Happy Khmer New Year, 2016

April 6, 2016

“Sus’ Dei Chnam Thmei”2016

To President HE Dr. Kao Kim Hourn and HE Khem Rany-Kao,  my Cambodian colleagues  at The University of Cambodia and Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, Cambodians who read this Blog and my Facebook and other Cambodians throughout the Kingdom, Dr. Kamsiah and I wish you a Happy and Prosperous Khmer New Year.

May Cambodia under the dynamic and people-centered leadership of HE Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen continue to be in peace and security and enjoy continued economic prosperity in ASEAN. Thanks for taking good care of me.–Din Merican

Here is what is very special  about this important occasion in the Khmer Calendar:

Sus’ Dei Chnam Thmei” is a 3-day festival starting  on April 13 or April 14 to celebrate the New Year. Everyone is out on the streets wishing each other and their families success, peace and happiness.  Much earlier, during Angkor times, the New Year was celebrated 4 months earlier on the 1st day of the first lunar month. This was abandoned after Angkor, as a solar calendar was adopted and gained popularity.

The main reason for the change was the end of the dry season, when the peasants finished their work in the fields and the harvest had been put away safely before the start of the rainy season, and people had more time to celebrate. Therefore, one of the Kings decided to change the New Year festival to the month of April and to follow a solar calendar.

The first day of the Khmer New Year is called Moha Songkran.

On that day, a new god or angel is appointed to protect the world for the year ahead. To welcome him, people clean and decorate their houses and themselves, to make sure that the New Year does not start with bad luck or unhappiness. Each home “competes” to welcome the new god or angel individually by offering a table full of fruits, a cake with candles, incense sticks decorated with flowers, and flashing light chains to ensure that the house and the family are protected for the rest of the year.

The time around New Year is the only time when young Cambodians are allowed to meet and engage in “mixed” plays. It is also the opportunity for young men to look for potential brides. That’s the tradition.

The Second Day of the New Year is called Wanabat.

This means “Day of Giving”. Traditionally, on this day one gives gifts to parents, grand-parents, and elderly people. Children receive new clothes, and poor people are given money or clothes. In the evening, the monks in the pagodas are asked to give a blessing.

The Third Day of the New Year is called Tanai Lieang Saka and means “new beginning”.

After seeking the blessings of the monks in the morning, a joyful farewell celebration is held in the afternoon. In the streets and in public places, people pour water on each other. Children and young people throw baby powder and flour at each other. People that usually work far away from their families in other provinces make it a point to return to their families to celebrate the New Year together.

Cities, especially the capital Phnom Penh, are very quiet during that time, as most people who live and work in Phnom Penh are not born there. They come from other provinces, such as Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kompong Thom, Svay Rieng, and others of the 24 provinces that make up the country.

At the beginning of the festival, people usually cook food and bring it to the monks in the pagodas. The pagodas are also a good place for Cambodians to meet other people who are also born in their region or who went to school together, but now live and work in other places. The pagoda thus becomes a place of reunion, meeting old friends and exchanging news about their lives. During the festival, many traditional plays are played, such as throwing of “Ongkunhs”, rope pulling contests, and others. After the festival, people return to their places of work and wait for the next festival, Pchum Ben Tag. That will be the next time when the whole family and friends get together again .http://www.visit-angkor.org

Celebrating Ethnic Diversity–Congratulations Jakarta Post and Republik Indonesia

February 10, 2016

Celebrating Ethnic Diversity–Congratulations Jakarta Post and Republik Indonesia



It has been 13 years since democracy icon and late former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid restored to Chinese-Indonesians the right to openly express their ethnic identity, including the ancient tradition of celebrating the Lunar New Year.

It was Gus Dur who lifted the New Order ban on anything related to Chinese identity in the aftermath of the September 1965 coup blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party. Indonesia severed ties with China after the aborted coup, but the two normalised relations in 1990, although discrimination against Chinese-Indonesians remained.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year, therefore, has always been a celebration of ethnic diversity in Indonesia, which was originally conceived as a pluralist nation. It is not simply about New Year feasting or the joy of giving and receiving angpao (gifts of cash in red envelopes) and basket cakes, but also the joy of sharing happiness with the other ethnicities that form Indonesia.

More than just New Year-themed entertainment with dragon and lion dances and red lanterns that decorate public spaces and shopping malls, the celebrations to mark the turn of the Chinese calendar underline Indonesia’s acceptance that cultural differences enrich rather than divide the nation.

After years of persecution and restrictions, Chinese-Indonesians now stand equal with other citizens, whose freedom of expression and fundamental rights are protected by the Constitution.

The case of Jakarta is also unique, in which the governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, belongs to the Chinese-Indonesian minority. Although his ascent to the gubernatorial post was thanks to former governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s catapult to the presidential post, Ahok has started to win the faith of many Jakartans. The real test of diversity for Jakarta looks to come in 2017 should Ahok seek another term of office.

