Saturday, October 30, 2010

Many days and weeks later: Silence of the Lim


I blame it on the hotel suite at the Residence Inn, Marriott and the Office of License Collector in St. Louis. The day I moved into the suite, unpacked my 2 suitcases and began to make myself feel at home, that was the day when I stopped blogging.

It’s like when I saw all my clothes hanging on the wardrobe rack, arranged in the order of warm, formal, work and casual; and the rest folded neatly away in the countless of drawers in the bedroom, I kind of sub-consciously told myself that there is no urgency to pen down my daily journal as religiously as when I was in Washington DC.

Yeah, a bedroom suite with ample of storage space and living out of a suitcase is bad.

Picture above: The St. Louis City Hall

On top of that, living the unaccustomed life-style of a “foreign dignitary” (believe me, I wouldn’t like to be referred to as that but for Michael and Charlotte who insist on calling us that), courtesy of our hosts at the Office of License Collector, has made it impossible for me to keep track of what had happened in the last few weeks. By the time I wanted to blog about something new that had happened on the day before, it had become old news.

At the risk of sounding as if I am having too much of a good time (although I insist on calling them socio-cultural activities), I’m just going to provide a very summarised version of some memorable events that had taken place, or will be taking place:

  • Attend the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) luncheon at the Renaissance Hotel;
  • Field passes to watch the St. Louis RAMS versus San Diego CHARGES game at the Edward Jones Dome;
  • Attend the 100 Black Men masquerade ball at the Hyatt River Front Hotel;
  • Attend Sunday service at the Prince of Peace Church;
  • Shopping at Macy’s, Saks @ 5th Avenue, the Mills, etc.
  • Dining at various local eateries and soul food;
  • Attend the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) gala at the Millennium Hotel;
  • VIP seats for America’s Got Talent live show at the Fox Theater;
  • Going up the Gateway Arch;
  • St. Louis Zoo at Forest Park;
  • St. Louis Science Centre;
  • Live jazz and blues at BB’s, South Broadway;
  • Trip to Jefferson City, capital of Missouri State;
  • Trip to Chicago;
  • Attend Friday Shabbat at the Temple of Emmanuel;
  • Attend the Rally for Sanity, Gateway Arch.
  • Halloween with the St. Louis BLUES hockey team against Atlanta THRASHERS at the Scottrade Centre;
  • Visiting legendary baseball player Lou Brock at his home; and

the list can go on…..

Wonder whether I do any work or serious stuff at all? Of course, I do. Who am I kidding?

In addition to the countless of meetings with government and elected officials, non-profit and business communities, I have been working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for Eastern-Missouri on their campaign to push for the passing of a State Bill to bring the police from state to local control of what is known as Proposition L (Prop L). A referendum on Prop L will be carried out simultaneously at the mid-term election next Tuesday.


Above: A rally that was held outside the St. Louis City Hall in conjunction with National Day Against Police Brutality on 22 October 2010



Above: Doing some community work with Mission Continues, a non-profit organisation which aims to help former war veterans to find purpose and meaning in their lives again.

And if you think some of these activities are not serious enough, here’s a photo which will prove it.


Standing on the glass floor at the top of the Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower), Chicago, has got to be some serious stuff, man!

Anyway, I’ve already got some articles planned for my TMI column. Do watch out for that.






Photo on the left, courtesy of CW Lim.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The World’s Worst Spouse

This was first posted on The Malaysian Insider on 11 October 2010.

If there is a competition for the world’s best spouse, I’ll be stuck at the bottom two with Ike Turner.

“Why do you say that?” my husband asked when I read this line aloud.

Sounding a bit too sorry for myself, I answered, “It has nothing to do with you. It’s me. I’m just horrible to be around.”

“Well, why is that?” He wanted to know since it wasn’t the time of the month.

“Nothing is working! I’m tired of every single thing; the bank’s incompetency, the traffic, the bloody noise outside our windows, the brainless drivers on the roads. Sometimes I get so tired of trying to deal with stupid people doing stupid things that I become this horrible monster who’s ready to tear anyone apart! It has nothing to do with you. Just let me rant, OK?”

He looked at me sympathetically and said, “OK, but don’t say you’re the world’s worst spouse ‘cause you’re not.”

I was left burning with my own thoughts as he walked out of the room quietly.

For the past few months, I’ve been experiencing what I call “being-on-an-overtime-job-and-home-for-too-long” syndrome. After working on a demanding public campaign for close to a year, I am feeling rather burnt out. In addition to this, what’s left of my energy has been spent mostly on sorting out my own personal affairs and to rectify mistakes made by service providers who are not only completely clueless of what it means by customer service, but also don’t seem to care too much for it.

Bottom line is, I have been spending most of my waking hours away from work fighting. I have fought with a waiter who told me that I could not use my credit card because the system was down and another who neglected to return my five sen worth of change simply because he unilaterally decided that I wouldn’t mind.

