Read All About My Reading From Readings From Readings

On May 15th I did a reading of my chapter from Readings From Readings at the MPH bookstore in 1Utama, along with several talented writers — Shanthini Venugopal, Alina Rastam, Brian Gomez, Uthaya Sankar SB, and of course the lovely Sharon Bakar, who hosted the event. Leen and the boys were there to cheer me on. Okay, actually Alisdair was whining because he wanted a sticker book, Aaron was squealing with delight and running all over the store, and Leen was trying to keep both boys within arm’s reach without any bloodshed. I appreciated their presence nonetheless.

I was a bit nervous about reading my work aloud in front of a small crowd. I’ve spoken before more than a thousand people without any major anxiety, but these readings always make me nervous, even with only two dozen people in the audience.

Today there’s an article about the event in The Selangor Times.

Thanks to Sharon for the link to the article…and also for inviting me to read that day. I had a great time and made some new friends.

Yo Rais: Your Views on Mixed Marriages are Mixed Up

Those who have been reading my blog for a few years now might remember that back in 2007 I wrote a post calling out Malaysia’s Information Minister for things he had said about children of mixed parentage. Basically, the Minister at the time, Zainudin Maidin (aka ZAM), didn’t want to see such children in local advertising because they’re “not Malaysians”. The post I wrote in response to his ridiculous remarks generated a lot of comments; in fact, while there were posts in my old Blogspot days that had generated more (unfortunately those comments have been swallowed by the Internet), that particular post remains the most commented post since my switch to WordPress. Most of the comments were equally critical of ZAM, but some displayed racism that matched and perhaps even surpassed the things he’d said.

Well, how have things progressed in the nearly three years since then? The Information Ministry has been merged with the former Culture, Arts and Heritage Ministry to form the Information Communication and Culture Ministry (which can’t seem to decide whether it wants a comma after the word Information). The new Minister, Rais Yatim, who thinks Malaysians’ use of the Internet, social media, and ‘bahasa rojak’ (the mixing of Malay and English in daily speech) are all very bad things, is unfortunately no less an embarrassment to the country than ZAM was. And unfortunately Rais is no less racist.

Recently that bastion of Malay nationalist journalism, Utusan Malaysia, front-paged an article in which Rais made comments about mixed marriages, in response to a question about the marital troubles of Malaysian actress Maya Karin. Now before we move on to Rais himself, let’s all shake our heads at the fact that Utusan chose to put that as its lead article that day, and that the paper had even seen fit to ask Rais to comment on something which was none of their business, and certainly none of his. Shame on them.

Now, on to Rais. Like I said, what happens in Maya Karin’s marriage is really none of his business. Yet there he was, using the question to deliver a little rant about the perils of entering into a marriage with someone of another race and/or nationality. Not only that, he singled out westerners, particularly white westerners. As Utusan is a government mouthpiece, it’s unlikely they just asked him about this out of the blue and he was simply giving his opinion on the spot. When asked about the matter, Rais didn’t just give his opinion; he backed it up with results of a study undertaken by local sociologists in which it was found that seven out of every ten mixed marriages end in divorce.

Well, I have some big problems with not only what Rais said, but also with the so-called evidence he put forth to back up his claims. First off, let me state that I’m not saying mixed marriages are all fine and dandy. There are bound to be divorces. Just as I didn’t completely disagree with ZAM’s criticism of the prevalence of so-called mixed-race actors in local advertising, I don’t completely disagree with Rais’ assertion that mixed marriages will fail at a higher rate than marriages between people who are from the same race/ethnic group/country. But having said that, I have big problems with what he said anyway, just like I had big problems with what ZAM had said. Aside from what I’ve already mentioned, here’s where Rais went wrong:

The study he referred to is outdated. According to the Utusan article, the figure of only three successful marriages out of ten is based on research that covered only the years 1995 to 1998. That was 12 to 15 years ago. Not only is the research outdated, it wasn’t done long enough for researchers to come to any reliable conclusion.

The geographical scope of the study was even more limited than the temporal scope. It seems Rais was only referring to marriages in the state of Johor and the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur. That’s a very insufficient sample.

