Friday, August 27, 2010

Poem: The Road Not Taken

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

- Robert Frost


Thursday, August 26, 2010

An autumn exposition in Shanghai

I'm looking forward to my upcoming trip to Shanghai in September, primarily for the opportunity to visit the World Expo 2010 which will end on 31 October 2010.

The theme for this Expo is "Better City, Better Life" and it makes me wonder, amidst the brouhaha over what Malaysia eventually offered to the world, did Madame Yen Yen missed something crucial in the brief for the theme?

The theme for this section of Shanghai Expo is to dicuss how to build a better city for mankind, which represents the wish of the whole world for better standards of living in future urban environments. There is a deep concern for the improvement of urban environments lying behind this theme. The number of city inhabitants has risen constantly since 1800, and by 2010, as estimated by the United Nations, urban dwellers will account for 55% of the world population. The pursuit of better living environments has accompanied the history of urban development. Shanghai World Expo, through its many sub-themes, depicts a vision of future urban life.

Our Malaysian Pavilion, instead of evoking feelings of pride has dismally became the butt of jokes and indignant anger. Just visit here to get a sense of how some people feel about it:-

I got really angry when i see the malaysian pavillion at the word expo!!! BENCI!! can someone sue this people yg design benda bodoh tu??!!!! We can design better la kan!!! BODO!

Strong words indeed, but real funny when you read the accompanying write-up in that blog posting. You can also check out what Teresa Kok, the Sassy MP has to say about it here.

So I'm itching to see how my government managed to spend RM35million on a structure which has drawn more bile than honey from the taxpayers, not least the fact that they spectacularly "terkeluar tajuk" from the main theme. 

That aside, the weather should be nice and cool hovering around 23 degC by the time I'm there. One thing I particularly like about Shanghai is its interesting mix of buildings and structures of various architectural styles, a rich study of contrasting Eastern and Western influences, old and new. 

The Bund, located by the bank of the Huangpu River, contains a rich collection of early 20th century architecture, ranging in style from neoclassical HSBC Building to the art deco Sassoon House. A number of areas in the former foreign concessions are also well preserved, most notably the French Concession. Shanghai has one of the worlds largest number of Art Deco buildings as a result of the construction boom during the 1920s and 30s. One of the most famous architects working in Shanghai was László Hudec, a Hungarian architect who lived in the city between 1918-1947. Some of his most notable Art Deco buildings include the Park Hotel and the Grand Theater. Other prominent architects who contributed to the Art Deco style are Parker & Palmer who designed the Peace Hotel, Metropole Hotel and the Broadway Mansions, and Austrian architect GH Gonda who designed the Capital Theatre.
Despite rampant redevelopment, the old city still retains some buildings of a traditional style, such as the Yuyuan Garden, an elaborate traditional garden in the Jiangnan style.

The lights of the Bund and Puxi skyscrapers at night.
In recent years, a large number of architecturally distinctive, even eccentric, skyscrapers have sprung up throughout Shanghai. Notable examples of contemporary architecture include the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Grand Theatre in the People's Square precinct and Shanghai Oriental Arts Center.

Shanghai is always a delightful place to visit. I've been there twice before, both during the cold winter season so this time around, I'm going to experience the city as summer ends and autumn creeps in. It's also a good opportunity for me to eat heartily this time around since I've lost some weight recently.  That thought alone is enough to make me smile.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Poem: Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

By William. Henry Davies

(Wm. Henry Davies (1871-1940) is to be considered as the poet of the tramps. Born at Newport, Wales in the UK, Davies came to America from Great Britain and lived the life of a vagabond. One day, as the result of jumping a train, he lost one of legs. Davies returned to England where he continued to live the life of a tramp and a pedlar. He wrote poetry (presumably he did right along) and, eventually, he determined to print his own book and did so with the little money he earned panhandling. A copy of this first work, A Soul's Destroyer, came into the hands of George Bernard Shaw; which, in turn, led to the popularization of the poet.


Poem: Don't Quit

The Don't Quit presentation is based on a famous poem which was written many years ago. The author of this poem is unknown. Sadly, in recent years a number of people have claimed ownership of the poem and some have even claimed to have written it themselves!

