Friday 29 February 2008

Call for Entries: NME2

Matahari Books seeks entries for New Malaysian Essays 2!

Yes, we aim to publish maybe 8 people this time. The cover art has been chosen. Each essay, either in English or Malay, should be between 5,000 to 15,000 words.

Among the stuff I wanna see:

- National Service, written from the POV of someone who just went through it
- Contemporary architecture
- Life in a Malaysian jail or drug rehabilitation centre
- Dating rituals (urban or rural, straight or gay, or maybe all together).
- An essay that can be told mainly through pictures
- A biography of someone you think we should all know about
- A comparative thingamajic between Malaysia and a neighbouring country
- An extended, perhaps investigative, rumination on a single local song, film, painting, poem.

... but I am open to suggestions.

Absolute deadline 31 August 2008. But email me much earlier ( matahari.books at ) if you are working on something :-)

The book is due in stores in early 2009. The good news is that some stores have already placed advance orders!

Saturday 23 February 2008

Now in selected MPH stores

Berita baik!

As of yesterday, New Malaysian Essays 1 is now available in selected MPH stores such as MidValley and One Utama. Check it out yawl!

This is my first time dealing directly with the bookstores rather than going through a distributor; I have spent more time in loading bays in the past week than is surely seemly for a bourgeois intellectual – but I kinda like it.

It will NOT be available in: Popular, Times, Borders. I can only stock in those places when I, as publisher, have more titles!

Note to self: Buy one of them loading carts to avoid having to haul up the books, packet by packet.

Thursday 21 February 2008

Chat @ Silverfish

We will be reading and discussing New Malaysian Essays 1 this Saturday from 5:30 – 7 pm at:

Silverfish Books
58-1 Jalan Telawi
Tel: 03 22844837

'We' are Brian Yap, Aminuddin Mahmud, Saharil Hasrin Sanin and myself.

Space is limited to about 30 people, so it'll be cosier than the launch and more conducive to discussion. Plus, there will be teh tarik!

Silverfish has a link about the event but manages to misspell my name too. And I've even edited a book for them before! Sheesh.

Wednesday 20 February 2008

The riches of Bangladesh

'fess up.

You've most likely never been to Bangladesh. But mention Bangladesh and your first thoughts will not be complimentary. (The current Malay flick, Dunia Baru The Movie, has a Bangladeshi man who only knows how to say "Sepuluh ringgit, duapuluh ringgit, penuh.")

But in the 48 hours I spent there, I saw many amazing things.

In the ride from the airport, I shared the car with a Malaysian businessman who, like me, was making his first trip to the country. "The people here are so poor," he said.

The next morning I saw a legless man, a beggar, writing something on chalk literally on the road. He would write one line, then shift down, and write another. I asked my guide what he was doing. The answer: "He's writing a poem." Some people gave him money; others just read the poem as it was being slowly written.

I went to a bookstore that sold several pirated (!) books. The woman at the counter said, in a somewhat surreptitious manner, "I have the new Orhan Pamuk, do you want it?"

The Independent newspaper has a front-page (!) report about how an annual book-fair is being excitedly thronged by visitors; the inside page has reports, like this one, on the books being launched.

Tomorrow, 21 Feb, is the anniversary of the martyrdom of five students in 1952 who were protesting for the right to make Bengali (rather than just Urdu) a national language of the country. There will be a huge gathering to commemorate this. It was such a watershed day in the nationalist movement that UNESCO has delcared Feb 21 to be National Mother Language Day.

Farid, a young volunteer with the film festival who was tasked with shepherding us around, had never left the country but quoted Socrates and spoke of Garcia Marquez. And when I asked him to recommend some of his favourite CDs to buy, he brought me to a recording of Tagore poems.

And I thought of the Malaysian businessman who said, "People here are so poor."

And, truth be told, I felt a little sorry for us.

Sunday 17 February 2008

Thank you

... to the more than 200 people who crowded the book launch! I shall be able to upload photos on Wednesday, as tonight I am off to Bangladesh for another film event.

We sold 113 copies of New Malaysian Essays 1 there, 49 copies of Kasut Biru Rubina, and so on ...

