Archive for the ‘Celebrating Diversity’ Category

Gotong royong still a way of life

Monday, December 11th, 2017


Helping each other come harvest time

TAMPARULI: Mutual help, or gotong royong, may be a dying concept in modern society, but in traditional communities like the Kadazandusuns here, it is still very much a way of life.

They called it ‘mitabang’ and it is most frequently seen in harvesting time, and the practice is called ‘mongomot parai tidong’, or harvesting of hill padi.

According to Geminik Taisin, 47, a farmer from Kg Tomis Mangi Pangi, near here, ‘mitabang’ not only brings the people closer together and enhances the spirit of family, it is also an important way of getting a task done in a short matter of time, like in padi harvesting which must be done quickly to avoid it being ruined by rain.

‘Mitabang’ also applies in preparing the land for hill padi-planting, which takes place between June-July.

“Harvesting usually occurs in December which is just as well because children are on school holidays and they lend a helping hand.

“Planting can be done in a day or up to three days depending on the size of the planting area, and the number of people lending a hand,” Geminik told New Sabah Times in an interview yesterday.

Hill padi comes in the ‘tadong’ variety and is also known as ‘beras merah’ (red rice), tombulaung, silou, lantung, or worok, to folks in the Tamparuli area. Farmers elsewhere in the state have their own names for the wide varieties of rice, which not all are white.

“The hill padi that we plant are under the silou and tombulaung varieties, and they are more fragrant compared to imported varieties. Our rice may not be certified as organic, but we do not use fertilizers at all.

“Normally villagers grow the hill rice for their own consumption and sell only when they have excess, with prices ranging from eight ringgit to 10 ringgit per kilo.”


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Let the creative juices flow

Saturday, November 25th, 2017
The ease in which Malaysians manage to juggle Bahasa Malaysia, a Chinese dialect, an Indian one and English, sometimes all within one sentence, can leave people in awe. FILE PIC

A COUNTRY’s national language is a defining component of its culture and heritage.

At the same time, people’s ability to open up to global communication is more vital than ever. Where do we draw the line between safeguarding a national language and the creative licence to play with it?


One of the first things a foreigner notices and appreciates when relocating to Malaysia is the good command of English and its widespread usage by the local population.

Especially those among us, for whom English is the only language, are in awe at the ease with which Malaysians manage to juggle Bahasa Malaysia, a Chinese dialect, an Indian one and English, sometimes all within one sentence. Mind boggling.

Malaysians love to talk, to communicate, to play with words at their disposal like a child with her favourite set of building blocks.

Most foreigners will recall one time or other, when they have asked a friendly neighbour to translate a long statement addressed to them in Bahasa Malaysia by their plumber, dobi lady or such. The translated version? “He said yes.”

We never fail to wonder how the original version was so much longer and included at least a couple of English words.

News broke out last week that Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) might soon be given the power to take legal action against those who fail to uphold Bahasa Malaysia as the national language. This new law aims at strengthening the use of the language, thus, penalising improper usage of it.

“So how-lah?” my Uber driver commented to me, as we listened to a radio debate on the subject during a trip downtown.

Of course, a language is much more than a means of communication. It stands in a historical context, it mirrors a community’s traditions, it has evolved within a cultural framework. Its further development is worth careful consideration and its protection is a serious endeavour.

Many countries have institutions that uphold their national language’s purity, that keep the holy grail of literary values, just like Malaysia’s DBP.

Their French counterpart for instance, the Académie Française, was officially established almost 400 years ago in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII.

The institute’s 40 members were known as les immortels, the immortals, as they are elected for life and the academy members choose a new associate only upon one fellow’s demise.

Also, just like DBP, the Académie Française is charged with publishing an official dictionary of the language, and therefore, safeguards its proper use and grammar.

Anglicism and so-called loanwords have been the academy’s bane for many years, especially as technology advances at an ever faster pace and the media and marketing world just loves to stir things up. Over the years, the French have gotten used to many neologisms proposed by the Académie Française.

They now comfortably use their own expressions for elsewhere widespread terms, such as computer, software or even email.

The French academy’s rulings, however, are only advisory, not binding on either the public or the government.

It seems that herein lays an important difference between the French council and its Malaysian counterpart.

The fun ends once a government institution is given the legal power to penalise users of “wrong” language.

What happens with the joie de vivre that translates into clever wordplay?

What happens to the certain
je ne sais quoi (a quality that cannot be described easily) that a foreign language expression
adds to an otherwise unemotional statement?

