Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Path of the Righteous

I've been called a liberal Malay by many of my friends and family members, a supposedly pejorative term. Here is the non-exhaustive list of times that I was called a liberal Malay:

1) A family dispute on whether it was appropriate to address the prophet Harun as Aaron. I argued that both names were interchangeable as Aaron was merely a transliteration of Harun, and that both names still carried the same meaning: The Exalted. They argued that Aaron was used in Judaism, so as Muslims we should stick to Harun for all intents and purposes. I disagreed, thus was called a liberal Malay.

2) A petition was circulating on social media, demanding that Aeon Big in Bangi stop selling alcohol. I said we shouldn't sign the petition, as it would infringe on the rights of the non-Muslims who consume alcohol. They said, "...but Bangi is a Muslim majority township! They should respect that! Think of the kids!" Well... Malaysia is a Muslim majority country, so should we sign a petition to ban alcohol in the whole country too? I did not know that in Malaysia, being a minority means you should not have rights, you know, out of respect. Tongue in cheek, I told them, "I won't sign this petition. But if there is a petition for better religious education classes where our Muslim kids are taught not to buy alcohol just because it is there, I'll sign that one." That was when they called me a liberal, just because I refused to let Aeon Big do the parenting for us.

3) At breakfast, my mom told me how ISIS was actually an Israeli agenda to tarnish the reputation of Islam and Muslims. A very plausible theory. Although so long as it remains a theory, we should not rule out other possibilities. "What other possibilities?" she exclaimed. Um, well... for one, the possibility that maybe ISIS are actually self-professed Muslims who are just sick in the head? "What are you talking about? Why are you defending the Jews? And why are you always skeptical when it comes to Muslims? Don't be a liberal." I got strawmanned, and I got called a liberal. The double whammy.

4) I commented on a Facebook article about how taking a cold shower at dawn is good for weight loss. The writer posited that when the skin absorbed cold water, the body would burn fat to keep our body warm. I argued that the skin wasn't capable of absorbing water simply because our skin was waterproof, otherwise we would all balloon up after a swimming session. Someone replied, "So basically you are saying the prophet was wrong?" I said, "No, all I'm saying is your reasoning behind the prophet's habits is flawed because your premise contradicts science." I actually agreed that the body burns energy to stay warm, I just disagreed with the water absorption part. Then they called me a liberal, all because I rejected a flawed post-hoc reasoning of a perfectly good habit of the prophet.

5) Someone told me that women were made of men's ribs. A classic in all Abrahamic religions. I said no, men and women were made of the same matter. He insisted I was wrong, because men are missing a rib. No we aren't. Men and women have the same number of ribs. A simple Google Image search would confirm that. Then they called me a liberal, all because I understood that the Quran should never be taken literally.

These are just a fraction of the occurences where I have been called a liberal Malay. Looking at the trend, I'm starting to see it as a compliment. If you look closely at these 5 anecdotes above, being a liberal Malay actually means:
  1. Understanding that Arabic is not the only acceptable language for the learning of Islam and therefore people should be free to use whatever language they please that help them get closer to God
  2. Having the intellect to distinguish right from wrong and the willpower to restrain yourself from transgressing without having to force everybody else to remove all temptations around you
  3. Being able to compare multiple viewpoints and make holistic judgements based on all possible parameters without succumbing to your own biases
  4. Possessing a good grasp of basic science
  5. Appreciating the different layers of meaning of Quranic verses and the remarkable quality of the literature. A good author plays with word nuances to allow for different interpretations. A good reader doesn't always take what they read at face value. The Quran is completely lost on people who have the analytical reasoning skills of a guppy.
Now, instead of being riled up when called a liberal Malay, I rejoice. To me it's not pejorative because it makes me a learned man with the ability to think for myself and for my own good. Being liberal helps me walk the fine line between religion and tradition. It allows me to discard prejudices that have made the Malay race as rotten and backward as they are today. It helps me see through the hypocrisy in people and call them out on their bullshit.  It helps me get ahead without having to put anyone else down.

Most importantly, it helps me rid myself of the one confusion that plagues Muslims: why are we so marginalised socially and economically eventhough we make up more than a fifth of the world's population and we are the most "enlightened" and "righteous" ones?

Friday, July 24, 2015


I recently read about bullying among schoolchildren. It is amazing how progressive and thoughtful the world has become. I always thought schoolyard taunting and name-calling was just something you have to endure at school. I used to get bullied, although it was never anything I couldn't handle. It usually happened every time I changed school, because it's just so much fun to pick on the new kid. But once they found out how unfazed and smug I was in the face of adversity, they got tired and simply stopped. 

