Sunday, May 02, 2010

No Chinese Laureate

We know that no Chinese who writes in the Chinese language will ever be bestowed the title of Sasterawan Negara*, unlike in Singapore where the literatures of all the main language streams are recognised and honoured with the Cultural Medallion, etc.
This from a most eloquent article by Kee Thuan Chye expressing Chinese frustrations. Uthaya Sankar S.B. has, of course made the point about no non-Malays ever holding the post before. (And there is a lot of very good discussion in the comments to the post.)  Let's hope that things really do change soon, because participation by all races of a nation is vital to its life (literary and otherwise!).



savante said...

And threaten the cultural hegemony of the master race? The horrors! :)

Anonymous said...

Well done!........................................

Amir Muhammad said...

Once Michelle Yeoh write a couple of books, the title will be hers, I am sure of it!

Chet said...

Amir - there's a mistake (or two) in your comment.

Amir Muhammad said...


John Ling said...

I don't mean to sound mean here, but the Sasterawan Negara is someone who hasIt's quite possible that we may be barking up the wrong tree here. The Sasterawan Negara, by its very nature, can only be bestowed on someone who has contributed to the advancement of Malay literature. It says so plainly in the Wikipedia link included with this post.

On a constitutional level, the special status of the Malays and of the Malay language is closely linked. It is legally difficult to separate one from the other.

The Singaporean constitution, on the other hand, is entirely different. It does not confer special status to any ethnicity or language.

Until the Government scraps the present Constitution and replaces it with a more liberal, progressive one, I don't see how we can have a national laureate writing in the Chinese language.

It's an issue of law rather than semantics.

bibliobibuli said...

John - actually there are non-Malays who write perfectly eloquently in the Malay language. do go back and read what Uthaya says.

now me, i'd like to see writers in all languages acknowledged for their efforts.

John Ling said...

Absolutely, Sharon. That's why I mentioned that this issue is really a matter of law, not semantics.

Even if you have a Chinese or Indian writer crafting influential works in Malay, you still wouldn't be able to bestow the title of Sasterawan Negara without breaking the law.

The Sasterawan Negara must be a Malay for the same reason that the Prime Minister must be a Malay.

It may sound inane, but that is exactly what the Constitution has laid out.

bibliobibuli said...

yes, a non-Malay can become sasaterawan negara. it breaks no law. Lim Swee Tin was a contender last time and Uthaya lobbied for him. no-one in the dbp or elsewhere said it is against the constitution. but it remains to be seen if it ever happens that a non-Malay actually receives it. but i think Uthaya would argue this point much better than me.

Amir Muhammad said...

Constitutionally, there's nothing to stop a non-Malay from being PM lah. Whoever is in charge of the party that commands the majority of the Dewan Rakyat is the Prime Minister.

Becoming Sasterawan Negara is even easier than that. You just need to impress a panel of judges.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

John, again, you're seeing conspiracy theories where there shouldn't be one.

There is nothing in the Constitution that states only Malays can become a national laureate. The only reason why a national laureate is a person who contributes to the advancement of literature in Bahasa Malaysia is because it is the official, national language.

And, please check the Constitution correctly. The Prime Minister can be of any race, so long he is a Malaysian. It is up to the King to endorse the winning party's choice.(Articles 39 and 40, Executive Function of the King). Wikipedia has it wrong. Again, it is a free-for-all encyclopedia, not closely vetted.

There are quite a number of non-Malays who write good Malay Literature. Take note, that when we say Malay Literature, we mean literature in Bahasa Malaysia, without racial implication.

So should writer in any other languages become a national laureate? If the authors/poets are internationally acclaimed, I don't see why not. Because in the end, regardless the language, they are putting Malaysia on the world stage. But I doubt it'll work that way. I can aim to win Hugo and Nebula awards (and I intend to), but I doubt it'll make an impact in this country, other than a possible newspaper article or two. Since I only write fiction in English, I doubt being elected a national laureate is even possible.

So there. We're in good terms, and I'd like to keep it that way, but please, stop tossing kerosene into the bonfire.

Journalists should get their facts straight, from reliable sources.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Ooh. One more thing, John. I'm sure you look at America as the Holy Grail of democracy.

They reached their independence in 1776, correct? President Obama is the first non-Caucasian President, elected late 2008 (inaugurated 2009). After how may centuries of independence? Suddenly America becomes the beacon of racial equality and democracy. People conveniently forget how long it takes for the country to get there.

Plus, even now, they don't have their health plan right. Citizens either have to buy health insurance (expensive), or pay an annual tax to get coverage (also expensive, when you do the maths). So what about poor citizens who, since the economic decline, cannot even afford to pay their mortgage?

We, on the other hand, get subsidized. For RM1, you'll get the best possible treatment we can offer. Spend almost a year in the hospital, you'll still have to pay a maximum of RM500. Half price if you're a senior citizen, and free if you're still schooling.

People get surprised when they find out about this. Once the initial shock is over, they start asking for better food and more comfortable accommodations. People will always be people, I tell you.

And those newspaper articles, where people ask for over RM30k to get VP-shunt treatment for their children, that's a load of bull. And I see mostly Malays asking for money through newspapers. Government hospitals offer such treatments for free! Why should these people go to private hospitals and pay outrageous prices when the government subsidize health care for its citizens?

We've reached independence just over 50 years ago. There are plenty of changes slowly implemented to make things fair for all races. Malaysians in general don't take change too well, so these things will take time.

Oops. We're talking about the national laureate, aren't we? Well, as I said. These things take time. I may be evil and cruel for saying this, but once the older generations who were raised with rigid (and sometimes ridiculous) values fade away, we younger, more tolerant generations will slowly make this country a better place. But it'll never work if people keep on complaining and condemning their own country and not do anything to heal the rift.

Amir Muhammad said...

The clever lawyers at MyConstitution confirm what I wrote: Check article 43(2)(a) on the appointment of the PM. No racial criteria.

This country's still young and although many idiots are running free, there are surprises galore in store. For example, who would have thought, even 3 years ago, that the Selangor MB would not be from UMNO? And if the Perak palace hadn't intervened (and royalty is a whole different spanner), Perak would have (briefly?) had an ethnic Chinese Menteri Besar, too.

More pertinent to matters writing: Last year's Malaysiakini anniversary dinner was held at the auditorium of the very Establishment-friendly Sime Darby convention centre. Would that have happened even 3 years ago?

And even more pertinent: Why on earth would any writer WANT to be Sasterawan Negara?? All of them (yes, I've read all of them, minimum of two books each) did their best writing *before* getting the 'accolade'. The most striking example is Noordin Hassan, nice guy that he is. Being coddled in this sort of official respectability is the opposite of what a writer should want.

John Ling said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Ling said...

Yes, I have read the Constitution. Many, many times, in fact.

We cannot ignore the fact that it is the Prime Minister's duty to uphold and defend the Constitution.

Foremost among its tenets is the special position of the Malays.

In practice, it's difficult for many voters to reconcile that a non-Malay can this so without prejudice.

That is why, in practice, the Prime Minister will always be a Malay. Until such a time people reject such a notion.

This is not a conspiracy theory. This is a fact. I say this without casting blame or demonising anyone.

John Ling said...

Secondly, there is the issue of precedent when it comes to the legal application of the Constitution. Amir actually brought up a very good point when he mentioned the ethnic Chinese Menteri Besar.

I have several examples of my own.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it specifically state that'Allah' can be only used by Muslims. Taking this logic to its natural end, does this mean that Christians are free to use the word Allah?

Another example -- nowhere in the Constitution does its tenets make distinctions between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. Does it mean that Shi'a Muslims in Malaysia are free to participate openly in the political process without fear of recrimination?

The point I'm trying to make here is that laws are not applied simply on the basis of ommision alone.

In the case of the Sasterawan Negara, as Amir points out, it is theoretically possible for panel to select a Chinese or an Indian laureate. But all it takes is for a kangaroo court to treat such an appointment as a legal loophole and overturn it.

In the end, what will a Malaysian court consider more important? The absence of a clause in the Constitution stating that the laureate must be Malay? Or the presence of a clause that does state that the court must uphold the position of Malay privilege?

There is too much room for intepretation, and it's all too easy for a court to fall back on a conservative (but safe) position.

The Constitution, as it stands, is far from liberal, and its application is even less so.

John Ling said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amir Muhammad said...

"In practice, it's difficult for many voters to..."

"But all it takes is for a kangaroo court..."

"There is too much room for intepretation..."

And precedent & priorities change all the time. All it takes is for one example to change everything around.

For example, something exactly parallel with literary awards: Who would have thought that the multilingual & contemporary SEPET would have beaten the Malay period piece PUTERI GUNUNG LEDANG at the Malaysian Film Festival?

Of course the win was criticised. But it happened. Therefore, there is now a precedent. And it has changed things in many ways. If Yasmin had worried her pretty head about 'kangaroo courts' and such, she would not even have made the film.

John Ling said...

Absolutely, Amir.

Yasmin dared to venture into uncharted territory, and she had both the courage and the vision to shepherd a difficult project through.

However, I cannot say the same about my fellow Chinese. We are notoriously allergic to risk, and we would rather keep our heads low. Kangaroo courts loom unusually large in our psyche.

While it's easy to criticise the lack of a Chinese national laureate (and dare I say, blame the Malays for our every problem), it's another thing completely to dig up the courage to ruffle feathers and change paradigms.

Yasmin had that in spades, God bless her soul.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Dear John,

Since you've clearly stated that we are not in good terms, it makes things easier for me.

You say you're a journalist? Get your facts straight. The High Court actually approved the petition to use the name 'Allah' in Malay-translated bibles (Judge Lau Bee Lan), as it is a constitutional right -- however, the Ministry of Home Affairs petitioned the High Court to postpone this decision, for home security reasons.

You keep on conveniently forgetting that we are a multicultural nation, and we have to please everyone (which is not possible, logically thinking). A majority of the Muslims here were dead-set against it, until this issue became a potential national security threat.

Look at it this way: Islam in Malaysia is largely inherited; your parents are Muslims, so you automatically are one as well. It's come to a point where it's just a religion without faith. How would parents, who are not well-versed in the religion, explain to their children should they ask, "Pa, I see Allah's name in my friend's Bible. Are they the same person? Is Christianity the same as Islam? Can we go to mass and pray to Jesus?"

Which one is a more diplomatic way, to please a small group asking for something non-essential, or to calm a much larger crowd? Would it make a difference to the Christians in Malaysia if they use 'Allah' or simply 'Tuhan' in their Bible? Why not petition to use 'Yahweh', 'Elohim' or 'Eli'?

Were the Malays who fought against this issue close-minded? Perhaps. In Islam, Allah has 99 names -- use one of the names, you're still praying to the same God. But those who think far ahead would have been thinking about the example I gave. If all Muslims in Malaysia have a deep-rooted faith in Islam, this would have been a non-issue. But since it was, Home Ministry had to think about the greater good (avoiding a religious crusade).

I never knew there's an issue of Sunni and Shi'a Muslims in Malaysia. I'm letting people more versed with it to tackle this. But seriously, I never knew there's such an issue.

