Friday, 27 March 2009

Troublemaker

I’m a troublemaker. A bit of a shit-stirrer. The thing is I can’t stand the status quo if it’s obviously status no-go. If something’s broke, I feel compelled, driven, to fix it. Even if I can’t. If I see a cyclist going against traffic, I need to tell him. If a client is going to do something silly and waste money, even if the money is going straight into my pocket, I feel compelled to help them find a better way - even if no money comes into my pocket.

I just can’t stand things that don’t work the way they should.

This has gotten me into trouble before and doubtless will continue to do so. There are times, after all, when I butt my head against a system that is just too big, too arrogant or proud to accept criticism.
I’ve locked horns with one such system recently. No less than Singapore’s Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

As my Mum continues her battle with Dementia and Parkinson’s, I swapped Chinese New Year holidays with my ex-wife (we alternate Christmasses and Chinese New Years so the kids have a chance to be with both families) and Mei and I brought the kids up to PJ for the recent festivities. After all the bereavements and grieving of the last year, my family decided to host the annual Cheong gathering, and to even include my mother’s side, the Wongs, too. It was promising to be fun and everyone was going to turn up.

Well, it didn’t get off to a good start - we were stuck in an almighty jam on the Singapore side at Tuas. It took us 2 hours to get through and in comparison, the Johor side was a breeze - mere minutes. The thing is, the system on the Singapore side is poorly designed, with bottlenecks and time-consuming processes making things unnecessarily slow and cumbersome.

One check they do perplexed me - after the immigration booths, you have to go through a security check where the driver has to get out and open the car boot. The security officers hardly glance in before waving you on. What are they looking for? And what a waste of time. It doesn’t help that the officers move with the languid slowness of sloths more resembling a disinterested zoo animal inclining a nostril at a proffered tidbit than the sharp and vigilant officers the ads make them out to be.

As if the long jam on the way up was not bad enough, when we returned after a fabulous few days, we ended up waiting 3 hours on the Singapore side. At one point, we were stationary on the bridge for 45 excruciating, annoying, frustrating, vexing minutes. The arrogant and sullen manner of officers at the checkpoint didn’t help at all.

We weren’t alone of course and I wasn’t surprised to read a letter in the Singapore Straits Times a few days later.

Well, I added to it in my own faecal-agitatory manner. I wrote in to the Forum page, detailing a list of ills and recommending some fixes. I got a little bashing in the online forums by blinkered Singaporeans presumptuously baying for protectionist policies - ‘who ask you to go to Malaysia to fill petrol?’ and so on. But I also got a lot of support from people who agreed with my list of ills too. Most gratifying.
The Immigration authority replied in their usual high-handed manner and rightly got slammed in the online forums.

I wouldn’t let the matter rest of course and replied, expressing disappointment that they had completely ignored my suggestions, repeated those suggestions and for good measure, added a couple more.

Despite waiting weeks, we heard not a peep from them.

Imagine then my surprise when I headed up to PJ a couple of weeks back, rolled up at the Immigration booth and was greeted by a smiling Immigration Officer ‘Good Morning!’ I was shocked into momentary silence. Now don’t get me wrong - I’m usually extremely polite, even jovial, with service people. The ICA, however, had always dampened my enthusiasm, so after years of getting surliness in response to sunniness, I’d simply given up. This officer’s greeting stumped me and it was all I could to to mumble a reply.

As I drive towards the security check area, ready to get out, open my boot, and so on, what do I see? No queue of cars. In fact, I didn’t even have to get out - an officer reached out for that slip of paper which tells them how many passports were handled by the officer in the booth, and again, smiled and called out ‘Good Morning’ then ‘Thank you sir’.

The aliens can’t possibly have landed and taken over the bodies of these - until then - Sultans of Surl, so what was going on?

And then it slowly dawned on me - the ICA had had a bit of a shakeup! Yes, that proud, arrogant, ‘We can do no wrong’ blue-garbed band of uhm… officers (hey, the alliteration would have been nice, but a bit harsh) had changed their disposition. And their system!

And I had caused it!

