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.

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4 Responses to THE FORMATION OF MALAYSIA as I first saw it.

  1. Nora Abdullah says:

    My comments are purely from the perspective and memory of a very young girl who was actually living in Jakarta during the period referred to as Konfrantasi, as mentioned by my brother Kamaruddin in his latest blog entry. As such, what I recount below is of a personal nature only:

    I vividly recall being quietly woken up by my mother, to be bundled hurriedly into the car, in the early hours before dawn, and rushed to a close friend’s house in Bandung, however having to leave our father behind. My mother was worried sick over his safety but I still remember him saying that her priority was in making sure my sister Rosie and I were kept away from the angry crowds, whose numbers seemed to increase alarmingly with each passing minute. He repeatedly assured her that what he had to do, he did for the unconditional love of his king and country.

    Rosie and I were far too young to even grasp what was going on but until today we still haven’t forgotten being told by our mother that as long as we were in hiding we weren’t allowed to go out at all. And if anyone spoke to us, we were to reply in Bahasa Indonesia. Not long after we arrived in. Bandung, our kind and generous host told my mother that everything in our house had been destroyed, most of which had been damaged by fire. My mother cried for days upon hearing this heartbreaking news because among the things she had left behind were her precious wedding photos.

    The moment a flight was made available for us to fly home, we made our way to Jakarta again, but due to the hurried nature of these plans, we left Indonesian soil with only what we had on. We didn’t see or hear from our dad until he was flown back to KL, in exchange for two Indonesian nationals who were found hiding at the Embassy.

    Up till the time he passed away, he never really spoke about what had happened to him during those “lost weeks” but he did keep a few of the stones that were thrown at him!

    In my view, my late father, Ambassador Datuk Abdullah bin Ali, was a truly exemplary officer, his primary concern first and foremost was for the safety of our Head of Mission, who wasn’t well at the time. Once my dad was assured that His Excellency had safety left Indonesia, he immediately did everything he could to “man the fort,” as it were. Despite being stoned at and only heaven knows what other indignities he had to suffer through, alhamdulillah he did eventually escape the screaming mobs by disguising himself as a rickshaw driver. He actually brought the straw hat he wore, as a memento of his rather dangerous and dramatic getaway.

    The after-effects of this horrific ordeal took a very heavy toll on my mother’s health and she suffered a nervous breakdown. She was hospitalized for about a month after my dad was discovered and flown home. During this period we were housed at the original Majestic Hotel, thus this national landmark holds some unforgettable memories.

    Despite him almost losing his life during Konfrantasi, not once did my father think of leaving the Foreign Service, and he remained a loyal and dedicated diplomat until he retired in 1979 after completing two terms as High Commissioner to the Court of St James of the United Kingdom.

    I remain extremely proud of his many achievements, not all of which were given due recognition.

    Al Fatihah to the quintessential father and gentleman.

  2. Lolong G Mali says:

    As much as I want to share the feeling of joy it comes to vain. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the events and has overlooked the date in celebrating the formation of Malaysia. I have no idea the day is marked on being hidden behind Malaya’s historical Independent. I also cannot remember the activities I did on that day. Perhaps the formation of Malaysia has no significant value to me. Possibly all the collection are already buried in my hidden brain concealed for good. But Malaysia is always in me without a drop of sweat to celebrate.

    I thanks Din of having vivid memory in encompassing the occasion. It helps me to blurry stepping into and effortlessly picturing spots of flash back coming disorderly of the occasion. I still cannot grab them for an edited version to scrip in for stories.

    Which have left me behind to guess. Probably, the day of the celebrating the occasion, I was tucked in somewhere in the bush or was I up on my tree house. It could be I was strumming my guitar staggering and faltering to figure out the cords for new songs entitled, ‘Summer Holiday and love me do’ while everyone else were celebrating the historic moment. Most probably and likely, I could not care less what had been going around me then.

    I believe I have had missed many happenings events. Indeed the celebration is a worthwhile mode of joy. An additional understanding with meaning to celebrate the formation of Malaysia, would be full fruition. Its worthiness of the joyous moments to celebrate are well noted in our Independent day coincide with the formation of Malaysia.

    Apparently, the New Year Eve anniversary is an occasion worthy for celebration too. It has full meaning for me to remember. The occasion whom I have mine in openness to share with. It is one of the episodes I have learnt to celebrating New Year during my younger days far away from home.

