Friday, April 30, 2010

Recce: Looking for the visual dynamics

Yesterday, we interviewed Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad at his office, visited the temple at Section 19, the residential area at Section 23 and realised that our perceptions on the temple issue was complete garbage. Fit only for the landfill. Alamak.

Khalid gave a run-down of what happened during the elections right up to the protest, the townhall meeting and the update on the temple relocation process.

At the Section 19 temple, the geography of the issue hit home. Sri Maha Mariamman temple was just across the road from rows of double storey terrace houses.

We spoke to a devotee and a resident there. Both offered contradicting insights on the issue.

Next stop was Section 23. As it was drizzling we only saw the proposed site for the temple and the playground and community hall from inside the car.

This was our first recce, it gave us a feel of the place and the visual dynamics to film the story. Without seeing these places we wouldn't be able to create the visual path of the story. Writing for print, the visual aspects would not have mattered as much.

By the end of the day, we knew we had to re-examine 'our story'.

I am not doing a political documentary, I re-affirmed my stand to Sheridan.
I know, I know. But how? He asked.
Talk to more people.

On our list we have two names one is the chairman of the Section 19 temple association and the other is the chairman to the Section 23 surau committee.

I dare not imagine what our findings will be. Still, I feel it must be interesting.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Initial research

A story is built on events, things that happen and how they happen.

I began my research by reading Sheridan's analysis on the cow-head protest, one of his last pieces written for New Straits Times before he chose to became a freelance writer.

This paragraph struck a significant ring:

“The most important question in Section 23 temple controversy is not just whether anyone in the cow-head incident will be punished but whether  the 211 residents who attended a townhall meeting with the Selangor government on the matter were a cross-section of the Malay majority.”

Are Malays largely racists? I don't think so, but that is just gut feeling, which also tells me there is more to the temple controversy than what was reported by the media.

At the height of the controversy, I was working on the controversial death of Mariam Johari and the plight of her family to fly her body home from Seoul to Kota Tinggi, so to a certain extent, I did miss out the high drama of the cow-head protest, the townhall meeting that ensued a week later and the aftermath of both events.

I have reservations about reading all the newspaper reports, watching YouTube or blog postings, they are after all secondary data, an interpreted version of the truth. What I really need is fresh opinions on the issue almost a yeaqr after it happened.

The best way to dig out the real story is to go to the ground and talk to the people. Top on our list is Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad who seemed to be the person who had promised the Section 19 residents that he would relocate the temple during the 2008 General Elections and attended the chaotic townhall meeting between the Section 23 residents and state government on the relocation of the temple near their residential area.

Actually Khalid is all that we have for the time being.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Forming a partnership: collaborating

Collaborate is a fancy way of saying working together, but the word gets stickier when we have to define the shared responsibilites while making this short film.

It is your story.
No it is yours too, he said.

Yeah but it is your idea. We are telling your story.
No, we are telling OUR story, he said, demanding me to claim ownership to the film.

At first I just wanted to help with the proposal and later, well, he could always find a crew.  Largely because I wasn't keen on the subject. I believed the cow-head protest and the townhall meeting was a case of village bullies trying to be heroes, but Sheridan described the incident as a mini May 13. Both of us are gripping at the edge of two extreme ends of the spectrum.

Sheridan is a political writer. I, on the other hand writes just about everything from mangoes to Mawi, excluding politics. Can we actually agree on a story?

That aside, we have to agree what collaborating entails:
  • We will write the story together, meaning we have to agree on how the story is told, frame by frame.
  • We will take turns directing and filming. If one person holds the camera, the other will hold the interview and decide the shots.
  • We will choose the music, the graphics, and share the general workload of getting interviews, becoming runners and getting supplies.
  • We also have specific roles: Sheridan handles the financial side of things, I take care of compiling materials, from scedules, treatment, storyboard to script ie admin work.
  • and Sheridan will keep the make-up kit and therefore touches up the interviewees.
From here on, we have to answer the most important question: WHAT is the story?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bumblebee is not an option

He wouldn't listen and rambled on about doing a short film.

No, I don't want to, but Sheridan Mahavera had conveniently left his ears elsewhere and chose to ignore my replies.

He said the Freedom Film Fest organisers would give grant and technical support to film a documentary. All we had to do, he rushed his words, was to send in a proposal.

And when is the deadline for this proposal?
May 17, he said.

WHAT? It was three weeks away.

And the subject will be?
You know, the temple in Section 19 (shah Alam) the one with the cow-head protest.

WHAT? I'm not doing a political documentary.

I stood up and walked away from our table. He was acting like a kid in a toy-filled megastore who is fixed on a Decepticon model. You either buy the toy or buy the toy. You can't reason with a kid like that. After some pacing, I return to our table and looked at him squarely. The only way to deal with this was to throw questions. Create doubt. Buy time.

It dawned on him the many aspects he did not factor in: storyline, concept, visual dynamics, research, and above all the acutely short time.

Collaborate, he said.

