Friday, June 8, 2007

The good die young

One of the simple pleasures I often look forward to is the chance to meet up with my old school buddies. For an assortment of a hundred and thirty or so boys who don’t have much in common in the beginning I could say we developed a formidable bond throughout the 5 formative years we spent growing up in a government penitentiary that is, to the rest of the non-incarcerated population, a boarding school. However, the gathering we had two days ago we could have gladly given a miss. For just the day before, one of us, even before reaching his 40th birthday, departed this life.

Most of us received the news that Farid passed away on Wednesday morning when we were well into our working day. My phone was constantly ringing with people asking “What happened?” The facts were hazy at that time but it turned out later that Farid died of “nontraumatic subarachnoid haemorrhage”. Some call it an aneurysm and some just simply refer to it as a blood vessel bursting in the brain. It was one of those causes of death where no amount of medical checks could provide advance warning.

By late morning quite a few of us were applying for emergency leave and canceling appointments to perform the ziarah at his family home in Kelang. He died in JB while on a work assignment and the jenazah was due to arrive only at about 4 p.m. It looked certain that there was going to be a reunion of sorts for us.

My first thought was how would we conduct ourselves this time? Our get-togethers have always been lively and revelrous affairs. These were the opportunities to relive those outrageous schoolboy episodes (and some adult ones) over again.

By lunchtime, about 10 of us were already gathered at a restaurant nearby while waiting for the jenazah which was still a long way away. It didn’t turn out to be a morose gathering after all. Apart from the expected theorizing about how our friend died, everybody took turns to relate some amusing anecdote about Farid and we were in stitches. The thing was, he was quite a low profile fellow, not usually in the limelight but in a boarding school no idiosyncrasy would go unnoticed.

It turned out that Farid, for all his quiet temperament, turned to orgies of destruction as a method of stress-management. At least once he trashed the Yellow House recreation room furniture for no ascertainable reason (and had to go into hiding for about 2 hours after it drew the attention of the House Warden). There was another time that he, with the help of some equal-minded friends, flattened a loaf of bread into a very big thin slice by rolling a ground leveler (imagine a manual steamroller) over it repeatedly. Again nobody could remember for what reason. Personally I feel that if a small animal was at the receiving end, the results would have been more spectacular and memorable.

I think I speak for everybody in the group in thinking that this was the type of wake we would like to have when we go. I would rather be the source of amusement than sorrow. Wouldn’t you?

We also did the very Malay thing of identifying any peculiar behaviour or incidence that occurred just before Farid’s death. And here I did not disappoint. It was only 5 days before that I met him. I happened to be in the area where he worked and I thought it would be nice to drop by for a chat. It lasted 2 hours. Nothing strange about that but for the fact that I had never spoken to him alone for more than 10 minutes as we weren’t particularly close. We talked about all kinds of things - friends, family, work, politics. He even related to me the story of how he chatted up the manager of a Bata outlet when he went to buy shoes for his first job interview and he ended up marrying her. I felt we finally broke the ice after all these years.

Then I heard somebody say, “Are you going to blog about this?” which caught me by surprise. But it was directed to Mr Akula who said, “I’m composing it as we speak,” while shooting a knowing glance at me. I said, “Yeah, how can you let this pass?”

By Asar, we were all gathered at his grandfather’s house to read the Yassin and recite the necessary prayers. His jenazah arrived at 5.30 p.m. It was heartbreaking to see his wife and 11 year old daughter following in a daze behind the van. By Maghrib it was all over and our dear friend was laid to rest. I can see why it makes sense for Muslim funerals not to be long drawn events. The loved ones just need to grieve and move on with their life.

Over the next few days I shall have to ponder on my own mortality and on how everything can be gone in an instance. And to my friends – don’t worry, I won’t make any surprise visits very soon. Promise.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The obligatory Lina Joy post

Since yesterday morning, people who know I blog (and even one commentor) have been asking me about what I think about the Lina Joy decision. I’m not sure whether they are looking for a political, religious or socio-economic perspective. Maybe they want to know how I feel (happy, sad, relieved etc.) about it. Perhaps they expect an irreverent or humorous comment from me to make light of what is a very troubling issue.

To tell you the truth, I feel nothing. Only because the decision is expected.

I notice many bloggers highlighting the fact that the 3 judge quorum of the Federal Court were made up of 2 Muslims and 1 non-Muslim so it was no surprise that it was the Muslim judges who decided against Lina Joy with the non-Muslim judge dissenting. The conclusion must be that the proceedings was biased against Lina from the start.

What we saw yesterday was a classic example of legal realism at work. If the term is new to you, let me offer a definition. It is the theory that common-law adjudication is an inherently subjective system that produces inconsistent and sometimes incoherent results that are largely based on the political, social, and moral predilections of judges. In short, it has little to do with the attainment of justice which was expected by both camps of the apostasy argument.

We cannot really say why Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim and Justice Alauddin Mohd Sheriff dismissed her appeal. To me, analyzing the basis of the judgment is unhelpful. Anybody armed with a law degree can cook up proper justification for any legal decision. What more judges who have the benefit of legal submissions from counsels and research by their registrars (although the registrars could probably do better than that “whim and fancy” argument). Who knows why the Muslim judges decided in that manner? It could be out of their own religious convictions. Maybe they sought to avoid civil unrest (somebody pointed out that it is less likely for Christians to riot than Muslims in Malaysia). Maybe they wanted to serve their political masters, if any. For all you know, they may have eaten something bad for breakfast.

