Friday 31 December 2010

My 5 books of 2010

These are the five books in which I was involved as writer this year!

1. Rojak (ZI Publications, July). My first fiction book comprised 60 "bite-sized stories." Strangely enough, after I had enough for the book, I found myself unable to write anything else of the same word-length. So, alas, it looks like the book will have no 'sequel' in the foreseeable future. I am pleased that this spent a few weeks at #1 on the MPH bestseller list and even one week atop the Kinokuniya list. Alhamdulillah.

2. 120 Malay Movies (Matahari Books, August). It took me about two years to complete, and I was sad to let it go! Weirdly enough, it has been bought mainly as gifts for people's fathers or grandfathers. And here I was, thinking it would be vividly contemporary! The most common annoying question that I have received about it: "Did you REALLY watch all 120?" Well, duh...

3. Best of Southeast Asian Erotica (Monsoon Books, Singapore; September). A version of my story "The Sex Thing with the Tempoyak" is included in this naughty anthology. Although I haven't read all the stories in this volume, my favourite so far is Lee Ee Leen's "Aqua Subculture," which is a gorgeous, shimmering, slippery thing. According to the editor Richard Lord: "All the Malaysian submissions indicate an ironic, sometimes even comic approach to the question of human sexuality." I'm glad to know it.

4. Kuala Lumpur Panorama (Editions Didier Miller, Kuala Lumpur; the copyright date is 2011 but it has been on sale locally since late 2010). I did the text for this photo-book on KL. Well, I didn't have to write much since SC Shekar's photos did most of the work! But writing the 3,000 word Introduction was fun as I could express what I felt about the city I spent most of my life in (although I now live in PJ).

5. Asian Women in Film (Cathay Organisation, Singapore; December). This is the most beautiful of the lot. It weighs several kilos (I kid you not) and is a fabric-bound hardcover. It highlights 28 women who made an impact in their respective fields. When the Executive Director of Cathay Organisation asked if I would write the chapter on Yasmin Ahmad, it didn't take me long to say Yes! Other women featured include Christine Hakim, Aishwarya Rai, Maggie Cheung and Michelle Yeoh. Only 1,500 numbered copies of this book were printed; it's not for sale and is a corporate gift from Cathay, but I expect the better libraries would get copies, too.

I hope there will be more titles in 2011. Insya-Allah! And may the Gregorian New Year bring good things to you, too.

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Why is the 98% scared of the 2%?

The fact that the Syiah community in Malaysia is getting vocal  about its continual harassment by the authorities is a good sign. As the Gregorian year winds to a close, it's nice that, amidst all the corniness and the cynicism that abound (and the two C words are just mirror images of each other), there are people who are now brave enough to say: Enough!

Malaysia is one of the few ostensibly 'Muslim' countries that bans a person from adhering to Syiah principles. For decades, Muslim school-kids in Malaysia were taught that Syiah is a 'deviant' and even 'bloodthirsty' sect instead of a product of a political schism in the years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). An rony is that Malaysia is a firm buddy of Iran, where being Syiah is the official norm. But if they were really so horrible, why do we acknowledge the 'Islamic Republic' of Iran? I am sure the ayatollah types there would benefit from a firm lecture on 'deviancy' by the likes of JAKIM (when they aren't too busy peeping into people's bedrooms, of course).

The Shi'ites (and, yes, how we used to giggle when we saw this word in print) believe that the prophet's rightful successor is his cousin (and son-in-law, through marriage to his daughter Fatimah) Ali. Although they believe in the same Quran, the corpus of hadith that the Syiah and the Sunni subscribe to are largely different. The former subscribe to hadith narrated by the Prophet's closest family members (the ahlul bait - People of the House) rather than those of the first three caliphs. The fact that Ali was murdered, of course, adds to the cult status accorded to him by the Syiah.

The Syiah community has existed in the Malay archipelago for centuries. To pick just one proof: the names Tongkat Ali and Kacip Fatimah, the energy-boosting (of perhaps more than one type of 'energy', knowwhatimean?) are obviously inspired by the names of a man and a woman revered in Syiah tradition. There is even a Malay Syiah epic, Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiyyah. (More details in this fascinating essay, In Search of Fatimah)

Syiah people comprise perhaps 2% of the Muslim population here; exact figures are hard to come by because no one is allowed to officially proclaim themselves to be one. And yet, the religious institutions representing the other 98% choose to see them as a "threat to national security", as if their religious rituals could shake the foundations of anything. The Sunnis in Malaysian should stop behaving like big fat bullies!

I am not the hugest fan of the Iranian administration; any nation that jails filmmakers for years for supporting opposition parties is not terribly kosher. Not to mention its President's delusional remark that there are no homosexuals in Iran. (When the regime figured out there were indeed a few, they went ahead and executed them.)

