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A sobering Malaysian saga

188, Hugh Low Street – The Stories of the Scissors Sharpener’s Daughter written by Ipohgal 2013.

This is not a story of conquerors or industrialists who shattered the course of a civilization or something like that but rather of the stuff that Malaysia is made of – of small people who had a big strong heart to work hard to bring a better future for the family and the country. Ipohgal, an avid blogger, has earned another feather to her cap. Now, she is an author and this is her maiden publication.

It traced to a time when it was peaceful and safe where children could play in the streets without a care. They did not need expensive gadgets to pass their time but rather they used their ingenuity to improvise. To give a nostalgic twang to her book, Ipohgal managed to capture a few pictures of the inside and outside the building that she knew as home. Coincidentally, the Indian eatery that she refers to ‘Kedai Nasi Ganja’ is the same one whose owner’s son (deceased) was my brother-in-law’s best friend.

The book starts by tracing the birthplace of her parents and the circumstances that brought them to Malaya. Her paternal grandfather, fleeing from the Qing Dynasty, landed in Batu Gajah with his young village headmaster’s daughter wife. He built a reputation as an excellent bean curd maker. In those days, if you wanted a helping hand in your business, you just contacted your people in China and they would send you, not maids but rather maidens to be your wife. Like that, her Grandpa got himself a third wife after the second one got raped en route to Malaya and fell into depression. There is a funny part where the first wife avenges the husband through the grandchildren by cajoling them to get their grandfather broke by asking for this and that!

Kedai nasi kandar 'ganja', aptly named for   the addictive quality of the food. Customers   do not mind queueing long to be served!

Kedai nasi kandar ‘ganja’, aptly named for
the addictive quality of the food. Customers
do not mind queuing long to be served!

After panning through some harrowing moments during WW2, her father moved out of Batu Gajah to 188, Hugh Low Street, Ipoh to start a coffee shop. This shop was witness to many eventful events in the writer’s life. Her parents were married and all her childhood memories were in that simple shop.

The book goes on to innumerate many significant events that happened in her life – her memory of playing near the drain of her home, of a time she fell into the drain, her first exposure to the work peeping tom, her exposure to movies, the interesting places of leisure in Ipoh at that time, of the various tenants and characters who rented rooms in the building. A great proportion of the book is spent on the most important moment of anyone’s life, the schooling years.

Thanks to her stubborn mother, the father relented and Ipohgal received English education, unlike her elder siblings. Bad times befell on the family in the early 70s when like an avalanche, barrage of misfortunes fell on them. The family savings were exhausted when two close relatives where inflicted with aggressive terminal cancers. To add salt on wound, the shop license was suspended. Her father had to give up the shop and had to use his resources to support the family. That is when he learn the art of scissors and knife sharpening and carve a name for himself as Ipoh’s famous scissors sharpener.

She further narrates the many fond and sometimes unpleasant moments of her schooling life, especially in primary school. She soon discovered about discrimination and class segregation.

All good things must end. The last few chapters were melancholic as it describes the passing of her parents in such descriptive and touching manner. Their home is now in unkempt and is in a depilatory condition, occupied by foreigners. Another topic that keeps popping up every now and then is the ability of the author and some of her relatives who had an eye to be able to see visions of the death!

A light enjoyable read that reminds all its readers of where we came from. Like what the old adage states, ‘One who does not know where he came from, will not reach where he is going to’, I think it is important from all to be reminded of past so that success does not go into our head. It helps to maintain sobriety!


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Book review
Title: No more bullshit, please, we’re all Malaysians
Author: Kee Thuan Chye
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish
Price: RM39.90 (West & East Malaysia)
Available at: Kinokuniya, Borders, MPH, Popular and Times nationwide


The air is thick with rumors that PRU 13 is coming our way anytime this year. While most Malaysians have already decided whom to vote for, there are still some fence-sitters out there, undecided and left things to the last-minute. This does not bode well for the nation because their hazy decisions will either make or break the hopes of many to see some positive changes for this beloved country of ours.

In his new book, “No more bullshit, please, we’re all Malaysians”, well-known writer Kee Thuan Chye, has put together a compilation of previously published articles to help these undecided voters make up their mind. These articles chronicled recent political developments in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. Poems as well as excerpts from his plays were included to show the readers how those in power, past and present, were caught in the same net of deceit – greediness, selfishness and their desperation to stay on beyond their shelf lives.

