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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 04, 2023

Casr From The Herd Excerpt # 81: Introduction Night Part I

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 81:  Introduction Night – Part One

Introduction Night came way too soon and I was a nervous wreck. I could not eat my dinner that evening. Raja Azman assured me that the evening would end by bedtime. Sometimes being reminded of the obvious can be very helpful. 

      We were gathered in the large Hargreaves Hall, named after the college’s distinguished first headmaster. Compared to the one at my old TMS, this was huge and impressive. Tall ceilings and tiered seats arranged so that we would all be looking down unobstructed to the stage up front, like those elegant European opera houses. Along the sides were the balcony seats for the first-form pupils. While not cushioned, the seats had armrests and backrests. The hall was not air-conditioned but the tall ceiling, abundant fans, and wide French doors made it cool despite all the bodies. 

     The Thursday morning assembly was also held in that hall. After all the students were seated, the teachers would enter through the side door that was connected to the teachers’ lounge. When the first one entered, we all would stand up and remain standing. The teachers would sit in two or three rows on stage, with the senior teachers in the front and the center seat reserved for the headmaster. There was a definite but informal pecking order to the arrangement although they appeared to pick their seats at random. When Mr. Ryan entered, the whole staff would stand and the school prefect on duty would give the salutation followed by our singing the national anthem. 

     The session would begin with the week’s duty master announcing the cleanest dormitory during the previous Friday’s inspection. The dorm prefect would come up to receive the large plaque. Then would come the nasty part, the announcement of the week’s detention class list! The whole school would get to hear your name if you were on it. 

     Then the headmaster would speak. At that first assembly the week before he welcomed us newcomers. I did not remember what else he said, being new and nervous. At this second assembly he mentioned Introduction Night and how much he was looking forward to it. I did not need the reminder. 

My turn at Introduction Night was towards the end, giving me plenty of opportunities to study the crowd’s reaction. The first was a student from Pahang, the largest but sparsely populated state. Many luminaries among the college’s alumni, including and especially the country’s second Prime Minister, Tun Razak, came from that state. Collegians were proud of the school’s distinguished heritage. The school is after all “Eton of the East.” 

     This particular student’s resume was exceptional:  former head prefect and captain of its championship soccer team. He was also a star player with his state’s team. If anyone the college should be proud to admit, he would be the one. Those were sparkling achievements.


     However, he went on and on, listing his achievements way far back. By about the fifth or sixth item, the crowd let loose with jeers and howls, but he persisted. Then someone heckled, “Were you a champion crawler as a toddler?” The audience burst out with hooting laughter and cat calls. 

     I was perplexed by the exaggerated response until someone pointed out that “crawling” had a special and crude connotation, as with the sinister nocturnal “crawling” of the older boys in the junior dorms. I was certain that the champion soccer player had no clue about this other meaning, at least at the time. 

With the crowd loosened and its appetite whetted, the second presenter became its hapless victim. He never had a chance. With every achievement he enumerated, the crowd yelled, “Whoa!” in feigned admiration, or “Huu!” in mocked incredulity. When he sang off key, someone let out a screeching sound that brought the house down. Nevertheless when he finished, the crowd gave him a generous hearty applause, just as with the first speaker. 

     The newcomers were effusive in their praise of the college. They all felt “fortunate,” “proud,” and “privileged” to be admitted to this “elite,” “prestigious,” and “distinguished” institution. I felt uncomfortable hearing those flowery praises. Judging from the reaction, the audience was too. For every tribute uttered, the crowd would yell “Bodek!” “Ampu!” and other insults which when translated all meant “sucking up.” 

     By about the fifth speaker I knew what irritated the crowd. They did not want to hear about your superb personal especially athletic achievements. They would mock you if you insisted along that path. That was fine with me as I had none to showcase anyway. They also did not appreciate the excessive praises and other “sucking up” gestures; likewise when you ran down your old school in your attempt to praise the college. 

     That provided only half the clue; I still did not know what would please them. So I decided to focus on where I was from, my school, and the things I liked. I would not tell them what I disliked in case that might prove to be the favorite with some. 

Next:  Excerpt #82:  Introduction Night – Part Two


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