    It is the New Year Day and yes it is New Year Eve! An occasion I once celebrated most. It was an evening shift, a place of my working hours. An extravagant entertainment outlet called The Stage Door. I was a professional bartenders. We rather fancied to be called Mixerlogists, I was among the best in the profession then.

    Again it was a privilege to be on duty on the night of most acclaimed and joyful anniversary celebrated by all human kinds.

    I was paid triple times and the half per hour for working a ten hours shift. I did not understand why many of my partners in our profession refrained from working on New Year Eve. The pay was good though and really not bad for jobs that pay at least fifty five dollars an hour besides generous gratuity.

    In respect of the festivity, I did not want to be in indisposed and I too want to share my moment of joy while I was on duty. As a professional while on working hours, I stood up by not to drink alcohol on and before job. It is against the labour laws to drink on job. More than that, it was against the Inn Keeper regulations to steal drinks from your own bar. It is bad business. But for the sake of New Year Anniversary, I made it an exception. I broke some rules and well prepared to accept the consequences.

    Consciously, I firmly had the liberty to be elated. To begin, a bottle of dry red wine will do as a starter. Toward the countdown I was almost tipsy and totally drunk before the celebration was over. I knew the penalty of drinking on job was a dismissal without prejudice or suspended. I made my mind, why not! It did not matter to me because it was New Year Eve, anyway. I always thought, If you never got fired on New Year Eve night, you never get fired at all. My beverage manager did not think so. But the irony was that he got fired instead of me because he was habitually drink to excess on job and got drunk half way through before countdown. He was happily dismissed and I was promoted to new beverage manager later then.

    The clock almost struck midnight. I was almost tipsy. The countdown began, five, four, three, two, one, zero, everyone were cheering and joying with applause wishing and kissing each other of Happy New Year.

    At that moment, I left my bar. I instructed my bus-boys to guard the ford. I then quickly advanced to the most pretty girl whom I marked on and already made an impression on her long before the countdown. Without further due, I hugged and kissed her passionately and tightly wishing her Happy New Year followed by more of my kinky kisses. She was all there ready for me and responded my kisses pretty well. Then to the other girls who were waiting for my kisses and hugged. With a glass of champagne in my hand I gave a toss to them for happiness and greeted with more of my New Year kisses and hugging routine. If I was lucky we be kissing and hugging to reaching dawn while we were still happily drunk.

    As I could recalled, what a drunkard occasion I had. The aftermath was a suffering to me of being veritably drunk. Constant intakes of the mixture, unaccounted for number of shots in bottles of Gin and tonic, chased by orderly bottles of Heineken beer and glasses of luxurious and exclusivity of Champagne, no wonder I was deadly pissed. The unpleasant situation which not to be forgotten was the continuous hung over I had when I woke up late the next morning. But at that time, I loved it with no regrets. I always looked forward for the next New Year Eve to near coming.

    Though It was fun, marked the moment of my joyous memories but the message of my celebration had went through walks of freedom and liberty. The meaning of good time celebration had been long gone but the memory of the 60s is slowly fading and without Din’s writings contribution our memories of the 60s might fade away faster.

    In advance have a sober New Year. Happy New Year.

  3. Harith says:

    It was two or three weeks ago that I bumped into one website of interest – the 6th Gurkha Rifles – the website that chronologies the formation of the Gurkha army in British India in the early 19th century and it was in 1948 that one battalion of Gurkha’s came to Malaya and landed in my hometown Sungai Petani and in 1951 the military camp here becomes the centralised Training Depot of British Gurkhas – the same 6th Gurkha Rifles base is now 6th Brigade Royal Malay Regiment – still standing tall.

    It was in my hometown that the Gurkhas got systematically trained by the British and later sent out to various parts of Malaya and Borneo. They fought against the communists insurgents after the Japanese fled and even after Malaya gained independence in 1957. There were also many small battles fought during the Japanese occupation that I just came to know of – battles such as the Battle of Gurun, Battle of Jitra and Battle of Muar etc

    They remained until the late 60s before they moved to Hong Kong – as Sungai Petani is a relatively small town, the Gurkhas would roam freely during the weekends and they can be seen plying some trade as part time busines selling ‘batu cincin’ or their traditional kukhris (some kind of slanted sharp knife that becomes the symbol of their bravery) in front of the town cinema or along the ‘kaki lima’

    The Gurkhas in those days have naturally fierce facial complexion unlike the now Nepalis – they were often regarded as mercenaries although they were under the British Army payroll – mention Gurkha coming and our ‘bulu roma’ will stand straight – we know how fierce they look like as they trained not only in the army camp but also public areas

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