We’ll drink a cup of kindness….yet

Obesity, apparently, is a growing problem in Malaysia. 

In fact, it is so problematic that a lot of people in Malaysia are overweight. Indeed, the number of overweight people in the country could very well constitute the majority, which means the overweight person now constitutes the average. 

There you go. That’s nailing your main New Year resolution right there.

A new year is dawning, and we stand poised to leave the last teen year of our lives. And what we approach – 2020 – is a bellwether because it used to represent an ideal first articulated by Dr Mahathir in 1991 when all Malaysians might “walk free and equal under the Malaysian sun.” 

Fat chance. 

We are becoming more polarised along racial and religious lines. And, alarmingly, it is almost always seen as a Malay-Non-Malay schism, a phenomenon that’s been boosted by the alliance between the primary Malay opposition parties.

Minor matters are being blown out of proportion. The return, and disposal, of Chin Peng’s ashes has stirred up such a fuss and such anger against the government, you’d think communism was alive and well in Malaysia!

Unfortunately, that’s what some people think. A Muslim preacher said that recently; while another student warned that the country could face race riots if the Chinese educationist group, Dong Zong, was not banned. 

Meanwhile, the ringgit stubbornly remains below RM4 to the greenback while the stock-market is trending near four-year lows. And this despite very reasonable economic growth for last year and this. Let’s face it, a 4-5% expansion in real gross domestic product in these economic times is very good. 

And notwithstanding the defence put up by Mr Kadir Jasin, some of that blame must rest squarely with the Prime Minister. Markets hate uncertainty and, faced with it, almost always vote with their feet. 

By adamantly refusing to set a definite date for a transfer of power, Dr Mahathir has cast a pall of uncertainty over the PH government. That is not only irresponsible – he is 94 – but downright distasteful.

It seems to suggest that he can no longer bear to be out of power after having achieved it again, and against all the odds. For a man who willingly surrendered power in 2003 when he was unchallengeable, that is not only sad but pathetic. 

To say it’s because he does not trust Mr Anwar Ibrahim is almost disingenuous. Could not that be said for all his potential and real-life successors?

Which reminds me. In early 1994, I was invited to a three-day seminar in Langkawi. Dubbed a camp to build a “Premier Nation,” its participants were all non-Malay Malaysians comprising politicians, prominent businessmen and others including journalists.

On the last day, Dr Mahathir held court and he did so candidly. At question time, I thought I would also be frank and asked him about Vision 2020, something along these lines. On hindsight, I never thought it would be ironic. 

“2020 expects equality and a blurring of race. But that will arouse opposition and it’s likely that you won’t be around. What guarantees do we, the Non-Malays, have that your successor, whoever he is, will share your allegiance to the policy.”

Dr M then ran through his potential successors – Musa Hitam and Ghafar Baba, respectively – whom he then proceeded to disparage. 

He then assured us that “if anyone can, my successor Anwar Ibrahim” will deliver 2020, adding surprisingly, “he reminds me of myself when I was that age.”

OK, that was 26 years ago. But who knows, maybe 2020 will be a good year, perhaps even better than its predecessor. Let us hope so. 

Happy New Year folks.


The tree in the lobby of the Shangri-La is beautifully lit and so tall it almost brushes the roof. Around it are scattered wrapping paper and presents on a bed of snow. And a milk-white polar bear nuzzles her cub much to the delight of tourists who crowd around the tableau to pose for pictures. 

You can tell Christmas had come to Singapore.  

And they really take it over the top here. The Christmas music is relentless and unending, cheerful carols ho-ho-ho’ing everywhere you go. Thankfully, I like its sound, but I can understand how its omnipresence might drive some people around the bend. And if you’ve seen one Santa, you’ve seen a mall. 

Orchard Road at night is spectacular, all two kilometres of its length brightly lighted up, a strutting visual phantasmagoria that’s flaunted for the gawking visitor. The shopping complexes, meanwhile, strive to outdo one another in their own visual displays.

It’s been like this since early December although only 18% of the republic is Christian. But it makes for good tourism. 

We return home tomorrow. Unless, you hang out in Pavilion a lot, Christmas in Kuala Lumpur is decidedly more muted. Indeed, growing up in a Hindu family in Seremban, I didn’t know anything about Christmas beyond the fact that it was a holiday and my father didn’t have to go to work.

It all changed when I met Rebecca. But it only came home to me when Raisa came along. You only understand the “joy of giving” business when you appreciate the happiness a child feels upon receiving something from Santa. 

I liked it that Raisa believed and I loved if when she oh-so-seriously wrote to Santa requesting stuff. Nor did she ever ask for very expensive things, she was always pretty considerate. I have since discovered that there are three distinct periods in a child’s life: when you believe in Santa, when you don’t believe in Santa and when you are Santa. 

The bubble burst when she was eight. Her cousin Emmanuel told her there was no such thing as Santa. He was feeling particularly aggrieved because Father Leonard, then of Jesus Caritas Church, had pooh-poohed his belief in the fat guy in the red suit. Emmanuel just wanted to pass on his disillusion, but I didn’t appreciate it. 

This will mark the first time that Raisa will not spend the holidays with us. She will, instead, spend it with her in-laws in Austria where it is truly beautiful and like all the movie clichés because I have the seen the pictures she sends: the house lights aglow amid the snow falling outside on to a landscape shrouded in white.  

But we return tomorrow, and I know Rebecca will bake her pineapple tarts as soon as she gets home and although I am not crazy about them, I am crazy about its idea and the smell of the fruity jam that will pervade the whole house.

