Graduate Students Community
Apart from me, there were 4 other PhD candidates arrived that year. They were Kamaruzaman (UKM), Mokhtar Azizi (UM), Mohd Nor (UTM) and Kamaludin (UTM). In addition, there were three candidates continuing into PhD from their master’s degree programs at Newcastle university. They were Nor Azazi, Rozi and Lariyah, all were tutors from USM. On top of that, there were many others in their second, third or fourth or fifth year. Newcastle had a large Malaysian student community, about half were postgraduates.
Balai Malaysia was a self-run community centre that cared for the welfare of Malaysian students in Newcastle. It had an administrative committee elected by the student community. Upon arrival, I quickly joined the team.
In those days, Balai Malaysia was a ground floor two bedrooms flat in Benwell. Together, we facilitated the newly arrived to settle down by providing them temporary accommodation and help to secure a place. We also organised various social events such as “kenduri” , “hari raya” celebration, weekly discussions as well occasional picnics and trips.
Hari Raya’s or Eid celebrations in Newcastle were always eventful. On the first day, we had our Eid prayer at the university mosque. Muslims from various parts of the world turned up with colorful traditional costumes. Many Malaysians had their Baju Melayu on.
For the Malaysian community, the open-house schedule began on the second day. So, for about a week, we visited almost all the Malay families in Newcastle based on the schedule set by the Balai Malaysia committee. For some of us, the invitation was also extended to Arabs and other nationals, making the day busier and merrier. Various traditional dishes were served. Sometimes, few families coordinated the cooking with a house serving some dedicated dish while another serving a different set. We started early and retired very late, full and exhausted after visiting 7-10 houses.
The open-house concept was also organized by the Arab students, but their version was slightly different. In this case, we enjoyed the food while talking for about two hours.
As I was writing this entry, I googled Balai Malaysia Newcastle and wow, this organisation still exists!! Congratulation.
Playing Security Guards
One day we were told by Mohd Rom that a group of youngsters had been harassing his family for quite some time, but that day, things were intensified. The kids also told him that they will be coming to “attack” the house later that night. Alarmed and concerned, we decided to guard the house later that night, prepared for the worst. While we were there, cars full of young crooks drove back and forth while making noises, shouting racist remarks and yelling at us. We waited patiently and observed their responses. An hour or two after mid-night, everything subsided and we decided that it was safe to call it a day. I was told that after that day, things got a little better for them. Anyway, that was the only night we play the role of security guards. Haha…
Being the largest international student community, one day, the university offered a reception evening for Malaysian. It happened that in those days, crime rate was high in west-end Newcastle. After some discussion, we decided to let Mohd Rom to deliver the message in a speech representing the Malaysian. He was supposed to plead to the university for more family housing facilities. The speech was fiery and it caught the university by surprise since there were many invited guests including bankers and some officials from the city.
Thinking in retrospect, it was not really a proper way of doing things, but it nevertheless got the attention of the university administrations and several months later, following a series of discussion with Balai Malaysia, some undergraduate dormitories were converted into family units and quite a number of Malaysians moved into those units.