Please, try to understand us

Many of you Malaysians over in the Peninsula get quite offended when I quite bluntly tell you: “You don’t get it.” When it comes to Sabah, I mean.

Flag of the Malaysian state Sabah. Based on a ...

Sabah state flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The truth is, you don’t. I am not saying it as an insult so those offended people in the corner over there, have a cookie and don’t take it personally.

Now, let me educate you a little.

Some of you compare Sabahan anger over some PKR rep unilaterally bestowing the title ‘Huguan Siou’ on Anwar Ibrahim to the furore over using “Allah”.

They are not the same thing.

Declaring Anwar ‘Huguan Siou’ is the equivalent of naming a foreign worker Sultan of Johor.

Or giving Justin Bieber a British knighthood.

‘Huguan Siou’ directly translated means ‘brave leader’. In the old days, a ‘Huguan Siou’ was the leader of a tribe’s warriors (pangazou), chosen by consensus and after much deliberation.

Those were the days when the tribes were constantly at war and headhunting was still practised. The Huguan Siou could not just be any man: On his shoulders lay the safety and the survival of the clan.

Over time, the tribes eventually became the collective we know now as KDM or Kadazan/Dusun/Murut formed by the three main tribes. The Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) is now the keeper and bestower of the title of Huguan Siou.

It is not a title given out lightly, or one that can be bought or sold, like Datukships in this country.

The first KDCA-selected Huguan Siou was the late Tun Fuad Stephens, Sabah’s first chief minister, who had been instrumental in the state becoming part of Malaysia.

He had an interesting lineage: he was half-British and half-Kadazan on his father’s side and half-Japanese and half-British on his mother’s. To top it all off, he was Muslim but chose not to abandon his father’s surname when he converted.

Stephens was living proof that Huguan Siou is not about racial purity, nor was it about faith. It was about leadership. And he had proven himself, many times over. No Sabah leader has yet managed to win over both the largely Christian KDM natives while also being accepted by the Muslim Sabahans that included the Bajaus, Suluk and small minorities among the KDM.

Then came Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan. He defied Berjaya and Haris Salleh’s excesses, choosing to run as an Independent candidate in Tambunan.

“Against all odds and despite massive threats, insinuations and “vote-buying” through on-the-spot approval of development projects and other private amenities, incumbent Datuk Seri Panglima Joseph Pairin Kitingan retained his State Assembly seat with an overwhelming majority of 3,048 votes.” – (Source: The Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) website)

He went on to form PBS, helming it to victory in four elections. BN for years tried to paint him as anti-Muslim, as well as trying to stir up racial and religious sentiment in the state. It was unacceptable to the federal government that a non-Muslim could defy the status quo and helm the state.

But then 1994 happened and the great frog exodus occured, when Pairin was betrayed by his own men in PBS. He has never recovered, eventually ‘surrendering’ and returning to the BN fold. And I fear his courage and will to fight has been sapped by years of enduring BN’s attacks on his leadership.

Dear Jonathan Yasin: You so easily confer ‘Huguan Siou’ to the man who was rumoured to have been behind the ‘frog’ incident? You happily give one of our highest honours to a man who turned a blind eye to Sabah’s poverty and hardships all the years he was still with BN?

But I don’t blame Anwar. It’s not like he asked for the title.

Still, PKR has to stop pretending it understands the state. This latest incident just proves it doesn’t. Work with local parties, stop fighting with them for seats.

The locals will not forget you made Azmin Ali Sabah PKR chief for a while.

You complain we treat you like outsiders, but the truth is it takes a local to ‘get’ how complicated we are. It is a different world in Sabah and unless someone is willing to spend years in the state, (which Azmin clearly wasn’t willing to do considering how little time he spent there), West Malaysian politicians can never hope to get traction.

Sabah and Sarawak, by the terms of the Malaysia agreement, have autonomous rights that make each state the equivalent of the whole Peninsula. We are not just ‘other states’.

We are equal but not the same. There are rights that we have, traditions that we keep that we ask you politely to respect or at least, allow us to explain to you.

It is obvious that PKR has a lot of listening to do.





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The state of journalism in Malaysia

I know many Malaysians, especially those who attended the Bersih rally, are angry the events were badly misreported in the mainstream media.

Yes, it irks me too. But I also feel sorry for the reporters forced to take the fall and bear the brunt of public vilification.

News reporters are mere foot soldiers in what I like to call the big Mainstream Media Propaganda machine. What happens is this – a reporter goes to a scene and later files the story. But what the reporter wrote might not be what gets to the written page. Facts are distorted, opinions are injected and a reporter finds that the end result is not something he would want his byline on.

For a long time, the government kept a firm rein on what would come out in the media with help from draconic laws like the PPPA. And then the Internet happened.

