Last Saturday morning, while thousands and thousands of Malaysians were making their way to the city for the Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat and with one or two helicopters seen hovering over the clear blue skies of Kuala Lumpur, I quickly made my way to the wet-market near my house to do some daily marketing.
At the vegetable stall, Ah Kam was grumbling away and berating her Bangladeshi helper. She was in a very foul mood that day. Read on to find out what made her so pissed off.
“Hiyah, these people are really a nuisance, always coming out to the streets protesting this and protesting that, causing traffic jams and road-blocks everywhere! This morning, I can’t even get to the Selayang wholesale market to stock up my supplies!” I heard her fuming as I was choosing some red and juicy tomatoes from her stall.
“It’s only for one day my dear, so bear with it! Why don’t you take the day off?” I teased her, hoping to cool down her temperature.
A post-Merdeka baby like myself, Ah Kam was almost of the same age with me but already has two children in private colleges.
“Take the day off? You must be joking!” she shot back at me.
Here is a lady who works 365 days a year. She even sells vegetables during the entire duration of Chinese New Year. According to her, she has never rest for even a day after taking over the stall from her mother some 3 years ago when the old lady had a stroke.
“Come rain or shine or snow, I will have to work. The day I stop will be the day I die,” she often used to say this to her regular customers.
Ah Kam always used to complain how expensive it was to send her two children to colleges. Education is an expensive commodity in Malaysia. Operating private colleges is a lucrative business. With a husband not working anymore due to sickness, no wonder she was having such a hard time.
“I don’t care what will happened to this country; all I am interested in is to make enough money to pay for my children’s education,” she replied when I told her the reasons why so many people will be coming out that day.
I did not tell Ah Kam that I will be going to attend the rally too or that free education for all citizens is one of the causes we are fighting for.
Later that afternoon, my husband and I went to the Kuan Yin temple located opposite the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall on Jalan Maharajalela to offer prayers as it was the first day of the twelve month in the Chinese lunar calendar. Everywhere we went, sea of faces jammed the streets around Stadium Merdeka. The carnival mood could be felt at all corners surrounding the iconic venue.
At the temple, we met Henry who was my husband’s former colleague. He was at the temple for the vegetarian meal and to offer prayers too.
“Hi Henry, care to join us at Stadium Merdeka?” my husband asked his long-time friend.
Henry smiled weakly and shook his head. “No thanks, Amitoufu (peace be with you). As a practicing Buddhist, I do not believe in violent activities. I prefer peace than violence,” he replied softly and humbly.
“Henry, are you happy with the way things are getting on in this country?” I asked him as we tucked into the plates of vegetarian rice offered by the temple.
“No,” he shook his head sadly. He looked so gloomy and lost.
“What makes you so unhappy, Henry?” I asked him again.
“The cost of living is so high these days and I found it so hard to make ends meet. After paying the rental, food and transport, I have nothing left at all for my old age,” he said. “And I have an aged mother to take care of back in Alor Star,” he said. “She is always sick and sometimes, I can’t even afford to take her to the doctor,” he said with sad looking eyes.
“So what are you going to do about this situation?” my husband asked him.
“What else can I do but to accept this as my destiny?” he said miserably. He looked very pitiful to me at that moment but was adamant with his stand.
Destiny? As a Buddhist too, I believe in the concept of destiny but not this kind of destiny. Do you believe having to pay a hefty electricity bill or higher house rental as destiny?
“Do you vote, Henry?” it’s my turn to ask him now.
“No, I am not interested in politics. I have never voted before in my entire life. I did not even register myself to vote,” he revealed. “I don’t care who is in charge. I’m already an old man and my days are numbered,” he was trying to justify his non-participation when I gave him a disapproving look.
Henry is 60 this year and he has been missing out on all the previous elections held since Independence. He preferred to suffer in silence than to stand up and be counted. I think if he continues like this, nobody knew of his sufferings and nobody cares too.
Leaving him alone to continue with his meditation at a private corner of the temple, my husband and I made our way to the Stadium to join the rest of the Malaysians eager to see a change for a better future.
At the Stadium, I could see many old people and some disabled ones too. Many of them spotted red T-shirts with a big ‘R’ written boldly across their chests. They were from the oil-rich state of Kelantan and they were here to press for a higher royalty for their state. Not even a long journey, advance age or disabilities could stop them from coming out to voice themselves.
After the rally was over, we made our way to Petaling Street for some drinks and snacks and also to take more photos of the dispersing crowd.
Can you guess who I saw sitting among some people wearing green T-shirts with the words “Himpunan Hijau” at a food stall?
Sitting next to Mr. Wong Tack, the chairperson of the Himpunan Hijau group, was the young and bespectacled Buddhist monk in light blue robes. Yes, he was the same monk who last December, had walked more than 300 km from Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur to fight for a greener environment for this country.
I really wonder what will Henry say if he saw this little monk in the Stadium with us that day.