Reflections of the incidents of May 13, 42 years ago, and how Malaysia has grown since then.

Mom was 16. They lived at Cheras Batu 2 1/2 squatters, near the legendary field which produced Mokhtar Dahari, and near Cochrane Road School, where DBKL has now built a hall along Jalan Loke Yew. Grandpa decided not to open his stall at Central Market that day. The situation was tense from what was being heard in KL due to the massive win of the Democratic Action Party. Rumours were spreading that the Malays were going to attack the Chinese. Everyone was terrified.

Grandpa and grandma quickly packed up some food, just in case they needed to make a run and gathered everyone. They all sat quietly waiting as far back as possible in the tiny little wooden house, at the back of the kitchen. Grandpa took a radio to the kitchen, to listen to any news on what was happening outside.

No one dared venture outside.

The usually lively squatters area was extremely quiet that day. Then a few knocks on the door… everyone was quiet and dared not answer. Then a few knocks again. And a few knocks again. Then someone called my grandpa’s name softly… “Ah Chong… Ah Chong… are you inside?” It took a few more calls before my grandpa answered and opened the door, only after he was sure that it was the youngster from the sundry shop.

They continued their conversation in front of the house, whispering to each other. Then he came to the kitchen and gathered everyone. They walked out of the house and quickly hurried themselves to the wood-processing factory nearby.

may13 01

Along the way to the factory, mom and family were accompanied by some young Chinese boys. Mom recognised them; they were the gangsters at the squatters, some with scars on their hands, some with tattoos. Each on of them were holding a parang, some samurai swords, and others metal rods.

Upon reaching, they were led to the wooden planks stores and were told to hide there. A few other neighbours were already there. Everyone look frightened, not knowing what was happening outside. After some whispers here and there, mom found out that some other neighbours had gone to Chan Sow Lin, and were also hiding at some factories.

Before the Chinese youngsters left, a few more youngsters came and grabbed some more parangs, samurai swords, and metal rods from the store, hidden among the planks of woods. Mom took a peep, and saw a lot of weapons hidden in between.

Then someone called out in Malay… everyone panicked, thinking that they had been ambushed. Everyone kept quiet. After a long wait, Grandpa whispered “Don’t worry, he is Pak Mat, he and a few others will help guard around the squatters.” The day went by, and soon night fell. That night, mom heard on radio that an emergency had been declared by Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Mom heard from one of the neighbours that a massive bloodshed had broke out at Tai Wa cinema (the old Cathay cinema along Jalan Pudu, now an empty lot with a bus station). There were scores of people inside the cinema, watching a just up-on-the-screen new movie. Suddenly, they were ambushed and attacked. They couldn’t escape. Scores were dead.

Some of the Chinese gangsters who were around managed to gather some people, and tried to save as many people as possible. There were also some Malays locals around who helped out, trying to pull away people and hide them — in drains, inside shops, anywhere. Anywhere they could. The slashing group soon backed off and moved back towards Puduraya. Mom also heard that many Malays were also hurt.

Mom’s tears flowed down her cheek. Until today, no one knows how many died.

The FRU arrived shortly after, trying to help as much as possible. Apparently, the FRU were also up in arms against the Police, as during that time, the FRU were made up of mainly Chinese, whilst the Police were Malays. The FRU soon rounded up some Chinese gangsters and instructed them to help stand guard around their villages.

The FRU helped man the main roads leading to the villages. Some Malays volunteered to help, manning the intersections into the villages together with the Chinese gangsters, and patrolling around at night.

Throughout the night, there were some noises outside the factory and around the squatters. Footsteps of people running around quickly. Rays of torch lights occasionally shone into the factory. However, no untoward incidents occurred. Everyone stayed at the factory for a few days, with the Chinese and Malay youngsters taking turns to bring food to the factory and patrolling. It was only after the soldiers came that everyone dared return to their homes. And everyone was glad that nothing untoward happened to any of the villagers in the squatters.

It was an unforgettable day in Malaysian history.

And that incident shaped the path of our society today.

I could not understand her feelings, everytime she told me her stories of May 13. I can just try to imagine how bad it was, and how it has traumatised my family and the rest of the Chinese community from that era.

