Author Archives: wcw

Tear-jerker with a twist

I’M not one for heartbreak movies. In fact, I can’t fathom the idea of sitting in a cinema bawling away and drawing unwanted attention to my sensitive side.

My idea of going to the cinema is to be entertained – and this means either being in stitches over some comedy or watching heroes blast villains away. Cinema tickets aren’t the pittance they used to be, so why pay for sorrow? Life is already overflowing with pain and sadness.

Not too long ago, while on a long-haul flight, I watched Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore as a linguistic professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease shortly after celebrating her 50th birthday.

It depicted a phenomenally successful, family-oriented woman who literally began to lose every-thing, particularly her memory. The health setback put her in a place where she simply felt lost.

At the end of the movie, I slipped into the washroom and broke down. I cried my eyes out.

I was thinking of my father, who had dementia then. He no longer recognised me and only talked about his formative years in Langkawi, Kedah.

He passed away in July, at 95 years old. What an incredible run. My mother is 89 and still has a sharp memory, especially when it comes to money and bank deposits. I’m touching 60, and like many people my age, I remember events we like to think about but can’t recall simple details.

Last week, I cried again after watching a video which truly stirred my emotions.

The video featured 10 Covid-19 survivors and frontliners. They’re not professional actors like those featured in National Day commercials we like to watch every year.

They are of all races and all are Malaysians. Covid-19 is colour blind, and for some of us who are still racially biased, this video is a stirring reminder that we don’t get to choose the ethnicity of our frontliners. Indeed, when we’re at the hospital, at the mercy of our creator, we realise that we’re barely a grain of sand or drop in the ocean.

All the titles, wealth and self-glorification are useless. We want the best doctors and nurses and, finally, we realise that their race and religion don’t matter in the name of caregiving.

In just five days, the 10-minute video was viewed nearly 800,000 times on Facebook and Instagram, with over 25,000 shares and hundreds of positive comments. It has been shared around the world, especially among the Malaysian diaspora, and the numbers are still flying as the video continues to soar with its viewership.

The R.AGE team of Star Media Group has produced many internationally award-winning videos, but this one has tugged the most at my heartstrings.

I guess it hit most of us directly because we can all relate to it. It’s also the timing of the video. We are still battling the pandemic, and while Malaysia has done well in containing the spread of the disease, we have also slipped into complacency.

It’s nearing National Day, and on this occasion, we need to remind ourselves that we’re Malaysians and this country belongs to all of us, regardless of race.

Many of our forefathers came by different ships, but as Malaysians, we’re now in the same boat, charting a course through difficult economic times.

Our politicians are compelled to paint a rosy picture of Malaysia ahead of the general election, but things can only get rougher. We’ve had enough politicians promising us so many things in their manifesto only to falter in fulfilling them. Worse is them having the gall to say they never thought they could win.

The real heroes are not these vote and publicity seeking politicians with superb acting talents but Malaysians performing their duties with great dedication and even risking their lives daily.

The R.AGE team searched for Covid-19 survivors, encountering apprehension from some initially. With the frontliners, it was more difficult because their jobs were the priority. Appearing in front of the camera was understandably uncomfortable, although it was easier for the younger ones who grew up in the age of Instagram and TikTok.

Said Qalbie Ghani, who was treated at Tumpat Hospital, Kelantan, for 15 days: “Even if I saw (my doctors) on the street, I wouldn’t be able to recognise them because they were in full PPE (personal protective equipment),” she said.

Qalbie was one of the 10 Covid-19 survivors who shared their harrowing experience and their heart- warming tributes to the frontliners in Reunited.

“They treated us with such care. In fact, I think Malaysian Covid-19 patients are lucky because we have such dedicated frontliners,” she said.

The video ends with an emotional surprise for each survivor – which R.AGE deputy executive producer Ian Yee was quick to remind us not to divulge as a spoiler.

“We’ve worked hard to keep the surprise under wraps for a few weeks because we hope people can experience it themselves when they watch the film,” said Yee, who warned that “there will be tears”.

He added that it took the R.AGE team three months and “countless phone calls” to find the right profiles for the film as well as orchestrate the emotional surprise, which they only had one shot to get right.

There are other incredible stories, too. A friend of mine had to be quarantined on his return from Australia. He was naturally concerned about the quality of the hotel he was placed in. But to his surprise, he found himself in a comfortable one in Kuala Lumpur and in his words, “for the first time, I had a police escort for our bus from KLIA to KL”.The Covid-19 tests were also quickly carried out; as he checked into the hotel, though, he realised he didn’t have some important medication with him. The next day, he expressed his anxiety to the frontliners and, to his pleasant surprise, it was delivered to his room from a government hospital at no charge.

Many of us, especially urbanites, are often critical of our countrymen and institutions but the pandemic has shown that Malaysians are able to rise to the challenges.

EcoWorld collaborated with R.AGE to produce Reunited for its #AnakAnakMalaysia campaign with Star Media Group. The annual campaign celebrates Malaysia’s strength in unity and diversity, and usually culminates with the popular #AnakAnakMalaysia Walk.

“Although we can’t have our usual #AnakAnakMalaysia walk this year, the spirit of unity continues to resonate in this year’s campaign.

“Our theme of ‘Bersama Demi Generasi Masa Depan’ reminds us that sustaining a community for generations to come is a collective effort by all,” said Datuk Chang Khim Wah, president and CEO of Eco World Development Group Bhd.

Ordinary Malaysians are rarely at odds with each other. In fact, because there is no tension between us, we are comfortable with one another.It’s the politicians who stoke the fires of controversy and create imaginary enemies of us.

I’ve received many calls and text messages from friends about Reunited but the best came from our fellow moderation advocate and good friend Lyana Khairuddin who texted: “Why lah Star make us cry… but for the right reason.”

Lest we forget, Tunku Abdul Rahman said, “I am nothing without my country and my fellow Malay-sians”.

This certainly seems like a timely reminder for some politicians who still have an inane sense of self-importance and have no time for the people once they are elected.

Watch the video:

Keep our backyard safe

Home territory: Malaysia maintains a naval presence on the disputed Pulau Layang Layang, which also houses a resort that is popular with scuba divers. — Photos: Filepics/The Star

As tensions in the South China Sea escalate between the United States and China, it’s crucial we stay out of their bitter feud.

DESPITE the continuous news reports of the South China Sea being a flash point between the United States and China, most Malaysians would regard the place remote, if not inconsequential.

Most of us have greater concerns than the complex overlapping claims by many countries on the disputed islands there.

It’s highly unlikely that the bulk of us would be able to put our finger on the map where these purported fights between the two superpowers could break out.

But it isn’t really that far from our backyard. Pulau Layang Layang, which is part of the Spratly Islands, is a mere 300km north-west of Kota Kinabalu.

Pulau Layang Layang is just a speck in the sprawling archipelago of the South China Sea’s numerous islands, cays, islets and reefs.

The atoll, which is barely 7km long and 2km wide, is under Malaysia’s administration, meaning we call the shots.

Other countries, including China, Taiwan and Vietnam, call this island by different names and claim it’s theirs, too. The Philip-pines has claimed part of the Spratly Islands as its territory as well.

China uses an imaginary nine-dash line to cover most parts of the South China Sea, per its historic claim, which overlaps with the takes of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Besides the presence of the Royal Malaysian Navy and staff of a resort, there is little else there.

I had the privilege of visiting Pulau Layang Layang in 2008 with a group of Malaysian journalists to see what the island was like and get an aerial view of the area.

The South China Sea claims have become increasingly unsettling because China has strengthened its presence there by building artificial islands with military installations in parts of the vast sea.

One-third of the world’s maritime shipping reportedly passes through it, carrying over US$3tril (RM12.5tril) in trade each year.

The region is said to have huge oil and gas deposits under its seabed as well as bountiful fish harvests, comprising about 12% of global fish catch, which is why it’s not surprising that over half of the world’s fishing vessels go there, reports reveal.

It’s almost impossible to regulate fishing in the South China Sea because of the overlapping territorial and maritime disputes, which prevent effective enforcement of the countries there.

More significantly, the South China Sea is also a strategic military spot, and the United States is accusing China of having added 1,300ha of land on various reefs, which China has denied.

But what should worry many of us in Asean is that the United States and China have ominously chosen this spot as their battle ground, albeit they are still only at the rhetoric level.

Washington declared earlier this month that Beijing’s claims to most of the sea are illegal, ramping up support for South-East Asian nations with claims to parts of it.

A Royal Malaysian Navy fast patrol boat speeds off from Pulau Layang Layang. The wind turbine supplies additional electrical power to the navy base on the island.A Royal Malaysian Navy fast patrol boat speeds off from Pulau Layang Layang. The wind turbine supplies additional electrical power to the navy base on the island.

Australia, which has no reason to be involved, has also rejected Beijing’s territorial and maritime claims, saying there is “no legal basis” to several of them.

The United States regularly conducts so-called “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea to stand up to Beijing, in which the US Navy sometimes sends warships to the contested waters.

Recently, it was reported that China conducted rigorous naval exercises in the area using its H-6G and H-6J jet bombers. Its Defence Ministry said China carried out “high-intensity training and completed day and night training exercises in taking off and landing, long-range assault, and attacks on sea targets”.

The United States also recently sent two nuclear-powered supercarriers, the Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz, to carry out operations and exercises there with the aim “to support a free and open Indo-Pacific”. It was the first dual carrier drill there since 2014.

The South China Morning Post reported that the drills were “close to Guangdong and Fujian provinces”, while China had conducted naval drills and flyover missions “around Taiwan and the South China Sea”.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has it right in saying we must ensure we are not “dragged and trapped” in a geopolitical spat between heavyweight nations as we try to resolve these disputes. His ministry is keen on constructive resolution through “appropriate diplomatic negotiations”, but he highlighted two huge hurdles Malaysia faces.

“Firstly, I do not want Malaysia to be dragged and trapped in a geopolitical tussle between superpowers. We must prevent any unwanted incident from happening within our territorial waters. We must also prevent any military clashes in the waters between any relevant parties, ” he told Parliament, adding that the South China Sea dispute can’t be used as a source of divisiveness between Asean countries.

“If we follow the narrative and succumb to the pressure of superpowers, the potential for Asean countries to bend and take sides with certain countries will be high. When facing superpowers, we must be united, as one bloc, so that our strength will be synergised effectively, ” he said.

Our concern shouldn’t just be about China because the United States is also attempting to draw in the Asean claimants. In fact, it’s becoming clearer how some Asean members are perceived to be closer to the United States.

Asean needs to take a united stand because individually, we could never challenge the United States or China. Asean needs to remain a bloc even if member countries have overlapping claims on these islands.

These are complicated disputes that can’t be easily resolved, but Asean must never allow the South China Sea to be a battleground between the two superpowers. It’s too close for comfort and Malay-sians must wise up to the South China Sea being not far away.

There have been nerve-wracking close calls in the past where Chinese and US planes have collided, like in 2001, which caused the death of a Chinese pilot and forced the US plane to land on China’s Hainan Island, where its crew was detained.

In 1988, China and Vietnam clashed over Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands, which left 68 Vietnamese dead.

Tensions were defused via diplomatic channels a long time ago though, with cool heads prevailing.

However, with a US presidential election coming up, criticisms against China have become increasingly louder, while Chinese nationalism has also crystallised further.

Relations between the two nations are at its lowest ebb and hardly a day passes without a verbal attack by the United States.

The Americans have a history of waging war overseas. They’ve lost on occasion, but in all scenarios, every party suffered dearly. When the United States issues tough economic sanctions against other countries, the people of that country are directly hit. Case in point: Iran. Iranians can’t travel freely and aren’t allowed to even open a simple bank account anywhere.

The bottom line is, there’s a heavy price to pay for standing up to Uncle Sam.

Last week, China told its service personnel “not to fire the first shot” as Beijing looks to de-escalate tensions with the United States in the South China Sea, sources familiar with the situation told the South China Morning Post.

It would be tactically wrong for Beijing to give in to the American hawks and allow the situation to escalate.

The news report, quoting sources, said Beijing had ordered pilots and naval officers to exercise restraint in the increasingly frequent stand-offs with US planes and warships.

“Meanwhile, further details have emerged about a phone conversation between the two countries’ defence ministers last week.

“The call was first suggested by the US side about ‘a month earlier’ but was initially given a frosty reception in Beijing. But a source said the Chinese leadership later had a change of heart and decided to reach out as tensions escalated in the South and East China seas, ” the paper reported.

In fact, China perhaps needs to review its diplomatic strategy because it needs to reflect on its impact and how it’s perceived, particularly in the West.

China obviously feels it has the right to be a bigger player on the global stage having earned its stripes. However, its increasing assertiveness has been used against the country even though it has never waged war against anyone, unlike the United States.

The United States and its Western allies must also accept that the world has changed. They must accommodate China, whether they like it or not.

The nations will ultimately do as they please, but let’s hope they keep their battle out of our backyard, the South China Sea, because the situation looks explosive and ground zero is simply too close to home.

Celluloid heroes

THE imagery for those of us weaned on American-made westerns is clear – the good guys were always the cowboys. The white men, I mean.

And in Hollywood’s typical black and white storyline model, the bad guys were naturally the Red Indians, who were portrayed as uncivilised savages who killed cowboys freewheelingly.

As schoolkids watching these movies, we had no idea the saddled and booted cowboys stole the Red Indians’ land.

We even cheered for Lone Ranger and his Red Indian sidekick, Tonto. It was only later that I realised Tonto was really a traitor to his fellow native Americans. Let’s be honest, the Native American snitched for him.

And of course, Lone Ranger had to be the boss. After all, he was the white man, so there was no way the Caucasian American audience would stomach their kind playing second fiddle.

When Italian moviemakers began producing western movies, dubbed spaghetti westerns, it was the Mexicans’ turn to be the bad guys. They were made to look overweight, scruffy and dirty.

Then in the late 1960s, at the height of the Vietnam war, I was delusional. I was still cheering for the American soldiers in the movies.

They were called GIs, which was a popular term to describe these soldiers. I didn’t even ask why they were called GIs. Well, GI was stamped on military assets to denote “government issue”.

I watched the 1968 movie Green Beret and was clapping away for hero John Wayne when he was killing the Vietnamese communists.

Well, recently, the late John Wayne, who played cowboys in many movies, was dismissed as a white supremacist, who had even used homophobic slurs in an interview.

I was just a kid, so how would I have known what these sweaty Americans were up to in the jungles of South-East Asia, or what business they had in our backyard? The Vietnamese in the movies were always skinny, but I was never curious to know why.

Penang was one of the listed rest and recreation spots for these American soldiers and there were many of them – usually drunk – in my hometown. They seemed like good guys and they looked like heroes. And that’s how Hollywood has brainwashed us.

In fact, American moviemakers are still at it. The Arabs must be terrorists, the Italians Mafia mobsters who kill on weekdays and confess in church for their sins on Sundays, and, curiously, only eat pizza and spaghetti.

The Irish speak English that’s not native to most. So they are often cast in a bad light by filmmakers.

In hit TV series Peaky Blinders, the Irish and Gypsy backstory make for Hollywood gold, in which, of course, the character Tommy Sheldon and his family members are gangsters.

The scourge of stereotyping has also made blacks look like gangsters, with their bling, tattoos and obligatory loud rap music as a soundtrack. You never see them as the Wall Street types in movies. Even the hero, Shaft, has to deal with black bad guys.

Then, there are the Albanians. If you’ve watched Taken (and its sequels), a movie about a retired secret service agent whose teenage daughter is abducted by human traffickers while on a trip, you will never visit Paris and Istanbul, two cities supposedly filled with these bad Eastern Europeans.

Let’s not even mention the Russians. They have been the bad guys from the day Hollywood made its first movie and little has changed to this day. The Cold War may have ended but the rivalry has never stopped.

Fast forward to 2020, and the bad guys are now the Chinese. Hollywood is still unsure of how they should treat the Communist Chinese, who supposedly eat bats and export viruses to the United States.

After all, the rich Chinese have pumped in too much money to support Hollywood movies and Tinseltown depends on China as the biggest box office in the world. So, indeed, cash is King, regardless of whether it is the US dollar or Chinese yuan. For the time being, just leave China-bashing to President Donald Trump and his sidekick, State Secretary Richard Pompeo.

With the US presidential election set for November, the two have literally gone berserk with their routine rhetoric against China.

The Chinese, and Asians who look like Chinese, have been blamed for everything under the sun.

Every Chinese is a potential spy for China. It doesn’t help that most of them are good in maths and science, lending to the spy theory. Soon, Kumon classes will be branded communist indoctrination camps designed to produce intellectual property thieves.

We can’t be too far off the mark to say 90% of Americans don’t even know where the hell the South China Sea is, yet it has become a daily topic in the American media.

None of the media, however, has pointed out that Americans have bases in South-East Asia while the Chinese have no such presence or even an outpost in any city in the region.

But the reality is that the anti-China narratives have worked in the United States and Trump is probably aware of it and has kept pushing the pitch. Never mind what CNN says because the TV station is merely the voice of the cities and not the rural Midwest where the cowboys live.

The fact is that Americans’ negative perception of China has reached a “new historic high” amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report published by the Pew Research Center on Thursday.

“Around three-quarters (73%) of Americans have an unfavourable view of China today – the most negative reading in the 15 years that Pew Research Center has been measuring these views,” wrote the authors of the report, Laura Silver, Kat Devlin and Christine Huang.

“The percentage who say they have a very unfavourable view of China is also at a record high of 42%, having nearly doubled since the spring of 2019, when 23% said the same.”

The South China Morning Post reported that amid repeated accusations of espionage, consulate closures in Houston and Chengdu, and continued finger-pointing in Washington and Beijing over which country deserves more blame for Covid-19, Pew’s survey is the latest piece of evidence in an impossible-to-miss trend: the distrust of China and its senior leadership, now rampant in the United States.

The survey showed that Republicans and Democrats are together in their scepticism, though the latter number slightly less.

“In March, 72% said they had a negative view of the country, compared with 62% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. Republicans are also more critical of China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic: In the April-May survey, 76% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the country has done a bad job, compared with 54% of Democrats and leaners who say the same.

“And, while large majorities of partisans on both sides of the aisle have little or no trust in coronavirus information coming from

the Chinese government, a whopping 92% of Republicans hold this view, compared with 78% of Democrats.”

It may not be emblazoned yet, but the Americans and their allies are sitting uncomfortably with the increasing competition in all spheres from China.

The Chinese have simply become too good at the game of capitalism. China is supposed to stay poor, be subservient, only produce cheap goods for the West, and never become a competitor.

Whether it’s CNN, BBC, CNBC or Fox News, the same narrative is being put through its rinse and repeat paces. Succinctly put, China must be the bad guys, and it’s now the right time to be biased, too.

Yellow Peril is now back in fashion. The principles of free trade and fair play have been thrown out the window.

At Trump’s order, social network video sharing site Tik Tok was blackmailed into selling its US operations to Microsoft within 45 days, having failed to come up with a similarly successful platform. Much more than that, Trump also insisted on a cut for making the deal possible, supposedly for the US government.

It makes more sense for the US and China to work together because the rest of the world would rather stay out of a fight between two superpowers. A lot can be done if the two nations work together for the betterment of the world.

I still love watching great Hollywood movies. Likewise, mainland Chinese and the rest of the world. So we should be mindful of how villains are cast in future.

Amphibious ambitions aplenty

Leap of faith. Hope to hop. Call it what you will, but ultimately, the self-serving surprises politicians spring on us are rarely welcome.

IF there’s one thing common among Sabah politicians, it’s them having belonged to more than one party. In fact, one even has the incredulous record of joining six.

None of them dares cast aspersions on anyone, especially their opponents, when they or their parties have been part of attempts to topple each other through sudden defections.

Well, let’s call them political frogs for their lack of moral principles and contemptuous disregard to honour the votes of the people, even if this behaviour doesn’t raise an eyebrow in Sabah.

It’s almost acceptable political culture in Sabah, these constant betrayals of trusts and hypocrisy. Their reasons for jumping ship purportedly to serve us (the people) better and more effectively simply insult us.

Curiously, it’s never about serving their own interests or their pockets, but always the people.

Last week, Tan Sri Musa Aman failed in his bid to topple incumbent Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal, but it was a classic tit-for-tat scenario.

In 2018, following the May General Election, both Sabah Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan ally, Parti Warisan Sabah, led by Shafie, won 29 seats each from the 60 state seats.

Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku (Sabah STAR) headed by Datuk Jeffrey Kitinggan, Pairin’s brother, came to Barisan’s rescue by pledging support of the party’s two seats to Musa, leading to the latter being sworn in first on May 10,2018.

Yet, the following day, four Sabah Umno representatives and two from the United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) hopped to Shafie’s camp, leading to him being sworn in as CM.

Musa was asked to quit amid the turmoil of having two CMs, and in the court case he filed against Shafie and the governor Tun Juhar Mahiruddin, the court ruled against him, too.

In the eyes of the public, Musa and Juhar look to be at odds, and the murmurings turned from whisper to chatter when Juhar lodged a police report against Musa for alleged criminal intimidation, which Musa duly denied.

Basically, Shafie formed the state government courtesy of the six frogs from Barisan.

Fast forward to 2020, and Musa retaliated with the same tactic by having frogs from Warisan, Upko, PKR and DAP make up his total of 33 representatives for a simple majority.

Musa is upset that Juhar refused to see him, and Shafie has successfully denied his (Musa’s) plan by dissolving the state assembly for a fresh state election.

But the events of 2018, last week and 1994 must have been déjà vu for Parti Bersatu Sabah founder Tan Sri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, 79, another former CM.

In 1994, PBS won the state elections with a two-seat majority while Sabah Umno won almost all the predominantly Muslim majority seats.

It was an emotionally charged campaign, because Umno had just made its entry into Sabah, and almost the entire federal machinery was parked in the state.

This writer spent weeks in the state to cover the election and the Kinabalu Hyatt Hotel was where everyone seemed to be staying, including the federal ministers.

One could hear the ranting and raving among campaigners staying in the next room, or at the next table in the coffee house. It truly was an exciting time to be a political reporter.

There were allegations of systematic citizenship granted to immigrants to turn them into voters. The alleged plan goes by the monikers of either Project M – referencing former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad – or Project IC. To this day, it remains a bitter subject among Sabahans, especially the Kadazandusuns.

The project has been described as having changed the demographic electoral pattern of Sabah, as well as ethnic and religious factors.

Given the razor thin majority, Pairin hurried to the palace to get himself sworn in but was denied entry.

With his car parked in front of the gates, and his engine running to keep the air conditioner on, he found himself surrounded by a swarm of supporters, reporters, policemen and curious onlookers.

He waited 36 hours, during which a mobile toilet even had to be set up. As reporters, we took turns to keep vigil under the hot sun and a downpour for any developments.

Pairin was finally allowed in, but his government lasted only two weeks before defections, including his own PBS men, forced him to quit on March 17,1994.

It was worse in the 1985 state polls, where PBS also won with a slim majority, which was followed by a series of bombings in Kota Kinabalu and other areas, pressuring the PBS government to collapse.

Kuala Lumpur, which was backing Parti Bersatu Jelata Sabah (Berjaya) under then CM, Tan Sri Harris Salleh, was agitated by the PBS campaign to protect the rights of non-Muslims and Kadazan-dusuns.

In the polls, PBS won 25 of the 48 seats in the state assembly while Berjaya won only six. Tun Mustapha Harun’s United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) won 16 seats.

Mustapha got himself sworn in as CM with 22 seats but was replaced hours later by Pairin after former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam intervened requesting the democratic process be honoured.

However, Pairin’s government was so bogged by defections that he called a snap election in 1986, which strengthened his position with a sound majority.

