Tuesday, August 21, 2007


my merdeka celebration

this coming thirtyfirst august our beloved country malaysia celebrates the 50th merdeka day , a historic and significant milestone. fifty years of independance! something to really celebrate and feel good about. but unfortunately i'll be somewhere in vietnam around this time so i can't participate in this year's celebration by watching the usual fireworks display over KLCC and mawi concert as malaysians usually do by way of commemorating this august day which happens to fall on the last day of august.

but celebration has already started since at least early this month and every responsible citizen is urged by our beloved government to show our patriotism by displaying jalur gemilang on our cars, houses, business premises and buildings. (the government will take care of the lamp posts and trees lining major streets). but sadly, despite the exhortation, pleading and and appeal by our beloved leaders this campaign does not seem to be too successful and if displaying jalur gemilang is a yardstick to measure our patriotism and love for our country, based on my observation , we're a hopeless and unpatriotic lot and lorry drivers are our most patriotic citizens for mostly lorries carrying sand and timbers seem to be the only ones that carry malaysian flag, the jalur gemilang. there are ocassional proton sagas and wiras that you come across having little flags on the car hood - and they look positively silly and forlorn among seas of gleaming mercs, toyotas, hyundais and kias without this patriotic appendage - but i guess these are our usual umno rakan muda or pemudas who will follow everything our beloved government says to the letter.

and here's the real issue. one beloved government minister was completely taken by surprise when a shop owner, when asked the reason why he did not put up a flag at his restaurant answered that if he did, he was afraid that customers may not come to his premise thinking that he is a bn supporter!. and he has a point. I too do not put a flag on my car simply because i don't want to be mistaken for an umno asshole. not that i'm not patriotic but when merdeka seems to be hijacked as though it's a BN celebration, it'd be safer to take a back seat.

here's another thing. i was reading the utusan malaysia the other day and they have this glowing articles on our prime ministers past and present and i glanced at the chronology of tunku's life and the history of our first PM suddenly ended after he stepped down as our PM. no mention about him leaving umno, and joining the Semangat 46 and died a sad man. there's too much airbrushing and spin on everything it can make ones dizzy, not with exhilaration but revulsion.

but still, i'm a patriotic man in my own way. so for the first time in my life i thought i'd do the right thing and today i went and visited our national monument the tugu peringatan as a way of reigniting the flame of national pride and that sort of thing. so happened that i had this vietnamese visitor so i brought him along. big mistake. first thing my vietnamese friend mentioned was that they have many monuments like this in vietnam (true), and vietnam may be a lot poorer and less developed compared to our beloved malaysia but one thing they excelled in is fighting. they beat the crap out of the french at dien bien phu, they chased out the chinese, and their crowning glory, they are the only people on earth that beat the shit out of the americans. so what did malaysians die for, he asked me?

so i said..urmm, let see. we're a very peaceful country thank god. the only soldiers that died in the past thirty years or so were those that crashed their nuris and other planes during training as far as i know. the hundreds of thousands reportedly killed in the last war ? they helped the brit colonial masters to fight brit's war against the japs. and some starved to death as japanese prisoners building railway tracks on the river kwai. don't you have heroes?, he asked. we do , more or less i said. there's one mat kilau. and another is tok janggut . not exactly shih huang ti for sure but they did rebel against the british. didn't amount to much but still....and he asked why the national monument had so few names on the plaques and who were these people with mostly english names? and why was the statue designed by an american?, don't you have your own sculptors?....so i said, oh fuck, don't ask too many questions, lets go to lunch.

and one unfortunate event that cast a dark shadow over this year's merdeka celebration is that untimely rendition of our national anthem as a rap song by that malaysian chinese boy studying in taiwan with his creative lyrics thrown in. i can totally understand our government's ire and for once i sided with the government on this one. my surprise though is that the pemuda umno which is usually very belligerent in this sort of situation seemed very muted in their response this time.

still, you must know how to draw the line. as i always say, i love freedom of expression but you wouldn't stand up and piss on your grand mother's head would you?

