Archive for May, 2011

The NYE Street Party That Could Have Been

Last New Years Eve I went to have a picnic somewhere in Genting Highlands.

After 1am, when we finally started the ascent to the top of the hills, many other people had the similar idea to go to Genting for New Years Eve. And so, there was a massive traffic jam on the road up.

Some cars gave up and just parked on the side of the road. Others just parked in the middle of the road. Other cars continued to drive but effectively were moving just as quickly as the parked cars were. People had left there cars, were sitting on their bonnets or just walking around.

I’m disappointed to say that no one with a decent sound system in their car took the initiative to blast some music. Further up the hill, where it was a lot colder this would have served the dual purpose of entertainment and comfort as it was really cold and music is a necessary and sufficient condition for dancing and dancing is a sufficient condition for warmth.

Unfortunately this perfect opportunity for a street party with multiple sound systems was not seized. I was disappointed in you Malaysia.

Please accept this as an invite to Canterbury/Bankstown for educational purposes.

My First Visit to a Surau

This morning I went into a surau for the first time.

This morning I got kicked out of a surau for the first time.

After going to a post-rock gig in Bukit Bintang and missing the last train home my friends and I wandered the streets of Bukit Bintang and Changkat. I found out where all the tourists and inert masses come to get drunk just like they would on George St. I also got to sit in the gutter and eat durian.

At about 6am or thereabouts it was time for fajr. We found a surau for my friend inside the some super fancy hotel on Jalan Bukit Bintang. Usually when she goes to solat she tells me to wait in the men’s surau. I’m not sure why but I’d never actually gone with this suggestion and usually just go for a walk or sit outside. This time, however, I went in.

I took off my shoes as I entered and looked around. So this is what a surau looks like! I had an excitement that any Muslim or Islam-apostate would probably consider absurd. I looked at the bathroom first. It was just an ordinary bathroom. I opened all the cupboards and draws. I inspected the rack in the corner. It was like one of those racks in libraries where they hang newspapers attached to big wooden sticks that make reading the paper really awkward. But instead of newspapers it had prayer mats. And the prayer mats weren’t attached to big wooden sticks, just resting on top of them. There was an arrow on the roof. Mecca was in the same direction as the window looking out of the street. If you wanted to, you could probably pray and check out the sex workers out on the street at the same time.

I was looking at a calendar and prayer timetable sponsored by an Islamic bank that was stuck to the back of the door. A man wearing a fluorescent yellow vest on top of his clothes had walked in. His vest said ‘SECURITY’ on the back of it. Had someone alerted him that a kafir was hanging out in the surau and he was coming to investigate?

He hadn’t noticed me yet. I was behind the door reading the bank-sponsored prayer timetable as he entered. I quickly put my shoes on to make my exit. But as I did this, he turned in surprise and saw me.

Oh, sorry.

Its ok. Dah. Dah solat. I sudah solat.

Dah solat?

Ya. Its ok. Dah, dah, dah.

Wait, you Islam?

Errh….

Christian?

Um.. I tak beragama.

Oh, tak ada agama. You buat apa?

Tunggu kawan.

Kawan kat mana?

Kat situ.

I point to the door of the surau perempuan.

Kawan kau perempuan?

Ya.

Kawan kau orang Islam.

Ya.

Boleh ke?

I don’t even understand what he’s trying to ask me with that question. I just be quiet and watch him open the door of the surau perempuan. Without knocking. Without even saying, “Sister, you covering your aurat? Brother Security wants to ask some questions about your kafir friend.”

My friend explains to him that I’m just waiting for her to solat. I assume that’s what she’s saying, I can’t really hear her from outside the surau. The security man turns to me.

Tak boleh tunggu sini! Tunggu bawah!

I say nothing. I turn around and walk back to the elevator and take it to the ground floor. I sit on a chair in the lobby for about two seconds. Fuck this place, I’m going outside.

I find a place in gutter out the front of the hotel to sit. I watch the sex workers hang out, talking with each other, talking to men in cars, talking to men walking by. I think about qadar. I wonder if Allah had willed for me to get kicked out of the surau. I wonder if Allah has willed for me to be an atheist.

If that’s the case, alhamdulillah?!

My May Day Post-Twitter

On Sunday, I kind of wished I had access to a Black Berry or an iPhone or whatever else people use to access twitter without being at a computer just so I could have been one of them twitter journalists coming straight from the action, but instead all I had to tweet with was a pen and paper. So this is kind of what I would have tweeted had I had the ability to do so. However, as I’m not tweeting this, and editing it two days later, I have the ability to write more and add facts that I didn’t know at the time. I’m also writing it in past tense because I was confusing myself trying to write in present tense as if I was actually writing it all at the time.

Also, I didn’t take any photos. Everyone always takes lots of photos of these things. There’s also lots of video too. So I guess just have a look around google and youtube for that.

10:45 – I arrived at Chow Kit monorail station. From inside the monorail I could see many people standing on the side of the road watching something. I assumed they were watching a gathering of people. When I got down I didn’t see a gathering of people. There were a lot of police and a lot of media. There was a huddle of police and media around one or a few people and I watched from the back as one of the people was dragged by the police into a police car which drove off with its siren on. I have no idea what happened. I met a friend there and he too had no idea what happened. After sending an SMS or two I found out the gathering was now at Maju Junction, which turned out to be a ten to fifteen minute walk up Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman from the monorail station.

Turns out that I had witnessed the arrests of S Arutchelvan the Secretary-General of PSM (Parti Sosialis Malaysia) and A Sivarajan the Treasurer of PSM. Watch it on YouTube.

