Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Remembering Benjamin

I had never been to a memorial before.

It was a strange feeling, to find myself walking up to the fourth floor of Building 9. Wandering around for a place called the "Multifaith Centre" that I'd never heard of until yesterday. Word on campus is that it was created as a PR stunt by the university to get past some racial/religious tensions that were bubbling up. (Genius.)

But, anyway.

It was with a numbness that I looked at the picture of Mr Benjamin's open, smiling face on the makeshift "Welcome" desk. There were flowers. There were lots of people... serious people. Admin people. People I couldn't summon the courage to speak to. Shang wasn't there yet when I arrived, and I felt like a little girl lost. Ironically, I wish Mr Benjamin had been there... he was always so easy to talk to, so friendly. You know how you walk into a lift with other people in it, and then the whole lift just falls silent? When Mr Benjamin walked into a lift, he always lit it up - not literally, although he always smelled like cigarettes haha - and chatted lightheartedly.

There was a Guestbook. Watching other people write lengthy, heartfelt messages in it ... I couldn't bring myself to join them. I just took an itinerary.

Finally, more people started arriving ... I was too early, as usual.

The room got very, very crowded. So many people came that at least 30 people had to stand for the entirety of the memorial. But eventhough the room was so packed, he touched way more lives than this. There was a wake, a funeral, and two memorials - one at Monash today, and one at The Annexe Gallery tonight. Imagine how many rooms you could fill with people who loved Mr Benjamin! :) It is a lovely thought.

I thought I wouldn't cry, but I did. Twice. The first was when Dr Julian gave his speech - he quoted an extract from an article Mr Benjamin wrote for Off The Edge, and it turns out Mr Benjamin wrote about our screenplay - "Amir and The Big Durian". I didn't realise we had inspired him so much that he actually wrote about our story ... Shang and I exchanged tearful smiles.

The second time I teared up was when Mr Benjamin's mum, Barbara McKay, spoke. She said something along the lines of "I hope all of you understand that this has been an awful week for me"... and she talked about going through Mr Benjamin's things in his apartment, and how he used to call her at the strangest hours going, "MUM! Guess what! :D" and it reminded me of how I call my mum at random times going, "MUMMY! Guess what! :D" ... and yah. I just cried, because I could imagine how Barbara McKay is feeling now.

And then at one point, she said, "One day he called me and said to me, "Mum, I know what I want to do with my life now." And you know what? What he wanted to do was stay in this country and teach, research, inspire - he loved this country, Malaysia, so much. It was so moving how she described this place as his home, and because of that, it will now be her second home too.

This woman was amazing. She stood there, 70 years old this year, and was strong and intelligent and so much like her son had been. I think she is an intellectual or academic too, but all I know for sure is that she's a famous painter in Australia.

After the memorial - which was only a little over half an hour - Shang and I met Mr Benjamin's stepfather. He looked like Father Christmas, and took our photo... we were the "Durian Girls". Lol.

I will always remember Benjamin ... I always called him "Mister Benjamin", but I guess that will change over time, although I still feel more comfortable with the "Mister" prefix for now. I'm so thankful that I took all the units that I could possibly take that were taught by Mr Benjamin - Television Studies (my first semester at Monash too! I wrote a paper on F.R.I.E.N.D.S), Film Studies, and of course, Malaysian Cinema. I remember Daddy asking me why I wanted to take Malaysian Cinema, he couldn't understand why - and I guess I didn't explain myself very well either then, but I'm so glad I took the unit anyway.

Without Malaysian Cinema, we would never have written the screenplay we called "Amir and The Big Durian". Without Malaysian Cinema, I never would have developed an appreciation for local independent films. Without Malaysian Cinema, I never would have been able to interview Pete Teo.

Without Mr Benjamin, there would never have been Malaysian Cinema. This was his unit, and he made it all of ours too. I took the class because of Mr Benjamin.

Thank you, Mr Benjamin.