When I stepped into Changi Airport yesterday morning, I thought I entered a whole new world. The contemporary architecture, well-trimmed plants and the glaring lack of soil threw me off balance for a moment. I almost forgot that this, this modern world, is the world I live in, the world I belong to.

Polished tiles that reflect your face if you glance at the floor…instead of cow dung, grass, and clouds of dust that rise up with every step you take. Stylish shoes and stilettos…instead of worn-down slippers and bare feet. Hurried and anxious footsteps , instead of the casual gait of golden brown legs.

No large satellite dishes in front yards for the TV, no cartons of empty Teh Botol with straws sticking out of them. No gawking chickens and skinny cows, and no buffaloes wallowing in the mud.

I see the Acehnese beach at sunset and the faint rainbow behind in my mind’s eye. I try to imagine a terrible Tsunami, but all I feel is the grace and majesty of the waves and the gentle swaying of the coconut palms.

The memories continue to rush by like a train. I remember lots of faces, some helpless, some mischievous, mostly expectant. The soft wrinkly skin of old men and women with friendly creases near their eyes and innocent smiles of village kids appear before me. Wells and wells of water with buckets by the side; some clean, some dirty…the soiled white and maroon uniforms of school children…the buzzing of flies and the odour of sweat…the manual flush squatting toilets…and the unique cuisine ranging from Kopi Aceh, Alpokat and Terong Belanda to Salak, Risol, Bakso, Penyet and Sate Padang… 

I can get lots of Indonesian food around my place, but it will only evoke nostalgic memories of a unique experience with a precious group of people. 

On the bus back to Kuala Lumpur last night, I was struck at the similiarities between KL and Medan. The same tar roads with dirty rubbish on the sidewalks, the same traffic jams, the same buildings which needed a fresh coat of paint. 

But do I love my country the way the Indonesians I met do? They volunteer their time to teach the Indonesian domestic workers in Singapore. They told the kids in the village to study hard so that they could get better education elsewhere in a way that reflected deep concern. Instead of a pervasive sense of complacency and hopelessness towards the country that often plagues Malaysia’s youth, I saw something refreshing that touched and inspired me.