Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ethnicity and Race System in Malaysia

Race was originally a concept borrowed from biology. Borrowed from plants and animals, and applied to humans (as a concept for classifying people), even though there were few biological reasons to do so. A race - a group of human beings socially defined on the basis of physical characteristics. Race and ethnicity are linked, but should not be confused. Ethnicity refers to perceived common ancestry in a place or event. Malaysia is a multi-ethnic society, consisting of 65% Malays and other indigenous tribes, 25% Chinese, and 7% Indians.
The Malays are traditionally classified as a member of the Mongoloid race, along with other Asiatic peoples. Bumiputera (literally means 'princes of the Earth') is an official definition widely used in Malaysia, embracing ethnic Malays, as well as other indigenous ethnic groups. In Malaysia, by convention, it is generally considered that all Malays are Bumiputeras and that all Bumiputeras are Malay. And the definition of Bumiputera clearly excludes ethnic Chinese and non-Muslim Indians.
In Malaysia (also Southeast Asia), the term used commonly by oversea Chinese is huaren. Many of the non-Malays (Chinese and also Indians) at that time were first and second generation migrants who had been invited by the British to fill colonial labour needs. The Malays were facing a situation - a socio-economic imbalance. The 1969 racial riots paved way for the pro-Malay policies - preferential treatment of Bumiputeras versus other races built into the Malaysian Constitution to safeguard the special position of Malays. Bumiputeras is given special rights as written in the constitution. Policies include quotas for the following : admission to government educational institutions, qualification for public scholarships, positions in government and ownership in business, and etc.
Last year, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi implied that the 30-plus years of generous affirmative action has not made Malays the competitive race the long-ruling Mahathir Mohammad had envisaged they would be by now. On the other hand, despite challenges of ethnicity, Malaysia has experienced some rapid economic growth.
Since the 1969 racial riots, Malaysia has been generally free of any ethnic tension (unlike the many outbreaks of ethnic violence in Indonesia during recent years). The Government has in a certain way managed ethnic relations to minimize conflicts and tensions.
Are we working towards a change for a better Malaysia ?
Fifty years ago, this site was occupied by a wet market. But today, Central Market has transformed itself into a centre for cultural performances and traditional crafts. Some sort of an ethnic market - a combination of chinese, malay and indian business.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dilbert & Blog

I have just come back from the south today. The past few days, I have been busy shopping - not so much of christmas shopping but car shopping, home entertainment and other bedroom stuff. Two weeks counting and I will start my new job. Met some of my new colleagues and saw my new workplace. Cool. Pretty excited.

Just another short post. What's your favorite comic ? Dilbert is one of my favorites. The comic strip sometimes focuses on practical business issues and at the same time some good jokes.


Beware if your blog is related to work. Some workers have been fired because of their blogs. Firing people because of their blogs can be somewhat unreasonable unless one inadvertently reveal confidential information. Additionally, I don't think it is wise to publicly complain about company, co-workers and bosses.

There will not be talk about work in my blog. It will still be a travel blog. Boring .. yeah .. I know.

Friday, December 16, 2005

ASS - Aerial Sky Shots

It was sizzling hot this afternoon but glad there was a heavy downpour that lasted an hour or so and now cooler at night. Decided to do a post.

I have arrived home safely two days ago. The flight was pleasant. Exceptionally friendly and lovely stewardess.
The plane soaring in high and above cloudy sky.
A variety of cloud formations. Flying from Osaka to Kuala Lumpur (transit in Seoul) in fairly good weather conditions.
The sky above, and the view below.
Wanted to ask permission for a cockpit tour but then changed my mind. Wouldn't want to make cabin crew nervous and mistaken me for a terrorist or some sort of hijacker. Took more pictures of the earth view below. I have never before been so busy snapping picture in the plane.
Overall experience was good - fairly good price and good service too. All in all, I think you get what you paid for on Korean Airlines (although the movie inflight entertainment was not that great).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Farewell to Japan

A life overseas can be difficult. It can be more difficult when moving to a new country, with its different culture and language - implies an even greater life change. But it is also one of my greatest experience. The past three-and-a-half years in Japan, instead of a one-way cultural shock, I'd say to some extend we have engaged in some cross-cultural experience. There are so many people to thank - good friends and good people for making this journey memorable.
Foreign students get home sick (although that is not so much of my case). I have been placed with the Takahashi as my host family since April 2002. My japanese host family did not ask me to help them do chores. I didn't live with them since my stay here was not quite short term. Very fortunate to have them - spending time with them (especially my host mum) was truly enjoyable and rewarding.
As some say, I was too frequent a traveler. Others, I have spent too much time blogging. Quite hardworking I am although not that brilliant. I am much indebted to the Japanese Government for awarding me the scholarship (a big chunk of money) for full time studies in Kyoto University and a life time experience.
The study of food science at the molecular level was indeed interesting (no doubt tough). I spent two years manipulating DNAs, expressing food proteins with bacterias (and also insect cells) and finally earning a Master degree. I have learnt a great deal in bio-techniques from my teachers. All of us (lab members) went through a periodic of ups and downs. And some had hard times getting good results. But we often bounced back from those downs after a good holiday break together. Recently, 6 months after I started my doctoral program, with more than enough reasons, I decided to quit - I am offered with better opportunities.
I will miss them. Dorm living - overall a great experience (some good and some bad) and some great company. Students from different continents and cultures, of different races and colors, different social strata, religions and outlooks live together (for sure not without any cultural misunderstandings). Expected - since living as part of a big family is not always easy. I have enjoyed the sharings, the many parties and outings, and most importantly - the friendship.
Being house parents (and dorm staffs) can sometimes a taunting task. The task more complex and difficult than one might imagine. Good food, clean environment - I appreciate all they have done.
Well, well ... I am not (so) fluent with my nihongo. This year, I did have a japanese friend for some serious language exchange, but mastering a new language is not all that easy. Perhaps I am just not very good with language. I have to be careful not to forget it after returning to my home country.
My choice of a dentist - I went upon recommendation of a thai friend. My dentist and his family are very kind and friendly.
Good friends enrich our lives. Asian friends and some from far off places - they have made my good times better and bad times bearable. I have learnt alot from them. And we often hang out together - coping together being a gaijin.

I wish everyone good luck. And also to thank blog readers - this blog will be one year old soon.

Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is slow-ripening fruit. -- Aristotle.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Kobe Luminarie

Kobe Luminarie is held to commemorate the disastrous Great Hanshin earthquake (Hanshin-daishinsai) that rocked Kobe in 1995 and to celebrate the city's miraculous recovery afterwards.
Streets in the center of the Kobe city are beautifully decorated with millions of lights. It started at the end of year 1995, to boost the spirits of locals who experienced the earthquake in January that year.
A series of illuminated arches - a dazzling display of lights. The most impressive I would say.
Some grand display in a park nearby.
Luminarie is a word in Japanese, equivalent to the Italian expression 'Illuminazione per Feste' (Illumination for Festivals).
Because there was a strong desire for continuation after its conclusion, it has become an annual event since then symbolizing the hope of Kobe citizens.
But it seems now more like a Christmas light installation than anything else (since the event is held during december).
Some simple display of lights.
Colorful light reflection on a calm pool of water.
Not overly crowded despite a sunday. Apart from the light ups, we also enjoyed the food as well as taking pictures of street-side food stall (yatai).
It is worth the trip all the way to Kobe to enjoy the beautifully lit Kobe Luminarie. As for this year, the event started since December 9th and will be held until December 22nd.