‘Artistes’ are hardly representative of the general public. Everyone knows actors and singing stars generally go through spouses like Planters goes through peanuts. I’ll be the first to admit I have no hard statistics to offer up in support of my claim here, but I daresay this is the case in many countries, not just in the west. In pointing to failed marriages among Malaysian celebrities as proof that mixed marriages don’t work, Rais is really barking up the wrong tree. Sure, the study he’s relying on involves more than just celebrities, but highlighting them at all to prove his point is pretty silly.

He’s almost right, but completely wrong. I’ve long said that marriages between Malays and non-Malays can only work if both partners have similar ideas about religion and culture. Rais is saying the same thing, but I think he overstates the number of cases in which this doesn’t happen. Of course, considering the shortcomings of the study he uses to back that up, it’s almost impossible to say. So how can I say he’s wrong? Because since Leen and I moved to Malaysia from Canada we’ve come to know many couples in similar situations to our own. We have indeed met couples whose marriages were a bit rocky, and people whose mixed marriages had already ended. But those were the exceptions. Most mixed couples we’ve met were happily married at the time and remain so today. Sure, some of them will fail, but that is the case with all marriages. Actually, there may be higher rates of divorce with mixed marriages, but…well, see below.

For someone who doesn’t like things that are mixed, he’s sure got this mixed up. Rais actually acknowledges that one of the factors in the failure of mixed marriages is the difficulty foreign spouses — especially foreign husbands — have as immigrants in this country. He even acknowledges this is all due to rigid government policies. But here’s the thing: instead of saying Malaysians should avoid marrying foreigners because the government he’s a part of makes it difficult for them to live and work here, wouldn’t it be better for the government to actually make it easier for foreign spouses to live and work here? Oh, wait…

Rais is out of touch with current events and trends. The Malaysian government is, in fact, beginning to make it easier for foreign spouses to live and work in Malaysia. The government recently announced it would give Permanent Resident status to foreign husbands, something Malaysian women and their foreign-born husbands have long been hoping for (read here for my latest update on that). The advice Rais is doling out to Malaysians reflects either complete ignorance of his own government’s initiatives, or an unwillingness to accept them. Either way, Rais Yatim is not doing his job properly.

Just the other night I watched an interview Rais gave on TV3 and was treated to further proof that he 1) has a real dislike for westerners and their culture, and 2) is unfit to lead a government ministry. While he did make some valid points (advocating more parental guidance in children’s use of the Internet, for example), most of his comments were absolutely sickening. His skeptical comments about the Internet and social media were nothing new (he’s been saying those things for a while now, resulting in a hilarious backlash by Malaysian Twitter users and bloggers), but I have to admit I was taken aback by what he said about language. That was nothing new either (his preference for the Malay language was quite evident when he once arrogantly scolded a journalist for daring to ask him a question in English not long ago), but he somehow outdid himself this time.

When asked to comment on bahasa rojak (basically ‘mixed language’), Rais really made himself look foolish. Remember I said he doesn’t like things that are mixed? Well, here’s the proof. He looks back on a time when the Malay language — the Johor-Riau dialect, to be more precise — was untouched by other languages. Let’s put aside how ignorant that very idea is in and of itself (I mean come on, he thinks the Johor-Riau dialect was not itself a hybrid of various smaller local dialects, and that it wasn’t influenced at all by other languages? Seriously?). Let’s look at what he said next: He actually lamented the fact that there came a time (a long, long time ago in fact) when the pure, precious Malay language was poisoned by other languages. Yes, that’s what he said. He used the word diracuni — poisoned. This is what he thinks of the influence of other languages on the Johor-Riau dialect of Malay. He displayed a particularly sneering contempt of the English language and the growing tendency of Malaysians to inject it into their everyday speech. He made it clear that Malaysians who speak in Malay should not mix words from other languages into it.

Let’s not even get into the fact that it’s pretty much impossible to speak Malay these days without using at least some English loanwords. Let’s just look at the basic thrust of what Rais was saying. It is painfully obvious that the Minister of Information Communication and Culture harbours unrealistic fantasies of linguistic and cultural purity. It is also obvious that because of these delusions he is out of touch with the realities of language and culture. He is out of touch with the way this country’s national language and its culture are heading. He is even out of touch with the direction in which the government he is a part of appears to be heading, or at least claims to be heading. He is, therefore, unfit to occupy his current post.

Now, I can express my personal opinion all I want — that Rais should either resign or the Prime Minister should put him out to pasture — but I’m not Malaysian, so who am I to even suggest what the Malaysian government should do? In fact, it seems Malaysians who support the current government don’t take too kindly to foreigners telling that government what it should and shouldn’t do. Well you know what? Anyone who would rub that in my face now can just stuff it. When a Malaysian government minister uses his position to make bigoted comments about mixed marriages and/or mixed-race children, it concerns me because it concerns my wife and children. The sensitivities of Malaysians who dislike the intervention of foreigners into their affairs are duly noted, but the current government should bear in mind that while I can’t vote here, my wife can; our children, if they decide to stay here into adulthood, will be voters too. So will the spouses and children of a lot of foreigners in this country — maybe a lot more than Rais can imagine. And we’re not just talking about foreigners here. We’re talking about anyone who marries and has children out of their so-called race. Does Rais Yatim really think that he or anyone else in this country is “pure”? Please.

Just imagine if Malaysians actually followed the advice of their Minister of Information Communication and Culture. They might take his ‘stick to your own kind’ rhetoric too far. Why, we might end up seeing disturbingly high numbers of incest cases among rural Mal…oh, wait a minute. I guess Rais should really be careful what he wishes for. And the people of Malaysia should be careful who they vote for.

Chronicles of Duncan MacLeod: Up Over the Mountain

On July 2nd, 1937, after school had finished for the summer, Susan MacLeod put her two eldest sons, nine-year-old Duncan and eight-year-old Hughie, on a train bound for Boisdale. The arrangement went something like this: they would spend a night with the Boisdale stationmaster, who lived above the station; the next day they would get back on the train and go to River Denys, where a man named Dan MacInnis would pick them up and take them to the home of their uncle, Donald Ignecious MacLeod — also known as Dan — on River Denys Road. Unfortunately for the MacLeod boys, things didn’t exactly go according to plan. I’m glad they didn’t, though, because what happened next is probably my favourite of all my grandfather’s stories.

Duncan and Hughie got off the train at Boisdale with a giant leather suitcase containing all their belongings, and slept above the station at the home of the stationmaster, as arranged by their mother and Uncle Dan. The next morning they got on another train and rode to River Denys Station. When they got off the train, there was no one there to meet them. They waited a while, then got hungry. So they went over to the local general store and bought orange pop and donuts. While they were outside enjoying their snack, an old man with a horse and wagon came by. Duncan asked him, “If someone was coming from River Denys Mountain, which way would they come from?” The old man told them the road up the mountain was just down the road and across the highway, near Melford.

“Come on,” said Duncan to his little brother. “I don’t want to wait here all day. Let’s start heading that way. Whoever’s coming to get us will see us on the road.” Reluctantly, Hughie agreed, and the boys started walking.

It was slow going with the big suitcase, which was not only heavy but very awkward because the handle was only big enough for one boy to grip at a time. The boys tried various ways of carrying the suitcase, but no matter what they did, it was cumbersome. And the journey was about to get even more difficult: after they crossed the main road at Melford and got onto River Denys Road, they began the ascent up River Denys Mountain.

It didn’t take long for the boys to get frustrated with the big suitcase. They couldn’t just leave it, since it contained pretty much everything they owned. But they couldn’t keep carrying it the way they were. That’s when Duncan got an idea. He found a large stick and put it through the handle, and he and Hughie each held one end. Now the going was much easier. But the road was getting steeper.

After some time they finally saw a house. Hughie was afraid to go near it, so Duncan walked up to the front door alone. The lady who answered the door was surprised to see a little boy standing there, especially one she didn’t recognize. Duncan introduced himself and pointed out Hughie, still standing next to the big suitcase down by the road. The lady said her husband, Mr. MacPhail, was the mail driver; when he returned home from his mail run, he could take the boys to their uncle’s house. Duncan went out to tell his little brother, but Hughie was still too afraid to go into the house. When Duncan told the lady they just wanted to continue on, she gave him some water, and some to give to Hughie. The boys had a drink and set out again.

