Friday, July 30, 2010

Love and marriage in 1962 and 2010

Many young people today may not understand the unions arranged by match-makers. Picture by Ahmad Kushairi.  

I am doing some research on a project which entails going through back issues of the The Straits Times in 1962.

As I scrolled through the 1962 articles (which have been stored in microfilm) at the NSTP Resource Centre yesterday, an article by Esme Baptista (Vital questions for a girl about to wed) caught my eye.

It was on Page 12 (The Straits Times, September 4, 1962) and the strap line read MAINLY FOR WOMEN. Baptista wrote for urban women in Malaya including Singapore and her article referred to changing attitudes towards marriage in the East at the time.

Young Malayan women were then beginning to discover the freedom to choose the men they want to love and marry.

Arranged nuptials were no longer the only option for them, and, as noted by Baptista, "unions arranged by match-makers are becoming fewer".

Parents in independent Malaya must take into account the realities of the time. "However 'modern' some parents may think themselves, they still do not always understand their daughters are able to think and decide for themselves," wrote Baptista.

Even so, she cautioned young women against making hasty decisions.

"Marriage like other careers calls for some preparation. But the important qualification can be summed up in one word: commonsense", she wrote.

She offered a list of questions for those contemplating marriage (see below). "When you have answered those questions you will have some idea whether you are ready to take the plunge. Marriage at any age is a question of having the right attitude, the right aptitude and the right man."

  • Are you prepared to submerge your existence in that of another?
  • Is it infatuation? If in doubt, give your love the test of time.
  • Are you fully aware of responsibilities of bringing up a family?
  • Will you relish the prospect of being a maid-of-all-work, and expect nothing in return?
  • Can you go through domestic troubles for the sake of a man who will very seldom re-affirm his love in the way you are always longing to hear from him?
Baptista's list is relevant now as it was then. Parents today are still asking their children, who want to tie the knot, the same questions.

Malaya in 1962 -- five years into independence -- was in the throes of evolutionary change. And this was true of social and cultural life too.

The more developed outside world was talking about the advancement of "science, free speech, the acceptance of divorce, jet travel, the bomb, materialism in life and 'realism' in the arts and the uncensored use of four-lettered words" (The Square Generation, Anne Scott-James, The Straits Times, September 3, 1962).

It was against this backdrop of bewildering changes or progress, depending on your viewpoint, that Baptista reminded Malayan parents "that they are living in an age different from that in which they spent their young life". 

Young Malaya was making the transition from jungle and undeveloped areas to a nation exploring its place in the international community.

We are now going into the eighth month of 2010 and we will be celebrating 53 years of independence on August 31.

Yet our concerns about love and matrimony remain the same. And that is the whole point of this post.

Parents continue to suffer from anxiety about their children's well-being. There is cause for concern. Stories of people, who have had a series of miserable relationships, are fodder for the gossip files.

What do parents do when their daughters want to marry cads or men 25 years their senior or men of different races and religions. What happens when they opt for same-sex marriage and refuse to mull it over before making a decision? What about those who declare that they are not the marrying kind?

Baptista's list of questions is a telling comment on the state of love and marriage then and now.

Malayan women in 1962 and Malaysian women in 2010 want pretty much the same things from their relationships. Look at Baptista's list again.

I wonder if the journalist had crafted the questions based on  her personal experiences or her observations of relationships between women and men in Malaya? Perhaps it was a combination of both.

I have my own questions.

How did young women and men in early Malaya conduct their courtship? Where did they go for dates? Was premarital sex common? P. Ramlee movies offer a fascinating glimpse into life in that era.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that virginity was a prized asset then although I have heard stories that showed that this was not altogether true.

Independent Malaya was largely jungle back then; that presented plenty of opportunities for secret meetings between lovers.

Most of the jungle had made way for villages, new towns which later became cities, farms, factories, shopping malls, residential areas, among others, and I guess that's why young couples in this day and age do it openly, if guest blogger Jehan Mohd's comments are any indication.

"Virginity seems to be a non-issue nowadays. You have 12-year-olds giving it up to any Tom, Dick and Harry who ask for it. I find it disturbing," she says.

As young girls, Jehan -- who recently celebrated her 31st birthday -- and her sisters had it drummed into them that they should never have sex outside of marriage no matter how they felt about the boys they were dating.

Since marriage is a selective process Baptista's check-list is required reading for those thinking about getting hitched.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sabah is Veena's paradise

Life is seriously good in Sabah, says Berita Harian Sabah bureau chief Veena Rusli.

"Every inch of Sabah is amazing. What is there to complain when you live, work and play in a holiday destination?" adds the bubbly Seremban-born, who has called Kota Kinabalu home for more than four years now.

