Sunday, July 31, 2011

Salam Ramadhan to All

Well, Ramadhan is here again. a month of restraint on food and drink for the Muslims but also a month of bounty and magnanimity for those seeking Allah's blessings.It is a month when everything that a Muslim does including eating, drinking ( at night of course) sleeping, resting etc can ear n him or her a good point so long as it's done in the name of Allah. Carrying out what is required by the Islam ( wajib) such as praying and reading the al-Quran, will earn him or her a multiple of the normal award given at other times.

It is a month during which a Muslim can redeem himself of several wrongdoings committed in the entire year. One night in the last ten nights of Ramadhan and on an odd date of the Muslim calender ( malam Lailatul Qadar), Allah will show some sign of his greatness and power. Anyone who witnesses this would be awarded some extraordinary blessings and favor by Allah.

It is because of all those special rewards and favors (barakah) that can be bestowed on a Muslim in the month of Ramadhan that the month is given the title al-mubarak. Fasting in the day from Imsak to Maghrib togethere with the special the breaking of fast together at the mosque ( morey) more elaborate night prayers (Tarawih) and the al-Quran reading session (Tadarus). make Ramadhan a holy month. At the end of it the Aidil Fitri celebration is of course a day of feasting and rejoice, which can sometimes stretch for a month.

This entry is written after the first special prayers consisting of 23 raka'ats ( 20 tarawih and 3 witri) was over. Tomorrow is the first day of fasting, although a faithful Muslim would have also done some 9 days of fasting in the previous month. Sya'ban (3 days at the beginning of the month, 3 days in the middle and 3 more towards the end). More devout Muslims may even fast a fewdays every week throughout the year as practiced by the Prophet, Muhammad SAW (pbuh).

What does all these fasting mean to the people of the world? Yes other religions also have their fasting schedule and the purpose is about the same - to cleanse the soul of human sins and misdoings. Fasting is also held to be a good health measure by the medical community for it gives the stomoch and the rest of the body too a chance to rest. But is that all that we can gain from fasting as a socio-religious activity?

I think the world and humanity as a whole can gain much much more through the practice of fasting on certain days of the month and year.. The rich and the wealthy for whom eating and drinking is a significant part of life's pleasure would begin to understand the meaning of food deprivation, scarcity and starvation. They would then treat the food and drinks they consume as a birthright of the rich with more respect as a gift of God, For now they only appreciate the gift of God when they loose their taste and appetite due to some ailment. Or when forced to stay away from their gourmet delights by the doctors.

When fasting people also don't waste their energy and strength on unimportant non-urgent and laborious work. Would they then be keen to quarrel with each other, indulge in surreptitious and devious activities to outdo or outmaneuver each other on a national or international basis to gain supremacy and power, or would they want to attack and kill each other for whatever worldly reason their mind could conjure? When hungry and thirsty in the day people would only be interested in waiting for the evening to break their fast and occupy their time with religious or humanitarian work that could alley their hunger and thirst. They would not be thinking of doing injustice and evil towards others.

What would the impact be on the economy of the country and the world? Food consumption would be reduced however insignificantly, if for a few weeks in a year people don't eat during the day. No, they would gorge themselves to death at night, some might say. well, Wouldn't their early death achieve the same purpose? Seriously reducing food consumption in any way would affect the demand and supply equation and reduce food price which is currently soaring up in the entire world. In the home front when the family spends less money on food there will just be more money for other things, would it not? Simple economy. This would not apply to the filthy rich, of course, for they would always remain filthy!

The Muslims during Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) time even go to war while fasting. And won as in the the Badr skirmish when a great number was defeated by a few. Many believe that people can concentrate on what they are doing better on an empty rather than a full tummy. The Muslims believe that you can learn and memmorize the al-Quran better when fasting. Some doctors endorse this belief. Of course we are not talking about starvation but a voluntary reduction of food and liquid intake in the daytime on certain days in the month or month in the year. In any case that introduces the next issue - starvation as is happening in many poor parts of the world like in Somalia and other parts of Africa. Why do we have starvation there while food is being wasted by already obese people in other parts of the world.

The economic answer is, because of uneven distribution? Why uneven, because of uneven capacity to pay, income concentration, high gini coefficient and other fancy terms that economists know well but are unable to or unwilling (especially politicians) to overcome ( because scarcity can create demand and demand gives them power}. Yes, fasting can effect the power equation as well as shown by Mahatma Ghandi in the 1920s. Fasting can not only cleanse the soul but also reduce human greed for power, for wealth etc., in other words affect human will and rationalit,y, and certainly their capacity to empathize or pity those human beings who are suffering from starvation.

