Friday, 31 May 2013

Another meeting with the Wolf

When I went to the Big Bad Wolf book sales at the Mines Convention Centre in Sri Kembangan in early March, I came out with a haul of 14 books (see story here -> Buku Lima). In the almost 3 months period since then, I have finished reading five books and am now starting on the sixth. That's an average of 2 a month, just about right I guess.

The Wolf is presently in Johor Bahru. Even though I have another 8 novels still to devour from my earlier scoop, I can't help myself from searching for more. I dropped by Danga City Mall last night to browse amongst the hundreds of stacks of publications being sold at unbelievably cheap prices. This time around, I came back with a slightly modest haul... just 9. Two are coffee-table hard covers, one non-fiction book about language, a manual on digital photography and five fiction novels. Of the fiction collection, four of the authors are my first-time reads.

I hope this reading binge won't affect blogging too much...

Now let's see how long I'll take to read through all of this
The Big Bad Wolf book sale is on at Danga City Mall in Johor Bahru until 2 June 2013.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Weekend at the betel palm island

The betel palm's correct name is actually the areca palm. In Malay it is called pokok pinang. It is often called the betel tree because the plant produces a fruit, the areca nut, that is often chewed along with the betel leaf. The betel plant is a type of vine whose leaves are thought to have medicinal properties. In Malay it is known as daun sireh.

Not many people that I know of, chew betel leaves nowadays. My late maternal grandmother was one of them. I must've been around five or six-years old when I first watched her go through the ritual of this amazing habit. She had this small brass basket that held four tiny cups with covers plus a small shear-like implement called a kacip. The kacip is used to cut the areca nut (pinang) into small strips and also to shave off some slices of gambier. She would take a clean betel leaf, dip her finger into a can containing lime-chalk (kapur), and smear the chalk onto the surface of the leaf. She then sprinkles some pinang and gambier onto the leaf, fold it up maybe three or four times before popping the thing into her mouth and start chewing happily. Sometimes tobacco is added into the mix but I'm not entirely sure. After a few minutes of blissful chewing, she would work out a glob of grossly-coloured saliva which she spits into this special container with careless ease... a remarkable woman, my late grandmother. May the Almighty bless her soul.

Anyway, this post is about our trip to the island named after the areca palm, Pulau Pinang. Apart from lending its name to an island, the pinang fruit also feature in a well-known Malay proverb, `Bagai pinang dibelah dua', a metaphor used to describe a very nice, if not perfect, match of two persons. The phrase is commonly used as a polite compliment to a newly-wed couple at their wedding ceremony.

Pinang, as a word on its own, also carries the meaning of seeking the hand of someone's daughter for marriage. And I guess this ties in nicely with the objective of our travel to Penang in the first place.

Two weeks ago, we traveled north for the engagement ceremony of our eldest son to a sweet young lass from Balik Pulau. The formal pinangan process had actually been carried out three months ago and was hinted in an earlier post here -> A taste of nasi lemuni in Pulau Pinang.

It was a very small representation from our side because both parties agreed to make it a simple and brief affair. Alhamdulillah, things went smoothly and we hope the wedding, planned for September this year, would be without any hitches as well, insyaAllah.

Tepak sireh, the traditional symbol of gift in Malay engagements and weddings
The engagement ring and tanda hantaran (folded RM notes)
A simple assortment of gifts from our side
The future mother-in-law slipping on the ring on the future daughter-in-law's finger

Monday, 6 May 2013

The case for fence-sitters

I wrote the following piece as a short article for my Facebook page on the eve of our 13th General Election. This morning, we all know of the final outcome of that event. The ruling political alliance Barisan Nasional have been returned to power, albeit with a poorer performance than their last outing in 2008. The opposition alliance of Pakatan Rakyat did not succeed in their attempt to become the new government.

Both parties are obviously now analysing their results; one is trying to understand why it didn't do so well while the other is perhaps wondering if it had done enough. This is where I think what I wrote earlier would still apply.

The case for fence-sitters

It is polling day tomorrow 05.05.13. I guess most of us by now are sick of the political campaigns and have already made up our minds on who we are voting for. This short piece of writing would therefore probably be my last mention on the subject of our 13th General Election.

Many years ago, I was in a discussion with a former boss of mine about some technical issue at work. He was putting forth an argument about something to which I already agree, but he wanted to say it out anyway.`I know I’m preaching to the converted,’ he told me, `but I like to see you agreeing to it all the same.’

It was the first time I heard the phrase, but preaching to the converted is what most of the politicians are doing, or so it seems to me. You get the feel-good vibes but you do not score too many new points. It is the fence-sitters that you need to swing your way.

A typical trait of the fence-sitter is that he/she does not favour one party… but then the other side doesn’t look too appealing either. So for this rare piece of political opinion, I’d like to touch on the particular angle of why a person would dislike a party. No point talking about the `likes’… there are too many, whichever side we choose, and the reasons are obvious anyway.

It is also not difficult to zoom in on the issues that cause us to dislike (some would say `hate’ is a better word) a political party. From the various FB status updates and subsequent comments that I read on my friends wall from both sides of the divide, I have picked some for objective discussion. They are in no particular order of importance.

The anti-PR crowd

1. Voting for DAP would spell doom for the Malays. DAP is a Chinese racist party. The Chinese can’t be trusted. Once they are in power, the Malays will lose their privileges. Worse still, Islam may cease to be the country’s official religion.

2. PAS will implement Hudud law once they are in power. We will no longer have any entertainment shows. The casino at Genting and all 4-D shops will have to close. The country will be governed by a select group called the syura council. We will descend into a Taliban-like era. Investors will run away.

