Category Archives: Malaysia

Yellow and Red and Black and ….

Below is an excerpt from the highly esteemed BBC talking-type wireless show (or so they claimed for themselves), The Goon Show.  Written by the rascally Spike Milligan, the episode entitled “The Affair of the Lone Banana” has our intrepid but dumb hero, Seagoon, going to South America in search of a missing British citizen.  But when he arrives, he finds himself in the midst of much social unrest…………

Seagoon:  Now, now what’s all this about?
Moriarty:  It is the revolution señor – everywhere there is an armed rising.
Seagoon: Are you in it?
Moriarty:  Right in it – you see, you see señor, the united anti-socialist neo-democratic pro-fascist communist party is fighting to overthrow the unilateral democratic united partisan bellicose pacifist cobelligerant tory labour liberal party!
Seagoon: Whose side are you on?
Moriarty:  There are no sides – we are all in this together.

I used to think this was so funny even though I knew that sometimes reality actually sails very close to this.  Unfortunately, it has now even come closer to home, to Malaysia.

On the 19th of November, thousands of Malaysians put on yellow shirts and attended the Bersih 5 rally on the streets of the capitol, Kuala Lumpur.

Aerial view of just one of the rally locations:- How many yellow shirts? (some say 50,000; police say 15,000; one establishment newspaper claimed about 5,000)

But they were not alone.  Just like the Affair of the Lone Banana, there were other parties present too and they were all in it.  I hope to try to give some clarity to the situation.

Yellow Shirts – these are the peaceful, pro-democracy, pro-transparency, pro-electoral reform, anti-corruption, pro-justice, pro-change, anti- current Prime Minister Najib, supported by past Prime Minister Mahathir, non-sectarian, civil society groups and opposition parties.

Red Shirts- these are the thuggish, bullying, sectarian, anti-yellow shirts, anti-free press, pro-government, pro-status quo, pro-establishment, pro-Malay, pro-Prime Minister Najib, ruling party.

Image result for bersih 5
One of several sad incidents involving red shirts attacking a yellow shirt some days before the rally

Black Shirts – anti-rallies, anti yellow shirts, defenders of the law against protests, newly set up party with ties to establishment.

MJMM president Abdul Rani Kulup Abdullah (centre) posing for photographs outside the Dang Wangi police headquarters. — Picture by Melissa Chi
Black Shirts posing outside police station

Orange Shirts – anti-yellow shirts, pro-Prime Minister Najib, pro-Indian, pro-government party launched by the Prime Minister.

Purple Shirts – pro-yellow shirts, pro-protection of yellow shirts from red shirts.

In the end, the yellow shirts far outnumbered the rest.  There were probably more than  50,000 yellow shirts and about 2,500 red shirts.  The red shirts dispersed before long.

The police arrested many yellow shirt leaders and a few red shirt leaders briefly.  However, Maria Chin Abdullah, the leader of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections was jailed and placed in solitary confinement under an Act designed for action against terrorists.  Malaysians of all kinds of color shirts held nightly vigils for her release and she was finally freed after 10 days although the police say they are continuing their investigation of her.

Image result for maria chin vigil
The nightly vigil for Maria’s release from solitary confinement.

If all this was rather confusing, let me just a summarise it for you.  In a nutshell, we are in a lot of trouble in Malaysia and no matter what color shirt, we are all in it.  If we are not careful, we will all sink in it.  What is needed is for us to drape ourselves in the multi colors of our national flag, put down our own selfish interests and fight for a country with justice, equality and opportunity for all Malaysians.


His name is Chew Keng Lin.   When I think of Chew, I think of a man of simple tastes and a happy disposition; more contented and at ease in the depths of the rainforest than enjoying creature comforts of city dwelling.  He loved nature and being out in nature. In fact, he made protecting nature his life’s work.


I first got to know him at this place – Endau Rompin.

endau rompin

We were on the same team; I was team leader.  Together we contributed to the building of a field centre for scientific research and nature education in a relative pristine forest are. Today, it is part of the National Parks of Johor or “Taman Negara Johor”.

