Thursday, September 29, 2011

Books: Writing and Publishing in Malaysia

Books are always in demand - story books, books on general knowledge, on politics, religion, motivation. how to do things etc.
Go to our local bookshop and you can get all the books from foreign authors and story-tellers that you want. But look at the section selling locally produced books. Other than text books, books on Islam, and teenage love stories (novel cinta remaja), they are few in numbers and very, very expensive.

I don't believe that anybody has made a study on why local authors are very few in number and even the established ones are not writing as many books as possible.

Obviously the writers who have produced a number of books are those who hold high positions in the government, are closely related to the printing business, or work in a literary agency like Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. Other writers will have to go through a number of humiliating experience to get their work published such as entering an open competition where the judge's or judges' opinion cannot be questioned, works are heavily edited or peremptorily altered, and a piece of work can be rejected because it's too heavy, not in popular demand, not in line with the taste of the publisher or the wider is not well-known as yet. How can a writer become known if his or her work is never published?

For those who braved and accepted all the humiliations, the returns from the work can be most disappointing. We hear of cases where some two thousand copies of a work were printed but three thousand or more sold, with the extra thousand not bringing in any income to the author. More often the number of copies sold is grossly understated to avoid paying a large royalty. For those who undertake to pay the cost of publication themselves, the distributor of the book ie. the sale agent, will demand up to 50% of the price of each book as his commission. This will result in the author getting a poultry sum for his labor and cost of printing or otherwise forcing him to sell the book at an exorbitant price resulting in a very low sale.

Why is the commission demanded so high? The distributor can quote any reason at all like cost of promotion, transport, payment to sub-agent, spoilage etc. More often the commission is based on rates accepted by the largest publication agency in the country - Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. No one has ever examined how come DBP accepted such a high demand in the first instance, allowing the agency to get just 50% of the proceeds from the sale of books or magazines.

Well, the overall result of this situation is that the cost of books published locally are high, only the popular ones are published to cater for light reading and entertainment, many potential withers and authors never had a chance to pursue a writing career and produce high quality works for the nation and the people, and books that get published may not be of the best quality and standard in terms of intellectual and artistic achievement. We have more coffee-table books and memoirs in the market today than
the product of major creative work. We have a spade of teenage romantic novels and entertainment magazines. But good novels for the more mature and intellectual readers, nothing has reached the popularity level yet. Even the novels selected as texts for secondary schools can be questioned in terms of their literary quality and attractiveness, We don't see the adult members of the public reading them and acclaiming them as a major work of art.

With the Internet and the Facebook culture winning the hearts and souls of our young and old, book writing and publication in Malaysia may soon become moribund and uneconomical. We will end up with a high-technology culture with no soul, with materialism as the main force in life.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tourism and Petty Traders

"The tourism industry in Malaysia is an important foreign exchange earner, contributing to economic growth, attracting investments and providing employment. The focus of the government is to enhance the country's position as a leading foreign tourist destination, while promoting domestic tourism. Opportunities abound for entrepreneurs, business owners and investors who support the government's direction."

In promoting any industry in Malaysia, it is normal that those who are already established in the trade and industry will benefit the most. Beginners in the trade or small scale industry will have to crawl behind experienced professional and well-honed operators with extensive resources. Unless government help the beginners and the 'trotters' their efforts will end up in a disaster or a 'take-over' by the more resourceful operators.

There are many ways in which an established operator or company can 'smoother' a beginner in any trade or industry. Buy him or her over is a popular way if the beginner is starting to hurt the company's sales. Undercut the beginner's price is another way. If the beginner is operating on or near the company's premise, push him or her out. There are many excuses that can be given like the company is revamping or overhauling the place.

What the government might not be aware of is that a redevelopment, relocation or modernization plan can be used to get rid of petty traders or the beginners in the trade, When they are not considered healthy for the big operators. An official plan can be drawn to clear up the place where the beginners are operating and beginning to have their own group of clients and customers.
They can even be promised a better premise for business once the work is done, a more sophisticated accommodation, and even a substantial loan or assistance....

But, DiSRUPT A BUSINESS WHICH IS JUST GETTING ESTABLISHED AND THE BUSINESS IS GONE. The new premise could be most modern, beautiful and convenient, but the operating cost could be beyond the means and resources available to a beginner. Nor could he or she stand the competition from the more established operators. The rent for the premise itself could put the beginner out of league. And once the old clients are gone, business is over.

