Category Archives: documentary

No Rohingya in this village


INSERT-19

astro_awani_logo

No Rohingya in this village
By Zan Azlee

The whole world is looking at Malaysia and the Southeast Asian region due to the recent Rohingya humanitarian crisis where more than a thousand Rohingya refugees landed on the shores of Langkawi, Kedah and several thousands more still adrift at sea.

Rumours began to surface that there is a small village on the island where the population consists of thousands of Rohingya. Of course this piqued Astro AWANI’s interest and so I travelled with cameraman, Fahmey Azhar, to Langkawi to see if these rumours were true.

A village of immigrants

“There is a village called Kampung Bukit Malut where everyone there are Burmese,” explained Suid Chin, a retired school headmaster and a local of Langkawi.

He went on to say that these people have been living there for many years now and they are now entering their second and even third generation. Many speak Bahasa Malaysia with a perfect Kedah accent.

This is echoed by several other locals I meet in the town of Kuah.

“There are many people from Myanmar in Kampung Bukit Malut. But they live very poor lives and mostly uneducated,” said shopkeeper Hathijathul Fahira Ashar.

“They are said to be from Myanmar, but they speak perfect Bahasa Malaysia. So I’m not sure,” exclaimed batik salesman Basri Abdul Shahid.

“I think there are Burmese, Thai and Indonesians living in Kampung Bukit Malut,” said Khoo Thean Boon, a local anchovy dealer.

The way that these locals talked about Kampung Bukit Malut and it’s villagers was an obvious sign that although they looked upon these people as immigrants but not outsiders. It was like they were so much a part of Langkawi.

But, we also heard some negative rumours about Kampung Bukit Malut. Several people told us that it is a dangerous area and very ghetto-like. No Langkawi local dared to set foot in the village because, apparently, there were many gangsters and criminals.

A child from Kampung Bukit Malut, Langkawi. (Photo by Zan Azlee)
A child from Kampung Bukit Malut, Langkawi. (Photo by Zan Azlee)

Walking into the ghetto

We drove into the Bukit Malut area early in the morning. As we were driving along Jalan Bukit Malut, we started noticed the shape of squatter-like houses in between the tall trees that lined the shoulder of the road.

Soon, we reached a small left turning in the road and we followed it until we arrived at a small mosque and awarongopposite it. We parked the car and headed for thewarongfor some tea. There were several people there who eyed us suspiciously.

The stall owner took our order and I took the opportunity to strike up a conversation with him. He told me that he was a local Kedahan Malay and that he has been living in this village for about thirty years.

I asked him if there was a village head that I could talk to to find out more about the history of this village. He pointed me in a direction of a small house nearby a coconut tree and I nodded thankfully.

INSERT-16
Kampung Bukit Malut in Langkawi is rumoured to be a Rohingya village. (Photo by Zan Azlee)

We are not Rohingya

Abdullah Mohamed, or Pak Lah as he is known, looked a bit apprehensive when we first approached him. But he warmed up a little bit when we told him about the rumours and that if it wasn’t true, then we want to tell that to the public.

“We expected this attention when the Rohingya crisis got in the news. But the fact is that there are no Rohingya in this village,” he stated.

Pak Lah continued to explain that they are all Malays here. What he feels has fueled the rumours is that some of the people who first settled here were Malays who had lived in Myanmar many years ago but returned.

“Many people also think we’re gangsters here. But you can see for yourself, we’re civilised. Why don’t these accusers come and pay us a visit and see how normal we are,” he said.

“We are all peaceful Malaysians here. We even have our blue identification cards!” laughed Ahmad, a friend of Pak Lah and also a village committee member.

The villager settlers are Malays who had been living in Myanmar. (Photo by Zan Azlee)
The villager settlers are Malays who had been living in Myanmar. (Photo by Zan Azlee)

Was he a Rohingya?

We bid farewell to Pak Lah and, with his blessings, we walked further into the Kampung Bukit Malut to explore and see how the villagers were living their lives here and to try and interview a few of them as well.

The deeper we got into the village, the worse condition the houses and roads became. Eventually, we were walking in mud and the houses turned into decrepit plywood shacks. But there people every where – adults and children.

We met a man named Yusop Saad who was sitting with his son on the steps of his shack. I asked if he was willing to answer a few questions and he nodded.

“I’m Perak and I moved here about eight years ago. To support my six children, sometimes I go to sea to catch fish. Other times I work on land as a labourer,” he told me.

Yusop spoke to me in Bahasa Malaysia. He pronounced his words the way most northern Malaysians do. But somehow, he had a weird accent that I could not put my hand on. It didn’t sound local.

