Review: Ola Bola

Ola Bola: A tour de force of nostalgia

Ola Bola: A tour de force of nostalgia

Ola Bola review (no spoilers in your comments please): Just watched Ola Bola, laughed and bawled my eyes out from the rubber-tapping scene onwards. Contrived, clichéd, predictable in parts — but what a tour de force of nostalgia.

It reminded me of football — playing it and watching it with the family on the black and white TV and cheering for Selangor and Malaysia, and Leeds United on Sundays. I remember the Tango ball of 1978 and how we diehard World Cup fans of Form 2 in St John’s, saved our allowances and all pitched-in to buy it. We then stayed back after school to rumble on the field, soiling our shirts and muddying our pristine white Bata shoes. I remember on one occasion breaking my collarbone, for which I received an angry reprimand from mum, after a visit to GH. I remember Christopher Lim Lean Chai was our own ‘taukeh’ playmaker/defender. He didn’t join the school team, despite his talent, because his parents refused to let him.

I remember Soh Chin Aun, Santokh Singh, M Arumugam, M Chandran, Shukor Salleh, Isa Bakar, Khalid Ali, James Wong and Mokhtar Dahari as clearly as the 1975 Hockey Team, or the All England or Thomas Cup badminton players of the 70s and 80s. They were our childhood idols and we as a nation gravitated to them as we did to Ali or Elvis or Bruce Lee. They were all our heroes once.

The movie captures the fact that commonfolk among us could rise above their dire circumstances and become extraordinary — for just one day.

Today we look to Nicol, Chong Wei, Pandelela and Azizulhasni to remind us that there are still those bearing the torch for us on the international stage, who make us proud, even as our political leaders shame us everyday with their false patriotism, corrupted commitment and warped sense of integrity.

I cried for all the humanity we lost as a nation in that era. And for our chidren who now live in times of unlimited access, who look to violent, wise-cracking superheroes as their mentors and idols and who believe the game of life can be played over and over again with no repercussions to those you hurt with your attitude, rage, extremism and intentional meanness.

Ola Bola, for all its flaws in the acting department, racial stereotyping and manipulative storytelling, still holds a mirror up to what we left behind. It holds a flickering candle up while others try to darken our history and negate our place in this country. Drenched in patriotic fervour with fellow Malaysians in that cold theatre, it warmed my heart. And I’m sure, if you were a child of the 70s, it will warm yours too.

Memories of Kuala Lumpur

Morris 1000

Things I remember of Kuala Lumpur when I was a kid:

1. I remember being driven around in my father’s Morris Minor 1000 (similar to the pic above). He used to take us to Petaling Street to have the “best beef ball mee in the world”, just further up from Rex theatre, and for haircuts at the Indian barber, near Peel Road. The barber had to put a plank across the the chair for me to sit and the floors were always strewn with clumps of cut hair and the waft of coconut oil, Brylcreem and incense come to mind. The slick “curry-puff” look was my choice of hairstyle of the day.

brylcreem
That look. Why did we all want it back then?

2. I remember the stench of the Pudu and Chow Kit wet markets and how I had to help carry my mum’s haggled purchases while sloshing around in inches of icky water that always filled the markets.

3. I remember in 1969, when a curfew was declared and we raced to the sundry shop down the road from Freeman Road to stock up. The sundry shop was so inundated, the owner forego the usual jottings in the 555 books, and let everyone cart away whatever they wanted and trusted them to declare what they took later.

555 book
Everyone had a 555 book to their name and you could pay at the end of the month.

4. I remember the floods of 1971, and not having to go to school for a whole week.

5. I remember in 1975, armed members of the Japanese Red Army stormed the AIA building, near my school, St John’s Institution, seizing over 50 hostages, and again, we got off school for a few days.

AIA 1975
Bell-bottomed, platform-shoed, hostage-taker. Even the criminals were fashionable back then – NST filepic

6. I remember going to the A & W, in the AIA building, which had those huge, porcelain-white, curved staircases, and having Root Beer floats and one ringgit Coney Dogs every Tuesday.

A&W Coneydogs
Tuesday was Coney Dog day

7. I remember sneaking into Cathay cinema in Bukit Bintang in the dark, after my friend paid the guard 50 sen to sit on the stairs in the aisles to watch a movie.

8. I remember going to some shady shop, near Central Market, to play video games like Pac Man, Space Invaders and my favourite, Asteroids, and hitting the hyperspace button to disappear, if only momentarily, to another dimension.

Asteroids
You could hit the Hyperspace button when the boulders came to close and escape to a fresh screen. We all need a hyperspace button in our lives.

9. I remember saving up to go to McDonald’s – the first ever one to open in Malaysia in Bukit Bintang – and having a quarter pounder with a huge slab of meat and having their milkshake which was so thick we giggled hysterically because we couldn’t suck it through the straw.

10. I remember taking the chair-lift and cable-car up Bukit Nanas — half-priced for students — for a ride up the hill and into the forest. Once, we got off at the midway point and tried to go exploring on our own and were chased by a screaming man with a parang for trespassing.

