Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Saddest Part Of A Comedy

A few days back, I watched a play, Indicinelive iii. It was a hilarious parody of the insane society we Malaysians live in: of by-election romances, of friendship during tea breaks between protestors and riot police; of plastic surgery by our famous personalities; of MPs fighting obesity as they gulp down too much coffee- it was a riot of fun, laughter, and a generous serving of how we see the world in ironic, humourous little pieces.

Like everyone else, I laughed, and laughed, and then laughed some more. All of us present found it all incredibly funny. But as the audience began trickling away, chattering about their favourite scene, the most comical actors; the wittiest line- I sat there, rooted to the chair, staring at the empty stage.

Maybe it was all the laughter getting to my head, maybe I was just plain tired after a long day, but at the end of all the humour, all the joy, I was sad. I thought to myself: The issues, the characters- they were all so real, so reflective of us. I wondered, how many of us are going to bring back more than a few laughs tonight? How many of us are going to lie at night, eyes open, thinking about the corruption, the scandals, the violation of human rights that the show highlighted? How many of us will have a conscience? And even if we do, how many of us are going to do something about it, not just say it is the way of things?

How many of us are going to care?

As I sat there, staring into blank space, a friend of mine came over. She gave me a quizzical look, and asked: What's wrong? Didn't you find it funny? Don't you agree with what they said?

And I said: "Yeah, I do. And that's the saddest part of it all."

The saddest part of it all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Malaysia Grand Sale

I tell you, shopaholics and bargain hunters must LOVE the Malaysian government. After all, Malaysia is probably one of the few governments to give discounts on almost everything, from traffic summonses, to building materials, and now, a 15% income tax incentive to encourage professionals working abroad to return  and serve "Tanah Tumpahnya Darahku".

Yesterday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced that returning Malaysian professionals would be eligible for a flat rate of 15% income tax for five years. Now there are many problems with this idea.

Firstly, by implementing this 15% income tax flat rate, the government will be alienating those who had returned before this. Those who returned earlier will not be eligible for this benefit, and will definitely feel discriminated against. On top of that, the real patriots who are eager to serve the country, those who have returned to Malaysia right after their studies/ training, those who are in fact most deserving of a reward, will be ignored. All this creates a sense of injustice, and a flaw in logic is apparent- those who are not rewarded are perhaps more deserving? It is the traffic summons case all over again, where dutiful citizens are sidelined while irresponsible offenders are rewarded for paying up late. Where is the logic, the justice in this?

At the same time, the income tax flat rate is not an effective incentive, because of 3Ps- Prospects, Politics and Patriotism.

The first P is Prospects. When people settle in a country, they do not look at one, two, or for that matter, five years. They look at their long term prospects, their chances at enhancing their skills, getting promoted, gaining recognition etc. The 15% income tax incentive is a stopgap measure, an artificial and superficial plug that does not stop brain drain at its roots ( or holes since its a leak?). There have been many cases where patriotic citizens return to serve their country, only to find that despite their qualifications and skills, they are sidelined for those less capable. An acquaintance of mine has been a doctor for over 20 years, and has applied to become a specialist for more than ten years. And yet, his requests are constantly ignored, and when he pressed for an explanation, the senior official simply replied that he stood out too much and its not good to be too hardworking, makes the rest of the service look bad. His is not an isolated case. With little hope of career advancement, with much advanced R&D facilities abroad, and local opportunities to sharpen one's skills being denied, one can only wonder why some choose to continue working abroad.

The second P is Politics. In a country where racism and corruption is so ingrained into national policies, many capable men and women are disgusted at the injustices the country suffers from. From the incessant leaks at Parliament, to the insensitive and barbaric remarks made inside and outside the House; from the infringement and violation of Orang Asli rights, to the dirty, filthy money politics that continues- many professionals are frustrated and saddened, to the point that they have all but given up on Malaysia. 'Leave Malaysia!' they say ' before we all become maids in Indonesia!' Personally, I am of the opinion that their frustration should be channeled into helping Malaysia become a better place, but for the purpose of this essay I shall refrain from divulging into that. In any case, their disappointment in what Malaysia has become is another strong deterrent from their return.

The third P is Patriotism. Not Patriotism per se, but rather a sense of gratitude. Many of our young brilliant minds feel that they do not owe gratitude to Malaysia, and I cannot find it in myself to blame them. Consider the case of one of my friends. At the age of 15, he was the top scholar in my school. An outstanding fellow, he excelled in sports, academics, and leadership roles- he was the love of every teacher and the envy of every other guy who wanted to become half as good as him ( yours sincerely included). He then proceeded to apply to several scholarships, but of course he was rejected by all but one .... none other than our good neighbours Singapore. He is now an ASEAN scholar, and in the O Levels, he was one of the top students in the entire nation of Singapore. Singapore has given him and many of his outstanding Malaysian peers, education, recognition and opportunities, and is continuing to do so. The other day, I met a young woman from who just got her degree in Yale, and is now pursuing her Masters under the financial aid of ... none other than... Singapore! She has also been offered a PR. Who do you think is responsible for the production of such talents? ( and no, I don't mean reproduction.) Who do you think these young minds feel indebted to? Malaysia, or Singapore? And by no means, does being called traitors and unpatriotic make them feel any more affection for the country that failed to appreciate their ability.

