Farez Photo I grew up in the suburban neighborhood of Subang Jaya. My family moved here in 1992, right after my little sister was born and we were blessed to be brought up in such a multicultural and diverse urban township.

The apartment complex my family stayed, was among the first apartments built in USJ. The complex had a tight knit community, and we were all just one big family. I would remember going for open houses during Deepavali and Chinese New Year, and hosted open houses during Raya. We’d invite all the kids that play in the park and get them to bring their family too. In primary school, I had loads of friends; regardless of race and religion. It just never crossed a young boy’s mind, to segregate and hate based on their skin colour. We had a lot of good times, and Subang Jaya seemed like the perfect township everyone’s been dreaming about.

All that changed when I went to high school. High school was really a training and recruiting grounds for many gangs in KL. Gang names with numbers like 18, 21, 24 and 36 became an everyday topic you discuss among friends, it was something you feared and admired at the same time. Fights would happen outside of my school constantly, and most of these fights were racially charged as most of these gangs were split by races. I tried to stay under the radar, and not get beat up, but after getting into a few scuffles with members of a Chinese gang, I suddenly found myself succumbing to peer pressure and joined a Malay gang for my own protection.

Subang Jaya didn’t seemed all that ideal anymore.

We were brainwashed into hating other races. The ‘big brothers’ would come and make us into fighting machines. We’d get riled up if we got news of other Malays who got beat up in other schools, and we’d gather troops and storm the other schools. We were somewhat semi organised but back in the day it was almost impossible to check the legitimacy of the stories as we had no handphones, so we relied completely on hearsay and rumours. It was embedded into our minds that Chinese people are out to take us out, and after constant brainwashing, we believed it.

Weirdly enough, I was quite close with my Chinese and Indian friends in class but the moment we stepped out of school, we all knew we couldn’t hang with each other. The situation in our high school was so bad, that the FRU and police had to be involved. The government decided to build 4 more schools in the USJ area to split the gangs up (and also to accommodate the large influx of people living in Subang Jaya). After the gangs were split up, a police task force were assigned to each school to suppress the gangsterism. Amazingly, it worked, as things got more laid back and there were less fights; but the racial tension was always in the air.

 

The lack of friends of other races bothered me, but I always put it at the back of my mind as I was hanging out with mostly a Malay group of friends.

 

After five years of fighting my way out of high school, I came out of the Malaysian education system, somewhat a fool.

The lack of friends of other races bothered me, but I always put it at the back of my mind as I was hanging out with mostly a Malay group of friends.

Fast forward to a few years after high school. I was just starting entry level work in film production and was staying in an apartment with my friends (in a ludicrous attempt to be independent from my family). One of our housemates, who was trusted with our rent money, ran away and left us with three months backdated rent, electricity and water. I remembered the electric company came over and had to cut our electricity, since we didn’t have any money to pay the outstanding bills.

We begged the guy to give us a few weeks but he told us he was only doing his job and we were left with no electricity and no water, and the landlord was about to kick us out any time. The first few nights, we had to sleep in the dark, in the hallway with the front door open because it was too hot at night and we had to take showers at the public shower by the apartment’s swimming pool.

Then one night, we heard a knock on our door. I opened it and it was a Chinese lady, who lived three doors down from our apartment (we were living next to a Malay family, but they didn’t give a shit about what was happening next door). Her husband was pulling an electric extension cord from their house and wanted to let us use their electricity. I was gobsmacked and my jaw was on the floor. She said that she overheard our conversation with the electric guy and they thought it would be best for us to sleep with fans and charge our phones. I asked her if we could pay her but she declined, saying it was her duty as a neighbour. I immediately was brought to tears and hugged the lady and her husband.

And at that precise moment, thanks to one random act of kindness by a stranger, all boundaries of race were erased for me and I have lived that way ever since. You are not measured by your race or religion, but the kindness and happiness you’ve helped spread. The formative years I experienced growing up in Subang Jaya before high school have made me the man I am today, and no amount of racial brainwashing could ever take that away from me.

That is what Malaysia Day means to me.


This is the personal opinion of the writer. The original article was published here.

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