Sunday October 5, 2008
‘We are from Malaysia’
By AZMAN SULAIMAN
At a time when unity among Malaysians from various races and religions is being questioned, five friends just get on with it, together.
WHY don’t we do something extra special together this year?” Rodney wondered over his usual teh tarik during one of our regular after-squash supper sessions. “After all, we meet often enough each Wednesday for squash, why don’t we take up something else together?” For us “ five lifelong friends“ Wednesday evenings after work is the time for our usual weekly get-together at the Jalan Duta Squash Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Five Malaysians celebrate the 51st Merdeka atop Mt Kinabalu. We normally end by 8.30pm and then proceed to restaurants in nearby Taman Tun Dr Ismail, to catch up on everyday stuff as well as reminisce over the good old school days before calling it a night. We had been bouncing around ideas of picking up another hobby or two together. After all, we’ve kept in touch over the years mainly through squash and occasional old boys get-togethers.
What about scuba diving? Or even cycling? Whatever “it” was, it had to be something that would be physically challenging. After all, we considered ourselves pretty fit, thanks to our weekly quash sessions. Such a feat would have to be something that would boost the mid-life ego, too. We finally decided on going together on an expedition to scale Mount Kinabalu. To us, we are just fellow Malaysians who have been good friends for many years but, to the rest of society in this nation today, we’d have to elaborate that we comprise two Malays, an Indian, a Chinese and a Eurasian. We belong to the Johannians, Class of 1981. For the uninitiated, Johannians are the old boys of St John’s Institution Kuala Lumpur. The five of us, Rodney, Fitri, Andrew, Ronald and the writer completed our Form Five in 1981 before heading our separate ways in pursuit of education and careers.We kept in touch over the years and, like many others, find good reasons to meet up every now and then. Today, Rodney Michael is a leading voice talent in the entertainment industry who’s regularly heard over most Astro commercials and corporate advertisements. Mohamed Fitri Abdullah is vice president and head of Enterprise Business of Maxis Communications. Andrew Chan is an entrepreneur, having previously made his name with CSA Technologies. Ronald Pickering is regional head of CSR Australia, now based in Hong Kong, and the writer is the CEO of Mavtrac, a member of the UEM Group. All of us turned 44 this year, have growing families and lead reasonably comfortable lives. Nothing out of the ordinary, and much like many other middle-class professionals.
What’s possibly different is that, in today’s social landscape, we look different €“ two Malays, an Indian, a Chinese and a “lain-lain” (Eurasian) €“ hanging out together. We joke, we rib each other, and we share stories, laugh and argue, just as we always have. During our school days at St John’s during the late 70s and early 80s, we were among many other such mixed groups who grew up together into young men. Sadly, today, such colour-blind social interactions appear to be few and far between.Our greatest concern today is that our children are growing up in an environment which is continuing to harp on racial and religious differences, whereas we thought we had overcome that social concern last century. Most importantly, we have respect for each other. Yes, our table talk does sometimes extend to particular differences among our religion and race, but more from the viewpoint of common respect and appreciation of similarities that bring us together. We often enough do rib each other, jokingly making references to “macha”, Chinaman”, “Malay fella” and “lain-lain” but it’s all in jest and fun.
Now getting back to our Mt Kinabalu expedition, as expected, whilst the idea was tossed up among the many, when it came down to the organising, they left it to me to decide on travel arrangements. With ample lead time, we were able to pick an expedition date close to the 51st Merdeka celebrations. We couldn’t find a good enough excuse to tell our wives why we suddenly wanted to go climb a faraway mountain until we learned that 1964, the year we were born, was also the year that Sabah’s capital, Jesselton, was renamed Kota Kinabalu to commemorate Mt Kinabalu’s recognition as a World Heritage Site. Hence, the chosen name of our expedition, Jesselton 1964. In the three months leading up to our expedition, we spent many weekends in training, tackling nearby Lake Gardens, Kemensah Heights/Genting Ridge, Gunung Nuang and Genting Highlands. Fortunately we also had sound advice from experienced mountaineers; one to make special mention of is, Thomas Simon, on the preparations necessary for such an expedition. As the departure date approached, as a team, we also prudently purchased the appropriate equipment, from haversacks to walking poles to clothing, wet weather gear, always comparing prices to ensure we secured good value for money (or, in other words, as kedekut as possible!).
Come the date of travel, Ronald joined us from Hong Kong as we made our way out to Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur. We spent the first night at Kinabalu Park before commencing the climb through the Mesilau Gate at 9.30am the following morning. What was thought to be the more scenic and pleasurable route, turned out to be 3km longer and it took us nine hours to reach Laban Rata, long after dark. What made the trek more concerning was that I suffered severe cramps (sometimes termed “frozen muscle”) halfway up and, at one point, a decision was made to abort the climb at Layang-Layang. However, with perseverance, all of us made it safely to Laban Rata that night to put up at the Gunting Lagadan resthouse. It had been raining the few days before but, as our luck would have it, the dark skies were brightened with glittering stars the following morning of our final summit ascent. We made the remaining 2.5km trek under torchlight to the peak, starting at 5am. By 5.45am, the dawning sun had cast its early light on Low’s Peak as we enjoyed the majestic view from the top of Mt Kinabalu. A sense of common fulfilment and togetherness prevailed as we realised all the sacrifice and pain had been thoroughly worthwhile. We are also the beneficiaries of two certificates, one of which also recognises our ascent up Mt Kinabalu along the more challenging Mesilau Summit Trail.
Five Malaysians celebrate the 51st Merdeka atop Mt Kinabalu.
What we believe is most unique about this particular experience and the story that we wish to share is that, whilst there appears to be a current scrutiny of growing differences between the various ethnic groups and religions among Malaysians, unity still prevails. Our little band of friends is such an example. We recognise that our story is ironic not from the view point of the expedition itself, but from the viewpoint that we really are a bunch of old buddies, who happen to be of differing race origins, religion and professional interests, yet never take notice of such differences in our day to day interactions. We also trust that such commonalities are prevalent among the Malaysian community in general and will continue to be the uniqueness and strength of the majority of Malaysians in the generations to come. On a final note, as we descended down from Mt Kinabalu that day, we crossed paths with a young Japanese boy who was on his own, trekking up the mountain. After exchanging greetings, he noticed that we each looked different, and naturally in turn, asked the five of us where we were from. We replied, as one: “We are from Malaysia.”
Thursday, 9 October 2008
Are Only People Of My Generation Worried?
I don't know but it seems that only people of my generation and above that has had a colour-blind childhood are voicing out their frustrations that our scoiety are being polarised. But then who are the parents of the people who are segregating themselves along racial lines, are we not them so does this mean that we are failing in our own responsiblities in cultivating national unity. This story reflects my own childhood, but I must say I myself find it hard to keep up with my old friend as they have done. Thus I guess it is time we relook at ourselves and ask whether it is so bad to say that we are all Malaysians.