Most of us like action movies. The explosions, the guns blazing, the mayhem and usually the good guys win and they look cool doing it. For a couple of hours we escape into a fantasy world of thrills without any bodily risks or consequences.
But as recent incidents around the world has demonstrated, it is completely awful when it happens in real life and impact real people.
This last couple of weeks, a couple of Hollywood type stories played out on the streets of my city, Kuala Lumpur; stories with drama, action, suspense and intrigue.
Pastor Raymond Koh was driving his car on an errand to deliver a food gift to a friend who was about to travel abroad. At least three black SUVs screeched in, blocking off the road and boxing in his car. Men with black balaclava masks poured out. A couple of them stopped oncoming traffic and another was seen apparently filming the incident. Pastor Raymond was forced into one of the SUVs and the three vehicles then sped away together. He has been missing since the 13th of February.
Pastor Raymond is active in a number of Christian charities and was the founder of Harapan Kommuniti (Community Hope) which holds free tuition classes for children and English lessons for adults from low income groups. In 2011 though, the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais), in a controversial move, raided a community thanksgiving and fundraising dinner at a church and accused Pastor Raymond’s organisation of proselytising Muslims.
There has been no ransom demand or any communication from the abductors and despite numerous eyewitnesses and CCTV footage, the police have not reported any progress in their investigation.
Many Malaysians (including me) have been praying daily for his safe return.
Our international airport was the ground on which our tale of international intrigue and skullduggery occurred; real James Bond stuff. A Korean man traveling under the name of Kim Choi was making his way across the airport concourse to catch his flight to Macao when two young women approached him from different directions and appear to reach from behind and cover his face with a chemically laced cloth. They then left as quickly in opposite directions. After seeking help, the man collapses and dies shortly later.
It is now believed that Kim Choi is actually Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The two women have been identified and arrested. One is a Vietnamese national and the other an Indonesian. The Indonesian woman claims she was approached by some men and paid to carry out what she had been told was a prank for a TV show. Police have also arrested a Malaysian man and a North Korean man. Interpol has been asked to help hunt down four other North Korean men who left the country the same day as the incident. The North Korean government has also objected to the autopsy investigation.
Malaysia continues to be making the news for all the wrong reasons. Come on 2017, start getting better.
I will keep praying for Pastor Raymond and for Malaysia. However, I promise to nudge 2017 along in the right direction by having more positive posts in the next couple of weeks.
Two ants were sitting on an a mound up on a hill overlooking a battlefield. From there, they could see men from two armies fighting viciously with guns, tanks and shells. All over there were dead and dying from both sides.
The first ant said, “This is great! Let the humans fight their crazy wars and when they have finished killing each other to the last man, then ANTS will rule the world! Bwahahaha!”
“Bwahahaha!” echoed the second ant. “Hooray! Ants will rule the world!”
After a short pause to think, the second ant asked the first ant, “Black ants or Red ants?”
And so, this is war. Don’t know how or when humankind started sacrificing on the altar of war but it doesn’t seem we will stop.
This week in Europe, various ceremonies are being held to commemorate 100 years since the start of World War I. Some 16 million people perished in 5 long years of fighting. it was the war that marked the start of the industrialization of killing. It had been called the “war to end all wars”. Yet just two decades later, the world plunged into World War II and more than 60 million killed. We were just getting more effective in killing.
And so, far from moving towards enlightenment, understanding, fraternity and peace, conflicts continue to plague us since.
Some (from atheist and humanist circles) claim that religion is the main cause of war and certainly there have been many wars fought that use religion to draw the battle lines. But I believe that mostly that hides other motivations – usually, political, ideological and/or economic ………. and in some cases, just base pack mentality of “us” and “them”.
Just consider some of these non-religious dictators and the damage they inflicted on mankind (estimated killed);
Last week, two very large sinkholes opened up along a very busy stretch of road in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. Construction work for a road tunnel had accidentally caused a burst water pipe and the escaping water led to the formation of the sinkholes.
Sadly, there’s been a lot of that sinking feeling here in Malaysia this year as we seem to be reeling from tragedy; political, racial and religious extremism; and many cases of “foot in mouth disease” by our leaders. In fact, if possible, we seem to be having a lot of “shooting oneself in the foot that also happens to be in the mouth” disease.
