Wednesday, 20 February 2008

In search of memories

I previously wrote about Dr Heaslett, my friend Diana's late father who worked in a little town in Johor called Cha'ah during the Emergency.

Researching the post, I managed to reconnect with Diana who had since moved to Australia. Then a week or so ago, I received this email:

'Hello!!
I came across your blog during a search for my family history and have enjoyed reading it.... I was so surprised to read about your friendship with Diana Heaslett!! She is my Aunt!! Dr. Heaslett was my grandfather!! I enjoyed reading about what happened to him, I do remember as a small girl him telling me the same story.... thank you so much for writing and including them.... do you possibly have a photo of the street sign named after Dr. Heaslett?? I would love to have a copy if you do- and, if you have anymore wonderful stories of him or my Aunt... I would love to hear them!!
Thank you so much and Happy and careful travels!!!
~Anna Heaslett-Brown'

Well, no more stories of the good Dr Heaslett, but it did set me thinking... And so as I prepared to go up to KL for Alex Yap's farewell, I made the decision to take the scenic route and drive through Cha'ah.

The last time I drove through, Cha'ah was still fairly small, a backwater town with a strange name and not much else of prominence. It seems to have grown in the last 5 years or so though - new double-storey shop houses, more streets, and a larger footprint on the map of Johor than I remembered from before.

Going through the new bits, I spied the Police Station which I had dropped by, asking for the whereabouts of Jalan Heaslett those years ago. I took the next right turn off the main trunk road and found a few new buildings dotted here and there. I recognised the little stadium, now roofed, and turned into the street that I remembered to be Jalan Heaslett, renamed as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

The shops looked very much the same but I could find no street sign to take a picture of. The only one in evidence was faded and I could just make out the current name - not the first prime minister as I had remembered, but Tun Dr Ismail. One doctor's name replaced with another.

I wandered off to have lunch and found an old hawker who remembered the Mat Salleh doctor dimly.

Anna wanted a picture and the one I had taken many years ago had not been unearthed in my brief search before I left. A new picture was imperative... so I strolled down the short street after lunch, snapping some pictures.

Jalan Tun Dr Ismail was a throwback to an earlier age, but it was almost at the very end that I finally found what I was looking for. A set of old blinds hung down the front of a shop. And there, on the partially unfurled middle one was the name of the street. The original name: Heaslett Street.

I snapped a couple of pictures and was sure Anna, and Diana, would be pleased.














Goodbye. Farewell. And a Man.

One of my favourite programmes on TV was M*A*S*H. I still consider the last episode of the series as one of my favourite TV shows of all time. Hawkeye's mental breakdown was as touching as it was shocking; after years of futile conniving to escape the war, Klinger's decision to stay for love encapsulated the farce/comedy/drama/political-commentary feel of the series perfectly; Charles' declaration that music, until then his refuge from it, was instead to be a painful reminder of the horrors of war reminded us that war destroys with no respect for race, creed, background.

Of all the little endings, perhaps the one that was most poignant, and which aptly ended the series, was BJ's ability to finally say 'Goodbye', spelt out in bricks on the ground for Hawkeye to see as his helicopter pulled away.

Well, we too said 'Goodbye' and 'Farewell' to a friend on Monday night. Alex Yap, whom I have mentioned briefly before, is moving to Australia with his family. Johari hosted a dinner in his honour for a small group of ex-La Sallians.

Malaysia is a land of migrants. My own lineage is traced back only one generation on my mother's side and a couple on my father's. Whether from the Indonesian archipelago, China, South Asia or Europe, people flocked to the Malay Peninsular in search of a better life, a journey many continue to make today.

The journey outwards holds true too of course. Many Malaysians resort to the 'migrant' route in search of the same ideas their forefathers might have journeyed for - a better life for themselves and for their children. The reasons have scarcely varied through the generations even if the destinations have. Australia has long been a favoured new home - two of my brothers are indeed now Australians and I was once an Australian PR too.

Alex is simply doing what many thousands before him have done. And as much as he will likely gain from this very challenging move, Malaysia will surely lose in letting him go.

'Greatness' is something many aspire to. Some indeed make it their lifelong obsession - don't we all know of public figures who are thus predisposed? And yet the concept of 'Greatness' is one of paradox.

Firstly, 'greatness' is not determined by the one striving for it. It is instead conferred by others.

Secondly, 'greatness', far from being achieved through any particular extraordinary feat, is often attained through a myriad of little ones. It is not the flash of brilliance that qualifies one for 'greatness' - it is the consistent achievement, the steady effort, the regular output that makes one truly great.

As I write this, Alex is spending his first night in his new home. And Malaysia has lost a son I can say without hesitation is one of her great ones. Through the years, Alex has demonstrated leadership qualities and human and humane traits in abundance. He has consistently been there for the people around him, offering help when help was needed. And without a second thought.

And as he sleeps what must be the sleep of a man tired by relocation exertions, I sit here and silently raise a glass to him.

Goodbye, Alex. Farewell. You're a great man and I hope your new home recognises that in you in a way that perhaps your old one should have, but didn't.














Forever Falls - a day trip to Selama in Perak

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