Thursday, April 28, 2011

Of Malays, Chinese, Racism and Nasi Goreng

Many years ago I taught part-time in a private foundation school. The students of the school was largely bumiputera populated until later in years Chinese and Indians were added to the equation. The teachers were a mixed of all races with some retired but well knowned teachers who were sought after. Needless to say that they were well paid for them to decide to continue teaching well after retirement. They were GOOD teachers. So education there was top-notched. The best teachers and the best students. The brightest students of the country were narrowed down, brought here to study and are fully funded at this school. Almost all of them were the under-previleged but potentially intelligent beyond their years. They are SMART. Real smart students.

Disclaimer: This was my perception. I don't know 100% about the school now since I left more than 10 years ago but if there are ex-students reading this post, well pardon me for any misquotes ya. :)

So, today I'm back at the school teaching part-time again. 10 years. New students. 1st month now. Pretty much the same surroundings. New teachers except for a familiar face. A faithful one there. :) New equipments and old equipments. Good memories.
Back to topic. I got to know some of the students of that time. They were nice kids. Although largely Malays, there weren't issues about the many Chinese teachers or of the other races, Race wasn't much of the issue. In fact, in most schools I think racism is not an issue at all (open for debate?). You see, kids are blind towards issues of race until they are taught about it. Some attitudes are formed and molded not by the students themselves, but by others. Adults, teachers, parents, religious bodies, etc... are responsible to teach the right attitudes and perception on these things. But somewhere along the line, something goes wrong. And these corrupted perceptions gets imprinted on the kids. They carry it for life if or until they are re-educated on what's right. By then, sad to say it's hard to learn 'new tricks'.

There was a student I knew (I can't remember his name now... sigh..). When he was in (Form 1), he was nice. Real nice kid. Good manners, the lot. Then in the following year, he changed. He started to be very bold (in a negative way). He would voice out his displeasure in the music dept's rules. He would stomp out of classes (not only music classes I heard), rallying other students in protest to whatever it is he's protesting in. Many of these protests were religious based. Classes were left because of 'prayers', religious studies, etc. He became a nightmare to teachers. Who made him this way? Insane.

The school had a standard of conduct. Every student wore uniforms. Very smart ones. The girls weren't allowed to wear headgears. Wait... what? Yup, they weren't allowed. The owner of this school is a Malay by the way. And the person in charge of education (let's call him the Education Minister :) ) at that time, was Malay too and he was the most feared man among all. He was no nonsense, education was is top most priority and he liked the Chinese teachers. He thought the Chinese were hard workers and in education, many of the sought after teachers were the Chinese. If he doesn't like you however, he'll sack you on the spot. There was a joke (a serious one?), when he was visiting the school, word will go around saying "God is coming". The school wanted to project a professional image. Well, my understanding is a 'secular one'. Not one 'ruled ' by religious or race sentiments/standards but one that puts education and professionalism as its priority. Better than any smart-school whatever-not. Excellence was it motivation. Its tagline was Center of Excellence. And it was true. It still is I believe. But 'tragedy' struck. Politicians, religuous factors, blah, blah, yada yada got in the way of things and bam! It started changing. Not all is lost but excellence came with conformity. Conformity to religion and race. The girls started using headgears. There were power struggles. The Education Minister was transfered. Principals were changed. Teachers were saying the school was going to become one of those asrama schools. The orchestra at one time started playing at low standard school events... err... like sports day kinda stuff? (these are not in-house events) The orchestra was originally targetted only at high profile functions where Menteris, Sultans, and VVIPs were going to be present. Well, I don't know the reasons for all of it. I know it happened. Don't blame me for my ignorance though. I'm just telling a story. :) These students were great kids. The were highly intelligent, fast learners, hard workers; and they were teenagers. They did dumb stuff too. They rebelled too. Punishment and 'lectures' were a norm. Suspension too. But they were good kids. No racism.

Who teaches anyone racism? I've had good Malay friends when I was young. Again, we were blind to racism. There were ocassions during my primary school years I clashed with some racists. An unkown malay boy said, "Oi Cina, balik China la". There was one time when we were playing football (school mates), a group of koochi-brat Malay boys came and confront us with a parang because earlier on we didn't let them join us to play (the field area we were using was too small - no more space). They ran when a Malay adult nearby started shouting at them. Morons.

I can't help but notice that somehow this racism issue comes a lot from the Malays. Pre-dominantly. Not all. And it is closely tied in with their religion. Don't understand why. For whatever the reason, the sentiment is "in the name of their religion". Or something like that. This is common news nowadays. Malay politicians are sprouting out major racist crap regarding the Chinese mostly. Its blatant and its in the media. The name calling is even somewhat shocking. You'd think that being adults, they'd know any better. You know, when I was in school, we called all our friends of different races names which today, if you use them, they'll curse you and want to kill you. Names like 'keling', 'melayu', 'cina-melayu', etc... well, they sound really bad but in school no ones gives a shit. There are also those that call each other with profanities. They go "oi f**k*r, what you doing" or "b**tard what you doing". It's daily conversation 101. Extreme... but no ones gives a crap. Teachers will go "B*bi tanah lu..." Then, everyone laughs out loud. These are really degrading and terrible. We know better now being adults and being much more educated in etiquette. We should be able to draw the line between being offensive and joking. But nope. Not with today's politicians.

