“So what race are you?”, a question is posed to me.
My reply, “I’m supposed to be Chinese, according to my identity card. I’m Hokkien. I can’t speak the dialect though. My mom is Chinese Cantonese I think but rumor (actually pretty reliable family history) tells me I’m not a pure Chinese. Granddad was an adopted child by great grandfather, and I eavesdropped once when the aunties were telling this to my mom saying great grandmother was a migrant worker perhaps of Indian origin. Well, the fact, is I don’t really know. What I do know is I’m not a pure Chinese.”
Of course, what I do know as well is I am Malaysian!
The morning breakfast was supposed uneventful. There I was with my RM3.50 Wantan Mee and RM1.50 Nescafe (wow! if I have a RM5 breakfast every morning that would be about RM100 a month for breakfast).
The three friendly looking strangers came and sat with me outside. The inside of the coffee shop was full so sometimes we have to sit with other friendly looking strangers like me!
After the initial introductions, the conversations drifted into little comments on the rising crime rate in the country. The little blurbs that sneaked into the sentences included the senselessness of the killings after theft, indirect racist remarks on 2 other races. What was next was the education people get which later progressed to how people who don’t study get into universities. So some structural critique added to the already bordering commentary totally with no self-critique but only assigning blame to others. Sure, this was only morning breakfast chit-chat right?
I probed. Perhaps we can do something about it. I suggested some more distant ideas like how about using the coming elections to express our disappointments and dissatisfaction. The reply gave me a feeling that the trio or at least one of them articulated what could be on most people’s minds. In short, something along these lines, “We may be unhappy (and we are unhappy) but there’s no freedom to say what we feel. At the ballot box, we will still vote those in power. We have no choice.” Earlier, just for some ice breaking, I mentioned perhaps we might have a version of what the Buddhist monks are doing in Mynamar (not exactly the same but some form of protest). My breakfast partners shook their heads and said this will never happen in Malaysia.
The general feeling was of resignation.
Am I the only one who seems to think otherwise? While I was never one who would give up so easily, I was one who merely saw all the socio-political stuff from a distance. This has changed. It was a slower process for me. But irreversible. As for personal feelings after conversations like the one above, words like “disturbed”, “ashamed”, “curious”, “frustrated”, at times, “angry” and “impatient” came up.
There’s much to learn. There’s much to correct. Starting with ourselves. And that requires honesty and humility.
Lord have mercy.
Editor’s note: Examen is a prayer where we try to find the movement of the Spirit in our daily lives as we reflect on our day. This prayer can be made anywhere: on the beach, in a car, at home, in the library.