A special thanks to Jerome Kugan and Mia Palencia for performing to the standing-room crowd.

It was indeed overwhelming :-)

New Malaysian Essays 1
can now be purchased only at Kinokuniya KLCC (which I am told is displaying it very nicely) and Silverfish in addition to the online store Kinibooks.

Friday 15 February 2008

NME1 – now on Kinibooks

The postal pre-orders for New Malaysian Essays 1 have ended! (SFX: Whistle blowing). Thanks to everyone who took part.

Now the book is available online only through Kinibooks, that plucky bookstore run by Malaysiakini.

Wait, there's more! You do have to pay for postage, but each order gets a gift! To find out what the gift is, you will have to click on the link lah.

If you choose not to take the gift (maybe because you already have it), just tell 'em at the Contact Us link.

Or: Just turn up at the launch tomorrow night lor ...

Thursday 14 February 2008

My life as a typo

Whenever I buy a new book on contemporary Malaysia, the first thing I do is to flip to the index to determine:

1. If it has an index
2. If I am in it

Both are happily true in the case of this compilation by Ooi Kee Beng, the author of that Tun Ismail biography:

Although I am present and accounted for on page 79, my name is misspelled! And the author has even met me before! I hope a reprint can rectify this egregious slip, which even Pak Lah is bound to notice.


Wednesday 13 February 2008

Extracts in The Sun

Starting today, theSun newspaper will run weekly extracts from all of the essays (with the exception of Brian's, which is already printed in Off the Edge).

For my own piece, I chose not an extract. Why not? Because any 900-word continuous stream of words from it would definitely require at least one term that a Malaysian newspaper would need to print with discreet asterisks, such as 'c***i' (which, as a rhetorical strategy, is less effective that 'cibai') or 'ci***' (which would cause unneeded ambiguity, as folks across the land will wonder: Does he mean 'cibai' or 'cipap'?)

So I wrote something new that manages to avoid any such word. The heading now has an extra, and intended, piquancy.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

What will be sold at the launch :-)

Saturday, 16 Feb. 8-10pm. The Annexe, Central Market :-)


The first of an annual series of Malaysian non-fiction writing. Featuring Brian Yap, Aminuddin Mahmud, Burhan Baki, Saharil Hasrin Sanin, Amir Muhammad & Sonia Randhawa. Includes drawings, spoof ads and index!

The first collection of short stories by Chuah Guat Eng, with themes such as child abuse, greed, hypocrisy and superstition. With an introduction by Professor Quayum!

KASUT BIRU RUBINA: Koleksi Fiksyen Pop Untuk Jiwa2 Hadhari
Himpunan cerpen pop oleh Sufian Abas. Diilhamkan dari konsep sastera pakaibuang (disposable literature) yang dipelopori penulis Yahudi kelahiran Vienna, Herman Broch.

The second book of poetry (and prose) by multi-hyphenate Bernice Chauly is structured loosely around the concept of “The Seven Deadly Sins.’ Oo-er!


Critically acclaimed debut collection of poetry and drawings by Shahril Nizam. “Fairy tales for grown-ups!” – Sunday Star.

Bestselling collection of musings and reportage by the hilarious – and sometimes shocking – Dina Zaman.

Quote book with self-explanatory title. Compiled by Amir Muhammad with illustrations by Shahril Nizam.


HARDESH SINGH: Eating Pomeloes from Tokyo to Tamil Nadu Makes My Heart Go Gubra
Cult collection of tunes from Lelaki Komunis Terakhir. Gubra, Tokyo Magic Hour and Chemman Chaalai. Bonus track: the keroncong song from Mukhsin!

Digital music albums:

MIA PALENCIA: Finding My Way
Mia’s debut album will be in stores next month, but here it is in MP3 form. To find out more, listen to her at the launch!

JEROME KUGAN: Songs for a Shadow
Jerome’s debut album will be in stores next month too, but here it is in MP3 form. To find out more, listen to him at the launch!

Saturday 9 February 2008

Is there such a thing as South-East Asian cinema?

