I was born on the prairies, where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures. [GERONIMO]
Friday, July 15, 2011
I was there - May Chee Chook Ying
I am proud to be Malaysian
On Friday, after checking into the Swiss Garden Hotel at around 5pm, I sent an SMS to my good friend Kim which said: “Just checked into the Swiss Garden Hotel for my second honeymoon. Going for a picnic tomorrow at 2pm at Stadium Merdeka. Please pray for all of us gathered there, that everything will be peaceful.”
When asked whether he wanted a room with single beds or one with a king-size bed, we were requested to check into the Residence after my husband asked for the latter. Later, we took a stroll down Bukit Bintang Road and I was rather surprised at how things have changed.
I do go to Pavilion once in a while, but I’ve not strolled down the street of Bukit Bintang since my varsity days back in the early Eighties. It’s kind of sleazy now. I’ve since told my kids not to go there on their own!
After taking our dinner at the cafeteria in Lot 10, my husband and I went to Pavilion. After half an hour, we made our way back to the Residence. I was dead beat as I’d been awake since 4am, leaving Malacca at 5am for KL, my second home. Since there would be a lock-down at 12.01am on Saturday, I had to get into the city before then, hence the necessity to book a room at the Swiss Garden.
Just before I knocked off that Friday night, my husband read to me a posting on Haris Ibrahim’s blog about a 75-year-old Pak Mat who had to do what he thought was his duty despite pleas from his wife. My husband’s voice quivered and it was choked with tears even before he reached the end. I think I fell into a slumber then, but my sleep was interrupted now and then by sirens somewhere in the background.
The next morning, my daughter, who kept watch at our other home in TTDI, SMSed us to say that the Swiss Garden Hotel was among those hotels raided. She couldn’t join us because she was on standby with the Urgent Arrest Team of lawyers. I had quite a good sleep, considering that I woke up only after 8am that Saturday morning when I usually am up and about after 6am on most days.
We checked out at noon, then headed for Bukit Bintang again for our lunch. On our way to Lot 10 to use the washrooms, we saw the press and some burly Malay guys loitering around the shops opposite McDonald’s.
Most of them were sitting on the pavement outside shops that had closed for the day. That was around 1pm. We met a friend’s daughter who was there with a colleague. They were covering the event about to unfold, supposedly at Stadium Merdeka. We told her we would follow her.
However, after a second visit to the washrooms, we lost her. Three patrol cars then came and lined up across the road facing McDonald’s. A short distance away was a pick-up truck with guys on top of it. They were throwing red shirts with the word “Patriot” emblazoned across the front.
Many Malay guys then went towards them from all directions, catching those shirts and putting them on. Some stall operators also went forward to collect the red shirts. I overheard someone saying that for the red shirts, they had police escorts but for the yellow shirts, they would be rounded up. I didn’t see any patriots, just saw goons!
After hearing hostile words blaring from a loudhailer, we decided not to follow this group. We then moved forward, stepped into a side lane to continue our journey. I prayed for direction as we moved along.
We turned right and lo and behold, we saw a group walking towards us, but away from Stadium Merdeka. We crossed the road, stepped in line with them, not sure why we were heading in the opposite direction. I nudged my husband to ask someone where we were heading.
A tall, bespectacled guy said: “Don’t ask me anything. I know you want to ask me something.” That was quite funny. I wanted to laugh out loud but thought better of it.
Another two guys were ahead of us. My husband approached the taller one who said: “We are going to Dataran. The stadium was just a red herring.” I thought that made sense. We exchanged pleasantries. The tall one asked us why we were there. My guess was we looked like tourists.
I replied: “Because I’m a Christian.” Both of them then shook our hands and said: “We, too.” I wanted to add: “Because I’m Malaysian and my fellow Malaysians shouldn’t have to walk alone.”
I actually joined the “Bersih for fair and free elections” march out of a sense of guilt, especially after reading the holy book which reiterates this: “Fear is a bad adviser; it turns cowards into violent people. God comes to the rescue of the person who confronts the crowd for God’s sake. The fear of acting is an insult to God.”
To me, not to join in this march of justice would be an affront to the God I love so much. To me, to just watch as others march for the truth would make me out to be a plain empty vessel, all talk and no action. To me, to let my fellow Malaysians shoulder this alone would be sheer irresponsibility on my part. I, too, am Malaysian, I told myself, and I can do this!
So, I said to my husband: “Let’s march.” Of course, he was game. He, too, loves God just as much if not more than me. He loves his fellow Malaysians, too.
As we approached Hentian Puduraya, I saw my friend’s daughter again. She had been tear-gassed. The crowd was now going in the opposite direction, yet there was no panic. I saw a Malay boy rubbing his eyes. Both his eyes and face were inflamed. I handed him a pack of tissues. He took a piece and returned the rest. I told him to keep it. That made him smile.
Later, as calm set in, we started to move towards Hentian Puduraya again. This time, with me was a kakak from Penang. We struck up a conversation. She said: “Kita tidak boleh berundur. Dia orang tak tau kita betapa susah.” To which, my husband replied: “Saya tau, saya boleh nampak.”
Kakak is in her sixties. She walked slowly, aided by her daughter at her side. There was also a regal-looking Chinese man behind me. He limped along with a walking stick. He could easily have been 70, yet he was unaccompanied. Their courage put me to shame.
Kakak was really cute. When Dr Tan Seng Giaw came, she nudged me aside. She wanted to shake his hands. She was blind, colour- blind! I lost sight of kakak after a series of tear-gassing. I even lost my handphone, while running away from my fourth or so shot of tear gas.
It was a disaster waiting to happen. I was texting and updating my kids and my friend Kim now and then. While my husband did the shouting, I texted.
