Page 2 - Deep Red Threat in Malaysia

Deep Red Threat in Malaysia — Page 2
Story and photos by Marco Ferrarese



Malaysia travel story

The man I spoke to is not the only one living abroad or working outside the village. There's no land left to farm, and the odd jobs are away in Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, and other surrounding cities. Only the elders and a few families remain in the village all year, running a couple of restaurants and sundry shops that pump the last drops of life's blood into Kampung Bali's main artery.

The village may be dull for most of the year, but not tonight. It's almost 8 p.m., dusk has kicked the sun out of the sky, and the road is packed to the gills with the ancestors of those Chinese farmers who secretly rubbed elbows with the Communist guerrilla fighters. But it's another type of Red Threat laying on the road before us… one that will go up in smoke quite soon.


Stripes of Fire

Sivakumar, the parliament member of opposition party DAP in nearby Batu Gajah, bends under Kampung Bali's gateway with a lighter in hand to send off the first boom through the night. As soon as he's done, he takes a step back and sticks fingers in his ears. The flames start cracking along the first belt like the noisy beads of an explosive rosary.

Smoke wafts up into the night as the belts wiggle, burst after burst, and we follow like a mass of zombies behind a bait of flesh. Our hearts thump when the first firecracker shells ricochet against the ground and hit our legs. And when the end of one of the belts twists and fails to ignite the next, we all freeze. It's the same old man who had laid the firecrackers who jumps out of the crowd and into the smoke, clasps the next belt's lower end, slugs it back in place, and lights it up once again.

kids holding ears

The whole village is under a fire spell: restaurants stop serving food, families leave their reunion dinners' table, and everybody pulls out their smartphone to capture a glimpse of this pure madness.

When we reach the center of the village, a firework decoy goes off, letting sharp swats of light cut the night in fluttering halves. We are obviously disoriented, for we don't know if we should keep moving behind the bursting firecrackers, or stand and watch drops of multicolored light paint the black of night. Where have the rebels gone? I wait below the light show, ready to feel a cold blade against my throat…but it never comes.

The hex goes on until the fires exhaust themselves on the last length of firecracker belt. Under the light of the fireworks that fill up the night's empty blackboard with new fuzzy alphabets, the exploded red shells look like the entrails of a thousand snakes, the stains of war, the beads of Red Fear that the Communist fighters dropped into these jungles 60 years ago.


fireworks cafe

Beneath the Remains

On the second day, I'm up early to check the casualties of yesterday night's war. I'm surprised to see that it's another member of DAP, Lim Pek Har, who's scooping up the cracked red shells with broom and dustpan, socialist style. She's more surprised to see me that I am of meeting her.

"Where are you from? And what are you doing here?" she asks after shaking my hand, wishing me a happy New Year and stepping back to get a better glance at me, the pale ghost that resembles her ancestors' colonizers.

"My girlfriend's mother is local," I answer pointing at one of the houses behind my back, "that's where I spent the night."

"Oh, I see… sorry, it's just that we never get foreigners here," she pauses over the broom's stick, gazing at me more intensely.

"Excuse us for all this mess. Yesterday night was so noisy…"

"Oh, not at all."

We part ways and Pek Har walks back to the center of the village where everyday life is starting to unfold. I continue walking over cracked red shells, the empty remains of that Red Threat that shook Kampung Bali once again, projecting the village into a hopefully glorious Year of the Monkey.

I walk past Confucius and his Ford Tractor, and further up the road, I stumble upon a banner that promotes Sivakumar and Lim's opposition party. One that is not Communist, but that nevertheless tries to contest Malaysia's right-wing, ethnic-Malay dominated majority coalition, the National Front. Tied next to it there's a Chinese New Year banner emblazoned with the clenched white fist of the Malaysian Socialist Party, a pile of rubbish neatly stacked at its right.

Confucius

The celebration's over: I look at the canopy at the far end of the road ahead of me, knowing that Communist ghosts have returned to their hideouts. Soon, the splinters of another year's Red Scare will join the empty beer cans, plastic plates, and other trash under that socialist fist. I have the feeling that General Harold Briggs has a smile across his skull, and has finally stopped spinning in his grave.



Marco Ferrarese is author of subcultural noir Nazi Goreng, freelance travel and culture writer, and metalpunk guitar-slinger based in Southeast Asia. He toured most hellholes of Europe and North America, hung out with Kurt Cobain's alleged murderer, and rode with truck drivers from Singapore to his native Italy. He blogs at monkeyrockworld.com and you can follow him on Twitter @monkeyrockworld.


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Related Features:
The Sultanate of Heavy Rock in Malaysia by Marco Ferrarese
Blood Rites in a Taiwanese Temple by Steven Crook
Street Walking Demons in Sumatra by Marco Ferrarese
Giving Face in China by James Michael Dorsey

See other Asia travel stories from the archives


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