Penang Monthly

Brought to you by

PENANG INSTITUTE

Left - Pulut Taitai. Middle - Cheak Bee Soh. Right - Bak Chang.

Feature

Chronicling Nyonya Cuisine

Ong Jin Teong painstakingly records – and sustains – the exquisite art of Nyonya cooking.

Advertisement

Inspired by the multicultural influences that have for centuries shaped Peranakan cuisine, Dr Ong Jin Teong decided to undertake an in-depth exploration of Nyonya food and its many gastronomic wonders. Born and bred in a Penang Nyonya family, Ong credits his late mother Khoo Chiew Kin for starting him on his culinary quest. A soughtafter authority on the subject today, Ong is also the author of Penang Heritage Food: Yesterday’s Recipes for Today’s Cook.

I met Ong during the September launch of his second book, a compilation of heirloom recipes titled Nonya Heritage Kitchen: Origins, Utensils and Recipes, to discuss how Penang Peranakan cuisine varies from its Malaccan and Singaporean counterparts. Both Penang and Singapore Peranakan food is strongly influenced by its Malay and Hokkien origins.

“Penang Nyonya food is also influenced by the Thais, northern Malays and the Hainanese, while Singapore Peranakan food has Indonesian influences. This explains why you cannot find perut ikan or kerabu in Singapore Peranakan cuisine and why mee soto, sayur lodeh, gado-gado and rendang don’t feature much in Penang Nyonya cuisine,” explains Ong, who is a retired professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University in the College of Engineering. “There is even a suggestion that the Malacca Nyonyas use a lot of tomatoes in their cooking because of Portuguese influences.”

Singaporean Peranakan food tends to be sweeter as well. “My impression is that tau cheo (fermented bean paste) is used a lot. For example, it is commonly used in the Nyonya chap chye and the fillings for poh piah and kuih pai tee but not so in Penang. Some Penang recipes for chap chye use tau ju (soy sauce) instead.”

According to Ong, the use of bunga telang (butterfly pea flower) to tinge glutinous rice with a blue hue is also limited to only a few dishes in Penang. “Pulut taitai and pulut inti are probably the only two that I know of. This is because blue colouring is regarded as inauspicious in both Peranakan and Chinese cultures due to its close association with the colour of mourning (black) after a loved one’s passing. Families must clad themselves in black attire for a certain amount of days before switching to blue.“I suppose the only reason why the Nyonyas still serve pulut taitai is because the gold from the kaya overrides the inauspiciousness of the pulut’s blue. Likewise with pulut inti, which has a somewhat yellowish filling too.”

Ong (left) posing with his latest cookbook: Nonya Heritage Kitchen: Origins, Utensils and Recipes.

Long Hours in the Kitchen Peranakan cuisine is famous for lengthy preparations that can sometimes take days. In the old days, Baba Nyonyas subscribed to indefinite measures when cooking. “It was all done by rough estimation or agak agak in both Baba Malay and Malay – by taste, feel and experience”. Ong admits, “I also cook like that if I am not recording a recipe. A handful or a fistful of ingredient is mek in Penang Hokkien, and since a Baba’s mek would be bigger than a Nyonya’s, it adds more uncertainties to Nyonya cooking.

“Additionally, many early recipes – including some of my mother’s – use the cost of ingredients instead as a measure: 10 sen of dried chillies, 15 sen of shallots or five sen of belacan. It would be interesting to use these recipes according to the original costs but scaled up to take inflation into account. We would certainly end up with a different retro dish since inflation is so different for each of the various ingredients.”

The accumulation of these factors has perhaps resulted in the near disappearance of several classic Nyonya delicacies, such as sesargon. Ong recalls “It is the one Nyonya heritage titbit that I ate when I was young. ‘Titbit’ is quite the right description because you could say sesargon is a very posh version of sugared desiccated coconut, although it is very time consuming to prepare – many hours of slow frying!”

Sesargon is made up of a trifecta of main ingredients: grated coconut, ground rice and egg which are “mixed together and fried over low heat in a traditional brass pan with pandan leaves to give it the flavour. Sugar is the last ingredient to be added”. The sesargon is then packed into dainty little cones shaped from thin greaseproof tracing paper. “The proper way to eat sesargon from a paper cone is to tear off the bottom, tilt your head backward and tap the cone to let the sesargon flow into your mouth a little at a time.” However, Ong warns: “A word of caution is needed here: make sure it doesn’t get into your air passage.”

In the old days, Baba Nyonyas subscribed to indefinite measures when cooking. It was all done by rough estimation or agak agak in both Baba Malay and Malay – by taste, feel and experience.

Another classic that is virtually unknown these days is cheak bee soh (vegetable puff pastries). Once a staple at weddings of rich families in Penang, cheak bee soh is a crescent-shaped curry puff lookalike. “Two different types of rice flours – cheak bee (rice used for everyday meals) and choo bee (glutinous rice) – are used to make the cheak bee soh pastry. The dough and the filling most probably have Hokkien origins, like poh piah and jiu hu char. These were originally all based on bamboo shoots. According to Jee Chim (Ong’s second aunt and mentor), we can add crab meat and roe to give the cheak bee soh filling a dark orange colour and richer taste. In the 1960s, while the Nonya kuihs like kuih bengka ubi kayu, kuih lapis and chai tow kuih cost five sen each and curry puffs cost 10 sen each, cheak bee soh cost 20 sen.”

Ong treated his guests to a cooking class during his book launch

Left - The ondeh-ondeh was made from scratch using sweet potatoes. Right - Sesargon is still commercially available in Malacca and in some of the southern Thai towns like Phuket and Hatyai where there is a sizeable population of Babas.

Not all classics are lost. The Nyonya chang or pua kiam tnee chang (“half salty and sweet dumpling” in Penang Hokkien) is still thriving, often made and presented during celebrations and ceremonies. Both Penang and Singapore Nyonya chang feature tung kwa (candied winter melon). “In Singapore the Nyonya chang is traditionally wrapped in large pandan leaves; bamboo leaves are used in Penang.” However, the differences do not end there: “In addition to the pepper and coriander used in Singapore, pua kiam tnee chang includes cekur (kencur) roots and pounded groundnuts but does not include mushrooms. The Penang Nyonya chang is often steamed with coconut milk.“Also, the Nyonya chang found in Singapore and Malacca is partially coloured blue. It’s rare though to find a blue-tinged Nyonya chang in Penang. Still, if there are any, chances are the Penang Peranakans have relatives living in Malacca.”

With the release of Nonya Heritage Kitchen, Ong is hopeful that some of the more traditional Peranakan dishes will soon be making a comeback. “If anything, it will raise the awareness of Nyonya cuisine among the younger generation in Malaysia.”

Regina Hoo is a Broadcasting and Journalism graduate from the University of Wolverhampton. She has a mania for alliteration and Oscar Wilde.
Back to Table of Contents

awesome comments

Other Stories

  1. July, 2016

    Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

    Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
  2. June, 2016

    A New Era Comes to Balik Pulau

    From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
  3. May, 2016

    A City For All Classes

    Liveability is more than just making it to the top of a list; it is about ensuring quality of life is available to every spectrum of society.
  4. April, 2016

    A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

    We have more champions than we think.
  5. March, 2016

    Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

    With an array of outdoor activities, ecotourism flourishes in Teluk Bahang.
  6. February, 2016

    TPPA – The Winners and the Losers

    Malaysia makes a bold move in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It will change the game for many Malaysian companies.
  7. January, 2016

    Education – Ever the political victim

    Every political crisis inevitably claims its share of casualties. Normally, those who fall on the wrong side in the corridors of power will find their careers cut short. It is no different in Malaysia. Time and again, we have seen ministers and high ranking officials dismissed, along with their retinue of retainers and apparatchiks every ...

Utter Economics

A Diverse Country Attracts a Diversity of Tourists

With the country’s many offerings, it comes as no surprise that tourism is Malaysia’s second largest foreign exchange earner.

Advertisement

Something for everyone – this is what Malaysia can offer to tourists. With a veritable smorgasbord of events, natural wonders, cultures, bargain shopping venues and mouth-watering food choices, it is no wonder Malaysia is such a hot favourite among foreign tourists.

A slew of accolades is a testament to its charms. In 2015 alone, Malaysia was voted Best Golf Destination in Asia (for the second year in a row), Best International Destination Food and Drink 2014, second most popular shopping city in the world for Muslim tourists, one of the top 10 Best Travel Destinations for 2016 by Lonely Planet,[1] and fourth most affordable global city by Trip Advisor.[2]

True to the tagline “Malaysia, Truly Asia” one can find the many flavours of Asia in the country’s cultural diversity. Tourists do seem to have bought the tagline – in 2015 alone, close to 26 million visited our shores, which works out to about 70,000 tourists per day. Indeed, Malaysia is one of Asia’s most popular destinations; in 2014 Malaysia was ranked 14th in the world for tourist arrivals, and fourth in Asia, behind China, Hong Kong and Thailand.[3]

Despite an impressive 25.7 million tourists, the 2015 total was 6.3% lower than the previous year. Authorities had initially targeted 28 million, but numbers fell short due to a host of calamities – the unfortunate crash of the two Malaysia Airlines planes, the haze and floods, and the kidnappings and earthquake in Sabah, among others. The high base effect of 2014 was also attributed to it being a Visit Malaysia Year, where tourism numbers saw an exceptional boost from promotional activities.

A dissection of the 2015 figures reveals that Singaporeans are the top-ranked visitors with 13 million or 51% of the total – numbers no doubt inflated by the many former Malaysians living and working there, and the close proximity to the island state. Second was another near neighbour, Indonesia, with close to three million (10%), and third was China with 1.6 million (6.2%) visitors. Other top visitors came from Thailand and Brunei, with a 5% share each (1.2 million).

Nine of the countries in the top 10 are Malaysia’s Asean or Asian neighbours. Australia was the sole non-Asian country in the list, in eighth, with less than half a million visitors for a two per cent share. South Korea made its maiden appearance on the list in 2015, replacing the UK.

Another market in which Malaysia has sold itself well is the Muslim tourism segment. In 2015 Malaysia was voted the number one destination ahead of Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Indonesia.[4] As for shopping for Muslim travellers, Malaysia was ranked second, behind Dubai.

The Islamic Tourism Centre (ITC) reported that in 2015, 5.9 million Muslim visitors made their way to Malaysia, compared to 5.7 million in 2014 – almost a quarter of the country’s total inbound tourists! It is easy to see why Malaysia is such an appealing destination for Muslim holidaymakers. The country provides an array of attractions, genuine halal food, a large Muslim population and culture, first class hotels, bargain shopping and bountiful prayer rooms.

The ITC reports that Indonesians make up the largest group of Muslim visitors, with 2.8 million tourists, followed by Brunei with 1.2 million. On their own, both Indonesia and Brunei are also among Malaysia’s top 10 largest tourists arrivals. Rounding off the top five Muslim markets are Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Among Muslim visitors, those from the Middle East are the biggest spenders. Saudi Arabian tourists’ average per capita spending is almost four times the average. Middle Eastern tourists also stayed in the country longer than the average. Those from Saudi Arabia spent 10.5 days in Malaysia compared to the average of 5.5 days – almost twice the length of days. Recognising their superior purchasing power, the government has gone to great lengths to make them feel welcome by embarking on road shows, promotional packages, waiving visas, introducing road signage and literature in Arabic, and other such measures.

From 2013 to 2015, tourist arrivals peaked in 2014 with 27.4 million, and thereafter declined to 25.7 million. 2015 turned out to be relatively underwhelming, as figures were below the projected 28 million arrivals and RM80bil in receipts. This trend was also reflected in total tourist receipts, which peaked at RM72bil in 2014 and declined to RM69bil the following year. Other numbers were disappointing as well, such as the average length of stay per tourist, which dropped from 6.6 to 5.5 days.

However, despite the decline in arrivals, tourism receipts for 2015 only declined by 4%, as the average total spending per tourist went up by 2.4% – meaning that the average tourist was spending more during their stay. This trend was evident in the last three years, where average spending per tourist has been creeping up, no doubt driven by the falling ringgit. The three biggest spenders were Saudi Arabians (RM9,459.20), followed by New Zealanders (RM4,213) and Australians (RM4,133.50). The message is clear – visitors from farther afield tend to stay longer and spend more.

In the last decade, tourism has emerged as a vital component of the national economy. Ten years ago, 16 million foreigners visited Malaysia, contributing RM32bil to the coffers. By 2015, tourist numbers increased by 62%, while receipts doubled to RM69.1bil. Total tourist receipts for 2014 were RM72bil, making tourism the second largest foreign exchange earner for Malaysia after manufactured goods. [5]

Tourism is also an important indirect contributor to the economy,[6] as measured by the Gross Value Added of Tourism Industries (GVATI). In 2014 GVATI contributed 13.7% of Malaysia’s GDP (2013: 13.4%) or RM151.7bil.[7] Retail trade or shopping continues to be the number one driver by a distance, with a more than a 40% share, followed by food and beverage (15.4%), and accommodation (13.5%). Sporting events, cultural events and passenger transport are also important contributors, with a 5% share each.

It is little wonder shopping figures so prominently. In 2014 KL was voted the fourth best shopping paradise in the world by cable news network CNN. Three of the world’s 10 largest malls are in KL – including 1 Utama Shopping Centre, the world's fourth-largest mall with more than 650 shops. Malaysia’s top shopping magnets are Bukit Bintang (42.7%), George Town (17.0%), Kota Kinabalu (14.1%), Petaling Street (12.3%) and Johor Bahru (11.7%). Top items purchased are, in order of preference, clothes, followed by handicraft, shoes, cosmetics and chocolates.

Clan Jetties in George Town – a popular spot for tourists.

The tourism industry is also crucial to the job market. In 2014 almost one in five working Malaysians (13.5 million) were employed in the tourism sector. F&B was the top pick with a 33.6% share, followed by retail trade with 28.8%.

Regardless, the government is aiming to tap the potential of the tourism industry further. The 2015 National Transformation Programme Annual Report states that the government is eyeing 36 million inbound tourists and a whopping RM168bil in receipts by 2020.

To achieve this number, eight clusters of major shopping destinations have been identified for high-impact development, namely Klang Valley, Penang, Johor, Malacca, Kota Kinabalu, Labuan, Kuching and Miri, and Langkawi. Moreover, the two main weaknesses in our tourism numbers need to be addressed: over-concentration (70%) on two groups – Singaporean and Asean visitors – as well as persuading tourists to spend more and stay longer.

The over-concentration is only natural, given that Singapore is our nearest geographical and cultural neighbour, and that Malaysia benefits from intra-Asean tourism. By comparison, Thailand has a more diverse mix of tourists overall, with the largest group of visitors being from China (27%). Their allure is so universal that they

are able to attract tourists from the far-flung corners of the globe: among its top 10 tourist arrivals are three Western countries, including Russia, compared to only one for Malaysia.

Thailand’s winning combination of sea, sun and sights has reaped the rewards of its labour. In 2015 it received 30 million tourists who spent RM166bil, ranking ninth highest in the world for total tourist arrivals and sixth highest for receipts. That means that the average tourist in Thailand spent RM5,533 per trip[8], double Malaysia’s RM2,687.

What Malaysia needs are tourists who spend more time and money while they are vacationing in Malaysia. Our strategy can be two-pronged – one for Asian neighbours, and another for tourists from outside Asia. To entice them to stay longer, more novel and exclusive targeted attractions, entertainment and events can be created.

The Muslim market, particularly the Middle Eastern tourists, should also be expanded, as they tend to be big spenders. Elsewhere, one can target the world’s top spenders such as Germany, Australia, US, Canada, France, UK, Italy, Russia, Brazil and China. These high rollers can be lured by increasing the number of 5- and 6-star hotels; creating more shopping opportunities, such as the opening of value-for-money luxury goods outlets; and further developing the ecotourism sector, as well as increasing the number of heritage and cultural events.

  • [1]“National Transformation Programme Annual Report (Putrajaya: Pemandu, 2015).
  • [2]““TripAdvisor Tripindex,” TheSundaily, July 26, 2016.
  • [3]“Ranked by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). 2015 numbers not available.
  • [4]“As ranked by Global Muslim Travellers Index by MasterCard-CrescentRating.
  • [5]“Tourism Malaysia, accessed November 19, 2016, http://www.tourism.gov.my.
  • [6]“Direct contribution sectors such as hotels, airlines, airports, travel agents and leisure and recreation services that deal directly with tourists. Examples of indirect spending are the purchase of new aircraft, construction of new hotels, government spending on tourism marketing and promotion, aviation, administration, security services, resort area security services, resort area sanitation services, etc. This also includes domestic purchases of goods and services by sectors dealing directly with tourists, such as food and cleaning services by hotels, fuel and catering services by airlines, and IT services by travel agents.
  • [7]“Based on the latest available numbers.
  • [8]“Financial Times, accessed November 19, 2016, https://www.ft.com.
  • Back to Table of Contents

    awesome comments

    Other Stories

    1. July, 2016

      Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

      Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
    2. June, 2016

      A New Era Comes to Balik Pulau

      From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
    3. May, 2016

      A City For All Classes

      Liveability is more than just making it to the top of a list; it is about ensuring quality of life is available to every spectrum of society.
    4. April, 2016

      A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

      We have more champions than we think.
    5. March, 2016

      Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

      With an array of outdoor activities, ecotourism flourishes in Teluk Bahang.
    6. February, 2016

      TPPA – The Winners and the Losers

      Malaysia makes a bold move in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It will change the game for many Malaysian companies.
    7. January, 2016

      Education – Ever the political victim

      Every political crisis inevitably claims its share of casualties. Normally, those who fall on the wrong side in the corridors of power will find their careers cut short. It is no different in Malaysia. Time and again, we have seen ministers and high ranking officials dismissed, along with their retinue of retainers and apparatchiks every ...

    Penang Economic Indicators

    Penang’s Manufacturing Sector Grows, Despite Some Headwinds

    Production growth may have slowed, but manufacturers are cautiously optimistic.

    Advertisement

    Penang’s manufacturing sector has been the backbone of job creation and income generation in Malaysia since the 1970s. Its activities have evolved from low-end, labour-intensive assembly operations to export-oriented, capital-intensive industries, and it is now advancing into knowledge intensive activities – such as procurement, technological development and research and development.

    In 2016 some restructuring in activities were seen in Penang’s manufacturing landscape, but it is still too early to measure their impact. The labour market in the state remains tight –
    with labour demand exceeding supply – and the effects this will have in 2017 are worth looking into.

    Manufacturing Activities Remain Carefully Upbeat

    Penang’s manufacturing sector is estimated to remain carefully upbeat this year. This may be attributed to the depreciation of the ringgit resulting in lower export prices – hence, greater price competitiveness – and also to a number of global trade and political events involving the Asean Economic Community (AEC), and the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).

    Despite the fact that for the past five years, the services sector has been surpassing the manufacturing sector in Penang, the state’s manufacturing contribution to the national manufacturing sector is estimated to stay resilient in 2017. In fact, Penang’s manufacturing sector contributed nearly 13% of total GDP generated from the manufacturing sector in Malaysia (Figure 1). The contribution increased from 12.1% in 2012 to 12.8% in 2015. The sector softened its GDP growth at 6.9% in 2015.

    However, the manufacturing sector is expected to be more subdued in 2017. For the first three quarters of 2016, Malaysia’s industrial production index (IPI) in the manufacturing sector grew at an average of 4.1%, registering a small reduction of 0.7% compared to the same period in 2015. The IPI for electronics and electrical (E&E) products, in particular, dropped by 1.8 percentage points to 6.9%. According to a report produced by electronics giant TTI, high inventory-to-sales ratio and the overvalued US dollar resulted in slow manufacturing production growth.[1]

    Additionally, the book-to-bill ratio is a strong indicator for average global bookings and billings in the worldwide semiconductor industry. Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International (Semi)’s book-to-bill ratio saw a stable oscillation from January 2013 to October 2016 (Figure 2). In October, the ratio reached a weaker point of 0.91 below the threshold of 1.00. This indicates that US$91 worth of orders were received for every US$100 of products billed. It is interesting to note that a weaker demand in semiconductor equipment is observed in October every year, which is borne out in Penang’s case. Nonetheless, a rebound is expected in November 2016 to early 2017.

    Manufacturers are always focused on competing for profitable growth, and many of their business strategies use as little resources as possible to leverage on new technologies as investment to grow their market share. The TTI report indicates that some buyers view the advancement of technology as a measure for economic optimism. For example, smarter and connected products and systems are in high demand across a wide range of industries. In addition, the merger and acquisition (M&A) of companies is often envisaged by business players to increase market share by consolidating strategic operations. A study by Douma & Schreuder (2013) found the overall net effect of M&A transactions is seen to be positive. It creates economic value to shareholders whereby investors will consolidate the buyers of their products and target firms to operate more efficiently.[2]

    Unwavering Capital Investments in Approved Manufacturing Projects

    Every approved investment manufacturing project is estimated to take about three to five years to commence. And so, the spillover effect on employment creation will only be reflected in a later period.

    According to the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida)’s investment figures, Penang recorded a smaller sum of capital investment in 2015 compared to 2014. As seen in Figure 3, total capital investment was reduced by about 18% from RM8.1bil in 2014 to RM6.7bil in 2015. The figure softened to a total of about RM3.7bil in the first eight months of 2016. However, Penang still ranked as the third-largest state receiving capital investment in Malaysia, only trailing behind Johor and Selangor.

    Capital investment per employee ratio (CIPE) is used to measure the level of capital intensity. While Penang saw a lower investment in the first eight months of 2016, the CIPE ratio exhibited higher capital intensity in approved manufacturing investment. Figure 4 shows capital investment escalating from RM357,800 per employee in 2015 to RM442,500 in January-August 2016. General Manager of investPenang, Loo Lee Lian, opines that “the nature of the approved capital investment ranges from mid- to high-end manufacturing operations, in which R&D will come hand-in-hand with the operation in the new capital investment.”

    With the exception of 2012 and 2013, foreign capital made up a large part of the total capital investment in the manufacturing industry (Figure 3). This can be classified in two forms: new investments and expansion investments. An investment is new if it comes from a new investor, while expansion investment refers to expansion in the fixed assets of existing manufacturing establishments. “There are some lapses in Mida’s investment figures as it is only able to track firms that apply for incentives provided by Mida,” says Loo. “Some local manufacturing firms carried out expansion plans without applying for Mida’s incentives; hence, the investment figure did not take those into account.”

    In the first eight months of 2016, E&E products made up the largest share of capital investment (44.2%), followed by scientific and measuring equipment (25.5%). Out of RM2.8bil worth of foreign investment, Chinese investment contributed 23.4%, followed by Luxembourg (19%), Germany (18.7%) and the US (13.7%).

    “Our target investment sectors include those that Penang has already established – the semiconductor and E&E industries – and other fast-growing industries such as medical devices and avionics,” says Loo. Apart from the manufacturing sector, global business services (GBS) are also a current niche area of focus for investment promotion. “Penang is very successful in bringing investments to the services sector. Multinational manufacturing firms are setting up higher-end support services in Penang.”

    Tight Job Market coupled with Reshuffling in the Workforce

    Penang has been consistently experiencing a low unemployment rate due to the availability of jobs and continued investments by domestic and foreign investors. To a certain degree, the available labour might be insufficient to meet the requirements of new investments. Drawing talent to Penang is of utmost importance growth in the state’s manufacturing sector is to be sustained. “Penang is still scarce with sufficient engineers, particularly in the fields of E&E, mechanical, software and embedded software engineering. The shortage is also found in finance and information technology positions, such as global business supply chain analysts, financial analysts and IT engineers,” says Loo.

    While layoffs do take place – often due to firm closure and the relocation and contraction of operations – continued new and expansion investments attract job seekers. For instance, about 1,600 workers and 860 workers were affected in redundancy exercise and voluntary separation scheme (VSS) programmes respectively from manufacturing in the first eight months of 2016 (Figure 6 and 7). Part of this pool can potentially be absorbed back into the employment market, since more than 10,000 jobs will be created from the capital investment that were approved three years ago.

    “Some structural change might happen in the labour market,” says Loo. “It is not possible for the affected workforce to be fully absorbed back into the employment market. It is dependent on the job categories and preferences of workers.” As such, some retraining and upskilling programmes may be required for their skills to fit to the operations in the new organisations.

    It is evident that the relationship between labour retrenchment and output growth is negative. As labour retrenchment increases, a smaller growth in GDP is expected. Penang has experienced the same: in 2015 a lower GDP growth rate of 5.5% was recorded with the increased number of labour retrenchment (by 35%) from the previous year. The same inference – an expected lower GDP growth rate – can be made if labour redundancy is higher in 2016. Tables 1 and 2 show companies with new investments and are on expansion investment, and companies that exited their operations in Penang, respectively.

     
     
     

    Conclusion

    Penang’s manufacturing sector is highly reliant on global events. Firstly, newly elected US president Donald Trump’s promotion of protectionism policies may change the business landscape of US offshore companies in Penang. Secondly, the volatility of the ringgit against the US dollar may affect local and foreign business sentiments. Thirdly, Brexit may lead to more uncertainty in EU.

    Nevertheless, Loo believes that “manufacturing investment and output are expected to grow cautiously optimistic in 2017.” Penang still sees new and expansion manufacturing investment, and there could be more firms on expansion but were not captured in Mida’s investment data. Slower production growth is predicted, coupled with lower business confidence level. Labour shortages or talent scarcity is a challenge for Penang’s manufacturing sector to move its operation upwards and provide higher income jobs. Therefore, creating a conducive and balanced ecosystem to live, work and play in is important if the state is to attract a higher-end talent pool to serve companies in Penang.

  • [1]Victoria Kickham, “2017 Manufacturing Outlook Improves,” TTI, accessed November 20, 2016, http://www.ttieurope.com/object/mekickham-20161101.html.
  • [2] Douma, S. and H. Schreuder (2013). “Economic Approaches to Organisations”, 5th Edition, Pearson Education Limited.
  • Ong Wooi Leng is a senior analyst at Penang Institute. Her interests lie in industrial economics, consumer behaviour and labour economics.
    Back to Table of Contents

    awesome comments

    Other Stories

    1. July, 2016

      Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

      Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
    2. June, 2016

      A New Era Comes to Balik Pulau

      From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
    3. May, 2016

      A City For All Classes

      Liveability is more than just making it to the top of a list; it is about ensuring quality of life is available to every spectrum of society.
    4. April, 2016

      A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

      We have more champions than we think.
    5. March, 2016

      Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

      With an array of outdoor activities, ecotourism flourishes in Teluk Bahang.
    6. February, 2016

      TPPA – The Winners and the Losers

      Malaysia makes a bold move in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It will change the game for many Malaysian companies.
    7. January, 2016

      Education – Ever the political victim

      Every political crisis inevitably claims its share of casualties. Normally, those who fall on the wrong side in the corridors of power will find their careers cut short. It is no different in Malaysia. Time and again, we have seen ministers and high ranking officials dismissed, along with their retinue of retainers and apparatchiks every ...

    Pauline Fan introducing a Mak Yong performance at a PUSAKA evening, Publika, KL.

    Books Unbound

    Conversations and Explorations: Pauline Fan an Exciting Time for Malaysian Literature

    Advertisement

    Translation matters. It always has, but perhaps now more than ever. It is a paradox that globalisation offers the technological means of communication and conversation across borders, and yet politics (including the culture wars) seems to be driven by small-mindedness, xenophobia and enmity. It is these “moments in time when the world is changing” that “bring out the best and the worst in people,” as Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng puts it. If literature possesses an emancipatory potential – if it can open up spaces for critical thinking and be a flame in the darkness – then the act of translating fiction and poetry surely lies somewhere near its centre.

    The recent edition of the George Town Literary Festival offered a clear focus on the potential of literary translation. In general terms, the thematic core of the festival – captured by the Welsh word hiraeth, the longing for a homeland that is no longer there – necessarily explored the ways in which literatures travel, across time and space. In addition, there were also dedicated panels that discussed the subtle arts of reading, reimagining and translating foreign fiction and poetry across many different languages. One thing was made clear: no one will ever read an author’s work as closely as her translator does.

    We caught up with a number of respected literary translators at the festival to reflect on the process, products and prospects for this work in Malaysia and beyond. Here we feature the KL-based poet Pauline Fan, who is also co-editor of NARATIF | Kisah, a bilingual literary journal that features work by both Malaysian and international authors. For her, translation is a “confluence” of literary traditions where important connections are made. And this work is nested within an ongoing moment of “encounter, engagement and critical contemplation”.

    Tell me about your childhood and youth, and how books and reading played a part in your early life. Did you want to become a writer when you were young?

    I grew up surrounded by books. Most of the gifts my parents gave me and my sister when we were children were books, and these opened doorways in our imagination that could never again be closed. Both my parents had a vast collection of books, but it was in my father’s library that I fell in love with literature, particularly the modernists. As an adolescent, it was the most exciting thing in the world for me to stand in the dim corners of his study, discovering the works of George Orwell, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Franz Kafka ... The books I found there that left the deepest impression on me at the time were Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, The Outsider by Albert Camus and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground.

    My father [Fan Yew Teng] was a writer, an outspoken and well-read commentator on politics and society, as well as a firebrand politician and a human rights activist. He spent hours on end at his old typewriter and I loved to sit by his room, listening to the incessant clicking of the keys and the sharp ring of the margin bell. So, in a sense, I lived in a writer’s world from a young age, and the thought of being a writer was something both intriguing and natural to me.

    How did you get into writing and what was/is the writing process like?

    I discovered that I enjoyed writing around the age of 16. I was already reading voraciously, and had begun scribbling juvenile lines of poetry in notebooks (none of which had any literary worth, of course, but which were necessary conduits for the solitude, disquiet and awkwardness of adolescence). After nine years in the local Malaysian school system, I spent three months at an international boarding school in Singapore. I mostly hated it, except for the literature class, which was taught by a wonderful man by the name of Mr Cox.

    This is where I wrote my first real essay on literature – on George Orwell’s 1984 – for which Mr Cox gave me top marks in the class, much to my surprise. He also found me, one afternoon, scribbling in my notebook and somehow convinced me to let him read it. He recognised something in me, it seems, and I am grateful to this day for his kindness and encouragement.

    I ended up doing my first degree at the Gallatin School for Individualised Study at New York University, eventually focusing on history, literature, philosophy and art history of East Asia. This was an important time to hone my writing skills, to read as much as possible and to engage in meaningful discussions, both within and without the university walls. It was a time of intellectual awakening for me.

    After returning to Malaysia, I soon started writing book reviews for a Malay-language magazine, Siasah, that was published by Khalid Jaafar and edited by Al-Mustaqeem Mahmod Radhi. The magazine only lasted a few years in print, but was an important platform for a discussion of culture and politics among young Malay intellectuals. That was my first regular writing engagement. I welcomed the challenge of writing in Malay, a language with which I was comfortable but had, up till then, never written in besides the dreaded “karangan” for school. I remember my first book review for Siasah was on Elsa Morante’s magnificent History: A Novel. I loved the sense that I was discovering the Malay language anew (for myself) as I wrote, and that my writing would perhaps lead to the discovery of unfamiliar literary landscapes (for others).

    While I write primarily in English, I still write occasional essays for my column in the Malay edition of Malaysiakini. I love writing in, and translating into, Malay. It is by nature a lyrical and sensual language, and expresses the intertwining of human beings and the natural world in ways that English simply cannot.

    Homepage of Lyrikline, the multilingual platform that hosts contemporary international poetry as both audio and text.

    What was your original stimulus for engaging seriously with translation work?

    I began seriously translating literature soon after I returned to Malaysia after completing my first degree at NYU. While deeply immersed in studying East Asian literature of the early twentieth century, I was particularly struck by the writers and intellectuals of the May Fourth Movement in China, such as Lu Xun and Xu Zhimo, as well as the early modernist writers of Japan such as Natsume Sōseki, Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima. Many of the May Fourth intellectuals translated works from European languages to introduce new ideas and literary forms into the Chinese language.

    I also learnt something about the intricacies of literary translation from the scholars I had studied with at NYU, especially the eminent Moss Roberts, who had translated the definitive version of the historical novel Three Kingdoms and Laozi’s Dao De Jing: The Book of the Way, and Rebecca Karl, who at the time was translating the writings of the reformist thinker Liang Qichao. Upon my return to Malaysia, I became involved with a community of young writers and intellectuals who were actively discussing society, politics and literature. We encouraged each other to translate works from the world’s languages into Malay, with the aim of introducing Malay-language readers to world literature while opening up the Malay language to its own possibilities.

    Could you tell me something about the process of choosing both who and what to translate? What kind of work do you deal with? And perhaps you could say a bit about the importance of literary forums that promote translation?

    I can only translate writers with whom I connect. Otherwise the language does not flow and ends up feeling forced or affected. This is especially true in the translation of poetry. So it is only natural that I choose to translate works that speak to me on a deep level. I have translated poems from English to Malay and vice versa, for example poems by W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound and Louise Bogan. I have also translated German literature into Malay, including poems by Bertolt Brecht and Paul Celan, and prose by Franz Kafka and Rainer Maria Rilke, as well as into English, including poems

    by Georg Trakl, Else Lasker-Schüler and, currently, Joachim Sartorius Some of my translations have been commissioned and published by Institut Kajian Dasar, including one my first translations into Malay – Immanuel Kant’s seminal essay “Was ist Aufklärung?” (Apa itu pencerahan?). I am also the Malaysian curator for Lyrikline, a Berlin-based international poetry archive and network which encourages translations of their featured poets into other languages. They do not feature amateur translations, only those that are published or authorised by the poets. Efforts such as these are an excellent resource for those who wish to discover translations of contemporary poetry.
    What were the motivations for producing the journal and where might your ambitions for it lead?
    NARATIF | Kisah is a new bilingual literary journal that features established and emerging literary voices from Malaysia and South-East Asia to explore the idea of the narrative – through reimaginings, retellings, experimentations with form and genre, as well as through literary translation and visual narratives. It also offers a platform for the confluence of oral traditions and written expression, something we come across too rarely in our region. I am the creative director of the cultural organisation PUSAKA, which works to support the continuity and viability of the arts. All of PUSAKA’s work is urged by the desire to rediscover ourselves through processes of encounter, engagement and critical contemplation. Both the journal and translation work in particular are embedded in that ethos.

    For this inaugural issue of the journal, we invited some distinguished guest writers and also put out an open call for submissions, in English and Malay. We received an overwhelming response to the open call – more than 200 submissions, from which we eventually selected around 50. Although we actively sought submissions in Chinese and Tamil as well, we received only a handful in Chinese and none at all in Tamil. We will certainly look to featuring these languages in future issues.

    The first edition of Naratif | Kisah co-edited by Pauline Fan and Yana Rizal (2016).

    Though it’s relatively new what has been the reception for Naratif | Kisah? Where do you envisage it going in the next issues?

    The reception for Naratif | Kisah has been overwhelmingly positive and affirming. More than half the 2,000 printed copies have been taken, and many people have told us that they are impressed by the quality and variety of material. Readers appreciate the fact that the journal is bilingual, and that we are encouraging of work that challenges conventional notions of form and content. Our next issues will likely be shaped around a theme. We hope to feature more writers and artists from South-East Asia, both invited guest contributors and through open calls for submissions. We also hope to feature more archival material, particularly contemporary writers engaging with or reflecting on work from the past.

    What are the main challenges you face in pursuing literary translation?

    The main challenge I grapple with as a literary translator is finding the time to work for extended periods, without interruption, on a text. Our days are filled with too much noise. Most of my translation work (and writing, for that matter) is done after midnight, for the simple reason that I can hear myself think and can listen to the voice and rhythms of the text I am engaging with. I think there is an audience for literary translation in Malaysia, especially among young Malays who are hungry to devour literature these days. One hopes that this hunger and enthusiasm for literature will encourage writers to engage seriously with literary translation. It takes patience, discipline and hours of close reading. The best literary translators are often writers and poets themselves, because translation requires a certain sensibility and an (almost musical) instinct for phrasing. This is even truer of poetry. Anyone can translate word for word. It takes something more to breathe life into a poem in another language.

    Celebrated poets and writers under the translator’s gaze of Pauline Fan. From left clockwise: Paul Celan, Joachim Sartorius, Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Raduan Nassar and Clarice Lispector.

    What is the prospect for the future, both in terms of your own work in literature but also the wider canvas of Malaysian and South-East Asian letters?

    I am working seriously on the translations of two German-language poets. One is Paul Celan; my Malay translations of his poems will be published in 2017. The other is Joachim Sartorius, whose poems I am translating into English as well as Malay. I have written essays over the years and would like to do more of this; the essay is one of my favourite literary genres. I feel the urge to write prose that hovers between essay, fiction and memoir. Some of the writers I love best – Annemarie Schwarzenbach, Clarice Lispector, Raduan Nassar – defy easy categorisations of genre. I write poetry (very slowly) but am reluctant to publish anything yet; it is the literary genre I am most deeply connected to and, therefore, tend to be more self-critical when it comes to poetry.

    Overall, I feel it’s an exciting time for Malaysian literature – there is a burgeoning of interest in literature and much energy to be tapped. In many ways, Malaysia is a fragmented society and this is reflected in the divergent development of literature in our various languages. There’s nothing wrong with divergence and diversity, it’s something to be celebrated, but it’s a shame that these linguistic-literary communities are so insulated from each other. Now is the perfect time to begin engaging in deeper conversations and explorations of the literatures of our own country, as well as of our region. We hope NARATIF | Kisah will contribute significantly to this process.

    Copies of NARATIF | Kisah are available from PUSAKA. Please email info@ senipusaka.com.

     
     

    Gareth Richards is a writer, editor and bookseller.
    Back to Table of Contents

    awesome comments

    Other Stories

    1. July, 2016

      Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

      Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
    2. June, 2016

      A New Era Comes to Balik Pulau

      From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
    3. May, 2016

      A City For All Classes

      Liveability is more than just making it to the top of a list; it is about ensuring quality of life is available to every spectrum of society.
    4. April, 2016

      A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

      We have more champions than we think.
    5. March, 2016

      Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

      With an array of outdoor activities, ecotourism flourishes in Teluk Bahang.
    6. February, 2016

      TPPA – The Winners and the Losers

      Malaysia makes a bold move in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It will change the game for many Malaysian companies.
    7. January, 2016

      Education – Ever the political victim

      Every political crisis inevitably claims its share of casualties. Normally, those who fall on the wrong side in the corridors of power will find their careers cut short. It is no different in Malaysia. Time and again, we have seen ministers and high ranking officials dismissed, along with their retinue of retainers and apparatchiks every ...
    Events

    Events January 2017

    Exhibition

    London-based Penang artist James Sum will showcase 100 of his best works in James Sum’s Retrospective Exhibition. Sum was awarded the Outstanding New Entrant Award by the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) for his Chinese ink and colour painting on rice-paper – a first for any Asian artist since the Society's founding in 1804. Catch a glimpse of his artistic genius and honour his significant contributions to the field of visual arts, locally and internationally.

    • Dates: Until February 15
    • Dates: 9am-5pm (closed on Fridays and public holidays)
    • Venue:Penang State Art Gallery, Ground Floor, Dewan Sri Pinang
    • Website: : www.penangmuseum.gov.my
    • Contact: +604 226 1461/62 (Radziah)

    Concert

    Join Penang’s renowned soprano Serene Yoon as she takes you on a musical journey back to the golden age of Shanghai. Performing classic songs by 1940s divas such as Chow Hsuan, Bai Guang, Li Hsiang-Lan, Yao Lee, Woo Ing-Ing and Kong Chiu-Hsia, Yoon’s divine voice will be accompanied by a live orchestra.

    • Dates: January 7
    • Time: 8pm
    • Venue:penangpac
    • Ticket Prices: RM120, RM80, RM60
    • Contact: +604 899 1722/2722
    • Website: www.penangpac.org

    Sports

    Ride for Compassion 2017 is a charity ride to raise funds for the welfare of the elderly. Funds collected will be channelled to Happy Retirement Home, Kepala Batas; and to the Taiping Bodhi Centre building fund to construct a palliative care centre for the elderly. Expect bike plates, shirts, finisher medals, food and drinks, goodie bags and a lucky draw.

    • Dates: January 8
    • Time: 7am-12pm
    • Venue: Stadium MPSP
    • Entry Fees: RM 75-RM100
    • Email: info@tbcevents.org
    • Website: www.tbcevents.org/index.php

    Concert

    The Teochew Puppet and Opera House presents Folk Tunes of Teochew, bringing folk tunes and the magnificence of Teochew orchestra to life. Experience the beauty of Nan Ying traditional tunes and the lyrical music arrangements Teochew music has retained.

    • Dates: January 14
    • Time: 8pm
    • Venue: penangpac
    • Ticket: RM100
    • Contact: +604 899 1722/2722
    • Website: www.penangpac.org

    Theatre

    With great trepidation, Seth Parsons brings his atheist Chinese girlfriend home to meet his conservative Christian parents in the hopes of receiving their blessing. A reading of Mark W. Sasse’s latest script, followed by a Q&A segment with audience. Admission is by donation.

    • Dates: January 21
    • Time: 8pm
    • Venue: penangpac
    • Contact: +604-899 1722/2722
    • Email: www.penangpac.org

    Sports

    The Penang BM Tok’Kun Hill (Walk/Run) Challenge allows you to test your endurance and enjoy the flora and fauna of the hill. All participants will walk/run 3km uphill and 3km downhill to complete the route. Participants can also expect a children’s colouring contest and Zumba for added excitement. All proceeds go to charity. The registration closing date is January 10, so hurry and sign up!

    Advertisement
    Back to Table of Contents

    awesome comments

    Other Stories

    1. July, 2016

      Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

      Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
    2. June, 2016

      A New Era Comes to Balik Pulau

      From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
    3. May, 2016

      A City For All Classes

      Liveability is more than just making it to the top of a list; it is about ensuring quality of life is available to every spectrum of society.
    4. April, 2016

      A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

      We have more champions than we think.
    5. March, 2016

      Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

      With an array of outdoor activities, ecotourism flourishes in Teluk Bahang.
    6. February, 2016

      TPPA – The Winners and the Losers

      Malaysia makes a bold move in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It will change the game for many Malaysian companies.
    7. January, 2016

      Education – Ever the political victim

      Every political crisis inevitably claims its share of casualties. Normally, those who fall on the wrong side in the corridors of power will find their careers cut short. It is no different in Malaysia. Time and again, we have seen ministers and high ranking officials dismissed, along with their retinue of retainers and apparatchiks every ...

    Oddly Enough

    The Budget Speech is NOT the Budget (Part Two)

    A deterioration in the federal government’s budgetary practices has become increasingly obvious in recent years. Serious reform is needed, and here’s why.

    Advertisement

    Many parties, including my parliamentary colleagues and myself, have pointed out the shortcomings of our budgetary process in the past, such as Budget documents not giving us the whole picture of government spending.

    Other than the kind of budgetary discrepancies described in the first part of this article published last month, there are also a multitude of off-budget items – such as government expenses, debts and liabilities that hide the actual financial situation of the government, the now infamous multi-billion ringgit slush funds at the sole disposal of the Prime Minister, and many others.

    In fact, Malaysia was ranked 49 out of 102 countries in the 2015 Open Budget Index produced by the International Budget Partnership, scoring only 46 points out of 100. For comparison, Indonesia scored 59/100, and the Philippines 64/100. The report concluded that “the Government of Malaysia provides the public with limited budget information.”

    And in their April 2016 report, How can Malaysia’s Budget Documents be Improved?, the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) notes that the Executive Budget Proposal – which includes the Budget Speech, Supply Bill, Finance Bill, Estimated Federal Expenditure, Estimates of Federal Revenue and the Economic Report – are of “inferior quality.”

    The federal government’s incoherent and non-transparent budgeting practices have serious consequences. I will list just six of these here.

    Why Najib’s 2017 Budget Speech is Problematic

    1. Members of Parliament will not be able to properly scrutinise the Budget

    Members of Parliament, and Malaysians in general, refer to the Budget Speech to scrutinise the Budget. Highlights by the government, usually in the form of “budget goodies,” are announced in the Budget Speech, so MPs will have to compare them and analyse them thoroughly. But if an item announced in the Budget Speech is missing from the actual documents, how are MPs and others to scrutinise and analyse the Budget effectively?

    2. Parliament will not be able to debate items that are not detailed in the Estimates

    According to the regulations of the Dewan Rakyat, known popularly as the Standing Order, a Bill (including budget bills) that is at the committee stage after its second reading shall not be debated in terms of “the principle of the Bill but only of its details” (Standing Order 55(2)).

    I was once stopped from a committee stage debate because I was accused of not debating the itemised details in the Estimates. Thus, if the “goodies” announced in the Budget Speech are not found in the Estimates, then they cannot be debated at the committee stage – a discrepancy that greatly obstructs parliament business.

    3. Amendments and re-allotment to an allocation cannot be made in Parliament

    Standing Order 66(8) & (13) and their related clauses allow amendments to be made to the Budget, while Standing Order 66A allows for re-allotment of the expenditure from one item to another. However, without knowing where items are located in the Estimates – because they are either missing or have their amounts recorded incorrectly – it is impossible for MPs to propose any amendments to these expenditures if necessary.

    4. The real expenditure of the government cannot be properly determined, allowing the government to circumvent Article 101 of the Federal Constitution

    According to the Estimates, the 2017 development expenditure for the Ministry of Communication and Multimedia, for example, is expected to be about RM495mil. This, however, excludes: (a) RM1bil for upgrading broadband infrastructure, and (b) RM340mil for providing tablets to 430,000 teachers as announced in the Budget Speech. If they are included, the whole development expenditure will balloon to RM1.8bil – an increase of 260%!