The chapter that is of particular interest to everyone was “Mahathir the mess-maker.” Here, the author takes great care to explain the messes this authoritarian had created. Twenty two years of his totalitarian rule saw how the population was divided by race and religion in all aspects of daily life. The media was gagged, the education system was politicized, the judiciary was neutered and other public institutions like the police, the arm forces, the election commission and anti corruption agency were reduced to mere lapdogs. The height of his mismanagement was to create a culture of fear among the people as was shown in Operation Lalang on October 27, 1987. It was a black day in modern Malaysian history.

Also discussed in the chapter titled “March 8 and more” is the political tsunami of 308 and its after effects whereby people got braver because we knew we have a choice now – between BN and PR. The side that did not deliver to the people’s expectations will be kicked out in subsequent elections. Yes, it is important for us to realize this – we the people, are the bosses and the government is our servant, not the other way round!

Kee Thuan Chye also brings some logical argument to another equally interesting chapter called “Najib the salesman and flip-flopper.” The author does an excellent job in highlighting the current prime minister’s showmanship – peddling different slogans to different audiences. To one particular race, he will defend their special position at all cost but to others, he urged them to close ranks and see themselves as one people. In the end, it was exposed that 1Malaysia is nothing more than an empty slogan to win our hearts and minds but the man behind it was furthest from being sincere about his own ware!

In the chapter “Race and Religion Rumbles”, the author spoke about recent racial and religious clashes including the cowhead incident, burning of churches and banning of certain words in religious books. These happenings pointed to one thing – we are 2Malaysia, not 1Malaysia!

The author reminded his readers that the CEO of the country had yet to address things like corruption, rent-seeking, wasteful spending, cronyism, our pathetic education system, the judiciary, the police, the AG, the EC and MACC. The prime minister also proposed to reform the ISA, withdraw printing licenses and introduce the Peaceful Assembly Bill to guarantee more freedom to gather in public. Of course all these were just scams because there is really no change; in fact things got worse than before.

Besides the main party in the BN coalition, its weaker partners like MCA, MIC, Gerakan and SUPP were painted exactly like how they were – no longer relevant to their respective communities because they could not speak effectively nor dare to stand up for the people they claimed to represent. In this time and age, multiracial parties were seen to bring the people together because they are perceived to fight for common causes, not communal ones that divide the people.

Another very interesting chapter that will be useful to convince the voters was “Bersih 2.0 and all that dirt.”  This chapter revealed how Perkasa and Umno Youth went all out to sabotage the people’s demands for a free and fair election on 9th July 2011. Read up how the prime minister, the home minister, the police and Ibrahim Ali demonized the noble demands of Bersih 2.0, a coalition of NGOs. Hardest hit were Ambiga Sreenevasan and A. Samad Said, two prominent leaders of the steering committee. Some activists were arrested, then branded as terrorists and were alleged to wage war against the King!

An eye opener for the younger generation of voters certainly has to be “The truth about the Baling talks?” In this well-written chapter, we will get a glimpse into a part of history that has not been fully told and not taught in our schools. Kee Thuan Chye wrote about the contributions by MCP and other organizations that were downplayed by the government then. It is a known fact that millions of Malaysian students do not know the full and real story in our fight for independence from the British. He suggested it was time for us to reclaim our true history. The dialogues between Chin Peng, Tuanku Abdul Rahman and David Marshall will make interesting read.

The book also discussed a subject of utmost importance – the decline of the English language and why nothing much was done to arrest this decline, simply because it is not politically feasible to do so for the ruling party. Finally, the author also gave an honest and straight forward opinion on why the Chinese in Malaysia had forsaken BN and will continue to do so. He outlined the simple and basic wants of the community; they are so sensible that you have to agree with him.

I think anyone who is interested in Malaysian politics should make it a point to read this book. Fence-sitters, especially those born between the years 1969 and 1991 (ages 21 to 43) should not give it a miss. This is mainly because the author gave much insightful information which voters from this age group could not get from mainstream media. For those of us who grew up with distorted news from government controlled newspapers and TV stations, many events like Operation Lalang and how the judiciary got hijacked by Mahathir became clear to us now.

This book deserves our attention and support because it was written by a Malaysian who cared enough to speak up for its betterment. He rightly pointed out in a quote by Howard Zinn, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” It is equally patriotic for each of us to know what is good and what is bad for our country; and demand the wrongs to be right again through the power each of us possessed in our hands – our ballot papers on polling day. Use it wisely, our children’s future depended on our decisions.


Also appeared in Lim Kit Siang’s blog

( http://blog.limkitsiang.com/  on Tuesday, 17 April 2012, 1:40 pm )
Blogger Ipohgal’s review of No More Bullshit


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“All that’s necessary for the forces of evil

to win in

the world is for enough good men to do nothing.”

Edmund Burke quote

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