Archive for August, 2012

A truly yellow Merdeka!

‘ Sebangsa, Senegara, Sejiwa ‘

Thousands of Malaysians defied the authorities ban to attend a countdown to the nation’s 55th Merdeka or Independence Day, proving once again that nothing can stop us anymore!

Many came out in their yellow T-shirts and head-bands, waving the national flags and blasting their hand-held horns. Young and old, Malays, Chinese, Indians and many others came out to mingle with one another and to wait for the clock to strike twelve. There were no fireworks from the authorities this year simply because they are not there last night! So, one kind soul let off a mini firework, maybe it is some left over from the recent Hari Raya. We cheered and clapped him for his generosity!

There was no particular program at Dataran Merdeka except a short poem recitation by our National Laureate, Pak Samad. We were just there to show our rights to be at Dataran Merdeka, a property that belongs to the people of Malaysia. After 1 am, the crowd began to disperse peacefully, happy to be able to stand at the historic square as the nation moved into its 55th year.

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No flags for the house or car.

I am just being honest. This country is in a deep abyss, so what is there to celebrate?

To me, 31st August will just be another day.

However, I will be at Dataran Merdeka on the night of August 30th. I think many disenchanted Malaysians will be there too, in yellow T-shirts. We are not paid to go there. We are there on our own free will, driven by a strong desire to see a better Malaysia for ourselves and our children.

How about you? Will you be there too?

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written by IpohBornKid

I became aware of the mah-jong game at a tender age of four when I started to have cognitive sense of the things surrounding me. By five, I was able to play the basic game which I learned by watching the elders playing the game in the day time and nights.

There are many books and resource materials for the teaching of mah-jong games and its rules. Hence, I will relate this story in general terms.

The game begins with loud cracking noise when all four hands “wash” the tiles (heron cards) by moving their hands, palms down on the mah-jong cards in a circular motion. At the same time, they pick up a “face-up” card and turn it around to make it “face down”. Some simply turn the card around gently whilst others prefer to “smash” the cards face down on the mah-jong able.  Of course, there is the ubiquitous thick white (sometimes brown) rectangular paper which is pinned on the mah-jong table to give a smooth movements to the cards when they are washed and also allow a good white background to observed the faced up cards. Sometimes, 4 or 5 sheets of mah-jong papers are pinned down together on top of a wooden square table to facilitate the change of paper when it became soiled or dirty. Traditionally, the square wooden top has got edges along sides to prevent poker chips or mah-jong from falling off the table. This wooden top can have a small drawer for each player.

The loud cracking noise is stopped when each player begins to construct their own walls. The noise generated by the stacking is quite distinct from the cracking noise.  Each player then construct his/her own two- storey high wall of 18 cards in length thus using 36 cards.  A total of 144 cards were used.  After constructing the walls, they moved them towards the centre and all four walls made a square with side length of 12 cards. The Banker is Tung (East,) and the left of the Banker is Nam (south, ), opposite the Banker is Sai (West,西) and right of the Banker is Puc (north,). The player’s turn is governed by a clockwise motion. The Banker throw the dice and depending on the local rules, opens the wall and starts to pick up 4 cards at a time, and the other players follow until everyone has 12 cards. The Banker takes an additional 2 cards and the other players take one each. The Banker starts with14 cards with other players with 13 cards. The game begins when the Banker discard the first card.

The noise level abates when the game is started but is injected by loud “Pongs”, and endless use of superlatives in showing their frustrations in “throwing” away the wrong card, cursing others for not giving or discarding the right card for them, paying for “kongs” (four of a kind) and scolding someone who discarded the card that caused the game to be won by another player. The types of superlatives are quite different when the players speak Hakka, Cantonese or Hokkien. Although the exchange of superlatives can be quite aggressive and abusive, there is seldom any physical violence.  I subsequently learned that southern Chinese are expressive in their language of superlatives and seldom engage in physical fights as distinct from the northern Chinese who says little but displayed more physical action.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there were many private mah-jong clubs at home.  Many private club operators made a small living out of hosting the mah-jong games in their homes. These games could start at 11 am in the morning till dinner time at 5 or 6 pm.  At week-ends, the game could go to 10 pm or later. On holiday season, they could go overnight.

How did they make a small living? They did it by collecting a commission of 20% for each game. In one set of rules they play the “pock” (when you run out of chips) or when 4 seasons have been played.  For example, if the chips were 2,000, each player were given 1,900 and the host took 400 up front (400/2000 x 100 = 20%).  If the game was $2, $4 or $10, the host collected 40c, 80c and $2 in commission respectively. In return, the host provided beverages (coffee, teas, milo, Horlicks etc) and for lunch, each would get a 30c noodle. The fan was turned on continuously.  After subtracting drinks, food and electricity the host could make $5-8 a day and it can be compared with some contemporary earnings viz. dulang washers $5 day and the child minders $10-20 a month in the 1950s.

