Aid Ooi Eow Jin, Malaysia’s Composer and Musician–Give generously

July 10, 2015

Benefit concert to aid Ooi Eow Jin, Malaysia’s Composer and Musician–Give generously

Last month, Jimmy Yeoh, one of my facebook friends, wrote a long passage about a fellow Old Free, Ooi Eow Jin.

People my age may recognise this name instantly. Ooi Eow Jin is a local musician and composer. In his younger days, he was a band leader who led the Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) Orchestra for many years.

I’ve just found out that Eow Jin has finally retired from the local music scene. He is now 85 years old, at an age when most people would have taken life easy, but he had to keep working hard for a reason which I would like to share on my blog.

During his long career, Eow Jin had supported his two sons through their education until both graduated from University. Unfortunately, his second son died after a prolonged battle against leukemia despite his efforts to give his son the best treatment available. Eow Jin, himself showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, continued his career as a resident pianist at the Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur until 30 June when he made his final bow.

I am told that his eldest son is now suffering from a brain tumour. Again, it was with the effort of Eow Jin that the son is still hanging on to life. Eow Jin now lives with his wife and son in a home shared with other unfortunate people.

Jimmy met with Eow Jin and another fellow Old Free, Richard Hoon, and they (Jimmy and Richard) agreed to do their best to help Eow Jin and his family to have a more comfortable life from now on. To achieve this, they proposed to organize at least three charity shows to raise money for Eow Jin. One of the shows is now coming to fruition. I received this appeal letter today with details of the first show which will be in Petaling Jaya:

I wish to call upon my friends, both Old Frees and non-Old Frees, to support this worthy programme to help this outstanding man in his difficult times. Even if you can’t make it to the show, please consider donating some funds. Whatever you give, I’m sure you will receive back the blessings many times over. Thank you. The programme appears below:

Culture–The Social Glue and Identity

July 7, 2015

Culture–The Social Glue and Identity

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

culture-and-exportingEvery group of humans whether dwelling in the same cave or working for the same corporation must share some common goals, values, and worldview, as well as everyday routine practices. This is what culture means; it is the social glue that binds the members together and differentiates them from others. Far from being society’s oppressor, culture is its savior.

The human baby is not born a carnivorous hunter or a vegetarian ascetic anymore than it is born an Aryan or Chinese. The baby may have Aryan characteristics (sharp nose, blond hair, and blue eyes) or that of a Chinese (moon face, jet black hair, and epicanthic folds) but those features do not make what it will be. Whether that baby will turn out to be a proud bearer of a swastika or marches the streets waving Mao’s Little Red Book depends upon the culture in which it has been raised.

Tune to BBC News. If you close your eyes you would assume the announcer to be a lithe English lassie. Look at the screen and your preconceived images would be shattered for behind that flawless British voice might be a lady of African descent or a Semitic-looking Arab woman, minus the purdah of course.

The process by which a group instills its collective ways and values upon its new members – acculturation – is by nature conservative, to uphold prevailing norms and standards. The dark-skinned BBC announcer could not possibly sound so elegantly authoritative had she been brought up in Southside Chicago or a Soweto township.

I had a childhood friend back in the old village. Born as I was during the terrible deprivation of the Japanese Occupation, his family, like so many poor Chinese families in rural Malaysia at that time, was forced to give him up. Growing up in his adopted Malay family, he was no different from the rest of us. I was not even aware that he was adopted despite his obvious non-Malay features.

Later as a teenager he became extremely chauvinistic, espousing fanatical sentiments of Malay nationalism. Even that did not trigger any irony on my part. On one occasion he was particularly virulent in his denunciations of the immigrants while within hearing distance of my parents. When he was gone my father laughed, remarking that someone ought to hold a mirror to my friend’s face whenever he was indulging in his racial demagoguery. Only then did it register on me that he was Chinese looking. The incongruity of his being a Malay supremacist.

My digressing short story here must have an uplifting ending. My friend did indeed outgrow his adolescent delusions and become a successful businessman with a multiracial and international clientele. Today he is the paragon of the liberal, progressive Malay, the ones the PERKASA (the acronym of a Malay ultra right-wing group) types love to hate.

