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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
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, February 09, 2020

Excerpt #53: Joining The Hari Raya Exodus Out Of Town

Excerpt #53:  Joining The Hari Raya Exodus Out Of Town

         For the trip to my parents’ house in Seremban to celebrate Hari Raya as well as Adzman’s wedding, Karen and I decided that it would be far safer if we were to avoid the busy roads and take the train instead. That would also give us a chance to see the southern side of the country at a leisurely pace.

         Days before, the public was urged to purchase travel tickets early. Karen kept reminding me of this lest we would be stranded. I was too preoccupied at work to pay any attention to such domestic details. I also could not stand being in long lines just to buy our train tickets. Besides, we would be going first class. I knew my countrymen well enough that I did not have to worry about those tickets. The crowd would be for third-class tickets, or maybe some for second class. Those who could afford first class would not take the train. They would rather drive their BMWs and Mercedes into the villages to show off to their less well-to-do folks. I reassured Karen not to worry about our tickets. As a last resort we could always drive.

         We left on a Tuesday, two days before Hari Raya. We took a taxi to the train station. Then, surprise of surprises, the driver could not drop us at the station as the mob had extended far outside. Karen reminded me in a tone of unconcealed smugness about buying our tickets earlier. Now we would have to navigate through the mob just to get to the station, let alone buy our tickets. I too was now worried that we would be stranded and have to go to Plan B – drive to Seremban with all the attendant risks on the congested highways.

         We waded our way through the throngs for the last 100 yards or so, with the kids and luggage in tow. As we weaved through the crowd I saw that the window of the first-class ticket booth was clear. I kept pointing there, assuring everyone that I was not cutting their queue. The mob seeing that I was headed not to their ticket booths, and with Karen and the kids behind me, assumed that I was either somebody important or that I was a porter for this Mat Salleh woman and her children going first class. They all made way for us!

         We arrived at the counter and there was an Indian gentleman nonchalantly reading his newspaper. I had to knock on the glass panel to get his attention. He was not at all perturbed by the massive throngs at the adjacent counters. Those were not his responsibility and thus saw little need to help.

         We had no trouble buying our tickets. There was even a special pathway for first class passengers to the platform. We were the only ones on it. We felt like one of those VIPs I saw at the hospital for the past few weeks.

         After a long wait, the train crawled into the station. It was extra-long to accommodate the added passengers. The locomotive huffed and puffed to pull its heavy additional load. The first-class coach was at the end, so we had a long trek because of the added coaches.

         As we embarked, the supercool air-conditioned coach chilled me, what with the sweating at having to walk the extra distance. The coach was near empty except for a young Chinese family and a few older girls, also Chinese, probably students who had boarded in Singapore and going home for the brief holiday.

         We had assigned seats but since the coach was near empty I let the kids sit where they wanted, and of course they spent the next few minutes moving from one seat to another. The train took forever to leave such that I had plenty of time to walk around the station and observe the crowd. That was my entertainment.

         All the other coaches were packed, but unlike Japanese trains during peak commuter rush, no one was in a hurry. There was no pushing or shoving; everyone was busy helping everyone else load their bags.

         The train left the station in the same way it came in, late, huffing and puffing, the old engine protesting like an old mule loaded with one extra bale of hay too many. We could not see through the windows because of the moisture on the glass. We had to go out in-between the coaches. That also gave us a chance to escape the uncomfortably chilled coach.

         The first stop at Kulai was also a long one such that we were able to disembark and walk around the station. The crowd was as thick as at JB. Again, the first-class ticket section was empty. In fact, nobody embarked on our coach all the way to our destination. That was the only slow train ride, apart from those I had taken the children on at amusement parks, that I enjoyed because of the pure pleasure of seeing the scenery along the way.

         One of the girls in the coach curious about us asked Karen where we were headed. When she replied Seremban, her inquirer quickly added, “Is he a member of the royal family?”

         Seremban is the gateway to the royal town of Sri Menanti. To that Chinese girl, the only Malays who could afford first class tickets would be members of the royalty and others whose tabs were being picked up by taxpayers.

         At Seremban, I tried to get a taxi but none were available. In desperation, I grabbed a teksi sapu(unlicensed taxi). That 20-minute ride from the station to my parent’s house could have been the most nervous car trip I had ever taken. I kept thinking that if we were to be in an accident, this driver had no extra insurance. We would, as they say in the village, mati katak (death of a frog – unheralded). He turned out to be a careful and defensive driver. He had to be; that car was his livelihood!

Next Excerpt #54:  Friends’ And Family Weddings

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


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