Yap Jin Rui remembers her late grandfather and the kind of politics he stood for.
“Did you ever notice how near Canning Garden and elsewhere in the town of Ipoh, almost all of the roads are named after people? Jalan So-and-So with the Indian and Chinese names? Most of them were his colleagues, and they were all doing that – naming roads after themselves – but he was never interested in things like that.”
Everyone’s talking about politics nowadays, and my family was of no exception. So much banter about government and opposition coalitions, corruption and overzealous supporters, and then somebody said, “Wasn’t gong gong (??) part of the opposition as well?” and the conversation turned to my grandfather.
The things I hear about my grandfather, I hear from my parents. He was a State Assemblyman (ADUN) in Perak way back when for several terms, and they tell me that he was an honest man. He always made sure that he assisted the people to the best of his ability – the very ones who were present at his funeral in the end. At the end of his time, when he grew old and ailing and the time came to retire, the Alliance Party (predecessor to our Barisan Nasional today) sent people to offer him a fortune in return for his seat.
He was from the People’s Progressive Party, an opposition party at the time, and the sum that he was offered was no small amount. Several days later, after putting a lot of thought on the offer and consulting the family, he decided to refuse it.
He chose to pass the seat to a member of the Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia instead. Gerakan was also an opposition party then, and now — well, we know how that turned out.
In his retirement, he applied for a land title; he was rejected. When he passed away, none of the Gerakan folks ever came by to pay their respects. So when my parents talk about my gong gong now, they say that he was an honest man – too honest. They say we could have been so much more well off had he taken advantage of the perks of his job – benefits that many others in his place would have so readily reaped. They say we could very well be living affluent lives with the money he could have gotten by selling his seat – which eventually fell into the hands of the ruling coalition anyway.
But he was a good man, and that’s not how it works in politics.
In spite of all that happened in the end, I think that you have got to give it to the ones who never allow themselves to stray into the grey areas. But life is hard enough as it is, you say, how can we really blame anyone for succumbing to the opportunity to take it easy? Really, though, would you just take a moment to ask yourself what exactly it is that you want to leave behind? Every now and then I meet people who are fiercely proud of their heritage, and I must confess that I never fully understood that until now.
I have long known these stories about my grandfather, but as elections draw closer and our country teeters on the edge, I find that I am taking what I know about him a little differently. Where there was once awe and admiration, there is now also a strong sense of pride for the person that my gong gong was. My family and I would take this knowledge of my grandfather’s character over material wealth any time – because where money could have corrupted, it did not. At the end of the day when all is said and done, fortunes can be squandered, and you sure as hell can’t buy integrity.