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.


UnRepresented #1 : Lost in KL (Yeah, seriously!)

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Self-Reminder : When in doubt… turn right

I found that a vast majority of local people who work in Pasar Seni area didn’t know about the existence of a street called Jalan Panggong. The last time I was there was last year during Ramadhan when we got ourselves lost again from Masjid Jamek station. They’re just around the corner but point is, I still haven’t mastered this part of KL as much as I thought.

Unfortunately, I spent about half an hour walking around the bloody place in circles, trying to find this small junction you called a road. I think that’s why the whole region was famous with tourists and alike, you can get lost for hours and hours and with a flick of your finger, time flew by and you’re spending loads of money at the stores in the surrounding area especially on water. Bloody hell, it was hot and sweltering.

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No focus. Blurry. Bad HP webcam.

If you are looking for FINDARS or Jalan Panggong, the MRT bulldozed the neigbouring area, including a lot of old buildings (Plaza Warisan included) and historic bus station (which apparently will be renewed to look like upgraded Pudu plus KL Sentral and Nu Sentral. So with that fact in mind (huge gigantic MRT construction), it won’t be a problem to find the place.

But if you really need directions, you can drop off from the Pasar Seni LRT station to the right escalator that faced the bus stands and you walk to the right and pass the shoplots and head straight toward the construction site until you found the junction and you can see the Jalan Panggong signage peeking from the blue aluminium walls.

However, it was the ‘lost in Pasar Seni’ part that bothered me the most. The hygiene, the atmosphere. It was unusually hot and it was raining in PJ about half an hour before I arrive and I started to get nauseated from the traffic and its pollution (in fact, I ran home and barf all over the bathroom floor, who knew I was that sensitive).

Then again, the MRT project have always been a scandalous project from the start and with it was riddled with tragedies as the project was being pushed to reach the targeted completion. I just hope the project would find more effective ways for its concerns on safety of the general public and the workers.

We had an ethnography assignment for the next Sunday’s session and I was still looking around recording everything I saw. And all I saw was the exploitation of the area in the name of tourism and to the construction blatant disregard of it being a heritage site. Then again, it was only the Central Market that was recognized as an official heritage site but the surrounding area isn’t. I guess that was the future of Pasar Seni, demolished old buildings that people think as an eyesore and fire hazard… and instead we replace it with more generic malls filled with Sephora, Guardian and H&M. Again, we have more malls in this radius than we do with public libraries.

If only we could build more humane places for homeless folks to stay and a system to support the growing problems of overdevelopment (high cost of living, high traffic, highly dense buildings, pest problems), maybe KL could have been redeemed.

Of course, I’m being sarcastic and being cynical does help with writing… unfortunately.

I’m not lying about how I really feel about KL. I hate how the air never felt clean or breathable and how I always hate the traffic and its constant noise from morning to midnight. I hate the amber glow surrounding the city at night. I hate how that glow make the sky turn orange. I hate how it was hard to find decent food without being overcharged. I hate how many times I nearly being killed by motorist who think they don’t need to stop for pedestrians in roads where there are no flyovers. I hate how dangerous it was for me to be there in certain places and I tend to walk a lot at night and I was always beyond terrified. I just mask it all with this monotone face of mine. It was one to be near to KL but to actually live in it for nearly half a decade…

Although I like the view but life is hard in the heart of the city. A lot of bad things happened while I was living there from missing children to baby dumping across the road from where I lived, to all forms of crime from snatch thievery to stabbings to acid attacks (still a cold case), to Orang Minyak stealing laptops from second floor dorms (yeah, honest to God that did happen and yes, it was totally weird) to sad forms of social injustices and psychological degradation of the common people to bystander apathy. But that was another story for another day.

I don’t completely hate KL but I couldn’t romanticize it as much as I tried.


So, on the actual writing group session, I had fun with the program as I always do with my other writing or reading group session. People who are lawyer, editors, lecturers, journalists and stuff and I’m like… okay, fine.. I’m just your friendly neighbourhood book reviewer. But we did talk a lot about the things that bothered us and the things we’ve seen and interacted and we wrote a bunch more about stuff and we drink and eat and talk and write. Hey, I managed to dupe people to think I’m extroverted (maybe). We did a bunch of writing exercises and surprisingly, it wasn’t as intense as NaNo session. Then again, we didn’t have a word count limit here.

I definitely need to get new notebooks. I talk some bits about my current WIP which I’m probably going to write it through NaNoWriMo this year as an the act of rebellion, hey, its been four years and several Camp NaNos, a NaNo rebellion is overdue plus THG is coming!


That stick figure was intentional. I can’t draw with my eyes closed but it was the things that had happened and frankly the ones that I remember the most about KL and shared about them. And yes, my handwriting at its purest form (I also write exams like this. Bad bad…)

And nope, I can hardly read them myself.

There will be another UnR session next Sunday and it will be an outdoor session with an urban anthropologist doctor and also a street graffiti artist. How exciting! Sunscreen isn’t optional.

I will be following another Coursera course at the same time, The Ohio State University’s Human Trafficking by Dr Jacquelyn Meshelemiah. It spans from the introduction to Human Trafficking, the Laws and Policies, the Impact on the Victims and Biopsychosocial consequences and Interventions and solutions from the victims to the survivors. It was a short course but I will look forward to it.

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Yes, in every way, it does represent what UnRepresented KL was all about. Trying to bring out narrative of the unrepresented one at a time.

And again, suddenly I became a moderator for a biweekly writing challenge by one of my book group. Not my idea, but more reasons to procrastinate about and it all don’t revolve around my WIP. Sigh…

Plus, the ethnography assignment!

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I never tried stream of consciousness before and neither do I with social science assignments like this but I prepared myself by reading/listening to James Joyce’s jibberish (I’m on Cyclops chapter, understand my agony). I am very well aware that there might be grammatical errors but then again, I don’t really know what I did because I hardly know what am I doing. This ethno-thingy is new for me but observance isn’t. I did end up churning jibberish… then again, LRT isn’t a place to observe people’s interaction but rather a place to observe people in public and their lack of interactions. But you can always read people. For most part, listening is harder than seeing. Language barriers was a real problem too.

I’ll post up the actual feedback later next week, and we’ll see what the heck this thing for.

P/s :  I’m mulling over buying a domain but until then I decided to change the name of this blog to “Hantu Buku’s Reviews” because whenever I thought up something clever related to books, someone already claim that name. So, Hantu Buku means Book Crazed… like insane crazy, way over the level of Kaki Buku (which is a real site, unfortunately). basically, that was what I am right? Maybe I’ll bring back the review juju back here from Goodreads but until then. So say we all.