Party hopping has never stopped in Sabah because there, it’s a culture of strong-willed political warlords with plenty of resources to reward and punish.

Political allegiance is non-existent in the state. To put it simply, almost all of them are up for sale in the eyes of the people. There are few honourable members of the state assembly, with honour a rare commodity, unfortunately.

Jeffrey Kitingan, the Sabah STAR president, has been a member of PBS, Angkatan Keadilan Rakyat (Akar), Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS), PKR and Sarawak-based State Reform Party. He also tried to join Umno twice but was rejected.

He probably holds the Malaysian record for having joined the most parties.

Jeffrey is now the MP for Keningau and is the Deputy Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister at federal level.

Shafie began his political career with Usno and became an Umno member when Usno dissolved to bring Umno into Sabah in 1991. Suspended from Umno, he left to set up Warisan in 2016.

His arch-rival Musa also launched his political career with Usno, before becoming an Umno member.

PKR’s Datuk Christina Liew, a deputy chief minister, started out a PBS candidate in the Tawau parliamentary seat but then quit to join MCA, before leaving for PKR in 1995.

The late Stephen Wong Thien Fatt, the former MP for Sandakan, cut his teeth in Berjaya but quit to join Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP), before settling in DAP.

DAP’s Datuk Frankie Poon Min Fong, the state Health Minister, was said to be a strong supporter of PBS.

A fresh election – like what Shafie has done now – is futile if there’s no genuine desire for change in Sabah’s political culture.

It doesn’t help that the same strongmen continue to dictate the agenda in the state. And anti-hopping laws are pointless because these elected representatives can remain independents while giving their valuable votes to preferred leaders.

Not helping the cause is Sabah voters failing to give a strong mandate to their state government, which has constantly led to weak and unstable chief ministers who find themselves having to cut deals to increase their numbers.

The Land Below The Wind, well known for its beautiful people of all ethnicities and scenic mountains and seas, is however, tainted by dubious politicians who have earned the state the infamy of being the Land Of Political Frogs.

Raised on rubber

Making Malaysia proud: All eyes are on Lim and Top Glove’s performance next – will it set a new record in the stock market? — Filepic

The gloves are off as Top Glove moves up the stock exchange, beating banks along the way. The bet is on whether it will be in the number one spot soon.

MALAYSIAN businessman Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai is certainly the man of the hour. He is going places no Malaysian tycoons have.

The boss of Top Glove Corporation Bhd, the world’s largest gloves manufacturer, has found his company placed as third largest market capitalisation listed on Bursa.

On Thursday, Top Glove was in second spot, but it slipped to third when Bursa closed on Friday, with Public Bank taking over.

Pole position is still Maybank’s, which had a market capitalisation of RM88.244bil, against Top Glove’s at RM70.466bil on Thursday. Maybank’s share price closed at RM7.85 on Friday against Top Glove’s RM25.44.

Top Glove was at No.9 on the Singapore Exchange on Thursday, outranking bigger names like Singapore Airlines and Capitaland Ltd even.

Top Glove is expected to create Malaysian history soon by announcing the biggest jump in quarterly profit for a listed company.

The surge of the company’s share price is being watched closely by many Malaysians. Likewise, Lim’s increasing wealth, which has grown by millions by the week.

The real-time world billionaire ranking now has Lim at 443 in a list of 2,095 of the world’s richest persons with a wealth of at least US$5.2bil (RM24bil) as at July 23.

The 62-year-old Universiti Malaya physics graduate and Tunku Abdul Rahman College alumnus is ranked Malaysia’s 14th richest person in this year.By now, many foreigners would have sat up and taken note of Lim and his incredible showing in the stock market due to the demand for his rubber products amid the Covid-19 scourge.

Most tycoons are either reclusive, eccentric, heavily guarded or flamboyant, but Lim checks none of the above.

Westerners and even those of us not familiar with his name, would be surprised by his modest lifestyle.

He is a strong supporter of Tzu Chi, like fellow tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan.

Tzu Chi, headquartered in Taiwan, is a Buddhist charitable organisation which has volunteers and supporters all over the world. Malaysia, with a million-strong following, is an integral overseas centre.

Lim has been involved in Tzu Chi’s fund-raising efforts for some years, thanks to his persuasive wife Puan Sri Tong Siew Bee, a full time and long-time Tzu Chi volunteer.

Sharing his experience of serving Tzu Chi, Lim said he could only raise RM36 on his first outing after walking the streets for two hours.

“Nobody knew me and few donated. But that frustration did not dampen my enthusiasm to carry out good and meaningful work, ” he said in an interview with The Star.

Despite having to manage a huge corporation for six-and-a-half days a week, Lim persisted in availing himself to attend Tzu Chi’s volunteer course to be a “qualified and certified” volunteer.

Those unfamiliar with the Tzu Chi way would be stunned if they saw a tycoon like Lim seeking donations in public places, where volunteers need to bow and thank donors and the people they help.

Tzu Chi volunteers consider it an honour and privilege to engage in charitable work. The organisation has even helped rebuild mosques and churches in areas affected by disasters.

Lim’s most distinctive feature is his constant reminder to his listeners – especially those meeting him for the first time and sharing a moment – to take care of their body to remain healthy.

It hasn’t been easy for me being a Penangite with a love for food that includes greasy carb favourites, of which Lim would surely disapprove.

Last week, he texted this writer to reveal that he has been a complete vegetarian for the past two years, adding that his wife and son are also vegetarians.

Rule number one – stay fit and healthy! That was his opening line at a talk given to entrepreneurs. It’s an important criterion for those wishing to achieve great goals in life.

“When you are sick, you don’t earn anything, and you continue to have to spend money on fixed expenses on top of medical costs. But when you’re healthy, you can add value every day, ” he said.

He also has a peculiar induction for all new employees – everyone receives a toothbrush, toothpaste, tongue cleaner and dental floss, and all staff are required to brush their teeth three times a day.

In an interview, Lim set a goal of staying healthy and living until 120 years old.

