What? There’ve Been 10 JB Arts Festivals Already?

Unbeknownst to many, and especially unbeknownst to me, there is a JB Arts Fest, and they’ve had it for ten years.

This is a bit surprising given all the horror stories we read in our papers about JB and crime – where it’s always “Singaporean Shot While Shopping”, or something like that. Although after speaking with several Johoreans, one suspects the context might have been “Singaporean Shot While Shopping Because He Insisted On Pushing A Trolley Full Of Cheap Groceries Through The Single Basket 10 Items Only Checkout Lane”.

Yes, JB-siders dislike us. If you’re still clueless as to why, think about the nasty things you say about foreigners in Singapore. That’s right. We make everything expensive in JB, we’re loud, crass and rude about it and we don’t care if the locals need to move up north to Yong Peng or Machap to be able to afford a house.

Over the weekend, Hossan and I ventured across the Straits to prepare for his performance at the Arts Festival, and we were stumped by the graciousness and hospitality of our hosts. And for the first time in a long time, we witnessed a bunch of people putting together a festival for the love of the arts, and not money – JB doesn’t yet have an Esplanade, or Drama Centre or Victoria Theatre, but the organisers managed to cobble together what was an impressive line up of events, from comedy to classical music to art and literature workshops.

We did one performance at a restaurant called Eight Lido – al fresco, by the Straits, and another one on a gaudy multi-coloured LED lit boat. Both were sold out to audiences who laughed at every joke, and dare we say, even harder than Singaporean audiences did at our recent shows. To be sharing the stage with an extremely talented troupe called M.A.C.C. (Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians, not to be confused with Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) was also a treat. These fellas were frikkin’ funny lah, can?

I am honoured to have been a small part of the JB Arts Fest (writing Hossan’s script), and am very grateful for the fantastic hospitality of the organisers – especially Allan Fernandez, owner of Eight Lido. Thank you for having us over.

The JB Arts Festival 2013 runs till 5 October. Check out their programme booklet.


Malaysia, truly crazier

Malaysia airlines 747-400

I’ve always said that no matter how bad one thinks Singapore is, there’s always Malaysia to make us thankful we don’t live there.

I also think that the whole violence and burning of churches and temples could’ve been avoided if Malaysia had faster broadband connections. The ingterneck is so slow that you’d get really angry waiting for something to download. And when you want to flame someone, the connection drops out.

Unlike here, where our internet connections are just slower than the other modern Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong.

So on my one-of-Asia’s-fastest-broadband connections, I was able to come across this post on which had some stuff which would’ve made for a segment on a show if not for the fact that it’s not that funny, and that the MDA would go berserk and scream bloody racial sensitivity.

Malaysian Religious Fanatic with Slow Broadband: We have zero tolerance on the use of the word ‘Allah’ by non Muslims! From now on we will firebomb the following:
The State of Allah-ska!
The State of Allah-bama!
Any structure made with Allah-baster!
People who exclaim Allah-mak!
The Disney movie Allah-Din

Any others you can think of that will incite violent behaviour? Put it on our blacklist here!

Goodbye Ah Mah

My Ah Mah, my maternal grandmother, used to sew pyjamas and quilts for every single one of her twenty odd (or is it thirty odd) grandchildren.

She’d buy yards and yards of fabric every year, and when we’d go visit her in Seremban, we’d come home with a new pair of jammies, knowing that every cousin would be kitted in identical jammies that year.

It was 1981 and the last pair I got before I was too old for pyjamas was the most embarrassing pair of mickey and minnie pyjamas a boy could ever be caught wearing when visitors came to the house later than usual.

Ah Mah spoke no English and very very few words of Mandarin. She could yell a lot in Hokkien, and in that household my mother grew up in, you needed a strong pair of lungs to go with the strong pair of hands that held the family of 15 siblings together.

Mission schooling in pre and post-war Malaya meant that a generational gap widened into a cultural and linguistic one as my mum and some of her siblings started going to church and appending Anglo-Celtic-Judaic names to their Hokkien-Chinese ones, which were often mispelled by inept officials at the birth registries (I have an uncle called Lim Songkok).

Grandchildren arrived from the 60s onwards and were christened, named and in the case of my brother and sister and myself, did not (and still do not) understand the complicated hierarchical nomenclature of the many uncles, aunties and cousins. We’d know of an Uncle Michael, who’d be Uncle Number Something to other cousins, or an Auntie Wendy, who’d be Auntie Some Other Number.

Ah Mah on the other hand, had lots of difficulty remembering all our names, and used to complain about my brother’s and my name.

“Haiyah, mm chye simi Benny Kenny lah. An chua sama kio ka Nee Nee lah!” she’d say.

(Haiyah, dunno what Benny, Kenny lah. Why do they have to all sound like Nee Nee lah!)

And as if adopting foreign names wasn’t bad enough, several of my mother’s siblings married outside of the wider Chinese population.

My half-Sephardi Jewish cousins’ names came in for Ah Mah’s shelling too.

“Haiyah, mm chye simi Nathaniel lah. An chua sama kio ka neow neow neow neow lah?”

And my half-Welsh cousins’ names, Teckwyn, Selwyn, Edwyn, Eilwyn and Colwyn…

“An chua sama kio ka win win win win win lah!”

Ah Mah loved every one of her grandkids, and that’s no mean feat – I remember being part of a family photo – of almost every kid and grandkid, numbering up to 50 plus – where the photographer had to cross the street to get everyone in the shot.

That’s like having to run a pyjama factory. And the patchwork quilt that she gave me before I left for Sydney is made of many hexagonal pieces of scrap cloth she’s collected and painstakingly sewn together. It doesn’t look like much, but it does keep the warmth in.

Ah Mah, Madam Chua Chu, passed away last Thursday in Seremban.


Manneken Pis – Photo by (oranje)

If there’s anything that reminds us that we live in a backward part of the world, it’s headlines like these:

Malaysia drops idea of travel restriction for women

More CCTVs to be installed to rid problem of urine in lifts in Aljunied GRC

What happened to the Swiss Standard of Living Goh Chok Tong talked about in the 90s? Left it in Switzerland?

Oh wait, I know. We got complacent.