Saturday, August 16, 2008

Of Lee Chong Wei and My Country

When Lee Chong Wei beat Lee Hyun Il and booked himself a place in the Olympics final, Malaysians were swept by overwhelming joy. At Mamak stalls throughout Malaysia, Malays, Chinese and Indians cheered in unison, "Malaysia Boleh, Chong Wei Boleh!". Everyone thought that after all these years we were gonna win a gold medal. Everyone felt so good.

Fast forward to the first few minutes of the final. Malaysians watched in horror as Lee Chong Wei trailed Lin Dan 1-7 within the first few minutes of the final. Our hopes faltered, but deep inside we wished that he could come back and win the game. However, as the game progressed, the frustration sank in as we watched on. By the time Lee Chong Wei was trailing 0-8 in the second set, all hope had vanished. Disappointment was etched on the face of Chong Wei, Misbun, and all Malaysians.

As Chong Wei failed to return the last ball and Lin Dan collapsed to the floor, Malaysia went quiet. In less than an hour, Lee Chong Wei was demolished by Lin Dan in the Olympics final by 12-21, 8-21.





Malaysia lost after all.

Malaysia tak boleh after all.

Chong Wei didn't deliver. After all.

As an emotional Lin Dan gave his rounds of salute to the enthusiastic spectators, here in Melbourne, I turned off the live stream on my computer, and the disappointed crowd in my room dispersed. I started to reflect on the game.

Why do we feel down? As Malaysians, aren't we already immune to bad news after all these years? It's not like it's the first time our hopes were cut short in the Badminton finals. It's also not like this is the only, or the biggest bad news in the past week or two. Does anyone still remember the biggest news in Malaysia before the Olympic Games? Apart from Anwar, his bid in Permatang Pauh and the national obsession with Sodomology, can you recall any other major incident in the past week?

This particular news comes to mind: UiTM students protest against suggestion to open doors to non-Bumis. In my country, there's this special single-race university that accepts only students of indigenous origin. A State Premier from the opposition party suggested that the university take 10% students from non-indigenous origin, presumably to improve the integration between races and improve the academic quality of the university. The suggestion was immediately met with vigorous objection from some of the indigenous students. These people think that the Chinese and Indians (make up 35% of Malaysian population) will encroach into their constitutionally-protected special rights by taking up 10% seats in the university. The non-indigenous people, it seems, are the rival of indigenous people in my country.

It is quite sad, really. In any decent country, any university that accepts only students of particular origin will have been censured for outright Apartheid. But in a country where non-indigenous citizens are seen as "them" on regular basis, the existence of such a university seems so natural, or even justifiable to everyone. After three to four generations, the non-indigenous who are born in Malaysia are still "them", and will never become part of "us".

That brings me back to Lee Chong Wei.

When Lee Chong Wei became a Gold-Medalist hopeful, I was intrigued as to what will happen if he went on and win Malaysia's first Olympic Gold medal amidst the UiTM protests. Would those students lament that it's a non-indigenous medal? Would they feel that the medal is of less value? Would they even remember, amongst their celebration, that the medal is won by a non-indigenous Malaysian?

The picture at the top of this article kind of gave us the answer to all that. Time and again, Badminton has united our country without even us knowing. I can still remember what I saw when Malaysia participated in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. A group of Malay students brought flags and wore national team costumes to support the Badminton team - which entirely consisted of Chinese players. This time around, I read reports of how Malays, Chinese and Indians watched the semi-final together and celebrated the victory at the Mamak stalls. I read of how Malays, Chinese and Indian came together and commiserate, lament, console or even curse Lee Chong Wei for the tame loss.

Then I thought. Aren't we united when we watch badminton? Haven't we all forgotten about skin colours, when we placed our hope on Lee Chong Wei throughout his fateful Olympic journey? When he lost, aren't we all thinking "Malaysia lost", instead of "Malaysian Chinese lost"?

That, my friends, is national unity and national identity. National unity is not a tourism show where a Malay, a Chinese and an Indian girl pose and wave at the cameramen. National identity is not having a homogenised society where everyone speaks a single language at the top fluency. It is actually quite simpler - national identity is when Lee Chong Wei hugs Misbun and kiss the flag, and everyone is moved because "WE won".

So, Lee Chong Wei lost. But even in defeat, I thank him for giving me a feeble glint of hope in the country. Yes, we still do not quite believe in our country and its people, and yes, this article probably come across as a naive outlook on the harsh reality in Malaysia. However, through his journey, Lee Chong Wei gave us at least something to hold on to and build on.

And I reckon the footage of Mamak stall spectators makes the best advertisement for Hari Merdeka.


Jin Ye said...

well written.

Victor said...

I felt the same too. Great job for putting this rather abstract kind of feeling into words.

Yew TW said...

i kind of hoped that chong wei could win the gold to keep the mouth of those ppl with sense of inferiority shut. cos a malaysian chinese won the first gold medal for malaysia! but after all it didn't happen. sad...

sufya said...

How I wish the UiTM students could read this. Good job.

Ilma said...

I agree with you Chang Yang, it's really good to see everyone unite when it comes to sports. Only a moron would say "tak mau support badminton la, orang cina aje yg main".
But I don't know why some people become so angry when only a suggestion, yes, it was merely a suggestion, that UiTM should be opened to non-bumis as well. Coming from an all-Malay secondary school, I felt that I had learnt a lot (of good stuff) when I was in INTEC, as I mixed around with people from various backgrounds. I personally think that was a good suggestion by the Selangor MB. I think everyone who deserves a place in uni should be given a place, no matter what kulit color.

p/s: i remembered 2 years ago my housemate (who is Malay) came all the way from Adelaide to watch badminton during the melbourne CG). She is one of the most patriotic person I know=).

Casper said...

A bit unrelated, but here is an article about how people voluntarily ceased fire at the begining of World War I...

It just shows how significant events can help unite people, but it's the leaders who are going to spoil everything

changyang1230 said...

Thanks guys for your two cents. Particularly to sufya and Ilma, your kind words mean a lot to me.