Like the Syiah of Malaysia, there are probably only 2% of people in this world who are homosexual. And yet there are various organisations squealing like stuck pigs (to use a non-halal simile) at this "threat to the nation". Further hypocrisy ensues when the "moral panic" is spread only via Muslim religious bodies. If it's really so threatening, shouldn't gays of any religion (or no religion) also be targeted?And what threat are we talking about here, exactly? The threat that all Malay boys will stop listening to rock bands and listen only to Ziana and Siti instead? (Yes. Stereotype. I know).

More people have visited this blog over the past week than at any time since its inception, because people have been Googling "Azwan Ismail." My post also attracted the most comments. Hardly anyone read the bloody brilliant Pablo Neruda translations I have been doing, such as this one on wine. Why? Because Malaysians, especially those who love claiming the moral high ground, are inordinately fond of other people's sex lives. Hence, the prevalence of skodeng (peeping tom) squads. Yes, there is a word for these faux moralists, and that word is pervert.

A blogger whose site is garlanded with Quranic verses also lists with pious enthusiasm the various methods by which gays should be killed. I am surprised he did not know that the Quran acknowledges same-sex attraction, and that the reward for good people who happen to be gay is Paradise. There are three places in the Quran that mention the wildan (heavenly boys) that will serve in the Hereafter:

52:24 Round about them will serve, to them, boys (handsome) as pearls well- guarded. 
56:17 Round about them will serve boys of perpetual freshness. 
76:19 And round about them will serve boys of perpetual freshness: if thou seest them, thou wouldst think them scattered pearls. 

The Arabic term for these boys is apparently the same used for enticing (female) virgins, but it's telling that some translators choose the more chaste-sounding 'male servants'. The five lines of 52:24-28 are also significant:

52:24And round them shall go boys of theirs as if they were hidden pearls.
52:25And some of them shall advance towards others questioning each other.
52:26Saying: "Surely we feared before on account of our families:
52:27But Allah has been gracious to us and He has saved us from the punishment of the hot wind:
52:28Surely we called upon Him before: Surely He is the Benign, the Merciful."

Now, what does that sound like to you? Attractive boys  are placed in the same category as wine (which is similarly available in Paradise). You see, the Quran will not be a complete book if it neglects the 2%. It's only the humans, in their supreme arrogance, who choose to do so.

Monday 27 December 2010


Puisi ialah putih:
ia keluar menitis dari air,
ia mengerut dan menimbun,
kita harus meregangkan kulit planet ini,
kita harus menyeterika laut dalam keputihannya,
tangan-tangan yang sentiasa bergerak,
dan begitulah sesuatu dicipta,
tangan mencipta dunia setiap hari,
api berganding dengan waja,
linen, kanvas dan belacu kembali
dari berperang di tempat basuh,
dan dari cahaya ini seekor merpati dilahirkan
kesucian datang semula dari busa sabun.


Di celah kehijauan pasar
sebutir peluru
dari perut
aku nampakmu,

Semua di sekitarmu
ialah daun salad,
buih lautan
bumi ini,
lobak merah,
dari ketulenan
dari yang tidak diketahui,
dari bayang-bayang
yang tidak terduga,
dalamnya laut,
lubang dalam,
hanya kamu yang bertahan,
saksi tewas,
yang hitam-legam,
kepada malam yang pekat.

Hanya kamu, peluru gelap
yang dituju dengan tepat
dari lubang dalam,
dimusnah pada satu hujung,
tapi sentiasa
dilahirkan semula,
sebuah sauh dalam arus,
sirip yang bersayap,
dalam penerbangan
yang lincah
si bayang-bayang
panah berkabung,
sumpit di laut,
ikan berminyak, seperti zaitun.

Aku melihatmu yang mati,
raja yang mangkat
dari lautanku,
serangan hijau,
cemara selam yang berwarna perak,
dari gempa laut,
yang tinggal hanya kematian,
di seluruh pasar ini
bentuk yang punya tujuan
di antara
penaklukan alam
yang membingungkan;
di antara kehijauan yang rapuh
kapal yang sepi,
di antara sayur-sayuran,
sirip dan bahagian depan yang hitam dan berminyak,
seolah-olah kamu masih
kapal dari angin,
tanpa cacat, mengemudi
perairan kematian.

