Malaysia Journal (in progress)
original posts at http://jinja.apsara.org
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Malaysia.Tharum gets to go to London, I get to go to Malaysia. I'm going to present something on 'Blogs in Higher Education' as well as talk about Khmer Animation. (The real reason? Get some Lat comics .)
Also hope to talk to local Arts Network Asia outlet 'Five Arts' about our Komik Cambodia project - next steps. Justin Hall (True Travel Tales) just happens to be traveling through as well, this should rock!
Have googled around and found BlogsMalaysia, full of posts and great Malaysian slang lah. Have contacted some of their editors, email is bouncing so I try some workarounds. Cambodian IT, argh.
Hope to come back with info to compare Cambodia with other Southeast Asian blogging scenes. Maybe we can do an informal blog meetup. Totally lost in KL though.
* * *
Reflow opening last night, good visual art (check out Sopheap Pich's 'Klein bottle' collaborative rattan sculpture. (One of the artists is basing his paintings on MySpace profile exaggerations!) I'm straining my neck to see what's going on, and realize the view might be better from the window outside.
So I go outside and there's Svay Ken. Drawing, taking notes for a future painting. He's way ahead of the game. No nonsense and 100% artist. I'll just stop here and follow his example, time to do my own comic.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
Comics, Culture, Controversycartoonist, I'm hoping to find some local comics and culture.
It will be an interesting time to visit Malaysia.
As a blogger, I hope to at least get one night out for geekin', and take a snapshot of how things look to a visitor.
The 'cartoon controversy' has been a subject of much debate on my comics email groups. Having some friends who follow Islam / come from Islamic cultures, my initial response is 'they just didn't get it'. The cartoonists and publishers didn't understand the culture they were critiquing well enough.
Secondly, if I was a believer in Islam, my reaction would be pity. I'd want to educate these people. If that didn't work, I'd turn away from them, and warn others they were not open-minded. I'm sad to see such social unrest, and don't understand fully what's fueling it all. I would like to see these many protesters take up pens, not weapons.
Still a lot to figure out. I'm getting my news through a very narrow filter so it will be good to read more in Kuala Lumpur.
Justin Hall and I hope to meet up as well, it will all be so fast! Maybe we set up a Petaling Street Comicker/Blogger Noodle night? I arrive Sunday late and leave Wed Afternoon. Am gearing my talk more about project blogs/non-formal education. Big challenge in Cambodia: language issues.
Aspirations for Trip:
1. Present kickass paper and workshop.
2. Meet some bloggers (BlogsMalaysia? Petaling Street?[update - looks like tentative plan for Tues lunch, email me for details]) and find out what 'meng-orgy-kan' means. Lots of Global Voices links, that's a good sign.
3. Distribute some copies of Indonesian language QuickDraw. (I've been told repeatedly that Indonesian and Malaysian are COMPLETELY SEPARATE languages, but well, I have these extra copies....)
4. With Justin, go on a pilgrimage to Lat's house, bow down and say, 'We're not worthy, we're not worthy.'
...maybe fix his web site.
5. Well, I can't tell you this one. Maybe later.
6. Find animasi and orang komikus Malaysia.
7. Seek out Malaysian hip hop / punk tunes and shows.
What I'll probably do:
Spend most of my time obsessing over my paper/workshop presentations, doodle cartoons of academic grooming habits, buy a used copy of 'Orang Kota' at a book stall on my way back to the airport.
Blogs that I've been referred to, or that have linked:
http://educationmalaysia.blogspot.com/ (education related)
http://educatedeviate.wordpress.com (education related)
Monday, Feb 13
Got in late to KL last night. Great to catch up with Tom Chandler, after about a year.
(Dr Who? No, it's Dr. Tom. Check out that neon phone booth. Just what the heck is it there for?)
Moved hotels (blog mafia gave me a referral, that rocks!) - and- *(crucial)* got an adapter so I can use my laptop. Jeez, I thought Cambodia used every kind of plug in its haphazard wiring but I guess not.
Today: conference stuff, meeting and greeting. 'It's like a miniature United Nations' said one person today. Hopefully sans bureaucracy, so far so good! Been given all the tools I need have plenty of things to share. We'll see what kind of a crowd shows up.
Was very excited to see a comics shop today only to find it was *closed* and now only a lock shop. Alas. Meetup with Justin Hall tonight. That will provide some fun.
Tomorrow: informal Malaysian Blogger meetup in KL @ lunchtime (email jinja [via]ekit [dot] com) if you want in. Then conference blog workshop.
