Monday, 30 June 2014

Malaysian Food In America

You and I know that there is nothing more that we Malaysians are proud of than our food.

Chef Christina Arokiasamy is a fifth-generation descendant of a family of spice merchants.

She grew up in Kuala Lumpur, trained in Bali and Thailand, and today makes her home in Seattle, Washington.

Arokiasamy says she is now on a mission to introduce the melting-pot style of Malaysian food to Americans.

Read the rest here: Malaysia's Melting-Pot Cuisine Comes to America

Friday, 27 June 2014

Muslims, The Middle East And Civilisation

I have never broached the topic of Islamic civilisation being taught in history class with any of my Malay/Muslim friends.

In hindsight, I can't think why not. Perhaps I assumed that they approved of the laborious detail with which we were taught Sejarah Islam in Form 4 and then later in university, Tamadun Islam.

Perhaps I did not want to let on that I loathed the very subject of Islamic history, firstly because I didn't believe any of it was true - just grandstanding by the Muslim government to exert their alleged superiority.

Secondly, I had a Muslim history teacher who felt compelled to preach to the entire class how much superior Islam was to Christianity. Til today, I am not sure why Christianity was singled out as there were numerous Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists in the classroom.

Obviously, that is not a thing of the past. Malaysia's greatest Islamic warriors are out in full force, more so these days than ever.

But, I don't live in Malaysia anymore. And therefore, I am freed from the grudges that I would have borne against Islam, had I still lived in Kuala Lumpur.

So I am driven to find out why people act as they do. What made the Middle East the screwed up place that it is today. Who were they a century ago?

Baghdad in 1965

Iraq (or Mesopotamia), believe it or not, was a major centre of civilisation back in the 9th century. I kid you not.

From the New Yorker:

Baghdad had become the storied and romantic place it would forever be in popular imagination. Under enlightened, poetry-loving caliphs like Harun al-Rashid, Mansour’s grandson, Baghdad attracted scholars from all the domains of Islam, in keeping with Muhammad’s teaching that educated men are next to the angels and that “the scholar’s ink is more sacred than the blood of martyrs.”

A Chinese method for making paper from flax and hemp appeared in the Middle East at about the time of the city’s founding, and the new technology produced books in quantities impossible before. Almost everybody in ninth-century Baghdad could read and write.

While Europe still moiled in its Dark Ages, Baghdad was a city of booksellers, bathhouses, gardens, game parks, libraries. Harun al-Rashid was the first chess-playing caliph; Baghdadis also played checkers and backgammon.

Translators took Greek works and rendered them into Arabic, in which they were preserved to be translated into European languages several centuries later.

Today, we use Arabic words in our daily conversations: From Baghdad’s best years we get words like “zenith” and “nadir,” as well as “algebra,” “algorithm,” “alcohol,” “alembic,” “alchemy.”

There are numerous accounts of Baghdad's glory from different people of different origins.

It was a golden era, and while they heard rumours of invasion by the Mongols, they did not appear to be perturbed. The Mongols did eventually show up and brutalise the nation, destroying its buildings and taking away the women.

I think nations never recover from catastrophes like that. I have never understood why nations, be they Mongolia, Russia, Spain, Britain or the USA, feel compelled to invade and destroy. But they do - shame on them - and the consequences are long-lasting.

America has not quelled its war-mongering nature just yet. Apparently, they need to go back into Iraq to "sort things out". The people calling for these measures are mainly Republicans who think that Obama is a coward and that everything could and should be resolved by war.

There is massive brainwashing by Fox News (a Republican-funded news channel that is similar in nature to broadsheet Utusan Melayu) that feeds lies and propaganda to the feeble minds of white Americans who believe everything they're told and support the call for war.

Apparently, the displays of the previous "shock and awe" tactics in Iraq are not enough. For the record, I don't feel any awe, just revulsion. About 10,000 Americans have died since 2003, and God knows how many Iraqi civilians - never mind their military.

It is ironic, however, that the Republicans are happy to send America's youth out to war only for them to return in body bags, but they would never dream of sending out their own children. These people are UMNO to the core.

How will the Middle East ever regain its glory days when they are besieged by so much violence and terror? Saddam Hussein was a bad man with an evil regime, but his assassination has not brought any improvement to the nation of Iraq.

I hope that the people in power today realise that life is a cycle and change can happen when you least expect it.

Like the complacent and possibly cocky Caliph of Baghdad who did nothing despite hearing rumours of a Mongol invasion, an overly confident America should not expect to remain forever in power.

Golden eras fade very quickly.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Can KL Be A Bike City?

I have blogged in the past about London's initiative in encouraging the use of bicycles that could be rented using an Oyster card.

They have been called Boris-bikes, after the mayor (he of the strange hair-style) who claimed to first moot the idea.

I'm not sure how well they've taken, as I have heard reports of inadequate bike paths or paths that just end abruptly, forcing the cyclist to merge with traffic or end up on the pedestrian path.

Either way, it's not good.

Lately, Malaysia has taken up the idea of making KL a bike city, apparently in an effort to emulate Copenhagen, which is deemed to be the first bike city in the world.

There has been a vague mention of building the proper infrastructure to encourage more people to take up cycling.

I can see how this will reduce pollution and the traffic congestion, but if there are no proper cycling paths, then we are just going to have a higher accident rate, or sensible Malaysians will just cast the idea aside as another stupid brainchild of the Malaysian government.