Here is the original poem in it's entirety:

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow--
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor's cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out--
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit--
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

- Author unknown


Friday, August 20, 2010

Reflections of a restless soul

A look into my twitter timeline in the early hours of 18th August 2010 :-

3.58am RT @KarimRaslan: nazir razak has expressed many similar views. There is deep unease in local kl business circles abt msian econ future.

4.01am Msians, young and old, hv never felt more uncertain abt the direction this country is heading, politically, economically & socially.

This unease has created insecurities which then manifest into shameless public displays of bigotry, chauvinism, offensive/defensive tirades

Family dynamics too r indirectly impacted by the fragmented situation Malaysia is in right now, not least due 2 education being politicized.

There is no freedom of speech & expression, it is getting harder to make ends meet, streets/neighbourhoods r not so safe anymore in Malaysia

This land of milk and honey that attracted so many illegal immigrants to our shores are being milked dry by those who wield too much power.

Have we all meekly surrendered ownership of this country to d extent that we allow the few misguided loudmouths to dictate how we shud live?

Have we subconsciously allowed ourselves to be chased out of this country in search of a better quality of life for our loved ones?

Don't they see that it pains us to love so much and yet felt so unloved, dismissed and made to feel our numbers r so small it don't matter?

The ISA continues to exist, the abuse of public institutions and intolerance to peaceful displays of public opinion all point to degradation

Perkasa? Ridhuan Tee? Bullets in the mail? Racist schoolheads? Trivialising underaged moms & baby dumping? Sodomy & suicide note? Sad/crazy?

One must be so blind not to see the rot .. so selfish & unpatriotic not to stop the rot when u have the power and means to do so ..#Malaysia


One of the things I have been battling for a while is my inability to get a good night's sleep. I might go to bed at a reasonable hour before midnight but inevitably I'd wake up around 4am and remain restless and unable to turn off the sounds of the ticking clock or the occasional car that whizzes by. As I toss and turn, the first rays of sunlight start to filter in through the windows and I gave up, gearing for another exhausting day ahead.

It's been some months now. I'm still trying to figure out what's going on. And find a way to bring the normal back.

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Let's talk about Malaysian sensitivities

Jacqueline Ann Surin from The Nut Graph wrote a succint piece "The parade of 'Muslim sensitivities': Where is it taking us?" and this particular paragraph underlined so much how we, the non-Malays and non-Muslims in Malaysia continuously feel like we are the ones under siege:-

"Public space is no longer everyone’s space. It’s theirs — those Malay Muslims who believe that their imagined sensitivities alone give them the right to deny others access and use of public spaces."

The full piece is as follows:-


"The parade of 'Muslim sensitivities': Where is it taking us?"

AND so Perkasa has made the news again. And this time by its own doing, not because a media bent on sensationalism tried to cultivate the Malay nationalist group in order to increase readership

In the latest of Perkasa moves, its Petaling chairperson, Zainal Abidin Ahmad, lodged a police report against a Protestant church in Shah Alam and its pastor for planning to stage a Christian play during Ramadan. “We want the church and pastor to be investigated for sedition and for insulting the Sultan,” Zainal Abidin told The Malaysian Insider on 17 Aug 2010. Zainal Abidin also accused the church of deliberately attempting to preach Christianity to Muslims in Muslim-majority Shah Alam.

We may be lulled into thinking that the issue at hand is limited to a Malay, and hence Muslim, rights group making wild and curious allegations against non-Muslim, non-Malay Malaysians. If only that were the case. Unfortunately, much more is involved. Indeed, what is really at stake is the control of public space and what it means for all of us.

My space, not anyone else’s

What Perkasa’s actions boil down to in Shah Alam is this. It’s saying that because it’s Ramadan and because Shah Alam is a Muslim-majority suburb, no other faith group is allowed to practise freedom of religion, expression or association. If they do, they can be cited for sedition, insulting the Malay ruler, and the crime of proselytising to Muslims.

I suspect that the citations of sedition etc are just a means of asserting control and power. By making out non-Malay non-Muslims to be criminals of the highest order, it becomes that much easier for lesser-thinking members of the public to believe that non-Muslims deserve to have their constitutional rights denied.

