Monday, 28 February 2011

Words Are Flowing Out Like Endless Rain

Only problem is...paper cups don't hold much.

If you asked me to write about social issues, current events, international news and Malaysian politics, I could write hundreds of articles, but I wouldn't....unless I got paid for them.

Not only are there countless things to discuss (local politics alone invites endless comment), I can honestly say I enjoy writing about things I care about.

Of course, this being a non-profit blog, and me holding a hectic full time job, it's very, very difficult to find time to write consistently.

You'll notice that often I will write about one thing and not about another. In this blog, the Chilean miners never got trapped, very few famous people died and nothing has happened in China (no booming economy, no earthquakes, not a rising power and I can't remember mentioning the Olympics or not). There have been no natural disasters in Australia, Pakistan, Philippines, Indonesia, New Zealand since 2009. There was no change of government in Britain. There was no healthcare reform controversy in the US. There was no pullout from Iraq, no surge in Afganistan. There was/are no revolutions in the Mid-East/North Africa. Yet in real life, all these events and trends have captured my attention and imagination.

A specific example: Yasmin Ahmad's death was mentioned, but not MJ's. Both were deaths of people who left important legacies, both were adored by many and commented on extensively, but to different degrees. So, do I love Yasmin more than Michael? Can't say so.

I reacted strongly to both their deaths, and if I had more time I would have wished to write on both. But I wrote about Yasmin as a sort of gut reaction, her death felt close to home, thus the post was short and reverential. For Michael's death, I felt it was more a talented, but relatively distant star that had passed away. I saw Yasmin next to me at Starbucks KLCC, I never saw MJ. Besides, I don't see the point in talking about something everybody else is talking about, unless I feel I have a particularly different take on the subject, or I feel strongly enough to add my two cents.

But I do feel strongly about local social issues (especially those off the general public's radar), civil society initiatives and activism, artistic and creative movements and moments in Malaysia, and of course politics, both local and elsewhere. Yet, I have not written (or if I have then very inadequately) about countless social issues that face our country today. I have not touched on Malaysian politics except here and there, fleetingly. My writing on local arts has been very limited (even though in the area of theatre alone, I must have watched a good 15 - 20 plays and performances since 2010).

Again, why write on a few things and not others? As I said before, if I were a full timer, I'd actually love to write widely, non-stop. I really would, but since I'm not, I don't bother. Not because I don't want to, but because I can't. Time-wise, I just can-not. I have an "all-time job", and plenty of other responsibilities and interests besides.

Also, my approach to (non-fiction) writing, especially with regards to sensitive issues such as race and politics, is to write with civility and carefully considered, sensible points (or at least thought out enough not to be flippant). That is how I want to participate in any discourse, no matter how small my voice or how insignificant my contribution. I want to speak for reason and moderation and progressive reform. I want to speak up, but I do not want to shout and scream (unless absolutely called for). If, due to lack of time, I cannot meet these standards I've set for myself, then I'd rather not write at all (which, last year, had more often than not been the case).

I do not want to be be judged as unfair, or worse, inconsequential, if I write often but with little care for quality and reasoned arguments (as many bloggers do). I'd rather be judged as someone who has reserved his voice, for whatever reason. Of course, I don't want people to think I don't know or care about these things, which is just as bad! I suppose that's why I wrote this piece. I just find it unnerving that people place judgments on me based on the most fleeting or shallow of reasons or observations.
Actually, I almost always have something swimming in my head I wish I could write about, be it about some story for a play or some controversial political development, and by writing I would like to see if I'm able to develop the idea or argument into something worthy of sharing. Yet often I have to let these ideas slip away due to other commitments. It is just frustrating to have so much to say, so little time to say it.

1What Again?

We speak different languages, and different dialects within these languages. We practice different religions in different houses of worship, and belong to different groups within these religions. We live in different neighbourhoods and go to different schools, with teachers who were not trained together and emphasize different values (even if the syllabus is technically the same). We eat, for the most part, different cuisines, in different places, separate from each other.