11. I remember my mum taking us to Globe Silk Store, in Batu Road, later, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, every Christmas season to buy new clothes and how I had to live with her choices and going there every year for Don-branded school uniforms and the nearby Bata shop for shoes that were one size bigger so they would last longer.

12. I remember taking the Len Seng bus and later pink mini-buses at Foch Avenue, grocery shopping at Weld Supermarket and Fitzpatrick’s, taking buses at the smog-choked Klang Bus Station and Puduraya, getting platform tickets to await or send off someone at KTM, eating briyani at Bilal and roti canai in Simla, roving around Chow Kit, wandering around Jalan Masjid India, Central Market, Semua House, Kota Raya (great second-hand books store!), bowling at Ampang Bowl, riding the Matterhorn at Yaohan Mall, watching many, many movies at Odeon, Rex, Pavilion and Cathay theatres.

These memories come to me as reminders of how things were. I hope they’ve triggered some fond ones of your own life in Kuala Lumpur…

Reminiscing at 52

The water heater tank in my bathroom began leaking a week ago.

Hidden in the crawlspace in the ceiling boards, is a 68-litre Elton tank made by South Engineers Sdn Bhd.

I wrote to the manufacturers through their 1990s’ standard enquiry form on their website.

To my surprise, a guy named Steven from the company showed up at my front door a few days later.

He said it was the ‘element’. He could change it for RM300.

He said the warranty was only for three months but assured me it would last longer, maybe, if we are lucky, two to four years.

“Tak tentu punya ni”. Rough translation: “Life is uncertain and has no guarantees.”

The alternative – to terminate the tank and remove it through the ceiling – which was equally cost-prohibitive.

Steven said the tank was still good and I should maintain it. I gave him the go-ahead to change the rusted, faulty part.

The hot shower is back to status quo and the leak has stopped, for now.

I tell you this story because I turned 52 today.

Some parts inside of me, my memory, my joints, my elements, show signs of age.

Through all appearances, this “tank” is still good and just needs “maintenance.”

But inside, I feel my life drip, drip, dripping away. Where did the time go?

BACK TO THE PAST
It is 1970, I am six and half years old. I am in Capital Kindergarten in Gurney Road. I was good at math, and was singled out by the teacher and given a higher math book to do my own sums.

My best friend is Azizi. During recess, we were served those tiny biscuits with multi-coloured sugary tops, chocolate wafers and hot Milo in pink plastic cups. We played catching and Police and Thieves among the trees in the park in front. There was the class bully, a tall matsalleh celup kid and the class cry-baby, a chubby Chinese girl who was immortalized in the official class photo – framed in tears.

I lived in a government-built, colonial-styled house off Jalan U Thant (Freeman Road), Off Jalan Tun Razak (previously Pekeliling or Circular Road).

The drains around our neighborhoods were so pristine they could sustain tadpoles and guppies! Our regular cycling range would take us to Hock Choon Mini Market on Jalan Ampang, the Selangor Golf Club, where would sneak in and lie on the smooth greens, before being chased away by the caddies, and, one day, without my parents knowing, the Ampang Reservoir, where we would skip stones on the water and catch fish.

On school holidays, all my cousins would come over and stay and we made up our own ‘Olympics’. My mum would make her fruitcake, tarts and chocolate cake for Christmas and my dad’s relatives friends and their families would come over for endless piles of food and lots of imbibing.

Life had so many possibilities.

LIFE AT 13
It is 1977, I am 13.

My father has retired from the Survey Department and we had to move from the bungalow in Jalan U Thant, to a tiny double-storey terrace in Taman Desa Minang, off Jalan Batu Caves, via Gombak. Electricity was intermittent and I remember having to study by candle-light and pumping water upstairs from the pipe outside. The public Len Seng bus No 169 from Greenwood Park took a minimum an hour to get to school. All the comforts of living near school, in a house with a wide, expansive garden, full of wondrous creatures to discover, spiders among the leaves, squirrels in the branches and trees to climb and lots of space to go cycling, were gone.

I am in Form 1 in St John’s Institution. Brother Joseph Yeoh was our principal, a strict, cane-bearing fearsome man. But being the son of a teacher of the school, he had the school’s best interests at heart and it showed. Everyone’s favourite period was P.E. We played football after school, and often messed up our pristine white shirts. I was getting into Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, Louis L’Amour and The Hardy Boys. The TV shows of that era were Happy Days (Fonzie!), CHiPs (Ponch!), the Professionals (Bodie and Doyle!), Starsky and Hutch (Huggie Bear!) and many, many more.

I watched a lot of TV, read a lot of books and dreamed of a life of great adventures.

LIFE AT 26
It is 1990 and at 26, I am a working writer. I picked up photography when my boss thrust a Canon EOS in my hands. We used WordStar, a word-processing programme, to type in our stories at work. My work as a feature writer with a travel magazine earned me a writing award that year.

