Open houses and open hearts

  • Opinion
  • Sunday, 20 Dec 2015

IN the neighbourhood where I live, the population mix is like a microcosm of Malaysia. The pasar malam on Saturday evenings has not changed much since I moved in nearly 30 years ago. All races are represented, both among the sellers and the buyers.

There is a warm, friendly atmosphere as the people intermingle freely. Those who have been talking about race and business need to look at such communities to appreciate the richness in our nation’s diversity.

Some of the vendors still talk to me fondly about my mother, the aunty who liked to bargain like a true Penangite.

When I have visitors from abroad, a walk through the pasar malam gives them an immediate perspective of the diversity of our nation.

I love to go to this pasar malam as I am sure to bump into my neighbours as well as teachers who taught my two boys in the primary and secondary schools nearby.

I believe the true spirit of neighbourliness lies in how much we ourselves are willing to be a part of the neighbourhood.

When I enrolled my sons in the national school that was just a short walk from my house, some friends did ask me why I didn’t choose a “better” school.

I explained that it would not be right to try and get placement in another school by faking one’s address.

And I certainly did not want my boys to waste time having to commute, and also not to be able to mix with their schoolmates outside of school hours because they do not live in the same area.

Some teachers from my son’s secondary school visited me recently when they heard about my medical journey. We keep in touch even though it’s been some years since the boys left. I was active in the PTA then and there are other parents with whom I’m still in contact, and we continue to help out the school when we can.

Our open house on Christmas Day is another constant in our neighbourhood.

It has been a tradition for us to serve halal food at our open house, as many of our guests are Muslims.

We engage a caterer from the neighbourhood kedai makan, and our good neighbours add dishes to the spread, providing chicken pie, fruit cake and other delicacies from their halal kitchens.

As we celebrate in this manner every Christmas, I’m reminded that our homes, like our hearts, should be open all the time and not just on occasions.

And I am glad that I stay in a neighbourhood where I can visit my neighbours and they can visit me without any prior appointment.

Due to my current physical condition, I won’t be holding my open house this coming Friday, as it would be too much of a strain to host the event which usually starts about noon and often ends only after dinner time.

But I know my neighbours will understand and will be sending their wishes and prayers.

One of them told me that she prays for me five times a day.

Social media is full of comments on all kinds of issues plaguing the country, but I get the feeling that many commentators are not connected directly with the people affected by the problems.

Our policy makers, too, need to get a better feel of the ground but they cannot do so if they are too wired to themselves.

Those who are privileged to be chauffeur driven everywhere really have not much grounds to comment on traffic jams, or the debate on Uber and GrabCar.

Likewise, to legitimately comment on national unity, perhaps one needs to first host a good old traditional Malaysian open house – and experience some heart-to-heart exchanges with neighbours, guests and friends of all colours and creeds.

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