Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tea And Chocolate

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Months before this, Alexandra Wong wasn't really a name that stuck in my mind - but her writing did. It was refreshing to see passages that bounce and spin like one of those funky, out-of-this-world space-age tops with those flashing lights, especially in a dour production like The Star newspaper. Her name would remain fuzzy until the day we first met. She was as chirpy as her writings, not to mention good-looking.

And here I was, helping her move house.

There was only one box, but it was heavy, and awkwardly shaped.

But joy!

Anyway, it's not about the move. Alex announced her decision to publish a book, and she needed expert advice. And the only expert big enough within reach is Eric Forbes of MPH Publishing. So after we dropped the box at her new digs, it was off to the Local Authors' Hi-Tea Event at MPH, 1 Utama.

The panel of speakers were getting into gear when we arrived. There weren't any more seats left, so we just stood at the doorway. As expected, Eric was there. An MPH staff member was kind enough to direct him to Alex. While she and Eric talked business, I turned my attention to the issues raised by the panel.

As it turns out, this lovely country, which rarely bats an eyelid when rearing white elephants, installing fake flora to beautify roundabouts and imposing outlandish laws to curb immorality and atheism, drags its feet when it comes to setting up checks and controls that allow local books to be marketed effectively overseas. There are also grouses about protectionism in the West, kind of like an AFTA for literature.

And I found out why it was so expensive to order my How to Draw Manga volume, instead of buying it off the shelf. An author who directed a question to the panel said it most eloquently, quoting a friend from overseas who wanted to buy her book: "Are you kidding me?"

Later, Alex sauntered over.

"Were the discussions fruitful?" I asked.

"Very," she replied. Her smiling face shone.

I was glad to hear it.

Of all the speakers who were there, Rehman Rashid stood out. The author of The Malaysian Journey took the time to pitch his book, talk about the good old days and rub the success of his publication into the faces of his erstwhile tormentors. It would've been a poignant tale had he been less of a prima donna. He speaks well, for a crusty old journalist - which means he probably writes well too.

I am, however, not ready to forget or forgive what he said about bloggers in general, even though I suspect he was targeting certain individuals with his opinion/rectum screed.

I wasn't looking forward to the food, but the curry puffs were okay, and the bite-sized chicken mayo sandwiches were surprisingly yummy. Earlier I greeted Sharon Bakar ("my favourite squid", she called me - ha ha, nice to see you again, too), and there was Lydia Teh, who still remembered me from last year ("oh, you're Giant Sotong!" - excellent memory, by the way).

Alex and I left MPH for a bite to eat at Del•icious Café. I had an early dinner, while she was content with a drink and dessert. As usual, the folks at Del•icious fail to disappoint when it comes to food and desserts, but I feel that they tend to overdo it sometimes. The Classic Chocolate Cake, topped with a huge scoop of vanilla ice-cream and surrounded by a moat of chocolate sauce, was luxuriously sinful.

Last Rites, Death, Funeral Procession and Burial by Chocolate.

Sure, it doesn't sound good on the menu, but it takes care of everything at one go, so there's no need to call the good people from the Nirvana Memorial Park.

After a little shopping spree, we spent the rest of the evening chatting with the landlord, who proudly showed me his old ice hockey stick and a real Louisville Slugger(!)

You don't get endings like that for a great day, you know.

However, to my utter shame and chagrin, my biceps were beginning to hurt. I would be so feeling them the next day, and the day after that.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Frog In Their Throats

You probably have never heard of the common coqui. It's a small Puerto Rican frog that is considered an invasive species in places like Hawaii. At night, the males make such a din, nobody can get a good night's sleep.

A similar kind of noise being made by a 50 Cent-wannabe is also keeping government officials up at night.

Namewee is the handle for a university student from home who was smart enough to be in Taiwan when he recorded the six-minute diatribe about police corruption, lazy civil servants and racial tension in the country - far from the reach of those over-zealous Constitution-thumping government officials.

But he was not smart enough to leave the national flag and anthem out of it, and instead, carelessly marketed the ditty as a "gift to the country" and an "expression of his patriotism".

No matter how insignificant or redundant you think it is, or how much disdain you feel for them, you simply do not "pimp up" your nation's symbols or use them as props.

Only the government can do that.

Well, of course they can! Not long ago they messed around with the tempo of the national anthem. And how many times was the "national language" renamed and tinkered with? I was - and still am - quite happy with the Johor-Riau dialect, thank you so very much. And the old Negaraku has a much more soothing effect, especially when played during Monday mornings.

And the flags - oh, the flags! Come National Day, they're everywhere, stretched across buildings and lamp-posts, flown from rooftops of all kinds, exposed to the elements and pollution until they're nothing more than rags. The end effect is more garish, rather than festive or "tastefully patriotic".

I also remember a spot of kris-waving and a blood-curdling call to arms to "defend the sanctity of religion, ethnicity and country" during some political party's annual general assembly. But that's their symbol, and they can do whatever they want with it.

Way too many people have defended his actions; I think he screwed up. He became a godsend for politicians desperate for red herrings and easy prey, while others out there - the muggers, snatch thieves and assorted hoodlums, not to mention loons like Nordin Top - who could do (and have done) much worse, are still free to do as they please.

Snakes, rats, weasels and foxes are raiding the chicken coops while the farmers go after singing frogs, which are nothing more than a mere annoyance.

Time for the public to act smart, so the authorities will have no choice but to pick on someone their own size.