The writer visited Kuantan on her recent three-week vacation back in Malaysia. (PIC BY FARIZUL HAFIZ AWANG)

My trip home to Malaysia last month has left me with many wonderful memories of who I am and why I’m proud to call myself a Malaysian. I dreaded the 13-hour flight, but when the plane landed and the pilot said “and to all Malaysians, welcome home”, my heart skipped a beat.

What is the Malaysia that I call home?

It is a land that boasts of many dialects and languages.

What fascinates me most is our own “brand” of spoken English that we fondly call Malaysian English. It never fails to make me smile when I listen to the concoction of different words in a sentence that might make no sense at all to a non-Malaysian.

Take, for instance, a father speaking to his toddler daughter. The father was carrying the little girl as they alighted from the escalator. We were standing a few steps behind them when the little girl’s slipper fell off. A lady picked it up, rushed up the escalator and gave it to the father.

So the father told the little girl: “See-lah you. Just drop your slipper like that. Good thing, the nice aunty saw it and quickly-quickly gave it to me.”

The words “nice aunty” really warmed my heart. In Malaysia, any older female who is not a blood relation is a sister or an aunt. This is a mark of respect as we don’t call people who are older than us by their first name. I must admit that I enjoyed it thoroughly when even Uber drivers called me aunty.

It is a land of hospitality and generosity.

Our short vacation was jammed packed with activities that revolved around family and friends. We went south to Johor, my home state, and then to Melaka and Kuantan. Friends separated by time and space bothered to get together to celebrate, just because we came home.

Primary and secondary school friends treated us to sumptuous meals and gave us presents and local delicacies to bring back to Ireland.

A friend even brought us to her orchard and it was an Eden experience to be surrounded by dragon fruit, bananas, papayas, breadfruit, passionfruit and soursops. As mosquitoes were swarming around, we made sure we used mosquito repellent. The icing on the cake was when we saw weaver bird’s nests that were so intricately woven.

We also visited Tengku Mariam Primary school, where I first started my formal studies. Fences and manmade structures had replaced the lush tropical foliage that once surrounded the school. We used to play hop-scotch or tag or run on the sides of the drain, but I guess millennial children do not do that anymore. I remember having to recite the Rukunegara before 600 children during the school assembly and it was fun re-enacting the event at the exact spot beneath the flags to an empty field.

We also visited Batu Pahat High School where I did my Form 6. One of my classmates is a teacher there and we had tea in the canteen — the difference was we sat in the room where the teachers sat and not in the student area.

When we went to Melaka, we met my university coursemates and visited the House of Museums, which brought me back to the 1960s and 1970s when my mother used the wooden stove for cooking and set her hair in curlers under the “big hat”. We were also treated to wonderful meals and watched others do the waltz, the swing and the rumba to Michael Buble’s Sway.

It is a land that boasts of friendliness among complete strangers.

After Melaka, we went to Kuantan. I wanted to visit the batik centre, so I went to the tour desk to call for a taxi. But, another hotel guest, who overheard my request, offered to give me a
lift since he was also going there. After the visit, I waited for a bus but none came for a long time. Again, a lovely lady with very young children stopped her car and gave me a lift back to the hotel.

It is a land where you drift seamlessly into your younger self and just let your hair down with your best friend. Michael (the writer’s husband) and I went for the swings, the see-saw and the slide when no one was looking and chased crabs in the sand.

So, I look forward to coming back again to the land where I was born. Being home is an
indescribable feeling, even though it was only for three weeks. Somehow I even enjoyed the sun, something I never really liked before.

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