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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ms Ayuni and Ms Shidah

We used to have lots of Malay neighbors. The Daughter's first admirers were mostly Malays - Irman, Ismail and Hafiq. They were all young gentlemen of good family with parents who held honest jobs and Mothers who were warm and kind.

My Malay neighbours maintained spick and span homes. It didn't matter that some lived in humble 3-room flats. They didn't allow their living quarters to degenerate into a mess of disharmonious clutter.  My Malay neighbours had matching curtains and sofa sets. I didn't even have curtains and it was some years before I got around to buying a sofa set.

My neighbour's homes were clean oh... so very clean... and this was probably the only dimension of house pride where Petunia matched up. I always felt a kinship with these Malay neighbors merely because we shared a strong appreciation for cleanliness and tidiness. Their homes always smelled good. The floors sparkled. Guests would be treated with much ceremony. Pretty cups and pretty plates would be taken out and displayed. I used to entertain with paper plates and cups. In fact, I still do.

The Malay mommies I knew were warm and indulgent with their children. They didn't practise tough love like so many Chinese mothers did. None of the Malay mommies I knew ever yelled in the way I sometimes yelled at The Daughter after work, frazzled and tired... but still determined to make sure The Daughter understood the Math that I myself failed to understand. I learnt a great deal about graciousness, gentleness and kindness from my Malay neighbors. I admired my Malay friends for their capacity for contentment. The relentless drive to accumulate and show off and compete... is not something I associate with the Malays. In many ways, they were like those French people who grew up in the country (not in Paris).

They're a loving and gentle people, with a capacity for contentment.

Little Boy went to a PAP kindergarten. The entire staff was comprised of Malays and they were wonderful with him. They were kind, gentle and indulgent. Little Boy had a crush on Ms Ayuni with the long flowing ponytail. He came home and tried to explain to me how nice Ms Ayuni's hair was.

Then there was Ms Shidah, a motherly lady who sparkled in the presence of children. This lady was so sweet that she was quite at a loss as to what to do with Little Boy when he went through the phase of "white eyes". Somehow, he had developed this tendancy to show his unhappiness with whatever it was by frowning and rolling his eyeballs back to expose the whites of his eyes. Goodness knows where he had learnt that! It made him look like a crazed drug addict! Ms Shidah was both hurt and perplexed. She didn't complain but I witnessed an episode of "white eyes" at the end of class... and needless to say, I made Little Boy apologize then and there. I checked with her in the weeks that followed for it pained me that my son had hurt such a sweet and loving teacher. Little Boy understood how bad the behavior was and he never did anything like that to Ms Shidah again.

There was only one Chinese teacher there whom Little Boy very much disliked and feared. As a result, I didn't like her either.

But that was many years ago.

Our Malays have become less Malay and more Singaporean. Unfortunately, the Chinese have learnt so little from the Malays in the ways of graciousness and gentleness. The Malays have learnt plenty from us in the ways of aggressiveness and competition. Some people think this is good. They want our Malay friends to start fighting and hustling and competing and winning. Some people think the world is all about competition.

I mourn an aspect of our collective soul that died when the Malays learnt the ways of the Chinese. I've mourned this for quite a while. I had 2 Research Assistants, both Malays. One was an RJC alumni, brash and aggressive. The other was a sweet and gentle young lady who opened my eyes to the value of accepting others as they are. I had a long philosophical discussion with her and came away impressed at how she was able to accept people they way they were... without doing them the disrespect of trying to change them for the better. This young girl told me gently "Dr Pet, how do you know that your better is really better for them?" Young but so wise in her cultural heritage.

So I mourned doubly when I noted that the childcare teacher arrested for fracturing a child's left shin was Malay. 20 years ago, this would not have happened.

- Written in memory of Ms Ayuni and Ms Shidah, 
the teachers who loved my Little Boy even
when he misbehaved. -

1 comment:

Blur Ting said...

You know, after living in the condo for more than 4 years, I have only made friends with a couple of people. Most of them are never bother to return my smile.

Recently a Malay family moved in just above our unit. When the mother saw me working in the garden one weekend, she promptly offered to send her 10 year old son down to help me. It was such a joy to have enthusiastic help and chatter for a change. Yesterday she stuck her head out of the window again to make small talk. I like how friendly they are. Even my son says her husband is such a nice gentleman. For him to say that really speaks volumes of how lik