Nominating and voting for a National Laureate has nothing to do with the Malaysian court. It's already been made clear, so I don't know why you keep bringing this up.


Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

And there is no contraindication for a Chinese or an Indian (look at you, keep on talking bad about Malays and the unfairness of the system, you never once mentioned the Indians, only the Chinese) to be the Prime Minister. We are a democratic nation.

Should there be someone, regardless of race, who shows exemplary qualities and does wonders for the rakyat without first being the PM, someone who can match Mahathir (or outmatch him), I'm quite certain the rakyat will voice their choice. As it is, our politicians only really hear the rakyat when an election looms near. Have you heard/witnessed the General Assembly (Dewan Rakyat)? People spend more time arguing and not casting votes simply to ensure the opposing party doesn't get a 2/3 majority, and not because of the merit of the issue discussed. The local political scene is nothing more than a popularity contest. The last General Election was proof that the rakyat are no longer happy with BN government, and it's a wake-up call.

You keep on saying there cannot be a non-Malay PM. Do you have anyone in mind, who seriously, whole-heartedly wants to be the PM? Or do you simply want a Chinese to be the PM, so that the Malay Rights can be revoked, and the Chinese can be supreme (like in Singapore). If so, you're no different at all.

You keep on implying due to Malay rights, non-Malays are treated as second rate citizens, that you don't get great chances to go far locally.

Here's a list of Malaysia's richest people in 2009 (The Star, Feb 16 2010)
1.Tan Sri Robert Kuok
2. T. Ananda Krishnan
3. Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow
4. Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay
(and the rest of the top 10 are Chinese)

- This is without the advantage of 'Malay Rights'. You fail to see that the Malay Rights are not a means to suppress other races, but to ensure the Malays have a fighting chance. It's more of a crutch for Malays rather than a barrier for non-Malays. Even with the crutch, Malays still won't stand up straight. Would you rather be like the US and Australia, where the indigenous people are given reservations to play in?

You live in NZ. What about the Maori? They've been given special rights as well, but the Maori are still considered the minority.


John Ling said...

Fadz, why so hot under the collar?

If it was simply a matter of Constitutional right, then the Catholic Herald wouldn't have needed to go to court in the first place. International precedent has clearly stipulated that Middle Eastern Christians and Jews have been using the word 'Allah' as a generic term for 'God' for centuries before Muslims did. Whether this is the same 'Allah' or not is a matter of semantics.

Now, the Catholic Herald is a closed publication distributed only for members of the Church. It's not even distributed to Protestant Christians. This, along with the fact that the Malaysian Constitution clearly safeguards the right of non-Muslims to practice their faiths in their own communities, should make all this a no-brainer.

However, Malaysia being what it is, they had to go to court to argue in favour of something they didn't even need to argue for.

It wasn't be the first time a legal wrangle occured in Malaysia over race and religion (yes, even contrary to the written Constitution), and it certainly won't be the last.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

As for fiction, I write speculative ones (Fantasy and SciFi). As to why I submit to overseas market? Simple. There is no market for speculative fiction here in Malaysia. MPH clearly states that it doesn't publish genre fictions, especially Fantasy, SciFi and erotica (erotica I get. But there are a lot of spec fic readers in Malaysia). As for other publishers like Silverfish and Matahari? So far they've published mainstream and non-fiction, but I need to have a complete manuscript first in order to be rejected.

You talk about critical thinking. So please, think critically for a moment. There is no local market for speculative fiction. If you've done your homework, you would know. Even if there is one, and a publisher takes a risk of publishing 5000 books locally (I heard even that is a big number, and most get returned unsold), the returns for the author is not that great. Now, if you reach further, to the US or UK, where there is already a large, established readership, your first batch of printing is around 20k copies. Still, there is no guarantee it will sell, but with a larger pool, the chances are higher.

It's not that I don't want to publish locally at all. My first publication was in my school magazine, three years running. Then, in 2009, Kayu Api Productions and The Malaysian Poetic Chronicles published my stories, for free. In October, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore published my flash fiction, for free. Early this year, I sold a Malaysian-based horror story to Expanded Horizons for USD30. I've sold two spiritual-SciFi to Aether Age (print, ebook and audiobook) for an advance of USD50 plus printed book, and royalties. I have two SciFi stories under consideration at Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and Cosmos Magazine, both Australian.

You see the pattern here? I'm slowly aiming for higher-paying markets, and where they're based is no longer an issue in this digital world. I need the exposure (and there's nothing wrong with dreaming about an award or two along the way) to build up enough reputation and credential to publish an urban fantasy novel, set in contemporary Kuala Lumpur.

If there is a paying market for speculative fiction locally, hell yeah, I'll submit my stories in a heartbeat.

No one is blocking my path here in Malaysia, with one simple reason. There is no such path. But if there is one, it's one road I want to traverse over and over again.

So please, John, if you want to spout racial sentiments, be sure you have citable facts to back you up. Malaysia doesn't oppress any one race (not on the surface, at any rate). It's a tug war between different races, creed and culture, and right now, an equilibrium is reached. Exert more pressure in one direction, everything and everyone will topple.

Bear this in mind: isn't a leader supposed to be someone who has the quality to lead? What does the race have anything to do with it? You think and talk about racial sentiments; so do a lot of politicians here. It's people like you who are holding back Malaysia from moving forward. It shouldn't be about the ethnicity, but about the quality.

That's Utopia, not reality. But it's good to have a generation of idealists. You're just not one of them.

Journalists are supposed to be impartial. You're saying you're not pro-establishment. You're the opposite: anti-establishment. Isn't that the opposite side of the same coin?

John Ling said...

On the contrary, Fadz. I never said that I wanted a Chinese to be Prime Minister of Malaysia. Go back and read what I wrote. I was merely addressing Kee Thuan Chye's grievance about why there was no Malaysian Chinese National Laureate writing in Chinese.

Also, I don't understand why you bring up this rich list of Chinese and Indians billionaires. Do you mean to demonstrate that pro-Barisan tycoons control the Malaysian economy? If so, I trust that most Malaysians are already aware of the fact.

These tycoons don't need Malay privileges. Why would they? They belong to the exclusive UMNOputra club. That trumps being a Malay without political connections any time.

And, no, I don't see how bringing New Zealand into the argument helps. You must know that NZ is a corrupt and decadent Western nation that doesn't even have a written Constitution. We only give special help to disadvantaged minorities here instead of doing the moral thing and giving help to tycoons who already have billions in the pocket. Yes, NZ is quite unlike progressive and forward-looking Malaysia.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Why am I so hot under the collar? You don't even live in Malaysia anymore, an outsider jeering in, and you keep on spouting nonsense without factual backup.

If this is what journalists do, I don't know what to believe in anymore.

Two questions, though. You seem invested in this racial rights issue. Living in New Zealand, do you actively work for or against the special rights for the Maori, or it's a blind spot for you since you're not a Maori? If you have a New Zealander relative with Chinese ethnicity, who is keen to bid for a high political post but doesn't succeed, will you cry foul and shout racism over there?

I mean, you have your right to your own opinions. Malaysia has freedom of speech, after all -- even it it's somewhat limited. But for you to be this passionately against the Malays, you either:

a. have a truly bad experience when in Malaysia.

b. into conspiracy theories, which isn't surprising, since you write conspiracy theory fiction. We are what we write, after all. I'm not always attached to the real world, so for me, speculative fiction is a natural path.

c. you just like to argue for the sake of argument, which I also suspect.

You want total fairness? To achieve that, there should be only one race, with one religion, and one way of thought. Oh wait, I think Hitler tried that. Look where it got him.

What you fail to see is the wealth of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity in Malaysia living next door with one another (try driving by the cemeteries as you make your way toward UPM. Graveyards of different religions lie next to one another). What you fail to see is that this particular wealth is an endless pool of possibilities for fiction. People like my Malaysian-based stories because it's exotic and so different than their white-male-protagonist-dominated world of fiction.

Should you come back to Malaysia, no one will be stopping you to become the richest man here. You can use the money that you make to start scholarships for Chinese students, and help the Chinese community. No one will stop you. No policeman will arrest you.

Right now, all you have is air without substance.

Amir Muhammad said...

Just saw, for research purposes, BUJANG LAPOK again. The closing line "Jangan marah!" appears very apposite, and this was a film released just two months after the Malayan merdeka ;-)


Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

JL: "Even if you have a Chinese or Indian writer crafting influential works in Malay, you still wouldn't be able to bestow the title of Sasterawan Negara without breaking the law.

The Sasterawan Negara must be a Malay for the same reason that the Prime Minister must be a Malay."

Dude, please. At least have the decency to delete that comment and cover your tracks before saying, "On the contrary, Fadz. I never said that I wanted a Chinese to be Prime Minister of Malaysia. Go back and read what I wrote. I was merely addressing Kee Thuan Chye's grievance about why there was no Malaysian Chinese National Laureate writing in Chinese."

It doesn't take a genius to understand what you're implying. Either that, or you should have written better to make sure such conclusion cannot be made from the implied notion.

Aiyoh, pening already. And I'm supposed to be editing my story for publication.

Again, Sharon, sorry for taking up so much space!

Amir Muhammad said...

Has anyone here read "Anak Tanjung" by Noordin Hassan, or even "Interlok" by Abdullah Hussein?

Since this is a post ostensibly about the Sasterawan Negara title, perhaps some reference to their works would not be amiss.

Both works are quite eloquently about what John & Fadz are trying to say to each other. (They remind me of the Khairy - Tony Pua 'bromance' on Twitter!)

After all, this is a classy literary blog, not a place like Malaysia Today where most commenters come equipped only with 'issues'.


Chet said...

Amir - got online link to those stories, ah?

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Yup, would appreciate links, or even book reference to them stories. Please, don't say "The National Library" -- I have a natural aversion toward libraries. I just buy whatever I want to read.

Ugh, I blame "Supernatural" for the term "Bromance". But you're right, this space should not be about politics and racism. I'm not into politics, I'm not pro-political parties; as a matter of fact, I'm politically apathetic. To me, the current system works. I only need to concentrate on what's important: the lives of my family, myself, and my close friends. Oh yeah, of course, the lives of my patients when I saw open their skulls. Doh.

Wanna tackle a bigger issue? How come there isn't a paying market for English speculative fiction in Malaysia? I grew up reading those workbook-sized illustrated stories about Malay Peninsula mythology. "Batu Belah, Batu Bertangkup", "Badang", "Si Tanggang", "Dayang Bunting", "Mahsuri" -- they're all speculative fiction!

Chet said...

Fadz - where did you get those workbook-sized illustrated stories? Are they available for re-publication, maybe?

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

I have no idea, Chet. If I'm not mistaken, they were DBP-published. Yeah, I think they were. Mom used to buy these books during DBP book fairs at AU3, near our house. I also remember one small paperback, "Hikayat Sang Kanchil" -- white cover, quite small, with old, old spelling. There were words like "gegap gumpita" there, I kid you not. Wonder where those books are.

