Patriot, or not?


When I was much younger and too innocent to know that a hard-on didn’t necessarily mean I needed to pee (circa 1970, when I was 8), we went to school and were taught everything in English. Yes, this included a very confused but much younger Bangkai (i.e. me); Thiru, the ebullient son of the kacang putih man; Chee Keong, the affable hardware merchant’s son; Rashid the obnoxious offspring of a diplomat; Jamilah, the Standard Two heart-throb; and even Rozario, the son of a prominent Eurasian lawyer. In short, everybody was taught everything in English. Of course, at the time, English was not yet a bad word.

As a result, everybody spoke English. So, what’s the problem?

As I recall, an up-and-coming political star at the time, a former-UM student leader, no less – who looked curiously to me (even then) like the Devil himself with his goatee and thick eyebrows – went about creating a big fuss about using the national language as the yard-stick of our patriotism. Or some such rot. As a result, English got to be relegated pretty quickly to the backwaters of academia. Schools soon began teaching everything in the national language.

And so it began.

The good news (depending on your point of view) is that people who were born in 1962 (that’s people like me), or earlier, would still be taught everything in English. Now, if using the national language is the measure of a person’s patriotism, does that make me and my contemporaries any less of a patriot? I should think not!

Ok, I don’t walk around wearing a tanjak, a pair of capals and a keris tucked into my samping. But this has hardly anything to do with me being taught in English when I was at school. My blood would still spill as red as Chee Kiong’s or Thiru’s if we were ever to be called upon to defend our country’s sovereignty – even if we do speak English a bit more fluently than we do the national language.

Then, in the late 80s, came the hue and cry about our graduates being less than proficient in the English language. Hey, we reap what we sow, don’t we? Why the surprise? And why lament the poor English of only our graduates? Was everybody else’s English at the time really that good? I don’t think so!

And how did this come to be? Slowly at first; but then it sort of snow-balled. Consider the following scenario. Does it sound familiar?

Whenever we hear people (Malaysians) speaking English, out came the self-righteous and indignant “Gunakanlah bahasa kebangsaan!”, the more colloquial “Hey, cakap Melayulah!”, or the downright malicious “Kau ingat kau Mat Salleh ke?”

The sad fact remains, most of the time, these retorts are not really motivated by a love for the national language at all. They really stem – and let us be frank about this – from an insidiously warped self-defence mechanism. We simply suck at English and we feel intimidated by those who don’t. Our coping-strategy? Relegate the sods who speak English to the position of pariahs. Simple, right?

Simple, yes! But is it constructive? Come on, we all know the answer to this.

This is why I don’t pretty much care whether or not science and mathematics will now be taught in Bahasa Malaysia (or is it Bahasa Melayu? I’ve lost track). How can I be so apathetic you ask? Simple: it doesn’t matter. If the standard of English is our concern, then teaching science and mathematics in English is not going to solve the problem. Doing this will have very little impact on our mastery of the language.

The key to this will be our attitude. For as long as we treat those who speak English (or try to speak it) as mavericks – or worse as pariahs – we will stay where we are. Instead of putting down the sods who speak English proficiently, can’t we consider trying to improve our own mastery of the English language? Cutting the other guy down isn’t going to make us any taller.

The real non-patriot is not the ones who prefer English to the national language. Instead, the true non-patriot is the person who is not willing to improve himself – the coward who hides behind the tired excuse of “memartabatkan bahasa kebangsaan” so that he can keep his self-esteem intact. These are the people who should be shot.

Mastery of the English language does not start in our schools; it starts in our hearts.

16 thoughts on “Patriot, or not?

