Saturday, May 04, 2013

Politics, bloody politics

Guest blogger and journalist Jehan Mohd mourns the loss of sense and sensibility in the days leading up to what is turning out to be Malaysia's biggest general elections yet.

The circus is back in town, nope, sorry, it's just the latest general elections around the corner.
Where have all my cat videos and baby pictures gone, or rather, what has happened to all my friends whose cat video and baby picture posts used to fill my Facebook (or, simply FB) wall?
Instead of the varied interests and quirks that make them individual people, they seem to have been overwhelmingly swept up in election fever.

Granted the build-up to this general election has been incredible — people have been anticipating an announcement of the dissolution of parliament leading to the event since last year.

When parliament was dissolved last month, suddenly everyone (or at least the ones who load status updates regularly) was talking about the elections.

Election fever is here and it's all anyone is talking about these days —can't wait for things to go back to normal.
While at first, it was interesting to see my friends become vocal about political issues, this quickly turned into something ugly.
For someone who hardly has a life outside of the online social networking site, this is an issue.

People might call this (my dependence on FB) sad and pathetic, I call it practical; eating out and socialising is costly — and, in some cases, dangerous — these days.

There seems to be an increase in criminal activity during this period — I personally know two people who were victims of snatch theft and an attempted burglary and heard or read of several other cases including two involving guns — and this is probably because the police force is being kept extra busy escorting politicians to and from their daily constituency walkabouts and ensuring the ceramahs (rallies, speeches, discussions — whatever best describes them) run smoothly.

Politicians and party followers taking potshots at each other, that's normal. What's not is the sight of my usually peaceful friends suddenly in combat mode.
My FB newsfeed is filled with posts supporting the Opposition and beating on the ruling (or incumbent, am confused as to the right term to use here) Government — basically Pakatan Rakyat (PR) versus Barisan Nasional (BN).

I’m an apolitical person — never been interested in politics and, frankly, don’t see why I should be. Only time I find them useful is during the days running up to elections when potholed roads miraculously get repaved in double time and dirty, clogged drains get cleared quickly and littered streets are cleaned up on a daily basis.

It could be because I was born and raised in a country (not Malaysia; if you’re in tune with what happens in this region, you’ll be able to figure it out) where it doesn’t make a difference whether or not you vote — the ruling government is essentially one man and his family and they have never lost a single election since independence as any real political threats to their rule are sued for all their worth or sent to prison without trial.

The only time I ever felt vaguely interested in politics and the elections was during my days as a college student at an institution in Malaysia.

It was during the 1998-1999 period when then Deputy Prime Minister now Opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was caught up in the now infamous sodomy trial and the general elections were held in late 1999.

I remember how the newspapers chronicled every lurid detail arising from the sodomy trial (Bill Clinton and Monica Lewisky had THAT blue dress, Anwar Ibrahim had THAT mattress).

I also recall how the streets were filled with colourful banners, pennants and flags of the different political parties contesting during that general election — it made for quite a colourful and carnival-esque atmosphere.

Festive mini flags — not any of the warring political factions' colours but it is an implied affiliation to a certain party that has resorted to cute gestures such as this.
That was the first time I had seen such a thing — my homeland had never been decked out so festively for the elections (perhaps because it is usually only one party — the ruling one — running for all the seats).

But that interest in politics and the elections was then and it was short-lived.

Working in a mainstream newspaper for close to 10 years now, I know of all sorts of crap that happens behind the scenes that do not (and cannot because all the mainstream media are in some way or other owned by the ruling government — for the ignoramuses who are complaining about why the mainstream papers are so pro-BN and anti-PR, that’s your reason; for that matter, all media would bow to their owners be they the government or private businessmen so take whatever you read with a pinch of salt, everyone has their own agenda) get reported in the paper — and it’s affirmed my belief that politics is a bunch of bull.

How many flags does it take to get a point across — Lembah Pantai folks will definitely not have any trouble knowing which symbol is for which party; I just pity the independent fella who doesn't have any flags or pennants.
This brings me back to the present day where Malaysia will go to the polls to decide the fate of the country tomorrow.

While I feel that the current administration is an overbearing bully and not that bright or clear of the concept of elected officials’ responsibility to the country’s people rather than to their own greedy ambitions, I do not believe that the Opposition is the panacea to Malaysia’s woes either — and anyone who thinks so are only fooling themselves.

