Malaysia: Interesting Times

October 23, 2016

COMMENT: Dean Johns has always been a succinct, lucid and thoughtful writer. I enjoy his articles and am a proud owner of his books. I am also grateful to him (and Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran of Malaysiakini) for allowing me to host his pieces like this one on this blog to reach my discerning readers in 206 countries, near and far.

Image result for Dean Johns

Image result for Din Merican

Two of a Kind from the same Era

Dean is 70 and I am 77. He is an Australian and I am a Malaysian (not a bigoted UMNO Melayu). Yet intellectually, we  are no different. Born in the same era, we share a passion for Malaysia. We see its potential. Regrettably, we are also witnessing its systemic destruction by a kleptocratic regime under Malay leadership of the worst kind.

Image result for Najib's Bad Economics

Time is not one our side. Both of us are at our journey’s end. For far too long, indeed very long, he and I have been bystanders. In recent years, our patience has run out.

We have grown very critical of the UMNO-led Malaysian government led by the most corrupt Prime Minister who goes by the name of Najib Razak.  As a result, Dean and I are using our pen to push for change. It is a long shot, no doubt, but change may yet happen when Malaysians finally wake up their amnesia.

We can longer tolerate the nonsense. Dean and I ” find it somewhat interesting to wonder how much longer it will take the majority of Malaysians to finally lose all interest in tolerating, let alone supporting and voting for this accursed regime, and start living in more enlightened times”. We are at our wits’ end, trying to seek an explanation for this indifference (the tidak apa mindset).–Din Merican

Interesting Times

by Dean Johns

Image result for Najib Razak the crook

Malaysian Official 1

“May you live in interesting times”, as we all know, is widely alleged to be an ancient Chinese curse in which the word ‘interesting’ is ironically intended to be interpreted in the negative sense of ‘troubled’.

But apparently there is no more evidence for the contention that this saying is actually either ancient or Chinese than there is for its implied proposition that there have ever been times in human history that were other than interesting in the sense of troubled, if not outright tragic, for at least some people, somewhere.

Or, indeed, fundamentally, for all people everywhere, in light of the apparent fact that only we humans, of all living creatures, are uncomfortably aware of the interesting reality that we will all inevitably die.

Thus we struggle to sustain our life-forces for as long and greedily and powerfully as possible, ferociously competing both individually and, paradoxically, as cooperative members of competing families, clans, tribes, races, classes, clubs, ideologies, political parties, systems of government and nation-states.

And perhaps most interestingly of all, a good many if not the majority of us strive to cheat death, or at least to pretend that earthly death is not really the end, with the illusion that some imagined deity or another, and self-identification as one of his/her/its devotees, will somehow ensure us eternal survival.

Given urges, illusions and delusions as confused and conflicted as these, it is as inevitable as death itself that each of us lives in times rendered interesting as in troubling or tragic by everything from or own inner turmoil and interpersonal antipathies to outright civil, sectarian, international and even world wars.

However, this observation leads to the thought that the apocryphal ancient Chinese curse under consideration here should be extended to “may you live in interesting times… and places”.

Because it strikes me, as the end of my life grows more imminent, that though I have most certainly survived through some horrifically interesting times, I have been fortunate to experience most of them from a quite uninteresting and thus relatively safe distance.

In other words, I have been more of a spectator than a participant in most of the most interesting times I have lived through, and so have luckily lived long enough to see some times and places turn from extremely negatively to very positively interesting.

For example, I was born into one of the most tragically interesting of relatively recent times, the 1939-45 Second World War, but as an infant I was both blithely ignorant of this horrific event, and, then located as I was in Melbourne, Australia, about as far from its ravages as it was possible to be.

Similarly, I was too young as well as too far away to participate, as many of my fellow Australian citizens were sadly fated to do, in the subsequent Korean War and Malayan Emergency; too married and too distant in Sydney to be caught-up in the woeful war in Vietnam; and too old as well as far-distant to be involved in more recent armed conflicts on such far-flung battlegrounds as East Timor, the Gulf, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Bad-interesting becoming good-interesting

I have been fortunate, too, to be able to witness if not directly experience the fact that many of the places in which life has formerly seemed, and indeed actually been, about as bad-interesting as can be, have surprisingly become as good-interesting as they could possibly get.

In the 70 years or so of my lifetime, for instance, nations like Germany and Japan have transformed themselves from insufferably and fatally interesting examples of the evils of Fascism into positively fascinating case-studies in peaceful prosperity.

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A Much Admired POTUS

Somewhat similarly, the former USSR, which US President Ronald Reagan rightly dubbed ‘The Evil Empire’, long ago collapsed under the weight of its own economic ineptitude, thus freeing most of its so-called ‘satellites’ in Eastern Europe from its tentacles.

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Donald Trump’s Soulmate

Though unfortunately Russia itself remains interesting in the alleged ancient Chinese accursed sense, thanks to its President Vladimir Putin’s apparent determination to keep the place more interesting for his oligarch and other criminal cronies, as well as for criminal client-states like al-Assad’s all-too-interesting Syria, than for Russia’s ordinary citizens.

