Thursday, October 20, 2016

Anak dara Macik Anne: Sheer idiocy or a really bad corporate strategy?

Pic sourced from the internet.

To date, the explanation on Auntie Anne's halal status given by one of its executives on Facebook has garnered more than 8,000 shares. Safe to say, her post is now viral.

Sadly, this was a stupid move.

Actually, stupid doesn't even begin to cover it. It was idiotic and moronic. I say this because, the exec had posted the 'explanation' on her personal Facebook post, signing it off as 'Anak Dara Macik Anne', probably alluding to the recently famous Nasi Lemak Anak Dara, also courtesy of social media.

Allow me to detail why I think her explanation was stupid. First of all, she works for a company which, as logic would assume, must have a proper headquarters, complete with their own Public Relations or Corporate Communications department. They should because, the company that owns the Auntie Anne's franchise in Malaysia, Chrisna Jenio Sdn Bhd, is a registered private limited company and has been in operations since 1996. They also have 45 outlets across the country.

With that said, why didn't they issue an official statement? While many have been applauding the exec for providing an explanation, these people fail to see that what she did was actually rather juvenile.

However, the main reason why I feel her Facebook post was stupid was because she had opted to include the 'pretzel dog' bit in it.

If Auntie Anne's had bothered to issue a statement, any public relations officer with half a mind would not include 'sordid' details.

There is no reason to inform the public on why the application was rejected and get into specifics, especially when the bigger issue here is why has it taken 20 years for the pretzel chain to apply for a halal certification? What I would like to know is when did they first submit their application to Jakim?

This is why with regards to the whole 'dog' fiasco that blew up the past few days, I place the blame solely on the idiotic Facebook post by the exec.

I stress that there was no need for her to mention the 'pretzel dog' bit because according to Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom today, he said Jakim never banned the name. Instead, he said that there were compromises that could be made.

"If (an establishment) wants to protect a name, compromises can be made in the sense as well. But for Auntie Anne's, it wasn't a rejection, it was just a proposal. At the end of the day, they can't be denied a certificate just because of the name," Jamil Khir said, as reported by a news report on Free Malaysia Today (FMT).

If the pretzel dog matter had never been mentioned, the internet would not have exploded over the past few days about food names.

It went from pretzel dogs to hot dogs to root beers, to turkey ham to beef bacon, even to the extent of UK's Daily Mail carrying a story, headlined, "Hot Dogs will be banned in Malaysia unless restaurants agree to change their name because they sound too 'dirty' to be halal.'

Of course this was clearly a spin of an epic proportion, and I can't blame the exec for Daily Mail's spin, I stand by the fact that this wouldn't have happened if only Auntie Anne's had the good sense of issuing an official statement.

And it's not just Daily Mail, our 'dog' issue has also been carried by the BBC, RT (Russian network), Fox News, CBS News, New York Daily News, and I don't know how many others. So I guess a 'congratulations' is in order for 'anak dara Macik Anne'.

This brings me to the question of whether the exec went rogue (on the explanation) or was it a corporate strategy by Chrisna Jenio Sdn Bhd?

Either way, both moves were stupid.

While maybe the exec enjoyed her 15 seconds of fame thanks to her Facebook post, and also, while many may disagree with me, I stand by what I say, that her move was idiotic and does not reflect the proper conduct of an employee, or a company (if this was a move sanctioned by the company). - FH

Stop telling me I'm confused!

(Pic credit Instagram @oskarandmeyerdachshunds)

My parents made sure I received proper education while I was growing up. Before I was 7, they sent me to kindergarten for a good 3 years. At home, the education did not stop. I was encouraged to read and by 6, I was reading the newspaper. There is also a picture of me at about 5 or 6, falling asleep with a copy of a political book by SH Alattas. Not sure what I understood from the book at the time, but my point is that I was not deprived of education. I was also exposed to good music at a young age. At 7, I entered the public education system and stayed there until I finished Form 5 with a Grade 1 in SPM.