So many friends have turned to promoting the Opposition and spreading whatever “news” the Opposition generates as truth without necessarily looking at the bigger picture (or even, gasp, the fact that they would lie to get ahead just as the current government lies to do the same).

It’s become cool to beat on the ruling government — the Opposition is like Barack Obama, bringing in a sea of change; it even has cute mascots and gimmicks such as colourful little pennants they call “flowers” to appeal to the young and first-time voters and appear more innocent and martyr-like than they are.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), a component of the Opposition coalition, hit PR (public relations, though, coincidentally, the same initials as their coalition) gold with this idea — "flowers" planted by the residents rather than politicians.
There are a few reasons why I trust the Opposition as much as I do the ruling Government (which is about as far as I can throw an elephant).

One is that the Opposition is a loose coalition put together for convenience after the last general election in 2008 — just so they can say that they control five (now four) states together rather than a hotchpotch of seats here and there — and each component in it has very different philosophies and goals.

Another is that they, like the ruling Government, are in no short supply of corrupted people in their ranks.

But the main reason I do not believe that PR would be any different from BN is because they are politicians — and ALL POLITICIANS LIE.

And in Malaysia, where the politicians seem to take office because it is a lucrative business (not talking about their salaries but all the under the table income they would get from people who want things from them), it just comes down to whose pocket you want to line — one bunch of idiots or another bunch of morons.

Okay, I admit there might be some good folks in or are running for public office but, frankly, the system will ensure they do things even they would be ashamed to admit to themselves (and this is not just in Malaysia but in every single country in the world).

I do not understand my friends who believe that these guys will bring about change just because they say they would — I think one of the first things they would do if they win the elections is fight about who will be the Prime Minister (two of the component party presidents have already staked their claim to that position should PR win in previous reports).

I do have some friends who see the cracks in both sides as I do.

As a friend of mine puts it: “Stop succumbing to peer pressure just because it’s cool to vote for Pakatan.”

She intends to vote for the ruling government because in her constituency, the Opposition candidate is a person from the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), whose vision is a “more Islamic” country than we already are (I won’t go into the details of what they do, you can check it out for yourself) — which is why it is important to consider the individual candidate, not the party.

I find it insulting when friends say that just because you are voting for the ruling government that you are a drone or you are a racist — voting, like religion, is a personal choice.

I wish they would wake up and see that just because someone sees things differently from them it does not make them a bad person.
Diabolical Candy Crush that defies its own logic but is oddly comforting in a sea of angry voices.
In all the ugliness that has come out in the past month since the dissolution of parliament, I have resorted to something I haven’t done in a long time — I caved in to peer pressure and started playing Candy Crush, a most diabolical of games that defies its own logic.

Tomorrow will be an interesting day as we go to the polls — and I vote for the first time ever — but I will be so happy for things to go back to normal and for my friends to go back to the varied interests that make them individuals.

And I would be bloody glad to not have both political parties spam my phone with text messages and recorded voice messages about who to vote for —I'll make up my own damned mind about it, thank you very much.

Political paraphernalia is nothing compared to the wrath of Mother Nature — previous days' stormy weather's handiwork is evident even when the sun comes out again.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Victims of racism

"You Aboriginal people, you don't exist in this country, you don't even have tickets." Who said this?

It is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. This link was posted by Distinguished Professor Shamsul Amri Baharuddin on an online forum.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

More me-time, please

As this is Labour Day, I want to reflect on a four-day week scenario. The shorter week with Fridays an extra day off will mean more me-time for me. I want the extra hours for myself to do something for my own enjoyment: read a book, visit the shops or catch a movie and enjoy an ice cream.

I find it difficult to do these things now because of the five-day week, from 10.00 to 18.00 or longer. The weekends are usually reserved for maintaining contact with family members. Working shorter hours would be a dream come true for me. Is that a viable proposition? This article argues the need for a four-day work week.

Enjoy your holiday.

For Labour Day history click on the following:

* Annual public holiday

* Wikipedia

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Misbehaving teachers

Experts say parents are a child's primary role models but teachers are equally influential. Sadly, educators tainted with scandal have cast a shadow over people's high expectations of the teaching profession long before this website began posting reports of misbehaving instructors. There must be some way to improve the situation.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The young ones ...

