On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Malaysians are down but certainly not out

It was not that the firm could not  afford a more decent meal for its  management team but it wanted to  impress upon them the need to be  austere given the uncertainties of  the coming months.

“Chau mai fun is better than  chau yau yee, I suppose,'' one senior manager quipped on seeing  the limited choice.

Chau yau yee or fried cuttle fish  is a Cantonese euphemism for getting the sack.

Although it is less than two  weeks to the Chinese New Year,  companies have cut down on new  year offerings. This includes the  annual practice of sending mandarin oranges.

Most companies have also printed Chinese New Year cum Hari  Raya cards to reduce expenses, encouraging their staff to share their  cards. There are even reports that  there may not be too many Chinese  New Year and Hari Raya open  houses this time.

The Negri Sembilan Gerakan, for  example, has announced that it will  do away with this Malaysian tradition, which is rather sad considering the fact that Malaysians now  celebrate the festivals of all ethnic  groups.

Information Minister Datuk Mohamed Rahmat, too, made a similar  announcement recently, saying he  may not hold a Hari Raya open  house as it will incur a lot of expenditure.

Their intention to reduce spending and help in the recovery of the  economy are certainly laudable but  one cannot help but suspect a  somewhat fastidious  reaction on  their part.

Such open house gatherings encourage the interaction of Malaysians and help strengthen their appreciation of the country's racial  harmony and political stability.

It is also a living showcase to outsiders, who seem to believe that  Malaysia will explode into racial riots simply because consumers are  rushing to buy sugar to beat the  price increase.

What our Malaysian politicians  can do is to hold joint open houses  to reduce expenses. Such functions  can also be moderate in scale.

Rather than drown in the gloom  and doom of the economic situation, Malaysians should ask themselves what they can do for the  country in these trying times.

We must also project our confidence to face the slowdown and  come out as winners instead of  sending the wrong signals to outsiders.

Malaysians must support the  campaign to grow our own vegetables, not that this can resolve our  economic woes much but it is a  symbolic gesture to show our seriousness in wanting to reduce  household expenses and to cut our  food imports.

But the media should not be overzealous in promoting family-run  cottage industries with low technology know-how as fine examples  of Malaysian entrepreneurship.

Self-employment, which generates income and create jobs, are  superb efforts but let us not lose  sight of our target.

There are other better examples  of Malaysian export-oriented  small and medium-sized industries, which we can give prominence.

Just a few months back, Malaysia  had adopted a high-profile campaign, projecting itself as a haven  for hi-tech industries, particularly  its Multimedia Super Corridor.

These projects will go on as they  will enable Malaysia hone its competitive edge and come out on a  sounder footing.

In fact, it has become more necessary to show the world that we  will be able to pull through if we  are disciplined and united, as the  Prime Minister said. A picture of a  confident, positive, well-educated,  hard-working and innovative Malaysian workforce is what we want  the world to see us as.

As the executives strolled out of  the meeting room, after adopting  various strategies, one of them said  he would insist on his staff thinking  positive.

A firm believer in Chinese numerology, the manager said he  would be greeting his friends differently during Chinese New Year.

“I won't greet them with sun leen  fai lok but sun leen fai seong,'' he  said. Sun leen means new year in  Cantonese. Fai lok refers to happiness but, unfortunately, it also  rhymes with plunge  certainly  something no stock market pundits  want to hear.

On the other hand, fai siong  means bliss. It also sounds like  “quick recovery.''

The manager said such greetings  may not help much in bringing the  economy back to its feet but it  would at least emphasise the point  of being positive.

That's not all. He advises his colleagues not to mention low foo or  tiger during the celebrations. What  could be worse than foo, which  sounds like bitter in Cantonese?

“Although the tiger won't be  roaring much this year because of  the downturn, we can at least refer  to the animal as tai mau or big cat.  Big is good,'' he quipped.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk  Seri Anwar Ibrahim, too, has included positive tones in his Chinese  New Year cards, which use Chinese  calligraphy, to friends and associates.

The Bahasa Malaysia translation  reads: Yang bijaksana tidak keliru.  Yang berakhlak tidak gundah gulana. Yang berani tidak gentar  which means the wise never get  confused, the virtuous are not emotional while the brave do not get shaken.

But all Malaysians, in ushering  the Hari Raya and Chinese New  Year, must believe that while we  are down, we are not out.

The same Malaysia Boleh spirit,  without sounding puffed up, must  prevail in facing the challenges of  the year.