Friday, April 19, 2013

Preparing for the General Election

I started writing this blog in October 2011! Finally on 10 April 2013, the date of the 13th General Election (GE13) was announced. It will be on 5 May.  Voter energy built up after the 2008 election (GE12), when for the first time the ruling party did not have a 2/3 majority in Parliament. Following GE12 the opposition controlled 5 states, 3 more than before the 2008 election. The fight to regain control of Penang and Selangor, adjacent to Kuala Lumpur, has been intense. Plus, a battle is brewing in Johor, which nestles next to Singapore.

In 2007 Bersih, a coalition of NGOs, called for clean and fair elections, In 2010 it emerged as Bersih 2.0, an important watchdog and critic of the Election Commission. In 2011 it held a rally that the government declared "illegal."  Another rally, Bersih 3.0, was held in 2012 - the government was less confrontation, but a Royal Commission has begun to allocate blame. We were out of country for both rallies. Election Day will be no different; we will be in the US.

For us election anticipation began with the September 2011 release of a video Undilah (undi - vote, lah - added at the end of words for emphasis). It is 4 minutes long, available in English and Malay. Even if you don't know the actors you will appreciate its message and presentation.  (The Minister of Information reportedly directed TV stations not to air the video - such is Malaysian politics.)

In the months leading up to election we watched with amazement the government's strategies to win "hearts and minds" and votes - a rebate to youths (21-30) for a smartphone purchase, money to school children, tires for taxi drivers, and so on. Nothing for ex-pats. We can't vote.

The political ads have been something else. No attack ads here in the English media. They are sophisticated productions targeted at specific audiences - language, age, and gender. If you watch I Choose Malaysia, you can pick out the themes that are being used to convince voters not to change the current government. The opposition parties and NGOs have developed their videos as well. These videos are found on youtube and social media. The government/dominant party use social media, television, and movie theatres.

Doug and I have created maps (using BatchGeo) to show where women are running for parliament. It has been a great education. We compiled information on the 23 women MPs out of a parliament of 221 members. (There are 222 parliamentary seats; one woman MP died in 2012 and her seat remained vacant.) We couldn't completely compile the data until nomination day, 20 April. Some parties announced their lists early, so we avoided going completely mad and entered data as we got it Our plan is to create key maps on Monday. To see our work, done with ample help from others, go to

And on Tuesday as the campaign picks up speed we will be on the way to JFK Airport.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Remembering Old Singapore

From time to time we go to Singapore to catch up with friends whom we have known since 1971! The last trip I asked them if they missed the "Old Singapore." They did and so do we. Places that we visited on our first date are gone - the Adelphi Hotel, where started the evening with a drink, has been torn down; we had dinner at Orchard Road Car Park,which became a hawker area at 5 p.m. has been replaced by the road's dense, upmarket shopping area  Street names are familiar, but the buildings aren't.

On a recent weekend trip we spent the weekend in Little India - hotel, meals, and walks. We stayed at the Perak Hotel, a budget hotel in Little India. The  staff was knowledgeable and friendly; the rooms clean and had reliable hot water. All one wants from a budget hotel in an expensive city. Although the hotel had breakfast we walked a few blocks to the Madras New Woodlands Restaurant. Our friends eat there every Sunday. We ordered dosa and upuma and then spent the morning chatting away.

Along the way we were reminded of an older Singapore with its small shops.
Little India outdoor produce stand

Further up the street is Serangoon Road, a hive of activity. On Sunday nights it is alive with Indian workers wandering, meeting, and buying phone cards. Among the shop are clothing shops and cloth shops. If an alteration is needed tailors are readily available.

Roadside tailor shop
Along Serangoon Road we met another friend at City Square Mall, "Singapore's first eco-mall. Along the way and in the mall we saw signs that in one way or another encouraged citizenship, better health, and environmental appreciation.

See something, say something?  A campaign to promote a more welcoming environment
for  person with disabilities & the frail elderly
"Frail elderly" - reminds me of a person who pointed out that I and others that we were the "not yet disabled." On to a health reminder or, more appropriately an opportunity to be healthier. Note - this is not the product of a government harangue.