can't help thinking that this silly boy must be unduly influenced by that great and politically incorrect borat movie. truly one of my favorite movies for this year . even the title is hilarious. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. And as this excellent review described;

Baron Cohen really shows his class when Borat is a guest at a Texan rodeo. He fearlessly strides into the centre of the ring with his mic, loudly praises his hosts' "War of Terror", leads wild cheering when he expresses the hope that Iraq is bombed so that even the lizards are killed, but then with magnificent effrontery allows his audience to suspect they've been duped by singing a transparently absurd "Kazakh national anthem" about potassium production to the tune of The Star-Spangled Banner.

even the country bumpkins at this rodeo show were incensed by this transgression on their national anthem and kazakhstan president even made an official personal complaint to george w about this movie and he mauling of his country's national anthem so the silly chinese boy ought to know what's coming when he did what he did. and by the way, kazakhstan isn't too different politically from malaysia. so he should have known.

the latest election gave kazakhstan president nursultan nazarbayez 88% votes and all the seats. why is it that the more backward a country is, the more popular the political rulers seem to be? malaysia has been ruled by the same government since independence and will likely to continue to be so in the next thousand years. so i guess one of the ways people with brains show their dissatisfaction is by singing the national anthem as a rap song. hmmmm.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


more books and art addicts

ah books, books and more books. i'm living in paradise. my head is my paradise. paradise is in my head. if only i have another hundred years....or a thousand.

bought some great titles again in the past week or so, and let me name a few..

1) fateless by imre kertesz (2002 nobel prize winner for literature)
2) this blinding absence of light by tahar ben jelloun (2004 IMPAC winner)
3) in siberia by colin thurbon (travel)
4) the emperor by rhyzard kapuscinski (biography of haile selassie)
5) living to tell the tale by gabriel garcia marquez (autobiography)

so many to read but which to choose first, and thousands to choose from...a nice dilemma, a pleasurable headache. ..

i've been waiting to get 'the emperor' for so long and now i have it i guess i'll read this first , and i've read the first thirty pages or so of this fascinating and remarkable story but wait, i'm also an art addict and so happened that i also found this book 'peggy guggenheim' :the life of an art addict by anton gill and if this very interesting review in the new statesman is anything to go by, i must read this book first.

i've actually read a bit about peggy guggenheim a long time ago. The only thing i remember of my train trip from london to somewhere north (edinburgh? or was it newcastle?) a long time ago was me sitting opposite this jewish boys with their black coats and jewish hats and i was reading peggy guggenheim's autobiography but couldn't concentrate very much because that was the first time i ever saw jews and i knew them to be jews because of their clothing and i was fascinated and observed them all the way to edinburgh (or was it newcastle?) and i was thinking... so these are how jews look like? why are they hated so much in the world? that sort of thoughts. the irony was not lost to me that at the same time i was reading about a jewish art addict....

and i visited her art collection in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice many years ago. and that was the first time if i recall correctly i saw henri rousseau's 'surprise' but my head must be muddled because this picture is supposed to be in NAG london now and i may have seen it there too. after seeing thousands of familiar paintings in so many museums and art galleries, i can't blame myself for being confused. i'm not an art scholar but just happened to like watching pictures.

the only reason why i mentioned this picture is that i liked it so much that at one time i used it as my computer wallpaper. and i love rousseau ever since.

the funny thing about peggy guggenheim was that some months back i was in the usual payless booksale and found this little book a memoir ''the autobiography of alice b. toklas'' by getrude stein and i immediately grabbed it thinking oh a book by the art addict peggy guggenheim. which isn't too far off the mark because both ladies had remarkably similar lives especially in their love for paintings and the mileu they moved in . and getrude stein who was also jewish had a very interesting and remarkable life as her memoir amply illustrated.