In our view, from the perspective of the foreigner looking in, the Malaysian’s love for their language as well as for foreign ones is their strong suit, not a flaw.

The ease with which a conversation seems to switch back and forth between languages is astounding. The effort in order to accommodate one’s counterpart shows great respect.


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Sowing the seeds of unity in schools.

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017
SP Setia Berhad chairman Tan Sri Dr Wan Zahid Mohd Noordin

SP Setia Berhad chairman Tan Sri Dr Wan Zahid Mohd Noordin

Former Education director-general Tan Sri Dr Wan Zahid Mohd Noordin is still passionate about grooming the nation’s young. Now as chairman of property developer SP Setia Bhd and SP Setia Foundation, he feels it is his duty to help mould future leaders through core values.

TAN Sri Dr Wan Zahid Mohd Noordin, 77, is a commanding figure. Tall and authoritative, the educationist speaks with a conviction that can only come from his genuine belief in the cause.

He speaks with fiery passion about continuing the work he started when he was with the government – that is, to inculcate and promote a caring, and united nation – which is critical to the ‘zero defect’ concept.

Introduced in 1993 by the Education Ministry, the concept aimed to stamp out drug abuse, truancy, examination failure, illiteracy, lack of religious knowledge, lateness, and bad management, while promoting discipline.

As chairman of SP Setia Bhd, Dr Wan Zahid is instrumental in setting the direction for SP Setia Foundation.

The charity trust promotes education and national unity, which he believes can transcend feelings of animosity that seem to be taking root in the country.

Set up by the listed property company, the foundation has been helping underprivileged Malay-sians since 2000.

In 2015, the foundation launched its Setia Caring School Programme by adopting nine under-performing schools in Selangor, Penang, and Johor.

Dr Wan Zahid speaks to StarEducate about the importance of focusing on the young and disadvantaged.

> Can you tell us about the Setia Caring School Programme?

We want to contribute to society by helping those that most people ignore. When I was DG, I promoted unity and caring as core values to the ‘zero defect’ concept, and it had tremendous impact. In 2010 when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was the Education Minister, we collected some RM3mil for the Bosnian education fund. Not only were non-governmental organisations, parents, teachers, and children supportive, the highest amount came from the Chinese schools.

No one questioned why we were helping Muslims and not those of other faiths.

People could have shunned the initiative with the excuse that charity begins at home. No one did that. So unity and understanding is possible.

People will reach out to each other. But we must promote the right values. I wanted to revive that caring culture. That’s how we came up with the Setia Caring School Programme and made unity our goal.

What we want to do is difficult because we want to measure impact rather than the number of activities.

It’s easy to invite a yang berhormat (VIP) to launch events and then forget about it. We used to give scholarships to individuals but when you do that, it’s just a one-off action.

But we want to create an enduring legacy and the only way to do that is to institutionalise and internalise caring and unity.

Let it take root and create its own momentum so that it will be sustainable. We started small. Under the Setia Caring School Programme, we adopted Chinese, Tamil and national schools.

Three schools grouped together, engaging in activities that promote unity and a caring culture. We want the students to get to know each other.

It’s easy to pick a good school and do that, but what’s the point? That’s why we insisted on disadvantaged schools. It takes dedication from our team, the parents and teachers. We don’t just throw money at the schools. We don’t want to repair toilets or paint gates.

Schools we adopt must be dedicated to the idea of unity and being caring.

For example, we support excursions because it brings the kids together.

We encourage the schools to do joint projects. They come up with what they want to do. It’s not just us dictating.

> What are some of the activities the schools have come up with?

In Selangor, the schools had a joint graduation programme last year. Pupils from all three primary schools wore the same graduation gown.

The Tamil school headmaster gave the speech. There was no ego. Everyone reached out to make it a success. It shows that the schools want to work together. That’s the kind of impact we want to see.

The students also went for a camp in Tanjung Malim. We provided the tents that each housed six students – an equal mix from the three schools.

The rule was that the group have to do things together – eat, gather firewood, whatever. They have to get to know and look out for each other. Getting along was effortless for them. It’s fantastic how children take to unity and caring for one another, so easily. Schools don’t teach this.

Another good example is how the pupils visit old folks’ homes during the various festivals.

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Translate Malay rulers’ message into closer togetherness

Friday, October 13th, 2017
The statement which was signed by the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal Tan Sri Syed Danial Syed Ahmad said the people must understand and respect the major principles contained in the Federal Constitution which was based on the understanding that this country was one where the people were off different religions and races.

