Wednesday, July 15, 2015

From the (almost) inside.

So it’s been a number of days since the incident at Low Yat Plaza, where a ridiculously small issue of a stolen cell phone escalated into racial riots involving hundreds of people (and thousands online). But a little like how squabbles in relationships are signs of deeper underlying problems, the resulting violence in KL is not just a matter of ‘revenge’ over the supposed injustice of being conned, but a reflection of the existing misunderstandings so many hold.

As a quick summary for those who don’t quite know (based largely off Facebook and a combination of newspapers), on Saturday, a guy was caught stealing a handphone by Oppo shopkeepers. His friends returned that evening and thrashed the store, causing a lot of damage. A video was recorded showing a Malay guy being beaten up by some Chinese shopkeepers, was posted online, and soon spread like wildfire. In reality, people of any race from the store would’ve helped, but as the Malay staff had left to break fast (it’s fasting month), the attack seemed racial.

The next day, it was business as usual till about 8pm. I was at Low Yat Plaza with my mom getting my phone screen fixed for the umpteenth time (only RM130!) when a large group of people arrived to show ‘support’ (violently) for their Malay brother who they felt had been treated unjustly.

It was terrifying.

I had passed my handphone to the man at one of the stores and was walking around with my mom on the Ground Floor, when I decided to take a look at some cameras on the First Floor. We walked past a stationery store and I decided to grab some pens whilst my mom went to the toilet. I had finished paying but had to wait for my mom in the store as I didn’t have my phone with me. Thank God I didn’t wander around because minutes after, I heard a loud scream and chaos ensued.

It all happened so quickly. All the shopkeepers were frantically shelving their goods and pulling down the shutters, and many were running, running frantically into the stores. I had never seen people move so quickly and there I was stock still in the stationery store, separate from my mom and wondering what on earth was happening. The man behind the till in the shop I was in rushed to his manager and they collectively started pulling down the shutters. I thought it was a terrorist attack.

They quickly explained what they knew about the situation, peppered with lots of “Didn’t you read Facebook ah yesterday!!” and when I understood the gravity of the situation, I realized I needed to call my mom. The toilets were near the escalator where I heard the scream from and I was so worried she would get caught up in it. I borrowed the shop’s phone and kept calling, but she kept hanging up because it was an unfamiliar number. I was starting to get less calm, but after the 5th ring, she finally picked up! Turns out she was trying to call my cellphone at the time. I told her to stay in the toilet and because I had a better view of the situation from my position, I told her I would call her when it was safe to come out.

Suddenly, there was a rush of people up the escalator, all in black and the shopkeeper quickly took out a padlock to lock the shutters. The stampede was some of the shopkeepers from the Ground floor who had run up the escalator to hide with their friends on the floor I was on. I knew that if I was locked in with the shop, it would be very difficult to find my mom after so whilst it looked relatively clear, I decided to head to the toilets. I gave my mom another call, told her I would meet her there, and snuck out under the half open shutters to find my mom.

Somehow, I got lost and ended up in a corner near the staircase, and as I tried to double back, I bumped into my mom. It was such a blessing that we managed to accidentally find each other because she had left the toilet trying to find the stationery store, so even if I had found the toilet, she might’ve already been somewhere else. At that point, there were groups of people from the Ground Floor still running up the escalators in large groups, and some of them had knocked into my mom just a while ago. We later found out that the entrance on the Ground Floor was blocked off by the rioters and for many, the only safe way was up.

We stood there in the open for a bit, trying to figure out where to go when a Malay man yelled to us “Keluar kat sini!” (Go out from here!), pointing to a staircase behind some shops. My mom and I quickly headed in that direction and as we were entering the stairwell, we saw the shopkeeper who had my phone! “Shop closed, shop closed, come back tomorrow!!” he shouted at us, and we all escaped the building from the side exits.

We were truly blessed that day to have avoided a potentially horrendous situation. Reports published later showed that the rioters became very violent, causing a lot of injuries and the situation only settled down after 4am. We had parked our car at Pavillion (about 15 minutes away) and had an uneventful walk back there, walking past crowds of jovial people who had no idea that just a few metres away, something like this was happening.

