Saturday August 30, 2008
Sambal on the SideBy BRENDA BENEDICT
Departing from her usual “no place like home” theme for Merdeka, our columnist dedicates this week’s column to a stranger who truly embodies the spirit of being Malaysian.
Perhaps my editor would have preferred if I had written an ode-to-the-nation piece to commemorate Malaysia’s 51st year of Independence tomorrow.
But seriously, this year, I’m done with the ra-ra. A quick survey of the mainstream media headlines is enough to make one reconsider a “no place like home” theme.
Instead, I would like to celebrate Malaysians who truly embody the spirit of being Malaysian. After all, what is a country without her people?
One unforgettable encounter I had was with a lady who worked at the Malaysian High Commission (HC) in London. Her kindness towards me will probably remain vivid in my memory for a long time to come.
It all started shortly before we were posted to Vietnam. I desperately needed to renew my international passport to avoid any hassle with my Vietnamese visa application. Time was running short and I tried reasoning with a consular division staff at the Malaysian embassy in Berlin if the normal renewal period of eight weeks could be reduced. She was unhelpful and unable to advise me on any alternatives.
This struck me as odd, as a couple of days later, I chanced upon a Star Online report stating that the London HC offers a special deal to residents of other European states to have their passports done in a day. Upon hearing this, I hightailed it to London.
Unfortunately, for some reason, as soon as I landed in London early next morning, I became very ill. Nevertheless, I made my woozy way to the HC in Belgrave Square. I was determined to be there as early as possible to qualify for the day’s quota. Thankfully I was one of the first and was able to hand in my application on time.
The person handling my application was the Good Samaritan of this story. I mentioned to her that I would be leaving London the next morning as I had a one night only reservation at a hotel close by. Aware that I resided in Germany, she assured me that my new passport would be ready that afternoon and suggested that I check in at the hotel.
By then, I had already been sick a couple of times and figured a lie-in might do me some good. However, I didn’t feel any better as I made my way back to the HC that afternoon.
As luck would have it, there was some complication with my new passport’s microchip and the wait took longer than expected. In fact, I was to wait until close to 6pm before I got my new passport.
Meanwhile, I had run several times to the ladies’ which the Good Samaritan had noticed. She asked if she could offer me any medication but nothing seemed to work. The mysterious stomach bug seemed set to stay.
So she kept me company because by then, I was the only applicant left at the waiting room. In true Malaysian fashion, we started talking and were soon exchanging snippets of personal information — with my occasional interruptions to rush to the loo!
Eventually my passport was ready and the staff started closing up for the day. The Good Samaritan asked where I was headed and offered to walk me to the bus stop. By then I was pretty weak and could not even keep water down. Upon seeing this, she insisted on taking me to my hotel.
As riding the bus was not an option — I started heaving the minute I boarded — she suggested that we walk to the hotel via St James Park. She surmised the air might do me some good. Now I feel it is pertinent to repeat that she was an absolute stranger — up until that morning back in September 2006, each of us never even knew the other existed!
Yet, she went out of her way to help me. But I think it was her reasoning that struck me: “Brenda, how can I sleep at night knowing that a Malaysian is all alone in London and ill, and that I just let her go off by herself?”
Sure, some doubting Thomases might say, “That’s her job what! She works at the HC!” Even so, I do not think the job description entails accompanying sick Malaysians to their hotel rooms. It would have been limited to just giving them the number of the nearest clinic.
It was a long, slow walk through the park, punctuated often by me retching by some tree and her rubbing my back and offering me mineral water. This was not a Muslim helping a Catholic; a Malay accompanying an Indian. We were just two Malaysians — one in need, and one doing a good deed. A perfect Petronas Merdeka ad — the only thing was neither of us was acting.
Eventually, we reached my hotel and once she was convinced that I would be all right, she left. The next morning I flew out of London with my new passport and a renewed belief in the innate goodness of Malaysians.
Sadly, we have lost touch. I do not even know if she is still attached to the London HC. I have chosen not to name her because I want to respect her privacy. Besides, with the current tell-all trend we’re constantly subjected to, I’d rather maintain an element of mystery. Genuine do-gooders generally shun publicity anyway.
And on that vein, I would like to wish all Malaysians everywhere who quietly give, help, serve or care, a Selamat Hari Merdeka. Your random acts of kindness give the rest of us a good name.
Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian, who is currently ‘between countries’. Her Sambal on the Side column will take a short break as she moves back to Germany. She will spend Merdeka with her Malaysian friends who have volunteered to help her unpack.
Thursday, 4 September 2008
A Story To Remind Us Of Who We Are
Sometimes it is good just to be reminded of who Malaysians really are and whether we really need to be classified as Malaysians to be one.