Real friends stab you in the front. – Writer Oscar Wilde 

You’ll know it when you hear it. The capacity for quick and inventive thought, the clever quip, is almost always appreciated.

It’s broadly classified as wit. 

I have, for instance, a friend called Cletus. Ok, it’s a strange name and he got hell for it in his freshman year in University Malaya. But that’s the Catholic for you: their first names are generally from saints and there was a St Cletus somewhere in the midst of antiquity.

Anyway, the guy is a seriously good singer, and we made decent money gigging in pubs in Ipoh where we were both underpaid government servants in the early 1980s.  

We were practising one afternoon at home when he hit a false note on an unusually difficult song we were attempting. He extricated himself with some aplomb though: “All that Cletus isn’t gold.”

Among local politicians, the only one I remember with some wit was, surprisingly, Dr Mahathir. I remember interviewing him in 1995 at a time when he seemed particularly incensed with the foreign media.

Indeed, I think he began complaining the minute we entered. He was especially irked by the notion that some elements of the foreign media thought him a dictator. 

It provoked this line. “I must be the only dictator in history to have to be elected before I can begin dictating.” 

The American actress Mae West wasn’t just a sex symbol, she was an incredibly funny lady. She might be best known for that racy quip: “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”   

But she almost got into hot water when she just couldn’t resist it. This famous exchange took place in a US courtroom where West was testifying:

Judge (raising his voice): Are you showing contempt for this court, Miss West?

West: “No, Your Honour, I’m doing my best to conceal it.”

Then there was the poet and essayist Dorothy Parker. Challenged once to make a sentence with “horticulture” in it, she replied with dazzling speed: “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.” 

You might have to think about that. 

This one was a little easier but no less funny. When one of her college classmates had her first baby, Parker sent her this telegram.

“Congratulations Mary, we all knew you had it in you.”

In his first visit to the US, the English writer and playwright Oscar Wilde was asked by Customs’ officers if he had anything to declare, “Only my genius,” he replied tartly and he was waved through.

Once when offered a delicious-looking mousse, he replied: “I can resist anything but temptation,” and dug in. 

I used to love the sitcom Cheers because the jokes flew so thick and fast. And there were those characters like Norm Peterson who’d say the funniest things with the most hangdog expression.

Norm: “Evening everybody.”

Woody, the bartender. “A beer, Mr Peterson?”

Norm: “A little early in the day isn’t it, Woody?”

Woody: “Little early for a beer?”

Norm: “No, for stupid questions.”

Woody; “What will you have, Mr Peterson?”

Norm: “I just need something to hold me over until my second beer.”

Woody: “How about a first beer?”

Norm: “That’ll work.”



A man with a briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns. – Writer Mario Puzo

When a man tells you he got rich through hard work, ask him: “Whose?” – US journalist, Don Marquis

There were these reports, the snippets, always hinting of danger, of looming events forebodingly close. 

I mean, having to perpetually skulk about in the shadows can’t bring peace to the fat fraud once known as Felonious or Jho Low. 

Like Charlie Brown, he was beginning to dread the future “one day at a time.” 

And it was all the fault of Bradley Hope, a pestilential American reporter who insisted on keeping the theft alive, who helped to write Billion Dollar Whale, an expose of 1MDB and the staggering theft of almost US$5 billion from Malaysia’s coffers. 

One of the heist’s perpetrators is already behind bars and only Felonious remains, stashed surreptitiously somewhere in China. 

Not for long, according to Mr Hope. It was a grim and stern warning and it required more than a couple of ice-cold goblets of Dom Perignon to soothe the ragged, and twitching, nerves of the palpably, petrified pilferer. 

Indeed, Mr Hope’s report citing, even more alarmingly, “multiple sources” was enough to scare the daylights out of any fugitive worth his salt.  

And Felonious, who’d salted away more billions than Bernie Madoff, who’d out-wolfed every Wolf on Wall Street, knew he was worth at least that

Mr Hope claimed Putrajaya and Beijing were close to hammering out a deal to repatriate Felonious, assets and all, back to Malaysia. The deal, apparently, was hatched after Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s first official visit to China, recently. 

Mr Hope, a former Wall Street Journal writer, claimed the deal would include absolving China of its alleged complicity in the 1MDB cover-up and its previous support for disgraced former Premier Najib Razak, now serving time. 

Prison has  circumscribed Jibby’s bragging rights considerably: “Do you know who I used to be?” 

But I digress: we were talking about Felonious weren’t we? 

You could say the dumpy dacoit had a lot on his mind. His problem was compounded by the fact that he continued to remain in the public eye and for all the wrong reasons. This embarrassed the Chinese even more because of Beijing’s much ballyhooed “aversion” to corruption.

I mean, you can’t successfully project a “beacon of rectitude” kind of image if you continue to shelter the world’s most wanted thief, can you?  

