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The fishing village along the Sasaran River.

Sasaran is one of the many small Chinese fishing villages by the river in the northern tip of Selangor. It’s about 10 km south from the biggest fishing village, Kuala Selangor.

Many of these traditional fishing communities are hardworking and frugal. Their lives are often limited to their surrounding villages. Most of these families are self-sufficient and their homes well-equipped with modern fittings.

Often, in many of these rural areas, there is air of the place being frozen in time, with no progressive social, political and industrial developments for a long time.

The exception is in Sasaran. This is the only fishing village in the whole country that has created an international arts festival.

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The area and community of Tasik Chini was what attracted a group of Asian Public Intellectuals (API) to gather there this year. This group of about 30, with two members each from Indonesia, Japan, Philippines and Thailand with the remaining number from Malaysia, was there as part of their regional project based on the common element — water.

Tasik Chini was their last stop. Since 2008, this group has visited the Kali Code River in Yogyakarta; Biwako Lake, the largest lake in Japan; the Tapee river in the Khiriwong community in south Thailand and the Batanes islands north of the Philippines.

Hezri Adnan was the leader of this site visit. He is an academic at UKM and also a visiting Fellow at The Australian National University. He said, “We are here to develop networking and collaboration within the API fellows in response to regional environmental challenges. The gathering here is to learn, document and promote local community knowledge and how they come to terms with the degradation of their traditional habitat — the water, lakes, forest and their communal life. We hope to learn from the indigenous Jakuns and then later frame an Asian perspective to mitigate these common and urgent environment issues.”

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A chance to see another world

December 10th, 2010

The Orang Asli’s customs and way of doing things may seem “strange” and often given the derogatory label “primitive or uncivilized” by many even today.

This is simply because many of us are not familiar with their cultures. The Orang Asli too, in return, would look at city folks and wonder why we go about doing things the way we do.

However, if we were to take the effort to get to know some Orang Asli, as friends and fellow citizens, we might perhaps see that their way makes perfectly good sense in terms of their own culture and environment.

There are three main tribal groups found in peninsular Malaysia – Negrito, Senoi, and Aboriginal Malay. They are divided into 18 sub-ethnic groups all with their own languages and customs.

Their communities of about 148,000 people make up about five per cent of the total population in Malaysia (compared this to the sizable 17 per cent of the Indigenous population of Sabah and Sarawak).  Most of them prefer to live in the forested areas but many younger ones are making their way into the cities.

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Swee’s memory of our mother

December 9th, 2009

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My mother passed away almost three years ago. My mother was diagnosed with congestive heart condition in late 1999.  Seven years later, on 31st October 2006, she was admitted into University Hospital to have a heart by-pass surgery.

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My mother never regained consciousness after her surgery.  Sadly, 40 days later on 9th December 2006 at 7.00pm, she passed away at the age of 80 still in the Intensive Care Unit.  I did not get to hold my Mum’s hand or stroke her face one last time as she passed away before I got there.

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I remember vividly the day when my brother rang to tell me that my mother was critically ill.  My husband and I were our way to do our weekly groceries shopping.  It was 12.30pm in Auckland where we live and over in Kuala Lumpur it was 7.30am in the morning.  My instincts told me that it was not good news.

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I had no empathy about death until I lost my dear mother.  My heart was like a vase smashed by a hammer. Baffled and bereft, I somehow muddled through in the days after her death. Her death taught me that life is fleeting and family counts. Conjuring her voice, her infectious laughter and our frequent long distance calls have become a way for me to keep her close, to gather together the bits and pieces of her that reside within me.

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Born in 1926, my mother’s life spanned the Great Depression, World War II, the repressed ‘50s, the stormy ‘60s, disco, Y2K, 9/11, mobile phones, the digital revolution, emails and beyond.
I love the twinkle in Mum’s eyes whenever she talked about Seenum, my brother’s son.  Being a traditionalist, having grandson to carry on the Chin’s family name was her ultimate desire in her life.  My nephew fulfilled my Mum’s joy and pride.

Now when I go back to the house where Mum lived, I can almost see my mother’s face peering out the lounge window as my husband and I arrive even before we get to the door bell. She’s been gone nearly three years and her presence still permeates through out the house, her bedroom, the kitchen, the garden, the verandah, everywhere.
My mother left me with lots of famous sayings and lots of funny stories. This is how I get through the loss of my mother — by telling stories of her exploits, by laughing at her infamous mispronunciations, by remembering her strength, by following her Hakka recipes (“harm gai” which is her secret Hakka recipe of soaking a steamed “kampong” chicken in her concoction of home brewed rice wine and granulated salt).

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In a letter she wrote for my brother and to read after her death, which we found in her drawer beneath ancient bank statements, I never really thought about death until I lost my mother. But losing someone close to you gives you clarity. It helps you see what matters most; it allows you to appreciate the precious pieces a person leaves behind.
It’s my mother’s voice I hear whenever I am worried, in response to my worries about money or work or weight.

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My mother may be gone, but she is never gone from my heart as I replay fond memories of her. My mother and I shared a great mother and daughter relationship and bond.  She had an irrepressible love of a good mother and will be unforgettable.  I don’t ever recall saying out loud “I love you” to my mother.  Words may be missing but we had a deep affection for each other.  Most of the time, even before she opened her mouth to say something, I already had an inclination what my mother is going to tell me. I still miss her very much and I know she is always watching over me, my brother and her immediate family members.

Through Eric’s eyes

November 2nd, 2009

NOV 1 — This is the last week to catch Eric Peris’s 30th solo photographic exhibition at the Sutra Gallery, which ends on Nov 5. Eric’s first two solo exhibitions were in 1982 at the Rupa Gallery (now closed), in Kuala Lumpur. Since then he has had 28 shows of his own.

In this one, Eric pulled out one example from each of his last 30 shows. What you get is a kind of retrospective view of one of Malaysia’s master photographer’s lifework. He deserves better national acknowledgement for his contributions as an artist, photographer, photojournalist and teacher. (It may yet come we hope.)

Eric, at 70, is a prodigious artist at work and his photographs have encompassed a wide variety of subjects. Many of his shots have been influenced by some of the most famous photographers of the last century.

His visual takes of the world around him have also in turn helped many Malaysian photographers see. Of course, he is most partial to those photographers whose works are in black and white, as most of his works are such.

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Bob Teoh, Eric & Lee HL at the opening

In the early 80s, Eric showed photos of views in and out of windows. His first set was from Thai windows and its architecture and landscapes. Later, he added his views of Malaysian landscapes from train windows.

On show are some vintage images of his unique way of seeing and capturing his surroundings. Not the usual postcard aesthetics of beautiful landscapes at sunset but the more unusual and unknown views that are just as photographic. This is just Eric’s art of seeing.

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Eric was also one of the few photographers who trained his lenses on tin mine landscapes near his former house in the Puchong tin mining area (now Bandar Kinrara). To many, this disused tin mining area was just a desolate and ugly gaping hole.

He turned those sand dunes, mounts and valleys into a record of our land forms, our history of the tin industry; in some ways like what the American photographer Ansel Adams did in the 40s and 50s with his country’s landscape.

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