Here in no particular order is the TOP 10 Recent Reasons for Malaysians to have a Sinking Feeling.
MH 370 – the missing Malaysian Airlines plane had the world’s attention on Malaysia for much of the beginning of the year and it is considered one of the greatest aviation mysteries. Where is the plane and what happened? Apart from the tragedy of lives lost, Malaysian officials came across as arrogant, insensitive, incompetent and contradictory. The handling of the matter and the treatment of the relatives of the victims has been terrible.
Grabbing kids – in the last year, Islamic authorities have been involved in cases in which children, brides and even bodies have been snatched. In a number of cases, Muslim converts who had lost child custody cases in court went on to abduct their children from their Hindu mothers and despite the court ruling have been able to keep the children up to now.
Grabbing brides – A Hindu wedding was raided by religious authorities and the bride was taken away in front of the groom and the 400 guests. Although born and raised as a Hindu, the authorities consider her a Muslim because her father, who had abandoned the family in 1990, had become a convert.
Grabbing bodies- Last month, a family was grieving and holding a traditional Chinese funeral for their loved one. About twenty minutes into the ceremony, religious authorities interrupted the proceedings and took away the body claiming that the deceased had converted to Islam some 17 years earlier. As you can imagine, this came as a terrible surprise to all her family members.
Groping bodies – A Malaysian diplomat and military officer, Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, claimed diplomatic immunity when charged in New Zealand for burglary and sexual assault with intent to commit rape. He had followed a 21 year old woman to her home from her bus stop, broken in, undressed and tried to assault her. She fought back and with the help of neighbors alerted by her screams, forced him to flee. Once again, the manner in which the authorities have handled the matter has been disgraceful. They flew him back to Malaysia and denied that they were protecting him until certain communications with the New Zealand government were leaked to the press. They also said that he would not be extradited but would be tried in Malaysia. Then, under pressure, they agreed to return him to New Zealand to face the charges. But now, the authorities claim that he is unwell and medically unfit for travel. Although, so far the only thing that has been said about his medical condition is that he “was not looking good”, withdrawn and depressed.
“Break bone Fever” – The mosquito borne viral disease, dengue fever, is characterised by severe joint pains (hence “break bone”) and in severe cases, internal hemorrhaging. The number of cases and deaths have increased by about 250% from the previous year with about 40,000 cases and at least 80 deaths this year till now. I personally, know of 5 people who have been ill and a friend has attended two funerals. So apart, from dust from extensive construction going on in Kuala Lumpur and the suffocating haze from forest fires, I now am also unable to open my windwows for fear of the mosquitoes coming in.
Dry taps – This year also saw the largest urban area in the country, with 2.5 million people, facing water rationing for over three months. Dry taps in a country with some of the highest rainfall in the world. Something is wrong with this picture.
“The K9 problem” – The chairman of the commission on public transport had said in an interview that there would be no problem for guide dogs assisting the blind to be allowed on public transport. Apparently, he was wrong. The Deputy Minister for Transport said that city by-laws insist that dogs should be under the control of a capable owner (thereby implying that the blind are not capable) and went on to say that dogs would only be an inconvenience to the blind. Religious authorities than chipped in to say that guide dogs were inappropriate for a Muslim majority country as dogs are considered unclean in the religion. This seems like a strange statement considering that no such issue has been raised about the use of police dogs or security dogs.
“Hell’s Kitchen” – This last couple of weeks has seen the authorities declare war on soup kitchens and the homeless. Apparently, they are the great evil that is damaging our society. The
Women, Family and Community Development Minister
Women, Family and Community Development Minister had implied that people are choosing to be homeless because they can get free food. She also said that tourists are also taking advantage of the soup kitchens and therefore not spending tourist dollar on meals. The Minister of the Federal Territories then proved that he was a man of action by banning all soup kitchens within 2 km of the city centre. He suggested that the homeless were lazy and giving “his” city a bad image. He also implied that building shelters for the homeless would make them complacent. He also said that if they were hungry, they could always travel out of the city centre to soup kitchens further out. Some soup kitchens plan to defy the ban and will face stiff fines for their defiance.
