ON the third day of Raya, my cabbie said to me: “Working today? Most people took the whole stretch off.”
“News never sleeps,” I joked, nodding my assent while taking in the latest updates on my phone.
My jovial driver - let’s call him L - is a chatty fellow, and always has a good story to share. The last time I taxi-ed to an assignment, he warned me about a new abduction scheme.
Apparently, rogue drivers dangle a tiny bottle of special perfume from the rear-view mirror. It releases a scent that induces sleepiness in their unlucky passengers.
So if you feel woozy during the journey for no obvious reason, get out of the cab at the nearest opportunity - receiving a text or a call “changing the meeting point” is useful - and regain your senses before hailing another one.
That aside, our conversation that day took on a more festive turn.
Almost everyone I knew was out visiting friends, so I asked: “Did you go to an open house?”
“Of course! I took yesterday off just to visit all my old neighbours, and brought my mother along,” L beamed.
Though the former Puchong resident has since moved away from the area, he faithfully renews old friendships every year.
“Their kids are all grown up. They have families of their own now, and when everyone comes back for Raya, it’s very meriah (merry). I like the atmosphere,” said L.
It was most tempting to ask if he had received any queries of the dreaded “Bila nak kahwin?” (when are you getting married?) variety, but restraint was exercised as it’s not much better than asking the question itself.
But I did think it was a fine thing to still keep in touch with one’s old neighbours, and promptly told him so.
“We were the only Chinese family there then. People said it was dangerous to live in an all-Malay neighbourhood, but I really don’t think so,” he said of his childhood home.
“Of course, there were some who just wouldn’t talk to us. But many others did, so it didn’t matter,” shared L.
One incident in particular had reaffirmed his colour-blind beliefs. Once, his family had accidentally left their home unlocked for an entire day.
Upon their return, a neighbour told them: “Tadi ada orang cuba masuk rumah lu. I cakap pada dia: kalau you masuk rumah dia, saya patah kaki lu!” (Someone suspicious tried to enter your house. I told the person: if you break in, I will break your legs!).
In an extraordinary display of good judgement and common sense, the would-be-thief chose to keep his legs in working order and walked away, leaving L’s home safe and sound.
By the time he was done with his story, our short journey was over.
“Happy working. I hope you get to go to an open house soon. It’s important, you know,” he said before driving away.
L was right. Open houses are a Malaysian must-do during any festival.
On the first day of Raya, I was tasked with collecting social media updates on that unique local custom.
Tweeters and Instagram users had posted everything from beautiful #ootd - the popular Outfit Of The Day hashtag was used to showcase new Raya threads and ayu (demure) selfies - to pictures of tables laden with delicious traditional food.
Most heartening was how many added “Jemputlah hadir” in an open invitation to their homes.
Whether I was viewing updates from the massive event hosted by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak - 15 cakes and no less, said a colleague at the scene - or witnessing the simple joy of welcoming friends and family to one’s home, it was a most enjoyable glimpse of celebrations throughout the country.
Having studied in a Malay-medium national school throughout my primary and secondary schooling years, I remember everyone inviting each other to open houses for every major festival.
Sometimes, it turned into a basis for (friendly) competition, as good friends would tease one another about having ‘more’ open houses to attend.
If anyone took offence at not receiving an ‘official invite’ to someone else's do, the host would exclaim playfully: “Eh, it’s called ‘open house’ lah! You don’t have to wait for an invite, everyone is welcome!”.
So if you haven’t attended one yet, maybe you don’t have to wait around for an invitation.
Just turn up at the next one you know of with some buah tangan (gifts) for old friends or family members, break into a smile as the host greets you happily, and get ready to be told your presence is present enough.
After all, aren’t open houses just another form of our national pastime, which is to enjoy good food with good friends?
Michelle Tham The STAR Online Home News Opinion 16/08/2013