Saturday 27 February 2010

The Blue-Eyed Sheikhs

The Industrial Revolution and 'Modernisation' have wreaked havoc on our environment. We abuse our forests, our wild life, our fellow-beings in the jungles, villages and cities. We pollute the oceans, rivers and lakes and the atmosphere because of our rapacious greed and conspicuous consumption.

During the time that I have lived in this country I have read tracts and seen documentaries that put the blame for environmental degradation on the 'loss' of the rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia. Brazil gets the same stick but the condemnation is not as vociferous and damning. Of course the favourite demon today is China, the big new kid on the block, for her irresponsibility in contributing to the globe's greenhouse gases. China is after all, only copying what the West had achieved on their road to unbridled capitalism for the last couple of centuries. It seems that Western nations and their environmentalists are living up to the proverb of "Don't do as I do, do what I say".

People in the West especially, are now urged to go green or at least be seen to be green. Recycling is their latest 'hurrah' word. They are encouraged to 'do their bit' for the environment. Didn't they know that the poor in India, Indonesia, the Philippines and other poverty-stricken parts of the world have been 'recycling' for yonks when they dig and delve in their country's rubbish dumps? In Leicester for instance, recycling your clothes is suddenly an act of green faith for the good of the environment. It also has the added effect of assuaging your guilt and massaging your ego.

But hang on a moment. Besides the other rampant polluters of China and South East Asia, have we been told enough about the home-grown offenders? For example, the blue-eyed Sheikhs running Canada's 'unconventional' oil fields in Athabasca, Alberta, an area as large as Florida?
This industry of digging up tar sands or sand saturated with oil is helping to solve America's oil needs for the next century and to reduce dependency on the 'unstable' Middle East. The USA imports 20 percent of its oil from Canada and half of it comes from tar sand. For good reasons this energy source is also known as 'dirty oil'.

Firstly, two tons of earth and sand are dug up to extract just one barrel of oil. Each day, this strip mining burns up 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas which is enough to heat up 6 million Canadian homes.

Secondly, 2-4 barrels of water are required to make one barrel of oil. This does untold damage to Athabasca's watershed. It contaminates the water supply and the toxic tailings threaten fish and wildlife downstream. Despite attempts at recycling it still poses a threat to the supply of water for non-industrial purposes.

Next, just like the plight of the tropical rainforests, the extraction of this 'dirty oil' endangers the boreal forest and its eco-system. The survival of the black bear, caribou, moose and migratory birds are at dire risk just like the orang-utan and other wildlife in the forests of Borneo. (It is a shame that mooses and the caribou don't look as cuddly as the orang-utan.) One can say that the health, livelihood and culture of the Canadian tribes like the First Nations and the Metis are as threatened as the Penans and other tribal groups in the tropical rainforests of South East Asia and South America.

As to the release of greenhouse gases, it has been reckoned that by 2011 the Athabasca oil industry will burn up enough gas to release annually 80 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. It produces more CO2 emission than all of New Zealand! And yet we hear very little of this but plenty of criticisms about the palm oil and bio-fuel industry of the tropics. Even Britain's favourite shopkeeper, Marks and Spencer has taken up cudgels against palm oil in its biscuit labels. (see 25 January 2010) It's all part of a design to be 'whiter than white' and to demonstrate their credentials as a kosher-green Store. Where is their conscience when they dumped 5,000 textile jobs in William Baird and Daks-Simpson in Britain (1999) so that they can buy their supplies from cheaper manufacturers overseas? Think of the CO2 emission in transporting these M&S products from source to shops.

On 11 November 2008 Greenpeace activists blocked the shipment of palm oil from leaving Dumai in Indonesia. If they have not already demonstrated their disgust with strip mining activities in Canada, I would like to see them blocking the transport of dirty oil into the United States. May I be so daring as to suggest that our Malaysian TV3 which produces some splendid local documentaries should embark on the same ecological mission and document "The Blue-eyed Sheikhs of Athabasca" - just like all those finger-wagging western documentaries on Malaysia and Indonesia.

We have a Malay saying. "We do not notice the gangrene on our chest but we are able to point at the germs across the river".
We are all culpable and capable of damaging our environment but only the powerful and the rich do it much better - and they get away with it too!

