My Article in theMalaysianInsider

Finally, an article in the “newspaper”…

Still on the front page after so long. C’est cool:

theMalaysianInsider Link
Still on the front page…

And now the article in full:

My Bersih 3.0 Story in Paris

It all started with a word. Which in turn inspired an idea. Which in turn inspired a nation.

I arrived in France about a year ago. Unlike most Malaysians who live in the capital, I stay and work in Grenoble. Grenoble is 575 kilometers from Paris. Nevertheless, I bought my ticket the minute I heard Paris was joining Bersih 3.0. Even though I believed in what the yellow protest stood for, I was always skeptical about how a group of people wearing yellow could ever hope to clean a corrupted election process supported by a government 55 years strong. Then, came last year’s rally. I was converted. Many people do not realize it but this is an exciting period for Malaysia. Never has there been a time in history where the ground is so fertile for change. Our generation of Malaysians have in their power to secure a free and democratic future for subsequent generations. This would be our Berlin wall. It would be our Renaissance. A second coming. The rebirth of a free and democratic Malaysia. And it all started a word. So, I bought my ticket.

Paris was wet. More than usual. I always thought London was the one with the piping problems but it seems even the fashion capital of the world also suffers from it. After Saturday’s experience though, I think Paris could also be rebranded as the protest capital of the world. The city does house a lot of “protestation”. As soon as I arrived at to the Esplanade du Trocadéro, I was greeted by a group of green men making fun of Sarkozy and Hollande’s ignorant stand on the environment. It was Green Peace. Shortly after, it was the folks from Guinea-Bissau and their noble cause to eradicate child slavery. Then, when we were painting the Eiffel yellow, another group was waiting at the entrance to paint it red afterwards. France! The land where freedom of speech means something more than just words scribbled on a fancy piece of paper.

I think there is something symbolic about showing dissent in Paris. After all, France inspired modern democracy. It was based on these ideals, Malaysia was formed and freed from imperialism. Yet close to 55 odd years or so we find ourselves in an undemocratic fix. Who would ever thought that demand for a free and fair elections is now a cause for protest. Our founding fathers must be rolling in their respective graves.

Hence the color yellow. Yellow to clean out the dirty fellows. And thus, more than 60 Malaysians spread out throughout France convened on the capital on the 28th April 2012 about 12.22 PM with typical Malaysian sense of timing (suppose to be at 12 PM).

I arrived earlier than anyone else. It was cold at about 9 degrees Celsius but I didn’t feel it at all. My blood was racing. Despite the biting chill, I unzipped my overcoat and took a seat facing the Green Peace protest and waited. Not for too long. Before I knew it, there was a Malaysian couple beaming at me. It rocked my world when they said they would have gone home if they did not see my yellow t-shirt. We talked about why Bersih was important to us. They were older and have stayed out of KL for much longer than I have. Age and race also separated us but they echoed my feelings like a mirror. So we stood close together. Now we were three.

Ten minutes later, I received a call from one of the event organizer. She was driving her car and carrying all manner of yellow merchandizes. The roundabout in front of the esplanade was busy. She couldn’t stop for more than 5 minutes. We rushed over to help. All sizes of cars zipped by but it was not hard to spot her. Her car was yellow. It was only natural.

First, we had a picnic. We setup camp on the Jardins du Trocadéro which was a long field of green leading up to the Eiffel. Some kind souls have sacrificed their night to conjure up various Malaysian dishes. Looking at the briyani and fried mee hoon, my tummy grumbled with appreciation. It was a taste long missed. Our group swelled in numbers. Some people visited for a short while just to say how proud they are to be part of the movement. Most people stayed and the atmosphere soon turned festive. Diverse would be an understatement. We had Malaysians from each layer of our complex society. Young, old and the numerous races were well represented. I learned something funny about Malaysians on that day. It seems we lose our Bangsa the minute we fly out of KLIA. Instead of being Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazans, Bidayuh and so on, we become just Malaysians. It was wonderful.