and so happened that around the same time i was watching the 2 DVD set on Picasso:the full story, a truly remarkable potrait of picasso and his paintings and you'll see his pictures with new meanings after viewing this. and the resason i mentioned this is that getrude stein was a good friend of picasso and he used to come to her salon and dinners and he once painted her. according to this video documentary she had many sittings but picasso couldn't get the painting right and in the end completed the painting in his studio and you can see this painting , the famous getrude stein with lidless eyes in the MET nyc. and so happened that i saw this when i visited the met in feb this year. and here is the picture which i took in the museum. (by the way, in case you don't know, many famous museums allow taking digital pictures without flash now- the louvre, muse d'orsay, the MET, pompidou centre etc...but some still prohibit due to copyright reasons,...NAG, national potrait gallery of london etc)....i was in the pushkin museum moscow several years ago and i was not supposed to take pictures but the babushkas working as musuem guards were quite nice and allowed me to snap some pictures here and there....

but coming back to getrude stein, or rather alice b toklas her companion in whose name she wrote the memoir mentioned above, well this shows the power of books... one vietnamese born lady was so smitten with alice b toklas and getrude stein's memoir that she wrote a a whole book and went on to win several awards including guardian first book award, named by NYT as best book of the year and etc. i happend to come across this book in payless sales (again) and it's "the book of salt" by monique truong.

the book is described by new york times book review as ;

"a lush , fascinating first novel (about a) cook who works for getrude stein and alice b toklas."

May be it would a nice encore for me to read this after completing stein's memoir (which talks a lot about her cook -who wasn't vietnamese) . Based on this essay by her in TIME magazine i'm quite sure that almost nobody in vietnam know or care about this writer and that reminds me; same thing happens here. hardly anybody is really proud or cares very much about malaysian born writers like tash aw or tan twang eng because they are not considered to be writing that malaysian novel...unlike say ali and nino which all azerbaijanis are proud to call their national treasure.... but, enough, that's for another time....oh, such is the power of books, tom reiss was so smitten by ali and nino that he went on to write the critically acclaimed and bestseller 'the orientalist'...but, enough of that too...that's for another time too....

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


herding cats

i think cats are the most amazing animals in the world. i've never seen any creature more selfish but at the same time more lovable than cats. they are not beholden to any authority and will do as they please and unlike dogs , they are neither faithful nor useful, but still, you can't help loving them. the only animal that resemble cats that i can think of is a certain type of women. the type that drag silly big fat married men to hell on earth.grrrr.

and i was in the bookstore the other day and came across richard dawkin's ' god delusion' and i started reading the forward and one interesting point dawkin made was that it is not that there are not many atheists in the US. it's just that they don't have clouts like say those christian fundamentalists groups because they don't have any form of cohesive group. to get them to form any kind of grouping is like herding cats. it's impossible as each and everyone of them think independently and will never agree on anything. how very true. but that's not to say that atheists are lovable like cats.

A couple of days back (saturday 11, aug 07) guardian unlimited newspaper has a summer short story special featuring some interesting writers. and what did i find? the first story i read in this special was a story by Jay McInerney putting daisy down about a diabolical way of taking revenge involving a cat.

many years ago i read kurt vonnegut's 'cat's cradle' , one of his most pessimistic books and one memorable part of the book to me is early on about what Dr Felix Hoenikker , one of the (fictional) team responsible for making the bomb did on the day hiroshima was bombed. he was on all fours playing cat's cradle with rubber bands on his fingers with his kids. take it any way you like. and that reminds me another book with 'cat' in it that i MUST read one of these days is gunther grass' cat & mouse. this is the second in the so called danzig trilogy starting with his first book the famous 'the tin drum' which i've read a long time ago and the third and equally fantastical ' the dog years' (which i've read a long time ago too).

and here is a picture of our dear poot that died during the last flood on 26 Feb 2005. she ran and hid in the car engine and was trapped under the car bonnet as the flood water rose up to completely submerge the bonnet up to steering wheel level. i don't really mind the car was flooded over but till this day i felt really sorry for poot. i feel as though i lost a child. i still miss poot.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


i see dead people

On August 6, 1945, the nuclear weapon “Little Boy” was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, followed on August 9, 1945 by the detonation of the “Fat Man” nuclear bomb over Nagasaki. They are the only instances of the use of nuclear weapons in warfare. - wikipedia

today is 9th august. in nagasaki on that day many years ago thousands of japanese men, women, boys, girls little babies and not to mention all kind of domestic animals , pets , birds and not so nice animals rats, cockroaches and other life forms were extinguished in a twinkling of an eye. three days earlier on the 6th, hiroshima had the honour of experiencing what was it like to be the first city on earth to be destroyed by an atomic bomb and had her thousands of japanese men, women, boys, girls little babies and not to mention all kind of domestic animals , pets , birds and not so nice animals rats, cockroaches and other life forms extinguished in a twinkling of an eye.

it was estimated that 70,000 human lives were snuffed in each of the two cities instantly. this is merciful. they didn't have time to feel anything. may be eriko was at that time doing her arithmatics in her class, and at the moment she was about to write her answer to qestion number three, poof...blackness. may be imai-san was on his way to the office and suddenly "booom'...and so on. but hundred of thousands more died a slower and painful death. and the most unfortunate of all to me were the hundreds of thousands more that survived but with injuries so serious that they would be better off dead and had to relive the memory of the atrocity for the rest of their lives. but as they say, that is life. c'est la vie . and by the way, if you like old prog rock (i do) there is a very old (1970s)but beautiful song c'est la vie by Emerson Lake and Palmer . not sure if it has anything to do with bombings and such. download it somewhere, you won't be dissapointed.

and one thing i like about the US is that they have some of the finest writers and creative people in the world. and i wasn't too surprised that the most destructive thing in the world were imaginatively christened as 'little boy' and 'fat man'...very american. i wonder what those pilots were thinking at the exact moment they dropped those bombs though i guess you could find it in the internet.(you can find everything on the net). and they had given their side of the story in books, interviews enough. one thing i will say is this. i'm surprised that they didn't feel the least bit contrite. what kind of humans these americans were?

from the same wikipedia article again.

Tibbets generally expresses no regret regarding the decision to drop the bomb. In March of 2005, he publicly stated “If you give me the same circumstances, hell yeah, I'd do it again.”

That was the guy who dropped little boy on hiroshima.

as for the guy with the "fat man"...

….Throughout his life Sweeney remained convinced of the appropriateness and necessity of the bombing, and wrote War's End: An Eyewitness Account of America's Last Atomic Mission to defend the action ….

and here is what the top boss the president harry s truman himself said...

, "If they do not not accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the likes of which has never been seen on this earth."

and in fact

The United States expected to have another atomic bomb ready for use in the third week of August, with three more in September and a further three in October.

they didn't feel any sorrow after seeing what they have done?
here's a picture of what they did to hiroshima

and this is an example of what these guys did and so proud of...

what is it with americans that they love killing so much? they haven't really stop doing it ever since, invasion of granada, now iraq, afghanistan....why can't americans be like new zealanders? or at least like canadians ( i hear somebody laughing at the mere mention of canada)...

perhaps they like it so much because from an artistic point of view it looked so (morbidly) beautiful.

the only thing is , they only want this game for themselves . as a most ardent proponent of democracy in the world USA is an absolute dictator in this regard. no one can have nuclear weapons except them and their trusted allies. and that's one of the very reason reasons why i am hundred percents behind iran's right to have their own little boys and fat men. and honest to god i pray to god almighty that one day al qaeda and the talibans will have their WMDs too. then we'll see what is what. and hopefully the US will have a taste of its own medicine.

anyway whether we like it or not, this is a more realistic scenario than geting rid of these evil things. it's useless blabbing about getting rid of these dangerous toys. we are too far gone and might as well go the whole hog.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


book sales vonnegut and islamic women writers

as i've said before, i love book sales. and while some people grumble how expensive books are these days, i don't think this is a real problem except for specialty books such as art, and especially if you stay in KL where book sales are getting more and more frequent and if you know what you're looking for or if your reading wavelength is wide enough or eclectic enough you will not be too dissapointed with these sales....payless, times warehouse sales, bigbookshop and many other smaller sales and bargain bins at borders (where you can sometimes find good art books) etc... these are enough to stock my library for hundred of years reading pleasure.