Sunday 21 February 2010


This is a song from the 1949 movie 'Racun Dunia' sung by Rubiah. My mother used to sing/hum this while rocking her grandson Shah to sleep in his 'buai' (cradle). She looked after Shah from the day of his birth. While she dearly loved all her grandchildren this one was different. He is the son of their son and it cut her deep that her husband could not live long enough to see this child. Her husband passed away just a year earlier.

This preamble was brought on by the treasured contents of my Cadburys Chocolate Box. Amongst other badges - most of them over 50 years old - was this one which belonged to my father. This number V2811 was inscribed behind the badge.

I cannot remember how this got into my Cadburys box. But you cannot imagine how chuffed I was to discover it because I can now relate it to two photo--studio photographs that have been in my rummage case for years. This is a photograph of the first UMNO meeting - chaired by my father - in our Kampung Abu Kassim.
It must have been around 1951, judging from my brother's size/age as seen in the front row with my dad. Our house - 691 Pasir Panjang Road - or rather the edge of it is just to the right of the photograph.

I can't get over this. My old man managed to get together the Malays of Pasir Panjang, specifically in Kampung Abu Kassim and Kampung Sarhad to form UMNO, just three years after UMNO in Malaya was founded in 1948 AND three years before the Singapore Peoples Action Party (PAP) was set up in 1954!!
They must have been quite serious because they had another meeting at Kampung Sarhad. Abah is in the middle row, fourth from right.

I have no recollection of what they managed to achieve and what eventually happened to this earnest enterprise. I should have asked more questions of my mother when she was still with us.

But this I know - my father's intentions. He had a fire in his belly. He wanted and tried to awaken the spirit of Malayness - at least in Singapore - during those challenging and threatening post-war years. The events and experiences of this period and the pre-war years had left an indelible mark on his psyche.

A few years before the war, he had cut himself free from employment with the Colonial Government in Selangor and like a typical anak Melayu Minang he left for Singapore to start afresh.
When the war came he endured the flight from the Japanese invaders with his pregnant wife to return to the kampung near Kuala Kubu Bharu. He described to me what he saw on that journey from Singapore to KKB - of some people substituting the picture of Chiang Kai Shek (the Chinese Kuomintang leader) for that of Henry Pu Yi (the Chinese puppet emperor of the Japanese). There is a fine line between survival and opportunism.

Later he had the fright of watching his pregnant (with me) wife almost bayoneted in the stomach because she forgot to bow her head to a Japanese soldier. After the war, he managed to escape from a lynch mob, made up of the followers of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). He had been accused of collaborating with the Japanese simply because he was not willing to actively support the MPAJA (Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army) which was mainly made up of Chinese Communists. They wanted food from the family, but there just weren't enough to go round for the children - much less to feed these adult guerillas.

During that terrible time,about 4 related families had decided to stay together to pool their resources. The adults would, at times, go hungry or survive on a diet of the inner skin of the tapioca root as a substitute for rice. Some of them suffered beri-beri. My mother also had polio then. She recalled how my 4-year old cousin, Hamdan, was always crying for more food , leaving his mother, my Mak Long in tears watching her baby's hunger.

Then came the British Colonial Government's grand design of the 1946 Malayan Union. You could describe this as 'divide and rule' so that they could go on collecting the golden eggs from the Malayan goose. There was also a tinge of the 'scorched earth' policy, now that they'd realised how the image of the superior white man had been damaged by the Japanese. The ensuing chaos of the Union would make them still indispensable.

Never will I forget my father's words : "The British will cut the ground from under your feet and make you thank them for it."

This was followed in 1948 by the Emergency or the Communist Insurgency led by the Malayan Communist Party to create what any red-blooded Malay, like my father, could foresee as a Third China despite the adamant and myopic stand of western and other non-western historians to elevate this to the Malayan War of Independence. My father was then a Health Instructor in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), based at Pulau Blaking Mati. (Today the name has been sanitised to Sentosa and is now a recreation and gambling joint.)

He was - during this time - teaching Tropical Hygiene to National Service soldiers from Britain but mainly to Malay soldiers who had been recruited from the kampungs in Malaya into the British Army because of the Emergency. He must have been aware of and pained by the deaths of these soldiers in their battle with the communists in the Malayan jungle. He never spoke to us about this aspect of his work experience. But we were told 'soft' stories like what can happen to soldiers who ease themselves in the jungle without asking for permission from the datuk-nenek (guardians) of the rain-forest. That story always made us think twice about 'marking our territory' whenever we wandered away from home during camping trips.
About a dozen or so of those men in the first photograph were soldiers from Pulau Blakang Mati.

