Thursday, February 26, 2009
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."
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
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.
|Interesting writeup on Wikipedia about the Philippines' claims over Sabah...what a legal minefield:|
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!
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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
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.
|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.