Hey, are those not enough reasons for us to fast on some days whether you are a Muslim or not. The least harm it can do is to reduce your physical weight ( not your economic, social or political power in the least) and slim down - the dream of many beauty conscious ladies irrespective of race or religion. Why then not join the Muslims in honoring the month of Ramadhan which has just begun? Hehehe. For Malaysian I see that everyone is already enjoying the existence of the Ramadhan Bazaar or "Pasar Ramadhan." Buy as much food as you want but please enjoy them at night.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Irony of High Living

I think I've done my fair share of observing people enjoying a high standard of livingand living in luxury, sometimes taking a small bite of it myself. Very small just to have a little taste even if it blew a big hole in my little pocket. That included dinner in Paris, breakfast in Stockholm, high tea in the Netherland etc. That was long ago when still thick in the contest of life.

Now is the time to watch more than compete. After touring the high spots for culinary excitement in the country, enjoying a plate of rojak or mee curry, nasi lemak bungkus, or roti canai and teh tarik at a small corner eatery, suits my tastebud more than the buffet and ala carte routine at the Curve, Pavlion or even the KL Tower. Afterall I can only eat so much if I don't want to experience a bloated or stuffy feeling in my middle. Eno helps sosmetimes when that happens.

But what do you know? I often see some familiar faces at the little corner eateries too. Faces that used to feature in luxurious hotels and restaurants. Rather shriveled in spite of the rich and high class food they used to nimble or gobble. They won't recognize me though behind my large dark glasses. country hat and nondescript clothing bought from Jalan Masjid India. Hey they feel great in the sweltering heat. Oh yes. Some of the familiar faces have blown up - fluffy and red. I think they are worse off than the shriveled ones medically speaking. What remains as a reminder of their high status and living standards are the impeccable clothes, rolex watch and belly shoes ( or is it Salvatore Ferrafamo?}. They don't bother me anymore since i found my Bata shoes and Petaling Street timepiece served my purpose just as well.

Most satisfying is when I see some of the familiar bourgeois faces of old joining the common man-in-the-street for prayers at the mosques and madrasahs. I like to watch their lips when the Imam and the Makmum in general are reciting some familiar prayers, more so the less familiar ones. Are their lips moving in tendem with the others showing that they knew the prayers by heart or are they just moving their lips to pretend that they are also reciting the particular verse from the al-Quran or the doa.
I must confess that I was doing just that when I was still pretending to be in their group of buddies.

Now that I am retired ( old is a relative term nowadays for even a young man can die tomorrow), I can at least say that I don't have to pretend anymore. Neither in my clothes, food, drinks nor in fulfilling the injunctions of Allah. If I can fulfill what needed to be done I do it if not I strive to practice or learn how to fulfil it. It's never too late to learn and the funny thing is that the more you try to commit the prayers and the doas to memory the more you forget. Oh how I admire the Imams who rattle the prayers like teenagers singing Michael Jackson's songs. Why didn't I start memorizing the important prayers and doas when I was a young man? It wouldn't have taken too much of my time or memory space. I really don't know how many mega or gigabite of memory space is left noggin though I know the human brains contain more memory space than hundreds of mainframes put together.

Hey. it's good to move around now in all kinds of places to watch out for the old bourgeois faces turned humble and pensive with age. When I watched them it makes me feel young again just like when I watched the young people enjoying life and sometimes making a fool of themselves. Don't be angry men! I did that too when I was young and everyone pof us is entitled to fool around when we are young. The question is when do we stop doing so and start to accept the fooling around of the world as a way of life in the new world ( even if it's old to you). I enjoy learning more than competing in life, now. How about you?

Friday, July 15, 2011


Driving through KL city and witnessing the Floria Show and Floats at night in Putrajaya will convince anyone that things are back to normal in KL and Malaysia as a whole after the July 9 incident. Clearly the government and the Police had done a good job to stop the street protest from escalating into the anti-government and violent show of emotions as feared. Except for one unfortunate death and some injuries suffered, nothing much happened. The arrest of 700 or more is a different matter - legal not political.

No matter what happened in KL, Malaysia has always been a peaceful country in general. Even during the confrontation and 13th May, things were very peaceful over a large part of the country especially in the rural areas. The common folks will get on with their life as usual and at some common meeting places even in Kuala Lumpur, people will be happily enjoying their favorite food and 'teh tarik' late into the night as in the pic. These shots were taken at the Weekend Family Fare at MATICS near Concord Hotel and another favorite eatery. The food, cultural show, and open market fare at MATIC is held every Saturday night amidst glittering lights and endless music with streams of local visitors and foreign tourists enjoying the sight. sound and tastes of Malaysia delicacies.