I know for certain my dad had no wish to be a politician or to be involved in holding any rein of power. He just wanted to inform, to create an awareness of the stakes at risk in Singapore and the Semenanjung. He had hoped to instill a feeling of Malayness, a sense of unity and purpose - to secure their heritage as well as to make a meaningful move into the brave new world - so that they can progress and look after themselves and also look out for their own survival.

My dear dad had a deep and abiding sense of being a Malay - of a wider Malay front, perhaps even a sort of Nusantara. I remembered his weekly contacts and discussions with Pakcik Rahim, a Sumatran who was once a pupil of Hamka. There was talk of the Muhamadiyah Movement (not to be confused with the Ahmadiyah)in their discussions.
But he was to learn later this was but a pipe-dream. There is something in the Malay psyche that makes it easy for them to be fragmented and cuckolded. My father described it as the attitude of DENGKI or envy with hatred especially with regards to their fellow-Malays. He came to this sad conclusion because of his experience in his life of 64 years. Of course there are those who feel otherwise and who harbour a more optimistic picture of present-day Malays.

However, his daughter and his sons also went through the same 'baptism of fire' in Singapore and Malaysia. Now that I'm two years older than him and have gone through the mill of teaching in Singapore, Brunei, and Penang, I cannot help but share his sentiments. Little has changed. There's now a growing group of vocal and articulate 'self-loathing' Malays. They are not unlike the WOGs (Western Oriental Gentleman) of 50 years ago except that these are very savvy sycophants, faithful to their western 'liberal' hang-ups, almost whore-ish in their desire to be un-Malay and accommodate the latest 'flavour of the month' agenda because there's no better way to shine and prosper.

But dear Abah, there are also the antics of another group of Malays. There are quite a lot of them - the smug, modern, materialistic Malays - who have realised their dreams of being 'numero uno' with or without the need for brains.
They are conditioned to the self-serving disposition of what the English describe as "I'm alright Jack and to hell with all the rest".
In your time , you wanted awareness, freedom and dignity for your people. Now their mantra is too often "bread (lots of it) on earth and paradise for the hereafter". And it is possible to have your cake and eat it - at least for some Malays if not for all of the time.

But for those like our two street cleaners, Osman and Aisha - their world is no different from their forefathers' two or three generations ago. The middle class Malays look down on them and the Corporate Malays exploit them.

Sungguh Sayang. What a shame.

Ibarat Kapal tidak berhaluan. Like a rudderless vessel.

Wednesday 17 February 2010


'Lest we forget' - that is the inscription you'll find on all war memorials in the United Kingdom. But individuals, people, nations and cultures all have selective memories.

Two nights ago, on Monday 15 February we were watching Newsnight, BBC2's flagship news programme. Gavin Esler (the host) was conducting a discussion with an American, the former US ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker and a British military expert Colonel Tootal. Their topic? Pontificating on the progress of Operation Moshtarak or Operation Togetherness.

A previous Coalition Operation in Afghanistan was named 'Panther Claw'. Now that sounded aggressive. So this latest onslaught gave credence to the Afghanis by giving it the native name 'Moshtarak'. And to make this military operation soft and cushy it was called 'Operation Togetherness' - like a big love-in on a TV sitcom such as 'Friends' or the Oprah Winfrey Show!!! I shall however refer to this sanctimonious 'venture' only as Operation Togetherness so that the cynicism and hypocrisy of the assault will not be rendered benign.

The British and the Americans have been beating the drums days ago about their 'Coming', just like the beaters on a Boxing Day pheasant shoot. British TV showed us trails of civilians leaving their homes to escape the inevitable pounding from the air and on the ground. I was thinking, where will they go for shelter? What will they do for food? What about the children's schooling? What happens to their farms and animals? What will their homes look like once these Western Warriors have satisfied their blood-lust?

By the second day of Operation Togetherness 17 civilians had been killed. We were not informed of their gender or age. If the situation had been reversed the electronic and print media would make a meal of the vulnerabilty and innocence of these victims. They would be described poignantly as children, babies, toddlers, mothers, women, young men and so on. However, the ITV newsreader read of these deaths in a very matter of fact manner, as if it was the weather report. But when it came to the next item of news - the death of yet another Tommy in Afghanistan - it was said in hushed respectful tones. We have been getting a lot of these reverent statements each time a British soldier dies in a war of his Kingdom's making on a country of 28.1 million people whose GDP (2008) is $21.4 billion, with a per capita GDP of $760 and is the 169th lowest in the world. Two-thirds of the population live on less than $2 a day.

As for the Motherland of 62 million people (2010), the GDP is $2.7 trillion, a per capita GDP of $43,733 and is the 16th/21st (?) richest country in the world.

This sad country has endured countless invasions from Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Babur the founder of the Moghul Dynasty in India, the British in 1830, the Russians in 1979 and since 2001 the almighty invasion of the Judaeo - Christian empire.

On British TV, we hardly see any depiction of Afghanis killed in this brutal war but we are served a continuous parade of youthful British boys who sacrificed their lives fighting for democracy for these 'towel-heads' in Afghanistan. Other than the media, the little Wiltshire market town of Wootton Bassett has never failed to demonstrate their respect for their dead. That is their prerogative.
The good people of Wootton Bassett honour their military dead.

But who will respect and dignify the deaths of these victims of this unparallelled vicious and unjust invasion?

Photo by REUTERS/Stringer.
The villagers of Kunduz burying their dead (up to 90)in a mass grave on Friday, 4 September 2009 after a NATO air strike. Just another oopss!! These natives, they all look the same. don't they?

And here's a bonus picture of one of our lads. This would look smashing in the pub or in The Sun tabloid!!

And when I watch Esler and Volker and Tootal performing like guests at a homely WI (Women's Institute) Meeting somewhere in a village in the Cotswolds I ask myself, "What on earth am I doing here?".

Monday 15 February 2010

A Tin of Cadburys Milk Tray Chocolates (CsH)

Mrs G.P. Darke was my Girl Guide Captain when I was in Crescent Girls' School. She came to visit me and the family at our kampung house - partly to ask my father's permission for me to attend a Thinking Day service, in honour of Lord Baden-Powell's birthday on the 22nd of February at St Andrew's Cathedral.
She brought us this 'buah tangan' (literally, fruit of the hand) of a tin of Cadburys Milk Tray Chocolates!!
Can you imagine my joy! A whole tin of chocolates! In those days (1958/1959?), we couldn't begin to imagine the luxury of touching a piece of Cadburys chocolate, much less consuming even a tiny morsel. Kacang putih and kacang rebus (types of roasted and boiled peas/nuts) wrapped in newspaper cones- yes! But chocolates? Never ever. It was so special for me that I kept this tin all these years to store my little treasures.
So we both attended the service at St. Andrew's Cathedral. I was nervous to be in this huge and formidable structure but Mrs Darke was good company and she made sure I followed the routine.
I was so grateful to my broadminded Abah for allowing me (and Mrs Darke) to undertake what could be regarded in those days, and now, as a chancey thing to do. Then and today, such trusts can be misplaced and abused. There's always the old English proverb of 'beware the Greek bearing gifts' and our own equivalent of the 'udang di sebalik batu'. It is sad that one has to be suspicious of kindnesses and gifts pressed upon one but in our part of the world and even here in England for a foreigner like me, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Attempts to evangelize young and especially educated Muslims have been around since my school days and maybe even further back since the imperialism of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Today however, the process has become more corporatised, more perfidious and persuasive.
Although my Sixth Form History teacher Miss Then attempted to seduce me into her faith with her books and her smiles - it cut no ice with me. Thank goodness I was an unrepentant teenage hedonist then!
But any teenager at that time of life would have a lot of questions to ask of the present and the future, of having and concealing so many fears and uncertainties as to what life is all about. I wrote a letter to Mrs. Darke about some of my questions. It's no disparagement to my wonderful parents, but sometimes it is easier to talk with non-family members. Mrs. Darke replied and she was very down-to-earth, understanding and non-judgemental. As to my query about religion she simply wrote (non-verbatim), "Go and read and learn more about your faith. A religion is more than just rituals. Give Islam a chance."
Years and years later, a student of mine posed a similar question to me about his Hindu faith. I gave him Mrs. Darke's advice. "Read, and give your religion a chance".
I am glad that I did not consult Miss Then about my queries. I would be like the fly entering the spider's web! I am also pleased that this student of mine decided to talk to this eccentric and strict teacher and not to his very sweet Primary School teacher who had invited him and his classmates to her house for drinks and cakes and an introduction to Jesus and the Good News. Mrs Darke is fourth from the left in the Front Row and chubby sapling AsH is third to her right - on the edge as usual.