3. The Pakatan Rakyat alliance won’t last. The component parties don’t have a common ideology. PAS is fighting for Islam. DAP is fighting for racial equality. PKR’s struggles are only for Anwar Ibrahim. They only band together now because of a common enemy. Once in power, they’ll be fighting amongst themselves. The country would be in chaos. There would be no stability.

Of course there are many more issues raised by the opponents of Pakatan Rakyat but the above sample should suffice. Let’s now play the devil’s advocate and think for a bit on why such issues are of concern.

The reasons : 

1. In the minds of many Malays, especially the rural folk, DAP is still a Chinese party, even though they have been trying their best to project themselves as multi-racial. There are still sections of the Malay population who do not trust the Chinese, for whatever reasons. Bitter pill to swallow but still a fact.

2. The spectre of religious extremism is not lost to certain sections of the Chinese populace. PAS has never dropped their ambition of implementing an Islamic state and the actions of some of their members do not portray the image of moderation. Their youth wing have been active in raising protests when overseas entertainers come to hold performances in Malaysia. While PAS is now advocating the welfare state approach, their efforts have yet to convince many non-Muslim citizens.

3. It is not difficult to see that the common objective of the PR alliance is to remove the present government. Once that objective is achieved, many people doubt that the cooperation would last. Of course, PR says that this is untested as they have never been in government before. Try them out for one term, they say, only 5 years… but then there are still many people not willing to take that gamble.

Okay then, let’s jump to the other side of the fence and see some of the views from there…

The anti-BN crowd

1. Barisan Nasional is a corrupt party that is wasting millions of ringgit of public money. They enrich only their cronies and even allow Ministers to use public funds for personal gains. They control the law enforcement agencies and practice selective prosecution. They catch the small fry but let the big sharks get away. They use government facilities for the party campaign process. They control the newspapers and television and say only bad things about the opposition.

2. The Chinese component party MCA is ridiculing Islam but UMNO as the dominant member is not doing anything about it. UMNO is allowing the official religion to be disrespected by its own ally. The BN as a whole, practices politics along racial lines.

3. PM Najib Razak is not a firm leader and is not in full control of his party. He still fears the influence of former premier Tun Mahathir. The Tun has done more than enough damage during his 22 years in power. How can Najib transform the country if old hands still pull the strings in the background?

The reasons :

1. The handling of certain scandals involving Ministers and well-known personalities connected to BN have not been forthright and conclusive. The NFC fiasco was actually first highlighted by the Auditor-General before being pounced upon by PKR. Funds for a project that was meant to increase livestock meat production, were utilised for purchase of luxury properties. Yet the PM can let it slip by. He should have been firm and taken action against Shahrizat. What he only did was let her senatorship run the full term and not renew it. Pretty lame. Even worse, TPM Muhyiddin, who was Agriculture Minister at the time the project was first approved, hardly offered any explanation. For the even bigger PKFZ scandal, 2 former ministers from MCA are facing separate court charges but their trials are exceedingly slow to the extent that they might as well be on holiday. And what about the money spent to rescue Perwaja, which in the end, failed anyway? Don’t even think of asking about Bank Bumiputera.

2. UMNO cannot claim to be the protector of the religion of Islam while ignoring the deplorable way MCA is criticising Hudud. The MCA President has been making this attack on Hudud law as his primary tactic because he is out of ideas. His party is about to become insignificant just like Gerakan. UMNO can even allow MCA to carry full-page newspaper adverts attacking Islam. Shameful.

3. Najib is still beholden to Tun M for manouvering him into the PM position by kicking out Pak Lah. So when Tun M says put the Perkasa leaders as candidates, Najib tries to compromise by just putting Zul Noordin in Shah Alam. Tun M not happy. Che Johan Che Pa mysteriously withdrew from being the nominated BN candidate at Pasir Mas, thus allowing Perkasa supremo Ibrahim Ali to take on a one-on-one fight with Nik Abduh of PAS. Najib tak terkata apa. The old man still wields a lot of power. But the PR leaders and many followers hate the Tun more than Najib himself. Try ask Anwar, Karpal, Kit Siang and Nik Aziz. Many people believe that Mahathir was the one responsible in introducing money-politics within his own party… a disease UMNO leaders, at each annual perhimpunan agung, say they are trying hard to cure. Yeah… right.

So there you have it, a sampling of reasons why people from one side dislike the leaders from the other. For sure, you’ll have many other reasons of your own.

If I'm a politician looking hard to win a seat in parliament, I would focus on trying to address those concerns among the undecided folks known as fence-sitters. They are the ones who would most probably tip things in my favour… especially in a very tightly fought contest such as the one this time. But hey, who am I to to give such advice?

To all friends and unknown enemies, Selamat Mengundi. Jalankan tanggungjawab anda kepada negara.

Barely a full day has yet to pass and I'm already reading in today's Facebook, various opinions and comments on why the results turned out the way it did. These include some nasty and insensible remarks; one party claiming the other has cheated while the other chiding the other for being sore losers who plan to take the issue to the streets in protest. Not to mention quite a few with obvious racial insults. It surprises me sometimes that such remarks come from my friends who, at other periods of the year, are actually nice people.

As I have previously written elsewhere, I am a firm believer that each individual has a right to hold onto his own opinion and express it in any way he wishes. It is the way that opinion is expressed which gives us the judgement of character.

Anyway, I am also quite pleased to read a few very well-written analyses from people of moderation. It gives hope that our country can still be heading in the right direction for a better future.

I share this quote from the writer Amir Muhammad : `That the losers can't accept losing is normal. What's new is that the winners know they didn't really win.'