Archive for the ‘ Words ’ Category

I’m just pretending

At a party last weekend, I was telling someone I just met about how I want to go to Iran. Air Asia used to fly to Tehran but they don’t anymore. Ana told me that I could go to Iran with her and Aitak and Sepi but actually she was just playing a trick on me.

My new friend told me that she had recently discussed going to Afghanistan with some of her friends. At least one of them told her she should just pretend to be Hazara and then she’ll be fine. I thought that was weird, because I thought it was the Hazaras that are getting fucked up over there, but she wants to go to Hazara parts, so pretending to be Hazara might make more sense in that case. In telling me this, she made sure to tell me that she would never pretend to be someone/something else. And she repeated it again to make sure that I understood.

The next day I went to a Malay wedding. While my friends and I were seated, a person with a microphone started to say something that I assumed was some sort of prayer. I assumed this because people throughout the hall stopped what they were doing and held their hands in front of them as Muslims do when they do some prayer thing that probably has a name but I don’t know what it is. It’s what Sonny Bill Williams did before this year’s Grand Final began.

I just sat there, being the awkward kafir. Until my friend sitting next to me got my attention and brought that attention of mine to her hands. She then gave me a look that I’m pretty sure said: “See my hands? Just follow what I do.” So I did.

I was a Muslim, doing the proper Muslim things during the Muslim prayer. But I’m not a Muslim. I was pretending. I sat there, not paying attention to the prayer but to the memory of the conversation I had the night before. I thought about pretending. Pretending allows me a chance to blend in, to be invisible, to be normal. It is a strategy for deflecting unwanted attention, for deflecting the negative gaze of the dominant group. It is a strategy for enhancing my sense of belonging by diverting attention away from my status as the Other.

While studying at the Academy of Islamic Studies (API) at the University of Malaya (UM), I often wished I knew more about the Islamic habitus so that I could blend in there. I wished I had taken the time earlier to study the basics and show up on the first day to give the best Muslim performance that I could. But it was too late for that.

Greetings were the worst. Despite the opinion of some Muslims I’ve met, the dominant view at API seemed to be that saying assalamualaikum and responding with walaikumsalam was for Muslims only. So whenever lecturers and tutors would greet the class with assalamualaikum, or fellow students would greet me in that way, I would always just smile and lower my head. They got the message: “Sorry, but I’m a kafir.”

My exclusion from this simple everyday ritual was made clear to me after class one day when one of my class mates apologised to me for having previously greeted me with “assalamualaikum” (prior to finding out that I am not a Muslim). As nice as it was for him to go out of his way to apologise, it only reinforced my status as the Other in this context. I was not to have peace wished upon me now was I to wish it upon others. A simple “hello” was enough.

Every time I walked through the doors of the API building I wished that I could have gone back to the first day and started again as a “Muslim”.

On coffee and being a half-wog baby.

After finishing my HSC, as my school friends and I went our separate ways into the world, there were the inevitable expressions of desire to catch up articulated in the phrase: “Let’s get a coffee sometime.” In my early years of adulthood, before I discovered that “coffee” is just a metaphor, I was terrified by this phrase.

I don’t drink coffee. I’m not sure why. It might be the taste or the residue of a teenage straight edge. I just don’t. But I haven’t always lead a coffee free lifestyle.

A few weeks ago I was hanging out with one of my friends. We were discussing our childhoods and since he’s Lebanese and I’m half-Italian we were searching for a shared sense of wogness. We both spent a lot of time around our grandparents growing up. As the first child born to young parents from working class backgrounds with a mortgage to pay off at early-90s interest rates, as soon as I was off breast milk (which was pretty easy because I was allergic to it) my mum was back at work and I was off to nonno’s and nonna’s.

“Did your grandma give you the bottle?” my friend asked.

“What the fuck bro? No.”

“My grandma gave me the bottle until I was seven. I used to have to hide it from my parents.”

