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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, April 02, 2023

Cast From The Herd Excerpt #72: Separation Anxiety

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 72:  Separation Anxiety

There was precious little information about my new school. There were such basic questions as whether I should reply to the letter as well as such mundane ones as should I bring my own pillows and mattress. 

            Later I found out that someone in my village was already at Malay College and that he would be my classmate. Raja Nazuddin bin Raja Nordin lived just a few houses away, and as his name implied, a member of the royal family. Yes, his father was the same Raja Nordin that had haunted my father and grandfather earlier. 

            One day that December Nazuddin dropped by my house and introduced himself. He was very warm to and welcoming of me. He was also very polished, conversing in the typical urban Malay instead of our village dialect. He filled in many of the blanks. When I asked him whether I should bring pillows and a mattress, he howled with laughter. “Do you think we are a third-rate facility?” 

            I was embarrassed that I had even asked. 

            Nazuddin was a valuable resource. Nonetheless I still wondered whether I would fit in at Malay College. I confided my fear to Ramli. We just have to watch how they do it there and then learn and adapt without making too much of a fool out of ourselves, was Ramli’s pragmatic suggestion. In truth there was not much else that we could do.

            I had just celebrated my 17th birthday on December 8th. Seeing my female classmates looking so beautiful at that farewell party had aroused something in me hitherto I was not even aware of – interest in the opposite sex. At that school farewell party I also felt something else. I was now very much at ease socially with my female classmates, a skill I felt I was hitherto severely lacking. Now I would be headed for an all-boys school, and far away from home to boot. Those College boys would be very sophisticated, and I would feel like an outcast.

            By this time I was already sporting the telltale curse of being a teenager; I was blighted with acne which I felt was the worst case ever. That did not help me in the self-confidence department. Most of all however, I did not look forward to being separated from my family and village home.

            Thus I was burdened with much uncertainty and weighed with great anxiety all that December, the earlier exuberance at having the opportunity to continue with my schooling had long ago vanished. My parents recognized this inner turmoil in me, in particular my mother. Children, no matter how old, cannot hide their feelings from their mother, even if they try to. She saw through my façade.

            One day she sat by me and asked whether I was nervous about going to Kuala Kangsar. I was; I feared not fitting in; maybe I did not belong there. Those rich kids would use forks and knives, and I would be very embarrassed at not knowing how to use them. Worse, I would out of habit revert to using my hand or speaking in my village dialect and then be the laughing stock of the whole school. I remembered how polished Nazuddin was. 

            My mother could not help me in the social department. To allay my fears about using cutlery, she pointed out that my father had regularly used them. So why not learn from him? Indeed my father had been using forks and knives as he had eczema of his hands. I suppose he could have used chopsticks. I remember our relatives teasing him often and mercilessly as a Mat Salleh (Englishman) wannabe. 

            With my mother’s warm reassurance, together with the hectic preparations, my earlier anxieties receded. Soon Ramli and I were headed for Kuala Kangsar. 

Next:  Excerpt # 73:  Entering Barbut Darjat


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