Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ribbon Cutting Ceremonies

If there is one thing Malaysia is fast becoming good at is the ribbon cutting ceremony. Over here, we do not just stand on ceremony, over here, we live in ceremony. Hardly a day goes by in our newspaper without some politician or other (they all look the same to me) being reported at some miserable pathetic function whose existence is to give these fellas a chance to show how (i) people friendly (ii) close to the 'grassroots' (am hating this word because of its overuse of it here) (iii) current and (iv) important, they are. Our Prime Minister is the Prime Ribbon Cutter and Chief Minister of empty talk and passer of useless advice. Everyday he is in the newspapers telling us what to do, how to live our lives and run our businesses as if he were some model citizen, businessmen and thinker, and that were his job. Let's face it. He was a mediocre civil servant at best. Tun Mahathir was right, Melayu senang lupa.

But for me, the scariest part about these talks to the press after attending the function (if not leaving early altogether) is that sometimes policy is made then. On the spot. Off the cuff. From the hips. Up our arse. Some Minister confronted with the bright lights and microphone suddenly gives his opinion in the evening and the next morning it becomes policy. And after it becomes implemented in its half-assed, half-baked way before grinding to a slow stall until it finally begins to rot both the system and its stakeholders or more accurately, victims. Then it gets so bad that the next Minister gives his opinion on how to solve it. And that is the life-cycle of Malaysian policies.

All these politicians must exercise restraint in the glare of the media. It should be a rule that no policy matters should be discussed at these casual events. That's what they are. Officiating something doesn't simply make it official business. Officiating something is a waste of time and should not be the staple work of government or its politicians. If policy matters are going to be announced it should be at a news conference specifically held to do so and they should be well prepared for any queries reporters or members of the public may have. That is the responsible, accountable and civilized thing to do. That way, more time is given to work out the policies thoroughly before it is implemented instead of being driven by the unrealistic timetable set by politicians who make promises they have no right to do so.

Ribbon cutting ceremonies should be reserved only for the most very special occasions. And having some small time VIP stranger to officiate that occasion does not make it special. It makes it cheap. Why ruin the special moment having to turn the entire occasion around to fete that VIP? And what is worse is politicians spending so much time on these occasions because that is not their job. The more time they spend ribbon cutting the less time they have to do real work for the rakyat. And maybe, just perhaps, I can't be sure, that's what all this ribbon cutting is really all about.

a speedster's view on speed...

I once said “if speed kills, why aren’t there any accident resulting in death in any F1 racing?”. I said that in a discussion group. Expectedly, I was treated like George Bush having lunch at Teheran square!

“You are missing the point!”, says a woman. “That is a controlled environment. Everyone is a professional. The cars are built for speed”, rationalised another person.

But that is precisely the point, isn’t it? Speed alone, doesn’t kill. In an environment where speed is encouraged, where rules and regulations are made and strictly complied with by everybody, where the speedsters are skilled at handling speed and where the machines are built to speed and suitably equipped to handle such speed, speed does not kill!

An F1 race, or any automobile race for that matter, is definite proof that speed does not kill. Need more proof? Well, look at the Autobahn. How many fatal accidents happen on the Autobahn? Thus, the emphasis on curbing speed as a solution to preventing accidents, fatal or otherwise, is an exercise which invites the usage of the proverbial “barking at the wrong tree”. I am a keen racer myself. And I had never been involved in any accident involving other drivers while practising, testing or taking part in racing events. There are times when I ended up in the gravel but those were caused solely by my own miscalculations, stupidity or my car’s mechanical failure. In fact, as a licensed racer, I feel much safer driving around the Sepang F1 track than on our public road! Just the other day I saw a motorcyclist lying dead along Jalan Duta (after the Parliament house) at peak hours on my way home after work. The road was jammed pack with cars and it was raining. How fast could he ride? But he was zig-zagging his way. Went on the emergency lane and hit a lorry which had earlier braked abruptly. What killed him? Speed?

Look at the happenings on our road. Motorcycles zig-zagging at every opportunity. Cars jumping ques, changing lanes at will and road hogging. Huge lorries driven in dangerous manners. Overloaded vans and lorries. Drunk drivers. Pedestrians oblivious to anything at all. Pot holes. Roads which change direction without proper signage/warning or at all. Policemen who are more interested in issuing summons rather than preventing offences. And drivers/road users with bad attitudes. Just to name but a few daily observation of what we see on our public roads.

Our police have all the data about all the accidents from all the police reports lodged. After all, it is mandatory under our law that every accident be reported to the police within 24 hours from its occurrence. Why don’t we engage a consultant to look at all these data? And come up with a statistic. This statistic would show, among others, the followings :-

- the type, model and age of vehicles involved in fatal accidents. This is important. How many time have we seen fatal accident involving expensive cars like BMW, Mercs, Lexus et al? Why are Kancils, Satrias, Kenaris, Sagas and old lorries, buses and vans and what have you always involved in fatal accidents? I am not a snob but this is a fact. Is it because something is wrong with these cars/vehicles or is it because there is something wrong with the owners of these cars/vehicles? If it was the later, the statistic would also show the profile of the owners of these vehicles.

- the profile of the drivers who are involved in fatal accidents.

- the circumstances under which fatal accidents take place. For example, what was the time? Was it dark? Was it raining? Was the traffic light working? Was there a traffic jam? Etc…

- the condition of the road where fatal accidents happen.

- the condition of the vehicles involved in fatal accidents. Was it old? Was it properly maintained? Was it overloaded? Etc..

- the nature of the location of the fatal accident.

These statistics will than have to be studied. The root cause or causes of accidents, fatal or otherwise could than be ascertained and addressed in a holistic manner. Issuing summons and going all out to collect the compounds and giving discounts on the compounds is not going to work. In fact, it is now proven that it is not working. Look at the data. Spend some money on this exercise. Spend some thoughts as well. And I am sure a holistic approach could be found to at least lessen the number of fatal accidents in this country.

In short, I say, please prepare a report…

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Soma That Speed

Speed limits. Fascinating things. Let me get one thing clear first. I'm not discussing the speed limit imposed on those places where it is justified such as near schools and such, physically disabled people areas (such as where the Malaysian Association of the Blind is situated which is a centre of activity for many blind people), in long stretches of road in residential areas (used also as a tool to enforce peace and security), dangerous blind (not intended) corners and slip-in roads as most Malaysian cities have, and to regulate certain stretches of roads for to cater to their peculiar circumstances. No. Those places are wholly justified. In fact, I say the police should be watching those areas. It is there that they shall find the law trampled if not driven over regularly.

But not on the highways. Not those vast, flat and seductive empty six-laners that God laid down for those of us that want to place our pedal to the metal. No. Those places like the Garden of Eden should be left pristine just as it was made. A grave matte black with vertical disconnect white lines without those metal poles with the red circle and a number in the middle at the side. The following yellow triangle signs however are welcomed: falling rocks, high winds, winding roads up ahead, bumpy roads, and perhaps one for cops around the corner would be greatly appreciated. So as you can tell by now, I'm talking about speed limits on the highway.

The question I always find myself asking is this: if the highest one can travel in a vehicle in the country is 110 km/h, (1) why do car makers that make cars for our country not calibrate the car to limit its top speed to maybe 120 km/h only (only army and police excepted) (2) why doesn't the government make it a policy to limit the cars to that speed only and enforce it? Surely it would be easier to do that than to allow hundreds of thousands of vehicles every few years with the ability to go beyond the speed limit at will and try to contain them. The assumption is noble - people should be able to regulate themselves - but not most third world developing countries in Asia, including our country. In these places, laws are mere guides, even an opinion perhaps. But operationally it is an absolute disaster. Why do it this way then? I'm sure I am also not the only one to have thought about this and asked this question. I am certain the question must have occurred to all these traffic experts.

