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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, August 16, 2020

Excerpt #75: Leaving Malaysia

 Excerpt #   75:  Leaving Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)



We stayed in Seremban during our last week and did not go anywhere except for day trips to Port Dickson and the nearby towns and villages. We wanted to maximize our memory-building time with my parents.


            The evening before we left, my parents had a family goodbye kenduri (feast). For the kids, it was their playtime again with their cousins till our next visit. That evening I felt as if I had not returned home to Malaysia, rather the last thirty months had been but a long visit, and just that. Now it was time to say goodbye till the next time.


            We left by train for Singapore the next morning. There was the usual family crowd at the station but not overwhelming, only my parents as well as my sisters and brothers with their families. The train was delayed, nothing unusual there, and that gave us plenty of time for our extended goodbyes. Because we left by train it felt as if we were just returning to JB. No reason to cry! Had we left from KL, I could just imagine the scene!


            We took the “milk run” combo passenger/freight train rather than the express line. Which meant it stopped for a long time at every station to load and unload. We had first class tickets and to the kids’ delight, we were the only passengers in the coach all the way to Singapore.


            At Gemas, the stop was so long that we had lunch at the station’s restaurant and still had time to wander around. Gemas was where the long East Coast spur connects to the main north-south line. There were a lot of movements of the train as it connected and disconnected the carriages.


            The first time that happened I put the kids on the train and I waved to them as if I was staying behind. As the train moved forward they became frantic thinking that I was being left behind. They screamed as I pretended to walk away. Then the train stopped and began its slow reverse. The kids then realized that it was just a short shunting maneuver. The next time, they played that trick on their mother, and Karen duly played the role of a frantic mother to the kids’ delight. That was our entertainment during the long stop at Gemas. Like any game with children though, they did not know when it was over. On the train’s final move, we had to literally haul the kids onboard.


            With the slow train ride we managed to see the real rural Malaysia at a pace we had never experienced before. We saw monkeys on the branches staring at us, kids tempting their fate jumping from bridges, and the deep green canopy of luxuriant ill-disciplined jungle growth on each side of the tracks, broken only by the contrasting smooth, regimented monotonous rows of rubber and palm oil trees of the commercial plantations.


            Reality soon intruded at JB with the appearance of immigration officials on board as the train left the station. I had rehearsed this scenario a thousand times and planned our strategy with alternate Schemes B, C, and even D, just in case. Our original plan was to sit away from our luggage so as to give the impression to the immigration officials that we were just going to Singapore to shop. Stacks of luggage accompanying us would not make that story credible. That plan was now inoperative as we were the only passengers in the coach. If we were to sit far away that would draw their attention to the luggage. At the last minute, we decided to sit by our suitcases. Should the officials get too inquisitive, Karen would disturb the kids so they would create a ruckus and distract the officials.


            I was soon hounded by the haunting memory of that Malay lady who came to our JB house earlier during our “open house.” She had plenty of time by now to spread the news of our departure to her husband and his friends in the immigration and tax departments to look out for a certain Bakri Musa. That thought only added to my already heightened paranoia.


            When the official entered our coach, I pretended to get something from my backpack for the kids while Karen handed him our passports. He flipped through, stamped, and returned them. Then out he went; not a word was said. We were not out of the woods yet. He and his colleagues were still on board.


            It was not till the last stop just before we crossed the causeway to Singapore when the inspectors disembarked did we heave a huge sigh of relief. We hugged each other for the smooth passage. We felt liberated!


            Years later I would see the movie “The Year of Living Dangerously,” of an Australian journalist caught in Jakarta during the chaotic last days before the fall of Sukarno. The great relief expressed not in words but by the body language of the foreign correspondent, played by Mel Gibson, as his plane took off from Jakarta was what I experienced as my train crossed the causeway to Singapore.


            In our hotel that night was the first time that I felt we were on holidays. It was as if a tight corset had been ripped off my chest. I felt expansive! We swam in the pool and had dinner at the hotel. The western menu looked familiar. Had we been there only a few weeks earlier we would have left the restaurant as the food was too expensive and foreign! I was surprised that I settled in the old familiar groove so fast and so smooth.


            The next day we flew out from Paya Lebar Airport. We were seated on the port side of the China Airlines 747 jet. As it lumbered up into the blue heaven, I could see JB and the causeway below, and beyond, GHJB. My mind wandered. It was 9AM, they must be in the midst of their rounds. I imagined the clinical discussions.


            Soon JB receded out of my window view. Ahead was the deep blue South China Sea lapping on the eastern shores of Malaysia. I could identify Desaru, and then Mersing. What a view from 20,000 feet. The plane was still ascending. Soon, the white sandy east coast of Malaysia disappeared from our view. We had left Malaysia.


            The reassuring steady humming of the dangling jet engines on the wings was the only intrusion to that expansive world of the open sky and blue sea below. As for my own little world, I had just finished one phase or chapter and now embarking on the next. There would be more twists and turns as well as ups and downs. That’s the nature of life. As such it would be too soon if not presumptuous to draw any conclusions.


            This much was certain. During the past decade and a half since I finished high school and left for Canada to enter college and med school, and then my private practice, was a time of great change, for me as well as my native land. I was a young cub that had been taken out of his pack to be raised by another, and then suddenly returned. I was expecting to lead my old pack only to find out that it now had its own alpha tigers who were not in the least interested to share the space with an intruder. While I was not rejected, I was not welcomed with much enthusiasm either. Things looked just familiar enough to deceive me when in fact they were no longer the same. We, my pack and me, both had changed, but in opposite directions. Better to part ways now while I still harbored fond memories. As for the future, who knows. Our paths may yet cross again. If and when that were to happen, it would be facilitated if I were not to harbor any negative emotions. With that peaceful reassuring thought, I drifted off to sleep.



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