Another year, another Merdeka.

The last time I had to wake up at the wee hours of the morning to go to a Merdeka Day parade, was probably more than five years ago, and for the sake of the high school marching band. Being a Penangite, and being away overseas to study, it was my first time attending the Merdeka Day parade at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur. Probably the mother of all Merdeka Day parades around Malaysia.

The theme for the 51st Merdeka Day celebration this year is Perpaduan Teras Kejayaan (Unity, The Pillar of Success). Despite the lacked of hype this year (being Malaysians, I bet you all should know why), the crowd still managed to file into the Square before the break of dawn, to get a good spot by the railing along the parade stretch.

Not long after, the MC announced the arrival of Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Deputy Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Tun Razak, both coming into the venue driving a Proton Persona and a Proton e-Savvy respectively.

Then, at precisely 8AM, came the Majesty himself, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin. And just as his polished shoes stepped on the red carpet laid out for him, the clock tower above chimed eerily. It was so amazingly coincidental that I was impressed, yet freaked out a little at the same time. It just brought out a kind of superiority or power. Shivers.

The ceremony proceeded with the general. I stood amongst the spectators and listened to our National Anthem played twice – and another two more at the end. I raised my hand as we recited the Rukun Negara, the words still fresh in my head, as if it were just yesterday our primary school teachers forcefed the words into our heads for Monday assemblies. I watched around me as the crowd was led to the seven Merdeka! cheers. That was probably the most patriotic I could ever get as a Malaysian after so long. Heh.

Then, the parade truly began.

Across the march past, in the field stood some 6,000 participants from high schools and primary schools all over Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. Some filling up the seats with flags and pom-poms in red, yellow, white and blue – the colour of the Malaysian flag. Some flocking the field with uniforms in the colours of Jalur Gemilang, some in multi-cultural costomes, all set for a formation performance along with the patriotic songs – save Lux Aeterna, from the movie Requiem For a Dream – blaring from the speakers around us.

It brought chills down my spine, watching them move in one accord. And when Eye of the World came on, I thought I felt my eyes well up when the chorus came on. That song always make my skin go pimply. And it was at that moment, that I thought I felt a tiny piece of peace sprouting in me. Cliche, I know. But right then, I thought everything would be alright again for this country.

One thing good about a Merdeka Day parade in the capital city, is that you get to see the real big guns come out and play. We got the Ministers at the grand stand, along with the King himself. We got contingents of all governmental bodies there: the Royal Malay Regiment orchestra, the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), the Malaysian Fire Brigade (BOMBA), the Kuala Lumpur City Council (DBKL), as well as the proud faces of the Malaysian Armed Forces, which formed the largest contingent that morning, with over 1,000 strong personnel tailed by ferocious battle tanks and invulnerable armoured vehicles.

There were the known leaders of Malaysia, rocking up the parade in 12 Lotus cars. And also the Proton Holdings Berhad, our own carmaking company, with 11 of their Proton models, dating back to the first Proton Saga in 1985 till the latest re-designed Proton Saga of 2008.

There were also contingents in smart uniforms and marches.

And also those in peculiar outfits. Meh.

But the highlight of the parade for me would be the marching bands. What I would give to be one of them again: dressed in the smartest uniform and flawless boots, marching past the grand stand in the most rigid manner you could muster, making sure your instrument is measured at 90 degree and you don’t run out with the others on the same line, marching along to the proud beat of the snares. Weeks and weeks of practice just to be godlike perfect for five seconds in front of the distinguished guests.

I perked up whenever I heard a marching band I recognised from back in the days. Victoria Institution, Ave Maria Convent, SMK Chung Hua… They did not fail to bring a smile on my face when I see their straightened backs and grandest salute, the immaculate tap of the snares and their purposeful and detached tumit marches, the majestic blare of the brass with the harmonious woodwinds and pipes.

I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Things may have been bleak this year for Malaysia, what with the recent changes and havoc with the politics, and price hikes in practically everything and anything. I would be telling a lie if I tell you our country is doing fine. I bet everyone present that morning knows how fucked up things are now. From the performers dancing along to the patriotic medleys in the finale, to the father bringing their children to yet another Merdeka Day parade, to the Ministers standing on the stage.

I am not saying we should just forget about celebrating Merdeka Day, because there is not an ounce of unity and independence left in us anymore. I am not saying let’s just pretend as if we are fine all along. I am saying remember what happened 51 years ago and since, who made this country possible, who made this country livable, who made this country visible. And not forget what we have been through to be united in a place we all call home, and how we are so close to breaking everything apart.

Happy Merdeka Day, my fellow Malaysians. Wherever you are. Near or far. We have come a long way.

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