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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, June 07, 2020

A Hectic Christmas And New Year

Excerpt # 64:  A Hectic Christmas And New Year     
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)

I had an extended holiday from Christmas to New Year. I could not get a break for Hari Raya Haji but had no difficulty securing a long one for Christmas, and in Muslim Malaysia!

            We decided to take time out from contemplating our future to enjoying the moment. This could be our last stay in JB and Malaysia; we might as well enjoy it to the fullest. We re-visited the beach resort of Desaru to savor its fine sands, and the fishing village of Kukup for its seafood delicacies.

            I was anxious to complete my two clinical projects, or at least have all the data collected. To speed that up I was now very much involved, and that consumed much of my time during and after work. I had my briefcase with me wherever I went so I could pore over my notes. The kids and Karen could be playing on the swings on the playground but I would be busy reviewing the charts.

            As if that would not occupy me enough, Bhattal co-opted me to be the on local committee to host the upcoming Annual Meeting of the Malaysian Medical Association that April, an assignment that took quite a chunk of my time. It however accrued much benefits to me as I had the opportunity to interact with many of the private practitioners in town. The city was unique in that the private doctors had good relationships with their counterparts in the government service. There being only one social club in town, the Tasek Utara Golf Club, helped. They were also very generous to me and my family, perhaps knowing that we government doctors had measly pay! My distant memory could recall only two of the private practitioners, Drs. Nawawi and Adam Liew.

            With Malaysia’s abundance of public holidays, a full five-day working week is the exception; the norm being extended weekends. The really long weekends are at Christmas, Chinese New Year, and Hari Rayas. The Chinese and Christians may be minorities in Malaysia, but only in numbers, not influence. Chinese New Year is no more exuberantly celebrated than in Malaysia. Don’t even bother getting anything done during that holiday as the country would be paralyzed.

            During that extended Chinese New Year holidays in early February of 1978, barely five weeks away, would be the time I decided to apprise my parents of our future plan. My strategy was to tell them in the same manner that Karen and I arrived at our decision; first my non-promising career prospects at home as exemplified by my “non-promotion,” the lack of openings at both UM and UKM, our decision to leave government service, and then the best opportunities for private practice, whether in JB, KL, or Canada. Finally, the decision we took.

            For that holiday, we drove up to Seremban, this time taking the inland route through Segamat and Gemas instead of the usual and faster coastal one through Muar and Malacca. It said something about how much of a stranger I was in my native land as I had never been through those towns before. As expected, the roads were not crowded; in places, deserted. However, we did not feel unsafe. Our only worries were what if our car were to break down along those deserted stretches. A decade or two earlier such a journey would have been unthinkable or reckless as the country was then under the Emergency, with armed communist bandits roaming the countryside with impunity. Segamat and Gemas in particular, were very “hot” and “black” areas.

            We took our sweet time savoring the country scene of lowlands of rice fields and hills with thick jungles on each side. We stayed at “Rest Houses” along the way, much like the old colonials did. Those Rest Houses were government-owned establishments catering to earlier colonial civil servants when they made “outstation” visits. It was a quaint way to explore the country. The only modern aspect to our travel was our car and the paved roads. For Karen, it was the first time to see and smell rural Malaysia as a deliberate journey and not merely passing through towards our destinations.

            The Rest Houses in Segamat and Gemas were not air-conditioned and their mosquito nets stained, not from dirt but lack of use. The bed sheets were the old thin frayed white cotton. The only good thing was that they was not stained like the mosquito nets. That would have turned off us. As for the pillows, they were flat and far from fluffy. Those went along with the sagging beds.

            The services we received were way below what those early colonialists had experienced, at least from what I could glean from their journals. There were no restaurant facilities; we had to drive to town for our meals. No surprise then that we were the only guests at both rest houses. The flip side to that was that we had the establishment, in particular the playground, all to ourselves, to the delight of the kids.

            That slow leisurely road trip along the backroads of Malaysia up to Seremban was a much needed break for me. It was a time-out of sorts for me, to get off my roller coaster life of the past year and half. I savored it. I was only too aware that soon we would have to make a monumental decision that would impact our future as well as of the family.

Next Excerpt #65:  The Wrenching Decision To Disappoint My Parents

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


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