There were also professional mah-jong clubs operating in Ipoh and Menglembu.  In the 1950s, one operated opposite the “private” taxi stand on the second storey of a confectionery shop (Menglembu). The other is the famous Ipoh “Lock Lum” where all the tin miners played. These were operated by “mah cheachs”.  The stakes played in these professional mah-jong houses could go up to $100 per game.

As we were growing up in Ipoh, we also played mah-jong with smaller stakes (40cents per game).  As I lived overseas I also learned difference versions of the game. In my next, chapter I shall talk about the influence of mah-jong on overseas students……

Part 02 ~ The Mah-jong Games in Sydney

written by IpohBornKid




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One funny thing about us being Malaysians is that sometimes we got advises we did not ask for or even need in the first place.

Here is one of them:- “Better to vote for the devils you know than the angels you do not!” one smart aleck wannabe wrote in his blog a few days ago.

Strange. Nobody ask for his advise on this matter. I did not. Did you? Or anyone out there?

Look like it shoot off from his mouth rather than from his head and there is no connection between the two. Or perhaps he wanted to join in the fun and talk about devils as this is the month of the hungry ghosts?

Unfortunately for him, the Pandora Box has been opened. We saw all the devils flying here, there and everywhere; they certainly do not make a pretty sight at all. We have been with these devils for fifty-five long and tiring years. We must be mad, crazy and stupid to want more. We will deserve all the rubbish and nonsense for another fifty-five years if we choose to let them reign on free and mighty.

Our children would not forgive us for making the same stupid mistakes our grandparents and parents made again and again for the last five decades.

Time has changed and we have changed too. We are no longer ignorant and docile like our grandparents or parents once were. We are from a different generation. We wanted something fresh, something new and something vibrant. We wanted progress, competition and fair play. Why is it so difficult to understand and accept this?

These angels might not be so angelic but still, they are angels. And angels are supposed to do good things. After so much bad things that had happened to this country, we wanted to see good things being done for a change. Really, it is that simple.

Some people are better off saying less. At least they look more dignified that way. Silence is golden, they said.

Anyway, who is he to tell us whom to vote?

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I am sure those of you from Ipoh could instantly recognize this street. This is Hume Street. Some locals refer it as “Coffin Street.” There are a few funeral parlors and casket shops along this street on the left side of this picture.

My childhood home was nearby, less than a minute of walking. From my window I got to see how Hungry Ghost Festival was celebrated in these funeral parlors with much pomp and gaiety each year. For a few nights in a row, prayers were chanted to lessen the sufferings of departed souls. Hell bank notes, paper clothes and accessories were burnt for them. Vegetarian foods were offered too.

A large paper effigy of the scary and fierce-looking Yama or the Lord of Hell and a ship to carry these departed souls were placed in the middle of the street, right in front of these funeral parlors. The climax of the month-long festival was the burning of the paper items and the sending off of the departed souls back to their world. It was like a big bonfire in the middle of Hume Street, illuminating the areas around it.

Have you watched a ceremony called “Thiu For” or jumping over the fire before? It was an interesting rite carried out by Taoist priests called “Nam Moh Lou.” They consumed a mouthful of whisky and spit this into a pile of burning fire before leaping over it. In their hands, were lists of names of deceased people to be liberated from their sufferings. This act symbolized the priests descending into the deepest level of hell (Level 18) to save the dead, just like what Mu Lian had done for his wicked mother in the classical Buddhist story “Mu Lian saved his mother.”

I think this ceremony is getting very rare these days. I wonder if they are still conducting them at Hume Street. Anyone knows or has seen them too?

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Go take a look at the Chinese lunar calendar.

Today, if my grandma is still around, she would say something like, “Don’t go out at night this whole month,” and my mom would add in her favorite line, “Don’t go swimming too!”

You see, the Chinese seventh month or the month of the hungry ghost is here again. During this whole month, it is believed that the gate of hell will be opened so that all spirits could roam the human’s realm freely, either to take revenge, to feast on food or simply for a visit to loved ones.

When we were young, family elders would remind us not to go out at night, especially to dark and quiet spots for fear of encountering evil spirits lurking in nooks and corners. You might fall sick if you encounter them, grandma used to say.

It was believed that those who were drowned in the swimming or mining pools would come back to look for “replacements” for their watery graves. Thus, it is very dangerous to play in deep water for fear you might get drowned much more easily than on normal days.

According to my mom, when you heard someone calling your name at night but you could not see anyone, don’t answer. Chances are, some naughty spirits are up to some mischief.