KUALA LUMPUR: The concern of the Malay Rulers who view the unity and harmony of the people of different religions and races in the country seriously, should be translated to a closer spirit of togetherness.

The former ambassador to Saudi Arabia Datuk Dr Ismail Ibrahim said the people of this country must avoid sensitive issues which destroy and disrupt togetherness between the races, causing it to become fragile if it is not preserved.

“Clearly, the message that the Malay Rulers want to convey is the importance of inter-racial, inter-ethnic relations in a society where democracy must be preserved. If there are sensitive issues between Muslims and non-Muslims, they must be resolved properly.

“The opinion and wisdom of the Malay Rulers must be appreciated,” he told Bernama today when commenting on the statement by the Conference of Malay Rulers on Tuesday which viewed as serious the issue of unity and harmonious relations between the people of different religions and races in the country.

The statement which was signed by the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal Tan Sri Syed Danial Syed Ahmad said the people must understand and respect the major principles contained in the Federal Constitution which was based on the understanding that this country was one where the people were off different religions and races.

Ismail said if there were any differences in culture, eating habits, issues of halal and haram, as well as other related matters, the people should not jump to conclusions without first checking the facts as this could affect the spirit of togetherness and unity which had existed for so long.


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G25 supports stance taken by Malay Rulers.

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

PETALING JAYA: The G25 group of prominent Malays supports the stance taken by the Conference of Rulers in condemning the actions of individuals and groups who put Malaysian harmony at risk.

“The members of G25 are proud to have the Malay Rulers who stand united as leaders against the extremism that is spreading in our country. We are so thankful that our Rulers have not remained silent where others have,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.

The group said the Malay Rulers have taken a crucial leadership role by protecting the good name of Islam and safeguarding racial harmony from an existential threat to the nation.

It said the actions taken by these individuals and groups reflected an ever-increasing move away from moderate Islam and Malaysia which contradicts the government’s international stance.

It also called on the government to take a “clear and firm” stand and to “urgently and decisively” put a stop to the rise of religious extremism, intolerance, and bigotry in not just individuals and groups, but also within  religious enforcement agencies and independent preachers.

It also urged for action to be taken against those who promote hatred, mischief and disunity.

“This attitude of racial and religious supremacy is not only divisive but will have a negative impact on the social, economic and political stability of the country,” it said.

The group also pointed out its concerns about the ambiguity of certain Syariah criminal laws and the lack of accountability of religious institutions and authorities.

“The time is opportune for the federal and state governments to review the Syariah Offences, Acts and Enactments which give religious authorities broad powers,” said G25.

It added that these laws “are seriously lacking in clear definitions which can be abused and indeed, have been abused”.

G25 also said that religious departments must be monitored to ensure that they do not abuse their powers.

“Those who are guilty of abusing their powers must be held accountable,” said G25.

The group also said the supremacy of the Federal Constitution and the rights of the Malay Rulers must be upheld as religion comes under the purview of the Malay Rulers.
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There is nothing pleasant about discrimination

Friday, September 29th, 2017

IT DOES not feel good when a business makes it clear that it is unwilling to serve you. It is worse when it turns you away because of who you are, and not because, say, your attire is inappropriate or you are misbehaving.

You can change clothes to follow a dress code. You can apologise and promise not to make trouble anymore.

But how do you respond to a house rule that says you need to go elsewhere because of your race or religion?

This is about the launderette in Muar that recently began accepting Muslim customers only.

People have been sharing photos of two signboards at the place stating that policy. One of the signboards explains that this is for kesucian, which translates into cleanliness in the religious context.

The launderette owner reportedly said 95% of the customers were Muslims.

He added that from an Islamic perspective, cleanliness was very important and was something that Muslims must strive for at all times.

But is this a valid reason to reject non-Muslims? Unfortunately, there is no consensus.

For example, Johor Mufti Datuk Mohd Tahrir Samsudin was quoted as saying he welcomed the owner’s decision because some Muslims had doubts over cleanliness when using launderettes.

On the other hand, his counterpart in Perlis, Datuk Dr Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin, worries that the launderette’s Muslims-only policy will lead to similarly restrictive ideas, such as the notion that banknotes that have been handled by non-Muslims are unclean.

The launderette owner said non-Muslims could go to other such outlets nearby.

A lot of people, including Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin, have pointed out that businesses should be allowed to choose their customers.

But there are just as many who have spoken out against any business practice of rejecting customers based on race or religion.