Yusop Saad and his son sitting in front of their home. (Photo by Zan Azlee)
Yusop Saad and his son sitting in front of their home. (Photo by Zan Azlee)

We continued walking and I noticed a young man probably in his late twenties sitting on a motorcycle and chewing betelnut. That seemed out of place to me because not many young men in Malaysia chewed betelnut.

I smiled and approached him. He smiled back. I asked him his name and where he came from. He said his name is Hisham and he was from Myanmar. I was caught off guard because I wasn’t expecting such a direct answer.

I asked if we could interview him in front of the camera. He nodded. But all of a sudden, there was a loud shout and we turned around to see an elderly man on a motorcycle motioning aggressively for Hisham to go to him.

Hisham walked up to the man on the motorcycle. There was a short exchange of words between them but I couldn’t hear anything. He came back to me after a few minutes and shook his head saying that he doesn’t want to be interviewed.

After a short attempt of trying to persuade him, I gave up and Fahmey and I went on our way. But it smelled fishy.

As we were about to walk out of the village, I saw a house with a family who had yellow powder all over their faces, again, a habit that is not common for Malaysians. And so I politely approached them to see if they were willing to be interviewed.

They spoke no Bahasa Malaysia, accept for a few smattering of words here and there. Instead, they called out their neighbour, a young man who lived in the rickety shack next to theirs. His name was Ismail Talib and he spoke Bahasa Malaysia.

“I’m Burmese and have been in Malaysia for many years. But I’m not from Rakhine and I’m not a Rohingya. My father brought us here to become citizens. I am a Malaysian now,” he smiled.

Working as a wireman, he recently just got married and he and his wife are expecting their first child. I wished them well and we went on our way.

Ismail Talib is from Myanmar but is now a Malaysian citizen. (Photo by Zan Azlee)
Ismail Talib is from Myanmar but is now a Malaysian citizen. (Photo by Zan Azlee)

M.I.K. (Melayu Islam Kedah)

“Kampung Bukit Malut is definitely not a Rohingya village. They are Malays who were living in Myanmar many years ago and then they came back,” said Kuah state assemblyman, Nor Saidi Nanyan.

He goes on to explain that a few decades ago, when Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was the Prime Minister, these group of people were brought back to Malaysia and given citizenship because they were rightfully Malays.

“The term that is used is ‘Melayu Islam Kedah’, or Kedah Muslim Malays,” explained Nor Saidi. “These people are Malays and have Malay features instead of Rohingya.”

The few locals that I had spoken to in Langkawi also talked about these people being Malays from Myanmar and that they are actually interacting and living quite well with the locals here with no problems at all.

“They are very hardworking. Although most a fishermen, many have also started running businesses like car rental services and restaurants,” said retired teacher, Suid Chin.

“They are just like everyone else. There good ones are good and the bad ones are bad,” smiled batik salesman Basri Abdul Shahid.

"They are very hardworking," says Suid Chin of the Kampung Bukit Malut villagers. (Photo by Zan Azlee)
“They are very hardworking,” says Suid Chin of the Kampung Bukit Malut villagers. (Photo by Zan Azlee)

I left Langkawi with mixed feelings. Sure, for the most parts, the villagers there were very much Malay and Malaysian. But there were also questions that I could not answer – Who was Hisham? What is the exact history of the M.I.K. or Melayu Islam Kedah?

Oh well, it looks like those questions will have to wait for another day.

————————

Tune in to 501 AWANI at 9:30pm, Thursday 28th May 2015, for the special TV documentary about Kampung Bukit Malut, Langkawi, on Analisis Khas.

A photo print of an ultra-poor Hazarat family in Bamiyan, Afghanistan


Mohammad Musa and his family outside his cave-house.
Mohammad Musa and his family at their home in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. (Zan Azlee, 2011)

In war-torn countries, it is almost too common to see the ultra-poor unable to bring themselves ahead in life. And this was what I saw in Afghanistan.

In the mountains of Bamiyan where the historical cavities of the great Buddhas of Bamiyan were, there are also a group of Hazarats who live in caves. They literally live in holes in the mountains.

The picture above is of Mohammad Musa and his family standing outside their home. If he’s lucky, he can earn about RM1 a day working odd jobs in the market.

Musa gave me a tour of his living space (in the video below):

 

Own a limited print of the picture above, framed (21cm x 30cm) and signed by yours truly for RM90. You can play a role in supporting independent journalism by clicking below.

