Category Archives: writing

We can’t afford fast Internet, duh!



We can’t afford fast Internet, duh!
By Zan Azlee

Malaysia has never run dry of politicians who say the darndest things. And this is even more so in recent times when statements made by them are like funny one-liner comedy routines.

The most recent one was made by a new minister, who assumed his role roughly about two months ago, during a Cabinet reshuffle.

If you still remember, this Cabinet reshuffle saw the sacking of two senior members, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal. It was a controversial decision.

Now that you memory has been refreshed, back to the point of my column this week: Communication and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak says the darndest things!
He was reported to have said Malaysians prefer to have slower Internet speeds. His conclusion was based on data showing 71% of Malaysians chose slower, cheaper Internet packages.

This is quite a ridiculous conclusion. One reason is that there can be no way that an average Malaysian would prefer an inferior service over a superior one.

If you had a choice of either driving a top-of-the-line Porsche and the most basic Proton, and where price is no issue, which would be your first pick?

But the thing here is that a luxury car is not a basic necessity while the Internet is considered in the developed world to be a basic human necessity.

It is more an issue of affordability rather than preference. Malaysia is well known for having one of the highest Internet prices in the region, if not the world.

Because of monopoly in the industry, prices have remained consistently high while quality has been inconsistent to say the least.

It’s not because they don’t want to, it just means that most Malaysians really have no choice but to choose a cheaper Internet package due to affordability and suffer through slow speeds.

Now, I’m not the only person saying this. Some prominent individuals have also criticised what Salleh has said, including former minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz.

She said it was shameful for the world to think, from the statement made by Salleh, that Malaysians were so backward in wanting to have slower Internet.

I am currently in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, attending and conducting filmmaking workshops at The Borneo Eco Film Festival, and the feeling here in Sabah is of shock and surprise.

Salleh is a Sabahan. He was the chief minister of the state from 1994 to 1996 and is currently a Senator in the Dewan Negara. He is the same age as the American actor Kevin Bacon.

One Sabahan I spoke to said that “he used to be quite normal before he became a minister”, while another, after hearing his name, said that “isn’t he a famous novelist?”

Earlier in the year, I had a sit-down interview with the then Communication and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek (who also is the same age as Kevin Bacon).

He was telling me of the Malaysia’s efforts in trying to build and develop the infrastructure in order to improve the speed and quality of the Internet.

Ahmad Shabery also stressed on how the ministry was trying its best to create an environment which would bring prices to a more competitive rate.

Hmm… now I’m wondering if Salleh was given a proper handover report from his predecessor.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

Pakchic Says: She Won’t Use a Wet Toilet, but Everything Else Goes into Her Mouth!



Pakchic Says: She Won’t Use a Wet Toilet, but Everything Else Goes into Her Mouth!
By Zan Azlee

Most parents would agree that it’s a challenge to instill good hygiene in a toddler. And it’s no different for me and my wife when it comes to little Athena.

This is even more so when I’m a little bit of a clean freak and need to wash my hands three times before I go to sleep (well, not that crazy lah).

We tell her the basics like never putting her dirty fingers into her mouth (or any other object she gets her hands on), always washing her hands before meals, etc.

We explain to her how unhygienic practices can make her sick like suffering from stomach aches and things like that. She nods like she understands and we get really convinced.

But it seems to always get past her when the actual time comes to be clean and hygienic. And that is what annoys me like crazy!

When she remembers (basically, when we remind her!), she’ll pull out that rubber band she found on the floor from her mouth, or wash her hands before sitting at the table.

Sometimes, I get really annoyed and lose my patience. That’s when the screaming battle between me and her begins. And it could be at home or even in public.

My wife usually steps in as a referee. And you would expect a referee to be unbiased and, well, referee, the whole thing. But no! She seems to always side Athena!

Apparently, according to the referee, I can’t scream at a four-year-old and expect her to calmly understand adult reasoning and except that her counter argument is wrong!

Yeah! Whatever!

According to the biased referee, you have to talk calmly to the child and slowly persuade her to do as you say. And when you do it often enough, they will form it into habit and understand.

