Hannah Yeoh On True Merdeka: Travelling With The Heart

Images courtesy of the author

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Malaysia has been placed under multiple lockdowns ever since COVID-19 appeared here in early 2020. We are currently still living in one, a prolonged version since pre-Hari Raya celebrations. Lockdowns that go on extensively for more than three months with no end in sight hurt the soul and spirit. You lose sight of time. Weekdays and weekends are just the same. There were days when I was dressed in the same baju kelawar (a local tunic-looking pyjama) from breakfast till it was time for dinner. Children are locked in too, having access to online lessons only. This means they grow out of their school shoes very quickly without ever having the opportunity to wear them. 

As a family, we have tried to adjust to lockdowns the best we can. We do multiple Zoom sessions with my nieces and parents on the dining table. We left the iPad on as we blew out candles on birthday cakes and ate banana leaf rice. This is probably the only plus point of a lockdown — many restaurants turned to online orders and delivery, making it possible for my family to order even a full banana leaf experience (curry and rice alongside an assortment of vegetables, condiments, and pickles served on a banana leaf).

These lockdowns were done out of fear of losing lives. Malaysia has seen a total of more than 14,000 deaths and 1,500,000 infections. Our social media timeline has been filled with farewell tributes of friends losing loved ones. When I drive to my constituency using the highways, it is a common sight to see ambulances and van jenazah (hearses) zip past. Some become numb to these siren sounds and announcement of daily COVID-19 data on national TV. But for me, I count my blessings every bedtime with my little girls, and also thank God for the complete headcount on the Zoom sessions with my extended family at the dinner table. 

It is also extremely stressful to be watching the roads and Google Maps whenever we’re driving, being worried about crossing districts unknowingly, resulting in being fined. We have only just been allowed to travel beyond 10 kilometres from our homes; and that too while remaining within our district. Malaysian police had set up more than 441 roadblocks across the nation to catch such offences. 

Malaysia celebrates our Independence Day on 31 August every year. Independence for me has taken on a whole new meaning. I just want to be free again on the roads. I am counting the days till these roadblocks are removed. I make plans to travel once this lockdown is over and when the SOPs for social gatherings are relaxed. Lockdowns remind you that you are not free; that there is looming danger out there. I want to move about freely without a string of restrictions.

Travelling with the heart doesn’t have to always involve buying plane tickets and packing your bags. Many Malaysians rejoice over their double trips to the vaccination centres. Such visits provide thrills to them. When the needles go in, their hearts surge with hope of conquering COVID-19. This is an example of travelling with the heart. For volunteers with a big heart, going out for food distribution brings them joy. To see children and their families having food on the table makes the trip of leaving the comfort of their own homes worth it (and this includes troublesome sanitisation efforts and wearing multiple layers of protective gear).

When you see friends losing their loved ones in a time of pandemic, take out your pens and start making notes of your treasured possession. I have made mine. When we can do house visitations again, my little girls will jump in the car and we will head straight to their grandparents’ home. They have missed the hugs and physical mealtimes with our extended families. Make those trips to spend time with those your heart loves.

I want to attend birthday parties and weddings again. I just want to sit in a restaurant, bar, or cafe for long hours staring into space and just breathe in the fact that I am finally allowed to dine-in. And then, there are trips to the nail spa, facial spa, and body massage beauty centres. There’s also a compulsory trip to the hair parlour after months of not being able to colour the new grey hairs growing on my head. These simple travel plans make my heart treasure the simple joys I have taken for granted for far too long.

As we approach 31 August, may we regain that sense of independence again — to feel liberated and to be able to breathe freely. I watched the recently released Resort To Love movie on Netflix and felt inspired to be at the beach again. I may not make it to the shores of Mauritius, but the beautiful beaches of Kota Kinabalu with their glorious sunsets are within reach. 

Travel with your heart to places where your heart will leap again. For some of you, it will be the stage where you will sing and dance, and for others it may be the altar where you can renew your vows. Wherever you choose to go to celebrate this independence, remember to travel with your heart and to travel light. Put away the baggage that weighs you down. You deserve it.

Your sister,
Hannah

YB Hannah Yeoh is a Malaysian Member of Parliament for Segambut, a constituency located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.