Will it kill people's need and desire for cars? No. You still get somewhere in them and that's the most useful part about them. The speed is secondary. So the car industry may take a dent but it certainly will not bring its doom. It may even save fuel, cars that don't go so fast or are not high performance also don't burn fuel as quickly too. And for the record, even the Toyota Prius goes up to almost 110 miles per hour (approximately 180 kilometers per hour). Will it make it easier to do policing? Yes. It would be so easy to see who is speeding beyond the limit. Less traffic police resources have to be invested into this area and it can be used for other purposes.

There are all these substantial benefits in favour of reducing speed this way but still it is not done. The question parallels the existential one. Why did God make us in and for freedom yet fashion such a narrow path for us to be near his Grace? A test of our faith, we could rationalize but it still sits rather uneasily sometimes. But back to the speed limit. And I suspect a reason governments allow cars to be so much higher above the speed limit is because they in some vague way understand that there is a freedom in being able to break the law and go as fast as you can in your car. You have the freedom to keep within or to break the law. That is important. Because that is one of the most fundamental rights we have as human beings. They day we are not able to do that we would have either a Brave New World or 1984, or worse both. Which if you think about, is the direction our country seems to be slowly drifting towards. Anybody got some soma?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

this is how shit happens (in malaysia...and almost everywhere else!).

In the Beginning was The Plan.

And then came the Assumptions.

And the Assumptions were without form.

And The Plan was completely without substance.

And the darkness was upon the face of the workers. “It is a crock of shit and it stinketh.”

And the workers went unto the Supervisors and sayeth, “It is a pail of dung and none may abide the odor thereof.”

And the Supervisors went unto their Managers and sayeth unto them, “It is a container of excrement and it is very strong. Such that none may abide it.”

And the Managers went unto the Directors and sayeth, “It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide it.”

And the Directors went unto the Vice Presidents. And sayeth unto them, “It promotes growth, and is very powerful.”

And the Vice Presidents went unto the President. And sayeth unto him, “This new Plan will actively promote the growth And efficiency of this Company
And these areas in particular.”

And the President looked upon the Plan. And he saw that it was good, and the Plan became Policy.

And this is how Shit Happens!

- from another website.

Live Telecast

Whenever the television is left on and I have no particular interest one way or the other what to watch, I would usually choose whatever is showing live. I don't care whether they are showing darts, pool and cricket (which I would ordinarily would not watch, my favourites being tennis, golf and football which I would take the trouble to watch live), or its monster truck madness, or news, whatever - as long as it was live.

Why, you may wonder, hypothetically of course? (I do not expect you to trouble yourself even for a moment with such inane peccadilloes!) The reason is twofold. Firstly, there is this sense of shared togetherness that both those people doing their thing on the screen and I are sharing this time, if not space, together. We are both existing and playing out our moments before each other, instead of the usual out of sync, recorded and played back (like how most of television is). And in that, there is a sense of company and kinship no matter how tenuous when the television is on when there is a live thing going on. It also reminds me how beautifully different many of our lives are and that in all our differences we exist together and have to learn to deal with that instead of trying to suppress one another or fight about who is superior.

And secondly, because I think of live and recorded programs especially in relation to sport (of course not those series and movies, etc.) are comparable to that of freshly cooked food and reheated food. It's always better to eat freshly cooked. And even if you don't want to eat anymore and have to, at least it's fresh. As with all general rules there are exceptions. I, for one, wouldn't mind and in fact welcome reheats of my favourite football team, Arsenal, in full flight. Yummy.

Monday, March 26, 2007

sorry, i am not funky anymore...

I was driving this morning when I heard it over Mix FM. The blurb about Earth Wind and Fire coming to Malaysia for a show. Excuse me, Earth who? You mean, that groovy funky disco-ey group with afro hairdos and tight bell bottomed pants? That group which sang “Fantasy” and “Boogie Wonderland”? My God, but aren’t they too old to be prancing about the stage while shaking their butts to the…er…groove…whatever? Do people groove anymore nowadays? And what the hell is “funky”? Play that funky music, screams that guy, whatever his name was…erm…Wild Cherry? WTF is “funky”? Groove…what groove? The groove on the LPs? Jeez..what is an LP? Daddy, why are your CDs black in colour and they are so blinking big? And why do you need to put it on that platter and stick a needle on it before it makes some sound? And what sound are those? What are they saying? How do you behave to be “groovy”, “funky” or to “boogie”?

Why are all these people coming to Malaysia suddenly? When they are so friggin’ old they probably can’t carry a Strat without hyperventilating? Why weren’t these super duper groovy fellows coming here at the top of their popularity? Last year, it was the Boney M who came here. My God. Bonny friggin’who? Bonny M? They are so old they should probably change their name to Bonny Z by now! Who would want to see some old shyte prancing on the stage singing Daddy’s Cool? It ain’t blinking cool I tell ya!

One after another old, almost Jurassic, act comes to Malaysia nowadays. These acts would not even raise an eye lid if Malaysia was mentioned to them when they were on top of their career. Now suddenly they are saying that they have wanted to come here a long time ago but there wasn’t an opportunity to do so. And they had always had us, their Far Eastern fans, in their mind all these years. That is why they are coming after all these years. Ya, rite! The truth is nobody cares about them anymore in the US of A, Europe or Japan, or even Singapore for that matter. So, these old boys have to find a region where they might still have an audience. So, Malaysia it is and Malaysia it shall be. So, we have old wrinkled men and women coming to Malaysia to perform. South East Asia used to be a dumping ground for expired goods from the west. Now we have people who, really, are nearing expiration or should have expired a long time ago, coming to perform.

At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wild Cherry would make an appearance in KL soon…yeah…play that funky music white boy…jeeez….

Sunday, March 25, 2007

On Awareness

Aleksander Balos-Credo's 'Awareness'

I recently finished reading Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela's 'A Human Being Died That Night: Forgiving Apertheid's Chief Killer'. Dr. Pumla is a clinical psychologist that was provoked by a mother of one of apartheid's many victims who had told her that she had forgiven, Eugene de Kock, commanding officer of the apartheid death squads, to seek him out and find out what made that mother forgive someone known infamously in South Africa as 'Prime Evil'. The thrust of the book is a meditation on forgivness, its nature, its meaning and its paremeters. Dr. Pumla in the course of her meditation throws open many issues both psychological and legal as well. One of the passages that found resonance with me was this:

"How much evidence is necessary for one to change perspective and for transformation in one's life to result? Is knowledge enough to change a person's heart? Is it sufficiently simply to know that the beliefs on which one has based one's behavior are wrong? Perhaps one doesn't need more knowledge; one needs the resolve to use the knowledge that one has. Moving from reflection to engagement requires a new way of seeing the old - the kind of shift in perspective that information rarely yields but spiritual conviction sometimes brings."

Although this passage relates to how the Christian religion in South Africa failed to 'create a moral climate in which soldiers could draw from the religious conviction and exercise moral restraint' and even interpreted the acts of suppression and repression of the blacks as 'divinely sanctioned acts', it finds application in other areas as well because it asks a fundamental problem. How do you persuade someone to change something fundamental about their way of life or personality? How do you inspire someone? The paragraph does not yield answers though it does one important thing - it points out what knowledge does not do. Knowledge doesn't simply change one. It gives one tools to do so, but it does not effect the change. That has to come from 'resolve' or interest or necessity. Knowledge is nothing more than a store of information.

More important is how to use that knowledge in a meaningful and productive manner not just for our own personal growth but also in our interactions with other people and our work. That is not to say technique is supreme to knowledge but they both require each other. There is synergy in a meaningful combination of one with the other. And that is why I am now opposed to these popular non-governmental organizations idea of merely raising awareness about issues, which the government has taken up for its own policies and procedures, without also instilling or making available just what to do once awareness has been achieved, and providing the necessary and attendant infrastructure to provide a foundation for that policy.

