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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Cast From The Herd Excerpt # 84: Chanced Learning Deep In The Tropical Jungle

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt  # 84:  Chanced Learning Deep In The Tropical Jungle

It took me some time to get accustomed to the school week. At my old school in Kuala Pilah I had both Saturdays and Sundays off; come Monday morning I felt well rested. At Malay College the weekend was chopped up, with Friday and Sunday as holidays but intruded by Saturday as a full school day. To make it worse, Friday was not a full-day break as the morning was consumed with getting ready for dorm inspections, followed by the congregational noon prayers at the nearby mosque. You would be free only by mid-afternoon. I never felt fully rested during weekends. 

            I joined the Nature Club, made up of biology enthusiasts. One day I proposed surveying the campus flora, an easy enough project I thought, consuming a couple of weekends at most. So one weekend Yusof and I surveyed a corner of the campus. He noticed that the hedges were far from being a monoculture, for interspersed were varieties of flowers, epiphytes, and mushrooms. We were engrossed with our discovery. 

            We collected the specimens and brought them to our lab so we could ask Dr. Ahmad come Monday morning for guidance in identification, only to be chided for our efforts. We should be studying our books, he admonished us. We were deflated, but refused to give up. That following weekend we surveyed only the trees; that was more manageable. 

            Later in the year we were on an expedition up Maxwell Hill near Taiping, thirty miles north and in the heart of the Main Range. If I had been mesmerized by the plant diversity on campus, Maxwell Hill was a botanist’s heaven. Such varieties of ferns, palms, trees, and wildflowers! We were enthralled and collected many new specimens. 

            Another biology teacher, Mr. Peter Chen, accompanied us on that trip. He was new to the school having just graduated from London University. Lanky and bookish-looking with thick glasses, he had no teaching experience and was thus assigned to the honeymoon (Fourth Form) class. I turned to him; he too was impressed as he had not seen those plants before either. That was not a surprise. Being a town boy he had never been in the jungle. As a kampung kid, the jungle is second nature to me, except that until I took botany I did not appreciate those wonderful flora and other gifts nature had bestowed in my backyard. 

            Chen assured me that my frustration in not being able to identify those specimens was common among naturalists. I should not be discouraged, he advised me. He went on to describe what scientists would do under such circumstances:  collect the specimens, take or sketch as many pictures as possible, note the natural surroundings, terrain, temperature, and other ambient characteristics like time of day and year, weather, and document as many details as possible. 

            Later in the comfort and support of the laboratory you could begin the laborious process of identification. Even then you may not be successful, he warned me, and that is why laboratories have museums and archival facilities to keep those specimens intact until such times they could be identified through newer techniques. Such archives also serve to preserve the genetic lines of rare or threatened species. Mr. Chen went on to detail how biologists would declare new species, and on the work of the International Commission of Botanical and Zoological Nomenclatures. 

            On an informal conversation during a field trip deep in the jungle of Malaysia, I learned much about the scientific method and approach to problem solving, plus how to be a naturalist. Even though he did not have a formal role as my teacher, Chen taught me an important lesson that day. Yes, what I had learned would never appear in any examination but its impact stayed with me. That is, some of the most significant learning occurs at impromptu sessions and at the least expected moments, often outside of formal settings. The corollary is that we must always be prepared to learn, at any time, any place, and from anyone. 

            “Chance favors only the prepared mind!” observed Pasteur. Accomplished scientists readily admit to the crucial role of serendipity in their insights and discoveries. 

            Over a decade later during my brief tenure as a surgeon in Malaysia, I saw many patients whose maladies mystified me. That was not a surprise as I was trained in Canada. When I queried my local colleagues on these unusual cases, their answers would invariably be a dismissive, “Yeah, we see many such cases. So what?” 

            Yet when I searched the literature, there would be scant information. Nobody had thought of documenting them. Remembering Chen’s earlier advice, I would record such cases as detailed as possible and had my trainee-doctors research the literature. Then depending on how interesting the case was, I would either write it up or have my trainees co-write it for publication. It was a splendid opportunity to teach them to be inquisitive, be sensitive to unusual presentations, and most of all the exercise of scientific writing. I am proud that all my trainees at GHKL had written at least one paper each when they were under me.