I have fought with a taxi driver who decided to pick up another passenger on the way without my consent. I have fought with my bank for mistakenly deleting my record on their computer system and a hospital staff for failing to call me up when I left my medical reports behind.

I also fought with the only good electrician I knew who made me wait without feeling remorse or shame for three hours. A sincere apology would have flushed away any ill feelings.

Hence, I am constantly irritated whenever my husband asks for my help to sort out some administrative matters with local service providers as he doesn’t speak the local language and still finds it difficult to understand Manglish.

The thing is, if I encounter bad service in another country, which I most certainly did during my travels, I would have been more forgiving and patient in trying to deal with them. I would shrug it off and convince myself that there is nothing I can do but to accept those flaws as part and parcel of life.

But not in Malaysia. No siree!

I keep riling myself up at the slightest mishap; whether they are being carried out intentionally or not, simply because I witness every day, in and out, how badly we’re doing in every aspect of our service sector. There is so much more room for improvement and yet not many of us have the will to push for these improvements. I hear people constantly moaning about how bad a service is but yet they do nothing about it and then wonder why the service continues to be bad.

Perhaps it is true when older people often say that we tend to be tougher on people whom we love. I am more tolerant and patient when confronted by poor customer service in other countries but not in my own. Contrary to what many people may believe or think, I love this country so much so that I’m allowing my blood pressure to rise every time I try to make Malaysians account for their mistakes.

“These carrots are bad!” I shrieked as soon as I tasted the acidity of a deceitful stick of baby carrot on its way out. “We should take it back to the store and demand for a replacement or get our money back,” I suggested to my husband.

“What? Waste fuel just to complain about a bag of carrots that cost less than three ringgit? Are you mad?” He slammed my suggestion down despite knowing how much this kind of thing usually annoys me.

“But how else would people know that they’re not supposed to sell expired goods if we don’t say something? You know this is not the first time it has happened. All you ever know is to complain but what are you going to do about it? I’m sick and tired of people thinking that they can get away with anything. I am even more tired of people who allow others to think it’s perfectly ok to give sub-standard services!” I screamed out in exasperation.

Like most spoiled brats I have encountered, their annoying habits are mostly manifested from the absence or lack of discipline and reproach from adults around them. That is my theory anyway and the same applies to how we, as Asians, rather stay mum than confront or find faults in others. We allow people to get away with bad habits and mediocrity while we complain behind closed doors.

My husband just shook his head and tossed the bag of carrots into the bin. That signalled the end of our discussion while I continued to stay irritated for the rest of the night.

Perhaps I am difficult, nasty and arrogant to many people but in all fairness, I do give credit when it’s due. I show my appreciation when I am pleased with a service. I tip generously when I’m satisfied that a waiter or waitress has made sure that all my dining needs have been attended to with a pleasant disposition.

I will salute and treat a policeman who does not take bribes respectfully. I will be generous with my compliments and encouragement when I know that the person sitting behind the counter has tried very hard to solve a problem I raised.

Recently I was hosted by a religious organisation in Kinarut, Sabah. The hospitality and courtesy extended to me were both abundant and unconditional. This was not the first time I had been given the royal treatment. It was the same in Kedah and Sarawak. My hosts had countless times humbled me when I think about how good traditional values such as kindness, generosity, selflessness and politeness are no longer practised in Kuala Lumpur.

It is not often one gets to be humbled or inspired by city folks. Whether you agree or not, I find it easy to unleash the demons in me when I’m in Kuala Lumpur. I have lost count of the number of times when I feel like taking a baseball bat and swing it at a bunch of ruthless boys speeding back and forth along the road outside my windows with their modified exhaust pipes.

I have heard comments from different people about how scary I can be when I am annoyed and upset about something. When my husband told me yesterday that I’m turning into someone we both know, who is critical of everything, I was stunned and it silenced me for a long time. I was shocked to learn that I may have turned into someone I despise and I asked myself these questions repeatedly: What and who created this ugly monster in me? And how do I get rid of it?

Monday, October 11, 2010

DAY 7 & 8: Leaving Washington DC to St. Louis, Missouri



DAY 7: Preparing for our fellowship

After nearly a week of orientation in Washington DC, it’s time for all of us to be deployed to our respective state hosts. The Indonesians are going to Mississippi, the Filipinos, Atlanta and Malaysians to St. Louis. Just as I was getting used to living in Washington DC (and of course with still so many more places to explore; the Smithsonian museums in particular, but who’s keeping count, eh?), it was time to leave and I was feeling rather melancholy. The good news is, we’re coming back after 4 weeks.

We spent half a morning with Kristin at the Club Quarters Hotel conference room. She briefed us on our respective fellowship schedules and miscellaneous assignments we’re expected to do during that period of time. Then, we were off to Capitol Hill for a quick tour.


Top left: On the way to Capitol Hill through an underground tunnel for staff.

Top right: The delegates taking pictures of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s entrance to Congress.

As usual, I was not disappointed although it was crowded with visitors and we had to rush through the tour. The highlights were definitely the 15-minute video called E Pluribus Unum, Latin for “One From Many” (found on the US 1 dollar bill) and the inside of the Rotunda (see picture below) which took my breath away. The video seeks to illustrate the historical background of the American Congress (House of Representatives) and its significance.


I thought the video was insightful and inspiring at the same time. If there’s one thing I’m learning from the Americans; it’s that they do know how to run a fantastic campaign and to “sell their products”. By the end of the video, I was convinced that the American Congress is the greatest democratic institution and serves as a strong and proud model for the rest of the world despite being told by many, how disappointed and upset the Americans are with their present Congressmen and women. I believe their success lies in two main factors; lots of money and getting the best team to run the campaign.

I then went to the new US Supreme Court which was originally housed in Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, it was closing in 15 minutes and I had to rush through the whole building. I thought I could squeeze the national zoo on the way back but instead I went to watch a new documentary called Waiting for Superman by the same producer that did An Inconvenient Truth. The documentary is about the declining quality and standard of public schools in America.



Above: The US Supreme Court. On the top front of the Greco-Roman building, it’s written Equal Justice Under Law.

I could see that the American audience is more interactive than in Malaysia. They would respond to what’s being presented in front of them on the silver screen. For example, the audience applauded, expressed their disgust and sighed out loud at appropriate moments throughout the documentary. They were appalled to see thousands of children being entered into lottery  so that they would stand a chance, regardless of how remote it may be, of getting into a good school with very limited spaces. While I acknowledge that it’s sad state of an affair, I couldn’t help but think how Malaysians have been robbed of a good education for decades and nobody would have dared to make a documentary about it if they are not prepared of the possibility of government reprisal.

When I was waiting for my popcorn before entering the theater, the guy behind the counter asked what movie I was going to watch. As soon as I said “Waiting for Superman”, his reaction was, “Oh really? Why?!!” Taken aback, I asked whether there was something wrong with the documentary. He looked around and once he was satisfied that no one else was around, he slipped a printed piece of paper to me and urged me to read it. As it turned out, the paper is Rick Ayers’ criticism of the points asserted by the documentary. You can read it here. And this is what I call a healthy and robust democracy – allowing people to express their point of views and then to have others rebut it based on facts, research and study. And, nobody dies from this.

For our last night in Washington DC before we return again in 4 weeks’ time, Rajiv and I hit Adams Morgan. It is a vibrant area where the clubbing scene is. The roads were filled with people ready to party all night long. There was also a bunch of people protesting against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) while being observed by policemen. We went to have dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. Since I lived in Ethiopia for almost a year, I can tell that the food is not as authentic or delicious as the real thing, but it was sufficient to remind me of a place I once loathed in the beginning and learned to love in the end. (The injera still looked like folded tea towels which made me laugh.)

Day 8: Living like a VIP in St. Louis

Upon arrival at the airport, we were greeted by a tall, handsome and well-dressed man, and a jovial and warm woman. Michael McMillan, License Collector for the City of St. Louis, and Charlotte Ottley, Michael’s assistant, will be our hosts for the next 4 weeks.

When we finally secured our luggage and stepped onto the tarmac, I was stunned to see a long black limousine waiting for us by the sidewalk across the street. The first thought that came to my mind was this: “How on earth are we ever going to live up to this?” You see, Michael, Charlotte and two more individuals from St. Louis who are yet to be identified, will be visiting Malaysia in December. This is part of the ACYPL exchange programme.

I was rather distracted by the whole “grand gestures” (Benedicto will smile if he reads this) that I failed to notice my surrounding. I definitely notice the number of whiskey carafe in front of me and the fact that Charlotte and Michael were sitting way at the back that it was probably impolite for me to raise my voice so that I could talk to them.




I was also stunned when I saw our accommodation for the next 4 weeks. We were all placed in a double bedroom suite at the Marriott Residence Inn and since I’m the only woman, I get a whole suite to myself. Not only that, Charlotte had prepared a welcome pack for each of us and I must confess that tears came to my eyes as I opened the bag that is filled with all sorts of wonderful girlie stuff. I told Michael that I felt as if I’m in America’s Next Top Model and he laughed. All in all, Michael and Charlotte’s generosity  and hospitality were beyond comparison and nothing that I have quite experienced before.

We had a few hours of rest before being picked up by a polite and nice gentleman named McFarlene Duncan. McFarlene works in Michael’s office and he was to accompany us to a black tie fundraising event for the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity of the Epsilon Lambda Chapter of St. Louis at the Marriott Hotel at Union Station. I must confess that I was dreading it, especially when I was ill prepared in the wardrobe department. Thankfully, my turquoise silk kebaya was a huge success as I received appreciative comments by the women there. Everyone looked dignified and handsome in their tuxedos and evening gown. Michael of course, looked dashing and I smiled when I saw this video on You Tube.