Today the Conference opened with the usual speeches and dedications.
An entertaining addition was a theatre troupe that was employed to break down formal barriers by doing short skits interpreting conference events. Mixed reactions from the participants.
Most arresting for me is the short intro by Monash's South African visitor, who talked about some of the terminology used in the reconciliation effort there. There's been plenty of talk about this in Cambodia, but is anybody really focusing on this exclusively? Already we have Cambodian deminers going to Sudan, there could be more than just technical interchange between these two very different worlds.
As the clock hit 7:30 I ducked out of the conference intro party to meet comix compatriot Justin Hall. He suggested we meet in downtown Kuala Lumpur at a Starbucks; just as a landmark, not to eat. Malaysia is a riot of architecture - local, international, colonial, new, old - but don't let that deter you; go for the food!
We hit a local
eatery and proceeded to chow down, interspersing comics updates with gulps of
tandoori and daal.
Justin’s over 6 feet and rumor has it that he’s the inspiration for the wave of “Malaysian Bigfoot” sightings. But he’s really known for ‘True Travel Tales’, which won him a Xeric grant and may eventually be collected into a book size anthology. Cool!
Justin’s here in part to document Thaipusam, Malaysia's important Hindu celebration, which takes place every year by the caves outside of Kuala Lumpur. Apparently there’s some pretty extreme behaviour at these gatherings – piercings, trances, etc. (Well, it seems extreme to westerners like us.)
He’s looking for some clothing to take back to the states. Me, fashion advisor? Justin: "yes, I am the world's most sartorially challenged gay man". (Pull quote!)
Beyond his travels he’s curating two comics shows with Jesse Reklaw (Slow Wave) – one of queer artists at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, and one of Bay area cartoonists. Do these guys ever sleep?
We both note that Something Should be Done for Jesse’s 10th anniversary of Slow Wave, one of the first ever web comics. Great to catch the comics goss.
Justin is very curious about both Cambodia (and the folks he met last January) and Australia, where he’ll be going next. He’s happy to hear we are working on finding a way to publish Em Satya, have published two NGO comics recently, and that Sin Yang Pirom’s done a new book.
Thanks to the gods of comics I happen to have a Melbourne comic on me so I proceed to give it to him. Can't go wrong with Mandy Ord. I suggest he connect with Silent Army and take it from there.
Yes, there are comics, queer folk, and queer comics in Australia. This leads to a bit of speculation – is doing comics (always being marginalized, always having to assert your legitimacy) similar to identifying as gay? We play with this notion a bit. Justin thinks there’s a lot of similarities, but points out that queer cartoonists are alienated even from *alternative* comics culture.
We head out to see Petaling Street, the Chinese shopping district. Justin in search of a tasty ‘shave ice’ dessert, me looking for Malaysian Hip Hop. Alas, we’re unlucky for both. “It’s as big as your HEAD” he enthuses about these icy treats. Maybe next time.
We wander around a bit, killing time before Justin’s bus leaves that PM. He points out that the nearby gay nightclub is just a few hundred meters from one of the most historic mosques. He digs hearing the call to worship 5 times a day. To him it’s exotic and a reminder that he’s on the road, but to hear it at home would of course be completely different.
We’re both intrigued by the recent controversy surrounding the Danish cartoons. For once being an American abroad is relatively safe! I figure he should return to Cambodia at some point, he speaks some French and is big on teaching and community building.
‘Keep up the struggle’ he encourages as I depart. Viva dessinateurs sans frontieres!
Blogging Malaysia Part One: February 14th:BlogsMalaysia, I'd sent out a few emails to see if anyone was interested in a weblog meetup. It's kind of like being a cartoonist; wherever you go, there are people in the same game.
For some reason most went for Japanese food.
Hey, my laptop can do tricks!
Wi-Fi in the mall - I'm envious.
I got email back right away and over the next few days we set up a lunch meeting. I'd make contact at a train station not far from the conference.
Breakfast is at a congee place just around the corner from the hotel. I'd brought my phone in hopes of getting a local simcard but never got around to it. I don't want to lug my phone around all day (like I'd done yesterday) so I decide to take my Cambodian simcard out.
I spend most of the morning attending some meetings, and mentally reviewing my presentation plans for this afternoon's 'Weblogs in Higher Education' workshop. I always get a bit jittery before a presentation but this is a subject I know inside and out.
I ditch the tie and long sleeved shirt for a t-shirt I have in my case, and head out around 11:30. I arrive at the station and there are three levels. I have 'Jinja' written on the back of my conference schedule in large print, and wander around a bit but can't seem to spot anyone. I go across the street to look for a net cafe - I can't seem to find the phone number I was given. Dang. Looks like I'm going to miss this meetup.