The sky is falling! The ground is sinking! – the latest round of construction activity all around Kuala Lumpur for the Mass Rapid Transport or MRT train line has been causing all manners of problems but of greatest concern is the safety of the public. Large concrete and metal beams have now fallen on passing cars on at least two occasions. The cars were wrecked but miraculously, the occupants although requiring hospitalisation, escaped with their lives.
And of course, there was the big sinkholes that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
So how do Malaysians deal with all this gloom? ……..with a sense of humor. LGS proudly presents for your viewing pleasure a few examples of Malaysian netizen’s take on the sinkholes and WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
Well, for the umpteenth time, one of my new year’s resolution is to STOP PROCRASTINATING!!!!
So doing my annual end of the year report on the state of the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel about a week into the next year isn’t so bad, is it? What’s a week past the deadline between friends.
However, the real problem is that when I looked back on 2013, there isn’t much to report. Been a kind of quiet year in the Realm. I guess that the biggest single event of the year was my enforced exile for 7 months while my nest was being repaired and renovated. Something that I am quite glad is over and I am now comfortably installed in my spanking new mad scientist laboratory.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad year. Let’s just say it wasn’t a vintage year. Lots of things went well for which I thank God but it wasn’t a vintage year.
No major achievements like winning the Nobel Prize (Drats and curses – wasn’t my “donation enough”?!?!); world conquest (bummer) or winning the lottery jackpot (bummer-er).
And my other great desire …….. world peace? The world didn’t do well in that regard at all last year.
As far as blogging is concerned, it also wasn’t a hot year for me. I took leave from blogging for 4 months and I only managed 27 posts for the year. Not very prolific at all. That’s just about a post every two weeks.
So what can we look forward to in 2014?
Well, sadly in Malaysia, the year has already started badly. Just two days into the new year, Islamic religious officers raided the Bible Society of Malaysia, arrested two people and confiscated more than 300 Malay-language bibles. Some leaders also called for protests to be held outside churches.
This was the latest chapter in a saga which started just over 3 years ago in which Christians were told that they were no longer allowed to use some 35 words of Arabic origin which they have used in the Malay and the indigenous languages bibles for several centuries, contending that these words are for the exclusive use of Muslims and no other religion.
Christians comprise some 10 per cent of the country’s population of 29 million and the Malay-language Bibles are widely used by the indigenous tribes in the states of Sarawak and Sabah (Christian majority states) and by the Orang Asli (indigenous peoples) of West Malaysia which accounts for about 66% of all the Christians.
The use of the word “Allah” (the word meaning God) by Christians led to several churches being torched and vandalised in 2010 after a high court ruling allowing the Christians the right to use the word.
Ahead of a state election in Sarawak, the government agreed to a 10 point plan which basically assured that Christians that they could continue to import, print and use the Malay bibles as long as certain conditions were met. This recent raid, arrests and confiscation of the Malay bibles seem to fly in the face of that agreement.
Whatever your religious beliefs, I hope you will join in and pray for tolerance, peace and respect between peoples of all faiths.
Here in the Realm, I have decided to focus on more achievable targets than world conquest. I plan to post an average of 2 posts per week this year. Wish me luck. It’s only the first week and I am already behind on the strike rate.
I am no big fan of Valentine’s Day. My wife and I think it is silly to celebrate our love on the one specific day of the year when all the florists, shopkeepers and restaurants have their knives out to slaughter lovers with exorbitant prices. In the modern context, Valentine’s Day is just another over-hyped, commercial event. Historically, the romantic associations with Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with Saint Valentine who was not remembered as some patron of lovers. Valentine is remembered on that day because he was a martyr who was brutally killed for his faith. Inspirational, maybe. Romantic? No.
Apparently, the first known association of Valentine’s Day with romance and love comes from Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem “Parlement of Foules” which was written in 1382. In the poem, he wrote;
“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate”
So, apparently, Chaucer was referring to a special day when birds in Britain choose their mate. And even then, he may also have exercised poetic license cause February 14th is way too early and cold for returning birds to be turning to thoughts of love.
So, Valentine’s Day to me is just a load of hogwash. Still, I respect the right of the gullible to fall for the modern marketing gimmicks and the right of hopeless romantics to knock themselves out to celebrate the loves of their lives. Hey, it can even be fun watching some of their antics.
Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
Celebrating Valentine’s can be costly,
And land you in jail too.
However, be warned that since 2005 Muslims in Malaysia can be arrested for celebrating Valentine’s Day and in fact more than 100 Muslim couples were arrested last year. Proponents and supporters of this “law” give three main reasons;
Valentine’s Day is associated with elements of Christianity.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day leads to immoral acts (they call it sinful sexual gratification day).
Asking someone to be your Valentine is akin to idolatry.
The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) is pushing for more arrests this year for Muslim couples out on the town celebrating this terrible Day. They are also asking the government to ban hotels from offering any Valentine’s Day specials which they say may lead to couples spending an illicit night at the hotels. Finally, they are asking the government to place public service announcements on national television to warn Muslims from celebrating the Day. What killjoys!
Perhaps the ladies are more romantic cause the Sisters in Islam (SIS) spoke out against PAS’s anti-Valentine’s Day campaign. One of SIS members was quoted as saying, ““It will be better for them to concentrate on other important matters like the backlog of syariah cases in court or the payment of alimony to wife and children.”
Right on, ladies. As I said, I am no big fan of Valentine’s Day but I believe that those who want to, have every right to pay five times the normal price for flowers or blow a month’s salary on a romantic dinner. After all as they say “love makes fools of us all” and “fools and their money are soon parted.”
Happy Valentine’s Day young lovers wherever you are.
Our friend Mago does a series on his blog called “Sunday Music” and just recently he covered a song by Annette Hanshaw (1901-1985). In his post, he included the use of that song in an animated version of the Ramayana story. A rather unusual combination which you should check out.
Anyway, this reminded me that I had a related post that had long been on the back-burner and I decided it was time to bring it to a boil.
In Bali, Indonesia, there is a dance called the kecak dance in which dancers enact the Ramayana story with musical accompaniment provided by the rhythmic, hypnotic chanting of a large group of men. It is quite an experience. I have had the good fortune of witnessing it twice. Once, I saw it as part of a dinner performance at an international beach hotel in Nusa Dua (which is where all the photos below were taken) and once at a sunset ceremonial performance at the clifftop temple at Uluwatu. Of the two, I really must recommend the spectacular setting at the Uluwatu temple which also includes a fire dance. If you are ever in Bali, this is definitely one of the highlights not to be missed. To tantalise you, I have included a video by Hawaiian filmmaker and reknown hula dancer Kimokekahuna at the Uluwatu temple.
The Ramayana is a classic Hindu story. In brief, the kecak dance is about the hero Rama and his beautiful wife Siti. One day while in the forest, Siti sees a golden deer and begs Rama to capture it for her. He leaves Siti under the protection of his brother Lakshmana and chases after the deer. Sometime later, Siti is misled into thinking that she hears Rama calling for help. Fearful for her husband, she pleads for Lakshmana to go and search for Rama. Lakshmana is reluctant to do so at first but eventually gives in to her pleas and disappears into the forest looking for Rama.
But it was all a ploy to get Siti alone and unprotected and she is kidnapped by the demon King Ravana and taken to his kingdom of Lanka. The rest of the story is about how Rama defeats Ravana and rescues Siti with the help of the white monkey king, Hanuman and his army of monkeys.
Last weekend, I made a visit to the other side of the tracks. The occasion was a sad one. It was to attend a Hindu prayer ceremony for a young woman of 40 who passed away from leukemia after a brief illness. She was the daughter of M, a long time family friend of Indian descent.
He worked for my parents on and off for some 45 years, initially as our gardener and later on in various roles as the need arose. He watched me and my siblings grow up. In the same way, we also witnessed his family grow up and his pride as he toiled hard to provide for his four children, giving them education and opportunities in life that he and his wife never had.
I had visited M and his family many years before in their home which was at that time in an illegal squatter village but after saving money and lobbying the government for affordable low cost housing, he and his family moved into a tiny two room, 600 sq feet flat.
This was my first visit to M’s current home. My wife was very concerned. It was located on the “wrong side of the tracks” – an area that in the mind of middle-class citizens like myself is out of bounds; a nasty and unsafe place with gangsters ready to pounce on anyone that doesn’t belong there.