It was also important to note that Malaysians were not alone. We had support from people from other countries as well. There were passionate supporters from France, Germany, Taiwan, Singapore, Puerta Rico, Vietnam, India and even Iraq. Looking at those smiling understanding faces, I realize that even though the situation might have been Malaysian but the cause was a definitely global. What we are facing in Malaysia stirs up the same sentiment in all men regardless of nationality or age. We all shared the same desires. And thus we protest.

Once the tummies have been filled with food and the heart with merriment, we set out to do the serious business of dissent. Armed with flags, signboards, puppeteers and drama actors, we were going to share our voices to the thousands in Malaysia who have already made their stand.

The weather was unfortunately against us. It started to rain. The temperature plummeted and the sky kept to a moody grey. Alien weather to tropical Malaysians used to a steady temperature and one layer clothing. Despite that, we marched out determinately on to the sturdy pavement that Paris is famed for. Heavy overcoats were unzipped to expose yellow shirts, armbands boldly tied around the upper arms and more than a few donned blazing yellow raincoats. We paid our respects to a postcard background. And finally when all Malaysians young and old were gathered along with our friends from across the globe, we joined our spirits together and chanted the word that kept the Malaysian Election Chairman awake at night.

After all, it all started with that word. A word so simple yet so profound that it was the cause of hundreds of thousands Malaysians taking the street back in the motherland. One word to unite all Malaysians regardless of age, race or religion. One word to clean them all… Bersih!

Temper.. Temper…

Trying to living up to its namesake.
Trying to living up to its namesake.

The sprays are getting stronger. The last wave blurred my glasses. My mind starts the age old debate of decisions. Should I walk back to the car on continue writing this out?! I find myself sitting on top of a small boulder facing Niagara. Niagara is a waterfall. A strong one at that. Waves and waves of cold water droplets lash out from his center. It was like rain except for the fact that rain falls down. These tiny drops were cast out like a net from a fisherman’s hands. The fisherman in question is in an awful temper.

It’s been raining for a week and water is plentiful. It was enough to nourish Niagara’s huge appetite and give purpose to its fall. And what a fall it was. Water gushing down with murderous intent. Taking out frustration and pent up anger on its eternal enemy, the rock base. God only know what those rocks must have done wrong to receive such punishment. The impact is so strong, it creates meters high water mist flung outwards and wide.

These droplets wash over me again. Once again I think of rain. The paper I write on starts dripping. The words become sploshy. I stop writing and look up. Two small boys and their little sister run across the rocks oblivious to both the horizontal rain and the powerful waterfall. They are more concerned about jumping boulders and looking for frogs. Their little sister tries hard to keep up.

It’s cloudy but the clouds only thinly hides the sun. The sun seems to be playing its favorite peek-a-boo game. The good thing about a sun peek-a-boo is it creates beautiful streaks of light rays rather than the over washed blanket we usually get. Just when I think the decor could not get any better, the sun proves me wrong and draws me a rainbow. The constant outflowing blanket of droplets is the perfect canvas for a rainbow. So says my logical mind with its scientific training. My right brain on the other hand thinks that the sun is trying to soothe Niagara by painting a ribbon of colors. Hopefully, the interplay of light would lull its temperament and abate its anger.

Despite the pretty artwork, Niagara seems unconvinced and gushes even more water in what appears to be defiance. The rainbow grows stronger and more defined. It catches the eye of the younger sister who promptly abandons her brothers. She tries her best to catch the rainbow but it remains as fleeting as the sprays of waters that created it. This brings a smile to her dad who scoops her up and tickles her. Her laughter is how I imagine little angels would sound like if they laughed. The sun seems equally as mesmerized and shines on her golden locks. For a moment, the mighty waterfall seems stilted.

I find myself smiling. Surely, it can’t get any better than this…

Niagara then decides I was ready for my shower.


The Perfect Couple… Wine and Dance

A plce to lose yourself and find someone else.
A plce to lose yourself and find someone else.

There was wine. Bottles of them. Don’t remember how many. Enough to make me ramble on to anyone who would listen about the challenge of walking a straight line. It was quite a bit.

She was much older than I was. Out with some friends. She told me that I looked too young to be there. I told her so did she. That was the wine talking. She came to enjoy the Salsa music. She came to get away from the confines of her kitchen. Just for a night. She was like the aunt you always liked. The one with a nice twinkle and warm smile.