If you are in Malaysia, you can also purchase by transferring RM110.00 (includes RM20 for postage and handling) to Maybank account 1141 2365 9174 via Maybank2U or ATM. Please make sure to e-mail (purchase.fatbidin@gmail.com):
1. Name of item purchased
2. Transaction date/time and reference number
3. Your full name
4. Shipping address

Or if you prefer more bang for your buck, there is also THE ADVENTURES OF A KL-ITE IN AFGHANISTAN SUPER FAN PACK!! You will get the photo, an official t-shirt and the book ‘Adventures of a KL-ite in Afghanistan’ for only RM120!

Thank you for the support.

A limited photo print of the Malaysian military helping local Afghan villagers


Major Dr. Mohd Arshil Moideen demonstrating how the water filter system works.
Major Dr. Mohd Arshil Moideen demonstrating how the water filter system works in Bamiyan, Afghanistan (Photo by Zan Azlee, 2011)

The Malaysian military team who were in Afghanistan (MALCON ISAF 2) were on a humanitarian mission rather than a combat one. They helped to build water filtering systems, consult and advise the Afghan Ministry of Health on combating diseases and organising traveling clinics. Of course, there were a small group of Special Forces who were there as security detail.

That picture above is of Major Dr. Mohd Arshil Moideen (now Left. Colonel) demonstrating to the locals in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, how a water filtering system works to eliminate the risk of getting sick from drinking well water.

Here is also a video story shot on that exact day it happened.

If you would like to own the picture for your wall, today is your lucky day! Get a limited print of the picture all nicely framed (21cm x 30cm) and signed by yours truly for RM90. You can play a role in supporting independent journalism by clicking below.

If you are in Malaysia, you can also purchase by transferring RM110.00 (includes RM20 for postage and handling) to Maybank account 1141 2365 9174 via Maybank2U or ATM. Please make sure to e-mail (purchase.fatbidin@gmail.com):
1. Name of item purchased
2. Transaction date/time and reference number
3. Your full name
4. Shipping address

Or if you prefer more bang for your buck, there is also THE ADVENTURES OF A KL-ITE IN AFGHANISTAN SUPER FAN PACK!! You will get the photo, an official t-shirt and the book ‘Adventures of a KL-ite in Afghanistan’ for only RM120!

Thank you for the support.

Fighter jets and machine gun fire in the South China Sea


INSERT--2

astro_awani_logo

Fighter jets and machine gun fire in the South China Sea
Text, photos and videos by Zan Azlee

I was never told where I would be taken to. The only instructions I received was to arrive on time in the morning in front of the McDonald’s in Subang Airport. And so I was there on time.

Several Americans were there, a few in military garb and the rest in civilian clothes. They greeted me and said that we will be boarding a United States Navy C-2 Greyhound aircraft.

We were going to visit the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class supercarrier ship, that is somewhere in the ocean (I would later find out we were at the South China Sea).

Before boarding, several navy personnel told me to put on a helmet, earmuffs, goggles and a life vest. It was cumbersome. I fumbled. They were forced to help me.

I took a selfie photo and the image that appeared in my smart phone after I pressed the button was a Malay guy that looked uncannily like Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun.

After about an hour flying in the air, one of the navy men stood up and briefed us on the landing. It was going to be a hard impact when we reach the supercarrier.

It would be an arrested landing where a hook on the aircraft will latch on to a cable on the ship so we wouldn’t go flying off the other side and into the sea.

“Once everyone is strapped nice and tight, you will hear us yelling ‘Here we go! Here we go!”. Brace yourself right at that point,” he said.

Before I knew it, they were already screaming at the top of their lungs. I scrambled to make sure that the straps over my shoulders and waist were tight.

I held on to my helmet tight and there was a bang and I was jolted back in my seat. We had landed. We went from 250 km/h to a halt in 2 seconds. I thought I had swallowed my tongue.

I was on the USS Carl Vinson.

Viewing the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class supercarrier, from the bridge.
Viewing the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class supercarrier, from the bridge.

The floating city

Although I have covered conflict, war and other military events extensively during my carrier, I had never been on a Nimitz-class supercarrier before. I was excited.

We were greeted by Commanding Officer Capt. Karl O. Thomas and he explained that we are now on a floating city that has it’s own entire ecosystem.

“We have over 5000 personnel that works the ship. We serve over 15,000 meals a day and produce over 400,000 gallons of water,” he smiled.

The USS Carl Vinson also has 63 aircraft on board and it ranges from fighter jets, reconnaissance aircraft, helicopters and transport planes.

