Malaysia became independent from British colonial rule on August 31, 1957. In a similar tradition as the American 4th of July, Malaysians feel the boom of fireworks, sing patriotic songs, and eat grilled meats on Hari Merdeka.
One Malaysian Independence Day tradition that a lot of Americans are missing out on is the patriotic bike ride. Students decorate their bikes with Malaysian flags and their state flag, and ride down neighboring kampong roads declaring “Selamat Hari Merdeka!” to everyone they see.
On the day of my school’s Hari Merdeka celebration I arrived ready to ride and without a bicycle. In classic fashion, a teacher saw my predicament and last minute drove back to his house to fetch his kid’s bike. Another teacher quickly taped a Malaysian flag to the bike and I hopped on just as everyone started rolling.
We set off through the kampong by the school. Male students whose energy gets them in trouble in class were able to stretch their legs, do some wheelies, occasionally fall off their bikes, and put their skills on display. They brought selfie sticks and didn’t miss a chance to capture every moment of the ride.
We peddled under the stark 11am sun through neighborhoods that opened up into expansive paddy fields and distant blue hills. The cows and goats and chickens grazed and pecked as we went by. I couldn’t believe the sheer greenness of the rice plants in the sun, and the lush jungle creeping in wherever it could. We rode and rode and rode, falling into a pleasant rhythm between the kampong and the raw countryside.
After what seemed like a long time, we stopped to eat rambutan, a Dr. Seuss-inspired fruit. We took selfies and a government official even stopped by to take a group photo.
We claimed one lane of the state highway on the way back to school. I biked with my friend, the school accountant, a fit and entrepreneurial leader at school. We laughed and complained when students passed us, and eventually rolled right back to SMK Selising, sweaty, sunburnt, sore, and victorious.
Everyone returned safely from the bike ride and then it was time to start the ceremony. There was a patriotic fashion show, singing, flag waving, and of course, food.