Following directions the mail driver’s wife had given them, when they had reached a hairpin turn they left the main road. The road to Uncle Dan’s place was barely a road, just wagon ruts with a hump in the middle. To make matters worse, it was getting dark, and Hughie was getting scared. This was just the perfect time for the handle to break off the suitcase, sending the heavy bag to the ground with a thud. The boys jerked and teetered and then stayed very still. Duncan wouldn’t admit it to his little brother, but he was a little scared too.

In those moments of silence, their ears probing the woods for any sound that might signal the approach of friend or foe or ferocious animal, they heard a dog barking. That made Hughie even more afraid, but to Duncan it meant there might be a house nearby. Sure enough, off in the distance ahead of them, somewhere through the trees, there was a light. As the boys continued their climb and went around bends in the road, the light would blink out of view, then reappear. They were practically pushing the bag now instead of carrying it; in fact, they left the bag behind three times, thinking they’d go back for it later, only to change their minds and get it right away when they remembered it contained all their earthly possessions.

Finally they got close enough to the light that they could see a house. It was a small house, on a small hill. The dog was still barking, like it wanted to eat the boys whole. Hughie was terrified, but not Duncan. No, Duncan had been putting on a brave face for his brother, but he was more afraid of what might have been out in those ink-black woods than he was of a barking dog. Duncan walked right up to the dog, reached out a hand, and patted the dog on the head. The animal immediately stopped barking and followed Duncan to the steps of the house, and watched in silence as the little boy knocked on the door.

Dan MacLeod was a little worried. Why hadn’t Dan MacInnis brought the boys over yet? He would have picked them up hours ago, and should have brought them right up. Were they going to spend the night at the MacInnis farm? That seemed like the most logical explanation. Anyway, Dan MacLeod had bigger things to worry about. One of his cows had just given birth to a calf, and he was afraid bears might come after it. The woods in that area were full of bears. Sure enough the dog, Tupper, had started barking late in the evening. So Dan had put a light on outside, hoping he’d be able to catch any predators that might decide to make a try for the calf. Tupper had barked for hours, but nothing had come into the yard, so Dan figured maybe the dog was doing a good job. Still, he couldn’t go to bed as long as Tupper was still barking. So he sat awake in his kitchen. Then he heard a knock at the side door.

When Dan opened the door, there was his nephew, Duncan MacLeod, standing out on the steps, with Tupper sitting next to him, and little Hughie standing at the edge of the yard, behind a big leather suitcase. It was quarter to two in the morning.

“Ios’, Ios’!” yelled Dan. (The boys would soon learn that Jesus in Gaelic was called Iosa.) “Maggie!” he bellowed, “Come quick!”

Soon the whole family was up and standing at the little side door. Dan’s sons, John Duncan and Angus, who were about the same ages as Duncan and Hughie, helped their city cousins lift the big suitcase into the small house. The MacLeod family stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, marveling at the fact that those two little boys had just walked up over River Denys Mountain. It’s not really much of a mountain, at only 200 metres high, but for two small children, dragging a huge suitcase, in the middle of the night no less, it was quite a feat. They had passed several houses, but because it was dark they hadn’t seen them. If not for the light Dan had left on to protect his calf from bears, they probably wouldn’t have seen his house, either.

The next day they learned that the Ford Model A belonging to Dan MacInnis had broken down. Somewhere along the line there had been a communication breakdown as well, and each Dan had ended up thinking the other Dan was going to pick the boys up at River Denys Station.

Thus began Duncan MacLeod’s summer on River Denys Mountain, just down the road from his grandfather’s house at MacLeod Settlement and the community of Glencoe. The people there would never forget the story of the two MacLeod boys who had walked up over the mountain. Duncan MacLeod would never forget it either, nor would he forget the experiences he had and the interesting characters he got to know during that first summer and the one after it.

But those are stories for another day.

***

Chronicles of Duncan MacLeod is a series of posts on my MacLeod ancestors, based on a combination of research and stories told to me by my grandfather, Duncan MacLeod. To read other posts in the series, click here.