Author Archives: wcw

Phrase that again, please?

Many writers and even some officials fall into this trap – using the same expressions over and over again, it’s almost automatic.

Ten worst clichés used by journalists (and maybe officials) in their news reports (and at press confe­rences):

1. Certain quarters: For some inexplicable reason, the Malaysian media and the country’s officials, particularly politicians and the police, are enamoured with the word “certain quarters”, or the Bahasa Malaysia equivalent, pihak tertentu. That phrase is hardly used anywhere else, but seems to pop up time and again here.

No one seems to be able to explain why it has to be “quarters” and never “certain groups or parties”, so, inevitably, it ends up being “certain quarters”. It’s almost the equivalent of tiga suku in Bahasa Malaysia, and there’s a joke somewhere in there for sure.

2. Neighbouring countries: Our authorities seem to have a phobia naming criminals from our, ahem, neighbour countries. It’s always negara jiran, and the last time I checked the map, only Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia can claim to have that kind of proximity with us. The Philippines, Brunei, and further away, Myanmar and Cambodia, somehow, do not (pardon the pun) “fit the profile” of the police and other officials when they reference negara jiran.

Likewise for the media. So, negara jiran has to be one of those three nations. And given our prejudices and sense of bias, the guessing game can become an interesting and funny one at times.

Malaysians can never understand the impeccable courtesy and manners of our officials, especially the kind extended to most foreigners.

But if a Malaysian is caught for an offence in Singapore or Thailand, you can bet your bottom dollar we’ll be named and shamed. They won’t say from a “neighbouring country”, which could just be 10 minutes away on a clear traffic day.

3. Go all out: This has to be one of the most over-used and annoying phrases in Malaysian news. It’s difficult to be sure if this is down to poor vocabulary on the part of the reporters or just tardy approach to work, or simply, unimaginative officials. And this doesn’t exclusively apply to cops or politicians, but also sports coaches.

Classic examples include, “we will go all out in the general elections”, “we will go all out to nab the gangsters” and “we will go all out to win the title”. We must really be an out-going bunch because we simply love to go all out. We will go all out to make sure we keep using “all out” in our news reports and at press conferences. (It’s essentially lazy writing and lazy talking).

4. Leave no stone unturned: Our crime reporters and cops love this term passionately. So we keep reading about how “the police will leave no stone unturned” in their investigations. Of course, it will invariably be followed by the predictable “we will go all out” – these phrases are partners in crime almost.

Every Malaysian newspaper reader or TV viewer can tell what’s coming – “we are taking this very seriously and we will leave no stones unturned in our investigations”. What else were we expecting? “We will take this lightly and we will leave the stones as they are?” I’m not even certain if this is exactly what the police officer says, or what the reporter interprets and then creates. But possibly, after reading so many reports like these, I’m starting to wonder if there’s actually a vicious cycle at play, making the police officer to automatically use it.

5. Shock of my life: Another classic unimaginative and embarrassing bit of news reporting. I don’t think the legendary Michael Chong even uses it. So, for example, we have a 10-year-old boy who had a shock of his life when he discovered his dog was killed by a cat. Never mind that he hasn’t even lived a full life yet, since he is only 10 years old, but it has to be a shock of life. A jolt or even a shock, is never sufficient, it seems. It has to be the shock of his life.

6. Like a scene from a movie: Every fire drill, every security exercise often has to start with a snooze-worthy introduction – like a scene from a movie. This kind of news reporting has to be from a bad horror movie, if its source is indeed the cinema. And of course, the real story unfolds in the standard subsequent paras of bad reporting that “it’s a relief” that this is only an exercise. For goodness’ sake, Malaysians can tell the difference between a real disaster and a drill.

7. The ball is round: Another one from Captain Obvious’ handbook. Why not “difficult to predict”, or “I am too daft to predict” or “anything unexpected can happen”. Of course, we all know the ball is round. Even someone who barely knows how football – or soccer – is played can tell the ball is round. So, we don’t need a sports reporter giving himself a more respectable title of football analyst to tell us that he dare not guess the outcome of the game because the “ball is round”.

8. Agenda: The only agenda that most Malaysians have to deal with daily is the agenda of a meeting. But in Malaysia, based on media reports, it can be of a political nature … sometimes with subversive subtexts. So, we read and hear of “people with agenda” or (wait for it …) “certain quarters with an agenda” or ada pihak tertentu dengan agenda. Once again, the guessing game begins on what exactly this agenda is about. No one is clear.

On the bright side, “agenda” sounds far better than anasir anasir jahat, which was widely used in the 1960s and 1970s. Again, no one knows why it has to be jahat but the authorities came up with something better, and presto, we now have “agenda”.

9. Authorities: The media loves this cliché and they keep readers guessing. What constitutes “authorities” exactly? The Federal Government or state government? The Home Ministry, the police, immigration, the council, your employer? Or the wife or husband, who both also wield tremendous influence over our daily lives. They are serious authorities.

Come on, let’s confess, our spouses decide what we eat, what we watch in the cinema and where we go on holidays. So, when we read and hear the words “the authorities have decided”, we have to be sure which component of this influential (ahem) quarters. But the media prefers using this word pretty vaguely.

10. Do-or-die: With the general election looming, we will get to hear many of our politicians making these statements and the media will predictably pick up this mother of all clichés. Some of the politicians who have been using this worn-out script for decades, are still around.

Old soldiers, it is said, never die but fade away. But for politicians in Malaysia, they seem to continue forever and in some cases, refuse to retire, so they’re not about to ride into the sunset just yet. Old foes can even become new friends in our incredible Malaysian political landscape.

For sure, it will be a “do-or-die” battle for them in the impending elections, but we can be sure they will still be around if they lose. And we will be treated to the same boring clichés again the next round … like a scratched record.

All in a day’s words in politics

Some phrases have become jargon for lawmakers. Many have been overused, and in most cases misused, by this category of people. 

Ten most incredible remarks by our (or any other) politicians:

1. Playing politics – One politician accusing another politician of “playing politics”. If politicians are not playing politics, then what are they supposed to be doing? We expect politicians to, well, play politics and to engage in politicking. That’s their job and that’s the skill they’ve honed. Can we imagine, say, a footballer accusing another of the same act – “he is only playing football.” It’s bizarre when politicians point fingers at their counterparts for playing politics, often with negative connotations, as it amounts to accusing their reflection in the mirror.

