Friday, May 27, 2005

A Bird Country

There is a country somewhere which I wish to call Birds Country. Its called that because most of the people of that country mostly have birds brain, they cannot think, they always wait for others to think for them. And they mostly have no initiative, they tend to wait for their Government directives or Government subsidy in living their lives. And they do not think out of the box, they only have two boxes of thinking in their lives, US and THEM. They know no other box or boxes, and they do not now know how to create the other boxes.

Its a lovely country, in the tropic where the sun shines all the year round (except for a short monsoon season which may flood the towns and countryside) and the beaches are heavenly, fine sand, clear water and the water on the beach laps the beach like a dog lapping its drink, very carefully. And the swaying coconut palms on the beach and in the country side, and the arecca nut palms trees swaying in the wind, rivers used to have very water slowly flowing and in some parts meandering but now have mostly been polluted due the carelessness and greed of these bird brain people. Most do not know how to love their water system. Don’t talk about the water in the rivers and streams, even their piped water is dirty, (so water filters are selling like hot cake over the whole Bird Country). And the lushes rain forest, its an envy of those coming from countries of the coniferous forests.

The country has a glorious history, occupied originally by the original natives, migrants probably from the up-country countries in the north and probably some from the islands nearby. They lived and easy life, followed whatever beliefs (and religions) that flourished at that time. Soon a strong State came into being and the people converted into the religion of the leaders, (as usual), they being the followers. But news of their wealth reached the ears of some greedy monkeys from overseas, who were very greedy because they wanted more riches to enrich their kings and religious leaders. So they came from those distant land and conquered this Bird Country. And the people just ran off halter skelter into the jungle and soon they forms pockets of shanty towns and distant villages in other parts of the original Bird Country, out of reach of this new conquerors. And these new shanty towns and distant villages expanded, found new wealth, in the jungle and underground. And as usual they soon quarreled, and they went to war, tribes against tribes. Until a new force came into being.

This new force are also the same creed of greedy people who were in search of wealth. And in the process of searching for and getting the wealth they needed to control countries and people that had the wealth. So instead of going to war like the original new comers, they pretended to negotiate for peace of all the warring parties concerned. These bird brain people of the Bird Country not knowing the new arrival’s agenda soon were at the beckon and calls of the new arrivals. Advisors so they said. To the various States laws and spiritual leaders, who by now have become Warlords, Masters themselves to the subservient bird brain people. But the Advisors have bigger agenda up their sleeves. The new arrival leads a new life in the Bird Country and the bird brain people of the Bird Country also enjoyed their lives, either the old ways of life or the new ways of life as introduced by the new arrivals, at least some of them. But the bird brain people are the lazy type by the new arrival standard, so to get the riches of the land the new arrivals imported people who were very poor, to work for them, people from the populous countries in the west and north east of the Bird Country. They came by the hordes, they worked themselves to death and soon captured most of the wealth for the master and from their master, the new arrival force (now called colonialist). The natives of the Bird Country just looked on, not understanding what was happening and what had happened and those who understood had already been ‘paid’ by the colonialist or their agents. In fact until today the natives of the Bird Country can easily be bought over, with favours, gold, women, drinks and as cheap as ‘batik’ cloth.

Then things happened, when a hordes of strong group of people in the same continent drove the colonialist out and a new force ruled Bird Country for some years. Most people in Bird Country suffered but it was really depending on how you take suffering to mean. Food wise and treatment of the locals were different from the colonialist days, but the invasion brought in a new spirit of wanting to rid of the greedy colonialist. They asked questions on why should the old colonialist be allowed to return and rule Bird Country. But the colonialist soon returned, but some people still fought, not against the invaders who have now been defeated but the colonialist. And majority of the Bird Country people who fought the colonialist through clandestine mean were those whom the colonialist brought into Bird Country to work at getting and exploiting the Bird Country’s wealth. especially the older immigrants whom the colonialist brought in earlier. Why? They wanted the Bird Country to become their new Homeland or an extension of the old original Homeland. There are others who were also fighting the colonialist but by peaceful means, through peaceful political negotiations. Without doubts some original Bird Country natives also fought along the clandestine side.

A small hit and run war ensured, but the colonialist with the help of the original Bird Country natives and also the newer Bird Country immigrants soon defeated this now uprisings, (but it was after a couple of decades of tension on both sides and hundreds of deaths, maimed or killed and a lot of hardware expended). The colonialist being sharper in their wits then knew that they could stay in the Bird Country longer so gave away to the peaceful demands of the Bird Country people. Soon the colonialist went home, giving all the running of the country to the bird brain people. And the bird brain people rejoiced, in fact they celebrate the going of the colonialist every year now, with all sorts of empty slogans, just to make the people happy or ‘patriotic’ as they call it.

