Saturday, 31 August 2013

Why I Really Dislike This Year's Merdeka/Malaysia Day Petronas Advert

This year's Petronas Merdeka and Malaysia Day Advert (a two-for-one value deal) is wonderfully made. More than 3 minutes long, it is a sweeping panorama of multiple communities, varied Malaysian locations, and intergenerational histories. Filled with wide angle slo-mo shots set to sweeping music, it is epic in scope and has been variedly praised as "moving", "beautiful" and "the best advert Petronas has made in a long time".

Allow me to be a contrarian here: I am not a fan. In fact, I'm surprised not more people find the underlying narrative and subtext of the advert deeply disappointing.

"Our lives may be different, but our hopes and dreams are the same", goes the ending slogan.

At first this seems both a fitting and reconciliatory reminder that deep down we as Malaysians are all one and the same despite our surface differences.

But when you look at the advert closely, you notice that the main characters (all from different ethnic groups) really do live different lives; they simply happen to live in the same country.

They do not have friends from other races. They live apart from each other. They do not intermarry. The only time they "mingle" at all is in a bus on their maiden voyage to university (Universiti Petronas, naturally). Then they each focus on their own courses and after they graduate, they move on with their own lives.

If art is a mirror to life, then perhaps this advert mirrors a deeply saddening truth of contemporary Malaysia: after 56 years of independence and 50 years of nationhood, we have nothing to show other than different groups of people who share nothing in common besides citizenship in the same country. We live parallel lives that do not intersect and we know and care very little of each other. We are our own "Others".

According to this advert, our hopes and dreams are the same only on a superficial level: we want our children to do well academically and career-wise, to enjoy stability, to have families of their own. There is no hope for anything more than a better life for our kids. Not a better life for all Malaysians, just our kids. There is no shared Malaysian future, no common aspiration, no intersecting lives.

There is no Malaysian dream.

How can we not notice this deficiency? How can we lap praise at this advert? It's showing us our shortcomings as if it were our strengths.

Yasmin Ahmad, in her short advert where two women spoke to each other in different languages yet understood each other perfectly well, showcased a far more humble but beautiful and (genuinely) moving vision of our country, one which perhaps, in the time since her passing, has unfortunately become more like the Petronas Merdeka/Malaysia Day advert of 2013.

Happy Merdeka Day, and Happy Malaysia Day, my fellow Malaysians.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Return to Sender

Some years ago (yes, years) I discussed an idea with a friend, Justin Wong. That idea became a film script which we co-wrote, and Justin ultimately made that script into a short film.

The film has been out for a while; I honestly don't remember why I did not post it here but anyway, here it is.

It is admittedly a flawed end-product, but we (especially Justin) learnt a lot from the process of translating a script into film. Nabihan, who plays Vanessa, is a gem in this one.

It will be sent to some local screenings here and there.

Tell me what you think.

Saturday, 1 June 2013


We should go but
You don't have to accept it but
I know it's sounds bad but

So small a word
Three tiny letters
So dangerous

Cunning as it is lethal
Easily used
Impossible to resist

We'd like to keep you but
I know it's wrong but
You make sense but

The blade planted in a cupcake
The bee hidding in a bed of roses
The string that triggers the trap

You did good but
We ought to stop but
I love you but

You are lulled, then tethered, then smashed
Like a boat cruising on a gentle stream
Which takes a sudden turn
To a waterfall

I'd write more but

Sunday, 19 May 2013


So many mushrooms
Competing for space
Sudden tree-vines and
Props for the race

Loud coloured, mass produced
Full moon and clear star
Fast rocket and bright eye
Weaving new hope from afar

Old scales of justice
Tilting left and right
Rows and rows and rows
They came in the night

Marking territories
So many things to say
Poles that cut through flesh
Reminders of dues to pay

Screens splitting tables
New walls grown in-between
Friends and neighbours leave
Wounds felt but not seen

As flowers fade and vanish
They go, quick as they came
We saw the victor clinch the wreath
We know the familiar name

The flags will disappear
But scars take their time
Not too long they'll return again
Five years down the line

Saturday, 9 March 2013


I dreamed of spires
Pillars by a dome
Columns with Corinthian
Capitals in Rome

I dreamed of chimes
Built as a roof
Gilded with gold
On a tower aloof

I dreamed of a city
Carved out of stone
Its rivers glistened
As I crossed them alone

I dreamed of pyramids
A riddle was asked
Where is my answer?
The cipher is masked

I dreamed of a bridge
On which I sighed
And when it crumbled
I knew my dreams had lied

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Pineapple Tarts

I had a nanny when I was a child. I called her Aunty Ho, but really that was her husband's name.