All humans are dead except those who have knowledge .... and all those who have knowledge are asleep except those who do good deeds .... and those who do good deeds are deceived except those who are sincere .... and those who are sincere are always in a state of worry.
Imam Shafi, Muslim jurist (767 - 820 AD)

To Jooli,
I wished I had joined USM earlier - just for the chance to know you and torment you!!

Monday 8 February 2010

Chante, Chante Pour Moi

Sing, Sing For Me

It is self-indulgent and sometimes futile to ruminate too much on the past. But when you have been a teacher for over 20 years it is difficult not to recall the thousands of lives you have touched. I have been a Che'gu (Mr or Miss Teacher) for 7 years and a Miss Hamid for 2 years and a very short spell as Mrs. B in Singapore. I put on my Che'gu's hat again in Brunei for 6 1/2 years training teachers at Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Teachers' Training College. My last stint was at USM Penang when I became Puan Maznoor teaching Spoken English/Pronunciation and Critical Reading and Writing.
The latter was a subject after my own heart and I knew I gave my students a hard time. I believe that young minds can be pushed to the limit - it is just a matter of how. Above all, I felt very privileged that I was given the opportunity to stretch their minds and though they found it frustrating at times, they met the challenge and I am very proud of them.
When I left in 1993, they gave me a parting gift of a little booklet - a token of their appreciation - which contained the illustrations I have posted here. I was very, very touched and I have kept this booklet with me despite the many house-moves we have made.
I wonder what they are doing now. I hope the authorities have recognised and rewarded their capacity for serious thinking and dogged enthusiasm for hard work.

And here's a little illlustration from me for old times' sake.
Once again thank you.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

The Aces in the Pack

from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar


Jack Straw is a survivor. He has served under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as a member of the Cabinet. When the Chilcot Inquiry on 21 January asked him about the 45 minutes claim in the Iraqi weapons dossier Straw replied, "It was an error that has haunted us ever since ... intelligence alone was never the basis for my judgement about the nature of the threat Iraq posed."
Jack Straw is also credited with making statements of strong disapproval about Muslim women from his constituency who wear the veil. He caused quite a brouhaha even before President Sarkozy got on to the game. He's quite a trail blazer, our Jack.

Alastair Campbell is a media man often described as Blair's bagman who held the post of Director of Communication and Strategy (Spin Meister to you and I) during Blair's premiership. In his testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry on 12 January he said, " Do I support it, yes. I think Britain, far from beating ourselves up on this, should be really proud of the role we played."
There speaks Blair's rotweiler-cum-Genghis Khan!

THE MESSIAH OF THE IRAQ WAR 2003. AKA George W. Bush's Deputy Dawg

Amongst other things, a sun-tanned Tony Blair told the Chilcot Inquiry on 29 January that :
1. He is "sorry" the war was divisive, but UK's security is better without Saddam. He feels responsible but does not regret removing Saddam.
In other words, the killing of between 100,000 to one million Iraqi civilians, the deaths of 174 British soldiers (June 2008) and 3,858 US military deaths (November 2007) are worth the execution of Saddam.
2. Iran is to blame for undermining post-war Iraq. At present Iran is a pain and a threat to UK, USA and Israel. Wait for future fireworks.
3. He believes "the world is safer as a result" of the Iraq War.

However Blair's performance at the Chilcot Inquiry is best encapsulated in Martin Rowson's cartoon in The Guardian of 1 February.

Now that St. Tony has made the world safer, it has enabled him to prosper and to augment his coffers. Since leaving No. 10, his earnings as a public speaker have topped £12 million. If there are any institutions or NGOs in Malaysia who want a second helping of this 'statesman's' words of wisdom, Blair can be contacted at the blue chip Washington Speakers Bureau for a princely sum of £157,000 for a 90-minute speech.

But, as a true-blue, two-toned ex-High Anglican and Catholic, I am sure money is not the only root of his priorities. He must have been quite chuffed to be given the Congressional Medal of Honour by George W. Bush on 13 January 2009. And Bush did not forget to reward his buddy from down-under, the ex-Premier of Australia, John Howard with the same gong.

Some men die in shrapnel,
Some go down in flames.
Most men perish inch by inch,
Playing little games.

(John O' Keeffe 1999)