A place to call home

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SENIOR - By LIM SZE CHOONG

HOME, sweet home! The lush green land­scape rises to greet me at my small win­dow as the plane banks right to ap­proach the run­way at KLIA. Out­side, I bask in the warm trop­i­cal air as I get into a taxi. What a relief it is as my wife and I re­turn from cold, cold Hong Kong where we vis­ited our new­born grand­son.

Tonight, we will prob­a­bly eat a bowl of laksa; tomorrow per­haps a nasi lemak, fol­lowed by teh tarik and roti canai un­der the trop­i­cal sky. How we love the life­style and food of this land we call home! I grew up spin­ning tops, fly­ing kites and kick­ing a foot­ball with friends of dif­fer­ent races in this beloved land.

My par­ents and grand­par­ents en­dured the Ja­panese Oc­cu­pa­tion and re­sisted the Com­mu­nist In­sur­gency. When I grew up, I served the na­tion for 30 years teach­ing in ru­ral schools. I gave ex­tra classes to weaker stu­dents with­out any pay­ment. I taught not just aca­demic lessons, but lessons about life and hard work, re­spect and tol­er­ance.

Over the years, we tol­er­ated many neg­a­tive things as well – in­ef­fi­ciency, ex­cuses. Many a time, the train we were ex­pect­ing in 15 min­utes failed to show up with­out an ex­pla­na­tion, we ac­cepted it, and tol­er­ated another half hour of wait­ing.

In Hong Kong, I stepped onto the plat­form just in time to miss my train. Over the PA sys­tem, it was an­nounced that the next train would ar­rive in two min­utes. I smiled scep­ti­cally to my­self.

To my ut­ter amaze­ment, the next train ar­rived sharp on the dot, all eight coaches of them!

There were 10 such train lines, serv­ing no less than 85 sta­tions. No won­der I never heard any com­plaints of traf­fic jam, as com­muters could es­ti­mate their time to and from the home, of­fice or favourite restau­rant to the dot. Trains run late into the night with no prob­lem. One felt safe walk­ing alone even at night. Snatch thieves were un­heard of.

Malls were spick and span, uni­formed main­te­nance work­ers were well re­spected as peo­ple who helped to keep the place clean.

On my last trip, I was amazed to see a pretty lady, el­e­gantly dressed in win­ter clothes, bend­ing down to pick up a piece of tis­sue pa­per some­one else had dropped, and dis­pos­ing it in the bin.

Over TV, I heard pub­lic ser­vants de­bate in gen­tle­manly fash­ion, brain­storm­ing over ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies and plans for the city.

My mind couldn’t help but flash back to my own home­land. With sad­ness, I no­tice that the progress which had been much talked about and which I had ea­gerly awaited since the Day of In­de­pen­dence as a seven-year-old has been elu­sive. Yet, this is the only home I know, and where I ex­pect to be buried one day.

I feel sorry for my son though. I can sense his un­cer­tainty. Like me, he had grown up spin­ning tops and fly­ing kites, and en­joy­ing his teh tarik and nasi lemak.

But af­ter six years in Hong Kong where he had tasted ef­fi­ciency and progress, and where hard work is re­warded, it will be dif­fi­cult for him to come back to live here.

My grand­son is too young to know. I do not know whether he will ever spin a top or fly a kite. But I pray to God ev­ery­day that bet­ter minds will pre­vail, prej­u­dice will be re­moved, racial har­mony re­stored, to make this land beau­ti­ful again.

Then per­haps I will have that chance to teach my grand­son how to spin a top be­fore I grow too old.

The writer with his new­born grand­son.

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