Friday, August 31, 2007

You're 50 darling!

Abdullah Hukum To understand life one must travel. Though I might not have traveled to a variety of countries, I have traveled pretty often and each journey has taught me to value one of the simplest things in life - my independence. Nothing is more important to me than that. I for one can’t take this simple word for granted.

If you asked me to pinpoint just one reason why I love this country, it will be - the ability for women to travel alone regardless of the hour of the day in Malaysia (as long as they are street smart). I have never had the need to think twice about going out late at night, or to venture out alone in the streets whenever I felt like it.

Last night I was sitting alone at a Coffeebean having given up driving through traffic and you know what was the best part, it was already 11 pm and I had not even an ounce of fear that as a gal I shouldn’t be out so late that too alone. Of course I’m also street smart enough to know it’s stupid to walk alone in a dark alley in a questionable area or to go around drapped in jewellery and swinging your handbag as gay as a lark.

Nothing compares to the feeling of being able to do what you wish when you wish it. It’s a matter of making a split decision on where to go and when to go and never is it safe to go? Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t lived a lucky life, I’ve had my share of unpleasant encounters. I was robbed next to a police station when I was 10, I’ve had my home nearly broken into while I was sitting behind closed doors (thankfully our doors were locked and they decided it was just too much trouble), I’ve nearly been a victim of snatch thefts twice where both seemed unplanned and pretty much my carelessness (holding my bag towards the road and not the other way round). I’ve also had my share of unwanted harassment, but it is pretty rare and mostly by foreigners who are the persistent harassers since in their countries they have been brought up thinking it is their right to harass women.

Singing the blues Its not that men in Malaysia don’t look at women or disturb them but I must give them due credit, somewhere down the line they grew up different from their Asian counterparts. Glare at the Malaysian guy whose giving you a dirty look and I’m 80% sure he’ll smile at you sheepishly or give you the deer caught in lights look and quickly turn away. However that’s not the case in different countries. Harassment of strangers is a huge issue and most countries tend to advice women travelers not to travel alone. As much as I love India, everytime I travel there I make sure I’m covered from head to toe, coz the stares from the local men make you feel so uncomfortable. Ogling seems to be the national sports of the men in India (most of them) and no matter how many times you glare back they will still continue to stare. My recent trip to Cambodia wasn’t any different, it came to a point where I had to take photos of these oglers to stop them from staring and even had to resort to being rude.

Rows of JGWhen I related this to one of my non Malaysian friend, she nodded back telling me how lucky I was to be born in Msia. She tells us we seem to take for granted the independence and freedom we enjoy over here, something which is considered a luxury all over the world. In her home country, it’s not safe for even the men to walk in the streets after 7 pm while a midnight supper out at the mamaks for us is pretty much a daily affair.

Yet we take for granted these little things that we have. Late nights at the mamak (hawker stalls), the ability to watch a late night movie alone at the theater (actually watching a movie alone itself is a huge thing), or chill with a book or your laptop at a cafĂ© while you watch the world go by, the 24 hour restaurant cook whose ever willing to cook that special maggi goreng as spicy as you want or without a single dash of chili when you have your 4 am cravings, or the shop keeper who remembers your favourite drink eventhough you’re neither his race nor his caste. And guess what you’re not gonna be looked down for being out late, when its practically taboo in most asian countries for women to be out late at night even with friends and family. And for this I will be ever grateful that I was born a Malaysian.

Nosyness is a character of its own in other Asian nations. I’ve never had a total stranger ask me why I’m not married in Malaysia or call me an old unwanted dame ( I got the old unwanted dame tag at 24 in India!) but everytime I travel to other Asian countries, everyone seems to think its their right to poke their nose into my marital status. You see, unfortunately most men in other Asian countries treat women as secondary citizens who are valued by their marriagebility. We still have that mentality at small towns over here but a stranger will not shove their face into your personal business. Relatives are a different story that no one can do a thing about! ;p

How often have we heard the slogan
“Come to Malaysia and experience the warmth of our people”

– whenever someone talks about Malaysia? Sounds artifical doesn’t it? In all my travels across the country or during my street walks I have had the pleasure to meet the most interesting individuals. Before you brush it off as humbug let me relate to you some of my experiences.

A week back my photographer group had ventured into Kampung Abdullah Hukum one of the oldest Malay villages in KL. The homes which have been around for more than 200 years have seen more than 5 generations pass through it walls and most of them still live there. Besides brandishing an astro (satellite tv) dish for entertainment, a bevy of automobiles and fresh coats of paint, the homes were pretty much true to its original architecture. Unfortunately the little locale is due to be demolished in lieu of the development of the city.

