I feared being alone as a child. One could say I was spoiled.
I remember bugging my parents every time I needed to go the bathroom or the kitchen at night. Activities in the house died down as the night progressed. Both the bathroom and the kitchen were located at the back of the house and both became very dark and very quiet late at night.
Sometimes it was just hard to get them to accompany me, especially when everybody was fast asleep. Whenever I had to go there alone, I would run to the switches and light up the entire house brightly so I could see everything. In my head, there were devils and monsters lurking under the table and behind the cupboard. Somewhere, something was going to get me somehow, when there was no light.
I could not bear the thought of my parents leaving me by myself then. They did exactly that for the first time when I went to kindergarten. It was a tearful experience for me. I cried so badly for at least a week that even the headmistress recognized me. “There he goes again,” I could imagine her saying.
During my late teenage years, I attended a boarding school in Kuala Kangsar. The small royal town is very different and over a hundred miles away from my home city, which was the slick and modern Kuala Lumpur. To me, Kuala Kangsar was rural and it was right in the middle of the jungle. I did not cry but I did feel melancholic for the first couple of months.
There were large trees within the school compound that stirred my already wild imagination. Just outside of my dorm was a swimming pool dating before the Second World War as well as the only Eton Fives court in the country that had fallen into disuse.
The floor of the corridor of the dorm itself was red, supposedly to cover the blood of the victims of the war that could not be washed away despite rigorous scrubbing. Beyond the fence was thick jungle that I dared not look into during the night.
Worst of all, I lived in the middle of a wing and the bathrooms were located at the ends of the wing. The long walk to the bathrooms at night was scary. The horror stories, one which involves a green lady that walks around the school, or flies if you wish, under the full moon, simply did not help matters. Yet, one has to do what one has to do.
I grew up and got over those fears eventually. I later spent slightly over six years of my life abroad in two foreign countries alone, never missing home even one day. I spent a week in the Sierra Nevada, where I once had to camp alone in the Tuolumne Canyon due to some misadventure. And I camped with a group of strangers in the jungle of Endau-Rompin just because it was a fun thing to do.
These so-called achievements are of enormous importance to me. It boosted my confidence to inculcate the independence that I should have, if I was to claim myself a libertarian. It enabled me to do many great things and to live the life I am living right now, which was beyond the grasp of my teenage mind. I have met fantastic people, seen beautiful sights and become part of great institutions, none of which would have occurred if I had stayed meek.
However real those fears were to me, they pale in comparison to others’ fears.
The religious institution in Malaysia recently prosecuted Shiite Muslims. Many Malaysians reacted negatively to a recent confession of a gay Malay. Some have even threatened to hurt him. To escape prosecution and discrimination, they have to hide some aspects of their life. The prejudice of the majority in the society forces these minorities to hide, hence forcing them to live life meekly and in fear.
A friend, journalist Poh Si Teng, produced a documentary on the transsexual community in Malaysia some time back. I helped a little with the production. It was through her and the documentary that I learned that many transsexuals in Malaysia resort to prostitution because they cannot find other jobs. Society in general discriminates against transsexuals so much that they, the transsexuals, have to go to the margins of society and have no other real choice to support themselves.
The Malaysian government — and the society at large — place systematic prosecution and discrimination against these minorities. That exacerbates the issue of equality of opportunity that already exists in the natural state of no government intervention. Some people are prevented by the state and the society at large from having merely a decent life, just because of who they are.
Just imagine for a moment what these minorities can achieve in the absence of their fears? What can they contribute to society?
If I can overcome my silly fears and achieve a lot, I am betting that they can achieve a lot more if only the source of their fears could go away.
First published in The Malaysian Insider on January 12 2011.