We may dismiss Zainal Abidin, and even Perkasa as a whole, as lunatic. That would be a mistake. Because Zainal Abidin and Perkasa are not the only ones who want complete control of public space, and who use a particular version of Islam to exert that control. Additionally, they are not the only players in town who do this at the expense of the rights and freedoms of other citizens.

Let us remember that before Perkasa started making the headlines, the national censors in 2005 banned the movie Babe because it starred a pig, considered haram in Islam, as the lead character. Following that, anecdotes from parents tell us that in some schools, non-Muslims children are told what they can and cannot pack in their lunch boxes in deference to Muslim sensitivities.

We may dismiss Zainal Abidin, and even Perkasa as a whole, as lunatic. That would be a mistake. Because Zainal Abidin and Perkasa are not the only ones who want complete control of public space, and who use a particular version of Islam to exert that control. Additionally, they are not the only players in town who do this at the expense of the rights and freedoms of other citizens.

Let us remember that before Perkasa started making the headlines, the national censors in 2005 banned the movie Babe because it starred a pig, considered haram in Islam, as the lead character. Following that, anecdotes from parents tell us that in some schools, non-Muslims children are told what they can and cannot pack in their lunch boxes in deference to Muslim sensitivities.

How about pig-eons? (© grendelkhan | Flickr)

How about pigeons? (© grendelkhan | Flickr)

A Malaysian columnist once also told me that the word “pigmentation” was censored from a documentary he had watched presumably because the first syllable was “pig”. And in 2007, I discovered that Guardian pharmacy did not offer Piglet as part of its Winnie the Pooh gift redemption promotion.

Over in Section 6, Petaling Jaya, the local mosque has no qualms blaring the terawih prayers till late at night at decibels that are inconsiderate to the neighbourhood.

And let us also remember PAS’s own moves to define what can and cannot be done in the public domain. Everytime PAS Youth calls for a concert ban, what it’s effectively doing is telling all those — Muslims and non-Muslims — whose faith would not be threatened by attending a live concert, that they cannot because PAS says so. Similarly, when Selangor PAS tried to ban the sale of beer in Muslim-majority areas in the state, what the party is saying is that the lifestyle of all non-Muslims must be subservient to those of some Muslims.

And so the proscriptions on public spaces don’t just include what a Protestant church is allowed to do during Ramadan. It also affects the food our children are allowed to consume in schools, the drinks non-Muslims can buy in their neighbourhood, the movies and concerts and words we are allowed to watch and hear, the gifts we can redeem at a pharmacy, and the airwaves in our neighbourhood.

What do these events tell us? They tell us that there is a creeping, even if not concerted, effort by state and non-state players, to determine what is publicly kosher and what is not. It doesn’t matter if nothing in Islam actually prohibits non-Muslims from staging a Christian play during Ramadan, drinking alcohol, eating pork and watching a pig character in the movies.

The bottomline? Public space is no longer everyone’s space. It’s theirs — those Malay Muslims who believe that their imagined sensitivities alone give them the right to deny others access and use of public spaces.

The biggie

The biggie of all proscriptions in the current Malaysian context is of course, the Barisan Nasional (BN) government’s ban of the words “Allah”, “solat”, “Kaabah” and “Baitullah” among non-Muslims.

Even though Muslims don’t own copyright to these Arabic words, the BN government is asserting that these words belong to Muslims, and Muslims alone. Particularly Malaysian Muslims who apparently are prone to being confused should another faith community use the same words.

Can one religion own certain words from the Arabic language?

Can Malaysia ban non-Muslims from using the Arabic language?

The ban on “Allah” and the three other words is no different from what Perkasa is doing in Shah Alam. A publicly-used word, like publicly-shared spaces, only belongs to Muslims. It’s as if these Muslim state and non-state actors are declaring, “Our space, not anyone else’s. Our word, not anyone else’s.”

And because their demands have no historical, cultural or legal legitimacy, they resort to demonising non-Muslims, accusing them of crimes and ill-intentions. And they use the powers of the state to impose and enforce ownership over “our space” and “our word”.

