October 11, 2010
Thanks to everyone who for one reason or other has chanced upon my blog.
I have now moved!
Please visit www.triciayeoh.com to continue following my thoughts, writings, and observations as I ruminate about Malaysia and its future.
June 25, 2010
The Nut Graph was kind enough to interview me for their section on “Found in Malaysia“, where they interview public personalities about their paths and histories. (I thought, hmm, am I one?) Anyways, here is the interview. Enjoy!
Posted on 24 June 2010 By Ding Jo-Ann.
TRICIA Yeoh is not one to shy away from a challenge. Despite being warned that joining the state government would not be smooth sailing, the 28-year-old took on the job of research officer to Selangor’s Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim in January 2009.
Yeoh has been at the forefront of public policy discourse since completing her Masters and joining Asli’s Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) in 2006 as a research analyst. She has become a familiar face at public forums, often speaking about the need for national unity, good governance and better implementation of democratic principles. Yeoh was appointed CPPS director in 2008, filling the shoes of former director Dr Lim Teck Ghee, who resigned in 2006 in protest over a corporate equity ownership report. She remains on CPPS’s advisory panel.
Yeoh says despite the challenges in her current job, she has learnt a lot about how government works from the inside. “Having written and analysed policy issues from the outside for a while, taking up the job with the Selangor government allowed me an opportunity to put those ideas into action. It gives me a chance to be part of demonstrating an alternative to running the country, that good governance is possible,” Yeoh says in an 8 June 2010 interview at her office in Shah Alam.
TNG: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Tricia Yeoh: I was born in Singapore in 1982. I grew up in different parts of Petaling Jaya – SS2, Taman Megah. I still live in Petaling Jaya now, so I guess I’m very much a Selangor citizen. I went to primary school in Sekolah Rendah Taman Megah and then to Sri Aman Girls’ School in secondary school.
What are some of your strongest memories of the place where you grew up?
I remember the neighbourhood playground in Taman Megah well. It’s where all of us who lived nearby would come together, even those from different schools. We had a lot of social activities there – playing with candles and lanterns during the mooncake festival, for example. There were really huge trees with big roots, so whenever it rained, we would splash around in the puddles formed by the roots.
Everything centred around the neighbourhood – there was an ethos of sharing, knowing each other well. There were many different races … it was very communitarian. Every evening, we would congregate. We would play on the streets, play badminton, go cycling, play basketball, five stones or getah. I don’t know whether children do these sorts of things nowadays.
I think it’s important to create such public spaces. At the end of the day, neighbourhoods and communities are where social interaction takes place. Where people draw their perceptions about different races and religions. If friendship and interaction doesn’t start at a young age, then once you grow up into teenage and adulthood, certain impressions would already be formed.
April 26, 2010
When I started this blog more than four years ago (as a young, fresh wide-eyed newcomer into the working world), one of my first posts was titled “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born“. In that particular post, I made reference to the Moorthy case and candlelight vigils, which, I believe, was one of the catalysts in many people’s participation in the vibrant civil society movement of today. But today, I am compelled to write again of this book by Ayi Kwei Armah, which so simply and profoundly describes the nature of a rotting nation – and the decisions that different people choose to make amidst this rottenness.
The book describes the protagonist, named “Man” in an African nation (he is given no other name, most likely to remind us he represents just any one of us citizens), whose country has just been taken over by a new regime, overthrowing an old corrupted government through democratic process. This new regime, however, begins to show signs of adopting the very same culture as did the old one. One of his old buddies, for example, succumbs to the sweetness of a luxurious life complete with huge cars, a posh home and furniture, and modern imports from the Western world. It is obvious the means by which this friend has obtained such wealth.
On the opposite end, “Man” chugs away at his laborious day job at a railway station, having the opportunity to accept bribes in order to better his livelihood, but makes the most difficult choice of pushing it away. One of the most poignant scenes is when “Man” is scoffed at by his own wife, for he cannot afford to purchase the most basic of necessities of shoes for his children. This is in stark comparison with his friend’s possessions, and at one stage he is forced to weigh the moral costs and benefits of maintaining his “straight as an arrow” stance. Why bother sticking to the moral high ground, when his own children can’t wear shoes? Better to let them wear shoes than to continue resisting temptation, after all, is it not?
