Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Importance of Being Educated

I studied for 13 years in a pretty damn good school. La Salle PJ was (and in many ways remains) a modest educational institute that had some really good things going for it. For one thing, we had a damn good school spirit. All La Salle schools claim to have a strong spirit of course, and to some extent that is very true indeed. Still, I will say that in the time I was there, the La Sallians of LSPJ were a very special breed indeed.

I hear that in the 25 years since I left, the school has seen its ups and downs. More recently, with a very strong and active board and parents-teachers association, the school is on the rise again.

Old La Sallians have come together and invested their time and effort in bringing back past glories. And that’s a very good thing indeed. The general national trend seems to be the reverse and certainly when I’ve had the opportunity to meet young Malaysian graduates, I’ve on occasion been more than a little disappointed at their poor communication skills.

If there is one thing that should never be left behind in terms of governmental emphasis and investment, it is education. It is indeed the foundation of the future.

So you can understand how when I came across this YouTube clip, one of my thoughts was whether this could have been a Malaysian kid doing this interview. Are there any truly capable children of this age out there, who have gone through a regular local education, and been given - and taken full advantage of - the opportunity to interview the possible future Deputy Prime Minister.

We must of course also ask ourselves how that possible future Deputy Prime Minister would have conducted himself in the interview. Direct comparisons with Joe Biden’s modest, humble and un-patronising interview are most welcome.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Fiddling About

Just a quick note to say I’ve fiddled with the layout - I realised the old design was a narrow design and with my verbosity, the page was getting very long indeed. Hope you like the new template I’ve chosen. Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008


Have you been following the American elections? Like I did in 2004, I’ve been keeping a close eye on developments. In fact I’ve been virtually glued to the tube: BBC, CNN, CNBC, all the talk shows and interviews I can find on TV; and on my Mac: Slate Magazine, Huffington Post, the New York Times, and even Youtube - all for the latest on Obama and McSame.

OK you can tell who I am supporting, right?

Even if everything else were discounted, the very fact that the septuagenerian warmonger who’s gone 4 rounds with cancer chose Sarah Palin as a running mate is good enough reason for me to disqualify him from the race to the White House on the grounds of severely impaired judgement.

Hang on a bit though - the idea of experience actually doesn’t figure too prominently in my reasoning. On that, Obama certainly would have some gaps in his resume too. What Obama has in sled-loads and which Palin clearly lacks though, is intellect. If her interview with Charlie Gibson were not enough, then surely the even more painful Katie Couric interview is enough to cast aside any lingering hope that the lipstick is Adornment on Ability rather than just Prettification of a Pi… uhm… let’s not go there.

But, I mean, look, I could name 6 media channels I get my news from in the very first paragraph above, and she couldn’t name ONE?…

I’ve remained optimistic about Malaysia despite the turmoil of the last few years and especially the last month or so. All this despite the fact Malaysia, in turn, has given me little to be optimistic about. Here, we get some people spouting some semblance of the right ideas and what do we do? Clap them in irons…

As for the US, I am, deep down, optimistic that Americans will do the right thing. And the right thing is not McSame. In their favour, at least the Americans don’t have a history of sticking their good politicians and commentators in cells too readily.

Even if I do take issue with the existence of a certain prison in Cuba… hmmm… we’ll talk about that another time, maybe.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Dark Angel knocks thrice

I’ve been pretty quiet on this blog for a few months now. A couple of reasons. Not the least of which was my family dealing with visits from the Dark Angel, who it seems, visits thrice. Twenty years ago, when my father gave up the battle against cancer, he joined his brother and another relative - all in the space of a few months.

This time around, the Dark Angel’s grim visits began with my Aunt Helene at the end of February.

Perhaps the suddenness of her passing was just too much to bear, but early in July, Helene was joined by her brother, and one of my favourite uncles, Pak Hing, who suffered a serious and ultimately fatal heart attack one afternoon.

Pak Hing was a teacher who, like me, was the 7th in his family - I called him 7 Sook (7th Uncle on my father’s side). Perhaps it was that similar seniority (or in my case, lack thereof) in the family that meant I felt a particular affinity for the man. More likely it was that we shared a devilish and childish sense of humour.

L-R: Pak Hing, Henry (Helene's husband), cousins Carol and Margie Rozario, Helene.

I recall having a wonderful time one school holidays when I stayed over at Uncle Pak Hing’s for a few days. One night we went out looking for durians and he bought a whole basket of over-ripe ones - to make jam. My cousins and I then began tearing gooey durian flesh off the seeds, helping to make durian jam. At breakfast the next morning, there I was spreading a thin layer of jam on my slice of bread when 7 Sook leaned over and said in that arresting yet friendly voice I shall never forget, 'Where got enough? Must be at least half an inch think lah'. So I slapped on more durian jam, and you know what? He was right - it had to be at least half an inch thick.