2. Serving the people and country – Every politician in any given country says the same thing. They are supposedly only interested in serving the people, the country, religion, race, pets, families and everything they can think of – except themselves! And we are expected to believe that that’s their noble cause and that they don’t have any ulterior ambitions. Yet, they will spend their entire time and resources kicking, back-stabbing, bad-mouthing and clawing their way to the top! Of course, we will duly be told that they can serve the people “better and effectively” the higher they reach, all in the name of the people’s benefit, of course.

3. I will “take note” of the proposal – Which means the politician will do nothing. In fact, if your staff or colleague spouts the same phrase, it only amounts to the person not deserving a pay rise. Lazy bones syndrome? Highly likely! It’s almost an expression of inertness. Amazingly, it has now become the standard “tactical response” used by politicians to answer fellow Members of Parliament on the opposite bench during Question Time.

4. I “will study” the proposal – This gives the above a run for its money.

The same disinterested, non-committal reply, aka, “I am doing nothing about it”. This merely amounts to, “We will form a sub-committee/a committee/a task force/action committee to study the matter and a report will be submitted to another committee, which will then deliberate the findings.” In short – nothing happens for a while, or probably in the end, nothing happens at all.

5. “I have been misquoted by the press” – This means the politician has screwed up by putting his foot in his mouth (foot-in-mouth disease?), and the only way to get out of the mess, is well, to deny having said it all together.

And if he did say it, then blame the media for taking it “out of context”. And in their minds, this equals: the media has an ulterior motive; the media is biased; the media has an agenda; the media creates fake news.

Well, if the media produces audio or visual evidence to prove the politician’s folly with the said contentious remarks, then the standard operating procedure would likely be “well, I did say it, but I did not mean it THAT way,” or “you did not quite understand what I said”.

6. Fake news – It has frighteningly and sneakily crept its way into Malaysian politics from the United States, President Donald Trump its greatest purveyor. The fake news accusation is a good tactical move to defend illogical/embarrassing situations created by politicians, and used to near perfection by Trump.

It is just as handy for scatterbrain politicians.

7. Trust me – When a politician requests this faith, you know you should believe in your own instincts and scurry in the opposite direction. But it has to be the most overused and, consequently, misused phrase by politicians everywhere, perhaps perfected by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who doesn’t even have to worry about standing for elections!

8. Dementia – It’s a disease all politicians should contract if they wish to survive long in the merciless business of politics. You are expected to lose your memory of past actions against your opponents, if it means, you are now required to swallow your indignation to forge a new political partnership.

“What? I took action against you? Did I? It can’t be, it’s someone else who did it. Not me. If I did, well, I hope to pardon you soon.” Sound familiar?

9. The opposition is only interested in toppling us – Well, that’s exactly their job scope, isn’t it … to take over from the present administration? If they are not interested in toppling existing governments, then aren’t they wasting their time in the opposite side of the camp?

10. There are no permanent enemies, only common interests – In Malaysia, our politicians have turned this into a near artform, hopping in and out of bed so much so voters end up losing track of the number of strange bedfellows.

Let’s not even get into the pillows and strange dreams, or nightmares that have been created for getting in the same sack. One day, a party is accusing another of being an “infidel”, and the next, it is actually working with “infidels”. Almost predictably, after that, it is seen to be friendly with the same party that it has been crossing swords with for decades.

Meanwhile, divorces are announced for the break up with the infidels, yet, the desire to stay in the same house remains, because, well, the rakyat needs to be served.

That’s not all, and this one is even more incredulous – a leader once threw his opponents into the slammer for all kinds of offences, ranging from threatening internal security to sexual perversion, but in the very next instance, touted his once greatest enemy as the leader-in-waiting and probably gave him a BFF status on his FB. Of course, our voters are expected to subscribe to all of this and believe it’s for their own good.

Tale of two ‘hippie’ cities

Penang has some things in common with San Francisco – the island, too, is unconventional in many ways.

IT’S summer time in San Francisco but it is no ordinary season. Yes, this is the 50th Summer of Love – so branded because exactly 50 years ago, in 1967, this American city was the centre of a cultural revolution. This was where it all happened.

In those epic months, San Francisco embraced hippie culture – the so-called flower children – where young people joined forces in the name of love and peace to protest against the Vietnam War.

It was the age of The Beatles and their psychedelic experiment with Indian gurus, Scott McKenzie with his monstrous hit song San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair), Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, and The Rolling Stones, among others.

As my pick-up van crossed the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the music of that era automatically played in my head. Vivid memories suddenly flooded my mind – not just about San Francisco but Penang, too.

It was a time when the phrase “Make Love, Not War” caught the imagination of the world, with young men sporting long hair and beards, and in Malaysia, it was Penang that probably experienced this counterculture movement more than other states – or perhaps it was just the island state.

You see, Penang was part of what was called the Hippy Trail (along which Americans and many Australians and Europeans made a low budget hop overland to Asia) beginning with Istanbul and encompassing Katmandu, Goa, Bangkok, and other parts of Asia. Penang was one of the preferred choices. Unbelievably, many hitchhiked all the way there.

These young people claimed that they were searching for spiritual enlightenment (after all, “all you need is love”, say The Beatles in their Magical Mystery Tour album), standing up to rigid, conventional lifestyles and the Establishment. But really, was it just an excuse to smoke pot and have free sex?

I was in primary school when Penang was suddenly invaded by hippies (hygiene was surely not their priority!) in their colourful tie-dyed clothes, walking the streets of George Town, especially along Chulia Street and Rope Walk with its line of low budget hotels.

A new industry sprang up in Penang, as young locals who embraced hippie culture sold burgers and other Western food to cater to these Caucasian hippies.

Homes in the beach areas of Teluk Bahang and Batu Ferringhi were opened to these foreigners for US$1 a night and I suspect many illicit items were also sold by some locals.

For students in the island’s St Xavier’s Institution who had to walk past these streets and strange-behaving hippies, it was an eye opener but for most Penangites who were long exposed to foreign culture and visitors (Penang being a thriving port) it appeared to be just another phase of life and culture.

The smell of weed could always be detected in some cafes and the authorities began to frown on the free spirited behaviour of the hippies. After all, these were not exactly the kind of tourists that could contribute to the state coffers.

There were many complaints from locals about the topless – some even nude – hippies who flocked to the beaches and soon, the police acted. There were even reports of some hippies getting kicked out of Penang.

Innocent Boy Scouts like us, who were on camping trips in Batu Ferringhi, would go to the nearby Chin Farm to swim at the waterfalls where we would run into these hippies. But, of course, we didn’t report our encounters to our Scout Master as we wanted to go back the next day!

But Penang in the late 1960s and early 1970s was an unusual place. As much as these hippies wanted to run away from the war and the Establishment, in Penang they ran into the many US Marines who stayed on the island as part of the American military’s “rest and recuperation” (R&R) programme.

The hippies hated these men in uniform but Penang was one of the few approved holiday destinations for the soldiers fighting in Vietnam.

All US military personnel serving in Vietnam were eligible for R&R during their tour of duty – a minimum of 13 months for Marines, and 12 months for soldiers, sailors, and airmen – and for many, on their first visit to Asia, this could also mean their last as the war took its toll on these young Americans.

The other approved destinations were Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei and Tokyo.

Needless to say, Bangkok was the most popular choice as Penang was regarded as “too mild” for these GIs (a noun used to describe the soldiers of the United States).

Americans from Vietnam would be flown into the Royal Australian Air Force base in Butterworth on the mainland side of Penang before they took the ferry across the channel to Penang island.

It was an interesting cultural experience for me as a kid. Suddenly, there were many GIs at my Penang home as my aunt, who worked as a hotel receptionist, would invite some of them to visit a typical Malaysian home. Whenever she played tour guide, I was always asked to come along as the “chaperone” in case these Americans had naughty ideas.

So I was in the company of both hippies and soldiers as a boy growing up in Penang. Even in the 1970s, some of these hippies didn’t leave Penang after developing a liking for the island, and they became long-term residents at the low budget hotels and homestays – a term which was already in use in Penang in the 1960s.

Strangely, these colourful memories of a bygone era have never been recorded in school history books; perhaps they are regarded as inconsequential but they will be remembered as part of popular history.

Not many Malaysians are aware of the hippie era and the American GIs in Penang.

Fast forward to 2017. The hippies are gone. Mostly dead. The Summer of Love has been commercialised to get tourists to spend money on nostalgia.

Urbane, ambitious and trendy hipsters, busy with their mobile phones and note books in fashionable cafes, have taken over from the hippies.

Silicon Valley, located in the southern San Francisco Bay Area, is home to many start ups and global technology companies including Apple, Facebook, and Google.

It’s still very unconventional and very anti-establishment even if making money is on the agenda – although these hipster CEOs, who prefer jeans to suits, see themselves as advocates of social causes. To be represented in a Pride Parade is also a commercial consideration in San Francisco.

But Washington DC and Donald Trump are hugely detested here, and that perhaps is something that hasn’t changed in 50 years.

San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Penang still has a relatively low cost of living but in terms of properties, it’s among the highest. But I love these two cities for their many unconventional ways and openness.

The Trenglish way to better English

I CAN’T remember the last time I went to Kuala Terengganu. It must have been decades ago. The occasional trips to Berjaya Resort in Redang by air from Subang do not count, I guess.

But I am glad I went there recently to support Petronas’ efforts to promote English in schools via The Star’s Newspaper- in-Education (NiE).

It might be surprising to learn that the Terengganu state government is determined to improve the level of English in schools.

That is a mammoth task, since this is a predominantly Malay state which is still rural in many ways. It has been reported that 85% of its people struggle to speak and write in English.

In short, English is only taught in schools. Forget about having students converse in English among themselves, attending English tuition classes or using the language at home.

It seems almost like a lost cause but Petronas, Yayasan Terengganu and the state education department are determined to give it their best shot.

So, to make it interesting, the state has introduced its Trenglish programme – or Transforming English in Terengganu. The Trenglish programme was introduced in 2014 as a collaborative effort between the state government and state Education Department.

The results are beginning to show as almost 75% of students who signed up for the Trenglish programme passed the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) English paper in 2016.

State executive councillor, Bazlan Abdul Rahman, was quoted saying that this was an improvement from the 71.43% who passed in 2015.

“This proves that the Trenglish programme has managed to improve the English proficiency of our students.

“Unfortunately, the programme is only implemented in 50 schools, which merely makes up about 10% of the 501 schools in the state.

“Therefore, I hope the state government will review the programme (so that) it can expand to more schools, maybe to 250 in the near future,” he reportedly said, while debating the royal address by Sultan of Terengganu Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin at the state assembly.

Trenglish employs an interactive and fun approach by teaching English through language camps, mock interviews, drama and even nasyid performances.

No one can blame the state for making an effort to improve the standard of English among its students. The state has reason to be worried since, according to reports, 5,500 or 27% of students who sat for the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination in Terengganu failed the English Language subject.

This was based on statistics by the Terengganu Education Department over the last five years, which displays a disconcerting trend since English was made a compulsory subject to pass in the SPM.

It’s a scary situation as most urban Malaysians already feel the English standard taught in schools and in examinations is low, with some saying the passing rates are compromised.

Like it or not, even if the medium of instruction in public universities is Bahasa Malaysia, the harsh reality is that the reference materials, whether books or online documents, are mostly in English.

Job prospects on the many island resorts in the state hinge on basic English proficiency. The management of these establishments would surely want to hire those who can converse in English.

But what is impressive about the Terengganu state government’s efforts is that it has carried out a well-structured plan to improve the command of the language among students through Trenglish.

The state has hired graduates in English from local public institutions of higher learning to teach, focusing on Forms 3, 4 and 5 students.

Getting local graduates to teach has been more effective here as American graduates, whose mother tongue is English, have not been able to communicate effectively with their students.

(Under a programme between Malaysia and the United States, American scholars are invited to teach English in various public schools in Terengganu, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, Kedah, Perlis, Sabah and Sarawak for a full academic year.)

But that’s not all. Terengganu is flexing its might to ensure that its plan works and this includes roping in Petronas as a partner. The oil and gas producer’s group human resources management senior vice-president, Datuk Raiha Azni Abdul Rahman, who was selected as a Petronas scholar 30 years ago, understands the importance of the language.

A native of the oil-rich state, she is determined to ensure that the NiE programme benefits students in her state.

“Give it a year or two, we will see changes in students’ ability to speak in English,” she said. I can feel her excitement. I have attended many government-type functions, but I was surprised by what I saw this time.

The event, where 54 SPM school leavers from Terengganu were awarded scholarships under the Petronas Education Sponsorship Programme (PESP), was conducted in Bahasa Malaysia and English.

Even the emcee, who conducted the doa (prayers), made it partially in English. At the conclusion of the event, I made my rounds to thank Petronas and Yayasan Terengganu officials for joining hands with The Star on this project.

Everyone spoke in English — the state education department, Petronas and Yayasan staff all chose the language they are propagating.

Either my Bahasa Malaysia is bad or they wanted to send a clear message that the state was passionate in ensuring that Trenglish succeeds.

Before we headed back to Subang, my colleagues and I already began talking about our next trip to Terengganu.

We are prepared to roll up our sleeves and dive in deep. We are so primed and ready for this.

See the beauty in all religions

This writer’s collection of books, including the Quran, often surprises his visitors but to him, no one should shy away from reading up about another faith.

I HAD one of the most interesting interviews last week – my fellow journalists from Sinar Harian, the most widely read Bahasa Malaysia daily in the nation, wanted to feature me on my collection of books on Islam and the Quran.

The media group had just kicked off its annual Malaysia #QuranHour, with Muslims around the country congregating in mosques to recite the Quran en masse for an hour.

As part of the campaign, Karangkraf (which publishes Sinar Harian) chairman and group CEO Datuk Hussamuddin Yaacub, had called me to seek the support of Star Media Group, for which I readily agreed.

I told him my collection of books on Islam and the Quran made up only a modest section of my library but the newsman in him, and its editorial adviser, Datuk Abdul Jalil Ali, caught the news angle.

My fellow Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia alumnus also wanted me to talk about my private library as a human interest story to generate support for the event.

Visitors to my home often express surprise – which amuses me somewhat – after seeing for themselves, how much of an interest I have in this subject.

After all, I also have a decent collection of Bibles, books on Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, even Baha’iism.

While I am Christian, I do not see why non-Muslims should be afraid of learning Islam and broadening our knowledge in this religion.

Non-Muslims in Malaysia should have an open mind about this and it is, of course, favourable to deepen our understanding of Islam as we live in a Muslim majority country.

Malaysians, regardless of their race and faith, should also not be afraid to understand and appreciate another religion.

Let us remind ourselves that all religions preach good values and, surely, there are more commonalities than differences in these books on religion.

My journey in understanding Islam probably began when I was sitting for my Sixth Form examination, which was then known as the Higher School Certificate (HSC), now known as the Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM), which is regarded as the university entrance examination.

I signed up for the Islamic History and Malay Literature subjects, which required me to read and memorise the entire Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) and several Indonesian classics.

The first few months were terrifying, and I wondered what I had gotten myself into as preparations for the exam involved mostly studying on my own. I began to have doubts about my own choices.

But soon, I fell in love with these subjects as I began to learn more about them, treating it as part of a journey, if not, an adventure.

By the time I gained a place at UKM in the 1980s, I voluntarily asked to be included in the Malay Letters Department, as a minor course during my first year, where I had the chance to listen to speeches by the biggest Malay literature icons in the country.

But I also learned that in UKM, every student was required to pass the Islamic Civilisations paper conducted by the Islamic Faculty. It was a compulsory course, and if a student failed it, there was no way the person would graduate. This was more than 30 years ago and the requirement has remained.

The thought of having to pass an examination on Islam must have horrified the majority of first-year non-Muslim students, but for some reason, most of us took it as another step in education.

I wasn’t sure if we were young, reckless or just innocent, but I kept an open mind about the whole thing. And having towering figures like the late Datuk Fadzil Noor and Datuk Dr Haron Din, both becoming big names in PAS eventually, to teach us, was inspiring. Haron, in particular, was a good storyteller and could render the lecture theatre awe-struck, as we hung on to his every word.

It was merely a course on basic Islam. And when it was time to sit for the exam, most of us were pretty confident of passing and most of us did. I did not get an A but my interest grew from there.

It amused many of us UKM graduates why politicians made a fuss by creating controversies when they learned about such a course, which we had gone through decades ago. It wasn’t something new to me.

I can say that most non-Muslims did not become Muslims and vice versa, Muslim students who attended Catholic schools, didn’t become Christians. Fears are manufactured by politicians and wannabes only. The Christian brothers were missionaries and certainly evangelists.

By the time I started working, it was almost natural that I started to build up my book collection on the Quran, with the most recent one being Al Quran Al-Karim, a gift from Hussamuddin.

But it is the world class quality publications from our Islamic Arts Museum which truly inspire me, including Faith and Power: The Role of Women and Al Quran: The Sacred Art of Revelation.

Despite not knowing enough about Islam, that did not stop me from appreciating the beauty of Muslim calligraphy in Nun Wa Al Qalam, another publication of the Islamic Arts Museum.

My passion for collecting these books has grown, although this can be an expensive pursuit.

But the point is this – see the beauty and positives of all religions, and from there, we will see more commonalities, especially the values on compassion, patience, forgiveness, and acceptance.

The Quran is truly unique compared to other holy books. For one, it is the only book that begins each chapter with praises to God, declaring “in the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”.

Quran readers are constantly reminded of the values of being gracious and merciful. Surely, even non-Muslims would readily accept such virtues.

My favourite aunt – my mother’s sister – is a Muslim and I have plenty of Muslim family members. This is nothing unusual. We are all human … period. And at the end of the day, it is the heart that matters.

And on this special occasion, I wish all Muslims “Selamat Hari Raya, maaf zahir dan batin!”

Honour thy father on his special day

We must treasure every minute spent with our loved ones, especially our parents. We will not be what we are without them.

MY father turns 92 soon but he is a far cry from the man he used to be. He now needs to be helped to his bed and wheelchair.

It didn’t help that he had to undergo hip surgery recently after he fell from his hospital bed. He was admitted after he fainted at home.

At his age, the family wasn’t thrilled that he had to be wheeled into the operating theatre – for a surgery he really didn’t need to undergo had the hospital staff been more attentive – but we were told that he would be bedridden and in constant pain otherwise.