The daily trudgery of “Man” goes on. Until… one day, there are rumours of yet another coup. “Man” hurries home to be with his wife and children. At some point, the rumours become reality, and his friend comes looking for him in desperate fear, as he is being witch-hunted himself. He has lost everything, his wealth, his material possessions, and is being hunted down as he was part of the well-oiled government machinery that was so very much despised, despite having gained its seat through idealist and democratic means. There is an ugly scene in which he is forced to escape through the toilet chute and emerges with faeces upon his body, replete with the most horrible odour. (One can draw parallels to the corrupt politician and all he represents).
“Man” is eventually vindicated. No richer for his choice made, he walks as a free man. Free from any guilt of having behaved in the same morally corrupt manner as all of his friends in the apparently new democracy. This individual decision, to walk the path most would have otherwise laughed at, is the defining difference.
The darker side of the story is that (as far as this fictitious African nation was concerned, extendable of course to all countries in the world, including ours) coups are cyclical. The regime change (once, at the beginning of the book and twice, at the end) signified merely the innate nature of humanity to fall into the trap of selfishness and greed. Ayi Kwei Armah was describing his own nation’s downfall, Ghana, and its leader Nkrumah, during its struggle post-independence.
Perhaps it will take numerous generations before the Beautyful Ones can be born in this country of ours. As it is, too few individual “Men” make that very difficult choice of saying no to any sort of temptation. The pull of money and power is too strong for most. In the January 2010 Economist issue, there was an article describing a Psychological experiment which proved the maxim we all know too well, that power corrupts, and the more you hanger after power the more likely it is you are to be corruptible, whilst the reverse is true. If you do not think you deserve the particular position you are placed in, the less corruptible you are. (The experiment also revealed other interesting things, such as the fact that politicians have a higher moral standard for society, but a lower one for themselves).
“Man” in this book was one of the rare, beautyful ones who in his simplicity, plodded through life being true and just. Must we remind ourselves of the reasons revolutions are sought after and fought? Is this not what we are slaving away for?
For, the Beautyful ones are still not yet born.
A congratulatory note is owed to Barisan Nasional and its candidate, now Hulu Selangor Member of Parliament, Kamalanathan for their victory at today’s momentous by-election. Pakatan Rakyat and its candidate, Zaid Ibrahim, lost by 1,725 votes in the final count. Political scientists are now doing the number crunching, to emerge with analyses on which areas each coalition lost or gained respectively in comparison with the 2008 12th General Election. Long pieces will emerge in tomorrow’s portals and sites, stating reasons – from both sides – for the outcome. Central theme was without a doubt: “buy-election”. Enough said.
I write as a Pakatan Rakyat supporter, which is clear since I work for, and therefore support, a Pakatan Rakyat government. I also therefore make no apologies for the dejection and disappointment reverberating across all such similar supporters at the moment, those who have been inspired by the cause to better Malaysia directly or indirectly. I write on behalf of those who have spent a significant amount of time and energy, both mentally and emotionally, placing their belief in the possibility of an alternative system and one in place of a Federal coalition government we know to be corrupt and unscrupulous in its thought and practice.
Where does this dejection stem from? Its source is deeper than just the loss of an important Parliamentary seat and a by-election. It emerges from the sense that not all is well with the solution we thought we had figured out. That, put simply, Pakatan Rakyat would have been the alternative coalition government that would prove no one government (namely, Barisan) could wield such omnipotence with such unapologetic means of outright bribery and childish antics – and worse, get away with it. This, we thought, was easy enough to achieve: Get people to support an alternative, and voila! We obtain a two-party political system. This way, neither coalition can claim to have ultimate say since it is the people who place them into positions of power.
