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It’s been 25 years since Unspun left Malaysia. The reason for leaving was Operasi Lallang, when the Umno-led government, headed by Mahathir closed down The Star, the paper where Unspun was working at, for political reasons.
Since then life has taken Unspun to many countries, with the past 16 years mostly in Indonesia which I consider home these days. For all its faults, Indonesia is more democratic, freer and less hypocritical than Malaysia society.
Time has also loosened many of the emotional ties that Unspun has had of Malaysia, so much so that I do not keep up so much with the politics any more and generally ignore the trivial pursuits of the opposition and the government.
And why bother? The Opposition and the Government were trapped in their artless polemic, devoid of vision.
The Opposition could only oppose without offering any viable alternatives. There was a brief flicker of hope in Anwar Ibrahim. There was a man who at least seemed like he had a vision. But a closer look at him and you see through the man for what he is – a consummate politician with the same moral consistency of a chameleon’s colors as it moves over a varied terrain.
The Government also disappointed. There was Mahathir who was effective and did a lot of good for the country. But at the same time he not only failed to build the institutions that are essential for a democracy ; he helped destroy them. He also failed to groom any worthy successors. The result was Abdullah Badawi, a man who had less charisma than a five-day old rubbish dump; and now Najib, a man so cautious that he’s have to have his domineering wife inspect the toilet paper before he wiped himself.
So Unspun spralled into total nonchalance when it came to Malaysian politics.
Then something stirred when Bersih 2.0 came around. Watching the leader of the movement, Ambiga, speak and address reporters and their questions Unspun saw, for the first time in many years, a Malaysian leader who was skilled in communicating her thoughts and vision. She was measured, uncluttered and spoke her mind without being defensive, like so many other Malaysian politicians.
So when Bersih 3.0 came around yesterday Unspun decided to shake off his ennui and got the family to attend its gathering in Jakarta. The setting was in a restaurant/bar called Liquid Exchange.
The agenda was to gather wearing the trademark Bersih yellow T-shirts, have lunch, give some people the opportunity to make some short speeches and then disperse. It seems tame by comparison to the risks faced by Bersih supporters in Malaysia and the organizers came up for some criticisms from a Malaysian who lived in Australia (see this link).
But the organizers had good reasons: It was illegal for foreigners o stage demonstrations in Indonesia and they were initially unsure how many malaysians would attend. the initial calculation was maybe five Malaysians as they are not generally known for their defiance of authority.
So they were pleasantly surprised when the turnout totaled over 80 Malaysians, plus three or so Indonesians and one German supporter. At the restaurant we were able to follow the development of the Bersih 3.0 protest in KL through news bulletins on Al Jazeera. Another indication of of how the world is watching.
A few speeches were made, not fantastic ones but those that came from the heart. The gist of it was how we all wanted to see a more democratic Malaysia; that Malaysia had receded in democracy while Indonesia had forged ahead; and, most touchingly, that we would have not done our duty to our country and our families if we had stayed home and not tried to make our country more democratic if only by showing up in an act of defiance against the authorities.
One other thing that I was very proud of was how some of the Malaysians, headed by old friend and former president of the Malaysia Club Jakarta Ch’ng Chin Hon, passed the proverbial hat around to raise funds for a charity – not for Malaysians but for the needy in the community we work in – the disadvantaged Indonesians.
Chin Hon and his friends run Kecara, a foundation helping poor Indonesians in Jakarta by collecting and distributing used clothes, food and even disbursing scholarships.
The gathering then released balloons as a symbolic gesture of releasing our wishes for a free election in Malaysia and dispersed after that.
After that, for the first time in a long while Unspun felt proud of the fellow Malaysians who turned up in the Bersih gatherings in Malaysia, Jakarta, Bali and at least 10 other cities worldwide.
The fact that so many Malaysians had turned out in the Bersih gatherings, which in the past was something that most people would have feared to do, for fear of government reprisals, is evidence enough that Umno’s days are numbered as the dominant power in Malaysian politics.
The fear is gone and one that happens there is no way they can hold on to power for too long, unless they change. Maybe that was why Unspun could smile so heartily when a Malaysian Embassy political attaché had asked to take a photo with Unspun. His reason was that he wanted to show a blogger that he had met Unspun but I have a feeling that the Special Branch may be admiring my dentist’s handiwork. I hope they like the smile.