It was so shocking we didn’t know what we could do. So all we did was be thankful.

The next day, word got around about the incident and a call to the stationery shop revealed that many shopkeepers were absent from work.

Meanwhile, social media was abuzz. Everyone seemed to be weighing in on the Low Yat drama. My Facebook timeline was largely condemnatory over the actions of the rioters with some lined with hope, most lined with fatality - “Malaysia is screwed” - and it’s so heartbreaking that a nation famed for its multi-racial harmony, has made headline news over its discord.

Opinion articles condemn keyboard warriors who sit behind their screens and do nothing but name call and bully. But actually being there, although just briefly, and seeing for myself how some people react horribly in real life, I can’t help but wish that all the drama would stay on screen. Stay a keyboard warrior and CAPS LOCK to your heart’s content. Or better yet, what happened to if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all? The people who eventually met up and went to riot would’ve probably started off at home, reading about the incident and watching videos on their phone. A little push of ‘we shouldn’t just sit and complain about it’, eventually led to this.

So take responsibility. Be responsible when you post and when you write and when you act. When you challenge people to take action, ask yourself if it’s really something you want them to do. When you write, think of the people who would read your words and how they would feel. Plenty of us cut ruthlessly at others online, but when we offend, ask them to unfollow, to leave, to stop reading. But the fact of the matter is, information is thrown at us. You have a right to say what you want (freedom of speech and all), but accept that creating this content gives you power in how you can influence others.

When I try to understand the perspective of the people who came to riot, the opportunists who came to ignite racial tension, I keep coming back to the idea that this animosity stems from somewhere. I wish I could just point my finger at news portals alone and scream ‘There! Look what you’ve done!”, for all of their deliberately provocative headlines and biased reporting, behind the intent of ‘voicing the other side’ but it isn’t just them. It’s all of us, in the way we live our lives, in the way we teach, and the way we are taught.

We’re educated to know that being vocally racist is unacceptable. But so many of us hold racial prejudices or bias. We’ve met enough people to know that stereotypes are often just stereotypes, and can be found untrue, but yet that’s where our mental starting point begins. What can you expect though, when private college students are forced to attend Malaysian Studies, where they put up a slideshow telling you that Chinese people are unscrupulous (and hardworking), whilst Malays are loving (and therefore, lazy). What can you expect when BTN is seen as a good idea?

What can you expect?

I think we can expect more.

I think we can expect more from ourselves and from each other. We can hold each other to higher standards of behaviour. We should expect ourselves to know better.

We can expect ourselves to want to be better, to improve, to change the way we see things.

We can stop ourselves when we get angry when we read something online. We can tell ourselves there are better ways to resolve conflict when we talk to people who don’t share the same viewpoint. We can start reading and opening our minds (someone once told me I should read stuff written by people I disagree with – great advice!), we can start being more understanding, we can start being more.

I know it’s easy to say, and difficult to do, but if we start with ourselves, with the way we speak to our friends, to the conversations we engage in, to the news we share, by just thinking of the people on the receiving end, maybe that will make a better world.

If not a better Malaysia, at least a better we.

(On a side note, people stopped caring about 1MDB fairly quickly Smile with tongue out)

Edit: INTERESTING STUFF TO CALMLY AGREE/DISAGREE WITH:
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/boo-su-lyn/article/low-yat-was-about-racism-deal-with-it

http://m.malaysiakini.com/letters/304945

http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/malaysias-pm-najib-says-will-use-sedition-act-against-low-yat-trouble-makers (Playing with fire here, supporters..)

http://malaysiandigest.com/frontpage/282-main-tile/561498-after-the-low-yat-plaza-rift-when-will-malaysians-stop-racial-profiling-one-another.html

http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v8/sp/newssports.php?id=1152646

2 comments:

  1. Very well written, Tiffany. Glad to know that you and your mum are safe and sound, and thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts! <3

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Zhengs. Thanks for taking the time to hear them!

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