It is easy for the idealistic to vilify the mainstream media. The truth is that the MSM is not independent in this country and functions for the most part as unofficial wings of the information ministry. “So you lie for a living,” someone said to me when I told him my job.

Journalism’s first obligation should be the truth, its first loyalty is to citizens. But in Malaysia, MSM’s obligation is to stay alive and its first loyalty is to the government. Otherwise, the only news organisation left practicing would be Bernama.

The government is learning the hard way that no, you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. But it will keep trying.

You can’t expect the mainstream media to change overnight, not until it can free itself from government shackles. What can be done now? Perhaps it is time MSM at least attempts neutrality instead of preemptive self-censorship or unabashedly trumpeting propaganda (I’m looking at you, Utusan).

And you, dear reader, have a choice. The choice to cancel your newspaper subscriptions or at the very least, get your news from various sources before you make up your mind about something. Question what you read, heck, question me if you doubt the veracity of my claims.

The Internet isn’t killing MSM. It might just help it win back the dignity it has done without for so long, by proving that credibility is currency in this day and age. So let us pray that our media organisations start their march out of credibility bankruptcy.

Man, it sucks to be Malaysian Chinese

Jit and Freddy are two of the funniest guys I know. They also just happen to be Chinese, and one night over supper they started a mock rivalry over who was more Chinese than the other. It was hilarious. It also inspired me to write a song parody about being Malaysian Chinese called, aptly, “We’re Chinese.”

It took three to four revisions before it was judged show-worthy and it got me thinking about the funny racial situation we have here in Malaysia. We like to think we get along but to be honest, in many ways it seems just a threadbare tolerance as opposed to a true acceptance.

I do agree the Chinese in Malaysia get a bum deal in many ways. Shouldn’t the poor of all races receive assistance from the government instead of just one race? Helping one race compete with the others doesn’t mean putting the others at a serious disadvantage. I wish the government could see that. And until it does, we will lose the best and brightest from all races. I think Malaysia would be a sad country indeed if it ends up becoming a Malay-sia – devoid of the colour and contributions of other races.

So I guess this parody is my “love song” to the Chinese community. I feel you. Even if I believe it would benefit from being a little less insular at times.

We’re Chinese (sung to the tune of The Bund’s theme song, Sheung Hoi Tan)

Verse One:

We’re Chinese

Yes, Chinese

So many of us we spread like some disease

If you don’t believe, come-lah see

Our Johor pornstar who even got DVD!


Verse Two:
Chinese know how to save money

Even weddings, we charge you attendance fee

Chinese here very lucky, we have our own Money Collecting Agency

Refrain I:

Balik Cina, they always say

But my family all come from Sungai Way

Never mind, just save money

To Australia we someday fly away

Verse Three:
If you’re Chinese, come, prove to me

Do you use chopsticks…to eat your Maggi mee?

If you’re Chinese, easy to see

Your face like lobster after two or three shandy

Refrain II:

KNN, NCB, only Chinese make singing swearwords nice

MCH, CCB, so many ways to call you a sohai…

Verse IV:

Economy bad? Blame Chinese

Contracts we sapu after paying Bumi fees

Take the blame, play the game

In the end, it always ends the same

Play it safe, just save face

In the end, we’ll all just emigrate


The grass might not be greener for you

Coats of arms of Malaysia
Image via Wikipedia

“Shouldn’t I go, too?” That’s the question I get asked by youngsters who watch their peers migrate overseas.

Even Patrick Teoh, stalwart of the arts scene, is contemplating just leaving the country.

If you are eligible to migrate, the reasoning goes, then pack your bags and leave.

Give up on Malaysia. Don’t put up with the corruption, our politicians’ collective stupidity, race-based policies and uncertain economic future.

For me, migration is frankly not an option.

I’m poor, from a broken lower middle class family, with qualifications from a lowly local university and am not particularly talented. I have to stay because I have no other options.

But what about those who do? Is it worth staying around? Or should they just fly?

1. If you are a doctor, engineer, scientist or academician, perhaps you will be better off overseas. The pay is better, you will have a better quality of life and you won’t have to put up with the BS you get here.

2. If you don’t have a professional qualification or are in the creative line, I will be honest: quality of life will be better but career opportunities? Not so.

I meet the occasional deluded artist who thinks that once they go to the US/UK/etc, their talent will be recognised and stardom is within reach.

Look at yourself in the mirror. In predominantly Caucasian countries, Asian minorities find it particularly challenging to get roles and not get typecast.

Most actors or creatives struggle to get a break and find themselves competing with tens of thousands of hopefuls.

In Malaysia it’s hard to make a living. Most creatives juggle day jobs and moonlight just to stay afloat. We have a smaller market and the pay overall is pathetic.

But if you want to be a writer or a journalist, Malaysia might possibly be the best place for you to start. Overseas, the competition is pretty fierce just to get a journalism internship while here, all you have to do is call HR.

