It makes me realise now having just been on Facebook and chatting and forwarding those old photos to my friends, Malays, Chinese and Indians, how much we have in common. We are all linked by this one connection called friendship and despite more than 30yrs since we all left school, we still feel the same towards each other and our behaviour now is that of a 16/17 yr old despite us all being in our 50’s now.
No Najib nor Hishamuddin can take that away from us.
We’re united and know no race, colour nor religion.
So why is it so different now?
Or is it?
As I got out of Hyde Park Corner tube station and walked into the fashionable and grand Belgravia, lined with trees and 19th century mansions ,I thought to myself, how lucky I am.
No worries about dodging policemen or Khairy protesters and worse of all, what to do if I was unlucky enough to be hit by a water cannon or a tear gas canister. There were no crowds scuttling around nor scenes of panic stricken demonstrators. No violence.
I had no fear about wearing yellow nor being arrested by the police. I could choose which ever route I want to get to Belgrave Square and there was no disruption to the train or bus services. The only worry I had that morning, was perhaps being late and missing buying a yellow Bersih t-shirt.
At the Bersih 2.0 Rally in London, I found no aggression nor discrimination but a friendly, warm welcome from my fellow Malaysians. I would not have guessed this was a demonstration but for the yellow tees, placards and chants for a “Free Election” in Malaysia. Take that away and what have we but a Malaysian get-together with jokes and chit chats about the good old days and how life was just so much more simple and less violent.
Yes, we had all gathered that morning to support all the Malaysians back home and globally to stand together and fight for a free and fair electoral reform and the fight for freedom of speech, the right to demonstrate peacefully without the constant fear of ISA and Kamunting.
The atmosphere in London was one of calmness and carnival like;
yellow balloons flying high into the threatening sky and the flag of Malaysia blowing in the gentle breeze, toddlers in pushchairs and a couple of little ones perched high on their fathers’ shoulders. Did I feel threatened to turn up to give my support? No, quite the contrary. I wanted to come. My efforts to join the rally is insignifiant compared to those who have risked their lives and their families to organised and coordinate it. I have the chance to let the Malaysian government know I’m fed up with the way things are run in Malaysia. I am glad I made it here.
A police van was parked outside the Malaysian Embassy but it did not bother me. I know it was merely there to give us assistance should we need it so the only threat that morning was just the sky and the clicking of cameras.
The sky looked like it was about to pour down on us but so what if it did? This was nothing compared to the water cannon they were using in KL to disperse the peaceful crowd. Any rain fall would not have dampen our spirits for this is the day that we have all wanted to gather together and deliver a message to our government.
Yes, it was indeed a beautiful day and I wished my fellow Malaysians back home had not been subjected to the violent tactics used by the police force.
Earlier before I left Cambridge, I had watched in awe at the scenes that was coming on the web, the arrest, the jets of water being shot at the crowds, the smoke from the canisters of tear gas and the people running amok, the red and yellow tees …are they going to clash?
But the bravery of all who came brought much inspiration and made me realise I had made the right decision.
When I arrived that morning, there was already a small crowd of between 50-80 people. I felt slightly apprehensive at the thought of joining the group. I was on my own and knew no one present. But that fear was soon allayed as I soon found a few friendly faces (young and old)and after the normal formality , we were all talking like old friends and our conversation soon turned to politics.
Mohammed was here in London visiting his daughter . We decided perhaps we should keep close for the mere fact that we could walk together at a slower pace in the march. Suddenly I noticed a young man in his early twenties looking towards us. As he approached us, he stepped forward to shake Mohammed’s hand. I stood observing the pair as they immersed in conversation.
“Bye Sir,” the young man said. Mohammed quickly explained he was a retired headmaster at Free School in Penang. I listened with enthusiasm as he took me back to the good old days when at school, race was not an issue. It is the governing body of the country and the politicians who had stirred racial hatred among us, the Rakyat. We were blind to the colours of our school friends and we did not see that in our friendships .We visited each other on Hari Raya, Deepavali, X’mas and Tahun Baru Cina. We sat, ate, drank and talked in each other’s houses. Where has all those memorable days gone?
My thoughts were soon disturbed by yet another student coming forward to introduce himself to the ex-head teacher. I watched and smiled, how wonderful this person must have been that years later, the Old Frees still remember him.
There was a genuine respect and love towards this man who never thought his coming to this rally today would be more than he had bargained for. And in the hour we were stood talking, two more Old Frees came up to us. It didn’t matter what the race or religion of the man they were seeing is, for this was their much loved headmaster.
We stood there chanting and condemning Najib’s government.
Yolanda Augustine, MCLM secretary was leading the march. Now which way shall we be go? Oops! We were going against the flow of traffic. There was much laughter. We didn’t care. It was all light-hearted and good fun.
We followed our leader across the zebra crossing and headed towards St James’s Park. Cars stopped and hooted and we shouted in delight. Yes they too supported us. Did they know what we were protesting about ? It didn’t matter. It was all for a good cause.
As we weaved our selves over the crossings and into St James park, we felt no feelings of fear but joy and happiness. It was just like a school outing and no one complained of how long this walk was going to take or how tired we all felt. No, this was a family outing and just like the school trips we have all taken at some stage of our lives, this was no different. The excitement, noisy chatter, smiles and laughter could be heard all the way. Yes, this was indeed a special outing.
Mohammed said to me “Isn’t this lovely…..all this grassed area here for people to enjoy”.
“Yes, I said, all the parks in England are like this. Lots of spaces for people to have fun”.
As we turned round the corner, Buckingham Palace gates were in sight.
“Mohammed”, I told my friend, “you better take a picture here outside Buckingham Palace. Saves your daughter taking you here again”.
So little did Mohammed know that his little trip was more than he bargained for . And like a typical tourist, he got his mobile out and clicked away, taking in all the sights along the way.
We finally reached the Malaysian Tourist Board office.
A group of Malay boys and girls were having their picture taken.
I asked Mohammed to take me with them. Just I was about to leave following my photo shoot, voices rang out
“Tunggu sekejap Aunty…we also want to take picture with you.”
Najib-That’s the Malaysians that you know nothing about.
And off we continued towards Trafalgar Square. By now our group has grown to about 500. We chanted and sang and as the words of Negaru Ku rang loud into the air, we felt a sense of pride. You can’t take that from us BN.
And for our final destination, well if you’re a true Malaysian, you would know it would not be Malaysian gathering without food. And so the five of us, Mohammed, Corrine Yeo, Ben, Kristopher and myself headed towards Chinatown.
As Mohammed and I went into Kopi Tiam, we saw other Malaysians already there and like true Rakyat Malaysia, we sat next to them and engaged into deep conversation. Yes, the kopi tiam where Malaysians once gathered is still an exciting rendezvous. Our meals were made richer by the friends we were conversing with and the e-addresses that were being exchanged.
As we left Kopi Tiam and into the bright sunshine, I bade Mohammed “bon voyage” for his safe return to Penang the following day. The rally had been a success and I felt honoured to have been part of it.