Ak57\’s Weblog

Thoughts and opinions on Malaysian news, its people and its culture

Archive for January 2010

Moving Towards a Change in Lifestyle – No Plastic Bags

Several years ago I used to stockpile used plastic bags from supermarkets, with the intention of sending them for recycling. Then a friend pointed out to me that such plastic bags were bio-degradable (actually, photo-degradable) and all my collecting was for naught. She was right. As the years went by plastic bags became thinner and quickly changed composition after exposure to air. They become flimsy constructs – a single touch and they break apart into tiny pieces. Pieces that are tough to clean up as they stick to rags, fingers and the inside of a vacuum cleaner. I still have a drawer full of stored plastic bags that I’m hesitant to open in case a gust of wind breaks them into pieces. This decomposition happens in stages by the way, I wouldn’t recommend you experiment at home.

These plastic bags used to come in handy for throwing rubbish, but due to their deterioration I had no choice now but to buy the black/blue/green plastic bags sold in supermarkets. What was I to do now? I can’t recycle them. I can’t use them. I hate just throwing them out with the garbage because it is so wasteful. I don’t even like that plastic bag usage is so dominant in our society – I’m strongly anti-plastic/Styrofoam/polystyrene. At one of the places where I worked I brought my own bowl to takeaway food from the nearby restaurant.

So the only solution left was to change my lifestyle to reduce the number of useless bags lying around the house. For years I’ve been following the lifestyle of ‘only buying what I can carry’ because I conveniently find myself near a supermarket every few days. Sometimes when I buy many items, or items that can’t mix I do use plastic bags. I often keep a scrunched-up bag in my pocket for such situations. These lifestyle changes have effectively removed the problem I used to have.

No Plastic Bag Day Campaign

In Selangor/KL, IKEA set an example by charging for all plastic bags in June 2009, with the proceeds going to the Malaysian Nature Society. This was part of its commitment to phase out plastic bags at all its outlets worldwide, initiated in March 2007. This was followed by Village Grocer since August 2009 that gave an option of getting a used free plastic bag, or paying for a new plastic bag. Cold Storage made the bizarre move of banning plastic bags on Thursdays, forcing customers to buy a canvas/polymer bag or use their own. For shoppers caught unawares at the cashier this seems like cruel punishment. Why buy a bag that can last for years, just because you forgot to bring your own? I have personally witnessed angry customers demanding they be given the option of a plastic bag rather than buy a bag. I learned my lesson after a few visits – don’t visit Cold Storage on Thursdays.

In July 2009 Penang government started a ‘No Plastic Bag’ campaign, implemented as a tax on businesses, with the proceeds going towards welfare. Retailers had to start charging customers 20 sen for plastic bags and starting 2010 the state government made it mandatory for retail outlets to adopt ‘No Plastic Bag Mondays’ or ‘No Plastic Three Days (Mon-Wed)’.

This month the Selangor government started a similar campaign for Saturdays and is considering making it mandatory like in Penang. I guess the Penang campaign started on weekdays to ‘test the waters’ and now that Selangor has seen the good reception there its safe to start with Saturdays where the consumer base is larger.

Unfortunately the campaign implementation in Selangor is left up to the supermarket, so the proceeds from sales of plastic bags are not guaranteed to go towards welfare. No wonder so many stores are eager to sign up, it’s a no-brainer for them because they can earn profit from previously free bags! You can read about how major supermarkets implemented it at this blog.

No Plastic Bags? Are They Crazy?

The name ‘No Plastic Bag’ sends a mixed message. As the unlucky customers of Cold Storage found out, one message is fear. The Penang and Selangor state governments had to clarify that they don’t mean to ban plastic bags completely, just reduce their usage. They want to promote reusable bags as an alternative to plastic bags, hence ‘no plastic bag’.

Couldn’t they come up with a less scary campaign title though? I know ‘No Plastic Bag, Reuse Bags Instead’ and ‘Less Plastic Bag Day’ aren’t catchy alternatives and given time people will understand. My first reaction to the campaign title was shock, because I don’t want to live in a future where I’m told to go home and get my own bag (because the store doesn’t provide any)!

We are right to fear a ban on plastic bags. Some items stain or smell so they need to be kept separate, especially meat, fish and vegetables. You can’t be expected to bring a container for each category of item, especially when its something small like a dozen eggs. There is also the hygiene aspect – reusable bags I see offered by supermarkets today aren’t easy to clean and wouldn’t survive repeated trips in the washing machine. Some form of disposable packaging is needed.

