Portuguese Eurasians in Malaysia and Singapore

If you’re interested, you’ll find a nice article on PEs (it just takes too long to type “Portuguese Eurasian” all the time) in Wikipedia, under the heading “Kristang people“.

As I understand it from various relatives, the PEs (or Kristang, although that also describes the language) mostly stuck around Malacca/Melaka from 1516 until the Dutch tried taking over that influential sea port a few decades later in the sixteenth century. This caused a number of PEs to flee north (and some, south), where a substantial group settled in and around the capital, Kuala Lumpur, while others went further north still.

Everything seemed to go swimmingly, until the Japanese invaded. Like the Germans, the Japanese also considered themselves a “superior race” and set about, not only subjugating the local population through ruthless brutality, but also making a special effort to seek out those of mixed blood and exterminate them. This is one of the lesser genocides of WWII that you’ll read nothing about in your Western history books. As a result of this, many PE families burnt all their papers — anything that identified them as “Eurasian” — and passed themselves off as members of other ethnic groups. I know older PEs who don’t even know their exact birthdates because of this covert destruction.

Together with other races fleeing the Japanese advance, people ended up in Singapore but the British proved themselves to be as incompetent in this war as they were in previous ones and the population had to bear the brunt of their enemies taking over the island while our colonial so-called masters scarpered, leaving the locals, and some luckless British and Australian military personnel, to the gentle ministrations of the Japanese.

Today, there is a lively Eurasian community in Singapore. In fact, I consider them to be the most dynamic and enthusiastic of all the Eurasian communities in the region. They are heavily involved in social programs, athletics and scholarships. It’s great to see a cultural group do so much, and I say all this as someone who isn’t a Singapore Eurasian. If you’re in Singapore and want to taste PE cooking, there is a very rare restaurant called Quentin’s at the Eurasian Community House. I say “rare” because PE recipes are closely guarded secrets and to be able to eat PE food outside a PE home is quite startling and highly unusual.

Quentin’s is near the first floor lobby of Eurasian Community House (139 Ceylon Road) and their phone number is 6348-0327 (for reservations and opening hours). I’m not getting paid to promote the restaurant but, barring a dinner invitation from a PE, this is the closest you’re going to get to PE cooking.

* Singapore Sizzle, in the Cougars & Cubs anthology, featuring a handsome PE stud by the name of Adrian Pereira, will be released by Total-E-Bound in May.

Star Wars and its congruence with US government policy

No, really!

What is the saying that’s bandied about? That there are only seven or eleven or something story lines in the world? I suppose you could say the same about political outcomes. There are only a handful of them and they play out, century after century, regardless of technology level.

I’ve been reading about what’s been happening in the United States. Israel, Palestine, the military. What is indisputable is that the United States is Israel’s strongest ally. In fact, some might say that the USA often puts its own aims to one side in order to support Israel. Certainly, that support has come at the cost of strong relationships with the Arab nations in the Middle East, excepting Saudi Arabia and Egypt perhaps.

I’m actually not wanting to say whether I think that’s right or not, I’m just stating facts. In any question of Israel versus any other state or group, you only have to look at the Congressional voting record to see that the US elected representative body always, but always, sides with Israel.

That’s the politics. Let’s go to the military. If there’s one thing you can say about the military, it’s that they have an over-developed sense of nationalism. Soldiers are nationalists, and why not? They fight for a country, they die for it. There’s nothing that makes the ideal of a nation stronger than being prepared to lay down your life for it.

The interesting current tension lies between the two groups. You see, the military disagrees with the level of support that the US government gives to Israel. While Joe Biden is saying stuff like this:

Throughout my career, Israel has not only remained close to my heart but it has been the center of my work as a United States Senator and now as Vice President of the United States….

General Petraeus, future Presidential contender, is saying something like this:

The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR [Area Of Responsibility, the Middle East in this case –ksa] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.

And while Barack Obama says:

Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided

thus cutting the Palestinians out of all recognition of their claims to the city, Admiral Michael Mullen, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tells Israel that attacking Iran would be a:

big, big, big problem for all of us

The views of the military, interestingly enough, are also echoed by various analysts within the various Departments of the United States.