(Versi asal: Oda a un gran atún en el mercado)

Sunday 26 December 2010


Garam ini
dalam bekas garamnya
Aku pernah nampak di lombong garam.
Aku tahu
kau takkan
ia menyanyi
garam menyanyi, kulit
dari lombong garam
dengan mulut yang dikambus
oleh tanah.
Aku menggigil dalam
kesunyian itu
bila aku mendengar
di padang gurun.
Dekat Antofagasta
tanah pampa
yang patah,

Dalam guanya
garam mengerang, segunung
cahaya yang ditanam,
katedral yang lutsinar,
kristal dari lautan, yang dilupakan
oleh ombak.
Kemudian di setiap meja
di dunia,
kita nampak serbukmu
yang mengasyikkan
cahaya yang diperlukan
ke atas
makanan kita.
tempat simpanan
kapal lama,
di laut yang jauh,
untuk apa yang tidak diketahui,
simpangan buih yang berubah-ubah.
Debu laut, keranamu
lidah menerima ciuman
dari malamnya laut:
setiap makanan berperisa
mendapat rasa dari zat lautanmu;
gelombang paling kecil,
dari bekas garam
menunjukkan kita
bukan saya keputihan rumahtangga;
di dalamnya, kami merasai apa yang tak terbatas.

(Versi asal: Oda al Sal)


Jalan itu
dipenuhi tomato,
musim panas,
dibelah dua
seperti tomato
merentasi jalan-jalan itu.
Pada bulan Disember
tanpa henti
si tomato
ia masuk semasa makan tengahari,
dengan santai mengambil
di atas
antara gelas-gelas,
piring mentega,
tempat garam biru.
Ia melimpahkan
cahayanya yang tersendiri,
keagungan yang jinak.
Malangnya, kita harus
pisau itu
tubuh yang hidup,
rongga perutnya,
yang nyaman,
tak pernah habis,
meramaikan penduduk salad-salad Chile,
dengan gembiranya, dia berkahwin
dengan bawang yang jernih,
dan untuk merayakan mempelai ini
anak hasil zaitun,
ke dua belahan hemisferanya,
garam, tarikan magnetnya;
inilah perkahwinan hari ini,
menaikkan benderanya,
membuih dengan deras,
daging panggang
di pintu,
dah sampai masa!
dan, di atas
meja, di tengah-tengah
musim panas,
si tomato,
bintang bumi, bintang yang
kerap muncul
dan subur,
jangkauan dan kelimpahannya
yang mengagumkan,
tiada biji keras,
tiada kulit keras,
tiada daun atau duri,
si tomato memberi
warna yang berapi-api
dan diirnya yang lengkap dan nyaman.

(Versi asal: Oda al Tomate )


Mara Mori memberiku
sepasang sarung kaki,
yang dia tenun sendiri
dengan tangan gembala biri-birinya,
dua sarung kaki selembut arnab.
Aku menyelinap kakiku ke dalam mereka
seolah-olah mereka dua kotak
ditenun dengan benang-dengan senja dan kulit kambing.

Sarung kaki yang ganas,
kakiku dua ekor ikan buatan bulu biri-biri,
dua yu panjang
biru laut, disulam oleh
selembar benang emas,
dua burung jalak yang besar,
dua meriam,
kakiku mendapat penghormatan ini,
oleh sarung kaki yang bagaikan dari syurga.

Mereka sangat tampan dan untuk kali pertamanya,
kakiku seperti tidak dapat aku terima,
seperti dua ahli bomba yang lapuk,
ahli bomba yang tak layak untuk api yang ditenun,
oleh sarung kaki yang bersinar itu.

Namun, aku menahan godaan kuat
untuk memelihara mereka bagaikan budak sekolah
mengumpul kelip-kelip,
atau para ulama menyimpan
kitab suci,
aku menolak desakan gila
untuk meletakkan mereka
dalam sangkar emas dan setiap hari memberi mereka
makanan burung dan hirisan tembikai merah muda.
Seperti peneroka di hutan
yang menyerahkan rusa hijau yang jarang ditemui
ke tempat masak dan memakannya dengan kesal,
aku memanjangkan kakiku dan memakai
sarung kaki yang hebat itu dan kasutku.

Mesej syair pujianku ialah:
keindahan ialah dua kaliganda indah
dan apa yang baik ialah dua kaliganda baik
apabila halnya ialah dua sarung kaki
buatan bulu biri-biri di musim sejuk.

