-tech-savvy English-speaking Malay middle class family.
Is this an example of the outcome of the meeting of East and West? In this one Malay-Muslim (or Muslim-Malay?) family, the children spoke to each other and to Mummy ( not 'mak) and Daddy (not Abah or Ayah) only in English - although Mummy and Daddy did, now and then, speak to each other in Malay. But it was not just the choice of language - it was the tone, the attitude, in how it was used.
The English spoken by the children did not include words like 'please' and 'thank you'. They were chiefly "Daddy, show me this". "Mummy, I want ......". If it is their desire to bring up their children in a language which is not their mother-tongue, they have to make sure that they are also conversant with the language of courtesy, of discipline and acceptable behaviour. In choosing the English language for bringing up children, parents have to be competent with the whole gamut of the language in communicating social relationships between parent and child, child and child and with other adults and institutions outside of the family. Parents should be aware for example, that competency with techno-language for games and computers are not good indicators for the social development of children. What I saw and heard from these English-speaking Malay children consisted mainly of expressions and nuances that were demanding, aggressive, competitive, and very 'me-me-me-istic' , very self-centred.
I suppose such children would do their parents proud. Imagine the approving comments. "Pandai betul budak- budak ni. Kecik- kecik lagi dah pandai cakap orang putih!!" But when the stewardess asked the little boy "What drink would you like?". The little boy merely said, "I want lemonade." And he didn't even look at her because his eyes were glued to the screen.
Unlike my generation, post-Merdeka Malays are well educated, well taught in both asohan ugama and bahasa ibunda . Thousands were sent overseas ( USA, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, NZ, Australia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Japan, Indonesia) by the Government . They came home to good jobs, holding responsible posts - savouring the opportunities that their parents and grandparents were denied under British colonialism. They became part of Malaysia's middle class and upper middle class.
Some decided to remain living abroad for reasons like "I do not think I can settle down to working in Malaysia - no work ethics - you have to 'know people' to get anywhere." Fair enough. I made the same choice to leave the Singapore Education Service because I was 'getting nowhere' - all because of my skin colour. But there was one difference - I had served out my five year bond for the Bursary I received from the Government. I also carried on working for another six years because I felt I owed it to my people - to the Malay, Chinese and Indian kids - especially those whose milieu was not middle class and privileged. But never mind - all that is cerita lama.
Resting here in Leicester. nursing my gammy leg I reflect on my Nusantara maritime forefathers.
They would shunt around the Malay Archipelago in their prahus and sailing ships moving and trading (and fighting too!) from island to island, from coast to coast and setting up riverine and coastal settlements, trading posts and sultanates. Their sense of belonging was drawn out in the embrace of land and water throughout the Malay Archipelago - in their Tanah-Air.
Today our Malays fly from city to city, from peninsula and island to continents, from tropical to temperate and desert climes. from East to West and South to where ever they reckon the grass is greener. In a way it replicates the nomadic jalan-jalan and kembara of their ancestors but their choice of destination is a far far 'alien' world which requires the Malay to dilute and subdue their cultural identity to that of the host's. Integrate or be damned!
When the Boyanese moved to Singapore and the Bugis to Selangor, they did not feel like they'd moved to an alien country. Even Chinese from China and Indians from India were not subjected to strong conditioning into the host culture.
When the British FARELF ( Far East Land Forces) left in 1971, Abah was called to the CO's office. The CO told him that Inche Hamid bin Jala would be given the right to migrate to Britain when ever he is ready. My father did not take up the offer. The reason? He told my brother Mus that he did not want his children and grandchildren to turn into dysfunctional Malays in a foreign land. Hujan mas negri orang......... Of course there would be some 'enterprising and ambitious' gung ho young Malays who would regard him as a scaredy cat, a frog under a coconut shell. Where ever he is, and if he can see how his cucu and cicit are getting on today with their culture and identity intact as well, I am certain Abah knew he made the right decision.
And I am so glad he kept us where we belonged.
Below is a map to show where we belonged. Abah 'migrated' to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur and he built us a home at Pasir Panjang. Being the Malay that he was, he chose a riverine location. Our kampung house in Kampung Abu Kassim was situated on a river bank, the banks of Sungai Nipah.. That river was un-named in our school geography textbooks and it was not until many years later when I was rummaging through some old books and maps that I discovered the name of this water feature that had been a part of our 'playground'. I include Sungai Nipah in my hand-drawn map - my tribute to a kampung life that has disappeared forever in Singapore. That river made so many contributions to our happy family life.
Tempat jatuh lagi di kenang, ini kan lagi tempat bermain.
Victoria Park, fish and chips, daffodils and roses, canals and steam trains, second hand bookshops and charity shops - I love them all. But my heart and spirit and soul belongs to my Tanah Air. Thank you dear Abah, for not transplanting us, for keeping us home.
Speaking for myself, from a generation whose asohan ugama and (written) bahasa ibunda is not as polished as the post-Merdeka generation, I could not ever bring myself to dilute and emasculate my Malayness for the ways and wherefores of the West and the Middle East. Yes, today's young families may face many different and daunting pressures. It's not for me to pontificate because the young have to face many more long years than I have left to sort out their Malayness - assuming they still have pride in it. But it saddens me to observe the ways of that young Malay-Muslim family on that journey by plane from East to West.
Kipling expressed a laudable belief. But he made one misjudgement, Between East and West there will only be one 'strong man' - the one from the West. We of the East, we Malays have to be brave and dignified. Do ponder on the poem "Belonging" by G. Adali-Mortty on my side-bar.
But it must be stressed that a Malay can be emasculated even when he remains on Malaysian soil.
On the second day of our return, my right leg gave up the ghost.
|AsH's new Apps - a walking stick and a hot water bottle.|
No walks in the park, no shopping at Leicester Animal Rescue, no bag of chips at the market. But the spouse cooked me a yummy nasi goring kampung with ikan bilis for lunch yesterday.
We found this in our backyard when we got back a week ago - by courtesy of our dear friend Jack.
|A Tub of Snowdrops.|
It was the snowdrops that helped my nephew Shah to perk up after an attack of asthma in Hull, where his father was doing his degree in the 1980s. These white beauties are doing the same for his ole ma'ngah and hopefully her leg will soon perk up too.
Finally a few lines for our sleepwalking Malays.
Who's gonna tell you when it's too late?
Who's gonna tell you things aren't so great?
You can't go on, thinking nothing's wrong.
Who's gonna drive you home tonight?