IT was with much excitement that I bounded off my bed at 5am on Aug 31, 1983. I was in Form Two in boarding school, SM Sains Selangor, and I remembered that chilly morning well.
While the school was slowly waking up, I was practically running all the way to the bathrooms, towel over my shoulder, toothbrush in my mouth, nearly knocking over a sleepy-looking fifth former.
“Hey! Ko nak kena ni!”, he muttered loudly as he steadied himself, squinting his half-opened eyes in my direction.
I didn’t look back, not because I was in an adrenaline-filled rush, but because I didn’t want him to recognise me (You don’t want to annoy ANY senior in boarding school).
I showered quickly. The water seemed extra refreshing. There was magic in the air.
I hurried back to my dormitory, slowing down as I passed that senior’s dormitory, ready to hide in the corners if he reappeared. Luckily, he wasn’t in sight.
Back at my dorm, I proudly put on my newly-ironed uniform. All the badges were intact, including the name of my patrol. I reached out for my scarf.
Yes, I was a pengakap (scout).
That day was special because us scouts would be joining scouts from other schools to represent the Scouts Association of Malaysia in the annual Merdeka parade march-past!
We were kept very quiet as the bus rolled along the dark streets of Kuala Lumpur. Nobody said a word, but everyone had that thrilled look on his face. It was going to be the first time for all of us.
I sat in the bus thinking happily of the rehearsals the day before. Even though scouts are known more for skills in camping, making a fire or tying knots than marching, we did well. We were all in step and had perfectly straight lines, even though it was the first time we all marched together.
The Scoutmaster yelled “Kiri! Kiri! Kiri kanan kiri!” as we all displayed the well-known scout’s ability to follow instructions properly.
“Kiri kanan kiri!” Yes sir, Mr Scoutmaster sir! We can do it!
I was shaken from my thoughts as we reached Selangor Club Padang (it wasn’t yet called Dataran Merdeka then). Proceeding to the field, we greeted the morning sun in perfect lines.
The atmosphere was even more charged than during rehearsals. It seemed hotter. Maybe it was just excitement. But, there seemed to be a lot more people on the field. We stood firm in our straight lines, all ready.
I saw other uniformed people, including the police, fire brigade and army. I felt proud to be alongside these people who have contributed selflessly to the country. I remember thinking they have inspired me to become a better scout. “Maybe I should really learn the Bowline knot,” I thought, determined to master the king of knots.
My thoughts snapped back to reality when a brass band started to play and the parade kicked into gear. The first marching groups began to move.
We waited for our instructions. We tried our best to keep still, but we could hardly contain our excitement and had to patiently wait our turn.
Then suddenly, the Scoutmaster yelled “Kiri! Kiri! Kiri kanan kiri!” at the top of his voice and off the scouts went!
People cheered as we got onto the road heading towards the Sultan Abdul Samad building. There were kids with balloons, people clapping and waving. We felt like stars!
It was right there, amidst all the festivities, the grandeur, the fanfare, that I felt the immense pride of being part of such a great nation. There I was, marching for my country! My love for Malaysia never felt stronger.
My parents would be watching on television, I thought. I’ve got to put on a good show!
Then, suddenly, the marching lines began to get crooked. In the heat of the moment, with smiling faces cheering left and right, balloons everywhere, brass bands in front AND behind you, TV cameras, everybody was shell-shocked. Some of us were “Kiri” when it was supposed to be “Kanan”. Some began waving to the cameras, totally forgetting to keep their lines straight.
I began to panic. The VIP stage was coming up really close. The Scoutmaster was in front screaming marching orders, but nobody could hear.
Somebody shouted, “Eh, senget! Senget!” (crooked). We were out of shape.
I got upset. This was my big chance! My opportunity to shine! To show my love for the country! This is the Merdeka parade!
But, our lines were crooked! And we were Kiri-ing when it was supposed to be Kanan-ing. The VIP stage was 6m away.
I started to tear. How can we mess this up! My parents are going to be upset. My friends at home will laugh at me!
Just 3m away. I looked up and started praying. Oh God, please help. Why on earth is everyone else smiling? Am I the only one panicking? 1.5m away.
Suddenly, I don’t know how, but just as we reached the VIP stage, the scouts got their act together. Game faces back, we marched with heads held high, lines snapped super straight. We were perfectly in sync. And, at the right moment, we turned our heads to the stage and gave the VIPs the Scout salute.
I swore I heard angels sing. It was beautiful.
Right after we passed the VIPs, we were in disarray again. But, it didn’t matter. We were perfect when it mattered most. We finished the march with huge smiles on our faces. Yes! Scouts can march too!
Then, my friend tapped me on the shoulder, “You were not in step with all of us in front of the VIPs just now.”
Now, who here needs a perfect Bowline knot?
The writer works in the production of TV, film and music content, and gets panicky trying to figure out his next tweet.