Mom used to give away old books to younger cousins and goodwill -- until I found out about it, that is. Made a big scene out of it (drama-worthy), so now my books will remain mine :-D.

John Ling said...

Yes, I have personally knocked on every publishing door in KL myself. I visited the people at MPH, Times Publishing, Pelanduk and Silverfish way in 2001/2002. So I do know the situation regarding genre fiction better than most.

However, I am not the one who brought America into the discussion and then, in the same breath, put the country down in a manner that did not advance the discussion. We were talking literature, not healthcare.

Also, a correction is in order. Journalism has nothing to do with impartiality. Anyone attending a Media 101 will tell you so. Journalism is meant to be 'objective', and as such, every journalist has an 'objective', be it centrist, conservative or liberal.

For instance, have you ever seen an 'impartial' news report on a rape crime that drops the word 'rape' in favour of another neutral word? Or perhaps one that allocates equal guilt to both the victim and the rapist?

You won't.

The press is the fourth estate and is always obligated to take a stand against an unjust establishment.

In the words of Murakami, 'Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg. Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide.'

John Ling said...

Yes, Fadz. A big part of my job does involve working towards the advancement of the Deaf community in NZ. They have their own language and their culture and their own belief syste, and they deserve every bit of help they can get.

Secondly, your outsider comment doesn't faze me. Comments about being a 'pendatang' and so on has followed me my entire life. So being called an outsider now is tame in comparison.

I now reside in NZ for the simple reason that in all my seven years here, I have never been called a 'pendatang' or an 'outsider'. I have never been told to go home. I have never been made to feel anything but welcome and accepted.

That said, I have done my fair share of hard miles in Malaysia, so I believe I am entitled to say a thing or two. So long as I have a Malaysian passport, I see no reason why I cannot comment. Unless, of course, Sharon tells me to bugger off.

You may want to characterise my points as being anti-Malay, but I have nothing against the Malays as a people. It is just the misguided application of public policy that I speak about.

John Ling said...

Anyway, Fadz, I think it's best we give Sharon's comment box a rest. Yes, we could go on and on about America's shortcomings, John Ling's shortcomings, New Zealand's shortcomings, et cetera.

But if I am an 'outsider', then I suppose that makes you a 'insider'.

So do yourself a favour and carry out some research on the plight of Shi'a Muslims in Malaysia. Better yet, seek one out. Oh, the stories of oppression he or she could tell you.

You have such acute problems in your own backyard. Resolve those first before getting all hot under the collar about matters involving non-Malays.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

You say all that, but I don't think you realize you keep on pointing out Malaysia's shortcomings and only that. Every time you post a comment, there's always something not right about this country.

It's kinda sad, to only concentrate on the bad, you no longer see all the good.

Maybe back in 2000, Malaydian publishers were not ready for conspiracy theory stories. Heck, thriller is considered a new genre in Malay novels. Previously it's either love story, or more love story.

Maybe, just maybe, back in 2000 you fiction was not of publishable quality. I cringe whenever I read my works from 1996-2004 (and I thought my writing was brilliant then).

Just because you couldn't get your fiction published in Malaysia, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with the country. That's a negative way to think.

It's much easier to condemn rather than to find a solution. I truly wonder what you say when people in New Zealand ask about Malaysia.

Malaysia has a lot of problems, true; its political scene is juvenile at best. There will always be racial, political, even cultural tension. People will always gripe when they don't get what they want. Children do it, adults do it.

You're a Malaysian author/journalist who made it outside; there are a lot of aspiring Malaysian authors who don't have the luxury of going overseas. You can gripe about what's wrong with Malaysia, or you can help other Malaysians using whatever means you can. You don't want to be treated like an outsider? Then be a part of the community. Do your bit.

John Ling said...

You are basically a decent person, Fadz. That's why you're a doctor, and that's why you work in the public healthcare system. You are a healer. You devote yourselves to helping others.

So you see the world and you see Malaysia in a very particular way. You find hard to believe that there are people out there who not only practice violence and intimidation, but devote their lives to it.

I'm not talking about Muslim radicals who blow themselves up in the name of jihad, or even Christian nuts who hide in the Oregon woods, stockpiling arms and planning to kill Barack Obama.

No, I'm talking about bullies much closer to home.

It's all well and fine to say, 'Malaysia is a tolerant, multi-cultural nation with many beautiful things to offer.'

It's another thing completely to come face-to-face with the ugly underbelly and its many dirty secrets. When one is on the receiving end of violence, it scars one for life and one never forgets.

Now, unlike their Australian cousins, New Zealanders are socialist liberals who are not in the habit of thinking ill of others. And I certainly don't go out of my way to air Malaysia's dirty laundry in front of them.

But it does confuse them when Shi'a Malays are forced to come to 'godless' New Zealand under refugee permits in order to practice their faith in peace.

'Isn't Malaysia a Muslim country?' they ask with big, innocent eyes. 'Why are these people being forced to leave?'

It's so very hard for Kiwis (God bless their decent but naive souls) to grasp why belonging to a different denomination should open one up to being hounded, being arrested, being tortured, being refused employment, being refused education, et cetera.

John Ling said...

I'm sorry if you feel that I am putting Malaysia down. That was never my intention.

But the nature of being journalist is like this -- there may be 100 teenagers who help old people cross the road, and only one who robs an old man. We pesky journalists tend to fixate on the one robbery and go, 'Oh, what is our society coming to?'

Our job is not to comment on what's right with society. Our job is to comment on what's wrong with society.

There are already enough Malaysians who say, 'Malaysia is better than Zimbabwe and Haiti. Be thankful.'

But I choose to wonder why seemingly well-educated and well-read Malaysians get so defensive and argumentative in the face of profound injustice. It always follows the same pattern. They either claim oppression does not exist in Malaysia or they claim they do not know. Either way, it always gets swept under the carpet. This is despite the Government's near-lack of censorship of the internet.

It's so bizarre, it's almost Kafkaesque. And though I may try, I meet the same resistance again and again. People live in perpetual denial and act accordingly. It's the same within Barisan, and it's the same within the Opposition.

No, there is much you do not know about me and my experiences, Fadz. I do not claim that NZ is a superior country to Malaysia. But I do respect the fact that they do not get argumentative and cover up grievances with a million and one whitewashed excuses.

They address them openly, no matter how heated or painful it gets.

Case in point, former Prime Minister Helen Clark's apology to the descendants of Chinese migrants:

No, I may not be New Zealand Chinese. I have no family here and no connections here. But I can tell you, my eyes were not dry during that broadcast.

Sorry is such an simple word. Yet it can have the most profound effect.

'I'm sorry that this country made you feel this way. I am sorry that this has happened to you. I am sorry that you were stripped of your dignity. I'm sorry that you succeeded in this country not because of the system, but in spite of it.'

Will anyone in Malaysia today go on television and radio and apologise for the exclusion of the Shi'a? For how they are forced to seek asylum in a Western country with an environment and values totally alien to their own?

Or perhaps apologising to NZ would be apt, seeing as how New Zealand taxpayers have to fork out millions for resettlement and skills training for these people.

But I tell you what. I would rather be called an outsider and remain on the side of the egg.

When it comes to oppressed minorities, most Malaysians just don't care that they exist.

The Chinese, for instance, are interested only in financial security and little else, oppressed people be damned.

Fadz, you are a good and decent person. Chances are, you've never had your worldview violently turned upside down.

But a Shi'a man we interviewed not long ago said it best, 'Don't ever go back to Malaysia. If they can treat their fellow Muslims like this, imagine what they can do to you non-Muslims.'

Make of that what you will, but for me, his words left me speechless. When the egg speaks, I listen and I digest.

John Ling said...

Now, I think we should really give this matter a rest. You have made your points -- all excellent points, to be sure -- and I have made mine. It's doubtful that we'll be able to convert each other even if we continue arguing. We have different life experiences and different backgrounds. That makes us what we are.

But as I said to an American friend frustrated about the ferocity of opposition to Obama's reforms:

"I don't think you guys have gone off the deep end. It's just that passions have been inflamed, and no one can come to a consensus on how best to steer the nation. Politics and tea parties aside, I do think Americans (be they Democrat, Republican or independent) do care a great deal about their country."

In the same way, I have no doubt that you love Malaysia. I cannot blame you for leaping to its defense every time someone criticises it. I was once in your shoes, and I know the sentiment.

For now, may we agree to disagree and call it a truce?

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Do you know how many death certificates I sign per month, how many people I have to inform that their loved one is dead or dying? Journalists may feel a rush covering the story of the juiciest, most gory accidents, and may give each other high fives when they manage to get the most gruesome picture to feature in the newspaper, but we're the ones who have to face the reality of that accident, and make sure family members face that reality as well. So life is too short to concentrate on the bad stuff. It's depressing, and unhealthy.

A country is a home; you can either inherit it, buy it, or rent it. You can complain to everyone what's wrong with your home and not do anything, or complain to everyone what's wrong, while doing something about it. You can ignore all the leaks and gathering dusts and leave your house in an abysmal condition, you can do the repairs yourself, you can hire outsiders to repair it. You can hire a maid to maintain it, you can maintain it yourself.

What a person does about his home is up to him. No matter how he does it, there will be people who take care of their homes differently who'll complain he's not doing it their way.

Love it, hate it, for a lot of us, it's the only home we have.

About the Shi'ite Muslims, are you sure they're Shi'ite or some subversive cult banned in this country? There's a list of over 50 such cults. As I said, I'm not aware of this, and preliminary search doesn't yield anything. You hear from their side of the story. What about from other perspectives?

But truce? Always. I never liked debates, anyway. Kinda scary.

John Ling said...

Fadz, many Sunnis do believe that the Shi'a denomination are a cult, especially since they represent a minority view within Islam. No one really knows how Shi'a reside within Malaysia, since accurate records are hard to come by. However, by our estimates, they number about 5000 or less.

I refrain from using Cold War-era language like 'subversive' because
religion is a very personal thing, and I believe the government has no business regulating it.

Nonetheless, I understand and accept that Islam makes no distinction between personal life and public life. Both impact the other and both reinforce the other. That is inescapable in a predominantly Muslim society.

But if indeed the Shi'a denomination (any branch of it) is so dangerous, then why does the Malaysian government persist in allowing adherents of Wahhabism to freely enter Malaysia, to do business, to own assets and so on? If, by subversive, you mean violent and extreme, then the Wahhabi sect would surely fit the bill.

I have indeed heard many points of view. One says that Shi'a deserve to be discriminated purely on the basis that they have committed murtad because of the line-of-succession issue. Another point-of-view suggests that, as a practical matter, Shi'a must be suppressed lest Sunni political dominance be threatened.

But I find all these explanations difficult to accept. In a progressive, liberal society, so long as you are not waging violence against another, you should be free to practice and maintain your religious identity as you see fit.

Justifying the detention of Shi'a under the ISA is both a misuse of power and overkill.