But if you try to get an entry-level job overseas, best of luck. Expect years of unemployment especially as even locals struggle to break into journalism.

I know people who’ve struggled overseas trying to get a foothold but they were in the wrong fields. Fields already saturated with locals and where foreign citizenship was a disadvantage and not an asset.

As I tell those frustrated with the pace of change in this country, I tell you honestly that the change you wish might not happen in your time. Whatever we fight for and espouse today might only come to fruition when our grandchildren are having babies.

Our country is young and despite everything has a lot of potential. We have to acknowledge what has changed: we have access to more sources for news. We have the Internet. We are no longer as beholden to the government as we used to be.

Every little bit we can do to make this country better counts. Write letters. Organise campaigns. Write. Create. Do and be what you are.

I have neither money nor clout but what I can give my country is the effort to educate and enlighten. My gifts are minuscule but in the long run I hope my words matter.

Even with the corruption, bad governance, stupid people I meet…this is home.

For better or for worse.

(For thoughts on Sept 16, read my older piece in Malaysiakini:

For better or worse, Happy Birthday Malaysia

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We, a nation of zombies

Today a tragedy occurred because two Malaysians were unable to think for themselves.

Rather than hand over a fire extinguisher, staff at a BHP petrol station cited directives not to open the kiosk’s doors after hours.

Their caution did have some basis. Holdups are common occurrences at petrol station kiosks and mini-marts in Malaysia.

The reality, though, is that a woman’s life might have been saved if a fire extinguisher had been on hand. Instead, she burned alive while helpless onlookers watched.

It’s a sad reflection of how Malaysians have become so used to not using their heads. We toe the line, we play it safe.

“Oh, so now you’re blaming the government.”
Yes, I am. Its heavy-handed approach to public governance has led to a nation of citizens unwilling to move without directives or think for themselves.

Whether it will admit it or not, by discouraging independent non-government sanctioned thought, Malaysia is encouraging its citizens to act like zombies.
How could I not be critical of our leaders as I read an interview with our former international trade minister, where she blames the ‘rebels’ of society for our slow march to developed nation status and share such gems like the following:

“”When I became a politician, I never dared to speak out against my seniors… I was in awe of them and I wanted to learn from them,” she said.”
What Rafidah fails to remember is that it is healthy and necessary to question the status quo. Before the age of enlightenment, people believed bathing was bad for you. That everything could be cured by leeching.

You could be executed for saying that the earth revolved around the sun, instead of the other way around.
Martin Luther questioned the authority of the Roman Catholic church. Gandhi questioned the British’s claim to rule in India. Nelson Mandela questioned the rule of apartheid.
The only place where absolute subservience is a given is in a dictatorship.

We want great things for our country but until we can make space for discussion, healthy debate and the right to question the authorities, we’re not going anywhere.

Look at our sorry excuse of an education system, where our future generations are force-fed information and expected to regurgitate it all at exams.
Malaysia claims to desire innovation and creativity, but effectively kills it in its schools.

The solution is not, like Pakatan keeps ‘suggesting’, to change the government. The key here is to change ourselves. As citizens, we need to step up to the plate and demand our rights. No political platform or ideology can claim that for us.

So my countrymen, you know that thing between your ears? Learn to use it. Give it some exercise.
As a nation, we can choose to stop being stupid. Or at the very least, elect people who will stop treating us as if we are.

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Ghosts can’t hurt you

Like a bogeyman, May 13 is oft invoked.

Malaysians are seen as little children who need to be scared into behaving.

Beware, beware May 13, some quarters chant.
What they don’t realise is that the ‘children’ are growing up.
Once, we were discouraged from talking about it. Now, Perkasa won’t shut up about May 13.

Let it rest. Yes, it was a dark moment in our history. But it is time we move on and start paying attention to the living, breathing problems: our low-income economy, falling education standards, lack of competitiveness globally and the problem of poverty.

It’s been 41 years and so much has changed. Yet some things still remain the same. The Indians remain a marginalised community struggling with problems such as crime, poverty, lack of access to quality education. They got a bum deal before Independence, they’re still getting a bum deal after.

The divide between the rich and poor still exists but you see it everywhere now and it is colour-blind. Yes, there are more poor Malays than there are poor Chinese but there are far more Malays in the first place. MCA is so desperate to get the Chinese breeding the political party now finds itself matchmaking and exhorting its brethren to have babies.

Back to May 13. As a nation we are young. We are still struggling to deal with the complexities that comes with being who we are – our diversity is our strength but it is also our challenge.
When it comes down to it, a lot of problems we have now are due to problems with policy.

The NEP was created to level the playing ground. Has it? Yes, we now see plenty of Malay and Bumi fat cats. Only a select few benefitted from the government attempting to prime the pump. They get richer, their brethren get poorer. Malaysia Boleh.

