Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Clothes Make The Man

Probably the best thing I did that helped my family to survive on my meager pay was make our own clothes. I sewed dresses, shirts, skirts, shorts and pajamas and bought only what I could not make myself: T-shirts, socks and underwear. I also sewed curtains, bedsheets, pillowcases. For a short while I sewed for my friends too and charged a small sum for my service.

All that scrimping and saving and sacrificing of personal time kept me debt-free as well as paid for the groceries, the doctor's bills and the kids' music lessons. We went to the cinema occasionally. We visited the library every weekend and also continued to buy books. We survived but quite often my purse was empty for several days before the next payday.

I don't remember Dottie wearing clothes which had been patched or mended—except maybe her school uniform pinafores which she wore for five long years—but Sonny wore most of his until they were threadbare and I had to mend them by stitching patches onto the holes and tears. Then when holes appeared on the patches, I attached a new patch on the old patch. There were patches galore on even a small pair of under pants. But he wore them without complaining or commenting. Bless him!

Being poor was not always sad and dreary. You could be dressed in an old and torn shirt and still have fun—like Sonny did. It started as a joke (he and I shared) whenever he (dressed in his full-of-holes T-shirt) accompanied me to the bank. While I was busy at one ATM, he'd queue up to 'use' another machine. Needless to say, the other ATM users would look at him from head to toe and would note his shirt and immediately acted as if they were potential robbery victims and they'd often change their minds about withdrawing their money! Or if they had brought a small kid, they'd pull the child towards them protectively! Then after attracting all that attention, Sonny would go stand at my side at the machine to tell about his little 'adventure' and for a moment the onlookers must have thought I was going to be robbed!

Those were the days of hole-y T-shirts, my friend, but they haven't ended. Sonny sometimes still wears his work shirts (with holes) to the mall if it is too much bother to come home to change his work clothes. And he'd tell me what happens, sometimes months after the incidents. Strangers really do judge you according to the clothes you wear. Some are sympathetic and others assume you are trouble if you wear torn clothes.

There was that time he went to the bookstore to get a box of water-colour pencils. A suspicious salesperson followed him around while he was looking at the more expensive boxes. The guy must have assumed that Sonny was going lift something off the shelf and not pay for it.

"These are expensive brands," he said to Sonny. "There are cheap ones over there."
"I'm buying them for my mother," Sonny told him. "And I don't want to give her the cheap ones."

On another occasion he was at a kids' store and had chosen a pretty pajama set for Baby. The salesgirls noted the torn T-shirt he was wearing and must have felt quite sorry for him. One whispered to the other: "What a shame! He really wants to buy this for his daughter even if he can't afford it." And they gave him a big discount even before Sonny asked for one.

Then there was the time he went to buy kimchi at this store, again dressed in his torn work shirt. The cashiers whispered behind his back...
Cashier A: How can he afford to buy kimchi? This tiny jar costs 20 ringgit!
Cashier B: Maybe he eats only plain rice with a little kimchi every day.
Cashier A: Yes, and since kimchi is very salty he can make this jar last a long time. Poor guy!

I used to tell Sonny that the clothes we wear are the first things people see and it’s only natural that they'd judge us based on our clothes and appearance. Then they’ll note our actions and the words we use if we happen to speak. Their perception of us varies accordingly. Unfortunately, our 'communications' with strangers don't often go beyond the 'appearance' stage and we can’t really show we aren’t losers, trouble makers, thieves etc unless they stick around longer. Of course there are people who’d label you as lazy, good-for-nothing, ‘sampah masyarakat’ even if your dress is decent. Little people need to put others down so they’d feel great—but that’s a story for another day.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

(Reproducing a post I wrote on 31 August 2010…)

People are shouting ‘Merdeka!’ and enjoying the public holiday. Another day off from work. While I sit at home and watch the celebrations on TV, I can’t help feeling somewhat peeved that the announcers and the people being interviewed on TV keep repeating that Malaysia is celebrating her 53rd year of independence.

Fifty-three years? Hellooo? Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963, just forty-seven years ago. Unless you, my dear reader, have also forgotten how to count, know this: what the country is celebrating with shouts of ‘Merdeka!’ is the independence of Malaya from British rule on 31 August 1957. Fifty-three years ago.

Sabah, the ‘Land Below the Wind’, was given self-rule by the British on 31 August 1963, forty-seven years ago. And exactly 16 days later, on 16 September 1963, Sabah, together with Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya united to form Malaysia. I was at the celebration parade at the Town Padang on that day. I heard the proclamation of independence read by Donald Stephens who became Sabah’s first CM. Tun Abdul Razak, the deputy PM was there. But the Tunku, the PM of Malaya was busy elsewhere.

For 46 years, no importance was placed on the anniversary of the formation of Malaysia. Only Sabah celebrated this day without fail… as Malaysia Day and also the birthday of the TYT. I am told that even the date is not recorded in students’ textbooks. It is as though some people want to mislead the younger generations into thinking that Sabah joined Malaysia, a nation that was already in existence. Wrong!

Now, suddenly someone at the federal level woke up/wised up and has called for a celebration on 16 September starting this year (2010). Better late than never, you say? I smell a rat. Sorry.

Moral: If you tell the truth from the beginning, you don't have to resort to creating lies to support the first lie or omission.

I have a list of wishes for our country:

1. I wish for exemplary leaders; leaders we can be proud of and for whom we’d go that extra mile.
2. I wish for Malaysians to look beyond their fellow Malaysians’ races and religions and know that we are all for peace, health and prosperity.
3. I wish for people to be kinder, more generous and more charitable to one another.
4. I wish that Malaysians will not follow each other blindly especially when passing on opinions or information that might not be true. In situations where the blind lead the blind, ‘they all fall into the ditch together’.
5. I wish that the day will dawn when we’d fill a form that requires just our nationality instead of the options: Malay… Indian… Chinese… Others. (I am not ‘Others’ and so are countless like me in Sabah, Sarawak; and the Peranakans, Orang Asli, etc of Malaya.)
6. I wish that the government takes care of our destitute before helping the poor in distant countries.

God bless Malaysia.

What are your wishes for our country?