Many do not like him, but very few of them dislike him for his ethnic or his religious backgrounds. His critics oppose his policies, which they deem as failing to help all the people, but the same people are quick to jump to his defence against intolerant groups, such as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), who have attacked him simply for his ethnicity and religion.

Ahok himself has never been shy about his ethnic identity. He invites the public to call him Ahok, a Chinese “peranakan” pet name from his father. And many people also call him Pak Ahok with respect, not in some derogatory manner as some did in the past toward Chinese Indonesians.

Sixteen years of cultural recognition is probably not a very long time. Many Chinese Indonesians still remember the dark past, when they had to hide their ethnic identity and when their phenotypical features gave them away and increased the risk of being harassed on the streets.

But a lot of progress has been achieved. Not only do Chinese-Indonesians get to celebrate it publicly, but they can also share the happiness with all their fellow citizens.

Happy Chinese New Year, and may you be blessed with strength to outsmart the Fire Monkey. And may diversity turn Jakarta into a joyful, colourful and vibrant city for all to live in. — Jakarta Post

Gong Xi Fa Cai reminds us about being Malaysian

February 8, 2016

Gong Xi Fa Cai reminds us about being Malaysian



I like going to morning wet markets. There is a lot to see and observe about the people there – the way they carry themselves, their purchase choices and how they interact with one another. I find it fascinating, especially in a multiracial, multicultural nation like ours.

The morning wet market I frequently visit is at Sea Park, Petaling Jaya. Now there’s nothing extraordinary about this market compared to others in the country – it is crowded, noisy and smelly. However, when I visited it yesterday, it resembled a fun fair – the sea of people flooding the area was unbelievable, made the merrier with tanglungs hanging overhead and the heart-thumping beat of ‘doom-doom-cha doom-doom-cha’ playing in the background.

It is Chinese New Year tomorrow! A-ha, patutlah the suasana meriah sekali! Capitalising on the festivities were many new traders who popped-up from nowhere, some even without the prerequisite stalls but employing other amusing means to display their goods.

I saw this one uncle selling inner garments from a van. He had bras and panties of every colour and size on display inside. The women milling around were understandably ecstatic with the choices before them and were eagerly examining the merchandise, haggling with the trader for the best price.

While watching them, I couldn’t resist imagining the dialogue that would ensue later that night in their homes: “Lao Po, you look sexy in that lingerie. Is that from Victoria Secret?”

“No-lah Lao Gong, it’s from a van.” And then there was an uncle who was busy emptying boxes of shoes from his old Proton Saga. Take a guess where he displayed his items – yup, on the car itself! It was a sight to behold! The entire vehicle from bonnet to boot was covered in stilettos, pumps, platforms and flip-flops. He had something for everyone. This reminded me of my childhood when mom used to wash all our school shoes and sport shoes and arrange these atop dad’s car so they dried quick. Simply classic!

Next I saw an apam balik seller operating from a minivan. His stall was the only one without any customers. Since I was in the mood for a sweet treat, I approached the abang and made my order.

“Abang, apam balik satu, extra kacang dan extra, extra jagung,” I said. As he was busy making my order, I asked curiously, “Business macamana hari ni?”

He smiled, “I baru kat sini. Kawan cakap business bagus. Tapi tak banyak customer-lah. Ini kan kawasan Cina, jadi I rasa customer Cina lebih suka beli daripada orang dia sendiri.”

As I paid for my snack, a few Chinese customers began queuing-up next to me awaiting their turn to place their orders. I looked at the abang and smiled. He returned my smile, presumably embarrassed of his racially tinged remark earlier. Perhaps if he knew the area well enough, he wouldn’t have said it.

I mean, among the many places I have lived before (including Penang), this neighbourhood is the perfect model of what I personally aspire for Malaysia. I have witnessed for myself, a kopiah-wearing old pakcik selling orchids opposite stalls selling pork. I have seen a tudung-clad makcik selling karipap and nasi lemak next to a Chinese aunty selling non-halal noodles. It’s the same with Muslim customers too, who do not hesitate strolling past stalls selling bakwa, frogs and pork. Everyone is genuinely accepting of each other and extremely friendly despite our differences.

I’ve had some pretty memorable times at this market too. Take yesterday for instance. At one point, I found myself gridlocked in a sea of sweaty bodies when two groups of market goers from opposite sides of the market merged in the centre. With elbows poking into each other’s ribs, and shopping bags bulging at our sides, one petite aunty who was among us said something exceptionally delightful.

“Don’t worry, just squeeze. You squeeze, I squeeze, everybody also squeeze. Being Malaysian is all about squeezing.” What an amazing analogy – “Being Malaysian is all about squeezing each other”. And it is so true, for Malaysians “squeeze” not only in the market, but also at the mall, on the streets, at pasar malams, in the lifts, trains, buses, LRT stations, – my gosh, most of our time is spent squeezing each other since the practice of queuing has never really caught on here.