Now, if you really know me, you’ll also know that I’m actually shy and uncomfortable in formal and high society-type events. I’m especially bad when it comes to striking up interesting conversations, networking with important people and putting a spotlight on myself so that I’ll get noticed. I tend to shy away from this but I’ll always remember what Mom tells me, “As an adult, you’ll need to learn to do all sorts of things which you don’t like. It’s called responsibility.” The other thing which I constantly tell myself is to always give something a chance before making any conclusion and as it turned out the night was fun, interesting and I was glad that we were invited to attend.

We were honoured to meet so many interesting people and with those who received awards for their contributions to their local communities. I learned a lot about the American culture of fraternity and sorority. I also learned about how people do fundraising event and above all, I learned that all African Americans can sing (not that it’s a secret if you watch American Idol but I just didn’t know how many they would be).

I don’t know what to expect come Tuesday when we finally start our fellowship. I must confess that I wait for it with great anticipation but not without trepidation. It seems that people here have such great expectations of us and I hope we won’t disappoint them.

Thank you Michael, Charlotte, McFarlene and everyone else who have welcomed us to St. Louis with style, warmth and kindness.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 6: DCCC, luncheon, pollster and night tour of Washington DC

It takes immense discipline to blog every day and without the luxury of time, I have not been able to produce more meaningful and thoughtful blogs.  So, I’m going to cheat for this entry. Instead of long narratives, I’m going to post some photos to help unfold the events that took place today.

Meeting with Johanna Berkson, Director of Training & Campaign Staff Recruitment of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)


Top: Johanna (in red) explaining what her portfolio at the DCCC does. In a nutshell, it recruits and trains staff and congressional candidates on how to run an election campaign.


Right: It’s common practice for delegates to thank each person we meet with a small token of appreciation from home. I normally give them a button badge and sticker of the MyConstitution Campaign.

ACYPL Fellows luncheon @ Zaytinya

Had a lovely luncheon with the delegates from Pakistan who just finished their fellowship in Salt Lake City, Utah and several ACYPL staff and alumni members. I’m going to live up to my identity as a Malaysian. Let’s talk about food first. Here’s some of the delectable Middle Eastern/Mediterranean meze on the menu; baba ghannouge, tzatziki, sauteed mushrooms with dates and toasted almonds, salmon cooked with spicy eggplant and cracked green olive salsa and turkish delight.


Heer Soha (left) shared her experience in Salt Lake City. She shyly confessed that she had misconceived perceptions of Americans before she joined the programme. According to her, she didn’t like what she heard about Americans and at the same time also thought that Americans did not like Pakistan nationals. She was pleasantly surprised to experience warm hospitality and kindness displayed by all the Americans she has since met. She particularly like the Mormon community and feels that they share similar cultures; conservative and teetotaler. She added that she was very grateful that her hosts were respectful of their religious practices.

Below: We had Rachel Zagrabelny McGreevy, an Alumnus to Islamabad in 2006, and Heer Soho, a Member of the Provincial Assembly of Sindh, Pakistan on our table.



Top: The lovely and ever-friendly Philippino delegation who will be going to Atlanta, Georgia for their fellowship. From left to right: Benedicto, Ivy, Aura and Daisy.


Top left: Ellin Rozana, Executive Director of an NGO in Indonesia called Institut Perempuan, eating salmon for the first time in her life.

Top right: Contrary to popular belief that Americans generally stuff themselves up with fast food, people living in Washington DC tends to eat better and healthier. There’s hardly any McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut or KFC around. Instead, there are tonnes of great restaurants such as this. Words have it that Michelle Obama is making great effort to promote healthy eating amongst American and it’s definitely visible here in Washington DC. It’s also the capital for running!

“What do the polls say?” with Karen Emmerson, Associate Analyst, Lake Research Partners

After a 3-course lunch, we waddled to our next meeting. Afraid that I was going to fall asleep, the session was thankfully incredibly interesting.

Karen gave a well-prepared and thorough presentation on what the polls say about the Democrat’s standing for the mid-term election. Again, the results do not favour them. She also shares the A-Z on how to conduct a poll and how it affects a candidate’s campaign.


Top:  Kristin Rhebergen (middle), labelled as a “walking google search machine” by one of the delegates, illustrated the meaning of exit polls while being watched by Rizki (far left) and Karen.


Top from left to right:  Erin (the lovely ACYPL intern and official group photographer), Rajiv, Ivy and Betty enjoying Karen’s presentation.

Washington DC by night

I have to admit that I’m slowly falling in love with Washington DC. I used to think that New York City is one of the most awesome cities I’ve ever been but Washington DC has a soul. NYC is all about the lifestyle but Washington DC is about the city and its remarkable stories. It is almost as if everything that was built on the city prior to the 20th century has a meaning and purpose.

