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Sunday, 12 January 2014

Down memory lane for unity

Tales of yesteryear: Harris started the Facebook page with the hope of rekindling rich experiences of the past to make people see how united they used to be.

Tales of yesteryear: Harris started the Facebook page with the hope of rekindling rich experiences of the past to make people see how united they used to be.

A Facebook page revives images of the past to remind Malaysians of the good old days when more things seemed to unite and bind us rather than separate and divide.

WHATEVER happened to the good old days when people of different races, religions and cultures would sit, talk, play, joke and laugh together?

Retiree Harris Abdullah, 56, who grew up in a generation where people of all races mixed around easily, feels “the present generation is split”.

“A lot of people say they are not racist but they actually are. You can see that from the people they interact with,” he says.

“The Malays keep to themselves, the Chinese stick with the Chinese and the Indians mix with their own.

“You get that on Facebook too. People hardly have friends of a different race. And we call ourselves a multi-racial country? It is very sad.”

In July last year, the father-of-four started the Down Memory Lane (DML) Facebook page with the hope of rekindling rich experiences of the past to make people see how united they used to be and how much they actually have in common.

Reminders of the past: This old iron came up for discussion on the DML facebook page.
Reminders of the past: This old iron came up for discussion on the DML facebook page.

But there is one basic but important rule – absolutely no talk on race, religion or politics! If this rule is flouted, any one of the five Facebook page administrators would delete the comment or even remove the post.

“I’ve seen on my personal Facebook that whenever I put up jokes or comments on politics or religion, there is endless debate and even people arguing. It gets nowhere,” Harris says.

“I want people to come to the DML page to have fun, laugh and be happy, so let’s keep race, religion and politics out.”

And people seem to relish the idea. In just six months, 10,200 people have joined the DML group.

Harris was expecting only about 800 people to join and was surprised that it had attracted 2,000 people, including Malaysians overseas, in the first week.

The idea of creating DML came to Harris after he posted on his personal Facebook page an old photo of an ais kacang seller, and “suddenly people of all races started talking about their past experiences.”

That post alone got him almost 700 comments.

Topics on the DML are rather diverse with people sharing all sorts of memories and photos from the past.

Cheryll Ng, who went to school in the 1960s, posted a page of her handwritten recipe book from secondary school. She reminisces about attending cooking classes during Home Science (a subject for female students) and having to jot down recipes from the blackboard because there were no photocopy machines then to make copies.

Students used fountain pens, wrote in cursive and drew a margin on every page before they started. Her posting brought a flurry of comments from others in the group about the disappearance of the art of handwriting, the fountain pens they used, their own home science classes, teachers and handwritten recipe books that some still hang on to.

In his posting, another DML friend, Alvin Pak, asked if anyone remembered the telegram which was a quick way of sending urgent messages in the past. It was expensive because charges were calculated per letter of the alphabet.

This too generated a lot of responses from the older generation. They remembered how people dreaded getting a telegram because it usually meant bad news, especially death.

Some attach music clips of their favourite singers like Andy Williams, the Everly Brothers and Lobo while others post pictures of things from the past like the bedak sejuk, traditional games they used to play like skipping rope, kite-flying and once popular hobbies like collecting stamps, coins and matchboxes.

Pictures of how some towns used to look like 50 years ago, or of antique-looking stuff found in one’s parents’ or grandparents’ house or the types of food or snacks they used to eat once upon a time are also posted, and it is interesting to look at all of these images of the past.

Harris says he is fine with posts on historical figures as long as they don’t take a political stance.

“If someone wants to put up something on Tunku Abdul Rahman, for example, I would ask them to state why and the point they want to make. I would tell them not to debate on or talk about politics but to appreciate him (Tunku) for what he was,” says Harris, adding that he has posted pictures of Tunku’s cars on DML.

So how does he handle people who post political comments on the DML page?

Harris says he has kicked people out of the group for doing this. “I used to warn them but I am tired of explaining because I’ve already told them from the start what is expected.”

When people get into the DML Facebook page these days, that warning is the first thing they see. “If you don’t respect my ‘house’ and spoil things, then you don’t deserve to be here,” Harris stresses.

The DML group is not confined to interacting on Facebook alone. It has been just half a year since the group was formed and the members have already had two get-togethers.

Harris says one was in KL on Merdeka Day and the other was in Penang on Deepavali.

“It was fun. The moment we met, we were like friends we’ve known for years.” While helping forge new friendships, DML has also helped to rekindle old friendships.

He says a number of people have, through DML, rekindled friendships with old friends, schoolmates or former neighbours whom they have not seen for 20 to 30 years. Harris admits that when he started DML, he was worried that the younger generation of Malays were not coming on board.

“There were many older Malays. But now, every other day, I am approving applications from many young Malays although they are not very active yet.”

He thinks this is because DML uses English and the younger generation of Malays are hesitant because they might not be so well versed in the language.

“I think they are a bit shy because of the language barrier, but it’s fine to post something in Malay too.”

Harris says Malaysia in the past was really multi-racial.

“We didn’t feel the difference between Malay, Chinese and Indian,” he says.

Tags / Keywords: focus , down memory lane , facebook


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