30 July 2015

SINCE everyone in this country is an expert in giving advice to everyone else, I thought I would join in and generously give my totally unsolicited counsel to all those aspiring to join cupboards or closets of any kind. Any likeness to anything familiar around us is naturally a complete coincidence.

First of all, please get it out of your head that you are wanted or needed because you have expertise of any kind. Who cares if you have a double degree in How to Make Anything Good and How to Make Anything Better? What you need is a PhD in How To Make Your Boss Feel Good, with a minor in How To Make Your Boss Look Really Good. It would also help if you have expertise in How To Clean Up Messes, especially if it involves getting rid of Messy People.

Secondly, you have to audition for the job. Don’t ever expect to be picked out of obscurity like some Cinderella. Let’s not forget that Cinders didn’t really get an invitation to the Ball – her ugly stepsisters did. And they worked hard for it by making sure they got noticed.

So find a way to get attention. Never mind if it means making a spectacle of yourself. Who cares if you look and sound like a fool as long as your potential Boss likes it? The path to position and lucre is strewn with puffery and pomp! Pledge loyalty, even if nobody asked you to. That counts as double points.

Thirdly, always be humble and say you had not expected this at all but it must have been Divine Intervention. Who in their right mind would question what the Almighty wants? And He must have spoken through his vessel, your soon-to-be Boss. George W. Bush said God made him President to do His will on earth. Surely if an American can claim that, we can too.

Fourthly, don’t be picky about what you are given. Just be grateful! What does it matter anyway? It all comes with nice perks like a nice house (there must be a renovation budget), a nice car with a driver, first-class travel for you and the Mrs, and all sorts of other things you’ve only heard about from others but can now experience firsthand.

So what if the work is crushingly dull? Someone else can read all those papers for you and give you a summary. And oops, if you miss a few things in there, there are lots of people you can blame, even despatch clerks. Why worry? You’ve hit the big time.

Fifthly, now that you’ve got it, your job is to smile and nod your head. Vigorously. All the time. Get yourself photographed with the Boss as much as possible, preferably looking at him with utter adoration. If you can hold up a suitably adoring placard, that’s even better. However, some have found that this is no insurance for job security. Maybe practise hand-kissing as an alternative.

Sixthly, let’s not forget that you are a package deal, which your spouse is a part of. Train her well because her job is as important as yours. Quite the opposite from you, her job is not to compete with her Boss.

So make sure that if you want to buy pretty expensive things for her (and now you can!), don’t let her wear them in front of her Boss, especially if she looks quite hot in them. Support local brands and dress your other half in them. Leave the international imports to her Boss and coach her in the right admiring phrases to murmur.

Seventhly, ever seen the TV series Entour­age? That’s what you need, an entourage. Surround yourself with all sorts of folks who can be given menial jobs dressed up as important ones by putting them in the right clothes. No Big Man is without his entourage to carry bags, check him in at airports, that sort of thing. Never ever have to do a single thing yourself again.

Eighthly, be part of an entourage yourself. It is highly important that you keep yourself within your Boss’ line of sight at all times because you don’t want him to forget you exist or overlook you the next time he wants to clear out his cupboard. So follow him everywhere; after all, that is your main job.

It’s also your spouse’s job to be a handmaiden in her Boss’ entourage so if she gets called upon to serve, give her your blessing. It will be rewarding.

There you have it – eight tips for succeeding in life in our dear country. The folks out there who have to actually work to survive each day wish you lots of luck. Drop some crumbs some time.

17 July 2015

It’s great to meet youths who want to change things. 

I’VE been told that recently I’ve become strident and fierce in my columns. This was a bit of a surprise; I thought I’ve always been fierce and strident. But I suppose my readers see a noticeable uptick in the tone of my columns these days, hence the comments.

Is it surprising though? I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s holding my head in despair at the endless drama that our country is experiencing daily these days.

It would be one thing if it were a drama where everyone goes home happy at the end of it. But here we seem to slide from bad to worse, on a greasy slope with no brakes.

I’m not going to comment on the “high-level” goings-on since that is well covered everywhere. Except to say thank God for the alleged “whistleblowers” and “leakers” whoever they might be because if it were not for them, we would still be in the dark, not realising that our entire carpet is being pulled from under us. There must be some people with a conscience after all who can no longer tolerate the blatant disregard for our people anymore.

I was talking to some young people recently who want to spread the “virus” of positivity among our people because there is so much negativity around that it cannot be good for anyone. It’s wonderful to meet young people who are not yet jaded and disillusioned and who have the energy to want to change things.

They are right; there is too much negativity around, coupled with apathy that is unproductive. We complain endlessly but forget that complaining by itself does nothing except make others complain, too.

Indeed, while it is certainly part of the Malaysian make-up to constantly grouse about something or other, of late it’s taken a mean-spirited tone as well. There is undoubtedly much to complain about these days but at the same time there are many Malaysians, mostly ordinary people, who are doing many things to change our social landscape, to make it more open and accepting, to build peace and create harmony in our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious mix.

Some of these efforts may be one-off, some may take a while to bear fruit, and some may not work at all. But far more important than the immediate results is the process of engagement with one another towards a common goal through an event, shared interests or anything else that brings people together.