“Nah bro, I didn’t have the bottle, but my grandparents gave me coffee.”

My friend burst out laughing.

“Yeah, I used to drink coffee every day when I was like three years old.”

He kept laughing.

“Is that normal? I don’t really talk about this stuff, so I don’t know what’s normal and not normal for growing up with wog grandparents.”

“That’s not normal bro.” And he just kept laughing.

When I was a kid – a little one – I drank a lot of coffee. Black coffee too. I loved drinking milk too – I’d yell at my mum, “HOT LATTE! GIVE ME HOT LATTE!” – but I kept my latte and coffee separate. Latte was my night drink, coffee my morning drink. The coffee came served with my regular breakfast: a Tip Top English Muffin, cut in half, with each half coated in a thick layer of formaggino. I’m not sure what brand of formaggino it was but it was the wog version (with Italian or French packaging) that my nonno would buy from Big Ed at Earlwood, so it always looked different to the brands I’d see in Coles.

So apparently it’s not normal. Wog babies of the internet (with Italian/Sicilian grandparents), please back me up on this shit and hmu if u agree.

The Bakwan Story

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to make a Facebook status update about it did it actually fall?: that cool thing that just happened to me so now I’ve come straight home to tell the world about it. (aka. the Bakwan story) [Originally published on Pesbuk.]

I was walking home from Lakemba station and remembering the one dollar coin in my pocket that I had taken from the spare change jar in my lounge room this morning with the purpose of buying a box of Teh Kotak I made my way towards the Indonesian store that is next to Al-Aqsa hair salon, a very very new business that seemed to have all of a sudden popped up in between the Indonesian store and Sana’s gift shop. I took the Teh Kotak from the fridge and paid my one dollar. I then noticed the assortment of kue, gorengan and other snacks on the counter. I felt a bit hungry so decided to stare at the foods and see which one I wanted or at least which one’s were suitable for people wishing to maintain a vegan diet. I saw a box of fried stuff that looked like bakwan (cucur sayur for my Indonesian-impaired Malaysian friends). I asked the kakaks at the counter if it was bakwan. Yes it was bakwan. I asked how much was the bakwan. The bakwan was $1.30. I started counting the remaining coins in my pocket and had to stop one of the kakaks from putting a bakwan into a plastic bag, explaining I didn’t have enough money. I left the store and continued on my way home.

After passing Warung Ita, someone behind me sounded like they were calling me. I turned around and it was one of the kakaks from the Indonesian store. She was holding a plastic bag with a bakwan in it. “Here, we felt bad for you. You can just have it anyway.” “Ahh… oh my god, thank you so much.” I was feeling quite speechless but as I turned around to walk off I hoped that I was at least to use my words and other sounds to convey an adequate level of gratitude that would make the kakak think I’m a nice person. [Ed. – if you don’t know Lakemba geography, Warung Ita isn’t really that close to the Indonesian store.]

At this point my tendency to be a little shit (or a flirt – depending on which way you look at it) kicked in. I turned back around. She was at least fifteen or twenty metres away and I yelled out, “Kak! Kak!”. She didn’t turn around. “Mbak! Mbak!” She turned around. “Ada cabe gak?!” I smiled and laughed trying to convey a sense of kelucuan. “Oh no! You want cabe? Sorry!” “Haha! Gak apa!” “Ok, ok, next time ya.” And then I turned around and kept walking hoping that I came off more silly and cute than ungrateful. And hopefully she didn’t think I was racist for yelling out at her in Indonesian. I just couldn’t help myself, it just happened. And I ate my bakwan and, and, and, oh em ji, I love the world so much.

The End.

PS: Also, on my way home I found a CD on the side of the road. It didn’t look too scratched. I turned it over and it had something printed in Arabic on it. I put it in my hoodie pocket hoping it will be as fruitful as the time I found a CD of Indian music on the side of the road and made some beats taking some samples from it. A few minutes along I found another CD. Maybe the lawn in the Lakemba-Roselands area is fertile for the growing of CDs. It was more scratched than my previous finding and didn’t look as interesting (i.e. it wasn’t ‘exotic’ enough).


