There wasn’t any football game this evening and so we decided to have our teh cangkung at the Padang Muar Club. It was the first week of the month and after having settled my school fees of fifteen dollars, I had quite sufficient amount left till the end of the month. Earlier after school I was at the premise of the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) to present my remittance slip for cash, my monthly routine when I began my year in Form One at the Muar High School. My father who was in Indonesia serving as our country’s First Secretary in our embassy then, decided that I should be receiving my monthly allowance on my own without having to ask from grandpa any longer. In most cases, the balance after paying my school fees, I would pass over thirty five dollars to grandma after which she would give me fifty cents a day for school. On every Fridays, she would give me two dollars for my two days’ rendezvous around Muar Town. This evening I still had my two dollars which grandma had given me in the morning. My two close buddies this evening would be my guests and it was Yem who suggested that we went to the Padang for the teh cangkung and with two dollars in my pocket, the three of us could spend quite lavishly on food.
1963 was like entering into a new dimension of time when many things around the world seemed on the verge of changing into a new phase of history. Even back home, we would soon be united with Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah) into a new sovereign nation called Malaysia. It was another milestone for Malaya to be united with the three British colonies, a proposal that angered President Sukarno of Indonesia. At the same time, President Macapagal of the Philipines claimed that North Borneo was a part of his country. We seldom read the newspaper but we knew about the formation of Malaysia in school, listening to the conversation from our elders and in some coffee shops, even where the teh cangkung was served at the Padang Muar Club. We had no television then and our only source of information were the radios and the newspapers.
Teh Cangkung was the most sought tea in the evening and it was situated inside the Padang Muar Club. It was operated by a Chinese hawker who also served tauhu goreng eaten with a special sauce spread with kacang halus on top. By 4.00pm, many people of all races would flock to the Padang to enjoy a fine high tea. For just thirty cents, we could have a glass of hot tea with milk and a plate of two pieces of tauhu goreng with each piece cut into four smaller pieces. It was crunchy and truly delicious. However, the hawker could not provide his customers with enough stools and many who came for his tea would stand while quite a number would just squat while enjoying their indulgence…hence it was called Teh Cangkung by Muarians of my time. No female dared to squat among the male customers and they would normally come to buy home the tauhu goreng.
We were still sitting at the tembok of my house waiting for Halim to appear. It was a hot day just after the end of the wet monsoon season. The three of us had begun our secondary schooling, and although we did not study at the same school, we met almost every evening cycling around Tanjung and the town center. It was almost 5.00pm when Halim appeared from afar and immediately the two of us cycled towards him and the three of us then proceeded to the Padang Muar Club.
At the Padang we met many friends who had the same idea and having received our orders, we looked for a suitable place to squat and enjoy our tea and the tauhu goreng. Others did the same and so everyone was seen squatting and drinking.
While we were enjoying our indulgence, we heard some conversation from others nearby that tonight there would be a rally to be held at the Padang. It was to explain to the people about the formation of Malaysia and the main speaker would be a politician named Saadon bin Jubir (In later years became the Governor of Penang). At thirteen years old we were not to keen to listen to any political speech but when a town like Muar was to have a rally, every one was raring to go and so we decided to join in the crowd. It was not much of listening to what the speakers would have to say, it was just to be a part of the crowd because we seldom had crowds gathering in large numbers in our town. Almost every one in Muar town would have the same idea and tonight we would be among the crowd. Of course the kacang putih seller, the ice cream seller and few other hawkers would be around too.
Everyday the national broadcasting body would explain to the people about the formation of a new nation and we could always hear it over the radio. Whenever we listened to the radio for some special programmes that would air our favourite latest songs, there would be a few minutes of propaganda about the proposed formation. Quite often we could hear about some negative information on our two neighbouring countries of Indonesia and the Philipines. We heard that Indonesia’s President had launch a confrontation against us what we knew as Konfrantasi. In the beginning we knew not what it meant but we were told that it was something like a ‘mini war’ between Indonesia and our country Malaya.