            My role as the campus naturalist back at Malay College drew the attention of another explorer, Mr. Whitfield, an Englishman and history teacher for the junior classes. An avid photographer, he was free-lancing for The Illustrated London News

            There he was snapping our pictures which later appeared in an article about our college published in the July 15, 1961 (No: 6363; Vol: 239) issue of that august but now discontinued magazine. I was thrilled to see our school profiled in such a widely-read publication, and with my picture in it! I used to have a copy of that issue for years until it got mislaid somewhere.

[If any of my readers have a copy of this issue of the Illustrated London News, or know where I can get hold of one, please message me at bakrimusa@gmail.com]

Next:  Excerpt #85:  No Eton of The East

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Islam In Label, But Not Content - Part I

 Islam In Label, But Not Content

M. Bakri Musa


First of Two Parts:  The Puerile Pursuit Of Islamization Of Knowledge


June 21, 2023


Tayyip Erdogan, recently elected to his third term as President of Turkey, was once asked why he did not add “Islamic” to the name of his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) in view of its religious roots and aspirations. “Ak” means clean, white, or unblemished in Turkish. He replied that he omitted it so failures of his party would not be viewed as that of Islam. Malay leaders, politicians, and intellectuals would do well to ponder Erdogan’s wisdom.


            In Malaysia today the glaring failures of the unabashedly Islamic party in Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu are now seen, more so by non-Malays, as the failures of Islam. Instead it should be of corrupt incompetent Malay leaders and politicians riding the Islamic camel. The Islamist Chief Minister of Kedah is claiming Penang so he could levy RM150 million assessment annually. More productive if he were to learn how the island became developed and prosperous. The incompetence of Kelantan’s Islamic government is the kopi susu (café au lait) flowing out of the taps there. Meanwhile Terengganu’s PAS Chief Minister saw no problem in selling state land to an entity lead by his wife at a mere fraction of its market price. Elsewhere that is corruption, with the pair jailed. However as per PAS Islam, the couple’s bonanza is borkat (blessing) and rezki (bounty) from Allah. Such perversion of our great faith!


            Malay intellectuals too are not spared this obsession with religion, reflected in their puerile pursuit of the “Islamization Of Knowledge” (IOK). Belatedly, recognizing the futility of their efforts, they have now relabeled that as the “Integration Of Knowledge.” Same initials; same fraudulent content.


            Syed Naquib Alatas was instrumental for IOK with the publication of his 1982 book Islam And Secularism. He challenged the assumption of the universality of modern social sciences’ insights. Later, the University of British Columbia’s Joe Henrich too characterized much of social science findings as WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic), based on the skewed samples studied. IOK notwithstanding, it is difficult to accept that there is a uniquely “Islamic” chemistry or quantum physics. There are consequences to this IOK, as with making Malays averse to science as reflected in the declining numbers pursuing the subject.


            Naguib’s IOK occurred at about the same time as Edward Said’s critique of Western scholarship on the colonized world. While Said’s Orientalism furthered our understanding of the West’s reading of “others,” Naquib’s Islam and Secularism led to the intellectual parochialism of Muslim social scientists.


            The irony is that both Naquib and Said are products of the very Western institutions that they had criticized – the former Sandhurst, McGill, and London University; the latter, Princeton and Harvard. I cannot imagine Al Azhar producing such daring innovative thinkers.


            It would be more fruitful for Muslim intellectuals to emulate their ancient luminaires. The Al Kindis, Ibn Rushds, and Al Farabis did not bother to “Islamize” Greek philosophy. They studied and absorbed it, later making their own seminal contributions that led to, among others, the “Golden Age of Islam.” They were not perturbed learning from the atheistic and polytheistic Greeks. Knowledge is knowledge; it ultimately emanates and is a blessing from Allah. That He chose to dispense the wisdom on the concept of zero to a Hindu is not for us to question but to learn and benefit.


            China is poised to be the largest economy and strongest power, achieved within a generation or two. An unparalleled achievement! Deng Xiaoping and his fellow leaders enthusiastically absorbed Western capitalism and knowledge, like ancient Muslims, Greek philosophy. The Chinese did not bother with “Sinofication” of Western knowledge. Now that they are successful and powerful they can assert with great confidence that Western norms and values are not universal. Many are listening, and agreeing; the power of success!


            Dispense with IOK (or now, Integration of Knowledge) and the associated futile obsession with the minutiae of halalharam, or maqasid Syariah. Emulate the Turkish ak; bring justice and development to the ummahThat would be halal whatever your fiqh. Indulge in corruption and it would be haram, per Muslim as well as non-Muslim kitabs.