I was living with my then girlfriend in Sec 17, Petaling Jaya and sharing the house with four other ladies. Friends would often show up without warning for some spontaneous reverie. We had lots of house parties, and ate, drank, watched TV and movies, and laughed — a lot — together. On weekends, we played “rounders” at the padang nearby with a cricket bat and tennis balls. We had a dog named Patches. The restaurant nearby, Eastin, was our regular hangout. The pubs we frequented were Climaxx and On Line at Damansara Kim. We lived for weekends and parties, and it seemed nothing could faze us.

Life was good.

BACK TO THE FUTURE
Fast forward 2016. I am 52.

I am married, live in my own apartment in SS2 with my wife, son who is 19 and my daughter, 17. I have been running my own business for a decade and a half. I no longer read fiction, only non-fiction but still enjoy an occasional good movie. I don’t cycle, or play any game or sport regularly. The hair has greyed, permanent wrinkles have set in and the paunch is noticeable.

I still maintain friendships from school, college, journalism and work days. We meet up occasionally and reminisce. The conversations usually dwell on our health issues, a death among our peers, the sinking currency, moribund state of the economy, our failed-state politics, the rising costs of everything, the trials of fatherhood, the cranky characters we knew, or just turns into a yak about the funny incidents in “the good old days.”

How time flies. Every doubling of the years has multiplied my experiences, added the memories, subtracted some of the pain. But the total sum of the equation never provided perfect answers. I couldn’t check for the solutions at the back of the book to see whether they were correct. I had to make up the answers when the problems came along. I know I made a lot of mistakes. I learnt from some of them. I continue to make others.

I was not good at life’s math and have few lessons to impart at 52. Except to say, “Tak tentu punya ni”. Life is uncertain and has no guarantees.

I turn to Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” for answers.
Here’s a quote from the book that sums it up for me:

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

I can only think to add one more.

17. Smile for the class photo.

May you all have a great birthday this year. And remember to smile for the photos.

A wedding speech from 2011

Here’s a wedding speech to my niece and her hubby, which I thought was safe to release after three years:

SHEILA AND VELAN, WEDDING SPEECH, May 21, 2011.

I am here on behalf of the bride’s family, my niece Priscilla Sheila Tangaraja. I’ve been to many weddings but I have never seen a more beautiful and radiant bride then tonight. Isn’t she lovely people?

(Pause for applause)

Sheila, that dress, looks amazing on you. Of course, I am biased, and you know why.

(My wife, Anita, wore the same dress 18 years ago at our wedding.)

What a great year to get married. Just remember you married in 2011, the same year there was a grand royal wedding, the No 1 terrorist in the world is dead and Manchester United are league champions!

Velan you’re a really lucky guy. You married Sheila, who is beautiful, smart, warm, loving and caring. She deserves a good husband, so thank god you married her before she found one.

For those of you who don’t know, I am Sheila’s uncle, the youngest brother of bride’s mother. My name is Julian.

By the way, I will be addressing the bride as Sheila – I know some of you know her as Priscilla – I’ve always known her by her middle name Sheila.

On behalf of the bride and groom’s parents, I would like to thank you all for your presence on this auspicious occasion. Some of you here have been to the previous Hindu wedding ceremony and reception. Thank you for your attendance to this 2nd wedding reception and, I understand, there is a 3rd reception tomorrow, also at this venue. I was given a choice to attend all three receptions, but because I am part Ceylonese and part Chinese, I was in a dilemma. One half wanted to go for all three receptions but the other half could only afford one angpow.

Sheila and Velan, I am glad and feel so honoured to have been the witness along with my wife Anita for your church wedding today. My wife and I have been witnesses for a number of weddings over the years. In fact, we are thinking of making it a 2nd career. Sheila and Velan you will be glad to know, all those marriages for which we were witnesses are still intact. Not a single one of those couple are divorced or separated so that bodes well for your marriage.

As in any wedding speech I feel it is incumbent upon me to impart some marital advice to the couple. I know there are many people here who are far more qualified than me in this room because we’ve married only 18 years, barely enough time to get to know each other.

I have a few lessons to impart to the groom and I hope those you who are married can support me with some loud applause.

Firstly, Velan very early in your marriage it is important to set the ground rules and establish who is boss ~ then do everything Sheila says!

Remember when you are unhappy, she’s unhappy, and when she’s unhappy — you’re probably the cause.

When I got married someone told me the best maxim for all good marriages was “Never go to bed angry.” My wife and I never go to bed angry. Instead we stay up all night and argue, until someone gives in.

But jokes aside, that’s the crux of it. Someone “giving in.” Velan, in 18 years of marriage, and I’m sure every husband in this room will agree with me on this – you can never, ever win an argument against a woman. Better to give in and give in early.