He reportedly told The Health digital magazine that placing a priority on mental and physical well-being has helped him build his wealth.

Lim has practised what he calls his “5 Quality Wells” since young – clean well, eat well, work well, exercise well and sleep well – which he believes to be the formula for a long, healthy and prosperous life.

The company also monitors the body mass index (BMI) of its staff and has a policy of not hiring smokers. It also has full time nutritionists to design the company’s cafeteria menu and advise its workers on suitable diets.

Lim exercises four days a week, which comprises two days of badminton and two more of evening golf, and on occasion, he plays table tennis, too.

Top Glove employees are also required to sign a pledge every year to vouch that they will not condone or be involved in corrupt practices, with all new staff required to attend compulsory training specifically focused on combating corruption.

It has been a tremendous journey for Lim and his wife, who started their company in 1991 with their entire savings of just RM180,000.

Failure was not an option, he said, since they had no backup plan.

Fortunately, with his parents owning a small rubber plantation, he was exposed to the rubber trade from early on, while growing up in the small town of Titi in Negri Sembilan.

It’s interesting how other tycoons also ventured into the rubber gloves business but gave up because of the small profit margin then.

However, Lim persevered, and today Top Glove controls 26% of the world’s rubber glove market with 43 factories worldwide and with an annual production capacity of over 70.5 billion gloves.

Lim is certainly a good entrepreneur to emulate. A couple of years ago, I invited him to share his thoughts and experiences with readers of The Star.On the eve of the talk, I decided to turn up at the venue to make sure the sound system and seating arrangements were in order, and I was surprised to see Lim rehearsing his lines on stage – 24 hours before the event.

This is a man who takes his work seriously and is driven by a goal. Yet, he remains down to earth with almost no extravagance one can think of.

Almost everyone, especially in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong, is holding their breath to see how Top Glove performs next and if its shares will surpass the RM30 mark and set a new record for being on top.

This isn’t exactly a rags-to-riches tale, but certainly a fantastic story of a small-town man becoming one of the richest people in the world dealing with a commodity Malaysia knows best – rubber.

Memories of Mandela and a Malaysian’s role

A file picture of Mandela (left) with Dr Mahathir during his visit to Malaysia in 1990.

IT hardly seems like three decades ago, but on the hot summer day of Feb 27, 1990, I stood on the tarmac of the Lusaka airport in Zambia to welcome African hero Nelson Mandela.

I was there as part of the Malaysian delegation led by then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to welcome Mandela, who was making his first trip abroad following his release from prison after serving time for 27 years.

Dr Mahathir was the only non-African leader invited to accord a hero’s welcome for this iconic figure and I was fortunate enough to be able to cover this historic moment as a journalist.

All six leaders of the African countries bordering South Africa, and Uganda, were on hand to greet this great man, who then Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda described as “a truly great son of Africa.”

Tens of thousands of Zambians turned out to get a glimpse of Mandela, who was heralded throughout Africa as the embodiment of the struggle against South Africa’s apartheid system of racial separation.

The atmosphere at the airport was electric. Zambia was chosen by Mandela as his first visit overseas because it had allowed the African National Congress (ANC), headed by him, to set up its “exiled” headquarters there.

Today, the world celebrates Nelson Mandela International Day to remember his achievements in working towards conflict resolution, democracy, human rights, peace, and reconciliation.

For Malaysia, we rebuked South Africa’s apartheid and refused to recognise its government from 1957, when we achieved independence.

Tunku Abdul Rahman took a strong stand against the apartheid government from Day One.

And in 1990, when Malaysia hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) summit in Kuala Lumpur, we invited a delegation of ANC leaders including Thabo Mbeki, whom I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing.

Mbeki would become the second president of South Africa, after Mandela, from 1994 to 2008.

The ANC was deeply grateful for the open support displayed by Dr Mahathir, who hosted the historic CHOGM meeting in KL, so it was no surprise that our then PM was given the honour of greeting Mandela at Lusaka airport.

But there’s one Malaysian name absent from the story of the formation of the South African government under Mandela.

That person is Tan Sri Lim Kok Wing, who played a crucial role in helping the ANC run its first general election.

ANC leaders were freedom fighters. To the white government, they were just terrorists, but the ANC had no experience entering a democratic election either.

Lim, who runs the LimKokWing University, recently found himself in a controversy over a huge poster depicting a caricature of him and a lion, with the words “King of Africa.”

It was put up by a cartoonist and had been there for months with little fanfare until the “Black Lives Matter” movement emerged, paving the way for discussion on diversity and inclusion issues.

It was perhaps a misstep, especially in the age of racial correctness, but the university has since apologised and taken it down.

One can call Lim all kinds of names, but a racist he is not.

His critics and former staff have described him as insensitive, a slave driver, self-centred and rude, while his admirers have said he’s a genius who is hardworking, far-sighted, patriotic and genuinely generous.

Certainly, racism has no place on his campus as he has students from more than 160 nations and many of his office staff are Africans. He can’t afford to be racist, even if he wants to.

And no Malaysian educationist would commit resources to set up branch campuses in Botswana, Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Eswatini, since many still see Africa as an unstable place to invest. Recently, Lim added more branches in Rwanda, Namibia and Uganda.

His fascination with Africa started when he was introduced to Mandela by Dr Mahathir.

Lim first met Mandela in 1990 in KL, and after the introduction, the latter asked Lim for creative support for South Africa’s first election.

Soon, Lim packed up and journeyed to Africa with an incredible mission – to ensure the ANC won big in the elections.

Lim’s important role in working with Mandela led the ANC to a historic victory, which ended 300 years of minority rule in South Africa in May 1994. Sadly, this achievement likely won’t make it into our history books, let alone our school textbooks.

Lim will say little of what he has done, except that he has been among those privileged to have worked with Mandela during his most glorious and defining moments.

After all, not many of us are blessed enough to be able to share a little anecdote of criss-crossing with Mandela and other ANC leaders on a campaign trail.

In the run-up to the ANC campaign, Lim produced 60 tonnes of billboards and posters to be put up throughout the country.