Contrast this with the meeting of Wahhabi extremists in KL in January 2000. Malaysian authorities could have easily arrested and detained them for practicing an illegal and violent form of Islam. But sadly, they did not. Of course, it is arguable whether detaining these Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah lieutenants could have disrupted the 9/11 attacks. We will never know.

That said, I am not a Muslim, and it is not in my place to tell you how to run your home and your laws.

The schism between Sunni and Shi'a has been ongoing since time immemorial, and it is something the ummah will have to sort out within itself.

The problem with religion is that one cannot argue against the divine. Every argument you make and every suggestion you offer is automatically shot down by those who believe they have God on their side.

That leaves little room in Malaysia for someone like me, I'm afraid.

Amir Muhammad said...

Being a Shi'a Muslim is not allowed in Malaysia.

The writer Faisal Tehrani has been demonised as being a Shi'a sympathiser, and has frequently needed to defend himself. A play he wrote was even banned from the DBP on those grounds. Check his blog for many articles relating to the subject.

bibliobibuli said...

good point, Amir. and it makes me feel very sad.

very eloquently debated, John and Fadz and i don't mind at all my comment box giving space to it.

John Ling said...

Thank you, Sharon.

Well, here is something interesting I have observed. During the invasion of Iraq, many Malaysians were delighted Al Jazeera's hard-hitting coverage of civilian deaths and collateral damage.

'Al Jazeera is our champion! They speak the truth!'

They were overjoyed to see Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney's hypocrisy get slammed over and over.

But more recently, when Al Jazeera began documenting Malaysian hyprocrisies, these same Malaysians begin to get defensive and argumentative.

'Al Jazeera is a Zionist entity! They must be!'

But Malaysians can't have it both ways. If you want to attack America's inadequacies, then be prepared to have your own country and your own system placed under the microsope.

Some Malaysians want to save 'face' and talk only about the good in country. But I think the time for saving face is long past. 2020 is only 10 years away, and even if Malaysia can't be a fully-developed nation by then, it can at least act like one when it comes to giving and receiving criticism.

Yvonne Foong said...

I am shocked to read Fadz comparing our government-subsidised medical treatments with the U.S. healthcare and it's crisis. That's like comparing apples and oranges. We may get subsidized and even free treatments, the short-term cost in terms of Ringgit may be low. The long-term cost is another story - both for the individual patient and the country at large. The U.S. healthcare crisis is tied to their economic crisis. But at least people there can still get health coverage once they get employed or claim disability benifits through medicaid and doctors in general accept patients under the medicaid program. In Malaysia though, it's either you have insurance or you don't. Once you have a complicated illness, the government does not have the facility or skilled doctors to help you. Then you are on your own. You are lucky if you don't also have a chronic illness or something acquired at the time of conception.

Our government-subdisized healthcare has been quite stagnant. There may have been small progresses, mostly superficial. The U.S. has started talking about removing acoustic neuroma without damaging the facial nerve ten or so years ago. Malaysia has just only started to learn that! I hope the national laurellette issue will not be so slow too!

In a way the Malaysian heathcare crisis is similar to that of the U.S. Both allienate those who need treatment most. Malaysian government healthcare is not meant to be universal healthcare, never was.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Yvonne, I gather you're talking from experience as a neurofibromatosis patient, and from close family/friends' experiences too.

It's true that our technology is not as advanced as Western countries. We have the expertise, mostly, but not the means to buy these expensive equipments.

I've assisted my surgeons in removing acoustic neuroma with various degrees of success, depending on how severe the tumor is.

Sure, when you go overseas, the success rate cited is high, the complications low. But do you know that in most Western/advanced countries, they carefully select their patients, and patients themselves are more aware and educated, and come for treatment early? In Malaysia, however bad the situation is, treatment is still given even if it's for temporary symptomatic relief for terminal cancer.

Oh. We have plenty of patients who lose their appointment cards. They don't get chased away; they simply give their IC numbers, and we trace their files. They have to pay RM1 for a replacement card, though.

In America, as well as in the UK, a foreigner cannot get treatment unless insured. Here, even though a foreigner has failed to pay a previous hospital bill, we still treat that patient if it's life-saving.

You're saying Ringgit value is low. You do realize that the materials we buy are from Western countries, and they're expensive? A simple ventriculo-peritoneal shunt for hydrocephalus treatment costs RM600-650, but we do not charge patients for it. A simple procedure that would cost patients RM15000 in a private center (excluding hospitalization--just the cost of surgery), is free-of-charge, or at most RM100 for local patients, regardless whether they have insurance or not.

When you say 'in Malaysia, it's either you have an insurance or you don't. Once you have a complicated illness, the government does not have the facility or skilled doctors to help you.'

- You meant in private centers, right? Because, from your blog, you talk about Assunta. They do cost a bomb; when patients can no longer afford the care, they get dumped into government specialist hospitals that could have treated the patient from the beginning.

I understand your frustrations. But know that I have spinal neurofibromatosis patients who cannot walk, and one who cannot breath on his own. The patients and their families still appreciate the care we give them.

People from as far as the Arab countries come to Malaysia for treatment. Indonesians who can afford treatment much prefer our government centers. We may not be the best, but we are still respected in this region.

You see, Yvonne, I'm not just talking nonsense for the sake of talking. I do not represent government health care providers, but I am a health care provider myself, and working in Neurosurgery has given me a clear picture on what we can and cannot do. We have our limitations, and most of our older hospitals are not comfortable, but we do provide the best care that we can.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Long term care? More specialists and sub-specialists are produced each year, but due to the abysmal paycheck (compared to other countries) a lot of good doctors leave government service. Fortunately (for me at least), we're getting decent pay hikes. But nurses have to get a pay rise too, because they work closely with patients, and they are at a higher risk of contracting communicable diseases.

It is good that you're promoting awareness on neurofibromatosis. I hope your voice will rally others to create a more complete and better care for other sufferers; there are indeed a lot of neurofibromatosis patients in Malaysia.

It is sad you no longer have faith in Malaysian government health care system. It would be good if you could get in touch with other patients under the care of government hospitals. Sure, the wait list can be horrendous. But bear in mind that on a regular clinic day, certain specialties see up to 200 patients as compared to the 15-20 patients in private specialist centers.

By the way, it's my American friends who are complaining about their new health bill (and the previous bills). I also have a cousin studying in the UK, and when he hurt himself falling, primary care centers refused to treat him because he wasn't insured.

So yes, it stings when you talk so harshly (and quite loudly too) about Malaysian health care service. Because people here and overseas will be convinced we are useless, and it overshadows all the good we have done and are doing.

John Ling said...

In the interests of avoiding another argument, let's just agree to disagree.

People who know Yvonne can read her blog and make up their own minds about what's right or wrong with Malaysian healthcare.

Thank you.

Sabrina Tan said...

We are a long way away from achieving true democracy when we can't even handle criticism from our own people.

When foreigners criticise us, we can easily dismiss them by saying: Ah these white people, they don't know what they are talking about. They don't live in Msia and they can sit on their high horses.

When our own Msians criticise Msia, we say: these traitors, they cannot see the good of Msia. All they do is criticise and they don't even do something about it.

If you can't even acknowledge our misgivings, how are we going to do something about it?

Let's just stop comparing ourselves with 3rd world countries. This whole "But Msia is much better than * insert third world country name * excuse is long gone.

Let's just be honest for once and start acknowledging our mistakes.
Then only can we start to move forward and do something about it.

John Ling said...

Not very long ago, the Ministry of Health contracted a certain trader to supply them with electron microscopes. This trader went the extra mile and imported the latest-generation product from Swiss distributor. He did so very quickly at a low price. Unfortunately, the procurement officer at the ministry not only wanted a bribe from the trader, but also suggested a scheme where they would mark up the price on the invoice substantially and then split the proceeds between them. 'Ini tradisi,' says the officer. It's tradition.

Now, this trader, being religious and patriotic, refuses to misuse taxpayers' money in this regard. The contract is immediately dropped, and the trader is left stuck with stock he cannot sell. Later, he learns that the ministry went with another trader who supplied them with older-generation electron microscopes for close to twice the price.

Multiply this many times over, and you can see how doctors and patients get the short end of the stick.

Unfortunately, because false consciousness is so rife, those shortchanged by the system will not only defend abuses, but actually condone it.

A lot of it has to do with an inferiority complex, otherwise known as Wawasan 2020, Malaysia Boleh and 1Malaysia.

Why else would any criticism of Malaysia (no matter how brief) spark off long-winded propaganda in response?

People who are secure in the knowledge of their country's superior standing in the world do not need to get defensive and argumentative. Unless, of course, they aren't quite so assured.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

I really don't understand 2 things:

1. Why is it cool to say "_______ country is far better than Malaysia in terms of literature awards/health care/ democracy/racial fairness/etc," but everyone hates it when people say "At least Malaysia is better than _____ country?" How do you sit on that high horse without being hypocrites? If you don't want people to compare Malaysia to other lesser countries, fine. Show the same hate toward people who compare Malaysia to better countries, instead of condoning it.

2. Why John is persistent in prodding and pointing out the country's flaws when he's clearly stated that he's going to let the matter rest, not once, but twice on this very thread, and once in my personal mail.

Look, it's plain and simple: EVEN PERFECTION HAS FLAWS. Repeat after me: even perfection has flaws.

Let's talk metaphorically for a bit. Let's take a perfectly cut diamond. It's freaky expensive, and rare. But there are small imperfections. The way I see it, people have a few reactions toward those imperfections:

a. They don't really care about that, and concentrate on the breathtaking beauty instead.

b. They get academic; they study those flaws so that mistakes won't be repeated on the next cut.

c. They forget about the dazzle and concentrate on the flaws. They scold the diamond cutter hard for making the mistake. Some even go as far as telling anyone who would listen that the seller is a cheat, and they should not buy any diamonds from that store.

d. They don't really care; they're not into diamonds anyway.

e. They don't really know what's going on, but since people are making noise, why not join in? (Typical Malaysian I have to say, though in the most fond manner).

People who look for imperfections will always find them, but at what cost? Ruining the seller's business? Smear the beauty of a brilliant work of art?


Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

About the bribery in purchase and tender, no one is blind. It is rife, it is unhealthy. But you're only showcasing one side of the story.

I know for a fact that a lot of officers (I'm talking hospital level here) are impeccable; if drug company reps want to present lunch talks, they present without providing the lunch, as it is also seen as a form of prize/bribery. There are also those who quote a higher price in the invoice because the annual funding the government has allocated is not enough to last the whole year, and these desperate measures have to be taken to ensure there are enough materials to treat as many patients as possible. Of course, there are also those who keep the money in their own pocket.

So is doing what John said wrong? Yes it is. But what if it's done to buy more items to make ends meet?

This is what I meant when I say some people are outsiders looking in. It's never about 'pendatang' or ethnicity and all that crap; it's about people not knowing the whole story, not living the story itself, who talks non-stop as if they were.

That's the problem I see with most journalists. They don't really care about the potential damage their articles can cause; it's about selling the story, sounding important, and so on. It doesn't matter who they trample, or that a story has multiple sides to it, so long as they get to make the cover page.