We’ve seen ordinary people step up so many times over the years, to help one another, to show that Malaysian citizens are so much better than their failing and flailing leaders. We’ve banded together to help those affected by the floods in Kelantan, we feed the homeless, we’ve demanded a humanitarian response to the boat people floating about in the Indian Ocean. Always a step or two ahead of our Government.

Yet I see people being unkind and mean spirited about these efforts for unexplained purposes. If people are doing good, why put them down? What are those who are willing to roll their sleeves up and help others doing that might affect those who do nothing, except perhaps make them feel some shame for their own inertia?

Is the cynicism about everything so bad that we can’t even differentiate between sincere and insincere efforts? Or is it just our addiction to putting down everything others do as simply a craving for publicity?

I don’t blame our cynics entirely. After all we look to our leaders to set the example of good behaviour. When they completely fail us, how can we complain when our people do the same? How can we excoriate anyone for thinking wombats and pigs are the same when we don’t have leaders who display any higher level of knowledge anyway? How can we check those who pass on unfounded rumours of racial riots when some of our leaders are often quick to do the same? When our leaders are silent on these issues, how can anyone feel optimistic that reason will prevail?

We’re all looking for positive inspiration these days and yet it’s so hard to find any. Our leadership is too lazy even to remind us of the need for restraint during Ramadan, and has nothing to say when people go overboard. In its absence, we have to inspire ourselves.

Perhaps we need this holiday weekend to come up with some inspiration. Perhaps if we take a break from the news and focus on family and the joys of celebration, we can recover our reasonable centre.

With that, I’d like to wish everyone a Selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir batin. May the advent of Syawal bring an end to the current madness and instead usher in new light and new hope, God willing.

03 July 2015

I’M usually quite unshockable but occasionally I see something that really knocks my socks off. That was my reaction upon seeing a video recently. It was not pornography or anything mildly like it but it was still horri­fying.

In the video, two Caucasian men found that their car had been blocked by a pasar Ramadan stall.

Understandably they asked the stall owner how they might get the car back.

Less understandably, the stall owner started screaming and shoving at them.

Others joined them and all were shouting and manhandling these two men.

Some even yelled at them to “balik lah ...” (go home), although it is unclear where to.

What was shocking to me, besides the fact that this was obviously during Ramadan when we are meant to exercise restraint, was the sheer over-reaction to something which could have been resolved so easily.

Surely it is reasonable to ask someone who is blocking your car what to do about it?

Surely the response should have been an apology, followed by an explanation of when the stall would pack up for the night, thereby releasing the car.

What was the need for all the shouting, screaming and shoving?

I don’t think any civilised person watching this video could have felt anything but embarrassed, as I did.

What has happened to the sopan santun (manners) that we are known for, more so during Ramadan?

I grew up having manners drilled into me and if there’s one thing I am old-fashioned about, that would be it.

So I find it hard to understand when people are rude for no apparent reason.

Those who follow me on social media will recall a recent episode when I had to give a little lesson in courtesy to a young man.

He has since apologised and I’m sure it wasn’t normal behaviour for him.

But where would young people learn about manners but from adults?

When we have parliamentarians saying the rudest things to fellow Members of Parliament and mostly getting away with it, when we have adult men who think it’s funny to go shake their posteriors at a woman’s house, when we have people flying off the handle over the simplest things, why would not our young also devalue courtesy and politeness?

If you’re polite, it is not news and you don’t become famous.

But if you’re crass and crude, you get headlines and everyone remembers your name.

There may be reasons for rage but what I don’t get is the infantile way it gets expressed.

Name-calling, jeering and shoving is the way of juvenile hooligans, not mature adults.

Have we regressed to such a childlike state that those are the only ways we can express rage?

What next, mass foot-stomping?

Everything today points towards a society that is encouraged to express itself in mob-like behaviour.

One person needs to just say that they are offended by something and for no rhyme or reason, entire hordes of people decide that they should be offended, too.

Indeed they even look at ways to be offended.

And when you have leaders who say that the onus is on minorities to behave a certain way so as not to offend the majority, what else could you expect in response?

Are we all supposed to live in such a way that we constantly have to look out for offen­ces imagined in other people’s heads?

Every time we go out, are we supposed to be always on the lookout for ways to avoid offending total strangers?

We might go to a government department where, as taxpayers, we may reasonably expect fast and efficient service.

Instead we are treated as if we are offensive creatures because of our choice of clothes.

How does the sight of anyone’s legs affect the efficiency of the service?

If such a sight was too distracting, even through an opaque desk, then there is something wrong with the person serving the customer, not the customer herself.

Why do people whose salaries depend on us paying our taxes get to play both fashion and moral police?

All this could so easily be solved if we had the type of leadership who would come out and say that we should all stop this nonsense about petty things and focus instead on more important issues.

For example, how to get our currency to rise again, or how to manage the high cost of living, or how we can work on bringing people together, rather than tearing them apart.

But obviously, with a leadership so silent they might as well not exist, the anarchy of bad manners continues unabated. Is it a symptom of something?

Do people get ruder because they feel rudderless?

Doesn’t anyone want to know?