My education continued after that and until today, I am still learning. My story is not unique. Many people in this country pretty much go through the same process. What we take away from all that education will of course differ from one person to the next. What I am trying to say is that we are not a nation deprived of education.

Which is why it makes me angry when people keep telling me, or in the case of the point I would like to make in this comment piece, Muslims in general, that we are easily confused.

Remember the Jolly Shandy incident some years back? Some 'concerned' Muslims were worried that the packaging of Jolly Shandy which to them looked like any normal soda drink, would confuse the Muslim population in this country.

Never mind the fact that for any Malaysian with a clear head, Jolly Shandy has always been and will forever be an alcoholic beverage which is placed next to other alcoholic drinks at the store. Also, the fact that the word alcohol is clearly printed on the can.

Just because a few people found it to be confusing, they saw it fit to 'warn' other Muslims on social media to be wary about the drink.

Today, something similar has cropped up again. Fomca said words like 'dog' and 'beer' should not be part of the menu as it would confuse Muslim customers. It is likely that Fomca was referring to the much-loved hot dog and root beer that has been part of our lives for as long as I can remember.

While we may have joked about hot dogs and root beers with our friends, I believe most of us are aware that we weren't actually eating cute puppies wrapped in bread or that we would be pulled over by policemen for drunk driving after drinking bottles of root beer.

For those who frequent Auntie Anne's, the famous pretzel kiosk, I highly doubt there were those who got confused over their pretzel dogs.

But somehow, we have always been told that we are easily confused.

"So and so should be banned because it might confuse Muslims."

How many times have we heard this line in news reports and how many times is it actually about truly confusing things?

I feel it is an insult because Islam is a religion that emphasises education. We are supposed to keep on learning for as long as we are living beings. Education is something that does not end once we leave school. With that said, why do people keep telling us we might be confused when logic dictates that at some point, we should be able to think for ourselves?

If one or two people are confused, is it right to simply generalise?

I was never confused with the Jolly Shandy drink and I sure am not confused by hot dogs, root beers, beef bacons and turkey hams.

I am also not confused whenever I go to a Malay stall selling kuih and I see dishes like badak berendam or cucur badak. Have you ever asked the makcik selling the kuih if her husband battled an actual badak to get its meat for her to make badak berendam?
A friend asked yesterday, what about bishop's nose? Good question I would say. How many bishops sacrificed their noses for us to be able to eat dishes with bishop's nose in it? This 'confused' Muslim can safely say that the answer to that question is zero.

Also, no buffaloes (with or without wings) were harmed in the making of buffalo wings.

In the case of this whole 'dog' fiasco, I believe societal norms should come into play. Some phrases are not literal. The phrase 'hot dog' may be confusing in a society that has never heard of sausages and hot dogs. The phrase 'buffalo wings' too may be confusing in a society where winged buffaloes are in existence and they have never ever had chicken wings.

This is Malaysia. Hot dogs are sausages. Beef bacon comes from cow. Turkey ham are from turkeys. And root beers will not make you drunk. So my advice to those who think they are doing the society a favour by warning it about this and that, think first before you issue your warning.

And stop telling us we are easily confused. While you may go through life drooling and wondering about how things work the way Homer Simpson would, most of us are not like you. Most of us are actually smart, intelligent people.

With that said, I will continue to enjoy my hot dogs and root beers. And I will not purchase a can of Jolly Shandy just because I got confused. I may use the confusion as an excuse if ever my parents catch me drinking Jolly Shandy, but that one would be on me. Hic. - FH

Saturday, September 24, 2016

D'Cuatro Calientes and the Asam Pedas family

**This article first appeared on Free Malaysia Today on Sept 18. Click here to access it on FMT's website.
**The following is the longer version of the same article.