I don’t want to comment on whether this is the right or wrong way to go about it, but that’s the way it is. It would be na├»ve to think that the courts in our Malaysia would decide on something as politically charged as the Lina Joy case based on the simple notion of justice.

What is really heartbreaking is how we are torn apart by this. Despite the endorsement of the highest court in the land, Lina Joy won’t be the last Muslim apostate in Malaysia, I'm sure. The ignorance, paranoia and bigotry revealed through the postings and comments that have been up since yesterday are frankly quite disturbing. Yesterday, the Global Peace Index was announced and we are put at No. 37 on the ranking of the world’s peaceful countries. Today, I’m not so sure.

Tell me again. Who won?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sexists 'r us

With all these sexists around it must be hard for a woman to maintain her dignity in Malaysia. We all know about the ‘bocor’ issue in Parliament which has already generated many a blog posting ad nauseam so I won’t repeat it here. I don’t have to be a woman to observe that sexism in our country is heavily institutionalized.

My most vivid recollection of this phenomenon was when I was undergoing an orientation course conducted by the Biro Tata Negara for scholarship holders before I departed for the UK many years ago. As is usual in this type of brainwashing sessions there would be activities involving the singing of patriotic songs. In one particular session, the all-male trainers made segregated groups of boys and girls compete against each other in terms of loudness. The logic of the BTN trainers must have been the louder you sing, the more you must love your country. To encourage the girls to sing louder, a highly gender-sensitive trainer told the girls, “Mulut ada dua pun tak boleh nyanyi kuat.” (You can’t sing loudly even with two mouths). I can’t remember whether it got the desired results but it certainly got the boys excited.

Of course, now as a mature adult (I’d like to think so anyway), I cringe to imagine how demeaning it was for the girls. But this demonstrates how sexist attitudes become entrenched.

Just 48 hours after the pipes burst in the Jalan Duta Court Complex, more facts came to light about its shoddy construction work. It was found that the sewerage manhole overflowed, damaging many court files. (Source: The Sun May 25 2007). Nothing new here. But consider the response of the PWD deputy director-general Selvanayagam P. Nagalingam. He explained that the manhole overflow was due to the indiscriminate disposal of sanitary napkins which could have been going on for some time. There you go. Blame menstruating women whenever there are problems with leaks.

It’s just too bad that “Dr. Shit” did not appear in the scene early enough to prevent menstruating women from causing the blockage. I’m taking about the report in the same edition of the Sun where our Government has decided to turn to South African geologist-turned-sanitation guru Trevor Mulaudzi, who goes by the nickname of “Dr Shit”, to help Malaysians keep public toilets clean. While they are at it, they might as well try to find a “Doctor Cock” to keep the MCPs in line.

What further boggles the mind is that our MPs have to relate everything to gender differences. One senator at the Dewan Negara, highlighted the issue of the Malaysian men’s football team playing like “sissies”, unlike the women’s football team who are playing well (source: The Sun May 25 2007 – again!). The response of Youth and Sports Ministry parliament secretary, S. Vigneswaran was simply, “Maybe it’s because the minister concerned is a woman.” This may not be offensive in itself but what value does a comment like that have? You would think that in the very rambunctious climate of the Malaysian Parliament, one would avoid making comments like that lest they degenerate into a discussion concerning the Minister’s penis or lack thereof.

While we can only lament about the maturity and gender sensitivity of our MPs and possibly the electorate, the British can already boast about their indifference to gender when it comes to politics.

Last week on Thursday, Britain’s first transsexual mayor, Jenny Bailey, 45, was sworn in as the mayor of Cambridge (source: The Sun May 25 2007 – yet again!). I have to point out here that councilors in Britain are elected and not appointed as in Malaysia. I find it amazing that the Cambridge councilors in choosing Jenny as Mayor could comfortably disregard the fact that Jenny and her partner (also a fellow councilor), both men previously and have two children each from previous marriages, had sex change operations only to become lesbians (either that or the councilors were too confused with the over-complex permutations).

At least if water ever seeps through the roof of the Cambridge Guildhall, Jenny (or her partner) could make a fuss, without anybody being able to tell her to shut up just because she “leaks” every month.

Related links:

Sewer hazard
Summary of sexist remarks in Parliament
Govt ropes in `Dr Sh*t’ for hygiene help
Meet the sex-change lady mayor and mayoress

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bocor lagi

I had just stepped into the cafeteria at the new Jalan Duta Court Complex this morning when I saw a flurry of camera flashes. There must be a high profile criminal accused or litigant around, I thought. My photoblogging instinct prompted me to get my camera phone poised and ready for some action.

I was a bit disappointed to see that all the fuss was about what I thought was a major floor cleaning exercise.

But then I heard some mutterings of "bocor lagi" from the cafeteria patrons. Things were beginning to look up. Finally I could contribute to the bocor discussion with a posting of my own. The press photographers, who were probably stationed at the courts to cover another newsworthy story, had a field day recording the incident from all angles.

Other people, maybe bloggers too, had the same idea and started snapping away on their camera phones. I made a note to myself not to let anybody else get the scoop on this and post this fast. Remember folks, you read about it first on Almost Anonymous.

My own efforts at investigative journalism uncovered the source of the minor flood. A pipe situated in a small "service room" burst. Apparently nobody realised it until some lawyers complained that their thousand-Ringgit Loake shoes were feeling a tad damp.