It is reasonable to assume that Malaysians are familiar with these individuals who were aspiring politicians in their younger days. Today they often court controversy; there's never a dull moment when they open their mouths. "I am not young enough to know everything," says the great cynic Oscar Wilde with heavy sarcasm. Did these political figures think they knew everything when these photos were taken? Malaysia has the answers.This photographic montage is courtesy of Curi-Curi Wang Malaysia.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Call 'to break wind' gently

I saw the following article on Facebook. Is this for real or a satire on existing sentiments?

An Islamic city council in the Indonesian province of Aceh, which follows Sharia, has banned female citizens from passing gas. Sayyid Yahia, mayor of the city, told media that a ban was needed, as farting does not go well with the Islamic values of modesty. “Muslim women are not allowed to fart with sound, it’s against Islamic teachings,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Feminists Association told local media they will attempt to block the smelly law as they deem it discriminatory.

Click here for the full story.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Not so tacky trash at Pasar Karat

I will not reveal the location of Pasar Karat -- the market for tacky and not-so-tacky trash. Until this morning I wasn't aware of its existence. Many people know about it but the street vendors don't want any publicity. I promised these hard-working individuals -- both locals and foreigners -- that I would not make trouble for them. They readily admit that they are unlicensed traders. Kuala Lumpur City Hall has denied them business permits despite repeated pleas. But the mart has been around for nearly 50 years, according to some old-timers, and 35 to others. Meanwhile, real bargain hunters join the throng in narrow alleys and pavements regularly. Somehow they are able to separate the worthless items from the valuable ones. The less discerning consumers visit the bustling bazaar to get cheap things. As I discovered during this morning's walkabout, there is something for everyone here. Daily trading begins at 5.30am and ends before 10am when entrepreneurs in the area start their commercial activities.

One man's trash is another man's decorative item.

Cell phone battery chargers.

Throw on some clothes and stay warm.

Love the blue and white bowl.

Hey! That's P. Ramlee.

If the shoe fits ...

A variety of traditional potions.

Friday, March 29, 2013

When death takes a loved one away

Niiya celebrated New Year's Day with a sense of foreboding that 2013 would be a sad time for her. And the tragic events of the first three months indicated that her misgivings were justified.

First, she lost her beloved sister to cancer. Then, her sister-in-law had to undergo an operation to save her spine. Later, she learned that her former superior had battled cancer for four years before succumbing to the dreaded disease last week. A beloved cousin brought news that her husband has third stage liver cancer. Death seems inevitable.

Who's next? Nobody could predict death. People joke about it, pass cynical comments and offer views on the subject. The only certainty is that sooner or later it will come for us.

The following passage puts it aptly: “It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Comics: No kidding

Guest blogger and journalist Jehan Mohd contemplates a misunderstood genre of literary delights 

My love affair with comics began at a tender age — so young that I cannot recall exactly when I picked up my first comic book. 

I do, however, remember what it started with — Archie Comics.  

Archie Comics played a strong role in my growing up years and continue to be a dear friend.
My two elder sisters were also fans of the series and a trip to the bookshop or a book fair would usually include the purchase of a comic book (or two, or three).

I also read other comic titles such as Bananaman, Garfield, Asterix, Tintin, Beano — later Calvin and Hobbes, which also became a firm favourite — and whatever comic strips were in the newspapers but I still ended up going back to Archie at the end of the day.

As an adult, however, the affair with the comic book world became more of a guilty pleasure because, after all, “it’s kiddie stuff”.

Like many others, I thought that comics consisted of Archie and superhero stories — and a few other smaller titles that came out in the papers.

That is, until I was introduced to a whole other side of the genre.

The Oxford dictionary defines a comic as “a magazine, especially for children, that tells stories through pictures” and is synonymous with the term “the funnies” (which refers to the section of the newspaper where there are several comic strips).

What a misnomer.

Spider Jerusalem tells it like it is as a gonzo journalist fighting for truth and justice in Transmetropolitan
Marketers have tried to make a distinction between the comics children read and the ones adults read by calling them “graphic novels” — but, really, they are all comic books. 

So, no offence to the good people behind the dictionary mentioned earlier, but I would simply say that a comic is a story (which includes those not meant for children’s eyes or ears) that is told through pictures.