And the country a few years later expanded to take in the neighbouring States, they combining reluctantly of course, I mean those neighboring States, with all sorts of conditions put in. And this new combination did not please other neighbouring States, and a small ‘war’ soon developed. But the former colonialist came to the rescue; why not they have left a lot of their wealth in Bird Country, in trust to be taken care of by the new bird brain leaders. And soon the ‘war’ ended with a peace agreement. The excuse? We are brothers. But trouble still brewed, until the thorn in the flesh was thrown out.

The new Bird Country leaders originally were very liberal, everything ‘can do’. But soon this ‘can do’ attitude was taken advantage of, and a new uprising occurred which resulted in the ‘can do’ changed into ‘I will give you subsidy’. It was that originally and later it became ‘I give you subsidy if you support me’. Anyway that was later. Meanwhile the uprising was a crushed, and a new person took the helm. With the subsidy mentality widely and quickly spreading throughout the Bird Country, the whole country side was turned into economic machines, starting with agriculture and soon small industries, and Corporations, followed by Boards, and many Companies were formed to be managed by the bird brain people. Some soon failed and others survived until today, mostly barely surviving, with many bird brain people sucking the milk of these so called ‘cashed cows' - the newly formed Corporations, Boards and Companies. These became basically the bird droppings, formed by bird brains and financed by the Government, not the private sector. And many have been taken advantage of by the newcomers taken in by the colonialist, but not taken over as there are provisions in the Laws that these Companies and Corporations are ‘protected’. And the bird people remain to manage these Companies and Corporations, some enriching themselves and their families. So life goes on.

When this new dynamic leader mysteriously passed away overseas, and his body brought back to ceremoniously buried, a relative of his took over and the country was run as an ‘also run’ country. Nothing really improved, just carry on as usual. Then he died and new punky leader took over. He is not really of a bird brain origin but he claimed to be, he is originally (but nobody dared to say that) from the same tribe that was brought in by the colonialist, but probably not in different boat, probably the original family came voluntarily because others came so they came. To cut the story short he soon established himself, took control and ruled the bird brain people into ‘his way’ of thinking. Even the traditional and spiritual leaders of the bird brains people were in his grasps. The bird brain people was just waiting for some one with bigger bird brain to guide them. And he got his way in everything and anything (almost absolute power) and the country progressed to the likings of the then so called ‘westernised’ people, though this new bigger bird brain is always making dry remarks about the West. He started to sort of revolution into progressing the country, spent what ever the country had to fit his schemes, no limit, no question and ‘do as I say’. Of course he is very diplomatic about it, but with like "Do as I say or else.........." This was when I suspect where corruption began to rise, to get things done many had to be paid, from top to bottom, from the moral guardians to the countrys custodians, and many of the new leaders family members , and colleagues, and hordes of team members, jumped into the band wagon to reap the benefit of his presence and get what ever benefits that can be gotten, legally or illegally. And many also were pulled in by the new leader into the economic stream, many benefited but also many failed and a lot of the country's wealth had been wasted or squandered, unaccounted for but nobody asked. Nobody dared to ask or else........................,everything and everybody knew what would pounce on them if too many questions are asked. And you cannot ask too many questions as well for everything now made Government Secret. That was the best protection they put in so that nobody asked. Everyone stood in line or else............

After more than 2 decades he decided to leave. But not before he insulated himself. And done very well as well, now he is untouchables, deeds and all. He now shines in the eyes of his followers, and even not his followers see him as shining, or else............................

The new man at the helm now had promised to do everything, to right all wrongs, that was what he said at the start. But its easier said than done. The effect of the 2 decade of near full power rule is too ingrained in the society, its not easily erasable, its like permanent ink. You wash it, you create a smear. To rid of the ingrain (it has ingrown as well, taken roots, a culture) is like getting rid of culture, and you cannot get rid of a culture overnight unless you introduce another acceptable culture, which is mean task. Some took a century, and Prophet Mohammed took 23 years to unite the Arabs in the Arabian Peninsular. Even then until today the external forces are so strong that whatever Prophet Mohammed did 1400 years go is now being gnawed to crumble the foundation. With Allah's help I pray that it will not crumble.

Now the new Bird Country leader as I said has a mean task ahead. And added to that I think he has a shaky team, (in my opinion), that Bird Country may face a difficult days ahead. Unless the bird brain people change, but not taking in elephant brain as an elephant is big but only sees theworld as very small. The bird brain people have to turn into the ‘sang kancil’ , a legendary clever figure of certain people of this world.

To Shout Back

Monday, May 23, 2005

Trappings of rural/kampong life - "Balek kampong".

This write up is specifically targeted at readers, especially Malays, who are over 50 years old and whoever has lived in Malaysia (or Malaya then) over that period.

It is very romantic when people say, "Balek kampong", which may be directly translated as ‘going back to the village’.. or the rural. Yes, its nice to go back to the roots, the village, the rural, where you may meet all your relatives and old friends who grew up with you (be they having been in the kampong all their lives, or also like you, on a ‘balek kampong’ trip). See the old mango or rambutan trees, see the chicken pen, see the goats and the buffaloes. And of course the old surau or the mosque where you used to go (I am assuming that its a Malay/Muslim kampong). And probably the old river where you used to swim (or jumped down feet first from the branches of trees on the river bank into the deeper part of the water in the river) when you were a small boy (or girl - but girls in my kampong did not jump down from tree branches into the river) growing up in the kampong.

What comes to my mind today is, is it really that romantic to go back to the kampong? Maybe an occasional visit at a time of family gathering or celebration, at the time of illness or a death of close family member or a close relative, or at a time of marriage of a distant cousion. Its probably fun I suppose even to make visits to the kampong when the pressures of urban life gets into you. But would you really live in the kampong? Nowadays the kampong is quite modern with all the facilities such as piped water, electricity supply and telephone services. In some kampong there are even the rubbish (refuse) collection services provided, for a fees to the town council of course.

Recently I even thought about the kampong being a tourist attraction. Its a long shot but maybe its worth thinking about, even implementing it if there are enough people interested in the idea. But of course you need the finance, the organiser and the cooperation of the kampong folks to make it a success.

The romantic of living in the kampong has a history. Many Malays especially those born in the rural areas and probably also grew up in the rural areas. The kampong house where I was born looked like this. I grew up there till I was about 10 years old when I left the kampong to go to a school in town, return occasionally for terms break (semester they call it nowadays) and never to come back again full time after that. The house is no more there, its gone forever. It used to belong to my grandfather, where my grandmother lived after my grandfather died, and where my father and his brothers and sister gathered during festivities, and all cousions came during marriages, and during the time of the Emergency where we all stayed the night, to feel safe among relatives. Quite safe then, we were never interfered with despite our house being remote and Communist party member used to commute near our house on the way to attach the village headman house, which they never over run anyway even after so many attacks.

However let us be realistic about it. In the kampong, it was no fun to live in 50 years ago. You are remote, you are among a close community even though your houses are spread around. Each house used to be about ½ km on an average away from each other, connected only by narrow footpath through sometimes thick undergrowth, though the lucky ones especially near where the mosque is built and probably where the flimsy wooden community hall is built may be just about 100 m apart. The roads were not paved, as I said only earth footpath where during rainy season can be very slippery, and you may find small leeches waiting to stick on to you to suck your blood. And at night it was very dark, unless there was moon in sight, and you do not go about walking at night for fear of wild animals, or snakes or even scorpions on the path which you may step on (and be bitten by). In the day time you might see a few wild pigs roaming around, some time the whole family of wild pigs, or even a whole tribe of wild monkeys of all species. You have your own compound though, and most of these villages were on the riverine Yes, it was convenient to be near the river, for transport, for water supply, for fishing, and of course a place for washing and toilet. But we never build our houses so close to the river for obvious reasons. Crocodiles may climb up your house at night for example, or a flash flood may occur which will inundate your house, and drown everybody, especially during rainy seasons. And in those days we had a lot of chicken roaming about under the house, some may run into the fast flowing river, and where do you actually throw away your waste water? To under the house of course, which results in them going into the river, polluting the river and preventing you from washing your clothings in the river. We normally have our house about 100 meters away from the river, as precautions, and usually on a higher ground. And on the rivers edge we used to have the jetty, floating normally as you can never tell the tide behaviour, their ups and downs depending on the level of the water upstream of the river which are never of constant level, depending on the season - dry or rainy.

Of course you may build your house away from the river, like this. But in those days there was no piped water so you have to dig wells. And you could not dig anywhere, you need to dig where the water level is high, so most likely these are found near in valleys or padi fields. Thus resulting in houses being built, away from the river but nearer the padi fields. Why? For ease of getting water and at the same time to work on the padi fields. Same conditions as those near the rivers except that sometimes the houses are built on the ‘islands’ in the padi field. Thus if you were to go to padi fields you may find the ‘islands’, green patches with houses, coconut trees or areca nut trees, among the green of newly planted padi seedlings or the yellow of the ripe padi or when there is no padi yet in the watery muddy patches, though the islands are really on very dry part of the padi fields. How do you get there? By raised bunds in the fields in those days, now of course there are roads.

How do these people earn their living? They planted padi, for sale or for their own use, they tap rubber as there were quite a number of rubber small holders living in Malay villages, they rear chicken or goat or buffalo for their protein and the buffaloes also used to plough their padi fields. And sometimes they search for jungle products such as rattan or wild fruits, honey or even camphor to be sold to traders in town, which are normally only some km away. How do they go to these towns?. Other than by boat, they may walk or those rich enough and who can afford bicycles cycled to town.

Usually the folks die young. And the children usually go to the local/rural Malay school to get normal education, and the village Imam to get religious lessons; in the case of a Malay village its always the Quraan reading and the other basics of religious livings. Most grow up to be Teachers. Those lucky ones will go to schools in town, and most never come back to the kampong except occasionally. Someone in one discussion has sum it nicely like this:
So and so School has produced Very Clever & Creative Old Boys -- who work hard to become successful as businessmen, capitalists, professionals etc so that : (1) they can ran away from the problems they used to face in their old kampongs with poor sanitation, ecology and environment degradation and never bother to bring about paradigm shift in country planning for the better! (2) they avoid the feudal kampong or aristocratic life and now lives in hill tops [even condos] never again to be closed to COMMON people who are nuisance to them; and continues to perpetuate good old feudal system of they and us! (3) they turn away from imparting their less fortunate by their persistence in borrowed/imported knowledge unlocalised to the idiosyncrasies of the tropical conditions ! (4) they shirk from leading the masses by the scholarship in the more sacred affairs. Who wouldn't want to become Rich & Famous!
Very aptly worded.

There are also houses built on the beach, not really on but close enough in the coconut tree groves. These are mostly fishermen who need to go to sea when the water is calm, and who needs to pull in their boats on to the beach after arriving back from the sea. Very romantic on picture but these people lead a very hard life then. And mostly are enslaved by a system where the fish are ‘sold’ even before they go to sea, to rich folks on the mainland. These are actually the middle men who squeezed the blood out of these fishermen. The system works and thus its a vicious circle where they are interdependent on each other, with the middle men making the most profit. The system still exist today.

Hard though the life was then, the romance still continues. Come annual celebration, everyone heads out of town to "Balek kampong". A time will come when there is no more kampong to go back to. Its is now the 21st Century, and the old ways has to change to keep up with time for the race and the nation to survive.

To Shout Back

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Nostalgia of Old Malaya.

Old town in Malaya as I remember it.

Changes has occurred so fast in Malaysia today that before you know it you are in a different world. The old days are gone and a new world emerges, a new civilised world, a world that leave you breathless to catch up with, event moves so fast that you are lost in your own little world. Unlike the old days where time moved slowly, people were different, more friendly, visit each other often, changes occur slowly, and scenes do not change very much.

I remember the idlic Melaka , the Melaka of old, Melaka when trishaw was a king of transport in town. Slow moving, convenient, no hassle and just plain sitting on three wheels with a driver behind you. I remember Jonker Street as it was, a peaceful cool place to walk by then but has now turned into a tourist place with antiques and restaurants. And the inside of these Jonker Street Chinese houses are a wonder by itself, a wide courtyards with sometime even fountain/s in them. Most of these are now rebuilt and commercialised. The Melaka of old was a place to remember. The new Melaka is vibrant, busy and full of traffic, cars, one way streets, narrow but still accessible.

And Kuala Lumpur has changed so dramatically that anyone been here 50 years ago is a stranger in the City now. As usual then life in Kuala Lumpur was slow, and I remember when I was a small boy going to the Railway Station from Melaka Street bus station by trishaw. The distance must be about 2 km over, the old man cycling the trishaw sweating away, cycling slowly with my uncle and I and some luggage on it; the worst part was when he had to go up hill at the Victory Avenue then (now called Jalan Raja, I think - I stand corrected or is it Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin?). Trishaw of similar size and make as found in Melaka except that the Kuala Lumpur trishaw had the carriage was at a side, left side of the bicycle if I remember properly. Whereas those trishaws in Melaka and Penang then, the carriage was in the front (on the older version but has since changed their carriage positioning). I don't know why the difference.

Kuala Lumpur had the famous Masjid Jamek then, its still there. The biggest mosque in Kuala Lumpur before Masjid Negara was built.

The various scenes of Kuala Lumpur are still deep in my mind. In fact these scenes were everywhere in Malaya/newly formed Malaysia then, but I remember most of those found in Malaya, especially in Kuala Lumpur when I was a small boy - before Malaya got independent from the British.

The Indian Newspaper shops usually attached themselves to the outside walls of shop houses selling from newspapers to bananas to garland, to betel nut leaves & concoctions, and maybe even shavers and nail clippers.

The simple old man tailor at shop corners, usually Chinaman, not only taking made to order and measured on the spot shorts, trousers and shirt, made to measure, but also repairing of torn garments and sewing of missing buttons.

The road side key makers, with simple tools, also usually and are still Chinaman, and where you could wait while he makes your duplicate keys. In those days everyone was in no hurry, so he just took his time.

The road side barbers, mostly Indian then but in this picture a Chinese man. As a small boy then that was the cheapest way to get your hair cut, other than going to the village barber or the traveling barbers, which were quite a number in those days. They actually came to your house to just give you a hair cut.

And of course in towns there were many Chinese and Indian temples such as this one. I think this picture is not of a temple in Kuala Lumpur as the trishaw shows that it had a front carriage. I am not sure where this temple is. But similar temples may be found in Kuala Lumpur.

And moving up north a good stopping place was Penang. Its a bigger town, then, than Melaka (both are of City status now) but smaller than Kuala Lumpur. Here is a street scene of Penang in not too distant past. See the scene of a bigger place, even then, but also observe that in those days most sign boards were in Chinese. It has since been changed to mostly English and Bahasa Malaysia.

Of one particular interest in Penang, in fact in Kuala Lumpur and probably in most towns in Malaya then, was the Anglo-Indian architectural style of the shop houses. Business at the bottom i.e. ground floor, and living quarters on top. And a 5-foot way where pedestrians can walk in the rain and the hot sun.

Those days are gone, now modern buildings have taken over the towns, (and Cities) mostly multistorey blocks, and cars and taxis have taken over trishaws, except for trishaws used for tourist attractions, barbers are now called hairdressers, tailors operate from shopping complexes and they no more sew torn apparels or replace missing buttons or even made to order shorts, trousers and shirts as these now can be bought over the counter ready made, street fruit stalls (at least most of them) taken over by supermarkets and hypermarkets, and there are many mosques and temples and churches. But Malaysia being a predominantly a Muslim country there are many big mosques in all towns and cities.

You may still find key makers in towns but they use modern tools and make exact duplicates of keys and electronic remotes almost instant. And newspapers get delivered to your houses in the morning, or you can buy them at proper news stands with them no more selling bananas, garland or betel leaves.

The past are just nostalgia. A new Malaysia has emerged.

To Shout Back

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Can I, a Malay, survive in the 21st Century Malaysia.

I am a Malay (net defined) by birth, and by the terms in Malaysia today I am also a Malay (old defined) with all the Malay culture, privileges and rights. By virtue I was born in one of the Sultanate States I am also the subject of one of the Sultans in Malaysia .

I was born when the Japanese invaded Malaya but somehow we still owed allegiance to the British, so I may say that I was born during the Japanese/British era. I was a mere baby to remember what happened during the Japanese occupation, but my parents (I was told) had to run away into the nearby jungle to escape the Japanese invaders. But we were then living in the rural area so we did not have much contact with the Japanese. And after the Japanese left, the British came back; I remember the era well. The era when the British opened many Malay schools and I went to one of them, the era when the Communist Party of Malaya became the "Terrorists" who murdered people and wherever they went burning houses and shooting at the village headman houses at night. (These village headmen were British appointed) The British then was in full control so they organised Home Guards to guard the villages and Special Constabularies to guard the rubber estates, the tin mines and the new villages, and in some cases the towns as well. The Police Force was expanded and the Malay Regiment were made into more Battalions. There was an undeclared war. I grew up in the mids of these trouble.

Honestly, except for shooting incidents in my village when the so called "Terrorists" came at night to shoot at the village headman house I did see any major trouble. The funny thing was that none of the villagers got killed. Maybe seeing the British troops and the Gurkhas carrying dead bodies of the "Terrorists" slung over wooden poles a couple of times when I visited the towns where the British and Gurkhas troops made their presence.

And then I went into a fully residential school in another state and there I only heard about some Australian troops being ambushed and killed. I never saw any untowards incidents, thank God for that. Then I went overseas for further studies, and there life was very different from what I left behind in Malaya. Then Malaysia was formed, the Confrontation by Indonesia came into being but I was away from home then to witness it. When I came back to Malaysia, everything was almost at peace, except for some remnants of the Communist Party of Malaya at the Malaysian/Thai border and in Sabah and Sarawak. Nothing really threatening though the situation was quite tense. The worst period as far as I can remember was the incident of racial clashes on May 13th 1969 . (or try this site for more detail on 13th May 69). There are not many books written on the incident, but there is a Government official report on that.

I had a good career in my profession until I retired at the beginning of the 21st Century. By then Malaysia has progressed, tallest building in the world , with its own ‘underground’ trains, and locally manufactured (supposedly) Proton cars. And I had taken part in making the progress, though not directly but enough to say that I contributed unseeingly.

Now imagine me living in the 21st Century Malaysia where it is a 3rd world country with a 3rd world mentality but having a 1st world progress (of Kuala Lumpur). And me feeling a misfit in all these. I have lived my life, have traveled half the world and have seen other civilisation, and here I am trying to adjust to a situation far different from those other world civilisation, unique in a sense that it is multi-racial, multi-religion, multi-language and yet living in a peaceful environment. At least on the surface its peaceful, and I hope what we see is what we get. And Malay forming the dominant race and Islam the State Religion. Its a dicey situation.

This is one of the best poem on the Malays. Penned by the late Malay poet, Usman Awang on 29 Nov. 1999 (I think, but some can correct me here). It was written in Malay - the bracket part is my translation (also open to correction).

Melayu itu orang yang bijaksana (The Malays are wise beings)
Nakalnya bersulam jenaka(They are mischievous and jovial)
Budi bahasanya tidak terkira (They are very polite)
Kurang ajarnya tetap santun (But they are also crude)
Jika menipu pun masih bersopan (When cheating they are still polite*) *smiling
Bila mengampu bijak beralas tangan. (When giving support, they do so with both hands) Melayu itu berani jika bersalah (Malays are brave even when wrong)
Kecut takut kerana benar, (Will not be scared in truth)
Janji simpan di perut (Promises kept inside self)
Selalu pecah di mulut, (But broken by oral)
Biar mati adat (Let tradition dies)
Jangan mati anak. (Not the children)
Melayu di tanah Semenanjung luas maknanya: (In the Peninsular, the definition of Malays is very wide)
Jawa itu Melayu, Bugis itu Melayu (The Javanese is Malay, Bugis is Malay)
Banjar juga disebut Melayu, Minangkabau (Banjar is called Malay, Minangkabau)
memang Melayu,(are Malays)
Keturunan Acheh adalah Melayu,(From Aceh is a Malay)
Jakun dan Sakai asli Melayu,(Jakun and Sakai* original Malay) *the Aborigines
Arab dan Pakistani, semua Melayu (Arab and Pakistani, all Malays)
Mamak dan Malbari serap ke Melayu (Mamak and Malbari absorb as Malays)
Malah mua'alaf bertakrif Melayu (Even converts are called Malays)
Dalam sejarahnya (In history)
Melayu itu pengembara lautan (Malays are seafarers)
Melorongkan jalur sejarah zaman (Giving ways in ancient history)
Begitu luas daerah sempadan (So wide is the bordered area)
Sayangnya kini segala kehilangan (But now all is lost)
Melayu itu kaya falsafahnya (Malays are rich in philosophy)
Kias kata bidal pusaka (Figure of speech is inherited contained)
Akar budi bersulamkan daya (The root of gratitude is laced with initiative)
Gedung akal laut bicara (Treasure of thoughts is sea wide)
Malangnya Melayu itu kuat bersorak (Unfortunately the Malays likes to boast*) *shout/rowdy
Terlalu ghairah pesta temasya (Likes celebrations a lot)
Sedangkan kampung telah tergadai (Even when the village is mortgaged)
Sawah sejalur tinggal sejengkal (Padi field wide left a palm width)
tanah sebidang mudah terjual (land owned easily sold)
Meski telah memiliki telaga (Even if he has a water-fulled well)
Tangan masih memegang tali (The hand is still holding the bucket rope)
Sedang orang mencapai timba. (While others has already got to the bucket)
Berbuahlah pisang tiga kali (Even if all the while the bananas trees has fruited three times over)
Melayu itu masih bermimpi (The Malays still be dreaming)
Walaupun sudah mengenal universiti (Even if have been through the university)
Masih berdagang di rumah sendiri. (Still a foreigner is his own land)
Berkelahi cara Melayu (Fighting the ways of the Malay)
Menikam dengan pantun (Dueling by speeches in ‘pantun’ form)
Menyanggah dengan senyum (Visiting with a smile)
Marahnya dengan diam (Anger in silence)
Merendah bukan menyembah (Body lowered without bowing)
Meninggi bukan melonjak. (Standing not too high)
Watak Melayu menolak permusuhan (The Malays avoid enmity)
Setia dan sabar tiada sempadan (Obedient and patient without end)
Tapi jika marah tak nampak telinga (But when angry cannot be traced)
Musuh dicari ke lubang cacing (The enemy will be followed to the worms hole)
Tak dapat tanduk telinga dijinjing (If not hold by the horn, pulled by the ears)
Maruah dan agama dihina jangan (Reputation and religion not be put down)
Hebat amuknya tak kenal lawan (Will amok whoever the enemy)
Berdamai cara Melayu indah sekali (Peace making the Malay ways is most beautiful)
Silaturrahim hati yang murni (Maintaining relationship is heartily concern)
Maaf diungkap senantiasa bersahut (Forgiveness is readily given)
Tangan diulur sentiasa bersambut (The hand when extended is always received *) *in good faith
Luka pun tidak lagi berparut (The wound even will not have scars)
Baiknya hati Melayu itu tak terbandingkan (The good heart of the Malays has no comparison)
Selagi yang ada sanggup diberikan (Whatever have is always to give)
Sehingga tercipta sebuah kiasan: (Thus compose a metaphor)
"Dagang lalu nasi ditanakkan ("Traders passing, rice is cooked*) *and served
Suami pulang lapar tak makan (The husband on returning will go hungry)
Kera di hutan disusu-susukan (The monkey in the jungle is given milk* ) *usually breast milk in those days.
Anak di pangkuan mati kebuluran" (A child in her arms dies of hunger")
Bagaimanakah Melayu abad dua puluh satu (What will the Malays be in the 21st Century)
Masihkan tunduk tersipu-sipu? (Still bent over and shy?)
Jangan takut melanggar pantang (Don’t be afraid against the forbidden)
Jika pantang menghalang kemajuan; (If the forbidden in the way of progress)
Jangan segan menentang larangan (Don’t be scared to go against off-limits)
Jika yakin kepada kebenaran; (If confident of the truth)
Jangan malu mengucapkan keyakinan (Don’t be shy to be of confident)
Jika percaya kepada keadilan (If confident of justice)
Jadilah bangsa yang bijaksana (Be a wise tribe)
Memegang tali memegang timba (Holding the rope and the bucket)
Memiliki ekonomi mencipta budaya (Owning economy and create culture)
Menjadi tuan di negara Merdeka (Be a master in the Independent State)