Indeed, there was a feeling of neglect and apprehension when I got there. M’s home is part of a series of low cost flats. There were seven blocks; each block had 20 floors with 20 units on each floor. But the units are tiny and the corridors are cramped. The stairwells are dark and dirty. Everyone was in so close proximity and the walls were so thin that privacy was practically non-existent. While we were participating in the prayer ceremony, we could hear the neighbors cheering on the national soccer team whose game with rivals Singapore was being telecasted on the TV.
The main prayer ceremony took place in M’s small hall which could only accommodate about 20 people standing packed like sardines around the priest who sat in a lotus position in front of an altar. Another 10-15 peered in from the narrow corridor outside the flat and another 30 well wishers sat near a modest offering of food and refreshments that had been placed near the stairwell. Unlike the flats in Singapore which have a communal hall in each block for residents to use for such occasions, these flats do not have such facilities.
I was very conspicuously out of place. Firstly, every body else present was of Indian descent; very dark skinned. Despite my recent attempts at a tan, I was whiter than Snow White by contrast (or should I have said, Prince Charming?). Next, with the exception of M’s eldest son, I stood a full head and shoulders over everyone. Almost all of them knew very little English and while they could speak Malay, the national language, most chose to use their mother tongue, Tamil. Hence, my conversations were limited to polite chatter about the food and the weather.
The weather! Despite the rain, it was stuffy and humid and I stood out again cause I was sweating like a pig whereas, the rest were quite used to the conditions and were perspiration free. (Actually, do pigs sweat a lot? Just wondering where the saying comes from.)
So to summarize, I was white, tall, sweaty, non-Tamil speaking and clearly not from the hood.
Anyway, the reason for this rambling post is that it was a reminder to me how much the gulf between worlds of the rich and poor in Malaysia has widened.
Don’t get me wrong. I have seen abject poverty; families living in wooden shacks with leaking roofs, rotting floorboards and in real danger of collapsing. M is not poor. He is in the lower income group. He has worked hard. His children have all done better than he has in terms of better paying jobs. He would be proud of his achievements. But this is what gets me. He deserves to be living in better conditions than this urban and concrete monstrosity. I feel he had more space, had more privacy, a cooler environment and a more lively and caring community when all he had was a squatter hut.
I am ashamed to say that I was quite fearful for my safety as I left the flat that night. It felt like I was on the radar of every predatory gangster as I walked along the poorly lit path back to my car.
This wasn’t always the case. I remember that when I was growing up, the gap between the rich and poor was not so wide. I had childhood friends from every tier of society. I had friends who lived in palatial homes full of marble and rosewood furniture. I had friends whose mothers would treat us to cake and imported chocolates when we visited. I also had friends who lived in dark dingy spaces above sundry shops in old pre-war buildings in the centre of town. Dark and dingy but yet I remember them as cool and welcoming too. I also had friends who lived in tiny pigeon hole flats but there was much more community spirit in those days. Why, one childhood highlight was to visit one such friend during Chinese New Year and take part in a fireworks war where we shoot off rockets at other schoolmates who live in the block of flats opposite. One day, we would visit someone and play with his drum set and the next we would visit someone else and catch tadpoles in the drain behind his shack.
In those days, being rich did not make you separate from the rest of society. You may build a big mansion but it would still be found in the same neighbourhood with everyone else. You may be rich but back then you still did your marketing in the same neighbourhood wet market or at the same sundry shop. You may be rich but everyone enjoyed sipping coffee in a traditional Chinese coffee shop.
In contrast, today, the rich seclude themselves behind security walls and gated communities and the poor are hidden in distant parts of town or behind colourful billboards and hoardings. The rich today have abandoned the wet market and shop only in high end supermarkets and complexes. The coffee shop has been abandoned in favour of Starbucks and CoffeeBean. Their children are now enrolled in private schools where everyone is from some shade of wealthy.
And so, many of the rich have no idea what life is on the other side of the tracks. Like me, I think we need to go there and be reminded that life is about much more than just money in the bank.
For M, his daughter leaves behind a young son (his father died in a road accident before he was born) and despite M’s advanced age, he may have to keep on working to help raise the boy. His struggle continues but so does his joy for he has done much with his life with what he has been given.
Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels