Sunday January 20, 2013
Rooting for a caring society
BY SHAHANAAZ HABIB
What is the coffeeshop talk these days? How different is the conversation in rural areas from the towns and does it vary very much among the states? The writer is driving around the country to find out. She starts with Selangor.
MUSICIAN Idris A. Rahim has noticed a stark difference in the kampungs in Kuala Selangor these days. “Now, at the warung, you find there are three factions and each faction doesn't sit and chat with the others.
“They only mix with their own group. One group is made up of PAS supporters, the second is Umno and the third is people like us who are neutral and non-political.
“You would find this in every kampung here. It was never like this before the 2008 general election,” says 49-year-old Idris who was with his wife, daughter and friends at a food stall in Kuala Selangor having a drink in the evening.
Whe n a guy made a pass at his pretty daughter on the street two days earlie r, Idris' 23-year-old friend Khairul Anuar, who witnes sed the scene, made a quick phone call for “reinforcement”.
Almost immediately, the kampung folk regardles s of whether they belonged to, PAS, Umno or PKR showed up to help.
And the matter was resolved in a cara baik (amicably) with no fist fight or shouting.
“If someone is in trouble or a victim of a snatch theft, everyone will rush to help.
Politics is politics but when we die, we all end up in a grave anyway,” quips Kha irul, a friend who joined Idris and his family for drinks at the stall.
Kuala Selangor is roughly an hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur.
I confess that other than coming here aeons ago to see the famous fireflies, I've never spent time here.
And with the general election looming, I thought it would be fascinating to drive around the country in my Myvi (as a new dr iver, I need all the practice I can ge t anyway), meet and chat with people in the warung, mamak shops , kopitiam and wherever else they might hang out, to see what makes them tick, their concerns and what matters most to them.
After all, we are always hearing from the p oliticians and not enough from the common folks.
Besides, it's a great reason (or excuse) for a non-city girl like me to get out of the concr ete jungle.
For Selangor, I chose Kuala Selangor and Kelana Jaya because one is a Malay-majority area and a bit rural while the other is mixed and urban.
Kuala Selangor was my first stop.
The town itself is bigger than I expected with a thriving Tesco, Secret Recipe, fast-food joints, 24-hour mamak shops, karaoke places, foot massage centres, small hotels and roadside stalls selling food and fruits.
Idris worries about social problems in the area, though.
“Parents don't seem to supervise their children much and when I come back after my music gigs, I see teenagers hanging out in places with free WiFi until 3am or 4am.
“I've even sounded out' (told off) young girls whom I've overheard talking dirty with boys,” says Idris, who keeps a close watch on his own daughter and her boyfriend.
His 71-year-old mother who still rides a motorbike, climbs trees and ladders to pick fruits and fix things, lives alone in Kampong Asam Jawa.
She also sells rojak on Saturdays to make ends meet.
Idris says he and his family moved in with her for a while but then the Zakat Department st opped giving her the RM300 monthly allowance which is given out to the needy simply because he was there. Idris moved out so tha t she could get the zakat money again.
“They wouldn't even let me leave her a TV set,” he says wistfully.
Idris himself is struggling.
His wife Siti Nurlina, 34, helps out by selling cooked food.
She borrowed RM3,000 on a micro-credit loan and has to repay RM70 each week over a period of 50 weeks.
“I wish they'd let us pay at the end of each month instead of weekly because that would give me time to roll' the money better.
“If it rains every day for a week, there is no business because people won't come out of their houses to buy food. On days like that, I cannot make RM70 a week.
“But if I am allowed to pay the loan at the end of the month, at least I'd have my husband's salary and can use that,” says Siti Nurlina.
Every bit counts.
For Idris and his mother, the 20 cubic metres of free water every month (worth RM11.40) that the Selangor state government is giving helps to ease their burden a little.
“I am struggling, yet I manage. But there are people poorer than me. I know some who eat rice with only salt because that's all they can afford,” Idris says.
Khairul, his you ng friend, says he likes the 1Malaysia People's Aid (BR1M 2.0) that the federal gover nment is giving to help people cope with rising prices.
But some of his friends don't and refuse to register for it, which he thinks is silly.
(Under BR1M 2.0, single people age 21 and above earning less than RM2,000 a month are entitled to a RM250 one-off cash aid while households earning less than RM3,000 get RM500).
“In the past when they (Barisan Nasional) won elections in the state and we asked for something, it was difficult to get. But now that Selangor is under Pakatan Rakyat rule, whatever we ask (from Barisan), we get,” he says gleefully.
At a mamak shop not too far away, a group of mostly retirees are sitting and talking when I approach and tell them that I am a journalist who wants to hear their views.
