Mahathir these days seems much smaller than he was in 1982, the year I started becoming a journalist in Malaysia and covering some of his news conferences. Then, he radiated power and kept many of us in awe.
But last Sunday, at the 1st Malaysian – ASEAN Regional Bloggers Conference (1MARBC) organised by Blog House Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur, he seemed shriveled by old age (he is 86), slight and vulnerable. He is still aware and articulate though and the most interesting quote of the occasion, in which Unspun was one of the nearly 40 ASEAN bloggers invited, came from him.
Speaking about blogging and government censorship in Malaysia during the conference luncheon, in which he accepted in becoming patron of Blog House Malaysia, he said: “There is no censorship but since I started blogging, I found some people to be too sycophantic and supportive or too critical.”
That was when I thought: “You’ve still got to give it to him. The Old Man may be getting on but he still has the ability to sum things up in one short and pity sentence.”
What he summed up was, for Unspun, practically the whole blogging scene in Malaysia. As someone who grew up in Malaysia and who later left to work elsewhere, but following the developments of the country’s online community from a distance, the Malaysian blogosphere seems riven by partisanship.
You have bloggers supporting the Prime Minister Najib Razak and you have those critical of him, often in excessive measures. Ditto with almost anything else that evokes passions – race, religion, personalities, government, opposition. There seems to be very little middle ground or a common place for friendly disagreement.
Everyone there, as Unspun, conscripted as a speaker at a breakout session on Corporates and Blogging told the audience, seems to take their views and themselves too seriously. Passion is good, but when passion when not accompanied with skillful expression leads to slights, enmity and polarization.
It is against this background that the 1st Malaysian – ASEAN Regional Bloggers Conference (1MARBC) was held and it is to the credit of the executive committee at Blog House Malaysia that they managed to pull off a successful ASEAN gathering that, if nothing else, lays the foundation for a pan-ASEAN Bloggers Forum.
It is a credit to the committee because many prominent Malaysian bloggers chose not to attend (because they were too critical of what they perceive the Blog House bloggers were too supportive of) and the short planning timeframe that the committee had to turn their plans into reality.
Still, they managed to invite an eclectic and lively group of ASEAN bloggers from Brunei (Reeda Malik and Rano Iskandar), Cambodia (Sopheap Chak, Kounila Keo and Ramana Sorn) Indonesia (Ollie, Herman and Unspun), The Philippines (Tonyo Cruz and Blogie Robillo), Thailand (Chandler Vandergrift), Vietnam (Hy Huynh and Anh Minh Do) and the guys and Abigail from Sabah and Sarawak.
In the meetings we had, and more importantly in the conversations that took place over a glass or five of wine, we found that there was actually lots of things in common and of interest among bloggers in ASEAN.
Unspun found out, for instance that, the Philippines in the way the use social media, the stage of development of the country and the community-mindedness of the Filipinos, was uncannily similar to Indonesians. The Filipinos, like the Indonesians, are also well advanced in using other platforms such as Twitter and Four Square extensions of their blogging.
Cambodian bloggers who call themselves Cloggers (Cambodia + Bloggers) are quite politically active and have political censorship very much at the top of their minds.
Malaysian bloggers are mainly political or SoPo, the local abbreviation for Social-Political, and – like most of the country – faction riven and partisan. They, and their east Asian counterparts, are very passionate though and perhaps take themselves and their blogs most seriously in all of ASEAN.
Singaporean bloggers are probably like the rest of us but the delegate we had (forgot his name) has a very peculiar sense of humor. Unspun found it difficult to laugh at his jokes with the appropriate timing but he seemed all fired up to give the Singaporean Government a run for their money, on the government’s terms.
Unspun also found the Brunei bloggers a cool and articulate lot and the Vietnamese bloggers, Anh and Hyunh, the equivalent of Boy Band celebrities of the blogging world, but with brains.
We discussed many things and pledged with various levels of seriousness and inebriation to get together again because at the end of the day it was a truly ASEAN gathering. We found congeniality, camaraderie and a sense of belonging to the ASEAN region – and that, surely, is what ASEAN is about and what the ASEAN governments should be trying to do more of.
So for all its shortcomings in organizing the conference (Unspun’s sure someone sometime will take issue with selection fo condidates and the nitty gritties) credit must go to Blog House Malaysia’s exco, namely Syed Akbar Ali, secretary Tony Yew, assistant secretary
Firdaus Abdullah, treasurer Zakhir Mohamad, exco members Nuraina Samad, Eric Woon, Shamsul Akmar, Salahuddin Hisham, Endie Shazalie Akbar and advisor Rocky Bru for organizing what is hopefully the start of a meaningful dialogue between ASEAN netizens. Thanks for everything – especially the Galaxy Tab. No thanks though for raising the bar so high in terms of gifts that the rest of us who organize events now have a hard time topping it.
Other posts about the conference: