Friday, January 2, 2009


As we ease into a new year following upon BN's spectacular loss of its two-thirds parliamentary majority last March, many of us are resigned to an uphill stretch ahead - at least where economics and politics are concerned. Looking back over the decades, I realize I have been anticipating this exciting phase in our evolution for nearly forty years. I'm talking about the mass awakening that's occurring across the spectrum on this planet right now (aided by Pluto moving into Capricorn on 26 January 2008).

In exactly two weeks all eyes will be on the Kuala Terengganu by-election. The outcome will provide a fair indication of whether we're moving forwards or backwards. A win for PAS will signal that the rakyat has truly had enough of being bamboozled by Umno/BN and is ready to venture into unknown waters on a new political adventure called "participatory democracy."

On the other hand, a win for Umno will indicate that a large number of Malaysians are still driven by fear and greed... and that the long dark night of Umno-style "guided democracy" will linger on a while more before the New Dawn finally breaks, as it eventually must.

While some are already aligning themselves with the Najib Razak camp on the assumption that he will succeed Badawi as our next PM (shudder), others are praying for a miracle - a spontaneous lifting of the curse of misguided pragmatism passed down through countless generations. What we're looking at isn't just the ill effects of 51 years of BN misrule. The problems go much farther back in time...

Somebody left a book in my van a few months ago. I stuck it in the glove compartment and immediately forgot about it... until last week when I spotted it just as I was about to drive to Tanjong Malim and catch a bus to Ipoh. So I brought the book along to read on the journey. It was an illustrated "People's history of Malaya" titled Where Monsoons Meet - published in 1987 by the Institute of Social Analysis (INSAN). A socialist primer aimed at secondary students, the comic-style book was designed for easy reading and I finished it in less than an hour - but it had significant impact.

Looking at our recent history from a non-elitist perspective reminded me how thoroughly brainwashed my parents' generation was. I recall that my mother and father thought very highly of the Brits. In the early 1950s goods produced in Hong Kong still carried the imprint "Empire Made" even though the sun was swiftly setting on the British Empire. Where Monsoons Meet effectively demolishes all notions of a benign imperialism. The colonizers emerge smelling quite foul.

The "Independence" we were granted in August 1957 was but in name. Before leaving Malaya the Brits had rigged the system so that it would always favor the capitalist elite comprising the Malay aristocracy and a handful of Chinese entrepeneurs. When the rakyat began to demand better working conditions and more rights, they were brutally suppressed through heavy-handed police action. The Communist bogeyman justified the introduction of a slew of repressive laws. The truth of the matter was: Malaya was a fat milk cow sustaining the Anglo-American economy and they couldn't afford to lose control of the country's rich natural resources.

In short, British rule wasn't quite as halcyon as it may appear to the present generation of middle-class non-Malays. Every dirty trick in the book of governance as practised by Umno was learnt during the ruling class Malays' long apprenticeship with the British Colonial administration.

In the time of the British, indentured laborers imported from India were paid 12 cents a day for their back-breaking work in the rubber estates and on the railway tracks. Even if the local currency in prewar days was worth two hundred times more than it is today, these debt slaves only received the equivalent of RM20 a day. They had to dismount from their bicycles and tabik (salute) whenever a White Tuan crossed their path. The ones who spoke a smattering of English were made mandors and were given the authority to horsewhip insubordinate workers. Rebellion against injustice in the form of trade unionism was roughly and swiftly dealt with. The word "rakyat" was as little tolerated as the word "Communist."

What happened in May 1969 with the coup d'etat masterminded by Abdul Razak Hussein (right), Harun Idris, Syed Jaafar Albar, Mahathir Mohamad, Ghazali Shafie and a few other young Turks in Umno was that a new breed of educated middle-class Malays managed to wrest a measure of power from the traditional aristocracy. In doing so, they also adopted the self-aggrandizing tendencies of the hereditary elite, hence their fondness for unwieldy honorifics and exclusive "VVIP" treatment.

Forty years down the line, we are poised on the brink of another major coup - this time involving the overthrow of a diseased and dysfunctional feudalistic concept of leadership, in favor of a more decentralized, more democratic, more egalitarian, more accountable, more interactive form of management. And we intend to accomplish this feat bloodlessly and through entirely legal procedures.

