I was an angry man last week
by Peter Tan. Posted on December 21, 2013, Saturday
THERE is a child in me who has never grown up. At this age, I am still a big fan of that time-travelling blue-coloured robotic cat in Japanese manga fondly known as Doraemon. The earliest encounters I had with this adorable cat was in a bi-weekly Chinese children’s magazine that my mother used to buy for me.
Imagine my delight when I found out that 100 life-sized Doraemons posing with his various gadgets would be on display for 100 days at an exhibition in Kuala Lumpur beginning last week. It was an opportunity that I did not want to miss, especially since it was so close to home.
The tickets were priced at RM25 for adults and RM15 for children aged four to 12. At the same time, the organisers thoughtfully extended free entrance to senior citizens above 60 years old, children below 90 centimetres and disabled persons with one companion.
We were directed to get tickets from the ticket counter by a crew member at the entrance. The woman manning the counter wanted my wife Wuan to pay for a ticket. I pointed to the notice displayed prominently on the window mentioning that a companion could enter for free too. After checking with her colleagues, she confirmed that we need not pay anything indeed. She did not issue any ticket to us and indicated that we just had to inform the crew member before going in.
When we went back to the entrance, we were asked to show our tickets. I explained to the crew member that disabled persons and one companion could get in for free which was also noted in the banner that was right beside where she was standing and that the woman at the ticket counter said that we did not need tickets.
From that point onwards, we were asked to show our tickets several times by different crew members along the way. Those incessant requests started to irritate me. The crew member at the final point before the exhibition hall adamantly refused to let us in, insisting that Wuan must have a ticket. I explained to him but he refused to listen.
I thought that asking him to go read what was stated in the banner would clear up the issue. He refused to do that too. A lady who was observing the altercation from a short distance away approached and asked us what the problem was. She introduced herself as a staff of the company that organised the exhibition.
So, for the umpteenth time, I repeated the condition stated in the banner and poster while the crew member who had refused to let us in continued blabbering away to try to justify his refusal. In the midst of that commotion, another crew member butted in and rudely demanded that I show my disabled person’s identification card issued by the Welfare Department.
In all my years as a disabled person, I have not experienced such indignity while visiting exhibitions and events that required entry fees. I had paid for tickets many times. Paying for tickets was never an issue. I would have gladly paid for two tickets to get into the exhibition. I do not subscribe to the notion that disabled persons are entitled to discounts and privileges. I will never demand for them. However, when courtesies such as free entry were extended by the organisers, I appreciatively accepted them.
Never once was I required to produce the identification card previously to substantiate my status as a disabled person. My wheelchair was already an obvious indication. Still, I would have shown my card willingly at the ticket counter had there been a request.
What I found most unacceptable was the demand for the card as an afterthought and the fuss Wuan and I were put through just because the crew members were not aware that we could go in for free. It made me feel as if we were freeloaders and that I was faking an impairment.
We were allowed into the exhibition hall eventually when a senior crew member confirmed Wuan’s eligibility. The lady from the organising company apologised profusely for the kerfuffle but the incident had already spoilt the excitement of my anticipation. Needless to say, I was an angry man after that.
Dealing with rude people is a test of my patience in many ways, particularly when they treat disabled persons condescendingly. It is exasperating. It makes me angry. I have mellowed over the years. I do not get angry very often now. When I do, it must be something serious.
Where I once allowed my anger to rage on unproductively, I now channel it into getting positive outcomes. Like the proverbial saying, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” As I look back, it was anger that fuelled the passion in what I do as a disability rights activist. It fanned my motivation to speak out against mistreatments of disabled persons instead of meekly accepting them. Anger, in that sense, had been a good thing for me.
After coming back from the exhibition, I went looking for the email address of the organiser. Having found it, I sent a terse email outlining my awful experience. I have not received a reply at the time of writing. It does not matter if I do not get a response. All I hope for is that the organiser is aware of the issue and will educate the crew members on handling matters like this with tact and respect in the future.
As for Doraemon, that experience has not diminished my love for him. Apart from being cute, there is always a lesson to be learnt from his manga and anime, be it honesty, humility or respect. That is what I like about his stories. Additionally, I have a figurine of him with a silly grin sitting on my work desk. Looking at his demeanour always make me happy. And that is not the child in me talking.