(Versi asal: Oda a Los Calcetines)

Saturday 25 December 2010


Wain yang berwarna siang,
wain yang berwarna malam,
wain dengan kaki ungu
atau darah topaz,
anak berbintang
bumi ini,
wain, licin
bagaikan pedang emas,
bagaikan baldu berahi,
wain, dalam kerang beruli
dan penuh ajaib,
penuh kasih,
tak pernah muat dalam satu gelas,
sebuah lagu, seorang lelaki,
kamulah korus, ramah bersuara,
sekurang-kurangnya, kamu mesti dikongsi.
Ada kalanya,
kamu menjamah memori hidup;
ombakmu membawa kami
dari makam ke makam,
tukang kubur dari kubur ais,
dan kami menangis
airmata fana;
gaun musim bungamu
yang indah
ialah lain,
jantung akan naik melalui cabang-cabang,
angin menghasut hari,
tiada yang tinggal
dari rohmu yang abadi.
menggerakkan musim bunga, kegembiraan
memancut dari bumi bagaikan tanaman,
dinding meruntuh,
dan tebing berbatu,
jurang merapat,
bila lagu dilahirkan.
Sekendi wain, dan dikau bersamaku
di belantara,
nyanyi si penyair lama.
Biarkan bekas wain ini
menambah ciumnya
kepada ciuman cinta.

Kasihku, tiba-tiba
garis pinggulmu
menjadi lenggok cawan wain
yang hampir melimpah,
buah dadamu ialah gugusan anggur
putingmu ialah anggur,
cahaya roh menyinari rambutmu,
pusatmu ialah meterai suci
dicap atas perutmu,
cintamu bagaikan limpahan air
yang tidak henti-henti,
cahaya yang menerangi deriaku,
nikmat hidup di bumi.

Tapi kamu lebih dari cinta,
ciuman berapi,
kehangatan api,
lebih dari wain kehidupan;
kamulah persaudaraan manusia,
paduan disiplin,
kelimpahan bunga.
Aku suka kalau di meja,
semasa berbual,
cahaya dari botol
wain yang bijaksana.
Minumlah ia,
dan ingatlah dalam setiap titis emas itu,
dalam setiap gelas topaz,
dalam setiap sudu ungu,
bahawa musim luruh telah bekerja
untuk mengisi kendi dengan wain;
dan dalam upacara kerjanya
biarlah manusia sentiasa ingat
akan tanah dan tugasnya,
untuk menyebarkan lagu suci wain.

(Versi asal: Oda al Vino )


Binatang-binatang itu   
tidak sempurna.
Ekor panjang, sedih 
di kepala,
Sedikit demi sedikit mereka 
mengatur diri mereka,

menjadi satu lanskap,

memperoleh bintik-bintik, gaya, penerbangan.

Si kucing,

hanya kucing

muncul lengkap
dan bangga:

lahir benar-benar selesai,

berjalan sendirian dan tahu apa yang ia mahu.

Manusia ingin menjadi ikan atau burung,

ular lebih suka memiliki sayap

anjing adalah singa yang sesat,
jurutera ingin menjadi seorang penyair,
lalat mempelajari layang-layang,

penyair cuba untuk meniru lalat,
tapi si kucing
hanya ingin menjadi kucing
dan setiap kucing ialah kucing
dari misai ke ekor,

dari firasatnya ke tikus hidup

dari malam ke mata emasnya.

Tidak ada satu

seperti dia,
tidak ada 
bulan dan bunga
tiada konteks sepertinya:
ia adalah satu
seperti matahari atau sebentuk topaz,
dan garis elastik dari konturnya
kuat dan halus seperti
garis haluan di kapal.

Mata kuningnya
tinggalkan hanya 

untuk meyumbat syiling emas malam.

Oh si kecil
maharaja tanpa dunia,

penakluk tanpa negara,

harimau kecil ruang tamu, pengantin 
sultan dari langit 

ubin berahi,

angin cinta 
di tempat terbuka
anda desak
ketika anda melewati

dan sempat posing,
empat kaki halus

di lantai

merasa sangsi

terhadap semua benda di dunia
kerana semuanya

terlalu kotor
untuk kaki rapi si kucing.

O binatang bebas 
di rumah,

sisa-sisa malam yang sombong,
malas, lincah 
dan asing,

kucing yang mendalam,
polis rahsia 
tempat kediaman,
baldu yang hilang,

mungkin tiada 
dengan cara anda,
mungkin anda tidak misteri
semua orang tahu anda dan anda kepunyaan 
mahkluk yang paling tiada misteri,

mungkin semua orang percaya itu,

semua orang percaya merekalah tuan,
pemilik, bapa saudara 
si kucing, pendamping,
rakan sejawat,

murid atau kawan 
si kucing.

Bukan aku.

Aku tidak percaya itu.

Aku tidak kenal si kucing.

Aku kenal semuanya, kehidupan dan kepulauannya,
lautan dan bandar tak terhitung
tempat tinggal gundik-gundik dan kelampauannya,
kelebihan dan kekurangan matematik
saluran darah gunung berapi dunia,
kulit keras buaya yang tidak benar,

kebaikan tersorok pemadam kebakaran, 

kebiruan paderi yang pernah muncul dulu,
tapi aku tidak boleh memahami si kucing.
Fikiran aku tergelincir di depan ketidakpeduliannya,

matanya yang mengandungi nombor emas.

