As natural as saying I’m Malaysian

26 October 2015

That’s what comes out of our mouths when we are overseas, why not at home?

IT was our long-planned holiday and my galpals and I were eagerly looking forward to it.

The initial impetus for the trip was to celebrate the birthdays of two in our group. But with the horrible haze and increasing racial tensions, it seemed like a good time to take a break from our country with a visit to my favourite destination, Japan.

The decision to head there was made in January but by September, the Land of the Rising Sun wasn’t doing so well either.

Tropical storm Etau was causing massive flooding, bringing miserable wet weather.

Then several days before we were due to fly, a moderate earthquake with a 5.4 magnitude hit Tokyo Bay.

There was no tsunami but strong aftershocks were possibilities.

The thought did cross my mind that my friends and I could be jumping from the frying pan into the fire with this trip.

I also wondered if I had tempted the Fates by writing in my May 6 column about a 70% probabi­lity of a strong earthquake occurring in the Tokyo area in the next 30 years and brazenly declaring that wasn’t putting me off my September trip.

To add to our nervousness, there were reports about Japan strengthening its security at its overseas embassies against Islamic State terrorism, which raised the possibility of attacks on Japanese soil.

Despite all that, we decided to go ahead with our holiday as the desire to get away from the nastiness that was building up towards the Red Shirt rally on Malaysia Day was too strong.

So it was tally-ho, Tokyo, here we come!

That was a week ago and I write this on board my Malaysia Airlines flight home very much in one piece. The only part that is in tatters is my credit card.

My friends and I ate extremely well, shopped far too much and had a jolly good time despite the inclement weather which luckily lasted only the first two days.

Those two days were also full of distractions from home.

While we wanted to be away on the day of the rally, we still wanted to know how it went.

What would be the size of the turnout, did it turn violent, leading to casualties and property damage? Might it lead to some sort of a clampdown by the authorities to restore law and order?

We followed the news reports coming out of Malaysia closely, checking portals, SMS alerts and our Facebook.

As it turned out, there were far fewer than the one million figure the organisers boasted about getting and despite certain political leaders supporting it, openly and tacitly.

The police were superb and kept a tight leash on the rally-goers. They showed they meant business by driving back some thugs, who tried to force their entry into Chinatown, with water cannons.

With that out of the way, my gang continued our holiday. But no matter what, home was always on our minds.

When the skies over Tokyo cleared, we cheered but wondered how grey and dusty Malaysian skies and air were.

When we pulled out our yen to pay for meals and our purchases, it was with a groan because of our weak ringgit and our conversations would centre on our own sputtering retail sector.

We walked the streets and dark back alleys with nary a worry about our safety and wished we could do the same back home.

We spoke about the fear of many about going out at night due to the unhappy perception that one could be set upon by gangs who think they can attack or harass people on the basis of their race and get away with it.

As for our concern about aftershocks or a fresh earthquake, there was none.

We also forgot the terrorism risk. That is human nature, I suppose. Call it resilience or forgetfulness, but we rode the subway and waded into the crowds of locals and tourists in Shinkuju, Asakusa, Harajuku and Shibuya without our hearts in our mouths.

What we didn’t forget was the fact we were gaijin (foreigners) and who we were.

Whenever we were asked by shopkeepers and friendly locals, our reply was always, “We are Malaysians” and never, “We are Chinese from Malaysia.”

And that really is the irony, isn’t it? We are more Malaysian abroad than at home where we are forced to identify ourselves by race and not nationality.

This is nothing new and many have noted this before.

At one time, we thought we were breaking down this obsession with race. But the situation has reversed and gotten worse because of the current corrosive agenda of some leaders to keep themselves in power by using the trusty tactic of divide and conquer us by race and religion.

In doing so, they are bringing us very, very close to the edge of the precipice.

The ones holding the line and straining to pull us back from that drop are Malaysians who still love and believe in the beauty of a multiracial nation. But are there enough of us doing so?

Aunty and friends stumbled on a restaurant in Shinjuku that is popular with sumo wrestlers where they met two famous retired veterans of the sport, Kyokudozan Kazuyasu and Kyokutenho Masaru. Their first question: “Where are you from?” You know our proud reply. Feedback: views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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