Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Don't Miss High School: History Edition

In secondary school, we have two levels - Form 1 to Form 3, after which we take the PMR, and then Form 4 and 5, after which we take the SPM. I'll rant about the ridiculous examination thing in another edition.

In Form 4 History, we learnt about international stuff, European history, the French Revolution, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, and a couple other things to do with America.

In Form 5 History, we learnt about Malaya's tussles with the British colonials, Raja Brooke in Sarawak (OK, all things considered, he was okay), being invaded by the Japanese in WW II, the following war on Communists, and our Independence (plus the New Economic Plan which has since crashed and burned all around our ears).

A common complaint from my peers during Form 5 was: "History is SO BORING. I wish we were doing more world history like last year. That was FUN."

I've mentioned before that my grandfather was involved in WWII. He was a policeman during the war. After that he became a journalist. I found a logbook of his when I was 9, and I leafed through it, taking in his small handwriting and imagining what kind of circumstances he was in when writing those log entries - in the dim light, or during a hot day, at the back of a bus, or crouched against a wall. In a sense, I tried to picture my grandfather during the grim years when he had to fight against an enemy he didn't even know personally (and the Japanese treated the Chinese horribly during those years) and whom, under different conditions, he probably would've gotten along with just fine.

Life for my family, what little I know of it, at least, wasn't very connected to the history we learnt in our textbooks, about villages being created so people would be safe from communists and whatnot. I watched documentaries which had footage of Japanese soldiers cycling in from Thailand to invade Malaya (yes, they said to the Thai King, can we pass through? And he took the neutral ground and said sure, as long as I'm not the one being invaded. So they took the British quite by surprise because they did not attack from air nor from the sea, but by cycling in, rifles on their backs and all) and I wondered just how much collateral damage they caused, and how my family was affected. (And yes, despite the horrible things they did to the Malayan-Chinese at the time, and even taking into account the Rape of Nanking, I do actually find the idea of invading a country by bicycle to be tremendously awesome.)

Back then, I did my best to identify as Malaysian, even though I didn't feel like I fit in at all. I was too liberal. I was too loud (for a girl). I sucked up enough to the teachers that they gave me responsibility; I didn't suck up enough to the teachers than I received my popularity or protection from bullies. I thought too much. I said too much. I was too proud (eksy, is our term, like "show off"). Growing up, I was reading Julius Caesar and Edgar Allen Poe. The closest thing I got to Malaysian literature was Konserto Terakhir by Abdullah Hussain which was required reading for Malay Lit (and I'm convinced that it was the literature component of the subject that saved my ass from failing that subject altogether). And of course those stupid short stories which somehow didn't really have any point except to express a homily.

Yet hearing my peers say, "Malaysian history is so boring!" made me really uncomfortable in ways that I still can't begin to parse, especially considering that they were the ones who spoke with a heavy accent, passed Malay with consistent As or Bs (I managed a C), and well, looked, acted, and sounded more "Malaysian" than I did.

Now, it bugs me even more than I think about it, because "world history" as we learnt it focused more or less specifically on Europe.

Imperialism certainly did us a good number there, where those of us born and bred on Malaysian soil would say, "Malaysian history is so boring! I wish we did more world history" and not realize that the "world history" we were learning was Eurocentric, and thus, not exactly "world" history at all.

I, for one, think Malaysian history was bloody neat.

4 comments:

  1. But you're not getting it, Jha.

    Malaysian history isn't thought in school.

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  2. OK, Malayan history, does that sound better? I'm pretty sure we covered MacMichael in school though. You sure you guys didn't the "Jahanam MacMichael" pics in your textbooks?

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  3. No, it's not Malayan history, either.

    The point is is that it's not history they were teaching us.

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  4. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, all history classes are really propaganda. But then, that's the way it is all over the world.

    Next you'll be telling me it's someone other than a Malaysian who can speak from a Malaysian perspective.

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