Chew continued on and became a senior officer in the Parks Corporation.

Tomorrow is Chew’s funeral.  He was only in his forty’s.  I don’t know much but was told he had some kidney problem; sudden and unexpected.

Although I have not met up with him for some years, I feel a bond to everyone who worked together on that team.  We accomplished something important and we all did a lot of growing up together.  That means something.

I am sad that he is no longer with us. I am sad that he passed on so young. I am sad that I will not be able to be there at his funeral to honor and remember him.  I pray that he is in a better place.

Here We Go Again….

So it is happening again.  First,  Anwar Ibrahim, the main opposition leader in Malaysia, has been in prison since February 2015 after being convicted on sodomy charges.  Many believe that the whole case was arbitrary and politically motivated and that was the conclusion too of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention .

Now, Lim Guan Eng, the Chief Minister of the state of Penang, is being charged with corruption.  Specifically, he is being accused of buying a house from a Ms. Phang Li Khoon for USD 645,000 when the prosecution contends that the market value of the property should be in the region of USD 1,065,000.  It is alleged that this favorable transaction was tied to the Chief Minister asserting influence to have a different piece of land rezoned from agricultural to commercial use.  This is despite the fact that the State Council has said that no such land use conversion had been approved and in fact the application had been rejected.

Lim Guan Eng is another opposition leader.  He is well respected and many people credit him for reducing corruption in state government machinery which has resulted in a the state moving from a large deficit to becoming the most fiscally successful in the country.  So, many are unconvinced that there is a corruption case to be answered.

Many on social media have noted that the Attorney General was quick to bring charges in this case and to bring it to trial.  Yet, in January, the same Attorney General cleared Prime Minister Najib Razak of wrong doing with regards to USD 12.5 billion debts accumulated by the state development fund 1MDB which he set up. This even while 1 MDB is being investigated in at least 5 countries for irregularities and  Swiss authorities have opened criminal proceedings related to 1MDB on “suspected corruption of public foreign officials, dishonest management of public interests and money laundering”.  The Attorney General also accepted that there was no wrong doing when about USD 650 million was paid in to the Prime Minister’s private bank account.

Anyway, an appeal was launched for donations of USD 2.50 each to be collected to pay the  approx. USD 250,000 bail for Lim Guan Eng.  Public support was evident as the target was reached in less than 24 hours.

And so, there is going to be more legal drama and political maneuvering in the near future and for many Malaysians, an extremely bitter taste in the mouth.

Embarrassing Moments in Science

Regular readers will know that the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel loves to celebrate excellence……….excellence in failure, that is!  Yes, there is something about epic fails that fills the heart with soul healing mirth and with admiration for the gumption of those who dared to try and fall flat on their faces.  That is why, the IgNobel Awards are frequently feted here.

But recently, the Squirrel had been alerted to a new source of inspiration.  Fieldwork Fails is a book that has a collection of stories of scientists hard at work in the field collecting data and making a fool of themselves in the process.  Kind of a tribute to those who push the boundaries of science and find that the sometimes the boundaries push back.

Here is a couple of examples from Fieldwork Fails which is compiled and illustrated by Jim Jourdane.

science fails 1

science fail 2.jpg

Now I have a few personal examples that I could add to the compilation on account that I am a scientist, have done fieldwork and have experienced epic fails.  But the following is one of my favorite, true, “cross my heart and hope to die” yarns.

This was early in my career as a conservationist and I joined a scientific expedition to a part of the Malaysian jungle that had been relatively poorly investigated by science.  I was really inexperienced at that time but had the wonderful privilege of being in the company of some very respected biologists and botanists and learning from them.  In return, all these eminent scientists asked of me was to carry all their heavy gear through the hot, steamy jungle.

We operated out of a base camp that was almost totally constructed of jungle material.  We slept on stretcher like cots made out of wooden poles and canvas under a shelter that was constructed from various palm leaves laid over a wooden frame.

