I am the product of a mixed marriage: My father is of Hadhrami descent (although categorised as Malay in his IC) and my mother is a Malaysian Chinese. My mother was 39 when she married my father, who was 11 years her junior. I always find it amazing how my mother had the courage to marry someone way younger and of a different religion too.

In our household, we were exposed to different cultures, traditions and celebrations from a very young age. Many of my friends would be jealous when I told them that I received ang powduit raya and sometimes, even Christmas presents as well as Deepavali money packets (my paternal uncle married an Indian, my maternal aunty is married to a British). We’re basically a very ‘rojak-fied’ family.

I grew up in Johor Bahru with a Chinese neighbour who lived to our left and a Malay family to our right. In the evenings, all the kids would come out and play on the road, be it cycling, Police and Thief, or ‘Pepsi Cola’. When my parents bought me a desktop computer when I was 5 (that was in 1997), all the kids would come over and were thrilled by the fact they could play computer games which they didn’t have at home.

My family moved to KL when I was seven and the neighbours I had in Ampang were mostly foreigners. My best friend-cum-neighbour was a Korean boy whose father was the national badminton doubles coach, Park Joo Bong. We used to go swimming, play badminton, and cycle around the neighbourhood.

I’d have to say that I had so much fun during my growing up years. We had more freedom to go out with minimal supervision from our parents and we were not locked up in our homes playing iPads and other gadgets.

Happy Merdeka, fellow Malaysians! I pray that we all appreciate this independence that we have and work hard to bring our country to greater heights. – By Liyana Almahdaly (pictured above with her “Tan Hong Ming”).