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And not too long ago, I too had a near encounter of a similar nature, if not entirely similar. It was 8 March 2008. We were back at the nerve centre, to hand in the results from the polling centre I was taking charge of, and it was a win from the school. On the way back, my friend called and said that Khalid had won Bandar Tun Razak. I was jumping.

I was even more estatic when unofficial results started to flow in and more schools were reporting majority wins.

It was not what we expected, as we expected a tough fight. Soon calls started to flow in, we had won most seats; KL and Selangor were looking good, very good.

Crowds outside were celebrating, shouts could be heard. We quickly gathered some people and asked them to calm down, fearing any untoward incident. And coincidentally, the nerve centre was also in Pudu, behind the old Tai Wa cinema. Creepy.

Shortly after, we headed to the nomination centre, waiting anxiously for the polling officer to annouce the results. We knew we had nailed it, and were just waiting for the official results. Then my phone rang, my friend from Penang called. He said “Tsu Koon lost and they have lost Penang”. An eerie feeling suddenly crept in. Flashback of the stories of May 13 that my mom told me. I told him we had won in KL, and it seemed that the opposition were going to govern Selangor.

I quickly asked him to go home. He was jolted suddenly and realised that situation was very uncertain, and that anything could happen had anyone from the other parties provoked, be it just throwing a stone or bottle towards the celebrating crowd. I called my wife, asking her to stay indoors.

Nothing untoward did happen that night. The following morning, we proudly watched on TV as they announced a major political tsunami in Malaysia. I was glad, but I couldn’t stop a sigh of relief that nothing untoward happened.

I realised that we young Malaysians had grown up from May 13. Whilst I do not really understand the feeling of them who had encountered it, we do need to remember what happened. But it is not for us to remember to hate, but for us to remember to cherish that this is part of our history, and to ensure that we learn from the mistakes made, and further improve ourselves.

Looking back at mom’s recollection of May 13, we can see that not all Malays were extremists. Mom said that there were very glad that Pak Mat and some others came help and stood guard. And likewise, Pak Mat was very sad about what happened to those at Tai Wa cinema, including some friends who lost their friends there. Even today, we all knew that not all Malays are extremists, and they don’t stir up May 13, but instead understand why it had happened.

It is already 42 years since then. And today, as a proud young Malaysian, I can proudly say that we have moved past the ghost of May 13, as demonstrated in March 2008.

Today, let us rejoice together as a peace loving Malaysians and celebrate this day!

Adrian is a proud Anak Bangsa Malaysia. He tweets at @AdrianNCF

Adrian is a confused accountant who has a heart of a Care Bear, lived in the Smurf Village, while defending the Universe like a Thunder Cat. He has deep interest and passion in civil society and has...

34 replies on “May 13: A Recollection”

  1. Thank you Adrian for sharing this story. It reminds me the old days of Pudu where I borned and grown up.

  2. Thanks Aku Budak UUM and Daniel for your thoughts.

    As Lord Bobo put it, once divided we have lost. So let's stick together and not let those with malicious intent to separate us. I pray together with you Borneo Nation =)

  3. I do applaud your optimism Adrian. I do agree that we must always hope for the best but I also feel strongly that we should expect the worst. The reason why I replied strongly to your article is because I feel that the threat of bloodshed is very real. And your readers should know both sides of the story so that they can make an informed decision.

    Praying for Peace

    Borneo Nation

  4. .

    Make it a straight point… my brothers(s) and sister(s)….

    We must unite together to beat UMNO….

    that's the ONLY asnswer….. buth through what medium…?

    Election…. Democracy…..

    I have "a long time ago" … a sarcastic answer on question above…..

    To beat UMNO …. just do it…. A Revolution….

    I rest the case …. :-(


  5. Thanks Borneo Nation, Hsieh-Yin and HKH for sharing. Particular thanks to HKH for sharing your part of the event.

    Borneo Nation, you asked "You are suggesting that after March 8 it is safe to vote out BN without the fear of another May 13?" and you have provided your reasoning. And I do share your thoughts, and of course I am not that naive to think nothing will happen if there is a power shift. But does that mean we can't make it happen? Does it mean having that thought at the back of our mind i.e. with fear again of a ala May 13, you can't exercise your vote for the better and you have to do otherwise? Do we as a society want to see it happen again? Why do we need to be bound by this fear? It's a fruit for thought. If we don't do anything, nothing will happen. 2008 show that we have moved on, except for some whose greed has taken over and still want to taste blood.

