This year has been one full of ironies. And I’m gunna talk about one of them.
In the past 11 months, I’ve been in 4 continents. I was in 8 different countries, and visited 5 states in the US.
In the past 65 weeks, only 2.5 was spent in Malaysia. And yet, I hardly remember feeling very homesick at all. For someone with such a huge attachment to home, that is, frankly, quite remarkable. Perhaps I’ve been too engrossed with the new, the foreign, the exotic, so saturated with the thrill of adventures, that there was almost no space for homesickness.
But the great irony is that even though I’m having a really strong desire to be away from home, to have adventures in the farthest corners, to be as far away from the usual and the familiar as I possibly can, at the same time, I’ve also never felt a ridiculously strong need to be in Malaysia the way I’m feeling right now.
It’s not a need of the emotional and sentimental kind, but a need born out of a sense of responsibility.
Over the past year, Malaysia has taken one step after another towards becoming the country that I’d be terrified to live in, and all I have done was sit at my computer and watch, many, many miles away.
I’m a social science student. In all of my classes, words like equality, democracy, human rights, gender, sexuality, power, development, race, ethnicity, opportunities, and freedom are thrown around all the freaking time.
I can’t even begin to describe the odd, uneasy feeling of going to class, talking about all that, then going back to my room right after class to read about the latest thing the Malaysian government is doing that counters all that I’ve been talking about for the previous 2 hours.
It’s disconcerting to talk about civil rights and social justice in the classrooms of Grinnell, then log on to Malaysiakini to read about meaningless, unenforced civil rights and social injustice in Malaysia.
I was looking through an online photo album of the Malaysian Bar’s walk to protest against the Peaceful Assembly Bill, and there was one picture of a man holding up an “Occupy Parlimen” sign. Next to him was a man in a Guy Fawkes mask, holding a sign that goes, “Remember, remember, the 29th of November”.
That was a very unsettling picture.
The government has been taking sure and bold steps towards creating a society completely controlled by the government. And that Guy Fawkes picture was one to say, This is a decision by the parliament that we will not tolerate. This is one step too far, and it’s time the entire government goes down.
Malaysia is a young country. The heck, it’s younger than my parents! It’s young, malleable, still trying to find its identity. This is a time when smart decisions have to be made, and bad decisions have to be corrected, because once the gelatin sets in its mold, you can’t change its shape anymore.
I fear living in a society where the government controls the articles you write, the opinions you voice, the life opportunities accorded to you, and… your sexuality, who you can love.
We need our version of the Gunpowder Plot.
Every time I read about a peaceful protest or a walk carried out by Malaysians who give enough shit about our country to do something about it, I feel… proud? Heartened? Fired-up?
To the people who braved the police threats, the tear gases, the risks, in order to say enough is enough, I thank you.
I can’t describe how much I wish I could have been part of them. I feel so helpless being here, only reading, doing nothing. I don’t want to be home, because I still want to see the world, but oh man do I need to be in Malaysia.
This is not just for us, this is for the future generations. 50 years from now, I don’t want to look at my grandchildren, and apologize for the oppressive government they have to live with because our generation hadn’t done enough when something could’ve been done to fight that bleak future.
And if this is the change that needs to happen, if this is when Malaysians say, Enough is enough, we’re gonna fight back now, then I don’t want to end up having to say I missed being a part of this change because I’d been too self-centered, too preoccupied with my own life, with school, with homework.
For all of you old enough to vote in the next general elections… please do.
And vote wisely.