Monday, November 21, 2011

Consumed with local affairs

One Man's Meat

The Philippines looms as the next big Asean entity and Indonesia is the place to ‘park’ one’s money, but we would rather not know that the barbarians are at the gate.

THE barbarians are at the gate and yet Malaysians are more fixated with whether a mentri besar was caught for khalwat with a girl from Pasir Panjang.

Not true, says the MB. But tongues still wag.

Perhaps we should be more concerned with the fact that the Philippines will be the next big thing in Asean.

I remember reading a report saying that if we are not careful, in two decades or so we will be sending maids to Manila.

The thing about us is we are more consumed with domestic affairs than foreign happenings.

Yes, from my Twitter timeline, Malaysians are also interested in the fact that former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was arrested on charges of fraud and Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam was captured.

But we are more intrigued with when Parliament will be dissolved, and whether Parti Kita president Datuk Zaid Ibrahim will contest in Petaling Jaya Utara or Petaling Jaya Selatan.

I, too, am guilty of paying too much attention to local politics and not enough to global issues.

Yes, I’m aware of the eurozone debt crisis. But don’t ask me to get into specifics.

However, I’ve become a specialist on Kedah Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang’s challenge to DAP publicity secretary Tony Pua: he will consume a mug of Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia’s (KR1M) Chocolate Malt if the Petaling Jaya Utara MP donates RM1,000 to charity.

The challenge came after Pua claimed that KR1M’s 1Malaysia Growing Up Milk contained eight times the permitted amount of Vitamin A and was missing essential nutrients such as Omega 3, Vitamin B1, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and folic acid.

There was so much excitement in TwitterJaya (the moniker of the Malaysian twittersphere) over the issue, with some twitterers milking the issue with clever tweets such as “Pray for @TanKengLiang because he is going to drink 1Malaysia Choco Milk”.

Another big issue on TwitterJaya has spawned the mother of all puns and has also something to do with milk.

So syiok I was to absorb these comments like SpongeBob SquarePants, until I read a tweet by @Art_Harun (the lawyer) on Wednesday.

He tweeted in Malay: Malaysian politics – last month it was about molesting breast, this month it is about cows. When will we discuss the maximum impact of the eurozone on our economy?

Ouch. Time to come out from under my coconut shell.

So I decided to find out what the barbarians (Malaysia’s foreign rivals) were up to.

On Friday, I met a 20-something think-tank director at Coffee Bean in Bangsar Village to pick his brain.

The cerebral hotshot, who wants to keep a low profile at the moment, listed three challenges that Malaysia faces.

“Population wise, we are too small. We have a population of 28 million. Compare that with Indonesia’s 245 million, Thailand’s 66 million and the Philippines’ 103 million,” said the animated man, still wearing his maroon Friday prayer shirt.

“In terms of economies of scale, our enterprises will not grow so big because our market is small. We don’t have any option but to invest outside.”

Malaysian enterprises, he said, should think Asean to survive and grow.

“We should be on the forefront of ‘big’ Asean,” he explained.

He noted that Malaysian companies such as CIMB and Khazanah were investing in vibrant Indonesia, the country to “park” one’s money.

And through Twitter, he understands how important Indonesia is to the United States by reading the tweets of the American ambassador to Jakarta.

“Food security,” he said. “Many Malaysians do not realise that Malaysia imports almost everything – rice, fish and even chilli.

“Imagine chilli! I did not know that we imported chilli until I attended a briefing by Pemandu (Performance Management and Delivery Unit).

“We are also overly dependent on foreign workers. Free movement of people is important in a globalised world.

“But certain industries, such as palm oil and construction, should train Malaysians to work in these sectors.

“Suddenly they are finding it difficult to recruit Indonesian workers as that country’s economy is booming. Indonesians would rather work in Malaysian-owned palm oil plantations in their own country than in Malaysia.”

Note to myself: download the Economist iPad edition that has, as its cover story, “The magic of diasporas: Immigrant networks are a rare bright spark in the world economy”.

In the meantime, I wonder what will happen to Tan should he drink the 1Malaysia Chocolate Malt.