Words of Wisdom ...or so it seems...


Wednesday, 22 October 2008

So much for democracy in Singapore

Extracted from Singapore Straits Times on 10 Aug 2008.

By Nur Dianah Suhaimi (

As a Malay, I've always been told that I have to work twice as hard to prove my worth. When I was younger, I always thought of myself as the quintessential Singaporean. Of my four late grandparents, two were Malay, one was Chinese and one was Indian. This, I concluded, makes me a mix of all the main races in the country. But I later realised that it was not what goes into my blood that matters, but what my identity card says under 'Race'.

Because my paternal grandfather was of Bugis origin, my IC says I'm Malay. I speak the language at home, learnt it in school, eat the food and a lesser Singaporean than those from other racial groups.

I grew up clueless about the concept of national service because my father was never enlisted. He is Singaporean all right, born and bred here like the rest of the boys born in 1955.
He is not handicapped in any way. He did well in school and participated in sports.

Unlike the rest, however, he entered university immediately after his A levels. He often told me that his schoolmates said he was 'lucky' because
he was not called up for national service.

'What lucky?' he would tell them. 'Would you feel lucky if your country doesn't trust you?' So I learnt about the rigours of national service from my male cousins. They would describe in vivid detail their training regimes, the terrible food they! were served and the torture inflicted upon them - most of which, I would later realise, were exaggerations.

But one thing these stories had in common was that they all revolved around the Police Academy in Thomson. As I got older, it puzzled me why my Chinese friends constantly referred to NS as 'army'. In my family and among my Malay friends, being enlisted in the army was like hitting the jackpot. The majority served in the police force because, as is known, the Government was not comfortable with Malay Muslims serving in the army. But there are more of them now.

Throughout my life, my father has always told me that as a Malay, I need to work twice as hard to prove my worth. He said people have the misconception that all Malays are inherently lazy.

I was later to get the exact same advice from a Malay minister in office who is a family friend. When I started work, I realised that the advice rang true, especially because I wear my religion on my head. My professionalism suddenly became an issue. One question I was asked at a job interview was whether I would be willing to enter a nightclub to chase a story. I answered: 'If it's part of the job, why not? And you can rest assured I won't be tempted to have fun.'

When I attend media events, before I can introduce myself, people assume I write for the Malay daily Berita Harian. A male Malay colleague in The Straits Times has the same problem, too.

This makes me wonder if people also assume that all Chinese reporters are from Lianhe Zaobao and Indian reporters from Tamil Murasu.

People also question if I can do stories which require stake-outs in the sleazy lanes of Geylang. They say because of my tudung I will stick out like a sore thumb. So I changed into a baseball cap and a men's sports
jacket - all borrowed from my husband - when I covered Geylang.

I do not want to be seen as different from the rest just because I dress
differently. I want the same opportunities and the same job challenges.
Beneath the tudung, I, too, have hair and a functioning brain. And if anything, I feel that my tudung has actually helped me secure some difficult interviews.

Newsmakers - of all races - tend to trust me more because I look guai (Hokkien for well-behaved) and thus, they feel, less likely to write critical stuff about them.

Recently, I had a conversation with several colleagues about this essay. I told them I never thought of myself as being particularly patriotic.
One Chinese colleague thought this was unfair. 'But you got to enjoy free eduation,' she said.

Sure, for the entire 365 days I spent in Primary 1 in 1989. But my parents paid for my school and university fees for the next 15 years I was studying.

It seems that many Singaporeans do not know that Malays have stopped getting free education since 1990. If I remember clearly, the news made front-page news at that time.

We went on to talk about the Singapore Government's belief that Malays here would never point a missile at their fellow Muslim neighbours in a war.

I said if not for family ties, I would have no qualms about leaving the country. Someone then remarked that this is why Malays like myself are not trusted. But I answered that this lack of patriotism on my part comes from not being trusted, and for being treated like a potential traitor.