Somehow, I don't think this is what we were worried about a few nights ago in Clermont-Ferrand, at a club called Joli Ouah Ouah.

from left: John Torres (The Philippines), myself, Boo Junfeng (Singapore), Chris Chong (Malaysia), Tintin Wulia (Indonesia), Yuni Hadi (Singapore), Edwin (Indonesia), Azharr Rudin (Malaysia) and Emmeline Yong (Singapore). Photo courtesy of Junfeng and taken by John Badalu (Indonesia).

The award ceremony is later tonight! I will be back in KL on Monday.

Monday 4 February 2008

Pretty poison

(The second part of my year-long column on old Malay movies, in the February issue of TELL magazine).

In a departure from the fairy-tale atmosphere of previous Malay movies, Racun Dunia (1950) is set in contemporary Singapore. And what a different world it is! Siput Serawak is now a scheming vamp. She’d be called a femme fatale if someone actually died. She smokes cigarettes, swims in a bikini and shouts that she doesn’t care if a child dies – but to be fair, she does not do all these things at the same time.

She has a partner, P. Ramlee, who exudes corruption as an insurance agent. His hair looks like a small oil-slick.

Insurance is an interesting subject, no? Insurance is the reason that Britain never openly declared war against the communists, but instead dubbed it an Emergency. Properties damaged in warfare could not claim insurance for loss of earnings. And quite a bit of property was by now being damaged.

Sir Harold Briggs would be appointed Director of Operation Malaya in March 1950. He had a Plan. True enough, it became known as The Briggs Plan. It involved shepherding the locals, especially Chinese, into heavily guarded New Villages. This is to ensure they could not help the communist guerrillas. Many existing villages were razed to the ground.

But for a happily married urban couple (played by Osman Gumanti and Kasma Booty), life is dolce. They have been together six years. They seem to have it all. But Osman will soon prove that Malay men get that itch a full year before their American counterparts; blame it on the tropical heat.

Siput and Ramlee insinuate their way into Osman’s life, and the poor guy will never be the same. “Kita patut tinggalkan segala yang kolot,” says Siput when they go for a late-night stroll – and boy is he up for it. This terrible twosome entices him into a life of fun while draining him of cash. He leaves his office to go swimming with them, and starts to get really impatient with his whining wife and kid. Why, he even stops wearing his songkok! His father is so aghast that he sputters with rage, sputters some more, and then drops dead – but even that doesn’t deter Osman for long.

Kasma and kid are unceremoniously booted out of the house. But Kasma is such a damp squib – she sounds like she’s whining even when’s she’s not – that you’d need a heart of stone not to laugh at her misery.

Osman, Ramlee and Siput live together and it’s a curious ménage: who’s doing whom? This was way before Jules et Jim! The comical servants disapprove, to no avail.

But it’s the servants, bless ‘em, who ensure that all’s well that ends well.Osman comes to his senses and boots out Siput and Ramlee. But will Kasma take him back?

She not only does, but absolves him of all blame. It’s just the wicked city life that did this to him. “Lupakan saja yang sudah-sudah,” she says in that whine of hers. “Kita bersyukur pada Tuhan.” What a doormat!

Were women really that submissive then? Women were already active in politics and the economy – although there were a few jobs, such as teaching, where they were paid less for equal work.

But then again, look at it from Kasma’s side. It had been only five years since World War 2 and the Japanese Occupation. She would yearn for stability. She’d had enough of air raids, confiscations, and tapioca. She just wanted to get on with life, not be harassed by greedy insurance agents and their hussies. Is that too much to ask?

Racun Dunia plonks itself down in the socio-economic reality of its time; Osman even blames ‘harga getah jatuh’ when he is cash-strapped. The trappings of slick modernity include new-fangled concepts like insurance. Siput even swears in English: “Bloody fool!” she hisses to the maid Siti Tanjung Perak, who is then comically aghast that someone called her a “baldi pool.’”

In the end, the domestic unit is restored and Osman goes back to wearing his songkok. We never see where Siput and Ramlee end up, but it’s safe to say that, like birds scenting carrion, they are circling around their next victim. Ladies, lock up your husbands!