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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, December 03, 2023

Casr From The Herd: Excerpt #106: My First Airplane Trip

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 106:  My First Airplane Trip

The next morning, Monday September 16, 1963, was a holiday on account of the declaration of Malaysia. We set off early to Sungei Besi airport. The single-storey building was nearly empty, no planes on the tarmac, and only a few cars in the parking lot. While waiting in the small lobby and seeing those people saying their goodbyes over and over, my mother began crying. She tried to control herself, but the more she tried the more the tears flowed. Finally my father told her that if she kept on crying she might just make me change my mind, and then she would never be able to get rid of me. That made her laugh! 

            My plane was supposed to leave at 10 AM for Hong Kong, so the ticket said. Meaning, it must arrive by 9 or so. The cover of my ticket featured the Malayan Airways logo, so I presumed I would be flying that airline. At about 9 or so a Cathay Pacific Convair jet landed from Singapore bound for Hong Kong. I paid no attention, assuring my family that it was not my plane. With that, I went exploring the building. 

            It must have been close to 10 when the receptionist who had issued my boarding pass rushed towards me to check my ticket. On seeing it she dragged me swiftly through the departure gate. I managed a perfunctory wave to no one in particular and was the last to board. I would have loved to see my parents wave goodbye to me.

            It was my first plane ride. Even though it was still morning, the cool air rushing from the vent above refreshed me and evaporated my sweat from rushing up the steps. I had a window seat. As the plane began to taxi, I felt no different from the many bus rides I had taken in my village, except that the huge beast lumbered forward without the jerkiness of gear-changes. Then the engine roared and the cabin began to vibrate. A few seconds later I was jerked back in my seat with the runway swishing by. 

            So that was acceleration! Up to that point the concept was nothing more than a mathematical abstraction, “the rate of change of velocity,” the δv/δt in my textbook. While I was facile enough with the formula to solve many a problem in my math class, I had no idea what acceleration meant in reality. The fastest vehicle I had been on was the creaky school bus that took agonizing minutes to reach its “Maximum Speed 30 MPH,” and my father’s old four-cylinder Austin Minor that already had too many miles on it. The train was no different. Up to then I had never experienced the physical sensation of acceleration. 

            Now I felt what it meant. At the beginning, the plane was inching forward at a speed of perhaps three or four miles per hour; a few seconds later just before becoming airborne it had a speed in excess of 150 mph; a rapid and dramatic change in velocity, which is acceleration. I could go on with my differential calculus and introduce a new concept, as with the rate of change of acceleration, or δa/δt. For that physical experience I would need to be in a rocket. Even then I would not experience it as I would probably pass out. 

            After the initial discomfort of clearing my ears, again a novel sensation for me, I settled into my seat. For the first time I had a different view of my country. The hot muggy jungle that was so menacing at the ground level, with leeches and poisonous snakes crawling all over, and thorny vines threatening to sear your limbs, now looked smooth and velvety, a lush green comforting carpet. Across it, like creamy ribbons carelessly strewn, were the rivers with their milky waters. Patches of white clouds floated in the sky like cotton fluffs. 

            We flew over the peninsula, with the Main Range contoured in the center like a spine of our back, then the flats of the east coast. The ribbons were now more carelessly strewn – the meandering rivers. Soon we were over Kuantan, according to the pilot, and beyond that the light-blue South China Sea which soon turned dark blue with the depth. I saw endless miles of pure white shoreline lapped by ceaseless breaking waves smothered with white foam. Interspersed in the vast ocean were islands of varying sizes and shapes, again covered by velvety green carpet. It was a serene scene.

Next:  Excerpt 107:  A Grip of Homesickness


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