There will be days when the wife gets upset about the most trivial of things — like putting the lid down after using the toilet, or squeezing the toothpaste from the bottom up, or leaving laundry on the floor or not taking the garbage out. On days like these, you may go the whole day without talking to each other, and when you retire to that king size bed — sleeping as far away from each other as you possibly can — there will a palpable tension in the bedroom.

It is at this time, you must remember Lesson No 1: Make love, not war.

Velan, I’ll let you in on the secret to successful marriage. But, shhh, don’t tell anyone. You must know the three words that melts every woman’s heart, and has been used my husbands the world over for time immemorial.

You need to turn to Sheila, in that darkness, and say these magical three words: “You’re right dear”.

Then follow-up with another set of three words “I am wrong”, “I am sorry”, “I love you”, and the most important set of three words of all to any woman’s ear. “Let’s go shopping.” Nothing cures a woman’s pain more than the promise of some retail therapy.

Of course try saying those set of three words with more sincerity. Otherwise you’ll sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger. As you know, Arnie used his three words too often: “I’ll be back, I’ll be back, I’ll be back.” Until his wife found out whose room he was coming back from.

By the way, Velan stay away from domestic help of any kind. Especially at 5-star hotels in New York. (One day you may be the IMF chief and a French presidential candidate, next day you are sitting in jail wondering what the hell you were thinking.)

Lesson 2: Dates are very, very important to your wife. Today, for instance, is a very important date. May 21. Write it down. You cannot miss birthdays and anniversaries.

The most effective way to remember your wife’s birthday is to forget it once. Thank god for Facebook that will never happen to me. A sidenote on Facebook, Velan, you need to update your relationship status on Facebook from “it’s complicated” to happily married. Preferably by tonight!

Lesson 3: Be useful around the house. Women love husbands who can fix things. If, like me, you are useless at fixing leaky taps and changing light bulbs, then act like you know what you are doing, and when she leaves the house call a good handyman, electrician or plumber. I hear Raj, Sheila’s dad is really good at fixing things. Velan, once you’re married the level of domesticity must improve. You must find where the kitchen is and what all those mysterious objects in it do. FYI, that wet place where all the dishes end up is called the sink. The more you use it, the more Sheila will love you.

(Cut: The more things you fix around the house, the more likely you’ll get your fix that night.)

Those three lessons should be enough to sustain you for now Velan. For your information, I myself cannot remember a single piece of advice given to me at my wedding.

Okay, now Sheila’s turn. Sheila I believe you know there is someone very dear to all of us who should have been here tonight. Unfortunately, god chose to take him early. I am sure wherever he is now, he is looking down on us all tonight and wishing you the very best. Your grandfather, my father, Melvin Matthews Kanagasabai, passed on last November. You know that he had a very special place in his heart for you Sheila. I know he would be so happy for you today as much as your grandmother, your mum, your dad and all your family are too tonight.

Dad, I know you are looking down and wondering why the hell I haven’t told them your “marriage is a three-ring circus” joke. Everyone here knows it, Dad, so we’ll give it a skip this time shall we?

So here are my three lessons for the bride.

Lesson 1: Have a nice meal together, at least once a week. This may sound very easy to do now, but as time goes by, as work and family and friends and maybe even children take up your time, you will find it increasingly difficult to just find the time to sit down, by yourselves, and have a meal together. It doesn’t matter whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner or supper – just find a quiet place – and just enjoy each other’s company away from all your friends, family and workmates. It is only at these times when you can talk, really talk, and be intimate with each other.

Lesson 2: Go for at least one adventurous holiday every year or so. I suggest tonight, after Velan has fallen asleep, and you have counted all your angpow, use his credit card, get on AirAsia.com and buy some tickets girl.

By the way, don’t go on those crappy, organized tours. Create your own holiday. Go to Nepal and climb Everest, or go Africa on your own safari or take six weeks off like Anita and I did to circumnavigate North and South Island of New Zealand.

There is nothing like being in a foreign country only to get lost and find each other. I repeat, there is nothing like being in a foreign country only to get lost and find each other.

Lesson 3: Create special moments that only you and Velan can call your own. I know about those moments. I live for those moments. I remember when my son Jordan was about to be born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, and it was touch and go for a few moments, and when the doctor finally got him out and uncurled that cord, it was mixture and relief and pure joy when we saw him change from a purplish blue hue to a healthy pink. That was a moment.

But you don’t need to have children yet to have those moments. I’ll give you another moment.

Anita and I, in the early part of our marriage took up scuba diving. For those of you who have never scuba-dived, there is something magical and comforting and incredibly peaceful being underwater among colorful coral and fish and scary moray eels. Down there, the only sounds you hear are that of your own breathing. (breathing sounds close to mike)

Once, Anita and I went for a holiday off Railay Beach in Krabi, Thailand. We wanted to dive so badly, but all the dive trips were fully booked except for a night dive. We had never done this before and it sounded scary, but we thought we’ll give it a try.

When you dive at night, they give you two torches tied around each of your wrists. So it’s quite clumsy, esp. if you have never used it before but in the darkness you are twice as focused as you can see things only by the beam of your torch.

