photo by Hawa bte Mohamed Salleh
by Hawa bte Mohamed Salleh
I was the only surviving Malay student in CHIJ from standard one to Upper Six with the exception of Form 1 and Form 2. My school was in Tampin.
As the only Malay student in the graduating class at CHIJ, my closest friends had always been either a Chinese or an Indian girl.
During Hari Raya, the whole class became my guests and they loved the rendang and ketupat. And during CNY, although I could only eat the peanuts at my Chinese friends’ open houses, I would eagerly take the bus with the rest of my friends to visit them.
There was one Christmas when my friend had told me that the turkey was halal (slaughtered by a Muslim neighbour) but she didn’t tell me that the turkey was cooked with liquor… until I tasted and had to vomit it out…
I was the only Malay in Upper Six.…11 of us, out of 21, made it to Universiti Malaya. It was the advice of Miss Betsy Lee, our class teacher, that kept me motivated… She had told me that being a Malay with special privileges did not mean that I didn’t have to work hard as I was competing with other Malays from all over the country. Being the naive kampung girl living in a multi racial community, I had not been aware of these “special privileges” that Miss Lee mentioned. By the same token, I was also not aware that a few teachers had been discriminating against the Malay students by having extra classes during Hari Raya (public holiday) and by making us move from one empty class to another for our religious classes and later to a store-turned-classroom under the staircase.
The 11 of us remained (one Malay (myself) and ten non-Malay students) made to the university, we were quite close with one another even after I met other Malay students in my residential college. During out first week in university, we agreed to attend a Persatuan Anak-Anak Melaka meeting that started at 9:00pm and ended late (around 11:30pm). One of the agenda was the election of board members. However, when only the Malay nominees were elected, all my non-Malay friends walked out. I was in dilemma; should I stay or walk out with my friends? To stay meant betraying my friends whom I had known since primary days, yet, to leave meant betraying my own race. In the end, I chose to stay as I felt it was rude to leave but I couldn’t focus on the remaining agenda for the rest of the meeting. I was worried about walking back alone to my residential college at 11.30pm. However, when I walked out of the meeting, I found, to my heartfelt relief, a few of my friends waiting for me. We walked home in silence, except for thanking them for waiting for me… They were my friends indeed and my friends in need.
About the Author – Hawa is a retired civil servant. Her last post was as Deputy Executive Chairman at Suruhanjaya Koperasi Malaysia (SKM) after 36 years in the department. She attended primary and secondary education at Convent Infant Jesus, Melaka and later to University of Malaya between 1980-1982 before pursuing further education in Cooperative Management/Studies in the UK. She is currently involved in the development of Social Enterprise in Malaysia, MeDAC project as cooperatives subject matter expert.