    You have also said "…blood may have to shed to bring about big changes. When the time comes are you prepared to face it?" While I also share a similar thoughts, perhaps we can see it from a different perspective. Perhaps my question would be, why is there a need to shed blood? Why is there a need for violence? Is our society that naive, that immature? If it is indeed blood that is shed, then it goes to prove that all these while we are being lead by people who have undone us just like for the past half century. And I will face it with pride if it is meant to bring about change for the better, not for me, but for my future generation.

    You asked if I am ready, but I would like to pose this question back to you. Are you? Sacrifice comes with a price, as you rightly pointed out, and as always there are many avenues of effecting change, and I hope we can do it the right way. Let's do something about it to bring about change if that is what you believe. You are as empowered as me.

    I am particularly proud that you have taken your first step through your vote. And for that belief, it is exactly why we need to continuously educate our society. And I hope you can keep on doing it =)

  6. Sorry, have to correct your version about Tai Wah theatre. That cinema in Pudu was called Majestic and the few people killed were from gunshots fired by soldiers. There were many people trapped in the cinema when trouble broke out and curfew was imposed. No food and water and there was a lorry laden with water melons parked at the Caltex station next door. So when some of these people rushed out to get the fruits with the others in the cinema lobby waiting, the soldiers who were on patrol, came by and saw so many people during curfew, they just opened fire and shoot at the crowd thinking that they were demonstrating during curfew.

  7. My late dad used to share an account with us children when he was living through the May 13th period. I was not born yet but my dad and mom who was expecting my brother then, stayed huddled in a house with another Malay friend and his young wife.

    Both young couples were equally afraid and frighten of the uncertainties then resulting from political racial turmoil. But both made a pact that should the Chinese come in throngs, my dad would go out and speak to them and should the Malays come in throngs his Malay friend would appease them instead.

    Yes, although it was such a trying period then for both races to live through, it is heartening to realize then, how many Malay and Chinese stood in solidarity (albeit quietly) to help each other out and was able to look beyond the evil political plot played out then by certain quarters.

    As much as our present govt would like to remind us of the violence then, I am sure there were many more untold stories of a Malay family and a Chinese family coming together to just help each other out.

    Not everything for every race is singly laced with the desires for more racial gains. Many had it within their good self to just decide to do what was right for another human being then regardless of race.

    I hope we never lose that part of our goodness in us no matter what happens.

  8. Mr Ng while I appreciate the sentimental value of your article, I find it extremely hard to accept that May 13 is being exorcised by March 8. I believe that's what you're trying to convey. Both events are different in nature and substance and should never be linked to each other.

    You are suggesting that after March 8 it is safe to vote out BN without the fear of another May 13? I think this is very misleading. Nothing has changed Mr Ng. Here's why.

    1. March 8, UMNO were overly confident then but this time they will be prepared. The Christian conspiracy is just one of them. There will be more to come. Moreover, many Malays voted for the opposition so it's hard put the blame entirely on the non-Malays.

    2. A similar situation to May 13 would be when the non Malays voted for the opposition, Malays returned to UMNO and BN gets booted out. It would be extremely naive to think that UMNO will accept defeat without first feeding this country to the dogs.

    Like in WWII there will definitely be a few good "Nazis" but it take only a few to cause a lifetime of misery to others while the "silent majority" sit and look.

    I too voted for a change on March 8. I agree it was a great feeling. But while we dream of a better Malaysia, we also need to be reminded of the reality. And the reality is that, as in May 13, blood may have to shed to bring about big changes. When the time comes are you prepared to face it?

  9. I studied Japan's post-war rehabilitation in uni, so I do know a little bit about the country and the people. But, basically, what I'm trying to say is that, in a democratic society, people should be free to discuss and dissect painful chapters of history.

    In Japan, you have mainstream textbooks put together by respectable historians, and you also have a fascist textbook put out by not-so-respectable historians. That's democracy.

    In that sense, Malaysia is a long way off. We only have one version of history being taught in school, and it's filled with revisionism and whitewashing.