I. Me. Small, insignificant gnat in a grey authoritarian system. Saya. Had made change happen in that monolithic, humourless, authority that is the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority of Singapore.
Wow… Damn, it feels good!

Hmmm… what next now? The Land Transport Authority looks like it needs a bit of a shakeup too… heh heh

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Yes we can.

Let me borrow the words form that Harry Chapin song and say - ‘all my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown. The Moon rolls through the nightime and the daybreak comes around.’ It seems that the days are just rolling by these days and I just realised it’s been months since a post.

The fact is, after a year or so of committed writing, I lost many words. Well, they were there alright - in my head coming out my mouth… but every time I sat in front of my Mac and tried to tap them out, they dissolved… like sugar in tea, they left a sweetness of ideas, but no tangible mark, no substance of their own.

So, these few months of silence on this blog have not been for a lack of thoughts and ideas, but for that disconnect. Or was it an overflow? A torrent of thoughts, opinions, commentary, criticism that’s clogged the outlet pipe? Certainly there has been enough fodder for this Taurean…

After the euphoria of March the 8th and then August the 26th, we’ve stumbled form one crisis to another. And despite the best efforts of those desperately seeking power, to stay in power or to regain power, the gratifying thing that has emerged is the remarkable repudiation of all that has been vile and reprehensible. I speak of course of the corruption, the abuse of power, the marginalisation of various groups and more.

Malaysians of all races and creed have remained steadfast in their belief and commitment to a Malaysia for all Malaysians. And they’ve openly condemned the policies of the past and have repeatedly called out for change.

As I type this, there is a clip on TV of Barack Obama waving to a crowd and I am reminded of how he has transcended the racial barrier to get to the most powerful position on earth. Besides being a beacon of hope for Americans, he shines a light for Malaysians too. If he could ford racial storm waters, yes, we can, too.

One of the ideas that swam around in my head early in January - caught as I was in the whole American elections process - was Martin Luther King’s iconic ‘I have a Dream’ speech. I thought ‘I too, have some dreams. For Malaysia and for Malaysians.’

Almost a quarter of the way into the year, let me finally tap them out on my keyboard. In light of the recent happenings in Perak, perhaps it is the right time to look at what could be.

Dream 1: A Malaysia of Malaysians.
The time for race-based politics has passed. The time to recognise that the only way forward is for all of us to come together as one, is upon us. We can start by removing ‘race’ from all official documents. Then from all policies. Let our kids grow up simply as fellow Malaysians.

Dream 2: A Government for the people, not for itself
For too long we have lived with mismanagement, greed and self-serving leaders. It’s about time government was about the people, not leaders. It’s about time our government worked to improve our lot, not line their pockets. It’s about time our goverment became accountable for their actions. Or inaction. I like some of the stuff I’m hearing about Penang and Selangor. More of that please…

Dream 3: Opportunity aplenty
As a country we’ve grown enough that there should no longer be any among us who lack opportunity. To gain an education, to get a job, to contribute to the country. In a global economy, we can no longer afford to scramble and struggle amongst ourselves. We need, all of us and without exception, for the best among us to have the best opportunities to bring this country forward. And we need for the weakest among us, all and without exception, to be given every opportunity to raise themselves up.

Dream 4: Substance please, not facades
I’m tired of things made up to look good but are really rotten to the core. Let’s put money into things that truly work for the common good. And please let’s have professionally run companies, organisations, authorities, councils…

Dream 5: Safety, Security… Semua taruh.
Let me have this on my banana leaf ‘semua taruh’ - safety, security, peace of mind, the works. Let us all have the ability to get home safely from the night shift, or allow our children to go out and play with their neighbours, or to drive home and get back into our homes without fear, and more. I just watched a video on You Tube which showed a gang of ‘Mat Rempit’ attack a couple returning home. Let’s put an end to this!

Dream 6: Quality Education. Quality educators.
I come from a family of educators and indeed, Mei’s family is likewise. I even teach part-time in a local design college. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that education is important. It does, however, take education to create a rocket scientist though. Our future lies in the attitudes, decisions and actions of today’s young. And all that will be shaped by a top-quality education system. We don’t have one today.

Anyone got any other dreams?

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...