At least that kept the press occupied until they did some proper legal reporting. Moments later, they swarmed around Mr. M. Manoharan, a prominent lawyer, for some comments on perhaps the latest scandal on a Hindu person buried in a Muslim cemetery, corrupt municipal councilors or chicken smuggling. I couldn't actually hear him but from his fiery discourse I thought this must be something big.

I collared Mr. Mano himself in the lift and I asked, "What public interest case are you doing today, sir?" He said, "No lah. They just wanted to ask my opinion on this bocor thing." Hmmph. Any publicity is good publicity I suppose.

Whatever it is I'm sure members of the legal fraternity and court staff will enjoy the next few days eating in very very very hygienic conditions.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Nation of daredevils

Would you find it strange if I placed a stool 3 feet into a busy road and invited you to sit on it?

Apart from the weirdness of the whole thing, I know you would decline the invitation fearing for your safety. We know that most Malaysian drivers need to get from point A to B in the shortest time possible. If cyclists and crossing pedestrians do not normally serve as impediments one should avoid hitting in one’s endeavour to reach one’s destination quickly, why should a person sitting almost in the middle of the road be treated any differently?

But somehow it might not seem so strange if it wasn’t a solitary stool that was placed on the road but a collection of table and chairs with other people seated on them already.

I am not sure what the appeal is of patronizing this sub-species of open-air eating establishments. So for the purpose of research, I braved myself and sat myself on one of those wobbly plastic chairs to enjoy a teh tarik (the things I do for you, honestly).

After 5 minutes I felt like every driver was trying to murder me but changed his mind at the very last second. I concluded that the attraction must not be dissimilar to bungee jumping. There are people who would pay (although the cost of my teh tarik adventure is significantly less) to experience the thrill of feeling like you are about to die. But with the roadside teh tarik, the possibility of dying unexpectedly in the process from a combination of a road accident and dysentery is not quite eliminated.

It’s not as if such a scenario has not been played out before. At around 2.00 a.m. on May 25, 2003 a young lady by the name of Charlene Joseph Jindi drove along Jalan 14/14 in Section 14, Petaling Jaya. For reasons which are not totally clear she crashed into several tables placed outside a mamak restaurant on the road. One person was killed and 6 others were injured. She was subsequently charged with reckless driving and causing death and injury.

What was interesting was that her lawyer during the trial argued that "the accident took place on the road where the restaurant patrons were not supposed to be sitting." The court has not decided on the case yet and it remains to be seen how the magistrate, who probably had a roadside teh tarik himself the day before, will view this argument. Perhaps the lawyer might do better arguing that she was using the rearview mirror to apply her make-up at the time.

But don't think that sitting quietly in the safety of your own home could insulate you from this type of danger.

At 11 a.m. on May 11 2007, 70-year old Madam P. Saravathy had just stepped into her kitchen to make curry when a tipper lorry laden with stones and soil crashed into her double-storey corner lot home in Bangsar and landed in her living room. The lorry driver claimed that he was driving downhill and tried to steer the vehicle to safety but failed. It is likely that he will be charged under Section 43(1) of Road Transport Act 1987 for careless and inconsiderate driving.

I would say he was indeed very inconsiderate as the least he could do was to time the event to coincide with a suitable episode of AXN’s World’s Most Amazing Crashes. That would probably have enhanced the sound effects and added to the excitement of Madam Saravathy and her neighbours in a more positive manner.

It is no surprise that some road-users and pedestrians alike have this lack of concern when it comes to the safety of themselves and others on the road. This apathetic attitude is probably instilled from small. How often have you seen circus acts as below on the road?

And poking your head through the sunroof while your car is cruising to pretend that you are the queen of a homecoming parade may be fun but it’s one way of increasing the chances of your head arriving at your destination much earlier than the rest of your body.

I could go on about Mat Rempit, motorcyclists who don’t switch on their lights at night and pedestrians who think that overhead bridges are merely decorative structures but I feel quite tired and thirsty after all this writing. I feel like having a teh ais my local mamak. And I’m going to sit inside. Far inside.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Talking dirty

Today, together with emails of people asking me to enlarge my penis and give money to dodgy Nigerians, I received one of those interesting but useless viral emails that people forward to their friends thinking it would brighten up their day (although I suspect it has already been making its rounds for quite a while). I would usually delete emails of this kind but this particular one inspired me to propose a solution to the waning interest in Visit Malaysia Year 2007.

The email was innocently titled “A Small Town In Austria” and it featured a newspaper article about the problems of residents in a sleepy 32-house Austrian village near Salzburg on the German border. The residents were growing tired of tourists, mainly from Britain, stealing signs from their not-so-quaintly named village. It’s hardly a wonder since the village is called “Fucking”*.

A local tourist guide who was interviewed complaints that Salzburg and its surroundings offered many interesting sights “but for the British it was all about Fucking.”

But could the tourists really be blamed? I did further research on this (not on fucking, but on places with unusual names) and discovered that it doesn’t take a lot to get people excited when it comes to oddly named places. Nobody starts out wanting to give embarrassing names to their town or village but unfortunately although they may be innocuous in their own languages the names may cause speakers of other languages to regard them as funny. Our capital may sound normal to our ears but not to some Americans who think that any capital city sounding like (or spelt as?) “gouala loubour” has comedic value (see here: answerer 7) . Another American blogger is “shocked” at the name of "Shah Alam, Selangor" but she does admit that she’s geographically impaired.