The debate is not about the law and free enterprise; it is about being able to feel comfortable in our own skin, and maintaining the sensitivity and understanding that ensures harmony among us.

Sure, non-Muslims can go to other launderettes, but it does not change the fact that this particular one in Muar does not welcome them, and for reasons that are open to debate.

There is nothing pleasant about discrimination, no matter how benign the rationale.

In multiracial and multi-religious Malaysia, there are countless factors that can be used to set apart one group from another, but we all know that the less we focus on these distinctions, the stronger we are as a nation.

The Star Says.

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Celebrate new year with unity, Muslims urged.

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

PETALING JAYA: The start of the new Islamic New Year, Ma’al Hijrah 1439H, was celebrated nationwide, with calls for Muslims to stay united to strengthen the solidarity of the ummah.

Themed Kesatuan Ummah Kese­jahteraan Negara (“Unity of the Ummah is the Wellbeing of the Nation”), the start of the new Islamic year was celebrated on a moderate scale in all states, but it brought an important message for all Muslims in commemorating the hijrah or migration of Prophet Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Madinah.

In Johor, the celebration was held at Pusat Islam Iskandar with Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin calling on Muslims not to take for granted the peace and unity among them.

He reminded them to always safeguard unity, cooperation and understanding among them as well as with others.

“Otherwise, the efforts taken by our forefathers to ensure we could live in harmony will all be in vain,” he said.

The text of his speech was read by Johor Religious Committee chairman Abd Mutalip Abd Rahim.

Former state mufti Datuk Sha’ri @ Shangari Abdullah, 68, was named as the recipient of the Johor Tokoh Maal Hijrah Award.

Bernama reported that in Sabah, Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Juhar Mahiruddin called on the people to be wary of attempts by certain quarters who wanted to destroy peace and harmony in this multi-racial and multi-religious country.

He said the culprits would do anything, including spreading lies and promoting politics of hate among the people, to achieve their goals.

As such, he said the people should set aside their differences and prioritise efforts to restore and preserve the peace and unity which had been enjoyed over the years.

Former state secretary Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Egoh was announced as the recipient of the Sabah Tokoh Maal Hijrah 1439 Award.

In Terengganu, Tengku Seri Temenggong Raja Terengganu, Tengku Baharuddin Sultan Mah­mud, graced the state-level celebration at State Stadium, on behalf of Terengganu Ruler, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin.

The state Tokoh Maal Hijrah Award was conferred to educator Jaafar Hassan.

In Perak, the state-level celebration was held at Dewan Shariff of the Royal Malaysian Navy base in Lumut and was graced by the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Shah.

The Sultan also presented the Ar-Ridzuan Special Award to State Mufti Tan Sri Dr Harussani Zakaria and the Perak Tokoh Maal Hijrah Award to former Perak Syarie Chief Judge Datuk Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof.

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Embracing unity in varsity

Sunday, September 17th, 2017
Left to right: Mohd Nizamuddin Fauzi, 20, Valentina Tiong, 20, Maryanne Telen Aba, 21, Noryanti Tarawis, 21, Azwa Azwana Khairul Akhmal, 21 and Mohammad Faizurie Abang, 20.

Left to right: Mohd Nizamuddin Fauzi, 20, Valentina Tiong, 20, Maryanne Telen Aba, 21, Noryanti Tarawis, 21, Azwa Azwana Khairul Akhmal, 21 and Mohammad Faizurie Abang, 20.

SARAWAKIANS Mohammad Faizurie Abang, Valentina Tiong, and Maryanne Telen Aba, and fellow Universiti Malaya (UM) undergraduates from Sabah – Mohd Nizamuddin Fauzi, Noryanti Tarawis and Azwa Azwana Khairul Akhmal, are fine examples of who we should aspire to be as Malaysians.

Clicking instantly despite meeting for the first time, they shared the chemistry of long-lost friends. The six, who are in their 20s, say the closeness is a result of their East Malaysian upbringing.

Inviting their counterparts from the peninsula to “visit us more often”, they say the unity among East Malaysians has always been understated, but unshakeable.

It’s a bond they want all Malaysians to share. Since coming to study here, they’ve learnt to better appreciate how Sabahans and Sarawakians respect each other’s differences.

Introducing themselves as either Sabahan, or Sarawakian, they find race-centric questions from new friends, surprising.

Speaking to each other in a colourful blend of Bahasa Melayu, peppered with a healthy dose of colloquialism and accents, they say speech is the only real difference between those hailing from the two states, and those from the peninsula.