Photo credit Azrol Ali

Looking at Malaysia from the view point of what is being shared on social media, more often than not a person would come to the conclusion that Malaysia is a very racist and intolerant country. From non-Muslims getting berated for eating in public in Ramadhan, to drivers getting into racially-tinged arguments on the road to politicians spewing venomous remarks at one another, to various accounts of alleged racism happening across the country, it makes one wonder if there is hope for us.

However, if we could just turn our gazes away from our smartphones and take a look around us, we can see that Malaysia is indeed where our hearts are and is a country we should be proud of.

There are many places here where race melts away and people just sit together, happily enjoying each other's company. It is everywhere, be it a kopitiam or a mamak shop. For me, I found it in a little corner of Petaling Jaya, where a band from the Philippines, indirectly, is helping Malaysians realise the true meaning of 1Malaysia.

Calling themselves D'Cuatro Calientes, the band, made up of family members, consists of Danny and Connie Olivera, the parents, and their son Billy and his wife Lissa.

Performing outside the Asam Pedas restaurant in The Curve at Mutiara Damansara, the band, in their own way, is bringing together Malaysians of various races under one umbrella, all in the name of song and dance.

Connie told me that the band started out many years ago, initially with herself and Danny, and their brothers. However, after a while, the brothers moved away, and Connie was faced with the tough decision to let her sons be part of the group.

"When my boys were schooling, I did not want to involve them. I wanted them to be in school. Preferably no music," she said, adding that as time went by, her sons began to develop their own interest and talent in music.

While initially, the band was also made up of Danny and Connie's eldest and second son, life and tragedy soon carved a different direction for D'Cuatro Calientes.

With their second son having gotten married and settling down in Singapore and the tragic passing of their eldest son seven years ago, Billy, the youngest soon joined his parents, with Lissa coming on board later on.

It is true that music is a universal language, as upon observation, it does not matter what song was being played, be it in Spanish or Tagalog, Malay or English, Cantonese or Mandarin, as long as the beat is right, what Gloria Estefan said rings true, "the rhythm is going to get you".

D' Cuatro Calientes performs at the street section of The Curve and their performance is engaging enough that sometimes people who walk by would move to the beat. There are also couples who would slow dance, in the middle of the open area in front of the band, under the night sky.

It is also the love of song and dance that gave birth to the Asam Pedas family.

For normal shoppers, looking at some of the dancers who would perform usually on weekends, they would either assume this was a dance group hired to accompany the band.

However, they are just patrons of The Curve who would often hang out to hear the band perform and loved to do a little dancing.

The 'family' has grown over the years and its pioneers, retirees Alan Lee and his wife Susan Yeoh are now proud 'parents' of quite a few young kids who also share the same love for song and dance.

"They call me mummy," Yeoh said.

Alan Lee and Susan Yeoh. Photo credit Azrol Ali.

"This family was started by my husband and I. Slowly the group increased. More and more people came here to dance. They found that the ambience is good, music is good. It's a very healthy place, open air and I think it would be good for the youngsters to come and get together," Yeoh, 70, told me when met recently.

Her husband Lee, who is 71, said they have been dancing there for more than five years now.

"My wife and I started dancing and one of the young boys asked if he can join and then the group slowly started to grow. I used to look on YouTube (for dance steps), I learned it and I teach them. These people learn very fast," Lee said.

He then pointed over to a Michael Jackson impersonator who had earlier danced to the song Billie Jean performed by the band, to the cheers of passing shoppers.

"I encouraged MJ there to come up and dance. He was just sitting there (back then), very shy. I gave him 'semangat' to come and dance. Now he is part of the family," Lee said, smiling proudly.

MJ is 43-year-old Faizal Habib Ahmad who often hangs out to dance together with his three children.

"I come here often to hear the live band. At first I was shy. And one day, they played the song Uptown Funk. They pulled me in (to dance)," he said, adding that it was from that point on that he became acquainted with the other members of the Asam Pedas family.