He campaigned with ANC leaders including Patrick Lekota, Thanon Mbeki, Barbara Masakela, Cyril Ramaposa and Joe Slavo.

He worked with Dr Popo Molefe, who chaired the elections campaign committee and went on to become the premier of the Northern Province.

Lim designed the election poster, which showed the faces of young Africans and argued his reason for including at least two Caucasian teenagers, even if this irked some hardcore ANC leaders. Adding insult to injury for them was being “told off” by a Malaysian.

On a few occasions, Mandela had to step in to tell his supporters that Lim could easily shut shop and go home if tensions remained high, but he assured his people that Lim knew what he was doing and was willing to give it a shot.

But the road to redemption for Lim was a long and winding one. To kick things off unceremoniously, the posters couldn’t be printed in South Africa because printers were mostly owned by Caucasians.

And posters of Mandela were either taken down by irate Caucasians or blacks who wanted them as keepsake, so it was a struggle to maintain his appearance.

The billboards and posters were eventually made in Malaysia from funding by Malaysian businessmen, and then sent to South Africa by a chartered plane from Kuala Lumpur.

I’ve heard South African leaders speak glowingly of the work done by Malaysia, although in a far from enthusiastic way. But one thing’s for sure – they’re certainly grateful.

Lim has been modest. He merely considers himself very privileged to have been involved in a small way in the sea change. But for me, as a proud History undergrad and a journalist, I have always insisted that the role played by Malaysia and this Malaysian, needs not only be recorded, but told, too.

As Lim embarked on his education crusade, I took a different path in this sprawling land. My thirst to understand Africa took off after Zambia.

Later on, I travelled to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Sudan, South Africa, Egypt, Rwanda, Namibia and Uganda, as a journalist and traveller, and that’s just a fraction of what Africa has with its 54 countries.

Lim’s love for Africa didn’t end with the general elections of South Africa. He continued to play a significant role in the continent by transforming the lives of young Africans through the Limkokwing universities which he set up.

His African journey then took him to South Africa, where it all began with a new campus set up in the picturesque Warrenton.

I’m not a Dr Mahathir fan and I’ve written critically about some government to government deals, such as insisting Malaysia Airlines fly direct to Zimbabwe and Peru, which were all counterproductive decisions.

But his early emphasis on Africa was spot on, and as China makes its impact in Africa now – due to geopolitical reasons or its minerals – there’s no doubt that the continent offers a potentially huge market, and Dr Mahathir envisioned that.

As we, Malaysians, join the world to remember Mandela, we should also know about the small but crucial part played by our countrymen.

Giving credit where it’s due, we need to put aside politics and our personal prejudices and just record history as it unfolds.

Killer on the loose

THE reason for my father’s passing, as detailed in his death certificate, is septicaemia. It means serious blood stream infection caused by bacterial contamination in its host.

My 95-year-old dad passed on July 12 following a brief admission to hospital from July 1, after he developed a high fever.

Just a week earlier, I visited him at our Penang home in Air Itam, and he appeared healthy and normal, although he had been feeble for a while. But he wasn’t bedridden.

Always with a smile, Wong Soon Cheong could still use the spoon to eat by himself, although he seldom spoke since he had dementia.

But within that short period from June 23 to 30, a deterioration began that simply seemed irreversible. Basically, it was his last days on earth.

Considering the many complications of blood infection, the doctor at Adventist Hospital surmised dengue could be a possible reason.

Just before that, my brother who lives next door to my parents, contracted chikungunya, which landed him in hospital on June 16. The viral disease is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes and causes fever and severe joint pains.

He isn’t sure if he was bitten at his workplace on Chulia Street, but my dad was definitely at home.

Last month, the Health Ministry released a warning for the second wave of another deadly virus infection – dengue.

Yes, dengue is a deadly serious problem, even if our attention is on our battle with Covid-19 right now.

It was reported that a fresh wave of dengue cases was expected to hit the nation early June and continue until September, based on the trend of infections in the nation over the last five years.

From January to June 6,2020, 48,584 cases of dengue fever were reported, with a total of 84 deaths in that time.

The report said that while the total figure indicates a 11% drop from last year’s 54,524 cases in the same time frame, the numbers climbed over the last six weeks, with an average of 8% each week.

It said that “the Health Ministry notes that 11% of this year’s dengue fever deaths were due to late treatment.”

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah believes that premises closed during the movement control order (MCO) period had inadvertently become breeding grounds for the virus-carrying Aedes mosquito.

Another report quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying that despite a risk of dengue infection existing in 129 countries, 70% of the threat is in Asia, with Malaysia having some of the most cases.

“Over the last two years, dengue has been on the rise in Malaysia, registering 80,615 cases (147 deaths) in 2018 and 130,101 cases (182 deaths) last year.

“Based on annual data released by the Health Ministry’s Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre (CPRC), dengue cases usually start increasing from May and spike after the monsoon during July and August.”

Unfortunately for my late father and my brother, their homes are in Air Itam, which has been identified as a hotspot for both dengue and chikungunya.

In the first half of this year, until June 13,212 cases of chikungunya were reported in the state, according to state health committee chairman Dr Norlela Ariffin.

But here’s my complaint. On June 16, my niece made a request for fogging via the Health Ministry’s official website after her father was stricken with chikungunya.

The following day, she received an efficient reply with an acknowledgement from the Penang Health Department.

The North East district health officer texted her on June 22 for the exact location of the house and on June 23, health officers came to check the home and reported that they found no larvae in the drains or surrounding areas.

Its email said fogging would be carried out if cases were reported in the area, but when my niece sent a message of my father’s situation, she received no reply and on July 1, her call to the North East district wasn’t even attended to by the officer in charge.

After all the emails, correspondence and details of the telephone calls were forwarded to Air Itam state assemblyman Joseph Ng Soon Siang, a fogging team suddenly appeared at our doorstep on July 3.

Surely a simple issue like this need not involve the personal attention of a state assemblyman if the state department had taken a more active approach.

The Health Ministry did its part by informing the district level officer, but they either ignored the warning or were too busy tackling the problem in the state. But case MOH 104678 deserves better attention.