    In other words, invisible expenditure can sometimes greatly exceed the visible. Article 101 of the Federal Constitution states that in cases of excess government spending, a Supplementary Supply Bill (supplementary budget) must be tabled. But with hidden, unseen and invisible expenditure, there is no way to know if the government has spent beyond its limit – allowing the government to avoid the Supplementary Supply Bill, and circumvent the constitution.

    With hidden, unseen and invisible expenditure, there is no way to know if the government has spent beyond its limit.

    5. Financial management will be confused because it is unclear who is responsible for the items not stated in the Estimates

    More concretely, it is not clear at all which ministry or department are responsible for managing the multi-billion ringgit Budget Speech announcements not found in the Estimates. As such, there will be no accountability and transparency, nor check and balance, as we do not know who to refer to regarding this spending in the future.

    6. Malaysians will have no guarantee that announcements in the Budget Speech will be executed as the government is not bound by the Budget Speech

    Malaysians who eagerly awaited and listened to the Budget Speech last October will have no guarantee that goodies announced by the government will come to fruition if they are not found in Budget documents.

    Should someone take the government to court for failing to deliver on the announcement, will the case be subject to the Indian Supreme Court decision re Amin Merchant, where the appellant sued the government because of discrepancies in the Budget Speech and the Budget passed by the Parliament?

    Business as usual should not be acceptable. When I raised the motion to refer the Finance Minister to the parliamentary privileges committee for his misleading Budget Speech, the Speaker said that this had not happened before. Perhaps this is the reason why the prime minister imagines he can get away with a substandard Budget Speech containing misleading or wrong information.

    There are many things that need reform, both in our parliament and also in our budgetary process. But the very least the Finance Minister can do now is to deliver a proper Budget Speech – one that befits a proposal requesting the permit of parliament to spend hundreds of billions in taxpayer money.

    Steven Sim is the MP for Bukit Mertajam. He is the deputy spokesperson of the DAP Parliamentary Committee for Human Resources. He is also a board member of the Penang Institute.
    Back to Table of Contents

    awesome comments

    Other Stories

    1. July, 2016

      Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

      Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
    2. June, 2016

      A New Era Comes to Balik Pulau

      From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
    3. May, 2016

      A City For All Classes

      Liveability is more than just making it to the top of a list; it is about ensuring quality of life is available to every spectrum of society.
    4. April, 2016

      A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

      We have more champions than we think.
    5. March, 2016

      Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

      With an array of outdoor activities, ecotourism flourishes in Teluk Bahang.
    6. February, 2016

      TPPA – The Winners and the Losers

      Malaysia makes a bold move in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It will change the game for many Malaysian companies.
    7. January, 2016

      Education – Ever the political victim

      Every political crisis inevitably claims its share of casualties. Normally, those who fall on the wrong side in the corridors of power will find their careers cut short. It is no different in Malaysia. Time and again, we have seen ministers and high ranking officials dismissed, along with their retinue of retainers and apparatchiks every ...
    Photo Essay

    The Think Tank Turns Twenty

    Penang Institute, which publishes Penang Monthly, turns 20 this year. Established in 1997 as the Socio-economic and Environmental Research Institute (SERI), the public think tank serves both the state and the public in turning Penang into an intellectual hub, and spurring bold thinking in the key areas of economics, socio-politics and sustainable development. For the past two decades, it has been working creatively to “Make Ideas Work”, as befits its tagline. With the new year and a new building, we take a look at the people within.

     

    Penang Monthly's inaugural issue in 2009. The magazine began life as Penang Economic Monthly before it was renamed to better reflect the breadth of the issues we discuss and the broad interests of our readers.

    Zairil Khir Johari says... “Penang Institute has come a long way in the last five years. From a relatively unknown think tank, we transformed into an important thought leader on various intellectual discourse. From hosting heads of state and government to Nobel Prize winners and internationally acclaimed academics, Penang Institute has certainly made its mark felt on the national stage, if not regionally. “Our first international conference was organised in 2012, featuring distinguished speakers from seven different countries. The entire event, which saw the participation of over 200 people, was organised in 21 days – a feat that I continue to recall with great pride. We never looked back since and are now regularly involved in organising major international events. I am proud to have been part of this transformative process during my service as CEO from 2012 and as Executive Director from 2014. Throughout this journey, I am even prouder to have been supported by a stellar cast of colleagues, all of whom played an important collective role in bringing the Institute forward.”.

    Approaching his 20th anniversary at the institute, Dr Toh Kin Woon is one of the founders directly responsible for setting up the institute in 1997, when it was known as the Socio-economic and Environmental Research Institute (SERI). Toh, a veteran academic and state executive councillor at the time and currently senior research fellow, said it was set up with support from the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) and scholars to assist the state government’s decision-making process based on informed planning. “Based on my experience being in the government for so long, government departments are immersed in administrative work and execution, and Penang Institute fills that void in research and planning. We need to have a good relationship and coordination with the state informing us what they need, so we can strategise to meet those needs. We should also work closely with civil society bodies and engage in consultation. We have come a long way now, with better support and funding, and being more structurally organised, and we now have greater capacities for research and conferences,” says Toh.

    Dealing with all things administrative and human resource-related, Maggie Loo and Quah Thoon Tze ensure all the researchers are kept happy and productive (i.e. paid on time).

    The Urban Studies department is dedicated to sustainable development, urban regeneration, housing and transport issues. Working closely with various state agencies, the department provides a proactive agenda to make Penang more liveable, green and walkable. Among their projects are developing the Penang Green Agenda, a holistic sustainable development strategy; and organising Penang Urbanites (unofficial Facebook page at www.facebook.com/penangurbanites), a public engagement platform which includes an informal chat series, discussions
    and workshops. The section comprises (left to right) Christina Oon, Sri Vaitheki Ramasamy, Evelyn Teh and Tan Lii Inn.

    The Economic Studies department is mostly utilised by the state government to provide various economic indicators and outlooks. Through their reports and statistics, they provide the necessary information for the state and public. Among their projects are the biannual Penang Economic Indicators, Penang Quarterly Statistics, the Penang Economic Report and the Penang Skilled Workforce Study. They also monitor the German Dual Vocational Training (GDVT) programme. The section is currently led by Tim-Niklas Schoepp (also the COO of Penang Institute), Dr Negin Vaghefi (left) and Ong Wooi Leng (right).

    The new home of Penang Institute, located right beside the old building on 10, Jalan Brown. The soft launch on June 28 this year was officiated by the chief minister, also the chairman of the think tank. The new building enables the institute to exert greater capacities such as event and conference hosting, as well as housing the expanding staff and resources. The conference hall is available for rent to the public.

    The dynamic duo making up the Nusantara Studies department consists of Dr Mustafa Kamal Anuar (right) and Mohd Izzuddin Ramli (left). Besides a fascinating mix of events, ranging from Maqasid Shariah to the P. Ramlee Festival, they are also conducting a preliminary study of Malay-Muslim religious, intellectual and business leaders in past and contemporary Penang, as well as a research project on the translation activities of Penang.

    The library hosts over 6,000 books, official government records, statistics and reports. Committed and cheerful librarians, Farah (left), Annete (right) and Flora always ensure the researchers get the information and archives they need. An upcoming plan for the library is to open it to members of the public once it is ready to welcome visitors. There’s still much to be done due to the move to our new building.

    The History department specialises in Penang history and heritage. Whether it’s their own proactive initiatives or requests from the state government and various associations, they can almost always be seen reading and documenting historical records and some primary sources. Their latest project includes documenting the Straits Chinese British
    Association and compiling historical data such as minutes of meetings, reports and old newspapers. The department is led by Dr Wong Yee Tuan (right), with researchers Koay Su Lyn (middle) and Pan Yi Chieh (left).

    The executives, Ong Siou Woon (middle), Lee Seng Hwai (left) and Lennie Khor (right), ensure the smooth operations of the institute, with Nur Fitriah as the designer. They set up events and work round the clock to meet the expectations of the board of directors, top management, section heads and researchers. Yup, everyone.

    Penang Institute in KL (PI KL) has released a number of reports on national issues including the type of jobs that have been created under the Economic Transformation Program (ETP), the introduction of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) in the national curriculum and the sustainability of the PTPTN loan scheme. In addition, PI in KL has moved to a new co-working space at the APW campus in Bangsar, which will enhance the ability to share ideas and absorb new ideas from other like-minded individuals and groups in KL. Led by Dr Ong Kian Ming (far left) as the general manager, PI KL comprises Dr Lim Chee Han (second from left), Esther Sinirisan Chong Shiaw Yee (third from left) and Lim Su Lin (far right).

    The Political and Social Analysis department has three focus: political institutions, identity and social inclusion, and political economy. Their energies for the past few months have been invested in studying the redelineation exercise proposed by the Election Commission and engaging stakeholders to formulate a plan of action. With Dr Toh Kin Woon as advisor, the department comprises section head Dr Wong Chin Huat (far right), Nidhal Rawa (far left) Yeong Pey Jung (second from left) and Ooi Kok Hin (foreground). They have also recently set up an unofficial website and Facebook page, www.facebook.com/rempahratusPSA, where they livestream their events.