An illustration of this would be the 'Love Our River' Campaign organized by the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) and the Department of Environment (DOE) which was organized to 'promote public awareness of the importance of rivers and highlight the critical state of river pollution.' The Spotlight report in New Straits Times (NST) dated 20 October 2006 reported: 'DID section assistant river Ahmad Darus said the department had spent RM 10 million during the campaign on ‘site activities’ which included landscaping – building walkways and gazebos for the public. Between 1993 and 2003, an average of 35 rivers a year were monitored, and gotong-royong and landscaping activities were carried on an average of 23 rivers, he said. In 1993, RM 100,000 was spent on billboards. An additional RM 50,000 was spent in the subsequent years, said Ahmad. More than a thousand awareness seminars were also held in schools nationwide.'

But as Dr. Pumla has pointed out mere k
nowledge does not change a person's heart, and that is harder to change than one's mind. It goes the same for awareness. The NST understandably reported in euphemistic terms how it was a failure. And that was the problem with the campaign. It was more concerned with spending money, construction, and petty activities. How do these impersonal campaigns for the masses supposed to not just raise awareness but become an active dependable force in combating river pollution? How does it equip them with the relevant skill or abilities to assist in building an effective, meaningful community to assist in the fight against environment pollution?

That is not to say that awareness is not important, but its importance is limited temporally to a narrow area. It is that first step. But then the journey of a thousand miles does not end with the first step. It continues with many other steps which will be repetitive, dull, tiresome but no less important because all of them will take us to our destination. The question then is what would give us that resolve? Spiritual conviction may give us that. But I suspect that is a question that each of us has to answer in each of our own individual and unique way because we are similar as we are dissimilar. And in trying to find that answer are we able to transform awareness of humanity into human action.

Brushing the Teeth

There used to be no doubt in my mind: the manual toothbrush rocked. I had complete control of the vigrousness and angle of my stroke. There was not a tight little corner that escaped the relentless probing of my toothbrush. And the broad head of these toothbrushes with their dense and stiff bristles confidently signaled to me that no plaque or stain might hold out against their assaults for long. It was only a matter of time before the toothguard brigade found them, brushed and fluorided them. And there was the pleasure when you grooved the rhythmic rocking motion of brushing. As if in finding that elusive optimal rhythm, you too could be sure of the sheer efficiency and confidence of your brushing. And because it was the optimal rhythm, you felt you could just keep thrusting, withdrawing, caressing and probing forever, as long as the firmness of the bristles in your toothbrush held out.

But then I was seduced by scientific advancement: the electric toothbrush (what I call the 'e-toothbrush'). Its small, circular but potent head perched high above its long neck which threatened to flare out into a frock dress but then merely joins indiscreetly to a lower stately sober and fatter lower body prompted one to think of a slimmed down alien robot based on a toothbrush and an ostrich. That it lacked the simple elegance of the toothbrushes was obvious. The small head, quiet and inert when not in use, seem to say defensively, 'it's not the width or length that counts but how quickly it spins.' Its entirety seem to say, 'Do not pay attention to that, the e-toothbrush seemed to declare. I may be staid, dull and unsexy, but I will take care of you like a mother can.' And when it was turned on, the noisy robotic whirr declared its single-minded scientific efficiency, its intention to relentlessly and mercilessly eradicate plaque and stains. That was just the problem - it was too coldly efficient. The hand did little, it just stayed in place where the head was whirring, its job only to keep it in place. It was like being damned to watching someone pleasuring themselves with no hope of ever partaking in it. It felt distant. Though my teeth felt more secure with the electric whirr and vigorous one speed brushing, my hand felt neglected, useless and uninterested. 'If this is what it means to use an e-toothbrush, I don't want any part of it.' And so it became that even though it was so easy to now brush my teeth, I took no pleasure or interest in it. What used to be a pleasure looked forward to was now a chore. Done only at virtual gunpoint. I had to remind myself that no one would want to french a toothless guy, especially a young one.

So breaking out the paralysis that was threatening to affect my teeth brushing habits, I one day bought a manual toothbrush. Not those cheap ones either. No. You cannot do these things half-hearted. The one I bought claimed to have built in the latest technology into it. How a simple manual toothbrush had so much technology built into it escaped me. I mean, just look at it. It's really a stick with a brush at the end. But on closer inspection the bodies now looked better, sexier almost, like a model with her perfect body gracefully arching it, pushing out her breasts, as if it may help with the brushing of your teeth. And bristles now were multicoloured, went this way and that (better and more effecting brushing! it promised on its glitzy packaging). The heads were slightly longer and just that little wider. Come back to us, Mister! We promise to love you long time, the new manual brushes tempted and beckoned like sirens on sirenum scopuli.

And like a sailor, I had no choice and went back to them. Thankfully, there were no crashes against the cliffs or surrounding rocks. Instead, upon trying out that spanking new sexy manual toothbrush, I was hooked. My hand grew excited at the prospect of being, well if not directly at the centre, then at least having an important role to play. It relished the cut and thrust of the brush. Like a swashbuckler in battle freshly unleashed from prison, it parried, it advanced, it stabbed at the unwelcome invaders. Brushing became fun, exciting and almost an adventure again. And this toothbrush episode taught me one thing. Scientific advancement must never come at the expense of meaningful human involvement. For to do so would be putting science at our disservice. If brushing teeth be the music of love (and minuet of lust), brush on, good man, brush on!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Georgia on My Mind

Funny thing these fonts. They are annoyingly personal and sometimes imposingly so. It’s fun to run through the preview list of the fonts on Word (especially after you’ve just loaded up one CD full of it) to see the diversity of styles in which a word can be reproduced. And they do strange things. Like I used to like Arial because my office uses it. It looked neat, clean shaven and dependable. But what Arial didn't know was that I had a secret affair going on with Palatino Linotype. I would use that for submissions that I did alone so nobody knew of my betrayal. It felt more mature, more considered, more worldly, not what Arial had become for me, clinically well rounded. Such a bore. And so in my despair at my situation I would have casual affairs with Times New Roman, Garamond, Century Schoolbook and even flirted briefly with Sylfaen, Book Antiqua and even Baskerville Old Face which some probably even overlook in their scroll. God, I was such a whore! But to be honest, I couldn't stay loyal to any of them. They lost their charms too quickly, like an inexperienced stripper who whipped off her clothes before the music even started. Times New Roman, I suppose was my longest lover but it was mostly because she was there and willing. She was the bloody default for god’s sake. But I did not totally dislike it – I liked her style and wanted something similar but different. You know how when you use a font you don’t like, each letter is heavy and reluctant, each word and paragraph resists you. You do not just fight for creative impulse but your fonts too. Whatever you write (or type rather) doesn’t look right. It just doesn’t taste right.

Out of sheer frustration one day ('come on man, find that font that says ‘this is me, this is who I am') I scrolled through the list of fonts, one by one and trying out those I thought may find resonance with me. Am not sure whether it is love just yet or merely still in lust, but whatever it is, of this I am certain: I'm at love's doorstep. Georgia. Georgia, is her name. Just that bit firmer than Palatino Linotype, resembles Times New Roman, and even had hinted at an antique typewriter font. And I tried out a few passages with that. Stuttering, floundering at first until, like a flower that chose when to reveal itself did just that, I was mesmerized. This font doesn’t just express my letters, it inspires them. It tempts and teases them to leave me. It cajoles and caresses them away from me. I look at the screen and see these words that I’ve typed reproduced in such beautiful style that even if whatever I’ve written is crap, by god, at least it looks good. Georgia makes me want to see more. The end of each sentence is like just that inch higher on her skirt on an endless pair of shapely legs. If this be the task asked of Sisyphus to go to and fro on those legs, let me bear that punishment with him! I've got Georgia on my mind. (P.S. That is not a partial shot of a Georgia font)

When the rain comes a-fallin'...

