Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Not Everything Old is Bad

This post may sound like one for middle aged to elderly readers, if they manage to use a computer and access the internet. Actually, it's for the young, who are now wanting to look hip amongst their peers and trying to ignore the advice of their elders. Having been young myself, I look back and remember how I used to have the idea that "old people" like my parents, grand-parents etc. could not understand the way we thought or acted according to our times and the ideas then. I grew up in the 1960s to late 70s and 80s. It was the time of the Anti-War protests, Womens' Lib, mini skirts and baby doll fashion, flower children, free love, Anti-nuclear protests, and "peace, man, peace". Not forgetting, bell-bottom Levis jeans. 

The most wonderful thing about that time was the pop music. "Pop" means popular as in peoples music. We had 'wild' parties just like teenagers nowadays with blaring heavy metal music - Deep Purple, Uriah Heap, Black Sabbath etc. and of course, singsong sessions. Men had long hair like Marc Bolan of T-Rex, and we thought the world was ours. 

What we didn't think of was, that our parents and grand-parents had also gone through the same phase in their lives and knew about 'wild parties', possibly drugs and 'free love'. Yet, in their time society often frowned on freedom and labelled non-conformism immoral. We were very influenced by western culture then, as youth are today. Still, their fears of our going astray, were to some extent justified. Perhaps, they did not want us to repeat their errors. But, the human condition remains unchanged.

The 1960s and 70s, particularly, seemed to be a time of revolution, non-conformism was the in thing. A breakaway from the old world culture. It was a time when people decided to be individualistic, but in some ways unselfish. There were the hippy communes. The music reflected many good values but explored areas of uncertainty, like inhumanity and oppression, it was really quite philosophical. It spoke about the lack of social justice and suffering of people, of increasing materialism, countered by environmentalist singers like John Denver, social singers like Bob Dylan, Don McClean, Bob Marley, Simon and Garfunkel and many more who questioned establishment. It was a time of questioning. 

R&B and Jazz also caught on, and Asia saw its own rise in the pop world. I remember well the popular Filipino singer, Freddie Aguila's hit - "Child". It was in English and Tagalog, and would bring tears to many eyes. Freddie Aguila was like the Bob Marley of Asia, having a slum background and weaving personal experiences and life around him into his music. There was the birth of "Asia Beat" and at 19, attended a gig in a local university on the invitation of friends who were students there.

It was at this time that protest songs like, "We will Overcome", "Blowing in the Wind", "American Pie", etc. achieved popularity. It became an era of protests. A time to challenge authoritarian establishment and ancient codes of morality. A peoples' cry for peace in the world, whilst governments waged a Cold War and interfered in other countries civil conflicts.

Sadly, the new morality that followed from the mid - 1980s and later, seems to have taken an opposite path where materialism became the order of the day, probably turning into super-materialism as it is today with wealth, elitism, hedonism and image, dictating the suppression of humane and community values. Individualism has turned to something more ugly, expressed in greed, gluttony, domination, and avarice, overriding consideration, civil consciousness and courtesy. The world seems to have come full circle, but hope still exists. The wheel has not reached it's starting point yet.

The irony of our current times is, that there may be another reversion to those good old days of noble values which have existed since time immemorial. The values of humanity, as old as the mountains, that some youth today are starting to pick up and re-examine. A push towards the protection of our human dignity. 

Climate change is another omen of a changing world order, what will the world be like, if human kind survives that? People have to think of the future, and present day youth must take on the responsibility of knowing that the necessities for survival are found in giving rather than receiving only. They will have to sift through history to help human kind survive the upheaval of climate change, propelling a changing world order. The best of the old values may yet save the human race.

To those reading this 'soap box speech' detecting the many inaccuracies in it, I give my sincere apologies, for a flagging memory. 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Laws for Everything Under the Sun

You will get a full blast of typical Malaysian petty bureaucracy when you visit any government department office. A friend of mine who was married to an Englishman was told at the NRD (National Registration Department) in Penang that she could not change the name on her identity card from her maiden name to her married name. She asked if she could have an "alias" (@), but that was also refused by the officer, saying that there was no law in Malaysia that allowed one to have a change of name. She told him that her mother had an @ added to her maiden name and could use that officially for bank accounts etc. The petty bureaucrat's reply was that , "oh, now, you cannot change your name or have an alias by law. Name changes on marriage are only done in the US or the UK!". As nothing could be done to penetrate the thick cranium of this petty bureaucrat, my friend gave him a parting shot of, "What a pity!", that seemed to baffle him, as he didn't seem to understand the implications of the reply.