    Advertisement
    Ooi Kok Hin is an INTP who lives to write and writes to live. Follow him at https://www.facebook.com/ooikokhin.
    Back to Table of Contents

    awesome comments

    Other Stories

    1. July, 2016

      Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

      Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
    2. June, 2016

      A New Era Comes to Balik Pulau

      From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
    3. May, 2016

      A City For All Classes

      Liveability is more than just making it to the top of a list; it is about ensuring quality of life is available to every spectrum of society.
    4. April, 2016

      A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

      We have more champions than we think.
    5. March, 2016

      Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

      With an array of outdoor activities, ecotourism flourishes in Teluk Bahang.
    6. February, 2016

      TPPA – The Winners and the Losers

      Malaysia makes a bold move in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It will change the game for many Malaysian companies.
    7. January, 2016

      Education – Ever the political victim

      Every political crisis inevitably claims its share of casualties. Normally, those who fall on the wrong side in the corridors of power will find their careers cut short. It is no different in Malaysia. Time and again, we have seen ministers and high ranking officials dismissed, along with their retinue of retainers and apparatchiks every ...
    Cover

    Table of Contents January 2017

    Capture2
    Cover Story

    Will 2017 Crow or Croak?

    Global developments expose Malaysia and Penang's economies to uncertainties.

    CaptureFeature

    Penang Malays: Icons of Reform and Tolerance

    Malay-Muslims in Penang make up a colourful, progressive community.

    Photo Essay

    The Think Tank Turns Twenty

    We celebrate Penang Institute's 20th birthday with a showcase of its people.

    Feature

    Chronicling Nyonya Cuisine

    Delicious delicacies are recorded for posterity.


    kb

    Window into History

    Account of an Early Transit in Penang

    What was Penang like at the close of the eighteenth century?

    kb

    Books Unbound

    Conversations and Explorations: Pauline Fan

    Literary translation is an intricate art.

    kb

    Feature

    BM High Celebrates its Prominent History

    The need for secondary level English-language education spurred the birth of Bukit Mertajam High School.

    kb

    Carpe Diem

    Politics is in the Blood of the Young

    With 72% of the population under 40, Malaysia's youths have a huge role to play.

    kb

    Penang Economic Indicator

    Penang’s Manufacturing Sector Grows, Despite Some Headwinds

    The industry is estimated to remain carefully upbeat this year.

    kb

    Utter Economics

    Budget Cuts Wounding Public Health

    Medical care services and public health allocations suffered budget reductions – and we should be worried.

    kb

    Utter Economics

    A Diverse Country Attracts a Diversity of Tourists

    In the last decade, tourism has emerged as a vital component of the national economy.

    kb

    Oddly Enough

    The Budget Speech is NOT the Budget (Part Two)

    The federal government’s murky budgeting practices have serious consequences.

    kb

    Review

    The Enemy that is Ourselves

    A review of Zairil Khir Johari's book – a compilation of his thought-provoking essays.

    kb

    Footprints

    Imagined Communities, Real Women

    Captivating stories of Malaysian women in history are gradually being told.

    kb

    Penang Palette

    A Mountain is Much More than a Mountain

    James Sum's dualistic and ambiguous works intrigue observers.

    kb

    Statistics

    Penang's Economic Performance

    A look at the state's economic growth over the past five years.

    Advertisement

    awesome comments

    Other Stories

    1. July, 2016

      Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

      Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
    2. June, 2016

      A New Era Comes to Balik Pulau

      From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
    3. May, 2016

      A City For All Classes

      Liveability is more than just making it to the top of a list; it is about ensuring quality of life is available to every spectrum of society.
    4. April, 2016

      A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

      We have more champions than we think.
    5. March, 2016

      Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

      With an array of outdoor activities, ecotourism flourishes in Teluk Bahang.
    6. February, 2016

      TPPA – The Winners and the Losers

      Malaysia makes a bold move in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It will change the game for many Malaysian companies.
    7. January, 2016

      Education – Ever the political victim

      Every political crisis inevitably claims its share of casualties. Normally, those who fall on the wrong side in the corridors of power will find their careers cut short. It is no different in Malaysia. Time and again, we have seen ministers and high ranking officials dismissed, along with their retinue of retainers and apparatchiks every ...

    Utter Economics

    Budget Cuts Wounding Public Health

    Slashes made to public health and medical care expenditure contradict the government’s “enhanced healthcare” provision promise and put public health at risk.

    “Health is everything. As such, concerted efforts will be implemented to enhance the health levels of the rakyat and quality of the healthcare in the country,” said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak during the tabling of Budget 2017.

    However, the ability of the government to deliver on this promise may be jeopardised by the serious budgetary reductions in public health and medical care operational expenditure (Opex). This year, medical care services, which cover hospital supplies, blood transfusion medication and pharmaceutical supplies, suffered an RM589mil allocations cut, dropping by 12.9% from RM4.576bil in 2016 to RM3.987bil in 2017. Public health allocations fared even worse, falling from RM1.483bil in 2016 to RM1.245bil in 2017, amounting to a 16% reduction.

    As Table 1 shows, budget cuts have been made to almost all items listed under public health and medical care. Apart from cardiothoracic treatment, expenditure cuts have been made in significant areas such as pharmacies and supplies for public health, where opex fell by 11.9%, family health development (17.9%), and forensic science, which saw the biggest decrease (56.7%).

    The anecdotal evidence that emerged recently, including cases of laboratory tests being suspended and the shortage of medicines,[1] already points to funding challenges faced by the Ministry of Health (MoH). It will not be surprising if further budget cuts in these key areas lead to more such cases in 2017.

    One division that has experienced worrying cuts in resources is disease control, where allocations were reduced by 22.6%. The division now will receive RM53.1mil less than last year. Such cuts will jeopardise the government’s ability to combat dengue, which is already at record levels in urban areas, as well as the lurking threat of Zika.

    The MoH is already buckling under the weight of rising medicine costs and anticipated increases in patient load. Cutbacks on services and supplies only cripple its ability to handle these challenges, much less rise to meet new ones.

    Workforce and Outsourcing

    These concerns aside, there have been some positive measures made to the MoH budget. In certain areas, allocation has actually increased; one example is the introduction of an additional grade 56 between grade 54 and JUSA C, which will give timely and well-deserved promotions to medical and dental specialists and encourage them to remain in public service.

    According to budget estimates, this will result in an additional RM1.1bil spent on emoluments (Items 2 and 3 under Dasar Baru), accounting for 83.2% of the total increase for emoluments in 2017. The estimates further show that MoH intends to retain a large majority of the current workforce (generally reflected in Bil. Jawatan) while maintaining a 20.3% budget cut on management costs, which suggests a desire for “lean management” practice.

    While increasing allocations for emoluments is a step in the right direction, other increases in operating expenditure are somewhat harder to justify. For example, in the budget estimates, a whopping RM2.015bil was specially allocated for a programme covering the “privatisation of hospital support services.” In his parliamentary reply, health minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam clarified that this special allocation would be given to five outsourced companies tasked with providing hospital support services such as facility maintenance engineering, biomedical services, biochemical waste management, and laundry and cleaning services. All in all, 148 public hospitals will be served.[2]

    However, awarding such a large sum towards the privatisation of hospital support services seems excessive, especially given the large funding slashes simultaneously made to public health and medical care sectors, where resource allocations can make a difference to a wider swathe of society.

    Moreover, certain background details surrounding the relationship between the companies and MoH raise more questions than answers. Three out of five of these companies had been awarded 15-year concession contracts for similar services from the period of 1997 to 2011, and then, in 2015, they again received a 10-year contract renewal. Could the cost of these concessions have been lowered if there is greater competition and transparency?

    Although the overall Health Budget for 2017 has increased (from RM23.03bil to RM24.8bil, representing a 7.7% increase), a further breakdown of allocations shows significant cutbacks made to public health and medical care – both areas that directly impact public access to healthcare service and treatment.

    In other areas, greater resources have been awarded for retaining professionals in public service and privatising hospital support services. The justification of spending more in these areas must be weighed against cutting down in other – arguably more critical – areas of healthcare.

    Development Takes a Back Seat

    Reduced development allocations are also expected to negatively impact MoH’s public healthcare delivery services. The 2017 Budget set a new low for development expenditure with a budget reduction of 16.4%, from RM1.6bil in the previous year to RM1.34bil in 2017.

    Broadly speaking, MoH’s budget has increased on a year-on-year basis (except for 2016), peaking at RM24.8bil for 2017 (Figure 1). However, the allocations set aside for development expenditure have gone the opposite way.

    In 2010 development expenditure totalled RM3.58bil or 24.3% of total expenditure. This amount has steadily declined over the years, reaching an all-time low of RM1.34bil, or a mere 5.4% share of the overall health budget for 2017 (Figure 2).

    Excluding the public health sub-sector, which received surplus allocations for providing urban health services, almost all development line items for 2017 have been slashed (Figure 3), the most significant cutbacks being in staff training (RM60mil or 54.5%) and staff facilities upgrade (RM19.3mil or 54.4%).

    In his budget speech, Najib announced that the federal government would allocate resources to upgrade hospital facilities, build and upgrade new hospitals and clinics, and acquire 100 ambulances. However, the 2017 budget allocation for building new hospitals has in fact been reduced, by RM97.1mil or 35.4%. Such a significant cut will surely hamper the government’s ability to build more public healthcare infrastructure to meet growing public demands.