Synonymous with rain, the landslide will come. And the latest is in Putrajaya! Yerp... yerp... rite... there was a landslide in the ultra modern new capital designate of Malaysia... PUTRAJAYA! The city without the traffic jam (ya rite... no traffic jam 4 years ago!). The city with the modern transportation system (erm... where ar?). The city which houses all the government departments/ministries whatever. The city with not enough parking lots for the masses! And now, the city with the landslide.

Fortunately this time, no life was lost. Only some cars were damaged. And about a thousand people having to be evacuated from their homes. The PM, as expected, was surprised. And he has done the best thing which he could do... asked for reports. Yes yes... report please. Putrajaya Holdings... this is the PM...please prepare a report. IKRAM, this is the PM... please prepare a report.

Well well... how many FUCKIN' reports must there be on landslides before we will ever fuckin' gonna learn? Pardon my French, but I am feeling like a French guy the day after Waterloo here. Highland Tower happened in what, 1994? How many reports have been prepared, read, re-read, visit, re-visited, dissected, discussed, absorbed, thought about and forgotten since then? What is the plan my man? The P.L.A.N!!! What are we going to do about these landslides which have occured with alarming frequency dragging with them millions of dollars of damage and not to mention the lost of lives? Aren't there enough friggin' reports already for us to come up with a definite and exhaustive plan to prevent this from happening again? Why aren't we proactive rather than reactive on an ad-hoc basis? One landslide here...okay...we prepare report here and see what we can do to solve the problem here. One landslide there and we prepare report there and we will see what we can do there. Hello, reports are about landslides which HAD occured! What about landslides which are going to happen or could happen? What are we going to do about those?

Okay, I have to stop now. My assistant just walked in with a report...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Deskbound Fat Cops

The News Straits Times reported today that fat cops in the Johor police force will be taken off the streets and put behind desks 'until they trim down and improve their fitness levels'. This ingenious idea was the brainchild of none other than the police chief Datuk Hussin Ismail. He drew inspiration from two patrolmen who were overpowered by a suspect who then stole their police car. If those two patrolmen were fat asses, I think what actually happened must have been that that suspect flung some cheap doughnuts on the road which they stopped and got out of the car like the fat clumsy pigeons in the park greedily pecking anything even though they are long full.

And this idea, in all the name of all that is sensible, is a dud. A simple application of common sense would make illustrate this: You do not take fat cops off the street and put them behind cushy desk jobs where they would be on their huge sweaty quivering ass most of the time. You make them work harder. More importantly, that these beat cops are getting fat suggests that they might be eating more than they are patrolling, sitting more than walking, and farting and burping more than arresting.

For those recalcitrant fatties, Datuk Hussin has warned that those who fail the quarterly fitness tests that he has introduced 'will receive counselling and additional fitness training twice a week until they pass muster.' Pass the mustard, more likely, and that is after raiding the all you can eat buffet. I am also wondering what kind of counselling will this fat cop who has failed his quarterly fitness test get? What will they say to aquivering wreck of a nasi lemak chugging machine when he has flunked his test so many times? Will he get a bum rap or a rap on the bum?

That was the stick. And what was the carrot? 'They have come to realise that when they are fit they are more alert both mentally and physically. And as an added bonus, they look good.' That these cops need Datuk Hussin to point out something so blindly obvious also indicates that the fatness might not just be emblazoned on their guts but is in their heads as well. Though physical fitness is important for a cop, especially those tasked to apprehend criminals, I would like to see more emphasis on development of their mental acumen, stamina and fitness. A fit body is only half (I would say quarter) of the job done and it is the easier task. Shaping those flabby minds - that's the challenge. And it's going to need the mother of all sticks but I wouldn't use too many carrots. One, at most, two should be enough. After all, they've had enough to eat already.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chapati Moments: Sneak Preview

He heaved and grunted and clutched her body. He kissed her fervently but in the midst of it, a burp escaped his mouth. She could almost tell what he had for dinner.

Sosya ignored it as she moved her body provocatively. Lim groaned in pleasure. The sheets were soaked with his sweat. The fat on his body wobbled. Sosya thought she was going to bounce off his stomach. At one perilous instant she clutched wildly at his repellently porcine body for fear of being thrown off the bed. Luckily, or rather unluckily, he rolled to the side - pinning her under him as he laboriously heaved his corpulent white buttocks up and down. In a moment he ejaculated. At the same time he farted. He rolled off Sosya and fell asleep almost instantly ... snoring loudly.

Sosya looked decidedly flattened. She sat up. The room reeked of sweat, sex and flatulence. She looked at the snoring fat whale in disgust. His skin was as pallid as that of a steamed chicken's. His penis had shrivelled to flaccid insignificance. His fat body rippled as he snored. Another fart escaped him. This time the stench was unbearable. She ran to the bathroom and retched violently.

She stared at her reflection in the mirror. She's beautiful and sexy. She's also intelligent - she knows what she wants and she gets it. She plays on men's weaknesses. She is charming, captivating and entertaining. She is also well-read and thus can manage a conversation on just about anything. But most importantly, she is extremely good in bed. She trades her body for money, jewellery, cars and favours. Lim is her latest victim though it seems as if she is his latest victim. His bedroom habits are repugnant. His body seems to be full of wind all the time. He has a perverse mind. How perverse can a fat whale be, you may ask. Well, every time he sees her, he makes her leave a pair of soiled knickers behind - preferably one with brown skid marks - if you catch my drift (well, you asked ok!). Every now and then he will bury his bulbous nose into these soiled knickers and breathe in this delectable fragrance to his heart's content - an acquired taste, mind you - something like blue cheese, either you love it or you hate it.

Lim's wife is in fact secretly relieved that he finds her sexually boring. Alice Lim could almost feel pity towards Lim's string of mistresses. A diamond trinket here and there is not worth having to spend five minutes with that vile oaf.

Sosya fastened the clasp of the diamond bracelet, payment for the day's service. She took one last glance at Lim before she left the room of a well known hotel which she likes to call the Shag-me La. It is at moments like these that she wistfully regrets giving up law practice. What started out as an innocent dalliance with her pupil master led her down this road of debauchery. She grew addicted to this lifestyle after being showered with expensive gifts. But like law practice, as long as one is self employed, one has a choice in one's choice of clients...

The Way We Were (#2)

As a kid, I used to sneak around the opium house. I would go to the back and poke a hole in the rusty zinc wall and peeped through the hole. I would see 2 or 3 guys, leaning heavily on the couch or even lying around, with droopy and reddish eyes, getting stoned on opium (just a bit like me in an Amsterdam “coffeeshop”, I must say)! I know 2 of them. Pak Su Salleh (“pak su” is a variant of pakcik, or “uncle” in English. I guess “Su” comes from the word “bongsu” which simply means “the youngest”). Pak Su Salleh is a handicapped man with a bent right arm and lacking some fingers. Despite that, he earned his living by plucking and un-husking coconuts for the folks in exchange for a few sen. The other guy would be Pak Ani, a tall and strong man who did odd jobs in the kampung. He used to give me a ride home on his bicycle when I arrived by bus from school (which was in Alor Star) at the main road. He earned his living by carrying gunny sacks of padi onto the lorries, ploughing the padi lands during planting season and “memukul”. No, he wasn’t a kaki pukul (a thug). “Memukul” (pounding) is a process of separating the padi seeds from the husk. When the husk is cut, it would be bundled together using a towel or piece of cloth and this bundle would be pounded on a wooden contraption to separate the padi seeds from the husk. It is a tiring job especially under the hot sun. Pak Ani used to do that to earn a living. He is still around now. Older and weaker. And with eyes full of stories to tell.

