“Wake up, wake up…”
The knocks on my bedroom door was almost customary for two occasions; the first day of Chinese New Year, and Merdeka Day. For the first, it was because mom had made a scrumptious breakfast, and we had to start our visiting routine. For the second, it was because my folks wanted us to catch the Merdeka Parade on TV.
One of my daily routines include tuning to BFM’s Evening Edition & Talkback Thursday’s on my way home from work as I beat the traffic jam. Today’s topic was about patriotism, and I suppose it is only apt since Merdeka Day is so near and the recent declaration of the “Endless Possibilities” tagline sure got everyone fussing about.
I didn’t manage to listen to the entire session, but something one caller raised definitely caught my attention. It’s only ten more days to independence day, and there are barely any cars with little Malaysia flags in sight! I looked around and noticed that it’s true! I remember that people used to stick those little flags on their vehicles even just as August started, and they can be found in any mini marts and shops. Some even went to the extreme of putting the full-sized flag wrapped around their bonnet!
I remember when the parade was hosted in Penang years ago. Ashamed to say, I couldn’t wake up to follow my dad to catch a view of our Prime Minister and Chief Minister live, but if I’m not wrong, I did manage to watch the
second half fourth quarter of the show on TV. I’ve never found it special, these parades – the colors were always the same, the costumes are all flowery and you can always spot a giant hibiscus somewhere in the middle of the crowd.
But I didn’t wake up because I appreciated the artistic value of the parade – I just wanted to feel like I was a part of my country’s special day. The day a famous Tunku shouted “Merdeka!” three times and our own national identity was created. I wasn’t born yet when that historical moment happened – but my grandparents, and my parents even, already were.
Another caller called up to say that Malaysians are actually very patriotic, au contraire to what the previous caller before him had said. And I do agree with him. Just because we may have our reservations towards how things are run in Malaysia now, that doesn’t mean we love our country any less. It is because we care deeply about our homeland that we often get frustrated when certain people don’t do this beautiful place enough justice.
It’s sad that I have to be extra cautious when I’m out in public now. Or how “learning-to-dodge-bullets” seem to be the current joke at the moment. While we may have successfully dodged some real physical bullets so far – we all know that we have been taking many hits as collateral damage of late in many other things.
“It’s the country right above Singapore,” I would normally have to explain to my foreign friends who have never heard of my beloved country. I often wondered how many badminton, football and squash tournaments that we have to win to get noticed, or record-breaking skyscrapers it would take to get us noticed a little bit more.
I think some of us share the same sentiments as Malaysians continue to strive to do their country proud year after year. A few years later, the world begins to notice.
But for what? Are we being known for the right reasons? Are we being admired and followed, or ridiculed and joked about in international (and some local) media? Do you live in a part of the country where everything seems fine, or do you belong in an area where the cracks are showing and the gaps are widening?
I belong to a ‘homeless generation’, I was told – and yet I keep reading news about foreign investors buying our properties in bulk. I was told that our country is safe – and yet many have died by the pull of a trigger. Have all these made the people so angry that we cannot forgive a famous shuttler who succumbed to an apparently unconducive playing environment? I do think that some of us are just looking for something to be proud of nowadays – something to remind us that being Malaysian means something.
So, where do we go from here? I don’t know. Is there something that we can do, without being charged under some Act or be told to migrate?
“Negaraku…” the teachers and students sang as I slowly raised the flag according to the progression of our National Anthem. There’s no specific formula on when or how many times I should tug the string, really – prefects relied heavily on instincts. The flag mustn’t be stuck halfway (unless someone important died), and it mustn’t touch the ground. Sometimes the flag is completely raised before the song is finished, and sometimes it is rushed towards the tip when we realized that we are behind. When it rained, we were the first to rush out of class to bring it down, fold it nicely, and keep it in a safe place. But no matter what the outcome was, the intention of every prefect on flag duty is always the same: honor the flag.
And there is always something about August that spurs us to sing a little louder, to stand a little straighter.
Or maybe it’s just me.
Having written all that, I agree with some of the BFM callers that you can't forcepatriotism into someone - it will more often than not backfire. But will I stand if the national anthem is played at the cinema? I would. I still would.