Saturday, March 24, 2012

Of SPM and Suicide

As of yesterday we have our first SPM casualty of 2012. E. Prem Kumar apparently consumed pesticide after getting less than satisfactory results. There have been others over the years, those who rather take their own lives than face their parents after getting their results. Some silently ended their lives in the privacy of their rooms after getting scolded for performing poorly, getting average results or just getting less A's! Can you believe that?

It seriously is insane, the kind of pressure parents put on their children to get top notch results. The thing is paper qualifications are not everything, and EQ (emotional intelligence) is just as important as IQ (intelligence). Many parents spend so much of emphasis on education, happily forgetting that imparting basic life skills - especially social skills is just as important.

Future employers are not just going to hire you because they are bedazzled by your academic results and fancy degrees. They will also be judging you on your - personality, character, how well you interact with others, your approach to teamwork etc. In short they will be looking for a well rounded personality, not a super nerd.

So how does one become a well rounded personality? A person who is able to function well in society and within an organisation without stepping on other people's toes and being a plain menace? Well with everything else, it starts from home. One word - upbringing!

The way a parent interacts with their child, very much determines the kind of person that child will be like as an adult. Many parents seem to think that spending a bomb on tuition, swimming, ballet, piano etc is a sign of love. "See how much of money I spend every month on all these classes, that's how much I love you!" 

If you truly care about the kind of person you're gonna someday unleash on society, you as a parent will spend more time communicating with your kid. Talk to them, they shouldn't be afraid to share their problems or tell you stuff. Children who have such an open channel of communication with their parents, are less likely to do "funny" things behind their backs or suddenly just commit suicide.

Hobbies are important

Children should have other interests besides their studies, whether it is sporting activities, learning arts and crafts ( I highly recommend this, it enhances creativity), reading ( also super duper important) or any other hobby. People who have hobbies are interesting people. It adds another dimension to your personality. And in many cases, childhood hobbies have become future careers.

Reading and writing was my numero uno hobby when I was a kid. I wrote my first piece of poetry when I was 10. Right from primary school I was focused on being a writer. With such an early determination and focus on what I wanted to be, mum and dad did not waste their time trying to push the doctor-lawyer thing down my throat.

My brother loved tinkering with electrical gadgets and computers, today he naturally works in IT and is enjoying every moment of it. There are others like us too, who are blessed to have parents who allowed us to pursue our natural inclinations.

Unfortunately there are also those parents who decide from when their kids are in the womb, what they are going to be someday. Foisting your dreams on your young ones or expecting them to be like you is unfair. 

Sometime ago, I read an interview given by Malaysian astronaut Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor and his wife Dr Harlina Mohd Yunos to a Malay magazine. The couple said they wanted their daughter and any other children they had to become doctors. They said they would speak to their kids about stuff related to medicine from a young age, so their kids would desire to follow in their footsteps.

If your kid wants to follow in your footsteps, that is fair enough. Many children do see their parents as role models and some talents are genetic after all. But on the other side of the coin, children who constantly feel the pressure of having to live up to their parents successes do suffer psychologically.

Not every child is the same, some absorb knowledge faster, and some don't. This of course does not mean that the latter is stupid. They could be better at other things. A good parent will see this and try to get them to develop their skills in other areas. Instead of pushing them to be like their other siblings who are high academic achievers for instance.

When I was in school, my parents naturally expected me to get good results. But I also got to watch TV and do other stuff. My mother always emphasised that my results should be good enough to gain entry into university. But being good parents they also knew that I was better at languages and subjects that required reading versus those that centred on formulas and calculations like maths and physics. So there was no insane expectations that I should get distinctions in these subjects.

They always said that I should do my best, but if my results were not so great, it was OK. The important thing was that I had given it my best - and that was good enough for them. My dad also said that SPM was really just the beginning and he was more interested in how we ( my siblings and I) fared after that - for that is when life truly begins.

So yes, it is sad to see some students end their lives even before it can begin.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Safe in Malaysia

Early this month, tongues were wagging as to a certain piece of news. But this time it was not the bedroom scandals of politicians or the ownership of the word "God" that got people talking. Actually the news in question was rather positive, and should have warmed our hearts, but it didn't!

As good as this finding looks in terms of public relations, the reality is far different for most of us, and this is why we will not be popping champagne anytime soon.

  • Snatch thefts, snatch thefts, snatch thefts!! Many people have lost their lives to this rampant crime. 

  • Public transportation is not safe. Remember those taxi rapes? And those are just the reported cases. Malaysian cab drivers have also been known to rob their passengers! Things are definitely not looking good for us in this sector.

  • Rape by those in authority - Students have been molested and raped by teachers, National Service instructors and college lecturers.

  • The acid splasher - has the dude been caught??

  • Neighbourhood crimes - Many people have met a bloody end in their own homes. These days many housing developments are offering gated security with patrols and such. Gated communities will be a norm in the future I foresee.

  • Little children are far from safe, as we have read from the papers recently.

  • Security guards - you see them everywhere - but how trustworthy are they? Many crimes have been attributed to them too. Poor screening process, too many small time security firms. The end result is that the safety of the people they should be protecting gets compromised.

  • Drivers have been subjected to carjacking and armed robbery. Never stop for anyone is the safety motto.

  • To be honest I don't trust the men in blue. Do you? Cops have been known to peep on female detainees performing nude squats and even rape. While in uniform to boot! Sometimes it's not them but those who impersonate them! Is it that easy to get police uniforms, badges etc......?

When the findings by the Global Peace Index (GPI) was first reported, the reaction of most Malaysians was one of irony. Some said it was a paid for report by a corrupt government that wanted to make it's administration look good, and boost tourism among others.

However I doubt that the reach of our government is so great that it can influence the Sydney based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) which releases the annual GPI report.

About the GPI
Now in its fifth year, it ranks 153 nations according to their "absence of violence" and level of peacefulness. The GPI is developed under the guidance of an international panel of independent experts. Countries are measured based on 23 indicators such as - military expenditure, relations with neighbouring countries, percentage of inmates in prison, crime rates and political stability.

In relation to our Southeast Asian neighbours minus Singapore, we are definitely more politically stable. I mean how easy is it to stage a demonstration or riot in Malaysia? Before that can happen, the government will probably lockdown the whole country!

As much as I think this report is not corrupt, it definitely does not reflect how the majority of Malaysians view our country. Which kinda indicates that reports churned out by think-tanks and research institutes are rough indicators at best. You wanna know what people really think, what the real sentiment is, go on Facebook and Twitter. The truth is out there!

FYI the top 10 safest countries in the world are:
  1. Iceland
  2. New Zealand
  3. Japan
  4. Denmark
  5. Czech Republic
  6. Austria
  7. Finland
  8. Canada
  9. Norway
  10. Slovenia
Read the full 2011 report here:

Friday, March 9, 2012

To be offended or not?

The Star came under a lot of heat for the picture of Erykah Badu sporting body art offensive to Muslims in Star2 - the entertainment section of the paper. Three senior editors were summoned to the Home Ministry and the story did not end there.

Heads were destined to roll and they did. Star2 senior editor Lim Cheng Hoe and deputy editor for features Daryl Goh were suspended indefinitely. And to make sure the paper does not risk offending Islam again, associate editors Rozaid Rahman and Shah Dadameah were appointed to advise the daily on issues sensitive to Muslims.

I'm guessing that this was done to appease those who were baying for blood. But it appears that this decision has far from satisfied certain parties. Pas Youth are still not content, they want a dialogue with the paper to discuss the Badu issue and the coverage of Valentine's Day - because it also apparently rubs some Muslims up the wrong way.

In true Malaysian fashion this will all die down eventually. Maybe some other paper will rescue The Star from its plight, one of the Chinese dailies perhaps? Who are pros at hawking sensation. Do the top guns in Pas Youth know Mandarin I wonder? If they do, perhaps they won't be giving The Star such a bad time.

What irritates me with regards to this whole issue is that some people take offence because they have the luxury of doing so. Or perhaps it's all about gaining political mileage, being seen as the champions of Islam.

I do wonder if Badu or some other singer had done something that was deemed insulting to Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, would there have been such a hue and cry? If there was a petition from a group representing one of these religions to have a concert cancelled, would the government have swiftly acted upon it. Told the performer in question to go packing.......?

Is there some kind of unwritten consensus in this country that everyone has to be very careful not to insult Islam in any way because Muslims are the majority, but the same does not apply to the other religions? 

Temples have been smashed, churches have fallen victim to arson attacks - you think the people of these two religions are okay with it? They quietly seethe but know for sure that they have no champion in the government.

A Lack of Understanding

Whether it is Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism  - in today's world not many people truly understand religion. Their own and that of others. This lack of understanding gives way to disrespect in many instances. Sometimes it is unintentional - in the case of Badu. Sometimes people know but just don't care.

During my student days in Australia, my buddy and I once went shopping in downtown Sydney, we were surprised to find tight-fitting t-shirts and other clothes with the images of Hindu gods and goddesses printed on it. We even found a velvet satchel bag with Quranic verses on it.

I'm Hindu and my buddy is Christian, as Malaysians who were brought up to have a deep respect for religion and culture, we were a little disturbed yes, but not angry. I mean what to expect from people who don't have a strong religious tradition or even a wee bit of culture to begin with?

Did we think that the people who designed those apparel were disrespecting the two religions in question? Well I wouldn't give them credit for being that deep! I think they would have just as happily printed a picture of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary on those clothes. But not exotic enough I suppose.

That incident happened in 1998. But it appears things have progressed since then. Hindu deities have become so in demand that their images have also been printed on underwear and other skimpy clothes. It really does say something about the people who design these clothes, and even more of those who actually wear them!

People who do these things, insult themselves more than anyone else. So I definitely would not waste my time protesting or creating a Facebook group to condemn their doings. As a Hindu I believe in karma. You reap what you sow.

Closer to home, a few years ago, I went to the MPH Bookstore in Bangsar where I spotted a book with a picture of Lord Shiva and the divine ox Nandi on it, in the background was the snowy peaks of Mount Kailash. The book was a chic-lit about some woman travelling through India.

Now is that not kinda offensive? A non-religious book with a picture of a god and symbols sacred to Hinduism on it? If there was a chic-lit with the picture of the Kaaba on it, would MPH even be selling that book? Good Muslims would have launched a "Boycott MPH Campaign" for being anti-Islam.

Of Cowheads and such.......

I think most Malaysians should know that cows are sacred to Hinduism right? I mean if you don't, which planet are you living on honey....?? However Muslims are pretty big on eating beef. Cows to the slaughter on Hari-Raya Qurban etc.

No problem there, I don't expect them to start eating only mutton because there are Hindus in this country. But at the very least, they should practice some amount of basic sensitivity towards their fellow Malaysian Hindus.

There's this market in Setia Indah, Johor Baru which my mum frequents. There's this Malay butcher there who decorates his stall with bloody cowheads. Any day you go, the dude always has a couple of fresh bovine heads to um entice customers I suppose?

This to me is religious insensitivity. Setia Indah is in no way a pre-dominantly Malay neighbourhood. There's a good mix of Chinese, Indians and Malays. Like my mum, there are many other Indians who frequent that market too. You think they like it? I bet they don't, they just choose not to make a big deal about it.

As for that Malay butcher, I doubt he is unaware that cows are sacred to Indians. He probably just doesn't care. He is a Malay Muslim, he belongs to the majority race, Indians are a minority, so there you have it.

Well if you are a minority, does that make your religion any less sacred? To any non-Hindu reading this blog, let me give you an idea of the sacredness of the cow in Hindu religion. In most Hindu temples, the statue of the cow will face the main deity, be garlanded on special occasions and prayers are also conducted before it. So imagine what it would be like for any god fearing Hindu to have to look at a bloodied and butchered cowhead.

To wrap up, with regards to religion, the option is always there - whether to be offended or not, whether to make a big ruckus out of it. People who are true in their faith, understand that religion is all about peace. So when faced with the circumstances above, they turn away. It does not make them weak or meek in anyway. It shows that nothing can shake their faith, and that they are choosing the path of peace to that of aggression.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Malaysian Hypocrisy

Erykah Badu will not be the last international artist to be the object of controversy or have a concert cancelled at the eleventh hour. As long as hypocrisy prevails among certain sections of society and the government, this is bound to happen again.

We are always neck to neck in competition with Singapore over many things, but one thing we can never wrest from them - is being the centre for performing arts and culture in Southeast Asia. The kind of restrictions imposed on artiste coming to perform here is ridiculous at best - don't take off your shirt, don't lie on the stage, no short dresses, nothing skimpy........with all these conditions, one would think ours is a squeaky clean society.

Gwen played the good girl and decided to comply.
But that is not the case. If it were, then fair enough, we wouldn't want the "rakyat" traumatised by the sight of a bare chest glistening with sweat or a woman's naked thighs on public display which would be oh so "haram".

Beyonce decided to give Malaysia a pass. 
If you think Beyonce prancing about on stage is obscene, her famous thunder thighs exposed, just go to any Malaysian nightspot, what do you think the girls there will be wearing? And as I have seen myself, sometimes the skimpiest dressed would be a mere school girl. But of course when said girl goes to school the next day, the "tudung" would be part of her uniform.

Malaysian youths are not sheltered, they are as exposed as can be - whether they are covered head to foot or not. Just like youths in other countries, western or asian. So the masses are not going to get traumatised or wring their hands over the display of some flesh or body art.

The ones who are getting offended are a minority who bark the loudest. They keep harping on religion, religion, religion. But considering that elections might be just around the corner, the government obviously does not want to take any risk in appearing to be lax about the - "The Sacred Word". Remember those churches that fell victim to arson attacks?

Squeaky Clean?

I was reading the coverage of the Badu controversy on several foreign news websites and was highly amused. The impression given was that our government highly prizes decency to the extent that we are a squeaky clean nation, and that religious sensibilities dominate.

You know how Thailand is seen as the "Sex Capital" of the region? We are a bit like that too, it's just that it is all hidden under the veneer of "Squeaky Clean Muslim Nation", which is what makes us hypocrites.

What do I mean by this? Even in western countries which have so called lax moral values, there are only so many things that people can get away with. But here in Malaysia you can be caught out and still hold public office, or if booted out, still have enough of a thick skin to seek re-election.

Do Malaysian politicians who have been tainted by sex and corruption scandals resign voluntarily? Do their parties put pressure on them to resign? Are they depicted in the press as bad role models to the "rakyat"? From what I remember most of these politicians usually seem more angry at being caught than feeling ashamed for their misdeeds.

Ok forget the politicians, from as far back as I can remember, even during school days there were teachers who made sure each lesson had at least one dirty joke to go with it. And I don't think these teachers were unique to my school in anyway. So yes students get corrupted from school, from their very own teachers who think jokes are not funny unless there is some form of sexual innuendo in it. And after hearing these jokes, the students will march off to "Agama" and "Moral" classes.

Things are not squeaky clean in the working world either, those who laugh at the bosses' dirty jokes have a future and those who don't, um don't. It still amazes  me, the kind of subtle and not so subtle sexual harassment that is pervasive in the Malaysian workplace. It is as if the very notion of sexual harassment lawsuits has not made it to our shores yet.

So pornographic material is illegal and even kissing scenes don't escape the sharp eyes of the censors - but sex thrives in the Malaysian online world, especially in the blogosphere - It is amazing the kind of stuff the authors of these sites can churn out on a daily basis. And in daily life they are the epitome of good Muslims I suppose. It is interesting that such blogs/sites are written by those whose religion advocates such purity, as PAS Youth and other minority groups will keep telling the rest of us.

Ah well maybe the religious authorities are not cyber savvy enough to know what is going on in the virtual world. But guys have you looked at the newsstands, even the ones in the provision shops, all those tabloids with funny sounding names and weird stories in it - "Genie has sex with girl", "Man has sex with Pontianak a 100 times".

Where do they get these stories? Did they interview the Pontianak or the man? Does the genie have a penchant for young girls? Did he confess it to the tabloid writer over a cup of teh tarik....? I really wish I had taken  some photos of these magazines.

Oh you know what, the next time I head out, I'm gonna get a couple of these mags and share some of those bizarre stories and photos here on my blog ;)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

'Subscribe' is kinda cool

When I first got on Facebook in 2007 after much cajoling from some close friends, I found that it was a really cool platform that enabled me to keep in touch with people from different eras' in my life - school, university, former colleagues and family. FB was like my one stop button to touch base with all my "friends" on a regular basis.

Fast forward to the present, the way I use Facebook today has changed markedly from way back then. Now Facebook has had many facelifts in the last couple of years - not all of it has been welcome. But one feature definitely has my seal of approval - "Facebook Subscribe".

Yes I know that the originator of this idea was Google+  and Facebook introduced it in a bid to retain its users. Good move! Thanks to this feature, I get to subscribe to and see a side of famous personalities that I otherwise wouldn't be able to. Yes a lot of them have fan pages, but a fan page is rather impersonal in my opinion.

"Subscribe" is not just for being in the know about what famous people get up to in their daily lives. It is also a great way to keep in touch with trends and news updates from any industry you're interested in. My area of interest is publishing, journalism, social media - so via "Subscribe", I get to follow people who work in this field who have enabled "Subscribe" on their profile.

I've been subscribing since sometime last year, and it's great because I got to know a lot of interesting stuff which I might not have come across in the newspapers for instance. It is also a great way to know how people on the other side of the globe think and work.

For example, I've been subscribing to Feifei Sun, Associate Editor at TIME and Liz Heron, Social Media Editor at The New York Times. Through Sun's updates I get a behind the scenes look at how TIME approaches their stories, the rationale behind certain angles. While Heron is a good source of information on the latest in social media trends.

Some of the people I subscribe to: