Thursday, February 26, 2009

BBC NEWS | Europe | Sarkozy steams ahead with stamps

It was stamps that eventually led me to my incurable passion of travelling. My mum must have regretted bringing home the first stamps in my collection.

BBC NEWS Europe Sarkozy steams ahead with stamps: "Sarkozy steams ahead with stamps

Stamp collector Nicolas Sarkozy is better known for energetic hobbies

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is finding time in his hectic schedule to collect stamps, it has been revealed.
The man nicknamed 'Speedy Sarko' is better known for more boisterous pastimes such as skiing and jogging.
But he now sponsors fellow philatelists in a new club at the Elysee Palace, where he lives with wife Carla Bruni."

64 flights in 2008

I just counted 64 flights in 2008!  Wow - split between Asia, Middle East, Africa and the Caribbean.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Problem about Languages: Observations in Sabah


Thoughts about languages while travelling in Sabah:


1) It is regrettable that I could not speak Malay at all.  In fact, most Singaporeans (who are not ethnically Malay) born post-independence cannot speak Malay.  It is only in the last decade that the government has realised the importance of Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa Indonesia.  I heard that it was specifically during the Tsunami rescue efforts in 2004/2005 that our linguistic deficiency became an obvious disadvantage.  Now, young Singaporeans are encouraged to pick up Malay in the schools.  It is not too late.  We must never forget we live in Southeast Asia, and our survival and prosperity depends on the goodwill and cooperation of our neighbours.


2) Many people in Sabah – or indeed Malaysia as a whole – either do not speak English, or speak poor English.  There is absolutely no problem at all for the tourists, because many people in Sabah can actually speak English, but as a former British colony with a middle income standard of living, one would have expected most people to be able to speak English.  Given the increased emphasis on Bahasa in the past 2 decades, the English language seems to have been neglected.  Current government attempts to introduce English as the medium of instruction for math and sciences have met with enormous resistance from Malay nationalists.  Whereas more non-English speaking countries are encouraging their citizens to speak more English, Malaysia, which is supposed to be traditionally English speaking in some ways, have actually gone in the opposite direction.  Why do they fear that English would weaken Malay when so many countries have succeeded in speaking more than one tongue?  It remains to be seen if globalisation or insular nationalism would triumph in this country.

Philippines' claim over Sabah

Interesting writeup on Wikipedia about the Philippines' claims over Sabah...what a legal minefield:

