7 May 1998, it was a Thursday. I remember vividly sitting inside the classroom, trying to finish my final paper for the national exam - Chemistry, hate it with my entire life. Our exam was supposed to end at 9.30AM but at 9AM the principal of the school came into my class and asked us to finish our paper instantly. We had to leave the school compound asap.
It was the year of Asian Financial Crisis, however in Indonesia, a racial tension was also brewing. My principal told us that there was a bunch of rioters attacking the suburbs and the next destination would be to the houses on the main road. My house is on the main road.
We packed up. We called our school bus. I was home around 10AM. Then there was the calm before the storm. The road was pretty empty. Everybody seemed to be just ... waiting. Around 10.45AM, I started to hear noises from few houses down the road. Yeah, they arrived. Shouting in ecstasy. I couldn't figure out what they were saying. They seemed pretty happy. They had stones and kept throwing to the row of houses. Few minutes later, it was my house.
Windows were totally shattered. I was in deep fear. But what was worse than the fear itself, hatred was brewing steadily in me. The hatred lasted for more than 2 years. Frantically, I called my best friend and shouted all kind of vows of vengeance towards people who did this. My parents tried to calm me down successfully by giving me a pill. Even my dog, Kiky, was more daring than me. She kept barking her best to protect the house. I was just swearing in tears.
We slept in a windowless house for almost a week, covered only by pieces of plywood. I slept with a stick and a can of insecticide next to me. Because if I couldn''t fight them, I could spray something into their eyes and that, I thought, would be good enough (?). While waiting for my exam results and whether any universities in Singapore would accept me, I kept myself busy by watching lots of Hercules. I watched it 7x. It put me in a very happy place, for those short few moments. It is still my favourite movie of a lifetime!
Anyway, 15 years have passed. Wow. 15 years! Almost half of my life, just zoomed right through me. But that one single event has really changed me .... I often shared with people who would listen to me ... how I got past the hatred .... I asked myself one question (after reading many many many books after) - "If I were to be in their shoes, what would I do?" I imagined myself being not so well-off. I have many kids to feed and there is this opportunity to get paid and all I need to do is just to throw stones at the houses of Chinese people. I would have said yes too.
Then, I understood where they came from and my hatred towards them didn't mean anything anymore. I was set free there and then because I learned to see that there are always many sides of a story and depends on which side you are standing, you will see the story unfolds differently. I have since then consciously trying to understand as many sides as I can to any scenarios but of course, life is so expansive, at times I still don't see certain things differently, I am still making mistakes and apologizing and learning from it. But always, without regrets. That will be waste of life.
15 years ago, today, I thank you for letting me be part of you. I wouldn't have changed a single thing because you made me the imperfectly perfect me today. I also need to thank the subject I hate the most, Chemistry, without which I wouldn't have been accepted to the university. Everything happens for a reason and the reason, most of the time, only we eventually will understand.
|My house is the one in the centre with my dad's beloved Vespa in front. Photo was taken the next day after the riot.|