Sunday, June 27, 2010

Maid in heaven

Yumi My parents just bid goodbye to their 24 year-old Indonesian maid recently. I suspect it might have been a sombre and gloomy affair at the airport since my parents adored her. They probably treated her as if she was the daughter who was never around.

I, for one, was happy to see how the relationship worked out between them and perhaps even more relieved knowing that they had someone as reliable as Yumi to look after them in my absence (See photo above. Yumi with my parents, nephew and niece).

Yumi was their first domestic help and I have a strong feeling that she has created rather large shoes for the next one to fill. In a way, I think both Yumi and my parents were lucky. The same kind of luck when your blind date turns out unexpectedly to be your loving husband for the rest of your life. You know, the kind of match that is made in heaven.

Fortunately, their relationship doesn’t have to last that long. As much as they adore Yumi, I am sure they hope she will only have to look after her own family one day. Like daughters, maids should be allowed to leave home one day.

Needless to say, not everyone sees their domestic help the same way as my parents did. Or let’s just say, not everyone or every maid is as lucky when it comes to maintaining a friendly and respectful relationship. I’ve seen some dysfunctional relationships and heard of even uglier ones.

I’ve known some friends who never really approve of the idea of having domestic help. For them, most people who hire one are either lazy or they’re simply running away from their domestic responsibilities. I can agree with that to a certain extent.

Having domestic help used to be a status symbol. Only the rich could afford it and one’s wealth could almost be measured by the number of help one had. These days, anyone from the middle working class can afford to hire a maid and it has become so common that even those who don’t really need them will have one.

It would seem as if it’s trendy to have a maid these days. They’re a bit like the iPhone; too many applications which you don’t really need but it’s still good to have it around. If only people treat their maids with as much respect as they treat their iPhones as I bet most people are more willing to lend their maids to others than their RM2k++ phone.

I was guilty of having a maid when I was living in Ethiopia and Cambodia. I was unemployed then but my husband and I would have a local maid come in every weekday to help with the domestic chores. I could have easily done the housework myself but it was so cheap to hire a maid that it made more sense to be lazy. Plus, every expat living there had a maid. Some two. So, it seemed like a normal thing to do.

We were however lucky to have Atzedu, a slim middle-aged Ethiopian woman, who had a quiet dignified demeanour in her. Atzedu had remained loyal to my husband’s organisation for many years and hence, had served many families who were posted to Ethiopia under the same organisation.

My husband was rather terrified of her in the beginning because she appeared to be a stern woman who took her job too seriously. She would often remind him to lock the balcony door before leaving for work in a firm tone. It did hurt our pride to be told off by a maid but we were eventually thankful for her genuine concern for the safety of our house and properties.

Since I was not working, Atzedu became sort of a friend cum mother. Sometimes, she would attempt to bake fresh bread for us and although they were never any good, we appreciated it nevertheless. By the end of our stay in Ethiopia, we were convinced that Atzedu had taken care of and treated our properties as if they were hers. She could have easily been Cinderella incarnate.

In Cambodia, we had a younger Cambodian maid who brought her 6 year old brat to our house every time she came to work. While I appreciated how efficient and thorough Kimny was, I disliked how spoiled little Chantini was. She loved to provoke our cat. In retaliation, our cat would jump on her and she would scream in fear. This went on almost every single time she was in the house and it became an annoying game for me and I am sure for our cat as well.

Kimny did at some stage committed a faux pas which disappointed us but once we tried to deal with the situation as best as we could, I began to learn to understand how easy it was for us to judge another person without fully understanding the other person’s condition or circumstance. I was more willing and ready to forgive once I was humbled by the knowledge that my life has been more blessed than many of those who have had to serve me and yet I would be forever indebted to them.

When we finally had to leave Cambodia, Kimny persistently asked me to bring her over to Malaysia. I would love to because my husband and I miss her every single time we think about the pile of laundry we have to do or the reeking cat litter that needs to be changed. Unfortunately, we only have room for the cat in our small apartment in Kuala Lumpur.

