20 September 2007

Pak Cik reminisces ( Pt 2 ) – 50 years ago – Merdeka (b)

Two weeks after Merdeka I received a letter from a friend in K Terengganu, one of my several very close Chinese classmates in Form 5. Affectionately I called him ‘baba’, otherwise Wee Lian Hong. We were so very close at school that our mothers became friends. He was then about to be sent by his family to Australia to do medicine. Unfortunately, today, fifty years later, he is just one of those who live in my memory. A Dato’, having his own clinic and doing a lot of voluntary services, he passed away four years ago. It is fortunate that I still have in my possession that letter which reads :

Kuala Terengganu
31. 8. 1957

Dear Hassan,

Today is Merdeka Day. The time now is just 20 minutes after midnight. I have just heard ( on radio of course, in the absence of TV then) the last address by the former High Commissioner for the Federation, the National Anthem and the chimes of the clock tower in Kuala Lumpur, and a very short speech by Y.T.M Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Prime Minister now.

------------- The whole town goes gay as the day nears and now decorations are up and no house in Kampong China is without strings of coloured bulbs, flags and buntings. The whole town turns into a holiday resort where people from the ulu and across the river flock to see the bright lights of the festive K.T. -----------------

------------- I met Wan Adnan -------- He is the same old fellow – jovial and still retaining the sense of humour. He is a bit plump though. He may go to UK to do law at Lincoln’s Inn. ----------


That is part of the letter, a voice from the past. Reference is made to a mutual close friend, Wan Adnan. The person is none other than the late Tan Sri Wan Adnan Ismail who passed away while serving as the President of the Court of Appeal. He did go to London as Baba’s letter hinted, and that was a real blessing to me. His presence there saw me visiting London at every available opportunity, to enjoy the company of a familiar face, to mutually compliment each other on how well we could prepare nasi goreng in his rented room, and without fail to do the short walk down the road to Malaya Hall in Bryanston Square. It was always warm and cosy inside that old building no matter how cold the weather was outside. What a joy it was to be among young Malayans, hearing the familiar lingo with ‘lah’, ‘hah’ and all. Smiles were offered generously and in abundance. Everyone was everyone else’s friend 8000 miles from home.

That was fifty years ago. The names Baba and Wan Adnan are recorded in the above letter. They belong to two individuals, decorated and highly respected during their lifetime. Looking back at those happy young days I cannot but be reminded with full humanity of these two individuals. Born and schooled before Merdeka they lived and they served with dedication, honour and dignity in independent Malaysia. They were worthy of being the citizens of independent Malaysia. And so should we all hope to be - kerana Tuhan untuk kemanusiaan.

16 September 2007

Pak Cik reminisces ( Pt 1 )– 50 years ago –Merdeka (a)

It was September 1957. I was then living in a ‘digs’, a family house with spare rooms rented to students, in a town about 100 miles away from London, 8000 miles away from home (perhaps I should say 160 km and 13,000 km respectively to be more topical with the unit of measure). Three rooms were shared between seven of us: a Peruvian, a Jew from London, a rich son of a minister from Lebanon, a Christian Arab from Iraq, an Indian from India, an Irishman and the lone Malay boy from Malaya. Our English landlady, a widow with a grown up son working in London, served us daily breakfast and dinner. We were a happy mix, sharing our differences. Nevertheless, I was but a lonely lad trying hard to adapt himself to this strange environment. There were houses of worship everywhere and plenty of food and drinks, but almost none for a Muslim. There was no shortage of restaurants but one could not find rice and curry on the menu.

There were no cassette tapes or CD’s to hear the voice of Saloma and P Ramlee. My country was celebrating her independence and here I was, oblivious to the kind of celebrations being held 8000 miles away at a place called home. Today I realise those are the elements that can contribute towards building or destroying a character. And I survived.

How about a phone call to Malaya? We can forget that, let alone hand-phones. It was a great many years before the emergence of E-mail and sending SMS. It was at an era when it was fashionable for a young would-be engineer to show off a pocket slide rule sticking out in his shirt. Today a Form 1 pupil is expected to own a calculator, a device that would be the eighth wonder of the world then. If a young person now was to ask what on earth a ‘pocket slide rule’ is, a similar question would be asked then of a ‘pocket calculator’. So, sending and receiving news was all by air-mail letters which took about two weeks to reach. If you could not afford the cost of an air-mail stamp, the alternative was going by ‘surface-mail’, a slow boat that would take about a month, with the added risk of the mail getting lost altogether.