We didn’t always have the luxury of plastic bags. We used baskets, paper bags and cardboard boxes for our shopping. That was before the advent of hypermarkets where food, sundries, clothes, footwear, electronics and more can be obtained in one visit. You know how it is when you go shopping for a few items and end up at the cashier with more than you planned for?

Even if you did bring your own bag(s), the option of a plastic/paper bag should always be there. Start with 10-20 sen now, make it daily instead of one day a week and slowly raise the price over the next 5-10 years to phase out its usage.

Impact for the Future

The reason supermarkets moved into shopping malls is because of the convenience of it. Shopping malls with cinemas, restaurants, supermarkets and retailers meant people could go there for one reason (food) and sidetrack into shopping for clothes and buying groceries.

There will come a time when the cost of a plastic bag becomes prohibitive. Forcing consumers to bring their own bag means they will only go to the supermarket when it is planned. This reduces the amount of casual shoppers like me, who go to a mall for one reason then pop in for a few items because it’s convenient. When that day comes I will have to start making shopping lists and planning my shopping trips well in advance.

In the future I would like to see:

  1. A ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags and food containers.
  2. The government publish standards for biodegradability and reward manufacturers of low-cost, high standard plastic bags.
  3. The Selangor government to adopt the Penang government policy of channeling the plastic bag sales funds towards welfare.
  4. Stores reward consumers for bringing their own bag. People respond better to rewards rather than punishment, even more so in a materialistic urban society like Selangor/Penang. TESCO for example has a rewards system in place that I hope other supermarkets adopt.

I hope this ‘No Plastic Bag’ campaign runs daily like Village Grocer, with the option for used plastic bags. The price being charged is negligible now and what is important is to get the consumer used to the idea of paying for something they took for granted. Then phase out the use of plastic bags slowly.

Update 2/2/2010: I read the notice issued by Elizabeth (Exco for Environment, Consumer Affairs and Tourism) on 29th December 2009 to participating businesses where she states that consumers must pay 20 sen for each plastic bag and the proceeds from those sales are to be channeled towards charities as part of the companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The wording implies it is compulsory because the campaign comes into force starting 4th January 2010. However it is clear that the Selangor govt is taking a soft approach as the participating companies are implementing CSR in their own way, such as absorbing the profits then giving discounts without a clear link between money earned and money returned to the people.

The main focus in Selangor now is on reducing usage of plastic bags and not about welfare as there is no tracking being done. This explains why I found no mention of channeling the money towards welfare in any media. I stand by my hope that we follow Penang’s example one day .

Written by ak57

January 17, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Arsonists Blacken the Name of Islam

I was shocked to wake up yesterday and read the news about the church bombings. Though I think the media could have used a better word – arson seems more appropriate because when people see ‘bomb’ they start thinking C4 and dynamite. It makes me sad to think that in all likelihood Muslims performed this crime. I cannot think of a group more motivated to do it other than the group that want Allah to be exclusive to Muslims in our country. That’s a large group with many suspects.

Reactions were swift and there were so many, I’ll only list some:

  1. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak issued a statement condemning the attacks (link)
  2. Selangor Chief Minister Khalid Ibrahim visited one of the churches attacked, condemned the attacks and called for calm (link)
  3. BN Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin also visited a church, condemned the attacks and urged for caution by the public in making statements or taking action following these incidents (link)
  4. The King urged people to remain calm (link)
  5. Cabinet Minister Bernard Dompok stated that actions by irresponsible parties had clouded relations between the races in the country, and called for reflection and prayer (link)
  6. Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein and Information Minister Rais Yatim condemned the attacks (link1 and link2)
  7. The government warned that ISA will be used if necessary (link)
  8. Pakatan Rakyat condemned the church attacks (link)
  9. PKR President Wan Azizah issued a statement calling for tolerance and peace (link)
  10. DAPSY and Selangor DAP issued statements condemning the attacks (link1 and link2)
  11. PAS issued a statement condemning the attack (link)
  12. Pakatan Rakyat asked UMNO to take responsibility for the attacks (link)
  13. 121 NGO groups released a joint statement condemning the attacks (link)
  14. Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan gave frequent updates on the investigation, too many links so I’ll only list one (link)
  15. PM Najib allocates RM500,000 to Metro Tabernacle Church to be rebuilt elsewhere (link)

For the record, the four churches attacked by arsonists were:

  1. Metro Tabernacle Church in Desa Melawati, KL
  2. Assumption Church in Jalan Templer, PJ
  3. Life Chapel in Section 17, PJ
  4. Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in PJ

After reading the reports I can’t help but feel that these attacks were coordinated. The hacking of the Judiciary and Herald websites; the use of motorcycle helmets as bombs; the close timing of the attacks – all of these indicate an organised group at work to intimidate our people and keep our country divided.