IMG_6976Ken Insley (left), an alumnus to China in 2002, did a fantastic job of introducing the city to us in 2 hours. He astounded us with his in-depth knowledge of American history, which he credited to the years he taught in a high school.

When we past by Smithsonian, Ken revealed  why admissions to the 19 museums are free. (Read here for the story behind it.) According to him, the Air and Space Museum remains the world’s most visited museum. Due to recent economic recession, the number of Americans visiting Washington DC has increased substantially.

Ken may be delighted to know that I’ve decided to spend my free afternoon tomorrow at the museums even though I’m not a museum person.  In honour of James Smithson’s aspiration to promote universal education, I am going to make an exception for this. I have a strong hunch that it would make a couple of people very happy. 


Top: Inside the Washington Monument. The walls contain massive inscriptions of parts of the US Declaration of Independence. Below: The large columns predominantly seen on most monuments in Washington DC were very much inspired by the Greeks.




Left: The Lincoln Memorial.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 5: A day to remember - hype, labour pain, yeast infection, tea party and a moment of borrowed pride



Picture above: The ginormous “mini” bus that takes us around the city for our meetings.


Kristin, looking slightly concerned, asked everyone on the bus ride today, “Is everyone ok? I’ve noticed that some of you look a little bit under the weather.” She was referring to Dil and I  who have been trying hard to muffle our coughs during several meeting sessions today.

I may be physically under the weather but my spirit soars far above the Metro stations. Today is one of those days that reminds me of the reasons why I should still believe in humanity. Today is a day when my heart flutters in its attempt to tell me that I’m happy to be living this moment.

We had a series of eventful and interesting meetings from 9am to 4:30pm and it culminated in a high note when we finished the day with a night tour of the White House. The icing on the cake was fresh, delectable and sweet.


Picture above: Mozelle Thompson reminds the delegates that it’s important to manage one’s hotness on Facebook. Laura Burton Capps looks on amusingly.

We first met up with Laura Burton Capps and Mozelle W. Thompson who talked about traditional  and new media strategies for a successful political campaign.

Laura has spent 15 years developing strategic communications and issue advocacy campaigns for former President Bill Clinton, late Senator Edward Kennedy, former Senator John Kerry and other notable academic and non-profit organisations.

Mozelle is on the Advisory Board of Facebook and CEO of Thompson Strategic Consulting. He provides legal and policy advice to technology companies and was a Team Leader of the Obama/Biden Transition where he led the review of the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Both presented very compelling arguments on the strengths and importance of traditional and modern media respectively but they also mutually concluded that for a campaign to be truly successful, both methods should always be adopted to complement each other.

Mozelle aptly calls the Facebook phenomenon as “a book club on steroid”. He described the effectiveness of Facebook as a campaign tool by giving an example that someone is likely to be more inclined to buy a Ford if he finds out on Facebook that his cousin has bought one.

He also imparted his wisdom on how to handle bad press/publicity. “The thing with owning a Facebook page or a blog is this, you’ll have to expect people to disagree or criticise you on your page or blog. But do you try to censure or remove these criticisms? Of course not cause here’s the thing. You can remove the comments, but that doesn’t mean they stop criticising you. You need to confront it because it will also provide you with an opportunity to rebut and to replace the bad with good publicity.”



Picture above: Left – Chuck Rocha and Jun Kim sharing their “union” stories. Right: Dil with the beautiful Anna Durett. Notice what she has on her dress?

We quickly moved on to our next meeting with people from the Communications Workers of America (CWA). CWA is the largest telecommunications union in the world. We were addressed by a charismatic Chuck Rocha and his amiable and down-to-earth colleagues, Jun Kim and Anna Durrett. Chuck’s introduction was  personal, human and inspiring. He shared the story of how he climbed from the bottom of a worker’s ladder to being a union leader and an effective activist for labour rights.

What was interesting about this session is how the whole argument about civil and political rights being as equally important and inter-connected with economic, social and cultural rights (the so-called “third-world rights”) can be personified in the role of a trade union. Chuck said that the sole purpose of a trade union is to defend and promote economic rights and security of workers and one of the most effective measures is to lobby for workers’ rights through legislative change.


Picture above: Denise Ferriozi sharing a light moment with some of the delegates.


We then met Denise Ferriozi, Director of Women Vote! of the Emily’s List. The acronym Emily stands for Early Money is Like Yeast, signifying the yeast’s role in raising the dough.  EMILY's List is a political action committee (PAC) in the United States that aims to help elect progressive female candidates who are pro-choice to office.

I was curious to find out whether the organisation would support a female homosexual candidate and Denise affirmed that they had in fact helped Tammy Balwin to become the first openly gay woman elected to Congress in America. Here’s an interesting video promo by Emily’s List.


Our last meeting was with Phil Kerpen, Vice-President for Americans for Prosperity (a name which should never be confused for a Chinese-American movement). He shared a lot about the philosophies behind the tea party movement and surprisingly it makes a lot of sense to have what they call an “outside organisation” which plays an important role in American politics. For instance, this group is neither Republican nor Democrat and I personally see them as being in the middle. Although it was not specifically mentioned, I believe that they generally call for the decentralisation of federal government, oppose increased taxation in order to increase welfare and their main drive is to maintain the economic prosperity of hardworking Americans.



Top left: Everyone in great anticipation at the entrance of the White House waiting for security clearance. Top right: At the Press Briefing room where the President delivers his press statements. Bottom: Araz  at the far left and Lindsay at the far right.

Unlike 10 Downing Street, the White House is probably one of the most iconic landmarks in the history of cinema and television drama. Although I have not watched The West Wing (which I should), I can just about imagine the thrill, honour, responsibility and glory of being in the White House. After all, most major foreign policies, whether good or bad, are being deliberated there.

When I first stepped into the White House, it felt as if I was stepping into Tengku Razaleigh’s office and resident in Kuala Lumpur; which for some bizarre reason, emulates the White House. It was a feeling of indifference. It wasn’t until when I saw the generically framed photographs capturing the daily life of President Obama lining every corner of White House walls, that I began to feel a sudden rush of pride and greatness. Being Malaysian, it was indeed a bizarre feeling and I felt guilty almost instantaneously.

As I walked along with the other ACYPL delegates, I tried to understand why being in the White House has touched me that much and these are my conclusions. As a stranger to this country, I was able to feel that sense of pride and honour as any average American would feel because the photos show a regular human being who shares an extraordinary and inspiring story. Barack Obama was a regular  man who tenaciously fought his way up to become the first African-American President. It is clearly a powerful human story and the photos depict him not only as a President but also a husband, father, son and man, help strangers like me to connect with him. (You can view the photos here)

I also think there is another possible contributing factor. To me, Lindsay Mueller and Araz, the two officers who gave us the tour, are the two best people the White House could have as “ambassadors”. It was extremely telling that they were both zealous, proud and honoured to work there. Lindsay spoke about the President, the incoming Chief of Staff, the “jumbo” (photographs) and even the infamous Colonnade with such affection and love that I feel almost envious of her.

Today is definitely one of the highlights of this trip. It almost reminded me of the day when I went to the Gandhi Smitri Museum in New Delhi quite a few years back. I went in feeling indifferent but came out inspired to be a better person for humankind. The people I met today taught me that being good at what they do is ultimately what makes the difference and change.


Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?

This article was first published in The Malaysian Insider on 4 October 2010.


There is one question that often sparks off heated arguments, and to a certain extent, discomfort among the female species rather successfully — including my own circle of girlfriends.

Nothing riles the female species up more than asking them whether human beings are meant to be monogamous. If you want to be really unpopular, try telling them that you actually don’t believe so — which is the position I’m taking.

What I find frustrating when having such a discussion is that the majority of women are not willing or ready to consider my position. I think I can understand why because I used to be one of them. I used to give the same reasons.

“Infidelity is wrong. It shouldn’t be tolerated!” “This is just a bad excuse for men to commit adultery!”

The problem is when women discuss relationships, we tend to idealise and romanticise them. We often talk about who the ideal man is and what a relationship is supposed to be. We can spend hours dissecting the criteria and issues revolving around them and truth be told, there are often many variations at the end of the discussion.

But, when it comes to the topic of fidelity, we often stand unanimous in condemning the act of infidelity wholeheartedly. There is often no discussion but only judgment. I notice the same pattern with my foreign girlfriends.

When I ask the question whether human beings are meant to be monogamous, I am not asking whether polygamous relationships are acceptable or not. When I take the position that human beings are not meant to be monogamous, I’m not saying that I tolerate or accept that we all should have one-night stands with different sexual partners.

I am merely asking us to consider whether it is possible that people commit adultery simply because it is a natural thing to do and not because they stop loving their partner.

The act of infidelity is not a modern phenomenon. It has probably been around since the existence of mankind. The only difference is that it is less tolerated now as modern societies begin to create the concept of marriage as an institution, the religious impositions of the sanctity of marriage, new moral codes regulating the exclusivity of couple-ship, the romantic idealism of fidelity and not least the feminist movement.

The whole concept of one man for one woman, as romantic as it sounds... does it really work for or against the core of human nature?

Now, I was brought up in a society and community which regards fidelity as an obligation. I believe that my parents have been completely faithful to each other although I’ve known some of my relatives who have cheated on their wives. While we try to avert our eyes and pretend that they don’t happen, it is nevertheless a scandal where endless gossip, conversations and debates are held behind closed doors.

The debates are usually divided into two groups as most debates usually are but the interesting thing is, there is absolutely no gender balance in any of the groups. You always get the women thrashing the adulterer while the men are quick to come to his defence.