TL;DR Version:

Luka walks home followed by Indonesian girl bearing gifts of bakwan. Luka now loves life again. We don’t know anything about her except for what she can do to make Luka’s life worth living. She has no will of her own. Classic MPDG story.

Nara, where did you go?

So, a few of my good friends have started working on a documentary of Street Art in Western Sydney (see: Deep Corridors) and it got me thinking back to 2007, a time when Oatley had its own playful and mischievous stencil artist. I think their name was ‘nara’, but it’s a little hard to tell.

By the time I was in Year 12, sleeping became more important than the public transport social, so I spent most mornings in the car with my mum (who also attended the same school), hijacking her CD player and car sound system with the sounds of more acceptable punk bands such as Defiance, Ohio. In art class one morning, a friend told me about a big piece of street art on the wall just outside the entrance of Oatley train station. She described it as huge stencil of a person (doing something, that five years of time has caused me to forget) with the words “Bow your head to no one”  scribbled next to it. A few days later, I went down to the train station to take a picture. Unfortunately I had arrived too late. The piece had been painted over, however the outline of the words could still be made out.

Further up the hill, toward Georges River College, just before you get to the one lane bridge that connects Oatley to the rest of the world, there was another piece. This one not so explicitly anti-authoritarian, but more playful and cute, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why it had stayed up for a lot longer.

There was at least one more piece by ‘nara’. It was in Penshurst, along Railway Parade. A few bricks of a wall had been painted gold. On top of these golden bricks were perched the silhouettes of a few birds. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of this piece.

Since finishing school in November 2007, I haven’t been back in Oatley or surrounding areas such as Mortdale and Penshurst. I have no idea if any of these pieces still exist or if more pieces have appeared in the streets since then.

Why Occupy Dataran Merdeka?

As the Occupy Dataran protest camp continues through its fifth day and grows in size, I thought it would be worthwhile to have a look at the reasons for occupying given by the people who have been part of the action. The quotes here have been taken from posts on Twitter and Facebook over the past few days. Some of them have were originally in English, others have been translated from the Malay by me.

The protest camp began straight after an anti-PTPTN (the Malaysian student loan scheme) protest, so it is not surprising to see that education has been a big issue for discussion. Some arguments for the action specifically reference the abolishment of PTPTN while placing it in the context of government responsibility and/or a human rights discourse:

“We need to understand why students are forced to take out a PTPTN loan. Education is a human right.”

“If there’s no PTPTN, how do the poor pay for their fees? When we say ‘abolish’, what is the alternative? We need to be clear about this.”

“When we say abolish PTPTN, we want to propose to the government that the responsibility of providing education is the responsibility of the government.”

“From an Islamic perspective, education must be given to everybody. Healthcare must be given to everybody”

While other participants have articulated that they do not necessarily want to abolish PTPTN but still support the occupy action for other reasons closely linked to the education system. These reasons include the conditions of the current PTPTN scheme and the current system of preferential treatment for bumiputeras (Malays and non-Muslim indigenous populations):

“In my opinion, those that have already taken out a loan need to pay it back. However, I don’t agree with the administrative fees that costs thousands.”

“I don’t agree with abolishing PTPTN. Before talking about free education, we should first fight for equal access”

“Most non-bumiputeras have no choice but to take PTPTN because affordable public uni not accessible.”

While there does seem to be a lot of focus on education issues, other protestors have articulated their reasons for occupation in more broader concepts of democracy and class struggle:

“A new world that is not capitalist is possible.”

“A message of protest to all governments – including the opposition.”

“We need to open democratic space where all people can discuss and deliberate.”

“#OccupyDataran represents a truly grassroots movement rebelling against every system of representative democracy dominated by an elite class. It is a class struggle.”