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Giving back meaningfully
by Peter Tan. Posted on December 14, 2013, Saturday
DECEMBER is the month that makes many of us warm and fuzzy all over. Christmas is just around the corner. A brand new year comes just after that. The air of festivity is clear and crisp. There is no escaping it. From advertisements in the newspapers to shopping malls, we are reminded of the joy of giving.
This is also the time of the year when people who are ‘less fortunate’ and ‘underprivileged’ are treated to parties and gifts. These events are held in the name of corporate social responsibility by multinationals and home-grown corporations alike. The guests are usually orphans, senior citizens and disabled persons who are living in the fringes, often ignored, marginalised and even forgotten.
First and foremost, I admit that I am looking the gift horse in the mouth. I have a beef about how the guests have been described. Words like ‘less fortunate’ invoke images of pity and despondency. It puts them in an inferior position in society. Other than being condescending, the usage of these words stigmatises them as being helpless and always in need of charity.
These events are supposed to create positive vibes but are sullied by the ignorant usage of negative connotations. Why is being old, a milestone we all cannot avoid, considered less fortunate? Why not just describe them for who they are — orphans, senior citizens and disabled persons – instead of dramatising the situation? There are times we must call a spade a spade and this is one of those times.
For all intents and purposes, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a model where organisations voluntarily ensure compliance to laws, ethics and norms in line with local and international practices with the objective of creating a positive impact on society. What programmes and how they are implemented vary from organisation to organisation. Generally, it is corporations giving back to make society better and the environment cleaner.
Nevertheless, I have seen a fair share of good and downright manipulative programmes during my involvement in some of these initiatives. There have been occasions where events were cleverly disguised as CSR-based when the real intention was to promote a brand, organisation or figure.
This killing of two birds with one stone is an economical way of generating publicity in the mass media that benefits no one except the corporations themselves. I know this well as I was involved in crafting press releases and blurbs for such events when I was working as a freelance copywriter. I am not proud of what I have done.
I have also witnessed businesses that make it a point to organise parties for members of disabled persons’ organisations during Chinese New Year. On the other hand, they have done nothing on their part to employ disabled persons with the excuse that the workplace is neither accessible nor conducive. They make no effort to eliminate systemic barriers within the organisations although they are seen in public as being sympathetic towards the cause of disabled persons.
CSR is surely more than merely a once a year affair of hosting lunch or dinner during festive seasons. That one meal cannot uplift the quality of life of the people involved. They still have to grapple with issues of life the other 364 days. This practice is so prevalent nowadays that it has become the norm and an easy way out for doing just for the sake of doing that does not change anything for the better.
Another example of a slipshod initiative is the donation of wheelchairs. There is usually neither consultation nor consideration to ensure that the equipment fulfils the needs of the recipients. The usual hospital type wheelchairs are mostly ill fitting and can cause a host of postural problems. Giving them out actually does more harm than good to the users.
To be fair, for every organisation that runs shoddy CSR projects, there is another that takes this seriously and adds value to the various communities they do business in. Their programmes are well thought out and sustainable. They encourage volunteerism in their employees.
These initiatives include cooperation with established organisations in the conservation of endangered flora and fauna, and providing self-development opportunities to marginalised groups through sponsored education and vocational training, among others. These are projects that will change lives and create a meaningful and positive impact on society.
In this season of giving, I sincerely urge corporations planning CSR programmes for the coming year to consider initiatives that will result in win-win situations for all parties. Speaking from the perspective of a disabled person, I would like to see more CSR initiatives to make the built environment accessible, especially in schools and workplaces. Accessible facilities are generally safer and benefit everyone.
I also hope that business entities will emulate Mydin, KFC and Giant in providing employment for disabled persons through the Job Coach Programme. The pioneering efforts of these companies have shown that when given opportunities and reasonable accommodation, disabled persons too can earn a decent living and become independent.
Comments can reach the writer via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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My Ah Mah’s legacy
by Peter Tan. Posted on December 7, 2013, Saturday
MY Ah Mah, my paternal grandmother, lived in an old bungalow on stilts. A rambutan tree with branches spreading out in all directions occupied the front yard. It provided ample shade from the sun, and fruits when they were in season. Chicken, ducks and geese ran free in a spacious enclosure beside the tree. They were reared to be slaughtered during festive occasions and for their eggs. The surrounding compound was cultivated with lime trees, tapioca and sugarcane.