What message do these attacks send to non-Muslims in this country? The SMS messages being forwarded around sounded extreme – if you wear a cross you will be beaten; if your car has a church sticker it will be smashed; a church in Kg.Subang torched; cars in Bangsar KL smashed. All lies yet people still forwarded it around.

Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance yet too often we see Muslims practicing bigotry, inciting hatred and curtailing personal freedom. Small wonder then that people are so gullible and paranoid.

It makes my heart weep to know these criminals have created fear of Islam and reinforced fear of Islam in this country. I am glad that leaders from both sides have condemned the attacks and the PM gave the allocation (despite losses of est. RM1+ million by that church).

Hopefully everyone will remain calm and there is no escalation to the conflict. I sincerely hope that Christians understand these acts do not reflect the feelings of most Muslims in this country.

I made the poster above, feel free to forward it around.

Written by ak57

January 10, 2010 at 5:15 am

The Ban on Christians Reading Allah

When I was growing up I had a number of bad experiences with Christian friends trying to convert me. I’ll leave the details for another article but most of the time they would use deception by tricking me into joining their social outings that included prayers, chanting, singing hymns etc. Once the religious nature of the activity was revealed there would be an awkward situation as I excused myself. They did not respect my right to refuse, insisting that my faith was ‘wrong’ and I ‘needed to be saved’. Sometimes we would be friends for years and suddenly they would pressure me to join their faith. I have even seen Christians enter relationships with non-believers for the purpose of converting the other. I’m not making this up.

I don’t care what religion you come from but if the person you are trying to convert is not interested in listening to your preaching then you should just leave him be. Don’t force them to listen or use deception. You can’t expect people to respect your faith if you don’t respect theirs.

I initially found myself conflicted when the Roman Catholic Archbishop as publisher of The Herald went to court to get the right to use Allah to refer to God in the publication. I haven’t met a religious Christian in this country who accepts that we both worship the same God but in different ways. I have also met religious Christians who find the idea of using Allah in that context to be insulting. Obviously Christians themselves are divided on this issue.

What is the issue really? What problems could it cause? I think back to my own bad experiences. If I did not have a strong grounding in my faith, and a group of friends came up to me asking for me to join them in prayer to Allah – I would say yes. If everyone spoke in Malay and someone preached teachings from God I would listen and take it to heart. I would be happily learning about Christianity, all the while thinking it was Islam. At some point my friends would lift the veil and reveal that all that the activities that had been giving me comfort and joy were Christian activities, and Islam isn’t providing me with any of this so I should become a Christian.

So I will admit that I felt a bit uneasy because I wasn’t sure why The Herald publisher wanted to use Allah instead of Tuhan (a generic Malay word for God, used in a monotheistic context).

I soon learned that this use of Allah issue is mainly for the benefit of Sabah and Sarawak where Malaysians have been practicing Christianity in Malay for a long time, where they do use Allah instead of Tuhan. It should be a non-issue then as there is a pre-existing use of the word Allah by the church.

So why is the BN-led Federal Government playing up this issue? Why file a stay of execution on the court ruling? The Home Ministry banned the use of the word by the publisher; the publisher went to court; court ruled in favour of the publisher – it should have ended there. Dragging it out further just continues to reinforce the message that the current government suppresses the rights of Christians, Sabahans and Sarawakians.

I know that Allah is merely Arabic for God. I do support the right of Christians to print Malay bibles and related publications for their followers. Religion should not be constrained by language because it’s easier to understand if it is written in your native language. I myself have an English Al-Quran because I understand English better than any other language, and a trusted fellow Muslim recommended the translation that I have. It should be alright to use Allah in a Malay-medium Christian publication whether in Peninsular or East Malaysia.

