Tag Archives: malaysia

Malaysian food tour

Roti Canai (2) _Banana Leaf PhilA brief diversion; at our friends’ wedding a couple of weeks ago, there were a few Singaporeans there. Singaporeans and Malaysians are cultural and cuisinal [sic] siblings – we often have a similar outlook on life and – less controversially – a similar set of favourite foods.

As someone removed from Malaysia by nearly two decades, the Singaporeans were a little stunned at my rejection of two things – first, the convenience of house-staff, and second – coping without Malaysian food.

The latter was probably a greater shock to them and, indeed, it’s the bit I struggle with more. I don’t so much reject Malaysian food as have a lack of options for it from my Hampshire home.

For an excellent whistlestop tour of what makes Malaysian food so awesome, I point you at this excellent feature from Serious Eats, based on a trip sponsored by a Malaysian promotional agency.

It doesn’t go into any great deal on the Food of the Gods – Roti Canai – but I understand there will be follow ups. If they don’t pay sufficient attention to Roti, I will know that they have failed to properly investigate Malaysian food.

Citizens of the world

UN FlagsMy cousin Sumisha, studying in Australia, writes a fascinating piece on dual citizenship for her student union paper – dual citizenship is illegal in Malaysia, Iran and 58 other countries, apparently. As someone that holds a different passport to his wife and daughter this is an issue close to my heart, and, apart from the pride in seeing my cousin write such an insightful and interesting article, there are some really interesting questions raised in this piece.

Questions like – what would your perception of your Nationality be if you had dual citizenship? Which would you give up if you were forced to? Should dual citizenship be legal everywhere? These are asked and answered by Sumisha’s interviewees. In both cases, if forced to choose, they would choose their adoptive countries (less repressive and more wealthy regimes) over their birth nations, although their sense of personal identity seems to lie with the countries they grew up in.

For me, my links to Malaysia may never completely fade, but they are not ones I’m particularly proud of, as you’ll know if you’ve read my relatively recent posts on Sarawak, on the obedience club, on Bersih and beyond. My "national" identity stems more from my family than the Nation of my birth and I hold more ‘loyalty’ to the country I live in now than Malaysia (although National loyalty is rarely a thing that is tested beyond choosing which team to support at football friendlies). And indeed, many of the good things in Malaysia remain the legacy of British colonization.

Although perhaps the judicial and governmental systems they left us were too mature for our leaders, who seem to prefer autocracy and corruption.

Anyway, go read my cousin’s article. Sumisha, mate, good one. This is the best shrimp on the barbie yet. Too easy.

As an afterthought, I give you this music video – almost from down under too:

Bersih 2011–fighting for electoral reform in Malaysia

bersihMalaysia has been a bit late to the anti-government protests shaking the Islamic world. Understandably so; protests in Malaysia are always clamped down on hard (technically it is illegal to form any kind of public meeting without a permit, which is never granted for political gatherings, so protesting is tricky), Malaysians are by nature conservative when it comes to public statements that in any way resemble opposition to the government (the incessant and pervasive fear of IRS investigations or planted ammunition hangs over everyone’s heads, especially following what happened to Anwar Ibrahim) but things are finally coming to a bit of a head.

Electoral reform in Malaysia is an urgent issue. Over the decades that the the ruling party, UMNO, has been in power it has introduced any number of ludicrous amendments to the constitution that, in essence, make it impossible to vote it out of office. Disproportionate shares of the vote are required to pass any kind of reform, and there are persistent and likely rumours of electoral fraud with each and every election that takes place.

Reform is needed. A Euronews clipping notes that the Prime Minister’s opinion polls are showing a stronger approval rating now than when he came to power; it doesn’t note that when he came to power it was under a cloud of rumour and speculation about a murder he had allegedly had a hand in. If you can’t improve on that, especially in an environment where corruption (to an extent) is endemic, well then…

So the rallies for electoral reform, opposing corruption and encouraging transparency, are flying high now under the banner of ‘Bersih‘ (Clean) and 50,000 Malaysians went out in protest this weekend. It was a non-violent protest for the most part, but the Malaysian police cracked down with disproportional force in an effort to “make an example” and discourage further action. Tear gas was fired into the crowds, from the footage it looks like riot police got a bit carried away, and dozens over a thousand arrests were made. The government reaction to the protest compounds its guilt and demonstrates its immaturity on the world stage.