Of course, this phenomenon cannot be confined to less-informed Americans and such because it would be normal for us too to be amused by foreign place names which has comical meanings in our own language. When I was a child, my family took a road trip on the west coast of the USA and we passed through a town called “Gila Bend” in Arizona ("gila" means "crazy" in Malay). My dad insisted that we stop the car and have my sister and I pose for a photo in front of the sign. At that time I thought it was a meaningless though slightly hilarious exercise. But then I didn’t know that many years later I would be blogging about funky toponyms.

Well, in view of this proclivity our Ministry of Tourism should pay special attention to our own towns in that special category. We already have towns with names of sufficient lasciviousness that should be celebrated . Residents of “Getting Horny” (Menggatal, Sabah), “Dangling Dick” (Batang Berjuntai, Selangor) and “Fishtrap Vagina Village” (Kampong Pantat Bubu, Terengganu) should wake up to the brand potential of their settlements.

That way, they could reclaim their dignity and announce their places of origin with pride. There is no need for folks from Batang Berjuntai to sheepishly abbreviate their town to “BB” when asked where they are from or be the butt of jokes when disclosing their hometown in full. I am talking here about the old joke where you ask somebody from BB where they come from and upon hearing the town’s name in full, comment “Me too. But which town?”

Of course, the ribald nature of these town names may not be too apparent to English speakers. Well, we should look at the Welsh and take a leaf out of their books then. In Wales, town names are displayed on signs in Welsh and English. There is no reason why we could not have both Malay and English on town signage.

To protect the brand value of these towns, there should also be laws passed against changing their names just to suit current (boring) sensitivities. I recently had a holiday in Langkawi and I looked up some excursions to Pulau Kentut Besar (Big Fart Island) and Pulau Kentut Kecil (Small Fart Island). In my schooldays, these were two islands that were circled in bright red ink in everybody’s Longman’s Student Atlas. Alas, the wet blankets have changed their names to Pulau Intan Besar (Big Diamond Island) and Pulau Intan Kecil (Small Diamond Island). Why would anyone want to visit them now? I hear the spoilsports also propose to rename Batang Berjuntai as "Berjuntai Bestari". Where is their sense of tradition?

It would also add to the town’s charm if tourists’ attention could be brought to folklores relating to the names of the places. There is an interesting story as to how Pulau Kentut Besar and Pulau Kentut Kecil got their names. According to legend, there was once a Malay prince who ate half-cooked rice during a wedding feast. His majesty suffered indigestion and farted the two islands, the size of each island corresponding to the size of his fart. If that doesn’t make you want go there for a camping holiday with a week’s supply of baked beans, I don’t know what will.

Similarly, Batang Berjuntai has an interesting folklore. In ancient times, a princess and her entourage stopped by near a river to rest during her long journey from Perak to Johor. She saw a man bathing on the opposite bank and asked her lady-in-waiting, “What is that strange object attached to his person?” Her lady-in-waiting replied, “Ba …” Okay, you know I’m making this up but it will make a hell of a story to tell credulous note-taking German tourists.

Well, I think I’ll have to do further research on this subject before I submit my full report to the Ministry of Tourism. In the meantime I’ll book a holiday to the mountain of Wank in Bavaria to get some ideas. It’s probably the only place in the world where you can ask a local, “Excuse me, you wanker. Where is the nearest post office?” without getting beaten up. Oh, I’m going to have so much fun.

* It means “Fock’s people” in the local language. The sign underneath means: Please, not so fast!

Related links:

Fucking, Austria
A town called Fucking
Much ado about names
Be careful of what u name
Graham Norton calls Austrian tourist office to ask about Fucking (video)

Thursday, May 3, 2007

It's truly porkelicious!*

I used to have this colleague called Chong who I always tried to avoid near lunch time. Around 12.30 p.m. he would say something annoying like, “I’d ask you to join me for lunch at my favourite restaurant but it’s not halal.” I would also always reply graciously, “Thanks for the thought.” He would then grin and add, “It’s such a shame because the pork dumplings are the best in town.”

He would also try to “tempt” me to join him for a bak kut teh breakfast and whenever we would have to arrive at a consensus for an eating place he would go into a mock sulk, making it clear that he was “disappointed” we couldn’t accommodate his nourishment of preference.

Actually, I was not offended. Chong was a great colleague otherwise and I guess he only cracked these non-halal jibes because he felt comfortable with me. In fact, I’m very tolerant when it comes to people eating pork around me, having spent many years abroad. But Chong’s ribbings were more of an annoyance than anything else due to his misunderstanding.

I could see that his attempt at humour was based on a misconceived line of reasoning. I suspect he had a few hard-drinking Muslim buddies who also didn’t have qualms about eating non-halal beef and chicken abroad. I could see him further contemplating on the haram ruling on certain vices. It was not hard for him to come to the flawed conclusion that the purpose of sharia principles was to take the fun out of life (“What’s wrong with having sex with your girlfriend?” he inquired one time) and if not for the prohibitions, Muslims would knock themselves out silly with all that is prohibited, including pork. Hence, to him, dangling porkelicious temptations in front of me must have been a right laugh.

I can’t blame him actually. Muslims who show poor restraint when it comes to staying away from forbidden food and drink only add to the confusion. But Muslims, or Malays at least, would draw a line when it comes to pork. From small we are brought up to think of pigs as absolutely filthy animals. I’m afraid I can’t quote from the Quran but I can safely quote Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules Winnfield character in Pulp Fiction: “Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know ’cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy mother . . . . Pigs sleep and root in shit. That’s a filthy animal. I ain’t eating nothin’ that ain’t got enough sense enough to disregard its own feces.” That’s how our parents inculcate our inbuilt aversion to eating pork in not so many words.

In fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), even touching swine carries a burden. One is required to wash himself seven times with water (including once with water mixed with soil) if he comes into contact with a pig (or its product). We don’t even have to do that when coming into contact with excrement. So you can understand why we can’t bring ourselves to eat something that is considered dirtier than shit.

However, I also observe that it is a Malay thing, distinguishing the sin of eating pork from other garden-variety transgressions. Whilst living in the UK I notice that less observant Muslims from other countries, including the Arab states, would happily dine on roast suckling piglet washed down with a glass of cold crisp Sauvignon Blanc without having to discriminate between the two. Perhaps children in other Muslim countries are spared the Samuel L. Jackson lecture as in their countries, there was little danger in accidentally ingesting pork, being mono-cultural societies.

So there you go, a Malay sinner may down 5 shots of tequila in one go but will pass up the chance of gobbling down a sumptuous piece of pork chop or its equivalent. But not when it comes to pork scratchings, it appears.

In the UK of the late 80s, it was still relatively difficult to dine out if one observed halal requirements. So one of the more popular dining establishments amongst Malay students was Pizza Hut. One could choose between the vegetarian or seafood supreme pizza and have a nice bowl of salad for starters. The salad was not too bad because the veggies were fresh and to add crunchiness and flavour, one could add croutons and some mysterious crispy orangey bits next to them.

This udang kering-like ginger-coloured substance was all the rage then because it added oomph! to what would be typical rabbit food. That was until one Ramadhan evening in 1989. A group of 4 Malay students chose to break their fast at the Marble Arch outlet and they were pleased to be served by a Jordanian waiter whose faith was revealed when he excused himself for his iftar. Upon the designated time the boys rushed headlong for the salad bar and scoffed some spoonfuls of the “udang kering” stuff while no one looked. That was when their new-found Jordanian friend cried out in horror, “What are you doing? That is fried pig skin!”

The reaction of each person was interestingly different. Two of them ran straight to the gents to wash the offensive matter out of their mouths while the other two just looked at each other and one expressed disappointedly, “Damn, that could have gone on a little bit longer.”

Some other resourceful students made more inquiries and found out that the crispy stuff was the popular pub snack, pork scratchings. Wikipedia describes it as:
“…. typically heavy, hard and have a crispy layer of fat under the skin, some still retain the hair of the pig, and are flavored only with salt. The pig hair is usually removed by quickly burning the skin of the pig before it is cut into pieces and cooked in hot fat. Hair removal is not 100% effective which is why some retain a few hairs. The hairs are what usually makes people question the desirability of these pub snacks, but to some, these can also be highly desirable.”
What an appropriate and effective addendum that would be to the Samuel L. Jackson sermon in case one was still tempted.

Back to the question of Chong, I did toy with the idea of getting my own back on him. I thought of bringing some really evil smelling tempoyak and waving it under his nose to put him off his lunch. But I had second thoughts in case he said, “Can I have a bit? That goes nicely with sweet and sour char siew you know.” It’s just not fair.

* tagline of El Cerdo restaurant
43 & 45 Changkat Bukit Bintang,
50200 Kuala Lumpur

Friday, April 27, 2007

Alternate reality

I read about something really pointless in the Malay Mail a couple of days ago. The story was about how Nur Salima Habibi, a former contestant of Akademi Fantasia was castigated for exposing her aurat when she was performing in a theatre production. The complaint was that she exposed her hair (together with ears and neck) in the play. It wouldn’t have been an issue if she wasn't usually tudung-clad. But because she was (and this was her trademark during the AF competition), she was taken to task for the deed.

Her excuse was that no, she did cover her hair. In adopting a technical defence, she said that she wore a tudung first and then only donned a wig over the tudung. So presto – we’ve got an actress who is syariah compliant and yet remained just as alluring as mainstream actresses, with hair seemingly showing.

I may not be too knowledgeable in religious matters but something is amiss here. Isn’t the whole purpose of wearing a tudung to prevent a stirring in the loins of men whose eyes might fall upon her uncovered head? Maybe I would have to expect that before her performance, someone would have to announce, “Please be informed that Salima is actually wearing a wig over her tudung.” For added measure the announcer might also add, “So don’t you men dare get horny.”

Even with such a caveat, I’m sure wig or no wig, loins susceptible to the sight of female hair would stir anyway.

In any case, she should consider herself lucky not to find pictures of hair superimposed on her head. Or worse, her face superimposed on a naked body like that entertainer couple who in 1998 didn’t send their PC to be repaired only not to find later that the technician didn’t pilfer their hard drive and didn’t submit their photos to

Which reminds me of yet another bizarre incident – in Japan, this time.

On New Year’s Eve of last year, a dubiously talented entertainer who goes by the stage name DJ Ozma performed a song (aptly titled “Bounce With Me”) on NHK (the Japanese equivalent of RTM1) accompanied by a troupe of female dancers. Half-way through the performance his equally talented dancers took off their tops, exposing what seemed like their breasts and continued bouncing with him until the end.

Not unexpectedly, the next day NHK received 1800 complaints about the inappropriateness of the extravaganza. NHK’s explanation was that the dancers only wore flesh coloured suits (fully installed with nipple coloured fake nipples). No breasts were exposed during the whole affair. I would normally think, yeah right but it’s the Japanese we are talking about. Bizarre is as bizarre does. (See video here)

No boobies bared here. Honest.