And appropriately enough, as the (mis)attributed source of the ancient “may you live in interesting times” curse, China remains as negatively interesting as ever, thanks to its fake designation as a ‘people’s’ republic despite the fact that it remains all-too-obviously a dictatorship of a corrupt capitalist party that still, interestingly, claims to be communist.

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I hope Malaysia can be spared of this menace

Meanwhile, as long as this column is for Malaysiakini and thus must at least mention Malaysia, it has to be said that life continues to be interesting in the same old, same old dreary way as it has been for five centuries or so under a series of colonisers including the Portuguese, Dutch, British, Japanese, then British again and now the self-styled putras of UMNO-BN.

Image result for Malaysia's First Couple

I miss Saloma and P. Ramlee–Din Merican

Interesting, in other words, only by virtue of the fact that the powers-that-be have so long and so comprehensively stacked the nation’s institutions in their favour as to get away with stealing not just the principal of the people’s cash and publicly-owned resources, but the interest into the bargain.

Though I have to confess I also find it somewhat interesting to wonder how much longer it will take the majority of Malaysians to finally lose all interest in tolerating, let alone supporting and voting for this accursed regime, and start living in more enlightened times.

15 thoughts on “Malaysia: Interesting Times

  1. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” So goes the poem by William Butler Yeats, a line that could easily be used to sum up the state of affairs in Malaysia.

    The Malaysian liberal can be a curious character. Holding views considered liberal when compared against many of his countrymen, but which may well run into the conservative in Western societies, he (or she) is a tragic figure, his way of life often under attack by his country’s ruling party and the groups aligned with it.

    For news, he eschews the government-controlled press – the vapid broadcasts of RTM, the propaganda sheets of Utusan or The New Straits Times – looking instead to more independent media outlets. He listens to BFM 89.9 and reads The Edge and The Malaysian Insider, or foreign publications like the BBC, The New York Times, or The Wall Street Journal. He learns about the latest crackdown or the latest Malaysian fiasco to grab international headlines and he fumes or laughs in disgusted disbelief. He decries it later with his friends and acquaintances over supper at a mamak stall, or dinner at a restaurant, or drinks at a country club.

  2. The liberal response to the 1MDB fiasco has been similarly weak.

    The leaders of the opposition parties issue statements and questions on the matter, which the government simply ignores.

    The most tangible response is Bersih 4.0, a rally planned for the end of the month. Although it aims to gather hundreds of thousands of Malaysians together to protest in three of the country’s cities, its organizers intend to disperse it after two days, even if its demands for Najib to step down and for the implementation of institutional safeguards against corruption are ignored, which they probably will be. It is not expected to change anything.

    Though suggestions have been made to expand the two-day rally into a mass civil disobedience movement – one that provokes confrontation with the authorities and occupies key areas in the major cities until its demands are met (probably the only strategy under the circumstances with a chance of success) – Bersih’s organizers seem to have rejected them, asserting instead that the purpose of the rally is to “send the government a message.” That the ruling party has ignored the message of previous Bersih rallies with impunity has not prompted a strategy rethink.

    Those people I mentioned are good, courageous, earnest men and women who represent much of what is best in the country, which makes their helplessness all the more unfortunate.

  3. Like it or not, what we see was warned – of the NEP. Like it or not, as guilty as Najib, Mahathir, the origin of prodigality began with Tun Razak, almost poetic his son now firmly condemned his legacy. So, when the blame falls it will be the Razak family shared with Mahathir for all the troubles.

    It was warned from the start, Tunku, Tan Siew Sin, Lee Kuan Yew and team. NEP is NOT affirmative. It is DISCRIMINATION. It is reverse apartheid. It is immoral. Hence, unless the natural world is evil and unjust, failure and collapse was always inevitable.

  4. Ode To Excellence.

    Those on the outside may constantly remind you of Excellence. But to an individual it usually has very little meaning because as far as he is concern he is Excellence personified in his mode. He is doing his best and, therefore, that is his standard of Excellence. If pushed to wall he will tell you do not judge a book by its cover or something to that effect. But sometimes it is the cover that eventually leads to Excellence.

    In lion and tiger countries there are many stories of villagers chased by these two kings of the jungle. The wise old man of the village will tell you if you are chased by one and if there is only one tree standing with two branches always aim to hang on to the higher branch because if you miss it you will be able to hang onto the lower branch. That is how the Standard of Excellence took roots. Aim for the maximum and you will be at least within the 3/4 mark.

    It was common in the 60s that when a person gets an unexpected item such as a new bicycle, musical instrument or something that he treasures his whole approach changes. Many parents and teachers had taken note of its value and have always provided the best for their children. Suddenly you find that your child is less argumentative, becomes more judicious to his younger siblings, more mannerly, more thoughtful, and generally eager to please. And not to mention he has now on his own volition discovered the value of doing his home work and preparing for the next day in school.

