Gearing-up for the Mardi Gras–March 4, 2017


March 4, 2017

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Gearing-up for the Mardi Gras

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Today, March 4, 12,000 people from Australia and around the world identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ) will be proudly participating in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras street parade.

And like millions of Sydneysiders of other sexual persuasions I’ll be watching them with a mixture of particular pleasure and pride.

Pleasure in the fun the marchers will be having showing off the fabulous floats and costumes they traditionally create to dress – or undress – in for the occasion, and pride in being part of a community that doesn’t just tolerate individual difference, but outright celebrates it.

And then there’s the feeling of achievement that comes from seeing that society can change for the better, recalling as I so vividly do that the Australia in which I grew up was so disrespectful of difference that when the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras started in 1978 it was a march of protest against the homophobia that was rampant back then.

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Not, of course, that homo- or other phobias are entirely extinct in even this comparatively enlightened year of 2017, or in this comparatively enlightened country of Australia.

As recognised by the theme of this year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, ‘Creating Equality’, there is still a very long way to go before we achiever the organisers’ stated aim of ensuring that “everyone is treated fairly and equally – and no-one is discriminated against for their sexuality, sex, gender identity, race, beliefs, age or abilities.”

Many of my fellow Australians are as bigoted, racist, sexist and religionist as ever.

In fact the most extreme example of this deplorable reality is the subject of a story in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.

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Neil Prakash, Australia’s most infamous Islamic State recruit

“Neil Prakash, Australia’s most infamous Islamic State recruit,” the story begins, “strode the streets of the Iraqi city of Mosul with four bodyguards and acted as supervisor for the terror group’s medieval punishments.”

Punishments overseen by Prakash, the Melbourne-born son of Fijian and Cambodian parents, reportedly included public beheadings, stoning and whippings conducted in Mosul’s main Bab al-Toub Square, and the throwing of people accused of homosexuality from the top of the 10-storey Orizdy building on one side of the square.

Anathema to the vast majority

Such atrocities are, of course, as anathema to the vast majority of Muslims as to the adherents of other religions or to agnostics like myself.

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Hudud –The Barbaric System of Justice

As also, I imagine, or at least hope, are such attitudes as that expressed by state executive councillor Mohamed Fadzli Hassan of Kelantan in his recent announcement of his government’s intention to stage a public-caning demonstration in support of the PAS – or, as I think of it, PUS – party’s push for hudud in Malaysia.

Lest I start to appear unfairly islamophobic here, however, let me make the point that I’m strongly if not violently opposed to all religions whose ‘believers’ consider that as long as they pray to some divinity or another they have a right to prey on other people.

As witnessed in the shocking numbers of Catholic and other Christian clergy that have been revealed as predators on the children in their congregations, and other self-styled ‘conservative’ Christians in right-wing racist, religionist political organisations like Australia’s One Nation and the Christian Democratic Party.

Founder and leader of the Christian Democratic Party, the Reverend Fred Nile, is as ferocious an opponent of homosexuality and thus of the Sydney Mardi Gras as almost any mufti or other berobed cleric of any religion could possibly be.

An observation that brings me to the point that it’s impossible to avoid noticing that clerics of all major religions and significant numbers of the participants in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras have in common – cross-dressing.

But, paradoxically, priests, monks, muftis, mullahs, archbishops, popes and whatever try and dignify the fact that they’re decked-out in dresses by trying to pass them off as robes, habits, cassocks, vestments or other such euphemisms, most seem opposed, if not outright frocking hostile, to good, honest trannies and others who cross-dress for fun.

Just one more reason why, if I had the choice between watching or joining some religious procession in support or praise of some alleged divinity, or grooving along with the gang at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, I’d go for the latter, any day.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2017


January 26, 2017

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2017

To All our Chinese friends, and associates in Malaysia, Cambodia and ASEAN, The United States, Australia, and around the World.

Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I wish you all a Happy Gong Xi Fai Cai. Let there be Peace, Justice and Development for all.– Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

I also wish to thank you for your comments and support of http://www.dinmerican.wordpress.com and look forward reading them  because they make me a better human being.

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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

http://www.themalaymailonline.com

 

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

COMMENT by FA Abdul
http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

cina,sayur

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!