Next:  Second Of Two Parts:  Folly Of Islamic Economics And Finance

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Cast From The Herd Excerpt No: 83: Settling Into Boarding School Routine

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt  # 83: Settling Into Boarding School Routine

Despite the hazing and anxiety over “Introduction Night” I settled into my new routine with minimal hiccups, or so I thought. One day I was staring out from the verandah of my dorm looking at nothing in particular. The sun was setting behind the giant raintree and the heat of the day was giving way to the cool of the evening, with the cicadas tuning up their vocals. I kept reminding myself that I had it good here at the college. When the bell rang, food would be served: hearty breakfast, full lunch, and substantial dinner, with mid-morning snacks and late afternoon tea thrown in. What a life! 

            For showers all I had to do was turn on the tap. Yes, if I were late, the tap would be dry. Back in the kampung I had to drag water up in a bucket from a deep well, hauling up extra for my younger brother and sisters. At dusk I had to light up the kerosene lamp, a routine I never enjoyed as I would end up smelling of the fuel. Before my mother could cook dinner, I would have to bring her water and firewood. 

            Then the thought struck me. Who would be doing those chores in my absence? With that came a sudden sadness, and as my tears began welling up someone tapped my shoulder. 

            “Bakri, you are homesick, aren’t you?” It was Nazuddin. 

            I protested that I was just gazing out, as I blinked fast, desperate to dry up my tears. 

            “Yes you are!” he teased me as he too leaned on the banister. “Funny, I never get homesick here,” he said more in envy than pride. Soon he too was staring out in the distance. “Perhaps when I leave here for good, then I’ll be homesick!” he rued.

            Raja Nazuddin, being a “thoroughbred,” knew of only one place as home – the college – where he and the others like him had any sense of belonging. They had entered at the tender age of six or seven in primary one. Family was an abstraction if not aberration to them. 

            Nazuddin was right. I was homesick although I did not recognize the feeling. Now I had to endure at least another two months before the first term break in March. So far away! 

            That episode of homesickness notwithstanding, I soon settled down. Much to my surprise and still beyond my comprehension, my earlier sadistic tormentors now seemed like the other students as we all fell into the school’s rigid routine. They had played the role expected of them, though they relished every moment of the agony they had inflicted upon their victims. A couple of my tormentors turned out to be very pious, regularly performing their prayers. Only days earlier they were brute animals! They must have compartmentalized their roles. Compartmentalized or not, I had great difficulty reconciling my competing emotions.

            I had been away from home now for a full two weeks. The bar of soap I had bought on my first day was now just a thin sliver and soon I would have to buy a new one. A bar of soap lasted me two weeks, and there were eight more weeks to the first-term break. So I went out and bought four new bars. When I used up the last one, then it would be time to go home. Now I had a personal calendar of sorts. So every time I showered, I lathered myself generously so the soap would be used up faster. 

            I had plenty of time after class. Back at Kuala Pilah I would not be home till two or three. After a late lunch I would have at most an hour to study, and during the hottest part of the day. In the cool of the late afternoon I would take a break, cycling around the village. It would be too dark in the house to study as my eyes had been used to the bright afternoon glare. At dusk I had to haul water and firewood. Here at college I was spared those chores; even my school uniforms were cleaned at the laundry. 

            I now had time for sports and took up tennis; I was no good for any team sports. My partner Yusof Sidek, another new Sixth Former, had also never participated in any sports, being from the small town of Sitiawan and, like me, also living far away from school. He and I had the unbridled enthusiasm of a beginner and the brashness of an upperclassman. Not a good combination. We would barge onto the tennis court and impose our senior status, failing to notice that whenever we played, the adjacent courts would soon be empty. We took that as a license to further indulge ourselves. Had we not been so full of ourselves we would have realized that those courts were empty for a reason. The other players were fed up with our balls landing on their courts and interrupting their volleys. 

            We were indulging ourselves on a deserted court one day when our classmate Syed Ridzwan stepped in. He was a genial scholar-athlete who had earned colors in rugby and track. He was also superb at tennis. 

            “Let me show you guys something,” unable to restrain himself, and proceeded to give us an impromptu clinic, demonstrating how to grip the racket, plant our feet, and hit the ball. With anyone else doing that, more so uninvited, we would have been offended, but with Ridzwan and his easy smile we were grateful. He went further and reminded us ever so gently on such things as court etiquette and not hitting our balls onto the other courts. And yes, we had to reserve our time and not just barge into an apparently empty court as the booked players could be late. 

Excerpt  # 84:  Chanced Learning Deep In The Tropical Jungle

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Cast From The Herd Excerpt #82: Introduction Night Part Two

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 82:  Introduction Night – Part Two

When my turn came, I walked to center stage and spent a few moments adjusting the microphone to my height, all in stride of course, or at least a pretend one. I noticed that an earlier speaker had to stand up on tiptoes making him look like a little kid trying to reach the counter top. Another looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame when he had to stoop forward to level himself to the microphone. 

            “Mr. Ryan, members of the academic staff,” I began as I looked at Mr. Ryan and scanned the first row where the teachers were seated. I learned those tricks of slow deliberate eye contact from my bleached-blond Aryan friend Norlan Harun back at my old school in Kuala Pilah. 

            The teachers smiled when I referred to them as “members of the academic staff.” I heard that phrase over the radio a few years earlier when the orator of the University of Malaya (then in Singapore) used it when honoring Pendita Za’aba on the occasion of his retirement. I was elevating the teachers to a university faculty! The audience did not know how to react; they kept quiet. I was afraid they might boo me for using big words. They did not; I knew then that I had them. My confidence boosted, I went on. 

            “I am from Kuala Pilah,” I continued. “You probably have never heard of the place; there’s no reason to.” No reaction; they did not appreciate my self-deprecating humor, but then they did not boo either. That buoyed me. “It’s not even on the map; if it is, you would need a magnifying glass to see it.” Some giggling, but still I was pleased there were no boos or hisses. 

            “I went to Tuanku Muhammad School,” I droned on. “That too you have not heard of.” I was still struggling to find a way to praise Malay College without sounding like I was sucking up. “You have a wonderful hall here,” I complimented them, but still it was quiet. “You have individual seats with backs instead of long benches as at my old school. Back there you have to pay attention. If you snooze you would fall backwards and the whole school would know.” I snickered, and they joined me in the laughter. At least they were not laughing at me. 

            “My favorite subject is chemistry.” I saw Mr. Norton smiling. “Chemistry is life!” I continued. “Life is not possible without chemistry.” 

            By this time I realized that I should also give equal billing to the other subjects lest I would offend my other teachers. So I continued. “But I also like physics and biology. Physics is so precise and quantifiable.” Wow, ‘quantifiable,’ not ‘measurable.’ Again, quiet. “Biology on the other hand is so fluid and diverse. Look at the beautiful trees and flowers on our campus.” 

            Ah, ‘campus,’ not ‘school compound!’ That would sound so “secondary-schoolish” if not elementary. ‘Campus’ evoked images of the bucolic grounds of a university. Nobody however appreciated my subtle backhanded praise. Still quiet! 

            I highlighted physics, chemistry, and biology because only that year Malay College had started its pure science stream at the Fourth Form. Prior to that, the college had offered only “General Science II.” The week earlier the headmaster had announced with great fanfare this major step. Here I was a week later telling them, including the headmaster, that the little school I had attended back in the boondocks had been at it now for some years. No wonder they were quiet; my little out-of-the-place school had bested Malay College. 

            Having humbled the crowd with my humility – granted it was again the put-on variety – I dug deeper. I sprinkled my presentation with economic terms like demand-supply curve and price stickiness that I had picked up from my physics teacher in Kuala Pilah, the one who was pursuing his external degree in economics from London University, as well as from the then popular radio program, “Kursus Ekonomi Radio” conducted by Ungku Aziz, a University of Malaya professor. The don was so animated in his presentations and passionate about his subject that you could not help but be glued to the radio when he was on. 

            To justify my introducing those terms, I had earlier told the crowd that had I not been selected for the science stream, I would have chosen economics as my favorite subject. At Malay College, as well as the rest of the country, economics was taught only at Sixth Form. Sprinkling those economic terms in my speech created the impression that I had taken the subject in Fifth Form, which further impressed them to no end. 

            On that high note I concluded my speech. I dared not venture further. I took the guitar and belted out a few bars of Blueberry Hill. I did not hear any booing, hissing, or screeching noises and decided not to press my luck. I exited the stage amidst silence, not even a perfunctory clapping. That notwithstanding, I felt victorious, like a novice lion tamer who had cowed the agitated felines to a corner. I had not yet made them eat from my hand but at least they were not growling at me. 

            At my seat Ramli whispered in my ears, “You showed them!” 

            Later that evening I bumped into Mr. Malhotra. “Bakri,” he pleaded, “I hope that when you get to Cambridge you would also say nice things about Malay College.” 

            Thus ended my dreaded formal initiation into Malay College!

Next:  Excerpt  # 83: Settling Into Boarding School Routine

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Support Anwar's Relentless Anti-Corruption Crusade

 Support Anwar’s Relentless Anti-Corruption Crusade

M. Bakri Musa

June 8, 2023


Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s frontal challenge to Mahathir and his cronies to explain how they had acquired their massive wealth now resonates with Malays. That is a welcomed sign, reflecting a sea-change in attitude. That would also pre-empt a possible second so-called Sheraton Move by these third-rate corrupt Malay leaders to grab power so they could once again plunder the nation. Now they resort to dangerous chauvinism.


            It was not too long ago that Malays glowed in the reflected glory of having these billionaires amongst us. That is now long gone, greased by the obscene ostentations of our nouveau riche. Today when we see the likes of the Mahathir clan luxuriating on their yachts and in their mansions, that elicits only revulsion. The leaked Pandora Papers, together with the unsavory details exposed during Najib Razak’s criminal trials, only cemented that ugly image.


            Unlike American billionaires where one could with ease discern where their wealth comes from (Gates, software; Musk, electric cars; and Bezos, Amazon.com), not so with Mahathir and his cronies. On the contrary, they are known more for destroying hitherto flourishing enterprises. Remember that flamboyant Tajuddin Ramli and once-premium Malaysia Airlines?


            Then there was Bank Bumiputra, once ASEAN’s largest as well as the pride and hope of Malays, again destroyed by Mahathir’s cronies. That also took the life of a young banker, Jalil Ibrahim. Lim Kit Siang paid tribute to Jalil by quoting his unfinished letter to his young wife just before he was strangled to death in Hong Kong on July 18, 1983, as related in Chooi Mun Sou’s memoir, Malaysia My Home – Quo Vadis.


     “The problems in Hong Kong are not [of] my making and from today onwards I am going to think of myself and my family first and put the interests of the Bank, the race and the country behind me. If those directors had thought of the interests of the Bank, the race and the country first, they wouldn’t have made all those blunders in the first place. I have sacrificed enough and suffered enough for their blunders….”


            Alas Jalil’s insight came too late. He paid the ultimate price, a cautionary note to those eager to go back and “serve my country and people.” If only Jalil had been wiser earlier (he was the rare Malay with an MBA from other than a third-rate institution), his talents would have been recognized and amply rewarded. More to the point, his life would not have been wasted.


            Jalil was posthumously awarded Malaysia’s highest honor, and with that an honorarium of a few devalued ringgit. I wonder whether Bank Bumiputra ever compensated his family. Jalil was not the only victim of corruption. Remember Altantuya Shaaribuu, Kevin Morais, and Hussain Najadi, as well as the thousands of preventable deaths from Covid-19 because Malaysian healthcare is underfunded, with the money looted by these scoundrels.


            In one of his many books, eminent economist K S Jomo listed Mahathir’s many financial blunders, from the London Tin debacle to the massive Forex losses. Fast forward to 2018 with Mahathir’s second coming, Jomo too was suckered in to be one of Mahathir’s “counsel of the eminent five.” I do not know whether Jomo is any wiser today than those Langkawi voters. They saw through the old man’s fraud and humiliated him in the November 2022 elections. You can fool the natives only for so long. They tidak mudah lupa (do not forget easily.)


            Then there is Terengganu’s Chief Minister Ahmad Samsuri. He “sold” state land to an entity led by his wife at less than 2 percent of its value. He dismissed the subsequent brouhaha. To him that was not corruption. Such a moral lapse! No surprise there as his party’s leader Hadi Awang considers corruption as halal as it involves willing participants. To his kitab, prostitution would also be halal.


            Malaysian Anti-Corruption Chief (MACC) Azam Baki has done much but I am not ready with the accolades. Arresting is one thing; conviction, another. He has yet to investigate Hadi Awang, not for his racist rantings but how he had obtained the money to pay off his civil suit against Sarawak Report. MACC has also not investigated former Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin. It has snagged only his son. Anwar’s short-term renewal of Azam Baki’s contract is the best guarantee of his performance; likewise with the current Attorney-General Idrus Harun. 


            Corruption is crippling Malaysia. Anwar Ibrahim asserted many times that it disproportionately impacts Malays. Denting it would be Anwar’s greatest legacy, worthy of the appellation “Islamic Leader” as well as “Wira Negara” (National Hero).


Sunday, June 04, 2023

Casr From The Herd Excerpt # 81: Introduction Night Part I

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 81:  Introduction Night – Part One

Introduction Night came way too soon and I was a nervous wreck. I could not eat my dinner that evening. Raja Azman assured me that the evening would end by bedtime. Sometimes being reminded of the obvious can be very helpful. 

      We were gathered in the large Hargreaves Hall, named after the college’s distinguished first headmaster. Compared to the one at my old TMS, this was huge and impressive. Tall ceilings and tiered seats arranged so that we would all be looking down unobstructed to the stage up front, like those elegant European opera houses. Along the sides were the balcony seats for the first-form pupils. While not cushioned, the seats had armrests and backrests. The hall was not air-conditioned but the tall ceiling, abundant fans, and wide French doors made it cool despite all the bodies. 

     The Thursday morning assembly was also held in that hall. After all the students were seated, the teachers would enter through the side door that was connected to the teachers’ lounge. When the first one entered, we all would stand up and remain standing. The teachers would sit in two or three rows on stage, with the senior teachers in the front and the center seat reserved for the headmaster. There was a definite but informal pecking order to the arrangement although they appeared to pick their seats at random. When Mr. Ryan entered, the whole staff would stand and the school prefect on duty would give the salutation followed by our singing the national anthem. 

     The session would begin with the week’s duty master announcing the cleanest dormitory during the previous Friday’s inspection. The dorm prefect would come up to receive the large plaque. Then would come the nasty part, the announcement of the week’s detention class list! The whole school would get to hear your name if you were on it. 

     Then the headmaster would speak. At that first assembly the week before he welcomed us newcomers. I did not remember what else he said, being new and nervous. At this second assembly he mentioned Introduction Night and how much he was looking forward to it. I did not need the reminder. 

My turn at Introduction Night was towards the end, giving me plenty of opportunities to study the crowd’s reaction. The first was a student from Pahang, the largest but sparsely populated state. Many luminaries among the college’s alumni, including and especially the country’s second Prime Minister, Tun Razak, came from that state. Collegians were proud of the school’s distinguished heritage. The school is after all “Eton of the East.” 

     This particular student’s resume was exceptional:  former head prefect and captain of its championship soccer team. He was also a star player with his state’s team. If anyone the college should be proud to admit, he would be the one. Those were sparkling achievements.


     However, he went on and on, listing his achievements way far back. By about the fifth or sixth item, the crowd let loose with jeers and howls, but he persisted. Then someone heckled, “Were you a champion crawler as a toddler?” The audience burst out with hooting laughter and cat calls. 

     I was perplexed by the exaggerated response until someone pointed out that “crawling” had a special and crude connotation, as with the sinister nocturnal “crawling” of the older boys in the junior dorms. I was certain that the champion soccer player had no clue about this other meaning, at least at the time. 

With the crowd loosened and its appetite whetted, the second presenter became its hapless victim. He never had a chance. With every achievement he enumerated, the crowd yelled, “Whoa!” in feigned admiration, or “Huu!” in mocked incredulity. When he sang off key, someone let out a screeching sound that brought the house down. Nevertheless when he finished, the crowd gave him a generous hearty applause, just as with the first speaker. 

     The newcomers were effusive in their praise of the college. They all felt “fortunate,” “proud,” and “privileged” to be admitted to this “elite,” “prestigious,” and “distinguished” institution. I felt uncomfortable hearing those flowery praises. Judging from the reaction, the audience was too. For every tribute uttered, the crowd would yell “Bodek!” “Ampu!” and other insults which when translated all meant “sucking up.” 

     By about the fifth speaker I knew what irritated the crowd. They did not want to hear about your superb personal especially athletic achievements. They would mock you if you insisted along that path. That was fine with me as I had none to showcase anyway. They also did not appreciate the excessive praises and other “sucking up” gestures; likewise when you ran down your old school in your attempt to praise the college. 

     That provided only half the clue; I still did not know what would please them. So I decided to focus on where I was from, my school, and the things I liked. I would not tell them what I disliked in case that might prove to be the favorite with some. 

Next:  Excerpt #82:  Introduction Night – Part Two