Then we danced. Well she danced with the wine. My veins dripped full of them. I felt my mind detach and stay on the bar stool. Without me “the brain”, the body was pretty good at dancing. Who knew? I haven’t danced for years. She was having fun. I was glad. So was I. Or maybe it was the wine. The song winded down. She sat down. I kept on going. Closed my eyes momentarily while I did my patented head banging move. Didn’t even know I had a patented head banging move. The dizziness started to set in. I opened my eyes. A pair of wide eyes peered back at me. They seem amused. She was young and boy could she dance! I was unconcerned though. The wine was dancing after all. My feet matched her every move. Salsa long forgotten came back. She didn’t expect the spin. Nor the turn or the sombrero…

The song ended. I smiled at my partner and was about to return to my older friend when the young thing commented that it was nice that I was dancing with my mum. That caught me by surprise. She smiled mischievously. I stared at her. It was then I noticed her date intently watching me. Offhand it occurred to me that his hips won’t survive a turn let alone a spin. The wine started talking on my behalf. I told her that she was a naughty girl for abandoning her dad. She frowned. I didn’t wait for the slap and skedaddled my drunk behind out of there.

My new friend asked me how was the dance. I told her it was boring because she was not there. That was the wine of course. Fortunately, she didn’t know that and I was presented with a pleased twinkle. We then talked about family. I told her how much I miss mine. She told me how much she loved her’s. Salsa melted to Jazz.

Fact of life, alcohol speeds up time. I helped her with her coat. She wants to introduce a daughter to me. Apparently she was my age… 20. I replied if her daughter was half as pretty as the mum, I would be one lucky guy but unfortunately I am married and the kids would never understand. There was the twinkle again. And this time it was followed by a pinch. Right on the cheeks. That was unexpected. And a bit embarrassing…

I tipped the glass. It was empty. I turned and flagged down a waiter. I had to tell someone about the challenge of walking a straight line.

When Français is not your first, second or third

Great food if you can decipher the Français...
Great food if you can decipher the Français...

“Voulez-vous quelque chose… Blah blah blah”… “Blah Blah blah”. “Blah?”

I stare at them blankly. My eyes begin to glaze and I can feel my brain slowing down to a crawl. All of a sudden, my hearts starts to race and the frustration building up over a course of a couple of weeks finally pours out.


That got their attention. After a while, you tire of trying to understand a foreign language and just want to scream out. In my case, the scream manifested into a Vanakam. That surprised them. Almost as much as it surprised me. 30% of the population in La Reunion is made up of brown people. By brown, I mean Indian. Not Indians from Cowboy flicks but the sort of home grown Indian folks you stumbled into in KL. Only difference is these Indians speak French. No matter how hard I try my English on them which by the way is the real Indian Mother tongue (in a global fashion that is), I usually receive frowns followed rapidly by a stream of French even French people would have a hard time understanding. My bonafide French project manager certified that fact.

So, I said Vanakam. At first, they stared at each other in confusion. There were two of them. One tall enough to look at me in the eyes while the other was slightly more petite but both were unmistakably brown. Of course by brown, I mean Indian. A few seconds later, they smiled at each other signaling the end of the shock and replied something that sounded like “Ninga Tamil yah” which I think was “You are Tamil?”. Now it was my turn to widen the eyes. They speak Tamil after all. Hallelujah!

After days of trying to communicate with the locals in French and failing miserably, I finally found a foothold in communication. For once, I can actually use my Tamil. A language long buried in the annals of my childhood and lazy afternoons with my grandmother. At long last! I can order what I want without struggling to think of the words. Finally! I can ask people how many sisters they have without accidentally offending them. God! I can even start making jokes again. I found a common language. I am finally in!

“Yehperdi ninga tamil… Blah blah blah”… “Blah Blah blah”. “Blah?”

I stare at them blankly. My eyes begin to glaze again. A school scene where I was laughed out of my extracurricular Tamil class when trying to recite a poem flashes in my head. The horrible truth dawns on me. My Tamil comprehension is probably about the same level as my French is. My hearts starts to race again…

“Apa Khabar!”

