Sunday, 21 May 2017

PMs Three - memories from the late twentieth century

Beware when you get to be a septuagenarian.  You reckon you are due for a change ......and deserve a peaceful sojourn on this earth in the time you've got left.

But no; a leaking roof, failing internet connection, sick pet (Rusty the cat, not the spouse), a fall down the stairs, and chronic insomnia have been on my plate since the last posting.  I  was becoming quite frustrated because a number of drafts I started could not be completed.  I put it down to decrepit old age - time maybe to settle down in my rocking chair and do something quiet and placid like embroidery!  If I were back in Leicester I could turn into a couch potato and watch re-runs of cowboy stories (like Bat Masterson) and mystery thrillers (like Perry Mason) on TV or make frequent forays to the Charity Shops in the City Centre!

Better than tidying up the clutter in AsH's head, I reckon a bit of spring cleaning could be very therapeutic.  And it was - because under the box which serves as Socks' bed I uncovered this:

My case numbered Item 94 titled 'Reference on Singapore' which arrived  in the container from Leicester to Setiawangsa in 2008.   Amongst other treasures in the case was that precious book 'Malay Participation in the National  Development of Singapore' (1971) edited by Sharom Ahmat and James Wong.

Amongst other goodies, I discovered a file of newspaper cuttings from The Straits Times in  April 1990 referring to news about Malaysia - about her Prime Ministers.

That the Chinese should be given the right to monopolise trade and commerce because they are better at it is quite a startling statement from the first Prime Minister of Malaysia.  Monopoly of any sector of a country's economy is bad news for any nation.  And to justify this in terms of the taxes that the monopolist will contribute is exactly the argument used by the chauvinists to exert their superiority and to denigrate the incapacity of the Malays!

The fourth Prime Minister's suggestion for the implementation of the NEP  (30% of the economy be allocated to the Bumiputras, 40% to non-bumiputras and the rest to foreigners) revealed another cloud-cuckoo-land vision.

"What we want to see is that the wealthy Chinese conduct businesses according to the NEP.  They should bring the bumiputra into their firms, accept him, train him to work and expose him to business risks - not just to use him as a front."

Was this the blueprint for cronyism in Malaysia? 

Whenever we come back to Singapore/Malaysia to visit the family, we spend the post-breakfast
 mornings catching up with the news.  I was just two years away from starting a teaching job in USM and when I saw these items from April 1990, I just had to bring these cuttings back to Leicester together with my supply of ikan bilis  and my mother's sambal pedas pucuk ubi/ikan bilis.  They more or less prepared me for the vagaries of  working life in  a Malaysian University.

I gave up after only two years - too much "sound and fury" (from  both the Academics and Administration) "signifying nothing".

In contrast, I worked for six and a half years in Brunei but that was a different scenario.    In 1978, when I left for Brunei, I was desperate to escape the straitjacket in Singapore!

As for the third of  my three Prime Ministers, it was heartwarming to read this of  Allahyarham Tun Razak, the second Prime Minister of Malaysia.

A  publication by The New Straits Times Press 1976

Allahyarham Tun Razak, the man ....

"In the ten years that Razak was Minister for National and Rural Development, nearly three million adults were taught to read and write.

The British took nearly a century to build two thousand schools; the Tun took ten years to build three thousand more.

At the time of independence, one million children were at school; in 1970, there were two million.  During Tun's tenure of office, nearly half a million acres of rice, coconut and other crops were provided with drainage and irrigation facilities, and more than 800,000 acres of jungle were opened for development."  (from page 47 of the above publication)

Quotes from Tun Razak:

When I was in Singapore University during the mid-60s, my (Chinese) fellow undergrads  labelled Tun Razak a racist , but they all agreed that he was made of sterner stuff than Tengku Abdul Rahman and would be a formidable leader of Malaysia.

Tun Razak was the right man at the right time to take over as Prime Minister after May 13 1969.

Maybe there will be people out there today, in their mid-40s, collecting newspaper cuttings, electronic folders, books and publications of our other Prime Ministers.  And when they become septuagenarians, they might  begin to  pore over their collection - with sad eyes and despondency.

Sunday, 23 April 2017


On 24 April 2017, the Sultan of Kelantan, Sultan Muhammad V will be installed as the 15th Yang di-Pertuan  Agong of Malaysia.