It is pointless to keep reminding myself now how lonely it could be then. Circumstances often drive one to discover happy alternatives. So life went on. Of some comfort to me was the news I received a couple of weeks earlier that I had just passed my University of London GCE ‘A’ level, a two-year course which I was made to accomplish in one year by my sponsors. Hence I was on course to begin my degree as planned. As I had already completed my first year in UK I could rejoice at the thought that in another year I would be allowed to take my holiday at home, all paid for by my sponsors.

So this time fifty year ago I heard of the coming historic event in Malaya. What did I record in my diary ? Here goes one page from my 1957 diary :



M E R D E K A D A Y !

News in all papers
Headlines of BBC news too
The voice of T Abdul Rahman shouting ‘Merdeka!’ (3 times) and the response from people came out and clear.
Tears trickled down my face
Special BBC broadcast 10.45 to 11.00 pm
Slept very late , after 2.30 am

Am I happy to see Malaya’s independence?


Today I wonder why I deemed it important to end the brief note in my diary with that question. There seems to be a sense of disquiet, an echo of uncertainty in that young boy’s mind, away and alone among strangers, remote from the scene of the action. Today, wiser by 50 years, I understand it better. I had my independence at that young age, out of my family’s direct control. I had no need for their financial help. I could do just what I wanted, fooling around, spending my allowance, breaking all my religious rules and ethics and all. Nonetheless I needed love and affection. I longed to be with those who shared my childhood, rice and curry prepared by my mother’s loving hands. Without my sponsors I would not have the very opportunity to be at the heart of the world’s greatest empire, which granted Malaya’s independence.

Indeed I think I know it better today that ‘merdeka’ is just a great sound from an empty drum until one is able to break free from being at the receiving end to a position that others benefit from what he can contribute.

Let me take a break here. A sequel to this will follow in due course.

Pak Cik’s message – 31st August 2007 (50th Merdeka Anniversary)

It has been quite a while since the last entry was made. Pak Cik has always had in mind updating Almanarnuri regularly. This has failed miserably. Consequently, this site tells nothing of the current situation at Almanar, its failures as well as its successes. Pak Cik has every intention to put this right. Every attempt will be made to have a bit of news from time to time. Perhaps, this day being the 50th anniversary of our independence, it is as good a day as any to make a start.

In general Almanar has been able to live up to its motto, ‘ Berkhidmat kerana tuhan untuk kemanusiaan’. Single-handed at the helm Pak Cik has not failed to keep reviewing the effectiveness of materials and methods employed. Many quarters have seen Almanar as a unique non-profit-making venture. It has now entered the thirteenth year of its existence. Convinced of what Almanar has done, a number of families have given their votes of confidence by having their third children enrolled. In more than one way Almanar has developed into an institution in its own right. Most unfortunate is Pak Cik’s failure to attract voluntary teaching resource to expand the programme envisaged. Its enrolment is levelled at around 80 to 90 pupils attending the basic three-year course beginning at Form One. There are of course a number of those from Form 4 and Form 5, who find the familiar atmosphere at Almanar conducive to concentrated work. This is most noticeable during school holidays when ex-Almanar pupils return home from their boarding schools. Here they congregate to exchange experience and to work ahead together.

The year 2006 saw a great success for the 20 odd pupils sitting for PMR examination. Ten candidates obtained 8A’a. Thirteen were given places to continue Form 4 at MRSM, of whom five went to Pengkalan Cepa, rated among the top MRSM in the country. These boys and girls have given credits to their families. Almanar is proud to share their pride.

To all those who have shared parts of their student life at Almanar Pak Cik would wish this: “all the best to you, post Merdeka children. Pak Cik’s school days belong to pre-Merdeka era, a period in time with different kind of challenges, some greater than today’s. But your future will undoubtedly be no less challeging. Strive and, kerana Tuhan and in the spirit of Merdeka, keep on striving. I have often borrowed the saying that the measure of our success is the amount of effort we put into it.”