Memories for The Weekend–Elvis Presley


November 2, 2014

Memories for The Weekend–Elvis Presley

Let us enjoy Elvis Presley, the Undisputed King of Rock N Roll. YesDin MericanK indeed, Elvis is a legend who will live till the end of time. He brings back memories for Dr. Kamsiah and I. Although we are of different generations, Elvis bridges the generational gap. Elvis from Memphis, Tennessee, was one of kind.

We dedicate this special presentation to all our friends, associates and readers. It does bring back the times long gone and memories of those wonderful people like our parents and friends who we grew up with but who are longer around. Enjoy the weekend while we all anxiously await the decision of the Federal Court on Sodomy 2 come next Tuesday or thereabout.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Happy Divali to Men and Women of the Hindu Faith


October 22, 2014

Happy Divali to Men and Women of the Hindu Faith

DivaliHappy Divali to All Men and Women of Goodwill

From Dr. Kamsiah G. Haider and Din Merican

Dr. Kamsiah and I wish our friends, associates  and readers  who are of the Hindu Faith a Happy and Prosperous  Divali. We face many challenges today (and that is probably an understatement). It is going to take good brains and hard work to meet and overcome them. Let us, therefore, not take things for granted. In a globalised world, competition is the final arbiter between success and failure.

Din and KamsiahWhile today we all celebrate this Festival of Light and leave all our daily cares behind momentarily, let us remember that come tomorrow we must get back to reality and work hard for a better future for our beloved country and the world. To do that we must take full advantage of our rich diversity. We must never for one single moment allow politicians and extremists in our midst to cloud our humanity and divide us. We are all human beings,  equal in the eyes of our Creator.

With this mind, permit us, Dr. Kamsiah and I, to quote the greatest Indian Leader of the last century,  Mahatma Gandhi for inspiration: I am a Hindu because it is Hinduism which makes the world worth living. I am a Hindu hence I love not only human beings, but all living beings.Mahatma Gandhi


Southeast Asia: The Bright Spark


October 8, 2014

Southeast Asia: The Bright Spark in a Gloomy World

by W. Scott Thompson@www.nst.com.my

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Bright Spark in a Gloomy World

“AROUND the world in 80 days”, or even eight days, might not be a happy trip in 2014. Start with my country: the current issue of political journal Foreign Affairs has a cover saying “See America: Land Of Decay And Dysfunction”. Head south and it’s hard to find success stories. Argentina is in a financial mess, Venezuela is moving back into the hands of the Army and Mexico is all about drugs.

For Europe, the biggest joke is that only Belgium has escaped the financial crisis, mostly because it has no real government and no prime minister during the key years. You can’t blame Germany for being thrifty and resenting to pay for the high life in Greece, Italy and Spain over the last 20 years. A compromise has yet to be found between the northern proponents of austerity and those believing that more consumer spending will get the southern countries out of their doldrums. Unemployment rates at 25 per cent don’t make for easy governance.

Africa is a mixed bag. Even the leading stars in growth, like Ghana, are in financial trouble. Fighting continues in Congo, extremists continue to move south and even if overall, Africa has an average growth rate better than most of the world, it’s too small a part to change things — CNN attempts to show the bright side, notwithstanding.

Let’s just skip the Middle East; it’s a disaster zone and it’s too early to say whether the Islamic State can be stopped — though it has to be. Suffice to say that if IS takes control of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, the best scenario indicates it would take a year or two to evict them. As usual, Iran is a shadow player and in the end, will be the most important one to stabilise the region.

In South Asia, India’s new Prime Minister has made it big at the United Nations, but it’s an open question whether he can really can open up the Indian economy for the rapid growth on which success depends. Let’s not even mention Pakistan.

All the talk about China centres on Hong Kong and what the demonstrations portend. But I would pay more attention to western China, where the Islamic Uighurs are a far bigger headache for the Politburo.

Jokowi WidodoCome to Southeast Asia and you might start smiling. Discussion is dominated by the old forces of the Indonesian military under the leadership of General Prabowo Subianto, in voting out all the moves of decentralisation that have achieved so much since 1999. President-elect Widodo will be sworn into office on October 20; he does not command a majority in Parliament but he hasn’t even begun to use presidential patronage to block Probowo’s attempts to turn the clock back. I wouldn’t bet against the new President’s powers of persuasion and presidential suasion. On balance, we should be very optimistic about Indonesia.

Now, go around the region and just about everything is moving, if slowly, in the right Thailand Democracy Protestdirection. That is, if you see the Thai coup d’état as a necessary evil that will restart the political system without the cost of long-term death to democracy that former PM Thaksin Shinawatra represents. The political establishment has regained control and let’s not forget the 60 years of transformation that the coalition has provided. Next to China, no sizeable state has grown so fast.