It has been about two months since the surgery and my dad is slowly recovering. We have hired a part-time nurse to take care of his physiotherapy needs.

And I thank God for my nieces and my 86-year-old mother who are doing a fantastic job taking care of my dad.

My nieces, Lai Pheng and Lai Cheng, have been superb caregivers despite their busy work responsibilities. Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves that they, too, need rest and space of their own as taking care of the sick and disabled is a difficulty task. It is both physically and emotionally taxing on these caregivers.

I have been travelling home to Penang to be with my dad as often as I can but it has been heart wrenching for me each time.

My father no longer recognises me.

He puts on a radiant smile when my mum asks if he knows who I am. Then, he says, albeit apologetically, that he doesn’t know who I am.

The loss of memory, which slowly affects most of the elderly, started a few years back in my dad’s case. I would knock on the gate of our family home and he would come out and take a look at me, turn around and ask for my mother’s help, saying he does not know who the guest was.

The part-time nurse, a Malay lady, has been an angel to the family.

She patiently converses with my dad about his past, talking about his days in Langkawi, Kedah, where he was born, slowly extracting nuggets of information that even I didn’t know.

I wasn’t aware that my dad played basketball and football in school until he and his nurse started talking about it in their thick northern Malay dialect.

He has been talkative with his nurse, and only with her, sharing with her stories of his boyhood till the time he moved to Penang to work as a shop assistant at the age of 15 due to poverty.

My dad has, what we think is, selective memory, talking only about his time in Langkawi, events he wants to keep remembering and he repeats the same things over and over.

Wong Soon Cheong, my father, taught himself English and still reads the newspapers passionately although I’m not sure if he merely flips the pages as a habit or whether he actually understands what he reads. I’m doubtful of that though.

Like many Asian fathers – especially the Chinese ones – we have never had a real conversation. He wasn’t a disciplinarian and has never struck me as far as I can remember. The caning was left to my mother. He always played the nice guy.

He had only one rule then – no gambling and no smoking. I suspect my grandfather was in debt due to gambling but I can only speculate as my dad never spoke about him or visit his grave in Langkawi.

In fact, I only discovered my grandfather’s name when I researched the family history a few years back.

My father has never hugged me, not even once, like most elder parents. Any expression of affection was unheard of during my younger days. He has never told me he loved me and I have never said the same to him. It’d be awkward, to be honest.

In fact, he didn’t even show up when I was born, until he finished work, according to my mum because he had expected me to be a daughter. By then, my parents already had three boys!

Love was not expressed and with my dad, he worked hard to put food on the table for the family – my mother, me and three brothers, her mother and three sisters – we didn’t expect anything more of him.

My grandfather came from Gaozhou, a county from southwestern Guangdong, in China. Like all immigrants, he left China in search of a better life in Malaya. We have no idea why he chose Langkawi to begin life here as a farmer planting vegetables.

When I was a boy, there were no birthday cakes or birthday parties but my dad took the family out to eat every Sunday, without fail.

That was how it was. I only saw families hugging each other in old Hollywood movies and TV shows. Not even in the Shaw Brothers movies from Hong Kong.

As I grew into a young adult, he was enormously proud that I secured a place in university, quietly telling my mum that it was “better than striking four-digit” (even though he didn’t gamble) but I suspected he was happy that he did not have to worry about my future.

This was when there were only five universities in Malaysia and higher educational options were limited.

I remember that he didn’t send me off to university. He didn’t ask how I was going to get to Kuala Lumpur. I had no idea where Bangi in Selangor was. I reached the capital’s Pudu bus station and actually hitched a ride to Bangi.

I presumed he had no idea what courses I signed up for at university and he never visited me at campus throughout my time there. But he finally showed up during my graduation ceremony.

My dad did not have a formal education. He once said he wanted to be a teacher like some of his friends but he did well as a businessman, thanks to the rubber boom in the 1960s.

His hardware stall didn’t make him rich but he had enough money to buy a car and a double-storey house in Kampung Melayu, Air Itam, where he and my mum still live.

Today is Fathers Day. I wish I could be back home in Penang to be with him but I am on a working trip in Terengganu. But thanks to modern technology, I will be able to FaceTime my parents.

Time is running out for my dad and mum. It’s a reality we all have to face. We have to treasure every minute spent with our loved ones, especially our parents. We will not be what we are without them.

How we treat our parents will be exemplary to our own children. Treat our parents well and we will be treated well, when our turn comes, hopefully.

We don’t have to say “we love you, Dad” because believe me, taking care of them and spending time with them is more meaningful than words. Paying, or at least contributing to their medical bills and other expenses is another filial duty.

Today’s piece is personal because it is Fathers Day. I am sure many will agree that this space is better used to talk about love, sacrifice, compassion, unspoken affection than politics.

Earn your money the right way

AS a Penangite, I am always asked by my colleagues and friends in the Klang Valley why is it that most get-rich-quick schemes are located in the island state and the investors mostly its citizens.

I have asked that same question myself, since I’ve heard enough stories of relatives and friends who have been entangled in this web of financial crookery.

It’s not something new. It used to be called the pyramid scheme and Ponzi but, like most, it is just another scam. The new term is ‘money game’ and it’s probably called this to warn new participants that there will be winners and losers, like in any other game.

However, no one is listening because most people are merely interested in the quick returns from their investments.

There are some reasons why Penang lang (Hokkien for people) have warmed up to these quick-rich con jobs.

Penang is a predominantly Chinese state and rightly or wrongly, the appetite for risk there is higher. Some may dismiss risk as a euphemism for gambling, but the bottom line is, many of its denizens are prepared to roll the dice.

Given that there are so few police reports lodged against operators, despite the huge number of investors, indicates the readiness of these players to try their luck.

They clearly are aware of the element of risk involved when they lay their money down, but the huge returns override any rational thinking. No risk, no gain, they probably tell themselves.

Making police reports against operators also runs the risk of “investors” getting their money stuck if the accounts of the scammers are frozen.

Risk-taking is nothing new to many Penangites. This is a state with a horse-racing course and plenty of gaming outlets. Is it any surprise then that a spat is currently playing out between politicians over allegations that illegal gaming outlets are thriving there?