At the foot of the slope below Tung Shin Hospital was a small compound where we took a breather. Before that we were tear-gassed left and right. That was when some of us ran towards the hospital. Someone shouted to us to just run through and not stop.
I prayed like crazy. I pulled my cap down, covering my eyes as I ran, beside my husband. We decided to leave a bag of supplies back at the Residence when we read that police were checking backpacks. So, we were without towels and salt but we had water.
The pain was sharp but momentary. My husband remarked that my eyes weren’t so bad. That was when a young Malay man offered my husband some salt. I took a pinch though the pain had somewhat subsided. We saw an old Malay man beside the young man. He was rubbing his eyes with a towel. Both of them had really inflamed eyes and faces.
My husband poured water onto the old man’s towel, then gave the young man the bottle. He washed his eyes and face, then returned the bottle to me. I told him to keep it. He asked: “Auntie, bagaimana?” I told him I still have another bottle, so it was OK.
Then another tear gas attack came. We had nowhere else to run to except up the slope into the hospital. It was still raining and the slope was slippery. However, two knights in shining armour in the guise of a Malay man and an Indian were at the top of the slope to help us up.
We went into the hospital where we managed to use their washrooms. We hung around in their waiting lounge for a while and decided it was not safe to remain there, too. As we were leaving Tung Shin, we saw Irene Fernandez, seated in her wheelchair, surrounded by five youths.
We asked if she was OK, to which a girl laughingly said she was better than the rest of them. Irene was smiling throughout. Nothing was going to get her down! My husband cautioned them to move along and not be the last one to remain behind.
We watched from the balcony when someone shouted it was all right now to go down. They, as the police and the leaders of the movement, were negotiating. So down we went. At that point, we were at the junction where a lane to the left led to the Church of St Anthony.
Some young boys opted to sit down on the road while “they” negotiated. Then we were told to occupy only one lane, the one further away from the hospital. We were told the police would let us through if we did that. So, we happily obeyed and even sang the “NegaraKu”. At all times, we obeyed.
When it was calm, we were told to move slowly, which we did. When someone shouted something out of the norm, we were told not to aggravate, to which the shouting ceased. We were well-behaved, all of us were. After a good 10 minutes of waiting, I heard a young Malay man say: "Jangan-jangan kita ditipu lagi. Mereka selalu menipu!” So young and so disillusioned! I felt almost sorry for him. Where’s Perkasa now? This young Malay man surely does not believe he’s a “Tuan.” He has no faith in those purportedly fighting for his interests. He’s so lost!
To my left, another two young Malay men washed their faces, then, rolled out their mats to pray. I, too, said a little prayer, that God will protect His little ones from all evil and harm. Suddenly, we saw water gushing towards us. They were firing chemical water at us. Like the tear gas, this water was targeted directly at us. They meant to hurt. How could they?
As we ran towards St Anthony’s, I saw another two young Malay men kneeling down to pray on my right. They would not know what hit them. Poor guys! My husband told me then, when you write about this, don’t forget to say that our government betrayed us!
He was rather emotional when he said that, was rather angry, too. As for me, I felt really sad. I make it a point to remind my kids now and then, to always forgive others; to always give them more than a second chance. I believe that everyone deserves more than a second chance. I don’t know if he would throw me a punch at me if I said that, then! Guess things don’t always work that way.
At the gate of St Anthony’s, the caretaker was already unlocking the gate for us. He ushered us to the back gate to escape. On the way, we saw a grotto where we stopped to pray and asked Mother Mary to intercede for us to her Son for protection.
We had to cross over a 2ft-high brick fencing to get to the back gate to escape. I heard a loud thud. Someone had fallen. It was my beloved husband. Running away from tear gas and water cannons was a breeze for him but he had to fall as we strolled through the church.
The rest of the people there were shocked but not me. I had to stifle my urge to laugh because it was just like him to be injured over silly stunts. He jokingly wanted to shout: “Police brutality!” I had to shut him up. We were already laughing for I knew we were already safe.
How can we not be safe in the house of God? By the way, my husband’s right cheek, elbow and shin now bear some scratches due to that fall. He’s telling his friends that it was all worth it and that he would gladly go through it all over again.
It took us another three minutes to reach our hotel. In fact the whole charade happened just down the road. It was about 4pm then. We changed, logged onto the Net to see what was happening elsewhere when suddenly the police in front of the hotel dispersed.
We went across the road to get some drinks from the 168 store. They had run out of Coke. A Malay man overheard us telling each other to go to the mamak shop instead. He told us they were sold out, too.
He, then, added that business was brisk and could have been better. He disputed the government’s version of how business could have been badly affected by the gathering at the stadium. Honestly, that was how I saw it, too.
Had we been allowed to picnic on the Stadium Merdeka grounds, how can business in the city not be better? We would have to buy our stuff from the stores here, in Bukit Bintang Road. Business would have been roaring!
This was my inaugural march, it will not be my last. I wasn’t paid to go. I guess that’s why the red shirts show fizzled out. Perhaps there wasn’t enough money thrown around? Like I said, I wasn’t paid to go. I paid a lot to go. Someone paid with his life.
He, you goons in the government, is the patriot you’ll never be. You goons now stand responsible for his death. I am proud to be Malaysian because of someone like Baharuddin Ahmad. Though words cannot describe your loss, my dear Rosni Malan, your beloved husband’s death will not be in vain.
You and your family will be richly blessed for generations to come because of his selfless love for his country. He died for his country, he died for a stab at free and fair elections. Like I said, he will not die in vain. We, the rest of us, will see to that.
I am not just proud to be Malaysian. More than that, I’m truly proud of my fellow Malaysians. May God bless you all .