It is not just the NS issue. It is the frustration of explaining t non-Malays that I don't get special privileges from the Government. It is having to deal with those who question my professionalism because of my religion. It is having people assume, day after day, that you are lowly educated, lazy and poor. It is like being the least favourite child in a family. This child will try to win his parents' love only for so long.

After a while, he will just be engulfed by disappointment and bitterness.
I also believe that it is this 'least favourite child' mentality which makes most Malays defensive and protective of their own kind.

Why do you think Malay families spent hundreds of dollars voting for two Malay boys in the Singapore Idol singing contest? And do you know that Malays who voted for other competitors were frowned upon by the community?

The same happens to me at work. When I write stories which put Malays in a bad light, I am labeled a traitor. A Malay reader once wrote to me to say: 'I thought a Malay journalist would have more empathy for these unfortunate people than a non-Malay journalist.'

But such is the case when you are a Malay Singaporean. Your life is not just about you, as much as you want it to be. You are made to feel
responsible for the rest of the pack and your actions affect them as well.
If you trip, the entire community falls with you. But if you triumph, it is considered everyone's success.

When 12-year-old Natasha Nabila hit the headlines last year for her record PSLE aggregate of 294, I was among the thousands of Malays here who celebrated the news. I sent instant messages to my friends on Gmail and chatted excitedly with my Malay colleagues at work.

Suddenly a 12-year-old has become the symbol of hope for the community and a message to the rest that Malays can do it too - and not just in singing competitions.

And just like that, the 'least favourite child' in me feels a lot happier.
Each year, come Aug 9, my father, who never had the opportunity to do national service, dutifully hangs two flags at home - one on the front gate and the other by the side gate.

I wonder if putting up two flags is his way of making himself feels like a better-loved child of Singapore.

Friday, 17 October 2008

I have a dream...

I have a dream...

And in my dream, Malaysia is one nation. No Malay Malaysian, Indian Malaysian, Chinese Malaysian, Iban Malaysian, Dan Lain Lain Malaysian and so forth. We move forward together as one nation, one voice, one vision.

In my dreams, by the way, I am George Clooney's main woman..(well, they always say "only in your dreams" when I say I'm marrying George Clooney..or Brad Pitt..). Mrs Clooney, in my dreams, is the Perdana Menteri of Malaysia, via her party, Progressive Malaysian Party..

As the first Prime Minister from a brand new party not based on race, religion, or politician on the vengeance mode,the first thing I'd do would be dismantling the current education system. I will in my first day of office, close down the Sekolah Kebangsaan, Sekolah Cina, Sekolah Tamil, Sekolah Dan Lain Lain and intergrate all race into two schools. I will also demolish private schools. There will only be two type of schools when I am the Prime Minister - Sekolah Rendah and Sekolah Menengah.

All sessions begins in the morning, and ends up about 3pm. Why 3pm? Well, so that there will be a uniform religious studies for all children to attend and no limitation is imposed on whatever classes they want to attend. Anyone can attend any religious class they prefer. There will also be language classes whereby a child is encourage by using point system, to learn a third language that is not their own mother tongue. Of course English language is compulsory, if not the medium.

Having said that, I will make sure the teachers are getting good education that includes increasing their IQ and EQ. I will increase their salary, give more in incentive forms to make teaching a lucrative profession. They will also be trained in child psychology and to detect a special child, so that they wont end up telling a child with ADHD that they are horribly naughty or a child with autism, stupid, with a lame excuse of being ignorant.

Needless to say, I will prosecute anyone who is involved in tuition. The education system need to be upgraded and an excellent system will replace the existing one,( that still insist Hang Tuah is the hero), so much so, with a much smaller students to teacher ratio, there will be no need for them to attend tuition. The extra time will be good for the children to spend more time with their parents instead of wasting it doing too much homework. If there is any extra classes needed for the children who are trailing in their classes, then it'll be during the time at school.