That’s the smell of the season right there. Its very notion cheers me up. Throw in a beer, my wife supervising children opening 

presents, laughter and my cup runneth over…

…Merry Christmas everyone. 🎄🎅🏽

Something’s living on my skin

Did God who gave us flowers and trees also provide the allergies

E Y Harburg, lyricist

When we went to New Zealand for the first time, Raisa was only two.

We remember the trip vividly because it was there that we discovered that our child had asthma. She suffered breathing difficulties at a friend’s home and had to be rushed to hospital where she was speedily and efficiently treated. 

The pollen count – a difficult job, that – especially if you’ve got allergies. As the doctor in the emergency section of Auckland’s hospital informed us: “This is the asthma capital of the world.”

I’m happy to report that Raisa is now an asthma-free young adult mainly because she took up swimming as a child and became a strong one. This was also thanks to a doctor who advised just such a course of action when we returned home from New Zealand. 

But it was the first time I was confronted with the savagery of allergies. 

Then in my mid-30s, I found my fingers swelling after a gig at a pub where a pal and me played once a week. You could say I itched to see a doctor only to be casually informed I was allergic to nickel. 

I told him I’d been playing guitar since I was 16. He shrugged indifferently: “It happens.” But it was cool: I switched to phosphor-bronze strings and that was that. 

But that was certainly not that in my mid-fifties. I became aware that certain foods distressed me. It peaked after a trip to India when it became obvious that I had at least one thing in common with bees – hives. 

The specialist I went to see suggested I do an allergy test and drew blood for the purpose. When I went back for the results, he informed me, with a raised eyebrow, that I was allergic to crustaceans, peanuts and wheat. 

I wasn’t crazy about prawns or crab and I could easily give peanuts a miss but wheat?

“Welcome to old age,” said my doctor cheerfully. “Nobody said life was fair.”

Allergies are no joke. Essentially, it is a damaging immune response by the body to a substance like food or dust that it has become hypersensitive to. 

Some allergies are a mere nuisance. My daughter, for example, is allergic to dust mites. On a recent visit to our apartment in Singapore, she sneezed repeatedly in the living room and we diagnosed the furniture: its cushions probably hadn’t changed for the longest time. 

The management of our service apartment kindly brought in new furniture and, voila, problem solved. 

But other allergies like a nut aversion are potentially fatal. That’s anaphylactic shock for you in a nutshell. 

But the strangest one I’ve heard came from an ex-journalist friend of mine who’d returned home to Texas to pursue a new career in information technology. 

On a recent trip to Singapore, Matthew told us he’d been bitten by a tick while hiking through the woods. He thought nothing of it until after he’d had a steak dinner that night. 

He woke up in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Austin to be told he had developed a rare condition passed on through tick bites: a violent allergy to mammalian meat. Matthew could still eat chicken, turkey or fish but beef, lamb or pork were potentially fatal choices. 

Like all allergy sufferers, I have learnt to live my life by never leaving home without it: antihistamines. Singer-songwriter Paul Simon must have been a fellow sufferer because he wrote a song about it. 

I also agree with his conclusion on Allergies.“You get better but you never get well.”

Being friends for the world to see

It was like Batman turning on Robin or the Lone Ranger disavowing Tonto. 

There was Low Teck Jho doing what fat fugitives do best, sunning himself surreptitiously in some swank spa at an undisclosed destination that Abdul Hamid Bador had yet to figure out…

… when the bombshell hit. 

His pal, helpmate and all-round best buddy threw him under the proverbial bus. 

Fearless Leader’s defence had been called in the case involving SRC International and Fearless rose to the challenge with his usual manly spirit.

 “Who, me?” screamed FL in shock and promptly professed his innocence by blaming everything and the kitchen sink on his plump protege and four other mysterious Middle Eastern gentlemen, none of whom planned to be around for the duration of the trial.

It was a crafty ploy built around a tried and tested legal philosophy: blame it on the bossa-nova also known as “if you can’t convince them, confuse them.” And it wasn’t surprising either because Fearless lawyer was a learned barrister who long ago had made nonsense of the saying “talk is cheap.”

Mohamad Shafiee Abdullah knew that talk was not cheap and legal work was never charity. That he preferred to leave to U2’s lawyers because they always worked pro-Bono. 

Even so, it was an astonishing admission that beggared belief. According to it, the real captain of the ship that saddled 1MDB with RM42 billion in debt was a beefy brigand whose name did not feature anywhere on its official records and whose whereabouts remained a mystery.

You might say confusion not only reigned, it poured. 

The bulging bandit was appalled by the news and didn’t know whether to be elated or angry. Like Fearless himself, the fat fiend had always professed innocence where 1MDB had been concerned.

He claimed he could not come back to Malaysia because he would not be given a “fair trial.” And when he invariably gave in to the American courts that seized his ill-gotten assets, his well-paid flunkies always added the proviso that the surrenders did not constitute an “admission of guilt.” 

Still, the chubby charlatan has steadfastly chosen to remain silent on the option of returning to the United States where he still faces several money laundering charges. Presumably the penal system there was not quite up to the mark. 

Secretly, however, the rotund rascal was pleased with Mr Shafiee’s description of him being the “leader of the pack” and the “brains behind the scheme.” The measure of that pleasure was almost always conditional to his distance from Malaysia and was inversely proportional to the Inspector General of Police’s ignorance of his whereabouts. 

The lamentable larcenist was getting increasingly philosophical in his old age and felt that the Malaysian authorities were getting too judgmental. For his part, he was all for letting bygones be bygones. 

Refreshed by the thought, the portly pirate dashed off a “Wish You Were Here” postcard to Fearless that generously allowed the detected defendant to heap even more blame on Fatboy. 

Because that was how real friends behaved.