By Adrian Ng
13 May, 2011
Reflections of the incidents of May 13, 42 years ago, and how Malaysia has grown since then.
Mom was 16. They lived at Cheras Batu 2 1/2 squatters, near the legendary field which produced Mokhtar Dahari, and near Cochrane Road School, where DBKL has now built a hall along Jalan Loke Yew. Grandpa decided not to open his stall at Central Market that day. The situation was tense from what was being heard in KL due to the massive win of the Democratic Action Party. Rumours were spreading that the Malays were going to attack the Chinese. Everyone was terrified.
Grandpa and grandma quickly packed up some food, just in case they needed to make a run and gathered everyone. They all sat quietly waiting as far back as possible in the tiny little wooden house, at the back of the kitchen. Grandpa took a radio to the kitchen, to listen to any news on what was happening outside.
No one dared venture outside.
The usually lively squatters area was extremely quiet that day. Then a few knocks on the door… everyone was quiet and dared not answer. Then a few knocks again. And a few knocks again. Then someone called my grandpa’s name softly… “Ah Chong… Ah Chong… are you inside?” It took a few more calls before my grandpa answered and opened the door, only after he was sure that it was the youngster from the sundry shop.
They continued their conversation in front of the house, whispering to each other. Then he came to the kitchen and gathered everyone. They walked out of the house and quickly hurried themselves to the wood-processing factory nearby.
Along the way to the factory, mom and family were accompanied by some young Chinese boys. Mom recognised them; they were the gangsters at the squatters, some with scars on their hands, some with tattoos. Each on of them were holding a parang, some samurai swords, and others metal rods.
Upon reaching, they were led to the wooden planks stores and were told to hide there. A few other neighbours were already there. Everyone look frightened, not knowing what was happening outside. After some whispers here and there, mom found out that some other neighbours had gone to Chan Sow Lin, and were also hiding at some factories.
Before the Chinese youngsters left, a few more youngsters came and grabbed some more parangs, samurai swords, and metal rods from the store, hidden among the planks of woods. Mom took a peep, and saw a lot of weapons hidden in between.
Then someone called out in Malay… everyone panicked, thinking that they had been ambushed. Everyone kept quiet. After a long wait, Grandpa whispered “Don’t worry, he is Pak Mat, he and a few others will help guard around the squatters.” The day went by, and soon night fell. That night, mom heard on radio that an emergency had been declared by Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Mom heard from one of the neighbours that a massive bloodshed had broke out at Tai Wa cinema (the old Cathay cinema along Jalan Pudu, now an empty lot with a bus station). There were scores of people inside the cinema, watching a just up-on-the-screen new movie. Suddenly, they were ambushed and attacked. They couldn’t escape. Scores were dead.
Some of the Chinese gangsters who were around managed to gather some people, and tried to save as many people as possible. There were also some Malays locals around who helped out, trying to pull away people and hide them — in drains, inside shops, anywhere. Anywhere they could. The slashing group soon backed off and moved back towards Puduraya. Mom also heard that many Malays were also hurt.
Mom’s tears flowed down her cheek. Until today, no one knows how many died.
The FRU arrived shortly after, trying to help as much as possible. Apparently, the FRU were also up in arms against the Police, as during that time, the FRU were made up of mainly Chinese, whilst the Police were Malays. The FRU soon rounded up some Chinese gangsters and instructed them to help stand guard around their villages.
The FRU helped man the main roads leading to the villages. Some Malays volunteered to help, manning the intersections into the villages together with the Chinese gangsters, and patrolling around at night.
Throughout the night, there were some noises outside the factory and around the squatters. Footsteps of people running around quickly. Rays of torch lights occasionally shone into the factory. However, no untoward incidents occurred. Everyone stayed at the factory for a few days, with the Chinese and Malay youngsters taking turns to bring food to the factory and patrolling. It was only after the soldiers came that everyone dared return to their homes. And everyone was glad that nothing untoward happened to any of the villagers in the squatters.
It was an unforgettable day in Malaysian history.
And that incident shaped the path of our society today.
I could not understand her feelings, every time she told me her stories of May 13. I can just try to imagine how bad it was, and how it has traumatised my family and the rest of the Chinese community from that era.
And not too long ago, I too had a near encounter of a similar nature, if not entirely similar. It was 8 March 2008. We were back at the nerve centre, to hand in the results from the polling centre I was taking charge of, and it was a win from the school. On the way back, my friend called and said that Khalid had won Bandar Tun Razak. I was jumping.
I was even more estatic when unofficial results started to flow in and more schools were reporting majority wins.
It was not what we expected, as we expected a tough fight. Soon calls started to flow in, we had won most seats; KL and Selangor were looking good, very good.
Crowds outside were celebrating, shouts could be heard. We quickly gathered some people and asked them to calm down, fearing any untoward incident. And coincidentally, the nerve centre was also in Pudu, behind the old Tai Wa cinema. Creepy.
Shortly after, we headed to the nomination centre, waiting anxiously for the polling officer to annouce the results. We knew we had nailed it, and were just waiting for the official results. Then my phone rang, my friend from Penang called. He said “Tsu Koon lost and they have lost Penang”. An eerie feeling suddenly crept in. Flashback of the stories of May 13 that my mom told me. I told him we had won in KL, and it seemed that the opposition were going to govern Selangor.
I quickly asked him to go home. He was jolted suddenly and realised that situation was very uncertain, and that anything could happen had anyone from the other parties provoked, be it just throwing a stone or bottle towards the celebrating crowd. I called my wife, asking her to stay indoors.
Nothing untoward did happen that night. The following morning, we proudly watched on TV as they announced a major political tsunami in Malaysia. I was glad, but I couldn’t stop a sigh of relief that nothing untoward happened.
I realised that we young Malaysians had grown up from May 13. Whilst I do not really understand the feeling of them who had encountered it, we do need to remember what happened. But it is not for us to remember to hate, but for us to remember to cherish that this is part of our history, and to ensure that we learn from the mistakes made, and further improve ourselves.
Looking back at mom’s recollection of May 13, we can see that not all Malays were extremists. Mom said that there were very glad that Pak Mat and some others came help and stood guard. And likewise, Pak Mat was very sad about what happened to those at Tai Wa cinema, including some friends who lost their friends there. Even today, we all knew that not all Malays are extremists, and they don’t stir up May 13, but instead understand why it had happened.
It is already 42 years since then. And today, as a proud young Malaysian, I can proudly say that we have moved past the ghost of May 13, as demonstrated in March 2008.
Today, let us rejoice together as a peace loving Malaysians and celebrate this day!
Adrian is a proud Anak Bangsa Malaysia. He tweets at @AdrianNCF