A Lantern In The Darkness

October 5th, 1998

I just returned from this evening's Lantern Procession from Dataran Merdeka to Central Market.

There was some confusion at first - we were told to meet at 8:00 pm near the fountain at Dataran Merdeka - not realising that there were fountains at both ends! The we saw a few glowing lanterns at the other end of the field and proceeded there too - the funny thing is, there was a couple of FRU trucks and a police squad car waiting at our end too and they sped off to the far end at about the same time we did :)

There were about 100 - 150 men, women and children - of all races (unlike the predominantly Malay crowds of last week). No loud shouting, slogans or takbirs - I didn't hear the word "reformasi" uttered once, except in hushed tones - but a lot of laughter, embracing of friends and children playing with candles. Dozens of police and FRU were scattered around the area - and they made their presence felt, a couple of times marching in single file through the crowd and looking at your from head to toe as they passed by.

One of the troopers asked me what I was doing here holding a lantern. "Awak ni pakai baju Melayu, mesti Melayukan? Buat apa di sini, ini perayaan Cina. Balik saja lah." he said. I replied that "kita ini negara berbilang kaum - riang perayaan sama-sama disambut, beban kesedihan sama-sama dipikul" He then glared at my white ribbon for a while and I was half expecting another interrogation about what that meant.

The group then proceed in a column, in rows of three people, along Jalan Raja, round the world's tallest flagpole and across the road to the courts. Some of us has lit our lanterns right from the beginning and our candles were slowly dying out - but some kind soul went up and down the column replenishing us with fresh candles. There were enought lanterns to go around for everyone - so some lit candles, a few even waved torchlights about. It must have been a sight - this long line of red and green lights glowing in the relative darkness of the padang.

But as soon as we crossed the road, we were stopped and told to disperse - we were not allowed to march to Central Market. The officer in charge said we were free to go to Central Market if we liked - but not as a procession, but to go as individuals or couples - despite us lining up there in very neat straight rows of three, just like schoolkids, promising to behave ourselves! It felt so much like school assembly.

So in the end, we did proceed to Central Market as "individuals". The trouble was, these "individuals" decided to go there all at the same time and by the time we reached Dayabumi/Bank Pertanian, we were a procession again - this time with no nice, neat rows!

The procession passed by the main bus stop at Central Market - it was at that very spot last Sunday where baton waving FRU men were charging past me, and my significant other half made sure she reminded me of that. At the bus stop, leaflets were distributed to the throngs of curious commuters. One enthusiastic vendor wanted to sell me a galss of "air tebu reformasi" - I respectfully declined.

We ended the evening at the Central Market entrance with a few words of inspiration from the SUARAM organisers about the festive celebration and why we were here, and then sang the Negara Ku.

No trouble, few hassles, and the message got across to a lot of people.

I hear the afternoon's Women's Gathering in front of the Istana Negara was a bit more exciting - about 400 turned up, despite news being circulated that it was cancelled! Someone in this evening's lantern procession told me something about the women throwing tissues at the FRU!

So, who says Reformasi is losing steam? We've only just begun - we're just thinking of how to do it without getting arrested or getting free showers from a water cannon.

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