I first became acquainted with this alternative world when my husband Aref, in our early dating years, loaned me a copy of The Doll’s House, the second trade paperback of Gaiman’s The Sandman series.

A secret world of great stories hide in the pages of these comic books and many others. 

I read the book from cover to cover in record time…and then re-read it immediately at a slower pace to take in the beauty of the art and poetry of the words.

My mind was blown.

From there, I quickly sought the rest of the series and devoured them from stunning start to epic finish.

The visuals and stories stayed with me long after putting the books down and the characters lived on in my dreams for many nights after.

Never had I imagined comics would provide anything other than light comedic relief much less have me pondering questions of morality, identity and reality, among others.

It was then that I realised that comics are more than the light entertainment of my childhood; they are simply a different way of telling tales.

Comics tell stories through pictures - no matter how painful - as Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical Persepolis can attest.

Sure, superhero accounts and manga occupy most of the shelf space in the comic book section of bookstores by there are many other narratives waiting to be picked up and read (there are even gems in the sphere of these genres).

Like its non-illustrated cousins, there are several types of stories told through comics — fantasy, science fiction, drama, horror, action, thriller, biography, historical…you get what I mean.

Names such as Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis and Brian K. Vaughan (whose titles — The Sandman, Transmetropolitan and Y: The Last Man, respectively — I go back to time and time again) as well as Alan Moore, Will Eisner and Frank Miller (whose works are among the must-read for any comic fan) have become synonymous with great storytelling.

It is interesting to see how many ideas from comics have been adapted into television series or movies over the years.

Aside from the obvious ones featuring well-known superheroes — Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and The Hulk, to name a few — you also have the likes of very-much-inferior-to-the-actual-comic-book-movie-adaptations such as V for Vendetta, From Hell, Watchmen (which is, interestingly, a deconstruction of the superhero story), Sin City and 300 (a comic series which was inspired by 1962 film, The 300 Spartans, and was adapted into a movie, 300, in 2007).

While it may have looked stylish and the actors looked like the original characters, this movie did not have anything on the comic book.

In recent years, stories from the non-illustrated categories have been reimagined in the comic world (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice comes to mind).

Archie remains a nostalgic friend to turn to once in a while but for a good read on a lazy afternoon, one of the more complex stories in the comic book realm is immensely more satisfying.


My comic book picks

This is in no way a "best of" or a "how to" list (those are always subjective anyway) but simply an introduction to some comics series that might appeal to the adult in us who wants a stimulating read and the child in us who likes looking at pictures.

1. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
— This series chronicles the adventures of Dream (one of the Endless), who rules over the world of dreams.

2. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
— This dystopian science fiction series examines the question of what were to happen if every male mammal (save one man and his pet monkey) were to die simultaneously.

3. Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis
— A tale of the battles of Spider Jerusalem, infamous renegade gonzo journalist of the future, an homage to gonzo journalism founder Hunter S. Thompson.

4. Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore
— The story of “two girls and a guy who gets to know them” that won awards and attracted women as well as non-comic readers when it debuted in the early 1990s.


5. Fables by Bill Willingham
— A new spin to well-known fairy-tale characters who have been forced out of their Homelands and are living in modern-day New York.


The work consists of four short stories all set in a Bronx tenement in the 1930s; one of the landmark works that showed comics as a form of literature.

7. Watchmen by Alan Moore
This comic series depicts an alternate reality where superheroes exist and how their existence have changed real-world events such as the Vietnam War.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Life is like this in Sri Lanka

I am posting more pictures of my trip to Sri Lanka as promised. Enjoy!

The Red Mosque, Pettah, Colombo.
One of the entrances to the Red Mosque.
A petrol station in Colombo.
The homeless in Colombo.
Sri Lanka is a paradise for those who love gems.
I love the strong aura of the past in this part of Colombo. See pictures below.

I was curious about the Malays in Sri Lanka. Click here.

A market on Malay Street.
A Sri Lankan Malay with his son.
You can find nice cotton materials in Colombo.
Historic buildings, such as this one, will appeal to those who study the past.
Young women in uniform. I don't know if they are policewomen.
A kiosk that sells lottery tickets.
A tea plantation in Nuwara Eliya. Click here for more on the tea industry.
Tea and cake. It was the perfect ending to the perfect stay in Nuwara Eliya.