Monday, June 11, 2018

Najib Undone: Five More Memes To Blame.

Pru 14 is long over. BN and Bugis are battered and breaking bad. But political pundits and philosophers are still at it - enquiring and analysing why the 61-year old government lost so badly, or lost at all.

Official tally shows BN picking up a dismal 35% of the popular vote. Or is it 36%? No matter. You'd struggle to fathom the depth and scale of this defeat. It all felt so unreal and uncannily apocalyptic. I mean, things like this don't happen. The contest was one-sided from the outset, with all the government machinery and  media and mountains of money at BN's disposal. Had it been a fair fight, they would have scraped up only three seats. Hyperbolic, so you see my point.

Nobody gave PH a ghost of a chance. Nobody except Rafizi. And maybe Cilisos, a flippant and fun-loving online portal, who had the cheek to advance seven reasons why PH would triumph. Now that PH has won, people are circling back to pore over the seven reasons and still left unconvinced.

TV3 and Utusan predicted, and wanted, a BN win. Bereft of all money and ideas, these shameless and pliant purveyors of fake news had little choice. Merdeka Centre, a purportedly neutral pollster, tipped a comfortable BN win. All foreign media, including Al Jazeera, Bloomberg, WSJ and Myanmar Times, predicted a close contest and rallied around PH, but resigned to a likely BN win. The Economist came the closest (relatively) when it argued that Najib wouldn't win the election. He would steal it.

With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see why PH won and what more BN should've done to prevent that. Rather than passing the anti-fake news law and crowding Damansara seat with one million Chinese voters, all BN government had to do was to pass a simple law that would make it illegal for a male doctor older than 91 years to contest or even campaign against BN. Hindsight is hindside, all fair and pretty.

How was it possible for the BN juggernaut to lose? The consensus points to none other than ex-PM Dato' Sri Najib. Even Najib himself couldn't disagree with that and found the last bit of moral courage to resign. For avoidance of doubt, Najib here means Najib and wife. I'm latching on lawyers' catch-all convention where singular is also plural and vice versa. Lawyers get away with a lot of things.

Styling himself on Donald Trump, Najib referred to himself as "my brand". Najib is a brand! A brand like  Munchy's and Mister Potato are brands. After the election debacle, he lamented that "....they would do anything as long as my brand was destroyed", alluding to hell-bent opposition.

He must have been scammed by his extortionate image maker. Like Nero and Napoleon, he was deep in a delusion of grandeur, stuck in a wild notion that Najib the brand was bigger than Najib the person. Instead of transforming into a winning brand like Hermes, Najib had morphed into 1MDB, the most hated brand on earth. Najib and his brand tanked bigtime. 

Say you were in Najib's shoes, whom would you blame for your downfall, apart from yourself? The first name that springs to mind would be Dr Mahathir. Unlike you, he walked and talked like a real person, not a fake brand. He might have slowed or  slurred a little, but it's all him, you get what you see. If there was indeed a brand for an idea, it had to be Dr Mahathir.

But you mustn't forget the clutch of characters like Shahrizat, Nazri, Isa, Arul, Apandi, plus lowlifes like Jamal and Jho Low, whose collective impact was complicit in BN's spectacular implosion. 

And who else? I can think of five more names to blame for BN's cataclysmic collapse, ranked from Serious to Not Serious, and somewhere in between.

1. Srikandi Malaya 

Even before Pru 13 the prevailing wisdom was that the election would be won or lost at the cyberfront. In the latest edition, the cyber war had evolved into a more organized and sophisticated affair, with an unprecedented measure of venom and vitriol. The last-gasp Anti-Fake News Law, aimed at stifling the intensity to BN's favour, had exactly the  opposite impact: more fake news.

As a redundant retiree, I'd all the time to follow both sides of the divide. Anybody could see that BN  side were more organised, better funded and fattened with government dedak, with nothing less than a full minister orchestrating the show. PH were strewn all over,  no general with a fat warchest. All they had was Rafizi and his slash-and-slander machine, crowdfunded by his cult followers.

Both sides had their cybertroopers, fiercely partisan and passionate FB posters of varying pedigrees: journalists, accountants, lawyers, lecturers and even a fugitive holing up in Manchester. Astonishingly a number of housewives had also jumped in and joined the fray. I'm not sure what was their motivation but most fought for PH, hitting hard with delightful noms de guerre like Ratu Naga, Srikandi Malaya and She Sal. Or garden-variety names like Mariam Mokhtar, one of my favourites. BN had one Salmah Kadir, who was actually a married man.

But better paid BN troops were soundly and roundly beaten.  Armed with faulty Samsungs sourced with Arab donation, they were no match for the more imaginative and determined PH combatants. This is all the more remarkable because PH warriors were digging in with the normal fears and risks of siding with the opposition. Ratu Naga was detained by police in the small hours for a defamatory post alleging Najib's wife and Sultan of Pahang were friends. Defamatory? I thought it was a compliment.

The problem with BN side was that they were too obsessed with what they proudly called "facts". It's not they who decide whether something is a fact. It's the readers. So what came from their camp was a cacophony of endless, sanitized statistics, historical graphs, colourful pie charts, pontifiticating verbosities and more statistics. They tried hard to impress with school stuff like GDP, Debt to GDP ratio, Debt to Debt ratio, Ratio to Ratio ratio, Gini Coefficient, Pythagoras theorem, ad nauseam.

This is an election and 2018. Who wants to see graphs and charts? Nobody reads Yorkshire garbage and gibberish. People were busy putting food on the table and had little time for charts and numbers. What honest and hard-working voters want to see is snappy videos, caricatures, clever captions, photoshops, witty and punchy messages and, of course, plenty of "fake" news and fun facts, repeated many times over. The PH pollsters had scoured the market and sensed swaths of unmet demand for this. They not only filled these needs, they also did it with maximum impact and at minimal cost.

This is a fine example of what came out of the PH camp:

This is fun fact. Take a long and hard look. Do you feel shivers rushing down your spine? You won't vote Umno for the next 200 years.

2. BN's Pollster 

I don't know who. Maybe it's Ahmad Maslan, Umno's media champion. Or Apco's Paul Stadlen. Or the funky Unifi and talentime guy.  Or could it be Cambridge Analytica? Or Encylopaedia Britannica?

But what we now know, this guy was totally, thoroughly, terribly worthless. It's one hell of a crap and con job that he'd pulled off.  A disaster of comedic proportions.

In this age of analytics, micro trends and big data, a political pollster should be able to quite accurately sniff  out potential voters' mood and mind, and provide reasonable ballparks for action plans. At the height of his game, Rafizi and his mean polling machine Invoke, could update you with PH's predicted number of seats on daily basis.

I'm not sure which polling model BN buffoons used. Maybe the one that Winston Churchill pioneered after the World War II. It fatally failed to read voting sentiments. What it had predicted was an all-round BN victory, which was cheered on by a clueless BN leadership already operating with an air of impregnability (meaning they could never get pregnant haha). With all bungs and bribes promised right to the very last night of the campaign, BN camp was understandbly bullish, with a two-thirds majority increasingly assured. So all their election strategies were conceived based on this feelgood feedback.  When they finally discovered the blunder, Dr Mahathir had already been sworn in to become the oldest PM on the planet.

Had BN's pollster or strategist, or whatever you want to call him, done his job and push the panic button, I'd guess Najib would have gone for the Mugabe gambit. Dirty and despicable surely, but at least he'd still be presiding in Putrajaya today instead of scurrying around in Vellfire.
Why did BN's pollster fail so badly? Hard to tell. Maybe he was deceived or duped by potential voters on the ground. Or maybe he was playing to the gallery, telling Najib only what Najib wanted to hear, aware that one negative narrative would land him in the cold storage and out of foodchain. My theory is that the guy was simply lazy, incompetent or even mentally impaired. He was, most of the time, drunk or drugged, or both. See pic below to prove my point hahaha:

3.  Profesor Kangkung 

You guess how many professors are breathing in Malaysia now? About 3,000 at last count. How many of them make sense? A grand total of one. He's now in the Council of Eminent Persons (clue: not Robert Kuok).

We have in our midst now five Distinguished Professors (Profesor Ulung) on a salary scale of RM 23,800 - RM 31,800 a month, more than Najib's (RM 22,826.65). It's ok if you can't name any of them or don't know why they deserve so much.