On one occasion, I had a chance to follow a group of three entomologists who were leaders in their field.  (Entomologist = someone crazy about insects).  After a long day out in the field collecting insect specimens from various traps, we returned to camp and plopped our tired bodies down on to adjacent cots.

It was there, while we lay in the fading light, nursing our sore muscles, that one of the guys spotted an extremely large stick insect up in the rafters of our crude shelter. Now, Malaysia is famous for its many species of stick insects – some of which are very large.

Cameron Highlands - Stick Insect

Anyway, all four of us continued to lie on our cots exhausted, observing the creature from afar and there then ensured an academic debate as to the identity of the curious visitor in our rafters.  One was sure that it was a rare species.  Another disagreed, citing the proportion of the body to the head did not fit the species characteristics.  The third insisted it was yet another species based on the structure and positioning of the legs.  For once, I was wise enough to keep silent and let the experts argue it out.

After, about 15 minutes of heated discussion, one of the experts declared, “There’s only one way to settle this!”.  With that, he got up, reached for his butterfly net and scooped the insect from the rafters for closer examination.  With the prize in hand, all three gathered round to make the final identification.

That’s when they realised that it wasn’t a stick insect at all, it was a …..stick.

Broken Glass Houses

In the last post, I made comment about the crazy gun, greed and celebrity culture that seems to be prevalent in the USA these days.  But the Lone Grey Squirrel remembers the adage, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”  And so before you start throwing stones back, I readily admit that things are not so great over here either.

Recently in the news was a 21 year old Malaysian girl studying chemical engineering in Sydney, Australia.  The bank made a mistake and gave her bank account an unlimited overdraft facility and she proceeded to spend AUD 4.6 million (USD 3.3 million) on handbags, luxury items and rental of a luxury apartment – all in less than a year.  When authorities began to make inquiries, she tried to leave the country on an emergency travel document but was arrested at the airport.  When asked why she had spent so much and not reported the mistake to the bank, she replied that she had just assumed that her parents had given her the money to spend.

So many questions?  Whose fault is all this? The girl’s or the bank’s? Was she dishonest? Is she guilty of any crime? Or is she just naive?  Did she really believe that her parents would give her millions to spend?  And finally, how come the banks have never been kind enough to make such a mistake with my accounts?

Of course, she isn’t alone.  The Malaysian Prime Minister has also been in the spotlight with regards to USD 681 million that was paid into his personal bank account.  He too has an explanation……….it was a donation from an unnamed Saudi Prince.

The perception is that corruption and dishonesty has permeated the fabric of Malaysian society at every level from the man on the street to the engines of industry to the corridors of power.

Here are two funny tales that are circulating which help to explain how things are perceived to be done in Malaysia these days.

Story 1:- Shrewd Financial Management

A homeless man finds a 100 dollar bill  He goes to a 5 star hotel, gets a room for the night and orders room service.  The next day, the hotel demands payment of 800 dollars.

The man says all he has is the 100 dollar bill.  The hotel manager calls the police.

The police come and arrest him. While in the police car, the man offers the cops the 100 dollar bill.  The police immediately release him and ask where he would like to be dropped off.

Now, that is shrewd financial management

Story 2: National Service

Malaysia joins the space race and wants to send a man to Mars.  After a grueling training and selection process, the hopeful astronauts have been whittled down to just three candidates.

A high ranking government Minister in charge of the space program decides to meet the candidates before making a final decision on who will be selected. Each candidate was asked in turn, what would they like as a token of thanks from a grateful nation for carrying out this dangerous mission.

Candidate 1 told the minister that he was happy to serve the country but it was a risky mission and he has 3 wives and their families to feed.  He therefore asked that he be given 3 million dollars to make sure that his families were well taken care off in case he did not come back.  The Minister said he would consider the request.

Candidate 2 similarly asked for 1 million dollars.  He explained that he had one wife and that 1 million would make sure that his wife and family were well taken care off if he failed to come back.  The minister said he would consider the request.