Malaysia provides one of the world’s best examples of a tricky balanmalaysia-truly-asia-girls11cing act in providing stability in a multi-ethnic state. It is basically because it is a strong state; even its critics must admit the remarkable success of its leaders. It is gaining ground in the middle income division of the world’s states. The economic model says that countries well-endowed with natural resources are the first ones to fail, relying too heavily on what they can get out of the ground or grow on trees. But it secured independence with strong leaders who changed all that. This is quite an oversimplification, but the bottom line is a big success story.

The PhilippinesNow, welcome to the Philippines, home of, in my experience, the world’s happiest people. Its growth rate is closing the gap with China. Critics say the rich elite is getting more than its fair share, yet, studies of wealth division show the Philippines with not much different a Gini coefficient of wealth distribution than the other countries in the region.

And if nothing else, everybody is benefiting from investments in infrastructure. Bulldozers and backhoes are everywhere, widening roads to population centres, and providing jobs for the best of the young professionals in the all but ubiquitous call centres. President Benigno Aquino III has managed two thirds of his six-year term without an agenda, but he always says the right things and leaves no taint of corruption — leaving aside consideration of some of his associates whom he’s too nice to fire.

Everyone in the region is worried about China’s claim to much territorial waters of littoral states in the South China Sea. My guess is the new President of China is too smart to let its navy push too far. Anyway, if you came from Mars and could live anywhere, you certainly wouldn’t choose Russia or China, most of Africa, and so many other places with deeply rooted problems.

Well, this is a bit subjective for me, having chosen Southeast Asia 50 years ago as a research area that was on the go — and when the world was my oyster and I could live anywhere. I’m glad I chose Bali, the Philippines, and the capital cities of Thailand and Malaysia.

Hawker Food: Penang’s Legacy


August 22, 2014

Hawker Food: Penang’s Legacy

by Dato’ (Dr.) Anwar Fazal (08-21-14)@www.nst.com.my

Anwar FazalTHE controversy over migrant workers being allowed to cook Penang hawker food is, like the banning of soup kitchens in Kuala Lumpur saga, a sad story bereft of fundamentals of reality, history, humanity and foresight.

FIRST, Penang’s hawker food has largely been the beautifully enjoyable creative outcome and legacy of generations of waves of migrant workers, creating a grass roots cuisine: for example, nasi kandar, mee jawa, Hainan chicken rice, roti bengali and roti canai.

The informal business of street food vendors or hawkers, as they are more popularly called, was often denigrated and despised by the authorities during our colonial history but later became legitimised and subsequently celebrated as the wondrous smells, colours and flavours of the “Pearl of the Orient”.

Hawker Food Penang

Now, the street food business is among Penang’s leading tangible and intangible assets. Penang has often been described as the “street food capital of the world”. I have often challenged anyone to show me a place with better four-point “Street Food Index” measures — taste, diversity, cleanliness and economy.

If they show me any place better on these four counts, I will treat them to Penang laksa or pasembur for the rest of their life. No one has yet been able to come forward with anything better!

SECOND, we urgently need a new paradigm in the way we manage and treat migrant workers. We can no longer deal with them as the new “coolies” subject to all the inhumanities of servitude of the slavery kind. We need to reach out to them as brothers and sisters and as human beings deserving our care and compassion.

I have a dear friend, a former distinguished lawyer, whose family treated their maid as one of them. They taught her to drive a car, and sent her for part-time courses in language and computer classes. The maid’s time in Penang became her liberation for a new great life back home. She was ever grateful and will never forget the family, the place and their kindness and help.

There is now a United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families.

Penang should take leadership and work with groups like Jaringan Utara Migrasi dan Pelarian (JUMP), the northern network for migration and refugees in Malaysia, and put that convention into practice, at least in spirit, until the Federal Government itself decides to accede to the convention. That move forward will then be like the innovative Speakers Corner at the Esplanade and become another one of Penang’s special public places and practices.

THIRD, if the “crime” is that a migrant worker assisting or cooking at a stall is not skilled enough, we should recognise humbly that so are some locals. The most unconscionable solution is to ban them from engaging in cooking. Instead, they should be taught the skills, the art and the science of these culinary delights.

Schools of popular local cuisine like the amazing Nazlina Space Station in Campbell Street, George Town, the centre of the Slow Food Movement in Penang, stands out as a shining example of creative positive responses. The Station organises daily tours, which involve marketing at the local wet market, getting to know herbs and spices, preparing food and then enjoy eating their “handiwork”.