the good thing is, each sales has it's own 'bent'...payless are mostly old and crappy second hand books by mostly american authors and unknown writers (at least to me) but if you care to be patient enough and willing to strain your neck poring over every title upon rows and rows of benches, you sometimes can get nice surprises, interesting memoirs, biographies and travel books and anything to do with mark twain which is really fine with me as i love this guy. bigbookshop at atria now has a permanent warehouse sales it seems which is fine with me too. theirs is more british centric (which is fine with me too) and so is times warehouse sales.

trouble is, i used to go and buy books when i get depressed but these days i get depressed when i go and buy more and more books. but still, sometimes things can go bright suddenly when you find that little surprise and book buying is fun again. in the last payless sales at 3k sport centre jln kewajipan Subang jaya (which seems crappier and crappier than ever) found kurt vonnegut's "fates worse than death" an autobiography of sort , a continuation of his earlier "palm sunday". and his early and one of the most wellknown novel "siren of titan". Now i have almost complete collection of his books saved a couple or three. and i'm currently (still) reading "mother night" and incidently there were 3 essays on vonnegut alone in William boyd's "bamboo" his collections of literary reviews, criticisms and essays which i bought at the big bookshop.

boyd has this to say about vonnegut in "bamboo" ,

i have often suspected that a reader's reaction to vonnegut's style depends largely on the mood he or she happens to be in at the time. it's quite possible one day to be entertained, and the next to be irked and infuriated. This is not a result of inconsistencies in Vonnegut: his tone of voice has remain remarkably consistent through his writing career- a curious blend of faux naivete and profanity, of innocence and deep irony.

and in another essay , this:

it seems to me that all the books mentioned emerge directly from the author's baffled observation of human life and nature...

....In this sense vonnegut is the most overtly humane of that remarkable generation of of American novelists to which he belongs, and it's to his undying credit that no sentiment, pap or any kind of emotional sop ever clouds or diminishes the cool , ironic, unapologetic quality of his vision.

on the other hand, one thing i noticed in bigbookshop and times warehouse sales , among other books are books by overtly muslim women on how hard their lives have been in their (muslim) countries. i say overtly muslim because you can see the book covers with women dressed in chador or head scarves and obviously trying to entice readers interested in exotic muslim lands and terrible muslim men. i can't say how good or bad these books are but my gut feeling is don't waste time with these whiny writings. they are probably myopic and unlike vonnegut, most likely they don't view things in cynical but 'humane' lenses. one tasleema taslim from bangla desh started this kind of writings way back during rushdie's satanic verses period and for her effort she was hounded out of bangla desh and i don't know or care where she is right now. that is also what happened to one ayaan hirsi ali who left country (somalia) and went to live in holland and now the US and with irate muslims baying for her blood.

i once saw her interview on tv in my new york hotel room early this year jabbering away about her escaping genital mutilation and whatnots and she sound so stupid and get me very angry. and my view hasn't changed after reading a bit more about her elsewhere. but an average coconut living around posh kl areas (bangsar, damansara et al) can easily identify with this woman i'm sure.

and so happened that this morning i read in guardian unlimited blog on this very subject about this latest slew of women writers from islamic countries writing about their terrible times in their home (muslim) countries. and you can see it here. with all the fun and vitriolic forum included.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007



Oh now I know what I’m gonna do when I grow really old, say around sixty. I’ll sell everything and move to bali. Get myself a sixteen year old legong dancer and live happily ever after in ubud or somewhere nearby.i am not particularly impressed with my fellow Malaysians in most things but was quite surprised to find out that in term of numbers Malaysians are the third biggest tourists in bali. Or so according to my tour guide when I was there several years ago, on the day of the second bali bombing to be exact. Well at least malaysians get one thing right. I mean look at average Malaysians. If they read you’ll probably see them reading the damned harry potter. In politics they’ll most likely vote for the bastards in umno or the equally vile mca or mic. Most (english) educated Malaysians are coconuts and bananas and the rest are likely to be racists. But hey we get one thing right. We know paradise when we see one.