“#OccupyDataran represents a truly people based consensus decision making process that we want as an ideal versus the top-down representative democracy we are seeing.”

“#OccupyDataran represents the power of citizen action. To hell with bad governance and the bullshit nonsense we have been seeing.”

“#OccupyDataran represents a rebellion in our system of representative democracy that no longer represents some of us. Its a movement for a better way.”

Why do I #occupydataran when I believe PTPTN should be reformed not abolished as long as free education doesn’t exist?

I #occupydataran in solidarity with students who are unafraid to exercise their right to freedom of expression.

I #occupydataran because there are no democratic public spaces. Reclaiming Dataran Merdeka, the symbolic birthplace of democracy, means reclaiming democracy.

I #occupydataran because it is a platform to imagine a new form of democracy without hierarchies and everyone can participate in decision-making. This is differs greatly to the current system where only leaders at the top are involved in decision-making.

It would seem possible that what differentiates the protestors in regards to the reasons they emphasise for occupying Dataran Merdeka is their background in the movement – that is, whether they came from the regular weekly Occupy Dataran assemblies and actions or if they come from a background of activism in the student movement. This is a distinction that seems to have been brought to the fore earlier today on the #OccupyDataran Facebook page:

Many don’t see that the protest camp at Dataran Merdeka is actually occupied by two different movements: the #OccupyDataran movement (a leaderless, grassroots movement) and the Malaysia Bangkit movement (led by Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM)).

The Malaysia Bangkit movement that consists of students from various universities is occupying the square to demand the abolishment of PTPTN and demand free education.

The #OccupyDataran movement that consists of youth, citizens of KL and students from a variety of backgrounds is occupying the square to reclaim Dataran Merdeka as an open and democratic space for people to gather, discuss and explore the true meaning of democracy beyond the representative system, to redefine democratic participation beyond the ballot box, to imagine a new political culture beyond race, ideology and political affiliation, and also to hang out, spend the night and dream together at Dataran Merdeka.

We do this through the KL People’s Assembly, a platform that is open, egalitarian and democratic, for ordinary people to share ideas, highlight problems, seek alternatives, propose solutions, and make decisions about any issue collectively through consensus and a participatory democratic process that we have been using every night we have occupied Dataran Merdeka.

Two movements exist and co-exist together in the same space, occupying the same square.

I should repeat again that as I’m writing this from Sydney, I’m quite removed from the action and so I am only writing based on my interpretation of fragments gleaned from Twitter, Facebook and conversations with friends. If you’ve been involved and are occupying for reasons that I haven’t covered, feel free to add them in a comment.

To follow what’s going on at Dataran Merdeka as it happens, check out #OccupyDataran’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Bonus readings:

‘Dataran Merdeka’ students stay put (Free Malaysia Today)

Occupy Dataran: From ‘Lil Acorns Grow Mighty Oaks (The People’s Parliament blog)

Occupy Dataran Protest Camp

Today was the third day of the Occupy Dataran protest camp at Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square), Kuala Lumpur. The camp started on Saturday (April 14) after students and youth marched through the streets of Kuala Lumpur protesting for the abolishment of PTPTN (the Malaysian version of student loans) and the establishment of free tertiary education.

Occupy Dataran started last July as the KL manifestation of the Take The Square Movement, inspired by occupations of public space in Spain and Tel Aviv. The first Occupy Dataran was held on July 30, last year, and the first official KL People’s Assembly was held the following week on August 6. As many occupiers in KL, including myself, love to point out to everyone we can, the first Occupy Dataran was held 7 weeks before Occupy Wall Street began (but unfortunately the Malaysian media still refers to Occupy Dataran as a local offshoot of Occupy Wall St, merely expressing solidarity with the Occupy Wall St movement). Since then, Occupy Dataran has been a weekly assembly at Dataran Merdeka (or various other public spaces depending on how the police are feeling on the night) as a platform for experimentation with participatory democracy based on the popular assembly model. Apart from the assembly, the weekly gathering often involves a Really Really Free Market (Pasar Percuma), Speakers’ Corner, People’s University (Universiti Rakyat), workshops, music and other activities.

