Rocking it in Cheras

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Retirees are the target market for the “Malaysia My Second Home” programme, but there’s no saying why the same welcome cannot be experienced by other 'markets,' (the educational experience as a commerce).

Clare meets Summertime, things change
When Clare first told me this story, she ended it with excitement that squeezed her sentences tight. It sounded a lot like how it looks:

“And I decided I’m going to play that, I… want to be able-to-play-that. Then I got on the Internet-looked for a teacher. Found-a-teacher-called-a-teacher-asked-her-if-she-was-okay-with-it. She-said okay!”

Then a pause.

“Most teachers don’t take to adult students very kindly, because you’re already developed. Your hands are going to be tougher than a child’s. But she was okay with it.“

She said this with sunshine in her voice, as if she was talking about her home in Kampala.

The violin, though one of Europe’s most important instruments, is fairly uncommon in both Uganda and Malaysia, the former more so than the latter. I was also told that it is also a very solitary instrument by nature. Clare would finish the first grade in three months.

Her first violin teacher was also a foreigner and eventually had to leave, but not before taking Clare through her first violin purchase, posture, and recommending she start second grade with another violin teacher, Eileen, a Malaysian.

“(Eileen) welcomed me into her family. A really, really, great teacher and a great friend. She doesn’t only talk about the aspects of school, like violin playing and everything. She asks about how I’m doing, whether I need help, whether I need anything, if I’m broke, stuff like that.

“Her whole family was so accommodating, always worried about me and wanting to take me out with them to places. It was like having an extended family and a family again. Her son is half-Filipino and is a very sweet kid. Unfortunately, [since I had to leave], ‘Aunty Clare’ won’t be coming over anymore…”

As that last sentence hung in the air, I asked Clare what else she learned from her first experience of feeling part of a family in Malaysia.

“I learned that she has grievances, like many Malaysians do. And she wishes that her son doesn’t have to go through some of the discrimination she went through. She just wants her son to grow up in a nation where everybody treats each other the same.”

“If you have somebody who is equally interested to see where you can progress to and encourages you as much as possible, before you know it, you’re pretty good at what you do. The violin has always been a personal favourite. I just never thought…as an adult, I didn’t think I could start.”

Clare met another violinist on a bus, a foreigner too, and also a late starter. “Meeting new people with ease by my own volition isn’t in my nature.” It turned out they both picked up the violin at the same time, but for different reasons.

He could have ended up being just another stranger, but they became friends. She could have been the dreaded token buddy, but they decided to practice together, share their learning progress (“as well as rosin when one of us was out”), even violin bows. He went on to date a friend of hers from Melaka, and at the first taste of how small Malaysia could be, Clare felt optimism for the first time under our country’s eternal summertime.

“When I started playing the violin, I crawled out of my comfort zone and put myself out there. Eventually, playing the violin unlocked my character and attracted people who were just as lonely as I was. One of them, she’s a mix of Indian and Malay, so people never know. She wears a tudung, so people think she’s Malay. But her sister doesn’t wear one. So when they stand together and say they’re sisters, people tend to ask either one of them: What are you?”

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