We read different newspapers, magazines and books, and we watch different shows on different tv channels. We visit different blogs and websites (except facebook, but even then real-life boundaries are virtualised here). We listen to different radio stations, buy different music, watch different movies, are targeted by different ads.

We belong to different societies and organisations. Many of us work in different jobs. Some of us avoid certain industries of sectors (the civil service, armed forces, etc.). Some would even say we like different sports, shop in different places, idolize different figures and wear different clothes.

We are not compelled to share common narratives, values or dreams. We are often provoked to distrust, segregate from, look down upon and even despise each other and each other's cultures. Our entire social, political, and (worse of all) mental framework is shaped by the inadequate, unjust, crude and truly tragic contours of race, from the day we were born into this country.

I'm sorry, but I often find it hard to swallow talk of 1Malaysia.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Hear, Hear!

A.O.H. writes a letter to the the editor of the New Straits Times on the current pressure from courts on litigation lawyers.

Read it here (NST Online link) and be enlightened on what we liti lawyers face daily.

The writer is not exaggerating. When I inquired about a change of date at the Court of Appeal, the officer in charge blithely said over the phone: 'Right now the Court of Appeal will only grant adjournment if there's death or near death. You or your family.'
'Death of near death?' I asked in a humoured voice, somewhat shocked and amused by the audacity of the statement.
'Yes, death of near death,' she replied (I could sense from a chuckle she too found it ridiculous but had to tow the line).

In another instance, my colleague called another Court; she had clashing hearing dates and needed to rearrange them. 'No, the court won't give you another date. You choose la which file is more important to you.'

There's a point where it's so ridiculous it's almost funny. Almost.

Thank you, Jason Lim, for the link.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Seeing Clearly Now

My brother's cataract operation went well yesterday, thank God. He had lenses changed for both eyes. He was on general anesthesia (local is the norm) as he has Down's Syndrome and they wanted to operate on him just once. Thank you so much to those who kept him in your thoughts, prayers. He's going for a post-opp check up today. I believe everything will be fine and he'll be watching Phineas and Ferb again by this evening (albeit further away from the telly!).

The day before, my sister won tickets to watch 'Life Sdn. Bhd. 6: ABUSE', directed by Dato' Faridah Merican, from KLUE's website. My sister very graciously asked me to watch it with her last night (although my having a car may've been part of the reason).

The performance is about stories of abuse in Malaysia, some of them told by survivors, all of them true. I was told by Dato' Faridah that some survivors wanted to remain anonymous as they were still afraid of repercussions should they speak openly, and so friends/actors had to convey their stories on stage. These are the times we live in, people.

The performance was more of a sharing session that a play: no plot or props, just people telling stories, with some great songs (by Ian Chow and Khairil M. Bahar) and one dance sequence in between. Not long into the show, many of the performers and audience were in tears from the riveting tales shared, but I can assure you those tears can come from one place: truth. I know they're true not because I read the pamphlet, but because I know (or know enough of) these performers.

It was enlightening to say the least and I learnt some subtle truths about abuse: it starts a vicious-cycle that is difficult to break, it can come in many forms, and from unexpected (sometimes painfully ironic) places, and our silence and ignorance creates more problems than it solves.

'Life Sdn. Bhd. 6: ABUSE' plays till this Sunday at the Actor's Studio Lot 10. Find out more here.

[Ed 24/2: My brother's check-up went alright. He'll go for a second check-up next week, and in the meantime wear large lab-glasses that make him look rather like a sci-fi cartoon character. They're meant to allow the lenses to adjust in his eyes properly without overexposure to light/UV rays, etc.]

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Platfrom 2011

Last year I acted in and wrote for ‘Lost & Found’, a play at The Actors Studio Lot 10 directed by Joe Hasham and Gavin Yap. Through my involvement, I learnt a lot about writing, acting, performing and communicating, as well as about myself. I had the privilege of working with 2 well respected veteran directors as well as a warm and wonderful cast of 11 other writers and actors. It was one of the most exhausting, enjoyable and rewarding projects I ever did.