And I was there again a couple of weeks back. Hired a car and a driver from the same trusted tour operator and this time traveling from legian/kuta to ubud, went down again towards the south east into gianyar province , went further east traversing klungkung and bangli and took the coastal road, stopped overnight at amed beach where you can see hundreds of beautiful traditional sampans that local fishermen use called jukung beached on the white sands , passed tulamben , a favorite and relatively quiet diving spot for those who shun the over crowded legian and kuta area and drove along the coastal road again to singaraja (the ugliest town I’ve ever seen anywhere) and stopped at lovina beach just a few minutes west of singaraja, where I hired a jukung and went out at day break about mile out into the sea to see the dolphins along with hundreds of other jukungs full of white tourists. And down again via bedugul to an obligatory sun set stop at tanah lot (the most over hyped tourist trap of bali perhaps only second to kuta beach).

And along the way visited enough puras to get myself fairly templed out and got myself sprinkled with hindu holy water enough to make me feel like a Balinese hindu for a couple of days which is ironic considering that I’m basically an extremist muslim in my intellectual make up. An added irony was that my driver is a hindu through and through but very recently married to a muslim who is living far away in Jakarta and who keep sending him sms of the holy quran verses among which was the surah al ikhlas (about the nature and concept of god in islam) and another surah al kafirun (about freedom of religion) …which shows that his wife is a fairly educated muslim who chooses the quranic verses carefully to send to her husband. In normal situation this kind of thing can get my blood boiling but this is bali, so I let it pass….

if I were to pick a place to stay in bali I’d probably choose ubud like all those now famous (and mostly dead) foreign artists many years ago (although I can’t paint a picture to save my grandmother) and as those who know bali will probably expect especially if you like arts and culture. And they have it by the tons . Just spent a night there but managed to visit some of the major art museums –puri lukisan where you can see some rudolf bonnet and nyoman lempad’s drawings and other traditional Balinese paintings , agung rai museum where the highlight is probably the single walter spies painting in a room full of crappy walter spies reproductions , neka museum where you can see more traditional Balinese paintings arranged by styles from the traditional wayang influenced early paintings ( the best of which is probably the ones that you can see in in karta gosa about may be an hour’s drive south) to ubud and batuan styles and a whole gallery devoted to aries smit who is still now living but getting on in years and then off to the eccentric Antonio blanco museum. And my, this guy is one interesting character. He painted mostly nudes in western style with special attention to the pubic region. Not surprising as he was generally described as “pengagung wanita” and a close fried to sukarno the legendary Indonesian president and another woman worshipper (but not a painter as far as I know).

The only major foreign artist that didn’t make ubud his home was le mayeur who lived in sanur a place full of women of easy virtues these days and he has a lovely house by the sanur beach which is now turned into a museum of his paintings which were mostly about naked ladies too and especially his young wife the legung dancer ni polok. It was said that if gaguin had known bali he too would have chosen this place instead of Tahiti which have women that look like ogres compared to the petit Balinese ladies.

But one never know, gauguin at one time had a young Javanese girl as a mistress (who to her credit ran away with most of his belongings) but still preferred to go to Tahiti. May be he just like ugly women. Some people do.

And if I were to pick my favorite foreign artists who came to live in bali, I won’t pick aries smit with his fauvistic paintings, or blanco with his voluptuous women or bonnet with his fine drawings of Balinese boys (he was gay) but one that was completely unknown to me before. willem hoffker. He also painted nudes but with a kinder and more innocent feel. Just what I like in girls… here’s an example.

and among the indegenous balinese painters, you'll most likely have seen all those decorative paintings with birds in foliage with bright colours which can be very charming or those so called 'new artist' style of paintings which is really a form of naive paintings first founded and encouraged by aries smit but i prefer those batuan style paintings with all those crowded detailed drawings of people and barongs and rangdas and rice terraces or puras and religious ceremonies sometimes in color sometimes in monochrome that tell a story and is actually a book in itself.

and you can visit here if you want to learn a bit more about the foreign artists of bali…


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