The education will be more of learning while having fun. In class there will me more interactions encouraged between teachers and amongst children and any teacher who do not answer a child's questions, no matter how stupid it sound , or tells a child to shut up, will face disciplinary action. The education system will be designed for children to be able to express their thoughts not only verbally, but also via artistic expressions. No more butt numbing sitting in classes listening to the teacher talk non stop for one hour, then get irritated when a child starts asking questions. An average attention span for normal children is approximately 45minutes. Making learning interactive makes it a superior learning form.

There will be more field trips and children will learn while having fun, and also via the latest technology method that we can offer. There will be no examinations until the age of 15 and 17years. Children should be made to enjoy their childhood while in their childhood age....not when they have grown more hair than a Bigfoot. Parents caught presurizing their children with academic materials will be charged and send for counselling to de-kiasu-fy them. (Or, perhaps, as an option, I will make the parents re-seat for their SRP/PMR and SPM, so that THEY, get the good results and can boast about it..instead of pushing a child in a ridiculous manner then boast the child's results to society.)

A child have got 30 fold imagination as compared to adults and adults who attempt to kill a child's imagination by supressing them will be send for counseling on how to enhance your child's imagination. Better still, before a couple ties the knot they will be encouraged to go to couples' counseling sessions that includes parenting skills. Better get counseled before the divorce or the call from some police station asking parents to bail out their children.

I will subsidize the children's books, provide lockers so that the next generation will not look like The Hunchback of Notredame, carrying all the heavy school bags. The canteen will be serving standardized menu, inclusive of vegetarian menus, and that they are monitored to be healthy. After all you are what you eat. That makes me wonder what our politicians ate when they were children..but oh, forgive me for digressing...Our children will also have a medical check up at least once in two years, conducted nationally by the Kementerian Kesihatan.

The education system will also emphasis on "Civics" not only as a mere subject, students are also required to attend field work in practicing them. Furthermore the students awaiting for their SPM or PMR results to be announced, will be made to do community service as part of the extra curricular activities. This tradition of community service will be extended into the varsity level.

I will also ensure the children of immigrants, (and I don't mean the Malaysian born Chinese, Indians and Dan Lain Lains, as what that imbecilic Ahmad Ismail stated arrogantly, but the Myanmar for example, ), will get free education and health benefits too, because children should not be made to pay for their parents actions, or share their fate. We talk about sending millions of money to the third world country in aid, but we tend to neglect them when they are on our soil. Free education and health is a good form of aid too.

Last but not least, on the education policy, I will make sure all students are well versed in their final year of education, of the subject of "Personal Finance". My book of choice would be that of Azizi Ali, because that is the only book on personal finance that I have time to read for now...Young people, especially those from the science stream, lack the knowledge of personal finance, so much so, they fall prey to the system the minute they start work and earn. I think taking a loan for getting married is ridiculous. I have a cousin who did just that. It was a huge grand wedding. The loan however, lasted longer than the marriage which ended up in a year and a half based on financial disagreement.

Then my attention will turn to the Islamic Department. I will make them dig all the unresolved divorce cases and make them settle any divorce cases latest by 4months. I will hunt down the fathers who'd left their children without any child support. I will make sure that their pay slip will have deduction for child support until the child is able to stand on his own. So I guess, if the father do not want to support the child until death do us part, inevitably the fathers have to be responsible in the child's education too.
Single parents, even if it is a male, will be given some kind of tax exemption to ease the financial burden.

I will also revamp the male biased law in the Islamic Department, and set it right, the way the actual law in the Al Quran states, not by any other interpretations. I will also revise the Islamic Law and clarify what is facts and what is myth. I will make sure that they are only allowed to take off for their endless kursus only after they have settled the big pile of unsettled files on their tables. Funny how most officers are missing and we are told that they are gone for some kursus. It sounds like the Muslims are progressing forward, and the Religious Department are endlessly updating themselves, when in practice, they seem to insist we all go back to the time of Muhammad, in the way we do things in daily life, to the way we dress. It's as though the humans cannot pass the stage of controlling their thoughts that seem to wander in lust.