    Young people suddenly change and sometimes we never know what brought about that change. That is why in our own environment doing the right thing is so important. The young people are looking at you all the time and want to emulate what the older people do. They may not listen to you but you can be rest assured that they will do what you do.

    We should never mistake our cover of the book for the real person inside the book. But having said that there is something to be said for wearing that Standard of Excellence on the cover of the book for the world to see, for doing Deeds of Excellence in thought, speech and behavior, and above all trying to match that Excellence on the inside to what we are wearing on the outside.

    We as adults who are now in positions of leadership should take a moment and try to feel what it was like to be that boy of 14 years old.That simple thought will then with all your experience tell you the how important it to make that 14 year old boy feel that vast picture of the whole world, the whole future that is stretched in front of you with all doors open to you.And if by some magic you as a person in leadership is able to transport yourself to that day when you were 14 years old you will remember that Standard of Excellence that gave you the opportunity to walk through all those open doors to the present position you are in.

  5. I am afraid the geo-politics reading of Dean Johns is skewed with a mind-set no different from that of an avowed American or British. He paints the Soviets incorrigibly evil and that they are being checked from going any further by American and Western actions and counter actions. This could specifically refer to the break up of the once mighty Soviet Union.

    If one is not egregiously aligned to any one power and sees things in a neutral way, the vision will be more clearer.

    Peoples power is an American funded and fomented political tool intended to incite people to clamour for so-called democracy and thereby create unrest and topple governments to be replaced by puppet regimes. This approach, fortunately or unfortunately, worked like magic resulting in the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, leaving the Soviets with what now is Russia. Emboldened by the success, they tried it on China in May-Jun 1989 inciting the students. Pro-democracy protesters took to the streets in Beijing and other major cities and the students set up camps at Tiananmen Square for weeks. Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping ultimately sent the tanks rolling down and thousands of the protesters were killed and their backers rounded up Thus ended the American ill- conceived China venture. But they still suceeded in one two other places like Egypt and Tunisia later.

    The Russians might have lost large swaths of land but they are still as strong as ever, if not more so. NATO has lined up its bases along the periphery of Russia. And yet when the Russians annexed Crimea, America and NATO dared not intervene for fear of possible military response from Russia. The Russians have an awsome stock of nuclear weapons and missiles that can wipe out America and Australia (yes, this for dreamer Dean Johns) though they themselves will be burried in ashes in return.

  6. The montage had portraits of Ali Baba and his eleven thieves. Unfortunately one among them happens to be Nur Jazlan Mohamed, the Deputy Home Minster – a new babe, who has the potential to be either a good reformer (from within) or a bigger Ali Baba. One has to give him the benefit of doubt and see how he turns up.

  7. Many thanks for all the fellow-feelings you so eloquently express above, Din, and all hail to your indefatigble efforts over the years on behalf of your beloved Malaysia. Cheers, DJ

    I never forgot the contributions of Australians in the defence of my country during the Pacific War, The Malaysian Emergency, and the Indonesian Confrontation. I grew up in Penang in the 1950s where RAAF had a base in Butterworth. You too are making your contribution through your writings and I thank you for your efforts. Let me assure you that I am not one who will quit. Cheers.–Din Merican

  8. Dean,

    Just could not resist to say that the interesting time quotes did not come from the Chinese.
    But, I definitely agree with you that the world is living in an interesting times exactly the way you have reminded us.

    Thank you for helping us Malaysians out.

    Recently, I learned that ChopSuey was created by Nutritionists at the White House during the era of depression. Hopefully interesting times would go away like ChopSuey as the world get to know each other better.

  9. katasayang:
    Not every thing you read from wikipedia is accurate. I believe the saying did come from some kind of the Cantonese curse, as most of the Chinese in England were and are Cantonese. Many leading Chinese language schools in the UK still bear Joseph Chamberlain’s name — like Joseph Chamberlain College and the Birmingham Chinese School.

    The saying might come from some kind of the Cantonese curse, like 冚家富貴 ham gaa fu gwai (may the whole family be rich) or 冚家祥 ham gaa ceong (may the whole family be fortunate) are common variant but has little logical relations with the original phrase. Adding the words “ham gaa” (whole family) in front of the bless can actually reverse the meaning.

  10. /// Phua Kai Lit October 23, 2016 at 9:30 pm
    From Vision 2020 to Transformational Nonsense 2050 (TN50). ///

    Nightmare 2020 is closer at hand.

  11. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

    Rome was not built in a day.

    #Hope Floats (a movie)
    #Faith Like Potatoes (another movie)
    #The Right Stuff (yet another movie)

    Thank you for soldiering on Din & DJ and staying true to your convictions.

    As Yoda would say, “A legacy, rest assured… left behind… you shall”

    – Links®

    P/s. Really love the land where I was born too. Totally sad to see the state it is in now. Sigh…

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