As I drove around the vast paddy fields of Sabak Bernam, passing by postcard scenes of wooden houses on stilts, I kept count of the time.
On any other day, I wouldn’t have traded a gorgeous sunset for a date with a television set but today was special. The game was scheduled to start at 5.30pm. Malaysia goes up against Japan in the Thomas Cup Finals.
I spotted a small coffee shop by the road side with two large, flat screen television sets.
I got there just in time. Chong Wei was leading in the first set.
One of them said loudly, “Cheng Wei! Cheng Wei!” to which the crowd immediately replied “Chong Wei la!”
The small crowd of about 20 were glued to the screen. Old men with their skullcaps and sarong sat quietly with one hand stirring a cup of tea. A small group of men with a walkie-talkie each took up one corner.
Throughout the whole match, we were all there with Chong Wei. We cheered and groaned at every point. We Oooh-ed and Aaaah-ed at every smash, every drop shot. There was a final sigh of relief as Chong Wei won the last point and exchanged his shirt with his opponent.
On my way back, I stopped by a petrol station. The attendants crowded around a small radio and listened carefully to every sound the players made on court. They only imagined the game and this is how tens of thousands across the country would have witnessed the game.
I asked the cashier as I paid for my drink:
“Game bergu tadi dah habis ke?”
“Habis dah bang. Kitaorang kalah. Sekarang main single.”
When I got back to my apartment in Petaling Jaya, my housemates were fidgeting in their seats, counting up the points as every shuttle hit the court. They were your typical Malaysian Chinese in every stereotypical sense imaginable but all they muttered under their breath was “Malaysia…Malaysia…”.
We just won the second set of the 4th game.
I packed my bags and headed back home to Ampang, just in time to catch the start of the 5th and final match. To call it a nail-biting epic finale would have been an understatement. At each crucial point, you could hear screams from all the apartment blocks around the area, each television set witnessing the same excitement and frustration. If it had suddenly rained and the satellite transmission were to be disrupted, there would’ve been a mob at the Astro headquarters.
For that couple of hours, all of us, from the oldest to youngest, regardless of whatever identity, were united in their love for the country. No, we didn’t love the game nor most of us even recognize the players. All we knew was how the Jalur Gemilang looked like and that we wanted to win. We wanted to lift that trophy and etch our name in the history books, just as we had done 5 times in decades past. Even when the umpire mentioned Malaysia we all brimmed with pride.
The entire country stood still as Daren Liew played those last few points. And he lost. He fought hard and though he may have lost the game, he has definitely won the respect and admiration of all who watched the game.
Some of us joked about what Utusan, ISMA, PERKASA or the oxygen depriving Ridhuan Tee Abdullah would have to say the next day.
And true enough, he said the ethnic Chinese will back own race against Malays. In the same breath, he quickly asserted that the Chinese in the country do not respect the rights of the Malays and Bumiputras, and Islam is being threatened. That’s a long sentence for one breath and didn’t I say he was a waste of oxygen?
Yes, you will find people who look at the national team and immediately proclaim “Wow, I’m so proud that the entire team is Chinese.” and you know what, they have every right to feel that way if they want to. It’s more important to think about your thoughts than to worry about others.
Would it have made any difference if the players were Malays, Indians or lain-lain?
We would still be laughing at the same stupid jokes.
“Hehe I hope Rosmah didn’t hug any of them before the match.”
“Eh if they win ah, sure got holiday tomorrow!”
We would still groan all the same when a player misses a shot. We would still be chanting “Malaysia! Malaysia!” and not our ethnicity.
We win and lose as Malaysians, that’s it.