So, don't think that a modernization, relocation, redevelopment, revamping plan etc will always provide a new opportunity for the beginners in trade and industry. Especially when the job is being handled by an authority that could be persuaded by partisan interest or where the racial balance of business opportunity is involved.

In the tourism industry, marketing the traditional and local culture is most important. It's the traditional and local object d'art which attracts foreign tourists the most, including local tourists from different states and artistic background. So the petty traders supporting the tourist industry are usually the villagers turned traders, beginning to venture into the field. They need all the support of the government to graduate into real businessmen to balance up the racial economic imbalance which is essential for maintaining national unity.

Do not, therefore, allow the modernization, relocation, redevelopment, revamping or whatever other plans government has, to disrupt whatever roots the petty traders have established in or on the periphery of the city center. Give them time to grow. Open up new shopping areas by all means but don't push them away until the new premises are ready for them. Better still they should be allowed to start a new business in the new premises and the old premise be vacated after the new one has been properly established.

Don't let the efforts to modernize, relocate, redevelop, or revamp places where petty traders are beginning to take root be uprooted or you're uprooting the basic units or the tourist industry. Remember that luxury hotels, seaside resorts, sprawling shopping complexes are more plentiful in the developed countries. Our competitive edge lies in the local and traditional culture and works of arts as handled by the small scale entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Malaysia National Day

The merdeka anniversary and Malaysia day have been combined. We celebrate both tomorrow September 16, 2011. How joyously, we'll know tonight and tomorrow.

For about a month the Minister of Information, Culture and Heritage had been exhorting Malaysians through the radio and TV to fly the Jalur Gemilang. Response? See and judge for yourself. I for one don't like to be exhorted or psyched into doing something which should be done through a sense of responsibilty and pride. You don't inculcate or evoke such feeling through exhortstion. In fact some people consciously refrain from doing something when pressured to do so.

I wonder why Malaysians in the peninsular had been so unenthusiastic about flying the Jalur Gemilang in the past.? Only a few cars and some buildings and houses are doiing so. In fact I see the rural people flying the flag more enthusiastically than those in the urban centers.
(As for Sabah and Sarawak we will only know how they respond to the occasion tomorow). Is it because they don't share the feeling of pride and joy on the anniversary day of Merdeka or they are too busy celebrating it in some other ways which the flag doesn't in any way enhance orcontribute to? Whatever the reason is, it surely cannot be that they do not love the country which had given them the peace and prosperity that they now enjoy. Unless they are the most ungrateful type of human species on earth!

I would rather think that the reluctance or indifference is due to some unhappiness about the way things are in thus country. The unhappiness is not strong enough to bring people out onto the street to protest but also not petty enough be ignored and forgiven. Thus the people show their disapproval in the mildest manner possibke by flouting some simple things that the government asks them to do. It's more like a refusal of a baby or a child to take his or her milk becase the parents failed to give them something that they want. Yes, it's a childish act but it does bother the loving parents and sometimes forces them to to fulfil the whims and fancies of the child. It's one of the ways of getting bsck at those who love you.

When it comes to the question of showing our gratitude to the government, a reluctance to do so can often take the form of a lack of love for the country. " I love the conntry but I don't like the way my child is punished by the school", can be an example of such confused reaction. It is this kind of confused thinking that often led us to doing somthing that can put the nation to shame. It's like the saying: cut the nose to spte the face. It ends up with our face -the Malaysian face - being distorted.

I think there are many other things which Malaysians do as a result ofbthis confusec thinking. Some Malaysians resort to litering the streets as a prWotest against the action of the City or Town Council which they don't like. Some resort to writing foul words on prominent wall surfaces - writing graffeti. Other serious forms include destroying public property - vandalusm. - and throwing paints on cars, even perhaps throwing acid on the handsome and beautiful faces of people just because your face is not. This lstter action is of corse more a matter of mental sickness, paranoia or an advanced hatred of humanity. Such an advanced hatred against the community would produce the psychopaths while an advanced hatred against the nation would produce traitors and terrorists.

So, on the eve of our national celebration day, let's take stock of the possiible implications of the reluctancemor refusal to fly the national flag - the Jalur Gemilang. The scarcity of the national symbol being waved around or flying proudly from the windows and the roofs of prominent buildings, may be symptomatic of something amiss in the nation. Don't just exhort the people to fly the flag. Find out what is amiss.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

National Quest for Greatness

Books are permanent intellectual heritage. What type will influence more?

