Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy 55th Birthday, Malaysia!

History lesson for the day:
On August 31, 1957, the Union Jack (British Flag) was lowered in Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) and the Malaysian flag was raised for the first time.

That was exactly 55 years ago. Today is Independence Day and boy, did we make it a good one!

Before the first glimmer of sunlight, my alarm went off and I forced myself out of bed. (It's going to be a real snap back to reality to wake up that early every day next week!!) Took a quick shower, ate a quick breakfast, and called a cab to head over to the train station. I figured with it being a holiday, they might be sparse, but he was here within 3 minutes and I was out the door! I headed to the train station to meet the Coopers to head into town for the parade.
Did I mention it was still dark when I got to the train station? Ugh. But that didn't stop the party from starting!
The only thing anyone told us about the parade was that it would be crowded. None of the other expatriates (non-Malaysians) we've talked to have ever ventured to it, so we were not really sure what to expect. I mistakenly commented to Jalah that I expected them to come decked out in their Malaysia wear so we would blend in, and they sure did! They had bought matching Malaysia soccer jerseys in Chinatown a few weeks ago, so of course had to wear them. Let me just go ahead and mention that this did NOT help us blend in!!

When we got to our stop, we got off the train and started following the swarms of people. As soon as we were out on the street we heard crazy amounts of air horns blowing, car horns honking, people yelling, and saw hundreds of flags waving. As we neared the parade route, it looked a little like mass chaos. People were everywhere, including all up and down the parade route! There were MULTIPLE times throughout the day where one of us made the comment, "This is the most confusing parade I've ever been to!"
The sights we saw upon arrival: Kids all over the parade route, flags, and Malaysians.

Apparently, the parade started out with a 45 minute presentation of famous people and inspirational speeches. Of which we could understand about 3 words. We stood there for about 30 minutes, then decided to go get a free flag, and two minutes later the parade started. Of course we had had a great, up close spot and by the time we got back we were forced to the back... Figures. Once the actual parade started moving, it was quite entertaining, although we could only see about half of it and got sore calves and strained necks from doing so! It was PACKED... and hot! :)

The parade format was similar to one in America, but the content was quite different. Started with a good old fashioned marching band... (**Note: Sorry for the poor pictures, they were mostly blind shots taken from 2 feet above my head!**)
Old fashioned because they were marching and playing music, new fashioned because they were wearing skirts and pants.
There was a (singular) float...

Not sure what the float was for or who was on it, but it was the only one!
 There was a (singular) giant helium balloon...
That is definitely not Snoopy!
There were LOTS and LOTS of flags...

There was the entire Malaysian Military. We seriously saw more than 15 different groups of soldiers march past us. Each wearing a different uniform. All carrying huge guns. It's a good thing there wasn't a war going on outside of Independence Square because I'm pretty sure EVERY soldier was in the parade!
Yes, there were groups of all women. All with huge guns.

Seriously. SWAT Team and everything!
 There were about 15 minutes of taxis. Of course, we were less than impressed because this is just an everyday sighting around town!
There were 2 fly-overs... 
Those might be the only 5 helicopters Malaysia owns? Jury's still out on that one.

And there were horses. Now, if you'll notice, these horses were not wearing blinders. I, myself, am not an equestrian, but I do have common sense enough to know that horses without blinders in confined spaces surrounded by thousands of people and loud noises is not the best idea ever. True to their horsely form they were quite skiddish, some of them were bucking, others were constantly turning around/walking sideways/walking backwards, and all were pooping. This concluded the parade.
Notice, no blinders.

However, the partying had only just begun. After the official parade ends, Malaysians like to create their own sort of parade. Everyone gathered in the street and starting walking towards Independence Square, so we followed. It took us longer than everyone else to get there, though, because of course we had to stop every 3 minutes to take pictures with random strangers. The Coopers WERE matching, so I guess I can see why people thought they were celebrities. :)

We walked around the square for a while soaking in all of the patriotism and culture. There was lots of chanting, lots of people, and even more pictures being taken of us. After our cheeks started hurting, we decided it was time to get some food. (It was only 10:00, but we had already been awake for 4 hours!! Haha. The tough life of teachers on summer vacation!)
People and flags EVERYWHERE! It was impossible not to feel Malaysian.
On the way back to the train station, we saw a man selling Merdeka (Independence) headbands, so of course we bought them. I mean, we weren't going to get any fewer stares without them, so might as well live it up, right?

Jalah: "I feel like Malaysia threw up on me!"
Tonight the skies are sure to be filled with fireworks (they have been about 3/4ths of the nights... and days.. that we've been here, so that's a very fair assumption!). In two weeks we get a day off school to celebrate Malaysia Day which commemorates Malaysia becoming a Federation or something. It's a day off. I'll take it.

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