Now what would this mean for baldies? Perhaps they could now go around sans their bad hairpieces and claim that they are wearing flesh-coloured head coverings for the heck of it.

Gambar hiasan semata-mata

I expressed my amazement to my friend K about this whole state of affairs. He summed it up quite nicely, “It’s pointless. Just like jerking off wearing gloves.” I couldn’t quite agree based on personal experience, but I think he might have a point.

The silliness of it all is totally depressing. I think I'll drop into my neighbourhood pub but don't get me wrong. I'll only be knocking back some non-alcoholic beer and then just pretend to get absolutely wasted.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Usin' my noggin

What have a Minnesotan evolutionist, a grandma in Texas, an acclaimed writer from Terengganu and a camera phone pest in KL got in common? They are all recipients of the Thinking Blogger Award. Which begs the question, what is a “thinking blogger”?

When I was bestowed the award (twice) by Ms. Blabs and Pugly, my first thought was: Thinking Blogger? Is there any other kind? I began to think whether it is really useful to label a blogger as a thinking one.

My instruction, in tagging my choice of Thinking Bloggers, was to tag blogs that make me think. But surely a "blog that makes you think" is not only one that is constantly spouting profound wisdom on his/her blog?

Would that mean that bloggers who write only about the routine aspects of their life should be excluded? Does a person who lovingly blog about his cats not make you think? Or is the foodie who frequently keeps us up-to-date about fabulous eating places in town (with lots of photos to go with the post) not worthy of the award?

The blogsphere is a wonderful medium for expressing anything you want (within reasonable bounds) and there will always be an audience who would consider any one of your posts intriguing.

I will get down to the task that I have been entrusted with soon enough but let me deal with some other questions that have been nagging me. By which route did the tag reach me? Are all the people before me of the same ilk?

The only way to find this out is to trace back all the recipients of the award that leads back to Ilker, the creator of the tag. So I did!

(in reverse order, leading back to the originator)

37. Almost Anonymous
36. Pugly / Nights Over Egypt
35. Dina Zaman / The Splenderful Chronicles
34. Eliza’s Haberdashery / Kak Teh's Choc-a-Blog Blog
33. Bibliobibuli
32. Greening the Blue Planet
31. Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic
30. The Sleepy Reader
29. 3M’s Review
28. This is the Life
27. The Song of My Soul
26. Fruit In Season
25. Sting My Heart
24. Laurel Wreath
23. Middle Years
22. Rocking Chair Reflections
21. Morning Glory
20. Ordinary Mom
19. Temporary? Insanity
18. The Smiling Infidel
17. Slacker Moms R Us
16. The State of Discontent
15. I Obsess
14. 24/7
13. Red Neck Mommy
12. A Work of Art
11. Under The Mad Hat
10. Bub and Pie
9. So Fast Away
8. Life, the Ongoing Education
7. California Teacher Guy
6. History Is Elementary
5. Another History Blog
4. Primordial Blog
3. Sandwalk
2. Greg Laden
1. The Thinking Blog

Amazing! Don’t you think?

My nominations for the Thinking Blogger Award go to:

Pazuzu’s The Floating Turd: He writes an enormous amount of crap, as the title of the blog suggests, but as you will find, not without a lot of thought. Don’t forget to read his accompanying blog, which is a fun satire on Malaysian politics.

: This self-titled blog frequently deals with issues facing Singaporean Malays. He puts across his ideas eloquently. I don’t agree with everything he says which makes reading it even more compelling.

Lokman’s The Blokeman: Lokman is another Malay Singaporean blogger who defends the Singapore ethos strongly. He stands for no nonsense and provides an insight into why his countrymen are such resilient creatures.

Cikgu Lee: Just when you think Malay blogs are boring, here comes one which brings fresh air to the genre. A Chinese blogger who can use my mother tongue better than I do certainly gets me thinking.

Suria Matahari: Why not? She reminds me that family and friends matter most. That’s worth thinking about.

Note to tagged bloggers:

Congratulations, you won a Thinking Blogger Award!

Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging. I thought it would be appropriate to include them with the meme.

The participation rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

Remember to tag blogs with real merits, i.e. relative content, and above all - blogs that really get you thinking!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Conserve this!

Have you wondered what the going rate is to hire a young able-bodied person to clear ape shit from a cage? Apparently you pay nothing. In fact, if you play your cards right, the shit-shoveler might even pay you for the privilege.

I am, of course, talking about the wonderful world of gap year tourism, the economics of which has fascinated me enough to write this entry.

I was in Sabah last week for a short holiday. (I mentioned this in some comments of the last post). At some point, I ended up at the orang utan rehabilitation centre in Sepilok, near Sandakan. In my usual blogging frame of mind, I was alert for new material. However, while I found orang-utans interesting creatures, I discounted them as suitable interview subjects.

So while the eco-tourists were gaping at our not-too-distant cousins, my curiosity was aroused when I saw some white kids working alongside the rangers. Around lunchtime I accosted a pair of these atypical manual workers at the restaurant and sat them down for a chat.

Both of them were 19 and were British. Andy was from Winchester and Liz was from Taunton. They had finished their A-Levels last year and have spent the last 4 weeks at the centre.

“I love animals and the opportunity to work here was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity,” Andy told me.