I no longer feel guilty having a maid around, if I can afford to. Whether it’s because of pure laziness or not, I see it as a symbiotic relationship. The maid gets paid for doing an honest job and I get to spend more time doing something I like, instead of cleaning. What’s not to like about this?

The only time when it becomes wrong to have a maid is when the relationship becomes one that is based on abuse, deception, lust and greed. But if both the employer and employee manage to maintain a relationship based on mutual respect and trust, a maid can easily become part of a family; like Yumi.

If anything, we all should learn from one another and accept that we do rely on each other to make our lives better.

This was first posted here at The Malaysian Insider.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Malaysian Invader Exclusive with Genie Cum Laude

Genie Genie Cum Laude, famously known as just “Genie”, was first made popular by the book One Thousand and One Nights in the 9th century. Since then, he had made special appearances here and there. It wasn’t until a gazillion year later that he made a real come back as a female form in the American series I Dream of Jeannie in the 1960s. At that time, he adopted Barbara Eden as his stage name.

He once rubbed shoulders with iconic figures such as Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad, Robin Williams (who did the voice over for his animated role in the 1992 Waltz Disney production of Aladdin) and of course, Larry Hagman.

Christina Aguilera is purportedly one of his biggest fans.

As Genie has the ability to appear in different shapes, sizes and forms, his real appearance remains as much a mystery as his real age today. What we do know for sure is his ability to grant his master 3 wishes (due to global recession, it was reduced to 1 in recent years). This ability made him the World’s 8 Most Powerful Personalities in history by Forbes magazine.

He shares this title with Julius Caesar, Qin Shi Huang, Peter the Great, Mahatma Gandhi, Napoleon Bonaparte, Mao Zedong and Teddy Roosevelt. However, his ability also earned him the title of World’s Most Beloved Person for 50 consecutive years (until Mother Teresa came along), which none of the other 7 achieved.

Last week, we saw a world in mourning. Genie announced his retirement at a press conference in Cairo. He was quoted as saying that he is no longer needed in this world and he is ready to retreat into his lamp forever.

The Malaysian Invader (TMI) was granted an exclusive interview with Genie.

Given the long history you have, could you give us a summary of the most significant things you’ve done in your life?

(Snorts) I’m a Genie. Most of the time, I did what my master asked of me. So, if I’ve ever done anything significant, it won’t be because of me. One may say that my decision to retire is perhaps the only significant thing I am doing. It’s my decision solely and that’s a very very rare thing for me.

Can you actually do that? I mean, do you have the power to retire?

After working as a slave for more than 12 centuries, granting an average of 3000 wishes a year, I think it’s reasonable that I’m calling it quits! Don’t you think? (Laughs out loud).

OK, if you mean whether I can actually do this, yes, I can. I just can’t tell you how.

Who were the most memorable personalities (not masters) you’ve worked with? Please keep it to two.

Wow, this is a tough question. After more than 1200 years, it’s hard to keep track of the people I’ve met or worked with.

If we’re talking about more recent times, I’ll say Robin Williams. He was interesting because he turned me into this funny and crazy character. I would love to be that Genie in Aladdin (winks).

I also like Bill Daily who played Roger Healey in I Dream of Jeannie. He didn’t allow Larry Hagman to pull any crap on him.

Speaking of I Dream of Jeannie. What was that all about? Were you in debt?

You don’t say! That was the most humiliating thing I had to do. I begged them for a stage name and they gave me “Barbara Eden.” It wasn’t easy since I hate the name “Barbara.” But what could I do? Master said he wanted to be famous.

Wait. You’re telling me that your master at that time was…

(Nods his head) Uh huh.

Rumours have been going around that one of your famous masters include Rosmah. Can you verify this, please?

(Looks around in a sheepish expression)

Rosmah? Who’s Rosmah? I don’t know anyone called Rosmah!

(Looks around and starts whistling)

How does it feel like to be in the same list as personalities like Napoleon Bonaparte, Mahatma Gandhi, etc.? Do you think Adolf Hitler should have been in the list?

Well, the list is for the World’s Most Powerful Personalities in History, not the World’s Most Congenial Personalities. So, I think Hitler should have been in the list. A man who was responsible for the death of 6 million Jews was definitely powerful, much more than Mahatma Gandhi. I think he had a more successful campaign than Gandhi.

