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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What is real in Malaysia?



On a typical day in old town Petaling Jaya, my neighbourhood for the past 23 years, pre-dawn would see the early dozens of the later few hundred people who will, over the next few hours, gingerly mince their way over the splashy brown sludge that slimes the floor of the market, to make purchase of their daily or weekly needs.
Senior citizen scavengers will be scrabbling through rubbish bins and flattening cartons left outside shops overnight.
The coffee and mamak shops are full of people breaking the night’s fast.
Every day families, showing the anxious excitement of moving into a new clean space, house or a rented apartment, show up at the shops that will arm them with pails and mops and hoses.

The several banks open at 9.15am, and people gather to initiate the multiple in-and-outs of daily finance.
On such a typical day, while life thrummed and jangled in its multifarious mundane ways in old town PJ, someone decided it would be a good idea, for whatever purpose, to tap the phone of the then prime minister Najib Razak.
Legal eagles have pontificated on the legality of MACC’s revelation of the contents of the tap. Others have expressed their moral outrage.
I agree with the latter to some extent. Bad enough you have your butt chewed out by the wife, to be stuck in lifelong servility, but to have the whole nation hear it, to know that Bossku has a boss… not nice lah. (Except it’s Najib, so I don’t feel bad.)
I won’t hold my breath waiting to hear who conceived of and tapped the then prime minister’s line. I expect that to be buried in the usual hints, diversions and a final defence of protection for the whistleblower. (Again, it’s Najib, so I don’t care.)
On another typical day in old town PJ, patients will be hacking in the waiting rooms of the several medical clinics.
Students will be hanging out on the sidewalk or at McDonald's before and after tuition classes.

I could be in a mamak shop looking at the animated signboard of the pawnshop across the road brightly welcoming the handing over of luxury watch brands like Audemar Piguet and Patek Philippe, and I wonder who in old town would have a watch valued at several hundred thousand.
The pawnshop owner is probably an optimist like the many eternal ones scribbling their weekly hopes and fantasies on scraps of paper at the several numbers outlets.
On such a typical day in old town PJ, someone somewhere else decided, last year, it would be a good thing to set up a camera rig in a hotel room in Sandakan.
It’s like there’s one Malaysia where most of us share one general daily reality, and another reality that must, by its very nature, resort to subterfuge, secrecy, to achieve its desired end.
Shades of le Carre or Dan Brown – a fragment of purported reality is captured/manufactured and released – to alter the reality we had hitherto been living with.
Ironic. For decades the opposition ranted and railed against Umno/government media and their presentation of “reality”.
Now, they are the government, they can’t get the genie back into the bottle again.
It’s now a free-for-all marketplace of realities, and ministries have to devote unceasing effort to deny this false news or that.
I am rereading a novel from my rebellious youth, Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22”, which reminds me that just because I am paranoid, doesn’t mean I don’t have enemies.
As it is, every time I surf the internet, some machine is translating me into an algorithm, targeting me for seductive sell.
Take a final step by switching on the location in my phone, and I will be fixed in a cyber-world of bits and bytes.
My usual (unstated) response to boring conspiracy theorists is: get a life. But in the above two instances and others, I guess I better start being agnostic about there being a deep state in the country.
Hate it when I am paranoid. I get a crick in the neck constantly looking over my shoulder.

THOR KAH HOONG is a veteran journalist. - Mkini

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