Just as my friend’s upbringing (his acculturation) turned him into an insular, chauvinistic nationalist, his later vocation reformed him into an open, worldly businessman. Later, I will pursue this unappreciated but important role of trade and commerce in liberating minds.

The Dayak WarriorCulture provides the backdrop for much of our learning and experiences, as well as the environmental (both physical and social) stimuli that our brain is exposed to. These are what shape our view of reality, or in the language of neuroscience, the subsequent patterns of neural networks. Culture conserves the values and norms of that society and transmits them unchanged to the next generation.

Culture is also internally consistent even though to outsiders some of its norms and practices may appear destructive or non-productive. To the Mafia of southern Italy, being violent and vengeful are valued traits, to maintain family ‘honor.’ In not-so-ancient China members of the triad maintained their strict code of silence through uncompromising and merciless enforcement; the price for breaching being gruesome death. Then there are the “honor killing” of the Pashtuns and the self-immolation suttee where a widowed Indian would throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Those destructive acts must have served some purpose otherwise the culture would have abandoned them long ago. The Chinese code of silence was perhaps a protective reaction to the brutish local warlords, while “honor killing” and suttee were meant to demonstrate the supreme value of family honor and marital fidelity. In that culture a widowed woman would be treated so harshly and discriminated against so mercilessly that she would be driven to prostitution or home wrecking.

To someone from a culture where infidelity is the norm (if we can believe Hollywood movies and the scandals involving Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger), suttee and honor killing seem barbaric and way out of proportion.

Likewise hudud’s stoning to death for adultery; to Muslims it reflects the sanctity of marriage and the high premium we place on marital fidelity. Humans being human, the culture does provide an outlet to minimize the possibility of imposing this harsh penalty; thus multiple wives or even “temporary” ones. The ancient Chinese accepted concubines.

As an aside, despite hudud’s current notoriety, it is well to remember that during the four centuries of Ottoman rule, the actual number of cases of “stoning to death” was only one. Compare that to the number of deaths through suttee burning and gentleman’s duel.

The Anglo Saxons’ “duel unto death” is on the same plane as suttee and honor killing; the difference merely in means and methods. The underlying principle and end result are the same – a matter of “honor” and the senseless taking of a life respectively. It illuminates my point that culture is internally consistent. It is futile for anyone, especially outsiders, to pick and choose a particular element of a culture and pronounce it regressive or uncivilized. The true and only meaningful test of a culture is how it prepares its people to stresses and changes, especially when those are sudden and dramatic, or imposed from the outside.

Malay Language Nationalists defend Bahasa Malaysia as Medium of Instruction

June 26, 2015

COMMENT: Both GAPENA and Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka have a vested interest to preserve Bahasa Malaysia as the sole medium of instruction in our schools and universities. At least the Dewan has now acknowledged the importance of the English. In doing so, they realize that English is the language of diplomacy and commerce. GEPENA remains adamant.

I do not understand the need to have a law to enforce the use of Bahasa Malaysia and why make English a second language on the  false assumption that by using English, we will make Malaysians less Malaysian and the Malays less Malay. It has again to do with UMNO politics of xenophobia .We want Malaysians with a global mindset and multilingual proficiency to compete and excel in the 2st century world.

Ghazali_Shafie_(crop)I remember in the 60’s (Tun) Ghazalie Shafie, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs saying to my colleagues and I at one of our Friday prayer meetings that as  far as he was concerned English would remain the language of Malaysian diplomacy and in his Ministry we should read, write and speak English. He ,however, insisted that we use Bahasa Malaysia in our official dealings with our counterparts in the civil service and government agencies.

When I joined Bank Negara after leaving the Foreign Ministry in 1965, Governor (Tun) Ismail Tun Ismail Mohd Ali-2nd BNM GovernorMohamed Ali decided that we could use English internally but we had a duty to observe the ruling from the Government to use Bahasa Malaysia as the national language for official communication with the civil service.