And if you suddenly smell some fragrance, run for your life! Spirits are following on your heels. Female spirits loved to lure their male victims using this method, so beware guys!

Never wear red when you go out at night during this month. Red is the favorite color of the wandering spirits and they would follow you home should you don this color.

But have you ever heard that hungry ghosts love to roam eating stalls, especially those where the food were exposed for the human customers to choose? Stalls selling roasted chickens or pork are clear favorites, I think!  🙂 It was said some people could actually see these spirits eating the food with their long tongues! Whatever, it sounds scary, right?

Now, how does the festival of hungry ghosts came about? This is what grandma told me when I was a young girl.

Long ago, in ancient China, lived a young man called Mu Lian. He was the son of a rich but wicked woman. While Mu Lian has a very pure and compassionate heart, his mother was just the opposite – evil, greedy and snobbish.

One day, Mu Lian decided to leave home to seek refuge in Buddhism. He wanted to become a Buddhist monk. When his mother heard this, she flew into a rage. What a useless son, she scolded him. She wanted him to become a businessman and earned more money so that she could continue to live a luxurious life but Mu Lian got his heart set on his chosen path. In a bid to get even with her son, Mu Lian’s mother slipped in some dog meat into the food she offered to some monks who came begging at her doorstep. Mu Lian left some money with her and instructed her to donate generously among the poor and needy; instead she wasted them away on some luxurious items.

Years had passed and one day, Mu Lian came home from the monastery to visit his mother. Unknowingly to him, she had died from an illness a year ago. In his deep meditation, Mu Lian saw the spirit of his mother. She was undergoing tortures in the deepest level of hell for her past misdeeds. He saw her bloated belly and roasted throat. She was very hungry and was trying to eat but whatever food that reaches her tongue got burnt by fire. Nothing got to her stomach. In the end, she became a hungry ghost.

Seeing the pain his mother was in, Mu Lian decided to relieve her sufferings. Again, he meditated and in his clairvoyance state, the Lord Buddha appeared before him. Mu Lian was instructed to offer as much prayers and food to the monks, the poor and the needy as he could. He did this for many years and many people benefited from his kind acts.

After some years, Mu Lian’s accumulated good deeds became merits and his mother was forgiven. First, she was released from the deepest level of hell (level 18) and was reborn as a dog. Subsequently, she became a fairy and all her sufferings ceased. Mu Lian became a distinguished disciple of the Lord Buddha and the practice of offering prayers and food became a yearly affair during the seventh month.

Now you know the significance of this month, don’t you?

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“Help, someone help me please!” Vicky, my best friend squealed at the other end of the phone last night.

I could hear her voice clearly. She was not in any danger or pain. Rather, she was laughing hysterically.

After recovering, she said “You know what? Just now, I was checking on my son’s homework. His Mandarin language teacher asked the class to write about the various people of Malaysia, their culture and their beliefs as part of the Independence Day celebration.”

“That’s better than my children’s teachers who forced them to wear some silly badges,” I told her.

“Yeah, and you know what my son wrote in his essay?” she asked.

“No, but I’m sure it is something funny!” I replied enthusiastically.

“Listen to what he wrote – There are many types of people in Malaysia – Malays, Chinese, Indians, Bangladeshis, Myanmarese, China women and some very black-skinned people from Africa,” she read out a sentence from her son’s book.

“Good lord, no!” now it was my turn to laugh hysterically.

“What have our country comes to? Oh, this is so very scary!” my friend wailed again.

“And did you correct him?” I asked, trying hard to control my amusement too.

“Yes, I’ve tried to. I told him other than the first three, the rest were illegal immigrants and they are not Malaysians. I told him to substitute them with the aborigines instead. But he refused. He said he haven’t met any aborigines before,” she said.

Vicky continued, “Timothy said everywhere they went to – the wet market, the shopping malls, the eating shops, clinics or bus stops, he could see such people in hordes, so they must also be the people of Malaysia!”

Timothy was just a nine years old boy. But this is what he saw everyday. And that is what his young and innocent mind had been programmed to understand.

“Who let them in, and why were they allowed in such a big number?” Vicky asked very angrily. I could not blamed her outbursts.

I was equally disturbed too. I think in a few years time, they will outnumbered us. Already I saw them in our schools and hospitals. They have taken up a lot of our spaces, in every aspects of our daily lives and it is really frightening. What is there left for our children ten years down the road?

I really missed those days when the people who walked the streets of Malaysia were Malays, Chinese, Indians, Punjabis, Eurasians, the Peranakans and of course the friendly and humble aborigines. Those days were gone and our social landscape had been changed forever……..

Do you also miss the Malaysia we once knew?

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