Archive for September 2017

Fire, floods, forex and political fanfare

25 September 2017

(Reprinted from The Edge – Options pullout, 25 September 2017 issue)

It was a really hectic week for Malaysian news. At least I think it was. I’ve forgotten most of it already. Can you remember?
Say what?

So much has happened since last I wrote to you. In only a week there has been much tragedy, anger and confusion and yet I am also already finding myself forgetting everything. Maybe I’m forgetful because I’m getting old, or maybe I have just become numb. And by next week or next month so many other things will have happened that we would have forgotten all about last week. Where do I begin?

First, our prime minister appeared to be very excited to go to Washington to meet the most divisive and unpopular post-war US president. Although I may have found it hard to understand why there was so much official Malaysian glee about meeting Trump, it presumably impresses someone. And when visiting Donald Trump and then the British PM, our PM did look really happy. So that’s nice.

There was the awful tragedy of the fire at the tahfiz school where 21 children and two staff were killed. Once again tahfiz schools were in the headlines so soon after the case of the boy who did not die because he was beaten to death. At first the fire tragedy appeared to be a case of negligence because the school had inadequate or non-existent fire safety measures, but then the story became that it was a case of insanely stupid arson. Theoretically the issue of negligence remains and yet there doesn’t appear to be much official concern. Nobody seems to dare to criticise tahfiz schools. Clearly these are people who matter.

Our PM gave a speech where he said, “If there is no peace in our country, what would happen? The Chinese will be the first to be targeted in this country.” But it was the way he said it. It sounded very angry. It didn’t sound very nice.

After much fanfare it was revealed that an ex-Mentri Besar of Selangor was returning to Umno after his journey in recent years through just about every other political party. People were confused by the amount of hype surrounding such a relatively unimportant piece of news until the suggestion was made that there was supposed to have been a different announcement.

The no doubt scurrilous suggestion is that enough Selangor state representatives had been tempted to move to Umno for the Selangor government to fall. It happened before in Perak and nobody would be surprised if it happened again in Selangor. So what if that’s not what people voted for.

Penang suffered terrible flooding. In the videos I saw it looked like they had been hit by a hurricane.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, the Royal Commission of Inquiry looking at a forex trading scandal from 30 years ago continues. If you don’t read the newspapers anymore then you may not have known about this.

Trump won the presidency despite every indication that he never could. His team (who is his team?) did “narrowcasting”. They only spoke to the people that mattered to them. Even though he lost the popular vote he still squeaked through to triumph and he could probably do it again despite being so very unpopular. Trump continues to only speak to and for his base, he simply doesn’t care about reaching out to anyone else. Nobody else matters, other than his base, because that’s all he needs to win an election. The US electoral-college system shares many similarities with our Parliamentary first-past-the-post system and so there is much to be learnt from how Trump succeeds and operates (and vice versa). It might be a very long time before we hear any words of inclusivity, if we ever hear them again. Some people matter, a lot of people simply don’t.

Dear Kam,
My son says he wants to become a “youtuber” teaching “hacks”. I don’t know what he’s talking about but I told him he can do whatever he wants but he must get a degree first. I don’t care what it is as long as it is law.
Strict parent

A bunch of us were chatting. A doctor said that his parents did not pressure him to become a doctor like his parents and his siblings before him. I said, okay. But he loves being a doctor. One said that his parents told him they would support him in anything he chose to do but that he had to get a degree first. He did his degree. He enjoyed doing it and it was useful but he now works in a very unrelated industry. Another said that his father vetoed his heartfelt desire to study arts and he had to do business instead, which he hated and resented. He does work in the arts now.

Is it right for parents to pressure their children to study something even if the kids don’t want to? I work in the arts but would I have been happier if I were a quantity surveyor? I don’t even know what a quantity surveyor does. I guess children need guidance when making important choices that perhaps they cannot yet fully understand. But with the nature of the job market changing so rapidly, are old-timers like parents who say fuddy-duddy things like, “Why isn’t the google working?” truly qualified to make those important choices either? Perhaps the problem is a lack of choice. It’s either get a degree or be a loser. There’s no middle ground for the middle classes. And a lot of people are simply not suited to academic study (me).

But a Swiss man was telling me about the Swiss education system and it shook my world. He told me that few Swiss children go to or are even encouraged to go to university. Instead their education system is split between the academic and vocational. For such a small country Switzerland has a surprisingly large and very lucrative manufacturing sector, so there is no shame doing vocational training.

There are fundamental and probably insurmountable cultural differences between Switzerland and Malaysia, but wouldn’t it be great if there was another road that young people and their parents could explore when making that difficult and life-determining choice?

Reprinted with the kind permission of