It’s very difficult to get people to agree to be interviewed in Malaysia. This likely applies in most Asian countries. But it continues to surprise me how some of the most difficult stories to set up are the ones that are least political. It took a good week before I could find a pensioner for a story on the Malaysian government raising the retirement age. I went through my entire phone list of contacts begging and pleading. Most people didn’t think that their stories were very interesting, but others were too embarrassed to be talking about their problems on camera, which is understandable.
Then there are the politically sensitive stories related to race and religion. It’s not impossible to find people to talk, but there is a time limit and you need a lot of luck. The most difficult story I have had to set up so far had to be a feature on the tensions between Muslims and Christians. The latest row was sparked by the so-called “church raid” incident. Church organizers didn’t want to talk. Muslims who attended the charity dinner refused to be interviewed. The Islamic police, who were accused of violating the sanctity of the church premise, also declined to talk.
I managed to find one Christian who was there when this “raid” happened but they not only asked me to hide their identity, they also requested that their voice be altered when the story was broadcast. I was quite surprised by this request because the night before, I had seen a feature on Syrian activists who wanted their identities to remain anonymous, but only hid their faces and changed their names.
It’s surprising then that someone living in such a peaceful country felt the need for added protection when speaking about Christian-Muslim relations. After all, Malaysian authorities love to boast about its ethnic and religious harmony.
But Jahabar Sadiq with the Malaysian Insider, one of the most influential alternative media sites in the country, tells me that the words “multi-ethnic” and “multi-religious” is merely advertising copy for tourism.
“It’s a concept we are trying to sell to rest of the world but we ourselves do not buy that concept,” he says.
The reality is that Malaysia’s ethnic Malays, Chinese, Indians and indigenous groups all live very separate but parallel lives. Tensions between these communities remain largely non-violent because people have learned to stop speaking out.
Malaysia’s first gay-themed film starts showing on the big screens today. It’s a big step in this Muslim-majority country where sodomy is still illegal. The film was made possible after Malaysia’s censor board relaxed guidelines to allow depictions of homosexuality. But they do suggest that the films should show disapproval for all “immoral acts.” The film is called “…Dalam Botol” or “…In a Bottle”.
For all the hype the movie is getting, there is very little sex shown. Malaysia has strict censorship rules where no kissing is allowed. Couples who embrace can only do so if they’re married and even then the man must be behind the woman so their chests don’t touch. Still the film has been called pornographic by religious conservatives and anti-gay by rights activists. You can judge for yourself.
I got a preview of the film and did a piece for CBC. To get a sneak peek click here and select “Listen to Part 2″ at the top and scroll to 19’10. I promise to provide a more direct link to the audio shortly.
This week American Idol’s runner up Adam Lambert agreed to tone down his act when he performed in Malaysia, after protests by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party that the openly gay singer was a bad role model for this Muslim-majority country. This party has tried to stop other foreign acts from coming in like Avril Lavigne and Gwen Stefani. The cultural ministry usually requires female performers to cover up from the neckline to the knees.
For Mr Lambert, it was getting rid of an onstage kiss he gives to a male performer. He said at a press conference before his concert that that was the only change he had to make in his act. I had never seen such a big contingent of Malaysian media show up. But I quickly realized that many of them were just fans of his. During the Q&A session one girl read out a poem she had written to him. Her voice quivered.
Organizers warned us repeatedly to not ask “stupid questions” related to the controversy, to which of course nobody listened, especially the foreign media. I find it amusing they bothered at all.
Either way, with the exception of a few questions most were glowing ones like “How are you so famous but stay so grounded?”
In the end the protesters were peaceful at his concert. And so I didn’t end up filing a story.
Which means the only thing I got out of the press conference after a two-hour wait was a buffet lunch, witnessing journalists singing and posing as Mr Lambert to win his CD, and pictures for my colleague who is a fan of his.
The joys of gathering news.
These symbols are commonly seen above toilets at a shopping mall.
Signs that a society is still catching up to modernity?
I’m back home for a good rest and reality TV dominates the airwaves.
The bad ones are the best: Say Yes to the Dress (some bride tried to convince her mom to spend $10,000 on a wedding dress), Chop Shop (Rock ‘n’ Roll hair salon in Van city), the Real Housewives of XXX (name your city).
You would think I’d be sick of the format since I’ve been working for weeks on Malaysia’s search for an imam, traditionally someone who leads prayer at the mosque and in the Muslim community.
Most reality shows I watch tend to amplify the extreme and obnoxious characters. Yet this Islamic programme hopes to make viewers want to emulate the most virtuous.