Flag away There we were a bunch of people from all walks of life, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Caucasian – you name it we had it. We had just gotten down the (ramp) and were looking at the flats adorned with rows and rows of the Jalur Gemilang (Malaysian national flag) when this old uncle stops me and strikes a conversation.

Eh kenapa tak datang semalam – semalam ada kebakaran tau – sure you all boleh ambik banyak gambar
Eh why didn’t you come yesterday? There was a fire accident here yesterday you guys missed it la? You could have taken so many photographs!

Kebakaran?? Semua ok ke pakcik??
Fire??? Are they ok???

Ye diorang ok, bomba datang dan padamkan api tapi korang dah missla

Yeah they’re fine, the firemen came on time and put out the fire but you guys missed itla

Nasib baiklah tu pakcik, tapi pakcik kita orang suka ambik gambar orang gembira la kesian lah rumah terbakar tak nak ambik gambar
Thank god uncle, its okla uncle we only like to take photos of people being happy, dowanna take photos of a firelah uncle.

The hospitality of the villagers didn’t stop there. We were practically walking in a remote Malay village, when an aunty walked out of her house and as we backed of thinking we were intruding on their privacy, she stops us and says hi and enquirers on who we were and minutes later just hands us a huge bag of rambutans. Then one by one the residents took time to talk to us about their lovely village while the resident cats purred at our feet. By the way I think we need to rename the village as kampung kuching (cat village) coz there were so many of them.

Hawker Another friend (malay) shared her experience shooting in a fishermans cove sometime back, where an aunty (chinese) just handed her a bag of prawns to take back home. Such is the warmth of Malaysians regardless of whether you know them or whether you were the same race or religion.

On holiday in Kuantan last year, I walked alone into a fishing village looking for photography opportunities when I met this lovely little boy and his family. After inquiring if I needed anything they went back to their work while I continued photographing the little boy. Of course after 10 minutes the father assumed his son was disturbing me and decided to call him back.

Amin cukuplahtu kau berposing posing.
Amin you’ve done enough modeling for the day!

Heheh that was definitely a cute moment.

crabpg Remember my crab story? That story still makes me laugh. Yes this country is definitely full of warmth, its people are mostly harmonious as the hype suggests. As long as you are nice, respectful and friendly, you can expect the same from most of the strangers you’ll meet in this country. Of course we have our black sheeps, like the old Indian man who joined us recently, who rudely spoke in Tamil while we were in the midst of a bunch of none Indians. I hate such behaviour. Or the certain comments we get from certain editors and public figures, you sometimes wonder which cave were they from. I’ve met my share of racist’s people, but generally from my experience most Malaysians I know aren’t viciously racists.

Merdeka I’ve never been offered beef by anyone and whenever I’m vegetarian I’ve had them go out of their way to make sure we had food at a place that had vegetarian options. Funny part is they spend more time explaining my requirements for a purely vegetarian meal than I do. I’ve taken them to temples, for celebrations and each time they will check with me on what they can and should do to make sure they didn’t offend anyone just as I would when I was visiting their religious places. my wishes and my choices have always been respected and similarly i've extended mine. Maybe i’ve been lucky to have wonderful friends, but strangers who are as warm? That’s definitely not a coincidence.

MerdekaI love my country like no other. I cherish this independence and freedom that we Malaysians seem to take for granted. I’m ever touched by this warmth that I continue to find everytime I walk out of my home. As long as I have these three things, Malaysia will be my home and the country that I call my nation.

My beloved nation turns 50 tomorrow, its time to hoist the Jalur Gemilang,

Happy Independence Day Malaysia.

Selamat Merdeka Tanah airku.


My days(Gops) said...

selamat petang..

Happy Independence Day friend :)

Aravind said...

hi visit...
me back to bloghopping after a longgggg time!! :):)

innum post padikkalai... padichittu, i will comment! :D

Coco Captive said...

Hey Happy Independence Day!
I knew about this, from all the tourism campaigns we see here! :)

Congrats to you guys!

praveen said...

Hi...nice post...
but pls keep it short...

Keep rocking :D

tulipspeaks said...

Nice Merdeka post, dear.

Wishes to you.


Art said...

Happy Independence Day

Ramya said...

Happy Birthday Malaysia ! :)

visithra said...

Mydays : that’s cool ;) thanks ;)

Aravind : hey welcome back hows work life?

Coco thanks ;) ooh that’s ncie – yeah its also visit msia year this year

Praveen : seriously how long or short I decide to write is my wish – if u find it too long then don’t read it

Amu : thanks

Art thanks ;)

Ramya thanks ;)

Anonymous said...

what a pretty face