Maybe you should ask Rosmah (whoever she is) this question. (Laughs out loud)

What are the most popular wishes that people ask for and what is the most bizarre wish that you’ve asked to perform?

Human beings are so boring. They always seem to ask for the same things. They lack imagination and this in many ways, has contributed to my retirement.

They often asked for immortality, wealth, power, love, fame, beauty and of course, the most popular of all, for more wishes.

(Yawns, yawns)

The most bizarre wish I had to perform was to ensure the death of a master’s nemesis. I think that’s more stupid than bizarre. I mean, she could have wished for invincibility or anything that could have effectively prevented her from being harmed by her nemesis, but no… death was the only solution she asked for.

Again, I’m often bored by the stupidity of human beings. Excuse me for being so brutally honest.

Why do you feel you’re no longer needed? Are people finally happy with their lives?

Whether I like it or not, I’ve become redundant. People often think that I can perform miracle and that I’m the only one who can make the things they want come true. They think I can make them happy.

Take for example, an overweight 18-year-old girl once asked me to make her thin. She wasted her one wish for this when she could have taken control of her weight if she had wanted to.

Some people had asked me for world peace. I’ve always told them that this wouldn’t last for long because the next day, someone else would ask me to perform an evil deed that would inevitably affect the world adversely. For world peace to sustain, everyone must be united. It’s not an individual quest.

Women who asked for beauty often ended up cursing me. Their beauty sooner or later became an object of envy and hatred from others. Instead of being happy, they suffer from sexual harassment and isolation from other women.

It’s the same for those who asked for immortality, wealth and power. They often ended up being alone and questioned whether the people around them were indeed their true friends or not.

My long experience tells me that human beings have this innate nature of being unhappy and destructive. I no longer want to partake in their miseries.

Final question: We heard that you were *ahem* good friends with Larry Hagman after staring in I Dream of Jeannie with him for many years. He of course went on to appear on the soap opera Dallas. You don?t by any chance know whether J.R. did shoot himself in the final scene, do you?

(The Malaysian Invader was unable to obtain an answer for this question as Genie disappeared into thin air.)

For those who may have more questions or comments for Genie, please write in to us. He told us that with his new iPhone 4, he is reachable via email 24/7. Please do refrain from asking him for wishes.

This article was first posted on Loyar Burok on 25 June 2010.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What they don’t show you on Malaysia Truly Asia advertisements (Part II)

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MyConsti_logo This article was first published here in The Malay Mail on 16 June 2010.

THE UN Millennium Development Goals call on all member States to provide universal education by 2015.

If the world collectively declares that education is key to eradicating poverty and ensuring gender equality, how then do we reassure the Orang Asli that their identity and values will not be compromised if they fully partake in our national education system? (Bear in mind that there are others we have met who do want their children to be educated but complain that education facilities have not been adequately provided to them by the authorities.)

The Philippines may have the answer to this social conundrum.

In 2005, the Asian Council for People’s Culture assisted different indigenous tribes in that country by setting up the Schools for Indigenous Knowledge and Traditions (SIKAT). This programme envisions a system at par with mainstream education but founded on the ways of life, traditions and culture of indigenous people (see:

What is most interesting about SIKAT is that the idea originated from the indigenous people themselves. Therefore, they own the concept and results of its implementation.

Important decisions are made by the SIKAT Council of Elders, consisting of 15 elected members of different tribes in the Philippines.

The programme has been successful despite various obstacles such as the lack of funding from the government, obtaining recognition from the Department of Education and in trying to develop a suitable and balanced curriculum.

This is perhaps something that our own government and civil society should look into. However, there is a need to ensure that while every possible option is being explored to help preserve the Orang Asli’s way of life, it is necessary to ensure that they feel part of the collective Malaysia.

It is unreasonable to expect them to integrate fully into mainstream society but it is equally erroneous to treat them as “foreign” or “exotic” groups of people. We should be careful not to regard them as part of Malaysia’s unique wildlife.

At the moment, there is simply insufficient information about the indigenous people (Orang Asli or OA) that can easily be accessed by the public. What we see or know of them is largely from our beautifully produced and expensive tourism advertisements and brochures and they are far from reality.

Since there is little opportunity for interaction with the OA, we often view them as “marginalised” people who are in need of our charity. It is not far from the truth as the only time we do actually interact with the OA is when we visit them with the intention of “giving” something.

My trip on May 22 to Kampung Bertang Lama, home to a Semai community in Pahang, allowed me to examine myself more closely. I saw myself in others when I was working in all those under-developed countries.

We entered the village having full confidence that we were doing something good. We treated the community with much caution and sensitivity that we were afraid of offending them or making them feel as if we were treating them differently.

At the same time, by doing so, we did not realise that we were actually magnifying the differences. We were telling them that we are not “equals”, that they are weaker and more fragile. I remember telling my friend that they are not porcelain dolls. They’re just like us.

We told them that they have rights. We played with their children. We smiled and fussed over how cute the children are when there’s really nothing cute about scabies, malnutrition or illiteracy. We took photos of them as if they are rare finds or a disguised way of announcing to others the good deeds we had done over the weekend.

Yet, we could not name the faces on the photos. We could embrace the endorphin triggered from the trip so easily because once we were out of the village, we were no longer confronted by the ugliness whereas the ugliness does not end the moment we left. It continues.

We left feeling good just as I had left Timor Leste, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Cambodia feeling good and convinced that I had done something good. The only difference is that the OA are Malaysians. I can never leave them behind but only return to them.

I finally realised that unless we leave behind something sustainable, everything else is only temporary like the endorphin.

Article 8 of our Federal Constitution states that all persons are equal before the law but my experience tells me otherwise. The Chinese believe that the outcome of a person’s life is determined by his/her destiny but my father has proven this theory wrong.

In the end, what really makes one person different from another? Noam Chomsky said that freedom without opportunities is the Devil’s gift. If the mouse that was born in the sewer was given an opportunity to find its way out or given access to rice, do you think it would have a chance at living a better life?

My father is who he is today because he embraced all the opportunities he has been given in life. Above all, he did not have to worry about feeding his family when he was a boy. He also did not have to walk for 20 kilometres every day just to have an education or wait for weeks before he could get a wound treated.

Poverty, illiteracy and fear are all debilitating diseases. They are devastating and ugly. But it is how we forgive our leaders or authorities (who are supposed to assist all Malaysians), whereas these Malaysians are paying for it, that makes it a crime.

We are all guilty of that crime and will continue to be until the day we no longer consider the OA cause as “charity-driven cause”, or treat them as a “species threatened with extinction”.

* LIM KA EA is the executive officer of the Constitutional Law Committee (ConstiLC) of Bar Council Malaysia ( law_committee).

The views expressed in this article are personal to the writer and may not necessarily represent the position of the Bar Council.

The ConstiLC is running a two-year nationwide MyConstitution campaign launched in November last year. The campaign was born of the collective desire of the ConstiLC’s membership of more than 150 members made up of lawyers, academics, students, media persons and activists to increase awareness of the Federal Constitution among all Malaysians – “Untuk Merakyatkan Perlembagaan”.

A unique, first-of-its-kind “The Enlightened Rakyat Workshop”, jointly organised by ConstiLC and Leaderonomics, will be conducted on July 10 (9am-6pm) at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya, as a means of enabling Malaysians to learn about themselves — the choices you are able to make, the impact you can have over Malaysia and the skills you have as a leader. Youths are especially encouraged to sign up, and space is limited to 50 participants only.

Visit to register and go to Facebook for more information, or Twitter at

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What they don’t show you on Malaysia Truly Asia advertisements (Part I)


This article was first published here in the Malay Mail on 9 June 2010 .

MY father is a self-made man. I suppose that qualifies him as one of those people able to say that we can be authors of our own destiny.

I recall him explaining a Chinese proverb to me once, some years ago. The proverb tells of the destinies of two mice — one born in a sack of rice and the other, in a sewer — two similar creatures but with different fortunes.