I threw more questions at him. I realised he had no inkling the kind of cliff he was leaping off from. Should I turn this writer away and watch him sink or swim? Delicious thought. But by then I saw something else painfully familiar to me: the burning desire to tell a story, it resonated in his voice and deeply etched on his face. From another point, he was offering me an adventure, to tell a story in another medium. I have written television dramas but this project would put journalistic writing to a non-linear medium. That too, was a delicious thought. Why not?

It was just a proposal, he said. I consented with a long list of conditions.

I felt I had just agreed to buy the kid the fancy toy. Problem was, I would prefer a Bumblebee.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Contrasting strategies at play

TAN Sri Mohamad Isa Abdul Samad and his wife, Bibi Sharliza Mohd Khalid, resplendent in traditional garb, were here at the Melursari Precinct in Bandar Sungai Buaya for a Beramah Mesra Bersama Pengantin Baru event on Monday.

True to its theme, there was a main table for the newly-weds complete with bunga pahar and three-tiered wedding cake, with the guests treated to a sit-down kenduri dinner.

What set it apart from other kenduri kahwin, was that the groom took the microphone and talked politics.

Late-comers braved the rain and many guests stayed on to listen to Isa debating on the credibility of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat candidate and its de facto leader, the crumbling of Pakatan Rakyat alliance, hammering home the point whether such a party was worthy of their trust and votes.

"They can't even take care of themselves, do you think they can take care of you? Rentikanlah." Applause and laughter greeted his colloquial punchline that they should quit dreaming, much less hope, that PKR would ever take up the Hulu Selangor voters' cause.

Also seated at the main table was former Hulu Selangor candidate Datuk Dr Halili Rahmat, who left PKR just that morning to explain his political predicament with PKR, thus lending weight to Isa's debate.

Isa, a seasoned politician, knew how to have the audience eating out of his hand. The air was almost festive.

On the following night at Dataran Bukit Sentosa, PKR brought in stalwarts Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Kit Siang, who took turns rebutting BN campaign points, defending their candidate and refutting claims that PR was not a "cracked stone waiting to crumble".

"As you can see, we are all here, united and stronger," said Lim , booming through the speakers, an equally experienced politician who knew how to cast a spell on his audience. The air was electrifying.

One ceramah felt like a Zapin Fest the other, a Rock Kapak concert. Obviously, both parties are adopting contrasting strategies of extreme ends.

BN has zoomed in on local issues from sports field, traffic lights, highway interchange, abandoned projects to an Orang Asli cooperative while PR stayed national with the Apco allegations and ISA reforms.

BN is fielding a fresh face close-to-home candidate (P. Kamalanathan is from Rawang) with great charm whom no voters could say no to, but PKR put up a Kelantanese disgruntled ex-minister and branded him as a no nonsense fighter who knows the ropes in Parliament.

BN goes by Sayangi Selangor, Yakini BN (Love Selangor, Support BN), PKR says it with Bersama Selamatkan Malaysia (Together We Save Malaysia).

Cynics would take Kamalanathan as a novice and Zaid as an ex-Umno member fishing for a spot in Parliament.

Fence-sitters are a fickle lot. The Batang Kali state constituency has the largest number of voters in Hulu Selangor with 27,832 voters.

But it was an open secret that during the last general election, many had decided not to cast their votes or deliberately spoilt it as a protest against the BN candidate.

"Traditionally, Batang Kali has been a BN area until the last election, but it was more of a personality issue rather than the party," said BN supporter Abdul Rahman Abu Nawar.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Harumanis debuts in Japan today

By Siti Nurbaiyah Nadzmi

KUALA LUMPUR: The first consignment of Harumanis, a premium mango cultivar grown in Perlis, will arrive in Japan today, making it the first Malaysian fruit to break into Japan's imported fresh fruit market.

This will coincide with the arrival of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, his first visit to Japan since taking office as prime minister a year ago.

Japanese Ambassador to Malaysia Masahiko Horie described both events as significant and historic.

He said there would be another four consignments of Harumanis on April 21, 25 and 28, weighing a total of 3.05 tonnes.

Horie said a plant quarantine officer was based at the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) laboratory in Serdang to observe the treatment process before the mangoes were packed and flown from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

"We are confident that Harumanis will be accepted by Japanese consumers going by the non-fibrous texture, sweetness, flavour and fragrance," Horie told the New Sunday Times.

The fruits were harvested from the Perlis Agriculture Department's orchard in Bukit Bintang, Kangar. Strict import protocols required that the mangoes undergo vapour heat treatment to eliminate fruit fly larvae.

Premium Harumanis weighs about 350gm per fruit and is packed into 5kg boxes.

Horie said the sole importer and distributor had drawn up a marketing strategy to introduce Harumanis to the Japanese through restaurants and specialised supermarkets.

"Mangoes imported from other parts of the world, especially Thailand, Mexico and the Philippines, are usually available all year round but Harumanis from Perlis is seasonal, making it a rare delicacy."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Still waiting for real change

By Siti Nurbaiyah Nadzmi

AS a registered voter in Hulu Selangor, I am looking forward to an interesting week. It is when the constituency comes alive with VIP visits, official openings and launchings, kenduris and, more importantly, the potholes are covered.
For the upcoming by-election, traffic lights have sprouted overnight at the Prima Beruntung-Bukit Sentosa and the Kampung Koskan-Sungai Choh junctions. The residents in both areas had been petitioning for traffic light junctions for ages.