So, what would it take to stage a military coup in the US or, at the very least, bring in a military-styled structure to its civil society? You can easily see the justification, can’t you? The nationalists see the current support of Israel as working against the national interests of their country. Up against the nationalists is a group of people that is supposed to represent the people but, everyone agrees, is corrupt and available to the highest bidder. And, in between, one small country as a catalyst.

You might say that, sure, a coup may be attempted, but that the American people themselves would defeat the sustainability of such an unnatural act. If you say that, I’d counter with the economy itself and the disillusionment of thousands, if not millions, of US citizens. Dean Baker puts it most succinctly in a recent Counterpunch article:

… tens of millions of people are out of work or underemployed today, not because they are too lazy to work or lack the necessary skills and experience. They are out of work because the people who manage the economy could not do their job right. None of the people in policy positions lost their jobs because of this failure.

Hmmmm. If you had some strong personality who promised a full shutdown (or, at least, review) of military aid to all countries, full employment of Americans through massive infrastructure projects, and the deployment of armed forces throughout US cities in order to reduce crime levels (*), in the current climate, how many Americans would realistically protest?

There was one known coup attempt in the United States last century. Who’s to say there won’t be another, but this time with the military front and centre? I keep thinking of Emperor Palpatine and the “sweeping away of the old Republic” and wonder how things will play out. No prophecies, I’m just watching.

IN OTHER NEWS: I was at Novel Spaces yesterday, talking about persistence. Why not comment?

(*) Sorry, did you say Posse Comitatus? It was suspended once; it can happen again.

New cover from TEB!

It’s Friday again, and time to kick back. A new cover arrived in the mail yesterday and — oh yes! — she is gorgeous!

This is for Total-E-Bound‘s Cougars & Cubs anthology, which is due for release sometime in May. (More details when they come to hand.) As I keep yammering on, this is the first anthology I’ve been part of and includes my story, Singapore Sizzle. Here’s the cover:

Cover for Cougars & Cubs Anthology

and here’s the blurb for Singapore Sizzle:

Sophie Woodward moved to Singapore with her banker husband, Tim. But that was years ago. When they got divorced, Tim moved back to the UK and Sophie decided to craft a new life in the modern Asian metropolis.

The problem is, things haven’t turned out the way she hoped. Although she has a rewarding career, she’s restless, wondering if this is as good as life gets.

Cajoled into attending a masquerade ball for charity, Sophie meets a charming stranger and spends the night indulging in hot steamy sex with him. The problem comes when he wants to see more of her, and Sophie has to confront her own insecurities. After all, she’s ten years his senior. Is there any hope for a relationship between them? Or was the sizzle a mere flash in the pan?

Adrian Pereira, the young stud of the story, is Portuguese Eurasian. The Portuguese Eurasians came into being soon after Admiral d’Albuquerque sailed into Malacca (Melaka) in 1511. Unlike a lot of the other colonial powers, the Portuguese encouraged mixed marriages with the locals, and that’s where my race came from.

Hmmmm. Race. That’s a bit of a difficult word. Of the people who call themselves Portuguese Eurasians, you’ll see a complete gamut from ones indistinguishable from Chinese, to ones indistinguishable from Indian, to others who look like they come from the Mediterranean or Latin America. So maybe I should call the Portuguese Eurasians a cultural group rather than a race. I’ll talk a little bit more about them, er, us next week but — in the meantime — have a good weekend.

Common decency as a novel idea

Coming up with our own rules? But everyone will see!

I’m very happy to announce that Malaysia is looking at a comprehensive review of the loathsome ISA (Internal Security Act). This piece of legislation allowed for summary detention without trial for anyone deemed to be a threat to the State. The current argument is that the ISA, along with five other associated Acts, will be overhauled in a consistent manner. What that actually means in execution is another matter, although quite a number of prominent jurists have been asking for a wholesale repeal of the ISA, citing it as an outmoded piece of legislation that deserves no consideration in a civilised country. Hear hear!

The people who want to retain the ISA commonly bring up the objection that what the ISA contains is now also contained in the terrorism legislation of all those bastions of Western civilisation, such as the UK and the USA (and Australia). Who is Malaysia, they ask, to throw out the ISA when the countries who accuse the country of heinous human rights abuses have instituted similar laws themselves?

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard variations of this argument. “Why should we do this when morally superior X isn’t?” or, “You think there isn’t A-B-C in America? That we’re the only country that has it? America can’t do anything about their problem!”, thus implying that we shouldn’t do anything about ours either. For a continent that has supposedly shaken off the shackles of colonialism and is fast becoming The Economic SuperRegion Of The World, you’d think that Asians would have moved past the point of constantly comparing themselves to the so-called West. Alas, it isn’t so.

Why should we do “this thing”? How about, because it’s the decent thing to do? How about a bit of independent thinking on how we should be treating our own citizens within the scope of our own country? How about applying laws of decency because they’re fair and decent and not because a Western country has, or hasn’t, instituted them?

I think I’m in danger of having a concave head with all the headpalm-ing I’ve been doing in recent months. Who. The. Hell. Cares. Whether Thailand or South Korea or Pakistan has similar legislation? Do it because it safeguards your citizens. Do it because it increases people’s quality of life. Do it because it’s the fair and humane thing to do. If you say you’re a religious country and thus live to a higher moral code, prove it! But don’t make up excuses that constantly betray a childish comparison to countries that, quite frankly, don’t give a damn about your own citizens. That just tells me you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too. And nobody’s fooled.

The despair in IT resumes

My bitch of a friend

I was sitting having a coffee with a friend in Singapore recently. Let’s call her Gwen. Gwen is in an enviable position for someone in IT. Her company recently won a large deal and she has the responsibility to ramp up a team of developers, negotiate deliverables and deliver the first phase of a system by the end of the year. I used to live for opportunities like that. Gwen, however, was rather glum.

“I’m going to get a reputation as a complete bitch,” she told me morosely, stirring her coffee.
“I have to build a team, right? Well, I went through about forty resumes last night.”
We’re always told how high-tech Singapore is. How much more advanced it is compared to its neighbours, and how it always attracts only the best. Creative. Innovative. Fast. Tech. Dynamic. I was happy to pick Gwen’s brain because I was curious as to whether the facts lived up to the hype.
“Most of them are useless,” she told me.
I raised my eyebrows. “How so?”
“I’m after C++ developers,” she said. “They have to already know their stuff because we have our first deadline in a matter of months. I don’t have time to mollycoddle anyone.”
I nodded.
“Well, out of the forty resumes, seven have Computing degrees.” She frowned. “What’s that work out to? About fifteen percent?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, something like that.” I actually yearn for times when I don’t have to do any thinking and, as far as I was concerned, Gwen was going to be the one doing the heavy lifting in this conversation.
“The rest…,” she shook her head. “All I’m getting from India are civil engineers and all I’m getting from China are chemists and mathematicians. That doesn’t mean they’re not smart, but how would they like it if I tried to build a bridge or come up with a new malaria vaccine? I wouldn’t last a week! Yet, according to them, they’re now software developers.”
She sighed. “So what am I supposed to do now? If I employ a chemist to do programming, sure, they might be able to do some robot stuff but how will they know how to code their way out of a sticky problem? If I say to one of them, ‘okay, I want you to write a web app but what are you going to do to stop an SQL injection?’, they’re not going to know where to start.” She raised her voice. “Why are they even applying for a job which they’ve never trained for?”
“Eighty-five percent, huh?”
“Clueless,” she said. “In desperation, I interviewed several of them. They don’t even know what a left join is. And that’s not all. You should see the salaries they’re expecting.” She paused. “How much does it take to live in Singapore?”
“Well, obviously more than I have which is why we don’t live in Singapore,” I quipped.
But Gwen was impatient and waved away my feeble joke. “Right, right. But how much?”
“For a single professional? Maybe four thousand a month for a start, and that’s only if you can find an HDB flat to rent. For a family, you can’t do much with less than seven or eight. Not if you’re a foreigner.”
“And a good starting salary for an IT developer?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Good results at Uni. Maybe a year’s commercial experience. Six maybe for a junior?”
“That’s what I thought.” Although my confirmation seemed to make her even unhappier.
“Do you know how much they want?” she finally asked.
“Who? The Indians and Chinese?”
“Not a clue.”
“Two and a half to three.”
“Thousand a month?”
“To live in Singapore?” I gaped at her. “Are they nuts?”
“You can see what happens, can’t you?” Gwen told me, sipping her coffee. “Some bridge builder or maths teacher comes along and says they’ll do C++ or Python or Java or whatever coding you want, and they want less than three a month for it. Who’s going to look that kind of gift horse in the mouth? It has a knock-on effect, though. Take me. What happens when it’s time to move on? There’s so much downward pressure on IT salaries that I’ll be earning less money with more experience as time goes on. And what about my project? HR only has to read over the same CVs to complain about how I’m only picking the expensive candidates.”
She stared at her coffee. “No matter which way I look at it, I lose. If I pick only the IT-qualified guys, I’m going to get reamed for running a too-expensive project. If I pick chemists, I’ll get reamed for missing our milestones. Either way, I end up looking like an absolute, incompetent bitch.”
I didn’t know what to say because Gwen was completely correct. All I could do was agree with her, but that would make her feel even worse.
“I’ll get another round of coffee,” I said and temporarily escaped.

