As night descends on a Sri Petaling pasar malam (night market) in Kuala Lumpur last night, 400 vendors are busy promoting their specialty - asam laksa, siew mai (a type of steamed dumplings, or dim sum), and stinky tofu.
Market-goers eat their freshly purchased food and chat with loved ones as they walk through the busy market.
Amidst the din of stall owners peddling and the loud whirr of generators, 10 volunteers clad in yellow Bersih 4 T-shirts - as busy as vendors - are promoting the rally.
They split themselves into two groups - one to distribute Bersih flyers, and the other to look after a Bersih T-shirt stall. Both are trying to persuade as many people to join the rally which for the first time will be for 34 hours.
Carrying a banner with the message ‘Stand up! Save the nation! Bersih’ hoisted on a grey plastic pipe, five volunteers walk though the crowd, passionately distributing rally leaflets
The humidity and heat did not deter them from spreading the message of civil society’s demands to reform the nation’s key institutions.
Most market-goers, the majority of whom are Chinese, can be seen cordially accepting the flyers but the overwhelming response which greets them elsewhere is absent.
Compared with previous leafletting activities at the Overseas United Garden and Setia Alam pasar malam - also in the Klang Valley - the Sri Petaling crowd is more subdued, Bersih volunteer Chai Heng Siong observes.
“If the market-goers know (Bersih), they will react warmly. (Though) some of them think I am a salesman,” the first-time volunteer told Malaysiakini , as he distributes the flyers.
Despite this, some enthusiastic crowd asked Chai for rally details. The volunteer patiently answered the questions, such as telling those who plan to go to alight at Masjid Jamek LRT station in the Kuala Lumpur city centre.
What may warm Chai’s heart is most recipients took the time to read the flyers. Onlya couple of flyers were tossed on the street, perhaps those who do not support the rally.
Bersih flyers at apam balik stall
Despite the lack of enthusiasm among some at the market, some go all the way out.
At an apam balik stall, one can’t miss the two flyers put up by the owner.
One flyer is on the handle of an umbrella, while another is pasted on the side door of a van. The number ‘4' - in red - is particularly eye-catching.
Stall owner Soon Teik Yong said he backs Bersih’s demands. However, he will not appear on the streets on Aug 23.
He said amidst the economic downturn, it is more practical to open his stall than demonstrate.
“I am worried about being beaten up; later there will be no one to look after my stall,” Soon said while flipping a hot apam balik, his signature snack for the last 30 years.
A fruit stall owner, Leong, echoed the apam balik boss, saying that moral support for Bersih is sufficient.
“Of cause I support la…but cari makan (earning a living is) more important,” he said while standing in front of a big pile of red apples.
Yellow T-shirt, like hot cakes?
Sales at the Bersih T-shirt stall is brisk. Compared with the lukewarm response when it comes to the flyers, the crowd seems more excited about the T-shirts.
Earlier, the Bersih secretariat said they were surprised that supply could not keep up with the demand, and stocks had to be replenished a few times. They estimate that 35,000 T-shirts have been sold so far.
Such enthusiasm is replicated at the Sri Petaling pasar malam. Two hundred T-shirts of multiple sizes were sold out in one and a half hours.
Freelancer Alex Chen is the main Bersih T-shirt supplier for this outing. He hails from Mentakab, Pahang. Chen said half of the collection is for the NGO Himpunan Hijau, which was a key mobiliser for the Bersih 3 rally in 2012.
“The 100 yellow t-shirts I brought is sponsored by (Bersih) supporters. They want the proceeds to go to Himpunan Hijau.”
The other, he said, will be used for providing logistics during Bersih rally.
While chitchatting with the grey-haired activist, Malaysiakini overheard: “Do you have M size? I need two”. This is followed by a reply, “Please wait a while.”
College graduate stepping up
As the T-shirt stall closed earlier than expected, the volunteers left to help the group which is distributing the flyers, hoping to disseminate Bersih message to as many people as possible during the last week before the rally.
A fresh graduate from New Era College, Khor Cheng Yee followed her friend to hand out flyers and yellow ribbons.
“Action is louder than words. I did not participate in Bersih 2 and 3 rallies,” she added, hoping she can spread political awareness among Malaysians.
Bersih 4 rally will be held on Aug 29 to 30, for 34 hours.
The rally demands are five-fold - clean elections, clean governments, save economy, right to dissent, and strengthening parliamentary democracy.