There is, or there was,  this Majlis Profesor Negara (MPN) whose founding function was, in short, to help the government formulate country's development strategies and programs. They were  expected to provide ideas and feedback from the academia. What they actually did was to brownnose the government. They bought in government's corrupt programs and projects with ludicrous academic justification. Instead of speaking openly against 1MDB, Felda, NFC and ECRL scandals, they encouraged and applauded the government at every turn.

Nothing reflects MPN's misplaced wisdom better than this piece of opinion from a senior member of MPN, Prof Mohd Fuad Mat Jali of UKM. In the run-up to the election, he professed that: "Berdasarkan situasi semasa juga tidak mustahil pimpinan DS Najib mampu membawa kemenangan dua pertiga kepada BN........Hasil soal selidik mendapati...... pakatan pembangkang DAP, PKR, PPBM dan Amanah memperolehi 9.2% undi." Prof Ismail Sualman of UiTM went further,  mocking and calling PH leaders "Pemimpin Touch N Go".

I'm not sure whom did this profesor kangkong sample. Maybe those who turned up for Umno covention and pledged to defend Najib with their life. PH to get 9.2%? Why not 9.252, Prof? Any Japanese professor caught in this sham would've  contemplated a harakiri.

I know no voters listen to professors nowadays, but the government would. Instead of flagging (or  even flogging) the flailing government, they'd lulled BN into complacency and nonchalance. To be fair, there were dozens of dons across the more than 500 universities and half-universities in this great country with contrarian and ground-breaking ideas. But they were cowed by Umno thugs into playing along and suffering in silence. The sacred intellectual ethos of "publish or perish" is all but dead. It's  more like "government or gone" now. 

It took the PH government just one week to take the only option on the table: disband Majlis Profesor Negara.   

 Professor-At-Large Jho Low

4. Rajah Bomoh Malaysia 

Just where were they when BN most needed them?

That Umno politicians dabble in shamans, charlatans and all forms of witchcraft was pretty much part of the local political folklore. The Umno-Bomoh bond goes back to probably the 80's when Mona Fandey was still an aspiring artiste. It could be earlier.

Politics in Fakeland opens doors to Birkin bags. The stakes in Pru 14 were higher than ever. It was now or never for some politicians on the fringe. They'd take no prisoners in their pursuit and, if necessary, they'd bribe, beat and cheat to win. We could only theorize that they'd turn to magic and witchcraft with no qualms.

Did Umno seek paranormal help to win Pru 14? It's hard to believe, I mean, Najib is literate, talented and immaculate. But rumours hovering over his household, including that telltale piece by his stepdaughter, are unnerving. His chief of intelligence and clandestine operations, a lady Datuk, has been described by the US Embassy as a practitioner of withchcraft. It could be a case of mistaken identity, but a photo of her has gone viral (below), and you can see and decide for yourself. About a week before the election Utusan reported that about 30,0000 pengamal perubatan tradisional (aka bomoh) had endorsed Najib and BN. If you connect the dots, you'd reach the only logical conclusion.

So what's gone wrong? Bomohs failed to deliver? Or had they gone rogue? Raja Bomoh Malaysia Ibrahim Mat Zin had threatened to contest in the election against Dato' Seri Zahid Hamidy, who incidentally was not only the DPM at the time, but also a part-time bomoh. Bomoh vs bomoh? Had Umno people been sharper, they'd have sensed a crack in the Umno-Bomoh cartel, and steered clear of the black arts.

I think bomohs in general have lost their craft and edge. With YouTube and free apps available on the internet, anybody could be a bomoh in half a day. P Ramlee saw this coming 50 years ago. Watch Do Re Mi.


5. Jose Mourinho 


It's a hypothesis or mere conjecture. Or maybe I've run out of ideas. But just ponder and think if, like me, you haven't been thinking all that much since retiring 10 years ago. Najib is a proud supporter of Manchester United (MU) where Jose Mourinho is the manager or coach.  MU came second, a record 19 points behind neighbours Manchester City in the English Premier League (EPL). In EPL, second is as meaningless as second in a three-cornered Pru. Despite spending RM 1 billion on players, Jose has failed to deliver even one trophy.

Angry MU supporters in Malaysia would be hard pressed to find somebody, or a proxy, to blame. What if they saw Jose in Jibby? Hahaha. Preposterous? Remember, the Economist used the price of Big Macs to approximate the true value of a country's currency.

According to MU's syok-sendiri statistics, their global fanbase was about  4 billion, or about half of world's population. In the previous election (Pru 13), about 48% of voters voted Najib. Assuming the same voting pattern and using profesor kangkung's extrapolation, half of these voters (24%) should be MU supporters, and they vented their anger on Jose by voting out Najib in Pru 14, leaving Najib with the remaining 24%. As it turned out, Najib got 35%. I'm off by 11 percentage points.

Majlis Profesor Negara predicted a minimum two-thirds or 66% vote for BN. What BN actually got was 35%.  A massive and embarassing 31% point difference. Compare that with only 11% margin using my simplistic Jose Mourinho theory. Don't you think I should be a Distinguished Professor?

Jibby And Jose



Thursday, May 24, 2018

Puisi Padang

Sekali lagi saya berlibur ke Indonesia, kali ini Padang dan Bukit Tinggi, Sumatera Barat. Sekali lagi? Ya,  sekali lagi sebab saya baru saja melawat Jogjakarta,  pada akhir tahun lepas. Belum pun sampai enam bulan.

Saya suka melihat Indonesia. Negerinya besar dan berbagai. Kos kembara sangat berpatutan, makanannya menyelerakan, bahasa pun hampir sama, dan tukaran Ringgit yang lumayan membolehkan kita berjalan seperti seorang jutawan. Bila berbicara dengan orang Indonesia, kita akan terpegun dengan nada dan lenggok bahasanya yang sangat halus dan kemas. Setiap orang Indonesia boleh menjadi ahli politik atau pengacara TV.  Saya pernah ke rumah sahabat karib yang mempunyai seorang pembantu rumah dari Surabaya. Saya dapati bibik ini jauh lebih bagus kawalan bahasanya berbanding dengan sahabat saya (orang Pulau Pinang). 

Sebenarnya ini kali pertama saya menulis blog dalam bahasa ibunda. Mungkin bukan bahasa ibunda pun. Bahasa ibunda saya ialah bahasa Kelantan, bahasa yang paling romantis di dunia. Bahasa Melayu adalah bahasa kedua saya. Mungkin tuan-tuan sudah terasa kejanggalan cara saya menulis, kerana salah atau kurang tepat di segi diction, nahu dan sebagainya. Namun selagi tuan-tuan boleh memahami apa yang saya ingin sampaikan, saya rasa saya sudah berjaya menulis dengan baik.

Saya selalu menulis dalam English. Ini bukan bermakna English saya sangat bagus dan tentunya bukan saya mahu mendewa-dewakan bahasa asing. Cuma English lebih kaya perbendaharaan katanya. Terdapat 170,000 perkataan English dalam Oxford English Dictionary. Untuk mencarut sahaja terdapat berbagai perkataan, rangkaikata dan peribahasa yang boleh saya pilih dengan impaknya yang berlainan juga. Mengikut guru bahasa Melayu saya dulu, perkataan Melayu yang asal cuma tiga: besi, padi, dan babi. Ada pula guru lain yang kata empat: besi, padi, babi, ubi. Bagaimana mungkin saya menulis dengan tiga atau empat perkataan? Hahaha. 

Bila saya mula menulis tadi pun saya termangu buat seketika. Apa harus saya panggil atau bahasakan diri saya? Saya, aku, ana? "Saya" agak formal dan terasa seperti di bangku sekolah. "Aku" pula lebih personal dan mungkin agak puitis, mungkin kasar juga. "Ana" bahasa Arab, nanti saya dikecam sebagai pengikut wahabbi.  Kalau English lebih mudah, "I" saja sudah memadai. Untuk lebih selamat, saya guna "saya". Lagipun saya sudah lebih 35 tahun menggunakan "saya" bila berhubung dengan isteri, di waktu siang dan juga malam.   

Berbalik kepada Indonesia. Saya ke Padang dan Bukit Tinggi selama empat hari pada bulan lepas (April). Saya bukan berseorangan, tetapi bersama enambelas ahli keluarga - isteri, anak, adik-adik ipar, dan anak-anak saudara. Agak letih juga saya kerana empat orang adik ipar perempuan dewasa yang ikut sama boleh tiba-tiba saja hilang entah kemana. Kemudian mereka akan muncul kembali sebaik saja supir menaiki bas. Mungkin mereka ni ada sixth sense (deria keenam?) atau ilmu ghaib yang boleh membaca pergerakan pak supir tu. Lawatan ini merupakan pengalaman yang penuh aksi (action-packed) dan tidak  mudah saya lupakan.