“So how did you apply to work here? Do they pay well?” I asked.

Liz jumped in laughing, “No, we are volunteers. We don’t get paid.”

Liz and Andy went on to explain that the opportunity to volunteer at the centre is highly sought. The centre in Sepilok is world-famous and it is not easy to get a volunteer placement. Typically, the volunteers are post A-Level students who have taken a year off before going to university (hence, gap-year). The volunteers would nurse and bathe the babies, feed the adults at the feeding platform and do other more mundane tasks like cleaning their cages. So, for students who hope to become vets, it would be a logical choice. But in any case, having worked here would look good in any CV.

“Besides,” claimed Liz, a vegetarian who wore leather shoes, “we feel good for doing our bit to conserve the planet. Anyway how could you not want to take care of these cute babies?”

“Wow, you must have really pulled some strings to get these places,” I commented.

“Not really. We pay a management and placement fee to an agent in the UK to secure a place,” Andy informed me.

Paying to work. What an interesting concept, I thought. I found out later from my own research that these volunteers pay about £3000 pounds for their 2-month gap year experience in Sepilok. There are other opportunities in Malaysia including teaching English and scuba diving at varying prices. I can't imagine our unemployed graduates forking out even RM100 for a chance to improve their CVs. They even have to be paid to drag themselves out of bed to attend additional English courses and whatnot.

I didn’t feel like I got the full picture. So I waylaid a ranger and tried to get him to talk about this volunteering lark. He wouldn’t oblige and I suspected that he was cautious not to disclose things he shouldn’t. But he suggested that I get a ride back to town from Justin, a former ranger who recently retired and was now driving a taxi in Sandakan. The ranger gave me a number and soon I was taken back to Sandakan by Justin.

“So what do you think about these gap year volunteers?” I asked.

“They are all right. The centre takes about a dozen of them at any one time. And I think some of the money they pay is donated to the centre,” Justin explained. “But it’s challenging to have them. Most of these kids are so sheltered that they have funny ideas about animals and wildlife. I remember one volunteer who refused to eat fish served whole with the head!

And then, some think they could run the centre better than us. They would quote information they gained from this book or that documentary. One argued with me on his first day that the orang-utans should not be just fed with bananas since there were an abundance of fruit available. What he didn’t understand was that we purposely want them to get bored with the bananas so they would venture into the jungle to look for more interesting food.

And these people are so spoiled. One girl couldn’t be separated from her handphone despite the no handphone rule. So one day, we had to suspend our whole operations because one of the orang utans pinched her handphone and everybody had to stop work to persuade the fellow to give it back.”

I was beginning to feel that perhaps it wasn’t so much the volunteers’ animal rearing skills as their hard currency that was welcomed by the centre.

You know what I have to do now right? I’m going to start a conservation programme for “endangered cows”. I’ll call it “Program Berlindung Untuk Lembu Liar” (Program BULL) or in English, the “Wild Cows Shelter Programme”. I’m going to get an agent to find me some gullible British vegetarian volunteers whom I will charge £500 a place. The agent could charge whatever it wants. When they get here, I’ll make sure they have a fulfilling 2 month experience. I’ll set them to work (herding, feeding and even bathing the cows if they want) and educate them on the benefits of recycling manure (that will make sure the sheds get cleaned). Imagine how much I’ll save on employing Indonesians to do the job (and make some money in the process).

Now I’ve got all that sorted, all I need to do is think of a plausible cover story for the Ramly Burger lorry coming for supplies.

Friday, April 6, 2007

First impressions

There’s one more reason why I blog anonymously. You will see that I don’t post any photos, provide an email address or instant messaging ID and I avoid giving out any personal details.

I’m not really paranoid but it’s because extra information tends to distract from your real task at hand, which is reading my blog. If I take away all the excess data, you have no choice but to read my postings rather than play detective to answer the question, “Who on earth is this guy?” That’s what I hope anyway, at least in these early days.

Why I started off the post with these thoughts is because I’ve been recently introduced the term “thin-slicing”. I found out that it’s got nothing to do with making a piece of salami go a long way. It’s the underpinning concept of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, “Blink”.

Since my last book review I have taken an interest in pop psychology after all. The idea that you can make accurate snap judgments about people and situations in the first 2 seconds just intrigues me. This is what “thin-slicing” is about.

Gladwell puts forward a case for thinking without thinking, which suits me and my depleted brain cells just fine. My head already hurts writing this post.

We thin-slice whenever we “meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation.” He says, “Snap judgments are, first of all, enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience … they are also unconscious.”

But as I said before, just read this blog. Don’t thin slice me.

The book is peppered with many anecdotes about situations when people thin-slice correctly and wrongly. Gladwell gives examples in the context of detecting art forgery, gambling, speed dating, tennis, military war games, the movies, malpractice suits, popular music, and predicting divorce.

The most fascinating vignette he provides is about Silvan Tomkins. Tomkins was an expert at studying facial muscles and what they revealed about people. By looking at mug shots on “Wanted “ posters, he could tell what crimes the various fugitives had committed. And by looking at decades-old photos of tribesmen in Papua New Guinea he could correctly tell which of them were homosexuals and murderers. It was last reported that there will even be a film adaption of Blink starring Leonardo Dicaprio as Silvan Tomkins and directed by Stephen Gaghan. I’ll bear Leonardo this time in the name of intellectual pursuit.

I’m certain that the ability to analyse faces would come in useful all the time. I’m already thinking of interviews, negotiations and selecting half decent Indonesian maids from sketchy biodatas.