  1. Mat-san,

    Is it really that bad?That those who prefer English to Malay in their daily conversations are ostracised by society at large and called “pariahs’?Frankly, Mat-san, I don`t give a damn.The first laguage at home is English, Dad/Mum(that`s me & the better half)and the kids use it as their lingua franca for conversations and written communications amonst us, and we even dream in English.Does that make us less patriotic?Have we lost our sense of “Melayu”-ness?As I say, I don`t really care.If I have managed to turn out better off, economically, than my parents, and if my kids turn out to be better off than me& my better half eventually, wouldn`t that be improving the Malay lot successively, progerssively, generation by generation? Isn`t that being patriotic?

    Mat-san,language chivalry is of absolutely no use if the race to whom that language belongs to is languishing uselessly at the bottom end of the pecking order.With no malice intended at all, ever heard of the Penan mother tongue?Betcha the Penans are mighty proud of it.But, how has that been useful in improving their lot?

    Very sorry again for having to use that example.

    And a bit of digression here..”Innalillah” on the very sad and premature demise of the late Yasmin Ahmad.May Allah forgive her sins and place her amongst the forgiven and selected ones.Ameen!


    I am with you all the way, sir.

    Being proud of our language doesn’t mean we have to forsake English. I mean, I like nasi lemak – probably more so than the next guy. But I just happen to like Yorkshire pudding and roast beef just that bit better. Does this mean I’ve sold-out my Malay-ness? I should think not: my bum is as brown as the next Malay guy’s.

    It also amuses me to no end that those who practice linguistic chauvinism – that brand of national language thuggery – are, for the most part, people who are not so proficient in English.

    Just because we took down the Union Jack at Dataran Merdeka all those years ago doesn’t mean we have to wipe-out all the legacies left by the British. Come on, how can the British have a monopoly on all that is bad? When will we be secure enough to understand that we are no less Merdeka simply by being proficient in English?

    This is sad.

  2. Mat

    You are sounding a sopo blog this time. But I agree with you. Often, those who want others to converse in BM are deficient in English.

    Soon science and maths would no longer be in English. Resulting in less aptitude in understanding, communicating and applying knowledge in the latest developments in science and technology. Such developments are mostly disseminated in English.

    We’ll hitch rides on others’ rockets to outer space forever. Or fiddle when the French or somebody delivers our 1st nuclear reactor in 2025.

    Or gawk when the Israeli-backed Singapore military launches computer-controlled aerial vehicles with sophisticated cameras watching which toilets our leaders frequent. Or throw handgrenades across the Causeway when they bombard us with precision bombs, guided missiles and the like. Nice.

    I can’t even drown my sorrows in Kuantan beach night spot. If the Malay girl model gets 5 strokes, I’d probably get quadruple that. Or maybe just one stroke that ends it all. Or literally drown myself in the sea.

    Poltiticians politicise almost anything. Principles are not high on their priorities.
    1-2 may even sell their mothers. Or their arses. (Is the goateed fellow the doer or the being done?).

    Btw, you do have a good memory at 8, my friend. Maybe you had your first sexual encounter at .. never mind.

    Dry Humour,

    No sir, not at 8; that came much later – when I was 10 🙂

    Anyway, I concur. When we do get our first nuclear reactor, I wonder if the instruction manual will come in Bahasa Malaysia. And if our scientists somehow make the breakthrough in the Unified Theory of Everything – unifying quantum physics with the theory relativity – would their breakthrough written in Bahasa Malaysia?

    I’ve been made to understand the the teaching of math and science has reverted to Bahasa so that the rural folk (read: mostly Malays) will not drop-out of school and eventually make it to universities. Fine. But what happens to them when they do graduate? We can’t all be Sylvester Stallone and make it big relying on a strong command of only 12 English words.

    And you’ve raised an interesting point, too. I’ve always wondered if the goateed fellow is the doer or the being done.

    No-lah. Where got so-po. I’ve used words like ‘hard-on’ and ‘pee’. And just to be safe, I’ve also sprinkled lots of naughty innuendos. Hmmm, come to think of it, this does sound a lot like so-po, doesn’t it?

    OK, I promise to behave next time.

