Monday, July 23, 2012

Ageism in Malaysia

A conversation between two women in their mid 50s

Madam X: So how have you been keeping? Not seen you in ages!

Madam Y: I'm fine, sorry I could not find the time to catch up until now, been busy, what with work and all.....

Madam X: Working?? Why so old ready still must work....? At our age, we should be resting. Let the children support us.

Madam Y: Well the children do their part, but I enjoy keeping busy and active. Don't see myself quitting anytime soon!

Madam X: Wow really? Do they still accept people our age at the workplace?

I'm glad to say there are many men and women in their 50s and above in the Malaysian workplace today. However ageism is also rife, not just in the workplace, but in society at large. And the ones guilty of this are younger Malaysians - the ones who should be more modern in their views, but who sadly are not!

At one of my previous workplaces, some colleagues were hiring for their department, and going through resumes, it was a huge joke to them that several of the applicants were in their mid 40s. "Why does anyone that age need a job?" one girl snorted. I'm guessing her mom's a housewife for life, hence her narrow minded perception.

Sometime after at another organisation, a new hire walked in. A pleasant middle-aged lady, her appearance instantly created a sensation among some of the junior staff, they were terribly amused, and walked around pointing the woman out to other colleagues who had not noticed.

Now which is more amusing? The fact that a new hire ( for a position that requires a substantial amount of working experience) is someone older, or the behaviour of the junior staff members. Maybe someday, when they are several decades older and still in the workforce, they might not think it's so funny after all.

Is Hilary Clinton a joke then? Someone who has had a successful career as a lawyer, First Lady and Senator, and who is now America's foremost ambassador as Secretary of State, a global joke for not wanting to spend her menopausal years knitting quietly by some fireside and harping at Chelsea for not producing grandchildren?

I know there is still talk of ageism in the West. But it is much better there than over here. During my student years overseas, I encountered senior citizens behind the counters at McDonald's, as tour guides, working at libraries and many other places.

Ever seen an older person behind the counter at McDonald's here? Everyone would pity them, saying their kids had either abandoned them, or they never got married and had kids, hence having to suffer in old age.

No doubt things are changing, I increasingly see many older people going about independently on their own, and even opting to come out of retirement to work again. Kudos to these folk.

I don't know whether it is an Asian thing or not (I'm guessing it is). That if you're older and still working, it is because you desperately need the money, and it is something to be looked down upon. Well some older people work because they need the money, and some because they enjoy what they do.

With regards to the former, I don't see it as something to be ashamed about. Better to be independent and earn your own keep at any age than to be dependent on other people. To be honest, I very much admire these people.

In an age, where there are so many young and able bodied people who come up with many excuses not to get jobs and build careers, but try to find other means to live luxuriously, these men and women who still get up in the morning and go out there to contend with the rat-race are shining examples for us the younger generation to emulate.

I dedicate this post to all the older people out there who never let ageism stand in their way, whether is it pursuing a career, learning something new, or embarking on some adventure or another.

Age is only a number, a physical marker of our time on earth, in no way does it confine us.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Compassionate Journalism

This is something that I have mulled about for years as a member of the profession, and I've finally decided to give words to those fragmented thoughts that have cropped up on and off in the course of work.

There's this common enough perception, that in the quest to garner readership and sell newspapers, we in journalism would resort to sensationalising issues and digging up the dirt on others. First of all there is no way we can sensationalise anything, if there is nothing to sensationalise in the first place, and if there is no dirt to dig up, we certainly would not be putting our spades to the task!

So to all those who keep grumbling about sensationalism, and the media giving them a hard time - usually all those so-called 'Important People', how about keeping your backyard clean first and not saying silly things - which of course will be reported!

When you're that high up, we assume you're smart, it goes with the territory, so when you let slip that you're not, it becomes news naturally.

My point is, when one is in the limelight, the light of the media will shine upon you mercilessly, that's a given. It is our job. Nothing personal. It sells, we tell. Plus the public have the right to know what you get up to. The problem with this country is that we don't do enough of that.

On the other hand, as a member of the profession, I strongly believe that our job is not solely about selling newspapers or getting hits for our websites. Sometimes a dignified silence is necessary. There are times when compassion is required. It wont gain us sales, but this business is not all about money. Anyone in this profession who thinks it's about $$$$$ all the way, is in the wrong line of work.

When silence is required

When Nayati Shamelin Moodliar was abducted, the police issued a gag order of sorts on the media. Understandably so - it was a kidnap case - a precarious situation. Literally every media organisation complied except one.

They played up the issue to the hilt. There were Nayati stories everyday, it irritated the police and inflamed the boy's parents. But what they cared about was sales. Not Nayati. Said paper would not have been any poorer if they opted to remain silent like the rest, but they went to town with it!