This occasion is described as an 'Installation' and not a 'Coronation' (from the word coronet which is also a crown).  Part of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's Regalia is the Tengkolok di Raja (a traditional head-dress) and it does not include a Crown. Malay Sultans are not crowned (except for the Sultan of Johor).

After 73 years, (although I spent my first 63 years as a citizen of the  Republic of Singapore)  I am just getting acquainted  with the whats and whys and hows  of this unique system of  Constitutional Monarchy.  I am just beginning to come to grips with the history and legacy of  the Lingga-Riau Empire. Their Royal Regalia is similar to that of  Malaysia's Paramount Ruler specifically items like the Keris  and the Cogan. 

 More fascinating for me is the Nobat di Raja.

Here's a video of Perak's Nobat di Raja at practice.

No,  AsH has not gone dewy-eyed over Monarchy and Royalty.  Let me describe  phases of my span when Kings and Queens became part of my education - during Colonial times and the
Singapore-in-Malaysia era.

For a short spell when Singapore was part of Malaysia in the 1960s - Singaporeans faced the prospect of having a Monarch: a Sultan who is a Malay-Muslim and carries the nomenclature of  Yang di- Pertuan Agong as the Head of State.  The closest thing they could relate to a "Sultan"  is  Masjid Sultan or Jalan Sultan, where Malays and non-Malays would flock to for Malay and Indian-Muslim  culinary delights during every Ramadan.  As for Johor, it is the nearest neighbour with a Sultan, but Singaporeans were not too impressed with the 'stories' regarding the then Sultan of Johore.

From September 1963 to August 1965 ( which coincided with my sojourn at the University of Singapore )  we sang  Negara Ku  as our National Anthem.  The line  "Raja Kita Selamat Bertakhta" carried no significance for us  and we could not connect with the institution of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in Malaysia.

But then, Singapore's very own National Anthem Majulah Singapura was sung with gusto at every morning Assembly in schools, and when a pupil was asked the title of the  Anthem, he happily gave the answer "Mari Kita"  (the Anthem's first two words)!

In Singapore, Malay might be the National Language (then), but it carried no kudos and no significance. Besides, Malay schools were flagging in their enrolment (like some vernacular Chinese schools in Malaysia today) and were left  to die a natural death, especially after August 1965.

When I was teaching at Sekolah Menengah Yusof Ishak in the late 1960s, I met a number of pupils who, in their 4th/5th year at Kampung Jagoh Malay School (Telok Blangah Road), had to menumpang at Jubilee Malay School (off West Coast Road) when their school enrolment reached a critical level.

By the 1970s/1980s Kampung Jagoh Malay School and Jubilee Malay School ceased to exist.   As they withered away, there were no voices that would or could whimper and mourn their demise.

But I'm digressing.

Interestingly, Dr Toh Chin Chye (1921-2012), a founder-member of the PAP, and a former Deputy Prime Minister (1965-1968) wanted the Anthem to be in Malay "as this is the indigenous language of the region "  and it would "appeal to all races".  A whole lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then!!

In 2001, the Anthem was re-arranged by Mr Phoon Yew Tien in "the musical key of F".  This arrangement was "grander and more inspiring" in order to make the anthem "more accessible to all Singaporeans".

[Details regarding the Singapore National Anthem were taken from]

During the courtship period between Singapore and the Federation of Malaya, I recalled an incident that stuck in my psyche - that convinced me that this "arranged marriage" would not work.   One party was chalk,  the other was cheese.  More than that, the agenda - implicit and explicit - for the merger was fraught with duplicity and opportunism.

What was the incident?

I was with some of my fellow undergrads in the Union House canteen chatting about the hottest topic on the campus - of Singapore in Malaysia.  I was the only Malay in the group.  One of the boys cheerily quipped, "Yah man, we shall have AH GONG as our Head of State!"  They were beside themselves with glee and cackle -  except Maznoor bt Abd Hamid!

After that startling revelation, I wrote an article for the Bulletin of the University's Democratic Socialist Club entitled 'SULTANS : AN ANACHRONISM? ',  I wish I had kept a copy, but in those days we were still using dinosaur technology.  In a nutshell, I stated that Sultans, like the British Colonials and the Chinese tycoons, have a place in the political makeup of the country - and especially the Sultans.  If they had not been conned and cajoled (and sometimes connived) into opening up their States, there would be no Singapore or Malaya or Penang.  Just as the British Isles is the United Kingdom, 'Government' in Malay is translated as Kerajaan.  Very flimsy ground maybe, but there's a limit to the insults and encroachment that the Malays can take.

When Singapore joined Malaysia, it became obvious that the main thrust of the PAP's agenda was to agitate for Malaysian Malaysia.   It was a glib and disingenuous mantra, which sounds like one thing, but it means another.   Today, though differently packaged it is still part of the agenda of the DAP, a clone of its cousin in Singapore.

So why did I write that article?

 I am no great fan of Royalty, local or foreign.  They were only characters in movies like 'Hang Tuah' (re the self-indulgent, unjust and effete Sultan) and 'Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah' (this time the handsome prince, which many red-blooded damsels dream of marrying).  Titles like Tengku or Raja or Syed for that matter do not leave me in awe.     But, enough is enough - just how many more apples do they want to pick off the tree??


I reckon there are some in Malaysia who will snigger, mock, ignore or at the very least tolerate this Royal ceremonial event that takes place  every five years.

However this septuagenarian remembers how Singapore and the Federation of Malaya went to town to celebrate another particular Royal Event.   Here are some images from the "Penang  Settlement Coronation Celebrations" of June 1953.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second and the Penang Settlement Souvenir Programme.

The pages relating to "The significance of the Crown in Malaya" indicates that the nine Malay Rulers are only entitled to the appellation  'His Highness', not HRH ('His Royal Highness).  Mere titles they may be but it still reveals the pecking order.  Malayans then were quite at ease and happy with this version of imported Royalty and feudalism.  How different  should they be today?

The Nine Sultans - His Highnesses taking their place in this Ceremony.

The following extracts describe the 'Historic Ceremony of Coronation'.

In 1953 I was just nine years old and we had all this procedure explained to us in our classroom.  I was fascinated by the Orb and the anointing ceremony.  Fancy rubbing  your hands and head with
"holy oil from the Ampulla which is poured into the Anointing Spoon".  And we were informed by our teachers that this means " she is blessed and consecrated as monarch and made ready to receive the royal vestments and regalia, the outward symbols of her office".  We hung on to the words to imagine all these rituals taking place.  I remember being quite gobsmacked ( though that's not the right word for 1953) and we little brown children of the British Empire sat there on the floor with glazed eyes and (some) open mouths.

The Orbs
The Mace (top picture), The Royal Sceptre and the Jewelled State Sword (lower picture)


Here's the Malaysian version.


But I must admit most of that pomp escaped us and all we wanted was the Coronation souvenir badge.

Now that I am 64 years older I find these parts of the Ceremony quite fascinating.

1. Then follows the administration of the Oath, in which the Queen, in answer to questions put to her by the Archbishop, promises to govern her people according to their laws and customs, to "cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed" and to uphold the Protestant faith.

2. The Queen then takes the Sword and goes alone to the altar and in an act of symbolism offers it to the service of God and lays it down.

3. The Bible is presented ("The most valuable thing that this world affords.  Here is Wisdom; this is the Royal Law; these are the lively Oracles of God") and the Archbishop's Benediction follows.

The Queen is then ceremonially assisted from the Coronation Chair to the Throne, and in turn the Archbishop, the Princes of the Blood Royal, and the senior member of each degree of the peerage, kneel before her to pay homage ....

Certainly the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's Installation won't be as complex and ostentatious and magnificent and sumptuous and showy as the Coronation of a Christian British Monarch whose reign covers half of the globe.  Malaysians who prefer to be Republicans can take comfort from that difference!

Finally, how did the Rakyat in Penang celebrate that joyous day?

And finally, a grand tribute from the Rakyat in Penang to Queen Elizabeth the Second -

That lottery is for the construction of a permanent memorial,  a concert hall named Queen's Hall  in Coronation  Garden.     What is $200,000 worth in today's money?

The intent of this posting - nine Sultans taking turns to be the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is simpler (and more interesting) than having a permanent lifelong monarch.  Every nation needs a figurehead Head of State.

For the Malays - whose economy, demography, government and culture have been subverted and muddled by the appetite of Britain and its compradores - please, please let them keep their Sultans .... and please, please save them from the Republicans, the puritan Arabists and all shades of Shakers and Modernisers.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Babies and Missiles - America's Trump Ca(r)d.

