Remember how as a 14-year old you slept through the entire lesson and only woke up right before the teacher left just to hear his entire non-academic rambling about ais kacang and Kelantan? Here’s my version.
One of my earliest memories of being in secondary school, from 11 years ago, was this senior teacher who taught us Bahasa Malaysia.
After completing the syllabus, he would share stories about life and adulthood. He was taciturn in nature, calm in temperament, and this made him look like someone who had seen the edge of the world. His quickly waning youth complemented the wisdom often associated with the typical weariness on the face of any pentagenarian who has begun to make physical preparation for that certain tragic end called quietus.
I particularly remember one story about this kid, a former student of his. According to the teacher, he was a bright learner who excelled in just about anything he chose to dabble in. So with friends constantly praising and enemies envying his talent, he grew proud. He was rude to his teachers and supposedly considered his parents intellectually inferior and hence, social misfits.
So this kid graduated from a reputable university abroad and got married. He was no doubt a successful person, professionally. Unfortunately, his wife gave birth to a child with Down’s syndrome. And life became unbearable ever since. End of story.
But there was an epilogue.
The teacher concluded it with a moral lesson — that the kid got what he deserved for being an insolent ingrate. That we as children would be punished with a sick twisted end for showing disrespect to teachers and the two people we love the most. That such dramatic seemingly divine retribution was real and imminent. That Down’s syndrome was necessarily an act of a vengeful deity, having nothing to do with the random faulty engineering of the genetic configuration of the reproductive cells.
I was 13 then. My brain was an inadequately filled void, gullible and hungry for mature adult input. This teacher, with an appearance that would faintly remind you of Gandalf, emanated a proverbial aura commanding automatic respect upon being seen. He was polite. His choice of words reflected prudence. His gestures gentle, and his gaze endearing. Like a father, his intentions were good. It was not difficult to believe whatever he could have said. We were fools.
The following year, our Geography teacher whom I have mostly fond memories of, was a woman with a personality too familiar to dismiss. She was however a lot younger — I dare take a guess of maybe 20 years of age. She was enthusiastic in her job, something I found remarkable as such educators were a rare kind in this school. Unlike most, she was pleasant, friendly and in a way mother-like. I developed a liking for her almost instantly, and my grades improved too.
With that kind of relationship forerunning, it was not a problem to put my trust in the course of her job. Everything that came out of her mouth was considered precious knowledge. I was naive and ready to be exploited.
So one day, before the class ended, she as usual would share delightful weird accounts of people in her hometown. I remember one story about a man who died from eating watermelon. Apparently, if you mixed watermelon with honey, the resulting compound would be toxic — at least according to my Geography teacher. So this man used a knife stained by honey to cut a watermelon which he then ate, and his throat began to erode and he eventually died. It’s a true story, she said. What a funny tragedy, I remember thinking to myself whilst mentally creating a permanent entry in my brain about not eating watermelon and honey.
It was hard to digest, but as I said, I was like a babe in the woods, and my outlook on life was eager to receive a complimentary session of this psychological blowjob. I took the tale hook, line, and sinker. I have vivid recollections of seeing a few of my classmates who were consonantly childlike in how they processed such outlandish stories told by a trusted grown up, all agape in the imbroglio of reconciling a ridiculous anecdote with the outstanding reputation of the narrator.
Anyway, not to divert far off topic, the teacher at one point began to talk about how the kind of diet that one adopted, the type of food that a person ate, would have direct physiological denouement on the body. Obesity obviously wasn’t the point she was trying to make, as otherwise it would be purposeless for being axiomatic.
She quoted an example, a living one, specifically a Chinese teacher from the Maths department. It was a generalization she risked, how the skin of older chinese people would freckle heavily as a result of years of eating pork. And this Chinese teacher had tiny sporadic spots practically all over his visible epidermal organ. I was offended by this cleverly devised post hoc ergo propter hoc, coming from a family that consumed pork like it was the only edible meat on earth. And then the lecture on how pork meat was unhealthy and would cause illnesses, and why therefore Islam was right to prohibit its consumption ensued. Tough being a minority eh? Imagine realizing you’re one at that age.
Unsurprisingly, everybody experienced the mental orgasm of being supposedly enlightened, because their confirmation bias was endorsed by this masquerade taking the form of an academic persona with a master’s degree in geography. It didn’t matter to us kids if geography was in no way a scientific discipline. She was a teacher. We respected her and believed her for who she was, not for what she however incorrectly knew.
Of course, she did it all out of love. A product of years of social engineering. A legacy of millenial dogmatic indoctrination. She’s a victim of her own upbringing.
But imagine the impact of stories so innocuously presented to a group of teenagers like us.
Call this whatever you like. I term it brainwashing.