As I was washing the flask to make tea for the journey to Brickendonbury for the Malaysian Carnival last Saturday, my mind took a nostalgic trip down memory lane. There I was, standing by the sink in my crisp, newly ironed uniform, washing my bluish green tupperware tumbler to fill it up with iced tea and then carefully wrapping it with a small Good Morning towel and finally securing it with a rubber band. This I placed safely with egg sandwiches Mak had prepared for the long hot day we school children had to endure lining up the streets for the Merdeka day celebration. Sometimes, it was merely to catch a glimpse and wave our flag to the motorcade taking the Sultan and the Sultanah to their own celebrations, or sometimes to stand in the parade grounds, to listen to speeches after speeches. Mak's sandwiches would have been long gone by the second speech.
The reason we endured the long hours of standing by the roadside was because at the end of that long day, we were rewarded with free tickets to the cinema. That made it worthwhile. Even if some fainted along the way.
My earliest memories of Merdeka was of Kak Cik rehearsing enthusiastically and with such feelings, her speeches for the 'Pertandingan Syarahan'. It was 'the bulan bahasa kebangsaan' which started with inter school competitions and culminated at national level. Kak Cik made it to state level and had a table full of trophies to show for her success. I enjoyed watching her on stage. Thinking back, how well, how confident and how proud we were then speaking our own national language. And how easily too we slipped into English.
Anyway, another event that marked the celebrations for Merdeka Day was the arrival of the Filem Negara vans in the small town of Yan. We knew that this meant free movies on big white screens out in the padang. Of course, like the free cinema tickets, we had to endure an hour of government propaganda clips, which we would while away chatting to friends or eating kacang putih. But yes, I remember these very well. Mak would make her excuses to Pak and we’d have a family picnic on the lawn, in the moonlight.
Later, Merdeka Day celebrations also meant lots and lots of practice of the Scottish or Irish Dance. Scottish or Irish Dance at a National Day celebration? Yes, I am afraid so. While other schools like the SAS showed off their lenggang lengguk mak inang, we from St Nicholas Convent (hooray!) jigged and hopped and weaved in and out in our kilts and funny berets. We stood out of course but we made it a Merdeka Day with a difference.
Then, of course, when I got myself into the school band, we marched from our school, the Sultan Abdul Hamid College (another hooray!) all the way to the stadium, all the while playing the angklung or the drums. Those were the days, eh?
After that as an adult, I don’t remember much, except that during one celebration, in the throes of early courtship and romance, we walked hand in hand to watch the performance at the Lake Gardens. Everything became a blur then. Not that I ceased to be patriotic but other matters took over.
Matters that took me to London. Ironically, it is here, eight thousand miles away that this feeling of patriotism made its way back into my heart, where even a glimpse of the National Flag or the soulful tune of Negaraku would bring tears to my eyes.
The Malaysian community in the UK has always celebrated the National day in Brickendonbury at the vast and green fields of Tun Abdul Razak Rubber Research Centre. This is a great place to meet other Malaysians other than in Oxford Street. There’s usually lots of fun and games and food galore. Malaysians and friends from all corners of the UK would come in coaches and cars and vans to join in this fun ala Family Day.
One year, I decided to test my culinary and business skills and with some friends we set up a food stall.
I made mee bandung, sardine rolls and currypuffs while my friends made capati and keema mutton. What a fun day we had , with people queueing up to get more and more and by the end of the day, it was declared the best mee bandung this side of the English Channel.( Well, that would be easy, wouldn’t it?)
The year after, I decided to do a repeat performance, but while I was stirring the gravy, I realised my heart was not there. I was looking longingly at my friends playing netball and those in the musical chair. It was then that I realised that business is not my thing. I left the gravy to boil and joined in the fun in the musical chair, winning second place. There!
For quite a number of years I was the MC for the day, but this year I decided that I wanted to have fun instead. Once I was even asked to coach a group of children to sing patriotic songs, and oh! how it touched my heart to hear them sing Setia...
Last year the bombings and fear of bombings saw to it that the carnival was cancelled. But when we got news that it is back on this year, I decided to go. As Ewok had already booked a place to sell her ice cream, I booked a place in her ice cream van and together with my son and another friend, we left early Saturday morning for Hertfordshire. The weather in the morning wasn’t very promising. It started raining and we were worried that the ice cream would not sell. But how wrong we were. The queue to the ice cream van started at 9 and ended when all the other stalls had packed up to go. Picture this, ewok assisted by two Mak Cik bertudung selling Yorkshire Da*le Ice Cream.
I met a few bloggerfriends such as Newkidontheblog, marlinda, atok, kak ngah and Ibu71. And guess who else I met? AlexYoong! It was eight years ago that I was Alex’s companion to a Merdeka Celebration at Four Seasons Hotel in London. And that drew a lot of attention from other Mak Datins present.
But one Merdeka Day will remain clearly in my mind. That was the year Princess Diana met her tragic death. I remember it so clearly because I heard the news as I was on my way to cover one of the celebrations with my cameraman. Instead I ended up doing a coverage of the crowd in front of Buckingham Palace.
Well, Selamat menyambut Hari Merdeka everyone, wherever you are!