My extended family supported the protests ideologically and in practice. I was proud to read updates of relatives that attended the protests and that were active in supporting those arrested – essentially – illegally. I was worried that they would take this risk but it appears that the relatively high pain threshold of the Malaysian public has been reached. Enough is enough, a fair say is needed.

Democracy will hopefully arrive and perhaps I’ll once again be proud to call Malaysia my home country. I’m certainly proud of my family and the Malaysians that took a stand. It seems to be having some immediate effect; the international press are calling attention and drawing criticism of the Malaysian gov’t and UMNO Youth is planning talks with Bersih. Here’s to the power of the democratic process….!


Is Malaysia becoming a laughing stock in the eyes of the global press? Or a bad joke?

Two news stories that made the International press this week highlight the shifting role of Malaysia – my birth-country – on the global scene. Only a few years ago, it was held up as an example of a reasonably progressive, fast-growing, fast developing Asian economy. Today? It’s increasingly a laughing stock.

First – the ‘obedient wife’ club’, founded by 800 married women in Malaysia in a bid to address the problems of domestic violence and divorce “at their cause”. The foundation of a social group – even one with 800 women in – wouldn’t ordinarily make the headlines in the International media. But the ludicrousness of this particular story must have tickled a few editors’ funny bones, or made some misogynists smile. I find it absurd that Malaysian society could have evoked the creation of such a club, or brainwashed women into thinking that their husband’s infidelity, violence et al, was their own fault. I may have missed something in reading this story – if anyone can explain a positive spin on this to me in terms other than this that would be appreciated.

Second – another leak – this time of a diplomatic cable to Washington:

A former senior government official has said that the country’s bloated and overwhelmingly Malay civil service was “completely loyal to Umno” and was the main stumbling block towards economic reforms according to a leaked United States diplomatic cable The confidential report sent to Washington from the US embassy here was leaked by whistleblower website WikiLeaks and published in the Malaysia Today news portal

This one hasn’t yet been picked up internationally, so perhaps the country is still on the laughing stock side of things…

If I felt any affiliation with the country beyond my family being there, I’d be ashamed. Instead, I just feel moderately contemptuous of the rulers and pessimistic about any positive outcome. After all, it may be droll and amusing today – but its a short leap from droll to impinging freedoms (both in practice in Malaysia and in terms of its international reputation).

Don’t get me wrong, the country’s not at tangibly uncomfortable levels of government corruption, control or oppression… but if it was sliding in a direction, that would be it… Remember the Sarawak story…?

Sarawak wikileaks story and the Malaysian media

So, whilst we were visiting Malaysia what could have been a major media story broke. Activist blog Sarawak Report, which campaigns on environmental issues in Malaysia’s Eastern states, published a wikileaks style dump of data showing supposed “land grabs” – places where the chief minister of the state, amongst others, took land or benefits from the sale/development of land – much of it primary rainforest – for themselves.

If you think of the UK where the Telegraph’s report on ministerial expenses exposed small-scale corruption – duck ponds, travel, houses and the like – this story should have been immense. This is (at least potentially) the systematic destruction of the rainforest for massive personal gain. If the story is libellous, then the campaign sould have been investigated and discredited in the media. At least, that’s what you’d expect.

Instead, the major Malaysian newspapers have been almost completely silent on the story, with the exception of a few luke-warm stories reporting Government investigations into Radio Free Sarawak, a radio station campaigning on the Sarawak Report “allegations” and challenging corruption in the region, championed by Gordon Brown’s sister in law, Clare Rewcastle Brown.

The only outlet to cover the story was (paywall) MalaysiaKini, an online publication with a history of taking on the controversial and a few of whose reporters have paid the price for it – detained under the always-to-be-feared ‘ISA’ – Internal Security Act – which bascially grants the power to the government to do whatever it wants to whoever it wants. Thankfully Malaysian bloggers are now actively covering the story and hopefully awareness will break and something will happen, but somehow I’m doubtful. The papers probably exist in a combination of fear of the ISA and pressure from their political overlords – many of the Malaysian newspapers either are owned by or have strong affiliations with Malaysian political parties. Ref, Wikipedia, which adds this:

The national media are largely controlled by the government and by political parties in the Barisan Nasional/National Front ruling coalition and the opposition has little access to the media. The print media are controlled by the Government through the requirement of obtaining annual publication licences under the Printing and Presses Act. In 2007, a government agency — the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission — issued a directive to all private television and radio stations to refrain from broadcasting speeches made by opposition leaders.

It’s not surprising, as Malaysia persistently does poorly in global press-freedoms surveys, but it is depressing. This is why when I tell people I come from Malaysia, and they say “oh, that’s a beautiful place,” I sigh and say something non-committal. It’s difficult to think of a place as beautiful when its rotten to the core.

Generational vs cultural differences for the Internet in Malaysia

Malaysia is the 5th “most connected” country in Asia (data 3 years old but should still hold mostly true). So it’s with some surprise when I come visit home that there are vast differences in the way we do things. We don’t check online for local garages – we drive around and find ones that look good or word off traditional word of mouth recommendations. On the other hand, Dominos Pizza in Malaysia accepts online payments, in a country that has traditionally shied away from e-commerce due to high levels of fraud, and we managed to pre-emptively order a lot of Emily’s baby kit from an online store before we arrived.

Hard for me to always establish which differences are due to culture – it’s a hard-bargaining, fraud-averse environment here – and how many are due to generational differences. Most of our visits here are spent with my parents and aunts and uncles – who are of a different age, shall we say.

Regardless of what the cause is, I’ve taken some delight in spreading a few bits of my digital-era practices here. A couple of aunts have been introduced to Apps, I’ve been evangelising true Smartphones whilst battling against aging Nokias and so on. The motivation is more than slightly self-interested – it’s lovely to have my family more connected to our lives as we share them digitally – including the ongoing development of young Emily and our other adventures…

Cousins – what do you think?? Digital Guru Shayna?

Mini-break at Port Dickson Avillion Village Resort

Holiday destination of my youth, Port Dickson is a seaside town about an hour from Kuala Lumpur. We stayed at the Avillion Village Resort, a nice chalet-oriented holiday resort with a couple of pools, reasonable facilities, free wifi (!!) and decent bedrooms. Service was excellent.

The break was great fun, baby Emily had a lot of new experiences and Amanda and I enjoyed the swimming, setting and time together. It was family friendly but with enough dedicated ‘adult’ facilities to ensure quiet time for the grown-ups too – the spa was very scenic – on the sea – and we had a brief but good massage included as part of a mini-break package. The beach was clean and fastidiously maintained, although we were warned of sandflies so not too much time spent there.

There were a few minor inadequacies, however, which I’ll catalogue by way of a heads-up to would be visitors. The air-conditioning was barely functional, the mosquito netting blocked off the ceiling fan almost completely, making temperature regulation in the water chalet tricky. The chalets on the water are a little close together so blinds have to be drawn for privacy, and you don’t get the isolated serenity we witnessed when we stayed at the (admittedly far more expensive) Sipadan Kapalai resort whilst on honeymoon.

The gym equipment was antique and the treadmill didn’t work, so I resorted to an archaic cycling machine. The restaurant, whilst enormous, has a restricted menu and is pricey as you’d expect. The “infinity pool”is set in a beautiful landscape garden, which has the unfortunate side-effect of diminishing its infinite aspect and steeping the pool in pollen, giving it a somewhat murky feel. The TV didn’t work properly and the internet connection was tediously slow. The sea water was the standard PD muddy brown, nothing you’d really want to venture into…

In short, recommended, but be tolerant of its limitations! We were, and had a wonderful time as a result. Review also posted on TripAdvisor (or will be, when they approve it)…

Cynical much?

Went to the Malaysian Islamic Art Museum today for some touristy action on discovering its high ranking on Tripadvisor – the no1 tourist destination in the state, apparently. It was pretty impressive, actually – a massive, light, air-conditioned, airy space, some impressive exhibits and apparently the best bathrooms Amanda has ever been in. It had about 30 visitors across its thousands of square feet of exhibits, mostly foreign visitors.

Am I being massively cynical to think that if the subject of the museum had been something non-Islamic, in this country it would likely smell, be overheated, understaffed, and totally unimpressive? Or should I just be pleased that at least we have a good (if relatively pricey at RM12 for entry, RM5 for a bottle of water) cultural destination?

Planning on checking out the aquarium in KLCC tomorrow, hopefully that’ll be fun too.

