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.