One politician believes the state government does not have the authority to issue gambling licences and “to single out Penang also ignores the fact that gambling is under the Federal Government’s jurisdiction. We don’t issue such licences.”

It’s bizarre because no one issues permits to illegal gaming outlets. That’s why they are called illegal.

But there are some fundamental sociological explanations to this fixation on earning extra money in the northern state.

The cost of living has gone up there … and everywhere, too. For the urban middle class, it is a monthly struggle managing the wages – after the deductions – settling the housing and car loans, and accounting for household items such as food, petrol, utility and tuition for the children.

The cost of living in Penang may be lower than that in the Klang Valley, but it is not cheap either. Any local will tell you that the portion of char koay teow has shrunk, although the price remains the same.

But unlike the Klang Valley, where career development and opportunities are greater, the same cannot be said of the island state.

Many of us who were born and brought up in Penang, moved to Kuala Lumpur because we were aware of the shortage of employment opportunities there.

We readily sacrificed so much, moving away from our parents and friends, relinquishing the relaxed way of life and the good food for a “harder” life in the Klang Valley. We paid the price for wanting a better life.

Job advancement means better salaries, but in Penang, where employers have a smaller base, they are unable to match the kind of pay packages offered in KL.

So, an extra few hundred ringgit from such investments does make a lot of difference to the average wage earner.

It is not unusual for many in the federal capital to take a second job to ensure they can balance their finances.

I don’t think many Penangites expect to be millionaires, at least not that quickly, although JJPTR has become a household acronym since hitting the market in the last two years. As most Malaysians by now know, it stands for JJ Poor-to-Rich, the name resonating well with middle class families.

Its founder, Johnson Lee, with his squeaky clean, boyish looks, assured over 400,000 people of his 20% monthly pay-outs and even more incredibly, convinced many that billions of ringgit vanished due to a hacking job.

Then came Richway Global Venture, Change Your Life (CYL) and BTC I-system, among others. And almost like clockwork, Penang has now earned the dubious reputation of being the base for get-rich-quick schemes.

Having written this article while in Penang, I found out this issue continues to be the hottest topic in town, despite the recent crackdowns by the authorities.

My colleague Tan Sin Chow recently reported in the northern edition of The Star that “money games are on the minds of many Penangites.”

On chat groups with friends and former schoolmates, it has certainly remained very much alive.

Tan wrote: “Another friend, Robert, had a jolt when, a doctor he knew, told patients to put their money into such a scheme. A doctor!

“From the cleaners at his office to the hawkers and professionals he met, everyone, it seems, was convinced. None questioned how the high returns could come to fruition in such a short time.”

We can be sure that these get-rich-quick scheme operators will lie low for a while, but the racket will surface again, in a different form and under a different name.

There is no substitute for honest, hard work. Money doesn’t fall from the sky, after all.

What concerns Malaysians most

THE biggest concern among Malaysians, as we head towards the general election, is the cost of living. It’s as simple as that.

There have been plenty of political and religious side shows, but for many Malaysians, regardless of race, settling the many bills each month is what worries them the most.

Although Malaysia remains one of the cheapest countries to live in, its citizens have been spoilt for too long.

We are so used to having so many food items subsidised, including sugar, at one time, to the point that some of us have had difficulties adjusting ourselves.

Our neighbours still come to Malaysia to buy petrol, because ours is still cheaper than theirs.

But, as in any elections, politicians will always promise the heavens to get our votes. One of the promises, we have already heard, is the abolishment of the Goods and Services Tax.

No doubt that doing away with GST would appeal to voters, but seriously, even the opposition politicians calling for this are aware that it is a counter-productive move.

In the words of Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, a highly-respected retired government servant, “it is too much of a fairy tale.”

The danger, of course, is that populist electoral pledges are always appealing, even if they are not rational.

Malaysia cannot depend on just about two million tax payers to foot the bill in a country of over 30 million people. It is unfair and unsustainable.

Taxing consumption gives more stability to revenue because income tax is regarded as highly volatile, as it depends very much on the ups and downs of businesses, according to Mohd Sheriff. When the market is soft, revenue collection always sees a dip.

For the government, which has already been criticised for having such a huge civil service, without GST, it could even mean its workers may not get paid when there is a downturn in the economy.

In the case of Malaysia, we have lost a substantial amount of revenue following the drop in oil price.

So, when politicians make promises, claiming plugging leakages is sufficient to end GST, it is really far-fetched and irresponsible.

The Malaysian tax system needs to continue to be more consumption-oriented to make it recession-proof, and, more importantly, the tax net just has to be widened. The bottom line is that, it is grossly unfair for two million people to shoulder the burden.

The government has done the right thing by widening the tax base and narrowing the fiscal deficit. The move to implement GST, introduced in 2014, has been proven right.

GST is needed to provide a strong substitute as a tax consumption capable of off-setting revenue loss from personal and corporate tax.

Beginning next month, India will join nearly 160 countries, including Malaysia, in introducing GST. Like Malaysia, when GST was first introduced, plenty of loud grumblings and doubts have rolled out.

Unlike Malaysia’s flat 6% across the board, India is introducing a more complicated four-tier GST tax structure of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%, with lower rates for essential items and highest for luxury and demerits goods that would also attract additional cess.

In Singapore, GST was introduced on April 1, 1994, at 3%. The rate was increased to 4% in 2003, then 5% in 2004. It was raised to 7% on July 1, 2007.

Some politicians came under fire recently for purportedly calling for the abolishment of GST, however, some others clarified that they had merely called for a reduction in the tax’s percentage.

Another top opposition politician has come out as the strongest opponent of GST, reportedly saying the claim that Malaysia needs GST is false.

Some other politicians have described GST as regressive, but have not come out with clear ideas on how it should be tackled.

Nonetheless, the ruling party should not make light of these electoral promises.

For many in the urban middle class, they feel the squeeze the most.

They have struggled against the rising cost of living, paying house and car loans, and earning deep levels of debt, as one report aptly put.

The middle class, consisting of over 40% of Malaysians, is also in the income tax bracket, it must be noted.

Last year, an economist was quoted saying that 2016 was a year of a shrinking urban middle class and a happy upper class.

Shankar Chelliah, an associate professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said that the Malaysian middle class shrank in metropolitan centres across the country, and that most of its members would end the year almost 40% poorer than they were in 2015.