JL: "Why else would any criticism of Malaysia (no matter how brief) spark off long-winded propaganda in response?"

What ticked me off in the first place is this:

JL:"Even if you have a Chinese or Indian writer crafting influential works in Malay, you still wouldn't be able to bestow the title of Sasterawan Negara without breaking the law.

The Sasterawan Negara must be a Malay for the same reason that the Prime Minister must be a Malay."

How can you cite the law without even getting your facts straight?

Of course, you can always reply, "I wasn't talking about you. How come you're feeling the heat?"

My pre-emptive answer will be this:

"I don't care about politics, I don't care about what the law says. I don't even defend what's wrong with the country unless I know when people are huffing hot air without substance. Since whatever I say won't make a difference, and you'll always point out flaws and shortcomings, I'll let matters rest, and I'll refrain from commenting further. This discussion bears no fruit, so I don't see a point to it."

One more thing, this time in general: it's far easier to point out what's wrong, than actually playing an active role in rectifying it. Condemn all you want, so long you're taking part in making the world around you a better place.

No non-Malay National Laureate? If you want to earn that title, work for it. No non-Malay PM/highly influential politician? Take up politics, practice altruism. It's democracy, ain't it? If the rakyat loves you, they love you. Always thinking about how other countries are better than ours? Stop complaining when people say we are better than some other countries.

Grow up. Take responsibility in making your world better.

John Ling said...

Fadz, if a country is doing well, outsiders will recognise its success and praise it accordingly. But if it is not, no amount of self-praise will hide the fact. Since you appear to express such curiosity about New Zealand, I will share a few things with you. Transparency International ranks it as the cleanest country in the world in terms of government administration. Forbes Magazine ranks it as the 8th happiest country in the world. The Mercer quality-of-life survey ranks Auckland and Wellington as the 4th and 12th best cities to live in the world. And, to top it off, the BBC calls the country a 'lifestyle superpower' and wonders why the rest of the world can't be more like it:

And yet, if you talk to ordinary New Zealanders, you will never know of their achievements. They are fiercely critical of their country and never miss a chance to slam it.

'Auckland is the fourth best city to live in the world? Big deal. It's not number one.'

They believe everything could be cleaner, greener, more efficient. That's why the Government and the Opposition are forced to go on television every week to answer hostile questions from a probing public. Self-praise is not acceptable here because it only leads to self-delusion.

Secondly, you claim you are not interested in politics. Yet you spout politics constantly. Politics, in case you didn't know, is the process by which groups of people come together to make a decision. For example, when your family decides to head out to a certain restaurant for dinner, that's politics. Because all of you have made a collective decision. Likewise, by participating in a public discussion like this one, you are being political.

Which is why I decided to respond. If you are as non-political as you claim, then a short post from Yvonne would not have warranted two long-winded replies. If you are truly secure in your belief of your country's superior position in the world, why get so argumentative and defensive? You should be at peace and allow Malaysia's excellent healthcare to speak for itself.

Thirdly, I have done my fair share of hard miles in Malaysia. I have done my best to give talks, to run seminars, to raise awareness. Unfortunately, one has to concede that Malaysians are a stubborn bunch. They prefer to save 'face' and engage in self-praise, even while Rome is so obviously burning.

At present, 800,000 Malaysians (and counting) are abroad. They are some of the nation's best and brightest, and yet they have chosen to contribute to other countries:

All the excuses, propaganda and whitewashing will not draw them back. They have voted with their feet, and they have chosen to leave. Are they selfish? One could argue so. Are they traitors? Perhaps. But one cannot fault them for not wanting to gamble on their children's future. The desecration of the churches and the Sikh temple was the last straw for many non-Malays.

You speak of democracy? Well, in the words of Winston Churchill, 'Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.'

Democracy is really tyranny of the majority. Witness how Bush and Blair led their countries into two disastrous wars by popular consent. Democracy functions only if the people are self-critical enough to wield it. If democracy is used simply to downplay dissent and whitewash the concerns of people like Yvonne, then it's no better than fascism.

You don't think very much of journalists, do you? That's fine. You are free to stop making political comments. After all, in your own words, you don't care about politics.

John Ling said...

I am saddened to see how low Malaysia has sunk as a country. In the past, people may have committed corruption, but they did it quietly. Now they not only admit to doing it openly, but they actually justify the status quo.

Firstly, it is not up for you government servants to decide how best to 'adjust' invoices. By misdirecting taxpayer money, you are diverting funding away from other needy sectors that need it. This it is corruption.

Secondly, it is not up for you government servants to decide how to game the system to get what you want. For example, forming shell companies under your spouses' names and then using them to supply the very government departments you work for. This is corruption.

Thirdly, it is morally wrong for you to justify corruption by going under the cloak of righteousness. Corruption is the very reason Malaysia is in the state it is today. You should be fighting to bring it down, not helping to prop it up.

Fourthly, journalists in Malaysia have heaped more than enough praise on the country. Useless achievements are trumpeted: conquering Everest (with the help of New Zealanders), parachuting a Proton over the South Pole (again with the help of New Zealanders), launching a man into space (with the help of Russians), et cetera. They are one-sided stories that over-inflate the Malaysian ego. Why is it that you fail to fault them? Why do you condone only journalists that praise Malaysia's 'achievements'?

It's a slippery path Malaysia is on. Self-praise may hide moral bankruptcy in the short-term, but in the long-term, it will derail Malaysia's quality of life.

Yvonne Foong said...

Hello Fadz, wow you have said so many things here but I would just like to tell you one thing. John Ling is the editor of my book, “I’m not sick, just a bit unwell - Life with Neurofibromatosis”. Have you had the chance of reading how I got published? After Cordelia Lee, John was the second person who believed in me. He saw my passion and character in early 2005 long before anyone had heard of me. My first draft was so raw. Local publishers turned me away because Neurofibromatosis was thought to be a niche topic without the mass appeal. Publishers thought it was a losing investment. When everyone turned me down, John took it up. He stepped in to edit my entire manuscript while I was busy raising funds for the Auditory Brainstem Implant and Acoustic Neuroma removal in 2006. He went through it sentence by sentence, and then taught me the ropes of the publishing industry. Because John knew what is going on behind the Malaysian healthcare system. He wanted to help me rise above it. But he did not spell this out. He just did the necessary, guiding and showing me the way. Looking back now, I understood why John did what he did. And I am not the only writer he has guided and molded as a friend.

Because of John Ling, I am reaching out to so many Malaysians today. I can give talks to youths and students. I can be of assistance to other NF patients in Malaysia, Malaysians with debilitating conditions like me. While he burned the midnight oil to edit my book, John was already studying at the University of Otago in New Zealand. But he spared his valuable time to help me when he could have focused on his studies and his own pursuits. He could have spent those times with his girlfriend even. So John may not be in Malaysia but he certainly has contributed tremendously to the progress of Malaysia. Most people don’t know this because John doesn’t shout about what he has done for Malaysia.

Lastly, when you said about people jacking up prices on the invoice to the government because the government does not provide enough money for their ministry or department so their actions are justified, I feel that is the root of corruption. People feel that as long as their actions are justified, it is okay to do it at the expense of other people. The example John stated above tells us why medical equipments at public hospitals are outdated. My MRIs done at KLGH were so bad. Nurses had to insert a new needle into my arms for every tube of blood they drained that my arms were blue black. Private hospitals were already using a more advanced technique - with just one needle inserted in the arm, they could fill several tubes of blood by detaching a fully filled tube and then re-attaching a new one without reinserting the needle into my arm.

Your justification only workse if equipments at public hospitals are being timely replaced, if specialists get the current training and their skills are at par with the world standard. But this is not always the case. So where is the money going?

Dr. Takanori Fukushima used to visit Malaysia often for conferences with local Neurosurgeons. Dr. Fukushima is reknown for removing Acoustic Neuronal when it is still small to preserve hearing in the affected ear. But why out Neurosurgeons don’t seem to benefit much?

Yvonne Foong said...

One more thing. John Ling is not just a journalist. He is a close-captioning producer, working to provide for the deaf community through TVNZ, getting to meet and communicate with hearing-impaired individuals all the time. He's doing his bit for society. I don't undeerwtand why do you have to generalize journalists who you perceive as petty and hungry for juicy news without any concern for the patient. I meet many journalists and most of them are certainly not what you perceive to be. They even help me raise funds. They would say that they wish they can do more and I would tell them that you are already helping by writing my story. You are helping to tell my story so that many Malaysians will get to know my plight and this raises NF awareness.

We should be thankful for there are journalists who write news stories about the local medical profession and the cases involved. Without journalists, how will doctors know what the people want and need? Journalists may be hard-pressed for time, They need to rush back to write abd edit their pieces, they need to rush for the cut-off time, they need to submit their pieces to the editor in time for layout and printing for tomorrow's paper. But this does not mean they care any less for the patient than you do. I personally know a journalist and writer who is also a medical doctor in Malaysia. She writes under a Pseudonym and she has written about NF too. Journlists have to decide which news are important and which are not, and this decision is made with concern for public welfare.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Ha. Caught ya!

So. It's all right to generalize and stereotype the public health care provider, but it's not cool to generalize and stereotype journalists?

Come on, grow up. If you want to slam others, be prepared to get a slamming back or keep quiet.

If you tell me there aren't journalists who pursue people's most private lives up to the point where they cause harm, simply to get the juiciest scoop (and money), or those who pay bribes to out-scoop other journalists, or those who don't do their research well before publishing their articles, I'll stop right here.

You can't, can you? Just because there are some rotten apples, it doesn't make the tree cancerous and useless.

Same goes with the health care system. Yvonne, I'm quite disappointed in you. You've experienced both public and private hospitals. The 'advanced' methods you mentioned...have you actually studied the bills or you let your insurance company do that for you? Compare both bills and the charges. Of course private centers can offer the latest in the market. As a client, you're paying for the service. Compare paying at least RM1k for an MRI in a private center with paying RM5 at public hospitals.

I'm not saying it's an excuse for public sectors to use outdated systems. In fact, GHKL, as old as it looks, has the latest machinery we can afford to buy. But we're depending on government funds, which is the same every year -- if not less, depending on the budget -- and the cost of materials keep on increasing. It's simple math and logic. That's the problem with people in general, that I wanted to highlight from the start. People always complain and whine, but not many actually acknowledge the bigger picture. It's all about 'my comfort', 'my well-being', 'my benefits', but how many people actually give back?

Do you even realize that once a client can no longer afford treatment, he gets booted out to a public hospital?

You say, "Dr. Takanori Fukushima used to visit Malaysia often for conferences with local Neurosurgeons. Dr. Fukushima is reknown for removing Acoustic Neuronal when it is still small to preserve hearing in the affected ear. But why out Neurosurgeons don’t seem to benefit much?"

Do you actually know that most Malaysians keep their illnesses and only seek help when it's too late, too big, too aggressive, too painful, and too much to handle? Public awareness is so much better in advanced countries; early detection and early treatment is possible.

You also say we should be thankful toward the better journalists. Excellent points. What about good doctors, nurses and other public health care providers who stay on despite the abysmal pay and poor treatment?