The problem is, I see this as a good idea and would be sorry if it is dismissed.

Car-Free Morning means you don't have big machines trying to mow you down as you cycle about, but it can only be feasible one day of the month (and on a Sunday) as is currently done.

I look forward to seeing how this goes.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Complacency Factor

One thing I have learned in life is to take everything with a pinch of salt.

I analyse every piece of news that lands on my lap and even mull over the motive behind it.

Naturally, that was what I did when I came across this article from Bloomberg View that questions if Malaysia is Asia's Weakest Link.

For those of you in the know, Michael Bloomberg was a former mayor of New York City who in an attempt to reduce crime in the city, instated rather racist laws like "stop and search" in which black young men were targeted by the police.

I lost my respect for him then. He later attempted to control the in-flow of guns into the city by regulating them, but that earned him the wrath of the National Rifle Association of America (who are a bunch of nutcases themselves).

Anyway, by that time, it was too late, as both the right wing and left wing hated him in possibly equal measures.

Bill de Blasio appears to have done a much better job so far, but I digress.

Back to the article: Oxford Economics apparently ranks Malaysia the "riskiest country in Asia of those we consider," more so than India, Indonesia and even coup-happy Thailand.

Why, you ask.

Malaysia wasn't included in Morgan Stanley's "fragile five" list of shaky emerging economies last year, as were India and Indonesia.

But Fowler scratches at a number of Malaysian vulnerabilities that deserve more attention: external debt levels that in recent years have risen to close to 40 percent of gross domestic product; a higher public debt ratio than India; the biggest short-term capital flows among the 13 major emerging markets Oxford tracks, including Indonesia; and a shrinking current-account surplus.

I really do take many "financial services" corporations very lightly. After all, they are the ones who predict the strength of economies with grave seriousness - until they are proven to be completely wrong!

They then lose huge sums of money and promptly run to their governments for a bail-out of which the tax-payer bears the cost.

Anyway, the article does have some valid points, which is why I brought it up in the first place:

What really concerns Oxford, and myself, is the complacency factor in Putrajaya. Malaysia is effectively a one-party state, having effectively been ruled by the same party for six decades.

Its 40-year-old, pro-Malay affirmative-action program chips away at the country's competitiveness more and more each passing year.

The scheme, which disenfranchises Malaysia's Chinese and Indian minorities, is a productivity and innovation killer. It also has a corrupting influence on the political and business culture.

"A climate of entitlement amongst the Malay community limits entrepreneurialism and vested interests within the United Malays National Organization still resist change," Fowler argues.

Read the rest of the article on the web.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Being Demoted

Two bits of news caught my eye this week.

The first is that Malaysia has been downgraded by the United States for human rights abuses, namely in the trafficking of people.

From the Guardian:

The US has downgraded Malaysia to the lowest ranking in its annual human trafficking report, relegating the southeast Asian nation to the same category as Zimbabwe, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. The move could result in economic sanctions and loss of development aid.

Malaysia's relegation to tier 3 in the US state department's Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report – published on Friday – indicates that the country has categorically failed to comply with the most basic international requirements to prevent trafficking and protect victims within its borders.

Human rights activists in Malaysia and abroad welcomed the downgrade as proof of the government's lax law enforcement, and lack of political will, in the face of continued NGO and media reports on trafficking and slavery.

"Malaysia is not serious about curbing human trafficking at all," said Aegile Fernandez, director of Tenaganita, a local charity that works directly with trafficking victims.

"The order of the day is profits and corruption. Malaysia protects businesses, employers and agents [not victims] – it is easier to arrest, detain, charge and deport the migrant workers so that you protect employers and businesses."

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't give two shits about what the US govt thinks or does not think of Malaysia. The US has Guantanamo Bay, privatised prisons for which there is a must-fill quota; conveniently resolved by the arrest and incarceration of ethnic minorities over minor offenses. They are in no position to moralise.

However, what rankles is that in this instance, they are right in putting Malaysia in the same category as .... Zimbabwe, North Korea and Saudi Arabia. Yuck.

What's the deal with Malaysia then?

"When you Google 'Malaysia', it's among the five worst countries for refugees," said Lia Syed, executive director of the Malaysia Social Research Insitute, which supports refugees.

"There is no policy for refugees in Malaysia at all. They are not recognised, they do not have legal status, they are just considered illegal migrants.

It doesn't matter what country they come from, what their story is, they do not get any support officially from the government."

It looks like we're a country deeply lacking in compassion. Ironically, do you know what's happened? The government has become the Malaysian version of America's GOP or better known as the Republicans whose main aim in life is to figure out new ways to line their pockets at the expense of everyone else.

Number one on the GOP agenda is THEMSELVES. Malaysia is turning into them. No thought could be more revolting than that, in my honest opinion.

And then, the second bit of news is that we have been demoted in university ranks. According to the Times Higher Education rankings, we don't even make it to Asia's top 100!

What?! Where are we going??

That is disheartening, since I am a proud graduate of one of Malaysia's once esteemed universities.

I am not even going to dwell on Singapore's placings (which used to be part of Malaysia) but even territorially unrested Iran's Sharif University has made it to rank number 37, so we should thoroughly be ashamed of ourselves!

Rip Van Winkle has a point: the value of Malaysian education is questionable.

Our education is going down the drain and it is no wonder that parents are sending their children to private institutions/academies.

Perhaps instead of doing that, we should be more firm with our government?

It is after all, their role to keep the standard up if not to improve it.