I wonder if I have Silvan Tompkins’ gift? Apart from anything else, thin-slicing would provide a cure for boredom on the LRT or generate some minor excitement from mundane events. OK, here goes:






1. Having a bad hair day
2. Misses Magnum P.I.
3. Thinks he's on the New York subway
4. Loves his fries
5. Loves his fries and has a bad hairdresser
6. WTF??!!!!

Sorry for the disappointing analysis. What do you think I am? Psychic?

(note: Photo No. 6 is NOT photoshopped!)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nuisance on the LRT

I usually mind my own business when I take the LRT. Even if somebody dresses up looking like a clown I would not take the opportunity to laugh mockingly at his fashion sense:

However, Reggae man then proceeded to play at full volume an exteremely unpalatable heavy metal song on the speakers of his Nokia handphone. I could see the rest of the passengers in the coach were feeling annoyed.

I could recollect that there was a mother with small children, a middle aged lady and a 70-year old Chinese man amongst them. I doubt that they shared his passion for what I could guess were the enchanting sounds of XPDC (I couldn't tell from the noise but his t-shirt provided a clue). Being Malaysians, I guess the natural thing to do was to bear with the situation and not create a fuss.

My sense of community spirit was invoked. I told the fellow:

"Awak ni betul-betul tak bertimbangrasa. Muzik awak tu bising sangat. Bukan semua orang nak dengar."

Reggae idiot just ignored me. I was hoping that my fellow passengers would join in, but I could see that they were becoming more awkward with the situation. I tried to encourage them by asking the crowd, "Betul tak?"

Nobody flinched but at least the Chinese uncle smiled and nodded. But there was still no reaction from Reggae wanker.

I took the phone from his lap, threw it to the floor and stomped on it, breaking it into pieces. I scooped up the pieces and dropped them on his Rasta headgear.

Well, I didn't actually although I really felt like doing it. I left the train immediately after when I reached my stop.

I could only settle for publicly humiliating the bastard on this blog. Woah! Check out the air guitar!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Just horsing around

If you are wondering why it's been hard to get into town these past few days, it's because there have been rehearsals for the 200th anniversary of our Police force. It's taking place this Sunday on Dataran Merdeka and the rehearsals are causing a lot of inconvenience for people who have to pass the surrounding roads. I happened to be there this morning and I thought this would be a good photoblog opportunity.

I never thought of it but they are a pretty specialised lot, these people.

For example, they have a mounted unit which I believe is used for crowd control and ceremonial duties. They look quite impressive, actually.

And these chaps down here also have a special function. I noticed that they were extra vigilant and I just assumed that they were doing their normal surveillance duties.

Later it became apparent what they were really there for after a small incident with one of the horses.

With lightning speed they sprung to action, as our police officers often do.

You would think these efforts would be appreciated by their brethren officers in DBKL. But somehow I think not.

Anyway, I raise my hand to our animal waste clearance specialists. Although there's only so much they could do.

So my advice for the day is: don't stand too close to the kerb when waiting for your ride. It won't be only rain water that the cars will splash on you!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Collective hype

I have just finished “The Wisdom of Crowds” by James Surowiecki. I must admit that my choice of mental nourishment this time was not determined by a continuous interest in pop psychology but due to the fact that it was rather high up on the mininova audiobook list in terms of the number of seeders.

In other words, I had no idea how good this book was but I made my decision to listen to it by riding on the decisions of others. Which is interesting because this is one of the more important concepts discussed by Surowiecki.

Surowiecki argues that a group of human beings could make good collective decisions when the following four conditions are satisfied:

1. Diversity of opinion: Each person should have their own private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
2. Independence: People's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.
3. Decentralization: People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge i.e. facts that they possess due to the particular position they are in.
4. Aggregation: Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

For example, if I post a picture of myself on this blog (which I so will not do) and ask everybody to independently email me and tell me how much I weigh, I can add up all those estimates and the average will correspond very closely to my actual weight. Of course the answers will be distorted depending on whether I have clothes on or not.

The mean guesstimate will be quite accurate, based on the criteria above because:

1. All of you are very different, despite the Tourism Minister’s claim that out of the 10,000 bloggers out there, 8,000 are actually pathological female liars.
2. All of you would not consult each other about my weight, although it might be fun to do so.
3. Each one of you will make your conclusion based on your own experience about someone who resembles me e.g. good looking people normally would work out a lot thus what looks like fat is actually muscle which is more dense.
4. We have a method for collecting this data i.e. emails.

Going back to my decision in downloading “The Wisdom of Crowds”, it looks like I was influenced by other people’s decision to do the same. Which is not conclusive about whether the book is good or not.

What was more interesting were stories about how bad decisions are made. For example, the September 11 attacks were not foreseen because the various US intelligence agencies did not aggregate their data. Another was the dotcom bubble bursting due to stock market decisions being based on the participants’ trying to ancticipate how other people are playing the market.

I would recommend this book as essential reading. It would answer many questions you are afraid to ask. Most importantly:

"What's with these Mawi lovers?"

Note: Mawi is accused of being high on drugs in this video. If he was not, it only confirms what a wanker he is.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Risk of Asphyxiation

"Conditional upon what?" I would like to inquire of the restaurateur. In any case, I'd better take a deep breath before I step in.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Coalition against train farters

I hate people who break wind on trains too. But not with such vengeance.

The Star didn't even pick up on the snigger value. Sad.