Having enjoyed our time at the Padang, the three of us cycled to Tanjung for the evening breeze. While cycling we talked about this konfrantasi and our minds began to imagine many things what a normal thirteen year old would have imagined; like having some army tanks moving around town; of some Indonesian troops landing on our shores and even the armies of the Philipines attacking us from the east. We began to speculate many things all of which were obviously wrong. At Tanjung we met many friends and some of whom we just met at the Padang and we waved at each other like we had not seen for ages. In spite of knowing that our county would soon become bigger with the inclusion of Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo, we were still more curious to know of the latest songs of Elvis Presley , Cliff Richard and of course of the famous Beatles. The influence of western propaganda seemed to be more effective on our youths than that of the local. Even the girls our age were still giggling at some funny gossips that they had heard quite recently. We were still too young to understand the political scenario of our country and it would be good to just focus on our study and going to the cinemas, having our Wak Santano’s lodeh and satay as well as spending our time at Taman Selera. About the only thing we knew was that our country would soon be called Malaysia and that our neighbouring countries of Indonesia and the Philipines were very much against it.
The recitation of the Quran was heard and it was time to leave for home but we would meet again after dinner to join the crowd at the Padang. One significant common practice of Muarian Malays of my time was to be at home during the maghrib (dusk) and when it happened, you could hardly fine anyone outside the house.
During dinner, grandma told me that she received news that my father was having a tough time in Jakarta. There had been a mini riot in front of our embassy with some throwing stones at the compound of the embassy. All the embassy staff stayed glued inside the building fearing for their lives and he could only communicate with my younger siblings through the phone. It must have been a traumatic moment for my family in Jakarta.
It was around 8.30pm when I heard Halim’s whistling indicating that both Yem and him were ready and were waiting for me outside my house. I returned his call with a different whistling tune known only by the three of us and a few minutes later I was on my bicycle and the three of us proceeded to the Padang Muar Club.
In spite of the sun’s absence, we could still feel the heat as the day had been very hot. We took our normal route passing by the field of the Police barracks heading towards the junction that joined five roads known as simpang lima. As we reached the junction, we could see the Padang was lighted quite brightly and we could hear someone speaking over the microphone with the loudspeaker facing the front road. It was a political function but to us it was like a carnival and we wanted to join in the ‘fun’.
It was already crowded when we arrived with the majority being the elders who understood better than us and they were of various races standing in unity while listening to the rhetoric of a fine orator speaking in the Malay language. Once in a while there could be heard the shouting of Hidup Malaysia echoed by the countless listeners who kept on listening attentively and diligently. We were at the back with some other younger audiences and could not hear clearly but we knew he was explaining the advantages of forming our country together with the other three British colonies into one sovereign nation. We were there simply to enjoy being a part of the big crowd, just like all other youngsters our age. Whenever we bumped into each other within our fraternity, it would be the normal greetings like we have not met for years. Like all other large scale gatherings, the hawkers, the ice cream sellers and the kacang putih seller would take the advantage bringing along with them a larger amount of stocks and they would normally return home with a wide grin.
This was my first experience listening to a speech about the formation of Malaysia. A year ago while in Standard Six, our class teacher told us about this proposal which was even to include Brunei. I did not understand much about the importance and significance of this proposal which would make our country bigger and with various ethnic population to be a part of our already multi-racial society. I was still too young to understand many things and was still a growing young lad who was still absorbed to ape the western ways; of trying to be like those famous singers; trying to imitate the Beatles and few other western cultures.
Since then, few other rallies were organized to inform the locals of the progress for the formation of Malaysia until it was finally done on the 16th September 1963. However, there were some frightening moments when we were told that President Sukarno of Indonesia would conduct a full scale war against us on the morning of the 16th September. It was then known as ‘Gayang Malaysia’ but luckily it did not happen. However, there had been some incidents when it was reported in the local dailies that some Indonesian soldiers did land somewhere in Pontian but was apprehended by our own army. There wasn’t any other undesirable incidents happened in later years.
When Malaysia was formed, North Borneo and Sarawak were known as East Malaysia while Peninsular Malaya and Singapore was West Malaysia. North Borneo and its capital of Jesselton later became known as Sabah and Kota Kinabalu respectively. Singapore later broke away from Malaysia and became an independent sovereign nation. However, the time between West and East Malaysia differed with the East ahead of time by half an-hour. It was under the premiership of Dato’ Dr. Mahathir Mohammaed (Conferred the title of Tun after his retirement) that the time factor between West and East Malaysia was made uniform and Singapore had to follow suit.
Like all Form One kids of that era, to me the formation of Malaysia was just another historical part of growing up in the early sixties. But one thing was certain, in spite of being oblivious of its significance, we were all very proud of our new country called Malaysia.
Selamat Hari Malaysia.