The last few lines are indications of what is expected of the Malays when living in the 21st Century. And I am going into that era. But I am not getting any younger, so the advice is probably good for the younger Malays.

But 21st Century may be strange to me, but to the younger Malays it will be a challenge of survival, a challenge of keeping their religion intact, their language not perished and their way of life suited the new era. And their country at peace.

Can I as a Malay survive if I were to live in the 21st Century Malaysia? I know that I would, and I know that I can adapt to meet the new challenges. But I also know that the traditional definition, culture and habits of the Malays as written by the late Usman Awang has to be changed to suit. And the shackle of the Malays has to be got rid, privileges reduced, political parties playing less influence on their daily lives, and be less greedy if the race is to survive. The argument (till the cows come home) is always in the chicken and egg situation - Malays depend on their strong political parties to survive. My question is for how long?

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Friday, May 06, 2005

The power of batik.

Can anyone define batik? My simple definition is a cloth decorated with flowery design using wax as a mean of controlling the colour input and also of the design. I may be wrong and I am not arguing about it. Originally these batik cloth are hand made but today many of these batik cloth are machine made, in factories, nice flowery design but not authentic. In Malaysia batik were originally made in Trengganu and Kelantan but today they are made everywhere, but the pattern are still of traditions as per made in Trengganu and Kelantan. In Indonesia, the design is a bit more refined and made on finer cloth than those found in Malaysia. I am told that Indonesia has a longer batik making tradition than in Malaysia. I think if you give a present to ladies you might like to give the Indonesian batik rather than those made in Malaysia. They would appreciate it more. If you are giving that to a Malay lady but if you are giving it to a foreign tourist they can hardly tell the difference. Tell me if I am wrong. But over the years Malaysian batik has improved and the quality of batik manufactured in Malaysia today is more than good enough to be comparable with any batik manufactured anywhere in the world.

Why am I talking about the power of batik? I am just thinking about what batik can do in our lives. As I said, if you give a present to your wife, I being a Malay, I would think twice before giving my wife a batik I buy from Kelantan or Trengganu. Not that I am being unpatriotic but its just that in her eyes, and also in many Malay lady's eyes, an Indonesian batik has a higher value. I remember years ago when I used to go on duty to Labuan Island (its an island off the coast of Sabah if you do not know where it is), my wife always says, "Buy some Indonesian batik". I wondered why but I just bought whatever I could carry without being hassled by the Custom on going into the Labuan Airport (Labuan Island has a free port status). In some cases I even used to use the services of those who have not bought any batik to carry those Indonesian batik for me (and for us who are married). There is a quota as to how many pieces of Indonesian batik cloth one can bring out of Labuan Island. But I found that everything over on tat island is as expensive (or shall I say as cheap as in KL. I might as well buy things in KL instead of in Labuan Island). Indonesian batik is an exception, they bring them in (legally?) from the nearby Indonesian territories. I must confess that most of us got cheated when we talk about Labuan Island being a Free from Tax place. As we also get cheated when we purchase things in Langkawi (it is off the north west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and also being of free port status), things are not cheap in Langkawi as well, unless you want to buy crockery. But who wants to own so many pieces of crockery.

