“Self-pity becomes your oxygen. But you’ve learned to breathe it without a gasp. So, nobody even notices you’re hurting.” – Paul Monette, writer, and gay activist.

Growing up in a small town, I thought it was the non-Malays who were the most intolerant and judgmental of people, the quickest to pass opinion on anyone who might seem, say, a little effeminate.

It occurred to me the Malays were generally more accommodating, even cheerfully tolerant of the oddball, the ones that pushed it to the outer limits of camp.

Not anymore, it seems. Spare a thought for Nur Sajat.

The director of the Criminal Investigation Department of the country’s police force, Abdul Jalil Hassan, said the police, the foreign ministry and the attorney-general’s office were making efforts to extradite her from Thailand where she had fled.

Three federal departments no less! Even Jho Low hadn’t merited that kind of attention. What had Nur Sajat wrought?

By all accounts, Ms Nur is a successful cosmetics entrepreneur and, going by her photographs, a good looking one to boot.

Her sin lies in being, for the most part, a transgender or what the Malaysian religious authorities classify as a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.

Unfortunately for her, it is a community frowned upon by the same.

“Frowned” isn’t quite the operative word in Ms Nur’s case.

Going by media reports, Ms Nur attended a religious function dressed “as a woman.” Never mind that it’s her wont as a transgender. Instead, the Selangor religious department chose to charge her for cross-dressing at a religious function – said to “bring Islam into disrepute.” It’s a serious charge which can carry a three-year jail term upon conviction.

The entrepreneur was charged in January this year. But things came to a head after she subsequently failed to turn up at a February hearing and an arrest warrant was issued. It turned out that she’d fled to Thailand from where she’s since applied for asylum in Australia.

The ball is now in Thailand’s court where she remains free on bail. But Bangkok refrained from agreeing that she would, indeed, be extradited. The matter, said a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman, would be determined “by the law and Thailand’s humanitarian principles.”

Perhaps Bangkok was mindful of the international fallout the episode might cause.

Malaysia’s official view of the LGBT community has been hardening of late, more so with the March, 2020 entry of the hard-line Islamic Party (Pas) into the federal government.

Indeed, there have been recent calls in Parliament to subject LGBT members to “conversion therapy” to “correct” their gender orientation. Whatever it means, it does not sound like something doctors might recommend.

Why all the fuss, a sane person might reasonably ask? It’s a good question and Malaysia’s G25 Group thinks it has the answer.

“The authorities are becoming paranoid that Nur Sajat may be an inspiration for other transgenders to assert their human rights to be what they were born into,” said the group in a media statement Thursday.

In the absence of evidence, all opinion is, more or less, prejudice. That’s a good enough reason to disavow it. “That is why homophobia is such an evil,” observed Tyler Oakley in his witty Binge. “It disguises itself as concern while it is inherently hate.”



It was in the 1970s when I first became aware of the sheer diversity of the country.

Growing up in Seremban, we just absorbed the notion that there were three main races and that was, well, what it was. Even if the others weren’t aware of it, the “Indians” knew that there were Sri Lankan Tamils, Sinhalese, Malayalees, Bengalis and Sikhs – just to name a few — among the majority Tamils in the group broadly classified by the government as “Indian” but that was par for the course and no one really bothered.

I suppose the same might be said for the Chinese – the Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Teochew, Hainanese, etc – but, again, no one thought too deeply about those things, or seemed to.

But in 1975, I was admitted to University Malaya and I found out, first, that not everyone used lah as the universal Malaysian suffix. There were people who used ‘bah” as well, and it sounded just as natural even if the speaker’s accent seemed vaguely Indonesian.

I met students with names like Boniface Bait, Lo Ling, Charles Terra Jolly and Sepian bin Belit. All from East Malaysia, they found us – orang Semananjung – uniformly mystifying. But one thing transcended everything else: to a man, they were awed by the size, scale and sweep of Kuala Lumpur.

So were we. Most of us were from small towns, from all over the country and it was easy to relate to ourselves and to one another.

I kept tripping over my stereotypes during my first weeks. Ahmad Borhan, for example, was an incredibly charismatic guy from Miri whom I assumed was a Malay. No way, he declared indignantly. He was Melanau! I was to find out later that he was a minority in his own community: its majority are Christian.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, maybe it’s just nostalgia on my part but I have a sense of those simple times bringing out the best in us, as a community and as a nation. There was certainly less race and religious stridency in those days: little of the “us” versus “them.” At least, it did not seem to be of the scale and scope of the here and now.

For one thing, I don’t remember Hussein Onn bringing race or religion to the front and centre of the Malaysian ethos. Certainly, he wasn’t prone to perpetually lamenting, at every turn, that the Malays had been “colonised and oppressed.”

There is a lot to be said for people like Hussein Onn, an understated man who never took himself too seriously. He never saw the need for Malaysia to always be seen punching above its international weight. Nor did he see the need to hector other nations on their faults or foibles.

But he took the important things seriously. Like not sweeping things under the carpet, those actions that actually deter corruption, the things that matter to a developing nation.

I’ve never forgotten a story related to me by a social scientist who was close to Hussein before the latter’s death.

When word leaked in 1975 that the government was planning to indict Harun Idris for corruption. Apparently, the three serving Umno vice-presidents, led by Dr Mahathir, went to see Hussein, then premier, to plead Harun’s case. Harun was the head of Umno Youth then.

Nothing moved the premier at first.

Finally, as if to clinch it, the men wheeled out their trump card: “But he’s a nationalist.”

“So am I,” countered Hussein and that was the end of the meeting.

Years later, in 1998, his son would tell me that he felt his father was not in Dr M’s league as the latter had “vision.” Even then, I couldn’t believe my ears!

All things being equal, I’d rather that honesty have been preferred as an overriding principle in governing Malaysia. It might have saved us a lot of grief.



Imagine that!

CNN reported Thursday that an Australian musk-duck had been recorded saying quite clearly; “You bloody fool.” The network said it was the “first documented instance of the species mimicking human speech.”

Consider it a latter-day miracle, even some celestial advice. When ducks are given tongue, man should listen, none more so than Malaysia’s timid Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

The guy is Malaysia’s 9th premier and, by all accounts, a secure one: he’s even got a cooperation agreement with the opposition, a move that vaults him into near-political impregnability.

And what does he do, this most timorous of leaders? He tries to placate everyone, to the detriment of societal mores and the rule of law.

Last week, the government proposed Ahmad Maslan, an MP from Johor and Umno’s secretary-general, as deputy speaker for Parliament.

Never mind that Mr Ahmad could always be counted on as a reliable sounding board on policy matters: he wasn’t known as Mat “Good Idea Boss” Maslan for nothing.

No, it’s the fact that he was, and remains, charged for money laundering by the country’s corruption agency and is awaiting trial.

What kind of message does Putrajaya think it sends the Malaysian people or the world at large by such appointments? That crime pays: a deputy speaker’s salary is not to be sneezed at.

It trivialises corruption at best and, at worst, it implies a foregone conclusion on his matter.

It might get worse. Singapore’s Straits Times reported that Ismail was considering appointing former premier Najib Razak as a government Economic Advisor. It was clearly a trial balloon. And as if to provide ballast to the attempt, Umno’s Nazri Aziz said it would be a waste not to do so “given his experience.”

Najib is many times removed from Ahmad Maslan. He is a criminal convicted of the world’s biggest theft and we are now asked to believe the government “needs” his advice? Are we that bankrupt of talent?

If so…

Quick! Let’s get Jho Low back to advise the central bank how to plug money laundering holes in the banking system.

Whatever happened to shame as a concept?

And while Ismail’s insecurity is displayed for the world to see, former diplomat Dennis Ignatius warns that the country is sliding faster into Islamic-type statehood than anyone realises. This is, of course, due to Pas’ current control of the federal religious agencies like Jakim.

Pas should give thanks to the former PH government. It could never dream of making it into the federal government on its own. But by preying on Malay fears of losing political dominance – aided and abetted by the ever-reliable Dr M – it’s managed to sneak into the Malay coalition now governing Malaysia.

Never mind it’s a weak party with far less popular support than, say, the DAP or PKR, it still controls the most influential lever over the country’s majority people – Islam. Indirectly, that translates into enormous influence over the whole country – unless there is check and balance.

That’s why Pas is the most committed to ensure the permanence of the three-party Malay coalition now in power. It’s never had it so good.

If history is any judge, everyone should worry about this trend going forward.
Because the Islamic Party of Malaysia, or Pas, has never made any secret of its over-arching ambition for Malaysia.



I like to consider myself an incurable optimist. I mean, I used to think the laundry guys had to be doing something wrong because my pants kept getting tighter.

Like everything else these days, blame it on the pandemic. There comes a time in a man’s life when the only important question to ask oneself, after yet-another tedious day at home, is the searching: “What’s for dinner?” 

And you can imagine what a surfeit of said questions can do to a man’s waistline. 

These days, I need to work out like a fanatic just to maintain my svelte chubby figure. Or, let me put it this way: if I had remained in journalism, I can take comfort in the fact that I still have a face for radio. 

I think we all get heavier as we age because there’s a lot more information in our heads courtesy of all our reading over the years. OK, I’ll concede that my working hypothesis isn’t biochemically self-evident. But, hey, it was a good try.

No, the increasing heft has more to do with metabolic rates and the law of gravity. As we get older, apparently, our metabolic rates slow – in my case, it may have plummeted – and it takes longer and longer for our bodies to burn off excess calories. And that’s when you get fat:  energy gone to waist. 

In gravity’s case, tissues at rest, well, sag: they droop, stoop, they dangle…I think you get the drift. 

But have you noticed that corpulent people make for dignified figures? Indeed, the said droop is in keeping with nature and is considered “solemn” and, truth be told, is the source of the word “gravitas” which, of course, means “dignity” or “solemnity of manner”. 

Let me paint you a picture:  Jho Low in judicial garb?

I suppose it would be too much to swallow, even for Jibby. In the interests of full disclosure, I admit the etymology of said word might be yet another working hypothesis on my part. But, hey, no loss, no foul. 

As I get older, I take comfort in the words of Abraham Lincoln. “Common looking people are the best in the world,” he once observed, “and that’s the reason the Lord made so many of them.”  

And Singapore is the worst place in the world to be overweight. For one thing, you notice very few overweight young men here. A mandatory, two-year national service requirement puts paid to that. And I suppose the habit clings because you don’t see any overweight, fat old guys either.

That’s depressing where I’m concerned because even slightly overweight guys see me in restaurants, feel reassured and order another beer. In my dotage, I’ve become a symbol of reassurance, that letting it all hang out is not only fine, but dandy. 

Who’d have thought? 

But a word to the wise. You don’t get a body like this overnight. I mean, you must work at it. It takes years of neglect.  

It isn’t wholly my fault. Rebecca was always a good cook, but this pandemic is turning her into a serious contender. 

The Food Network Channel has transformed her into an X-Chef, as it were. Our kitchen now boasts a cast iron skillet, a thermometer for the perfect steak and her sourdough loaf is a thing of beauty and a fleeting joy, until the next one.  

So, no, I don’t suffer from over-indulgence: I enjoy every minute of it.