What struck me about these 2 guys is, firstly, the fact that they worked hard for their money. They didn’t beg or steal. Granted, their addiction was not a good thing, but they did it without harming other people. And speaking of other people, I guessed society then was more forgiving, or even, tolerant. Society did not isolate these 2 guys. They in fact embraced them. And accepted them for what they were, and not for what they should be. These 2 guys would go to the mosque, attend khenduris and do odd jobs for the folks. They were treated as equals. And they behaved like equals. I guess time has changed a lot. But why must we change for the worst?

I digressed. Did I mention about Eng Hui’s daughters? Well, when I was in a boarding school I used to cycle to Eng Hui’s shop during school holidays whenever I had to use a phone. Yes, Eng Hui had a phone in his shop. There, the 2 lovely daughters, who were about the same age as myself, would sit around (I guess, like me, they also spent their school holidays in the kampung) in their tight hot pants and t-shirt. Gosh, I remember both of them had nice legs! I would tell them I need to borrow the phone and they would gladly oblige. How they manage to trust me was beyond me. It was much later in life that one of them, over a cup of coffee in Alor Star, told me that she knew me because, in her words, I was the only boy who could be seen with a guitar by my side waiting for a bus by the roadside! Well, she must have 8 kids too by now!

I remember there were only 2 shops operated by the Malays. They were along the main road. One was a small sundry shop in front of which a public telephone booth stood. Beside that shop was a small shack owned by one of my best friend’s father, who sells kuihs, sweets and stuffs like that. When I was in primary school, I studied in Alor Star and there was only 1 bus which plied that road every morning. The bus would arrive at around 5.50am and if I missed it, I would not be going to school that day. I would wake up at 5am and got ready for school while my grandparents would perform the subuh prayer. My grandpa would carry me on a bicycle from my house, which was about half a mile away from the main road, to the main road. We would wait for the bus at this little shack. I would sit on a wooden bench beside my grandpa. Most of the time I would gaze at the morning sky, watching the bright stars and the moon (the stars and the moon seem to be brighter those days, or is it just me looking at my past with a photo-shopped memory?). Sometimes, I would fall asleep on my grandpa’s lap on that bench. Come rain or shine, my grandpa would cycle me everyday to the main road for the 6 years I was in primary school.

Walking along the small dirt road past the centre of the kampung, one would past some Malay houses. Then one would past by the Muslim grave, which used to scare me shitless at night during puasa month! Well, until now, that grave still gives me the creep! No thanks to my grandpa’s story about seeing balls of fire on top of the trees on the graveyard. They called it “hantu raya”. After that, there was a big house belonging to Haji Saidin and wife, or Chu Din and Chu Siah, as they were widely known to the folks. Chu Siah was my “tok guru”. She taught me how to mengaji Quran. When I was about 6, my grandma cooked some pulut kuning and chicken curry. She brought me and the food to Chu Siah’s house and said to her, take this boy as your student and treat him as your own. With that, and the pulut kuning and the chicken curry passing hands, I became Chu Siah’s student.

Every afternoon, after school, I would go to her house. I would be asked to water the plant, carry some water from the “telaga” up to the house, wash the buffaloes (yes, we washed them!), bring the cows to a grazing site and stuffs. Then I would be called up to the house and Chu Siah would teach me how to read the muqaddam and later, the Quran. I was a good student. I finished reading the Quran (“khatam al-Quran”) twice.

Sadly, both Chu Din and Chu Siah have passed away. I owe both of them a lot. And I owe one of their son, my life. Yes, he saved me from a near certain death one day!

…and the saga will continue…

Monday, March 19, 2007


This song, by the Cranberries, is one of my favourite time machines. The plucked guitar notes chime ethereally as it hovers above the slow steady swirl of violins beneath it gently beckoning Dolores' dreamy hum before the drum signals its intent to take over. That opening always shivers me straight back to my spartan room in Bristol circa 1994 one cold and late winter night, alone and aching for someone to love in return. The future and all the naiviety of daydreams stretched out before me like the inky starless night - forbidding though the relentless drums that drove the song encouraged if not demanded challenge. All you need is persistence, diligence and a good solid drummer it demanded while I sat wrapped in my single duvet crammed as close as possible to the only source of heating in the room - the solid white metal heater, which ironically though not amusingly sat just below only source of cold in the room - the window. That song was on repeat so often and for so long that it weaved itself into a cocoon around me, seeping everything in that room, in those cold lonely nights, the occasional muted shriek of the wind outside, the cold sharp air in the room, the milk carton hung outside the window into the songs music, notes, rhythm and feel. All these things a picture could let me see but it cannot set in me, and linger like this song does with me.

The Way We Were

It was, and still is, a small kampung. Situated along a road connecting Alor Star with Kangar, the kampung is 16 miles away from the former and about half a mile away from the Kedah-Perlis border. The Alor Star-Kangar road is the main road and there is a small road towards the east, which connects the kampung with Kodiang. Along this small road flows a river, which feeds countless small rivers along it, which in turn feed the padi fields along the small road to Kodiang. The junction of this small road and the main road is where the centre of the kampung is.

The centre of the kampung consists of about 10 wooden shop lots, which were built in the early 70s on top of what used to be a factory of sorts. I can’t really remember what factory it used to be though I remember it had crumbled for some reason or other. Before these wooden shops were built, the shops were littered in a very disorderly manner around the centre of the kampung. The socio-economic layout of the kampung is simple to observe and understand. It is simply a cut out from our colonial socio-economic landscape template. Nothing less and nothing more.

The centre of the kampung is occupied by several Chinese families. They operated the kampung’s padi processing plant, sell household items and owned the groceries shops. They were the minority. But they control most of the productive, in terms of money churning, economics activities in the kampung. The Malay majority lived just after the centre and they were divided into 2 categories, namely, the landowners and the padi planters. Most of the Malays were poor. Before the mid 70s, they could only plant padi once a year due to lack of proper irrigation system. They would plant padi sometime in the month of December or January, harvested it in the month of July and then the land would be unused for the rest of the year due to lack of water. In the meantime the padi planters would be jobless. They supplemented their income by going to the sea or fishing in the river. But most of them fell for the usual business ploy of the Chinese. I will visit that later.

At the end of the row of shop lots was a shop operated by Cha Kau aka Ah Kau. He sells fish, vegetables and the likes. My family, and many others, maintained an account with him. We would buy goods and he would enter the prices we owed in the 555 note book. At the end of every month, we would pay him, interest free! Or so he says. He had 2 younger brothers. The elder of the 2 was called Brahim by the kampung folks. The younger one was known as Hussein. Cha Kau used to deliver fish and vegetables to my house on his kapchai. And while he was calculating our dues I used to hijack and sped on it to the horror of my mom and himself!

Then we have Jin Beng, the owner of some kind of a supermarket in that kampung. He has a sister. I remember her name, Ah Gek. Slightly older than me and a pretty one at that. She used to assist her brother to man the shop sometimes and I would go and pretended to buy something just so that I could disturb her! I remember when I was in a boarding school, I would visit her every time I came back to the kampung. She would say, “aiya, you manyak pandai ar, nanti you pegi duduk kl macam you punya abang la…” (hey, you are so clever and one day you would go and stay in Kuala Lumpur like your brothers). She must have 8 kids by now!

Then we have Eng Hui, who operated the padi processing plant in the kampung. Almost single handedly, he monopolised the buying of padi from the Malays. He had everything, from lorries to tractors for ploughing the padi lands, to a padi processing plant. His was a one-stop centre for the Malays. He would give them credits during the period when padi could not be planted. He would then buy their padi and set off the price against the credit accordingly. He would then process the padi and sell the resulting rice back to the kampung folks at a profit. Every which way, he made money! He’s got sons (and some nice looking daughters too! – don’t ask me how I know about his daughters) who lived in Penang. He was wealthy and he could be counted on by the Malays who were in needs.