Not just that. Governor Ismail set up a Bahasa Malaysia unit to oversea the implementation of  this directive. He did it in compliance with a directive, not  with a language law because he felt it was the right thing. to do. It was also the time when Bank Negara started to issue the Bahasa and English language versions of its Annual Report and Quarterly Economic Report. That tradition has continued to this day. I am proud to say that Bank Negara officers of the present generation are among the most proficient in the use of English and Bahasa Malaysia.

samdech-hun-senLet me say something about the Cambodian approach on the teaching of  Khmer language and English in their schools and universities. Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen is a champion of Khmer Language,  arts,  and culture. When he was growing up, Cambodia was still under France and French was the official language. But he was educated in a Buddhist temple and served as a pagoda boy. He learned to read, write and speak Khmer. There were French schools which catered for the elite.

With the formation of the Royal Government in the early 1990’s, Samdech Hun Sen saw the value of English if Cambodia were to network in ASEAN and engage with the rest of the world. He decided to use English in public schools with Khmer as a medium of instruction. At the same time, he allowed private schools to use English as medium of instruction. and encouraged enterprising Cambodians to set up language schools to teach Mandarin, Korean, Japanese. French and other languages. At university level, courses are taught in  Khmer and English.

UC PresidentAt the University of Cambodia, its President Dr. Kao Kim Hourn(left) made a far sighted decision to offer courses at undergraduate and graduate levels in both languages. At the Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, courses will mainly be in English at the postgraduate level The university’s Language Development Center offers programmes for enhancing English language writing and speaking skills  to all students.

In short, because Cambodia practises multilingualism, parents are given  freedom of choice in their free market driven economy.  By adopting this open education policy, Samdech Hun Sen  who himself speaks Khmer, English and Vietnamese, is encouraging his people to be internationalists, without making them less Cambodian and less patriotic. –Din Merican

Malay Language Nationalists defend Bahasa Malaysia as Medium of Instruction

by Bernama

Latiff-Bakar2The Federation of National Writers’ Association (GAPENA) Chief 1, Abdul Latiff Bakar said that the time has come for the government to have a law which could act against agencies, departments and local councils which fail to uphold the national language in their official affairs.

“We have brought this matter up many times, but there has been no development. For now we can only comment but if there is a law, any party which refuses to obey it (upholding the national language) can be punished,” he said.

He also urged the Education Ministry to make it compulsory for the senates of institutes of higher learning to observe the regulation to uphold the national language in their administrations.

“As educational institutes, they have a big responsibility to uphold the Malay language and not just chase rankings,” he said as a panelist at the forum “Challenges of the National Language in the Era of Globalisation” here today.

Meanwhile, the Director-General of Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP), Awang Sariyan said that the DBP would conduct a language audit on six public universities in a move to ensure that universities in the country abide by the regulations. He added that the DBP had so far audited 37 of the 149 local councils in the country in a move to award star ratings for councils that used Bahasa Melayu in their official dealings.

“From the audit we conducted, the usage of Bahasa Melayu in official matters including advertisements is still unsatisfactory. However, there are some local councils which we give five stars, including the Shah Alam City Council,” he said in the forum.

He said the ranking was one of the initiatives taken by the government to encourage local councils to uphold Bahasa Melayu.

DBP chairman Dr Md Salleh Yaapar said the education system should retain Bahasa Melayu as its medium of instruction and its usage was not the reason for the weak command of the English language among students.

“We acknowledge the importance of English and are not opposing it…other languages can be used including English, but this is not an excuse for replacing Bahasa Melayu as the medium of instruction in schools,” he said.

Defining Moments of Malay Culture

June 15, 2015

Defining Moments of Malay Culture

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Three defining moments in Malay culture are worth recounting. First, the arrival of Islam; second, onset of European colonization; and third, the path we chose towards independence. I will examine how our culture had served us in those three instances; exemplary in the first and third, less so with the second.

Thinks, says Mahathir

It is fashionable these days to blame our culture for what ails our community. Our leaders would let us believe that our culture is our oppressor. When former Prime Minister Mahathir was asked what his greatest failure was, he unhesitatingly asserted his inability to change Malay culture. It reflected the height of arrogance on his part to even consider that he could do so.

