Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Malaysia's clash of cultures
By Jonathan Kent
BBC, Kuala Lumpur

When it comes to interpreting Islam, many Malaysians are torn between their own culture, Western influence and a growing trend towards copying all things Arabic.

A few days ago I visited P Ramlee's old house in Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur skyline
Modernisation has been rapid
Unless you are from this part of the world you probably will not have heard of him.
But in Malaysia, more than 30 years after his death, he is still an icon.
In life he was Malaysia's Elvis and Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Irving Berlin all rolled into one. His modest bungalow is now a museum.
But when I visited I was alone, apart from an attendant who seemed to be hiding under his counter.
So I wandered around looking at photos from P Ramlee's films and listening to his wonderful singing voice.
'Gentle and sensual'
One of the reasons I look forward to the holidays here is because the local TV stations always screen a good selection of his movies.

P Ramlee
P Ramlee was an actor, singer, comedian, songwriter, screenwriter and film director
My favourite is the comedy Madu Tiga - or Three Honies - made in 1964.
P Ramlee plays a married man who decides to take a second and then a third bride, all with the collusion of his first wife's mischievous father.
But despite his best efforts to keep the three from finding out about one another, inevitably they meet, become friends and finally gang up on him.
It is a cautionary tale.
But what is most striking about P Ramlee's films from the 1950s and 1960s is their depiction of Malay life.
His movies are gentle and sensual, the people relaxed, fun-loving and charming. There are even jokes about gin.
Shadow puppetry
One can still catch glimpses of a Malaysia P Ramlee would have recognised, in backwaters like the east coast state of Kelantan.

Processional carving representing the head of Garuda
Hindu influence can be seen in carvings
I had travelled deep into its countryside looking for Dollah Baju Merah-Abdullah, who wears a red shirt. He is the last performer of the local brand of Wayang Kulit: shadow puppetry.
"I can't speak well," he told me, when he came out onto the porch of his little wooden house to greet me and he tapped his chest.
"I've been ill," he said.
He was not up to giving a demonstration but half-heartedly pulled out a couple of puppets from a box to show me.
I could see instantly why his is a dying art. The puppets depict heroes and gods from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
The local government in Kelantan put a stop to Dollah's performances. Likewise traditional dance.
They are considered un-Islamic.
Foreign endorsement
Elsewhere in Kelantan I met up with Nik Rashidee, the custodian of an astonishing collection of Malay woodcarvings assembled by his late brother Nik Rashidin, the greatest carver of his age.
Among the antique pieces the Hindu influence is obvious: carvings of Garuda (a Hindu deity and king of the birds) and dagger handles in the shape of Shiva's head.

Traditional Terengganu Malay wooden houses
Traditional carving is a dying art in Malaysia
They were not even exhibited in Malaysia until they had already been shown at the British Museum.
It took the endorsement of a foreign institution before locals even started to wake up to their beauty.
All these crafts are being destined to oblivion, not just by conservative Muslims who dress in the Arabic style and frown on their own culture, but also by Malaysia's rapid modernisation.
Malay people seem to love the new and shiny, not the old.
Whirlwind of change
At the same time they have been consumed by a wave of Islamicisation that swept across the world from the 1970s, a wave ridden by Malay politicians who after the Iranian revolution decided it was that, or be drowned by it.
"Now we understand what it is to be proper Muslims," people tell me, and in this rapidly developing country many have found in their faith a still centre in a whirlwind of change.
But it is not just traditional arts that are under pressure.
Looking at posters from P Ramlee's movies, I realise that films like these could not be made today.
"All we can do these days is tut tut at one another," a Malay friend tells me.
Across the country one sees the evidence of a culture of disapproval.
Young Malay women wear headscarves drawn tight around their faces; something their grandmothers never did.
Nightclubs are raided by the religious police, couples are prosecuted for holding hands and Muslims are sentenced to be whipped for drinking beer.
This is not policy. This comes from the conservative grassroots.
Behind closed doors
The federal government seems unsure how to respond.
Those who raise their voices against the new breed of religious teacher, schooled in Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, are shouted down. "Kaffir," they scream.
And jokes about gin are just not seen as funny.
But the saddest encounter I had in Kelantan was with a criminal lawyer.
"What keeps you busy?" I asked.
"Rape," he said. "It's all rape."
Incest, drugs and rape afflict the Malay community far worse than Malaysia's large Chinese and Indian minorities.
Piety in public. Acts that lead to self-loathing behind closed doors.
There is a sense that the Malays are a people increasingly adrift, and as at ill at ease with themselves now, as their grandparents' generation appeared content.
It would have broken P Ramlee's heart.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Alvin and Vivian

I did not post anything on these two kids when they posted their "bak kut teh" Ramadan greetings on facebook two weeks ago that got so many people, - Muslims and non-Muslims - really upset.

I had wondered "why-lah?'   What was their intention? For fun/ or For real?

Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee had posted a rather mischievous and provocative Ramadan greeting. It would have been so sweet had they not shown themselves enjoying bak kut teh -- a herbal pork dish -- with a halal sign displayed.

I really cannot fathom their action. Are they really all that ignorant, insensitive, stupid or just unthinking pranksters?

Some people, or rather, their defenders have come out to say that people had overreacted. It was harmless, so why the fuss. Some Muslim apologists even said that they were not insulted by Alvivi's (Alvin-Vivian) posting. Good for them. But not everyone nor every Muslim can see the joke.
(Alvin, when asked why he did it, said "No reason. Just a joke, I guess".