The Sultanate of Sulu was granted the territory as a prize for helping the Sultan of Brunei against his enemies and from then on that part of Borneo was recognized as part of the Sultan of Sulu's sovereignty. In 1878, Baron Von Overbeck, an Austrian partner representing The British North Borneo Company and his British partner Alfred Dent, leased the territory of Sabah. In return, the company was to provide arms to the Sultan to resist the Spaniards and 5,000 Malayan dollars annual rental based on the Mexican dollar's value at that time or its equivalent in gold. This lease was continued until the independence and formation of the Malaysian federation in 1963 together with Singapore, Sarawak and the states of Malaya. As of 2004, the Malaysian Embassy to the Philippines had been paying cession/rental money amounting to US$1,500 per year (about 6,300 Malaysian Ringgits) to the heirs of the Sultanate of Sulu.[6]
The contract between Sri Paduka Maulana Al Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam, representing the sultanate as owner and sovereign of Sabah on one hand, and that of Gustavus Baron de Overbeck and Alfred Dent representing the North Borneo Company, on the other as lessees of Sabah, was executed on January 22, 1878. The Lease prohibits the transfer of Sabah to any nation, company or individual without the consent of His Majesty's Government ("Government of the Sultan of Sulu").[7] Although it is mentioned to be a permanent lease, it is contrary to international law, which states that the terms for a lease contract can only be for 99 years, as in the case of Hong Kong and Macau when these were leased to Great Britain and Portugal respectively, by China and subsequently returned after the expiration of the lease.[citation needed] This would make the lease on Sabah overdue by 130 years.[citation needed]
Less than a decade later, the Sultanate of Sulu came under the control of Spain and in 1885, Spain relinquished all of its claim to Borneo to the British in the Madrid Protocol of 1885.[8] In spite of that, in 1906 and 1920 the United States formally reminded Great Britain that Sabah did not belong to them and was still part of the Sultanate of Sulu on the premise that Spain never acquired sovereignty over North Borneo to transfer all its claims of sovereignty over North Borneo to Great Britain on the Madrid Protocol of 1885. This is so because the Sultan of Sulu did not include his territory and dominion in North Borneo in signing the treaty of 1878 recognizing the Spanish sovereignty over "Jolo and its dependencies." North Borneo was never considered a dependency of Jolo. However, the British Government ignored the reminder and still annexed the territory of North Borneo as a Crown Colony on July 10, 1946. This was in spite of the fact that the British Government was aware of the decision made by the High Court of North Borneo on December 19, 1939, that the successor of the Sultan in the territory of Sabah was the Government of the Philippine Islands and not Great Britain.[9]
On September 12, 1962, during President Diosdado Macapagal's administration (the father of the present Philippine president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo), the territory of North Borneo, and the full sovereignty, title and dominion over the territory were ceded by the then reigning Sultan of Sulu, HM Sultan Muhammad Esmail E. Kiram I, to the Republic of the Philippines.[10] The cession effectively gave the Philippine government the full authority to pursue their claim in international courts. The Philippines broke diplomatic relations with Malaysia after the federation had included Sabah in 1963. It was revoked in 1989 because succeeding Philippine administrations have placed the claim in the back burner in the interest of pursuing cordial economic and security relations with Kuala Lumpur.[11] To date, Malaysia continues to consistently reject Philippine calls to resolve the matter of Sabah's jurisdiction to the International Court of Justice.[12]

Sabah: Of Race & Ethnic Relations - Some Observations & Discussions

Sabah is a multi-racial land where no ethnic group predominates.  The largest ethnic group, the Christian Kadazandusun, is barely 20% of the population, whilst other groups between 10% and 20% include the Muslim Bajau and the Chinese.  There are also large legal and illegal foreign immigrant groups, such as the Filipinos and Indonesians, who may account from anything between 30% to 50% of the population – no one really knows.  Whatever it is, the ethnic groups have generally lived in peace though underlying tensions do exist, especially when the Malaysian federal government tries to pit Muslim groups against Christian ones, not to mention attempts to boost the local Muslim population by granting licenses to Muslim immigrant groups from southern Philippines and Indonesian Kalimantan.

Some interesting observations and discussions with locals:


-          Many inter-marriages between Chinese and Kadazandusun and inter-ethnic ties are good between the two communities.  The Chinese in Sabah are mostly Christian Hakkas and the Kadazandusun are Christians too.  Both also look alike in physical appearance.  In fact, some say the Kadazandusuns originally came from China or Taiwan.  Some of them have studied in Chinese schools and speak Mandarin.  In KK, where there are many Kadazans, I can hardly tell who was Chinese or Kadazan.  I sometimes spoke Mandarin to someone and then realized that he/she did not speak Mandarin.  Even local Chinese told me of similar experiences.  Bahasa Malaysia has thus become a common tongue for all ethnic groups in Sabah.  

-          Kadazan is the name generally used for city or town tribesmen while Dusun is used for those who live in the countryside.  In recent decades, the term "Kadazandusun" is used to denote any tribal who is not Muslim in Sabah.  The term encompasses 40 tribal groups speaking different though related languages and dialects, and have come to identify with each other in an increasingly urbanized society.

-          I noticed a number of bah kut teh (a kind of Chinese pork soup) restaurants in KK where many of the waiters and even cooks appear to be non-Chinese.  I asked a local if they could be Muslims.  He laughed, saying that was possible.  The local Muslims, he explained, are more liberal and open-minded, and would not mind working with pork.  West Malaysia is a lot more dogmatic about it in the public arena, though many Muslim Malays breach these rules in private.  He said he had even seen Muslim Kelantan policemen drinking and having Chinese barbecued pork while on holiday in Sabah.  His Indonesian friends also had good time drinking beer in KK, while insisting that beer is not alcohol!

Random Sandakan

Sandakan Fish Market 7am Jailed Billionaires Show New Face of China as Markets Unravel Exclusive: "Jailed Billionaires Show New Face of China as Markets Unravel

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By William MellorFeb. 24 (Bloomberg) -- If China’s richest man knew he was about to become the most prominent casualty of the country’s love-hate relationship with capitalism, he didn’t show it this past August."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

First World & Third World Sandakan

My impressions of Sandakan most of today was exactly what I had anticipated from reading "Land Below The Wind" by Agnes Keith: A frontier town on the edge of civilisation; a "Wild East" town in a region infested with pirates, refugees, gun-runners and possibly spies; run-down, potholes, faded painted, broken windows - in short, picturesque dilapidation in humid, decaying tropical weather.  Yes, all this is true of downtown Sandakan.  Downtown Sandakan is also mainly Muslim- Malay-Bajau-Sulusk and Filipino, with the Chinese and Indian shop-owners manning the cash machine.
Tonight, I was driven around "Mile 4", the new Sandakan.  This is a different world.  Whereas Downtown Sandakan becomes dead and dark at night, Mile 4 is bright, busy and trendy.  Flashy new shops, fashionable cafes, hip restaurants and smart boutiques with decor that could be anywhere from Singapore to Sydney dot this suburb 4 miles from town.  This is the Sandakan of the middle class Chinese whom I'm told have moved en masse here.  They continue to own shops and offices downtown, but this is the first world enclave they are comfortable with and would have preferred to find refuge in.  Amazing how different worlds exist not too far from each other.

Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary

Perhaps the most famous attraction in Sandakan but I was quite disappointed.  RM 40 (incl RM10 camera charge)   I only saw 2 adult orang utans and a baby.  One could see more and at closer distance in the Singapore Zoo.

Sandakan & the ancient legends of Kinabatangan / Ong Sum Ping

A small but busy town on the Sulu Sea. Many Philipino and Bajau-Sulusk villages on stilts along the coast - or are they modern-day slums - and a commercial centre dominated by Chinese-Sabahans. This is the heart of the old birds' nest trade, and many Chinese traders go further south to Tawau area to get timber for export.

Just south of here is the Kinabatangan River, Sabah's greatest river and a rather legendary one. It was said that Kinabatangan means "The Great Chinese River", after a little-known Ming Dynasty official (sometimes described as diplomat, adventurer, trader or prince) Ong Sum Ping who came here in search of treasures and he established what murky Portuguese and other reports as a "Chinese province" or settlement. There were may conflicting reports about what exactly Ong did. Other reports say that:

- He is Chinese-Muslim, might have arrived with Admiral Zhenghe, founded the Kingdom of Brunei and converted many coastal tribes to Islam.
- He set up a Chinese state in Kinabatangan and married his daughter to a sultan of Brunei.
- He came to Borneo in search of the dragon's pearl on behalf of the emperor, found the pearl but decided to stay in Borneo instead.
- He did a good deed for the sultan of Brunei and was made governor of Sabah-Kinabatangan and ruled the province for many years. His descendants intermarried with the descendants of the Kadazandusun tribes and formed what is today the fair complexion Kadazandusun people.

Whatever is true, Ong Sum Ping is the only Chinese with a Brunei street named after him. There is a tomb in Brunei attributed to him and it is said that his personal belongings are treasures of a local mosque. Some say there is even a plaque somewhere dedicated to "Commander Huang" (黄总兵). Ong is probably an imporant personality in Brunei and Borneo history and one that is too sensitive to discuss in open in the racially sensitive era of today. This reminded me of what I came across on my visit to Semarang, Java, last year, where there is evidence of the Chinese role in the Islamic conquest of Java.