If public hospitals are so bad, how come we are overflowing with patients, and they still come back for treatment?

If we are so bad, how come we won a Gold Trusted Brand Award for Reader's Digest 2008 Best Hospital branding?

I don't deny that even I wish for better materials and items to use all the time, but it's not possible, unless you're suggesting that the public starts paying extra for treatment.


Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

I don't spout political agendas, John. I just happen to know the Constitution articles/laws you wrongly cited. I don't like it when people talk passionately and hotly without getting their facts straight.

Do I think Malaysia is the best country? Obviously not. I keep on complaining a doctor's pay in this country is one of the worst (but it's improving). I can easily go out to private centers and make at least RM15k a month (compared to the RM4k a month I'm making right now), but there's something fulfilling about helping people in need. That's why I took the pension scheme instead of EPF. A lot of my friends, regardless the race, feel the same way.

I do believe that our political scene is infantile at best (and I've commented on it more than a few times). There are some things, such as getting all huffed up about using 'Allah' in the Bible, or throwing a cow's head into a Hindu temple, or playing the stereo at full blast in front of a mosque while people are praying, or even some of the protests and movements -- well, not only they're plain stupid, they're dangerous as well.

But as I said, this is home for a lot of us. You don't like it when people complain about your house. Sometimes you see their point, sometimes you don't get it because you love the way things are. Sometimes you even hate the house you're in. Some things you can change, like the fungus caking in the toilet, or the mosquito larvae swimming in your vase, and some things you cant, like the size of your house or the existence of awkwardly placed support beams.

But whatever it is, it's still home, where you go to after a tiring day, where you seek comfort in, where you can be yourself.

I know people complain about their houses, but only to most trusted friends and family. People don't just go to random strangers and outsiders and complain about their home, far from it. They concentrate on what's good, and inflate that.

I really hope I'm not being too abstract to get my point across.

Come on. It's home. Current home, previous home, it's still home. If you want to complain about an ugly, awkwardly placed wall, be prepared to hold a sledgehammer and tear it down. If not, you have to learn to live with it, and make the best out of it. Complaining without doing anything doesn't help anyone, but just irks you. And that's never good.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

You really think I don't know how Malaysian publishing world works? I had my stories rejected when I submitted for Silverfish New Writing 2 and 3. I was quite devastated and went into a self-imposed block.

But eventually I realize that I wasn't ready to be published at 18. Now when I get rejections, it's almost always "We love your writing, your rich characterizations and believable dialogues. But the plot doesn't work for us (or) it's not what we're looking for at the moment (or) it's a bit predictable."

So am I giving up on Malaysian publication houses? Once I finish a few more mainstream stories, I'm going to approach local publication houses. If I get rejected, I'll try to sell the stories individually to online publishers (countries don't really matter once you're online). Is there any use complaining about local publication scenes?

You said no publishers were willing to take a risk on your book. Then you said John went through word by word editing your work. I don't know if it needed a lot of editing and corrections, so I'm not assuming anything. But maybe, just maybe, before John took up the project, the manuscript was far from ready to be published?

Anyway, I'm quite tired dealing with hypocrites. You can talk bad about Malaysia, but it's wrong to talk about the good. You can generalize and stereotype one service provider, but not the other. You can say other countries are better than our own, but saying our country is better than others is a sin.

I am open for discussions and debates, but please be mature about them. The way you guys are going, you're no better than most of our local politicians.

Sabrina Tan said...

I think there is a distinction between acknowledging our mistakes, genuinely make improvements on it and criticising for the sake of criticising.

Well for obvious reasons, Malaysia isn't as bad as places like Zimbabwe, but we also have to be honest about the failings of Malaysia.
Yes Malaysia is home to many people and it's the only home you have. But don't you want to see good coming out of Malaysia, for our children and our grandchildren to come?

Most people are not criticising Malaysia for the sake of criticising. Most people see that there are certain misgivings about the country that genuinely needs improvement. Our own Malaysians have said it, some of the whites and political analysts have said it too.
But each time when someone says something bad about Malaysia, our own Malaysians refuse to listen and just label them as: ungrateful stereotypes.

What people are saying is just this: we can't keep making excuses for Malaysia anymore if you genuinely want change.
Keep comparing with other 3rd world countries is just excuses. If you want to be better you have to compare yourself with 1st world countries.

Most people aren't generalising our public servants/ doctors are all bad. I have friends who are working in the public health system and they do their best. But they also tell me of their struggles, from internal politics, to manpower shortage, to mismanagement etc. So we just have to be honest about it.
Of course, we do not expect public health care systems to be as great as the private ones. But we do expect a certain level of good quality care. I'm sure most British residents ( Sharon might correct me on this) are quite proud of their NHS system.
That is a public funded care, but it's a standard of care that most British residents are confident in using.

So you see, we are just sad that Malaysia isn't getting anywhere better, if not worse. Most people I know genuinely want change in the country. But when we point out failings of the country, people are quick to label us as traitors, yet on the other breath they are out there crying for democracy.

John Ling said...

Recently, a New Zealand doctor did an attachment with KLGH. A born-and-bred Kiwi, she was keen to get in touch with her Malaysian roots. Unfortunately, nothing prepared her for the abysmal hygiene standards and lack of proper management she encountered.

For example, she was forced to draw patients' blood on her own and had to make time to rush samples down to the lab. She considered this unacceptable. In New Zealand, no matter how crowded the public hospitals get, there always have nurses on hand to draw blood and process samples. This frees up the doctor to focus exclusively on treating patients.

When she got back to NZ and related her experiences, she was shocked when I told her that KLGH was once world class; the jewel of the Commonwealth. To which she replied, 'How could they allow standards to sink so low?'

The answer is, of course, corruption. Over the past nine years, Malaysia's CPI rating has fallen steeply from 36 to 56. That's a whooping 20 places. Corruption is getting worse. Recognition, not denial and whitewashing, is the only way to combat and reverse this trend.

Why do people continue to use Malaysian public hospitals? For the very reason that people use a Proton car. They are shortchanged, but they have no choice. Would Proton patronage exist if not for the rent-seeking behaviour that distorts the entire automobile market? More to the point, would people continue to use KLGH if a free, world-class hospital exists as an alternative to it? It's important not to confuse lack of choice for quality.

Also, Reader's Digest is a lightweight, conservative publication. It is published in regional editions with content selectively adjusted not to offend or challenge local sensibilities. By Reader's Digest's very own admission, the surveys it conducts are neither scientific nor thorough. The Trusted Brand Award is no more indicative of public appraisal than the Academy Awards. The results are already preordained and pre-vetted. Self-praise is no praise.

Finally, have you been involved in the funding, editing, printing and distribution of a book? If not, you really have no idea of how publishing actually functions in Malaysia.

If being rejected by Silverfish and falling into depression is the extent of your experience, then you should count yourself lucky. Raman Krishnan is the most passionate publisher of English literature in Malaysia, bar none.

In most cases, being published in Malaysia is not a matter of quality. It's matter of what sells. Yvonne's manuscript was turned down again and again because no one believed there would be any market for her work. So we all dug deep to help her self-publish. When it snowballed into a success and highlighted her cause, MPH Publishing took on her book and published for real.

I don't expect someone like you to understand the sweat and tears that went into this project. However, you should at least understand that Yvonne didn't have the luxury (unlike you) of waiting for a handout from a publisher. She had to take action, and I'm very glad she did. Otherwise, God forbid, she'd still be suffering abysmally in KLGH today.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Dear John,

I don't mean to sound cruel, but you're using a personal anecdote that a doctor drawing blood from a patient is a bad thing, and blame it on corruption?

I'm sorry, but I think you've just lost all credibility I may have had of you. You have to know that drawing blood is a highly specialized and potentially medico-legal act, even though it may seem trivial. Nurses and doctors and a few lab technicians are licensed to do it. And drawing blood isn't just learned from books. As students, we practiced on each other before we were allowed to do it on patients. Granted, some aren't so good at doing it, but a lot of patients have hard-to-find veins, hence the multiple tries and the need of doctors who learn human anatomy in great detail to do it.

House officers are required to do it as a learning process. Nurses draw blood, but doctors are required to do it for potentially medico-legal investigations. It's called credentialing (I hope you've heard of that word).

Have you actually done a proper research on that before saying it's a show of poor health care quality?

If you had mentioned the crowded beds in hospitals, I would have agreed with you. In some wards, patients are overflowing, making the wards look like infirmaries in the middle of war zones. Not only is it uncomfortable, cross contamination rates are also higher. And this is definitely not a good thing.

However, unlike full- and semi-private centers, public hospitals here cannot reject patients. We have to accommodate anyone who comes. Should there be more centers to cater for the increase in patients? Hell, yes. We have a number of specialist centers, like H. Sungai Buloh as a national trauma and infectious disease center, H. Ampang as a Hematology center, HKL as Neurosurgery and Vascular center, and so on. This is to distribute patient loads.

The equipments are there, so are the facilities. But we still lack specialized manpower to fully utilize these facilities.

Why is that so? A lot of professionals leave after a few years, and new specialists have to be trained each year to accommodate the loss. Even then, a Master's Degree cannot compete with a wealth of experience. Why do specialists leave? We all know the story. Poor pay, enormous workload with little or no acknowledgment, ungrateful patients who beg us to treat them, but when they are well, they make ridiculous demands, and so on. A lot of doctors leave the country, and I don't really blame them.

But the government is making changes to rectify this. Doctors get automatic rise in pay scales with years of service. It won't match countries like Singapore, Australia or the US, but a pay rise is a pay rise. That doesn't make me pro-establishment; it just makes me a happy doctor.

Nurses are slowly getting the same acknowledgment, and it'll spread to other professional posts, in time.

I do believe, however, you'll manage to find some corruption agenda behind this. Feel free to do so.

You blame corruption on everything Malaysia, as if you're clean from it. But using a personal anecdote of one person (or two) to slam the public health care system, citing laws that don't exist, those are all misinformation and that is a form of corruption as well, because you're spreading lies.

You label people as pro-establishment, but when an issue is done debated, you come up with another issue, and another. And another. I think it is you who have an issue here, spreading your agendas.

And for that, I think I no longer have to argue with you, as you do not have any credibility left.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Pavlova, I do agree with you that hiding our shortcomings is never helpful; in fact, it does more harm than good.

However, I have to disagree with you on the point where you say most people criticize Malaysia for the sake of criticizing. In the rants and condemnations you come across, how many people actually offer a workable and sustainable solution? It's always, "This is bad" and "That is bad," but seldom "This is bad, but here's what I think can help rectify it."

Fact: I've been publicly called a Malay traitor. The whole of my university batch can attest to that.

Fact: Since school, a lot of traditionalist Malays tolerate me mainly because I have a healthy relationship with non-Malays (which I think is a stupid issue anyway).

Fact: whenever my friends tell me to pursue something I'm good at to raise the Malay name, I roll my eyes and tell them to shut it.

