We Remember


I know this issue is already stale. But I am only moved to talk about it tonight. A friend asked me what is the big deal about not allowing Chin Peng’s remains to come back into the country. We signed a peace treaty, he said, we should honor it.

I understood his objectivity and magnanimity. So instead of disagreeing with him, I told him this story.

I don’t know who are my great grandparents (GGP). I don’t even know their names. Both sets of my grandparents, when they were still among the living, refused to talk about their fathers. Every year we would hold prayers, to commemorate the date that we believed my GGPs passed away.

I say “we believed” because we don’t know for sure. They were not buried in an unmarked grave.They were not buried at all.

You see, my GGP were among the people who fought alongside the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) against Japanese Occupation. But when MCP turned and started killing villagers whom they perceived as British sympathizers or being opposed to MCP’s manifesto, my GGP were among those who were pursued by the MCPs into the jungles and hacked to death then left to rot as a warning to dissidents. They died so that the village could be spared. Those who made it alive were not even able to bring back bits and pieces of my GGP to give them a proper burial. There was no bits and pieces left to bring back.

Grandfather R lived in abject poverty as a result of the war and MCP’s reign. You probably would smirk and say I am exaggerating. I am not. He lived a very hard life, in a wooden hut in the middle of a small rubber plantation miles from nowhere where he worked as a rubber tapper. Let’s not even talk about access to basic infrastructure. He was lucky if he could make a few cents a week. If you asked me how my father managed to put himself through school given the circumstance he was in, I have no idea. No one wants to talk about those hard days. We were never exposed to it. I believe it is not because he is ashamed about it. But rather, we were deliberately shielded from the kind of horror that you read in books and newspaper articles so that we didn’t have to dwell on the past and be shackled to it.

Grandfather A was a trader. He led a more, how do I say this, conventional life. Not rich. But he did alright. However, in comparison to their lives pre-MCP, this conventional life was a burden to Grandma Z. She missed the days when she had maids and tea parties and ornate baju kebaya worn with intricately made jewelry handed down from mother to daughter; when her afternoons were spent taking the ship to cruise along Sungai Perak to go shopping in Teluk Anson. I grew up “tolerating” her crazy antics. She lived in the past and completely obliterated those MCP days from her memory bank. As a result, my mother had to drop out of school to be the “mom” in the family and ran the household. She was only 9 years old.

Did you know that my mother learned to read roman alphabets as we were growing up? We learned the letters, so did she. That as I was studying for my Standard 5 examination, she would point to a chair and asked me what do you call this in English and then asked me to spell it for her? It wasn’t for my benefit. It was for hers.

I know, right? Looking at me, at my siblings, at our lives today, you could never have guessed.

Now, I am not bitter about the past. I don’t think my parents are bitter about their past either. In fact I think they could not care less whether CP’s ashes are allowed to come back into the country or not. And frankly, I don’t care either.

But the point of this story is this: MCP’s reign of terror was real. I am the descendant of those who were brutalized and massaccred by MCP’s twisted brand of patriotism. I know that the past can stay in the past. I know that. It’s true. We are living proof. The past…it doesn’t taint or damage me and my siblings who never had to go through the horrors and hardship that comes with war or poverty or race riots or colonization.

However, to ask that we, the nation as a whole, to forgive and forget – even symbolically – no, that is a suggestion that I reject. Forgive, yes. But we should always, ALWAYS, remember the past so that we will not repeat it.

I don’t know if I will step up to the plate if I am asked to give up my life so that another could live. But my GGP did. That was enough for their families, my ancestors, and I know it should be enough for me.

And because of that I did not argue with my friend. I only shared with him this story, just like I am sharing it with you now.

We don’t talk about those days. But we remember them every year. Each time we hold prayers for my GGPs, we remember.


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