For anyone who doesn't get it either, such a reply could mean, 
1. Sorry, you have no commonsense whatsoever.
2. It's a pity, you're so lazy and can't get your backside out of that chair.
3. It's a pity, you think I'm stupid, or
4. I see, marriages registered under Malaysian law are not recognized in Malaysia, according to you.

There is a current lack of rational thinking and logic in government departments, especially when petty bureaucrats don't know their job, or even what they're doing warming the seats behind the counters in those government departments. This particular specimen of petty bureaucracy apparently thought he was very clever parroting the law but failed to see that what he said was completely nonsensical. If one were to think about the excuse he gave, it would follow that, a law is needed for every thing we do no matter how small or insignificant. It would be good to know which law tells him that he should take a bath everyday or when he should eat or go to sleep. 

I wish there was a law that tells these petty bureaucrats in clear terms, what they should be doing during working hours, and what they should not be doing during working hours, and that if they don't do any work, they should not be paid. 

Leg shaking and tongue wagging (gossiping) seem to be endemic amongst petty bureaucracy in many government departments. It is not difficult to witness this first hand, almost everyday. At the end of the day, the taxpayer has to admit that this is another waste of our hard earned money, on so much deadwood in our government departments. 

Another financial leakage that should be accounted for and is not, apart from all the big time financial scandals that have been exposed and reported in the media. We pay for the services in government departments but get no service at all. Ironically, some of these bureaucratic parasites try to shift their work onto us, when we are in fact, their paymasters. The deadwood should definitely be pitched into the fire, then it might be of some use. Some of these, probably won't even be good for burning, so they should simply be thrown into the "tak guna"(useless) bin.

Friday, 26 October 2012

What would We do Without Them?

Climbing upstairs to my 1st floor flat, I thought," Thank God, for the cleaner!". This is not a posh place but kept neat, tidy and clean by a cleaner employed by the Apartments Management Office of our blocks. All residents, including tenants contribute a small sum for the upkeep and cleanliness of these 4 storied blocks. Keeping a public place clean is not a pleasant job.

This brings to mind the scores of cleaners and blue collar workers, some being foreign workers, who carry out so many manual tasks to maintain a hygenic and pleasant environment in so many public places like hospitals, shopping malls, bus terminuses, public toilets and roads. Garbage collectors also fall into the hygiene maintainance category, having to face stench and putrefying, nauseating piles of wet mushy organic waste, food packaging, disposable sanitary wear like soiled diapers etc., and any thing that's lobbed into the large garbage receptacle through the chute. 

More disgustingly, some people think that they are entitled to mess the place so the cleaners and garbage collectors have to clean up after them. Rubbish is simply thrown anywhere and everywhere. They seem to think that the hygiene workers have too little work to do, and so must be unreasonably exploited. Who do they think they are? The 'swollen headed tauke' (boss) taxpayers who forget that they are actually dependent on these humble blue collar workers to maintain their health and respectability. 

I have frequently watched, with much revulsion, the way in which these blue collar hygiene workers are treated, and am certain that they suffer in silence because they need these ill-paying and totally exploitative jobs to keep their own, and dependents body and souls together.

Once I was sitting in the Sg. Nibong Express Coach Station in Penang and observed a foreign hygiene worker clearing rubbish out of the bins around the bus terminus waiting area, into some big black plastic bin bags. Whoever, his contractor employer was, had not provided him with any protective clothing, or even gloves, uniform or face mask. He had to clear the dirty, germ ridden bins with his bare-hands and a blackened rag that didn't look very clean. He probably had no choice in the matter, even if he had asked for these necessities to do the job.

Such employers are likely to retort, " accept these conditions or leave". These are the sort of employers who want everything for nothing, and see it as normal practice to treat the worker like a machine. Once broken-down, readily replaceable. I wonder, if the slipper was on the other foot, whether they would be as resilent as the workers they ill-treat and exploit in this way?

In another instance, as I was walking past an upmarket shop in Pulau Tikus, I saw another foreign employee, who had apparently come to start his new job. He was well, though not formally, dressed and stood listening as a man (apparently his new boss) said something to him. The very next second, I saw him having to squat down on the sidewalk and pickup some rubbish thrown near a pillar with his bare hands and deposit the rubbish in a nearby bin. His expression of surprise and disappointment at this apparent humiliation was unmistakable. It was degrading. It was hard not to feel pity for the foreign worker, and embarrassment and disgust, that he should suffer such treatment from a Malaysian employer. 

