30 September 2017

And that was how I developed a very high level of religious tolerance

(Part 2)

(I sent the link of my blog on part 1 of this entry to Arielle. Just now, after her Account tuition, she asked me when is part 2 going to be written. So here goes)


So I mentioned in part 1 how listening to the recital of the Holy Quranic verses made me feel safe as a child during those pitch black nights especially when the weather was scary. And my eldest brother, the one now known as Fr Wilfred through his profession as a Catholic priest commented that he was in full agreement with me. He even added that he can still recite the 'azan' and 'takbir raya' very well  to this day. It's obvious that both he and I had developed a high level of religious tolerance via the same process. It so happened that we both attended SBPL (now known as Sekolah Sains Labuan) when we were in form 4 & form 5.

Back to the story... my childhood experience was mainly sensory in nature. I heard the Quranic verses recitation and I felt safe and protected. Upon entering high school, the environment further played an important role in shaping my tolerance.

In form 1 at SMK Mat Salleh, Ranau, I had my first experience of having an ustaz teaching in my class. This particular ustaz came from West Malaysia. He told us all, Muslims and non-muslims to greet him with 'asalamualaikum' each time he came to our class.  I didn't find that weird at all, and I am very sure others felt the same too. Life went on peacefully for us all.

After we finished our form 3 exam, (known as SRP), there wasn't that many exciting things to do at school. So we spent most days doing 'gotong-royong' and that included carrying bricks for the school's 'surau' building. Again we did it cheerfully, Muslims & non-Muslims, without any negative feelings.

Form 4 came and both my brother and I ended up in SBPL. There, we immersed in yet another new environment which reinforced our high level of tolerance.

(And that is part 2...tbc 😃)

28 September 2017

And this was how I developed a very high level of religious tolerance

Originally written as a FB entry

(this one is for my daughter, Arielle who deactivated her FB account till SPM is over, but I will post this on my blog later. She asked me to write more about 'the olden day' (read: my childhood) so that she knows more about the past)


There is this little cafe I frequent most mornings, mostly because it serves my favourite Tawau-style mee tauhu, but also because of its outdated boombox, it plays either songs from the 80s (era kegemilangan lah katakan), and recital of Holy Quranic verses. Now, many people find me unfathomable because of the way I can sincerely appreciate Quranic verses reading or Buddhist teachings and such things while being very comfortable with my own religious practices.

I've been reflecting about me too and come up with this conclusion: the current me is the results of significant childhood experience and teenagehood environment. And I have to say I am thankful for those.

When I started primary school, my dad was the headmaster in this school in a beautiful little village tucked away somewhere in a lush forest. It was as kampung as could be without electricity and without a lot of other facilities. At one point, there were only dad, my eldest brother and me because my mom decided to be in my grandparents' house in another village with my other younger siblings.

At that time, we didn't go to church. Or should I say there was no nearby church to go to. And although our parents taught us the basic prayers, there were often occasions when I felt very very scared at night especially when the weather was horrible. Imagine the sound  of howling wind and pattering rain on a zinc roof. Not pretty at all, I tell you.

Despite the lack of technology then, we still had a radio that connected us to civilization. And the little me had it on most of the time because it gave me the illusion of being surrounded by people. In the  evenings (dark and gloomy to my selected memory), the radio would play the Quranic verses recital for a certain period of time. I remember feeling safe to hear that...and that was how my childhood was shaped. Long after I had learned more Christian prayers and songs, I still appreciate the recital. Apparently,  things like these get stuck at a person's heart that 35 years later, I still appreciate it...

(And this is part 1 of the entry 😃)

27 June 2017

Memories of Grandpa: last days

Long after a loved-one is gone from your life, you can still feel the piercing pain when you think of him. Indeed, a person is irreplaceable. Only his memories will keep your heart warm and you want to hold on to those memories forever.

Yesterday was our maternal late grandpa's 11th anniversary of passing. As always, I missed him so much that I couldn't bring myself to write about him. But I have promised myself and the family members that I will write and keep him alive in our hearts.

There are too many memories of Grandpa that even after all these years I am still at loss to begin writing. Maybe starting backwards will help.