Fact: My sister and I both commented on the idiocy and ignorance of the people who threw the cow head into a Hindu temple, and the both of us got an impassioned chain of comments basically saying we're Malay traitors. Again.

I think I made it clear that it's never my intention to hide our flaws and preen what we have better than others. I acknowledge the bad; I just want to concentrate on the good. Because it takes a whole lot more energy to be angry, and it's much healthier to be happy with what you have, and slowly make a change around you, no matter how small the scale is.

If that makes me a pro-establishment zombie, or a patriotic zealot, so help me, you guys have a lot of issues to settle before labeling others.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

This one I really have to ask:

After over 60 response threads, will this post make an impact to change the way the country is run, the inclusion of non-Malays as National Laureates, the inclusion of speculative fiction in major Malaysian-English production houses, the betterment of public health care system, and all the other issues touched?

Most likely not.

Will this reflect badly on us as people living and making ends meet in Malaysia? It shows a high probability, as Sharon has international readership who aren't immersed in our issues, and make their initial impression on our country based on our quarrels.

Will this, in effect, hurt us? Maybe, if foreign investors (of literature and business) read all this negativity and invest in other places instead.

So without foreign investors, the country will not make enough to notch up the quality of life like everyone wants.

This may seem mere speculations, but I'm sure people see the truth in what I'm saying.

So do I condone hiding our shortcomings? Hell, no. Do it in a healthy way, in the right channels, where people in power can listen, and take note of the solutions you may have to offer.

But we see a lot of condemnation being made behind relative safety of anonymity, or the relative safety of not being in the country to take any responsibility.

So that's why I don't see the point in political rants and agendas here. It's the wrong channel, and it's potentially harmful.

What if Tor Books, Knopf, and other big publication houses (including speculative ones) are looking for SEA offices, and are deterred by our heated political agendas and shortcomings, and invest in neighboring countries instead?

I know it's a long shot -- a remote one, at that -- but I think you get my point.

So use proper channels. Be honest and upfront, and offer solutions. That is a healthy way to go about life.

Yvonne Foong said...

I won't reply to this anymore. Have to work on an NF2 brochure for the Malaysian Rare Disorders Society, study the Registrar of Societies procedures and work on my course for a Psychology degree. I will concentrate on helping Malaysians who readily admit the failings of our country's public healthcare system and want to rise above it. If the Malaysian government does not want to invest on health awareness programs then I will do it.

People only go to public hospitals when their illness have turned critical or entered advanced stages because they do not trust the quality of care there and would rather bear with their problems as much as possible, Fadz.

John Ling said...

On the contrary, you can be prickly as you wish to be. And in return, I will point out that Malaysia lacks the necessary manpower, facilities and equipment because of corruption. For a country that trumpets itself as having one of the best healthcare spending in the world, where exactly is the money going?

Secondly, 2020 is only nine-and-a-half years away. By announcing so gallantly that you intend to be a world-class fully-developed nation by then, you open yourself up to scrutiny. Now, how exactly is this transition from Third World to First World going to occur when you don't even have enough qualified nurses to draw blood? It's interesting when a place like Selangor unilaterally declares itself to be a 'fully-developed state' on par with Finland, but who are you kidding, honestly?

When it comes to foreign direct investment in Malaysia, you don't seem to understand it very well. Multinationals are driven to invest solely to provide value to their shareholders. This involves minimising costs and maximising profits. Morality or even personal bias plays little to no part in their deliberations. Witness how a company like Dell (with its prominent Jewish shareholders) set up shop in Malaysia despite the blatant anti-Semitism of the Mahathir era. So long as nothing disrupts their profit-making, they care not what transpires in Malaysia.

So it is erroneous to say that my political views (or even yours) will repel or attract big publishers into coming to Malaysia. They will not come for the simple reason that Malaysians don't spend hugely on buying books. As it is, local publishers are struggling to make ends meet. Let's call a spade a spade -- in the business of profiteering, every shortcoming can be forgiven except for the lack of a profit.

To give you an example, do you honestly think James Cameron came to New Zealand to do Avatar because he was so impressed with the country's natural beauty? Because it was so free of corruption? Because it was so friendly? Hogwash. He came because Weta Digital had both the world-class talent and technology to bring his vision to life. Cameron is a perfectionist, and if NZ failed to fulfill what he had in mind, he would have had no qualms looking elsewhere.

So, again, let's call a spade a spade. Claiming that dissenting political views will chase away foreign investors is simply BN rhetoric. It serves to keep the status quo in place and the people passive.

John Ling said...

Unfortunately, Rome is burning. Rome is burning and still the people continue to cheer.

Here's why: Malaysia's public debt currently stands at 48%. Effectively half of every ringgit spent today is borrowed. So who pays for this borrowing? The future does.

One can survive by charging to a credit card, but not indefinitely. In the years to come, Malaysia will find it harder and harder to service its debt.

Firstly, the baby boomers (the most productive citizens of this or any era) are rapidly approaching retirement age. Secondly, Malaysia is losing many of its young professionals abroad. Thirdly, Malaysia has failed to replenish the loss of both baby boomers and professionals with skilled, world-class immigrants. Fourthly, in the lower-end sectors, Malaysia has been outpaced by the likes of Vietnam and China. And in the higher-end sectors, Malaysia has been outpaced by Singapore and Hong Kong. This leaves a ridiculously thin slice in the middle for Malaysia.

I am terrified for the future of the country, even more so when I hear government employees brush away any concerns. 'Think positive. Malaysia is beautiful. It will all be all right.'

Well, they can afford to say that, can't they? Per head of population, Malaysia has one of the highest percentages of public servants in the world. They have benefited hugely from rent-seeking behaviour, and they are one of the primary reasons Malaysia's public debt has ballooned without accountability or regulation.

Here in New Zealand, we are very concerned that our public debt has gone beyond 20%, and we are fighting hard to get it down as quickly as possible. But in Bolehland, you seem to be eternally positive and blissful. You are adjusting invoices like there's no tomorrow, and you are heading towards 50% public debt with glee.

How can anyone even justify such wastage? Does it take a complete and utter collapse of your entire way of life before you people will wake up?

Anonymous said...


Let me ask you a question, if we continued cheering until we pass on, would we have lived better lives than if we acknowledged the mess, and spent our lives cleaning it up?

Also, why do you seem to spend so much time trying to justify your decision to remain in New Zealand? you sound like you're trying to convince yourself of something.

"The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead." - JM Keynes

John Ling said...

We cannot simply be content with living for the day. Fiscal irresponsibility will have consequences for future generations, some yet unborn. It is akin to charging continuously to your credit card during your lifetime. Then when you pass away, you leave all that debt behind for your children to pay. Most seem to be oblivious to the fact this lifestyle cannot be sustained. Malaysians today are living large at the expense of their children's future well-being. It is, for lack of a better word, immoral.

Secondly, Fadz originally brought New Zealand into the picture by questioning the country's record on indigenous rights. He did so, I believe, in an attempt to excuse Malaysia's own damning human rights record. I did not mention New Zealand beforehand, nor did I see any reason to. But if a cog in the UMNO propaganda machine wants to go into making comparisons, then let's have an honest go at it.

Lest we forget, Malaysians themselves set the target of achieving developed-nation status by 2020. With that in mind, why has Vision 2020 been dropped from the headlines and replaced with 1Malaysia? Why the reluctance to compare Malaysia with OECD countries? Why the allergic reaction when it comes to discussing Malaysia's shortcomings?

The prevalent attitude today seems to be, 'Let's not ask the hard questions. Let's not rock the boat. I'm pretty sure tomorrow will take care of itself.'

Well, perhaps Malaysia is a blessed and charmed country. Perhaps it matters not how much money is wasted or mismanaged. God smiles upon us, and we will be all right. Unfortunately, another country with a 50% public debt thought the exact same thing. They thought they were invincible. And when things spiraled into oblivion so swiftly, they had no choice but to elect a radically different head-of-state for the first time in its chequered history.

So, human nature being what it is, people just won't wake up until their their rice bowls run dry. Wastage, corruption and injustice may run amok, but so long as it doesn't impact them directly, they are content to clap and cheer. But seeing as how Malaysians portray themselves as being morally superior to the decadent West and the forked-tongued Zionists, I would have thought that the definition of a 'better life' would have encompassed honesty and self-improvement. But if that is not the case, then I stand corrected.

Yvonne Foong said...


You brought up an interesting observation. I'm constantly faced with this very dilemma. You see, my campaign Heart4Hope has gained a lot of support and publicity over the last five years. Most people have been supporting me from day one. And they are ready to support anytime I need surgery at HEI again. My surgeons at HEI are the best NF specialists that I can get I've had seven surgeries there and I always came back as good as new. So I don't need to worry much.

But the more publicity that I gain, the more Malaysians with NF that I come across. They went to the extend of calling up the newspapers and magazines that featured me to ask for my phone number. The Malaysian doctors that I sought a second opinion from would also tell me about their past NF patients who were either paralyzed or died from surgery. I personally know some of them so I understand their desperations.

Indeed I would have an easier life if I just mind my own business and don't concern about the future of other NF patients in Malaysia.

But I cannot do that. It's in my conscience to try and help other people. Because of my conscience, I often wake up feeling troubled. I have much more to be done.

John Ling may be based in New Zealand and highlighting important issues of Malaysia. But his parents, family members and friends are still here. His roots are here. It's in his conscience to want change in this country and a better future for us.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Seriously? You're still at it, bringing up issue after issue? Look, before things went out of control, Sharon, Amir and I chided John for crying foul using a law/Constitution that doesn't exist. Sure, I'm guilty for going off topic a little by talking about our public health care system. But I'm working in the system, so that's the example I can give.

I think it's clear to everyone here that John has issues. When everything has quieted down, he brings up new argument to condemn this country. There's a big difference between admitting and laying out what is wrong, and condemnation. And there is no other word to use for what John is doing.

John, yes, it's obvious that you're anti-establishment. I no longer care whether your horror story of being tossed into a cell without provocation is true or not. But just because I say you're citing the law wrongly, and I defend what's good in this country, it doesn't make me a cog in the UMNO wheel. I'm politically apathetic. I'm not even registered to vote, because I really can't be bothered. Not one political party in Malaysia is proven examplary. I defend what is good because this is my home, and despite the ugly bits and the flaws, I still love my home.

I talked about NZ Maori because John almost always will bring up the Malay rights, and how it is oppressing other races, which is also untrue.

Get this clear, John. Yvonne, I think you'll benefit from this as well. John talks using other people's anecdotes and his so-called research. I'm actually living the system. As of Tuesday 18th, I've been doing alternate 24-hour calls operating on patients, on top of a regular office-hour schedule (making it about 30-36 hours every day). So it's Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, today, Sunday, and probably next Tuesday as well. I'm tired as hell, I don't get enough sleep, I'm no longer cheerful and joke around with my nurses, and I keep all my energy and concentration exclusively for surgeries. We are severely lacking in manpower, but as it is a service center, we go on. In private centers, the specialist can pick and choose his patients, and can reschedule appointments to fit his holiday schedule. We don't have that luxury.