Kali in saya tidak akan menulis dan menceritakan perihal tempat-tempat yang kami lawati di Padang dan Bukit Tinggi. Tuan-tuan boleh baca dalam blog-blog lain atau Wikipedia atau mendengar terus dari kawan-kawan yang telah ke sana atau tuan-tuan boleh saja menonton sinetron. Saya cuma ingin meluahkan apa yang saya rasa dan fikirkan semasa berada di sana, dalam bentuk catatan atau coretan  yang dipelbagaikan dengan sebuah puisi. Jika tuan-tuan tidak meminati sastera sebab sewaktu bersekolah dulu tuan-tuan berada di kelas sains tulin, tuan-tuan bolehlah memilih untuk tidak terus membaca blog ini. Tak apa-apa. Saya tenang saja.

Nama Padang sangat bermakna dan penuh nostalgia buat saya. Saya tidak pernah bercinta dengan orang Padang. Saya bercinta dengan Kg Pandan hahaha. Padang akan mengembalikan masa lampau saya. Masa saya bersekolah di darjah lima dan enam (tahun-tahun 60an) saya sangat meminati buku-buku Indonesia, terutamanya novel-novel yang ditulis oleh penulis-penulis agung Indonesia, antaranya ialah Hamka, Marah Rusli, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, Abdul Moeis dan Mochtar Lubis. Mungkin nama-nama ini asing bagi tuan-tuan, seperti asingnya nama menteri-menteri kabinet Pakatan Harapan yang dilantik baru-baru ini.

Yang paling menyentuh perasaan ialah novel Tenggelamnya Kapal van der Wijck oleh Hamka dan Siti Nurbaya oleh Marah Rusli. Saya baca novel-novel epik ini berkali-kali. Buya Hamka dilahirkan di Bukit Tinggi dan Marah Rusli di Padang.  Tidak hairanlah novel-novel ini bertemakan cinta dan pergeseran  di antara adat atau  tradisi Minangkabau dengan pemikiran moden dan progresif di daerah Padang dan Bukit Tinggi. Watak-watak utama seperti Siti Nurbaya, Datuk Maringgih, Hayati dan Zainuddin masih saya kenang sampai hari ini. Jalan ceritanya mungkin mudah dan klise, tetapi olahan, plot dan bahasanya sangat mengasyikkan. Anak-anak perempuan saya yang sudahpun tercandu dengan drama dan pop Korea yang kencang dan panas, cerita klasik Indonesia sebegini mungkin hambar dan membosankan. Mereka ni memang tidak meminati novel-novel Melayu. Mereka lebih menggemari Instagram.

Kami menyewa bas 25-bangku yang sangat selesa untuk sepanjang tempoh kembara kami. Perjalanan dari Padang ke Bukit Tinggi agak mencabar kerana jalannya yang sempit, mendaki dan berliku. Tetapi pemandangannya sungguh memukau. Pemandu pelancung kami (namanya Pak Unchu) tidak henti-henti menghiburkan kami dengan rentetan lawak jenaka. Kalau dia tidak berjenaka dia akan memainkan lagu Minang sepanjang zaman "Ayam Den Lapeh" berkali-kali. Dia kata ayam dalam lagu tu sebenarnya bukan ayam, tetapi simbolik atau metafora. Ayam tu mungkin cewek, cowok, suami, isteri atau apa saja yang boleh terlepas dari kita. Saya dah lebih 40 tahun dengar lagu ni, bagi saya ayam tetap ayam, bukan isteri. Apa pun, saya rasa Pak Unchu mesti kemaskinikan sedikit lawak jenaka dengan bahan-bahan yang baru sebab banyak  lawaknya yang agak usang. Ada yang saya sudah dengar semasa saya masih bujang dulu. Kini saya telahpun mempunyai tiga orang cucu. Jangan marah Pak ya. Tenang saja.

Kami tempuhi bukit, lurah, tasik, sungai, air terjun, kebun buah dan puncak gunung. Adik ipar lelaki saya yang sangat mencintai alam dan pokok-pokok kayu terus jatuh cinta  dengan daerah ini. Di sepanjang jalan terdapat sangat banyak masjid, surau, dan sekolah ugama, sesuai sekali dengan daerah yang dibangun dengan pegangan ugama yang sangat kuat. Saya dapat bayangkan Hayati dan Zainudin, watak utama dalam Tenggelamnya kapal van der Wijck,  juga pernah melalui jalan ini, walaupun mereka cuma dari imaginasi Buya Hamka.

Saya sangat terpikat dengan nama-nama bandar dan perkampunagn di sini: Padang Panjang, Pagar Ruyung, Batu Sangkar, Tanah Datar, Puncak Lawang, Lembah Anai, Paya Kumbuh dan banyak lagi. Kami makan di rumah makan Lamun Ombak. Nama-nama gandingan dan bersajak begini lebih sejuk dan segar berbanding dengan nama-nama tempat di Malaysia yang kering dan kaku, seperti Gombak, Gebeng, USJ, dan restoran Kak Wok.  Ternyata orang di daerah Minagkabau ini memang seniman semulajadi yang kreatif dan sukakan ciri-ciri estetika (Betul ke bahasa Melayu saya ni? Bunyinya mirip iklan ubat pemutih muka).

Seperti yang dijanjikan saya tidak akan bercerita tentang tempat-tempat yang kami lawati, kecuali dua tempat, iaitu Rumah Gadang Istana Basa Pagar Ruyung dan Tasik Meninjau. Istana Pagar Ruyung yang terletak di bandar kecil Batu Sangkar ini wajib dilawati jika ke Bukit Tinggi. Inilah istana peninggalan kerajaan Minangkabau Pagar Ruyung yang telah lama terhapus di Sumatera Barat. Mengikut sejarah, kerajaan Negeri Sembilan hari ini juga berasal dari Pagar Ruyung, termasuklah adat dan loghatnya. Maaf, itu saja yang saya tahu. Kalau tuan-tuan ingin tahu lebih lanjut, boleh hubungi Pak Unchu. Tuan-tuan boleh minta koleksi lawak jenakanya sekali. Hahaha.

Saya rasa siapa saja arkitek dan penggemar senibina yang melihat Istana Pagar Ruyung ini pasti akan tertawan dengan keindahan, kegagahan dan kehalusan seninya. Keanggunannya bukan terletak pada rekabentuk luarannya sahaja, tetapi juga pada makna yang tersirat di setiap bahagian atau elemen istana ini: tingkap, kamar, bumbung, tirai dan sebagainya. Sebenarnya istana yang saya lihat itu bukanlah istana ysng asal, tetapi istana yang dibina semula dengan rekabentuk asal pada tahun 2008. Istana yang asal telah punah dipanah petir dan terbakar hangus kesemuanya.

Tempat kedua ialah Tasik Meninjau. Kami singgah di sini dalam perjalanan pulang dari Bukit Tinggi ke Padang. Panorama tasik ini dari Puncak Lawang sangat menakjubkan. Di daerah inilah juga tempat kelahiran Alamarhum Hamka, dan saya terasa seolah-olah beliau ada bersama-sama kami hari itu. Udaranya sejuk, persekitarannya amat tenang dan bersih, jauh dari keributan kota dan manusia. Fahamlah saya kenapa Buya sangat versatile, kreatif dan expressive. Beliau dibesarkan dalam persekitarannya yang amat subur dan merangsangkan. Beliau adalah pelajar, pengajar, penulis, ulama, pendakwah dan pemimpin agung tersohor dan disanjung bukan saja di Indonesia tetapi juga di Malaysia. Buku--buku ugama yang ditulis oleh Hamka, seperti Tafsir al Azhar, masih menjadi bahan rujukan ramai sehingga ke hari ini.

Perjalanan dari Tasik Meninjau ke Padang mengambil masa hampir empat jam merentasi Banjaran Bukit Barisan dengan pemandangan yang "breath-taking". Fikiran saya masih di awang-awangan, berlegar di sekitar manusia berjiwa besar, Buya Hamka. Saya rasa terpanggil, bahkan tercabar, untuk turut menulis dan menjadi kreatif seperti beliau. Semasa saya di sekolah menengah saya pernah juga menulis puisi, kebanyakannya berbentuk lantang, sosialis dan marah-marah. Mungkin sekarang masanya untuk menghidupkan kembali api yang terpadam sejak hampir 50 tahun yang lalu.

Saya bergegas membuka Samsung Note saya dan mula melakar puisi tentang perjalanan dan pengalaman singkat saya di Bukit Tinggi. Ahli keluarga yang lain leka menonton DVD filem "Tenggelamnya Kapal van der Wijck", diselangi oleh Pak Unchu dengan cerita dan jenaka yang disambut dengan hilai ketawa adik-adik ipar saya. Tetapi saya sebenarnya tidak mendengar apa-apa kerana dihanyutkan oleh cita-cita, impian dan semangat baru yang meluap-luap untuk menulis dan berkarya.

Hampir tiga jam saya memikir, mencari dan memilih ilham. Saya menulis, memadam dan menulis lagi untuk dijadikan satu rangkaian puisi yang saya yakin tidak akan mengecewakan Buya Hamka jika beliau membacanya. Inilah hasilnya, puisi saya tulis di daerah kelahiran Almarhum:                                      
Puisi Padang I

Apakah yang kucari
di antara batu dan bukit ini
lurah pecah dan liku seribu
kebun subur dan air dingin
tasik luas dan sungai deras.

Kususuri daerah lama ini
mengimbau lipatan sejarah
menyingkap pustaka silam
merungkai hasrat yang tersimpan
bukit tinggi padang panjang
pagar ruyung batu sangkar
seri menanti datuk tampin
kuala pilah kampung pandan.

Melewati rumah gadang
dan istana gagah
terhenti di tengah langkah
terdetik di puncak hati.
bagaimana akan aku maknakan
beratus isyarat dan aturan ini
bumbung tirus dan anjung lurus
tiang tegap tapi miring
tingkap lebar menyambut angin
tirai tujuh dan ruang sembilan
kamar sempit mengurung perawan.

Rapuh hidup ini
kuat dan kuasa hanya
singkat dan sementara
akhirnya kalah, rebah dan sepi
dilanda arus waktu
dan kudrat alam.

Baca sekali lagi rangkap terakhir. Ianya tercetus dari keinsafan saya bila melihat footage Istana Pagar Ruyung yang terbakar dan mengenang keruntuhan kerajaan Minangkabau setelah begitu lama berkuasa. Jujur saya katakan sewaktu menulis terlintas juga di fikiran saya tentang kerajaan Melayu di Malaysia yang sekian lama berkuasa. Saya tulis puisi ini pada 24 April. Pada malam 9 Mei, dua minggu kemudian, kerajaan Malaysia tewas, lantas hilang semua kuasanya.

Saya rasa saya tidak mengecewakan Hamka.



Saturday, April 28, 2018

Our Time. Our City

Manchester City have just won the English Premier League (EPL), without kicking a ball.

No surprise this time around. It's been coming for months. The contest had been reduced to a one-horse procession,  a formality, a fait accompli. Adrift and out of sight, title challengers Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs had all thrown in the sponge two months ago. Football writers are moving on to the plight of Jamaican migrants.

Everybody had resigned to the inevitable, but in this flat fashion. Smart money was on some semblance of romance, with City wrapping it up last week in their match against Manchester United at City's Etihad Stadium. That would've been a painful end to MU's challenge, and a rare chance for City to rub it in before their own fans. But City, with a rich history of big-time me botches, fluffed it after leading 2-0. Watching Pogba and MU supporters celebrating wasn't easy for me.

The plot somehow thickened and took an ironic twist. MU inexplicably lost the next game at home to rock-bottom West Brom, leaving themselves with exactly zero chance of catching City. After gleefully denying City the title at the Etihad, MU tamely conceded it to City at Old Trafford, before their own fans. It's not the most spectacular way of winning any title. But we'll take it all the same.

Oh, the season hasn't really ended. With five more weeks and five more games to go, and City could conceivably field their Women's Team for the academic kick-abouts. But no, we'll go all out to break all English football records still standing: Most points, margin, goals, goal difference, passes, possession, you name it. In many ways, it's going to be a surreal season for City.

I'm just happy to be a champion. I don't play for Manchester City, of course. I've been following Manchester City football team since 1968, when I was in Form Two at Tiger Lane, and never looked back. That was exactly 50 years ago. The first 40 years has been a tumultous rollercoaster ride, ups and downs, mostly downs, and out in the old Third Division for a year. A football writer called City of the old a "comedic shambles". If you're looking for a single proof of my strong faith and fortitude, look no further.

To support City, your heart must have extra veins and valves. Every year we were promised a new dawn, only to find ourselves battling relegation and watching Manchester United  taking the title. The team was consistently inconsistent, suffering from what City faithfuls called Citytis or Cititis. The classic sympton of this unique malaise is the uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

A new dawn finally broke. In 2007, out of nowhere, City was bought over by the ex-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. I didn't know what was his motivation. I mean, there were nineteen other teams in EPL and many more in Spain. He could well be a victim of a scam. We, City fans, just had no time for much philosophical pondering. We embraced our saviour, showering him with affection, calling him Frank (after Frank Sinatra, the mafia crooner), while nervously waiting for his next step. Football folklore was littered with wicked and wayward owners, and this guy was an exile and highly wanted in his country. So we'd to exercise a maximum of restraint and common sense.

Frank's next move was bold and stunning - by City's standards. He signed the former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson to replace manager Stuart Pearce, who was a border-line psychotic. In no time Eriksson brought in new players, including two Brazilian internationals, Elano and Geovanni. The long-suffering City fanatics took to the streets celebrating a forthcoming EPL crown. When the season ended, MU were the champions.

The next year, Frank sold City to an Abu Dhabi investment group, pocketing a tidy profit. I'm not sure what was behind all this, but Frank certainly wasn't a victim of a scam. I initially thought that the Arabs were out shopping in London, and buying City was an afterthought. We, City fans, had to pinch ourselves for the second time when we found out that the new owner, one Sheikh Mansour, was 20 times richer than Frank was. With a family fortune of USD 1 trillion, he could, hypothetically at least, buy the whole EPL and let City win every year.

As it turned out, the new owner was serious and single-minded in his ambition to turn City into a global brand, whatever it means. The name Coca Cola was even mentioned. It was a flight of fancy, of course. Who'd want to drink Manchester City?

The serious Sheikh quickly made a statement by prising the much sought-after Robinho from Real Madrid for a new British record transfer fee. Some City die-hards tracked Robinho's flights to Manchester, minute by minute, until he landed at the airport. More marquee names were added later, players like Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez and, for some reason, Mario Balotelli. The good-looking manager, Mark Hughes, was later replaced by an even sharper-looking one named Roberto Mancini. The sight of suave Mancini in Zegna jacket fielding questions with full Italian swagger and bits of English was enough to prompt Arsene Wenger, the French economic scholar and part-time manager of Arsenal, into City-sniping with his elegant theory of "financial doping".   

Four years later (in 2012) City were EPL Champions, clinching it in a dramatic last game with a last-gasp Aguero goal. That killer kick was made all the sweeter by the sight of MU players celebrating, thinking that they'd bagged another EPL title. It broke the hearts of MU worldwide fans, all  6 billion of them, if you believe their statistics.

I've watched that Aguero video more than 120 times now. That serene scene of Alex Ferguson and MU players slumping in collective disbelief was priceless.

The euphoria of that incredible triumph didn't completely sink in. The very next season City meekly handed the title to....... MU (I thought you didn't know). Well, that's that.

After three seasons, Mancini and his Zegna was replaced by Manuel Pellegrini, a Chilean engineer with a heavy hair-do. Pellegrini was a picture of composure and he spoke English in full. Unlike some other managers, he never clashed with reporters or fellow managers or referees or ball boys. He led City to another EPL title in 2015, clinching it in the very last game, this time leaving Liverpool supporters, mostly Malaysian Indians, all sick and suicidal. In a show of restraint and chivalry, Pellegrini didn't jump and jig (unlike other managers).

I loved Pellegrini's easy and understated ways, and I was sad when City let him go just like that (like what?). In a press conference in early 2016 he calmly announced his impending departure and his full support for his successor, Pep Guardiola, purportedly the best coach on planet earth and the purveyor of pass-it-to-death football. An EPL manager backing his own replacement? That's Pellegrini for you. This won't happen again, not in a thousand years. 