When we sit back and witness the people of Malaysia going about doing their things in the day and enjoying themselves at the popular eating and fun places at night, one wonders what the talk about Islamic extremism, communal conflicts , infringement of basic human rights, political wrangling between political parties and within each party, the repression of freedom etc. is all about.We only read about all those in the Press but we don't see them on the streets. We see and hear the battle of words, legal jargons and political accusations and hatred in Parliament and at political caucuses. But not on the streets. On the highways, the streets and the roads we only see traffic jams and people hurrying about, trying to jump the que or beat the traffic light. But no threats, no exchange of insults, no aggressive shaking of fists between citizens of various races and no condemnation of each other.

Malaysians are general very friendly, accommodating and hospitable. Yes there are grouses and unhappiness here and there about the adminsitration, the bureaucracy and traffic jams, the escalating costs of things, the whimsicality of the weather etc. But people are reasonably happy and friendly.

So, who are creating the problems, the scare, the threats to peace and stability, the ill-will and the prejudice between racial groups and ethnic communities? Who are making us citizens of Malaysia afraid and suspicious of each other? Who ore the ones making us fight each other and treating each other like arc enemies? We all have our own answers. The answers will become more apparent and transparent as we approach GE13.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Periodic Disturbance better than a Sudden Collapse.

The government and the public are still bellyaching over the July 9 event. Everyone's focusing on the negative aspects of the illegal gathering, the diturbance it caused to the public, the loss of business to the shopkeepers, the bad image it gives to the nation etc. The Police is praised sky-high for blocking the gathering and dispersing the crowd which gathered in spite of the fact that holding such a gathering has been declared illegal and against the law,

Our mainstream media seem to cover the event rather cooly, with no highlihtings of any undesirable occurrence and presenting the entire event as an exercise in futility. But AlJazeera TV took it more seriously and captured many of the more disturbing aspects of the people-vs-the authority confrontation. To outsiders the event could have looked like a full scale people's uprising against the governmen.

The government always looked at such gatherings and street protests as unnecessary because there are many other ways for the unhappy members of the public to bring up their grouses to the government. They can bring up the matter through their parliamentary representstives, through the Press or through the website. They can even use the handphone facilities and the SMS. So, why hold streets demonstration and disturb the peace that our nation has been enjoying?

Yes, i canA remember the peace enjoyed bofore the 2008 election. There was not too much of any disturbance and the Barisan was full of confidence that it wiil win a clear majority hands down. The result came as a great suprise to show that a quiet and a non-display of disientient attitude by the opposition can be a worse thing than some show of diagreement on the street. The same same thing occured much ealier (1985) in Sabah when there was not much show of disagreemenr or opposition to Harris Salleh's rule until the election proved that the people was not on his side. Yes, it came as a shock because things look so calm and peaceful before the election and tne Sabah state governmrnt was not prepared for a beating.

This goes to show that it is important for government to allow people to show their concern and grievances in a way that implies they have some power over the government. Taking their anger and grievances to the street is one sure way of allowing them to do that. It is a kind of allowing them to give vent to their pent up feelings and emotions like what the psychotherapist allowed their patience to do in an anger management session. They would allow the patient to get off their anger on some objects by crying out and hitting at the objects as much as they want until the anger subsides. Once they get over their anger they become more ready for treatment. Stop them from letting off steam and they will continue to find ways to let out their feelings and emotions. It is those patients who just kept their emotions to themselves who will literally explode with anger at a later point of time.

If you stop people from giving vent to their unhappiness and anger, they wiil continue to find ways to show that anger at any point of time later. But if you allow them an opportunity to blow off steam for a while under controlled conditions the anger will cool off and they will be more prone to listen to reason. You can certainly cause more harm than good if you stop people from showing up heir concern. anger and fears off and on. Over a period of time if the anger and fears have no outlet whatever, they will really blow off with a big bang. By allowing them to come out into the open bit by bit, you will not only stave off a totol outrbreak but also undersrand their problems better in order to deal with them more effectively. It is better to deal with the smaller expressions of dissatisfaction than to seddenly face a total lost of support at an election.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Transformers and Transformation

I just came back from watching Transformers3: The Dark Side of the Moon. The show ended after 12 midnight ( 8.7.11) and on the way back home i saw that several roads branching off from the MRR2 had been transformed: blocked by the police. Long rows of cars were stuck with no indication of being able to get to where they wanted to go and, in some cases, without the possibility of backing up.

Yes,I read somewhere that many roads in KL would be closed after 12 midnight, but surely people must be allowed to drive home unless they had been warned to do so before 12 in no uncertain term. After all the country is not in any state of emergency and the police is only trying to stop a street demonstration from taking place on july 9.

The frustration I had with the sci-fi film in 3D was compounded by the naivete of the police action. How could you just block the entrance to certain roads without showing the alternative route which can be taken? Surely people staying along the blocked road must be given dome kind of a pass to get home. You just can't turn them off like that. In quite the same way the film Transformers 3 asked people to believe the possible exidtence of such electronic anf mechanical giants which can take to the air like rockets and form a comumity of their own to take over the world. Since they were so powerful and could smash skydcrapers and huge building to smitherine with their mechanical arms or with the huge firearms attached to their body, it is just unbelievable that human beings could stand against them.

