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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Hikayat Nakhoda Muda

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The story of the Young Sea-Captain exist in various earlier versions but this is an edition from a manuscript written in 1830s. The story is about a princess who got tired of waiting and she went out and saved her stupid brother’s life while disguising herself as a man and unfortunately for her, a prince fall in love with her and in severe emotional confusion over his feeling to a girl who dressed like a boy and everyone was convinced that she’s a boy and he insisted that she’s not. So, he and his father made up things to test her in front of everyone that she’s a man… including peeing in front of everyone, gambling, horse-riding, dancing and almost sleeping together. Luckily, she have a magic bird who spy on the emperor and the prince and the princess churn out clever ways to outwit these two scheming people who were bent on trying to humiliate her in every way possible.

This hikayat was full of feels and weird sex jokes and occasional groping. I thought these aristocratic literature would be dry and proper considering it was a favorite in the old Malay courts and the cover was bland even with those gold lettering. It was surprisingly a very well-constructed romance. A girl meet a guy. The guy fall in love and pursue the girl and the girl tried so hard to push him away but then that night together they spent telling stories instead of sleeping which reminisced 1001 Nights and then that “I’m gonna leave you now and I don’t want you to chase me” scene. Honestly, Prince Bikrama was an asshole and then he became this simpering puddle of depression (he actually fainted when she ran away) but he redeemed himself when he won her hand in a competition and fought a war with other princes over for his love.

In fact, I do think the whole book was better than most Malay romance we had now. Its like Fantaghiro except the girl uses more wit than Fantaghiro do and her reason to disguise herself as a boy to save her brother was more solid and there’s a lot of feminine empowerment qualities from this captain princess alone. Which I think it was grand.

Sadly, despite some era of Malay literature appreciation during British Malaya days, there weren’t any English translation for this hikayat. Of all fairytales, you’d expect this kind of feminist story of a clever Malay princess who save the day from men’s idiocy (because really, every major conflict in this book was cooked up by these incompetent feudalistic men) would remain famous for centuries.

Horse Raid: The Making of a Warrior by Paul Goble

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One of the most gorgeous book about cultural heritage and coming of age surrounded the Native American’s tradition of horse raiding. The foreword explained a length about the history and basically tried to explain the basic around the horse tradition and how things changed since then (because these horse raids technically is a civil war among tribes). It was sad to know how these stories became more obscure in modern literature but the colorful artwork brought the tale into life and its glory.

There was some mystical quality and there’s action and violence in the tale as expected. At a first glance, I thought the artwork was about Mongolian horse nomads. Although it seemingly written in a way similar to children’s book format, I don’t genuinely think it was meant for younger audience. The text content was too descriptive and lengthy, stylistically similarly to coffee table books. It was obvious to see the amount of hard work and careful details being rendered into the storytelling.

The ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.