Two days ago, I started my school holiday backpacking trip with my kids. The first spot we went to was Klang. Not having been to Klang for donkey’s years, I was overwhelmed at the raw beauty of the town. And so there I was, equipped with my Canon, hitting every street and alley, looking for picture-perfect settings to capture.
After having taken quite a number of gorgeous photographs, I came upon a street called Jalan Pokok Sena where an old building stood majestically. As amazed as I was of the almost vintage look of the row of shop houses, my eyes were glued to a corner shop – a tailor’s.
Now, I have to tell you that this wasn’t any regular tailor’s, not like the ones I come across in my hometown Penang, or back where I now stay in the Klang Valley. The shop had old, antique-looking sewing machines in front, rows of old wooden cabinets inside and two huge tables where two elderly tailors were busy measuring and cutting cloth.
It looked like a scene right out of the past and I knew I had to take some shots. So after enjoying delightful bowls of Klang’s very own Cathay Assam Laksa and a humble bowl of ABC (shaved ice in syrup), I excused myself from my kids and headed to the shop, seeking permission before getting my Canon into action.
“Uncle, can I please take some pictures?” I asked the elderly gentleman busy sewing.
“Can I take some photographs of you and your shop? It’s just for my personal collection,” I repeated.
“You tak tau cakap bahasa ka?” his tone shocked me.
Trying my best not to stammer, I quickly apologised, “Maaf uncle. Saya nak minta izin ambil gambar kedai uncle. Boleh ke?”
‘Tak boleh!” he snapped.
I left the shop feeling embarrassed.
You see, over the past few weeks, I have been on a crusade of sorts, persuading people to take more pride in our national language and here I was being ticked off for not using it. Felt like a big slap on my face, to tell you the truth.
I guess it was my fault for assuming a Chinese uncle would prefer to communicate in English rather than Bahasa. And so I learnt my lesson that day – I vowed that if I came across anyone local on the street, I would speak to them in our national language.
The next day of our backpacking trip found us in Tanjung Malim. After settling our accommodation, we headed to an Indian restaurant for some good old Indian food – too much dim sum in Klang left my Indian tongue begging for some spice.
“Roti canai dengan kari ikan dan teh halia,” I ordered proudly in Bahasa.
“Nambo mozhi le peise ma, yain Malay mozhi le pesseringge?” (Speak in our language, why use Malay?), asked an anneh who was taking our orders.
I stared at him for a mere second, my mind completely blank, before continuing to place my order in my mother tongue, Tamil.
“Tamil vaaruthele, appo yain Malay le pessenom?” (There, you can speak Tamil fine, so why use Malay?), the anneh shot me a funny look and walked away.
Okay, I learned a valuable lesson (again!) and made a mental note – speak in my native language to people of the same ethnicity and use the national language when speaking with others. Done!
So today, we arrived in Ipoh from Tanjung Malim. After yet another long day walking around the city snapping pictures, we found ourselves a nice hotel to stay for the night.
“Hello miss,” said a Malay guy at the reception counter.
A-ha! A Malay guy – can use both his native language AND national language. Perfect.
“Hello. Saya nak satu bilik untuk malam ni. Katil besar ya,” I smiled politely.
“One double bed, deluxe room. Can I have your IC?” he asked.
“Berapa ya caj untuk satu malam?”
“RM85 with a RM50 deposit. And if you want the air-conditioner remote control, that will be another RM20 deposit,” he continued.
I handed him the cash and said, “Terima kasih.”
“You are welcome.”
Good god! What just happened there?
I guess the next time I meet anyone, I will just have to zip my mouth and wait for them to begin the conversation to find out their language of preference.