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Yvonne, my issue with John isn't about his incessant rant in condemning Malaysia (well, it does irk me). He hammers from one issue to another, so passionately, but at the wrong channel. Why not go to Malaysia Kini or some other political blog, or even the newspapers? Why go on non-stop, with wrong information and anecdotes held as the universal truth, here? He also calls anyone who doesn't agree with him pro-establishment zombies or cogs in the UMNO/BN wheel.

There's nothing wrong about being passionate. Just channel it right.

What you're doing is to be applauded. You're raising awareness, and you're bringing to light a condition that people need not suffer in silence. You're using the right channels to do this, and as a Medical practitioner, I pray that there will be more people like you, for other diseases. Malaysians have to start seeking treatment early.

But I also think you're a little harsh on public health care systems. While it's good to have the public push the government to provide a better service, giving up on us altogether and telling everyone who's willing to listen to do the same isn't at all helpful.

I understand why you're defending John. I'll not attack you for it.

As a final note, John, again, there's nothing wrong with being passionate. Just do it right and use proper channels. Because here you only make yourself appear a BN-hating, politically inflamed fanatic. Your rants are just that: rants. No one in position to make a change is listening in, and you leave no impact other than making international readers think our country is the slums of civilization.

Here's a question. A person who's a smoker, a womanizer, a slob, and a bigot goes for a job interview at a major law firm. If he wants a fighting chance to get that job, should he clean up and dress his best, or should he appear as he is naturally, in sauce-smeared T-shirt and sweatpants, with three phones always ringing, his girlfriends calling?

Is it an evil act, hiding your true self in order to impress a possible employer?

Sharon's blog is one of the gateways for literary tourists into Malaysia. We don't have a lot of these so far, and what she's doing should be applauded. She has international readership, and while issues like the race of laureates and the banning of perfectly good books may raise international eyebrows, but they are relevant to her blog, and they raise awareness.

What you're doing is scaring people away. Yvonne claims you have deep roots here, and you want to change Malaysia for the better. Good. Do so without being a hater, and with your anger toned down and channeled for good.

I'm not pro-establishement, nor am I anti-establishment. I'm just thankful when no one dies on my watch. I'm also the kind of guy who drives slower just to admire the beauty of sunset reflected off KL skyscrapers and painting the clouds a brilliant crimson, and when I see a rainbow peeking above buildings.

Is it wrong for me to concentrate on the little beautiful things in life?

I can't make people drive more carefully to avoid accidents. But I'm here to fix them when they're fixable, and I'm also here to advice them to drive safely, or to fasten their helmets, to avoid future accidents. I can't change Malaysia, but I can touch one life at a time. So should I go to the press, or to the government people in power and rant about people getting into accidents making me lose sleep at 3am to treat them? It's a useless path, I say.

So, John, when you rant here, do you think it'll make a difference for Malaysia and Malaysians? Do you think it'll bring us to a better level?

Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

Yvonne, I'm sorry if my words sting. You're talking about cutting-edge treatment? How much does a surgery cost for you? Between RM30,000 and RM60,000? Maybe not everybody here is aware of this: Neurofibromatosis is hereditary, it's in the genes. It's a recurring disease, which means even with surgery, the offending nodules may reappear, or appear elsewhere. So. Say, RM50,000 per surgery, and you said you've had lots.

An average Malaysian family earns around RM44,000 per year (RM3,617 per month in 2007*). One surgery costs more than a year's income, and in three to four years, the tumor may come back and you'll need another surgery. Insurance companies do not cover hereditary diseases. So you're getting the best treatment on the goodwill of others. Without it, I doubt your family will be able to afford it, since there are other family members to consider.

You want the same best treatment in public hospitals. Say on average, an NF patient needs 10 surgeries. That would be RM500,000 for 1 patient. You've done your research. There are over 1,000 patients here with NF. So that's RM500,000,000 on 1000 NF patients alone. What about patients with congenital heart diseases, or benign brain tumors, or other diseases? The government is subsidizing the brunt of the cost, and citizens pay up to RM500 per treatment (can be paid in installments, or request for social welfare support).

We may not be able to do minimally invasive acoustic neuroma surgeries, but we still do offer surgeries to the best of our capability. I've operated on cutaneous (skin) NF nodules, with minimal scarring, when I was in Plastic Surgery. I've assisted in excising brain and spinal NF here. A lot of patients recover, even if not 100%.

I know you're talking from personal experience, so your aversion toward public hospitals is personally biased. I don't blame you for that. However, since you've put yourself in the public's eyes, your life is not longer personal. Even your personal blog isn't personal. You're an NF ambassador in Malaysia. When you say, "Don't go to Malaysian public hospitals for treatment, they're bad!" even as an offhand remark, NF sufferers will take this to heart, and would rather suffer than go to public hospitals. They can't afford private care, and they don't have the backup of other people to help them.

Do you want people to suffer just because they can't afford private care and are afraid of public hospitals? You have to consider all these, because your life is now public, and your words carry weight.

So, if Malaysia is so corrupt like what John says, that other races are oppressed, would the public be able to afford supporting your surgeries?

I am, in this sense, quite disappointed in you.


Fadzlishah Johanabas said...

John, Yvonne said you have family here in Malaysia. Is it so bad when I say at least you don't have to worry about your family living in constant danger of political/racial/religious riots that we see in our neighboring countries? Is it wrong to say that here, if your family falls sick, they have plenty of options to seek treatment? Is it wrong to say that even though our currency is low, you can still buy a full meal with less than RM10?

You don't really think about all that, do you? Are you thankful for each breath you take? You don't think about that, because you have it so securely you take it for granted.

I'm not saying that we should settle for number 35 and live in addled complacency that at least we're not number 108 (numbers are random). Everyone wants to be number 1. But laying out your contempt, with one issue after another, is not helping anyone. "Malaysia is corrupt! In Malaysia, your life is limited if you're not Malay. In Malaysia, you're suppressed if you're not Islam. In Malaysia, you'll never get a chance to go far, or gain international recognition. In Malaysia, you'll never get the best treatments." This is the essence of what you're saying. I'm not putting words in your mouth. I think a lot of people following this thread may come to the same conclusion. If you truly want to help this country, do you think this negativity will help?

John Ling said...

I second Yvonne's thoughts. It's daft to tell a suffering person, 'You should cheer until you pass on. It is a life better lived than striving for superior medical care.'

But what if your loved one gets struck down by a serious illness? What if you have no money to go to a private hospital? Will you still turn a blind eye to corruption in the public system? Can you be at peace seeing your loved one dead or crippled because of mismanaged resources? Will you still be quoting Keynes then?

I call that acute tunnel vision. No one cares about good governance until they suffer a terrible tragedy. Then, sobered, they begin scrambling for solutions way after the fact. Unfortunately, bread and circuses are good only while there are still bread and circuses. Yes, people may choose to be dense, justifying everything from dishonest procurement to oppressed minorities to fiscal irresponsibility. And I hope these people will continue live a lucky and charmed life. Perhaps they will never be put into a cruel position where they will have to endure corruption and mismanagement firsthand.

But you know what? Those like Yvonne don't have the luxury of that ignorance. So do spare a thought for those like her before spouting abstract Keynesian quotes that bear little to no relevance to real life.

Here's my rebuttal: The long-run is the only guide to current affairs. In the long-run, we are all dead, and our children and grandchildren will surely pay the price for our short-run stupidity.

Sabrina Tan said...

I think let's just be mature about this and agree to disagree. After all, in a true democratic society, everybody does have a right to voice their opinion. Even if we disagree about these issues, at least you have the right to talk about it.
If some people can't handle the criticisms, perhaps they are not mature enough to handle true democracy.
If you think Malaysia is fine as it is, I wish you all the best and may it continue to be a blessed country to most. Maybe all the nay-sayers will be proven wrong someday. And for our future generations' sake, let's hope it is that way.
If someday Malaysia is going down the trenches, then lest you forget that it was warned so previously by the nay-sayers.
So for everybody's sake, let's hope that it will not be the latter and may Malaysia continue to enjoy its prosperity and comfortable environment for as long as you live.

John Ling said...

In addition, using Keynes to buttress your 'let it be' argument is misinformed.

Keynes was never a believer in the laissez-faire economic model. On the contrary, he argued that governments should play a role in regulating the free market in order to offset its more damaging effects. He championed good, ethical governance, both in the short-run and the long-run.

To take a single quote from Keynes and then bend it out of context is simply inaccurate. He was actually referring to the fact that long-run economic policy has its shortcomings. To a certain degree, we are all victims of circumstance, death being one of them. But Keynes never implied that we should just lie down and surrender to fateful malaise. On the contrary, he advocated that we should fight the good fight and do what we can, when we can.

That said, Keynesian economics is not an excuse for governments to distort free-market dynamics to the point of perversion. It's unacceptable. The only thing as bad as laissez-faire run amok is economic fascism run amok. Malaysia, I'm afraid, has embraced the other extreme.

John Ling said...

Even at this late hour, I am saddened that we still have people defending corruption and mismanagement. Since I last wrote, Malaysian public debt has soared from 48% to 54%. Malaysia has now surpassed America's inaptitude. Malaysia Boleh indeed. Last Thursday, KPI minister Datuk Seri idris Jala warned that unless the country cleans up its act, it will go bankrupt in nine years. He thinks public debt runs the risk of mushrooming into 100% and beyond. Now, putting aside the merits Idris Jala's argument, let's just agree that Malaysia has been spending money it does not have. Budget blowouts will have consequences.

How can hospitals afford to treat everyone coming through their doors? The short answer: they can't. The future is paying for the present, and even now, wecan see the effects of fiscal irresponsibility. A ringgit wasted today is a ringgit Malaysia won't beable to use in the future. It's all good and well to say, 'This is my home. It's beautiful. I love it.' It's another thing completely when you can no longer pay for its upkeep, let alone its very existence.

The Constitution is a moot point. Here's why. Where within the Constitution does it give the government carte blanche to persecute religious minorities, torturing them and denying them employment, education and medical treatment? Nowhere. Yet this oppression happens under the auspices of lawmakers and the legal system. Next, where in the Constitution does it say that citizens can be arrested and detained indefinitely without trial? Nowhere. Yet it happens. Also, where in the Constitution does it say that politicians may hold dual citizenship and still stand for public office? Nowhere. Yet it happens. I could go on and on, but the truth of the matter is, the Constitution is a bastardised document. Those in power use it to justify whatever 'legal process' they wish. There is zero accountability, and in return, I have zero confidence in the Constitution's ability to protect the rights of the downtrodden.

But, ultimately, what will scare people away more? The fact that dishonesty is turning the country insolvent? Or the fact that I am observant enough to point it out? Let me just say that It is only in an upside-down Kafkaesque nation that speaking out about injustice should offend citizens more than the act of injustice itself. However, I concede once more that I may be mistaken. Perhaps Malaysia is a charmed country and will remain so. Perhaps bread and circuses will carry on regardless of how much is wasted or mismanaged. Perhaps playing Russian roulette is your opiate of choice. If so, what can I say?