Then we have the usual operator of an illegal empat nombor ekor guy who operated at the centre of the row of shop lots. Behind that ENE room, he had a small room where he served alcohol to who ever. And there was also a Chinese guy who operated a small place which served opium to the masses! Back in the old days, circa the 1950s, I am told, these kind of places were licensed to serve opium and it kind of continued till the 1960s. Oh ya…coincidentally, his place was just a stone’s throw away from the village mosque.

…to be continued when able!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Cop Around the Corner

The cop around the corner is akin to the bandit in the bushes. That is where most Malaysian traffic cops usually are - hidden, in subterfuge, when they are not conducting traffic. Behind a blind corner, a lush leafy bush, beyond the horizon of a small hill. That is their modus operandi, their stratagem which really is no different from that of thieves. Catch the unsuspecting offender by surprise and red handed. It is not uncommon to see an operasi going on in areas where traffic is thick, fast and merciless and a swarm of cars by the side of the road with their attending police next to the cars, ready to write that ticket or pretend to do so. Which you get really depends on whether they are doing it to maintain an acceptable statistic for their superiors that month or whether they are looking for a meal or short of cash that month.

I have always thought this methodology to be immoral and wrong if used as a standard operating procedure for daily or regular operations. If it is to be used at all, it should be limited to those special and difficult kind of crimes. This stems from what the function of the police is. Their function is to prevent crime, or where a crime has been committed, to catch the offenders and bring them to justice. So clearly if and when they know a crime taking place, their job is to prevent it from occurring. A cop standing at a strategic spot on the road is worth ten of them in the bushes. The subterfuge method should only be used where the nature of the crime makes it difficult if not dangerous for the usual kind of surveillance and methods i.e. infiltrating and collecting evidence against triad gangs, or bribes, as examples. Or in war.

Let us now take one of the most common traffic operations carried out rather often - speeding. It is a fact that if there is a police car patrolling the area or is reputed to do so, the people in that area will be more mindful of the law and abide by it. You can see this happening on the highway all the time. There will be a car tearing down the highway being a total bastard tailgater but comes to a screeching slow down the moment the driver spots a police car in front. Therefore, if the traffic cops were really serious about limiting the occurrences of speeding they should just patrol the area. What they should not be doing is not doing any patrolling and then, whenever the sense of duty overwhelms them, conduct an operasi over the space of a week nabbing as many offenders within that period in the full glare of the press.

The present method carried out by the traffic cops sends the wrong message. It tells people that the law is just about punishment instead of prevention. It lets people know that unless there is an operasi on, you can pretty much break the law without any repercussions, or can get away with a small bribe. It also tells us that the cops are not doing their jobs. Prevention of crime requires eternal vigilance, not ad hoc operasi carried out whenever it is convenient for the cops. It is also an inefficient use of resources because one patrol car with two cops in it can do the job of ten or fifteen cops with their speed guns, barriers, multitude of transportation and tickets used. Then there is the economic cost of it all - assuming tickets are issued, postage costs, court proceedings, petrol, time wasted in court (which could be spent on economically productive activity), the attendant jams caused by the operasi, the higher risk of accidents. There is also the loss of goodwill against the cops because people who are fined by them (especially when the law is enforced so selectively) form a negative psychological and emotional view of the police. This may hamper them in the long run if more and more people feel this, because they are losing a vital source of crime prevention information.

That they persist in this manner has only two explanations for it: corruption and/or incompetence. You will only know which one you will have to face the day you are pulled over by the cop around the corner who just might be a bandit in the bushes.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Ferris Wheel

I love you.

Do you know that before we even meet my heart beats quicker in anticipation, sometimes even missing a beat? It’s true. Right after my heart does the whole super tempo thing, the saliva swallowing starts. Serious. I know you may think it’s strange but I actually find the act of swallowing has a strangely distracting though calming effect. I don’t know why I do it. But it’s not too bad in a way because it helps block out the incessant thumping from my chest. Serious. Why are you looking at me like that? Think I’m kidding, ah? Oh. Haha. You are surprised? I guess, I guess. Well, put it this way. When is there ever the right time? I mean I’ve thought it through so many times. Hell, I’ve even planned it meticulously a few times in my mind. Definitely not anywhere near our friends or family. Definitely not when you’re at work. And then sometimes you’re so busy, or too tired, or you’ve got this or that coming up, sometimes we’re hanging out and having such a good time, I didn’t want to sort of like, you know, fuck it up with this. So that’s why I didn’t let it show. And I told myself, let’s just keep it simple. Next time, she’s alone, just tell her man. Just tell her. Stop living in the land of what-ifs. Stop living in this agony of anguish. But even then, you know, it’s not easy. How am I going to bring it up? Do I beat around the bush playing a slow game of fishing, teasing out your signals of whether perhaps you could just like me more than just as a friend? Or do I get straight to the point? Grab you by the arm, look into your eyes and tell you how I feel. I think I’ve exhausted all the ways of how I would broach the topic. Combed all the movies, books and lyrics to see what the best way to do this is. But the problem is everybody is saying different things. So I figure the lesson out of all this is that I just gotta find my own way. So here we are. I know, it’s a bit cheesy, but the hell with it. I figure, we’ll just have a nice quiet ride with a view when we get to the top. Everybody gets to stop for a while at the top. So, even if things don’t work out, at least we both go home with a nice view. And when we got down, if you said you wanted to go home, it meant you didn’t feel the same. But if we stayed at here at the funfair, it’d mean you love me too. What? Why are you looking at me like that?

That’s what he told me last month.

We stayed at the funfair that evening. But we’re not together anymore. I caught him last night fucking my best friend in the backseat of my Wira.


maafkan aku
kalau dalam mimpi
kuramas rakus
mekar tubuhmu
kalanya aku keliru
kerana dalam sepi
nafsuku tak terurus
jiwaku tak menentu

maafkan aku
kalau kuguris lagi
sisasisa ingatanmu
terbiar dalam sepi
kalanya aku kembali
melihat kau dara
tersenyum bagai dewi
menunggu aku menyapa

maafkan aku
kalau dulu aku terlupa
dan selalu terleka
akhirnya kaupun tunduk berlalu…

art harun

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Make Up

Every morning before anybody sees me, even my husband, I put on my makeup. To keep it from him, I put it on in bed before I even get up.

The crucial part for me is also the first. The foundation. That is to first conjure an attitude of interest. And interest in what is going to happen today to me, my two children and my husband, us, interest in them, interest in life. That is the hardest part. The love and empathy. And it takes up, most of my time. Once I get that part down, the rest becomes much easier. But it's getting harder every morning.

Next, I sculpt my benign look of love. This needs special care. The look must be sincere, caring, emanate warmth. Somedays I outdo myself and even manage to sketch something that seems to facilitate sympathy from others too. I can never remember how I did it. Why is it we find it so easy to remember what went wrong but have so much difficulty remembering what we did right? And how does it turn from right to wrong?

Then, I slowly warm my body up with heat generated from the foundation I've laid. The face I've sculpted helps maintain the warmth. Gently, very gently, I feel the coldness melt away from my limbs like ice cubes in the afternoon sun. As this is happening, it is important to colour my light bluish skin into a very light shade of brown that is almost like cream caramel. He used to love it. He would call me his desert. And I would melt, like ice cream on his lips. Warm. Safe. Alive.

With the major portions done, I put on bright eyes, a pair of smiling lips, open up my ears, install a vocabulary of love, concern and empathy into my throat, slip on my bright well brushed teeth. He used to tell me what he loved about these things on the pillow with me before we slept, or when we lay on our futon by an open window on a rainy day. His mouth close to my ears, his lips sometimes tracing the edge of my ear. Now it just rains.