What is called for at this juncture is optimum clarity of focus and supreme resoluteness. We the people cannot waver for a moment in our desire to shake off the yoke of tyranny and reclaim our civil rights and individual authority as free citizens of a free country. Each of us now has a sacred duty to embody all the qualities we cherish - courage, honesty, compassion, integrity, wisdom, and the ability to love more and more inclusively.

We can endorse and lend our wholehearted support to leaders whose visions align with our own - but we must never become entirely dependent on them. Otherwise we will only experience disappointment and disillusionment when these leaders reveal themselves to be just as fallible as anyone else. No use pointing fingers, scapegoating and foisting the blame for failure on others.

We are the redemption and salvation we have yearned for throughout the ages.

Happy Regime Change, folks!

Interview with the Deputy Minister of Space & Tourism

For the first interview of 2009, we bring you an exclusive with the Deputy Minister of Space and Tourism!

The YB reflects on the year that was in 2008 ("nothing much happened... business as usual"), and gives us a glimpse into the world of government and governance in 2009.

The YB has served as Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Misinformation, the Ministry of Breaking Records, and the Ministry of Space and Tourism. His most recent public appearance was in Instant Cafe Theatre's KURANG MANIS: Live and Unblogged.*

Host - Fahmi Fadzil
Creative Producer - Mark Teh
Camera & Lighting - Akashdeep Singh, Aaron Chung, Fikri Fadzil
Editing - Akashdeep Singh
Motion Graphics - Zalee (Kino-i)
Web - Adam William
Sound - Hardesh Singh
'Unwelcome Words' presented by Elaine Pedley, text courtesy of Amir Muhammad

PopTeeVee © 2009

*Featuring Jo Kukathas as "YB"

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Some Happy Moments in 2008...

My former student from Mauritius, elf princess Navinia Gajeelee,
on her twice yearly visit to Magick River

Jolly joy boy Ahau Ben enjoying a DVD with his surrogate mum Mary Mabuaya

Ahau & his mama, the punk princess Anoora
Good friends enjoying a siesta on the rocks, comforted by the sound of playful waters
Joyce, Ivy & Randy at play
Roger Reginald Putra arrived shortly after RPK was released from Kamunting in November

Roger frolics with his big brother Rupert
Roger Putra invites himself to dinner with the Manjalara family


Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Chimes of freedom

Some of you will have observed that I haven't updated this blog since December 26th (incidentally the fourth anniversary of the terrible Sumatran tsunami that wiped out nearly 300,000 human lives). Not to worry, I'm alive and well, but I was in Penang for a couple of days and I didn't get anywhere near a computer. When I finally got home on December 29th, visitors began turning up in an endless stream - and they were sufficiently charming to distract me from blogging.

I was in Penang to "officiate" at the opening of Penang-based Mexican artist Ricardo Chavez Tovar's latest installation in his series, The Muse Is Not Available. Ricardo had asked me to be guest of honor at his exhibition in Kuala Lumpur in June 2007 - but I was forced to cancel out at the last minute, so I couldn't possibly refuse this time.

Getting there took a couple of hours longer than expected on account of the holiday season. Bus tickets were all sold out and I had to wait more than two hours in Ipoh to continue my journey to Penang. Once there, of course, it was really sweet to catch up with my old friend Askandar Unglehrt, surrealist artist and owner of the Armenian Street studio gallery where Ricardo's installation was being set up. Askandar met his wife Tengku Idaura (a Kelantanese princess) in Paris in the late 1960s when they were both studying French and she has since become my friend too. I enjoy discussing art with Askandar and politics with Tengku Idaura who diligently keeps up with the blogs.

Meeting a few blogger friends in Penang was an unexpected bonus and a real treat. At Ricardo's opening I bumped into the très chic Estrelita Soliano Grosse, her affable husband Stephen, and their delectable nieces, Shakunthala and Vayshnavee.

A little later, Walski and his wife showed up and drove me to Paula Khoo's residence off Green Lane where other friends (mostly bloggers) had gathered with a delicious potluck dinner to belatedly celebrate Paula's birthday.

