Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The essence of change

I was at an Armani Exchange store at the Pavilion a couple of weeks ago. Picked up some shirts and some jeans. Nice stuff all in all. But as I headed for the counter I asked for a shirt that a sales assistant had run off to get. The sales staff I spoke to then calls out across the room a name followed by ‘Hak Chai Wan Lei’… For those who are familiar with Cantonese, loosely translated it means the black guy is calling. I was taken aback and asked the store clerk to repeat what he had just said. He looked at me startled then muttered that he had told his colleague that the customer was looking for him. Haht as opposed to Hak….We’re dealing with phonetic translations here but the semantics are clear.

I am familiar with Cantonese and know what I heard. I am however prepared to give the clerk the benefit of the doubt. But, two things struck me. One, why do we regress to our ethnic tongues in public places in front of other people who are a part of that conversation? It is uncouth, boorish and downright uncivil. A call out in Bahasa Malaysia or even in English would have been more appropriate. The other thing I noted that day? That the entire store was manned only by ethnic Chinese. I could have walked into a store in Hong Kong or even mainland China for all the difference it made to the personnel I noted there.

The more we cry out for change, the deeper we need to look into the mirror. Our daily language is littered with ethnic derogatory terms (each of us Malaysians have terms for the ‘others’; as I said look in the mirror). This should stop. We see Malaysians congregating and employed (as witnessed at the AX store) predominantly along racial lines. In meetings we regress to our ethnic tongues whilst fully aware ‘others’ can’t understand us, in fact such regression oft times being with deliberate intent.

Yet we cry out at rallies (Bersih being the most recent) for equality. To be treated with respect and equanimity. But are not prepared to give the same… So the more we cry out for change, the more we personally resist it. Or perhaps it’s not really change we want…..

Because if it is, then we should be taking a long hard look at that mirror and judging ourselves first by the standards we expect of others…..That is where it has to begin...That would be the essence of change…

Friday, August 5, 2011

1 Dystopia

It is indeed interesting to note that we live in a nation not unlike Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union. When all it takes is a phone call, an unverified complaint for the authorities to barge into your premises, invade your privacy, go through your personal belongings and generally subject you and your own to humiliation and degradation.

Have a think about that. For there are no lines here. It could happen to anyone. You have a disgruntled neighbor? Well all he has to do is pick up the phone and say there’s an unmarried muslim couple in your home and before he can put the phone down there’s a bunch of people at your door demanding entry and forcing themselves in if you refuse. While that neighbor watches smugly by.

All it takes is for some obnoxious teen whom you told off to call the authorities and report an illegal gathering either of people or beliefs and next thing you know there are police (either moral or legal; probably both) to kick your door in and arrest you.

We live in such conditions here in Malaysia, and it is appalling. The latest case of the joint raid by Jais and the Police is merely further evidence. That entire raid arose from, and this is as reported, an unverified complaint, a phone call. It is not a new reality for those who know. The rest of us just don’t give it much thought, couldn’t be bothered or are just unaware. Until of course it happens to them, when they are the next victims. Our civil liberties in terms of our privacy, whom we asscociate with, how and where we gather is virtually non-existent.

The parallels drawn with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were to highlight one major observation of those times. Aside from the semantics, the police state etc, the bulk of the people living in those dystopian, authoritarian regimes all shared one common emotion. Fear. Fear not of the authorities ( a given with the absolute authority of the state). Nay, added to that fear was fear of their neighbours. Fear that all it took to plunge their lives into misery was an unverified complaint, a phone call, to have the machinery of state breaking your doors down, invading your private property, going over your life with a fine tooth comb and possibly arresting you for various ‘offences’. And we have that here in Malaysia. Have a think about that ….….