My few days over, he took me home in the Mini he had at the time. I recall Aunty Nellie was in the front passenger seat and I was in the back with one or two of my cousins. As we tootled along the main road coming down from Overseas Union Garden, 7 Sook spied a lady waiting by the roadside and without missing a beat, he swung the Mini closer, tooted the horn at her, then stepped on the accelerator and zoomed guiltily away. Aunty Nellie turned to me with a long-suffering expression on her face and said 'You see your Uncle?' and 7 Sook turned back and just grinned cheekily.

I've never forgotten that grin. And the many more times he flashed that playful smile over the next 30+ years. His childlike innocence and playfulness was, in many ways a reminder of my own father who could do the most hilarious things sometimes. And also, as I said, perhaps a little of me.

RIP Cheong Pak Hing. Your warmth, kindness and just plain fun-ness was an inspiration to us.

After her mother, Aunt Helene, passed away, my cousin Pauline continued her battle with kidney failure and diabetes. She’d battled bravely and gamely but in the end, it seemed the worries and difficulties of this world were simply too much.

Her passing was a shock - she had seemed to be getting back on her feet after a round of bacterial infection. Looking back on it now, I realise that Pauline, like many others at death’s door, had simply thrown us a dummy - the little perkiness and extra vigour she showed while recovering in hospital were simply her last feint before the knockout punch and blessed sleep.

She will be missed not just for her strength in the face of adversity but also for her weakness - she readily admitted sometimes that things were tough and that she could be better. That honesty and her ability to always pick herself up the next day, regardless, are qualities that have touched me.

Pauline with very dear relation Beth Rozario

RIP Pauline Lin Wen Ling. Your strength, and fragility, are a reminder of the very best values in a person.

In the last few months, much has occupied my thoughts. The Gordian Knot of ideas, thoughts, emotions, words has taken awhile to untangle. If I only had a sword to slash through the mess - alas, I’ve had to patiently sift through the tangle and I think, now, I am finally making some sense of things again. Expect more soon.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

A letter to PM YAB Dato Seri Abdullah Badawi

Dear YAB,

Re: Making the right choices

I have lived outside of Malaysia for almost 20 years now but still have a deep and strong love for my country. Late last year, I became very disillusioned because of the news I was reading about how corrupt, unsafe and disunited my country had become. As I said, I have a deep and strong love for my country and although I could easily have decided to leave it all behind and cement my economic move to another country with that country’s citizenship, I chose another path.

I chose to find out for myself if the country I was born and lived 21 years in had really changed that much. I had grown up surrounded by friends of all races. We never paid much attention to our differences, mind. Instead, we reveled in what we shared in common.

We flew kites we’d built, shot at targets - live or inanimate - with catapaults we’d made: mine was a steel-framed lorry-inner-tubed wonder that could punch holes in an evaporated milk can from 20 yards. We caught fish in the longkangs, cycled, fell off our bikes, slapped on some TCP and Handyplasts and cycled again. We went for walks in the jungle behind our house where we fished in the stream, climbed the trees and once - and I am sorry now that I did this for nothing more than teenage machismo - even chopped down a tree with my father’s parang.

At school, I passed my SRP and SPM Bahasa Malaysia (I was one of the 3 top SPM Bahasa Malaysia students in my school) papers because my Malay friends let me practice daily with them. I was a member of the Hindu Society - well OK, a fringe member as I was really just hanging out with my Indian friends. I still have a soft spot for Shaw’s Pygmalion simply because I was Henry Higgins in our little excerpt from the play which we put up as our class effort in our annual English Drama Competition. Oh, we won the finals you know.

When I worked in advertising in Malaysia, my mentor was Zul, our studio manager who took this young designer who couldn’t keep his mouth shut under his wing. I learnt much from him and sometimes when I teach at a local design college here, I find myself repeating some of Zul’s stories.

So you see, when I grew up, right up until the time I started work, Malaysia was an amalgam of the new and the old, all races and cultures, rural and urban folk. Malaysia then wasn’t any ONE of those things - she was ALL of them.

So, in 2007, when the news seem to be filled with so much doom and gloom, so much about the racial and religious divides, so much about vested interests and corruption and abuse, I could have turned my back but I chose not to.

