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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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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, May 28, 2023

Cast From the Herd Excerpt # 80: High Table Dining

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 80:  High Table Dining 

Back at the dorm, the “veterans” always complained about the food. To me it was tasty and rich. Imagine having meat, chicken, or fish every day! With many complaining and disdainful, there were plenty of leftovers. I was initially tempted to indulge myself but concerns over “table manners” restrained me. 


         Then at one dinner Raja Azman and I were in an extended political discussion. When everyone had left he commented on the students’ complaints about the food and remarked how ungrateful they were. Like me, he found nothing wrong with it. Noting the generous leftovers, he asked me to go ahead and help myself if I wanted. That was all I needed. 


          From then on whenever there were tasty leftovers, I would strike up a conversation with Raja Azman on some controversial topic to ensure that the discussion would continue on after the rest had left. Raja Azman and I would then gorge ourselves. 


           The first Thursday evening I was invited, together with a few other new Sixth Formers, to dine at the “high table” with the headmaster. My immediate reaction was to decline, thinking it was but a sneaky trick to check on my table manners. Raja Azman advised me otherwise. He said that the food up there was superb and the service even better. So I accepted, and he was right. 

            My apprehension over high-table dining was minor compared to my anxiety for the following Thursday evening’s “Introduction Night” when we new Sixth Formers were to introduce ourselves to the entire school, a refined form of hazing. We also had to put on a performance and the audience would be supercritical. I asked Raja Azman what he did the previous year. He performed the silat (art of self-defense), but then he was an expert at it having won many trophies. 

            After much contemplation, I decided to sing. That would be no easy task. My repertoire was restricted to nursery rhymes, and then only in the bathroom. I would also need some musical accompaniment and there were no ready volunteers. After much pleading from me, my classmate Mat Lias agreed to teach me a few chords on his guitar. 


          I wanted to sing a popular song by the immortal P. Ramlee, Hujan di tengah hari (It Rained at Midday). It was a slow, melodious, and most important to me, of limited tonal range well within my capacity. Besides, the song’s forlorn tone matched my mood at the time. Unfortunately I could not find either the lyrics or the score. Instead I flipped through the popular songbooks and found a piece that had the easiest chords. With Lias prodding me, I settled on Fat Domino’s Blueberry Hill that was then on the hit parade list. 

            That meant practicing every afternoon and the weekend, with Lias as my voice coach and music instructor. With the first few bars I belted out, he grimaced. After much patience and many heart-breaking sessions I was able to render a few bars without Lias covering his ears. 

            Thanks to my previous activities at the Speech and Debating Club at my old school, I was not worried about the oral presentation. I gathered some basic materials and planned to tailor my speech as the evening unfolded. I practiced a few variations of my “impromptu” speech in the bathroom when no one was around. 

            With that I was ready for the second phase of my hazing, albeit this time more refined and civilized.

Next:  Excerpt 81:  Introduction Night – Part One


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