Grandpa passed on after more than a year of suffering from colon ulcer. My little boy who was then 3 years old and I got to spend time with him for two full weeks before he passed. At that stage, the extended family members took turn trying to make him as comfortable as could be. What I remember the most was his constant moaning because he was in so much pain.  Every day each of us would spend an hour or so by his bedside. Whenever it was my boy and my turn's, I would rub his stomach in circular motion to ease the pain; at the same time suppressing my tears because it hurt so much to see someone in great pain. Sometimes I just let the tears fell silently and say as many prayers as I could. My little boy, being only 3, would innocently ask me to sing the 'Our Father' prayer, thinking that the prayer would make Grandpa fall asleep like it did him.

It was during that time that I could really feel the extended family's solidarity. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews...they would all take turn accompanying grandpa. Sometimes talking comforted him. Strange requests and conversations took place but we just said yes to everything.

The strangest request he made was for the family and neighbours to beat the gongs for his funeral. Of course it was a scandalous request! According to the Dusun culture that we adhere to, when there is death in a household, no music of any kind is allowed. Not even TV or radio until the person has been laid to rest. In fact, if I remember correctly, no musical instruments for a week.

(I wasn't in the country when grandpa was laid to rest. The family honored his wish and did a round of gong-beating. His neighbours told us that on that day, they all heard beautiful gong beatings out of the blue, just as grandpa wished. Maybe coincidently, there was a wedding at some neighbouring village...or...)

One time when I made my daily visit to grandpa, he opened his eyes and asked me "isai pama i hiti di tinu ddi?" (Who was it that was here earlier?). Puzzled, I said the name of every possible relative that was there on that day. "Okon, kirasuk toitom-itom do kisalip miagal di dampaado. Numaan dau pohitio'd kangkab ku i buuk do tagayo". (No, he wore a dark coloured robe with cross like the priest's. He put a big book on my chest).  I felt my goosebumps raising when I heard that. Somebody told me that a person who was about to leave for the other world would see things that revolved around his faith. Grandpa was a Catholic. Could it be possible that he saw Jesus, the sign of his faith? Not knowing what to say, I told him it might have been the priest who came to visit him.

On 26.06.2006, grandpa passed on. (I wasn't there to bid him final goodbye. But at the time he drew his last breath, from far away I experienced a great sense of sadness, like my heart was ripped from me. For a few minutes, I was sweating like I was sick. Then it ended. And a text from my family came to tell me he was gone.
Maybe that's why I still miss him so much to this day).

The family said it was a beautiful day when he was laid to rest. Many people from various places came over to pay him final respect. Not surprising as Grandpa was a very popular person- always good-natured and helpful. Even his resting place was quickly prepared, because a backhoe driver who  happened to pass by the cemetery offered to dig up the burial place instead of it being dug up by the villagers following the tradition there.

Eleven years later, he is still deeply missed.

25 May 2017

Remembering grandma

Too much of culture-related content in the conference today made me miss grandma so much. We called her 'ina' (mother, in Dusun), following our mom, aunties and uncles. She passed on in 2007, and yet it feels like just yesterday I was talking to her, listening to all her stories.

Grandma wasn't the most open person when it came to personal matters. She was kind of private and the only time she actually talked about her past in length was when I met her last before she had a stroke, which led to her passing on.

So the thing I wanted to know the most was her first husband. The fact that Dusun people of her generation married a few times before settling with their final spouse is quite well-known. The reason why they divorced have to be coaxed out of them though.

And so I asked her quite bluntly...why did you divorce your first husband? At first she refused to tell...but my persistence got to her and she told me her story in an unusually gentle voice, untypical of my military-like grandma.

She, like most girls of her generation was match-made. And funnily enough, she thought at around 13 she married late. People in those days got married but didn't sleep together...until...until...they discovered what conjugal love meant. Grandma was married-off but still lived in her relatives' household (having had lost her parents early).

A few month after the wedding, an elder relative told her she was to be divorced. The reason was, her husband who stayed in his family farm had his eyes set on another girl. In those days, openly liking a person was a taboo...much less liking a person when you were already somebody's spouse.

I asked grandma "aa ko ddi tinumogod?" (Didn't you get angry?). She simply answered in the softest voice, "nunu gia katagadan?" (What was there to be angry about?)

At that moment, my respect for grandma increased a hundredfold. She accepted her destiny and moved on. Perhaps that was because she never did discover a wife's feeling for a husband. But she could still have had her pride bruised and got angry. Yet she didn't.

She lived up to the saying "If you love someone, let him/her go. If s/he is yours s/he will come back to you. If s/he doesn't, it is never meant to be..."

Grandma, a wise woman long gone. Still our inspiration.