Tuesday, June 02, 2009

and a 5-13 and a 6-4 : a ponder

Where were you when it happened?

They were those defining events that you vividly remember where you were when the event happened. Of the many anniversaries in this year a thought or two on two of them that had a lapse of twenty years in between them -

May 13, 1969

– It was evening time, after dinner, and when the radio broadcasted that curfew was declared in Kuala Lumpur.

Though there was a flurry of news and activities after the General Election, , much of what was happening were lost to us kids, except that we were more interested if the next day would be a school holiday. I was in Standard Six (primary school ) , then.

Leading to the GE the coffee shop talk around town was whether PPP (People’s Progress Party) could perform as well without the fiery speeches of DR Seenivasagam, for he has passed away earlier that year. The party leadership went to his milder sibling SP.

Well, the Ipoh (should be the Kinta folks) ever proud of their – 骨气 – gu qihardened bones - once again threw their lot with the opposition party, and voted overwhelmingly for the PPP.

Rumors abound, and far away down south we heard of the fighting in the Chow Kit area, and fights up north in Sungei Patani.

However, in the Kinta area, as far as I could remember, and definitely not in my hometown, it was incident free.

Next to our house was a surau (a small mosque), and a family of Malays had moved in to stay there. This was our closest Malay neighbor. During the Hari Raya Puasa, & the Chinese New year we would continue to exchange gifts.

IN schools, the following year while in Form One – we started to recite the Rukun Negara – during morning assembly. During art lessons, the theme was on racial harmony– and I remember one of my art pieces depicting harmony among the races was selected fro display outside the Art room.

As the Merdeka kids – those born in the year 1957 – we were perhaps the pioneer batches of students in our education career that were affected by the NEP (New Economic Policy) and the National Language policies. We had to work extra hard to be assured of a place in the local institutions of higher learning’s.

While we entered Form Six – a number of Malay students from other schools came to join us – for ours was one of the 3 schools in Ipoh with Form Six/ pre-university classes. However, these students did not stay more than a term, for they left to join the Asasi Sains matriculation classes in the local university or those with better MCE (equivalent to SPM – O Level ) results went abroad to study.

In the space of National Language policy – we were one of the first batches to have our lecturers in University Malay to have our science courses conducted in Malay. Being from an English medium school – listening to technical lectures in Malay was something novel.

Well so much for May-13 and its after effect. The official reason then was that the riot was the work of communist elements. Forty years later, we have a greater clarity on the fallacies and facts.

It was hearting to note that Malaysia has moved one relatively peacefully i.e racially, despite the Mar08 political tsunami. It has in a way exorcised the ghost of 5-13.

However this racial harmony must be upheld and protected jealously at all cost, and pray that wise & leaders of integrity will continue to be nurtured by the land.

June 4, 1989

-After work that evening, I went to the roadside stall leading into Tao Payoh to buy a copy of the local Chinese evening newspaper for an update of what happened in Beijing Tiananmen square on that day.

Recalling the conversation some years earlier with the Chinese students while studying in Japan, that the 21st century would be the Asia Pacific century, we were hopeful of China rise then.

However, the mayhem coming out of Beijing on that day shattered whatever little hopes that were left of China playing a leading role in this dream.

Some of the new phrases that was added to my limited Chinese vocabulary were -
手无寸铁 – shou wu cun tie – with an inch of iron in the hand - namely defenseless
镇压 – zhen ya – suppression
血醒 - xie xing – bloody

The sea of banners and posters with their witty phrases and perhaps a reflection of the idealism of that time - calling for greater accountability, transparency, democracy - were captured in this book.

The title of the book - 天安門 落書 -Tiananmon rakusho – literary meaning -Tiananmen graffiti.

Though it’s written in Japanese, the catchy slogans will certain help to improve your Chinese。

Some of the phrases:

政府正腐 ( zhengfu zhengfu )
- punning on the word – the governement is really rotten

我爱面包,更爱真理  ( wo ai mian bao, geng ai zhenli )
- I love bread, however I love truth more

八九年 Nobel 奖提名   ( Bajiunian Nobel jang timing
锂+ 硼 = 苯+ 氮 Li + Peng = Ben + Dan
北大化学博士 Beida Huaxue boshi )

- this was a jab at the then Prime Minister - Li Peng – 李鹏 -penned by Beijing University Chemistry Depart Doctorate students.

1989 Nobel Prize nominee:
Lithium + Boron = Benzene + Nitrogen

For Li Peng – 李鹏 – is similar in sound to Lithium (锂) and Boron (硼) . And Benzene (苯) and Nitrogen (氮) sounds the same as - 笨蛋 - bendan – meaning someone of low simple mentality.

要廉政, 不要帘正 (yao lianzheng, buyao lianzheng)
- A pun on the word lian - 廉 – incorrupt, and 帘 (simplified form of 簾 ) - meaning hanging curtain.

This is a dig at paramount leader Deng Xiaoping – 邓小平 - a call for a clean government and not governing from behind the screen.

Well, so much for the dig and jab (no political message intended). Whatever it was - in her long history, it is still premature on a verdict to the June 04.

Twenty years on China has moved on, especially after the 5-12 Sichuan earthquakes, the Beijing Olympics, and lately the financial tsunami.

Despite being a hard-core green camp leader, it came as a surprise to read that the former VP of ROC- Madame Lu mentioned that the China of today was no longer the Communist China of June 04, and to look at her with a new vision.

Perhaps over the past 30years, China has taken three steps forward and a step back. The road leading to the rise of a nation is never smooth, and it will continue to be.

Along the long and winding road, we should take a pause at Victoria Park, to reflect on where we were then.


1. 天安門 落書 (Tiananmon rakusho )

串田久治 (Kushida Hisaharu)
講談社、1990 (Kodansha)
あずさ号 → 茅野

Bought this book at the Kinokuniya Book Store, Shinjuku while on business trip to Japan in Aug 1992. Had went to Tokyo over the weekends on R&R then, and took the Azusa Express back to Chino.

Chino is located next to Suwa Lake - 諏訪湖 - in Nagano-ken - 長野県 – right in the middle of the Honshu main island.

Link :

1. Rukunegara