I have Chinese friends. No, I am not talking about Facebook friends who are Chinese, though I do have Chinese friends on facebook whom I talk to and go to when I need tunjuk ajar on issues back in K Hell. I have Chinese friends who are not shy about telling me where I can go to (usually off the beaten track where the sun does not shine!) when they agree to disagree with what I write. There are Chinese friends old and young and I have Chinese friends who can write better Malay than me! I have had Chinese friends for as long as I can remember.
In 1956 we were living in Jalan Storey in Johore Baru. At no 16 to be precise. Government quarters. Our neighbors were Chinese. I was nine years old and I remember a kindly Chinese man who smiled a lot and always had a kind word to say to me whenever I was at their house to play with his son. I cannot now remember his son’s name, but I do know that he grew up to be a dentist. We children were at each other’s house often after school. We made catapults from the branches of the tembusu tree that we climbed. We waited patiently hiding by the windows of our houses for birds to walk into our bird traps made from the dustbin cover, propped up with a stick to which was attached the string we would pull when the bird finally walked under the dustbin cover to eat the rice we sprinkled there. Life was about having fun.
Then I grew up….a bit. My grandfather, Dr. Latiff, lived in Kampong Kassipilay. No 27 to be precise. Beside Tok Tan’s house was a Chinese sundry shop and behind the house was an Indian Laundry. I remember vaguely that there was an Indian temple somewhere in the neighborhood. If I have 20 cents to spare I would go the fence where a lane separated my grandfather’s house from the Chinese Sundry shop and yell over the fence for whatever it is that I wanted to get with my 20 cents – usually asam boi (my favorite) or at times, sugared ginger…and the Chinese lady would do my bidding…always with a smile. Then with my goodies wrapped in newspapers, I would go upstairs and sit on the veranda of the house and watch the world go by. What more could a guy my age want? Kampong Kassipilay was then my oyster and the presence of my Tok Tan and Tok Tina (Grandfather and grandmother) somewhere in the house, made life good for me. Sometimes in the distance, I can see the train go past. Sometimes an Indian man seeking alms would come by singing “ala ala sagi kuntang kuntang”…or words that sounded like that. I would ask my Tok Tina for ten cents to give to the man…passing the alms over the fence at the back of the house to the old Indian man who always had a walking stick with him.
Those are some of the memories forever etched in my consciousness. Today I still have Chinese friends. I don’t worry about where I eat with them. We have enough sense to go to places where each of us will have something we want to eat. They do not ask to be excused if they want to drink beer or anything stronger when they are with me. They do not offer these drinks to me not because they are haram, but because they know I prefer Sarsi to beer. When we talk about Umno I hantam Umno better then they can. When we speak about MCA they do the hantaming. When it comes to the DAP, they tell me what they know and I tell them what I know…and between the two of us …DAP does not come out A-OK but it passes muster!
For now, I prefer to stay in Melbourne where my childhood memories of life growing up with Malaysians still make me smile. And because I am now in Melbourne, we Malaysians when we meet, talk about things that we are passionate about – and if that is about politics, race, and religion…you can be assured that we do so with passion. We all want the same thing – a better Malaysia from the one that now exists. For those of you who will ask if I have friends who are not Chinese…I only have this to say. That is for me to know and for you to find out!