What we failed to recognise was the possibility of numerous challenges within and without, all of which have threatened this one golden opportunity we had to produce a two-party system. I am not saying this is no longer possible, nor probable, but that perhaps it is time to remind ourselves of why we – all of us – are in this in the first place. Before that, let me add a caveat that I believe some bi-partisanship needs to be activated if either side desires to move forward in the project that is Malaysia. This means people interested in policy and planning from both coalitions agreeing on some common denominator and pushing those forward. I am sure (and I hope) this does happen at the Parliamentary front, but more must flourish: Brainstorming on education policy; youth policy; utilities; local government.
Why does it matter that Zaid Ibrahim lost? Because it means that Malaysians are still culprit to the mass bribery of cash handouts, announcements of goodies (Najib’s RM3 million for Chinese schools in Rasa “only if BN wins” sticks out like a sore thumb) and under-the-belt (and rather stupid, in my opinion) doctored images of beer-clutching. It tells me that as long as the Big Boss has the world of resources to draw from, and has no hesitation in using, whatever else wrong that is being perpetrated by the government will not count a drop.
Where do we go from here? Apart from the usual droning on that one could do (have better campaign financing and political funding laws; fairer media exposure; allow independent election monitoring), I believe that Pakatan Rakyat will need to do two things. First, to remind itself of the original cause for which they strive, and second, to act upon this belief and demonstrating to its electorate the same.
Pakatan is where it is today because of its ability to convince people of its being an alternative to a corrupt, inefficient, unfair system. We must remind ourselves that at no point in our administration can we tolerate behaviour that departs from adherence to a transparent, fair and just system. Demonstrating this equals proactively working towards these ends, even if it means a radical shift from the way in which any part of government and administration run. This requires boldness. Berani kerana benar. This we are indeed doing, and we must continue to do, despite the obstacles that come our way.
The most common lament, even amongst those who were starry-eyed about the tsunami of the March 8th 2008 election is this: that there is over-politicking, and that neither side is giving them what they expected. This we have to recognise and acknowledge (despite our arguments of justification), for fear that even a greater number of already apathetic youth disengage themselves from political participation. This becomes a failure of both the Barisan and Pakatan, because, in order to propel the country forward (yes, into a high-income nation ala the New Economic Model), you need young people, and you need them physically present to contribute. Hence many plea for some semblance of sanity and temporary suspension of political expediency.
I am painfully aware of the many issues involved, such as a non-level playing field, and neither am I doing justice not covering them all in this short post. However, for the sake of proving that it is indeed possible to break the backbone of a power-obsessed Federal government (any one such government, for that matter), we must learn to dance to a different tune, and not one which has been provided to us thus far. We are a different animal altogether, and this we must prove. Here’s to Hulu Selangor, all who were involved and those who followed it from afar. Till the next round, and it is back to work – and hope – we go.
April 23, 2010
I was invited to speak at the National Christian Youth Assembly in December 2009, on the theme of “Youth Empowerment and Participation.” You will note that there is nothing religious or theological about my speech, which is in line with my belief that young people of all races and religions ought to be equally empowered and inspired to make a difference in this country – in whichever field they would like, and within whichever group whose cause they ultimately believe in.
This was to a bunch of eager young people, wanting to do something for their country, Malaysia. The National Assembly was apolitical.
Youth Empowerment and Participation
National Christian Youth Assembly, Kuala Lumpur
12th December 2009
We all love an inspiring story when we have one. While Malaysia’s story is still unfolding, I’d like to take a page out of another book the world has now come to learn and understand. This is the fairy-tale story of Obama’s ascent to Presidency. I won’t speak about the issues he campaigned on, or the ideological policies of the Democratic Party today, but I do want to focus on the incredible wave of youth participation that contributed significantly to his win.
The reason I cite examples from Obama’s campaign so often – in other public talks and this – is because I was physically present in the United States during the last two weeks leading up to, and including, the actual US Election itself in 2008. The experience was an excellent opportunity to observe and interview the new young generation of Americans so eager to contribute to change in society, country and the world. Let’s use them as a case study today.