I got into ‘Lost & Found’ because I put up a short play in one of the monthly installments of ‘The Platform @ KLPAC’, with the help of friends Marina Tan, Khairil M Bahar, Amanda Ang, Aizat Faiz and Wan Azhar.

This year, I'm co-coordinating the season with the help of Marina Tan. The core concept's the same: an 'open mic night' for theatre in all its form (except musicals and dance) every first Monday of the month till July 2011, at Indicine KLPAC, 8.30pm. It's open to everyone and both admission and participation is free!

So, if you've got a performance you're dying to put up in any language (yes, any!) or even no language (physical theatre, mime, etc), then submit a piece to <theplaform at klpac dot org>. It's free and simple: no auditions, callbacks, script readings or endless rehearsals. If you've got something to show, then the stage is yours.

If you're looking for actors, scripts or directors, visit our fb page by looking for theplatform@klpac, and post up what you need.

You may even be chosen to perform at the full year-end production in November! So really, you've got nothing to lose!

Writers Are Supreme Egotists

My friend Khai has transcribed Kevin Smith's cheat-tweets on how writing is the closest thing to playing God for us mortals. No wonder I like writing...

Click here to read it.

Thanks a lot for the link Khai.

You Should Date An Illiterate Girl

Charles Warnke writes at Though Catalog on why dating girls who read leads to lifelong misery.

Click here for the article.

Link sent to me from Lil' Tan. I miss you, you Heffalump you!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Kan Dah Kata?!

Can't say I didn't warn you guys about this. (Star Online News)
My country never fails to shock, humour and enrage me at the same time.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Shameless Self-Promo

I'll be on NTV7's Breakfast Show tomorrow morning, along with Toby Teh and Ian Homer, to talk about this year's 'The Platform @ klpac' season, which I'm helping to co-ordinate.

Food for Thought

John Malott, former U.S. ambassador to Malaysia (and undoubtedly an Anuar chum) writes for Wall Street Journal about 'The Price of Malaysia's Racism'.

Fair and honest commentary or Western Imperialistic bias and exaggeration?

Read it, then debate it. 

East or West, Mum is Best!

Even before I read her words, I had heard about her and her memoir, the rather militantly titled 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother', from other sources. Amy Chua's everywhere on the net these days.

But when I actually read her article on Wall Street Journal's website, excerpted from her memoir and titled 'Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior' (subtlety is not Chua's strong point), I was moved. Really.

I moved through shock and horror, understanding and empathy, anger and humour. I reluctantly conceded some points while strongly disagreed with others. Chua is definitely blunt in many places (she's sparked a mini clash of civilisations after all) but as a child who grew up in a home environment indirectly shaped by Confucian values, her stabs were not new ones.

Before you jump the gun, let me tell you bluntly myself: my mum is not Amy Chua. Not at all. Neither is my dad. They no doubt share many of her values and beliefs: that education is of supreme importance, that parents should wield authority over their children, that parents objectively know better the real needs of their children,  that bolstering a child's self-esteem is not the primary objective of parentingproviding for the child is, especially in terms of education, but they are no where near as iron-fisted as Chua.

Compared to many parents I personal know or know of, mine are relatively strict and very conservative (that is not a criticism, mind you), but compared to Chua, they are almost hippies. It seems to me Chua takes the imposition of her values on her children to the extreme, to a point where it could probably lead to diminishing returns. Her kids might be tough and come out great, but I can imagine many others getting nervous breakdowns by 12, regardless of ethnicity.

I do not doubt Chua loves her daughters and wants the best for them and their future (at least by her standards), and I am not here to judge whether she is a bad mother or a good mother, or whether or not her style of parenting is superior in any sense of the word. I will not comment on any emotional effects her parenting will have on her kids, their happiness or their adult relationship with her.

What I can say is this. What Chua and her 'type' are doing to their kids is merely to produce perfect conformists. People who will have stable jobs and live in safe neighbourhoods and watch 20 seasons of American Idol and die anonymous to the world. Can anyone say if there's something wrong with that? Not really.

