COMMENT | Whenever Sarawak is mentioned during normal conversations or in any mass media, I cannot help but beam happily as this beautiful state of Malaysia holds a dear place in my heart.
I was a student of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) and I thoroughly enjoyed the learning experience and most importantly, I have met and made many friends of diverse ethnicities throughout Malaysia. It was in Sarawak where I learned the true meaning of unity from the locals themselves and it was also in Sarawak where I met my best friend, Noraini (fondly known as Aini).
My first official encounter with Aini was during the first semester of our university life. I remember vividly that it was a Modern Economics group assignment, and the lecturer told us to group ourselves in a multiethnic group. It simply meant that the group must comprise at least two ethnicities.
I did not really mind in the beginning, but when I found myself being the only Chinese in a group of all-Malay coursemates, I started to feel a bit out of place. On one hand, I was sceptical about our future teamwork because I realised our working styles were different, we were all still unfamiliar with the subject, and most importantly, with one another.
During our first group discussion, Aini was quick to break the ice, she introduced herself as a KL girl and that she can also speak fluent Mandarin because she previously studied at Chinese primary and secondary schools. Soon, the rest began to warm up, shared their opinions and we delegated our work.
After the group assignment ended, I found myself talking to Aini on a regular basis. We began to talk about non-academic matters as well. Sometimes she would surprise me by conversing nonstop in Mandarin, sometimes making me feel inferior about my own Mandarin skills. She is like a bridge between cultures, in fact, she gets along so well with everyone, regardless of their race.
After the first semester, we were almost inseparable. We each did have our own group of friends (we were staying at different hostels) but we always found ourselves sitting next to each other (the first row) for almost every class. Soon, our separate groups of friends became our mutual friends.
I felt very comfortable around her, even though we are both very different individuals. She is a super extrovert who loves to lead, even though she does not want to admit it, while I am an introvert who prefers to listen and follow others.
Aini also loves to go out. I remember one occasion how she persuaded me to drive her out to town to shop for a bicycle and the fact that she teased me about my driving when she was the one without a driving licence at that time.
I am extremely grateful for our fateful first encounter and teamwork experience during the first semester. This led to many partnership opportunities for the following semesters.
When I was the chief editor of our university’s newsletter, she was my reliable and capable assistant chief editor. When she was the vice-president of a campaign project, I acted as the treasurer. We both have different strengths, and thankfully, we appreciate that and complement each other rather well. We encouraged each other every semester and it was a really proud moment when we both became recipients of our faculty’s Dean List during our final year.
One unique point about Aini is that she has a “healthy” obsession with taking selfies, even in between classes or when she feels like it. At first, I thought she was weird. Soon, I gradually found myself posing naturally together whenever she requested it. Now, I am extremely grateful for her initiative and yes, good phone habits for saving precious memories till today.
Aini is also extremely adventurous and bold, something that I am very envious about her. I still remember during our final year, we went to Bako with a group of friends. I generally enjoyed the trip except for the part where we need to hike.
As someone who is extremely afraid of heights, I was really terrified. Every step felt so heavy but Aini was literally walking and leading the way as if she was as light as a feather. In between, she would stop, turn around, wait for me, and encourage me to persevere.
Even after finishing our studies, we still keep in touch. During my internship in Petaling Jaya, she invited me over to her house during Hari Raya and it was so good to finally meet her family members in person.
I guess I was one of the earliest to know that she was going to get married. We used to joke that she will be holding a “sidang media” to finally announce her actual wedding dates and details. I jokingly told her that I am the special VIP for coming all the way from Seremban, since most of the guests were from KL.
Thankfully, I managed to attend her engagement with some of our coursemates last year and I was really happy for her and told her that I will save my tears during her official wedding reception.
Her wedding reception was supposed to be in March this year, but then the MCO happened and she had to postpone it after her solemnisation ceremony. New dates are being arranged and fingers crossed that we will be able to celebrate together soon.
Aini, if you are reading this, I just want to say thank you for being an amazing friend and I hope this article will remind you of our memories together. Congratulations on your marriage, my friend and I wish you a blessed life filled with joy and much love!
Editor's Note: This is an entry to an essay competition organised by the United Chinese School Committees’ Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong).
The writer is an education consultant.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.