Instead I turned wheels. Bicycle wheels, to be precise. I rode from the southernmost tip of Johor to near the northernmost point of Perlis. I rode through kampungs and villages. I met a lady with astounding business acumen who ran a small food shop on the edge of padi fields. A young man who owned a bicycle shop and was committed to making it work. A bankrupt who was making good once again with a modest motorcycle repair shop. Security guards coming off a shift who bought me my dinner of Nasi Lemak and Teh-O and sat down and listened to my travel tales. A retired teacher who ran a medicine shop, who shared my name and when we realised that, took my arm, looked me in the eye and said ‘You’re meant to do this ride’. A Tenaga employee nearing retirement who hosts travelers from all over the world and who brings them to see the sights and sounds of rural Malaysia. An ex-footballer who now helps at his father’s gerai under some trees - and who told me how he walked away from sports corruption. And, would you believe it, I met a DAP and an UMNO member enjoying breakfast like they had done for years, just because they were friends?

Over the course of 5 weeks and 1200 cycled kilometres, I met normal, everyday, typical Malaysians. They were not Chinese, or Malay, or Indian Malaysians. They were simply Malaysians.

And more importantly, I was simply a Malaysian to them too.

Now it is a year on from my ride. The ride I returned from and declared ‘Malaysia as we knew it, is still there’. My euphoria may be diminished but my conviction remains.

You see, although I recognise that Malaysia has changed in many ways in the last two decades - new highways, tall iconic skyscrapers, grand cities, mega development projects and so on - in many other ways, I sense that Malaysia has not changed at all.

The Barisan government may claim credit for much of the infrastructural development, but it surely cannot ignore the fact that alongside the shiny and the new and the mega, there is also rising crime, corruption, abuse of power, disenfranchisement of indigenuous peoples, rising poverty, greater disparity in the extremes of many demographic criteria and so on. If the government was not directly responsible for these, then it is culpable for not having dealt with them.

As I mentioned earlier, for some time, I’d begun to think there was no turning back time and the wheels of progress - if indeed we can call it that. For someone who has always been passionately Malaysian even while living away from home, hearing or reading of things like threats to bathe a keris in the blood of the Chinese, or more recently, being referred to as squatters, brought a sense of dread - that the Malaysia we had all grown up in was now on an irreversible path of segregation, polarisation and self-destruction.

What I eventually found out though is that things like national pride, friendship and loyalty don’t change overnight. Despite all the doom and gloom I had been hearing and reading, the reality as I discovered is that the spirit of Muhibbah remains, perhaps not so much in the towns, in the mainstream media, in government even. But it remains in the heart and soul of most everyday Malaysians.

And that is why I write to you, Prime Minister.

The last couple of decades have been like Malaysia’s national puberty. We’ve grown prosperous - more quickly than many others, we’ve flexed our muscles on the world stage, achieved many firsts and experienced ups and downs.

And now, we’re finally reaching maturity and adulthood in our 6th decade. And like any human adult, we’re more independent - both in thought and in action. We saw that for the first time on March 8th and again on August 26th. And now we’re seeing it again - in our blogs, on our streets, in political discourse, and alas, in Kamunting as well.

For far too long we’ve been fed a diet of fear - fear that some of us - the ‘pendatang’ - will take what is the right of the others who have been here longer; that if those who have been here longer don’t protect ourselves, those who came and made their home here later will turn out to be no better than the former colonial masters, bent on plunder and subjugation. We’ve been taught to look at each other and to categorise and distinguish between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Well, we’ve grown tired of what’s been put on our plates and we’re making choices for ourselves.

We know what’s best for us now, or at least we know what is better. We’ve chosen to remember those values we had at the very birth of our nation - those same values that still remain in everyday Malaysians. We’ve chosen to reject the policies and politics of division and corruption. We’ve chosen to take our chance with a new government because we recognise that the very things we have been told to fear are indeed right there in the hearts of those who have been telling us to fear.

And we’re choosing now no longer to fear. Not the things we have been told to, nor the ones who have been telling us.

So YAB, may I be so bold as to suggest this be a time for some reflection? This letter is all about choices that have been made. And in some way, all these choices lead back to you, and the choices you now have to make too.

On the one hand, some choices will lead to more of the same. The same fear-mongering, the same corruption, the same social problems. In making these choice consider that the young adult will ultimately find his own way to where he needs to go, despite the best efforts of those who would deny him his dreams.

On the other hand, there is another set of choices which would bring about a return - a return to values, ideals and standards that we believed in at our birth. A return to the dreams and aspirations our nation was founded on. A return to the example we were setting for the rest of the world.

The everyday Malaysian has made his choice - now what will yours be?

An everyday Malaysian at heart, I remain
Yours patriotically,

Forever Falls - a day trip to Selama in Perak

Fishing in Oil Palm Estates It seems this part of Perak is all about waterfalls. We’d seen signboards for so many in our recent travel...