Veena looks at Sabah, known as "the land below the wind", with the eye of a person who appreciates the simple things in life. Living in Kuala Lumpur for many years as a journalist had taken a heavy toll on her.

She extols the virtues of a stress-free life which she has found in Kota Kinabalu.

Veena Rusli jokingly describes herself as a full-time tourist guide and a part-time journalist. This refers to her hosting duties, which she does easily, when friends from the Peninsula visit Sabah.
Unnecessary pressures such traffic jams and flash floods are minimal in Kota Kinabalu and these lessen the impact of  managing the worries of everyday life .

I met Veena in Kota Kinabalu recently. I was there to attend the RHB New Straits Times Spell-It-Right Challenge which took place at the Suria Sabah mall over the weekend of July 4-5.

I was struck by her bubbly nature. Her cheerful, friendly demeanour and enthusiasm for Sabah was infectious. I wanted to know more.

Veena with colleagues from the Peninsula. When you see Sabah through Veena's eyes you will never be disappointed. Lucky Veena!
She continues: "Malaysians are friendly but living in Kuala Lumpur makes it difficult for many to get to know each other."

The stresses and strains of city life prevent us from interacting meaningfully with family members, neighbours, colleagues and visitors, she notes.

But you won't be a stranger for long in Sabah, says Veena. The moment you say "hello" to a person you have never met before, out goes the "stranger" label.

And people are courteous in Sabah. To say Sabahans are friendly is an understatement.

This river flows past the Beverly Hotel, Kota Kinabalu. The sampans evoke memories of early Malaya.
Veena came to Kota Kinabalu with no expectations. She expected nothing but gained plenty.

She got that right. As Eli Khamarov observes: "The best things in life are unexpected -- because there were no expectations."

When she wakes up in the morning the first thing she does is to draw back the curtains and let the peace and serenity of dawn in. When the air is crisp and clear and the sky is blue, she knows she is in paradise.

The sun rises at 5.30am and 6am in Kota Kinabalu is like 8am in Kuala Lumpur. You can go for your morning walk or jog at 6am, she says.

Veena loves the food in Sabah. Try the siput tarik plate, a dish that is unique to the state. 
The vegetables are fresh and full of goodness. This is sambal sayur manis.

Seafood is a speciality in Sabah. Picture shows steamed ikan kerapu.
Veena goes to work at 9am and she is done by 6pm. She has the choice of going out with friends or going home to cook. She is really enjoying her new-found freedom.

Kota Kinabalu is also the place where "I can bring bekal (a small meal, especially lunch) to work and there are days when I will do that".

She realises that her stint as a journalist in Sabah may end soon and hopes that her bosses in Kuala Lumpur will allow her to stay in Kota Kinabalu for a few more years.

Meanwhile, life's too short to waste it, she quips. She continues to embrace the pleasures and pains of everyday life in Kota Kinabalu with the spirit of a pioneer.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Guest Post: NST younger than Vampire Bill

Guest blogger and New Straits Times journalist Jehan Mohd just realised that this year marks the 165th year of the NST. How time flies when you're having fun, says Jehan, who is 31 years old, a mere sapling as compared to Vampire Bill, who is 173. Here she lets loose her thoughts on the connection between NST and Vampire Bill.

The HUGE cake from Shangri-La Hotel with lots of blood red berries on top -- a very autumny feel to it.
NST is 165 years old -- Vampire Bill might've been an editor back in the day.
Nikko Hotel's more sedate sacrifice for the occasion.


'Twas the day before Friday and all in the office,
Not a writer was stirring, except for those at the keyboard.

That changed, however, when the Genting Group started setting up for a special tea they've giving us in conjunction with NST's anniversary (we're still waiting).

We knew of NST's impending birthday a couple of days ago when the Group editor informed us to make ourselves available for the tea that the conglomerate famous for its casino is organising for the occasion.

I just hadn't realised how old the old dame was until I saw the wording on the cakes delivered by Shangri-La Hotel and Nikko Hotel (who brought just cake, not tea) -- 165 years old.

 And the first thought I had was, "hey, that makes NST younger than Vampire Bill (of True Blood, the only vampy series worth watching in this post-Buffy age of sparkly/glittery vampires like Edward - bloody, literally - Cullen)!"...thinking about it, though, this means that NST is older than the Salvatore brothers from the Vampire Diaries (who are about 146 years old, give or take a decade here or there).

And I'm not the only who hadn't known how old NST was.

Something overheard near the table with the delicacies was, "oh, is that how old NST is?".

(Okay, I knew it was definitely older than 160 years as we celebrated that a few years back but, really, who takes note of the details in between the five-year jumps? It's kind of like how cars get revamped every five years, even if it's through minor cosmetic changes).

 Anyway, as we descend upon the cakes (which are quickly being devoured in true journalists' fashion - come during any tea and you'll see how quick the food goes) and the just-only-now ready tea, here's to another year of growing older (and hopefully wiser).

