Politics of the Temporary: An Ethnography of Migrant Life in Urban Malaysia by Parthiban Muniandy

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Politics of the Temporary is a collection of ethnographic essays about various the transient migrants of Kuala Lumpur and was divided into three parts: ‘Restaurants, Cafe, Culture and Identity’, ‘Race, Ethnicity and Street Politics’ and ‘Quiet Encroachments and Tortured Smiles”. Within each parts of the books was stories that ranged from simple observation of known streets of Kuala Lumpur, to discussions between people of different background and nationalities and the author’s own narrative on the situation faced by the most visible people in our society who are also the most unrepresented.

The book was written in academical style as it was a dissertation on urban anthropology. Frankly, social studies dissertations is far more pleasant to read than the scientific dissertations that I used to read. The narrative style was refreshing, honest and critical without being judgmental (which are more commonly seen in any articles by general media on issues relating on migrants or everything really…)

It was interesting that the author manage to give me fresh perspectives on the issues and highlighting many more issues relating to the growth of migrant populations from Burma (The author’s own preference use throughout the book. Interesting.) to the issues relating on people taking advantage on migrant’s labor into a form of indentured servitude to the deculturalization of certain areas of the cities to xenophobia and persistent issues regarding immigrants and sex trafficking including among minors . Even more interesting was the authorities’s attitude on these communities themselves, corruptions and exploitation that they suffered in the name of development and capitalism.

I’m still digesting the book and analyzing the content. For most part, I was familiar with the subject matter from my years living in Kuala Lumpur as an undergraduate in which I do a lot of people watching for someone learning to be lab scientist and partly due to my recent endeavour with UnRepresented KL in which I played at being an amateur ethnographer but it does help me a lot with my writing and my views on diversity in literature (which is still a hot topic in my general writing groups). The book does gave me a lot of things to think about especially on people around me and whenever I walk outside.

The content can be distressing but also illuminating. For most part, it was hardly anything new to me but it gave me new perspectives on how these transient migrants see about us. How we Malaysians are known to take things for granted. How for most of us like to see everything through tinted gaze from our windscreen or from the comforts of our home. How we distract ourselves with menial issues that blinded us from the atrocities commited around us. How we’re coddled to ignore their existence as human beings and how we allow the rot to set and fester. How one sided it was the narrative that we’re being feed daily about these people. How we often complain to ourselves about how disadvantage we are as we blind ourselves to the people around us.

Yes, Malaysia is hell to a lot of the people inside this book. Malaysians are demons and monsters to a lot of people inside this book. Does that idea sit well with you? How desensitize can we be? While this review isn’t a self-flagellation session but it was discomforting nonetheless.

The review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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