It was a moonlit night, and we reached our divespot by longtail boat and then we dived into the inky darkness. It was really scary at first for Anita and me but we slowly adjusted.

Our divemaster took us down about 20-25 feet and after diving a bit, he turns to us and does this – (hand gesture slicing neck)

That was the sign to cut our torches. We didn’t know what to think, but he was the divemaster, we just followed as instructed.

It was pitch black at first, but then our eyes adjusted and we noticed the silhouette of our divemaster doing something strange. He was swinging his arms and legs furiously. The agitation caused bio-luminiscent plankton to light up around us. It was as if we were surrounded by stars. He then grabbed our arms and partnered us off to do underwater waltzes. It was magical, an unforgettable and very special moment for Anita and me.

Sheila and Velan, find those moments. Or at least throw yourself into situations where such moments are likely to happen. Your marriage will have ups and downs but it’s the ups you will live for, treasure and sustain you. There will be a time, when you have to switch off your torches, leave it to faith and find that you are surrounded by stars.

Lastly, I hope you will forgive for all the teasing and ribbing tonight. I wish Sheila and Velan a long and very fruitful marriage.

So please raise your glasses and say with me “To love, to laughter and to happy ever after.”

Changing tides, faded stars

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man ~Heraclitus

Sometimes you wake up, lie in bed and wonder ‘Where did the time ago?’ The journey is long and the destination still isn’t clear.

Two nights ago, I met my first editor again and was happy to buy him a drink. He looked younger and was still chugging away at being true to his profession.

He met me as a fresh-faced, somewhat naive 20-year-old struggling to make a minor impact as a reporter. Twenty-eight years had passed by. He was surprised to hear I was now training journalists. It was as if time stood still.

In his eyes I hadn’t changed at all. Like peering thru a telescope and seeing stars the way they looked, unformed and malleable, eons ago. But so much had changed. The river had taken us in divergent streams and we were no longer the same people.

Or were we? That we could still connect and trade old stories suggests some parts of us were frozen in that time-space continuum. Me, the young unripened chiku, he the tall, weathered tree still reaching for an uncorrupted sky.

That we met at pub called The Reef was, perhaps, coincidental. The shores of our lives had been buffeted by the unceasing waves and eroded our memories somewhat but we were still men, older and wiser, perhaps, but still foolishly hoping for change to come and that yellow sunrise to turn the tides against us.

The reef was our last stand. They have to bury us here and return us to the earth that we call home. Or scatter us on the waters awash with a million hopes of a brighter tomorrow.

We lift our glasses and the music and smoke takes us away to another place and for awhile, just a few precious moments, we are on the editorial floor again and the clacking of fingers on the trusty Atex terminals as we churn out the day’s news of grief and gore and blood and sadness.

We were the weeders of growing malfeasance in an overrun garden of temptations. Woe to those who labelled us as lallang. We never were! We were the guardians of better days to come.

A toast, then, to the dreamers still in us. The fellow journeymen who know the course has been arduous and there is always another bend in the river. Let’s make a go of it. Or die trying.

Cheers, Julian.

Awaken journalists, you have nothing to lose but your bylines

(This was a rant post that sort of morphed into a speech that was never given…yet)

People tend to blame technology for all their problems.

Social networks are causing the rise of _____________ (fill blank space) eg. divorces, rapes, home invasions, suicides, crime, bullying, etc.

Of course, there may be validity to some of these cases. No one wants to belittle an incident that happens to a child, a spouse, a mother, a friend or a partner. When it’s personal, it’s tough not to find the nearest technological scapegoat. What’s worrying is how the “experts” extrapolate cause-and-effect from a small sample, raising fears and feeding the ignorance of technology to the masses.

“Productivity is down, there is lack of focus and no one seems to have an original thought – everything is copy and pasted from the net.” Or so they say.

In truth, there is nothing to suggest that human nature has changed pre- and post-Internet.

The perennial truth about humanity is this: In life there will always be those among us who are deliriously happy and depressingly suicidal and every emotion in between. We already live in both the “real” and “virtual” worlds equally intensely. The virtual can be as real as you want it to be and the real can be as imaginary as you want it to be.

But if you talk to anyone my age, 48, with two school-going children, they have a tendency to get nostalgic about their childhood.

It usually starts with the phrase: “When I was young, we never had these computers lah, Internet lah, sitting in front of the game console all day long lah. We used to go outside, enjoy the sunshine, climb trees, catch fish in the longkang, etc.

Now if you go back into the past, say the 1960s-70s, you can hear people of that time reminiscing about their childhoods. And they say this: “Ayahhh I wish by kids wouldn’t sit in front of the TV all day long. You know when I was young, we used to go outside, enjoy the sunshine, climb trees, catch fish in the rivers…”

Now go further back to this person’s parent’s time in the 1930s-40s-50s, when there was an explosion of recorded music and you hear the same thing. “I wish my kids wouldn’t listen to that music all day long. I wish they would go outside in the sunshine and climb trees and go swimming and catch fish……”

And then you step back into the 1920s and when radio came about…you know the drill.