And one of the key aircraft that calls the supercarrier home is the F18 Super Hornet. It may be possible to describe it all in words, but I feel it best to have a video so you can watch it.

US Navy pilots manning their F18 Super Hornets.
US Navy pilots manning their F18 Super Hornets.

7th Fleet and the Middle East

The USS Carl Vinson has a very deep history. Christened in 1979, it has been in most of the modern conflicts around the world involving the United States. 

It’s most recent deployment was with the 5th Fleet in Arabian Gulf  where they flew combat and reconnaissance missions against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

“We flew strike missions supporting the people of Iraq on the ground as they try to reclaim their country. Certainly trying to remove IS and stifle their desire to create a Caliphate,” said Thomas.

They flew numerous missions into Iraq and Syria and dropped about a third of the ammunitions that were dropped into the two countries against IS.

“I don’t have a number of how many missions we flew. But we flew a lot!” said US Navy pilot Mike (a pseudonym).

“We launched about 20 to 25 combat missions into Syria and Iraq everyday,” explained Lt. Cmdr Kyle Raines.

He also added that a bulk of the missions flying in were also reconnaissance missions whereby they went in to observe and collect data to be brought back and analysed.

The USS Carl Vinson was also the ship that had the responsibility to lay the body of Osama Bin Laden to rest in the ocean with full Islamic rites.

A Sea Hawk helicopter hovering over the South China Sea.
A Sea Hawk helicopter hovering over the South China Sea.

Currently, USS Carl Vinson is in the Asia-Pacific region because it’s latest deployment has been with the 7th Fleet, responsible for patrolling and securing this region.

Aside from being in the 7th Fleet, they are also working closely with partner nations doing exercises and sharing knowledge to strengthen relationships.

“Malaysia is one of them. So is Singapore, the Philippines and Japan. A lot of the nations we rely on and we work closely with to improve the maritime security,” explained Thomas.

A cluster of fighter jets waiting to take-off on the USS Carl Vinson.
A cluster of fighter jets waiting to take-off on the USS Carl Vinson.

Catapult-assisted take-off

It was finally time to go and I felt that there was more to explore on the USS Carl Vinson. I was particularly interested to see how everyday life is like on board.

But a few hours on the ship is just not adequate enough to get a proper observation of the personnel’s life on deployment. Maybe next time.

So we were again, herded into the C-2 Greyhound aircraft and this time we were briefed that the take-off is going to be way tougher than the landing.

Because of the short runway on the carrier, the plane would need a catapult-assisted take-off and we would accelerate from 0 to 205 km/h in three seconds.

Again, I had to put on the helmet, earmuffs, goggles and life vest that me look so much like Tom Cruise in the movie Top Gun, and strap myself nice and snug in the seat.

Then we heard “Here we go! Here we go! Here we go!”, we were jolted and I felt my eyeballs leave their sockets, hit the back of the seat in front of me, and reentered the sockets.

We were back in the air flying across the South China Sea on the way home.

 

[This article originally appeared at English.AstroAwani.Com]

A photo print of the Malaysian military assisting injured victims of a Taliban attack


MALCON ISAF 2 assessing the situation of the Afghan National Police (ANP) who were ambushed by the Taliban.
MALCON ISAF 2 assessing the situation of the Afghan National Police (ANP) who were ambushed by the Taliban (Bamiyan, 2011).

One of the most dramatic moments during my time with the Malaysian Armed Forces in Afghanistan was when the Taliban attacked an ANP (Afghan National Police) checkpoint. They were rained with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, and they came to the Malaysians desperate for help.

The picture above is of the Malaysians (MALCON ISAF 2) assessing the situation and trying to gather intelligence in order to decide their next step.

And for some context, below is a video of the exact incident that took place in the mountains of Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

 

You can own a limited print of the picture all nicely framed (21cm x 30cm) and signed by yours truly for RM90. You can play a role in supporting independent journalism by clicking below.

If you are in Malaysia, you can also purchase by transferring RM110.00 (includes RM20 for postage and handling) to Maybank account 1141 2365 9174 via Maybank2U or ATM. Please make sure to e-mail (purchase.fatbidin@gmail.com):
1. Name of item purchased
2. Transaction date/time and reference number
3. Your full name
4. Shipping address

Or if you prefer more bang for your buck, there is also THE ADVENTURES OF A KL-ITE IN AFGHANISTAN SUPER FAN PACK!! You will get the photo, an official t-shirt and the book ‘Adventures of a KL-ite in Afghanistan’ for only RM120!

Thank you for the support.