And so, the tax incentive is not only an ineffective measure, it also self-defeating in its purpose to instill a sense of belonging and patriotism in those working abroad. It also fails to address the key issues that are at the roots of the Malaysian brain drain. Attractive it may seem, it is definitely a rose with many thorns . In fact, it's one of those roses which looks like a rose, smells like a rose, but in actual fact, is NOT a rose. ( Ah, so it's a Lingam rose? Korek korek korek!)

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Finger- Star Public Speaking

arThe following is the transcript of the speech that won me runner-up in the recent Star Public Speaking Competition. If I manage to obtain the video I will post it up. The content is somewhat similar to my previous Racism Within post. I hope you enjoy!

*points finger at audience
You. You. And you. All of you.

Ladies and gentlemen, Malaysia is now filled with words. Words ( and numbers) like 1Malaysia, Unity, Diversity, Harmony. But words are not enough. Words are not enough when we do not give meaning to them, when there are incidents like Interlok, the cowhead protest, the Balik Cina comments by a school principal.

These words are not enough, because deep inside, we are ALL guilty of racism. Because as we seek to blame one another as racist, because as we are pointing one finger towards the accused, we have the other fingers pointing at ourselves.

Now before I am labeled as *ahem* unpatriotic, reflect upon the validity of my statement. Imagine you are driving in the car, when suddenly a driver, not of your race, overtakes you without signaling at breakneck speed. Do you then give him *the finger* because *words are not enough* to express your anger? Or do you think Crazy Chinese, Malay Moron, Indian Idiot? There is bound to be some form of racism, where we judge a person first and foremost by the colour of their skin.

And that is the sin we are all guilty of. Just as a ping pong ball must be returned to the hitter for the game to continue, the game of racism can only continue if both sides return volleys and hits. Some may argue that we have no choice because racism is used against us. But the truth is, being racist to those who are racist, is NOT going to make them less racist. In fact, it will only give them more reason to be racist. Racism can only lead to more racism. As Mahatma Gandhi once said: An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

And so, racism is a monster that resides in us all. Specifically, it is a three eyed monster.

The first and earliest I, I for Interior- is our family, our homes, our innermost sanctum. From a very young age, our parents tell us what Malaysia is. They tell us that the Chinese are greedy, cheating liars, that the Malays are lazy and undisciplined, that the Indians are drunk, drugged and dirty, and that Chindians are apparently really good looking. And being young and malleable, we take it all in. And as we grow up, we pass down this culture of racism, a vicious cycle going on and on and on.

The second eye is, our Ignorance. Now as a child, I was afraid of the dark. I feared the darkness because I could not see what monsters were lurking in the shadows. I feared, and thus hated, because I did not understand. And that is what is happening today. We are kept in the dark about each other. As society moves to segregate, label and divide us according to race, we are talking to each other less, eating together less, understanding each other less. In fact, probably the most interracial contact a child has is with a maid! And because of this, we cannot comprehend each other, and thus, we fear and hate each other.

The third and final eye is our Inaction. Years ago, I embarked on my first bus journey home. It was a Chinese school, and all the students were Chinese, with the exception of one boy. This Indian boy was the subject of constant ridicule, constant bullying, constant mockery. I was shocked and shamed, but I did nothing. And by doing nothing, I had condoned and allowed such a blatant act of racism to continue, I had become an accomplice. By my inaction, I had contributed to the chaos that ensued.

I often think back to that moment, and wish I had done something. But my words are not enough. Our words are not enough to heal the racism inside, to take away our ignorance, our inaction. We must act: reflect upon ourselves and ask: Am I guilty of racist thoughts? We must stop this culture of race generalization and of separatism: for only laundry should be separated by color. And most importantly, we must attack the three eyes of racism- so that we may be colour blind.

Ladies and gentlemen, racism may or may not be institutionalized in Malaysia, but racism is definitely internalized in all of us. Fight racism inside yourself, and then carry that fight our to the world.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Author's Note:
When I first saw the theme, "Words Are Not Enough", this was the immediate idea that popped up in my mind. So many election promises and campaigns have been made since Independence to curb racism, and yet the situation is all the more dire today. I knew I was taking a huge risk by choosing a sensitive topic- some even advised me to drop the subject- but we will never eradicate racism by ignoring it. In this case, the message I could potentially bring to the audience and the minds of people far outweighed the risks of being deemed as "seditious".

In the words of George Orwell:
" In times of universal deceit, the telling of the truth becomes a revolutionary act."