"I have enjoyed dancing since I was a kid. I just do it for fun," he said, affirming that he was not a professional dancer, and that he works in a hospital.

Another member of the group, is Irwan Kurniawan Abdullah who is a freelance dancer and a choreographer.

Iwan is an orphan and had picked up dancing when he was 14.

"I've been coming to The Curve since I was 19. I saw an elderly Chinese couple dancing, I just watched them. Up until then I was just doing street dancing. When I saw them (dancing), I wanted to learn more," he said.

That was how he joined the 'family' and has been an attraction himself as he is very light on his feet and performs very well, much to the delight of shoppers walking by.

"I have gotten some (dance) jobs from voluntarily performing here," he said.

For 67-year-old August Ang, he said that the fellowship the 'family' has draws him to hang out there, especially with the involvement of younger people of different races, and that it was an outlet for them to exercise and have fun.

On all the races coming together, Ang, who frequents The Curve with his wife, Alice, said it was beautiful.

"It's back to the old days before government politics and all that. This is what I experienced in my kampung in Tengkera, Malacca. It didn't matter who you are, we don't see races. We are all just friends. We are all Malaysians," Ang said, expressing his hope for a united Malaysia.

"We see it in badminton, everybody is with him (Datuk Lee Chong Wei). We forget we are of different races."

Switching to impeccable Malay, Ang added, "Mak kita dulu ajar kan? Dari kecil dulu, semua sama." (Our mothers taught us from small, that we are all the same).

Yeoh shared the same sentiments, saying that the Asam Pedas family is really 'muhibbah'.

"We are 1Malaysia here. We don't think of religion, we don't think of races, we are one happy family. We celebrate birthdays. If it's Hari Raya, we celebrate Hari Raya. If it's Chinese New Year, we celebrate Chinese New Year (and so on). That's what 1Malaysia is all about right?" she added.

For Connie, she was happy observing the harmony and respect in Malaysia.

"Harmony and respect is very important in your country. You can get along with each other, that is very important. The love is always there. If there is no respect and harmony, there is nothing," she said.

Connie also expressed her pride in the band being able to perform a famous Philippines song Miss Na Miss Kita, in Malay.

The translation was provided by a local lyricist, Azmi Abdul Rahman, who also frequents The Curve and enjoys listening to D'Cuatro Calientes as well as watching the Asam Pedas family dance.

As for Azmi, his ability to sing along to some of the Chinese songs, has proven to be an ice-breaker for him and some of those who came to listen to D'Cuatro Calientes.

Some of the Chinese patrons would look at Azmi in awe when he sang along to Alan Tam's Pang Yau in near perfect Cantonese.

Meanwhile, for Lee, he was happy that the family's togetherness and friendship gave the young ones who join something useful to do with their time, as well as keeping them out of trouble.

"I am very happy," Lee said, and it was apparent in the joy from his voice and the smile on his face.

"Here, the word 'bangsa' does not exist. We are one family. Sekeluarga," he said.

Speaking about Malaysia, Lee added, "We should start to think of each other as a family. We should start to think of helping one another, of giving. Those who have give a little more, those who don't, give a little bit less. But there is always somebody who needs something. It could be in the form of words of encouragement, doesn't have to be money.

"You gotta show a little kindness," he sang to the tune of Glen Campbell's Try A Little Kindness.

And there is indeed no better song to wrap this article up than the rhinestone cowboy's words of advice for us to just 'try a little kindness, and to not walk around the down and out, lend a helping hand instead of doubt, and the kindness that you show every day will help someone along their way.'

There is more to life than what is being posted or shared on social media. Take a stroll in real life once in a while, and you will chance upon something as simple as a Malay boy and a Chinese uncle enjoying line dancing to the tune of Achy Breaky Heart.

It may be simple, but it will surely put a smile on your face and reaffirm your faith in humanity and how racism deserves no place anywhere in this world. - FH

D'Cuatro Calientes. Photo credit Azrol Ali.