Mahathir was neither the first nor the last to blame our culture; he however, went further to fault our very nature – our genes – as he asserted in his book The Malay Dilemma. Early in the 19th Century Munshi Abdullah also railed against our outdated ways while Pendita Za’aba, a century later, echoed similar sentiments. More recently there was Datuk Onn with his presumptuous membetulkan Melayu (correcting Malays). As is apparent, Mahathir has plenty of company.

These individuals are giants in our history. At the risk of appearing self-important or worse, stupid, I will nonetheless take them on, albeit with great trepidation. What those luminaries presumed to be the flaws of Malay culture, as with our fondness for immediate gratification, lack of savings, and apparent disinterest in education, are in fact universal weaknesses of the poor, marginalized and oppressed. We saw that with Irish-Americans in the early part of the last century, the Irish under the English, and Hispanics and Blacks in America today. Those are also features of a feudal agrarian society, or those just emerging from it. About the only features unique to our Malay culture are our fondness for sambal belacan (chilli shrimp paste) and our passion for our folk melody dondang sayang. Nothing wrong with that.

Culture is essentially conservative; any change would be slow and have to work from bottom up and not the other way around. Those wannabe revolutionaries ensconced in their air-conditioned offices calling for revolusi mental (mental revolution) and who are presumptuous to believe that they have the talent to change our culture are woefully misguided. They are high on their own rhetoric.

A culture is best judged on how its members manage sudden changes, not by observing it through a snapshot in time. Thus it would be fruitful to review the three transformational events in our history referenced earlier. As can be seen, we are still here and intact, which says something of the endurance if not greatness of our culture. Not all cultures are that lucky, and this should give us confidence if not inspire us in facing our current challenges. It also demolishes the arguments of those whose first and natural inclination would be to blame our culture in discussing the “Malay issue.”

Those changes did not just happen; there were individuals and leaders involved. I will recall some of those great open-minded individuals in our history, as well as a few contemporary figures. I will not do justice to their interesting biographical details not out of lessened respect but because my focus here is on their free minds, and the impact they had (and some are still having) on our society. To emphasize the point that they are not anomalies or outliers in our culture, I will recall some seemingly ordinary individuals whose personal achievements reflect their free-mindedness. Their commonplace lives should inspire us all the more.

I next detour into neuroscience to explore the concept of a free mind, what it means to have one, and the relationship of the mind to the brain as well as the related notion of mindset. I rely less on religious rationalization or philosophical pondering, more on the insights gleaned from modern neuroscience and human psychology.

Zahid Hamidi

Sometimes the best way to understand a word or concept is to examine its antonyms, what it is not. We have an apt expression, katak di bawah tempurung (frog underneath a coconut shell). That is an excellent metaphor for a closed mind, the exact opposite of a free one.

Today there is near universal agreement among Malays that our domination of politics and public administration is our savior. If not for that, so the argument goes, we would have long been reduced to the fringes of Malaysian society. Shining the light from a different angle will illuminate this as nothing more than a delusion.

Malays may control politics and other apparatus of the state but we are far from being sophisticated players; we do not wield this considerable power effectively or with any finesse. Thus our dominance in politics and public administration has degenerated into a significant problem instead of being a major part of the solution.

My purpose is to shatter the illusions of those who find comfort in life underneath the coconut shell. I go beyond and explore ways of toppling this coconut shell, how best to liberate our minds. As individuals we achieve this through travel, learning another language, or experiencing another culture. My emphasis however is at the societal level, principally through information, education, and commerce.


Once there is an open and abundant flow of news and information, people would be exposed to a diversity of opinions and viewpoints. That could only be liberating.

Schools and universities should educate, not indoctrinate the young. To this end I advocate broad-based liberal education. Our students should be functionally bilingual and have an understanding of a third, at a minimum. The curriculum should emphasize critical thinking over rote memorization. Regardless of their career choices, our students should have some understanding of the sciences and be competent in basic mathematics.

As for commerce, if our people were to become entrepreneurs or otherwise engaged in trade, then we would view others more as potential customers instead of enemies. We and they would be much better off for that.

Quite apart from the economic benefits, engaging in commerce is the surest way to liberate our minds; likewise with the free flow of information and liberal education. Those are also the most effective ways of preparing us for the open world once we have toppled our shell.