That reminds me, I have yet to find a convincing verse in the Al Quran that suggest it is necessary for women to cover their heads. But there are verses on punctuality and discouragement of polygamy albeit they are not made famous as the "pakai tudung" versus.

Of course I will have to adress the New Economic Policy. I will retain the policy but ensure that the implementation is modified. The term "race" will not be that of skin color or culture, rather a person's financial status. Poor people constitutes a race. A race that trails behind in economy, education etc, will become a race that have nothing to loose, ergo, dangerous, and will come back to haunt the society. I will make sure that anyone with the income per capita that falls into below average, will get to benefit from NEP. I may have to dodge a couple of flying keris from the unhappy Tuan Tuan Tanah Melayu, albeit, most of them are no longer 100% Malays, but still cling on to the Keris Tamingsari or their very own, (you know, the ones that makes babies they later tend to neglect..)...but by God I will get it implemented.

I have a my dream, I will immediately stop the Kursus Perkahwinan and the test because it is a fundamental right of any human being to get married to whoever they want, and being a not so well versed Muslim is not a criterion to stay a toxic bachelor. What then if they don't pass the test? Re seat or get married only until they pass the exam? What if they don't pass at all? A person who can recite the whole Quran is not a guarenty to a responsible husband. A person who knows the law of Islam does not mean he will implement it in his daily life. Even a non Muslim can sit for Ugama Islam exams and get an A, and stay non Muslim. Why wait for the couple to be tested on religion just before marriage, when you can instill understanding of Islam in the education syllabus.

I will also not make it compulsory for anyone to take a HIV test before marriage, although I will launch vigorous campaigns to encourage the testing for all as personal knowledge. It is wrong to discriminate someone by their disease, or by any standard.

In my dreams, I created hell for the Mat Rempits. Instead of sending them to jail, of which they may graduate as an actual criminal, I will make them do community service, specifically in the orthopedics department. There, feasted upon their eyes, are cases of limbs plastered and hanging somewhere in mid air. The Mat Rempits are to change the beds and help the patients poop and pee in the poop pee pan, and help with pulling the limbs to realign the broken bones. Perhaps, they are to sit and read to some of the patients or do some petty chores for them...(actually it is the same technique I used to counsel school kids who were sent to me to stop smoking during my hospital days..a tour to visit my patients on ventilatory support or on oxygen 24/7 as a consequence to works..)

And in my dreams,I will ....dang...I just woke was the azan.., prompting me to get up and perform the subuh prayer. I'm okay with the azan, normally I am oblivious to the all familiar sound every morning anyway, but my dreams were making me restless and easily woken up..I depend more on new technology like the alarm clock on my side table, and my hand phone with the subtle cuckoo bird tone to get up at my time to perform the morning prayers, and the other prayers............and yes, I may have to address the azan matter too when I resume my prime ministership in my dream tonight......I looked into the "Index Al Quran" in seach of the word azan, I can't find a single verse on it in the Quran. I wonder if I can find anything that says it is okay to intrude into peoples mental zen by making loud noises into the microphone they forget to switch off after the azan..and broadcast the whole 2 rakaats of prayers plus the morning sermon. But I do remember my Ustad telling me, it is wrong to recite prayers loudly that it makes the person beside you in a jemaah be interrupted in concentration because of your loud utterances.

Hmm...I wonder who decided that it is it okay to rudely awaken people with the loud sermons that sounded like angry husband when listened from within the four walls of one's house. It kind of beats the purpose of the sermon actually. There are babies and people looking after them at odd hours trying to catch the sleep they could not get during the night. There are people working shifts and trying to cat nap. It's not that they do not have alarm clocks on their tables or in their hand phones to help them wake up at the time they feel they can function after a decent sleep, to perform prayers. Blasting the sermon is more an act of showing off power rather than attracting people to a what is suppose to be an attractive religion prohibits imposing on others excessively.

Alas!! My dreams are over for this tiny moment, until I go to sleep and dream again tonight...George Clooney will just have to wait...