(Versi asal: Oda al Gato)

Friday 24 December 2010

Short story by Chuah Guat Eng in 5th issue of SELANGOR TIMES

After reading this, you may also want to check out Chuah Guat Eng's books! One of the stories in The Old House is translated and included in Orang Macam Kita, too.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

#1 in Kinokuniya!

The first time this has ever happened to me, so Alhamdulillah! (I've been #1 at MPH as writer twice, but never at Kinokuniya). The list combines local and foreign, so this is also a rare instance where I can be on top of the likes of Mr. Brown, Mr. Grisham, Mr. Follet, Mr. Archer and Ms. Picoult.

And thank you, lovely Christians, for making book-buying and book-giving a very acceptable part of your holy celebration. (Book sales in December are by far the highest of the year.)

Tuesday 21 December 2010

How Amin Sweeney explained our obsession with the sex lives of others

The scholar Amin Sweeney (who was English, Malaysian, formerly Kelantanese, formerly Californian, finally Jakartan) died last month. He specialised in Malay literature, and seemed to move between the discursive realms of both Malaysia and Indonesia with graceful ease; in fact, one of his last major works, a 3-volume critical edition of the works of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir (aka Munshi Abdullah) was published in Jakarta rather than KL.

A particularly delightful essay by him is Martyr to Science or Gaseous Windbag of Colossal Ignorance? which is about ... oh, I shall not spoil it, read it yourself. He had, as you can see, a particular gift for the naughty, sharply observed aside. How many essays in academic books can make you LOL?

A short book of his was published online posthumously: Pusat Plagiarisme, which meticulously confirms a plagiarism accusation against an Indonesian linguistic body. Before he even reaches what Monty Python would call the fulcrum of his gist, he has a couple of sentences right on Page 1 that are not about the subject at all. But this aside is the perfect explanation for the prurience of Indonesians (but the nationality can be interchanged with ours, and in fact I think it fits Malaysians even better) when it comes to matters sexual:

Di negeri waras dan matang, tidak akan ada obsesi yang sakit parah dengan seks. Tapi dalam suasana represif yang penuh kemunafikan, tentu saja terdapat reaksi penuh gairah ala alhamdulillah—masyaallah—alhamdulillah—masyaallah. Tutup mata sambil mengagumi lewat celah jari.

I immediately thought of this quote when, a few weeks ago, there was a local Youtube sensation: a couple of Malay teenagers were making out in front of their friends; the phrase "pilih KLCC" was used somewhere. Almost all the comments condemned this couple to Hell with gleeful enthusiasm, with quite a few using their scandalous behaviour to explain why our region has lately been tsunami-prone. Yes, God in His wisdom sent down tsunamis to Sumatera because camwhoring KL teenagers get horny, which must mean (rather blasphemously) that He missed them by a few hundred kilometres.
The kissing = tsunami link might seem baffling, until you remember that some people in Malaysia take their worldview from Mastika magazine, in which sexual transgressors always receive lurid punishments, which are usually of the medical or supernatural variety but which sometimes, as in this case, explode into the realm of the meteorological. You rarely hear of such colourful bala (divine punishments) meted out to, say, corporate embezzlers, big-time environmental polluters or corrupt politicians, even though these people have caused harm to many people. No, it's invariably sex that takes centre-stage, simply because sex is a much more entertaining spectator sport. You get hot and tingly from not only watching but from the pleasurable moral outrage that courses through you. Alhamdulillah—masyaallah—alhamdulillah—masyaallah indeed!

Monday 20 December 2010

Who is Azwan Ismail and why are some people saying terrible things about him?

Those of us who watched Malaysian TV circa 1990 would be familiar with the effeminate Sam (played by the actor Imuda) in the sitcom 2+1. I didn't watch every episode, but I do remember a few instances where Sam flirted with brawnier men. This made Sam not only lembut (soft) but gay, although I don't think his desires were ever permitted to be reciprocated.

Folks loved Sam. When the Information Ministry decided to ban the character, the TV viewers -- and by this I mean regular people (we aren't talking about gender/sexuality activists here, not that gender/sexuality activists aren't regular people too) -- were actually upset. There was even a play, Jangan Bunuh Sam (Don't Kill Sam).

Sam was a stereotype that anyone familiar with slapstick comedy will immediately recognise: the non-threatening, endearing, but faintly ridiculous queen. You could also say that his trademark phrase ("Here's my card!") identified him as being a peculiarly urban/bourgeois phenomenon: no 'manly' proletariat would carry around name-cards, or feel the need to proclaim their existence all the time! So I'm not saying Sam was such a progressive role model; he was a figure of fun. And yet, the fact that he existed at all, without howls of outrage from the majority of viewers, is proof that there is space for queerness in the popular Malay imagination.