Nations like people always strive for fame and greatness. Even wealth and power. These national and human goals are closely interrelated and one is often confused for another. Thus both nations and people often pursue the wrong goals and only discover the error after they are destroyed or suffer a terrible shame.

Young nations like young people are more prone to make this mistake.An all out strive for power and wealth could lead to the creation of a very greedy and self-centered society as much as it could turn out rapacious and brutal individuals in that nation. Society like individual grows on what it feeds on. If fame and fortune be the food of the time, you can expect the nation and the people to pursue material wealth with no regard for how it's acquired. Corruption, illegal trade and business such as pushing drugs and money laundering , and even brutal crimes such as murder and robbery, will be the order of the day. If the acquisition of knowledge, achieving a high standard of morality and cultural greatness, or a search for peace and tranquility be the priority of the time, then a more humane and righteous way of life would emerge.

So, where is Malaysia heading for? To come up with the right answer one must examine the system of sanctions and rewards in our society. Who are the people being most respected and revered, being considered as heroes and icons within our midst? Who are being hailed and rewarded in society and for what achievement? Compare this with the great nations of the world and what makes them great ( or ugly and repulsive to go in the opposite way). Are we or are we not emulating them?

We know of many great civilizations in the past which flourished and disappeared. Nations rise and fall, their wealth swells and subsides. But what remains of their greatness that we respect even today? Invariably, it is the cultural and intellectual wealth which they left behind through great works of art, literature and inventions. All others will disappear with time. All the wealth and trophies of achievement in life will disappear but NOT the works of art, literature and inventions.

Now, are we doing enough to promote achievements in these intellectual and creative wealth of the nation or are we so obsessed with other material wealth that only casual respect had been given to them. Aren't the institutions of higher learnings now fully geared towards producing the trained manpower needed by the industries with little concern for creating scholars and men of learning to promote the intellectual wealth of the nation? In spite of the efforts made by Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka to promote the production of books on general knowledge and literature, how many such works had drawn the attention of world scholars? Who are the scholars of Malaysia which government has recognized and nurtured through its development efforts? What are the great works that we can hold up as representatives of the intellectual achievement of the nation, not just
memoirs and attributes to a great leader? Who among those awarded the National Laurettes status have risen above the local
level of recognition to aspire for a place among the great literary figures of the world? What is the most authoritative work done on the history of Malaysia so far and who is being commissioned to write it as a full-time work with ample funds provided by the government since no writer in Malaysia can as yet live comfortably from the proceeds of his or her writings.

Literary giants do not necessarily come from people with Ph Ds. While government has a program to step the number of Ph D holders in the country, they do not seem to be producing intellectual works that are published nor have any of their dissertations create a wave in the intellectual world. More pronounced today are the awards of honorary Ph Ds to artists and political leaders such that we cannot differentiate between the academic holders and the honorary ones anymore. Nor are the
Ph D holders being invited to do important research for the country while some in the government service are kept in the back-rooms to do mundane information collection and analysis.

To sum up unless the government of a nation gives adequate attention to the intellectual and creative works of culture and literature in the country, the country's quest for fame and greatness will not reach any significant level. Material wealth is a relative achievement; there will always be some other country with a higher achievement. But when the intellectual product of a nation hits the international circle, even a small and poor country can have a claim to greatness. That work will live through time and be recognized by posterity at the international level.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

After the festive days.

lighting up fire crackers at night

The first thing i hear as a follow up of the festive days is traffic jams. Even in the usually deserted town of Kuala Pilah, the main road must be manned by some traffic policemen. The traffic crawl along the Bahau-KP-Seremban road is nauseating. I am sure it's the same all along the North-South and East-West Highways. People are just rushing back to the towns and cities to resume work.

That by itself is indicative of tbe nations's prosperity. There are possibily more than twelve million cars on the road today seeing that a family wth 3-4 cars or more is a common sight, with maybe eight million motorbikes and more than a million other transport vehicles. I have not seen actual statistics printed anywhere, which suggests that no estimate of how many motor vehicles we can possibly have on each kilometer of main road in the country, has ever been made. Such and estimate of possible road densiity could help the authorities to plan road extension and constructing alternative routes to new residential areas to avoid congestion. Merely widening some parts of the existing roads will not solve the congestion problem as more new bottlenecks would be created.