 There have been so many incidences of ill-treatment, not only of foreign workers but of workers in general, but despite the "Ooos" and "Ahhs" expressed by many middle and upper-class readers of these reports, this same public has yet to learn that workers are human beings with dignity and rights to be respected.

In an attempt to talk to someone about the non-supply of protective clothing, which employers should rightly supply to these hygiene workers, the response received was a glib and dismissive one, that the worker should purchase these necessities for their own use, with their own money. This was really nauseating and the conversation lapsed into silence, though I was fuming at the obvious ignorance and lack of humanity of the speaker. Did he think that people with mega bucks come to Malaysia to take up such jobs, as if they had nothing else to do?

Many Malaysians seem unaware that although they are the employers, it is these workers without whom their lives won't be as easy, and their businesses won't thrive. It is not the employer who does the worker a favor by filling the vacancy, but the worker who is doing the employer the favor by submitting to such treatment in the circumstances, for the employer's own benefit and profit, usually for low pay, slave-labor conditions and odd working hours.

Hygiene workers do the general public a favor by maintaining the cleanliness and pleasantness of public spaces despite the often dirty and dangerous nature of their jobs. Theirs is the nobler cause. What would we do without them? Live in a DUMP?


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Blighted Reputation

I was traveling in Europe some years back and standing in line to be processed by Immigration at Dublin Airport. When I got to the counter, the Immigration officer looked at my Malaysian passport and told me to stand aside. Whilst waiting for him to finally deal with me, I wondered what concerning my documents attracted this 'special treatment'. I had come to Dublin from the UK and as far as I knew, persons traveling to Ireland from the UK, did not need to get any special entry visas before embarking on their journey. This included non-EU citizens. I stood leaning against the counter resting my cheek on my hand, waiting to see what he would say when he finally dealt with me. 

It took around 10 minutes before all those after me had been waved through, then, without offering any explanation, he simply said, "You're all right" and let me through. This was rather weird, what had he been expecting me to do on seeing my Malaysian passport? I mulled this over as I went to the carousel to collect my luggage. 
Then, it hit me - was he expecting me ( a Malaysian) to 'grease his palm' as a means of avoiding embarrassment? Was this a trap by Immigration to catch out less than honest Malaysians who may be in the habit of 'getting out of trouble' this way? Or was my passport so foreign that he'd never seen such a passport before, or was he just being down right racist? At any rate, having done nothing, and having nothing to hide, perhaps indicated to him that I was not one of those, nor would I jump to conclusions about being discriminated against before I had any proof of it.

Some people may think that I should be howling 'blue murder' when he stopped me, but as luck would have it, I think keeping my cool is the better part of valor than kicking up a rackus to prolong this 'ordeal' and face possible deportation or detention at the airport, and a whole can of other worms.

In hindsight, I think that being stopped at a foreign airport by Immigration on the apparent basis of possessing a Malaysian passport says something about the kind of reputation we seem to have overseas - coming from a country with a reputation for corruption. There are reports of Malaysians committing crimes overseas, Malaysians engaging in illegal businesses, and becoming illegal immigrants by overstaying, particularly in the UK. But, this doesn't mean that ALL Malaysians traveling overseas should be suspects or that all have an intention to commit offences of whatever nature.

So who can we 'thank' for giving all Malaysians a worldwide bad reputation as persons likely to engage in illegal or corrupt activities, should I whisper their name? 
Those, who, Malaysians know are squandering our taxpayers hard earned money and now trying to 'buy' our votes with regular payouts, sweet words and "kept promises" (janji di tepati). Who else can we blame for the blight on our good name? 


Monday, 22 October 2012

Livable and Pleasant Low-Cost Housing

When one mentions "low-cost housing" for the lower-income community, visions of concrete tower blocks with apartments little more than cubicles comes to mind. The stink of garbage chutes, florescent lighting that's broken and blown in places, smelly dimly lit lifts frequently out of order, walls decorated with graffiti, and all that's dark, dreary, wet and repulsive. Being poor doesn't mean that one has to be treated sub-humanly and allotted the cheapest, lowest quality standard of living in vermin infested, crime fertile environments. 

If governments really paid any attention to the causes and effects of poverty, they may discover that treating poor people as human beings and affording them a better living environment could help change their perception of themselves and help reduce numbers taking to crime as day jobs in urban areas. The poverty scenario is a little different, but just as bad for the rural poor.

There is an abundance of alternative cheap housing that doesn't have to be like what's described above. 