The Science Centre, which we visited yesterday, wasn’t bad but nowhere nearly as polished as the art gallery (although admittedly far more child-oriented… I guess it’d be comparing the circus to the opera house…)

Baby Emily enjoyed both enormously, of course, being in her buggy for both experiences, getting hands on with plasma exhibits in the science museums and just giggling with glee as she whizzed through the art gallery.

Malaysian running training #2

A disappointing training day. With the broken treadmill my highly motivating wife suggested we go to a gym, and we found one in Celebrity Fitness, a chain of gyms with an outlet in Mid Valley Megamall, a 10 minute drive from the house and a building full of distractions for Amanda, Emily and Emily’s Grandpa, who volunteered as chauffeur and local guide.

First, we looked for a replacement treadmill. Limited progress was made with the actual dealer we wanted to visit, despite claiming to have an outlet in Mid Valley on their website, actually not so much existing. So it may be some time before we sort that out.

Let’s start with the things that were good about the Celebrity Fitness experience.

1. They had good working treadmills
2. They had reasonable showers

And the bad:

1. Appalling customer service. I was shuttled back between the front desk and the customer service desk, not told where the changing rooms or equipment was, asked for my mobile number three times (“I don’t have a local mobile”), and made to wait for 10 minutes whilst they registered my limited information for a day guest pass. I’d made reasonably clear that I wasn’t going to join and just wanted a transactional relationship with them – give me a pass, damnit! Eventually got in, having eaten into a short window of time I had for the workout.
2. Damnit it was hot. It must have been 30 degrees in there WITH the airconditioning going. The whole point for me in going to a gym was to avoid the blistering outdoor heat!
3. It cost RM60 – about £12. An absolute rip-off for the experience.
4. There were no locks on the lockers (another fact they didn’t apprise me of – should I have just known? I told them I was from the UK, they could have given me a heads up…). You’re meant to bring your own, apparently, so kit stayed with me – including during my shower. Fortunately I found a broom closet to stash my stuff in whilst I had the world’s quickest shower.
5. Crap water coolers, despite the heat.

So… not going back there. Will find another way to work out here. My mediocre run total for the day came to approx 5k in 33 minutes. Not a great time on a treadmill.

0n the plus side, whilst I continued to fail to find a foam roller, I did remember that Sudhir told me I could do the ITB workout with a tennis ball – so will dig around the house for one of them instead!

Family technical support

I’ve had a few tasks since being here, including:

1. Rebuilding an old PC (I love the speed of a fresh XP install in the morning)
2. Retrieving data off a failed hard drive
3. Sorting out the wireless networking on the new FiOS net connection they have here
4. Sorting out a networking solution for my Dad’s Skype enabled Panasonic Viera TV
5. Setting up the new Logitech HD camera and Vid we got my Dad for his birthday (they’re a client but I paid full – well, Amazon – price for a matched pair) so they can talk to their grandchild in HD when we’re back in the UK. I’d use Skype but their HD certification is not very well entrenched with the manufacturers yet.
6. Setting up for remote access etc., so I can help them when things go wrong when I’m not here
7. Patching the hell out of all their software (thank you FileHippo)

It’s all gone fairly smoothly. Two points to note – first, PC Expos absolutely SUCK in Malaysia. Rammed full of people, the one way system forces you to plough your way through a massive crowd for limited satisfaction. Incredibly badly designed thoroughfare that I’m sure violated every fire and health and safety regulation there is – if such things were enforced in Malaysia.

Second, Powerlink networking really is the absolute simplest way of getting a big house online! I actually bought the kit to connect the Viera TV, which didn’t come with built in wireless and requires a Netgear wireless adapter that no-one here stocks, but it could just as easily have been used as a range extender on a Wifi network (with a second AP) etc. Impressively simple stuff from the nice people at TP-Link, who I’d not heard of a few weeks ago but now seem well entrenched, both in the UK and here, as the budget networking solution of choice. With Linksys going Cisco-upmarket and 3Com doing the HP thing, I guess a few people had to take advantage at this end of the market.

Anyway, hopefully I’m done with fixing things (just need to figure out how to configure Viera-Skype), and can continue to focus on baby, family, my lovely wife and get started with the writing. And the fitness training. Crikey, I’m trying to fit a lot in!