The second item of interest is the 'Op Sikap'. Thank Allah for making the Police decide to do away road blocks and police check points along the major trunk roads. That has taken away the distressing artificial congestions stretching for miles, with the most disgusting discovery that it is caused by the police themselves, leisurely checking each vehicle as it passes by. Wait a bit. There's no road block but thousands of summons have bern issued in the few days of 'Op Sikap' for traffic offences. This could even be a greater aggravation than the road-blocks. You don't even have a chance to know what offence you have committed or have the satisfaction of arguing that the other drivers forced you to do what you did. You may not win the argument but letting off steam does give some satisfaction even if you have to pay for it.

Aside from that the number of deatjhs on the road continues to rise with the motorcyclist heading the list. Do we blame the motorists for their demise? I'm all sympathy for those on two wheels but when you see the way they snub and spurn the drivers of some cars, the way they overtake you on the left, cut in front if you in mid traffic etc. you wonder whether it's the car driver who couldn' t care less for their lives or they themselves. We seldom hear of the big bikers getting into problem because they zoom off before any trouble can take place. It's always the low powered bikes with high-powered emotional drive riders that get into trouble. Their machine could not move as fast as they  thought it could to get out of trouble. Or otherwise, the machine controls them rather than they the machine.

. *****************************

The next item of interest is the lighting up of firecrackers. The sale of firecrackers has been prohibited since several years ago but this year's  'hariraya ' wtnesses the return of the bang and boom fun-stick both in the urban areas and the villges. I don't know where the firecrackers are sold but they seem to be readily available and can be lighted up without any fear of being booked and dragged to the police station. Some of .the noise makers take the form of flying rockets whike others look harmless in the form of little balls or tiny pellets. But they explode all the same though the big ones can really shake the eardrum. Many could get through the prohibition law as 'bunga api'. But what the heck! For the Chinese New Year huge ones seem to be available besides the stringed fire crackers available in round tincans like cookie containers.

Firecracker wars as seen during the CNY can now be also heard in the villages this Harirays. What prohibition are we talking about? The fun is shared by young and old, by all races, rich and poor. Why don't we just lift the prohibition and pass a law that would enable anybody found to have caused a fire or hurt other people through a careless or a dangerous use of firecrackers to be prosecuted. That would be a more positive approach than banning firecrackers without strict enforcement of its use. Such strict enforcement on the other hand would allow us to see rich and famous 'tawkeys'as well as ltlle kids being hauled up to prison for lighting up the noise-making fun thing. Why stop people from having some fun. Just make them pay for any damage caused. That will breed more responsible citizens, not turn innocent fun makers into criminals.


Finally, the festive season in Malaysia has always spawned a lot of house-breaking crime,robberies or thefts and snatch-thieving. Even my house was broken into while we were away in the kampung celebrating Hariraya and a sister-in-law fell prey to a pair of snatch thieves riding a motorcycle while she was crossing a road in the city. The loss of money and property suffered is understandable since those are what the thieves want, but the injury caused to the victim and damage to properties seemed most unnecessary. There are so many of these break-ins and thefts that the police are hardly able to deal with them, what more stop them. The advice given to the public on ways to avoid such crimes seem to put the blame on the public for being negligent rather than blaming themselves for allowing the crimes to happen.

No, no one benefits from the blaming game. When the police is spending millions of ringgit to catch road traffic offenders with a substantial increase in the number of the force employed, why can't they step up vigilance for house-breaking and thefts? The approach to prevent such crimes had always been to scare the potential thieves through the presence of the policemen and the flashing patrol cars patrolling the streets and residential areas. Of course the criminals would keep away when the police presence is seen and felt. But they strike when the policemen have gone away. As such we need more undercover policemen, ordinary looking men and women driving around in unmarked cars, to scout around and alert their uniformed colleagues when something suspicious meet their eyes. We need more 'invisible' law enforcement officers posing as streetcleaners, salesmen and saleswomen, cabdrivers and even gardeners to catch the unsespecting criminals. Only then could we catch the housebreakers and night prawlers before they get their job done.

Well, there are many more things that can show up clearly after the Hariraya festivities are over . Let's just keep our eyes and ers open to detact them, especially since we are now moving towards the Merdeka Anniversary celebration. One thing already obvious about the fortcoming aniversary celebration is that the exhortation of the Minister of information, Communication and Culture to fly the 'Jalur Gemilang' so oft repeated over the TV and radio, does not seem to get much response. Why so? Let's discuss that as we approach the anniversary date.