He said this would be due to the withdrawal of cooking oil and sugar subsidies, depreciation of the ringgit, decrease in foreign inflows and increase in outflows, among other factors.

For many in this middle class range who do not qualify for BR1M handouts, the government clearly has to come up with a range of programmes which can relieve them of these burdens.

It isn’t race or religious issues that will appeal to voters – they want to know how they can lead better lives, and if the opposition thinks contentious issues will translate into votes, they will be in for a surprise.

It is true that the heartland will continue to deliver the crucial votes, and the ruling party will benefit from this, but Malaysia has also become more urban and more connected.

At the end of the day, it is the bread and butter issues that matter most. Let’s hear some solid ideas and programmes which will reduce the burden of Malaysians.

When national pride is too costly …

Major shareholder: Proton is actually still Malaysian-owned at 50.1%.

Malaysia is not losing anything with the sale of a 49.9% equity in Proton to a strategic partner 

LET’S be frank – it isn’t wrong to suggest that most Malaysians have long grown tired of using taxpayers’ money to keep the national car project afloat.

In other businesses, when a company is bleeding, immediate steps are taken to cut losses – either shut it down or sell it to another entity. In some cases, even firms which are making money are sold if the offer price is just too good to resist.

In the case of Proton Holdings Bhd, however, money has been continuously pumped in to keep the company alive, even when it was languishing in the intensive care unit.

We were just too afraid of offending Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad because he is regarded as the brain behind the national car. But we need to face the truth. As much as we tried to keep Proton alive in the name of national pride, we all knew, deep in our heart of hearts, that Proton had become a national liability.

Since DRB-Hicom Bhd acquired Proton Holdings Bhd for RM1.29bil (or RM5.50 a share), it hurt the former’s earnings badly.

In the three years following the acquisition, Proton incurred RM1.93bil in after-tax losses for DRB-Hicom (as at March 31, 2015) as revenue fell on weakening sales volume.

The reality is that DRB-Hicom would have performed well if not for Proton. In the past four years, DRB-Hicom reportedly managed to almost double its Honda sales – from around 46,000 units a year to over 87,000 in 2015.

During that period, Proton’s sales declined about 33% to 102,175 units as at December 2015, according to a report.

Last week, following the announcement of the deal with Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, the share prices of DRB-Hicom shot up.

The DRB-Hicom shares rose to a high of RM1.86 early Thursday, when it resumed trading following the announcement of the deal.

The fact is this: Malaysia is just too small a market for a national car, and it doesn’t help that many Malaysians find other car brands to be more attractive than Proton.

In short, Proton’s acquisition was a huge burden on DRB-Hicom and its balance sheet. DRB-Hicom’s gross gearing – or borrowings – shot up to 0.91 times from only 0.26 times before the acquisition of Proton.

Last week, the former prime minister lamented the sale of Proton Holdings to foreigners and with some cynicism, remarking that the sale was just the beginning of having Malaysian assets, including land, sold off to foreigners.

“They say Proton is my brainchild. Now the child of my brain has been sold. Yes. I am sad. I can cry. But the deed is done. Proton can no longer be national. No national car now,” he was quoted as saying.

“Proton, the child of my brain, has been sold. It is probably the beginning of the great sell-out. The process is inexorable. No other way can we earn the billions to pay our debts. The only way is to sell our assets. And eventually, we will lose our country, a great country no doubt, but owned by others.”

Dr Mahathir must accept the reality that Malaysia is too small a market to support Proton’s growth. He cannot deny the fact that China is a huge market, selling 28 million cars a year, and with Geely’s stake in Proton, that door is now open to Proton.

The former premier is understandably sentimental about Proton, as it started with much optimism and hope. Every Malaysian wanted it to succeed, and most of us have, at some point in our lives, owned a Proton car.

But we need to look at the hard facts. Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd (Proton) was incorporated on May 7, 1983, to manufacture, assemble, and sell motor vehicles and related auto products. It produced Malaysia’s first commercial car, the Proton Saga, in July 1985.

Soon after its launch, Proton commanded the lion’s share of the local automotive market, but in the last 15 years, the market share has dropped. Last year, it fell to 12.5% of the local market share from 15.3% in 2015. Its total sales fell 29% year-on-year to 72,300 units due to deteriorating market conditions, said Hong Leong Investment Bank Research in a recent report.

We should be crying over this sad state of affairs and rejoicing that the financial burden of DRB-Hicom has now become lighter after Geely, which owns the Sweden-based Volvo Cars, agreed to buy 49.9% of Proton and a 51% stake in Lotus Cars from DRB-Hicom Bhd.

It doesn’t take a genius to guess that if the Chinese had their way, they would just take Lotus, as it is a premium brand name, surely desiring the technology from this James Bond car. But the deal was crafted in such a way that, if the Chinese wanted Lotus, it would need to take 49.9% of Proton.

It’s a clever trade off because DRB-Hicom is still the majority shareholder, and the national car remains in Malaysian hands.

More importantly, the 60,000 members of Proton’s staff and its 240,000 vendors, distributors, and suppliers, still get to keep their jobs. Surely the negotiators must be praised for pulling this off – it was not easy to do.

Ironically, the people of Sweden didn’t turn the Volvo deal into a political issue when Geely acquired 100% of the iconic car, which is a global name and, most certainly, the pride of Sweden.

The 240,000 vendors now, in fact, have a chance to provide their expertise to Volvo as well as the London Taxi Company, which produces the city’s famous black cabs, through its list of Global Sourcing Purchasing System.

That means that if Volvo in Sweden wishes to source for components producers, our Malaysian vendors will have a chance to be selected to manufacture automotive components for Volvo.

London Taxi has been acquired by the Chinese company, which recently opened a new factory in Coventry, Britain, investing some £300mil (RM1.67bil).

Were the British complaining that the black cab, a national symbol, has been taken over by the Chinese? Not at all. In fact, unless one follows the business transaction in the financial pages of the media, the average British bloke would have no idea at all.

It is really not unusual to see big foreign companies changing owners. The iconic Harrods in London is Egyptian-owned, don’t forget.

As a prominent retired official told me, the same argument can be applied to the Proton sale.

He said Proton would now grow bigger, produce more new models, sell in the Asean market, and employ more workers at its underutilised facility in Tanjung Malim, Perak.