    *I’ve been a bad boy. I’ve been a bad boy. I’ve been a bad boy*

  3. i wish this post is read by everyone. it should be on the frontpage of every major newspaper. uncle bangkai… put it up on… or allow me to put it up there.


    You are free to put it up at if you wish.

    Glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Dear Mr MB,
    Dont really matters. When all of us kick the bucket, there is only one language that we need to know when we stand before our Creator…..


    You are so right. It doesn’t really matter what happens now. But what happens when we meet out Creator is what counts, right?

    Thanks for reminding me, my friend.

  5. Matt, I’m sure your buddies Chee Keong, Thiru, Rozario shared your same sentiment too. Boy u r threading on a thin line here, but however we r all mature adults here so no worries lah. Yeah those good old days, my Bahasa Malaysia was bolih tahan what; can still elicit the extra goreng pisang or keledek from the makcik vendor.

    Fully agree with u that the politicians should have just let that education system alone back then. We were able to hold our head up high against the other first world nations students too. What a shame nowadays!

    Wah Matt, u so terror one, 10y.o oreadi so well verse in that area. At that age, I really despise girls; don’t know why, until I rediscover them at 15 years of age, that’s when I went so silly goo goo ga ga at them.

    Hey Matt/DH, Is that such a different between a doer or being done? I tot they are all double adaptors? Please excuse my ignorance on this matter; I’m a straight guy after all.

    P/S – What have light and hard got in common?
    You can’t get to sleep with the light ON too!….muahaha.


    Double adaptors? ROTFLOL

    That answers a lot of questions.

    Yeah, I had an inkling of what girls are for when I was 10 – I read a lot, you see 😉

    The trouble was, no female looks at you seriously when you are 10. Hmmm… in fact no female looks at me seriously – even now!

  6. This language hullaballoo really pisses me off. The powers-that-be should have left the issue well alone from the very beginning. What the effing hell is wrong with the ‘old’ Sekolah Inggeris system anyway? We are all products of that system and I can say with much pride that we are a-okay, English-wise.

    At the risk of incurring the wrath of the so-called ‘nasionalis bangsa’, this is what happens when the education policy gets politicised. Gee, wouldn’t I want to wring the neck of you-know-who (your description of the personage is “devilicious”..hehehe).

    Like higashi-san, the lingua franca of my household is English. Takder pulak anak2 saya jadi Mat Salleh… In fact, lebih kuat their semangat kebangsaan, especially in the aftermath of the recent PRU…

    Puteri Kamaliah

    Exactly, ma’am! What was wrong with “Sekolah Kebangsaan (Inggeris) Jalan XYZ” anyway?

    We did alright, didn’t we?

  7. Mamak,so sorry on today’s missing ‘sooru’ with you at Kak Ros.Perhaps later.
    On subject matter,I rest my case.
    Your written submision and explaination should be in the chamber of our YAA.

    pak tuo

    Apa itu ‘YAA’?

  8. Tommy

    Can’t answer whether there’s a difference between the doer and the being done. It may be self-incriminating, man!

    Or you were trying to catch me there? You smart Alec!

    There used to be either doers or being dones only during my boarding school days. Not the I do you do type. They must have degenerated since then.

    Better ask Elton John or Alan Degenerate .. oops .. Degeneres. Stay away from them in your overseas travels, Tommy. The HIV scourge is not over yet.

    Are we still on matters in the hand kinda thing, Matt? Nothing like a couple over a cuppa of morning coffee. Though it’s always that way inclined.

    I thought it was only one track. Now Tommy says there are two tracks. Must be the influence of Amtrack.


    Dry Humour

    These day, I’m a bit too decrepit to take matters in my own hands. I get others to do it for me, though.

    Ahhh! The joys of delegation…

  9. Dear Mr MB,
    i pray that you’ll keep on blogging cos English is at is best when you presented and expressed it thru your chronicle.

    Thank you, my friend…..


    Aww… you just made me blush.

  10. Hahaha DH, don’t know what’s wrong with u guys anymore. Must good nature banters had to have a double meaning or a hidden agenda? Residential college must have taught u guys well on how to read between the lines kah? Yes, u guys sure have one helluva of a suspicious mind, must be the local political influence too. That why I was always in a Co-Ed system. U scratch my back, I scratch your back 🙂

    Hey “A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the Bush”. Try working that out!

    What a shame, Ellen’s partner Portia de Rossi is one heck of a woman. Remember Freddie Mercury? I think Peter Frampton is a closet fella too; ever hear his song “I want u to show me the way?” I saw Mick Jagger & Charlie Watts at the recent 2nd Ashes Test at Lords, do u think they are an item too?

    Thanks for your advice anyway, that’s why I’m always a law abiding straight forward person. Takut nanti kena send to prison & get DONE IN.


    P/S – Hey Matt, I think English is a very difficult language to learn e.g. why Running Nose & Smelling Feet?? Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Blurr lah I ni, so it’s best the kids stick to BM, no?


    What I always say is, “A hand in the bush is worth two in a bird… ”

    Anyway, on English: Whats with ‘fat hope’ and a ‘slim chance’ meaning the same thing?

    BM isn’t much better either. The equivalent of slap and kick are spelt exactly the same way: S-E-P-A-K

  11. Mat-san,

    “..I just happen to like Yorkshire pudding and roast beef just that bit better…”.

    The same here.A couple of years back,just after Boxing Day, was walking around the streets of Cambridge town with the family looking for a nice place to have dinner.This lovely aroma of roast beef was wisping through the door of a wonderful looking pub/tavern which was pretty full at that time(around 6:30 in the evening..winter time, so getting pretty dark outside).That 15-year old son of mine would be a problem getting in,surely.Thank God,the nice young and very pretty waitress guided us to a tiny plot of garden at the rear, with about 3-tables and those hanging quaint “heaters” dropping from the tree branches above the tables.We sat down to one of the most wonderful roast beef dinners we`ve all ever had in our lives.Plus, heavenly Yorkshire pudding to boot(but of course!).And of course the inevitable “something” to warm our chilly bodies.

    Hmm, how wonderful the memory.Must do it again, soon!



    The way you wrote about the tavern, I can almost smell the roast beef – and that ‘something’ to warm our chilly bodies.

  12. I was born way way back before merdeka and had my education in negeri mat salleh. But I am a Malaysian, a Malayan, a Melayu to the core. I put th blames on DBP for bastardising English terms to make a rojak Melayu ; the people associated with it are memertabising bahasa Melayu!


    I salute you, sir! It was people from your generation who laid the foundations for this country, did it by speaking English, and never once had to apologise for your choice of language.

    Well done, sir!

  13. matb,

    speaking as someone who works with the thing…

    language is a tool. the more it’s maintained, the better it is. the more we use it, the more deft we are with it.

    naturally as tools go, the more one has, the more varied the applications one can handle.

    which is why i’m no end thankful for the few i have around my belt, including one called BM for which i’ve gone to even greater lengths to keep in spiffing order, living and working as i do among the “untutored” lots who don’t speak it.

    like everyone here, maintaining BM has nothing to do with being patriotic with me. it’s simply that it’d be a crying shame to let a useful tool i already own go rusty.

    even so, to me, none can compare to the tool called english. if i were to extend this tool allegory, i’d say that in today’s world, english is like that bleeping blade of whatshisface… rambo.

    or at the very least, like a trusty swiss-knife.

    when one encounters an especially tricky communication can [or cannot, if you’re into punning], english usually can at least prise the lid or cut a hole or something… it’s that versatile.


    Hear! Hear!

    As you may well know my BM is a little used tool, much like my… er… my 2-inch pen-knife. But heck! I’m proud of them both! 🙂

  14. As you may well know my BM is a little used tool, much like my… er… my 2-inch pen-knife. But heck! I’m proud of them both!

    bully for you! 😀

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