That morning began in the dark - the only illumination coming from the soft glow of pixelated screens scattered around me. I awoke from a state of half-dream, half-wakeful to a dry and chapped upper lip, a couple of wailing babies and the deafening hum of the Airbus A380. Two hours to landing, I was given the choice of either 'Omelette with Chicken Sausage' or 'Malaysian Chicken with Soft Noodles'. I chose the omelette.
I poked the soggy mess under the foil cover with a flimsy plastic fork and realised that I was just too excited about coming home, having spent the last 12 months in England, to even attempt to eat what laid on the tray before me - who could eat airplane food anyway?
The plane landed and I walked head first into the warm humid air of the Malaysian tropics that caked the exterior of the aircraft. It greeted me as if to say, 'Welcome home. I've missed you.'
Such luxury! What gall to elect myself three uninterrupted weeks of the comforts of home - comforts that were once taken for granted or weren't comforts at all but were turned into comforts by their glaring rarity in my life abroad.
The midmorning stillness disrupted by the mechanical call for, 'Old newspaper! Paper Lama! Sao gao bow ji!' now plucked at the emotional strings of nostalgia. And as I heard the old dilapidated lorry honk and drive through my neighbourhood offering five Malaysian Ringgit for a stack of old newspapers, I was quickly reminded that this was what made me miss home. The organised, yet chaotic but always impossible Kuala Lumpur traffic jams, the spectacular thunderstorms of the Southwest monsoon that require electrical appliances to be unplugged or risk wreckage, these all became beautiful in my quiet contemplation.
I mean, how many cultures make compulsory the need to refer to complete strangers as members of our own family? - 'Uncle', 'Auntie', 'Kak', 'Anneh'. How many nations can rejoice and indeed unite in the name of food like we do? Not everyone can revel in a culture so rich and vibrant that it spills so impressively into our diets to create flavours that nourish our souls before our bodies.
Living abroad does that to you. It makes you see your home country as she is, not as you would. It makes stronger your love for her because she is home after all, and home belongs to you.
And so as Malaysia celebrates her 56th year of independence and 50th birthday, I, like many, will blow out the proverbial candles with a fire from within my heart that burns all the brighter, the fiercer and the more surely. I, like many, will wish to see less exploitation of powers and less use of religion as a tool to marginalise minorities for social and political gain. Malaysia deserves so much more than seeing her resources being splurged on petty violations - the Muslim lady and her dogs, the Buddhist monks in the Johor surau, Alvivi and the 'Allah' debacle. The attention paid and resources expended on these activities could and should be redirected at more prevalent and pressing issues - issues like corruption in governance, institutionalised racism, dwindling education standards and escalating crime and violence, all very real problems that are crippling our nation.
We need greater accountability from the leaders we elect and a greater sense of responsibility from the officers we put our trust in. We need to realise that Malaysia has been riddled for decades with the conundrum of possessing first world infrastructure but a third world mentality, a mentality we all need to liberate ourselves from because even though our dear country is rich, her riches are not eternal.
Malaysia deserves this much.
So, happy birthday, Malaysia! We celebrate this special time with the confidence that the real Malaysian dilemma that is now upon us is but the passing of hate, greed and intolerance. You will prevail, and we'll be with you until you do.