Last post for the time being for sightseeings in Japan. I will move on. Heading back to Malaysia for good. More postings on Malaysia in the future if time permits.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Gion - The Geisha District

'A story like mine should never be told.' These are the first words in Arthur Golden's best-selling book, Memoirs of a Geisha. When the book first came out, it was criticized by Mineko Iwasaki, the geisha on whom Golden supposedly based the story. She eventually wrote her own memoirs because she said that Golden had betrayed her confidence and depicted geisha as prostitutes. So, are they or are they not ? Before leaving Japan next week, I have decided to do a short post on Gion - the geisha district of Kyoto.
Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district. However, the Gion district of modern-day Kyoto no longer had the exotic teahouses, theaters and ornate temples of the 1920s and 1930s. Along the Hanami-koji, some beautiful and old wooden teahouses (o-chaya) are still to be found - a place where geisha entertain their wealthy customers.
The rich and powerful come here in the evening. You won't see much during daytime and at night in some of the more exclusive teahouses, you probably won't be allowed to enter without some sort of connection (no matter how much money is offered).
Moreover, the yakuza-like atmosphere will probably not make tourists feel very comfortable. Shown is Gion's oldest and most exclusive teahouse - the Ichiriki-tei.
Geisha (in Kyoto, they prefer to be called geiko-san) or maiko sometimes wander through the streets during the day, but you will have more chances to spot one between 5pm and 6:30pm, when she is on her way to work.
One might need connections to enter exclusive teahouses to be entertained by geisha, but another way is to hire one to host parties and gatherings in japanese traditional restaurants (probably about USD300 - 400 for two hours session). Basically, there are two types of geisha. One is called 'tachikata' which mainly does traditional japanese dance. The other is called 'jikata' which mainly sings, or plays an instrument (e.g. shamisen).
On the other hand, I am sure there are traditional japanese restaurants in the Gion area which offer some sort dinner plus geisha performance package.
The Minamiza Theater (also mentioned in the book, 'Memoirs of a geisha') was the first kabuki theater built in Japan. Today, the theater is used for a wide variety of performances including musicals and modern plays. The month of december is the annual kaomise (face-showing) season, when popular kabuki actors are lined up on stage for some high drama, with dance and music. There are only two shows per day, but each lasts four or five hours.
Actor's names written on the wooden plate (maneki) and displayed on the wall of the building.
The number of geisha has been declining. Geisha have become an elite group and have therefore become very expensive. Fewer and fewer men are willing to pay the high cost of a geisha when other entertainers are available. Kyoto and the area around the city maintains the highest number of geisha as well as having a more traditional culture of geisha. Tokyo brags the second highest population of geisha, though these geisha and teahouses tend to be less traditional.

Will geisha survive in the modern japanese society ?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Koto-in Zen Temple

The Daitoku-ji complex - one of the oldest and most important Zen buddhist temples consists of 24 subtemples. It is strongly associated with tea ceremony - and most of the subtemples within the complex have famous tearooms. A good place to visit for a look at the Zen culture. Two weekends ago, I visited Koto-in with a japanese friend.
Koto-in established in 1601 is a subtemple of Daitoku-ji by the famed military leader Hosokawa Tadaoki (1563 - 1645), located within the precincts of the main temple.
The temple has in its possession numerous rare paintings and art objects, both Chinese and Japanese.
And here is the famous tea house, known as Shoko-ken, which stands in the temple, built by Hosokawa.
An example of a japanese family crest (Ka-mon) - Hosokawa's family crest. Each family crest is not only a symbol or an emblem of a family, but it is also the evidence of family blood and roots (tracing a family tree). I wonder how did it all begin ?
The garden of this temple is of elegant simplicity and quite famous for its maple during the autumn season.
Autumn leaves are falling. By the next one or two weeks, many trees likely to bare all for the coming winter.
Charcoal blocks used to absorb and allow better flow of rain water (I guessed).
We also visited the Imamiya Shrine - quite an impressive complex. The place is quite quiet and filled with peace. Shown is the honden (main building).
Outside the shrine compound, there are shops selling sweet scented grilled aburi mochi with miso sauce. It was quite tasty. I like it.
Visitors can enjoy eating the traditional rice cake and sipping hot green tea while enjoying autumn foliage in front of the shrine gate.