There is no doubt we are going through one of the biggest explosions in the use of media. People can create, share, spread and distribute information like never before. The ubiquity of media everywhere is driven by falling prices in all things digital.

Nicholas Negroponte equates the net to a library but with a difference. If you go to a regular library you take a book off the shelf and if there is no other copy of that book, no one in the community, that reservoir of people being serviced by that library, can read it. But if you take a digital book of the Internet, anyone can go in there and take another and another and another.

Of course, if millions are accessing a particular site — web servers have limitations too — it can crash. But every time you go to a webpage you are actually downloading a copy onto your machine. Very few sites are live streamed, in the strict sense of the word, although that is changing rapidly even as we speak. So the Internet is actually a giant copying machine.

In the 15th century we had another giant copying machine of that time – it was called the Gutenberg Printing Press. Before that machine came to be, scribes used to sit down and copy everything word for word and so the church and the institutions of that day controlled the information.

When the printing press came about we hear only about the Gutenberg Bible as an early publication was reproduced in large quantities, but in truth there was an explosion of works — many of these secular, naughty, perverse and “mindless”. So much so, that intellectuals of the day were worried that the printing press was making people obsessed with trivia, gossip and the mundane.

But that media explosion eventually did society wonders. It gave us newspapers, it gave us specialized magazines, it gave us fiction and non-fiction, it gave us peer-reviewed scientific journals, it gave us academic books like never before. The entire spectrum of what we knew as “information” and “media” widened and deepened beyond belief.

Fast forward to 2012 and here we are — right at the heart of something wondrous. This is the dopamine injection of truly beautiful awakenings. It’s the eye of the digital storm. It’s raining down on us in bit buckets.

People keep referring to it as information overload. But that debate, as Clay Shirky rightly points out, is over. We cannot afford to take shelter and hide and put umbrellas up and wait for this storm to pass. We must learn how to filter the data, embrace it and become a filter ourselves so that others can make sense of the joys of this liquid, ubiquitous manna.

Journalists are at the heart of this. We have to embrace this. We have to learn these tools and gadgets and “Internet stuff”. We have to become aggregators and filters ourselves. We have to become like curators in a museum. But not in the old, grey-walled definition of a museum but a living, moving and constantly evolving museum and we have to choose what we want to exhibit today, and how the stuff we put out is shared and spread.

Journalism stands at the crossroads. This is the most transitive period in our lives as the “new media” re-define who we are.

Marketing, a dirty word for journalists, and more so personal brandingis a huge chunk of this. Google. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn are all a part of this movement.

We have to play where everyone is playing. We have to get our hands dirty and learn this, so that others who will come after will benefit from our knowledge and not supercede us, just because “they are young lah, so they know all this technical stuff”.

As a former tech journalist, I am a believer in that McLuhan quote: “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” We reported on these devices and now these devices are changing how we capture, edit, produce and tell our stories.

But we mustn’t forget what our roles are.

We are here to ask the questions on behalf of those who have no voice and cannot ask them because their tongues are tied.

We are here to tell the stories of those who cannot tell the stories on their own because they have been silenced.

We are here to uncover the truth and confront the corrupt with that truth so that they can be more accountable and transparent.

We are here to make those responsible measure up to a higher ethical and moral standard.

But we are also here to educate; to entertain; and to engage our communities in things that matter to them.

That’s journalism to me. That’s the journalism I was taught. That’s the journalism we need to continue to practise.

The old way was to produce the stuff and send it out to them as an act of faith.

The new way is to produce the stuff in collaboration with the people, not the faceless readers as we call them or the audience in a darkened theatre but real people who are just like us, yet different in so many ways.

We must set up “conversation platforms” by which they can come and interact with us or among themselves.

But we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. The 800-pound gorillas are already in the room. FLYTBG: Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Blogs, Google. We must go where our readers are and engage with them. We must fish where the fish are.

Journalists are great whiners. We really need to stop whining and get on with understanding, using and leveraging on the tools and apps out there and in here. There really isn’t anymore time to bitch about “those bloody bloggers.” The time now is to dive in and get to know our readers like never before. There really isn’t anymore time to moan the loss of a simpler world.

Just a few years ago, a number of longtime journalists found themselves out of a job. There were tears, real tears shed. People cried because it was the only life they ever knew. Their lives could be summed up in this way: “Hey, I was so arrogant and hard-headed that I thought that I needn’t learn new things. My skills were enough. Now, I am jobless, with bills to pay! Get me a blog, please, and please pay me to keep it updated.”

Wake up fellow journalists. Learn all you can about social media and pick up social media skills. You can learn from your colleagues, peers, children, nephew and nieces. You need to know that these are new journalism skill sets — it is very different and you need to OWN these skills if you are to survive, not only here in your current organisation, but anywhere out there.

I can tell you this, because I have been there and done that. If you do not have a brand behind you, then you better bloody well create that brand around your byline. Who you are and what you do matters. Don’t be insecure about that. It’s much easier to do it now, than there ever has been. Ever.

No trainer is going to turn you into a multimedia journalist overnight. You have take time to learn these skills yourselves. Our role is to provide you the big picture, the guidance, yes. We may handhold you for two or three days through some of rough spots if you need it, and give you a few technical pointers, then set you off in the right direction.

But the commitment to become very good at any of these tools must come from inside. If your current role doesn’t give time and opportunity to learn these skills on the job then you must find time — one hour or two hours a day or one day every weekend to learn it yourself.

There are people who are coming from behind you who will speed past you before you know it. They may not have the journalism mind, the news sense, the writing and grammar skills but that doesn’t matter — this is the new vocabulary and they can shine in ways that will get them ahead. Your competition isn’t even local. Awhile ago, a new Malaysian network player hired 10 content people from — get this –the US. All former journalists!

Think about that. Is their content going to be better than anything you can produce here? No. It’s just they haven’t discovered you yet. You are the gem everyone is looking for. Gleam like the jewel that you are. It is your time to shine.

Open Letter: Daniel Gulati on How Facebook Makes Us Miserable

Dear Mr Daniel Gulati,

I disagree with your inferences in HBR that Facebook Is Making Us Miserable .

Your three points are:
1) comparison mania
2) time suck
3) less “real-world” relationships.

Naysayers have been providing the same reasons about any new technology for centuries — blaming railways, cars, radio, recorded music, the phone, TV, video, computers, the Internet, mobile phones, Twitter — now even iPads — for supposedly making us all “miserable”.

Let’s face it, we aren’t any more miserable today than we were in the 18th century. (In fact, Steven Pinker goes so far as to argue in The Better Angels of Our Nature that violence has declined and that we have never lived through more peaceful times as we do now).

I doubt if Facebook makes us any more miserable, suicidal, violent, sick or depressed, than we were before 2003 and making that inference by extrapolating from small-sample research is just wrong.

Here are my three counterpoints:
1) Comparison mania: People have been “keeping up with the Joneses” for ages and painting a better picture of your life than it actually is is a human weakness that existed long before the Internet came along.

2) Time suck: Our media diet now includes print, music, photos, videos, movies, email, tweets, social network updates, etc. FB is just another tool we’ll adjust to.

3) Less “real-world” relationships:
A relationship improves only if you work on it. When it’s mediated through screens, it doesn’t make it “unreal” or less “rich” as having “in-person meetings.”

We live in both worlds – online/offline, virtual/real – some us have found the balance, a few of us haven’t. Our relationships have the potential to be more varied in degree and diversity than even before. You make it as rich and as close as you want it to be. How can that possibly make you more miserable?

Julian Matthews

Oprah Winfrey on validation at Facebook Live

Oprah Winfrey spoke with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, at the social network’s live event on Sept 8, 2011.

Here are parts of the transcript of her thoughts on legacy, validation and what it means to touch others after 25 years and 4,561 shows.

“Every person that you encounter in the space of your life — and (if you) impact them or affect them in anyway — that will be your legacy. And when you have a life like me or you (Sandberg) and you have a lot of reach and you impact a lot of people — and as I said on my last show — everybody has their own show.

“And your Facebook page, you get to have as many friends viewing your show as you can. Everybody, every day you are creating the show that is your life and every person you impact you leave a heartprint — or not. And that heartprint for every person that you touch, that is your legacy. So that when you leave the planet, every person that has been touched by you that is your legacy.

“I can’t even wrap my brain around what that is. I don’t know what that effect has been. I am just aware that in every moment and space and in every encounter that I’m making an impact whether negative or positive or indifferent or not.”

Watch live streaming video from facebookguests at livestream.com

“Every time you really SEE somebody…(and) everyone is just looking to be seen.When you see your kid acting out, or if you acted out yourself — and I learnt this on the 7th or 8th year of the Oprah Winfrey show — that everybody is looking for the same thing.

The common denominator in the experience of humanity is that we all want to be seen, we all want to be heard. Every argument is about that. Every argument is about: ‘Did you really hear me?’ You probably said that yourself: ‘You’re not hearing me. (shouts) YOU’RE NOT  HEARING ME!’ Because you want to know – ‘Do you hear me?’ and ‘Does what I say mean anything to you. Does what I say have any value to you? Do I hold this space of meaning for you. Do I matter?  Do I matter to you?’

“So when you’re upset with your husband, your boss, you’re upset with your friends, or your children are upset with you, it’s because what they’re really feeling is — ‘Do I  matter?’ All arguments go down to that base level.

” ‘Does this matter to you? You don’t even care,’ you probably heard someone saying that: ‘You don’t even care. Do I matter?’. In all the years of doing the show, and I have interviewed everybody…Still trying to get OJ. I just want him to tell me that he did it and I’ll be happy. I just want him to say that he did it.