Were young Americans always this way? It would take days to debate the ebb and flow of youth political participation in the United States over the years, but the answer is: apathy had set in deep during the years of then President-Bush Junior, where any engagement was deemed as futile. For political analysts, this sudden shift and wind of change, the awakening of millions of young people across the country, was a phenomenon indeed.
Authors Winograd and Hais hit the pin on its head in their book “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics” in their analysis of the generation that caught the political bug. In describing them, they say the following:
A new generation, Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, is coming of age in unprecedented numbers. The Millennials bring with them a facility and comfort with cutting-edge communicaiton and computing technologies that is creating the same kind of bewilderment that parents of television-addicted Baby Boomers felt in the 1950s and 1960s… Recent survey research on the political attitudes of this generation shows a high tolerance for lifestyle and ethnic differences and support for an activist approach by government to societal and economic issues. Millennials are united across gender and race in their desire to find “win-win” solutions to America’s problems.”
Other parts of their analysis described their optimistic attitudes, inclusivist views, and how Millennials think politics can make things better. For example,
“Millennials disagree with their elders in their level of faith in the political process to resolve problems and improve things… and are much more likely than older generations to believe that the government is run for the benefit of all the people.”
The Millennial generation in America, with their unique combination of technological gadgetry and prowess, and their changing attitudes towards systems and institutions, proved a powerful force for the taking. Obama, who had his pulse on the nation, was able to identify with what tugged at their heart-strings, spoke an honest and clear message to them: “Change We Can”. And the rest is history, as they say. Thousands upon thousands of youth volunteers and part-time staff were mobilised, emerging in social phenomenon such as “Obamagirl”, a young 21-year old leading the entire Obama campaign in his home state of Chicago, American-born Chinese (ABCs) and Vietnamese flocking to his service centres. Citizens across the globe contributed to his fund, USD10 or so right from their pockets.
I am not saying that Malaysia is in any way comparable to the United States of America. Neither am I claiming that our youth behave in the exact same manner, nor should we be emulating the patterns that followed there. What I am saying, however, is this:
- It is important to know what is making our millennial generation tick in order to transmit a message (political or otherwise) to our Malaysian youth.
- It is then necessary to take this message in the manner that is most viral and one that captures the imagination of our young to motivate them towards social action.
Malaysians are a social bunch, which stems from our communal nature. This spurs us towards group meetings at the mamak stalls. In fact, we love conferences as a result! Think of the number of forums and events that exist practically daily (and nightly). As of March 2009, there were more than 1 million active users of Facebook, with the most active users being between the ages of 18 and 25, followed by that of 26-34. More astoundingly, Malaysia has the highest number of Facebook users in Southeast Asia. Conclusion: we love to talk and get people to listen to us. Youth with Internet access increased from 57% in 2007 to 70% in 2008.
What does all this have to do with anything? A lot!
September 18, 2008
Forgive my momentary pessimism. Today I am grieving the nation, but yet it is in deep mourning that I know is buried the desire for light to brandish itself anew.
Last night at the candlelight prayer vigil, we were asked to write prayers on the wall. And to say a word that came to mind. Some were hopeful. My word was “shadows”…
In shadows Malaysia waits
For redemptive light,
In shadows Malaysia longs
For what is right.
It groans and struggles.
All of its pains
To birth justice, peace,
Your presence we desire
As we fight this good fight.
September 13, 2008
As dawn breaks
And the day breathes anew,
We are silenced.
When injustice is poured
Over the peoples of this land
We are adamant.
And those who have chosen to speak
And write the right,
We must remember.
God’s spirit hovers
Sad and grieved at deception,
We must respond.
Stand for truth,
Speak boldly and calmly,
We will do.
No hatred, no animosity,
No violence, no fighting,
We pray, o we pray.
Wisdom is needed
Whilst despair comes upon us,
We will prevail.
September 11, 2008
This has to be one of the coolest experiments ever conducted. After close to 20 years of research, a huge team of scientists has put together equipment that will replicate conditions of the Big Bang – or at least, it will attempt to do so.