Take for example, the little plank, zinc roofed one storied house that vegetable farmers used to build in the centre of their small farms. There were also plank house villages (kampungs) which were not squatter areas but villages supplied with electricity and piped water. These "kampung" houses were proper houses with kitchen, bathroom/toilets, living-rooms and 2 -3 adequately large bedrooms for families to live in. 

Recently, I saw a newly built double storied plank house with louvered windows and beautiful brown stained or painted wooden walls. 
With the right technology for safety, such as flame retardant and anti-pest and fungus treatment, sound workmanship and substitution of materials like tile/slate or treated attap roofing, in place of tin or zinc which increase temperatures under the hot sun, these would be really wonderful dwellings that cost only a fraction of what is spent on heaving and piling concrete into unsightly, hot, dark and dank, anonymous tower blocks.

The traditional Malay 'kampung' house is another possible model for low-cost housing. These houses were meant to house extended families, as is the traditional and customary way of living in many Asian societies. They have shared kitchen and bathroom/toilet facilities, which can be updated into modern kitchens and bathrooms. Adjustments and variations can be made to provide more private facilities, if the traditional design was modified to accommodate it.

Even the traditional Chinese town house with its labyrinth of inner courtyards and separate areas for various household activity is another alternative for housing a large number of people. 

In all of the three models suggested, a garden in which to relax and where children can play safely is part and parcel of the whole design, much like the swimming pool areas in luxury apartment blocks. 

I saw amazing houses in an "Orang Asli" (Aboriginal) village. The houses had bamboo frames with woven fiber walls. As far as I could see, there were not many rooms in it and cooking was done outdoors or in a separate area. They had outside toilets which were kept very clean. What really impressed was the flooring of these house verandahs, made of bamboo strips tied side by side with gaps in between for air-circulation. It was cool to sit on. These houses could also be moved en masse to a different site i.e. dismantled and reconstructed in another location. 
There are also the Dayak long houses in Sarawak and native houses of Sabah designed for extended families and are in sync with the forest environment, just like the Orang Asli Houses.

Although not all of us can adopt the aboriginal lifestyle, we could learn and adapt the flexibility and eco-friendliness of it. There is still a long way to go before we can relinquish our craving for bricks, mortar and concrete boxes in tower blocks which we expect to call "Home". There is a more human way to live, in harmony with nature and with our neighbors.

If I were an architect/developer, I would be looking to adapting the best in traditional housing to modern living that is sustainable, eco-friendly and humane, things that make places not only habitable but what would make up a pleasant and livable Home. Not only for the rich, but especially for the poor.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

A Guide to Cross Over or A Premonition?

At a funeral wake for my aunt who recently passed away, I overheard one of my cousins say that before she left us, she had seen her eldest brother and a sister, both long 'gone home to the Lord'. Apparently, her sister's apparition had told her that she was going to take her to their childhood home. Whether she had seen them in dreams or if she had seen them when wide awake, I don't know. But since she was in a semi-coma just before her apparent brief recovery, she may have seen them in that twilight world in semi-consciousness. 

This is the third time, I've heard of people seeing long dead relatives shortly before joining them on the other side, so to speak. 

My grandfather was southern Indian and dark skinned, and before Granny (who was Chinese)  passed on, she was said to have remarked to the relative who was caring for her, that she saw an Indian man in the room and asked who he was, yet no one else there saw him. Granny was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and could not remember Grandpa or any other of her family. She was also in her 90s before she passed away. This happened a few days before, dear Granny, said "Good-bye". 

Also, just before a cousin passed away, about 10 years ago, he said he dreamt of his mother, who had passed on long before, calling him home. It was as if he had a premonition or warning of his coming demise. In sharing their experiences, some friends tell of the reluctance of loved ones to do things or go to certain places on the very day they died. Then, there is also the completion of work or having visited everyone and tied up all personal affairs neatly before just "popping off", like an uncle of mine did, a few years ago. Are these premonitions that there will be no more time or opportunity to do these things?

To an extent, I believe that the paranormal or supernatural possibly exists, but don't have anything to confirm this belief. Yet, it seems to be the in-thing nowadays, with big screen Hollywood, foreign television and even local film makers, attempting to explore and document evidence of paranormal/supernatural activity. The spirit world, if it exists, is a complete mystery, yet how can the unexplainable be explained by science?

Coming back to the point, I'm not actually speculating on if ghosts exists or not, but simply wondering if these 'visions' that some people have, are actual premonitions or warnings of their demise. It may sound creepy to some, but perhaps it is something natural and linked to the spirit within us, that we believe exists. Perhaps, it is the spirit knowledge in ourselves that  realizes when it is time to leave, an alarm-clock set to alert us when the time comes.