As I’m writing here from my bedroom in Sydney, I can’t write about the events from my own observations and involvement as I normally would. So, instead I’ll try to piece together a good view of what’s going on in KL from the fragments I can glean from Twitter, Facebook, news sites and conversations with friends who are involved.

The protest camp was set up at about 4pm on Saturday afternoon after a rally organised by student groups such as Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia, Malaysia Bangkit and KAMI made its way to Dataran Merdeka. Upon reaching Dataran Merdeka, the student leaders erected tents and stated their intention to camp out until the Prime Minister had responded to their demands. Regular attendees of Occupy Dataran’s KL People’s Assembly joined the student groups and the assembly model of decision making was introduced.  Since then, at least a couple of hundred students and youth have been involved (according to estimates given by my friends who are there) in the camp and the nightly assemblies. Apart from the nightly assemblies where the major decision making takes place, the protesters have also held workshops, classes, lectures, set up a Pasar Percuma, started work on piecing together a campsite library, as well as played games, and sung and played music together (which according to one report, involves an awesome rendition of Zee Avi’s Kantoi). This evening, a Universiti Dataran Merdeka session was organised, with Fahmi Reza, a designer/filmmaker/historian/lecturer (and lots of other things), leading a class in “The Democratic System of Malaysia” and another class has been scheduled for tomorrow to be lead by Dr Azmi Sharom, a law lecturer at University of Malaya.

Of course, the camp has not been without its hassles from the local authorities. Over the past three days, numerous tents have been destroyed and confiscated by the police and scuffles with the police have broken out. At about half past eleven this morning, authorities surrounded the tents and detained a student protestor before releasing him not long after. Besides the constant hassles from police and directives to leave, the protestors have remained.

Besides the opposition from police and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), the protestors have been shown a lot of support. In the media, they have received support from Andrew Khoo, the Bar Council human rights committee chairman.. Materially, the protestors have been donated tents, food, money and other supplies from supportive individuals and groups. My head almost exploded out of confusion upon reading a tweet that the protestors had been given food donations from Pemuda UMNO and Puteri UMNO (the youth and young women’s wings of UMNO, the ruling political party for the last 55 years). The opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, have also been giving support to students at the camp, as have numerous NGOs. In the People’s Assembly held on Sunday night, the protestors decided they would accept donations and support from all sources but affirmed their commitment to non-partisanship.

To follow the events of Occupy Dataran in the words of the protestors, follow them on Twitter: (@Occupy Dataran).

Photos used in this post were taken from the #OccupyDataran Facebook page and from some of my friends.

Here are a few more:

Easter Monday Rally at Villawood

2012 marks 20 years since the introduction of mandatory detention for asylum seekers, so a protest was held at the Villawood Detention Centre in southwest Sydney on Monday. This protest was part of an Easter national convergence, where refugee supporters protested at detention centres around Australia.

The protest met at about 1pm outside Chester Hill train station. Some people held banners, tables of literature were set up and people were chanting.

At about 1:15pm we began marching toward Villawood Detention Centre, down the main street of Chester Hill, through the quiet suburban streets of Chester Hill and Villawood. People stood out the front of their shops and houses, some expressing support, others expressing disapproval but most just having a look at what was going on.

At about 2pm, we reached the outer wall of Villawood Detention Centre. Speeches were made and chants of freedom and آزادی (the Persian equivalent – apparently many of the current detainees are Persian speakers) were exchanged between protesters and detainees on the other side of the fence over 50 metres away.

At about 3pm, the group marched to an entrance on another side of the detention centre.

Not long after, the protest ended. Some people headed off toward Villawood train station while others walked back the way we had marched.

For more information on refugees and asylum seekers in Sydney and the rest of Australia check out: Refugee Action Coalition Sydney.