Quick one today

To the kitchen, kids!

Would you believe, the kids and I managed to finally find a waffle maker yesterday? It might not seem like big news to you, but the joy of discovering little things that have been nagging you for ages is indescribable. If there’s one thing living in Johor is doing, is teaching me to appreciate whatever surprises I find.

We also bought ourselves a sandwich maker, which is another cause for celebration. Not that I want you to think that we live in the kind of place where cows wander listlessly down the roads or anything. Johor is a quickly developing, dynamic and bustling state, but it still has some way to go. Eighteen months ago, the word “dishwasher” only met with blank looks. The one we finally bought for our house had to be put on special order and paid in advance and it still took a month to reach us. The same with induction hobs. Of course now they’re everywhere and you can buy European appliances till they’re coming out of your ears, but it wasn’t always so.

Insect screens were something else that took time to explain. And ceiling ventilator fans. We’re still trying with roof insulation but have now relaxed into the local schedule. Instead of wanting to get it tomorrow!, we’re content for the process to take a couple of months, while we query people who contact friends who ask acquaintances. Eventually, we know someone will turn up at our house with a catalogue, notebook and tape measure in hand. We just have to be patient.

So, back to today. Not an informative post as I’m just off to test the new waffle-maker and mix up some tuna and cheese for our sandwich maker! Take care, have a good weekend and I’ll catch you all on Monday.

Orthokeratology as a LASIK alternative

If you know my absences, you would have probably, correctly, guessed that I was in Singapore on Monday. It was time for my 3-monthly eye check-up.

I’ve had myopia for a while now. I wore hard lenses, gas-permeable hard lenses, soft lenses, extended wear soft lenses then, when I was told my eyes were too dry to sustain them, I went back to glasses. Over the past couple of years, however, as age catches up and my eyesight lengthens, I started to hate wearing glasses. It seemed that every time I had them on, I had to take them off to see something up close. And every time I had them off, I misplaced them when I had to put them back on again to see something distant. I’m not a fan of eye surgery due to the quite high, imo, probability of side-effects, such as a worsening of night vision and seeing halos around objects of illumination. What to do?

In researching the problem, I stumbled across orthokeratology. Not many people have heard of it but I’m a huge fan, so I thought I’d tell you about it. Basically, the procedure involves reshaping the cornea so it gives good or very good vision. Because everybody’s eyes are different, the technology depends very much on extremely accurate measurements of your corneas being taken. Gas-permeable hard lenses are then specially made for you, according to those measurements and what you want to achieve. In my case, I have it tuned so my left eye is used mainly for close-up work and my right is used for distance. My friend, Maria, couldn’t cope with that split-fuction, but I don’t have a problem with it.

One question I had was about my eyes, which tend to the dry side. Having been kicked out of eligibility stakes before, what made anyone think I could wear lenses again now? The beauty of ortho-k lenses is that you wear them while you sleep. Pop them in an hour or so before you go to bed, sleep, get up, pop them out and you’re right for the day. No more dryness problem. In the six or so months that I’ve had my lenses I’ve got to the stage where I can “forget” to put them in one night a week and still retain very good vision for a total of two days. However, if you do decide to investigate this route, remember to ask your optometrist about night lenses in particular as not all ortho-k lenses are overnight-rated.

