There is a relatively inexpensive Italian café Rebecca and I frequent. It’s within walking distance from the apartment and Paul, its headwaiter, is both friendly and a countryman, being from Petaling Jaya. 

We decided to have dinner there before Singapore shut down Thursday on “heightened alert” fears. Dine-ins would no longer be permitted then. 

Paul seemed his usual cheerful self until we wondered, as is our wont when we meet Malaysians, when we might all go back next.

Then he bemoaned the “challenging” times and let slip that his mother, sister and brother-in law were all down with Covid-19.

When I asked him how old his mother was, he broke down, weeping, and fled the scene. We were transfixed and I felt mortified for having asked the question. 

It turned out, as we found out later, that his mother, 70, was critical, having suffered a stroke last year. To compound matters, both his sister and brother-in-law had lost their jobs which made his job in Singapore absolutely crucial to sustain the family. 

But what made him break down was his sudden realisation that he was unlikely to see his mother again. The cost of the quarantines – both in Malaysia and Singapore – and the resulting no-pay during the period ruled out its possibility with a finality that crushed him.

Malaysia can probably claim an over-achiever’s share of ‘Pauls’, all unheralded, and mostly unlamented. The latter observation seems especially apt in the wake of some of the statements coming from our leaders. 

Consider the Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who exhibits the taste and sensitivity of a gnat. In a put down of the “white flag” campaign, the premier remarked that “if we were to go to the ground, we would probably find the kitchens of homes to be full (of supplies).” The Prime Minister was implying that the government was doing enough about aid. Hence, to his mind, the white flag campaign was pointless.

Here’s a news flash for anyone who hasn’t got it:  the premier may be delusional. In which case, we might want to worry because delusional people tend to believe in themselves. 

What’s he smoking? Does he honestly think that anyone would want to raise the white flag, to admit that they cannot provide for their family and turn to charity? No one likes to be pitied. The premier should know this more than anyone else: there were many in Malaysia who sympathised when he was sacked from the Cabinet in 2016 by then premier Najib Razak. 

It was one of the many reasons behind the government’s ouster in the general election two years later. The Moo would do well to remember this.

“There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the world and it has a longer shelf life.” The statement was by no less than Frank Zappa, a rock musician whose onstage act included biting off the heads of snakes while wearing enough make up to delight Alan Pereira. 

What would Frank have made of Malaysian politicians? 

A Minister who can’t differentiate Spanish Fly from Flu and another who’s singularly blasé about the fact that the food aid from his ministry comes with his photograph!

And what about Hadi Awang, a minister whose exact function is vague but, as an avowed Islamic scholar, took pains to explain the public’s growing distrust of politicians. 

It was the fault of the liberals, the great thinker observed with the aplomb of a Zakir Naik, those “demons in human masks.” 

There are a great many ‘Pauls’ in Singapore and they will remember all this. 

And, make no mistake, they will return to cast their judgments. 



Occasionally, this country comes up with something that sparkles, that provokes an involuntary smile, that cheers you up no end.

I refer to the geniuses who came up with the white flag campaign.

Now here’s an idea whose time has come. To avoid the humiliation of “begging” or pleading for government aid, distressed families have been asked to raise a white flag outside their homes and aid would, like the mail, arrive.

The idea was born out of the minds of creative Netizens on social media, and it’s taken off big time. Businesses have also pitched in with pledges to help.

What’s tactfully unsaid in all the commentary is the fact that the government has been found wanting. Because it failed to step up to the plate, Malaysians took matters into their own hands. There would have been no need for this campaign if the government had done what it’s supposed to.

The prolonged lockdown has seriously damaged the economy and pushed thousands into poverty.

These are very troubled times and nowhere is it more starkly demonstrated than the statistics for suicide which listed 336 deaths over the first three months of the year.

More than anything else, it was those appalling figures that prompted the “white flag” movement, that tugged at enough heartstrings to compel action.

Our politicians love to dwell on our differences, the better to create perceived or imagined threats that promise to forever keep some segments of society insecure, so that these politicians can continue to justify their existence, their grip on power.

The white flag initiative promises to transcend these petty notions. And the people behind this campaign instinctively grasp what the government seems incapable of: you cannot do kindness too soon because you never know how soon will be too late.

Meanwhile, if you’re not part of the solution, then don’t be part of the problem. Or at the very least get out of the way. Better still, shut up.

Take the MP from Bachok, Nik Abduh Nik Aziz. As a child, he fancied a career in counter-intelligence. Looks like he made it, too.

The MP chided people for hoisting the white flag as those who admit defeat to challenges “from God.” He then brightly added that they would be better served “by praying.”

Unsurprisingly, this rocket scientist hails from Pas, an obscure party of obscure people with obscurantist views that have, apparently, never heard of the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.”

The same God also gave people a brain so that they might use reason and act with kindness aforethought.

But Mr Nik could be the exception that proves the rule, being proof himself that God does, indeed, have a sense of humour.

And then there is the Chief Minister of Kedah who seems to have a worldview shaped by the Cro-Magnon period. He’s threatened to deny state aid to anyone who hoists the white flag. Reason: it’s “propaganda” against the government.

Well, if the shoe fits…

As a former journalist who’s covered enough Pas ceramah to know, it might be instructive to share this.

When any Pas event is unfolding, the organisers literally pass a bag around. That’s how the party raises its money. You might say it’s its white flag.

This bag-passing should cease and desist. That would be conceding defeat, wouldn’t it?

No, these God-fearing people would be better served by prayer.