I’m lucky to live in a neighbourhood where the spirit of community exists quite significantly. Every evening, the children on my street would go out and play together. They run about, play with water guns and go exploring on their bicycles.
They rule the street and we adults call them Gang 179 (after the street we all live on). Of course, my two elder daughters are part of it (my son is still in his diapers and should be able to join them as soon as he starts running!).
Now, because the kids are outside every evening, many of the adults also hang around on the street to keep an eye on them. Naturally, we all walk around and chat with one another during these times. It’s quite a nice time, actually.
This wasn’t the situation before. What changed it was Covid-19 and the movement control order (MCO). I guess everyone was so tired of being quarantined that when the government declared the recovery MCO (RMCO), everyone came out of their houses.
I love it because it reminds me of when I was growing up in the early 1980s. The neighbourhood kids and I terrorised Taman Tasek in Johor Bahru. We were safe because everyone knew each other and all the adults would constantly be looking out for us.
In the last two months, I’ve got to know all my neighbours better than the past eight years I’ve been living on this street. It’s funny how good things can still happen during bad times. And now, to the point of my story.
There is an uncle a few houses away from mine. I call him Uncle because he is quite elderly and is the grandfather to one of the kids in the gang. He’s a nice man and my wife Sheril and I always stop by in front of his gate to chat.
One day, we saw him walking down the street and next to him was our younger daughter Alethea, looking solemn while pushing her bicycle. We went up to them and Uncle said that he found her alone on the next street and she looked like she was going to cry.
The bigger kids had cycled away much faster and left her behind. Uncle had found her and brought her back to us. So all three of us told her that she shouldn’t be scared because she knows her way home and she can just pedal back. She smiled and went off playing again.
My wife and I asked Uncle where he was coming from. And so Uncle said: “Haiya! Let me ask you a question. Do you smoke?” Uncle pointed at me.
“No, I don’t. It’s bad for you Uncle!” I said.
“That’s very good! I also see you are always running early in the mornings. Good lah, you!”
“Come and join me, lah Uncle!”
“I would get left behind like your daughter, lah! Haha! But it’s good that you take care of your health. Don’t ever start smoking. I smoke and it’s not a good thing. There are many kids playing around here. I don’t want to let them see someone smoking. So I walk all the way to the main road and smoke every day.”
“Uncle, you should stop smoking.”
“Haiya! I’m so old already. What difference does it make? I should have quit many years ago. The important thing is the kids don’t see me and so they won’t get exposed to it. Smoking is a horrible habit.”
Sometimes, I wish that everybody in Malaysia has the sensibilities of Uncle. I do not condone the fact that he smokes. That’s not very sensible. But he is sensible and thoughtful enough to know that it is bad and does not want the younger generation to be exposed to it.
And you would think that our leaders, who are supposed to be leading the nation, would have these sensibilities. Unfortunately, some of them do not. I felt very disappointed upon reading the news about Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein being caught vaping in Parliament.
His action was ridiculous because, throughout the whole country, no smoking or vaping is allowed indoors, and especially not in official government buildings. What kind of example is Hishammuddin setting? Does he think that just because he is a minister, he is above the rules?
Parliament sessions are broadcast, streamed live and also recorded. It is archived for all to see and many schools even encourage students to watch these sessions to learn more about our country and it’s governance. So, what Hishammuddin did is utterly unacceptable.
Okay, he has apologised. He was also compounded and fined for his actions. Good! If I had my way, he would be suspended from politics (anyone who knows me will know how much of an anti-smoker I am).! But many would say that would be extreme.
Former US President Obama was also a smoker and when he came into office, he vowed to make an effort to quit. In 2011, he succeeded. Not according to himself but by his wife Michelle and other people around him
So, Mr Minister, you have to agree that smoking and vaping are bad habits and not good for your health. You also have to agree that we must stop this culture and that we do not want to encourage or promote smoking among the younger generation.
Mr Minister, why don’t you speak to Uncle and learn to adopt the sensibilities he has. I would suggest that you now declare publicly that you will quit smoking/vaping. I understand that it is difficult to overcome addiction. But as a national leader, you must.
I think if you did that and led a national campaign to eradicate smoking and vaping, it would be one of the biggest contributions you can do for Malaysia. Do that, then I would say your mistake in Parliament a few days ago can be forgiven. We must stop this smoking/vaping culture.
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