9.7.11 8.30 pm

Being down with flu I spent the whole day by the radio and tv to see what happens to the illrgal gathering thst has become the concern of everyone in Malaysia.

Yes indeed the gathering is on whether considered legal or not. Thousands gathered at several places and the police began their usual crowd control tactics to disperse them using high pressure water hoses and tear gas. The crowd dispersed and reformed elsewhere. Towards evening more than 700 people and organization leaders had been detained. The Prime Minister had earlier agreed to let the gathering use Stadium Merdeka but it was obvious tha the Police did not agree and closed all entrance to the Stafium. The crowd therefore had no choice but to gather elsewhere and it was learned just now that the people had gathered at Dataran Merdeka (8.45 pm).

It was quite clear from the footage shown on TV that the gathering was multiracial and not confined to members of political parties only. There were both young and old, male and female andbthey were not antagonistic to the Police. I saw some of those arrested holding out their hands to be handcuffed. They came away readily when the polici held them. The 8.00 pm news also showed that they were treated very well bythe police. The most vehement complaints were about the draffic jams at toll plazas and the disruption caused by the gatherings to business. I am still uncertain whether these were caused by the roadblocks imposed by the Police and their crowd contol efforts or by the
gathering of pepole per se.

Whst has the whole thing achieved. If anything at all it has created a social awareness that people can take their grouses to the street and when they decided to do so, the Police cannot really stop them. Arresting the organizers and the political leaders taking part can only show that the government is afraid of such gatherings. The preventive efforts of the Police could create more problem than allowing the peacefull gathering to take place in cpntrolled places like Stadium Merdeka. Trouble makers can be aesily identified when the gathering takes plave in a closed area.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A country and Its Neighbors

No man is an island and no country is beyond the influence of its neighbors. We in Malaysia have seen Singapore's latest general election where the existing government is returned to power in spite of various criticisms made by the opposition. Now in Thailand, party Peau Thai led by the ousted Prime Minister's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has won the election.

What can we conclude from these events. Everyone can make his or her own interpretation but I feel that two things become quite clear. First, people love a continuity of governance so long as it keeps the country in good shape, Two, they don't quite care if the leaders are accused of many dubious dealings so long as what they do clearly benefit the nation and the people.

What countries which had revolted against the leaders who have led them for more than a decade show is that the government has been too autocratic, power and wealth are concentrated on too few, the majority of the people remain impoverished and there is little development in the country. The country is rich but the majority of the people remain poor whilst the leaders have their own jet planes to move around, spending hundreds of thousamd or even millions with every trip.

We always judge the development and progress of our own country by looking around at our neighbors. If they are poorer than us we feel ok. But when we see them moving ahead and faring better than us we begin to question what our government is doing.
Singapore has certainly progressed far ahead as an international port of call. Thailand is wellknown for its agricultural progress with tourism playing a major role in the economic development. How do we fare in comparison?

Again everyone is entittled to his or her opinion. Economically we are doing okay but the old issue of inequity and imbalanced income distribution remains. The cities and towns are for the rich entrepreneurs and executives. Lesser professionals, career employees and artisans can only survive on the outskirt while the farmers. fishermen and menial workers must continue to live in the rural areas, on the farms and fishing villages. Though some of their children had made it to the towns and cities, they mostly fall into the second category who could only afford to live on the outskirt.

Has the pattern of employment and occupational imbalance been really changed? Please yourself with your own answer for that will not change anything. Things tend to remain as they were as if following the principle of inertia. The greatest social mobility and shaprpest ascend on the economic scale seemed to be achieved by the political leaders and their friends. The few Malay entreprenuers who made it to the top would not have been able to do so without the help of strong political cables.

Has that changed today? No one can argue with you. Check who are the nouveau-riche staying in the richest neighborhood of your area. Are they ordinary citizens or close friends of the political bigwigs? Those with no political cable to pull will undoubtedly remain where there were with some progress due to their own initiative, The most notable progress that can be seen among the common man is through achieving a higher level of education at the thirtiary level. Or becoming a politician with close affiliation to the ruling elites.

Turn around again at our neighbors? Have they changed in a different way? We cannot say whether the way they did it is right or wrong, morally commendable or not. That's for the people in that country to decide. What we can say is whether we are moving forward as fast as they are or being left behind. Yes, a country can build itself a wonderful. modern and high-tech infrastructural environment and the income of successful enrreprenuers and high executives can go up to seven figures. But what about the income level at the median ( not the average or mean, ie ) the stage at which most of the population are? If that is still very low, looking at our neighbors can send some negative feeling, though we've done quite well really.