(Used by permission)
by Llew–Ann Phang
Capt. Zainal Abidin Adam has his own collage of historical moments that he had a hand in, including May 13, 1969 in which he helped save a Chinese man from being beaten up by a group of Malay men.
IT was about 7pm on the first day of the May 13, 1969 riots. In the distance, clouds of thick smoke rose over Kuala Lumpur and shots punctuated the air.
Thirty–year–old Civil Defence Department volunteer, Private Zainal Abidin Adam, was walking with a group of young Malay friends in Taman Ibu Kota.
He had heard rumours of trouble in the city and volunteered to be on stand–by near his home. The group was patrolling in their neighbourhood’s vicinity when a middle–aged Chinese man appeared on his bicycle across the street.
“Some of my friends across the road stopped him and he fell,” Zainal, now 68, remembers in an interview at his home in Taman Ibu Kota.
“They were going to beat him up when I was alerted of what was happening and rushed there,” he says.
“I yelled at them, ‘Jangan diapa–apakan dia! Kita belum tahu apa yang sebenar berlaku di KL dan kalau polis datang esok, kita akan susah! (Don’t hurt him! We are not sure of what’s really happening in KL and if the police come around, we will be in trouble!)’. Mercifully, they let him go.
“With shivering hands, the Chinese man kissed my hands and thanked me for saving his life,” Zainal says, adding that he told the man to hurry off to avoid more trouble.
“He sped off on his bicycle towards Setapak which was then a jungle surrounding mining pools,” Zainal recollects.
Zainal’s family itself remained safe during the racial clashes. His parents were in Petaling Jaya while his wife was with her family in Jeram, Selangor for a holiday, and only returned to the city after the curfew was lifted.
Zainal, who remains a Civil Defence Department volunteer until today, helped the Royal Malay Army during the curfew from May 16 for about a month, and saw parts of the city in ruins.
“Buildings in Chow Kit and Hujung Pasir near Kampung Baru were destroyed by fires and we went by the lorry loads to provide people who held SOS! signs with transportation or food.
“The homeless Malays, Chinese and Indians stayed in Stadium Negara where the civil defence department operated a disaster centre and in the one–and–a–half–months of my service there, I saw them living together and helping one another in their time of need,” he said.
Zainal, now a grandfather of seven, appreciates and emphasises the importance of national unity.
“We’re lucky the National Unity and Integration Department played its role in structuring the community after the tragedy.
“This has to continue because we want to live together and the peace should be kept and preserved for future generations.”
Doing the right thing
by Loh Kian Ling
THE events of May 13 left a lasting memory for those who witnessed it. People like me who went through it hope that future generations will never have to face it again.
I was studying in Taylor’s College then and happily mixed
around with people of other races without a worry. For most college students
then, race was not something we thought about. Neither was politics.
On that fateful day, we had a Malay tenant in our rented flat
in Pudu. He was totally unaware of the chaos that was erupting all over the
city, and was preparing to go out for his dinner.
Luckily, we managed to stop him. Curfew was subsequently enforced but vigilante groups were out in the streets.
Although we were fearful of the consequences of harbouring a Malay in a predominantly Chinese area, we did what we thought was right. We sheltered our Malay tenant during the entire curfew period. And he left us only when curfew was lifted and peace restored.
Due to the passage of time, I have forgotten the name of our Malay tenant. I hope he is well and in good health.
I believe selfish politics played a big part in igniting the fires of May 13. I sincerely hope that today’s politicians think seriously about our children’s future before playing the race card to increase their popularity at the expense of racial harmony.
Malaysia is and always will be my home and also the home of my children and their children. Malaysia is going to be 50 years old and yet we still look at one another differently because of race. Why can’t we live as one? Why do we still need to identify ourselves by our race? Why can’t we just be Malaysians?
Loh Kian Ling, 56, has just retired from the corporate world after 33 years and is now operating his own management consultancy company.