Come, get to know us

How did you get here? Do you wear a loincloth? Do you live on trees? What race are you?

This is just part of the stereotyping the group’s had to put up with since coming here to study. Smiling, Mohammad Faizurie says they harbour no hard feelings now, but initially, found such comments insulting and hurtful. “It felt like Malaysians from the peninsula have never been to Sabah or Sarawak. But we understand there’s no malice intended,” he reasons.

Maryanne, who often gets mistaken for a Filipina, shares how a Grabcar driver once asked if she got here by boat when she told him she was an Orang Ulu from Sarawak.

“Recently, my team won a water activity at the pool. And someone quipped: ‘Of course they can swim well. They’ve got rivers behind their houses.’ But I live in a town and I’m not a good swimmer.”

Before packing up for the big city, Noryanti wondered whether she would be accepted by her peers.

“I had so many questions and was worried about whether I would be perceived negatively by students here. But once I made up my mind to come, I prepared myself mentally.

“So, although I was asked many funny questions initially, I chose to be open minded and to address them without taking things to heart,” she says, crediting her positive attitude for being able to fit in easily.

Like Noryanti, Mohd Nizamuddin feels like he belongs. He treats stereotypes like jokes. The bubbly character doesn’t take for granted the hospitality and love of his friends at UM because not everyone has had the same welcoming experience.

“UM is very open, so, we feel at home. But how we react and adapt is also important.”

Recalling her first impression of KL, Azwa Azwana, who’s a Dusun like Noryanti, marvelled at the city’s LRT, MRT, tolled highways, and skyscrapers. And, because of her features, people often spoke to her in Mandarin. ‘Sorry I’m not Chinese’ was a phrase she’d utter every other day.

“When I tell them I’m from Sabah, I sometimes get perplexed looks. Some even ask if Sabah is in Indonesia or Thailand.”

Describing it as “a bit of a culture shock”, she says the hot weather was unlike back home.

“I kept getting sick here. In Sabah, it’s cooler because we have so many trees. Our buildings aren’t as tall. And the night sky is always full of stars. In my first month here, I was hunting for stars every night before finally spotting one,” she recalls, laughing.

For Valentina, the culture shock had nothing to do with the environment. It was the people. She was upset at how race-centric and cliquish some of her peers were.

The daughter of an Iban mother and a Chinese father, she’s been called a “banana” – Chinese who are unable to speak Mandarin.

“I felt so sad. Back home, everyone just sits together and chats.

“The race and religion question never gets asked. It’s irrelevant. That’s our way of life.

“When I came here, I didn’t know who to mix with because those of the same race tend to stick together. I didn’t want to offend anyone, yet I could click with everyone.

“One day, a friend asked why I mix with the Malays more than the Chinese. I though it was a joke. Then I realised it was a serious question.”

Dumbfounded, she ended up inviting her friend to visit Sarawak to see how the communities there interact with each other.

“I have a Chinese surname but I’m Iban. We’re a mix of so many races but some people just want to pigeon-hole us.”

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Anas: Corporate leaders must do more to promote harmony.

Sunday, September 17th, 2017
Celebrating Malaysia Day: Anas (left) looking on as Suria FM radio announcer DJ Lin cuts a cake during the closing ceremony of Zubedy Sdn Bhd’s SaySomethingNice campaign 2017 at The School, Jaya One, Petaling Jaya.

Celebrating Malaysia Day: Anas (left) looking on as Suria FM radio announcer DJ Lin cuts a cake during the closing ceremony of Zubedy Sdn Bhd’s SaySomethingNice campaign 2017 at The School, Jaya One, Petaling Jaya.

PETALING JAYA: The business community should make it an agenda to promote unity among Malaysians, says a businessman-social activist.

Anas Zubedy, managing director of Zubedy Sdn Bhd which has made it a top priority to promote unity and harmony, said business and corporate leaders should “jump onto the unity bandwagon”.

The staunch advocate of unity believes it would be “economically smart” for the country’s business community to also promote unity among the people.

“You cannot only depend on one race to do business successfully in this country.

He said a depressing reality about present-day Malaysia was that children were growing up wit­hin their own racial community.

“Our children are growing separately. You don’t see multicultural situations in schools… and we are living separately so our kids do not have a chance to mingle with each other,” he said, adding that it was only at work that Malaysians began to mingle. As such, Anas said the business community sho­uld ensure that promoting unity was a part of its overall agenda.

The job of cultivating unity should not be just shouldered by politicians, he added.