Yeah! Whatever!

But Athena is getting there. She’s slowly forming good hygiene into habit and doing as she is supposed to (the bias referee who is smirking, I say it’s just a coincidence!).

You see, the thing that really gets to me is that ever since Athena was toilet-trained, which was probably when she was 2 years old, she has this one habit that surprised me.

If we’re out of the house and she needs to use the toilet, she’ll have to check it out first.

There are several criterias for the toilet to be usable:

  1. The floor needs to be dry with no wet spots at all.
  2. The floor needs to be of large pieces of tiles (and especially not mosiac!).
  3. The toilet needs to be speckless without even a scratch on the seat at all.
  4. No squatting toilet.
  5. There must be no foul scent at all.
  6. The toilet must be brightly lit.

If you look at that list, Athena’s criteria for a usable toilet would beat even the strictest city council health inspector. If just one of it isn’t fulfilled, she’d rather hold it in.

Very hygienic, right? But then a piece of lead from a broken colour pencil that she finds under her bed passes the cleanliness test and it goes straight into her mouth!

What can you do?

[This article appeared originally at MakChic.Com]


Dying in Makkah does not guarantee you Heaven



Dying in Makkah does not guarantee you Heaven
By Zan Azlee

I have a strong desire to perform the Hajj.

I’ve had this desire for a long time now, ever since I started travelling extensively in the Middle East about ten years ago.

My travels started as a road to self-discovery through my adventures of making self-reflective and immersive documentaries back in the day.

I was interested in my own identity as a Muslim Malaysian and wanted to explore and find out more by traveling to the heartland of where the religion was born.

I visited so many holy places in so many countries. I can’t begin to describe my feelings as I passed through Shiite country, Sunni country, Druze country, Baha’i country, Zoroastrian country, Christian country and even Jewish country.

And so I can’t even imagine the sensations I would experience if I had the opportunity to perform the Hajj and be in such a holy land.

Which brings me to the tragedies that occurred during this year’s Hajj season, more specifically, the deadly collapse of a construction crane in Makkah, and the fatal stampede in Mina.

There is a wide belief that it is considered blessed if one dies while performing the Hajj and for many, especially the elderly, it becomes like a ‘hajat’ or intention.

Of course, this is, for someone who is spiritual and religious, definitely understandable because dying while doing something good just sounds really nice.

It doesn’t guarantee that that the deceased will enter Heaven, but at least it is hoped and prayed that he or she will.

With all due respect to those who lost loved ones in those incidents, there is a distinction between dying while performing ‘ibadah’ and death due to human negligence.

If there was indeed human error involved in what happened in Makkah and Mina, then those responsible should be held accountable, and action taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

I, for one, would like to avoid dying even if it is while performing any kind of ‘ibadah’. The intention is to continue to live a more enlightened life once I have experienced spirituality.

Al-Fatihah to all the victims.

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

Still waiting for a straight answer on 1MDB



Still waiting for a straight answer on 1MDB
By Zan Azlee

I was at the recent Economic Update organised by the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) at Sasana Kijang. The panelists consisted of a slew of ministers and a central bank governor.

The first question off the bat by the moderator, Umapagan Ampikaipakan, was to get the elephant out of the room – 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

How does it affect the current state of Malaysia’s economy?

Good move in wanting to address the issue that everyone is talking about.
But, as expected, the ministers on the panel were slightly dismissive of it. They acknowledged it, of course. But still dismissive.

The message from them regarding 1MDB can be broadly categorised in to three answers:

1. The dismal state of the economy is not unique to Malaysia and is not solely because of the 1MDB scandal. Many other countries are affected too because it is a global situation.

2. Investigations are under way, so let it take its due course and we will all know the outcome soon enough.

3. Malaysia needs to move on ahead and not dwell on the 1MDB scandal. It is already being handled so don’t worry about it.

But what blew the roof was not what Datuk Seri Idris Jala, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed or Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar said. It was what Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz said that was echoed after the event.

She stressed that although there are many factors that have contributed to how bad Malaysia’s economy and depreciating Ringgit, we should not ignore the fact that the political scandal is also part of it.