Then, again, it is consoling to think that, a loved one, we are familiar with, may act as our guide into the spirit world. Our first steps into the unknown...

Light across the water

As for ghosts, a few theories exist and are expressed in so-called "ghost stories" or studies of the paranormal. Whether these are really scientific or not, they certainly make exciting reading and popular television. If you have a story to tell about death premonitions, or near death experiences, do share them. I wonder, if I'll have warning when my time is up? Hopefully, I'll be able to leave peacefully, and live happily ever after with those who have passed on, and that a loved one will come to fetch me on that final journey home.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Revolutionary Cut

When I cut my hair, I feel like a new person. There's a feeling of freedom, besides feeling cooler in this hot humid tropical climate. But, preferring very short styles, I tend to like a boyish 'pixie look'. It's cute and very, very easy to manage, especially when you are the 'wash and go' type with a lifestyle that doesn't spend too much time in front of a mirror. 
But, when 'googling' varieties of short hairstyles in my favorite period of fashion history - the 'Roaring 20's" (1920s), I stumbled over some facts about short hairstyles that I thought quite amazing. 

Who would think that chopping off one's locks could cause a storm of controversy?  But, that was exactly what happened in the 1920s when young women took to the hairstyle worn by Irene Castle, a famous North American ballroom dancer in 1915.  Her hairstyle was nicknamed the "Castle Bob" after her, which was worn merely for convenience. Then, after the 1st World War (the 'Great War') more and more women took to the style and a new era was born. It seems to have been the first time in history that women took this 'big leap' to shear off their long tresses and shorten their hemlines, much to male bewildered bafflement. Lines of women outside barber shops to have luxuriant tresses cropped short began to lengthen. The 'Bob' style seemed to turn into a statement for freedom from patriarchy by women, a statement for independence and equality, so much so that women with cropped hair faced all kinds of negative reactions from husbands, church and employers.

"Preachers warned 
parishioners that “a bobbed woman is a disgraced woman.”  Men 
divorced their wives over bobbed hair.  One large department store 
fired all employees wearing bobbed hair." - "1920s piece hairstyles"

It even affect the Royals of England, where Queen E's grandmother held that ladies attending royal functions should wear hair extensions to 'hide' their short crops. King George, Queen E2's father held his peace as his wife did like the style and took to it as well. If you have seen old pictures of the Queen Mother, you'll understand why. 
The 'bob', was further modified when women's hairdressers accepted the style and began to modify and stylize it with perming, waving and 'shingling' the original design. This increased controversy...

"And to make matters worse, the bold and daring flapper pushed the 
envelope even further when she subjected herself to the shingle bob 
causing even more controversy.  In a letter to the editor of a 
professional hair publication, one parent deplored this newest 
version of the bob:  “From the rear, it is hard to tell a girl from a boy, 
since the advent of the shingle bob.”  And, “I’ve raised my girls to be 
women and my boys to be men, but since the advent of this shingle 
bob, I have to look twice at my own offspring to tell which is which.” "1920's piece haristyles"

So, short hair became a trajectory that pushed women right into the 20th century and changed almost everything, but seems to still have fallen short of changing the patriarchal mindset.

Yet, the world learned to accept it, and our crowning glories have been subjected to revolutionary, and some times controversial variation, even to making baldness for women a fashion in the west, in contrast to baldness being a sign of humility and sacrifice in eastern religion as in the case of a Buddhist nun. 

However, my short crops still appear to draw some attention and a bit of hassle from certain women's hairdressers ( but not barbers, which I have visited once or twice) who tell me that it "isn't nice", probably meaning that women/girls don't cut their hair so short or expose their ears. My own reaction is, "Why not?". Sorry, I am a pragmatist and can't subscribe to that out-dated traditional mindset of having to grow my hair longer than I like, to attract male admiration or attention. It is better to know the nature of a person than to make judgments based on their external appearance.