    Perhaps, one day, more honest accounts like yours will replace the ones we have now. =)

  10. Xenobia/Adrian,

    Thanks for the link Xenobia. The angle abt it being a "conspiracy" by you know who reminded me of similar allegation on the you know who. In Dr Chong Eng Leong's book Lest We Forget, pg 140, he reproduced a page from another author's book namely Mutalib M.D. The latter was interviewing someone, apparently, a police officer about what was the most unforgettable incident that the guy witnessed in the 1986 riot in Sabah when PBS won the state.

    He alleged that the then top man in the Sabah police force, Maulana Babjee, ordered him to kill a few Kadazans and Chinese so as to cause riots??? He said he was "tergamam" when he got the order.

    It's a serious allegation and I personally find it unbelievable but todate(yup I'm naive), no one has sued Dr Chong nor Mutalib for defamation. It makes you wonder

  11. Thanks Iban Girl. You are spot on! While we always hear about the violent side of the very faithful day, we did not see any or rather, not enough of the heroic stories. Maybe that is a research angle for you, take that into your own hands and write about it! You will be surprised what you can do! =)On?

    You vowed me with your in-depth knowledged John! Now I understand why the hoo haa i.e. when the Chinese take it up against the Japanese. Now the part about our Nong Chik is rather surprising! I wouldn't have known about it if you have not brought it up. I guess this shows that our own local medium do indeed being play upon.

    Thanks Peace and Love, you advice are indeed wise. Let's move on together! =)

  12. Pakatan Leaders and followers must NOT hold any celebrations or victory parade in any towns,city or village if they win the Election. Such a move will play into the hands of the losing Party and give them Umno/Bn a GREAT OPPORTUNITY to declare State of Emergency thus the Rakyat will be deprived of the Government they want and deserve.

    So all must GO HOME and celebrate at Home and wait for DYMM Tuanku to call for the Leader of whichever party that commands the majority seats to form the next Government.

    Malaysians of all races love peace and we all live in Harmony until the Mamak Racist MaHATEthir divided the good people of Malaysia with his Racist policy and damaging all the good Institutions from Police, Judiciary and Macc and in the process grabbing Finance post from Anwar -thus making himself and family one of the Richest in the land.

    Malaysia MUST NOT return to the very DARK DAYS of MaHATEthir where HATE and HATRED is imbedded in Mamak MaHATEthir's name and body. Thank God we have Good Muslim Men & Women in Pas,Keadilan and even in Umno who want a better Malaysia for all.

  13. Not a problem, Adrian.

    In 2000, a far-right, little-known publication did try to whitewash Japan's World War II record. It was known as the New History Textbook and, ironically enough, one of its contributors happened to be Malaysia's very own Raja Dato Nong Chik, currently the Minister of Federal Territories.

    Here's his inglorious excerpt in full:

    Japanese soldiers drove out the forces of Western Europe, which had colonized the nations of Asia for many years. They surprised us, because we didn’t think we could possibly beat the white man, and they inspired us with confidence. They awakened us from our long slumber, and convinced us to make the nation of our ancestors our own nation once again. We cheered the Japanese soldiers as they marched through the Malay Peninsula. When we saw the defeated British troops fleeing, we felt an excitement we had never experienced before.

    So, yes, in Nong Chik's own words, the Empire of Japan didn't invade and subjugate Malaya. Rather, it liberated the country. And hence, all Malaysians past and present should be thankful for the Empire's generosity and great deeds.

    Sarcasm aside, it's indeed telling that the publisher couldn't source any fascist material within Japan itself to bolster their revisionist claims. Hence they did the next best thing: they sourced juicy quotes from a Malaysian fascist.

    Little surprise, then, that mainstream Japanese historians and educators rejected the New History Textbook, considering it rubbish and an insult to academia. The Japanese public didn't even take note of the textbook.

    In fact, the only people who did take an interest in the textbook was the Chinese media, who worked up a frenzy and accuse Japan of whitewashing its World War II record. Other news outlets then picked up the story and ran with it.

    But, really, it's amusing how a handful of right-wing fascists living on the fringe can command such attention. Especially since you'd be hard-pressed track down a copy of the offending textbook.

