Columns, Cover Story

I forgot to bring the teargas canister back

by Justin Low Jian Shin


Dad called.

“Son, where are you? Stay at home alright ok? Store some food at home also…. Just don’t go out ya!”

“Okay… at home now… got maggi mee at home… It’s so jam everywhere I won’t go out la.”


Woke up at 8am, still indecisive whether or not to go for the rally. I started following news and updates related to Bersih 2.0  from Twitter and Facebook. I must say those promotional videos really worked for me.

Everyday we complain about our country, but what do we do about it? I didn’t want to just stay at home. Its time to do something, I thought.

At least in the future when my kids grow up, I can tell them “Daddy was there to make a change.”

“Hell yeah I am going”. I finally told myself.

It was 12.30pm already, I don’t know what took me four and a half hours to decide. I woke up my housemate Mr.Z and said “Do it or be a pussy!”. He gave me a look and replied, “ok let’s go.”

The rally manual says avoid carbohydrates as it will slow you down, so me and Mr.Z decided to have 2 sets of burgers with fries each at McD, just to check if its true.

After the meal, we took an LRT to Pudu station, the closest we could get to town. Rain started pouring heavily, all the ponchos were sold out at the convenient store. We packed our phones and wallets into a plastic bag and we walked into the rain.

The feeling was almost indescribable. The last time I walked in the rain was because a girl broke my heart… this time, it is for my country! I have grown up!

We were not alone, we were not afraid… but our shoes were soaking wet!

We had no idea where to go, the last destination that I was informed was at Puduraya, so Puduraya it was. Along the way, we saw more and more people walking towards the same direction.

Finally, after a few kilometers of walking, we found the big group, approximately 10,000 of them and we made the group bigger to 10,002.

I had never seen so many people in my life.

I even saw disabled people, someone on a wheelchair, families with children.

I saw two young Malay boys with yellow headbands, probably just 12 years old. I asked “Anak ikut siapa datang? Tak takut ke?” 

Their uncle told me that they did not get to follow their father to the first rally (in 2007). Now their father gave the green light for the boys to join because they insisted. I salute them.

We chanted “Hidup Rakyat, bersih rakyat, diplomasi….” (note: I’ve since learnt that the chant was actually “reformasi” and not “diplomasi”.)

We sang Negaraku, deep from our heart. I could sense everyone’s longing for change.  We are all desperate for a better future, something we deserve.

I was so touched to see Pakcik holding makcik’s hand and marching together slowly. I was so touched to see Malay, Chinese, Indian standing side by side.

I saw a postman on a bike struggling to get pass the crowd, riding carefully to get his job done. We gave way to him and cheered, he smiled back.

I was so touched to see young people no longer being ignorant, finally doing something for their country.

If our government is clean and doing a good job, we wouldn’t even have to be there.

Happily we marched, and without us knowing, me and Mr.Z suddenly became front-liners.

At the junction of Pasar Seni station, we were taking a right turn and “oh shit” came out from our mouths at the same time.

FRU units were 100 meters away from us! Should we engage?

We stopped, waiting for instructions. But nobody knew what to do.

Within a minute, the FRU marched towards us.

“Poom poom poom poom”

They dont teach you in school what to do when you hear that sound, but instinct tells you to run.

They freaking gassed us! We had just arrived, we didn’t even do anything!

The group dispersed but we regrouped, keeping a distance from the Fairy Rude Unit (FRU).

We could literally smell and taste the taxes we paid.

What does tear gas feel like? Your face and eyes turn red. It’s spicy, if you open your eyes you tear. If you close your eyes you can’t see anything.

We ran to the train station where a good man handed us a packet of salt. “You can have it all,” he said. We thanked him and cleaned ourselves up.

When we got better we helped others with the remaining salt and water. Looking around us, everybody was helping those in need.

“Poom poom poom poom”  Second round anyone?

After the first experience, now we know what to do.

  1. Cover your nose and mouth
  2. Hold your breath
  3. Kick or throw the gas canister away
  4. Eat salt
  5. Wash face
  6. Help others
  7. Repeat

We endured Round 3 and 4 of the same.

Around 4pm the FRU fired the last round of tear gas. This time it was different, I think they doubled the portion.

There was only one way left to go so everybody walked towards that direction steadily. When we saw the police, we shook their hands and greeted them, they smiled back, having a mutual understanding that when they remove their uniform, we could be friends. Perhaps some of them were there by orders, maybe they didn’t want to be there at all?

Me and Mr.Z walked to KL Sentral to take a train to Bandar Tasik Selatan but the train was packed so we walked back to Plaza Rakyat. Such a long way.

I found an article on Malaysia Today by Charis Ding, this is what she wrote:

A distinct thought came home to me then: Malaysia, I do love you.

That night we said cheers, to a better Malaysia.

By the end of the day, I discovered I referred to the marchers and myself as ‘we’, no longer ‘them’ and ‘I’. It is because we were there together, as Malaysia. We helped each other and cared for each other as Malaysia. There was no political agenda with the people there – I was there, I experienced it and I know it. It was Malaysia, embracing in our hearts and our actions the hope for better government.

What I experienced on the 9th of July is Malaysia. We are decent people, we are a people of quality. Those in power who are selfish or bigots or who try to divide the people – that is not Malaysia, and they are not deserving of Malaysia. Those who try to taint and politicize the beautiful events of that day, are not deserving of Malaysia. We are a people who deserve much more than that.

We came out and proved that yesterday. It has proved to me, to the marchers who were there, to my friends, what Malaysia is.

And so, on 9th July, Malaysia won.

That’s exactly how I felt too, so I am taking her words to end this post. If you missed the rally, you suck a little but you can vote to make it better!

That night, I stopped thinking of leaving Malaysia but how to make it better. -The Rocket