“Do join us. You can ask us as many questions as you want. But first, what would you like to drink?” they ask with typical Malaysian hospitality.
Ex-teacher Mohammad Mat Yunus, whom the group addresses as uztaz, insists that it doesn't matter to him which party rules.
What he wants is a fixed date for the general and state elections because he finds the anticipation and wait rather “tiring”.
“We should know at least six months in advance. Now, when the Government does something good, people say it is only because elections are coming.
“And when the opposition says something right, the other side accuses them of trying to score political points for the elections. “Both sides are playin g the same game,” he sighs.
Ramli Mohd Kasim, 65, worries th e Malays have become divided in Selangor.
An Umno supporte r, Ramli says he likes what Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is doing but points out that it often seems like the top leader is working alone.
“Umno is the opposition in Selangor but they are behaving as if they are still ruling the state. They haven't changed.
“An important factor here is the candidate. If you field the wrong person, you'll lose ,” he says.
Businessman Ismail, 57, who was with the group, says he has not quite decided which part y to vote for because he wants to see who the candidate is before he makes up his mind.
“If I don't know him, I won't vote for him even if he has good credentials because he might not necessarily help the rakyat,” he says.
The next day, I head down to Kelana Jaya where a number of cool eating spots have sprouted over the past few years.
Real estate negotiator May On was at one, having a meal.
When she w as in her mid-20s, On went to the United States and spent 10 years there before finally coming home.
It bugs her that the standard of English in the country has dropped so much that there are university students these days who can't speak or write decent English.
And now at the age of 51, she yearns for a “transparent” system because corruption, she feels, is one of the biggest problems in the country.
On owns properties but worries that the younger generation will no longer be able to afford to buy their own place because house prices have sky-rocketed and “life would be very tough for them.”
As a Chinese, she says, she wants to fight for her rights and make sure that Malaysia is not like Indonesia where the Chinese are forced to give themselves Indonesian, not Chinese, names.
“And why do we say 1Malaysia when everyone in the country is not treated the same? I hope the Government will treat us all as equals,” she says.
She openly declares that she will vote for DAP but admits that she is uncomfortable
with PAS, i ts partner in Pakatan Rakyat. “I don't want PAS to rule us. I just want to live like a human being, ” she says, adding that there are a number of things she really likes about Malaysia.
The weather is one.
She also appreciates that the country is free from national disasters and that there is a variety of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western food to choose from. And being a multi-racial country, she finds most people can speak two or three languages at least an advantage that not many other countries have.
“Ten to 20 years ago, not many people knew where Malaysia was but a lot is being done to promote the country. And Malaysia is getting popular internationally. This is something great,” she says.
On also gives credit to improvements in the public transportation system, including the new MRT that is coming up.
When she needs to go to traffic-jam prone areas, she is fine about parking her car and hopping on the LRT or monorail, which gets her to her destinations quicker.
At another eating spot, Pirthipal Singh, 37, is having an after-work snack and hot masala tea with his friend a nd colleague Sandeep Singh, 31. For Pirthipal, having a caring society really matters.
“If I see an accident while driving and people don't care (about helping the victim), that's not a society I want to live in,” he s ays.
He is also conce rned about crime and corruption.
“There is a lot of crime and the perception I am getting is that it gets overlooked or maybe the police are also involved.
“The perpetrators are blatantly doing it in broad daylight and getting away. The police should put up cameras all over KL and PJ. It is feasible and very do-able,” says Pirthipal who manages a team in IT.
Having grown up in Kuala Kangsar, Pirthipal says he has no problems with the Malay special rights but stresses it should benefit the genuinely poor and not be used to subsidise rich Malays.
“Religion and the running of the state should be kept separate,” he adds.
At a 24-hour mamak restaurant in Kelana Jaya, 21-year-old buddies Diva, Dinesh and Haziq are hanging out.
Diva and Dinesh are childhood friends whereas Haziq spent 15 years in Holland but gets along well with non-Malays and Malays after he learnt to blend in.
The three talk mostly about which are cool places to hang out and chill which right now, they say, is Changkat Bukit Bintang.
They know all the dates and places of the best rave parties in KL and Sepang because they are regulars.
These three college students are not voters yet. When they meet up, they do discuss politics but only “about five per cent of the time”.
They love Malaysia, like living here and see a good future for themselves here.
Diva and Haziq say they would vote if they could, while Dinesh says it would depend on his mood.
“If one political party says that if they rule, there would be no more rave parties', then I'll vote against them,” says Diva.
Hafiz chips in, saying his vote would depend on how his socia l life is affected by who rules.
> Shahanaaz can be contacted at email@example.com