Now back to this brilliant season. I didn't in the least expect City to reach these dizzying heights so soon, especially after last season's hesistant performance, even with Pep's arrival. To be fair, third place in his first season wasn't a bad campaign. But the lazy media and detractors pointed out that City had already spent more than USD 1.5 billion on players, whereas MU, Liverpool and Chelsea didn't spend one cent!

Before the season started, fans of rival teams were already bandying about a new football phenomenon: Fraudiola. To them, Pep is fake. Their argument rests on the popular mythology that EPL is tougher than La Liga and Bundesliga combined, so Pep must fail in England. I could imagine the weight of expectation on Pep and his players when the season kicks in. My feeling is that the critics won't get off his back until he wins EPL and Bundesliga and La Liga all in the same season.

Pep's response was stunning and seismic. He bought more players! He, he. Well, he did spend USD 250 million on new, younger players like Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus. Of course, MU, Liverpool and Chelsea, according to their partisan pixies, didn't buy a single player. Lukaku, Salah and Morata were all coming through their youth academies.

But, seriously, Pep has reimagined and reinvented English football. He should be cited and  knighted for this. Now I know why people dubbed him the "ultimate solution". His idea of a football match is a 100% share of possession by one team - his team. I've been seriously watching English football for more than 50 years now, and I've not seen anything close to the way City is playing now. Exquisite, expressive, extravagant football.

At times I was left breathless by the way City players shuffled and shifted the ball around, leaving the opponents headless. There's so much guile and craft. Leroy Sane, is he real? The matches against Newcastle and Swansea ended with stats showing City with 81% possession. Not exactly 100%, if you want to argue.

I'm writing this at the risk of offending my opposite numbers, I mean people I know who, for some unknown reason, are still stuck with MU (Hamid, Moru), Liverpool (Yuzer), Arsenal (Puzi), Spurs (Mad Darus), Chelsea (Azlan) and, you've to believe this, Southampton (Said. Just because he went to University of Southampton). They were one-time classmates at Tiger Lane. We're now all retired and redundant.

So, guys, sorry if you're not too happy with what I've written. It's my time and my turn. Live with it until the new season starts in August. But, hold on, what if City's cakewalk this season is only a warm-up act? And there'll be a new dawn next season, a real new dawn. And another new dawn the year after, and so forth.  I mean, what if City are just starting up and will get better and better, more and more formidable? Scary theory. Arsene has just announced that he's leaving Arsenal. There's no better time.

I think you all have to wait a little longer.

Pep Guardiola: The Ultimate Solution

EPL season ended yesterday, 13 May. City set new EPL records for Most Points (100),  Away Points (50), Wins ( 32), Successive Wins (18), Successive Away Wins (11), Goals (106), Goal Difference (+79),  Points Ahead of Second Placed Team (19).

There are more. Most passes (28, 242),  Most Passes in a single game (975), Highest Ball Possession in a single game: 82.95%. 

There's no accounting for positive football (attacking) and negative football (bus parking) football. If there's one, City would've easily been first (attacking) and last (bus). Pep has been voted the best manager. And he would've been the best-dressed manager, hands down.

With all those mind-blowing statistics, some football fans and football writers have insisted that the Arsenal team of 2003/04, the so-called Invincibles, are the best EPL team ever.  These people are deep in denial and delusion. I can feel their pain.

Oh, Manchester United were runners-up,  Spurs (3rd), and Liverpool (4th). Arsenal? 6th.



Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Jogja Jottings

I'm about two weeks away from a trip to Jogjakarta. Or Jogyakarta. Or Yogyakarta. Or Djokdjakarta, if you're a romantic rat. 

We'd settle for Jogja.

I'm veering away from the time-tested way of travel writing. Instead of writing after my travel, I'm writing before and after my travel. Why? For fun, and with a faint hope that my tactical shift would inspire our PM to dump GST.

We'll be going to Jogja and we'll be there for five days, from 5 to 9 December. When I said "we",  guess how many of us? Five? Nine? Wrong. Nineteen. Strange number. I read somewhere that odd numbers like nineteen are considered "masculine" or "male", like Awie, Ustaz Don and the rest.

Nineteen of us will be touring Jogja and the good news is we won't be joining any tour group. We've sworn off extortionate packaged tours and travel guides since Shenzhen and Felix the Cat in August last year. Travel is the only industry where you've to tip for bad service. This time around we decided to go indie. We booked flights, accommodation, transport, driver and insurance, all on our own.

You've read heart-warming stories about random FB friends and followers who travelled together and met for the first time at the departure hall. Well, we're not this intrepid type. We're all family and related and we've met more than two hundred times: wife, daughter, two brothers-in-laws and their wives and two daughters, five sisters-laws and three daughters and two sons. If you count 18, you've left me out. Our base is crammed and cosmopolitan Kg Pandan.

But if you're already in Kg Pandan, why fly to Indonesia? You ask. Good question. With plenty of Javanese craft and culture already on offer in Kg Pandan, it makes no sense to head for Jogja.

But the joy of travel is not just in getting to the place, but the simple thrill of getting off and getting lost. Shakespeare wrote many years ago " Journeys end in lovers meeting". For us, journeys are lovers meeting.

Day 1: Omah Lawas

KLIA 2 early morning looked and felt like wet market on steroids. People were rushing and crashing into each other. We joined the action at 7 am, well ahead of the AK 346 flight at 9.20. Self check-in and bag-drops for all nineteen of us required lots of shuffling and shouting to keep the total checked-in bags within the 75 kg we bought online. We tallied up 74 kg and jumped with joy. The last thing we'd want was to pay excess baggage and give more money to Tony and wife from Busan.

Finally the boarding announcement came on. It caught me cold. "Calling all passengers on flight AK 346 to Jogyakarta.........please proceed to Gate L4. Happy Journey". The repeat announcement again concluded with "Happy Journey". What's going on here?  I've heard of "ciao", "so long" and "hasta la vista, baby". But "Happy Journey"? Utterly unimaginative and absolutely annoying. Please, Malaysia Airports, if you want to be trendy and hippish just cut this "Happy Journey" crap, and use "Bye, 'wak".

We were seated all over, from row 8 all the way to 31. It's Tony's revenge on those who didn't pay and prebook seats. A brother-in-law and loving wife had to sit separately for the first time in their life. What's more cruel this.

Jogja's Adisucipto Airport had no jet bridges, so we'd to walk to the terminal building, quite a feat after prolonged sitting and prolonged age. As we emerged from the arrival hall, the taxi touts swooped in. Despite our best efforts to appear like locals from Batam, they somehow knew we were from Kg Pandan. We just kept our cool and staged a group discussion, while brother-in-law and loving wife were consoling each other, happily reunited after a long two hours away from each other. I bought taxi coupons at the counter for  three Avanzas, and we were good to go.

After a smooth, half an hour ride, we finally found ourselves lusciously looking at Omah Lawas. No, it's not our lunch. It's our homestay.

What a joy. I'd been at the wrong end on many online deals, falling for glossy write-ups and rave ratings of 3 or 4-star hotels only to find the reception staff speaking only Nepalese and the aircond purring like turbines. But not this time. Omah Lawas delivered beyond its promise. The space, set-up and settees reminded me of the wealthy family mansion in Sangam or Bobby. Spiral staircase, high ceiling and all.

Omah is Rumah, I'm sure. Lawas should mean spacious, which was a blatant understatement. The living area was bigger than a basketball court. It could easily fit in all nineteen of us, and nineteen more. A small prayer room inside was  a nice touch, and a subtle reminder. The kitchen was sufficiently stocked for quick cooking. And garden at the back, if you need to write poems.

Our location was slightly off-city centre, but closely bordering Jalan Prawirotaman, Jogja's major tourist artery. A bustling morning market, a mosque, a bakpia outlet and a nasi padang joint were only five minutes walk. The earlier apprehension about a homestay in Jogja turned out to be a brilliant idea.  The quaint dynamism of Omah Lawas should triumph over the humdrum predictability of a city hotel any day.

Day 2: Puro Mangkunegaran 

Breakfast was soto sapi, compliments of Omah Lawas. Rice soaked in beef soup was simply out of this world and reminded me of the riverside nasi air in Kota Bharu.

Our tour of Jogja started with a day out in Solo, also known as Surakarta. Solo wasn't part of Jogja. It was a separate city, about 70 km from Jogja. Jokowi was mayor of Solo before he went on to become President of Indonesia. But why go Solo? Probably the lure of that song.

The 20-seater mini bus was too small and it had about enough air for nineteen people to breath for two hours. Our driver or supir was one Pak Dakir, a dark, smallish local guy with standard Javanese looks and demeanour. Not exactly Zul Ariffin, but he knew the way to Solo.

Solo turned out to be as unremarkable as, say, Kota Bharu. There were no standout sights to whet  the wanderlust, no great wall or leaning tower to drool over. But if you were already in Solo, you've to drop by Pasar Klewer. The market was  busy and brimming with two major merchandise items: batik and batik. None of us had a strong partiality for batik stuff, but my wife and her five sisters somehow managed to draw on their female flair and instincts to still find something to splurge on. I suspect they loved the thrill of paying in 100,000 rupiah notes.

Next was Pasar Triwindu, a flea market, which was a complete disappointment. It lacked the chaotic and disorderly feel of a flea market. The antique items looked fresh and spic and span and available everyday at Tesco. But to be fair, if you'd expect it to be crowded and cluttered like Portobello, then don't come to Triwindu. Go to Portobello.

Our final stop was Puro Mangkunegaran. What? It was a Kraton. Ok, ok, it was a palace. Solo is, notionally, ruled by a Sultan. What's left of the sultan is his title (Sri Paduka Mangkunegara) and this sad Kraton cum museum. He still lived and cooked here. It was closing time but a kindly guide took us around for a very brief tour. This property certainly had seen better days and needed plenty of paint job.

We rounded off with quick stop at Universitas Surakarta and Universitas Sebelas Maret. The youngest sister-in-law wanted to shoot some photos for her FB and to compare them with UPM (her alma mater, her husband's alma mater, her daughter's future alma mater, and her current employer).

And, finally, the river, Bengawan Solo. Apparently the best way to view the river was from a bridge that spanned it. We did just that: crossed the bridge and looked downward. How best to describe this living and flowing legend? Muddy and shabby. I guess the songwriter wasn't fully awake when he penned those lasting lines:

Mata airmu dari Solo
Terkurung gunung seribu
Air meluap sampai jauh
Akhirnya ke laut.

Day 3: Jurang Tembelan  

We had Nasi Gudeg for breakfast, again courtesy of the homestay. It's a Javanese cuisine made of rice with jackfruit, some spices, sugar and brown eggs. If your breakfast variety for the past 50 years consisted of only Roti Canai, you'd find this sweet stuff difficult to understand.

The day's itinerary read like a page out of Indiana Jones's playbook: a mountain, a cliff, and a forest. But we were always flexible and dynamic. If half the way we felt that we were not up to it, we could always come back to Omah Lawas and finish off Nasi Gudeg. If we were game for more, we'd add a cave or a desert into the agenda.

We'd to split into two mini buses, with all the above-50's in one bus, and the rest in the other. We had more space and air today. The two drivers, Zul and Heryo, looked younger and healthier than the Solo supir.

On the way to Gunung Merapi, we'd to make a snap stopover just outside Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM) to (again) let the youngest sister-in-law (yes) take some shots for a UGM v UPM competition. If you, like me, were a history freak, this prestigious campus should remind you of Patih Gadjah Mada, the legendary Javanese warrior.  According to Hikayat Hang Tuah (my Form Six text), Gadjah Mada tried steal Keris Taming Sari from his arch-adversary Hang Tuah. He tricked Hang Tuah into drinking some spiked beverage to get him intoxicated. Hang Tuah somehow didn't fall off and could correctly count to ten. If anybody deserved to have a university in his name, it's Hang Tuah, not Lim Kok Wing. 

Merapi Lava Tour was a two-hour bone-breaking jeep ride on hilly and rugged terrain around Gunung Merapi. It was quite an experience, and panning the volcano from the highest vantage point was truly exhilarating. The sweeping scenery should make a stunning backdrop for low-budget movies, sinetron etc (see pic above). Everyone of us was just happy to come out in one piece, and the under-50's were already screaming for lunch.

With the mountain done, we were all set for the forest. Jurang Tembelan, Hutan Pinus and Kebun Buah Mangunan were clustered in Mangunan, about 40 km from Merapi. The road wasn't that long but winding, and nobody wanted to talk.

The view from Jurang Tembelan could, figuratively, blow you away, and literally (if you were not careful). I'd to catch my breath at the sight of a river cutting deep down the gorge. It brought back the fading memory my tour of the Grand Canyon in 1983, with wife and our (then) one-year old baby. The industrious Mangunan men had built a boat-shaped platform hanging and jutting out precariously into what looked like the outer space. I wasn't sure of the health and safety standards used here, but this thing could take only two people at one time for photos, selfies, photobombs etc. I dared not even look.

Kebun Buah Mangunan was quite similar to Jurang Tembelan but friendlier without that evil-hanging-boat-shaped-in-outer-space-structure.

Hutan Pinus was a pretty pine forest. I'm not sure how these pine trees got to be here. They were supposed to be in Sweden or somewhere. But here they were, dark and real, with barks and cones. The late afternoon sun seeping though the sharp foliage and tall conifers rendered a bit of colour and romance to the whole spectacle. We had a dandy time here. Even the quietest of the six sisters joined in this forest frolic. We would remember this place for a long time.

Day 4: Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X 

We'd purposely left Day 4 open. We'd decide what to do or where to go in the morning. During breakfast, we finally agreed to visit Kraton in the morning, and would decide again what to do or where to go after that. Like I said, we were dynamic.

How did we get to Kraton? We hailed Grab cars. Grab was so easy, fast and cheap here. Only 15,000  rupiah or RM5 for a six-seater Avanza to city centre.

This Kraton was different from the Kraton we saw in Solo, but it was still a Kraton. A Kraton is a Kraton is a Kraton. This one was much bigger, more elaborate and better-kept. It belonged to Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, who still lived here as a pseudo- Sultan and real Governor of Jogja.

According our guide, the Sultan was protected by 1,000 hulubalangs. I forgot to ask "protected" from what. These hulubalangs were unarmed and clad in batik sarong. You'd love these guys. They were a friendly and good-looking lot, unlike the villainous archetypes you saw in old Malay movies, played by Allahyarham Husein Abu Hasan. They not only worked for free but also on shift (No pay, no shift allowance). I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were probably Grab drivers when they were not performing these hulubalang gigs. I mean, people have to eat.

If I'm honest, this Kraton didn't overly excite me. The structure and architecture were old enough but nothing exceptional. Garden was patchy and half-hearted. On the way out, we regrouped and boldly decided to walk to nearby Jalan Malioboro, Jogja's main shopping strip. After about 10 metres, only five of us were left walking, the rest decided to take becaks. So dynamic.

Day 4: Borobudur

Not all of us made it to Borobudur. Only me, daughter Sarah, brother-in-law and daughter Irina, and niece Yasmin (daughter of the youngest sister-in-law and UPM alumnus). Just five of us. The rest were held up at Jalan Malioboro, with millions of rupiahs to burn.

Borobudur was in Magelang, about two hours from Jogja city. We reached the place at about 4.30 and were hit with a RM110 per head entrance fee. I thought this was borderline oppression. At this rate, this 1000-year old structure would remain Indonesia's number one cash cow for another 1000 years.

For all the good money, we had only one hour to explore and understand the whole temple and culture before its 5.30 closing. After a long walk around endless gardens and trees and tourists, I finally came face to face with Borobudur, and gasped. Man, what a sight. I was instantly struck by the symmetry and composure of this  exquisite work of art. The dark theme and stone structure was intriguing and uncannily immaculate. You'd run out of compliments for the early planners and engineers. The corrupt contractors who built the crumbling stadium, mosque and airport in Trengganu could learn a thing or two from these people.

As I was climbing up my way to the top, I could hear something creaking. I thought it was the floor. It was my knees. The topmost platform allowed me an expansive view of the surrounding, mostly farms and small villages with unmistakable mosques and minarets. It's hard not to reflect on how Islam in its full glory and intensity had made inroads into this former Buddhist bastion and completely overran it.

Day 5: Sampai Jumpa Lagi

We rode Grab cars to the airport for our return flight at 10.20 am. The flight was an hour late, and again we were seated everywhere. I'd prebooked inflight meal for everybody and they were very happy with my choice of Thai Green Curry. It was already late afternoon. They'd be happy to eat even black curry.