Yes I know they run many stories of poor suffering folk with numbers to call, for the public to donate. But when it comes down to it, they were not compassionate or understanding to Nayati or his family. These folks were just $$$$ to them.

There are things that the public needs to know, but there are things if not reported, will not make anyone the poorer for it. In my early days as a journalist, we had a part-time writer whose father was found dead under rather strange circumstances, some said he was murdered, others said he committed suicide.

Upon hearing the story, my editor assigned one of my colleagues to call up and interview the part-time writer, there was a possibility that the story would go on the front page. My colleague naturally was upset. What she wanted to do was visit the family and pay her condolences, not interview them for a front page story.

When she told our editor that she did not feel right doing it, he chastised her for being emotional and said there was no two ways about it. When she finally called the guy, he pleaded with her not to run the story. Said that the family was already grieving, and that further highlighting the matter would only cause tongues to wag and embarrassment to them.

She decided not to write the story and most of our other colleagues agreed as much. It was not merely because he was our colleague. His father was not a public figure, none of the other papers knew about it, it was not a public interest story at all.

Mind you this was not a story that was going to make a sensational court trial the way the Canny Ong or Noritta Samsudin case did. So why cause further grief to the family by splashing it on the front page. Well at least that was what we reporters thought.

When my editor came out of the evening meeting, he was pissed when my friend said she did not want to proceed with the story. It ended with her leaving in a huff. The story was carried as a news brief.

At that time, it made me wonder, if something had happened to me or one of my family members, would it become front page news too?

Well a few months later, a relative of the said editor was found dead under mysterious circumstances. A rival newspaper carried the story as a news brief. Many of my senior colleagues made a big hue n cry about it. Saying it was malicious and cruel, and that it would cause humiliation to the family.

It made me wonder why they failed to show the same compassion earlier, when a member of our own staff had to beg them not to run a story, and they still did - even that news brief was unnecessary.

Ideally our duty is to spread awareness on the issues that people should know of, matters of public interest, and also to keep public figures on their feet. But there are things if not known will hurt no one. Sometimes a dignified silence is of the utmost necessity.

Cultivating goodwill

People might pick up a newspaper or log on to a website that is dishing up the dirt, but they might not necessarily like you. And if you think Selling is more important than cultivating goodwill, you're wrong.

Some examples - The NST has not been doing as well as it used to in years yonder. Despite many revamps it still lags in sales. Why? Cause it can't shake off that image of being subordinate to the ruling party and the government.

During the recent Bersih 3.0. People on the street grumbled about the coverage of both The Star and NST. theSundaily and the Malay Mail received many kudos for what many deemed was balanced coverage about what truly happened on the ground.

The NST and The Star might seem like giants today, they are big organisations after all. theSun and Malay Mail might seem smaller outfits in comparison. But giants have been known to crumble when they are no longer relevant.

In journalism I believe, the future belongs to those who serve the public, versus those who bow to big corporations and the strong arm of the government.

In my opinion, serving the public means telling both sides to a story, we give you the facts, you make what you will of it. No spin doctoring. When something is not right, people deserve to know.

Restraint is also important, as in the case of Nayati. It gives us dignity and tells people that we are compassionate.

Call me idealistic, but I believe that the media organisation that succeeds in the future - is one that is liked and respected by people for the brand of journalism that it practices.

This ain't the old days when you just had the NST and The Star. In print and online there's much to choose from. Everyone is vying for a share of the pie, competition is tougher.

Of course I'm aware of the necessary evil of pandering to advertisers. But advertisers also want to advertise with media that has the higher circulation no? And even if you can't or don't want to fulfill some of their demands, can they afford not to advertise with you if your circulation figures are high....?  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Radin the brave princess

When it comes to myths and legends, most of us grew up fed on a diet of beautiful princesses and their dashing suitors. The prince was brave, the princess had milky white skin, ruby red lips and was the epitome of what women should be - shy and sweet with a voice as sweet as a nightingale's.

Which is why I consider Puteri Gunung Ledang one hell of a kickass character. Spurned all her suitors, even the Sultan himself, and preferred to live all by herself up on a mountain. For the record I don't believe the faerie princess had any ties with Hang Tuah, hence Tiara Jacquelina's big budget on-screen depiction of her is at best a fairytale and at worst plain lame.

Well I digress, I have always felt that the stories worth knowing have been shrouded in obscurity, and what we have been fed time and again is cheesy crap. For instance, who doesn't know the story of Cinderella? The moral of that tale? If you need rescuing, wait for a fairy godmother, or a knight in shining armour. Not very good advice I dare say.

So a couple of Fridays ago when I came across the story of Radin Mas Ayu in theSundaily -

 It made me wonder why I had never heard of her when I was a kid. I loved myths and legends, still do, and devoured every book on local folkfore that I could find, but somehow I never came across Radin's story.

I read countless re-tellings of the legend of Mahsuri, came across many tales of Hang Tuah's bravery, but never came across the story of the young princess who sacrificed her life to save that of her father.

The article did not contain much information on Radin's origins and the events that led up to her death. So I googled up the stories on her and have summarised it here for you.

The princess from Java

Radin's father was of royal blood while her mother was a court dancer. The marriage of her parents was met with dissaproval by her paternal grandparents. The name of Radin's father was Kanjen Gusti Adipati Agung Radin Kusomowijoyo Diningrat ( he was better known as Radin Mas). Her mother's name was Mas Ayu. Hence they named her - Radin Mas Ayu.

Tragedy Strikes 

Determined to put an end to their union, Radin Mas was sent away on a hunting expedition by his parents. When he returned, he found that his palace had been razed by a fire which also claimed the life of his wife. Distraught, he left Java with his baby daughter.

In another version it is Radin's uncle the king who is angry that her father marries a commoner, and orders for the palace to be burned down when her father is away. In this version a loyal follower saves the baby princess Radin from the flames. Angry with his brother. Radin's father takes her and leaves for Singapore.

Singapore Beckons

Father and daughter then settled down to a quiet life as commoners in Teluk Blangah, Singapore. Then one day the village was attacked by pirates. Radin Mas fights bravely and defeats the pirates.

A Second Marriage

When the Sultan of Singapore hears of this, and also upon discovering that Radin Mas is of royal lineage, he decides to give him the hand of his daughter Tengku Halijah in marriage. A son Tengku Chik was born to them in due course.

The Step-mother Syndrome

In time Tengku Halijah came to hate her step-daughter. Two factors led to her feeling this way. Firstly she could not bear the closeness between father and daughter. Radin was naturally the apple of her father's eye. Secondly Radin had inherited the good looks of her mother, and this too jarred at her young step-mother.

The Plot Thickens

Tengku Halijah had a nephew - Tengku Bagus who did not like Radin Mas. He also desired the hand of the young beauty in marriage. Radin however could not stand him. Tengku Halijah at this point, decided to engage the help of her nephew to get rid of Radin.


To get Radin's father out of the way, Tengku Bagus invited him for a meal and drugged his food. When Radin Mas became unconscious, he imprisoned him in a well. He then forced Radin to marry him, threatening to harm her father if she did not.

During the marriage ceremony when Radin was asked if she had obtained her father's permission to marry, her step-brother Tengku Chik came forward and informed everyone present that his father was trapped in a well by the evil Tengku Bagus.

The whole wedding party then rushed to rescue Radin Mas. As soon as Radin Mas came out of the well, Tengku Bagus rushed forward to stab him with a keris. Radin who saw what was about to happen, rushed forward to shield her father. She died from her wounds in her father's arms.

Tengku Bagus was caught. One assumes he paid for his crimes. As the story goes, Tengku Halijah tried to escape, but was struck down by lightning. Radin's father I imagine, died of a broken heart.

The year of this tragedy was 1511. Radin's tomb, draped in golden yellow as a sign of her royal lineage, lies at the foot of Mount Faber in Singapore.

Makam Puteri Radin Mas Ayu
 She is indeed an unsung heroine in the annals of Malay history. A brave young woman who lay down her life to save her father. Combing back the centuries, I imagine that as much as Radin Mas must have grieved the loss of his daughter, he must have been proud of her too - her story is one of ultimate filial piety.

Father's day was sometime last month, but better late than never, I would like to dedicate this story to my father who raised me to be more than just any other girl. Thanks to my father - I'm independent, forthright, have no qualms about being true to myself and have the courage to go it alone when necessary.

I have a deep respect for life, not just human life. I'm no born humanitarian, if the plight of abused animals bother me today, it is because my father opened my eyes to it. He taught me that life in all it's forms deserve to be treated with dignity.

Father also taught me to see beyond the narrow confines of my own existence. He taught me to care about the wider world, he taught me that my concerns and worries are trivial in the face of greater suffering.

He also encouraged me to make the best of what I have, than to desire the things that I do not have. Yet this is the same father who is the reason that I return to a beautiful home everyday, and also the one who ensured that my line of work involves something I'm truly passionate about. 

Because you allow me to be so, though I am a part of society, I'm not chained by its narrow dictates.

Thanks to your ever present love and guidance, I'm finally growing into the person I'm meant to be. Thank you for everything Papa, love you always..........