Unspun is ever in awe of the multi-talented Roy Suryo, telematics expert, House member and generally expert at anything hinting of technology that his huge intellectual capacity and his ego can encompass.
His latest feat of expertise was taxed when he was called to verify if a the image in the likeness of a Parliamentarian was actually the Parliamentarian (see story below).
Roy’s response? The woman on tape looks like the woman in photos given to him; the man on tape couldn’t e verified because he had only received screen grabs from the video instead of actual photos to compare with.
Now, Unspun wonders how much Roy charges for this expert “analysis,” leading to such startling conclusions?
House Commission I member Roy Suryo said he was almost certain that the woman in the tape was a House Commission IX member with the initials K.M.N. Roy made the conclusion after comparing photos of the woman with screenshots from the tape. “It’s hard to deny it, although I can’t say 100 percent that the [woman] is K.M.N. after I compared it with her photos,” Roy said after submitting his analysis to the Ethics Council. Roy said he could not identify the man in the video because he only received photos from the tape and had not seen the tape. To avoid a conflict of interest, Roy asked the Ethics Council to find other telematics experts to analyze the photos and tape. “As a House member, I should avoid conflicts of interest and politicization [of the case] because no matter what I say, I would be accused of having a vested interest since the two lawmakers are from different factions than mine,” the Democratic Party politician said.
Update: Ditta’s wake will be at the IES Church, 9th Fl UOB Building, Jl. Thamrin at 6pm this Wednesday
I’ve known Ditta since my days at Ogilvy PR when we won the Citibank account, way back in 1998. Since then, I’ve worked together with her on and off for the past 15 years.
When I started up Maverick with my partner in 2002 Ditta and another Citibanker were instrumental in getting Citibank to become our first client. It was a professional relationship that would last until last year.
Even then we remained friends and fellow professionals in Public Relations. We also had one more thing in common – both of us were heart patients, although what Ditta had to go through made my quadruple bypass seemed like a walk in the park.
What I liked most about Ditta was that inspire of the congenital health problems she had she faced it courageously and openly and lived life to the full. In conversations she would be telling you about the movies she just saw, the plays and concerts she attended and the friends she went out with. As anyone who knew her can attest, she had many, many friends from all strata of society. Going out with her was like being with a celebrity or a queen waving incessantly to her subjects.
Ditta was open to trying out new things too and at one time I convinced her to try her hand at blogging. As she, by her own admission, was technically inept, I had to set up her blog for her, that she called Dittaville. She wrote a few posts, but soon got busy with other things.
At the same time she would also be completely open and candid about her health problems. The last time we met was at The Pad in SCBD, where she ordered a cheese soufflé and a steak – because her doctors kept telling her that she needed the nourishment for her blood. She also described the procedures that she would have to undergo in New York.
When we parted, I wished her well for her operation. That was the last time I saw her. Now I hear she did not make it through her operation because of internal bleeding.
I and the team at Maverick who worked with her will miss her. As a client she could be strict and demanding but she was always fair and understanding. She was more like a partner to us than a client and for many years we took pride in helping her build Citibank’s image in Indonesia.
Ditta is now no more. We at Maverick mourn her passing, but we take comfort in that she knew how to live life to the full, even when faced with the difficulties imposed by her health. You couldn’t ask more out of life that Ditta did, and for that we admire her and wish her well in the next journey.
I don’t know about you but the story by the ever fascinating Elizabeth Pisani who’s traveling in East Indonesia right now makes me feel all queasy – especially where they shove ball bearings, biro parts, human hair and horse hair into their penises – all in the believe that size matters.
Men who laugh at the lengths women go to with their plastic surgeons to make them look attractive should read this article.
But horse hair???
A statue outside a health centre in Enarotali, in Indonesian Papua
Reading the newspapers in cities across Papua, I cannot help but notice the full-colour ads for penis extensions. In only half an hour, with no invasive anything, men can see their organs grow, thicken, harden, for ever. The ads are explicit about the results, down to the last half centimetre; clients can choose both the length and girth of their organ, up to 20 cm by 6 cm (the more modest promise diameters of just 5.5). All of this with just some magic oil and a few prayers, guaranteed free of side effects. The “Specialists in Vital Organs” promise services for women, too, tightening up our fannies “until you are like a maiden again”. And for both sexes, they will pray away our sexually transmitted infections.