Zeti continued to say that there are efforts being taken to strengthen the economy and for all this to be done optimally, the country definitely does not need more political scandals and controversies.

To be honest, the Bank Negara governor really didn’t say anything revealing or significant. She just acknowledged that the political scandals in the country have an impact on what is happening.

But because of how information is only slowly trickling out (or not at all!), even statements as mild and tame as what Zeti made makes headlines in the news and is the talk of the town.

But I guess it takes something like this to throw the issue back into the spotlight. As it is, no one in any authoritative position is willing to say it as it is. People are getting tired of it being dismissed all the time.

If the government is trying to make an effort in convincing the public that everything will be okay and to restore their confidence in the economy, then they really have to try harder and be more sincere.

[This article originally appeared at The Malaysian Insider]

Has Umno killed an opportunity for Malay students?

I gave a lecture to a group of students at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012. It was fun and we had a laugh!
I gave a lecture to a group of students at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2012. It was fun and we had a laugh!


Has Umno killed an opportunity for Malay students?
By Zan Azlee

It is very amusing and funny to see how people make idiotic blunders when they don’t think before taking action. But sometimes, these blunders quite significant impacts.

Take for example, the recent management by the Cabinet minister in charge of MARA, the agency responsible for developing the economic and social development of the Malays.

Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri had ordered MARA Director-General, Datuk Ibrahim Ahmad, terminate its sponsorship for the next intake of students studying at Taylor’s University.

The Minister of Rural and Regional Development gave no official reason for why the decision was made. But for context, we need to look at the prior developments of the issue.

A few days before, on Malaysia Day, a big rally known as the ‘red-shirts’ rally or ‘Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu’ was organised in Kuala Lumpur to reinforce Malay rights in the country.

Many considered the rally to be racist in nature (and this includes me) and it received a mighty amount of criticism from all layers of Malaysian society.

It was organised by a group of Malays who attempted to push that Malays are the lords of the country and other races need to realise their second class position because they are immigrants.

Racially-based speeches were made, verbal abuse was dished out and judgments were made on both sides of the divide. Personally, I was disgusted.

And as the smoke slowly cleared, realisations started setting in as well. And this brings us back to the issue of MARA and Taylor’s University.

A bus bearing the logo of Taylor’s University was spotted at the rally and it was apparently used to transport and ferry participants in and out of the rally on the day.

Taylor’s then released a statement saying they did not authorise the service of the bus bearing their logo for the rally and it was not used to ferry their students there.

They also announced that they have terminated their contract with the bus operator with two months notice as per the contract they have with the operator.

And the private university expressed their ‘regret on the unintentional association of Taylor’s University with this event (the ‘red-shirt’ rally).

It is clear that the university did not agree with the intentions of the rally and did not want to be associated with it. And when their logo was seen at the rally, they did not like it.

And it is also easy to assume that the reaction by the Minister in calling for the termination of the sponsorship of students at Taylor’s to be associated to the termination of the bus service.

The university has every right in wanting to control the image and reputation and by terminating their contract with a company that was not in line with their wishes.

And, if you go by the words of the Higher Education Minister, Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh, MARA has every right as well to terminate the sponsorship of students to the university.

Idris said that there needs to be no explanation as to the sudden termination because this was under the purview of the Ministry and no reason needs to be given for it.

But look at these two actions closer. Taylor’s also had every right to do what they did and they clearly made their reasons clear as to why – they did not want to be associated with a racist rally.

The Ministry’s decision to terminate the sponsorship came with no explanation whatsoever, and it came immediately after the Taylor’s decision being made public by the media.

Although there was no official call of support for the red-shirt rally by Umno or any of it’s leaders, Ismail was at one of the meeting points of the rally on the day.

And prior to the rally, the Umno leader had also said that Umno will be there if they are invited and he will be sending party members to join.

Now answer this question that I am posing – for a group who says they fight for the Malays, have they jeopardised this by killing an opportunity for Malay students to gain an education?

[This article was written originally for English.AstroAwani.Com]