Over the years of growing up, I did not for a very long time surround myself with Malay people and friends. And with news and media talking about how racism is starting to be a pain in our society it has somewhat marred my perception on Malays. I started not to like them for no apparent cause - no one did me any harm directly. Why should I not like them? This is called third party offense. Meaningless. I realise this, and now my perception is slowly changing back. I'm beginning to see some real good people around me. They don't give a rip about these racist stuff and they are genuinely nice people. I lived in a taman filled with Malays when I was 12 to 16 years of age. They are really nice people. Neighbours were kind; we played badminton together, rode our bicycles together, played ping-pong (at the surau yard). I even lent one neighbour my football boots one time. No issues. When I was about 11-12 years of age, I played with my Malay friends living in the Police Flats in the now Garden City everyday. We hanged out everyday without fail. I have Muslim relatives. My uncle is a nice man. His kids are great people. I don't see them as often as I should but I've always had a liking for my uncle. We rode in his souped up Mini one time when I was really young. He did a 'maut' corner at the Stadhuys bridge (going down to the now Jonker Walk) and the car tipped on one side for a moment. Super cool!! I don't know why I still remember that. Well, Malays make the best Nasi Goreng Kampung. I love it, Some makciks know I love it too. :) There are stalls that I frequent to and these makciks know what we like. These are really nice people. They are definitely not gonna tell me, "oi Cina, balik la". :)

Coming back to the school. That young Malay boy later changed... again. He became a gentleman. Yup. Nice, polite boy that we once knew. He did well with his instrument. I think he plated clarinet. Toured with us all the way till he finish Form 5. What changed him? I heard he was almost thrown out of the school if he didn't rehabilitate himself. He did. :) For whatever reason he taught he could do whatever he wants because of religion is madness. He became a good kid. He was to begin with. Got 'corrupted' along the way but found his way back.

Another kid. A Malay politician's kid. He was a rebel without a cause at first. Highly intelligent. Normal teenage angst in the early years but straigthen out by the time he was a senior. Very likeable, very polite, very well-mannered. He had good siblings and parents who taught him well enough to be a useful and good human being. I chatted up with him one time and he told me this. He couldn't decide what to do after his studies. I asked him if he'll go into politics like his dad. Then he said his sister (or was it brother?) told him to do what he feels happy doing and they will suport him 100%. But he must put in his best. His 100%. Even if wants to make roti canai, can. But he must be the best roti canai maker in the whole country. Very cool. I might have gotten the details wrong here (the cost of aging) but the story itself is true. He was delighted to know he has support from his family. Today, he's doing alright.. I don't know what he's doing exactly but he's alright.

Today, my new students are an interesting lot. I'm just getting to know them. I found out the concert master (or in plain terms, the head-person of the orchestra) is a chinese boy; a fellow student. Interesting in today's times. As usual, students have nick-names. Some of my students have funny ones. Some to which i think in today's times, can be considered racist. Although at present all Malays, I hear some nick-names like 'boon siew' (as in Honda), 'Iban', 'tank', 'mario', and some more which I'm looking forward to learn. :)
I'm thinking to myself, these fellas are good kids. I don't think they give a rip about racism. I'm chinese and they didn't start cursing me. It's now a multi-cultured school. Much more than before. What we see happening in the media is not reflected in these kids. Kids are innocent until they are 'taught' to be racists. Somewhere along the line they are being corrupted. Teach them today what is right so they will live rightly tomorrow. The adults today are shameless buggers. Major politicians today are shamless buggers. They accuse left right and center of everything under the sun and then when there's nothing else to shoot at, they use the race issue. Why have a race govern over another? It should be a Malaysian governing Malaysians. Malaysians are not Malays only. We are all humans created in the lightness of God Himself. None is superior to the other. What happened to multi cultural/racial Malaysia? I like wikipedia's explanation on our Rukunegara. Especially the first principlal. "Kepercayaan Kepada Tuhan" - We adults are actually responsible in teaching our kids what is truth and just concerning religion and race. We should not learn to TOLERATE, we should learn to LOVE and ACCEPT each other. Leave religion out of the equation. Even if you bring it in, don't twist it to fit your stupid opinions and selfish ambitions. There is a saying, "out of the abundance of your heart, the mouth speaks". Ignorance aside, its from the Bible. It's true isn't it? If there's shit in your heart (your inner desires), then your mouth will be full of it too.

I've not met other teachers. But the kids are getting on just fine. The hope is when they leave school and get into higher learning centers, the rat-race, or even politics, they don't get their mind and perception corrupted. If they can live with each other in school, they can certainly do it outside, right?

It's going to be an interesting ride this round.

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