Extensions were added to the bungalow over the years to accommodate the growing families of my aunts and uncles who were living with her. Ah Mah had 13 children altogether with my grandfather, eight sons and five daughters. My father was the eldest. I never knew my grandfather. He passed away long before I was born.
Ah Mah was one of the last generation of Straits Chinese women to don clothes in the distinct Peranakan style. Her long hair was neatly pulled back into a bun that was held in place by a hairpin comb. She was always in a simple long sleeve calico blouse with dainty floral motifs and batik sarung, both starched to a perfect stiffness. A silver belt to keep the sarung from slipping completed her attire.
At the turn of the 20th century, Ah Mah was a bidan, a traditional midwife providing pre- and post-partum care. That skill was much sought after as hospitals and clinics were far and few between during that era. The husbands of women going into labour would come knocking desperately at the door, even at odd hours. Bicycles were the main mode of transportation then. She would ride pillion, holding on to whatever she could grab as the harried husbands pedalled with all their might to get her to their homes to deliver their babies.
My father once told me that the family was very poor when he was a teenager. Home was an attap house in the outskirts of a village in Province Wellesley. My grandparents made Nyonya kuih that my grandfather hawked from a box fixed to his bicycle from one village to another and in the nearby towns. The older children chipped in some effort by selling the kuih around the neighbourhood.
Being the enterprising woman that she was, Ah Mah formulated her own recipe of medicated oil culled from her experience as a bidan. It was a concoction of herbs that was massaged onto the body to dispel ‘wind’ in women who had just delivered and babies suffering from flatulence. The herbs were simmered together with coconut oil in a large kuali over several days. The thick dark liquid was then bottled and sold.
We fondly called it Ah Mah’s hong eu (grandma’s medicated oil) in the Hokkien dialect. It was so popular that it could be found in Chinese medical halls and grocery shops in town and beyond. Some parents believed in it so much that it was packed as an essential item for their children furthering their studies overseas. Among others, the oil was also used for minor cuts, bruises, sprains and muscular aches.
Ah Mah was shrewd with her finances. She saved up every sen from the various ventures and eventually had enough to buy a piece of land to build the bungalow. She was also very generous with her grandchildren. Each time my parents and I visited her, she would give me an RM1 coin, a princely sum in those days. I still have these keepsakes stashed away somewhere after all these years.
The matriarch of the family passed away in the early 1980s. The clan at that time was 150 strong, including many great grandchildren. After her passing, my sixth uncle took over the production of the oil and expanded the business. Up to today, the ingredients are still a closely guarded secret not many are privileged to. I am glad that one of his daughters, my cousin, has continued making it after his demise.
Of all the medicine in the first aid kit at home, the little bottle of Ah Mah’s hong eu is most treasured and indispensable. I grew up having this oil rubbed onto bruises and sprains sustained from childhood mischiefs. My mother spared no effort in massaging the oil onto the wounds. That intensified the pain many times over. It was supposed to expedite the healing process which it actually did. I also suspect that inflicting the extra pain was her way of deterring me from repeating the same mischiefs.
Despite my absolute trust in its efficacy, I use the oil very reluctantly. The smell and greasiness is not exactly pleasant, especially when one is not supposed to bathe for several hours after being massaged with it. Clothes and anything that came in contact with the oil would be stained and reek of the peculiar odour of the concoction. If I could avoid it, I would.
I have been suffering from pain in the left shoulder for several weeks now. What began as a minor discomfort turned nasty as I ignored the symptoms, hoping that it would go away after a couple of days. Moving my shoulder in a certain way would cause a sharp stabbing pain to shoot through my forearm. It became so incapacitating that I had great difficulty transferring into the car from the wheelchair.
After two futile weeks of switching between several brands of pain relieving plasters and ointments, I finally relented to using my Ah Mah’s hong eu. The shooting pain disappeared on the third day. My shoulder still aches a little but I have regained a full range of movement. Now that I am reacquainted with its effectiveness, I wonder what possessed me to put myself through the agony when relief was so close at hand. The stain and odour was a minor inconvenience compared to the three weeks of struggle with intense pain I had to endure.
The hong eu that my cousin makes now still carries our Ah Mah’s name on the label. This effective medicated oil has been around for at least 70 years. I hope that it will be around for another 70 more. This is the one legacy from my grandmother that I truly appreciate as a panacea for the bodily aches that are becoming progressively more pronounced as I ease into my golden years.
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