Well, not everybody has a sense of humour. You see, people are free to do whatever they like. And what people do or say may not please everyone so other people are also free to react to what you say or do.

So, Alvivi  got a lot of backlash online. Police reports were made and they were arrested, detained and charged on  three charges under Section 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act 1948 in connection with their posting and the uploading of an obscene photograph online.
They are liable to a maximum fine of RM5,000 or up to three years' imprisonment or both.
They were denied bail which means that they were to be in remand until the disposal of their case which has been set for mention on Aug 23. Tan is in Sungai Buloh prison while Lee is in Kajang prison.

They claimed trial and later filed a revision application on the decision to deny them  bail.

Today (July 25) the High Court today allowed for their release on RM30,000 bail each in two sureties.

Judge Datuk Mohd Azman Husin made the decision after revising the sessions court decision which had earlier denied them bail after they were charged last week.

Mohd Azman also ordered the two to surrender their passports to the court and report to the nearest police station once a month.

They are also not allowed to upload any provocative comments, articles or photos on the Internet and they are prohibited from using network communication devices to repeat similar offences.

Well...if you asked me....Alvivi asked for it.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Malaysian Redevelopment and Regeneration of Battersea

and here's what the PM has to say about Malaysian involvement in the project.

"As one of London's innumerable foreign admirers, it gives me great pleasure to think that my country is helping preserve one of its most distinctive buildings."

This is an excerpt from his speech at t at the groundbreaking ceremony of the iconic Battersea Power Station project, officiated together with British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday in southwest London.

Original posting:
Malaysian investors are backing the redevelopment of the huge Battersea Power Station project that is set to change the landscape of London.

They are SP Setia, Sime Darby and EPF.

A massive project, undoubtedly but the British government is intent on preserving the iconic structures.

"This first phase of the works involves repairs to the external brickwork, wash towers, the steel frame, windows and the replacement of the four chimneys, which will be reconstructed to the highest structural standards ensuring they remain a landmark on the London skyline for generations to come."

That's how it should be.

Our definition of redevelopment when we do redevelopment projects is a world of a difference..
We build mega projects worth megabucks theme park, and theme park..
It's obscene when history and heritage are wiped out.

So at home, not surprising that we have people  keen or bent on destroying the country's the name of development? or megabucks??

Also read Rocky Bru here.
Read this, this and this.

The article below is from The Financial Times.

With its iconic white chimneys as the backdrop, the Battersea power station will this week take centre stage as one of London’s biggest regeneration projects of recent times.

Building starts on Thursday of phase one, involving 850 apartments and penthouses, which will form part of a residential and retail complex set to emerge on a 39-acre site, which has sat unused since the power station was idled in 1983.

But while the vast brick structure has been familiar to passing Londoners and tourists, what is less known is that the backers of the project are from Malaysia, a country not usually known for making splashy investments overseas.

The Battersea site was bought 12 months ago for £400m by a three-member consortium from Malaysia, which has said it believes the whole development will be worth £8bn by the time it is completed in 2024.

The Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, is set to officiate at a ground breaking ceremony, with London mayor Boris Johnson, at the site on Thursday.

The two biggest investors are Sime Darby, one of the world’s largest operators of palm oil plantations, and SP Setia, a large Malaysian property developer.

But the third, providing 20 per cent of the funding, is barely a household name in southeast Asia, let alone further afield: the Employees Provident Fund, the largest Malaysian government pension fund by assets.

The EPF traces its origins to a pension fund started in 1951 by the British in what was then Malaya and is now the sixth-largest pension fund in the world with Rm537bn ($169bn) in assets under management.

The EPF has grown to that size thanks to government pension rules that require 11 per cent of all employees’ salaries be channelled into a state pension scheme while a further 13 per cent is paid in by the employer.

This means that millions of Malaysians see the equivalent of a quarter of their salaries pumped into government pension funds every month.

Over time, such inflows have generated huge war chests for the EPF and its smaller rivals Permodalan Nasional Berhad, and Tabung Haji, an Islamic pension fund that helps finance Malaysian muslims’ annual pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

Yet with Kuala Lumpur’s relatively small stock and bond markets, the funds have been forced overseas in the hunt for returns.

That has propelled the EPF and PNB into the London commercial property market, helping turn Malaysia into the sector’s second-largest investor after the US.

“These guys have some of the biggest cheque books in Asia,” said Steve Clayton, senior country officer for JPMorgan in Malaysia.

 “They are in the early stages of searching for and making large cross-border investments. But, as they find more and execute more, their global influence will undoubtedly increase”.

An EPF spokesman said the fund aimed to have 23 per cent of its portfolio invested overseas by 2014/15, up from 18 per cent now.

British government officials said Malaysia’s renewed focus on the UK is matched by an effort the other way in seeking opportunities for British business in the fast-growing markets of southeast Asia.

During a visit to Kuala Lumpur last year British prime minister David Cameron – who is due to meet Mr Najib this week – pledged with his counterpart to double the value of bilateral trade to £8bn by 2016.

Britain’s investments in Malaysia have been growing steadily, if unspectacularly, since vacuum maker Dyson started using Malaysia as its global manufacturing base in 2002.

Tesco, the supermarket operator, has 44 stores in the country and Hamleys, the famed London toy store, opened a branch in Kuala Lumpur last week.

Hugo Swire, minister of state in the Foreign Office responsible for southeast Asia, on a visit to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore last week, said Britain “hadn’t done a very good sales job” in the region in recent years. But that was now changing.

“There’s been a huge increase in the number of ministerial visits. A lot of us are travelling a lot more,” he said.

The article is here.