If we do not adequately prepare our people for the wide open world, then they would find it disorienting and far from exciting or full of opportunities. That would only scare them to flee back underneath the old, familiar and comfortable coconut shell.

The principal path pursued by the UMNO government to spearhead Malay engagement in commerce is through the route of government-linked companies (GLCs). It is also the most expensive. As the government is addicted to GLCs, I devote considerable ink in critically examining this initiative. I am no fan of GLCs; their performance over the decades merely confirms my conviction. The current imbroglio with 1MDB is not only the most recent but also most expensive.

Your Entertainment from Phnom Penh by The Mekong

June 13, 2015

Your Weekend Entertainment from Phnom Penh:Paul Simon

We are already into Saturday afternoon. It is time for Dr. Kamsiah (in Din MericanKKuala Lumpur) and Din Merican (here in Phnom Penh) to take  you away from the cares and woes of politics in the country that has produced a great Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Let Lim Kok Wing and the rest of those characters in the Prime Minister’s Department do whatever they can to rebrand Najib.  They are stubborn enough to believe that they can change public perception of Najib Razak as a weak, dishonest and incompetent Prime Minister who is being manipulated by Rosmah Mansor. But Lim Kok Wing who used to be Mahathir’s image maker does not care. He has no loyalty. What is important to him is influence and money. For that, he will sell his soul to the highest bidder. That is what he has done to this by becoming the Prime Minister’s propagandist.

Featuring Paul F. Simon

We have chosen for your listening pleasure a tribute to Paul Simon, America’s classic and contemporary  composer and entertainer. Paul is an American musician, actor and singer-songwriter. Simon’s fame, influence, and commercial success began as part of the duo Simon & Garfunkel, formed in 1964 with musical partner Art Garfunkel. Simon wrote nearly all of the pair’s songs, including three that reached No. 1 on the U.S. singles charts: “The Sound of Silence“, “Mrs. Robinson“, and “Bridge Over Troubled Water“. The duo split up in 1970 at the height of their popularity, and Simon began a successful solo career as a guitarist and singer-songwriter, recording three highly acclaimed albums over the next five years.

In 1986, Paul released Graceland, an album inspired by South African township music. Simon also wrote and starred in the film One-Trick Pony (1980) and co-wrote the Broadway musical The Capeman (1998) with the poet Derek Walcott.

top10-phnom-penh-restaurantsWelcome to Phnom Penh for Fine Cuisine

Simon has earned 12 Grammys for his solo and collaborative work, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2001, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2006 was selected as one of the “100 People Who Shaped the World” by Time magazine. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine named Simon as one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists. Among many other honors, Simon was the first recipient of the Library of Congress‘s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2007. In 1986, Simon was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music, where he currently serves on the Board of Trustees.–wikpedia.

Just relax and listen to Paul Simon’s compositions. You will understand why Dr. Kamsiah and I think he is one of greatest personalities in the American music.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican



Learning English at The University of Cambodia

June 10, 2016

At the University of Cambodia we teach English

uc_campus_00Artist Impression of U of C Campus (Ready by October, 2015)

Today I was at the well equipped and modern Language Center, University of Cambodia, I watched how young Cambodians learn to speak, read and write  English. I was impressed. The young student in the video could speak better English than me. He  was confident  and articulate.

English is spoken here in Phnom Penh compared to the time I first lived and worked here some 2 decades ago. 

The Cambodian Government under the leadership of His Excellency Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen made a wise and conscious decision to teach English as a second language. The Prime Minister wanted his people  to  speak  this widely used language so that they can integrate with ASEAN and do business with the world large.

His farsighted policy decision is paying good dividends for his country today. At the same time, the Prime Minister made sure that Khmer is taught as the first language in all schools and universities together with Cambodia’s history, culture and the fine arts. A study of history, culture and the fine arts is vital to the Cambodian psyche. It has to do with their national identity.

University_of_CambodiaAt the University of Cambodia, we offer degree courses in both Khmer and English at the undergraduate, Masters and Phd. levels.–Din Merican