  14. Though I read the articles on this site fairly regularly, this is the first time I have felt such a need to comment.

    Firstly, thank you Adrian, for this story. Like you, I cannot comprehend what Malaysians felt on this day, 42 years ago – as I was born a few years after. Nevertheless, your narrative had me transfixed.

    Throughout the reading I felt the nerves in my belly, but at the same time somewhat hopeful. Because for so many years – for far too many years – May 13, 1969 has been used as tool for fear and threatening rhetoric, so much so that "race riots" have become an acceptable collocation in Malaysia – this race, that race, ad infinitum.

    However, this is a part of our history which should never be forgotten or swept under the carpet. Instead, and this is the point of my comment, the narratives provided by Adrian Ng and KS Ong (and the point made by Xenobio) should be the dominant perspectives. While reading about everyday Malaysians protecting each other, their concerns for the well-being of the people they share their lives with, it made me realise there are NOT ENOUGH of those narratives.

    All we hear, all we are taught, is about the violence – the details of the fear experienced by all Malaysians (and foreigners) in KL that day. This is, of course, important. But where are the stories of neighbours looking out for one another? The stories of aid and protection given to one another? There are surely many more of these.

    Without ignoring the fact that there was bloodshed, there were deaths – it is a painful part of our history – I would dearly love to see an anthology of narratives that illustrate the city's people protecting one another, simply because it is/was the right thing to do.

    I also believe that it is important to reclaim May 13 – it is not only about what some would have us believe. It is also, and perhaps more so, about the triumph of basic human decency and respect for one's fellow man.

  15. I do recall that Japanese history does not record the massacre which they inflicted during the WW2 in their history book, I stand to be corrected on this. That is why until today there are some groups of Chinese who are still very sore on this.

    Ever since the American occupation, it has been mandatory for Japanese schoolchildren to study the wartime atrocities committed by the Empire of Japan.

    Here are actual excerpts from Japanese school textbooks:

    The Japanese army occupied the Northern China, then invaded Nanjing, and killed and destroyed the lives of many Chinese people across. The Japanese army that occupied Nanjing killed many Chinese people inside and outside the urban district within several weeks. The number of deaths was around 7-80,000 counting only civilians such as women and children. Including the deserted soldiers the number is estimated to be over 200,000. China estimates the number of the victims to be well over 300,000 including war deaths. Japan was condemned by other nations for this incident known as Nanjing Massacre.

    In 1940, observing the defeat of France to Germany, Japan proclaimed the establishment of Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Japan made an entry into French Indochina and occupied the northern part. Footnote: It was to submit an idea that Asian nations should cooperate with one another and prosper together removing the American and European forces. However, in reality, it was only a pretext for Japan to dominate the rest of Asia.

    In Southeast Asia that the Japanese military occupied, independent governments were established in Burma and the Philippines; however, the real power was held by the Japanese military. In the occupied territories, the life of the people were impoverished because the Japanese military forcibly collected from them rice and resources necessary to wage the war. In addition, the Japanese military killed more than 6,000 Chinese residents who were deemed rebellious in the occupied Singapore and Malaya, and oppressively ruled the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia by severely punishing the people who opposed the policy of the military.

    Many Korean and Chinese people were forced to move to Japan and worked a hard labor job in coal mines under horrible conditions. Footnote: In wartime years the government strengthened the policy to assimilate the Koreans to the Japanese, by forcing them to use Japanese language, worship Shinto shrine, and adopt Japanese names.

  16. oh ya, i remember those terrifying moments. too young to comprehend the severity of that incidence but nevertheless we were all very tense then seeing the adults' unusual behaviour. aunties & uncles discussing on the escape routes if we had to run for our lives. remembering older brothers sharpening sawn water pipes in the yard. mom was frantic trying to reach big sister who was in TAR college then. and tis grocery shop owner was scolded by the villagers for selling tins of kerosene to kampung Malays … many young villagers were organised to patrol the village strategic entry points 24/7.

    and to those who hell bent on repeating May 13, God & Malaysians & the world is watching you!

  17. Thanks LSW and John. Regardless whether it is declared as an official day, I think we play a very important part to remind our society of what our past generation has been through, where it should be reported as it is (however this is not the case). A lot of people from those era just wanted closure, especially families of victims of the incident.