Apologies for the lack of photos for this piece, I'm still learning how to download pix. from other sources and hopefully not be sued for it.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Thunder Lilies

When I was a small child, my family used to live in government quarters in the middle of town, in Penang. We had an end double-storey link house just beside a small alley between our block and a private double-storey house. There was a deep narrow drain along this alley which would overflow every time it flooded. For children, floods were a time of high excitement; how dirty the water was never occurred to us. Anyway, we were fascinated by this drain, often imagining it to be a river full of rushing water and pretending it was a 'canyon' over which we ran or jumped when the 'monsters' or the 'pursuers' were hot on our heels, being careful not to fall in. 
On alternate days in the week, the Municipal Council drain sweeper would come to clear the drain with his "cangkul" (hoe) and spade. He dredged up all the mud and debris that silted up and blocked the water flow. Putting it on the grass that grew along the side of the drain. With each clearing, the piles of mud grew, forming small mounds along the alley beside the drain. The mud stank but eventually dried up and blades of grass would begin to cover these stinking little mounds. 
But, something very interesting always happened after an overnight thunderstorm. It was to me - MAGIC, and I remember the fresh dew drops shinning in the sun on those blades of  grass and the beautiful pink heads of flowers that suddenly sprang up and bloomed after the storm. We used to call them "Thunder Lilies". They were lily like but only as big as a large button with pointed petals and round stems. Their leaves looked a bit like grass but were slightly thicker and were rounded at the ends.
The 'thunder lilies' came out without fail after every storm, sometimes in large clumps, sometimes in fewer numbers. It was just wonderful that something so beautiful could grow out of those stinking mounds of mud dredged from the depths of that narrow drain. 
The 'thunder lilies' are like the rainbow, perhaps they promised a better day...

Wonder where I will see the 'thunder lilies' growing wild again? In Subang Jaya where I used to live a decade ago, the Subang Jaya Municipal Council had grown clumps of similar plants on the road divider. Still the memory of those first wild thunder lilies drenched in morning dew and kissed by the sun after a stormy night, still holds its magic for me... 

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Hidden Beauty

Being hip nowadays is very common. The impressions made by our physical appearance can some times become destiny. We end up somewhere, i.e. working, getting a life partner or just being included in a certain set of people. However, despite all that, we are who we are. We know what others don't know about us - our hidden secrets and talents. But, some things, even we don't know about ourselves that take us by surprise. Sometimes, I don't recognize myself, it's as if some thing just jumped out of my mouth that I didn't know was waiting to do so. It just needed a trigger. 
The other day I found an article on Yahoo News that I didn't expect to find and would dearly love to share it with you. 
This picture (Please go to link above to see the pix) of Balpreet Kaur sparked 

bullying -- and then inspiration -- on Reddit. 
(Photo via Reddit) 

Sikh Woman Balpreet Kaur Turns Cyber Bullying Incident 
into Inspiration 
By Lylah M. Alphonse, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Shine | Women Who Shine – 19 hours ago 