And so the biggie isn’t that our political landscape is littered more and more with irrational demands and wild allegations from certain Malay Muslim quarters. The biggie is that increasingly, there are more and more concerted attempts by these forces, which include the Umno-led federal government, to take over shared public spaces.

What’s the limit?

Guinea pigs eating (© shimown | Flickr)

Guinea pigs eating (© shimown | Flickr)

After the story on Perkasa’s police report was published, someone on Twitter commented that we can next expect police reports to be lodged against non-Muslims for eating during Ramadan. Indeed, I believe that’s not too far-fetched a scenario if we continue to allow those who try to control the public domain for their own narrow vested and bigoted interests, to continue doing what they do.

Already, non-Muslims are constantly being told to defer to the sensitivities of some Muslims. At the rate Muslim “sensitivities” are paraded about, one would think Muslims lived their lives like exposed nipples, ever excitable. When the truth is, we know that Muslims are thinking, rational human beings who belonged to one of the most historically advanced civilisations.

To be certain, there is a need to be respectful of different customs and belief systems. But “Muslim sensitivities” cannot and must not be the measure by which a non-Muslim citizen is denied the right to eat pork, watch a movie or use “Allah”. If we allowed that to happen, we would be a nation where behaving like an exposed nipple trumps constitutional rights to freedom of religion, assembly association and expression.

Jacqueline Ann Surin is thankful her perception of Islam has been shaped by intelligent, rational, kind and fair-minded Muslims who have been rocks in her life.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

We walk among racists

We breed racists in this country. Seriously, we do. How can we not when we have mainstream newspaper like Utusan Malaysia? When we have so-called NGOs like Perkasa? And so on, and so forth.

The most damaging of them all must be where they walk along the corridors of learning, our schools are undeniably crawling with them.

One fine example is illustrated by this gem of a remark:-

“Chinese students are not needed here and can return to China or Foon Yew schools. For the Indian students, the prayer string tied around their neck and wrist makes them look like dogs because only dogs are tied like that,” Siti Inshah was quoted as saying in at least one police report. (See Tony Pua's take at )

It either makes you cringe or your blood boil.

Kee Thuan Chye wrote about it here in his article "What will they do about racism now" at :-

"If she did what she is said to have done, she should instead be drawn and quartered, like in the good old days. Or have her head put in a cangue – you know, like in the Chinese movies, where the head and hands are locked up within a square wooden contraption.

Or she should be given the Japanese treatment – force-fed water while someone jumps on her bloated tummy, or hung from a tree by her thumbs, and displayed publicly for all to see that this is what happens to racists.

Of course, I’m being facetious, but this must surely be the fantasy of anyone who feels disgusted by any racist act. All the more so if it is committed by someone who is a principal of a school, who should be spreading the message of racial unity instead of – God forbid! – racial hatred."
Tongue-in-cheek I know, but conveying no less the emotion so many of us felt over this issue.

And finally, Mariam Mokhtar puts in her perspective of this shameful behaviour in "A noble profession is disgraced" at :-

"Her remarks are unacceptable and a disgrace to her profession – the teaching profession.

She should have done the right thing and tendered her resignation. But only after making a public apology and after writing a letter of apology to each of the students in the school.

So what is a letter to each of the 2,200 students? She has done much harm to young, vulnerable and impressionable minds. At the same time, a noble profession has been besmirched, and a nation’s fragile truce between the races, is threatened.

If she will not go willingly, then she ought to be sacked. I have worked in companies where racism is not tolerated and the punishment is instant dismissal.

The head teacher’s insensitive, racist and daft comments uttered at the school assembly, is an insult to the Merdeka day celebrations.

Does this woman know the significance of Merdeka? Is she too young to have studied history at school or too young to know about the struggle to achieve Merdeka? Is she a perfect example of our much maligned BTN system?"

Where do we go from here? Can I accuse the Barisan Nasional government of propagating racism in schools?

From the looks of it, it is so easy to do an inception of this idea into young impressionable minds. Start 'em young, indoctrinate them and take it all the way into universities.

Then it won't take much to convince them that they are indeed under 'siege' when it comes to election time. Percentage wise, they got it all well covered because the minorities are soundly outnumbered.

It's sad. It's depressing. It makes me wonder what it is left in this country that is worth investing my love and affection for.

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