Imagine what it’s like for the affected residents, who don’t know how to communicate with the district health office, or even effectively articulate their predicament.

Just like with Covid-19, older people are most susceptible to dengue since they generally have a weaker defence mechanism, and this is where the peril lies.

The situation has become more complicated because local health authorities haven’t been able to conduct fogging during the MCO period.

They’ll have their work cut out as numbers increase in the post monsoon season now.

My father has certainly lived long. He neither smoked nor drank, and his only dietary weakness was overindulging in nasi kandar, perhaps, and like a true blue Kedahan, he insisted on having curry in most of his meals. We even placed a plate of “gulai ikan” for prayer offering on the funeral altar.

He fought hard, even when he was at the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, and it broke my heart to see how much he suffered.

So many diseases could take a man that age, but in the end, it was a mosquito which ended his life.

My 89-year-old mother still lives at the Kampung Melayu home and I am obviously worried for her, too.

I have no intention of faulting anyone here, including indifferent health officers. I merely mean to highlight the continuing danger of dengue and remind those with ageing parents living on their own to be more aware of their folks’ surroundings.

Make it a point to keep your homes clean and insist local authorities perform their duties well. Certainly, no one deserves to have their life cut short by a pesky parasite.

Dicing with danger

MANY of us have become complacent since the movement control order (MCO) was relaxed. Confession time: I’m one of them.

I’ve noticed that registration logs at many public places including restaurants, have now become indecipherable. I doubt the names and phone numbers are even authentic.

The entries on these logs now look like mere adherence to authorities, in case their officers come around for inspection. To be fair, it’s hardly possible to ascertain the accuracy of every entry.

If you use your phone to scan the barcode, the guard, who checks your body temperature, is barely diligent to see if you’ve filled in your details.

The guards, being mostly foreigners, are also reluctant to antagonise Malaysians. Why would they want unnecessary flak anyway?

Last week, I went up to Penang, and at one coffee shop on Gurney Drive, I saw 10 people sharing a table.

Social distancing looks like a practice consigned to the past, at least at this coffeeshop.

In many public places, crowds have swelled again, which is good and bad. Good because businesses need to operate to make up for the massive losses during the MCO.

Also, as Covid-19 daily cases drop, it has lulled many of us into a false sense of security where we’re believing the New Normal is returning to the “old” normal, meaning things are as it used to be, like at the start of the year.

The Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, has rightly pointed out that the people of Selangor must continue adhering to the conditional MCO’s regulations and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to stop the spread of Covid-19.

He also reminded the public to continue being cautious under the “new normal”, only leaving home when absolutely necessary, and not congregating in large groups, like at open houses during the month of Syawal, or attending weddings. He also stressed the need to follow social distancing rules at all times.

“To all Muslims, for this year, please celebrate Aidilfitri only with immediate family members and keep it simple, without needing to return to the kampung,” Sultan Sharafuddin said.

He has expressed concern for the safety of Selangorians from the start of the pandemic in Malaysia and has diligently monitored and kept abreast of data and statistics on the pandemic.

Many of us seem to think the increasing positive cases in the United States, which has surpassed three million, is because Americans are apathetic, like their foolish and stubborn president Donald Trump, who still refuses to wear a face mask.

We’d like to think this won’t happen to Malaysians, and I’ve heard enough racist remarks about Caucasians and their health habits, or lack of.

In England, Britons have jam packed pubs again, with near body contact in most situations.

After months of lockdown, partial or full, not many people want to talk about another round of movement restrictions because we’ve all suffered enough.

Many businesses have gone under and jobs have been lost, and nearly all wage earners have had their income trimmed.

But we must not lose sight of how a vaccine has yet to prevail over this insidious virus because there’s the very real danger of it returning for more blood, and Malaysia won’t be spared if we let our old habits return.

Last week, Australia’s second-largest city had a second lockdown in response to a spike in new coronavirus infections.

Melbourne’s five million residents have been barred from leaving home for six weeks, except for essentials or extraordinary reasons.

The police said they were setting up a “ring of steel” around the city, with “checkpoints anytime and anywhere” to enforce measures.

Borders between Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, and neighbouring states closed last Tuesday.

Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews announced the Melbourne lockdown after the state saw 191 new infections, its highest daily number since the pandemic began.

It doesn’t make for comfortable reading because Melbourne is home to many Malaysians.

In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported 28 new local cases over the weekend, including 10 with unknown sources of infection, shocking a city getting used to the continued relaxation of social distancing rules, including a dramatic easing of restrictions more than two weeks ago.

Health experts have said that insufficient testing and lax surveillance of those exempted from quarantine are behind the new wave of infections.

Describing the current run of cases as the city’s third wave of contagion, health officials announced on Tuesday evening a basket of revised measures to counter the deteriorating situation.

One of the core clusters of the latest upsurge centres on a care home for the elderly, a service sector Hong Kong has succeeded in protecting over the past five months of the health crisis, when many parts of the world struggled.

Our elder citizens remain most susceptible to the killer disease, so it’s essential that SOPs are properly enforced, especially in places of worship and at religious gatherings.

Simple observation reveals that it’s older people who are likely to attend such gatherings, so we must not let our guard down at all costs.

We can no longer have a compromising and tolerant attitude simply because these gatherings are religious in nature.

In China, AFP reported that it recorded its highest daily number of new coronavirus cases in months last Sunday, triggering fears of a second wave of infections.

The report said the fresh attacks gave a bleak insight into the difficulties the world will face in conquering Covid-19, just when many European countries prepare to welcome visitors from around the continent.

“Adding to the concern, Italy is fighting new outbreaks of its own, Iran and India have reported worrying increases in deaths and infections and the pandemic is gathering pace in Latin America.”

Malaysia can’t remain closed forever. We have done a tremendous job and have every reason to be proud of our success in combating this deadly disease.

I don’t think we can dispute the steady hand of Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and that of the Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah and his team, but let’s not waste all our efforts.

Let’s be ready. We don’t want to face a fresh wave of infections because it has already happened in other countries, which have even higher health standards than us. So why tempt fate?