After someone snapped a photo of her and posted it on online, Balpreet Kaur was 
ridiculed for following the tenets of her Sikh faith. But instead of hiding or 
lashing out, she politely posted a reply—and turned a bullying situation into a 
inspiring example of tolerance, support, and inspiration. 
Related: Teaching our Kids Tolerance After the Sikh Temple Shootings 
The photo was taken apparently without Kaur's knowledge while she was waiting 
in line at the Ohio State University Library. In the photo, Kaur's hair is hidden by 
a large, black turban. She's wearing a T-shirt and yoga pants, glasses, and is 
looking down at her cell phone; her sparse facial hair is clearly visible. A Reddit 
user posted it to the "Funny" forum with the quip, "I'm not sure what to conclude 
from this." 
Comments started pouring in, making fun of her appearance, asking if she was 
transgendered, and taking her to task for not plucking, waxing, or shaving. 
Related: Lessons from "The World's Ugliest Woman': Stop Staring and Start 
After a friend told her about the thread, Kaur decided to respond to the taunts herself—and take the opportunity to educate 
people at the same time. 
"Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture," she wrote. "I'm not embarrassed or even humiliated by the 
attention [negative and positive] that this picture is getting, because it's who I am." 
As a baptized Sikh woman, Kaur—who is from Ohio—said that she is forbidden from altering her body, as it is considered a 
sacred gift from God. 
"The overarching principal is this body is a tool for service," she explained. "We have to maintain and take care of it while 
cherishing its original form." That means that going to the hospital and taking medicine is fine, because one should be 
healthy in order to be of service to others. But cutting one's hair or removing one's facial hair is forbidden, even if societal 
norms dictate otherwise. 
"My hair doesn't stop me from being normal or doing service so its not a hindrance," she said in a later post. "I've been to the 
doctor regarding this and it's just a side effect of my hormone levels during my teenage years. The hormones have returned to 
normal, but the hair is still there. That's fine :) I don't regret anything, nor do I view it as an unfortunate thing." 
Sikhism was founded in the Punjab region of India in the 15th century; there are approximately 30 million Sikhs in the world. 
Followers believe in the equality of all human beings and in a single, infinitely powerful, omnipresent, genderless God. 
Instead of heaven or hell, the religion promotes salvation through a spiritual union with God; ego, anger, greed, attachment, 
and lust are considered the Five Evils. Sikhs do not believe in recruiting converts, though they welcome those who wish to 
join their faith. Once baptized or formally initiated into the faith, they vow to wear five religious symbols at all times, one of 
which is leaving their body hair uncut. 
"Yes, I'm a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than 
most women," wrote Kaur, who is the president of the Ohio State University's Sikh Student Association. "My attitude and 
thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body… by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate 
those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can." 
Her words quickly inspired readers on Reddit and elsewhere to reevaluate their reactions. A cross-post on the Facebook page 
for Kaurista garnered more than 6,750 likes and more than 850 comments. 
"I know that I don't have the courage to live that purely," Shannon Dolce commented on Facebook. "I am inspired to live 
MORE true to how my creator sees me, though." 
"I think we can agree that even the non-religious can benefit from taking a page from your book -- thank you," wrote a 
Redditor named "anothertimearound". 
"You are awesome. If your faith has made you this well-adjusted and positive and secure in your own skin, and focused on the 
things in life that truly matter, then I am glad that there are Sikhs in this world." Reddit reader "Anna Mosity" wrote. "The 
world could use more people like you." 
A few days later, the Reddit user who posted the picture started a new thread to apologize to Kaur. 
"I felt the need to apologize to the Sikhs, Balpreet, and anyone else I offended when I posted that picture," the Redditor 
wrote. "Put simply it was stupid. Making fun of people is funny to some but incredibly degrading to the people you're making 
fun of. It was an incredibly rude, judgmental, and ignorant thing to post." 
"I've read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a 
legacy and not worrying about what you look like. I made that post for stupid internet points and I was ignorant." he 
continued. "Balpreet, I'm sorry for being a closed minded individual. You are a much better person than I am. Sikhs, I'm 
sorry for insulting your culture and way of life. Balpreet's faith in what she believes is astounding." 
Kaur says that she's happy to spend time explaining her religion and her appearance to people. "I do not think explaining 
myself and the way I am is a waste of energy because storytelling in itself is a way to fight the apathy in this world," she 
explained in a follow-up post on Thursday. "By simple interactions like this, we can better understand each other and make 
this world more open and loving even if it is just one person or many." 

This lady - Balpreet Kaur- just turned everything around, being a devout Sikh. How many of us can accept ourselves as we really are? She has made the saying, "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder", a reality and made that reality a better one by accepting the truth. We need more people like her in this illusionary world.
This is what I think Balpreet Kaur really looks like -

My photo

Isn't she beautiful?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

World Youth Day for the "Young-at-Heart"

Here's a funny story about being 'young'. A year or so ago, an NGO (non-government organization) held an activity to celebrate "World Youth Day". Most of the members of this NGO were young people in their early twenties, who are full of life and vibrant with energy, enthusiasm for what they were doing, and bursting with bright ideas. They got a venue in a shopping mall where they expected lots of public to be passing, especially youth of their own age, who hopefully would spontaneously join in their program of activity, celebrating WYD.
Everything was prepared and set up at the shopping mall, and all involved were rearing to go on the big day.

However, due to timing, not many young people seemed to be around, that afternoon. Whether, more young people came into the shopping mall later in the day, I'm not sure. Perhaps, it was too impromptu or suffered insufficient publicity of the activity before hand.

Yet, to their credit, these young and vibrant persons did not give up and strived to get whoever, regardless of age, involved in the Youth Day celebration. Most of the people who sportingly came forward to participate in the Youth Day activity were mainly the middle-aged or even elderly 'young-at-heart' who, ironically, had a straggling youthful audience.

The 'young-at-heart' seemed to enjoy themselves in this youth activity, some even taking part in an 'eating contest'! In contrast, many of the real youth stood on the sidelines making up the audience, smiling sheepishly and appearing too shy to 'let- their- hair-down'. 
This was really awkward, as it seemed, a section of our youth seem 'older' and more reserved, than the middle-aged and elderly 'young-at-heart', game to celebrate Youth Day, anytime. To relive those good old days, when they were really as young and vibrant as our NGO friends.

This World Youth Day celebration was a success for the crowd for whom it was not exactly intended. Still, we (yours truly too) who have come to the half century cross-roads of our lives should take comfort in knowing that aging is merely a state of mind, despite the creaking bones and crows-feet wrinkles around the eyes.

 You are not old until you think you are, and start acting like it. Thanks to these young and vibrant NGO youth, who will probably look back in their twilight years and seek to relive those exciting times, just like we, the 'young-at-heart' are doing. 

Getting married at 60, my cousin's (the bride) wedding.

"Let's twist again, like we did last summer!" (1950's pop song).

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Journey of the Comet

Disaster is a leveller. When people of whatever origin, ethnic, cultural or religious background face common adversity, their differences are forgotten. That, is usually the case, but there may be exceptions in certain situations. There are amongst us (the human race), all kinds of characters; some are opportunists, some revert to saving themselves whilst others may emerge as leaders, and still many more, will decide who they think is right. My country is currently facing the metaphorical disaster of bad governance, rampant corruption and crime. Much of the system is like a maze where you often come to a dead-end. The current ruling administration desparately tries to pull rabbits out of a hat to appease the growing rumbles of a dissatisfied population. These illusionist acts are costing us too much, driving up our national debt well over 50%. 

But, over the past couple of years, a rapid and encouraging change has come over a portion of the population who appear to have found their wings. This started when we realized,by the end of 2007, that we were facing a common disaster and so made a firm decision to avert it, but only managed to effect a partial change in March 2008. Yes, it was the  "3/08 Tsunami'  in Malaysia, that amazed our neighbors and friends.

From this, we saw the rise of the Movement for Clean, Free and Fair Elections (Bersih), a coalition of civil society and human rights organizations including a national laureate writer, lawyers, academics and activists. This was the comet that swept through the night sky of our despondency and continues to light a path of hope towards, democracy, justice, peace and reason, out of this quagmire of empty promises and descent to degradation.

Just yesterday, the Lady and Man from the Comet appeared in our midst, they rallied us to join the journey of the Comet. As in ancient legends and folk tales, the ordinary folk's eyes opened in amazement and wonder at the message they brought - of togetherness, peace and hope for a better life, a better future, a new unity, where "we are different, yet we are the same..." (John Denver). 

By joining the journey of the Comet, we become the stars in its constellation, populating the nightsky and lending our light to others to navigate their ships to safe harbours. So, come, let us go to light up the nightsky in the trail of the Comet. Let us protect this small and bright light following the path of the Comet in the hope of overcoming the Darkness for good, one day.        


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Girls Getting Even

The status of women nowadays is apparently 'more' equal to men. Yet, there's an underlying feeling that women are still a step down in ways that are obvious at times, but subtle most of the time. Take the work place, for instance, discrimination against women working in the private sector is allowable and unchallenged by any law in Malaysia. Frequently, women are paid less than men for doing the same job, requiring the same level of skill. Some cultures still maintain that the woman's place is in the home and nowhere else. The reality is that, women are now gaining more knowledge of the outside world and closely connecting with it.  

When I was very young I felt this inequality very keenly, being the 'adventurous type'. My usual playmates were boys and I felt like just "one of the guys" even participating in their rougher games like - "chia-ba". 

This game was played in a circle with the "pitcher" in the centre throwing a small hard rubber ball at anyone he chose, then dashing to grab the place of the person who had been hit before being hit back. It was something like Tag, but more painful when you got hit by the ball, thrown with a lot of force. Having engaged in such play where pain was not an issue for me, I found it difficult in later years to adjust to being 'lady-like' and was often told to "shut up" because I was out-spoken, making blunt and tactless comments. Which I think, sometimes, held some grain of truth. Young children, frequently, don't know what they're talking about.

Looking back, I think my brother and his friends may have at some stage seen me as a threat. I couldn't understand why. It was a mystery to me as to why my brother always thought that I was in competition with him from doing little things to cleaning the family car. I was only putting into practice the principle that " whatever you do, do your best", which my parents and teachers kept drumming into us.

So much for parental control, like a wild flower, I found myself growing outside the garden and often being treated like a weed. When I was mature enough to analyse the situation, I decided that I was responsible for my own destiny and since then "getting even" with the male population has become part and parcel of my personality. It's a challenge all women have the choice to take or leave, depending on how satisfied they are with their status as women.

I don't hate men, in fact, some of them, I see as my best friends, especially the ones whom I feel interact with me on equal terms. However, the caring and protecting role of women should not be under-valued nor our ability to defend, under-estimated. There is a natural latent ferociousness in all women when their stability or their loved ones are threatened. So, to me, a woman has the power to decide her own destiny, and the ability to be responsible and in control of her own decisions and actions. It all depends on whether you are ready to take the challenge and face the consequences, positively.