One of my cousins had a huge fight with her husband when they decided to debate about Clinton’s fidelity. There is nothing better than a healthy discussion on global “affairs”, I’ll say!

Recent studies carried out by several reputable behavioural science research centres in America have shown two surprising changes in American society today, in regards to infidelity. Firstly, the female infidelity rate has increased which means that women are equally unfaithful to their spouses, and secondly more and more young couples are engaging in adulterous relationships.

They claim that modern women now have more opportunities to commit infidelity as they become more emancipated; they get to know more people at the workplace, stay late at work and travel more on business. Previously, when most women were still housewives, they stayed at home all day and hence were less exposed to the possibilities of infidelity. (Have they not heard about how the milkmen and postmen do more than just deliver services?)

They also claim that in this modern era, the Internet and mobile phone have contributed to the increase rate of infidelity. Even housewives can now indulge in flirtations via the Internet and instant text messaging. As for younger couples committing adultery, the Internet is the main culprit.

This I can agree to an extent because with so many online dating services, adult friend finders, etc. it’s so easy for men and women to hook up with someone. Let’s face it, even if you have every intention to stay faithful to your spouse, many profit-making agencies are trying very hard to make you fail. You can hire escort services at just a click of a button by entering your credit card details, preferences and voila!

Look at all the seemingly innocent online social network websites; Facebook, MySpace, etc. Applications like “Are you interested in me?” “Would you like to sleep with me?” are not as innocent as they seem.

Bottomline is, whatever these studies aim to achieve, I think the bigger question is why are people committing infidelity? I don’t think this survey can ever be considered accurate because many people will never own up to being an adulterer. So, they can just stop wasting their time and money on researches.

Society has taught us that infidelity is taboo and it is wrong, but it has never quite prepared us as human beings to deal with such concepts, which are created by presumably religious or impotent people. When this person decided that marriage should be a sacred institution and it is morally sinful to cheat, many of us have followed without ever studying the nature and readiness of humankind. Otherwise, why have so many faltered under the most insignificant temptation?

Then, there are bigger questions like is it possible for a person to love more than two people at a time, or is it possible for a person to fall in and out of love?

A one-night stand to a certain extent is arguably acceptable but what happens when a fling becomes a thing? An affair is no longer harmless because it breaks up a family, which can potentially lead to far-reaching consequences, especially when children are involved.

Various people commit adultery for various reasons. While to many, it is simply unacceptable, it doesn’t really address the issue. Instead, couples need to look at themselves and evaluate what has gone wrong in their relationship to cause either one of them, or both, to be unfaithful.

Has the husband stopped noticing his wife because he is too busy with work? Has the wife stopped being sexually desirable because she is a full-time mother? Have the children become the centre of their lives as a couple?

Or an option would be to study yourself by asking whether you are the faithful type or not. Be honest and own up to it.

Unless these problems are being addressed, be rest assured that infidelity will continue for as long as mankind shall exist.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day 3 & 4: Fighting jetlag and getting into things with ACYPL

Day 3: 4 October 2010

This is what happens when you don’t blog for one day: you can’t remember what had taken place the day before, particularly when your body is fighting hard to adjust to the 12-hour time difference.


Picture above: From left to right – Sara Binder, Thomas Mann, EJ Dionne Jr, William Galston and Michael McDonald

Thankfully, there is such a thing as the digital voice recorder to help remind me of the interesting forum called Midterm Elections 2010: Driving Forces, Likely Outcomes, Possible Consequences by the Brookings Institute on Monday morning. (The recording of the session can be accessed here.) Brookings is a non-profit organisation based in Washington DC. It aims to conduct high-quality, independent research which results in innovative recommendations that help to strengthen American democracy, amongst other things.

If you’re not really familiar with American politics, like me, it may be a bit difficult to follow the line of discussions by the distinguished speakers; each with extremely impressive credentials. You’ll also hear terms such as partisan gridlock, tea party (also read this article by Jonathan Rauch in the National Journal magazine), filibuster, gerrymandering (which I was relieved to know), etc. and you wonder to yourself whether they’re speaking in English.

The speakers were no doubt incredibly articulate, knowledgeable and witty as they often took the opportunity to inject humour into their speeches. Despite having some difficulty to fully comprehend the issues at hand, I found them enrapturing.

One can conclude from the forum that the forecast seems to favour the Republican in the coming mid-term elections.



Pictures above: Top – Linda explaining the structure of the two political parties; the  National Democratic/Republican Committee. Bottom: The ACYPL Fall Delegates. From top (left to right) – Rizki Affiat, Ellin Rozana, Aura Landar-Layese, Ibdil Ishak, Benedicto Savellano, Rajiv Rishyakaran & Lim Chee Wei. From bottom (left to right) – Betty Idroos, Ivy Martia Lei Ballitoc, Daisy Gamale, Linda Rotunno & Lim Ka Ea

In the afternoon, Linda Rotunno, the Chief Executive Officer of ACYPL, gave us an overview of ACYPL and the US Government. As a self-professed Democrat, it was evident that Linda has been profoundly touched and inspired by President Barack Obama. It was also clear on her facial expression and manner of speaking that she is frustrated with the declining support given to the President by majority of Americans in recent months. According to her, this is one of the toughest periods in American politics since the economic depression in the 1930s. It is a bleak period where majority of Americans are afraid of losing their jobs and this translates to taking desperate and not necessarily wise decisions.