The Jaguar, a British brand, has been owned by India’s Tata Motors since 2008. Vauxhall, one of the oldest British carmakers, was sold to the French.

Proton has the capacity to produce 400,000 vehicles but is currently being utilised at below 20%. Presently, its sales hovers around 6,000 units monthly, which is a pathetic figure.

To suggest that Proton has been sold off to a foreigner is preposterous. It is normal for any business entity to be on a 51:49% ratio.

Malaysia has lost nothing with the sale of a 49.9% equity to a strategic partner. It would be worse if we lose our sense of rationality and practicality in the name of national pride. Let’s get real.

Have some decorum, please

The recent ruckus at the TN50 dialogue with the PM in attendance was shameful, no matter how you choose to look at it.

COMEDIAN-ACTOR Sulaiman Yassin needs to attend an anger management course.

He is a has-been but has now regained fame or more precisely, notoriety, for slapping movie producer David Teo at a public dialogue, attended by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

This is not the first time he has assaulted someone, and if he doesn’t do something about his fiery temper, he will probably end up being charged with inflicting violence against someone one day.

As it is now, he is being investigated by the police for first claiming that his hand missed its target and the very next day conflicting himself, saying he had no regrets slapping Teo.

Teo, who said he had forgiven Sulaiman for his outrageous behaviour, will also be called up by the police, which has rightly filed a report on the case.

Interestingly, there are some who are cheering and back-patting Sulaiman for his much criticised action, which took place during the TN50 dialogue with the Prime Minister. It is hard to comprehend, even bizarre, for anyone with a rational mind to congratulate Sulaiman for his behaviour. It only encourages this feeble mind.

In 2003, he represented a football team comprising artistes in a football match against the staff of TV3 and reportedly attacked a player (or players), prompting the then chairman of Perodua Celebrity Cup, Norman Abdul Halim, to express regret at his rowdy behaviour.

According to a report in Utusan Online, the member of the popular KRU group described the incident involving Sulaiman as “shameful” as it took place in the open, being a football match, and was witnessed by the public.

Fast forward to 2017. The same man, with a tainted record, reportedly complained about Teo’s purported “rude and disrespectful behaviour.”

For most Malaysians, committing such a ruckus in front of the Prime Minister himself went beyond being rude – and we are talking about Sulaiman.

It is arguably a criminal offence (and perhaps, even a lapse in security) as this man could be seen walking slowly but purposefully towards Teo.

Artistes who know Sulaiman, aka Mat Over, say he can be easily provoked and has problems exercising self-control.

What is clear is this – he needs help and making him a celebrity of some sort for his purported bravado isn’t going to help him at all.

Mat Over is certainly not the ideal model for youth, and it is incredible that the Terengganu state government chose him to speak. This was decided even before the slapping incident, and it surely needs to be reviewed now.

Teo, too, needs to take a hard look at himself. Not many may want to tell him but he seriously needs to examine his less-than-favourable mannerism, which many found to be too loud, offensive, aggressive and abrasive. This, perhaps, is regarded as uncouth and rude by many. He may not even know it.

Last year, Teo put his foot in his mouth when he advised artistes to be careful with their spending, saying they should not end up like paupers, pointing out that the late legendary Tan Sri P. Ramlee had to “live at the side walk of Bukit Bintang and his son ended up working at DBKL”.

His intentions may have been good but the manner of conveying his message was done distastefully and Teo had to apologise over the matter as it was seen as an insult and had demeaned the family of the great artiste actor and his legion of fans. Seriously, he needs a script. Off-the-cuff remarks don’t become him.

No one can deny his vast contribution to Malay movies. Although they may not be award-winning, they provided work for hundreds, if not thousands, of local artistes. His critics call his movies “trashy” but they do not deny that they were profitable.

There are many Malaysians who actually like his movies. He remains one of the most prolific and profitable directors around.

To be fair to Teo, he has done more for the welfare and career of Malay artistes than some self-appointed chest thumping communal champions, who are demanding a public apology from him.

The producer is also known to be a generous person who has provided cars and even umrah trips to artistes. I’m sure he even offers personal loans to some artistes, many of whom have no sense of personal budget.

But Teo needs to improve his command of Bahasa Malaysia. Despite having produced nearly 80 Malay movies, he has not been able to speak the language smoothly, in a natural way. The result is that at times, he may end up sounding uncouth.

At last week’s dialogue, the incident might not have been so ugly if he had conducted himself better. He was given a minute to ask his question but he chose to express his frustration at moderator Datuk Rosyam Nor instead.

We are not clear what Rosyam actually said as it could not be heard in the video that went viral. One thing’s for sure, is that Teo needs to be more discerning in what he says publicly as he is a known figure.

Rosyam also came under attack from netizens for purportedly berating Teo for his manner, and perhaps unwittingly led to Sulaiman walking over to “teach David Teo a lesson,” in the words of Sulaiman.

Those who criticised Rosyam included comedian-actor Afdlin Shauki, who claimed that the former opened the floodgates in the first place.

It is quite a relief that common sense prevailed finally. It ended happily, like how those in the movie industry often say. Both rightly apologised to Najib as the host of the meeting which took place at his residence.

It was a shameful incident, no matter how we choose to look at it. A dialogue, as the name suggests, is a conversation between people. It is an exchange of ideas and views, and a meeting of minds. Surely there will be conflicting and sometimes, dissenting views.

But slapping someone or delivering blows at someone we don’t particularly like, offensive as the person may be, isn’t part of a civil discourse. This is not a wrestling or boxing match, please.

It is important that participants learn or keep up a certain decorum and manners when posing questions to someone, whom we have invited to a function to take questions. In the case of the TN50 event, it was the Prime Minister himself.

The artistes were given a rare opportunity to hear the PM, and to ask questions, but unfortunately, some chose to waste the opportunity.

The lesson learnt is for moderators to set certain rules and conditions at future TN50 dialogues, which have actually gone on very well before this. The moderators themselves need to know their roles better.

But these dialogues should be viewed positively. They must be held regularly, and not just because the general election is near.

Such town hall-style meetings allow the stakeholders of various industries to let our leaders know what’s on the mind of the people. It will also allow the leaders to explain the numerous issues. This is what a thriving democracy should be about.