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The flag that never came down

Loving a country doesn't have to depend on who runs it.

Michelle Chen
3 minute read
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Michelle Chen

Michelle is a Malaysian, a Chinese and a banana. She thinks this is a mad country, but there's no place like home.

In March 2018, I hung a Malaysian flag at my upstairs window. It was something I’d intended to do since moving in three months earlier but never had the time to until then.

Soon after, election fever hit the country and flags began popping up everywhere. Party flags were predominant, especially the dark blue of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) and the light blue and red of the PKR logo under which the opposition contested. But there was a healthy sprinkling of Malaysian flags too, and my house fit right in along with the rest of the neighbourhood.

May 9 came and went, as did Pakatan Harapan and BN, respectively. After the hype died down, I thought about taking down my flag and putting up something else instead. But then I thought, Merdeka Day would be here soon enough, so I left it hanging where it was.

It was the same story after Merdeka – Malaysia Day was just around the corner, I thought, ah let it be.

Before I knew it, it was the end of the year and time to put up Christmas decorations. Surely now I should take it down and hang up some twinkly lights instead. But although the twinkly lights went up, the flag did not come down.

After Christmas came Chinese New Year, and the story continued.

I have always loved the Malaysian flag, even though as a kid in school I hated drawing it because I could never get the star right. I’ve always loved Malaysia, and I’ve always loved being a Malaysian.

When I was studying, I had the privilege of going overseas thanks to my parents who emptied their EPF accounts and my relatives who let me bunk with them for free. Between finishing two degrees and working the odd year here and there, I spent a long time away from home. For years, I missed Malaysian food and Malaysian weather. I missed char kuey tiau, nasi lemak, cili padi, and cendol, and I missed the sound of thunder during monsoon storms.

I missed malls on weekends and public holidays, I missed pasar malam, and I missed the way 95% of directions given in Malaysia are based on landmarks associated with food. I missed how football matches mean big crowds yelling at roadside mamaks, and I missed the Malaysian slang that no one except my relatives understood.

People would ask me about my plans after graduation, and I always told them the same thing: “I’m going home.” “Why?” some of them asked. “What’s wrong with here?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” I said. “It’s just not home.”

I’ve been mad with the powers that be many times, both before and after May 9, 2018, and I understand the frustration of those who have contemplated emigrating as well as those who have packed up and left. This year alone, I thought many times about junking that flag at my window as political antics reached the point where I could no longer keep track of what was going on.

But thankfully, a country is more than its government and its people more than the elite who walk the halls of power, no matter how much misery their policies may cause. Loving a country doesn’t have to depend on who runs it.

Christmas is coming up again, and those twinkly lights are waiting in a box in the storeroom. But that flag has been up for quite some time now, and I think it will stay up – at least for a while more.