She gave an example of how democracy does not always deliver the best results, especially when it’s being executed without proper information, nor wisdom. She told the story of Adrian Fenty, the 6th mayor of District Columbia, who single-handedly reformed the education system in lower-income areas of DC. He got rid of teachers who did not care too much for teaching and improved the overall quality of education in public schools. However, he got voted out in the next election by the people who needed him most to help raise the education standards of their children which will hopefully contribute to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Day 4: 5 October 2010

We started the morning early by driving across the Arlington Memorial Bridge to Arlington county. There, we met Linda Lindberg who works as the General Registrar of Arlington County Officer of Voter Registration. We were given a thorough explanation of how voter registrations are carried out right up to the ballots being cast on election day.

The most unusual practice found in America as compared to Malaysia is the ability of those who are unable to vote during election day to send in their votes in advance via the absentee voting mechanism. The voters can send their votes either through email, post or in person at their respective county offices.

What was also interesting is the number of people who have told us that electoral fraud is rare. Security measures to counter double or phantom voting such as indelible ink and presentation of identification card at the ballot station are absent.

We also met with Amy Cenicola, Jim McCray and Michael Toner, individuals who work as fundraising consultants for the two political parties. Jim summarised the whole session succinctly. He said that the strength of a candidate is measured by the amount of funds he/she is able to generate. President Obama so far holds the record of generating more than USD700 million for his Presidential campaign and in his opinion, this is only the beginning as he sees greater potential in the President.

Management of campaign fund is pretty transparent in America. They claim that by just logging on to, one can literally make a search on every individual that has contributed to which party in America. Foreigners, apparently, won’t be in the list.

Monday, October 4, 2010

DAY 2: Sky Juice and Washington DC

Bank of AmericaThe 13-hour flight from Seoul to Washington DC was not as agonising as I thought it would be, albeit some unexpected tearful events caused by Letters to Juliet, Cairo Time, Mother and Child and shamefully, Toy Story 3. After all, it must be difficult for a 17 year-old boy to give up his toys on the day he drives to college.

Going past immigration in Washington DC was a breeze. Thanks to Kristin, our Programme Coordinator in Washington DC, who prepared us well with our paper work prior to departure. It must had been a feat to sort out all the necessary documents for 11 delegates coming from three separate destinations. Yet, she did it with ease and grace.

After waiting for quite awhile for our luggages, we were promptly greeted by Kristin at the arrival gate. It was great to finally meet her in person and she is definitely much younger than how I had imagined her to be. She took to the task of organising us quickly and was rather apologetic for subscribing to the American cliché of driving a super large SUV, which was not superfluous in this context at all.

Although it’s seasonably autumn, the foliage surrounding the city is still green. According to Kristin, we can expect to see the leaves slowly turning yellow and orange in the next couple of weeks. Traffic was clear since it’s a Sunday and we had a pleasant drive through the city.

We arrived at Clubs Quarter Hotel at around 1:30pm and by 2pm, Rajiv (one of the Malaysian delegates) and I hit the city on foot. The weather was just perfect for a lovely stroll along the quiet city which has been largely abandoned by its inhabitants during the weekend.


We walked to the White House which is only two blocks away and was surprised to find the compound so accessible to the public; not to far away from the main public road. It is also much smaller than what we had both imagined. We were very pleased when Kristin announced that we’ll be given a night tour of the West Wing some time next week before we leave for our fellowship.

We walked for 2 1/2 hours and during which, embraced the American culture twice! We bought hot dogs from a street vendor and coffee from Starbucks. Rajiv took the opportunity to give me some lessons on AT&T and T-Mobile pre-paid phone packages for short-term visitors. For the price of USD60, one can get a Samsung phone with USD30 credit!

Later tonight, we all met up for dinner at an Asian-fusion restaurant just around the corner of the hotel. It was great meeting up with the Indonesian and Philippines delegations. We were all in good spirit despite the long and exhausting journey. There’ll be time for getting to know each other but for now, it’s time to get some sleep.

Good night, all!

Pictures below: These pictures were taken outside the White House. There was an elderly woman who was seen standing alone at an anti-nuclear weapon and anti-Israeli demonstration site. The bearded man beneath was sitting on the curb facing the White House. He was waving his arms around in some kind of slow rhythmic motion while reciting something in silence. At a closer glance, he wore a shirt with the Islamic Syahadat on the back.

Peaceful demonstration

Anti-Israel Campaign