Candidate 3 told the minister that he would need 5 million dollars.

Taken aback, the minister asked if the candidate had 5 wives?

Candidate 3 replied that he was not married.

“Why then do you need 5 million?” asked the minister.

Candidate 3 leaned over and whispered into the minister’s ear, “Give me 5 million……2 million I give to you, another 2 million I will keep and I know a fool who will actually go on the mission for just 1 million.”

Or in other words…….how government tenders work.


The Good Ol’ Days

Ah, the good ol’ days.  Will we, in Malaysia, ever see the likes of those heady days again?

The year was 1980.  The nation was not that wealthy but we were rich in natural resources, bolstered by a burning hope for a brighter future and rich because we enjoyed a very special and unique heritage of multiculturalism in which there was much mutual respect and appreciation between the main cultural groups of Malays, Chinese and Indians and also amongst the other minority groups.

It was a Malaysia that many of us were proud of.  And perhaps rather emblematic of the nation’s psyche and indeed the state of the nation at that time, was our national soccer (or football) team.  1980 represented the pinnacle of achievement for Malaysian football.  It was the year that our ragtag team of part-timers shrugged off a couple of years of middling performance, rallied under a new coach, forged a strong sense of identity and defeated the much feared and favoured South Korean powerhouse in dramatic fashion.  They scored the winning goal in the last 5 minutes of the match to win 2-1 and it meant we qualified for the Moscow Olympics.  We even beat Arsenal and held other visiting professional clubs to a draw.

Unfortunately, the team did not get a chance to play at the Olympics as Malaysia joined the U.S. led boycott of the games in protest over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.  Yet, despite the disappointment, it did not seem to matter cause the country was filled with optimism that better days and greater achievements lay ahead for soccer team and for the country.

As it turned out, Malaysia’s fortunes in the beautiful game declined steadily since then.  Our FIFA world ranking fell from a high of 75th position to 174th position; placing us in the same group as countries like Timor Leste which doesn’t even have any proper soccer facilities.  Critics refer to the end of meritocracy, the rise of racism and political interference as well as corruption as the causes of the decline of the national team.  Sadly, this seems to have mirrored what has happened to the country in general.

This year, a movie was released called Ola Bola which its director claims is “inspired” by the true story of our national team’s glorious march to Olympic qualification in 1980.  In fact, much of the movie seems entirely true to the actual historical events.  The three main heroes of the movie were Tauke, Ahmad Ali and Muthu who were quite clearly based on Soh Chin Aun, Hassan Sani and Arumugum – the real three Malaysian football heroes who also happen to be Chinese, Malay and Indian respectively.  Many Malaysians enjoyed the movie because it reminded many of a better time when racial harmony was not only stronger but in fact held up as an example internationally.

Indeed, many urged Malaysians today to take up the message that Malaysia would be stronger if we were united despite our different backgrounds and not divided along racial lines.

A powerful message indeed and one really worth heeding but sadly, there is also a point of controversy.  The movie changed the winning score of that game with South Korea from 2-1 to 3-2; perhaps for the sake of greater drama. But the movie also changed the identity of the person who scored the game winning goal. If the movie were to be true to history, then the character Eric (who is based on the real life Malaysian soccer hero, James Wong) should have scored the last goal.  Instead, in the movie, Ali is the game winner; leading some to wonder if that decision was made so that a certain segment of Malaysian society would be more willing to watch the movie – which seems to compromise the anti-racist message of the movie.

Ah, Malaysia…..if only we could go back to that simpler, happier and more hopeful time.  I miss it so.

ola bola players
Comparing the actual players and their respective movie characters from Ola Bola
james wong hassan santokh soh chin aun
Some of the Real Heroes today :- (L-R)  Hassan Sani, Soh Chin Aun, winning goal scorer James Wong and Santokh Singh

Solving the Mystery

Life is full of mysteries. You know…….like just how something like “Twilight” could have made so much money!  Or why humans with all their stupidity haven’t killed themselves off yet and left the world to the superior squirrels!