So I have to put on this make up everyday. No, not have to. I must. Because the make up has another important purpose too. It is to keep the blackhole in the centre of my soul, where love, kindness, compassion, empathy used to dwell, from escaping me and swallowing up everything in its path - my husband, my children, the house, our neighbourhood, the district, the country, the continent, the entire planet, until in time it will reach out into the sun and consume it. There's nothing that it will not devour with its raging relentless darkness.

That is why I must put on my make up every morning.

I must put it on to save myself, to save us all.

But sometimes. I can't help it.

It comes off.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Love. This word is too small to contain the multitude of meanings it is supposed to; used in so many different ways, sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow; stretched as it is mauled, raised to heavenly heights as it has been cast down to utter darkness; it heals and gives hope to as many as it ruins and takes lives, leaving one in inevitable despair; it has become many things, if not every thing. Because of this seething fusion of elements, forces and dynamism, always threatening to break loose, caged behind these four fragile letters, love is often misunderstood, misused, misguided.

But should we then try to define it in cold hard print, nail it down in a sentence, with some pretty examples thereafter in italics? No, for that may paralyze, if not fossilize it. Love is like fire, burning you; water, overwhelming you; air, have you floating; earth, at one with the world. It is all these elements and more. It slips and slides easily into a diverse range of metaphors. To define it that way would be too cruel. But it may prove useful and not too harmful to lay out its parameters. Like a bird that roams the skies, despite its utter freedom, it can only go so high. It is not an artificial one though. There is no glass, for example, that stops it dead in its tracks. There is an accord, a complicity almost between the atmosphere and the bird. It is clear though undefined. That too must be how the limits of our definition are drawn.

And do not worry if you are not able to write it down. To define it emotionally is encouraged too. Love is a feeling with almost identical sisters such as infatuation, lust, obsession, friendship. All of them feel the same, blend in together at the start, but time and closeness will reveal which of them you really woke up with. In defining it this way, the intellect would be helpful though it may not be pivotal. The intellect may only assist in asking the right questions of the heart. Only the latter can give the answers. It must do so honestly. To feed false information would result in us not just fooling ourselves but in doing so, leaving ourselves vulnerable, open to hurt.

The Greeks have divided love into three types: Eros is defined as 'passionate love, with sensual desire and longing'. Although it may not necessarily be sexual in nature, this is the usual violent, passionate and overwhelming type of love that one feels at first flush. It is love for the one not there. Philia is friendship, 'a dispassionate virtuous love' and includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. This is the love of the familiar. Agape, due to its adoption by Christianity, has now been transformed to the love that Jesus and Buddha exemplified: compassionate love for all living things, even your enemies.

That however is just one way to distinguish it. Each of us are different and love has too many branches, both small and spindly as thick and firm, in its trunk to be reduced to just three types. But the Greeks as usual have struck on a good idea. They try to categorize its types. This enables us to navigate somewhat through love's sea of emotional turmoil. Lest we forget that love for all its splendour and pleasure, can be treacherous too.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tales of the Disciple #1: The meaning of mad horse neighing

The scene reveals itself to the gentle strains of an oriental tune played on a flute. We see a hefty, balding disciple swathed in puke-green robes sitting before a formidable, lean and handsome though old man in a simple brown robe. They are both seated on a flat ground that overlooks a clear still lake. Our young disciple has bad skin, worse breath and his hair is already graying prematurely at the edges, threatening to launch a full scale invasion on what little was left on his head. It would be a quick battle. Both victor and vanquished decided before the first white strand advanced. They are both sitting on their feet opposite from each other, the older man straight backed, the younger hunched over.

‘Speak,’ invited the old man in a firm deep voice.

‘Master, I have need of advice in a hurry,’ squeaked the disciple in reverence so profound he almost stammered as he spoke.

‘Then ask your question.’

‘Master, a wench has made disparaging remarks about me to people who know of me. I feel angry because what she says is untrue. Her tongue knows only of curling around words that speak untruth. The Eternal Presence bestow mercy on me, Master! My heart, that swells and heaves at the grating of her utterances and at the audacity of that wench, has persuaded the knuckles on my right hand that it should meet with her full plump cheek with a considerable amount of force. For she, has irked a great many people too,’ blurted the disciple in a hail of spit that strangely found no target on his master.

‘Calm down, young, though overweight, grasshopper,’ said the old man amusingly. ‘It is common for youth to think first with their fists and privies then their heart and head. Let me ask you some questions so that you may better deal with her. First, what is her reputation amongst the village?’

‘It used to be formidable, but she has been seen soiling herself right in the village square. In the village square, Master!’

‘Do right thinking, though sexy women worthy of the finest specimens of the male sex, do this unto themselves?’

‘Nay, Master. Nay. So she may not be right thinking.’

‘Do not conclude too hastily, young, though hefty, sparrow. Be her body still be of childbearing worthiness?’

‘Perhaps! There is rumour amongst some of the elders that she be no longer able to, or if she doth, she doth tho against the guidance of Nature.’

‘Do not discount senility then! Even the most beautiful minds and graceful bodies crumble under the bludgeoning of time’s ticking tock.’

‘Now, what she says of you, be it true?’

‘Nay, Master,’ protested the disciple angrily. 'I am willing to swear this on my only pair of undergarments, Master!'

‘There is no need for that. I hope thou doth wash it often! Do others know that what she says to be untrue?’

‘Yes, Master. They too rankle at her vicious wench-like lies. Occasionally they pelt her with rotten tomatoes.’

‘So if most of thy village doth know of her actions, reputation and her untruths, then why should your heart beat quicker at the mention of her name or upon hearing her words? All who matter know them to be worthless.'

‘The anger! I feel that anger rattling within me, Master!’

‘Hush, tubby one! Calm yourself. Think peaceful and holy thoughts. Think of love for the Eternal Presence. Remember His resonance and look for it within your soul. And for the sake of all that is good, lay off the fast food establishments. Art thou calm now?’

‘Kinda.’ The disciple managed to stifle a burp.

‘Good enough. Now think this thought the next time the sound of her voice doth reach your ear. Think what she says as no different from the senseless neighing of a mad horse. What then does it become for us?’

‘Uh. Horse… dung?’ A wind from within escaped the disciple and now he grew fearful that his Master would discover it.

‘Ah, most rounded one, thou art nearly correct. That thy first choice picketh the orifice from the rear instead of one on the head, does make me suspect how well you have learned your lessons! Her voice doth becomes noise; worthless noise; noise that would benefit no one from listening; noise that is senseless, not imbued with the grace of the Eternal Presence. Do you listen to this noise?’

‘No, Master.’

‘You have learned your lesson for today.’

‘Thank you, exalted Master.’

A graceful silence descends upon both Master and disciple. The scene fades slowly into black accompanied again by the oriental music still played by the flute which seems to itch to throw in some funky wicked lines to liven up the monotonous melody. Just before the final fade, a loud trombone stabs the darkness.

‘Young, though of great weight, cricket?’ called out the Master in the darkness.

‘Yes, Master?’

‘Do not ever do that again!’

Malaysians Love Reality TV Shows

Yep. They just love it! Notice the word “they”? That’s not because I am not Malaysian. That’s because I frigging loathe them (the reality TV that is)!

Whoever started the idea of reality TV should, in my world, be blindfolded, cuffed, led to the basement, shot and chopped to pieces! The truth is, all of them are not real. I mean who would watch a real reality TV show right? Imagine American Idol being full of REAL Americans. You know, the short fat slobs that they are and all the rednecks from Texas trying to sing Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” while shaking their fat arse in their torn denim. Who would want to watch that? Stevie Wonder? And so American Idol is full of well manicured and groomed young men who look like a cross between Simon Le Bon (of 30 years ago) and Boy George (also of 30 years ago). And the women have legs running way up to their shoulders passing their well endowed and obviously enhanced breasts and a very exquisitely pierced navel. Never mind the singing. What matters is their appearance and of course, their moves. Hell yeah…they could move I tell ya! And whose is the brain behind the decision to make Paula Abdul one of the judges? I mean, Paula Abdul judging what appears to be a singing contest? Condoleeza Rice would make a better choice I think.