Then Kamigoroshi walks up to me and says 'Are you Jinja?' Turns out my red hair looks more blond, that was the mixup. (Honest, it's 'red' on my drivers' license!) I should have said "I'll stand on top of a car and wave a scarf" or something.
So we pile into a car and head over to one of the local malls, chatting a mile a minute about blogs, local culture, travel tips, current events - as if this is something we do every week. It seems the blog community is pretty big in Malaysia, everybody knows somebody online but not all have met in person.
First thing at the mall? We hit a bookshop. Right in front, they have Lat books! Woo HOO! I'm able to get a collection of his short strips as well as Mat Som, a classic that I seem to remember reading over 10 years ago. Ever since "Kampung Boy" has been animated Lat seems to have been canonized.
At the store we connect with another of our Malaysian weblog diplomatic contingent who's been doing some shopping with her mother. (And possibly the parent was curious to get a look at this exotic foreign blogger.)
The amusing thing is my own Mom had just emailed me a 'Neighborhood Watch' alert about the growing popularity of MySpace.com, warning me that I should utilize caution when interacting with strange people on the internet. The 'alert' sounded a bit overstated, but the concern was appopriate.
This is a theme that kept coming up in discussions on my trip, in and outside of the conference. What is a web community? Who 'owns' it, who 'polices' it?
My thoughts? We should apply the same general approach to virtual space as we do to physical space. My web site is like my house.
If you want to email or comment, that's fine. If you're rude I'll ask you to leave. For online communities, they should be governed by consensus, hopefully in a democratic way. Young children who use the internet should be supervised (according to age/maturity) in virtual space just as they are in the real world. Of course, you'll always have the challenge of children growing up - when is it appropriate to loosen the supervision? The most important thing I think is to raise your kids to have good values and critical thinking skills, so that they'll be able to make judgements independently as they move into the adult world.
That's my theory for now anyway. Also, our mothers are the best. They care enough to watch out for us, and have raised us in an environment that's led to us becoming digital citizens who want to make a difference.
Right. So our total ensemble is Jinja, Kamigoroshi, EternalWanderer, Geminianeyes, and EducateDeviate. They're curious about Cambodia's involvement in the blog world and I tell them a bit about Global Voices, IT challenges and how KhmerOS has been doing some cool stuff. After time out for ordering food (lots of cool choices) we talk shop. All like the idea that they can use a blog name, having a degree of anonymity lets them feel freer to talk.
There's some discussion about Kelantan and Terengganu, the states that are governed by a pro-Islamic party. What's interesting is that stricter Islamic rules are being enforced, if it's proved you're Muslim.
"How can you tell?" I ask. "People convert to religions or lose their faith every day."
One of the technorati waves an identity card with a gilded tech tag at me. "With this." Holy cow, they've been chipped! Malaysia is looking more and more like the Singaporean model of government.
If you've registered your religion then you can easily be identified - and disciplined. This seems to be a recurring thought of numerous people I talk to in Kuala Lumpur. They're not against Islam, but apprehensive about social freedoms being restricted.
It's a little hard to believe this is happening as I sit in a shopping mall full of multicultural food and a table full of multicultural bloggers. After last night hanging with Justin at Petaling Street, and this afternoon, I've seen so much contrast.
There's some amusement as they discuss a previous attempt to stamp out 'black metal'. (Yes unlike Cambodia, Malaysia has a rock and roll scene!) Of course the media attention just resulted in more interest over this sub-culture. I ask where I can get some Malaysian hip hop.
We also chew over the idea that we should have some more exchange within Southeast Asia. Maybe a regional portal, or a Cambodia/Malaysia blogger exchange? Most of us have our laptops with us so we're busy showing sites we've cached or recommend.
EducateDeviate is very big on alternative education and such programs as 'gap-year' breaks. She's about to get profiled in 'The Star', which should be fun.
The clock starts ticking and we realize I have to go. I use my camera's video function to film some tiny profiles of each person. I give them some kramas, the Cambodian souvenir that never goes wrong. Then we head on over to the taxi queue and say goodbye. But there's always email....
Videoblogging: Eternal Wanderer, Geminianeyes,Kamigoroshi, EducateDeviate.
I feel a strange sense of calm as I head back for my workshop. I've got my Lat books, like a totem. And it's great to meet people with similar interests, I feel like I've been upgraded from 'tourist' to 'guest'.