I know that I kind of left my readers in a lurch and created a mini-mystery of my own when the Lone Grey Squirrel disappeared for the last 13 months.  Astute readers will point out the similarity between the Squirrel’s disappearance and that of another famous writer. Agatha Christie, whose mysterious and extraordinary 11 day disappearance in 1926 remains unexplained to this day.

The Lone Grey Squirrel had thought of selling the true story behind his disappearance to some tabloid media but decided that he owed his fans and loyal serfs the truth ,,,,,,,,FOC.

The sad explanation is that LGS was just keeping his head down.  Regular readers (all two of them), will know that despite my megalomaniacal desires for world conquest, I am quite mild mannered and not prone to foul language in the slightest.  However, there just is no other appropriate way of saying this ………….

“When the SHIT hits the fan and starts flying, you had better shut your mouth and duck!”

And here in Malaysia where I live, the shit has been flying.

First, we had the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 in March 2014, with 239 souls on board and the accompanying embarrassing public relations fiasco by Malaysian authorities.  LGS worked through the grief and kept blogging.

Before we had time to comprehend what had happened, in July, just 4 short months later, Malaysian Airlines MH 17 was shot down over Ukraine by a missile and the bodies of the 298 who lost their lives had to suffer the indignity of many days unburied due to the conflict of the warring parties in that region.  Like all Malaysians, LGS also tired to keep going through this second and equally unbelievable tragedy.

Until these incidents which were both out of the ordinary, Malaysian Airlines had one of the best safety records around.

Then came, what felt like a knock out blow.  In December 2014. Indonesia Air Asia flight 8501 crashed into the sea in bad weather with the loss of 162 lives.  Thus, Malaysian airlines scored a one – two – three for the worst airplane disasters of 2014.

Things continued to go bad in 2015.  We had political scandals; allegations of misappropriation of billions of dollars worth of funds involving a government run company which is now being investigated in USA, Switzerland, Singapore and Hong Kong; we had massive street protests; we saw a very public rise in racial intolerance and divisive politics; we saw our currency drop some 20% against the US dollar to reach the lowest point in 17 years and earning us the accolade of the worst performing currency in Asia; we saw the introduction of a new goods and service tax, we saw our petrol prices rise even when price of crude fell round the world; we saw our national airline declared technically bankrupt by its new CEO; we learned that our education system continued to fall (coming in at 52nd place out of 65 countries evaluated) with a World Bank economist saying that the situation is alarming etc……..

And starting with the contradicting and sometimes mind boggling stupid and inane statements some government representatives made immediately after the disappearance ofMH 370, a firm track record has been established for laughable statements and excuses by Malaysian politicians, officials and leaders.

People are even beginning to make money selling books such as Unbelievably Stupid, which record the long list of stupid and unintentionally funny statements. Even the Crown Prince of the state of Johor has called for the replacement of government ministers who are considered “jokes” with intelligent people (article here).

I know for many of you, Malaysia is very distant and it is difficult for you to understand what is going on here but it does feel as if the world is laughing at Malaysia right now. Below is an example: it involves a case in New Zealand in which a Malaysian diplomat is accused of breaking and entering and committing indecent assault on a woman.  He apparently stalked the woman, followed her home, watched her from outside her home, pooed on the patio outside her front door, broke in, accosted her in her bedroom while naked from the waist down but fled after a short struggle.  In his defence, he gave the following excuses – i) he had to take an emergency toilet break in her garden which was why his pants were down, ii) he was only doing that because he believed it was part of a black magic ritual to win the love of the woman and finally iii) he was not in the right state of mind at the time.

The following video of this story being reported on a New Zealand news channel sums up how the world seems to be laughing at Malaysia and why the squirrel has been keeping his head down these last 13 months.

Laugh or cry.  Sometimes you just have to do both.

Here’s hoping for a better 2016.