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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 16, 2023

Cast From The Herd Excerpt # 74: A Not-So-Pleasant Welcome

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 74:  A Not-So-Pleasant Welcome

On arriving at Kuala Kangsar, we (the new Sixth Formers) were forced to do a few silly calisthenics while the train was still in the station. Those remaining passengers must have wondered what on earth was going on. Then we were made to run across the street with our hands clasped behind our heads like prisoners. When we reached a meadow we were asked to crawl and then jump like frogs. I did not realize the infinite number of ways we could propel ourselves forward, and on that blistering day we tried them all. I thought this must have been how the Japanese treated their prisoners of war. By the time we reached the campus, a good few miles away, I was exhausted, drenched with sweat, and dying of thirst. At last, I thought as I saw the buildings, the end of my torture. 

            Wrong! We were directed to a pile of suitcases. Good, now I could collect mine and be allowed to settle down. Wrong again! Those were the suitcases of the Upper Six boys; we were to deliver them up to the second floor. We had to identify those suitcases (easy enough I thought as they would all have names on them) and then them deliver to their owners’ beds. So we lugged those heavy suitcases up the stairs. 

            For some reason the tags had been removed so I did not know who owned which suitcases, except for the ones that had names painted on them. The beds in the huge dorm were also not labeled. I had to look for names on books or other personal items to help identify the bed’s occupant. 

            That chore done, we were directed to another pile of suitcases; this time ours. I collected mine, and by now I knew where my bed was. At long last, tired, hungry and more than just a little bit angry (although I could not show it), I slumped on my bed. I had just drifted to sleep from the heat and exhaustion when I was awakened by the school bell. Someone tapped my toes and spoke, “Snack time. Better get used to the bell. It will govern your life here from now on.” 

            I woke up startled. “Hi! I am Raja Azman, your neighbor and senior!” he continued. “You had nothing to eat or drink. Better go down now as dinner won’t be till seven.” 

            Raja Azman was big, stern-looking, and did not have a ready smile despite his soft voice. His well-trimmed moustache made him look much older, but when he smiled, he transformed himself into your favorite uncle. I followed him like a little puppy. Ramli saw me and joined us. So now the big dog had two frightened little puppies tagging along. In the large dining room were rectangular tables put end to end with long bench seats on each side. At last a much-welcomed hot tea and snacks as I had missed lunch.


            Back at the dorm in the lull of the late afternoon, Raja Azman assured me not to worry as he too was like me the year earlier. The whole episode would soon end and we would be accepted. He did not clarify when the “soon” would be. That made it even more ominous. Raja Azman was from Kelantan but I would never have guessed it as he had no trace of that distinctive accent. I was also surprised that he came in only the previous year. I would have expected him, being a Raja, a member of the royal family, to be admitted much earlier. He was in the “Arts” stream.

            Soon a student across the room joined us. He too was a Raja, Raja Affendi, and he would be my classmate in the science class. I knew from the harassments he had received earlier that he was also a newbie. He assured me that what I had gone through was nothing to what had been and would be done to him. He was from the archrival Clifford School, literally across the street. Worse, he was the school captain there. Clifford did not have a Sixth Form. 

            Right away I felt sorry for him, not for the extra grilling he would get, rather his gait. He was stooped and scrawny, very unlike the erect and regal Raja Azman. Affendi, unlike Nazuddin, was also not smooth or polished. He was shy and unsure of himself. Most of all I felt sorry for his severe acne. I thought mine was bad but after seeing his, I felt better. 

            Affendi was the stereotypical nerd, accentuated by his thick rimless glasses, and always a book in his hand. He would later quit the science stream despite intense pressure from our teachers. He had no aptitude for it, and was smart and confident enough of his own ability to realize that. He had chosen science because that was what smart kids were supposed to do. He later read economics at university and excelled. 

Excerpt # 75:  First School Day At MCKK


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