Happy birthday NST!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Say 'no' to sexual harassment

"I have always found you sexy," says a male executive to his female colleague, who is also an executive in the same company.

Tasha, the 40-year-old female executive, tells me that this is not the first time that Johan has uttered those words to her. "Sensual," "alluring" and "hot" were other favourites.

Tasha's response to Johan's appreciation of her beauty is always a simple "Thank you". She feels good that this man finds her attractive but she does not take that as an invitation to begin "something" with her colleague, who is a very charming 50-year-old.

Tasha is happily married and she does not want to do anything that will jeopardise the loving relationship she enjoys with her husband. Johan is married too but the status of his relationship with his wife is unclear.

How should Tasha view Johan's attention? Is it a compliment or an insult?

I am bringing this issue up in response to the recent announcement that it will now be compulsory for employers in Malaysia to act on complaints of sexual harassment. If they failed to do so, they would be liable to a fine of up to RM10,000.

This is provided for in the Employment (Amendment) Bill 1955, which was recently tabled for its first reading by Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Maznah Mazlan.

This is a "landmark move". Critics argue that the current code of guidelines for workplaces to deal with such offences has its limitations. It is voluntary and employers are under no compulsion to adopt a sexual harassment policy at the workplace. Victims get no protection at all.

I met Tasha for coffee just after the new development was reported in the local media and our conversation inevitably veered to the subject.

She talked about Johan's seemingly natural inclination to heap praises on her appearance and is beginning to wonder if that is an indication of sexual harassment. He hasn't made any indecent proposal so far.

So what should she do?

According to Sexual Harassment Support, "ignoring the behaviour actually encourages it to continue". If Tasha feels uncomfortable with Johan's comments, she should tell him that his "attention is unwanted" because that is the "only way he will know that it is unwanted".

The idea is to get the message across to Johan that his comments are unwelcome. Tasha has to say "no" to Johan like she means it. She should not say "I am happily married" because that is not the same as saying "no".

It suggests that she would not mind the attention or would welcome it if she were not in a relationship.

Also, the "prospects of cheating" with Tasha may encourage Johan to continue with his behaviour.

Of course, Tasha may want to live dangerously. If that is the case, she should not read this post.

Admittedly, it is not easy to be "firm and direct" to harassers especially if they are people in authority including relatives.

Click what you can do if you are being sexually harassed for more tips.

The Education Ministry in Bangladesh recently designated June 13 as "Eve Teasing Protection Day". The term "Eve teasing" is a euphemism for sexual harassment.

The move reflected "increasing concern over the worrying number of girls and women who have recently committed suicide in the country" to avoid "ribald comments, smutty jokes, coarse laughter, sly whistles and even indecent exposure," according to a BBC news report.

It is so tragic that some victims of sexual harassment in Bangladesh "find suicide is the only avenue that enables them to escape this social pandemic".

The system has failed them. "Critics argue that laws which should prohibit sexual harassment are so poorly drafted that victims get virtually no help from the law enforcement agencies. Families of the victims are left feeling hopeless and helpless."

Only 104 women in Malaysia complained about sexual harassment at the workplace in 2008. Some 776 women reported grievances of this nature between 2000 and 2007.

As the numbers indicate, Malaysian women are reluctant to tell on their perpetrators for fear of retaliation and embarrassment.

The shroud of shame that comes with the intervention process deters many from taking action.

That is perfectly understandable but victims have to confront the problem at some point. Most women and men (male-to-male sexual harassment is another topic for discussion) have been targets of sexual harassment.

It is time to say "NO".

Friday, July 02, 2010

Buah Tarap: A chance encounter

You learn something new everyday. My friend Alina is very fond of repeating this. And I agree with her.

Today I tasted the Buah Tarap (Tarap Fruit) which is said to be unique to Sabah/Borneo.

My colleagues and I arrived in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah this afternoon; we are here for the RHB New Straits Times Spell-It-Right Challenge which will take place at the Suria Mall over the weekend.

After checking into the Beverly Hotel we walked to a nearby eatery for a spot of tea. It was then that I chanced upon the Buah Tarap and began snapping away.

My colleague, who had eaten the fruit in Bandung, Indonesia, was excited to see it. He bought one for us to try.

The stall vendor split the fruit into two and we bit into its flesh. Everyone liked it but describing its flavour remains a challenge.

The fruit, which looks like nangka (jackfruit) or chempedak,  has an unusual combination of tastes: it is sweet but not as sweet as the jackfruit nor as chunky. Words fail me.

It feels so light that you want to have more of it.

This is how the exterior of the Buah Tarap looks like.

Close up of the fruit's skin.

Notice the fruit's striking similarity to the jackfruit.


This fruit should be on everyone's 'must try' list.