Even the supposedly boring act of looking for an apprentice is a reality TV act nowadays. Donald Trump is looking for an apprentice. Donald Trump wants some publicity and money (as if whatever he has is not yet enough). Donald Trump needs to pay for his daughter’s boob jobs. So, Donald Trump has a reality TV show. Reality TV? Naah…it pushes the redefinition of “reality” to a new boundary! Erm…why are the women in The Apprentice so yummy looking? Is there no ugly or un-presentable lady American who is brainy nowadays? Must all blondes be intelligent nowadays? Hey…this is unfair! And why are all the men in The Apprentice look so good they make Hans Isaac insecure? And oh ya, they are immaculately dressed and attired too. Where are the fat ones? And the ones who look like Bill Gates? Hello?

Than we have Fear Factor. Hahah…more like Yucky Factor to me. I mean, grown ups eating worms and swallowing cow dung. That’s not confronting fears. That is proof that human beings, particularly American, would do anything and go to whatever extent to make some money and be famous in the process. And of course, all of them, the participants, are good looking men and women. Hallo, the ugly ones don’t have any fear ah?

And of course, reality TV has caught up in Malaysia. The mother of all reality TV shows in Malaysia is of course Akademi Fantasia. Yes, the ASTRO show which unearths talent-less, tone deaf and clueless but good looking young Malaysians and turn them into iconic money machines. I mean, where the hell do they find all these kids? Oh my God! My daughter’s pet frog could sing better than all of them combined.

Yes, I have made my point. I hate reality TV shows. The only relevant reality TV show to me is a show in which all our cabinet ministers take part. They will be given a task each week to complete and the public can judge them via sms. To make the show a bit colourful, we will have judges as well. Hmm…Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh would make nice judges. Just to lend some more credence to the judging process, we could also have Tun Dr Mahathir as a judge. The definite twist to this show is that the public get to judge even the judges! The ministers could be asked to complete the following tasks:

- to build good presentable toilet which costs less than RM400000;

- to come up with a nice merry go round which costs less than RM30 million a year;

- to build a good and modern hospital in less than 6 years;

- to come up with just ONE good reason on why highway concessionaires should be compensated by the government when they are making profits in the hundred of millions annually;

- to learn good manners and proper way of answering questions by the people without being defensive;

- to learn what collective responsibilities is all about and stop blaming each other when inter ministerial problems crop up.

I promise that I would be the first to send in my sms.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Thinking about Technology

In Malaysia, people often associate technology with science, as if without the latter, we would not have the former. It is not surprising because some dictionaries even define technology as simply 'the application of science.' This is incorrect and therefore misleading. Technology is merely the means or, if you like, the mechanics, of doing something.

An illustration is needed to better understand what I mean. Let assume there is this sick man. He has only two kinds of treatment available to him. One is with a witchdoctor. The other is with a medically qualified doctor with extensive experience in that area of sickness.

The witchdoctor's treatment may call for a few chickens to be slaughtered in an unhygenic manner, some guy in a loin skin cloth thumping a drum made of the skins of rare albino donkeys, some dyes to smear on their body and some wicked though limited dance moves around a bonfire. After the dance and mass open air orgy that follows that treatment, the patient is supposed to get better.

The doctor's treatment would usually involve the patient sent to some machines to have his insides turned out and represented in squiggly lines or numbers for the doctor to pore over. The patient would be told he had to cut down on his smoking, exercise more, eat less, sleep more, work less, etc. Usually he would be given some drugs (regretfully not the recreational type) to take to help him heal. Perhaps a few more consultations until the doctor finishes up the payment on his yacht (docked at Langkawi, probably, bastard) and the patient is supposed to get better.

Both are technology. In the age of science, we think as we do now that the doctor's treatment would be better and more effective than the witchdoctor's. And we would probably right (although one should not simply discount the beneficial effects of an open air orgy). But we must distinguish the concept of technology from its reliability. Just because the witchdoctor's method is likely to be less reliable (although much more fun) doesn't make it any less a kind of technology. Scientific technology tends to be superior than witchcraft technology because of their respective methodologies. Witchcraft technology relies on and assimilates ancestral myths, cultural practices and symbolism. Scientific technology relies on observing the mechanics of natural phenomena, figuring how it works, drawing up a hypothesis which is vigorously tested conceptually, mathematically and experimentally.

However we associate science with technology because the fruits of science tend to be more reliable, its methodology can be tested and tried by anybody with the requisite means, and we find that it empowers us, amplifies us, extends us. Witchcraft technology leaves us all in a mystery except the witchdoctor (who just maybe as well!). One would think that given a little thought on this matter would make it quite clear which we should rely on most of the time.

That Malaysia has so many of these witchdoctor's about (they are called a bomoh here) makes it difficult to wonder without a sense of despair why this is so.

Malaysians Love the Dark Ages

I haven't been able to access the Internet for two whole days. At first I blamed my network service provider, who usually convince me that it's not their fault because they're trying their best to fix the situation and thank me for my patience and would I stop calling them thirty times a day to scream at them. Actually, the last part is made up. They would never ask me to stop calling them. They would just stop picking up the telephone. But I know that it isn't their fault. It's probably mine, karmic retribution for refusing to upgrade my handphone.

Initially I wanted to post about squat toilets, which is something I've always wanted to rant and rave about. But then this internet access issue plagued me over the weekend and I figured, hell, they belong to the same category anyway. I still find it pretty amazing that well into the 21st century, we're (I assume I'm not the only one who tears out my hair and curses the heavens when that error message comes on) still experiencing problems with bad connection etc. I'm not an unreasonable person. Really. So when I talk about broadband interruption I'm talking about maybe two or three whole days of ZERO access. I'm not talking about access being slow or sporadic. I mean - NOTHING. I'm paying for this damned thing monthly and I can access it maybe every other day, every other week. By the way it doesn't matter whether you smugly threaten them with termination of the account. They have a monopoly in the building where I live. Apparently all the other internet service providers do not provide their services there. I have no idea how all these work. It sounds like some kind of ISP Mafia to me. Bottom line is, there's nothing I can do for now. So over the weekend, in between trying to access the Internet in that pathetic way that a stray cat hopefully begs for food from an animal hater, I have acquired the skill of making fire from sticks and stones. Just in case.

Squat toilets. Oh yes. The ever-present sorry excuse for a 'toilet' in Malaysia (and other such delightful third world countries). I am shocked that one can even find them in KLCC. But of course the ones in KLCC are no ordinary squat 'toilets'. Oh no. I mean, it's KLCC we're talking okay. They must be a step above the rest.

And they are. The squat toilets, I mean. A step above the rest.

The squat toilets found on the concourse near Tower Records are actually on an elevated platform. Yep. As it is, I already hate using squat toilets because as much as I boast about women being able to multi-task better than men can, trying to do too many things at one time (most of which involve trying not to fall in) while whilst attempting to answer nature's call can be quite disconcerting. Now in addition to one's balancing act, there is an extra burden of climbing up the slippery platform without falling over first. I swear this is also some kind of vengeful karma on all my previous curses about squat toilets.

What I really don't understand is why the hell squat toilets exist in the first place? Please don't say hygiene. I will kill myself (and the person who says it) if hygiene is the reason for squat toilets to exist until today. If you've seen squat toilets, you'll KNOW that hygiene cannot possibly be the reason for them to exist. As far as I'm concerned, squat toilets should be banished, as we have all our backward practices (burying baby daughters alive, using DOS-based applications, being considerate).

But hey, I'm assuming logically (usually I'm wrong) that there are enough people who want squat toilets. Otherwise why do they exist? These are the same people who should be trying to access the Internet from my building and cooking their dinner with firewood whilst watching terrestrial television.