The proverb assumes that their destinies were fated from the moment they came into being. I was reminded of this proverb when I took a road trip to Kampung Bertang Lama, home to a Semai community in Pahang, on May 22. We were there for the first MyConsti’s “Program Memperkasakan Orang Asli dengan PerlembagaanKu”.

What I saw was the imperfection of humanity and the ugly side of reality. Apart from being shocked, what I saw made me ask this question: Would I be who I am today, had I been born in this community?

The answer was a humbling one. I have spent the past six years working and living in under-developed countries in Asia and Africa.

At no point in time did I think that Malaysia is also a nation where there are communities in need of education and empowerment as the people I worked with in Timor Leste, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Cambodia.

I suppose the towering skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur somehow impeded my vision of the real Malaysia. Or I was too busy trying to reach the top of that mountain of rice that I failed to see the sewer just round the corner.

One of the most heart-wrenching images I have seen was the sight of an emaciated infant, no more than three years old, desperately trying to squeeze a drop of milk out of his mother’s deflated breast. The mother, equally hungry and weak, looked up imploringly to the sky, possibly praying that God will be merciful that day.

The only things getting fed were the flies that congregated by the dozens on the faces of the mother and child. That was Ethiopia in 2008.

In Kampung Bertang Lama last month, I saw children terribly malnourished walking around naked with distended bellies. They looked almost like miniature pregnant women far into their third trimester. Some of them wore what looked like angry-looking scabies all over their skin, including the soles of their tiny feet. What is a treatable skin infection is left to thrive because the whole village receives medical treatment infrequently.

I was informed that only two adults are literate in a community of more than 500 people. This information made our campaign booklets “The Rakyat Guides” irrelevant. It was not an exaggeration because when I tried to encourage a girl, aged six, to draw a picture of her village on a piece of paper with colour pencils, she shied away and giggled nervously. It became apparent that she had never held a pencil in her life when I clasped my palm over her tiny hands and guided her fingers onto the piece of paper. We both drew a flower together. She laughed with obvious delight at the result.

When I encouraged her to try it out on her own, an immediate fear seized her. She looked lost. I couldn’t bring myself to ask her name despite wanting so much to write her name down for her to see.

It was for the selfish reason that I rationalised it would be easier to leave later if I did not form any attachment to her.

Fear is as debilitating a disease as poverty, if not worse. Growing up in a society which placed great emphasis on education, I was informed there was apprehension by the Semai community that our formal, national education system offers little hope of retaining the Semai identity and cultural heritage. This fear is not unfounded.

According to UNESCO, while universal education programmes provide important tools for human development, they may compromise indigenous language and knowledge transmission. As such, it may inevitably contribute to an erosion of cultural diversity, a loss of social cohesion, and alienation and disorientation of indigenous youth (see:

According to some of the older Semai, they heard many horror stories of young Orang Asli leaving their homes and abandoning their cultural identities once they receive an education.

In the end, it is easy for them to conclude that education does not mean development, at least not for the community as a whole.

For the Orang Asli, their identity is often defined by their deep connection with their ancestral land, not economic migration or individual ambition.

* LIM KA EA is the executive officer of the Constitutional Law Committee (ConstiLC) of Bar Council Malaysia ( law_committee).

The views expressed in this article are personal to the writer and may not necessarily represent the position of the Bar Council.

The ConstiLC is running a two-year nationwide MyConstitution campaign launched in November last year. The campaign was born of the collective desire of the ConstiLC’s membership of more than 150 members made up of lawyers, academics, students, media persons and activists to increase awareness of the Federal Constitution among all Malaysians – “Untuk Merakyatkan Perlembagaan”.

A unique, first-of-its-kind “The Enlightened Rakyat Workshop”, jointly organised by ConstiLC and Leaderonomics, will be conducted on July 10 (9am-6pm) at Menara Star in Petaling Jaya, as a means of enabling Malaysians to learn about themselves — the choices you are able to make, the impact you can have over Malaysia and the skills you have as a leader. Youths are especially encouraged to sign up, and space is limited to 50 participants only.

Visit to register and go to Facebook page for more information, or Twitter at