It's not just Sam, of course. In my book 120 Malay Movies -- and a bloody entertaining book it is, too -- I identify the first gay male character as being in Kaki Kuda (1958) and the first lesbian as being in Nora Zain Ajen Wanita 001 (1967). The fact that both characters were campy villains need not detain us for now; what's important is that they existed.

And it ain't just fictional depictions, either. Stories about the jambu in male boarding schools, or kakak angkat in female boarding schools, would be familiar to anyone. And then -- surprise! -- some of these boys and girls do not outgrow this 'phase'. This is 2010. I think every Malaysian -- who isn't a hermit, or delusional, or unobservant, or all three -- would know at least one gay person. Gay attraction is certainly not a foreign concept.

With that in mind, watch this video, and read (or try to read) most of the comments. I will wait here while you do so:

OK. Welcome back.

My thesis -- and I do have one -- is that some people aren't appalled by the fact of Azwan Ismail's sexuality. What they are affronted by is that he's a person who's giving his own name, and being completely honest about what he wants to say.

We are a society that thrives of innuendo and nudge-wink insinuations. Most people are aware of local gay celebrities who 'cover line', sometimes to the extent of having lavish weddings. How long would these sham unions last, and how much unhappiness would they cause? Those questions somehow recede into irrelevance; what's important is that the values of the community have been upheld. By 'values', I don't mean marriage but hypocrisy. There's a perverse pleasure to be had in making people lie about themselves. What Azwan did, and he seems quite unprecedented in this, was to choose to tell the truth.

Despite what the newspapers are saying, the video isn't some gratuitous pengakuan berani mati (shockingly brave confession) but a response to the international campaign It Gets Better, which is meant to encourage LGBTQ youth not to feel alone or to despair. (Yes, the irony is that the mostly negative comments might end up having the opposite effect! But remember what whoever-it-was said about the longest journey.) And his is not the only Malaysian video, either; there are more to come. Unfortunately, this wider context has been drowned out, at least for now, by tabloid noise.

Azwan Ismail is a friend and I've known him way before he co-edited the bloody fantastic Orang Macam Kita. But even if I hadn't known him, I'll say that what he did was significant, right down to his decision to quote Shahnon Ahmad instead of, say, Shakespeare (so who says homosexuality is a 'Western invention"?).

What he did was violate a code. Not the code of sexual conduct, but the code of faham-faham ajelah or kalau ya pun, janganlah buat terang-terang. An analogy: Walk down the stairwell of any office building during a Ramadhan afternoon; you will find at least one Malay man surreptitiously sneaking  a smoke. Everyone 'knows' this happens but no one makes a big fuss because there was an attempt at concealment. What Azwan did was, to some people, the equivalent of having a nasi dagang lunch during the fasting month, live on national TV. What's shocking isn't the fact but the openness.

There is, as always in our dear country, a political context, too. There's a sense of majority privilege about everything; and this is a majority that is very prickly and always seeing threats to its very existence. The newspaper Berita Harian that 'broke' the story also has this poll result:

Check out the result! Being Malay in this instance is analogous to being heterosexual; it's the majority, therefore its 'dominance' cannot be 'questioned'! To do so would let 'outsiders take over'. 

The direct gaze of the video is why some people feel threatened. (And by 'some people', I mean also the middle-class gays who want to protect the comfortable 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' status quo that has provided a comfortably living. To extend the political analogy: these would be the non-Malay tycoons who got rich from Malay affirmative action policies, and thus don't want to rock the political boat.)

Yes, you might find the approach of the video, starting with its title, "Saya Gay, Saya OK" to be too direct, somehow 'unMalay'. Couldn't a euphemism have been used? You know, like "Saya Rama-Rama, Tak Mengapa" or "Saya Merpati, Nak Terbang Lagi" or something suitably fey? That would have been less provocative, perhaps. But what's done cannot be undone. Whatever happens after this, 'Sam' is not going away -- because, you see, he has always lived here.

Friday 17 December 2010

Short story by Al Zaquan in 4th issue of SELANGOR TIMES

The 4th issue of Selangor Times can be read/downloaded here. And as usual, there is a short story which I will duly blog. This is his first published piece.

Friday 10 December 2010

Yusuf Martin's short story in the 3rd issue of SELANGOR TIMES

In case you still can't get hold of Selangor Times (i.e. if you don't happen to be an LRT user in Selangor), this is the short story in its third issue!

 If you want to write short fiction, do email your submission (about 800 words) to . Yes, there is pay! But perhaps more importantly (oh, listen to me!), it's a  chance to keep something going.