I don’t give a damn about my MP drinking himself under the table. I just want him to wake up the next morning, sober enough to defend my rights in Parliament. I am not interested in my MP’s midlife crisis and sudden desire to take Wife Number 202. I just expect him to spend as much, if not more, time in Parliament than playing referee between his wives.

If you want to bury May 13 forever, then stop dissecting it. Analysing it. Waving it around like a flag.

Acknowledge it. Remember it. For mistakes that are forgotten will oft be repeated.
Perhaps Perkasa’s obsession with May 13 is a reflection of the Malay fixation on ghosts, hantu, jin, toyol, jadi-jadian.
What do you think fuels sales of the crap tabloid of lurid ghost stories, Mastika?

This ridiculous obsession with things that cannot hurt you. “Engkau takut Tuhan ke, takut hantu?”
So politicans, why try scare us with ghosts? They can’t hurt us. But you can. You have. You will.

You are the real bogeyman every time you attempt to stuff your racially-charged agendas down our throats.
If you are more scared of ghosts than you are for our economic future, then you have no business leading us.
If you try to scare us with bogeymen instead of doing your job, you don’t give Malaysians enough credit.
Though you wish they would stop voting in so many ‘hantu’ into Parliament. Ah, my country.

On no side but God’s

I’ve always been forthright about my political views. But after some reassessment, I’m going to declare openly my nonpartisanship.

Perhaps you’ll call me chicken or think that this is motivated by my being in PR. No, my backbone is still very much intact, thanks very much. My decision was motivated by Billy Graham’s example. A while ago, he publicly declared his support for the Republican party and Senator John McCarthy, communist witchhunter extraordinaire.

But Graham exercised that one power we all human beings possess – he changed his mind. Despite being attacked by the Christian right, he moved away from their circle and in answer to their condemnation, he said:

"I don’t think Jesus or the Apostles took sides in the political arenas of their day.”

From now on, I will (attempt to) reserve comments on our politicians. Believe me, they irk me on both sides of the fence.

I refuse to be a member of any political party, of any politically-affiliated body or concern myself with politics. It takes a certain kind of person to be a politician and thankfully, I’m not one. But I will concern myself with issues that need voicing. The growing divide between rich and poor. The inadequacy of our education system. The pitiful support structure for our arts scene. The suffering of migrants and the displaced.

Those concern me because I believe that God would want me to give a damn about those things, and not politics. So before you accuse me of not caring about my country, I will tell you that I choose, instead, to care about its people. And all people.

Permatang Pauh’s upcoming ‘boxing match’ and this bookie’s odds

So we Malaysians have our popcorn and passports ready to see the results of the Permatang Pauh by-elections.

Popcorn to watch the high drama; passports in case things get ugly. Singapore might just see a sudden influx of ‘tourists’ if the BN gets skittish and declares emergency status if Anwar wins. Or if he doesn’t. You know, to prevent riots and so forth and so forth.

Why am I using a McCain and Obama picture? Because if China can get away with misrepresentation, so can I. Oh, and I’m too lazy to Photoshop. Plus it’s easy to get pictures of Anwar but not so that other fella, Arif Shah Omar.

Of course, we can already expect our local media to publish pro-government headlines. NST, for example, is always up to the ‘duty’ with this Bernama-sourced piece:
NAJIB: BN expects tough battle, but confident of winning Permatang Pauh

The AP begs to differ with their newspiece by an obviously unbiased Eileen Ng:
"Malaysia’s top opposition leader filed nomination papers Saturday for a
Parliament by-election that he is expected to win easily — the first
step in his bid to bring down the government and become prime minister."

And because Bernama just loves using the word ‘confident’ in its headlines, here’s another one I got off NST: Both BN and Pakatan confident of winning Permatang Pauh seat

Winner of most pompous election headline goes to The Star with this doozy:
By-election Battle Royale

At least they didn’t use the word ‘confident’.

Back to the odds. I confidently predict that Anwar will win this one.

Why? Because his opponent’s too old to be a certain someone’s son-in-law.

Second – since the government insists on doing a repeat performance of the sodomy charge, they’ll probably want to wait until Anwar wins the Permatang Pauh seat. So it’ll be even more satisfying to clap him in chains.

Third – he’s got Tun M’s backhanded belief that he’ll win with this statement of overwhelming confidence:

“I think Arif Shah will not lose as
badly as other candidates before him or other candidates in his place.” quoth the venerable one to The Star.

Yes, Anwar will win, BN’s ‘Cemerlang’ Rempits will likely also make an appearance, a certain DPM will be pleased that we’re forgetting about certain Mongolian-obsessed bloggers in the ruckus and Saiful swear-on-the-holy-book will be buying boy-love manga from the nearest bookstore to ensure his upcoming testimony is convincing.