Today, the 31st of August 2013 marks 56 years since the Federation of Malaya gained independence from the British in 1957.
Contrary to popular belief, the official formation of Malaysia only happened on the 16th of September 1963 with the inclusion of Singapore (expelled in 1965), Sabah and Sarawak.
Exactly a year ago, I was interviewed by a journalist for a feature article on emerging Malaysian filmmakers. The excerpt below was what I posted on Facebook after .
Earlier today, during an interview with a newspaper, I was asked what Merdeka meant to me as a filmmaker. After a moment of thought I said ” I think we’ve moved on from the idea of Merdeka being about the Tunku standing on a stage and proclaiming our independence. Merdeka today is about the liberation of ideas and different mediums of expression. Gone are the days when filmmaking was limited to studios with expensive equipment and today, everyone can have access to resources needed to make films and more importantly, tell stories.
Unfortunately the journalist wasn’t interested in my answer so don’t count on it being printed.
What does Merdeka mean to you?
This year, Merdeka was completely meaningless. I sat in front of the computer, staring at it for 2 hours, struggling to find the right string of words to describe the way I felt but nothing came out. So many sentences were written that fell prey to the backspace button. At the stroke of midnight I was reading an article posted on BBC, chronicling the proclamation of independence while the faint sound of fireworks coloured the sky somewhere in the distance.
I started off with the intention of writing about the emergence of hybrid cultures observed in Malayan history and how that relates to modern Malaysia. I wanted to talk about how ironic it is that Malaysia is today strife with racism when it was once a melting pot with a blend of cultures from the world over. I wanted to talk about the cancer that is the education system and how we need to break free, that is Merdeka, from the mental cage students are forced upon through the years. I wanted to talk about the film industry and how making heavy-handed, propaganda-infused films like Tanda Putera is bad and calls to ban such films are even worse. I wanted to rant about how primitive and plain stupid the decision to demolished the surau was, just because it was used by fellow humans of a different faith. I wanted to scream “Wake up Malaysians!”
But none of the words came out.
Instead, I was reminded of two pieces I wrote in the past and how it reflected my spirit so much more purely than any immature rant would ever achieve.
9th June 2012
Research for my short film brought me back to Kuantan where I am on a beach with a book chronicling the history of Kuantan from 1903 – 1963. It was a real honour to have the book autographed by the writer who runs the Chan Chew photo studio in town.
Founded by the authors father, chan chew, the photo studio was one of the earliest and best in town. This was during a time when having your portrait done was just like sitting for a painting with an artist. Chan chew spent a great deal of time and effort photographing everything that made it into the book today. He really did photograph EVERYTHING.
This studio was also the place where my parents had their wedding portrait done 40 years ago.
That little box in the background is actually one of the many concrete pillboxes built by the British in anticipation of the Japanese forces coming in from the sea. As it turned out, they just cycled in from the north after a fierce battle in Kota bahru.
Today most of these pillboxes are left to rot, some crumbling away and others slowly lifted up by decades of waves. Some are occupied by the homeless and almost all are vandalised with graffiti. Just a few moments ago I walked inside and truly felt the chills.
The post above was written right after I returned from my trip to research for archival materials on Kuantan. The scene below was also photographed at the same location as the one above, albeit at a different time with a different frame of mind.
31st October 2012
Of the many wonderful places I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to, both within the country and the region, this little stretch of beach is the one place I hold most dearly as my secret sanctuary. Here, the waves are never hurried nor the wind too salty. Tall coconut trees sway gently at privileged visitors, an invitation to take off their shoes and be at ease. With every visit, the softness of the sand and the silence of the air never changes and yet it is never the same.
As a child, I grew up playing on the many beaches on the East Coast. As the more accessible beaches turned into amusement parks, I found myself travelling further and deeper, in search of a place where I can be left alone with my thoughts. I remember climbing over moss-covered rocks, timing my steps between harsh waves only with the believe that the other side is the reward. Back then I had no Google maps to tell me what was around the corner. No GPS, no handphone to call for help. I’ve had my fair share of slips, scratches, snakes and near-death encounters but the spirit of discovery offered me joy like no other experience ever could.
This year has been a year of many firsts and lasts, hellos and goodbyes. If everyone has a kampung to return to during the holidays then this is mine.
My love for my country isn’t defined by how high I lift the flag or how loud I profess my love for it. It is defined by how well I understand her.
Malaysia is a book with many chapters and I hope to spend the rest of my life reading the wonderful stories in that book.