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Post-Bersih 2.0

When I looked out of the cafe this morning, the Mission was covered in a light, pervasive rain. It appeared for all the world like a diaphanous fog, which every local I know would say is impossible for the Mission. On the morning of July 9th, it was a clear day for San Francisco. By this, one means that it was sunny but cold, more so along the waters under the Golden Gate Bridge. The Malaysians I met that morning were a loose gathering of like-minded individuals. Most drove in from the southern tech hubs, up to 2 hours away. Apart from myself, there was probably only one other person who actually lived in the city there.

It wasn't hard to walk up to my countrymen and introduce myself. Conversation inevitably drifted to recognising your compatriots by their regional specialties. Among the first people I met were a couple from Melaka who had only been in the US this year. They were surprised I'd never tried the Hainanese chicken rice ball -- never even heard of it until I moved to SF, in fact. Whenever I was down in Melaka (which has amazing food), I went out for Nyonya dinners. I am clearly due to try these chicken-fat flavoured delicacies.

Based on a show of hands at the introductory speech given by the organisers, about three-fourths of those present were from Kuala Lumpur, with the rest largely from neighbouring cities and states. There was a Sarawakian among us, whom everyone cheered on. It was a good mix of professionals my age and younger college-goers. Some of us were recent arrivals, but it there were clearly people who had been here for far longer. The atmosphere was generally friendly. Almost everyone showed up in a yellow shirt. One lady, a real Nyonya, showed up in a gorgeously embroidered kebaya. I wore an orange tank top (the closest thing I had to yellow in my wardrobe) under a black sweater and white shawl, as it was cold, more so with the prevalent breezes from the bay.

We were read a summary of the news overnight. Those of us from KL were notably grim over mentions of places we knew. In the last few days, more things have come to light, as stories were corroborated and proven. I was, and continue to be, upset by the tear gas and water cannons aimed at the Tung Shin Hospital compound. During a particularly bad episode when I was a teenager, I was admitted to Tung Shin for a couple of days. My high school was across the street. I passed by this place every day. And while I do believe the police have some right to prevent a street protest from causing a disturbance at a hospital, aiming gas cannisters at people taking refuge from said chemicals in a medical facility is more likely to have the opposite effect. Stories emerge of protesters who clearly also believed tear gas on hospital grounds was a horrible idea, using their own protective towels to throw the cannisters into monsoon drains away from the grounds.

Puduraya, the bus hub across the street from Tung Shin and one of the major rally points, was a place I walked through every day for 3 years. I bought snacks from the vendors sometimes, or mailed letters from the post office there. If my hamsters were running low on supplies, I walked up towards Petaling Street -- along the rally route -- to what used to be a row of pet stores (now, I believe, either burned or closed down or both). When I was in college, I would go with friends to Petaling Street for tofu fah (still some of the finest in the city). Petaling Street, essentially KL's Chinatown, is one of the liveliest places in KL, not only being a large outdoor leather goods/clothing market/tourist trap, but really also a place to sample some of the city's best cuisine. That it would become a natural meeting point for rallyers is not at all surprising.

Other names resonated down that list. Masjid Jamek and the Indian quarters of the city were close to my college. Again, these were places I visited often. We'd walk out to lunch at one of the nearby hawker centers, bombarded by head-pounding Bollywood pop music and immersed in the clashing colours of fabric shops. I heard that a lot of shops in the area closed for the rally, but I do wonder if some of the char kway teow, briyani and porridge sellers were open, at least for lunch. Apparently, those places that were open saw roaring business from starving rallyers.

These places are not spots on a map. They're culturally-significant parts of Kuala Lumpur where real people work, eat and play. It makes me happy to think that the largely urbanite protesters came out to walk in the places that are important to us, as much as it saddens me they were treated badly for their efforts.

When I spoke to the expatriate Malaysians in SF, it became clear all of us had gathered and were attracted to the non-partisan nature of this walk for cleaner elections. Although we didn't all necessarily share the same political views, I did meet people who were just as disgusted by the opposition's voracious co-opting of Bersih. News from home tells us that the rally was not only a success, in spite of very real police lockdowns all over the city, but the minimally 20,000 people who showed up were more multi-racial than the first Bersih, from all walks of life. In my last blog post, I talked about how some of the earliest rallyers to arrive and the latest to leave were also some of the eldest. To my knowledge, regardless of who they were, none of the rallyers condoned disrespect for these golden citizens, and that's really kind of cool.

Here in SF, we gathered, we chatted, and we walked uphill towards the halfway point before Golden Gate Bridge. I felt vaguely awkward for walking around in a large white billowing shawl, and think I should have frankly brought a jacket for ease of hiking. The shawl was meant to be an emergency warming ration, as I really had thought my heavy sweater would cover most of my warming needs. There were at least two large Malaysian flags, which made all of us proud. A young policeman hung back from our meeting spot, taking photos of us from every angle. It was a little creepy, but it probably was for administrative purposes. We had a permit to be there, with notifications to the police and the State Parks department. The Avon Breast Cancer Walk was happening that day too, so lots of ladies in bright pink were walking along with us. As I mentioned earlier, it was a cheery, chatty walk, less of a rally, more of a loose gathering of like-minded people.

A very kind older couple actually brought Malaysian food for a potluck brunch, but scanner_darkly, who'd driven me to the Presidio for this event, and myself needed to head home for another meeting with friends later that afternoon. I did learn a few things about the local community though, and the name-dropping of the most semi-authentic Malaysian restaurants in the Bay Area. It also tickled me to no end that the Malaysian Professional and Business Association (of California) also doubles up as the Gourmet Club. Malaysians will be Malaysians, eh?


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 14th, 2011 12:02 am (UTC)
I heard that a lot of shops in the area closed for the rally...

I think I understand your parents' wariness a little better now. One does not mess around with a Malaysian's food!

In all seriousness, it sounds like awesomeness was accomplished for the cause and good ties were made to the community at the same time. :)
Jul. 14th, 2011 12:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, I actually forgot to mention in my post just how many Malaysians (often spouses with their spouses, families with their kids) showed up. There was close to a 100 of us or more. According to the organisers, the Malaysian diaspora out here is about double that amount, at least.

Also, it is not wise to stand between Malaysians and their food.
Jul. 14th, 2011 12:47 am (UTC)
At times like this, I wish St. Louis had a more diverse food ecosystem. No Malaysian diaspora drawn here, to our boring fields of pasta and gooey butter cake. And our rallies tend more toward zombies than democratic principles.

(Landlocked Kansas City? Big Samoan diaspora, apparently. Gotta be a story there.)

Any word on how much of the diaspora there is specifically SF/Oakland-located? LA had its own rally, so it looks like CA has quite a nice Malaysian population.
Jul. 15th, 2011 08:34 pm (UTC)
I don't know really. By my estimates, talking to folks at Bersih, there must be at least 200 of us in the Bay Area. LA is a much bigger city, and possibly has more draw for different industries than us.

There are very large and established Asian populations in LA and SF though, which also helps the draw, but may actually only draw like-minded ethnicities. SF traditionally has a large amount of Cantonese people, with recent Mandarin-speaking migrants. LA, I think, has a large Thai population.

But I really don't know. Samoan diaspora in a landlocked place is kind of a story waiting to be told, I think. I mean, they're seafaring! They're too recent to have gotten landlocked the geographical way, surely.

Also, I think there's a large Vietnamese diaspora in Louisiana. I think it's account of the abundant seafood.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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