Although maybe my smugness was the reason why I got picked on. I was the pale skinned, chubby faced kid with a permanent smirk on his face, and rolling is the default position of my eyes. I could never answer a question unsarcastically, and I looked down on everybody, even the headmasters/headmistresses. Self-esteem has just never been an issue for me, unless having too much of it is an issue.

Come to think of it, I wonder how I made it out of primary school unscathed because if I had a time machine, even I would travel back in time and beat the shit out of 9-year-old me. 

That makes me wonder: would I be a better person if I had never been bullied? Or did bullying help me build character? Would I turn out to be a weak person if I hadn't had to endure mental torture from my big brother every day growing up? Or am I better off because of it? How did bullying contribute to my present being, and how much of that contribution is beneficial/detrimental? Is trauma inherently bad for a person, or do you actually need at least some amount of trauma in order to excel in life? 

I'm going to find someone to fund my thesis on this subject.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Saya Zahra

Let's talk about Zahra. I know this is old news, at least in internet years, but I keep seeing offhand comments about it everywhere and it's not sitting well with me.

Let's make it clear that when it comes to whiny, entitled Malays, you can count on me to smack some sense of autonomy into these people. I personally know a handful of good-for-nothings who talk shit about the government for not giving enough handouts to the Malaysian "master race" and it annoys me to no end. Incidentally these scums also tend to be the Lowyat-type insurgents who chalk up their failure to thrive as a result of racial prejudice. 

However, I do not find Zahra to fit this description. Far from it. If her words are to be trusted, she's well-educated and hardworking. Her speech, albeit a bit overly dramatic (wtf is up with the accompanying violin track?), is one that many honest Malaysians can relate to. All around me I hear people languishing about life getting harder by the second in Malaysia, what with the GST, the sluggish job market, the plummeting ringgit, the political ruckus, the fall of the high-and-mighty oil & gas industry, the palpable racial tension and the perceived rise in crime rates. This all translates into a weaker purchasing power and a bleak future for the Malaysian lower echelons .

Zahra encapsulated this in her earnest plea, thinking it would resonate with the general public. Instead it was met with a backlash. Even I was taken by surprise. 

"Typical Gen Y, expecting handouts at every turn." 
"Ungrateful little shit."
"Look at this spoilt kid."

Next comes the deluge of anecdotal life stories from people, recounting how they started their career with a shitty job that paid a miserable amount of money, and how they climbed up and out of the shithole they were in only by sheer determination and hardwork. All of these stories were tied up nicely with the snarky message along the lines of "Kids today should stop lamenting and start working hard. We did it alright, so why can't you?"

How in hell do these people not get vertigo from the top of their sky high horses?

'Kids today' come from a paradoxical system where everybody gets pushed hard into the same mould, all the while being promised that you can be anything. We believe the government propaganda that Malaysia is the best at this and that, and we strive to fulfil the country's aspirations. We've got big shoes to fill, after all.

'Kids today' hear that Malaysia is moving forward in all aspects, we are modern, quality of life is getting better, people are happier and healthier. The government promises, PROMISES, us with a long list of goodness we are destined for, so we grew up looking forward to leading a prosperous working life.

Once we tread the water of adulthood, little by little, our hopes and dreams get crushed. The protective veil is slowly getting lifted and we start seeing smokes and mirrors everywhere. Nothing turns out the way we were told it would. The honest persevere. The rest? They take the easy way out and cheat their way through life. You start to know exactly what dog eat dog means, because all around you people are smiling with a hidden snarl and a wagging tail, waiting to snatch that bone from under your nose. 

The jig is up. No one's looking after you because out here, it's sink or swim, baby. And you get scared and frustrated. So you turn to the same people who promised you greatness, and they turn their backs on you. You turn to the generations before you who fucked it all up, and they just smile and say, "Buck up and suck it up. You're cleaning this mess, and will still be cleaning it well after we are long gone." The generation whose survival was purely the product of government handouts and bailouts. Hypocritical old pricks.

"I started working as a miner and I lived in a tiny hut with no running water, and I didn't complain! Kids today are so entitled!" 