Hundreds of foreigners have gone through the culinary delights of Penang’s food and experience in this way. We need more of such places and regular classes. A project to set up in Penang — a unique culinary campus in cooperation with the Slow Food Movement’s University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy — is very possible and should be explored to champion “good, clean and fair” foods.

FOURTH, foreigners will create and enlarge the demand for our unforgettable culinary delights. Penang laksa and other great dishes will start appearing in cities and villages all over the Asia-Pacific region as they have already done in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and other places where Malaysian “outbounders” have settled.

I recently had the opportunity to officiate the opening of an International Exhibition on Street Foods in Penang, Malacca and Bandung, Indonesia, by one of the leading architecture schools in the region based at the National University of Singapore.

The street food culture is an amazing story, locally and globally, and needs research and development. What we must champion is an International Street Foods Institute and what better place to locate it than in Penang. This would be an innovation and an investment for global leadership in the culinary area from bottoms up and put Penang on the world map as a leader in research and development of both a tangible and intangible culture.

FIFTH, punishing poor struggling migrant workers and depriving them of development opportunities is the way of inhumanity and pettiness. Penang is a place recognised globally by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as a world heritage site for its universal values, its multiculturalisation and as a great learning centre.The wonderful culinary experience must also be the essence of this great joy, diversity and beauty.

The negative measure of banning immigrants from learning, assisting and cooking local hawker food will only demean Penang’s reputation as a happy, caring, people-centred place. The idea of prohibiting migrant workers from learning and working as cooks at hawker places should, therefore, be abandoned for positive and creative solutions.

penang-street-food1

If not, this place of great migrant history will join the ranks of certain hypocritical governments of countries that colonised vast areas outside Europe, appropriated history and now, sadly and vindictively, have growing movements that demonise the so-called new immigrants. And tragically, many of these “new” immigrants come from conflict zones too often created or linked to the geopolitic interests of these very nations.

The greatness of any civilised people is in its care of “the other”. Penang has been special for that, including its iconic “Street of Harmony”, which the former President of India, Dr Abdul Kalam, described as a magnificent school for the whole world for learning humanity and living together.

Let us continue to be a beacon of compassion, caring and creativity and not degenerate into anti-migrant stances that are sadly no better than bigotry and racism.

Dato (Dr.) Anwar Fazal also initiated the compendium ’Understanding International Migration — a Sourcebook’ while serving as the head of the United Nations programme for good urban governance in Asia and the Pacific.

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Your Weekend Entertainment –Jazz From Malaysia


June 14, 2014

Your Weekend Entertainment –Jazz From Malaysia

din and kamsiah2Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

For listening pleasure, Dr. Kamsiah and I present Jazz from Malaysia featuring the RTM Combo led by Ahmad Shariff, Radio Malaysia Orchestra under the direction of Alfonso Soliano and Gus Steyn, and the crooners of the 60s era.

My dearly departed cousin, Dato’ Ahmad Daud and  Zain Azman, my friend at the malaysia-endless-possibilitiesRubber Research Institute (known in the 1960s as the Nat King Cole of Malaysia) are  also featured here. Malaysia is a country full of talent and rich in culture and music (including Jazz).In fact, it is a land of Possibilities, if only we know how to utilise our  diverse cultural heritage, and talent pool.

That said, let us relax since this week, as reflected in the postings on this blog, was an equally emotionally draining one. Keep well and enjoy your Sunday.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

RTM Combo–Ahmad Shariff

Aku Dia & Lagu

Di Taman Seputeh

Musalmah

Mimpi

Alfonso Soliano

Ayam den Lapeh

Mimpi Ku Semalam

Ku Kan Kembali

Gus Steyn

Ahmad Daud

Zain Azman

How about a little Poem for this Occasion–May 23, 2014


May 23, 2014

How about a little Poem for the Occasion–May 23, 2014

tennysonporI could have posted Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem which I read at Sixth Form at the Penang Free School (1958). It was heavy stuff, way back then and too  long for my purpose here. Yet Milton’s is a must read for those who want to learn English seriously. Also try Chaucer’s Canterburry Tales and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

But  for this occasion, let me revisit Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses, which I posted on my blog some years  ago. I think it is an appropriate piece of poetry for my special day. I dedicate it to the memory of my late mother, Hajjah Fatimah Merican, Christie Netto and the forgotten men and women of their generation.–Din Merican

Ulysses

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea:

I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life.  Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains:  But every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachos,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone.  He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port, the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas.  My mariners,
Souls that have tol’d and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads – you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all:  but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes:  the slow moon climbs:  the deep
Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

     Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Fellow Malaysians, May The Force be with You Always