Goodbye, Jogja.

Final Word

It's been a most fulfilling five days.  Everyone has enjoyed their time in Jogja, and has found something to take home and to give away, from batik to bakpia. How do I know this? The checked-in luggage has increased from 75 kg to 125 kg, that's how. That's 50 kg of loot. We'll treasure the memory of this simple outing, until we decide to come again, you'll never know.

My only sense of misgiving is the limited time I had to explore Jalan Malioboro's high culture, especially in the evening, when it really beats and vibrates. I know I've not done enough because for the first time in my travel I didn't hear people behind me speak Kelantanese.

Jogja's diverse and colourful sights and scenes have truly fired up our senses.  But, for me, just hanging around the dining table at Omah Lawas waiting for everybody else to come out for breakfast was equally rewarding. Travel is lovers meeting.

Scroll down for more photos, and a vlog by Yasmin at the end. Her raspy vocals and American accent are real.

Happy Journey,  ha ha ha !

If You Can Survive Kg Pandatn, You Can Survive Merapi

We Were Happy Before We Broke Our Bones
Ha ha ha Tadi Kata Berani. Tak Payah Pegang la !

 Solo: Looks And Feels Like Kota Bharu.   

 This Hulubalang Looks Like Zul Ariffin

Hang Tuah Had Been Here

 Marvellous Malioboro

Six Sisters And Their Trademark Gimmick

Do I Look Like Cewek Jogja? 


                                                                Yasmin's Vlog








Sunday, August 20, 2017

Interview: Mankind's Greatest Invention?

Today is a big day for my daughter Aida. She'll be attending a job interview.

Interviews are nothing to shout about nowadays. The way job market is heading, a fresh graduate going for interviews is as commonplace as a retiree tweaking his sugar strategy.

But this interview is a milestone for Aida because it'll go down as her first ever job interview. She was already up and about at 5 am, five hours ahead of showdown. I could feel her jitters and nerves snapping. She'd be 22 in December, and her first day at kindergarten felt like yesterday.

I drove her to the interview location at Selangor Dredging Building near Petronas Twin Towers, together with her mom and sister, as a show of solidarity. Or just to be around in case she broke down. An interview could swing from nice to nasty in no time.

On the way we were caught in the Sg Besi snarl-up, so there's plenty of void for me to carp and gripe. I wasn't too happy with Aida's joyless and cynical choice of a black tudung for this momentous occasion. The odds were already stacked against her, why make it worse. "It's blue black, not black" her mom chimed in with a defensive maneuver.  I hate technicalities.   

I'm sure there are hundreds of other interviews being held in KL today and every working day. Half a million fresh and frustrated graduates are looking for paying jobs now. Every job requires at least one interview. The rule of thumb is, the higher the position, the longer the interview hours. A CEO position might require one whole day or two and even include an eleven-course Chinese dinner. An interview for a lowly Malay movie extra or AF contestant may take all of five minutes, no food.

Interview as a concept isn't new. More than one thousand years ago Hannibal and Hammurabi had to run interviews to select soldiers from thousands of army aspirants. Their interview procedure looked a lot like modern medical procedures (blood etc). Ugly and uninspiring, I know, but it was an interview nonetheless.

I read somewhere that interview in its modern form and style was invented by the prolific inventor Thomas Edison, along with his one thousand other inventions. He mechanized the interview process with a structured test to winnow out the non-starters. I supposed it worked very well because even now most interviews employ Edison's early template, where job applicants are subjected to a battery of tests, tricks and simulations. Sometimes live battery is used for effect. Some of today's interview techniques can actually be more cruel than the one pioneered by Hannibal.

My first ever interview was in 1975.  I was just starting my undergraduate study at UKM. I'd applied for a scholarship from Bank Pertanian (now Agro Bank, for effect) to finance my study, and they thought I was good enough for a look-over. My hair was long and unruly, but the interview panel didn't seem to mind it because they didn't expect university students to be good-looking. The interviewers were a happy lot. They did their best to calm me down, beginning with what game I played in school. I thought it was a trick question, so it took me all of ten seconds to say football. As it turned out, they asked only straight questions. And that was it, no personality quiz or mensa madness.

I got the scholarship, along with another guy, also from Kelantan. (Those days half of university students were from Kelantan because the entire state was classified as very rural).  I remember him because he was majoring in animal husbandry at UPM, and was very proud of it. I'd no slightest idea what or how animal husbandry was at that time.

Scholarship interviews now are, of course, more elaborate. No more "What game did you play in school" stuff. Those who apply for JPA scholarships to study medicine now have to pass seven rounds of grueling interview. I can't quite understand the need for two rounds, let alone seven. To me, if they're all qualified academically, then give them all. One interview is enough, and the purpose is nothing more than to make sure that they're real, breathing persons, not cyber or virtual sort. If funds or places are limited, then use quicker criteria, like names. An applicant with complex and conflicting names like Aaron Putra Tabayyun is out.  Ibrahim is fine.

Petronas scholarships are among the most coveted in the country even with crude oil price at only $40. So no surprise that the interview borders on the dark arts. The short-listed applicants, mostly straight A+ students from Kolej Melayu Kuala Kangsar, are whisked away to a boot camp in agricultural Tronoh for a series of suspicious mind games, sing-alongs and role-plays. The idea was to size up the leadership potential of these 18-year olds and identify Petronas CEO for 2051. Half of those who fail have to carry on with their lives dispirited and badly broken, while the other half continue their studies in UPM.    

If scholarship interviews are that difficult, imagine job interviews. But why are interviews becoming more complicated and cold blooded? I think it all boils down to the classic interplay of supply and demand. Jobs are scarce while applicants with 3.85 cgpa are a dime a dozen. The objective is no longer to separate the wheat from the chaff, but to pick out the sexiest wheat. Academic grades or Ivy League are no longer a good predictor of workplace success. Companies are under pressure to spot the right talent at the entry point rather than risk the eventual unfolding of a Jeff Skilling or Jho Lo.

And there's always this belief that a modern, ground-breaking company must use the latest and the most sophisticated interview routine. Words would get around. The wisdom is, the harder the interview, the higher the pay. This is purportedly good for company image, brand and HR chief. This is also delusional.

To their credit, the job applicants are not taking all this sitting down. The market is now rife with interview self-helps (Dummies, Idiot's etc), online material and apps. An applicant with a mind can now arm himself to the teeth. He can game even the most difficult interview. He can conceivably answer before you ask. He can complete any test thrown at him in ten minutes.  He can mock and provoke the interviewer. Companies would shudder at the thought of landing a candidate whose talent lies not in money-making, but in money-laundering. The only way for a company to win this dogfight with the interviewee is to use a killer interview. (Or,  better still,  kill the interviewee).

It makes us wonder, if interviews are so critical, why are some plum positions being filled with no semblance of an interview? Like what? Like presidents, prime ministers, ministers, mursyidul am. I don't think Robert Mugabe was ever interviewed for president or for anything. Donald Trump has interviewed (and groped) lots of ladies, but not the other way round. Ahmad Maslan came with 3.85 cgpa, but without interview. They were chosen by default, not by interviews. I'm sure many rogue and rampant "leaders" would get found out early enough had they been subjected to a reasonably robust interview, with some personality software and IQ tests, don't forget.

Oh, yes, Aida. She aced the interview, got the job and will start next week.  Hard to believe this slice of good fortune. Must be that black tudung. Blue black, sorry.




Monday, June 12, 2017

A Royal Tour Of England: Imperial College, Royal Albert Hall, Crystal Palace and Raja Petra

I was travelling in England the whole first week of May. On paper it was a gallant end of spring. But on the ground, it was brutal winter. The temperature was tolerable single digits, but the wind wreaked vengeance. The weathermen were blaming an Arctic blow-over or Carbon Effect or Corbyn Effect or something scientific. The wind could well be from North Korea. But who wants to offend Supreme Leader these days?

Our tour troop had grown bigger since my last trip here in March 2010 with the addition of three grand daughters and two daughters-in-law. Time just flew. Those who were loudly complaining about our PM's wife's long luggage on her trip to Turkey last year should see ours. Strollers, car seats, car seat boosters, Peppa Pigs, you name it. If not for the airline industry's extortionate luggage rules, my two boys would've brought along their washing machines.