So tell me, mister. How is Malaysia a modern, properous and developed nation when the younger generations of 2015 still need to adhere to the same standards of comfort as the late 80s/early 90s? Is it our fault that we adjust our expectations based on our alleged GDP growth? Or is it too much to ask that we no longer deserve to be paid less than you were when Malaysia was still transitioning from agrarian to industrial? Is it entitlement, when all we want is just some proof, any proof, that we actually are better off as a nation now compared to the last decade?

Friday, April 24, 2015

You're so vain you probably think this post is about you

Do attractive people have it easier? I would believe so. But I've never been ugly so what do I know. Ha. No, really. I can't help but smirk every time a beautiful person complains about anything because more often than not, their issues are relatively inane. Beautiful people don't have real problems. They just need to wake up and the world is handed to them.

Case in point: a friend of mine who.. umm.. okay it just occurred to me that this story would be awfully specific and my friend would be easily identifiable. I will hence tweak this story to get the point across, while staying vague enough to protect my friend's identity (and myself from a probable lawsuit for defamation/libel/slander or whatever Najib is accusing Rafizi of).

So a friend of mine is beautiful. Yes yes beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some even claim it's subjective but that's what you'd say when you're average looking or downright ugly. Real beauty is very objective, like it or not. So my friend is a person who would register as beautiful in most people's books. Judging from the tone of his posts on Facebook, he's been through hard times.. I suppose. Well, again, his hard times are starkly different from ours. His hard times consist of having to live in a picturesque, quaint European town by the lake earning an average European salary. Yes, hard times.

Anyway, after years of being relatively quiet, suddenly in the past year he's been reviving his contact list, hollering old friends and chatting people up. He's a pleasant person and we always had good discussions about stuff, so it was good hearing from him again. Apparently he was on a job hunt. The European economy being in a slump and him having only a basic degree, the axe was coming down fast. He needed an exit plan. Like any good friend who isn't in a position of power to hire people, I could only give him generic motivational advice that may or may not have been stolen from cheap posters hanging on the walls of my high school student counsellor's office. "Just send out as many CVs as possible. Be brave. Step out of your comfort zone. It's going to be okay. We've all been there. I remember when I (insert a totally petty and unrelated experience about spilling coffee and try to work it into an inspiring story about courage and patience) and that made me look at life differently, and a better person. You'll get through this. Hang in there."

I don't know what happened to him for a couple of months after that because aside from the sporadical "hey sup? good, you? k dude tc", we didn't talk much.

Fast forward to early this month. He came back to Malaysia. I whatsapped him "Welcome back". Maybe the 'hard times' had caught up to him, and he had no other options but to come back and only return when the European economy picks up. Whenever that is. In the meantime, I had no idea what he was up to in Malaysia and I didn't want to ask. It's something I've learned over the years. When you know a person has been actively jobseeking, you don't keep asking questions about their hunting process unless you have a job offer or you know how to help. Otherwise they might see it as prying or worse, rejoicing in their misery. And I don't do that.... anymore.

A couple of days after he landed, I saw pictures of him leisuring at the beach, on an island, with celebrities. I didn't know they were friends. I took a closer look. Oh. Based on the hashtags, it was for a local movie. He was one of the male eye candies/love interests of the main female character. I know he used to model before, so it didn't surprise me seeing him fall back to his post-SPM career as a model.

It got me thinking: most people, in the face of hardship, would scrape the bottom of the barrel to make ends meet. But most people are not beautiful. This dude, on the other hand, has always known that if all else fails, he'd always have that face to sell. I bet that face has saved him many a sleepless night. If a burn victim's face is saved by his ass, my friend's ass is saved by his face.

Is that unfair? I wondered. It shouldn't be, because everybody is blessed with something and you work with what you have. I have other God-given talents that I was born with, and no one is calling it unfair. Somehow when it comes to good looks, people are quick to ask you to look past it as if it shouldn't count. A lot of attractive people are successful, as reflected by the fact that I very rarely see an attractive hobo. It is no coincidence that the most 'talented' Hollywood actors are also the most attractive. I could get a thousand other women to play Satine in Moulin Rouge, but let's not kid ourselves, Nicole Kidman's face is what won her the Oscar. Is that a problem, though? The face is part of the talent. She worked hard for that body, and her plastic surgeon worked hard on that expressionless face of hers. Her acting chops are an added bonus. She has the whole package. She deserves everything she has.

Okay where was I going with this. I guess I was just trying to dig deeper into our collective disillusion that looks don't and shouldn't count, when they completeley do and should. I've always said Lisa Surihani relies solely on her looks because her acting skills are non existant. But maybe that face is actually skills enough to be an actress, and instead of giving her shit about it, I should realize that skills can be nurtured and polished, so it's accessible to anyone who's willing to work on it. Looks, on the other hand, are completely bestowed upon you. There can only be one beauty like Nicole, or like Lisa. True unadulterated beauty is rare and should be a cause for celebration.

It still irks me though that a dude with barely a degree is having fun with beautiful people on an island, probably earning 3 times what I'm earning, just because he's pretty. Oh well.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Leger malentendu

Aside from my dayjob as some sort of engineer, I also take up freelance interpreting jobs mainly for French to English and vice versa. Apparently the demand for French interpreters in Malaysia used to be quite high back in the 90's, but now it is somewhat dwindling due to the fact that most French expats who come to Malaysia today usually have a decent grasp of the English language.

When interpreting, translating is only one half of the job; the other half consists of conveying the correct emotion and state of mind of the speaker to the listener so both the message and the correct tone get properly delivered. The real challenge is that you don't have the luxury of time; messages  need to be churned out and shot back and forth in real time, leaving no room for double checking. A good interpreter is one who trains his language reflexes rigorously.

What kind of reflexes? Well, grammar is a given. Maintaining proper grammar and syntax is somewhat tricky when translating from English to French because of the differences in word arrangement. French adjectives are generally placed after nouns and, like most Romance languages, French has a particular subject-object-verb word order which in English would mean producing a sentence such as "I it him give", instead of "I give it to him". With due diligence, one should master the grammar rules relatively quickly as the French grammar is very consistently structured.

Now the hardest reflex to train is the false friend avoidance. English has had a long history of borrowing from French since the Norman conquest, meaning that while English is still a mainly Germanic language in structure and grammar, a great many French words have been abosrbed into its vocabulary. However, both languages having continued to evolve separately, most of the borrowed French words have taken completely new meanings in English due to changing cultural contexts. A lazy or inexperienced interpreter, upon hearing the English word engagement (in the context of getting married), would hastily use the same word in French because after all, engagement is also a French word. A good interpreter would translate it as fiançailles instead (and it's always plural in French!). The French word engagement has always retained its original meaning of "commitment", but never in the context of impending nuptials.

The French nevertheless have also borrowed many English words and taken the liberty to completely redefine them. The word footing, by the looks of it, supposedly comes from English and somehow means jogging in French. They also have le smoking which means the tuxedo. The word stop in the French phrase faire du stop means hitchhiking. And my personal favourite false friend is préservatif, which is French for condom. I still vividly remember the shock on my friends' faces when I told them the cake from our uni's vending machine was full of préservatifs. It's the kind of seemingly small mistake that takes you forever to live down.

And these are only some of the many, many examples of false cognates between English and French. Mastering them is an absolute art and I thoroughly enjoy it. If you think math is a great mental exercise, try language. Math has not radically progressed  in the past decade because we've pretty much solved or have postulates for most math problems. Pure math has minimal real world applications anyway.

Language on the other hand evolves crazy quickly. Today's noun can be tomorrow's verb. Catchphrases are invented every day. Grammar rules can suddenly be bent to oblivion and new norms are invented overnight. Through the Internet and social media, cross-pollination between languages are getting more common so interpreters need to keep up with all the new terms and the cultural baggage attached to them.

It's a demanding job, but oddly satisfying. And pays damn well too.

Friday, April 03, 2015

All The King's Horses

As you get older and wiser you start giving less shit about stuff. I found myself singing along to One Direction's Night Changes last week during my morning drive and it made me smirk. Five-years-ago me would have sniggered at how readily I embrace mainstream pop songs these days. What happened to that dude who only listened to British-invasion songs of the 60s and obscure 80s electropop?

From my observation, age doesn't necessarily change what you like. It just reduces the number of peers you have, and less peer pressure means less shit-giving. It's just like how everyone liked Britney Spears' Toxic when it came out, but no guy in my class would openly admit it so they pretended that the half-nude Britney in the music video was the only reason why they were watching it. Yeah okay.

The same thing is happening in my film choices. I used to have several terabytes worth of movies ranging from silent films of the 20s all the way to post-millenial new wave Iranian cinema. I had friends with whom I would passionately discuss Kubrick and Kurosawa, I could quote De Sica's Bicycle Thief from memory, and whenever people asked me about my favourite movie the answer would be a short sigh, followed by "Well there are just so many it's hard to just pick one. Are we talking ficion? Biography? Adapted screenplay? Which era? Which country?" Of course it was not just an act because I was really that into it, and I had new favourite movies every week. Every second of my waking hours outside of class would be spent watching movies, it's ridiculous. Who needs friends when you can have Audrey Hepburn serenade Moon River to you by the window sill?