Felonious has steadfastly denied complicity in the heist. But the fact that many assets in his name – from a corporate jet and a superyacht to prime real estate in New York and Los Angeles – have been  seized without any resistance from him seems like tacit acknowledgement in no small degree. You don’t have to be Colombo to know that. 

And it goes on. Last month, Kuwait sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment after convicting him in absentia with two others of embezzling 1MDB funds.

And now we learn that the chubby charlatan was lavish with Malaysian taxpayer monies to win  friends and subvert governments.

A Washington court was told yesterday that Pras Michel, a rap artiste and influencer, was paid US$100 million by Felonious to:  

  • Stop US Department of Justice probes into him 
  • Facilitate the extradition of a Chinese dissident in the US back to Beijing, and
  • Allow Felonious a photo opportunity with Barack Obama. 

The hits just kept on coming and it was getting tedious. Felonious sighed and poured himself more champagne. You know what they say, he thought: a fool and his money…

…are soon partying. 



Irony is a funny thing.     

Consider Najib Razak and his current concept of time. When he was Premier, he was so busy, there just wasn’t enough time in a day. Now that he’s serving it, it’s a whole new game and no fun at all unless you’re Kermit the Frog: “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.” 

Actually, everyone appears to have had an ironic makeover of sorts, even the ever-scheming Dr M. He’s evolved from acclaimed Malay champion to deposit-losing reject only to resurface as self-proclaimed ethnic champion through tie-ups with rabid fringe groups. 

Meanwhile, his worst nightmare has materialised:  Anwar Ibrahim, his former nemesis and much maligned deputy, is now calling the shots as Prime Minister in his own, ironic bow to the vagaries of fate.  

It appears that while anyone is free to rage against the dying of the light, Karma can, and will, continue to be a bitch!

Irony reigns supreme. It was the work of one of the world’s great pacifists, Albert Einstein, which spawned the world’s deadliest weapon. And it was with that in mind when he predicted: “I don’t know what weapons will be used during World War Three but World War Four will be fought with sticks and stones.”

The Bible is the world’s best-selling book and has consistently been so for the longest time. Ironically, it’s also the most shoplifted book in the United States – which says much about the moral underpinnings of petty crime in America.

The actor Charlie Chaplin’s walk was much imitated during the era of silent films. But when the man himself entered a “Charlie Chaplin walk” contest, he was placed 20th.

How do you shut down your foes? Simple, when you have rich members like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, you just buy their silence. Once a leading anti-cult network, the Cult Awareness Network was silenced permanently after it was bought over by the Church of Scientology. 

In the 1990s in Kuala Lumpur, Yomeishu, a famous Japanese herbal brandy, sued a rival Malaysian make that claimed similar properties, one of which, famously, had to do with male potency.  

The Judge hearing the case seemed especially interested in that alleged virtue. The following exchange took place between said Judge and the chairman of Yomeishu Japan, then on the witness stand: 

Judge: So your drink helps male potency, does it?

Witness:  It does 

Judge: How does it work? Do you drink it or apply it?

Witness goes into a giggling fit. It isn’t clear if the judge was being ironic but, for those interested, the correct answer is to drink it. 

For the record, I covered the case for the Far Eastern Economic Review then. It must have been a dry week. 

Even the Beatles got roped into the irony act. In 2002, a tree was planted in a Los Angeles Park to honour the band’s guitarist George Harrison who’d passed away in the city a year earlier. 

Unfortunately, the tree died after a year owing to an infestation of beetles.  

Finally, the lyrics of Alanise Morisette’s 1996 hit Ironic does not evoke the quality in the slightest, an admission the songwriter herself made later.

There’s irony for you.  



There aren’t enough stones for the number of adulterers we have. – Tunku Abdul Rahman, on Islamic law and its prescription of stoning for adulterers.

The older you get, the better  you realise you were. 

I wish I’d come up with that but it was a George Carlin original. Carlin himself was one of the most original comedic brains of the 20th Century, frequently coming up  with superb bon mots not only witty but undeniably true.

It reminds me of the first time I met the late, great Tan Siew Sin, Malaysia’s longest serving finance minister (1959-74). He was then chairman of Sime Darby and must have been 70 but looked older and appeared frail.  

He was a Tun – the nation’s highest civilian honour – at the time so I avoided the tongue twister (Tun Tan) by sticking to Tun. I was in awe of him and attempted to defuse the tension by bringing up the story of  Tunku Abdul Rahman and Siew Sin’s leave. 

Apparently, when Siew Sin was Finance Minister, he asked the Tunku – than Prime Minister  and his boss – for leave to go on holiday. It was duly granted. Just as he was about to leave, he was struck by a sudden thought and asked the Tunku who would be his substitute. When the Premier cheerfully replied he  would do it,  Siew Sin immediately  retracted his application.

The Tun confirmed the story without a smile and remarked the Tunku was too “generous” by way of explanation.   He was quite serious about it too. 

He was equally  straight-faced when he  mentioned that when he was finance minister “inflation was zero.”

Which just underscores the point of the Carlin truism. 

It says much about the Tunku’s character that he used the story in his weekly newspaper column to illustrate the humour of the situation. Do you think Dr M, for example,  would have found it equally funny? 

I was in Form Four when the Tunku retired from public service so you might say he loomed large in my life. Indeed, I remember devouring a Readers’ Digest feature on the man entitled The Wit and Wisdom of Tunku Abdul Rahman, under a picture of a beaming,songkok-hatted Tunku.

I still remember some of its  vignettes. 

Western journalists liked the Tunku because he could be relied upon to come up with the breezy, unexpected quip. 

During Indonesia’s “confrontation” with  Malaysia (1963-66) which stemmed from Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of Malaysia, Indonesian jets repeatedly, and deliberately, strayed into Malaysian airspace. It was an obvious show of strength.  

When journalists asked the Tunku what he intended to do about it, he shrugged and said: “Nothing. By the time we’ve scrambled those boys will be back in Jakarta. Let them waste fuel, we’ve better things to do.”

He was candid and disarmingly truthful. During a state visit to the United Kingdom, he was interviewed by a young  David Frost on the BBC. At the time, Southeast Asia was in ferment, against a backdrop of the Vietnam War and McNamara’s warnings of the “Domino theory” which predicted that the region’s countries  would fall “like dominoes” to communism once South Vietnam fell.

Frost (without preamble): “Tunku, what would you do if China were to invade Malaysia?”

Tunku (incredulous): “I must have heard you wrong, David.”

Frost (implacable): “You didn’t hear me wrong, Sir. My question is, what if China invades Malaysia?”

Tunku: “Why then, we shall simply surrender.” 

At a time when Malaysia’s lunatic fringe is baying for “Malay Proclamations” amid increasingly divisive rhetoric, it might be timely to reflect on the Tunku’s notion of unity.

“We are all Malaysians. This is the bond that unites us. Let us always remember that unity is our fundamental strength, as a people and as a nation.” 



Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. – Science fiction author, Isaac Asimov

Every time I read about the petty tyrannies of minor functionaries it affects me. 

It’s common in Malaysia but it probably happens everywhere. Our fourth Premier Abdullah Badawi even labelled these autocrats. He called them “Little Napoleons” which makes the point but, alas, disses the great man.

I mention it only because it could happen to you. It certainly happened to me. 

In 1984, I’d been a biochemist in Ipoh for 4 years and, worse, begun hearing that I would soon be transferred to Teluk Intan. To explain, that’s a “district” hospital and, officially therefore, the boondocks. 

Moreover, I’d tried to transfer to the Institute for Medical Research in KL but struck out. Ditto for my wife, a civil servant in KL, who tried to transfer to Ipoh.  

Like everyone else, we corresponded by post, and it must have been then when Rebecca mentioned my “OK” writing, and maybe I should consider applying for journalism. 

And I did – twice! – only to be rebuffed by the then managing editor of the NST Press. It was polite and all, but it was the equivalent of The Finger.

I felt like Rodney Dangerfield: “The way my luck is running, if I was a politician, I would be honest.”  

In early ’84, however, I noticed an ad that was for a writing job. It didn’t ask for an English or Arts degree, only “solid English” and I sensed my A-Ha moment. 

Having been rejected twice, however, I resolved to take no chances. Two of my wife’s housemates worked as journos, and, in short order, established that the ad was for a magazine called Malaysian Business – I’d never heard if it – and it was run by one Shaik Osman Majid who was, apparently, difficult but fair. 

They advised me to write a letter that was “different.” To ensure success, they would go about it “the Malaysian way” and use a friend of Shaik. Leave it to us, they said, and I was happy to oblige.   

I composed a letter – Shaik would have used “missive” – that I felt was humorous and gave it to R who passed it to T, Shaik’s friend.

Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men… 

The friend, T, couldn’t find Shaik so he left it on his desk. Having no clue what it was about, Shaik promptly threw it into the dustbin. The interview letters went out and I would have been adrift if my wife didn’t follow up. 

R called Shaik’s friend, T, who asked Shaik who cheerfully confessed to throwing it away. 

The upshot: the day before the exam/interview, my wife called and asked me to take the night train to KL: Shaik had called her.

I duly presented myself at NST at 8.45 the next morning, only to be rebuffed by the guards: I had no “letter”. 

I told them about Shaik, Ipoh, even the late train. All they needed was to check. They were adamant:  everyone had to have a letter. It was the rules

I doggedly hung around – in tie, and increasingly matted shirt – until I spotted Charles Peters arriving for work. I’d known Charley from my uni-days. Better yet, he was now an NST senior executive.

In no time, he’d smoothed things over, and I was allowed entry. 

I was an hour late for the “exam,” but I became a journalist. Shaik, bless his heart, even allowed me to resign immediately by getting NST to pay off the government.  

I still had to return to clear up stuff, but it was with a song on my lips and joy in my heart. 

It takes very little to change the course of a life.