“But anyway, in all the years whether I was interviewing rapists or murderers…I remember interviewing a guy once who…at the prison, I was interviewing him between the bars and he had murdered his twin daughters and at the end of the interview, the guy who murdered his twin daughters said to me: (whispers) ‘Was that okay? How did  I do?’

“At the end of the show I did with Beyonce, Beyonce in all her Beyonce-ness says, ‘Was that okay? How was that? How did I do?’

“That’s what everybody wants to know: ‘Was I okay? Am I okay? Am I okay with you? Is this going well? Is this okay?’

“Everyone wants to know that in your life in one form or another and your ability to give them the validation that says: ‘Yeah this is okay. It’s all right. Yeah, you really matter.’…If you can do that in your personal relationships, particularly with your children and your spouse, the people who are closest to you, you will be a success in your relationships.

” ‘Cause that really is the bottomline. The common bond (knocks fists together) that holds us all together: ‘Do I matter?’ ”

Link: bit.ly/oprahlive

The secret powers of time

The above RSA animation of Professor Philip Zimbardo’s talk sheds light on time perspectives and how it affects our work, health and well-being.

He peppers it with interesting examples, including the oft-repeated marshmallow experiment, and how your social status, pace of life, your religion, where you are located geographically and even the lack of seasons influences your perspective of time and therefore who you are as a person, how you relate to people and how you act daily.

It’s an important question to ask yourself: Are you past-, present- or future-oriented?

The original, extended 41-min video and this second shorter video from TED clarifies his points.

Further reading:
1. Sean at Cosmic Variance recently posted “Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Time”, digesting the ideas presented at an inter-disciplinary conference on the nature of time
2. Derek Sivers blogged about Zimbardo’s The Time Paradox and took notes.
3. Read the first chapter of The Time Paradox

Reflections on Amy Winehouse, dead at 27

Amy Winehouse didn’t look like you or me. She didn’t play to type with that throwback beehive and ‘I’m scary’ eyeshadow, a faux diva that you wouldn’t stand next to at a party.

But it was that song and that distinctive voice that drove her into our lives:

They tried to make me go to rehab but I said ‘no, no, no’
Yes I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know, know, know
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go, go, go

She was that glorious one-of-a-kind singer that seemingly came out of nowhere. We cheered her frank defiance, it appealed to our inner rebel, tilting against higher authority figures, drowning out the drone of parental righteousness.

Five Grammys and many other awards later, at 23, Amy was on a bullet train to infamy and we all knew it. Sudden fame is such a destructive force and we’ve seen this telemovie before.

Stuck on a treadmill of troubled performances, between alcohol and drug binges, spiralling in and out of control on an endless loop, fuelled by Jay-Zish remixes, can the singer separate herself from that song when concert-goers scream for another encore of you-know-what.

Were we all partly to blame, then? When we want a piece of that glitter called fame and it shatters before us, do we just fade to black, walk away, find the next, new shiny thing?

Or do we ask ourselves why we, as a society, cannot intervene when we can see the descent and destruction and the solution that is oh-so-obvious.

When a man in Oslo, Norway wakes up one day and decides to shatter the lives of everyone around him, we lament that it could not be predicted.

It is McVeigh, Mohamed Atta, the Unabomber, Virginia Tech’s Cho Seung-Hui and the Columbine killers all over again. Loners, isolated from the mainstream, invisible not only to us but even to those closest to them. Or perhaps, ignored out of our sheer helplessness.

But when we see the stars dying before us, does it suffice for us to just sit back and watch them flame out? Are their lives as worthless as an iTune download, lost in the shuffle? As flippant as a retweet: R.I.P Amy Winehouse?

When I awoke that morning and informed my daughter of Amy’s loss, her instant comeback was that Lindsay Lohan was next.

Precocious cynicism, or just simple predictable truths as seen through a 12-year-old?

We don’t need to be prophets of doom to see the unravelling of a life before us.

“I’ve known for a long time that my daughter has problems. But seeing it on screen rammed it home. I realise my daughter could be dead within the year. We’re watching her kill herself, slowly. I’ve already come to terms with her dead. I’ve steeled myself to ask her what ground she wants to be buried in, which cemetery. Because the drugs will get her if she stays on this road. I look at Heath Ledger and Britney. She’s on their path. It’s like watching a car crash – this person throwing all these gifts away,”
Janis, Amy’s mother in a 2008 interview.

A website belittling a life with the gift of an iPod

Whenwillamywinehousedie.com belittled a life with the gift of an iPod

Well, who’s next? Should we take a poll and vote on it? Will this crowdsourced list help us then alleviate the obvious?
Will we able to intervene where others can’t?

Can we?

No, no, no.

Links:
Sordid final hours of a troubled star: Amy Winehouse had ‘bought ecstasy, cocaine and ketamine’ on the night before tragic death
Amy Winehouse – Rehab
Last performance, Belgrade 2011
Amy Winehouse – Wikipedia

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