Somehow life got in the way. I graduated, I started having commitments and real responsibilities, and my free time started depleting. These days I go to the movies purely for the momentary escapism it provides. I expect to get entertained or at least to feel detached from reality even for a little while. It got me thinking, have I changed that much?

The answer is no. I haven't changed. Of course I've seen all the films that "mattered", but only once. I mean Citizen Kane is great and all but I wouldn't watch it again if you paid me. My real favourite movies have always been the same ones: Demolition Man, The Terminator series, Almost Famous, Jaws 4: The Deep Blue Sea, any P. Ramlee movies, and Shaun of The Dead. Simple and straightforward  movies that I really enjoy. Gone are the days where I would pretend to like Run Lola Run. These days I just stick to movies I could just enjoy with my brain checked at the door.

Which is why I loved Kingsman. I actually found it even more entertaining than all the Oscar movies of the past 5 years, combined. No, really. It's outlandish to the point where it almost becomes a parody of itself but not quite, the premise is simple and the execution is efficient and really satisfying. You want a spy movie without the overly complicated plot and several layers of villains from ten different intelligence agencies? Kingsman's conflict is all about Samuel L. Jackson wanting to wipe out most of humanity using satellite signals, that's it. And his side kick has blades for feet, so you know it's going to be good. You want to see an underprivileged kid succeed in life? Kingsman's got it. You want to see spoiled brats fall flat on their faces? Checked. You want to see religious extremists kill each other in a safe, confined environment without bothering the rest of the world? Oh it's got it, and it's glorious. In fact, the church scene alone is worth watching it for. I'd never have thought Colin Firth would be good in fighting scenes but Kingsman proved otherwise. It was uncannily similar to the bar fight scene that I'm very fond of in Shaun of The Dead.

And the most satisfying part of Kingsman is when all the who's who of the world have their heads burst into colourful flames and drop dead. Wouldn't it be nice to see all of the world's cunning politicians just explode and die like that?

I'm becoming a simple man. And I like it.

I'm planning to go watch Kingsman again next week. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Crawling In My Skin

I used to work with a guy who would proudly and repeatedly tell me he didn't have a Facebook account, like it is some kind of a badge of honour. He also boasted about not knowing what hashtags did and was adamant on not figuring it out because he didn't care about Twitter either, or any other social networks for that matter. "I am old school," he exclaimed.

It was a personal choice, and I completely respected it because I couldn't care less. But after a while he started to annoy me with his constant harping on how people need to mind their virtual footsteps more, how social media is the bane of our generation, and of course, on how perfectly happy and well-adjusted he is as a person since he doesn't have "The Facebook", because he didn't need to worry about his online trails.

I would be lying if I said I didn't freak out a little when Google started doing targeted ads on me based on my search history but on a couple of occasions it actually turned out to be really helpful. My current favourite pair of shoes have travelled with me all the way from South America to Japan, and they are not showing any signs of slowing down. Google was the one who suggested them to me, and I am eternally thankful. 

"But they're siphoning crucial info about you! You should be concerned!"

Well unless you're a troglodyte who lives on shrubs and cave moss, I'm pretty sure you have at least an e-mail address, a telephone number and a bank account (if you don't own any of these you most likely are not that important to spy on anyway). Those contain  enough details about you and no matter how strict they claim their Data Protection policy to be, data theft will always be a risk for you regardless of how much you restrict your online presence. So I say be it. I use Facebook for fun and I don't take social media seriously, so the "crucial" pieces of information I keep on there are ones I am comfortable being leaked. Besides, people who brag about not using Facebook still use Google or other search engines. Your search history is a far better way to spy on you, don't you think? So why the hate on social media when the interwebs itself is peppered with your inane searches of the best latex fetish smut videos or articles on why you're seeing signs of male pattern baldness eventhough you're only 27. Why do you judge Facebook users when your search engine knows every bit about you, you balding perv?

All I am saying is we live in the age where humans are products. We are no longer mere consumers, we are goods. Every one of us, and there is nothing much we can do about it unless we all grow the same pair of humongous steel balls as Edward Snowden's. 

So either you pull a Kate & Leopold and move back to the 16th century, or you can deal with this and stop being so Linkin Park paranoid because that is so 2001.