What I like about my ortho-k lenses is that they’re completely non-invasive. What I don’t like about them is having little lenses around that you’re always scared you’ll drop on the floor when it comes to taking them out, and the expense. My pair of lenses cost me SG$1,800, which includes twelve months of consultations/check-ups. If you stop wearing the lenses, your eyes will eventually degrade to their former performance (or lack thereof), although I imagine that would be an extremely frustrating time because you won’t be able to just slam those old spectacles back on and have good vision. The degradation, from what I gather from my own case, would happen over the space of a week or so. Still, it’s nice not having to lose pairs of glasses all over the place and at least I can now see those supermarket EFTPOS receipts that I’m supposed to sign.

Orthokeratology is a viable alternative to LASIK, but its daily maintenance is a definite overhead you have to take into account. If you’re okay with that, I’d recommend you research the topic further to see if it’s right for you. And talk to your optometrist.

Friday already??

Good grief, the end of the week. This week, I felt like I was running madly just to stay in the one place. (Word to the wise: those friends of mine who went to the cinema to see “Alice in Wonderland“? Hated it. All of them. Of differing ages. Just fyi.)

It was also a very hot week at the southern tip of Johor, to the extent that I wondered if it really wasis evil installing an air-conditioner in the library (which now doubles as my work space). I’m still vacillating on that one. Stay tuned.

I discovered that my kids’ Moral Education teacher is an absolute riot. And not in a good way. Catch my Novel Spaces post tomorrow (Sunday for all Asian readers) for some discussion of this.

And I realised that I really need to pull my finger out and get some frickin’ writing done.

This weekend will be full of home improvement stuff. And a hammock beckons but I bet Little Dinosaur snaffles it before I get the chance. Catch you all next week.

Jumping on the bandwagon

Changes ahead!

Maria has done it. And I’ve been thinking about it for a little while now. What am I talking about? Changing my blog theme. So consider this advance notice that things may look a little screwy over the next week or so while I get the hammer and pliers out and try to knock things into place.

Apologies in advance for any mutant effects.

Happy International Women’s Day!

International Women’s Day always comes around in a surprise for me. I used to love celebrating it in Brisbane. Although a working day, there were often lunches and dinners organised by various organisations and, after a morning of work, you could toddle off to a series of functions with good food and flowing wine and make a very nice day of it.

In Poland, the day — which used to be celebrated in a major manner — has now slipped a bit in disuse as the society designates it a “Communist” day. In fact, it was created by the Socialist Party of America in 1909 (back in the day when the USA actually had a socialist party and an Anti-Imperial League; Mark Twain was one of the League’s more vociferous members) and, so Wikipedia tells me:

Demonstrations marking International Women’s Day in Russia proved to be the first stage of the Russian Revolution off 1917.

In Malaysia, the celebrations are low-key, if they exist at all. I’ve tried to find an article in Sunday’s The Star for you but it doesn’t appear in any online searches. For those who have the paper, it’s in Sunday’s edition, on page N17. The article is headed “Women’s Day forum receives poor response”:

An International Women’s Day 2010 forum organised by the … [Penang] … government received poor response with only 10 people attending the morning session although chairs were allocated for 100 participants.

State executive councillor, Lydia Ong, who’s been “active in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) since 2005″ goes on to say that:

“We noticed that whenever forums or talks on ‘hard issues’ are held, the turnout is poor compared too say, classes on cooking or self-grooming.” … Ong attributed this to the “very low” level of awareness among women of their rights.

Of course, as you dig deeper into the article, you find that you had to pay to attend the forum and that the poor response was for the morning, Mandarin, session. The afternoon session, in English, attracted 60 people, which isn’t bad. I still wonder about that comment of Ong’s however: do women shy away from politics and human rights, actively preferring seminars on cooking and fashion? Does anyone have a comment they’d like to make about this?

So, anyway, it’s International Women’s Day today. If you’re at all thankful to the women around you, from mother to co-worker, take a moment to be appreciative. It may be as simple as buying them a coffee or even sparing some time to give your mother or sister a phone call. It could be buying your daughter a lollipop as a treat. Whatever it is, it will be very much appreciated. And a good Day to all!