However squeezing has its benefits too. Very often, when caught in situations like these, we find ourselves making eye contact with those nearest us, offering a smile, extending a greeting or apologising for stepping on their foot.

In such close proximity, we notice little things about others too – their hairdos, their complexions, the perfume they’re wearing, their mannerism. We wonder about their ages, their lifestyles, and we peek at their shopping trollies, surveying their purchases and thinking about the meals they will cook for their families later at home.

These bits and pieces of information give us some insight, no matter how vague of the people we share our space with in this community, and somehow make us more tolerant and respectful of them.

Personally, I have found inspiration for some of my most meaningful stories in the most common places ever – hospitals, lifts, schools, streets and yesterday, in a market.

I guess this is where the spirit of Malaysia lives – among ordinary folk.To all ordinary Malaysians, I wish you a wonderful celebration. May this year of the monkey bless you with good health and prosperity.

Gong Xi! Gong Xi!


Gong Xi Fa Cai to All around the World

February 5, 2016

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2016 to All

To Men and Women of Goodwill around the world, friends and associates in Malaysia, Cambodia, China (and Diaspora), ASEAN,and Australia.

Dr. Kamsiah and I wish you Gong Xi Fa Cai 2016. May you be safely united with family for your traditional dinner tonight. Drive and travel carefully.

Greetings from Us at The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh

It is a great tradition, and may you continue this practice since the family is an important institution, particularly in today’s troubled world. It is home where we learn to respect our elders, acquire and reinforce our ethical values, engage in civilised discourse, and celebrate the dignity of difference. May we live in peace.

Traditional values are, therefore, not out of date. Why? Because peace and goodwill are what will be needed now as we face serious threats to our survival from global terrorism and our wanton disregard of our environment.

For this occasion, we have chosen to bring back music of 1950s. It was my teenage  years (Dr. Kamsiah was born 13 years later). Wow, that was decades ago.The songs you hear remind me of those years of innocence and bliss.

Growing up in Alor Setar, Kedah Darul Aman  in the ’50s together with Daim Zainuddin, Kassim Ahmad, Kamil Jaffar,  Col. Ismail, Razali Ismail, Yusof Bakar, Halim Rejab,  Mansor Ahmad, Martin Lim, S. Perumal, Veeriah, Muniandy, Rahman Rahim,  et.al, was wonderful because colour, race and religion did not matter to us. We were Malayans (and Malaysians) First.

We were 1People. We lived in peace and enjoyed all festivals–Ramadan, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Cambodian New Year, Wesak Day and others. But today, as Malaysians, we have become a divided people, conscious of our differences because our irresponsible political leaders and ulamas have chosen to use race and religion to separate us for power and influence.

There is no doubt that we made enormous economic progress. But that has led to an erosion of our rich cultural heritage and well grounded values. If that is progress, Dr. Kamsiah and I will have none of it.

So my friends,let  us work for peace and love our planet. Like it or not, we have no place else to go, at least until we can find  a livable alternative (s) in the galaxy. We wish you and family Cong xi Fai Cai and God Bless.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Thaipusam–An Occasion to celebrate Our Diversity

January 28, 2018

Thaipusam–An Occasion to celebrate Our Diversity

by Emmanuel Joseph


For as long as Thaipusam has been celebrated in Malaysia on a large scale, it has been as much a community celebration as a religious observation.

The million devotees thronging Batu Caves, paying their homage to Lord Muruga, along with tourists and visitors who visit the many enterprising trade booths and stalls that pop up on cue – selling food and drinks, clothes, prayer items, household goods, video tapes, and for good measure, TV channels and radio.

Thaipusam and Batu Caves is no stranger to politics either. With the eyes of 1.8 million Hindu population on it, politicians from both sides would be eager to be seen being a significant part of it.

During the height of the Hindraf movement, a call to boycott Batu Caves by the Hindraf leaders saw the number of visitors dip to well below half the usual crowd. Even till today, the temple committee chairman is said to be in a legal argument with one of the five Hindraf leaders.

As with any religious celebration or any large gathering for that matter, the people converging on Batu Caves would of course cause some traffic issues with the road closures, diversions, increase in volume of vehicles and naturally, parking of those vehicles.

This has hardly been an issue in the last hundred years or so, but in a present day Malaysia where everything is racialised, politicised and radicalised, in either or both directions, it was a matter of time before Thaipusam joined the bandwagon of non-issues-overnight-turned-into-important-national-issues.

After all, some quarters had already questioned the large statue of Lord Murugan that was built. Even the good God’s image, now synonymous with Batu Caves, on mineral water bottle packaging was not spared the wrath of mortals, too.

