Halcyon Days: Pining for the Past

25 July 2019 / Adib Azlan, Team Ceritalah

“Once, we left our house for a week to attend our grandmother’s funeral in Ipoh, leaving the doors wide open. Nothing was missing or out of place when we returned! That’s how much people trusted each other.”

Things were a lot simpler back then. But as siblings Ah Ling and Wong are well aware, ‘then’ is now five decades ago.

Team Ceritalah caught Ah Ling – a 58-year old retired hairdresser – as she finished trimming the 62-year old Wong’s hair. She used to own a shop in the town centre, but in her own words, “got tired.” These days, a makeshift set-up in the living room for family and friends will suffice.

Ah Ling has lived in this diminutive Rawang unit for over 20 years, with Wong having moved in recently after he was widowed. He used to drive a school van, but likewise has had enough of the working life. Once in a while his son – a technician – will drop by to say hello (and nab a free haircut).

Ah Ling’s 3 children – all girls dealing in hospitality – have long since emigrated to Singapore.

“Once, my children said they never wanted to leave. But ever since they moved, they don’t want to come back.”

She says that with a tinge of sadness, but also understanding. Most things are better there she claims; from transportation to safety. We ask her whether there are safety concerns in the surrounding area. She shakes her head. “No, not here. But if you look on Facebook, there’s so much crime these days.”

Wong shares his sister’s rueful attitude towards the present. He wishes he could go back to the 1960s.

 

“In those days it didn’t matter what your race was. We would sit together, stay out late, and eat the same food. It was also so much safer.”

But what exactly has changed?

For one, “now our area is full of pendatang (foreigners),” Ah Ling says. “Even if you go as far as Petaling Street, it’s all pendatang. What happened to all our people? Would you feel safe?”

Wong notes that many of their friends have either passed on or moved out of the area. He also claims that many of the new neighbours keep to themselves, and that there has been a spike in racially-motivated confrontations. Coupled with the fact that they usually only have themselves for company, it’s understandable that they might feel like strangers in their own backyard.

In that sense, the pining for days gone by is as much a coping mechanism as it is a reflection of contempt for the modern day. But unlike in the West, where baby boomers have lashed out in a final attempt to return things to the way they used to be, Ah Ling and Wong seem resigned to never reliving those halcyon moments.

“Us old people, we can’t do anything but offer guidance,” Wong says.

“It’s up to the young people. But are they capable enough? Nowadays all those young people, all they know is how to play with phones and internet!” Ah Ling exclaims.

When all is said and done however, Ah Ling and Wong couldn’t see themselves living anywhere else, even if they had the choice.

“Here [Malaysia] is alright la. Where else would we go? It’s the same wherever in the world you are. Everyone lives to work and works to live. It really doesn’t matter if your money is worth more.”