The #SaySomethingNice campaign 2017, which started on National Day and ended yesterday on Malaysia Day, has seen over 60 projects initiated under the campaign by various organisations and individuals working with Zubedy.

One of the fresh efforts this year was #RukunNegaraSomet­hing Nice, which Anas described as going back to the spirit of Rukunegara to promote unity among the people.

“We tend to forget that there is also the cita-cita (ambition) behind Rukunegara, which encourages the move towards being a progressive nation, a democracy, and liberalism, so how do young people bring forth this ambition?” he asked, adding that it was also the first time that the #SaySome­thing Nice campaign, which was in its seventh year, was collaborating with the National Unity and Integration Department.

Tetap Tiara Sdn Bhd managing director Charles Wong agreed with Anas’ call for the business community to embrace unity. “It makes perfect sense to do it, as what make and shape a business are the people who work in the organisation, the different races and outlook that they bring.

“It’s smart economics at the end of the day,” said Wong, whose company joined hands with Zubedy for the #SaySomethingNice campaign for the fourth time.

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The colours of unity

Sunday, September 17th, 2017
Sarawak Public Works Department personnel waving the Jalur Gemilang in Kuching last year. The mood displayed in the events leading up to Malaysia Day was one of unity.

THESE past few weeks have been eventful for Malaysia. Never have I seen the Jalur Gemilang being displayed in as many events over the past few weeks.

We celebrated our victory at the 29th Southeast Asia Games, we witnessed our 60th Merdeka celebration, we witnessed the celebration of our new Agong’s official birthday. We also witnessed the passing of one of our beloved sultans. But, the mood displayed in all these events was one of unity at all levels and from different sections of society.

I was taken aback by the atmosphere of the Sea Games. I remember entering the stadium being greeted by loud sounds of joy and excitement. I glanced around and witnessed the cheers of not only Malaysians, but Indonesians, Filipinos and Thais, from where I sat when all the athletes entered the stadium to take their seats. I saw the unity of Asean.

The Merdeka parade was a sight to behold. It took me back some 10 years ago when I first witnessed such pomp and pageantry.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force displayed their air-to air aviation skills in the capital city skyline with their Sukhoi jets.

Our soldiers in green marched past the reviewing stand manned by the king and cabinet.

Our men in blue did that, too. They were followed by our volunteer corps in other hues. It struck me then how much these uniformed men and women sacrifice their lives to keep us ordinary folks under the canopy of peace.

I was very blessed to have “witnessed” through my paternal grandmother the country’s first flag-bearers and Navy veterans, Lieutenant Commander (Rtd) Mohd Sharif Kalam and retired chief petty officer Oliver Cuthbert Samuel presenting the Jalur Gemilang to the next generation. My paternal grandmother told me how my grandfather, first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, would utter the joyful words “Merdeka!” “Merdeka!” “Merdeka!”

I can imagine the chorus of the people gathered that morning echoing in unison those three words. She had accompanied her father, the late Almarhum Sultan Yahya Petra, then Tengku Mahkota Kelantan, to the event.

When I watched the celebration of victory at the recent Sea Games, those words of freedom and unity emerged from my memory wherein they were lodged.

I was blessed, too, to witness the Agong’s first official birthday. As I wore my purple songketuniform that morning, I was greeted by the Jalur Gemilang and state flags instead of just the Kelantan flag. This was, for the first time, a federal investiture instead of just a state’s. The investiture ceremony was much more diverse, representing the demographics of the nation, instead of just the state.

People of different hues stood before our head of state. Men and women were in ceremonial attires and uniforms. The diplomats came dressed in their national garments. It was breathtaking.

I observed, too, people of varying ages: civil servants who contributed their years of service to the nation, one of them being my father. The range of attires that was before my eyes was breathtaking. There were songket with tengkolok, as worn by my father, full white navy uniforms and the robes of the judiciary. The green of the army was there, too. It was colour pageantry in some ways

But the celebrations and joyful mood came to a halt as the nation was shocked by the news of the death of Almarhum Tuanku Sultan Kedah, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, who was king for two five-year terms.

The nation mourned the death with flags at half-mast. Many of the Merdeka generation will remember the late ruler fondly. From 12 year olds who received awards to the chef employed in the palace — all had words of sorrow to tell the nation. The late ruler was not just a ruler for Kedahans, but a king for Malaysians. And twice, too.

As we welcome Malaysia Day today with the Jalur Gemilang flying at half-mast, we Malaysians will be united in sadness and joy.

By Tengku Nur Qistina Petri.

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