I've promised myself to depart from my usual verbose and alliterative writing style, at least for this entry. Readers nowadays are readers but in name. They don't read Wuthering Heights. All they do all day is reading half-English messages and watching anything that jumps off the phone screen. So I'll write less and have more pictures instead. If you think that's not exactly a change in writing style, it's fine with me. But let's start.

1. Imperial College London

Of all the famous and familiar sights in London, why this sad structure? We came here to attend my eldest boy's graduation here, that's why. For some unknown reason he'd found enough energy and intrigue to study while working and pandering to his bosses. And even managed to graduate.

The first time I heard of Imperial College was in early 1990's. I had lots of Tiger Lane classmates who left for England after Form Five in early 70's. But all of them went to Brighton. Well, not all. But almost all. It's hard not to confuse Brighton with Britain and Briton. Just remember this: Britons live in Britain, Malays study in Brighton. Repeat this jingle ten times and you'll get this minor mess off your head.

I'd thought Imperial College was an A Level College like the one near Tg Malim. Only quite recently I discovered that it's a full-blown and no-nonsense university with students at all levels except A Level. Its engineering school is purported to be among the world's top and toughest, up there with MIT and Caltech, with half of the students speaking only in numbers and Chinese.

Physically there was nothing to wonder and marvel here. No period landmark or architectural masterwork. The buildings were mostly of contemporary design, huddled tightly with hardly enough space in between for the creative mind to stand, stare, write poems etc. The male toilet can take only five normal-size students at any one time. What came to mind was the sprawling UPM and UTP campuses with lakes and trees and professors and cows roaming freely. To be fair Imperial sits on a princely piece of real estate and, please, don't compare it with Balakong or Tronoh.
Imperial also has a graduate business school as its cash cow preying on unsuspecting corporate warriors seeking the elevated Imperial brand. In truth, the business program here is only slightly more complicated than the one at UPM. But who wants to go to Serdang? My eldest was graduating from from the business school. You guessed it, I know.

Before I forget, Imperial College is in the South Kensington area, in the heart of London, close to Royal Albert Hall, Natural History Museum and  Harrods. Imperial College is an unofficial supporter of Fulham Football Club. Yes, this is funny.

2. Royal Albert Hall

Somehow lots of Malays are familiar with this hall, made famous by our legendary singer-actor-lawyer, the late Sudirman. He performed and won the Asian Music Awards here in 1989. Siti Nurhaliza went one better with a solo concert here in 2005 amidst controversies, like why was it not held at the more iconic Panggung Aniversari in KL Lake Gardens.

Don't ask me how people get to hold concerts at Albert Hall. I'm equally curious. Do they get invited or vetted by the Queen? Do they have to pay a rental? Who pays? The husband? And how much? How old is the husband?  Where are they going to get the audience? Ferried all the way from Pahang? Or Brighton?

My eldest's graduation ceremony was held at Albert Hall. What a place to receive your degree. You need no other motivation to attend. It bothered me somehow that Imperial College called it "Graduation" ceremony, while back in Malaysia we were stuck with "Convocation" or, worse,"Konvokesyen". So where did we get this word "Convocation" from? Shakespeare? As a full-time retiree, I get to worry about urgent things like this.

It was a glittering and glitzy occasion, colourful and steeped in tradition, complete with a string ensemble. The oval and opulent hall was filled to the brim, and the atmosphere just blew me away. The pace and timing were pitch perfect, no hitches or glitches, nothing over the top, just right. And, of course, the music. I almost choked when my name was called (hahaha).

I'll remember this one for a long time.

3.  Peak District

Not Peek District. This is a highland area and a national park bordering Manchester and Derby known for its scenic lakes, streams, farms, villages, sheep (scenic sheep?). We spent a good half-day traipsing round the area, savouring the splendid landscape and gorgeous geography. It's an exhilarating experience, which is really a pity because most Malaysians would rather visit the nearby Old Trafford and waste good money on Pogba shirts.

Peak District might not be as famous as Lake District, but equally enjoyable. No romantic poets and writers have chosen to live and die here though. The closest I could think of would probably be RPK, the refugee blogger now mired down in Manchester. Read his prolific tales of trysts and machinations and you'll understand why he's a romantic writer.

4. Manchester City FC

The 50 year-old dream came true. I finally got to watch Manchester City in the flesh at the Etihad, right before my very eyes. I'd been having these visions ever since I followed the team in 1969.  The feeling was simply unbelievable, shouting and swearing with 55,000 City freaks, watching David Silva waltzing and Yaya Toure bursting out, just twenty feet away.

But there was a downside to all this. Every time Aguero had the ball in the box with only half-decent chance of a goal, the whole stadium would stand up and cheer on. While this spontaneous act ramped up the atmosphere, it totally blocked my view since I'm physically challenged (political for short). Anyway, City ran out 5-0 winners against a hapless Crystal Palace. I completely missed the first four goals.

5. Hotel New Inn, Gloucester.

Gloucester was our last stop before our return flight to KL. Nothing special about this town, except that it was a medieval city only two hours away from Heathrow Terminal 4. It's cheaper and more convenient to stop here than going back to London (with all our bags and Peppa Pigs, remember?). It was Sunday and the town was deserted and it took us some time to find our hotel, the New Inn, although it was smack in the town centre.

The New Inn Hotel wasn't new. It was built in 1450. Just like Gloucester, there was nothing extraordinary about the hotel, except for a footnote in Wikipedia "The New Inn is supposedly haunted with at least one unexplained event captured on CCTV in 2010". It was too late to change our plans.

Stepping into the hotel you'd notice the intricate 500-year old timber and masonry. The toilet came with modern soap and flushing system. It took us some time to really settle in. We hardly talked.

Nothing happened. Sorry.        

6. Breathless Bread

What's more boring than bread? I love bread, and England is a bread heaven. Walk into any supermarket you'll see one big section with bread brands and varieties in full cry, from Allison's rustic white to Hovis wholemeal and all the way to Worburton's superseed. I had to catch my breath. And it's bloody cheap. A 600 gm of high quality multi-seed variety sells for only 79 p (RM 4.30). A plain white is RM 7.90 at Isetan KLCC Sun Moulin bakery. Gardenia or Massimo is RM 2.50 for 400gm of mind-fogging gluten and yeast.      

I bought plenty of bread and enjoyed every slice. Fabulous stuff. As to why it's so much cheaper in England, I don't have a ready explanation. Maybe the market there is bigger, while I am the only bread market in Malaysia.

7. Ah, Malaysia Airlines 

I flew Malaysia Airlines this time. I'd not flown long-haul on Malaysia Airlines for almost twenty years. Air Asia or some Arab airlines were always 50% cheaper. This was also my first flight on the A380. It was certainly big, with more space and air to breath, but nothing beyond my expectation.  

With plenty of empty seats, it was hard not to notice the flight attendants (male and female). They all had the real knack of appearing busy at all times. Those in the idle oil and gas industry can learn a thing or two from these guys. But I must say that they were a bit of a let-down. I mean, the aircraft was all fresh and spanking, but the attendants looked older than Gloucester. A couple of them even had reading glasses. I thought it was an exception and I should be seeing something different and more inspiring on the return flight. It was different set, but from the same period.

I suspect these people were highly-paid holdovers from the platonic Malaysia-Singapore Airlines. They were nice and pleasant enough, but I'm sure there are eager and younger ones among the 120,000 Malaysia Airline staff with more energy and better eyesight to take over the job.

Sorry for this Trumpesque turn, but I'm sure most of you are with me on this.


8. A Final Word

It's been a brief and productive family outing, a mishmash of business, fun and ghosts. I guess my three granddaughters also enjoyed it. They didn't complain about the cold wintry air. They didn't complain about anything. Either their benchmark was low or their tolerance threshold was high. Maybe both, who knew. I'm not sure what they think of Peak District.

England is easy. The locals drive on the left and speak good English or good Indian, unlike the Italians who drive on the right and speak only loud Italian. And food is friendly.  Manchester has more halal restaurants than Subang Jaya on per Muslim basis. What immediately comes to mind is an old and intrepid friend named Yusof Hashim. He travels only to strange and difficult places, like Antarctica, Patagonia and Atlas Mountains, where locals don't drive. He's 70 now. I'm not sure how he copes. I don't think there's a halal restaurant in Antarctica.

Did I promise you plenty of pictures? Here's two more, shot in York. Spreading out on the steps like that, what a clever improvisation.