    Though I am not too sure about Hiroshima Peace Day, I do recall that Japanese history does not record the massacre which they inflicted during the WW2 in their history book, I stand to be corrected on this. That is why until today there are some groups of Chinese who are still very sore on this.

    History should be objective, without bias. It should not be used as a propaganda tool, to shape a person thinking. I know our History syallabus is being revamped right now. I wonder how history will be rewritten, only to serve certain parties.

  18. May 13 should by right now de-ghost by all peace loving rakyat just like how japanese remember thier WW2 horrors by declaring Hiroshima Peace Day.

    Hiroshima Peace Day was only made possible through the purging of fascist elements, followed by the prosecution of those responsible for atrocities.

    Until and unless that happens in Malaysia, nothing will be 'de-ghost', as you put it.

  19. Thank Xenobio. Do you notice the same tone from the book which is similar to now? Like father like son maybe

    Thanks Ong for sharing. I am sure there are many more personal encounters and terrifying memories that we heard or shared from friends, relatives, families etc. We must not forget, but we learn to forgive, learn the lessons and move on for the better. And ohh you have brought back memories of Goon Institution =) My mom used to tell me about it =)

  20. May 13 should by right now de-ghost by all peace loving rakyat just like how japanese remember thier WW2 horrors by declaring Hiroshima Peace Day. By right the federal government should start to do it, wonder why they didnt see the need.Pakatan states should then do it by declaring May 13, Peace Day or UNITY DAY. To those troublemakers backed by unseen hands who said that May 13 is a blessing to the country, ask God for forgiveness for your hatred towards mankind for God never approved another human being to enjoy killing one another.

  21. My recollection of May 13 1969 as a student of TAR College using borrowed premises in Cheras Secondary School. After afternoon classes, I was with my four outstation classmates as passengers in my old Worseley, dropping them off at Pekeliling flats. We noticed a convoy of FRU trucks in a hurry coming from the opposite side along Jalan Pekeliling. There were ambulances with their emergency lights on too, probably going towards the GH. Nobody could have guessed what was happening then.

    I did not know, so instead of heading for home, I went to my friend's house in Jalan Kasipillay instead. My dad heard the news and was worried. He told my elder brother to take him to CSS in Cheras! Looking back, my brother was really lucky for skipping his book-keeping lesson in the evening at Goon Institution, opposite the Chow Kit Road market which was a hotspot of racial bloodshed. And their trip was also dangerous, again nobody could have guessed the severity of the riots.

    Later, from what I heard, a Chinese lady lecturer was badly affected, it seems, having witnessed some killings. An ex-school mate was ambushed in Jalan Ampang and had to take refuge in his step-brother's house in Jalan Damai. He was lucky to have been a gymnast as he managed to jump over the fence before the mob could get at him and his brother fired a warning shot. Another ex-school mate lived next to Dr. Bahaman, then Minister of Health in Jalan Raja Muda, opposite Selangor MB's official residence. His family members were lucky to have the Minister's protection.

  22. Thanks Kyototan, WandererAUS and Penang Voter.

    I truely agree with Penang Voter; I have a lot of Malay brothers as well. Our skin color does not matter. And yes, we respect each others' difference, be it culture, religion etc and we celebrate our differences. That is what makes us special, that is what makes us, Malaysian.

  23. Not all Malay are extremists and very sure not all supports UMNO !

    I have many good, reliable and trustworthy Malay friends whom I am proud and honored to call them 'Brothers'. We respect each other's religion and culture and just love Raya, CNY and Deepavali.

    This is what 1Malaysia is all about !!!!! If DNA needs lessons, the tuition fees is FREE.

  24. May 13, 42 years ago, I still remembered very clearly. I was playing golf with two of my Malay friends who were head of their govt departments. Before the game ended, we were reaching the last hole, one of them receive a phone call, his face was visibly stressed…

    he quickly turned to me and told me to drive straight home! There was a riot in the Capital was what he said. He was aware, I need to drive through a kampung nearby and not be caught in an unexpected uprising there too.

    I have never forgotten him for his ind deed. I was very sure what he did was an act of a decent man and most importantly, a true Malaysian!

  25. History shall repeat itself should we still think that we are of individual race rather a true Malaysian. For today whoever think that they less Malaysian shall be the big loser. Just try to push on racial divide and you shall be at the losing end.

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