When the Produce Section is out to get You

From a produce section near you...
From a produce section near you...

My mum always nags me about eating more fruits. I like to follow her advice but the truth is I am scared of the produce section. You never know what the protocol is over there. What to weight, how to weight and where to weight?! Questions with no easy answers. Seems like every country I go to have its own produce laws. There are no standards in this wild frontier of the supermarket.

The queue was longer than the line for a hush puppy warehouse sale. People were impatiently waiting for their turn to pay. I was a bit apprehensive. I bought some fruits. Yeap, I man up this time and went into the produce section. Despite that, I couldn’t help but feel something is going to go wrong. Then, it was my turn.

She started beeping my stuff… And on cue, stopped at my grapes. I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. It didn’t help that it was in Arabic. Then French. But based on her sign language, I think my worst fears were being realized. The grapes were not priced! I ignored the killer stares from the family behind me, grabbed the grapes and ran to the dreaded produce section. Along the way, I had to dodge 5 carts, 3 unruly brats and a really slow moving couple who should be spending more time in the produce section than the chocolate shelves.

Finally with minimal bruising, I turned the corner to the weighing counter. It was empty. As I was about to use the scales, this kid cuts in. She couldn’t have been more than 6 with a pony tail trying to reign in a messy hairdo, tiny freckles and a height that couldn’t reach to the top of the scales. She then turns and narrows her eyes at me. She was a quarter of my size but I don’t mind admitting I was scared. I help her by putting her lettuce on the scales. It gets weighted and priced. She pulls her lettuce bag down, sticks out her tongue at me and runs off. God, I hate the produce section!

The line is now 2 miles long. Every eyes turns to me as I run to the head of the queue. The hostility made the air stuffy. I didn’t care though. I got my grapes weighted, priced and I return triumphant like a conquering hero. I looked at the cashier and held up my grapes with confidence reserved only for Bond. Our eyes meet. She was holding up something too. My confidence plummeted.

Oh shit! I forgot the strawberries.

When your Washing Machine is Actually The Incredible Hulk!

The white and somewhat square hulk...
The white and somewhat square hulk...

Stupid washing machine!

My washing machine thinks it is the reincarnation of the hulk. It vibrates shakes and constantly threatens to beat up its more peaceful cousin, the sink. I did everything I could to calm it down. I sat with him (and on him), sang him lullabies, hugged him with love (aka cushions) and even told him about how just a few weeks ago, my mum did all my washing. Nothing seem to work. He was throwing more tantrums than a 6 year old that lost his lollipop.

Worst part is you knew when he was about to blow. The buildup itself was stressful. It starts off with a whizzing sound like a missile about to find its target. When the whizzing reaches its peak, the whole bathroom would begin to shake, rattle and just stops short of rolling off my apartment block. Pictures were coming off their frames and the mirror was threatening me with 7 years of bad luck. Despite the hard to ignore warning bells, I was completely and utterly helpless.

My mind was racing. What would the neighbors think? They were probably calling the cops to evict the stupid foreigner who didn’t know how to handle his washer… Shucks!

Begging didn’t help. Even tears did not stop its insane spin cycle. I was at my wits end, not to mention I could not feel my hands anymore trying to contain his epilepsy with my little muscles and puny fingers. Oh, the cold sweat of despair. The emergency button was nowhere to be seen. My sink was getting a hammering. It was going to break soon enough. I felt like a rag doll on top of a bull. This was it! My first laundry ends up with me being hauled up to jail for having an unruly washer…

Then it stops.

All quiet now. I couldn’t believe it. The washing was done. I could barely stand up. My whole body was still shaking. I sat down next to the tub. If I smoked, I would have lighted up two by now. I noticed the installation guide under the sink. With trembling fingers I thumbed through it until I came to a page 4. It was as easy to spot as an Indian man on a ski slope. It was probably one of the most profound Aha moments a newbie bachelor in a new apartment could have ever had. The words literally jumped out of the page and pierced my brains screaming as it seared through my mind with its simplicity…


Stupid washing machine!