    Public use of government hospitals and health facilities in Malaysia has been increasing from 2010 to 2015. In 2015 about 75 million people utilised MoH primary and curative care services, with a 16.5% and 41.7% increase over 2010 in outpatient attendance in hospitals and public health clinics respectively.

    While medical workforce numbers have increased, there is a worrying gap in terms of infrastructural public health facilities, such as the number of MoH hospitals, beds and combined number of health and community clinic facilities. For example, from 2010 to 2015, the number of hospital beds in government hospitals increased by 9.5%, compared to admission rates, which rose by 18.6% in the same period.

    More Resources Needed!

    In a Facebook posting released just before the tabling of Budget 2017, [3]the director general of health Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah aired his concerns over the struggle faced by the public healthcare sector in coping with the increasing patient load.

    Noor Hisham went on to state that the MoH had taken necessary steps to reevaluate, optimise and reallocate its limited resources to “wherever it is needed the most.” According to him, these measures were aimed at increasing efficiency and effectiveness by cutting wastage and job duplications “so as to provide excellent healthcare services at reasonable costs with high satisfaction to the rakyat.”

    While these are praiseworthy objectives, the MoH’s hands are tied by chronic underinvestment in public health infrastructure. The recent RM262.1mil or 16.4% cut made to the development expenditure budget will only make it harder to bridge the gap between supply and demand.

    The result will be overcrowding in public hospitals and community clinics, and overall decreased standards in healthcare service delivery – especially to lower income groups. The federal government must therefore reexamine the development needs of MoH. Where necessary, it must endeavour to increase budget allocations to ensure the long-term sustainable development of the public health sector.

  • [1]“Vi-Jean Khoo, “Lack of funds leads to suspension of clinical laboratory tests in Malaysian hospitals,” MIMS, October 9, 2016, http://today.mims.com/ topic/lack-of-funds-leads-to-suspension-of-clinicallaboratory-tests-in-malaysian-hospitals.
  • [2]““Parlimen | 25102016 | Ong Kian Ming [Serdang],” October 24, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkRqHn7qaUA.
  • [3]““Health Ministry to optimise available money,” FMT News, October 7, 2016, http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2016/10/07/health-ministry-to-optimise-available-money/.

  • This article first appeared in Malaysiakini on November 4, 2016.

    Lim Chee Han received his PhD in Infection Biology from Hannover Medical School, Germany. He is currently a senior analyst in the economics section at Penang Institute.
    Back to Table of Contents

    awesome comments

    Other Stories

    1. July, 2016

      Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

      Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
    2. June, 2016

      A New Era Comes to Balik Pulau

      From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
    3. May, 2016

      A City For All Classes

      Liveability is more than just making it to the top of a list; it is about ensuring quality of life is available to every spectrum of society.
    4. April, 2016

      A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

      We have more champions than we think.
    5. March, 2016

      Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

      With an array of outdoor activities, ecotourism flourishes in Teluk Bahang.
    6. February, 2016

      TPPA – The Winners and the Losers

      Malaysia makes a bold move in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It will change the game for many Malaysian companies.
    7. January, 2016

      Education – Ever the political victim

      Every political crisis inevitably claims its share of casualties. Normally, those who fall on the wrong side in the corridors of power will find their careers cut short. It is no different in Malaysia. Time and again, we have seen ministers and high ranking officials dismissed, along with their retinue of retainers and apparatchiks every ...

    Rusaslina Idrus (left) presenting on women in national history, and Ezrena Marwan.

    Footprints

    Imagined Communities, Real Women

    A group of young dreamers encourage discussion through talks and storytelling and in the process, seek to reimagine Malaysia.

    Advertisement

    Expelled from school at 14 for social activism and then going on to set up a fiery women’s group; leading a march for independence because no one else would step up to do so. These acts are powerful stories in themselves, but even more so because they involved women at a time when they were largely invisible: the time of pre-independence Malaya.

    But these women refused to remain invisible, and decided to stand up to be counted. So how is it that so few know about them?

    As I listened to the talk on Stories of Women in Malaya, I, too, am not very certain that I had known of these women before that day. Dr Rusaslina Idrus, a senior lecturer at the Gender Studies Programme in University Malaya, is aware of this widespread ignorance, but her enthusiasm in presenting their stories was infectious. As she told the stories of the women who led political marches for independence and who pushed the agenda for political change, realisation slowly sank in that there are indeed very large gaps in our historical consciousness.

    Largely absent are women like Sakinah Junid (1923-2004) who led a march from Padang Rengas to Kuala Kangsar in 1946 in protest against the Malayan Union. Or Khatijah Sidek (1918-1982) who was expelled from school for activism at 14 and went on to set up Putri Kesatria in 1944. These were women who did not just do welfare work, but also learnt to use arms.

    And then there were Shamsiah Fakeh, Janaki Devar, P.G. Lim, Sybil Karthigasu … and many more.

    “Women were very important players in the independence of Malaysia,” says Rusaslina. “They were at the forefront, marching, and not just making coffee.”

    Juana Jaafar presented women’s Malay magazines.

    But their stories are hardly told. And it’s not only in socio-political history that women are invisible. For instance, pre independence women artists are largely unknown as well.

    “It’s challenging to find information about women artists in this era,” says Ezrena Marwan, a graphic designer and founder of Malaysia Design Archive, who presented on this topic at the same talk. She noted that women’s publications in the 1930s carried many images but no information on these women artists, cartoonists and social activists.

    Some were better known, like Georgette Chen, the first woman teacher at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1954, who established the Nanyang Style of art which had a distinct Malayan aesthetic. But very little is available about the rest.

    Women’s voices fared better in Malay women’s magazines. Juana Jaafar, who works in the communications field, said her research found that many of the magazines had a progressive outlook.

    In the 1930s the magazines had a nationalistic fervour and featured strong women who had had an impact on society. Later magazines were family oriented, often exhorting women to better themselves and stressing the importance of education. By the 1970s, the magazines highlighted strong career women.

    But by and large, their stories tend to remain restricted to such female-oriented publications. “It is important to ask ourselves, ‘why don’t we know these stories and history?’” Rusaslina says.

    One reason is the way history is written, with men prioritised in the narrative thanks to the patriarchal framework that outlines our lives. People think of great men but not great women. As she puts it vividly, many would be hard-pressed to name a Malaysian street named after a woman. The same holds for everyday life where, for instance, women coolies don’t feature as much as men. There is often an implicit bias with the work of men being more valued, says Ezrena.
    But now, these stories are gradually being assembled by enthusiasts like Rusaslina, Ezrena and Juana under their Sejarah Wanita project, an online facility for exhibitions and stories of women. Rusaslina says it was not aimed at replacing men with women, but to complement the existing historical narrative. It adds to the stories of Malaysia and encourages people to think in a bigger framework.

    Their well-attended talk, held in October 2016, was their first time speaking about the project. It was organised by Imagined Malaysia, a loose group of young adults who got together to imagine a different sort of Malaysia, inspired by the book Imagined Communities by historian Benedict Anderson.

    “Every nation is imagined, and can be reimagined,” says one of its members, Imran Rasid, in his 20s.

    They aren’t just imagining, of course, but also trying to spread the message that Malaysia can be remade. They organise talks at least once a month, and discussion groups as well. Imran says they want to encourage discussion about groups that have been marginalised, such as women, indigenous people or the elderly.

    The talk on Women in History drew a fair crowd – one-third of whom were men, and mostly young. They were enthusiastic in asking questions after the talk, and clearly left with a renewed consciousness. While they may not later remember the stories of Sakinah Junid or Georgette Chen, they may remember how they once did not know these stories. And how their consciousness about history is conditioned by the system that they live in.

    “We do find that people are interested to know, especially young people who are more proactive in looking for information,” says Rusaslina.

    “And it is important to know.”

    A cover of Ibu Melayu, one of the earliest women’s Malay magazines.

    Carolyn Hong lives in Ba Kelalan sometimes, in KL sometimes. A former journalist who once chased the big stories for a regional newspaper, she now hunts for the small stories in Malaysia’s smallest places.
    Back to Table of Contents

    awesome comments

    Other Stories

    1. July, 2016

      Where the Sea Meets the City is Where the World Meets Penang

      Intrinsically linked to the water, George Town's waterfront is where it all began – and it still continues to amaze.
    2. June, 2016

      A New Era Comes to Balik Pulau

      From affordable housing to quaint homestays and getting in touch with nature and the land, the township is undergoing an interesting revival.
    3. May, 2016

      A City For All Classes

      Liveability is more than just making it to the top of a list; it is about ensuring quality of life is available to every spectrum of society.
    4. April, 2016

      A Sky of Stars: Penang Shines as a Sporting State

      We have more champions than we think.
    5. March, 2016

      Make a Date with Nature: Tourism Turns Green with Age

      With an array of outdoor activities, ecotourism flourishes in Teluk Bahang.
    6. February, 2016

      TPPA – The Winners and the Losers

      Malaysia makes a bold move in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It will change the game for many Malaysian companies.
    7. January, 2016

      Education – Ever the political victim

      Every political crisis inevitably claims its share of casualties. Normally, those who fall on the wrong side in the corridors of power will find their careers cut short. It is no different in Malaysia. Time and again, we have seen ministers and high ranking officials dismissed, along with their retinue of retainers and apparatchiks every ...