 And finally, we got to learn about the benefits of an eco-mall

So Singapore may look different, but its core values are in place. Let's put aside the preoccupation with  shopping and money and think about the government's agenda of developing thoughtful (and non-gum chewing) citizens. It's the Singapore version of Gross National Happiness.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Independent traveler in Kuala Lumpur

Anja, a house guest from Germany, had been backpacking in SE Asia for 2 months when she arrived in KL. She had read Lonely Planet and was prepared to leisurely explore the city. She taught us how an adventurous, independent visitor can explore Kuala Lumpur.
Anja with Kuala Lumpur in the background
Food: Anja was in KL for 2 full days, not much time to combine sight seeing and eating. The only specific advice she had received was to have laksa while in Malaysia. We had breakfast and dinner together at local kedai makanans (eating shops) and introduced her to a few local favorites. Here is what we had:
As all Malaysians know laksa comes in many varieties. My favorite is assam laksa, locally available  at O&S Restaurant at Paramount Gardens. A little too far to fit into Anja's schedule, so we walked down to Lucky Gardens, Bangsar, for Sarawak laksa. See above link for pictures and a blogger's comment. Similarly, we tried the recommended Devi Corner for banana leaf. After two years we discovered it has a second floor. We have since discovered that we weren't the only "ignorant locals."

If Anja had visited later we found 2 lunch recommendations that we would have recommended. For ikan bakar (baked fish) Medan Ikan Bakar Gerai No. 3 (for walking directions click on the link). Doug and I went with friends at night and knew that we would never find it on our own - now we can, if decide to walk.
Ready to feast
The remains
Another friend introduced us to lunch at the Buddhist Temple (Kun Yam Thong Temple on Jalan Ampang (across from Corus Hotel). It was a bit chaotic and after waiting out in the sun my brain was fried. We piled various vegetarian delights on our plates - to late I noticed the noodle stand.The food was delicious, cheap, and no MSG. We can't wait to go back.

Room for 500 happy diners
Reading signs - An underrated pleasure
Transportation: We live close to a LRT Station - no adventures, no hassles, easy. Anja took the LRT to Pasar Seni to catch the wonderful Go KL Free bus. free bus. Originally designed for tourists Go KL Free is heavily used by locals. So one can both see some of the city and people watch. Another day Anja took the Monorail from its origin at KL Sentral to the end of the line, getting a different view of the city.

KL taxi drivers have a poor reputation. Bangsar-area (where we live) drivers always use the meter. So Anja had no trouble on that score, but one driver took her to Bangsar Village instead of Bangsar Shopping Centre. Not a costly mistake, but annoying nonetheless. Another took her to the airport and than gripped that he would return empty (true). Anja correctly noted it wasn't her problem. Downtown KL is more of a hassle, but Anja stuck to her guns and refused to go with a driver who cited a specific cost - three times what she eventually paid with a metered cab.

Sightseeing: Apparently Anja is a tourist after our heart, that is, she does a lot wandering. Her first destination was Guan Di Temple in Chinatown. Then wandering through Chinatown. (On our to-do-list is to take a tour of Chinatown, so we can better inform guests.) Petronas Towers has a reputation of being hard to visit - a limited number of tickets require an early arrival. Someone told us that the Traders Hotel Sky Bar was a great alternative for seeing the city, Anja confirmed that the recommendation was on target.

At the hotel AnCasa Anja picked up "A walking tour of Kuala Lumpur," that she highly recommended. A visit to the hotel's website found useful tourist information, but not a copy of the guide. Here are the sights it lists.

  • Chinatown
  • Sri Maha Mariamman Temple
  • Kwong Siew Temple
  • Central Market
  • Kuala Lumpur Railway Station
  • Islamic Centre
  • National Mosque (Masjid Negara)
  • DamiBumi Complex
  • National History Museum
  • Sultan Abdul Samad Building
  • Merdeka Square
  • St. Mary’s Cahedral
  • Jameq Mosque