Why the obsession with sex organs, and why especially in Papua? Are people encouraged by the blatantly erotic sculptures that are common in these parts? Do migrants from other parts of Indonesia feel inadequate on arrival in Papua, or do they feel the magic will be especially potent in the nether regions of the nation? And isn’t it mildly ironic that all of the people offering their dick-swelling charms claim to be from Banten in western Java, where mystics sometimes break their fasts by eating light-bulbs? They offer other mystical services too: tying down your spouse, implanting a protective aura, ensuring you get promoted or elected. But most of their force is expended on delivering: “What other people only promise, we prove with results that are Large and Long”.
It turns out that the penis obsession is not, in fact, confined to the tens of thousands of immigrants from the rest of Indonesia who have been sucked east by Papua’s booming economy. I learned this when I asked a Papuan nurse in one of the province’s largest hospitals what brought men to outpatient services. Three things, he said: injuries resulting from violent fights, injuries resulting from traffic accidents, and prison. Prison? Do people get sick in prison? “No, that’s the penis stuff.” Prisoners, Papuans and others, are operating on one another’s members — inserting ball bearings and biro parts, threading hair through the urethra. A doctor friend who ran an STI clinic in Papua for many years says he saw a lot of penises embellished with horse hair, but the nurse said since that’s in short supply in prison people weave ornaments from their own locks. Not surprisingly, many of these go septic, hence the hospital visits.
My doctor friend blames the porn industry for the penis-plumping craze. “People watch these porn films where everyone has a giant dick, and they begin to think that that’s the norm.” Certainly porn films are enough of a norm in Papua to have their own nickname: “film o-ya”. The name derives from the script, which in many films does not go much beyond the repetitive groaning of “Oh yah!, Oh yaaaaaah! Oh yaaaaaaaaah!
A more serious aside: data newly released by the Indonesian Ministry of Health show that one in four of the Papuan women who are selling sex to their men-folk on the streets of the Papuan highland town of Wamena are infected with HIV, while well over half have another STI. Perhaps because condoms don’t fit snugly over the horsehair, three in four of these infected highland women are not using protection with their partners.
How do others live their lives as we shuttle about in our air conditioned cars from office to home to shopping malls and others decent, if not well appointed houses?
Here’s a moving story about a transgender Jakartan who was apparently Obama’s nanny when he was growing up.
For another account of how hard life is in Jakarta watch this excellent BBC program on the Toughest Place to be a bin man: Jakarta
If these glimpses of how others struggle for survival do not disturb you and give you pause on what you can do to make this city a better place then something’s wrong.
By AP News Mar 05, 2012 4:10PM UTC
Evie, also known as Turdi, the former nanny of U.S. President Barack Obama, stands at the doorway of her room at a boarding house in a slum in Jakarta, Indonesia. Pic: AP.
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Once, long ago, Evie looked after “Barry” Obama, the kid who would grow up to become the most powerful man on earth. Now, his transgender former nanny has given up her tight, flowery dresses, her brocade vest and her bras, and is living in fear on Indonesia’s streets.
Evie, who was born a man but believes she is really a woman, has endured a lifetime of taunts and beatings because of her identity. She describes how soldiers once shaved her long, black hair to the scalp and smashed out glowing cigarettes onto her hands and arms.
The turning point came when she found a transgender friend’s bloated body floating in a backed-up sewage canal two decades ago. She grabbed all her girlie clothes in her arms and stuffed them into two big boxes. Half-used lipstick, powder, eye makeup — she gave them all away.
“I knew in my heart I was a woman, but I didn’t want to die like that,” says Evie, now 66, her lips trembling slightly as the memories flood back. “So I decided to just accept it. … I’ve been living like this, a man, ever since.”
Indonesia’s attitude toward transgenders is complex.
Nobody knows how many of them live in the sprawling archipelagic nation of 240 million, but activists estimate 7 million. Because Indonesia is home to more Muslims than any other country in the world, the pervasiveness of men who live as women and vice versa often catches newcomers by surprise. They hold the occasional pageant, work as singers or at salons and include well-known celebrity talk show host Dorce Gamalama.