PETALING JAYA: For Malaysians abroad, Merdeka Day often reminds them of the good old times when they enjoyed a day off school or work and lazed at home, watching the parade on television and later enjoying a homemade meal together.
Many too participated in the Merdeka Day parade, honoured to be chosen to represent their school or company on a historically symbolic day for the nation.
However, being abroad means they cannot partake physically in either the parade or hold gatherings like they used to. For these Malaysians, because Merdeka is still meaningful for them, they find other ways to mark this special occasion.
Malaysian Gulshen Kaur said Merdeka Day usually makes her long for the country she still calls home. “Whenever Aug 31 comes around, I find myself missing Malaysia more than usual.” Gulshen, 40, has been living in Redondo Beach, California for the past 20 years.
Originally from Klang, Gulshen makes it a point to celebrate Merdeka every year. And if it falls on a weekend, the celebration is usually more elaborate.
“My family and I either go to a Malaysian restaurant or we cook Malaysian dishes at home and invite people over,” she said, adding that there is nothing like food to invoke the Malaysian spirit and culture.
Being away from Malaysia for so long, Gulshen is aware that the country has changed in more ways than one. However, Merdeka Day always reminds her of the times when friends of different races and cultures back home would do something special to celebrate being Malaysian together.
“It is the one holiday that unites us all. That’s what I hold special about Merdeka, it reminds us that we are all Malaysians at the end of the day,” she said.
For Malaysian Anisha Mathan, 35, singing patriotic songs that she finds on YouTube is one way of celebrating Merdeka, now that she lives in the UK. She moved to Grimsby in July last year with her two daughters so they could be together with her husband, who works as a doctor there.
“In Malaysia, my oldest daughter, who is four, learnt how to sing ‘Saya Anak Malaysia’ in kindergarten,” said Anisha, referring to the unofficial patriotic anthem, written by Salim Ibrahim and M Nasir.
“When I sang it with her on Merdeka Day last year here in Grimsby, she remembered that it was a song about Malaysia.”
Anisha also sang the evergreen song, “Tanggal 31 Ogos”, by the late Sudirman Arshad with her children last year and this year, the family will mark Merdeka Day in much the same way.
She said that being away from Malaysia made her feel more patriotic. “I want to speak Malay all the time now,” she said.
Anisha also plans to cook a typical Malaysian dinner for her family this Merdeka. The menu will include nasi lemak and ayam percik for the adults and mee hoon goreng for the kids.
To Anisha, Merdeka Day is all about establishing one’s identity and nationality. “On Merdeka, you are remembering the day when Malaysians were able to claim their identity. This is the day to celebrate yourself as a Malaysian,” she said.
Student Isaac Sharvin David, who is in Perth, Australia, said what he missed the most were all the various Merdeka Day festivities in Malaysia.
“I feel it’s a true national occasion at home, with colours and excitement. It’s a day where all Malaysians come together, with joy and pride,” said David, who has been away for five years and is currently pursuing his master’s at the University of Western Australia.
Every year, Malaysian students in Perth head to the Consulate to celebrate Merdeka Day. They are served a full Malaysian spread that includes nasi lemak, satay and kuih-muih at the Malaysia Hall, said David.
For David, Merdeka marks the strength of unity. “It reminds us as Malaysians that anything is achievable if we are united as a nation,” he said.