Merdeka Day Celebration
PCVs Return to Malaysia to Celebrate 50 Years of Independence
By Paul Murphy
In June, Tourism Malaysia offered an affordable travel package to former Peace Corps Volunteers to allow them to return for the festivities to celebrate Malaysia.s 50th year of independence. It was short notice, but 17 PCVs and family decided to go. The PCVs were: Barry Morris, the FOM President, Michael Wood, John Shay, Ronald Myers, Bill Johnson, Arlon Hunt, Carol Hawkins, Mary Ann Newell, Mary Lou Szigeti, Jennie Nagel, Karen Folid, Gaila Olsen, Geri Albright and me. With accommodations at a 5-star hotel and fabulous breakfast buffets, it was quite a change from what we had as PCVs.
Day 1 . We got off the Malaysian Airlines flight suffering from jet lag but we already had tasted Malaysian cuisine. We noticed Malaysian flags were everywhere in preparation for the celebration. KL is now a very modern city that rivals Singapore as an urban center.
Day 2 . Tourism Malaysia invited us to a morning presentation highlighting tourist attractions for travel agents who had come from all over the world. Although some of the information was familiar, we still learned a lot and we had a wonderful makan. It was also an opportunity to meet the other PCVs in our group and swap stories. Barry and I talked about FOM and our donations to Malaysia and showed the non-FOM members our newsletter and hopefully we will get some new members. In the afternoon, we had a city bus tour. Boy, has KL changed! Many skyscrapers, the iconic Petronas twin towers, a monorail and subway, beautifully landscaped super highways, and lots of car traffic to name a few changes.
Day 3 . We got up very early to take a chartered bus to Merdeka Square for Hari Merdeka. Our grandstand seats let us easily see both the parade and a giant TV screen that showed the square and the Royal Reviewing box. All under a deep blue sky and fairly low humidity. Students in another grandstand created many pictures by holding up large cards, as thousands performed in the square. Costumed marchers and floats paraded by for 2 hours celebrating many aspects of Malaysian culture. Since a Malaysian was about to go to the International Space Station in a Russian rocket, 200 marchers dressed in space suits honored that event. It looked great, but they sure must have been sweating! In the afternoon, May Maniam, the founder of ebridgeMalaysia.com, was filming a travel film. She invited us to take a ride in the antique cars that were part of the parade. She thanked those of us who had participated in the joint ebridgeMalaysia -FOM effort in 2006 to read Malaysian folktales to over 4,000 schoolchildren across the U.S.A. May even gave gold medals to us to celebrate that event!
Day 4 . We had a chance to see some more of the KL sights. Batu Caves now has two giant statues at the base of the Hindu Temple. We arrived just as a tremendous thunderstorm hit. Sandals that had been left at the base of stairs to the temple were floating away!
Day 5 . Our group split up as each of us headed for our Peace Corps posting. My town was Johor Bahru. The economic growth of Singapore has spilled over to JB since they are so close. Although on a much smaller scale, there has been more change in JB than in KL. It took me quite awhile to find a familiar landmark, which was very disorienting. The high point of the trip for me was meeting 22 old friends and seeing their families for the first time. This was my first trip back in 34 years. It was a wonderful experience and although the country has developed so much, the people are as friendly as ever. If you missed this opportunity, be patient. Tourism Malaysia was happy with the PCV response and they are offering another travel package in 2008. If you are interested, let us know.