A Chinese puzzle at Petaling Street

by Azly Rahman
1 Oct 2015

We live in a world of puzzles and mysteries and will probably die still unable to answer questions that live in us. We tell tales and conjure conspiracy theories to comfort our souls and to make sense of life in this theatre of the absurd designed by a deux ex machina we call by different names.

A puzzle is better than a mystery, however. At least we will still have the complete picture. Everyone has a piece of a puzzle. A mystery, on the other hand is not fun, though philosophically exciting. There are puzzles and mysteries in life: the missing airplane MH370 is a mystery puzzling us till today. Someone has the answer.

The brutal and unimaginable murder of the Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu, shot and blown to pieces with a C4 bomb, is a sure puzzle mysteriously hidden as truth by those who plotted it. So, a puzzle can be a mystery and a mystery puzzling.

Still with me?

The Chinese envoy’s visit to Petaling Street on Autumn Day of the Mainland China calendar. The warning not to incite racial violence. The timely stop to a Maruah Melayu rally. The confusion generated amongst those in the Foreign Ministry and the blaming game that ensured. These are puzzling things.

Then there is the mystery of this Chinese Petaling-Street intervention in the affairs of a sovereign nation-state; a mystery of an event for a world government’s diplomat that has mastered, like a Sifu-Mahaguru of Global Diplomacy since the times of Emperor Shih Huang Ti who build the Great Wall of China to stop the Berbers (now called ‘the barbarians’) out of the kingdom.

So – a mystery and a puzzle that is. Timely intervention by the modern Middle Kingdom and a time to flex a muscle on Malaysia. The puzzle and mystery unfolds.

There is also neither puzzle nor mystery of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak playing golf in Hawaii with President Barack Obama a few months ago. No big deal playing golf. But the mystery to Malaysians is what is being discussed though the mysterious little talks between the two world-class golfers in between walking around the green fields filling the holes with those little white balls.

The mystery of what deals are struck is puzzling when we talk about the Chinese sudden interest in spending an afternoon in Petaling Street, aborting the hulubalang Melayu, or Malay warriors, from running amuck and doing the latah at the same time and rempit-ing across the little pavements of Jalan Alor.

I am not puzzled why these three Malay words ‘amuck’, ‘latah’ and reportedly now, ‘lepak’ are honoured in the Oxford English Dictionary. I hope we will have the word ‘rempit’ next. Is this a mark of cultural recognition and representation? Maybe this too is a puzzle but I am not conjuring any conspiracy theory of why the ‘Orientalists’ are not leaving us ‘modern savages’ alone.

When we have ‘rempits’ in Oxford – well, in the dictionary I mean, we will have a cultural representation of the Malays we wished we would not have to live by . However, we do have some Oxford graduate some time ago who glorified Mat Rempits and ‘Mat Cemerlangs’ (‘Excellent and High Performing Lads and Lassies on Wheels’).


Okay – let us make some connections between Petaling Street, golf-playing and the Global Euthanasia note (The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement or TPPA Malaysia is planning to sign.

Signing a national economic suicide note?

How do we explain Malaysia’s decision to still sign the TPPA agreement and sign a national economic suicide note, essentially? The 2008 Obama-nomics agenda for an overarching global economic domination is both a puzzle and a mystery, not only to Malaysians but also to Americans.

How is this, like the case of the bankrupted American energy giant ‘too-big-to-fall’ Enron, both a puzzle and a mystery? We have the actors all with weapons – the Americans with Texan Magnum, the Malays with the Taming Sari keris, and the Chinese with the Shaolin temple sword – all fighting in broad daylight in a puzzling and mysterious world adorned with commanding heights.

Here is a clue of the nature of today’s Asian politics with regard to the Chinese presence in the free word, as I quoted from the Sept 29 online issue of The Asia Sentinel, reporting on the Petaling Street walkabout episode by Ambassador Huang Huikang:

“… Huang’s action, although relatively mild and minor, is being regarded by critics as a disturbing example of the new assertiveness that was demonstrated on larger scale and a larger stage on Sept 24 in New York, when President Xi Jinping told the United Nations that China will contribute 8,000 troops for a UN peacekeeping standby force, giving it a dramatic new role as one of the largest forces in UN peacekeeping efforts…

“Just a week ago, China joined Malaysia for the first Association of South-East Asian Nations joint military exercise, sending 1,000 Chinese troops. There has also been a rising Chinese economic presence, with the Guangdong provincial government announcing recently that it intended to develop Malacca, now a sleepy coastal town, into a seaport to rival Singapore and build a series of industrial parks…” (Asia Sentinel, Sept 29, 2015)

Indeed, given enough understanding of the regional and global politics, of President Obama’s idea of an ‘Asia Pivot’, and the Obama agenda of the TPPA plan meant to block China’s economic hegemonic dominance in Asia, we may be able to make sense of the mystery and the puzzle. This is a lesson much needed for the lawmakers, especially from the Malay ruling parties, to handle diplomacy better.

I am still thinking of the words ‘amuck’, ‘latah’, ‘lepak’, and ‘rempit’. Certainly neither puzzling nor mysterious how they have become aspects of representation – of the Malays, unfortunately.

DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Baru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in the fields of Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He will be pursuing his fifth Masters in Fine Arts, specialising in Fiction and Poetry Writing. He has taught more than 50 courses in six different departments and has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 25 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He has edited and authored six books; Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), Dark Spring: Essays on the Ideological Roots of Malaysia’s General Elections-13 (2013), a first Malay publication Kalimah Allah Milik Siapa?: Renungan dan Nukilan Tentang Malaysia di Era Pancaroba (2014), and Controlled Chaos: Essays on Mahathirism, Multimedia Super Corridor and Malaysia’s ‘New Politics’ (2014). He currently resides in the United States where he teaches courses in Education, Philosophy, Cultural Studies, Political Science, and American Studies. His forthcoming book, One Malaysia, under God, Bipolar, a joint project between Gerakbudaya and World Wise Books of New Jersey, USA, is his seventh compilation of essays on Malaysian Cultural, Creative, and Critical Studies. He is currently working on his eighth book, on Gifted and Talented Education in Malaysia, honouring a prominent educator. Twitter, blog.

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