It’s called the “Large Hadron Collider“, where the experimenters are trying to shoot protons into each other, hoping that their collision will show results similar to what happened when the universe started.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator complex, intended to collide opposing beams of protons charged with very high energy. Its main purpose is to explore the validity and limitations of the Standard Model, the current theoretical picture for particle physics. It is theorized that the collider will confirm the existence of the Higgs boson, the observation of which could confirm the predictions and missing links in the Standard Model, and could explain how other elementary particles acquire properties such as mass.
It’s really interesting to watch documentaries of this thing, because it’s actually built UNDER the surface, in a circular-like makeup. It lies under the French-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland, and is 27 kilometres long.
This is pretty historical, phenomenal (yes, more historical than September 16th 2008, even). The only thing is that it will take several years before any real answers will emerge. The team of physicists will be poring over the numerical data, running analyses and such.
Initially there was some fear that particle collisions might lead to negative effects, but that’s been pretty much cleared up.
In a couple of years, when the conditions and actual replication of the Big Bang can be thoroughly analysed, this may lead to some tearing apart of preconceived notions – about life, death, beginnings and endings of the world.. not to mention faith… and potentially, God. Maybe it’s time religious groups had better start getting prepared for questions and answers! (Mine included)
But I am generally excited about this awesome venture into science and discovery
I’ve been asked my many people why I decided to fast this month, so I shall write out my reasons why. I won’t write about my experiences yet, although I have been keeping a journal (my usual journal) to keep a log of what it’s been like. Plus, KLUE magazine found out I am doing it – and apparently I shall be writing an article on it after!
I’m fasting for the month of Ramadhan, for several reasons:
One, I am attempting to do it in solidarity with my Muslim friends around the world. I think it’s a great way to understand and emphathise with Muslims this unusual once-a-year experience.
Two, I actually wanted to quieten down this month to ponder over several personal decisions. (Quite impossible with the political ruckus in Malaysia now!)
Three, this comes at a time in Malaysian history which actually needs a lot of prayer and reflection. I’m not sure how much of this I am able to do right now, though, seeing as I am actually more greatly frustrated with the likes of Ahmad Ismail’s antics.
Four, again it is a good spiritual discipline. In our harried lives, (or mine specifically), it is not easy to keep a regular schedule especially in terms of sleeping, waking, eating in general. Discipline is good for the body, and hopefully after the month I shall keep to it.
August 20, 2008
I spent two days learning about Sufism at a conference last week at the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies – jointly organised with the Department of Malay Studies, NUS. It was truly fascinating, from someone who knew little to nothing of its teachings. A mystical spirituality is taught, that transcends systematic or regulated religion. The Wahabiyah movement would be typically opposed to Sufi teachings, since the former preaches more regulated practice of Islam. In fact, some even argue that Sufism is not Islam.
Neverthless, there also exists tarekah, which means a more organised version of Sufism. This comes in the form of groups that meet regularly. The tasawuf is a movement in reaction to the tarekah. Indonesia has little mushroomings of Sufi groups, although they may not necessarily be called Sufistic in nature. (Since it was a Western term to begin with..)
What was interesting to me was the political dimension of Sufism. The West has been looking to Sufism as an alternative to radical extremist Islam, which is both good and bad. Good, because it is true that Sufism does not preach violence nor hatred. In fact at the heart of it lies love. But it is bad because the only way to counter terrorism through Sufism is to have a systematic response – when Sufism is predicated on non-systematic faith. As a result, you may get a secret society-type movement that is overly reliant upon one leader alone. You know, like how Christian types can get all crazy over a charismatic leader (just because he can speak well and repeats himself five times over).
Prior to this, I’d only read about Maimun and Layla’s story - and the beauty of longing and desire after something so intensely felt – this is the longing of a human after God, it was argued.
I still know very little, but people have been messaging me with little bytes of knowledge. The conference was good since it exposed me to the philosophical ideas of Islam, and finally some good solid Arab music (from Yemen) finished it off nicely.
Although Sufism is not debated widely in Malaysia, I think it would be an interesting idea to discuss it vis-a-vis the Wahabi standards that we currently practice today. Just a thought to simmer in the mind.