11:00 – I arrived at Maju Junction. This is where the gathering was. I was able to find some faces I knew but the Noisy crew hadn’t yet arrived. There were many people holding banners in Malay, English and Chinese and not long after I arrived there was at least one speech given. I couldn’t quite hear the speech clearly though and it was in Malay so I may not have understood it all anyway. I assume it may have been based on the “May Day 2011 Declaration” which I was able to get a copy of and if I get the time I might try to do a rough translation into English.

11:10 – We started marching and after about fifty metres from Maju Junction at a nearby building that housed Tabung Haji and Kementerian Penerangan, Komunikasi dan Kebudayaan (KPKK – Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture) we stopped. I think I heard people banging on the windows and doors of the place and I assume tried to get in. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening, if they were attempting to occupy the ministry offices or something else but that seemed a likely motive to me. It wasn’t very long until either the door was opened by protesters from the outside or the police from the inside, and after which a bit of a scuffle resulted. Police pushed protesters, protesters pushed police, police yelled, people yelled, it all got a bit intense for a little while until the majority of protesters decided to sit down. After which, the police attack stopped. Watch it on Youtube.

11:25 – Still outside Tabung Haji and KPKK. The sit-in continued and people start singing songs such as Solidarity Forever and a song in Malay that I assume is called Kita Bangun.

12:00 – Still outside Tabung Haji and KPKK. After singing and chanting and general hanging around, most people stood up but hung around some more. The anarchists unfurled their banners and passed around black head/arm bands with ‘May Day Pekerja Bersatu’ (May Day Workers Unite) printed on them. The media then took lots of photos of people standing around holding banners.

12:10 – Outside Tabung Haji and KPKK the banners were tied to the railing that separated the footpath from the road – the banners facing outwards to Jalan Sultan Ismail so that cars going past could see.

12:25 – Word started to go around that there were plans for the gathering to split into two groups. I heard that one group was to stay at Maju Junction while the other group was to head to the nearby Police Station (Dang Wangi Ibu Pejabat Polis). The anarchist bloc decided to leave for the police station so I followed along.

12:35 – A group of us left together to walk to the police station. There was about 30 of us in the group – mostly anarchists, a few from Islamic student groups and some others. We walked while still carrying our banners.

12:40 – We arrived at the police station and including our group that just arrived there was about 70 or 80 people there all from different groups. Almost straight away one of our friends was taken by the police. I was a bit further from where it happened but one of my friends standing nearby commented on how they think the arrest was just a media opportunity for the police – there were heaps of media around and the police officer who arrested our friend seemed to be posing for the cameras. Watch the arrest on YouTube.

12:50 – Outside the police station one of the police officers started yelling really loudly at everyone. He said we had five minutes to leave. I thought, ok, so we’ll stay for five minutes. However, people had already started moving back up the road. As this was happening a lot of police came out of the police station and started walking us up the road. There would have been at least 100. One of our friends was approached by police. At first I thought they were going to arrest him too but then I saw that they’d let him go. Apparently, their conversation went something like: “You look familiar, I’ve seen you at all the protests!”, “Hey, I’m just here to observe. I’m just being peaceful, I don’t want to fight anyone.” – and it worked.

12:55 – There were about twenty or so of us outside the 7-11 about fifty metres up the road and about forty people at the bus stop across the road from the police station. At least four people also went off to make a police report on the actions of the police at Maju Junction and outside the police station.

13:10 – A truck had left the police station and I noticed it was carrying some of those who had been arrested. I told my friends to run after it to find out where the truck was going. The traffic lights were red so we all had the opportunity to run up and ask questions and talk to people we knew. We found out they were being taken to the Balai Polis Tun H S Lee near Stadium Merdeka. However, it was uncertain if all the people had been taken so we hung around to try to make some calls and SMS some people to ask about our friend.

13:15 – Most of us were now sitting outside the 7-11 waiting for news of the others who weren’t in that truck to Balai Polis H S Lee. Two trucks full of riot police and a water cannon drove past and parked at the bus stop where we had gathered only a few minutes earlier.

13:40 – Still outside the 7-11. The four who had gone off to write the police report had returned with copies of their report.

13:45 – We find out that all those arrested had been taken to Balai Polis H S Lee. So we started walking.

14:45 – After a brief stop to buy cendol, gathering some people, getting split up but then joining another group on their way to the police station, and seeing a lot of KL I’d never seen, I finally arrived at the police station. There were at least 150-200 people there, maybe more because I don’t really know how to estimate crowd numbers.

15:10 – Outside the police station, some people arrive with a lot of packages of curry and rice. All day people had been passing around boxes of bottles of water and sweet bread cakes. Malaysia seems to know what’s important in organising a protest!

16:35 – Outside the police station, and four bags full of Indian kuih arrived – karipap, pisang goreng and more. At the same time a small group of people assemble outside the gate of the police station. The police have called for enough people to bail out those arrested (which I heard was nineteen).

17:25 – At this time I left with a friend who had to go off somewhere else. By the time we had left, the police still hadn’t allowed the people in to bail out those arrested. They kept prolonging the process, claiming the forms weren’t ready or other excuses. When we left there was still a lot of people assembled outside in solidarity.

I found out later that my friend had been charged with ‘illegal gathering’ and I assume that’s what the others would have been charged with too. It seems like a really silly charge. If nineteen people are arrested and charged with ‘illegal gathering’ what about the other hundreds of people who were there? Why only those nineteen? Surely, to be consistent they’d need to arrest all of us or none of us. Not that I’m suggesting they arrest us all, of course.