My family lived in Klang back then and after school I would be sent to her house before my mum picked me up in the evenings after her work.

I have many, many childhood memories set in Aunty Ho's house and street. Catching dragonflies and tadpoles with her son outside. Playing clapping games with her daugther on the cool green-tiled floor. Speaking to her husband in Mandarin. Seeing her elderly father-in-law sit as still as a statue on his chair, his black rimmed glasses magnifying his eyes.

Every Chinese New Year, Aunty Ho baked pineapple tarts. Lots and lots of them, to sell and give away, all in her small humble kitchen. They were the old school variety: a flower shaped base, fibrous pineapple jam (homecooked for hours) topped with a dough latice and glazed with eggyolk before baking. Most ones you find today are small rolled pastries stuffed with jam.

My family was given a few jars each New Year's, and I loved those tarts.

I suppose if you asked me to be objective, they probably aren't the best pineapple tarts ever. The base is slightly hard at times and not as buttery as some modern versions. The eggyolk and latice was often uneven. But to me, they tasted of love.

My family kept in touch with Aunty Ho's family through the years, visiting on festive occasions. It always amazed me that despite her humble means, she and her husband were always keen to send me and my family expensive gifts during Chinese New Year, Christmas and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Unfortunately, Aunty Ho developed a tumour in her brain. It was removed, but she wasn't quite the same; she did not bake pineapple tarts after the operation.

About a week or two after I finished my last term exams in Manchester in 2008, I received an email from my dad saying she had passed away. This was a few years after the operation.

To this day, one of the greatest joys of the Chinese New Year are the abundance of pineapple tarts everywhere I go. And every time I see pineapple tarts that look like the ones Aunty Ho made, I remember her.

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone.

Thursday, 24 January 2013


I cut out a piece of the sky for you
To match your blue dress
To pin to your hair
So you can say as a joke
That your head is in the clouds.

I cut out a piece of the moon for you
To glow when it's dark
To hang in a frame
So you can look at it
And recall the shadow of my smile.

I cut out a piece of my heart for you
The part that still beats your name
To do as you please
To wear on a chain
Or bury in the ground.

(I wrote the above in September 2012.)

I Dreamed, Again

I dreamt I was in the UK again. That's twice in a less than a week. This is unusual.

This time it was Manchester. I knew it was Manchester because there were trams.

I was walking the streets at night. It had just rained. The air was thick and the roads were still wet. There were lights in the corner, just beyond my vision. Undoubtedly the lights of the clubs and pubs and restaurants of the city I was so familiar with. It could not have been anywhere else.

I approached a group of ladies clearly dressed for a night out in town (another sign I was in Manchester). One was a tall, middle-aged woman with blonde shoulder-lenght hair and an angular face. She was in heels and a flowy pastel coloured dress.

Can you help me? I asked.
She walked away from her girlfriends towards me.
Of course, she smiled.

I can't quite remember but I think I asked for directions to my friend's place or if she knew where he was; what I do remember is a burning sensation of wanting to find that friend and talk to him.

I can't remember what said after that, or if she said anything at all, but the burning sensation remained.

Monday, 21 January 2013

I Dreamed

The other night I dreamt I was in London.

It was late afternoon, the rays of sun still touching some parts. I don't know what season it was; it was chilly but not cold.

I was elated. I skipped through the streets. I knew it was London. I just knew it deep inside.

And after I just knew, I noticed billboards for West End plays: Wicked, Les Miz, etc.

"Yes, this is London!" I thought.

There were people with me, around me, but I didn't notice their faces. I was too happy.

But it was not quite London.
It was far more industrial, far more direlict, far less crowded. It had old brick warehouses, rusty faded signs, moss and dirt on walls and pipes. It looked as if most people had abandoned the city and left it to run down for years. It was Manchester, really.

I didn't notice I wasn't really in London until I woke up. But then again, I wasn't really in any place, was I?