Friday 3 December 2010

Chua Kok Yee's short story in SELANGOR TIMES

For those of you who didn't get a copy, the second issue of Selangor Times features a new short story by Chua Kok Yee. If you like it, get his book Without Anchovies.


Half A Chicken And A Quarter Of A Cow

Fiction by Chua Kok Yee

Colin was standing over the sink with a knife in his hand. He looked down and realised his shirt was smeared with blood. With a shriek, he dropped the knife and turned around. On the kitchen table, a severed chicken head was engaged in a conversation with a cow’s head. The clucking and mooing became louder and louder, until Colin had to press his palms against his ears.

“I screamed at them to stop, and then I woke up,” Colin said. He lets out a sigh, and slumps back to the couch. Jonathan, his friend, was seated across him.

“Do you think it’s because of the job? My boss is crazy, and maybe the insanity is catching.”

Jonathan looked at him, but said nothing. Colin’s boss, Mr Wong, was one of the richest persons in Asia. After visiting a temple on his 60th birthday, Mr Wong handpicked a group of accountants from his companies, including Colin, to work in a special project under him. Colin was exhilarated at the prospect of working directly with the tycoon, but the excitement turned into incredulity after the first briefing.

Mr Wong wanted a big surplus in his ‘karma account’ to ensure he would have a good ending to his current life, and enough positive karma to carry forward to the next. He decided to compensate for any bad karma he has earned, and would receive, in the only way he knew; in dollars and cents.

The project team was split into two groups. The first group was assigned to put monetary values on the negative things Mr Wong had done in the past, and make a monthly recommendation of donation amount to be made to organisations. The job involved a lot of research and interviews to reconstruct Mr Wong’s life history.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you just donate a really huge amount, sir? Surely, that would cover everything, someone asked Mr Wong at the briefing. Mr Wong explained that excessive money would lead to sinful thoughts among the recipients, which in turn would bring more negative karma to him.

So the amount has to be measured and reasonably accurate, Mr Wong explained, before firing that guy on the spot. Later, he donated the fired guy’s two years’ salary to a charity, of course.

Colin was assigned to the second group which was responsible for the present. They had to discreetly observe Mr Wong, and place a value on his deed. After brainstorming and debating, the team agreed on a measurement system by using a karma factor. The karma factor was in proportion to the negativity of the deed. If Mr Wong purchased a chicken wing and ate it, the value would be the price of the wing multiplied by the karma factor of one. However, if he stole the wing and ate it, the karma factor would be increased to three.

Despite the ludicrousness of the endeavour, Colin actually enjoyed the first few weeks on the job. He had all-expenses paid visits to New York, Amsterdam and Monaco along with his boss, and the salary was good. Furthermore it was not as stressful as his previous position; all he had to do during his shift was to record Mr Wong’s actions, review them and assign a value to it. Someone in the office would compile them, and give out the appropriate donation at the end of each month.

Good life, easy money.

Then the nightmares started. There were a few variations to the theme, but always with a lot of blood and chatty dead animals. Once, he dreamt of soaking in a bathtub filled with blood with a swine. The beast, with half of its body roasted, was espousing the merits of socialism.

“I’ve a theory,” Jonathan said.

Colin turned towards Jonathan, and raised his eyebrows.

“How do you measure the value if your boss orders a huge steak, or half a roasted chicken?”

“That’s easy - I’ll use their prices on the menu, and multiply them by karma factor of one.”

“I believe here is where you got it wrong. You can’t just take the price of the food. The bad karma in this case comes from the loss of lives. Half a chicken is one dead chicken, and a quarter of a cow is still one slaughtered cow. So you have undervalued them.”

Colin thought about it for awhile, before nodding. “Thus I’m receiving bad vibes from them? It’s karma.”

The two of them sat there in silence. “You could be right,” Colin said after awhile. “Who really understand how this karma things really works, right?

Saturday 27 November 2010


There's a brand-new newspaper in the country, Selangor Times. It's a weekly (available every Friday) with a circulation of 100,000. It's so new that its website is not even up yet -- but you can read a news report about it in theSun here.

It's a free newspaper; the first issue was given out yesterday at all LRT stations in Selangor, and is now completely gone. There weren't enough copies to be sent to 7-Eleven stores, but I am told this will be rectified by the time the next issue is out. 

This paper has me particularly psyched because it is now the only regular venue for Malaysian fiction in English. All the main Malay papers have published short stories and even serial novels for decades, but fiction has so far been absent from the oghe putih press. Why? Because English has been complacently assumed to be merely a utilitarian, upwardly-mobile device rather than a language that you can embrace, tickle and otherwise get naughty with.

I was initially approached by the editor to write a column, but I think there are already so many hand-wringing columns about The State of the Nation; what's the point of adding to the chatter? So I proposed instead a Fiction section. My own short story *ahem* is the first to be published. Click to enlarge!

Subsequent issues will use stories that other people send in. Do email the Chief Editor Chan Kok Leong at Length should be 800 words, and the target audience is, well, anyone in Selangor today. Yes, there is pay!

Tuesday 16 November 2010

I'm a fan of movie posters, but I have never seen one quite like this

Is this the first movie poster in the history of the universe which features no cast members, but instead TWO pictures of its rather flamboyant producer? (That's also him right at the top, in a chair.)

Well, it's certainly better than the first poster for this movie, which was marred by an unfortunate act of plagiarism.

I have not seen the movie yet and so will not comment.

There will be many people Googling the movie's title and the producer's name in the next few days, to see if he will reach his oft-brayed box-office target. But, blushing little wallflower that I am, I am not gonna mention the title and his name.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Hello there, Luang Prabang!

I'm trying not to accept so many film festival invitations (oh, you should hear how some of them beg and beg!), what with me now being a book publisher and all. But I've never been to Laos, so I didn't want to turn this one down. (And it's not just because I'm a fan of the Dr. Siri Paiboun crime novels.)

Luang Prabang itself, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, promises to be a beaut!

Laos has no film industry to speak of but I admire the effort the organisers took to come up with this inaugural, albeit low-key, event. Contrast that with the slapstick dodginess of the well-sponsored Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival (which was supposed to take place this month but just got postponed, apparently). Everyone involved in KLIFF should really be ashamed of themselves -- but since its organisers include a certain Malaysian filmmaker who has a habit of never paying his crew members, I don't suppose they're the kind to embarrass easily.

Monday 1 November 2010


Islam in Malaysia: Perceptions & Facts is the translation of Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin's book Mengemudi Bahtera Perubahan Minda. The translation and annotations were by U-En Ng.

The synopsis begins: 

While still in his 30s, Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, former Mufti of Perlis, earned a reputation as a popular, and sometimes controversial, public intellectual on the subject of Islam in Malaysia. This collection of his articles seeks to identify and celebrate the true Islamic essence of simplicity, rationality and justice; and to separate it from superstition, prejudice and taklid (blind adherence) to self- serving 'religious' leaders.

At 343 pages, this is the second-thickest publication by Matahari Books (after 120 Malay Movies, which is 432 pages). You may download 3 of the 47 chapters as a free PDF at the end of this link here.

The bad news is that the main bookshops will only stock this book at the end of the month; they're still making up their minds. The good news is that you may order it right now! 

Here are the four methods:

1. Bank in RM40 to Maybank 014105120512 (Amir Muhammad) and email with your proof of payment, your address and phone number. Delivery will be by City-Link courier, three times a week. (Free delivery anywhere in Malaysia.) 10% of the proceeds from this postal order will be donated to the MERCY Malaysia - Yasmin Ahmad Fund for Children. You may also, of course, order any of the other books in the Matahari Books catalogue as well, while you're at it!

2. Order directly from the distributor, Gerakbudaya, here.

3. Get it in person at Silverfish Books in Bangsar.

4. Pre-order on here.

This is totally different from the other Matahari Books titles so far. For one, it's a compilation from a newspaper column (his articles originally appeared in Mingguan Malaysia); but since these are newly translated, with over a hundred extra footnotes and a Glossary, it is a venture very much worthwhile. 

The subject of Islam in Malaysia (the title of the book came from the author, who politely declined my own suggestion, What the Mufti Saw) will grow in size and importance in the coming years, and this book will, I hope, be part of the discussion. I certainly learned a few things from it, and although his world-view is essentially more, shall we say, traditional than mine, I admire the way he can cut through the racialised, culture-bound and divisive BS that so often obfuscates popular Islamist discourse here. Just read the 3 sample chapters and you will get what I mean.

I will also be posting on Twitter a few dozen self-contained extracts from the book, so stay tuned!

Thursday 21 October 2010

My 12 favourite local movie posters of the past decade

Restricted to movies that were commercially released here. 

I also picked only the posters used for the Malaysian release; for example, I much prefer the international festival poster of Sell Out? to what was used in Malaysia and Singapore

I have also modestly not included the posters of movies in which I served as director or producer -- although anyone can tell you that the ones for Susuk and Punggok Rindukan Bulan are bloody brilliant.

Also my nominee for Best Tagline:
"Love. Despair. Love. Despair."
Tagline goes on 2 words too long!

Pity about that horrible GSC logo.

Pity I don't have a clearer image of this;
  it captures the Gila-Gila aesthetic so well.

Those are the 12. A special mention goes to:

Why only Special Mention? Because I initially quite liked it, and then I saw this!