Standing (L-R): Peng, Yew See, Walski, Philip, Daniel, Paula, Antares, Jong; Kensan (seated)

In real life, Paula Khoo is a personable powerhouse of a multi-tasker with a truly generous heart - someone I'm genuinely glad to call a friend. Walski, like his blog, is instantly befriendable and ever so smart. Daniel YKL lost his voice to laryngeal cancer a few years ago but remains irrepressibly cheerful and expressive, a most lovable guy indeed. Kensan offered me a lift back to Askandar's house and we ended up chatting till past 4.30AM. Discovered Kensan was a former banker with the most adventurous past anyone can possibly imagine!


As to be expected I slept right through my cellphone alarm and by the time I was ready to catch the bus home, it was past 3PM. When I got to the Sungai Nibong bus terminal I was told no tickets to Ipoh were available until 4:45PM, so I sat around drinking coffee with Askandar (right) till it was time to board the bus. The traffic was dense as hordes of holidaymakers were heading home. Shortly after Butterworth the blue sky gave way to a torrential rainstorm which made progress even slower.

The fat guy seated beside me busied himself with a portable video game and, I suspect, let out gas several times - the silent but deadly type. I began to feel claustrophobic and yearned for the good old days before airconditioning when bus windows could be opened to let out fetid air.

To compound my discomfort, the cold, wet weather took its toll on my bladder. After 20 minutes of trying to focus on other matters, the need to urinate turned into an intense preoccupation and blotted out all other considerations. I politely asked the bus driver to pull up at the next petrol station and he reassured me that the bus would be stopping just up ahead. That "up ahead" went on another ten minutes or so with no stop in sight...

I told the driver the situation was becoming urgent and he again insisted the restroom stop was mere minutes away. Rather than create a commotion by grabbing the wheel and forcing the driver to stop, I decided to unload at least part of the contents of my bursting bladder into the half-bottle of drinking water I had on hand. The fat guy beside me was fast asleep and the passenger across the aisle was looking blankly ahead. Furtively I unzipped my fly and inserted the tip of my willy into the bottle... aaaaaahhh.... blessed relief! The bottle was too small to hold the entire contents of my distended bladder but enough had been discharged to minimize the discomfort. I screwed the bottle cap back on and zipped up discreetly. Long time since I've lived so dangerously - boy, it felt really good!

The rain was still pissing down when we got to Ipoh around 8PM - too late to catch a connecting bus to Tanjong Malim where I had parked my van. "Try the train," the bus driver had suggested, so I walked ten minutes in the heavy drizzle to the Ipoh train station. There I was told the next train south would depart at 1:12AM, but only 3rd class tickets were available. No problem - but now I had a 5-hour wait ahead of me. Next to the station the century-old Majestic Hotel was advertising rooms at RM73 nett, RM40 for 4 hours. I figured I owed it to myself to spend the next few hours in relative comfort and booked a room for 4 hours.

Only problem was, there were no food outlets at the Majestic Hotel. The nearest eating place was a Mamak restaurant 15 minutes' walk in the steady drizzle away. Finally at 12:30AM I checked out and made my way to the station where I discovered a landslide near Taiping had blocked the tracks.

Nobody could say when the southbound train would arrive. I attempted to take a nap in a corner of the station but a raucous group of backpacking youths generated enough noise to wake up an entire cemetery. Each time I enquired at the office I was told something different. One KTM employee nonchalantly suggested I catch the early commuter to KL at 5AM. Then the signboard on the platform began flashing the ominous announcement that the next train to KL would depart at 9AM...

By this time the entire journey home had acquired a distinctly surreal atmosphere. I felt like I was trapped in a labyrinth in some interminable bad dream where the moment you think you've reached your destination the place transforms into some other location. Who could possibly have expected that a simple bus journey from Penang to Tanjong Malim could stretch out beyond 14 hours... which is ultimately how long it took me to get home (the southbound train eventually left Ipoh just before 4AM)!

The overwhelming joy I felt when I reached my van and found it safe and sound... it was at that moment I knew what my resolution for 2009 was going to be. Like Dorothy after her adventures in the Land of Oz, I resolved that in 2009 I will not leave home just to be sociable and obliging. The only inducements that might tempt me to venture beyond KL would be the offer of a substantial amount of cash (nothing less than 50k!)... or a weekend of uninhibited, uncomplicated, unprecedented sex.

View from my veranda

[Additional photography by Estrelita Soliano Grosse and Paula's husband, Khor]