Back to batik, the cloth is powerful. During the period of the Prime Minister Tun Razak’s era, about 25 years ago, in Malaysia, he always wore batik during functions. So everyone followed. The batik industry flourished. But his successors did not follow him wearing batik at functions and so batik lost its glamour. But still many people wear batik during functions. And batik has been upgraded in that instead of cotton, other fabrics are made into batik. Silk is one of those fabrics, and silk batik are very popular among the higher crust of the Malaysian society. And in Indonesia batik has never lost its popularity and its design has always been very traditional. You will see that every Indonesian President (except Sukarno) wears batik. Be the President a man or a lady. As I write this, our present Prime Minister is once again encouraging people (Government servants especially) to wear batik on Saturdays and at official functions. I would therefore say that batik is once again being recognised as an industry which has the encouragement by the Malaysia Government.

In Malaysia batik has certain reputation, pleasant or unpleasant its up to your conclusion. In Genting Highland, the gambling heaven of Malaysia, to enter the Casino you have to wear batik. What if do not have one with you? At the Casino's entrance there is a place where for a fee you can hire a long sleeve batik shirt. So you gamble in batik.

And batik can also be the deciding factor in Malaysian politic, at least some time in the past. You can even get assurance of favourable votes through batik then. Some political parties in Malaysia knew that Malaysian are glutton for cheap stuff, especially the older rural folks. During Election time ten, when they went campaigning they brought a lot of batik cloth. Not the expensive kind but those they probably got free from some party members who own batik factories. So they gave away those batik cloth to these rural voters with the message that if they voted for their party candidate they will get more batik or even get more subsidy when that party forms the Government. Malaysians, especially the rural Malay folks like to receive subsidy from the Government. You see, in Malaysia, politic is cheap, (and its a mean of getting rich), if you are the candidate for the right party even if you are a dunce you can still win the election. Admittedly most candidates are not dunce really, they are just buffaloes, they get dragged by the nose by the President of the party. Why? Because if they do not want to get dragged by the nose they will not be chosen as the candidate of the party during such General Election.

Back to batik. If you happened to go to Trengganu or Kelantan, you will see many shops selling batik. In Kuala Trengganu you have to go to Pasar Payang and in Kelantan you go to Pasar Siti Khatijah. You can choose from many designs, many types of fabric and you can bargain. You will find that if you come early in the morning you can get these batik cloth cheaply, the sellers believe that if you are the first customer you bring luck to the shop; other customers will follow you and will buy more. And if you buy more you can still get them cheaper; cheaper by the dozen they say. Don't ask me whether what they believe in is true or not but I have been told that they actually believe in those superstitions. Nonsense? Not really if you are a trader, you will believe anything if you are trader, as long as you make the money. Most, if not all, Chinese believe in 'fong sueh' (correct spelling?), and even the Malays now believe in that. There was a programme where it showed one famous Chinese lady, who is supposed to be an expert on the subject, that was aired recently on Malaysian Astro TV station. And I know that many of the audience are Malays as well. Why do Malays who are Muslims believe in those things? Yes they do. And of course my Ustaz tells me that if you believe in anything that bring you luck then you have gone 'syirik', that is believing in something similar to Allah, and you go to the deepest hell for that. I believe in what my Ustaz say, but some Malay Muslims do not.

Back to batik. I do not like to wear batik now. I used to like wearing it, but I found it uncomfortable. I get very conscious of people judging you by the type and the design of batik you wear. You see, as a Muslim man, I believer that I should not wear silk clothings. And most important people in Malaysia, Muslim or non-Muslim, when they wear batik they wear silk batik. And if you do not wear silk batik they consider you of lower class. So I avoid wearing batik. I would rather wear normal shirts, probably of good design bought at a reputable shops or wear ‘baju Melayu’ on those important occasions, and I feel more comfortable in them. So I do not wear batik nowadays. And I do not own many batik shirts. Those I used to have I just keep them in storage.
Batik is very versatile. Ladies make them into blouse, skirts, ‘kebayas’, ‘selendang’. If any reader is not familiar with these terms, I cannot help. You have to ask someone else who knows. I use these terms because that is how people tell me and how I call them, nothing more than that. Like I call a cat a cat but I cannot tell the difference between a Siamese cat and a Persian cat.

I used to think that those who wear batik were sissy, until I saw Hawaiian shirts. To me then and still is, Hawaiian shirts are batik but made for a function when you are in Hawaii. Don't argue with me about this, I am ignorant of the history of Hawaiian shirt. But I still hold on to that belief whether anyone likes it or not.
So batik has a lot of pull and power. When they make batik, if batik is not in fashion they loose money. Many people depends on batik for their livelihood in this part of the world. They have re-created batik, make new patterns, new designs and on new textiles so that they do not go out of business. They create fashions as well so that its popularity does not wane. And batik power is a wonder in Malaysia, they can make or break the Government.

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