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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Excerpt # 45: A Museum Of Vintage Cars


Excerpt # 45:  A Museum Of Vintage Cars

            After our clinical digression with the elbow lump, the sultan was now onto his favorite topic, cars. He became animated with a glitter in his eyes as he proudly listed his vintage collection. Would I like to see them?

            Before I could answer he was up, sprightly using his cane not as support but as a pointer. He led us onto his huge covered garage a level below, filled with classic vintage cars. I was not sure which shined more, the garage floor or the cars. This one my father drove during King George’s coronation, he enthused, and that one, Queen Elizabeth’s, both gleaming elegant silver Rolls. Then there was a sleek yellow Studebaker, my favorite. He had enough Bentleys and Rolls for each day of the week. If his teenage grandson were to have a Volkswagen bettle, it would be oddly out of place in that garage. No, that was not a garage, more a museum. I hope he had enough insurance for the priceless collection.

            It seemed that every time he or his father went to England they would come home with a Rolls or a Bentley. In those days those cars would be transported by ship. Today it would be by air. I remembered being bumped once from my flight from Los Angeles to KL because the King at the time, that sultan’s son, had bought a Delorean to bring home. To do that he commandeered a Malaysian Airlines 747 cargo combo. Thus was my seat given to one of his many hangers-on.

            From cars to Arabians, the sultan’s other passion. He had only a few at that palace, his main stable was at the other side of town, at Pasir Pelangi, where he had enough for more than a few polo teams. Captain Othman, the sultan’s ADC and who was always beside or behind him, paraded one of the prized ones. A superb rider on a magnificent beast, you could not get a better equestrian display than that morning. The sultan invited me to join Othman on another horse, but I politely declined.

            I had only two previous occasions to be on horses, the first when I had a summer job in Lake Louise, way up in the Rockies. My fellow worker was a farm boy from Ontario and an expert on horses. On our days off we would explore the Rockies, renting our horses from a nearby stable. I had seen the Rockies once before on my arrival in Canada on the flight from Vancouver to Ottawa to meet the Foreign Aid officials. I had read about the mountain range in my geography books in secondary school. The dry prose of my textbooks did not prepare me for or do justice to the spectacular grandeur that I saw from the air. Peaks after rugged peaks still snow-covered in mid-September, and lush green, colorful valleys in between.

            That summer I experienced the Rockies at ground level, the grandeur seen this time at eye level. We would ford streams, gallop across plateaus, trot above the tree line, and scale up the peaks. At the peak, everywhere we turned we would be rewarded with one spectacular panoramic view after another. I also sensed what thin air meant and how ordinary breathing could be an effort at that level!

            With the superb instructions from my friend, I was not at all sore and my horse was very responsive to me. Those outings acquainted me with the subtleties of horses, or at least a little bit of it and enough to be overconfident of my skills.

            A few summers later Karen and I were holidaying with two other couples at Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta. After my Lake Louise experience, I fancied myself an accomplished rider and thus led the posse. I looked back every so often to make sure that everyone was fine and no horse was acting up. We came upon a lush flat spring meadow. That was just what I needed to make the group go faster. I started a slow gallop and looked back, and all the other horses followed suit. No one seemed frightened and we were all whooping it up! Soon as it would be inevitable in such cases, the horses became competitive (or was it their riders?) and someone hollered, “Let’s have a race!” And off we went!

            I looked back and the girls’ blond hairs were flying straight up in the air just like in the movies, as were the horses’ tails. Then I saw someone fast catching up to me. I pressed my heels and my horse went flying. I looked behind to see my friends left behind in my smoke. Then, suddenly, something happened. Karen who was following me best described that something.

            All she saw was my body hurling over my horse’s head and landing way ahead while my horse stood still. The others following included two would-be doctors and two nurses. Both nurses had neurosurgical experiences. Karen said that I went over so smoothly, and gracefully too, that she thought it was a planned maneuver on my part. The others however, imagined a more catastrophic scenario, as with me breaking my neck and being paralyzed. They stopped and were relieved when they saw me getting up and running to my horse ready to mount it and proceed with the race. It was then I realized there was a deep narrow creek ahead that made my horse stopped. I did not see it as I was busy looking behind. I still did not know why my horse stopped as it could have easily jumped over it. There was still a lot I did not know about horses.

            After we realized how lucky I was, we decided to return and not press our luck. Allah had protected me that day, and I did not want to indulge Him further.

            That day when the sultan invited me to go riding with Othman, I demurred. I was unmarried back then but now I had a wife and two young kids. Horses, unlike simple village folks, do not always obey the commands of their master, even if he were a sultan.

            After the visit to the palace Karen dropped me at the hospital. Alone at home and with the excitement subsiding, she wrote her parents in Canada, “… so you can tell your friends that your daughter had a private audience with the sultan here!”

            She then added, “Big deal! Sultans are a dime a dozen here, one for each tiny state.”

            Later in the evening, we pondered on the sultan’s offer to help us find a house. It did not take us long to realize that we were happy to find our house on our own. Had the sultan directed the top civil servant in the state to find us a government bungalow, imagine how high my standing would have soared among the local bureaucrats! I would have been insufferable, and untouchable! But then we would forever be indebted to the man.


Excerpt #46: Clinical Challenges In JB

Excerpted from the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, 2018.

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