I don’t indulge on Youtube much but I read a profile on Malaysia’s top beatboxer a few months ago. Eighteen-year-old Shawn Lee said everything he does is inspired by Youtube, including picking up new techniques for beatboxing. He said he hasn’t watched TV since Youtube came out.
I’ve been pretty attached to my TV since I got satellite. Couldn’t afford the luxury in Beijing. But I decided to brave the slow Internet here in Kuala Lumpur and indulge.
Here was my Youtube journey in the last hour:
1. Finally had a chance to check out Shawn Lee’s beatboxing talent. The cricket is his signature sound.
2. As impressive as he was, I had to compare and see what world champs could do. Beardyman is a former world champ and was asked to perform at Google. The opening act is Nathan “Flutebox” Lee (Warning: a tad long but worth seeing the duet at the end)
3. That’s when I started thinking maybe this is what Ron Burgundy meant when he said he played jazz flute. I must say it’s pretty hard to look cool beatboxing with a flute. Then I started looking at other fluteboxers and found this guy doing Flight of the Bumblebee; to which I was then alerted to an even better rendition by Jennifer Batten, who was Michael Jackson’s lead guitarist.
4. And speaking of musical prodigies there is Yngwie Malmsteen, a Swede who was trained on classical guitar and later took on the electric
5. Then I was obsessively clicking guitar videos on the sidebar for a while till I remembered I was on Youtube for a purpose: beatbox … so I figured if there was such a thing as “flutebox” there must be other types of instrumental beatbox.
I tried oboe + beatbox.
BUT there is such a thing as “harmonica” and “beatbox” and I must say, it’s perhaps the best “instrumental beatbox”.
At least it’s less cumbersome than the flute.
Disclaimer: I, myself, was a flautist.
I think the addictive factor of Youtube is that it doesn’t seem like it is when you’re only digesting videos 10-minutes at a time. The related videos on the sidebar can keep you watching for hours on end. And if I were in a country that had normal working Internet speeds, I probably would still be on Youtube.
I am dearly missing Beijing’s Internet. While censored, at least it was fast for domestic sites and the signal doesn’t drop out as much as it does here.
China 1: Malaysia 0
I listened to this BBC documentary a long time ago and only remembered it today while chatting with my colleague. It’s about StoryCorps – an ambitious project that records conversations between loved ones in America. It’s the largest of its kind.
The founder, Dave Isay, first came up with the idea of StoryCorps after he did a documentary in 1993 where he gave two kids growing up in the housing projects in Chicago a tape recorder for a week. This was one of the conversations recorded.
Boy: “This is my mother Toochi. Who was my father?’
Mother: “Your father is a felon and named Toby Slipper. And he seen you when you was about two. And I ain’t seen him since.”
Boy: “What do you think happened to him?”
Mother: “He probably dead.”
Boy: “Ok thank you.”
It’s a fantastically simple idea but the journalist asked a very important question: Can this model be replicated elsewhere? I’m not sure I could see ordinary Canadians being nearly as talkative and raw as Americans. And I’m more skeptical this could work in China or Malaysia.
I hope I’m wrong.
Here is part 2 of the BBC documentary
Slightly surreal to be watching the coverage of the 6.9 earthquake in Qinghai province, northwestern China. Certainly brings back memories of covering my first earthquake in Sichuan, which was slightly more powerful at 7.9 on the Richter scale .
But as I have learned, assessing the damage is not just about the size of the earthquake but also the depth and what’s in the area.
Here are some pictures from the Sichuan earthquake:
After living in Beijing, pollution anywhere else doesn’t seem to register anymore. I find myself standing next to heavy traffic in Kuala Lumpur and enjoying the fresh air. Seeing smog hang over Beijing’s skyline day-in and day-out was depressing. Everyone was skeptical whether Beijing could clean itself up in time for the Olympics. Just four days before the Games were about to begin, the skies were still murky as I explain here. The BBC also charted the pollution levels a month before the Olympics along with pictures here.
But as Chinese officials always say, good and bad air cannot be determined by the naked eye. No kidding. According to their official measurements, both of these days are “blue sky” days.
The closest thing I’ve seen to this in KL was this:
Except this was a massive thundershower rather than smog.
To Beijing’s credit, the air has on average improved since the Olympics. I can’t tell you just HOW disappointed I was after the Olympics when 50% of the cars were allowed back on the road.
Ironically, even with the bad air in Beijing, I spent more time outdoors then, than I do now in KL. While both cities have terrible traffic jams, I was able to get around easily in Beijing on my bicycle. The lack of bike lanes in KL, crazy motorcyclists and the humidity make it hard for me to pedal anywhere.
Even if I could, I’m not sure bicycles with baskets are acceptable here like they are in China. And there goes half the fun.