In many ways I am one of them. This 'safeness', this 'stablity' in life (encompassing financial, familial, societal safety and stability) is something that my parents and their parents treasure above many, if not all, other things. And because they believe this security and stability comes from education, they endeavored to give me the best they could afford in that area. No, not the best toys and Play Stations and gadgets and laptops and summer camps, but the best tuition and books and colleges and universities. I will admit I have not always been thankful, or even aware of this.

But now, this security and stability, this safeness, is something I am thankful for every morning. I know that, unless I make horrendous blunders in life or my society turns upside down, I will always have food and clothing and shelter because I have an education which assures my employment. And I know I have my parents to thank for it, and I also know it came to me at no small sacrifice on their part. I know all this very well. Yet, this safety and stability is the same thing I sometimes resent at night. It is this same thing that I feel has limited my options and negated my desires for a different, freer, less conventional life.

Let's face it, Chua's kids (and all kids who have parents are like her) may get A's and gain scholarships and go to top universities, but they will never be groundbreaking theorists or academicians. They may play the piano perfectly, but will never be the great composers. They may be literate and communicate well, but will never write 'The Great American Novel' or an award-wining play. They will be hardworking and rise the ranks, but will never venture their own start-ups. They will be excellent managers, accountants, bankers who will be hired by many big corporations, but will never be entrepreneurs, inventors or risk takers who make the news.

There will be no Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerbergs, Tiger Woods, Richard Bransons, Theresa Tengs, Itzhak Perlmans, Meryl Streeps, JK Rowlings, Picassos, Robert Frosts, Quentin Tarrantinos, Schumanns, Stephen Hawkings, Mother Theresas, Ghandis or Thomas Edisons to come from them. It's almost impossible. I mean, can you really imagine any of those kids changing the world in any significant way?

Their job in life is just to do their job really, really well, and get ahead by pure efficiency. Their goal will be to live quiet lives away from trouble and have kids who do the same. They will pay taxes and vote and read newspapers, but will probably never get into politics. Their goal is not to create change, or initiate paradigm shifts, or to spread charity, or to lead peoples, or to cure world problems, or to make headlines, or to be brilliantly creative.  But again, can anyone say this is wrong? Not really.

There is no right or wrong here, that's the point.

Chua may be right about many things when she criticizes what she calls Western style parenting. But she also must understand that encouraging creativity and freedom and self expression and self respect can lead to great failures and well as great successes, often both in the same lifetime. Her parenting may lead to success in her kids, but only a very limited, albeit perfectly acceptable, definition of success.

Also read mainland's Chinese mums' reactions at

Happy Valentine's

Be careful out there libido-driven young Malaysians! I'm warning you! There'll be a crackdown on you vile lovebirds who flaunt your sinful Western lifestyle: bersunyi-sunyianing and berfoya-foyaing and besentuh-sentuhaning and bercium-ciumaning and berkhalwating. Disgusting! Didn't your teachers and parents bring you upright?
Don't you dare go out and offend the rest of us who might bump into you in parks, restaurants, and other vice-dens! Stay at home instead, where you can do all that without being caught.

Hehe, have a good one guys.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


Just finished reading 'The English Patient' yesterday. Great stuff.

I'm wondering whatever happened to Sean Ghazi. Ayone has a clue? If there's any justice in the world he should be famous by now. Sigh.

How have your Chinese New Year celebrations been going? Well I hope. Honestly, I am this year. I just feel so tired of the world right now. Weltschmerz as the Germans call it. Don't ask why. I don't really know myself.

I hope you feel perkier than I do.

P.S. Congrats too Boo and Chloe on their new baby girl!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Heading South Twice

Seremban tomorrow (even though I'm on compulsory leave), Kluang on Monday (I will have leave VERY early). Such is life for a juniour liti lawyer. I hope the traffic will be okay.

Chinese New Year doesn't feel particularly festive this year. Even without the work assignments I still feel it rather permeated with a sense of jadedness. Maybe it's the way the world is right now. Or maybe it's just me, growing old(er) and cynical.

Either way, I hope you'll have a good one. Take care out there.

Mucho lovin',