But I can’t completely shake off the fear that young Muslims will undergo more subversive conversion tactics such as the one I described. I don’t know if you, the reader, have experienced what I have but I’m glad I did because it helps me understand why many Malay Muslims are riled up about the court ruling and plan to protest today. Without my bad experiences I too would join the many bloggers out there condemning these protestors.

If I had not been exposed to foreign culture, not learned about other religions, and stayed in one town for most of my life then I would be quite narrow minded. It is easy to criticise the mentality of the poorly educated. What I feel the government should do is accept the ruling and allow The Herald to use Allah, and focus on improving religious education at school. Better yet have a Proposition for people to vote on so each state can have its own ruling on this issue. If that is not possible then let the State Assemblies vote on it for their respective states.

Remember, there are many Muslims in this country that don’t use Internet and have a poor command of English which limits their access to television shows and newspapers. Mention of Christians using Allah in their publications is very offensive to them – even PAS is internally divided on this issue.

I have more to say, but I have not been watching this issue very closely and I’m still playing catch-up. I’ll write further on this issue soon.

Written by ak57

January 8, 2010 at 8:06 am

Augustine Paul’s Passing

I was surprised to learn of Judge Augustine Paul’s death this morning. I didn’t think much of it and felt nothing. It isn’t like I knew the man after all. I only knew him as the judge who sentenced Anwar to prison, and his involvement in other high profile cases was unknown to me.

I don’t get it. After he sentenced Anwar he walked freely around the neighbourhood, all alone, and nobody assaulted him (in retaliation for his judgment). In my naiveté I thought the nation saw him as a pawn, a small fish, not worth taking revenge on.

Yet now that he is dead I see all these postings online expressing joy, thanking God and so on for his death.

It was worse when I saw activists I knew expressing the same feelings. There is a dark vengeful side to them that I wasn’t aware of.

He was not the evil dictator of a downtrodden country. He was not a mass murderer. He was not a terrorist mastermind. Truly, are there not better villains out there to hate? Why take joy in someone’s death?

Having read these postings I feel sad now for his family, knowing that their father’s name is being cursed now and possibly for years to come. I feel sad to see the lack of humanity among Malaysians online, and among the ranks of Malaysian activists fighting for justice and peace.

You know what would have made me happy? If he had made a death-bed confession admitting to the corruption charges that people assume he is guilty of. If he done that and named the person(s) involved in said corrupt judgments. Who knows, if PR had taken over the Federal Government he might have worked out a plea bargain to deliver the bigger crooks to justice? It’s not like he can come forward now when the crooks are free to make his family disappear.

He’s dead now so we’ll never know what might have been.

 As it stands now his death served no good. It has given grief to his family and friends and short-lived joy to his accusers.

Does his passing on mean that the Judiciary is no longer corrupt? Does it undo any damage he has done to victims of his judgments?

No, it does not.

I’m sure some of the people dancing with joy now will realise that the next time the courts make a ruling that is deemed unfair. I hope they realise then that ultimately, revenge is not rewarding.

To think I’m friends with some of these people. Ugh.

References

The Star: Judge Augustine Paul dies at 66 (link)

The Star: Judge Augustine Paul laid to rest (link)

Malaysiakini: Federal Court judge Augustine Paul dies (link)

Written by ak57

January 3, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Ushering in 2010

I don’t think there’s much I can say about 2009 that wasn’t already covered in my previous post. One update I can share is that my ex-abuser picked a fight with me in public, totally embarrassing herself in the process. It was weird, depressing and funny at the same time. All this time I thought I would be the one to snap, but she snapped first. The aftermath of that was my being comforted by the people she expected to support her mad behavior, comfort I direly needed. It’s helped a lot.

I started this blog back in 2007 because it was relevant to my work at the time to keep tabs on the VK Lingam drama. Along the way I started cartooning which has long been a dream of mine (I’m a huge fan of single panel comics such as Far Side by Gary Larson). I also dabbled a bit in video but technology has evolved a lot since I last worked with the medium a decade ago, so catching up has been slow.

These past few months I’ve slowly been trying to evolve a new art style, the result of which you can see above. One reason is that I recently wrote a draft book, well more of a booklet really since its 70-odd pages of single panel comics which require a new art style. Another is moving on with life by leaving behind reminders of this difficult period.

This year I hope to make a return to writing, cartooning and documenting the political happenings in our country. I spent most of 2009 asleep and in a daze and need to get back in touch with current issues, and blogging is the best way to do that.

Written by ak57

January 3, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Posted in AK57 Comics, Personal