A few days ago we witnessed the might and triumph of the magnificent American Avenger - that of the 45th President of the USA Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump then unilaterally attacked Syria with 59 Tomahawk Missiles - effectively dismantling 20% of Syria's airforce - a very "emotional" response by a caring father and grandfather who by the way does not care two hoots about the plight of the fellow citizens of these victims of chemical warfare in Khan Sheikhoun.  After all he  has endorsed a blanket ban on immigration from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Iran.   They are all Muslim majority countries and have been and still are victims of American imperialism - especially the first four.

From Alison Weir

Will the UN and global media ever forget this drama at the UN on 5 April, performed by the American Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley?

May my 'umble self suggest more images for the Ambassador to parade?  They are all victims of American and Allied bombings, missile strikes and drone attacks - no grief or crocodile tears for them, no hand-wringing cry of "babies, innocent and beautiful babies."


Remember Operation Shock and Awe in Iraq?

2.  When two American mothers Nikki Haley  and Samantha Power (Samantha Power was Obama's American Ambassador to the UN) stood up in the UN to challenge the 'absence of shame' and the inhumanity of Assad,  we should not forget another American "hand that rocks the cradle" - Madeleine Jana Korbel Albright, President Clinton's US Secretary of State from 1997-2001.

A financial and trade embargo was imposed on Iraq by the UN Security Council (at the behest of USA and her Allies)
to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.  It lasted from 1990 to 2003.  The 2nd Gulf War, Operation Shock and Awe was carried out in 2003.

3.  And now, we have this scenario after the 59 Tomahawk (why do they use words from the Native American vocabulary, why not words like 'chainsaw' or 'Lincoln Continental' ?)  missiles that fell on Syria.

Besides the two swooners above there's the applause from a certain "foreign country" - which itself is responsible for the massacre of countless babies, and which somehow does not get tears or outcry or retribution from the likes of  Donald, Nikki, Theresa and their predecessors.

Three of the four Bakr boys killed by Israel on the Gaza beach in 2014, fleeing for their lives. (From Mondoweiss)

These are just little drops of  dead, innocent Palestinian babies in a huge ocean of  'collateral damage'.   After the last major cleanup of Gaza, groups like Save the Children could not digest the atrocities much more and they came out with this conscience-tickler,  a tad touching but not drastic enough to be accused of anti-Semitism.

What can we expect after this trumped-up farce?  For them Assad will have to go the way of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi.  Look forward to another cliff-hanger and a pent-up bloodlust scenario in the White House as seen in the "Let's get rid of that SOB Osama"  movie clip.

Obama and Clinton have had their satisfaction - next will be Nikki Haley and Donald Trump.



Friday, 31 March 2017

Aisha - Al Fatiha

After a long illness, which she bore with  fortitude,  Aisha passed away early this morning . She left behind a 22 year old son Hafiz  and a bereft husband Osman.  Her daughter died at 16, about 7 years ago  from cervical cancer which the authorities failed to diagnose.

Many a time 'Man would sit near our gate, (while waiting for Iain to drive him home) and talk about how he misses her.   Jangan makan sepinggan.  Nanti tak tahan rindu" .  'Man's mother always cautioned him about this habit of theirs, but they did not take it seriously.

He has to stay and work in KL while Aisha is lying ill in their kampung house at Kampung Air Kuning, near Kampar.  He would go home almost every weekend - a journey of nearly five hours each way - to be with her and look after her while he can.

Initially, when she was taken ill nearly 3 years ago,  'Man would do her job as well as his so that they could keep her wages going.  He would start work at 4.30 am cleaning the streets which covered both his patch and hers.  He managed to upkeep that exhausting schedule up to a year ago, when the management explained to 'Man that they could not maintain the "arrangement" and Aishah would have to "give up her job".

'Man himself is not 100 per cent fit.  He had a hernia operation about 8 months ago.  He could and maybe should be classified as an OKU because he limps very badly because of his gammy right leg.  But he persists - limping while sweeping Setiawangsa's streets and pushing his trolley.

This is a posting in loving memory of a tiny lady with a big heart - of a Malay kampung girl from a poor family - who started her working life at the age of 15 as a coolie on the Chinese vegetable farms in Cameron Highlands.  She would talk to her husband about how poor they were; when Aisha would share a plate of rice and fish and vegetables with her 3 siblings.  And by the way,  Aishah was born in 1957 - the year when Persekutuan Tanah Melayu became Merdeka!!

So don't tell me the Malays are indolent, lazy and survive only by depending on handouts from the Government!!

There's more to relate about the hard life of Osman and Aisha - about their plucky grit to get on with their life without depending on others. But my heart is too full of grief for her passing and the loving husband she left behind.

For both Iain and I, Aisha and Osman are the most dignified couple we have ever met ever since we moved to Setiawangsa in 2007.  We have enormous respect and love for them and they symbolize for me the faces of the honourable Malay gentleman and Malay lady.  A very rare breed in these days and time.


This is how I shall remember Aisha.

Aisha at work - with her stray cats.

Lunch break with her abang.

What the kampung girl left behind in and around our garden - we shall always look after them in her memory.
Pokok inai (henna)

Belimbing buluh (averrhoa bilimbi)

Daun Kesum

Finally, from the cats she loved and who loved her so:

Rusty and  Socks.

Aisha and Osman forever.

"Terima kasih 'bang, terima kasih kak".   We hear that so often from Aisha  and 'Man.

From us and the cats - the strays and the house cats : Terima Kasih Aisha for being a dear friend.

Alfatihah. Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat keatas roh nya.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

OKA (ORANG KURANG AKAL ) rules okay in Malaysia

A month is but a short time in the life of a septuagenarian - a month ago I pondered on the joy of rainy days.  Since then it hath raineth almost every day and the thoughts of AsH got stuck in this
room .....

Room with a view

........ observing the bulbul and flowerpecker enjoying their breakfast from our senduduk (the wild variety)  tree.

Senduduk flower and berries - not the garden nursery variety.
Flower of the wild Senduduk - from Pickled Herring aka Lely

Burung Merbah / Bulbul

But sometimes, AsH indulges herself with happy memories of picnics in the past.

Picnic in the Peak District 

Picnic just outside the gates of Sandringham.
Picnic (sort of) with Mus and family in the late 1990s, on the road somewhere between Scotland and Leicester!

2008 picnic along the canal in Saddington, Leicestershire with Lely.

But life is no picnic, innit?!!

Read this piece of news yesterday and it set off several buzzers.

Is Ng Pei Ven a Chinese National?  

According to a Malaysian blogger :

.......  Ng Pei Ven suffers from a learning disability.  MENCAP, a UK based charity, describes learning disability as "a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities - for example household tasks, socialising or managing money - which affects someone for their whole life"  They also "tend to take longer to learn and may need support to develop new skills, understand complicated information and interact with other people".

In Malaysia, people with such handicaps are classified as OKU (Orang Kurang Upaya) and they are allowed by law to hold a driving licence.

Read :

But it takes more than a valid driving licence to enable people to jump on to a motorbike or to get into a car and be let loose on the highways and byways.

Psychologists tend to explain errant teenage drivers as youngsters who are prone to 'risky' behaviour.  Not only that, this ego-ridden tendency is the fault of their "low self-esteem(!!) or immature thinking". Their distracted driving can also be "caused by substance abuse".  Perhaps, though the 'substance abuse' has become a fad and fashion  in the late 20th and 21st century.

However I must add a caveat here. It's not just teenage drivers who take risks with their lives and that of other innocent lives.  They cut across the age, gender, socio-economic and racial groups in Malaysia.  I've been driving here for the last 10 years and each day on the road you have to grit your teeth as you put your life and limbs in the hands (and brains) of  cretins and neanderthals.

Here's one example from our middle-class suburbia.

Very,very frequently drivers would take an immature and illegal shortcut (which runs against oncoming traffic)  to get to Jalan Setiawangsa 21 [see box in the map] instead of using the traffic light [see the tip of the arrow in the map].

One day, one fine day a dreadful accident will happen at the red triangle marked in the photo above.  More innocents will pay the price for the asinine behaviour of others.

A few days ago it was an OKU wot did it.  But the OKA  (ORANG KURANG AKAL) in Malaysia have been having a field day on many a time and many a day!

In Malaysia the OKA rules okay.

Hush, this curmudgeon had better stop.  Shall return to my retreat and look out for the birds and the tree shrew.  Might as well throw in this nostalgic song from the 70s.

Must keep soldiering on - and dream of more picnics.