And now similar quarters’ beef with the Hindus celebrating Thaipusam is the traffic jams it causes. But such arguments aren’t really a fair reasoning. Every religion in Malaysia have feasts, religious celebrations and observations from time to time.

We all have our famous pastors, preachers, healers, gurus and saints who visit us and cause similar road closures and inconveniences. Even some atheists with no such gods, do contribute to traffic jams in the form of IKEA launches, free Furby giveaways at McDonald’s, Michael Buble performances or whenever Shell decides to do a Lego promotion or Big Bad Wolf decides to do a book fair.

If traffic jams are that much of a bother to some, perhaps we should reconsider celebrating National Day or New Year or any one of the dozen or so events that occasionally leave clueless motorists circling KL looking for an alternative road to get to the office on a random Monday morning, wondering why there are barricades closing off Dataran Merdeka.

Traffic jams like those are actually productive in a way. They indicate some economic activity is happening at that locality and that money is changing hands. Ornsome buzz is being created, which is quite welcome when job markets are shrinking, salary scales narrowing and donations and handouts are scarce to come by, at least for the ordinary public.

But like everything else in Malaysia, not all traffic jams are created equal.Some traffic jams appear to create nothing but delayed arrivals, elevated blood pressure and lowered petrol meter readings.

While some appear to be unable to tolerate once-a-year events, Malaysians in general are highly tolerant of this urban ritual that tests our faith and patience every morning at Damansara, Jalan Duta, Bangsar, Subang, and almost every step of the way to KL after the Batu Tiga toll on the Federal Highway.

While some traffic jams should be tolerated out of respect for religious beliefs and in the spirit of living together as Malaysians, in that same spirit, perhaps it’s time to put a stop to tolerating traffic jams we do not have to. Malaysians should stop having to pay for the sins of those who do poor city and road planning.

The Neo-Malays in Politics

January 5, 2016

The Neo-Malays in Politics

by Zaid Ibrahim



The Neo-Malays at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur

The neo-Malays are the “new Malays”. They are younger than me and the members of G25, and some are seriously wealthy, although we don’t know how they earned their money or whether it was inherited. They also have a serious mission in mind, which is to change the world and to do it as Muslim warriors. But to do that, they first have to take power.

This past New Year’s Eve some 50,000 of them gathered at Dataran Merdeka. Led by Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and other well-known personalities including Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, they held what I believe was a prayer session and sang praises to God Almighty and the Prophet Muhammad.

My liberal (and religious) Malay friend sent me a photograph of the event. The men were dressed in robes, serban and skull caps, and they were all doing a salute with their clenched fists, not unlike how the Nazis used to salute their Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.

Now that was something else, and it worries me.  Is this a new brand of Malay power?  It certainly is different from Dato’ Seri Najib Razak’s brand.  Najib loves to celebrate New Year , just like you and me , except that he does it in his inimitable style ( he is after all seriously wealthy).


Neo-Malay Leaders–Tengku Adnan Mansor and DPM Zahid Hamidi (center)

I guess the Dataran celebration by Zahid marks a new path for the country. It shows that when he comes to power, most probably our politics and our New Year celebrations will drastically change as well. The very idea of it should send a chill through all our spines.

Why were the neo-Malays celebrating a Gregorian New Year in the first place? Why did they gather at Dataran Merdeka for an event that had no Islamic element or historical significance? My guess is that these Malays wanted to celebrate the New Year like everyone else, but because of their image and their brand of politics, they had to be different.

They probably wanted to enjoy the New Year but were worried they would be accused of mimicking the West. Enjoying themselves, they thought, would make them unislamic. They had to be different because that is the new world they wanted to create. They wanted to send a new message.

As “good Muslims”, they believed they could not allow themselves to enjoy or celebrate the New Year; even if in their hearts they would have much rather preferred watching Siti Nurhaliza, Zainal Abidin or the Blues Gang perform and let loose some fireworks – but politics had to come first.

I hope the Chinese, American, Russian, Japanese, European and other Ambassadors living comfortably in the Ampang precinct take a more serious view of our politics. Stop being naive. Enough of the nice brand of diplomacy.

Just because our leaders wear Brioni suits does not mean they are the usual types found in the world’s capitals. If you care enough about freedom and democracy, you must take the time to understand their thinking. The Chinese (and by that I mean those from Beijing and not the DAP Chinese) are taking a strong hold of the economy by making huge investments in our country.

They must therefore be careful that our burgeoning fascist ideas—does not destabilise the other communities or the country’s stability. The Americans and the Europeans must also stop taking things at face value. Many of the neo-Malays here are different from those in Indonesia and Iran.

They are closer to the Taliban and Isis in their values and outlook. Make some effort to understand this new Muslim mindset. Countering these dangerous ideas now will be less costly and better for world peace and stability.