Meanwhile, the Sungai Choh-Serendah junction, an important pre-war link that connects the southern part of the peninsula to the north, has been resurfaced, making it a joy to drive on.

I soak in the effervescence.

The traffic light marks the entranceway to the Hulu Selangor parliamentary constituency. Just 50km from the Kuala Lumpur city centre, this is the dull backwater of Selangor.

Hulu Selangor has several industrial areas and is home to two automotive plants, Tan Chong Motors and Perodua.

pix_topright The public transport system runs right through the heart of the constituency -- the north and south are linked by the railway line from Rawang to Bukit Mertajam and the federal road from Serendah and Batang Kali to Tanjung Malim. The North South Expressway is the latest addition.

Really, it should be bustling with economic activities.

But unlike the neighbouring agro-based, industry-rich Kuala Selangor district, or the highly-developed Gombak district, Hulu Selangor has remained true to its name -- "hulu" which is the interior, the forsaken.

Hulu Selangor fell prey to property speculators who could not stay afloat after the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit home. Homeowners in Bukit Sentosa, Bukit Beruntung and Bandar Sungai Buaya were left fighting for basic amenities -- from regular bus services to burial grounds. There is still no government clinic here.

As life picked up pace over the decades -- and spanning three general elections -- telephone land lines and mobile phone coverage improved, water and electricity supply became more reliable, bus services were more frequent and more houses were occupied. The townships of Bukit Beruntung and Bukit Sentosa are today liveable. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Bandar Sungai Buaya, where I came to stay in 1999.

Bandar Sungai Buaya was picture perfect. In the morning, mist hung over the township and birds chirped. And, the fresh air.

It was designed to complement the natural landscape, but the 15-year integrated township masterplan could not be completed as planned. Or home owners here would have enjoyed high property value, a clubhouse complete with man-made lake and recreational centres, business centres, colleges and an interchange that would have reduced travelling time to Kuala Lumpur to just 20 minutes.

Call it bad investment, but the victims were not just the house buyers. The Felda Sungai Buaya settlers who sold their land to the developer, Bandar Sungai Buaya Sdn Bhd, were only paid a fraction of their million-ringgit plots of land. Last year, the developer was liquidated.

In the 1999 general election, I bumped into a candidate doing his rounds at the wet market. With fish and vegetables in one hand and a cranky toddler on my hip, I asked him if he could make a change. He huffed and puffed and wiped the sweat off his brow, buying time to give me a non-committal reply, pregnant with rhetoric.

I missed casting my vote here in 2008, but nothing much changed until lately, when Plus Expressway Bhd announced the construction of the Sungai Buaya interchange early next year.
The interchange is palliative. It does not magically wave away the pain and loss of 14 years of development. No one can turn back time, but even the slightest change offers a ray of hope to us here.

So, when I meet him again, I will ask, "Dear Mr Candidate, will there be change?"

And he has two years to make it work before the general election.

Friday, April 9, 2010

It took a builder's unkept promise to break her

A voter in Hulu Selangor was a toddler during the Great Depression of 1929, the significance of which escapes her to this day. She survived World War 2 and went on to become an activist battling the Malay Union. After Merdeka, she was part of the successful Felda revolution. In the end, it was the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis that foiled her hopes. SITI NURBAIYAH NADZMI reports.

AS a fearless activist, Timah Ali, 84, walked for eight days from Padang Kota Lama, Penang to Kuala Lumpur in 1946 to protest against the Malayan Union. Now, hunched but still feisty, all she wants is the land issue in Felda Sungai Buaya to be resolved.

Timah is one of the 363 settlers caught in a complex land issue after the developer could not compensate them in exchange for their land titles in 1994. The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 shattered their dreams.

The story of Felda Sungai Buaya started in 1965, when the 363 settlers built their lives around planting rubber trees on about 1,000ha of land, 18km from Rawang.

In 1994, they signed an agreement for the land to be developed. In return they were to receive compensation according to the size of their land, some plots were worth up to RM1.3 million.

The 15-year integrated township development plan in Bandar Sungai Buaya was halted following the financial crisis in 1997.

The 1,500-acre leasehold project was developed by Land and General, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bandar Sungai Buaya Sdn Bhd, which went under liquidation last year.

In 1997, the developer completed and handed over 3,000 homes. Located off the North-South Expressway between Rawang and Bukit Beruntung, the township is accessible via Jalan Sungai Choh from Rawang or the Bukit Beruntung interchange.

It was heartbreaking for Timah and other settlers who lost their land and for some, their means of income. Timah said the settlers received the first payment of RM5,000 in 1994 when they signed the agreement.  The payments then trickled to RM2,000 monthly, then dwindled to RM1,000 before it stopped completely in 2001.

"There were no more rubber trees for us to tap or land for us to grow crops, so we have no income. Most of us are just too old to work, anyway. There is nothing to do but hope that our children will take us in," she said as her eyes glistened.

Timah said many of her contemporaries were ill because of old age. Some had died.

She said many of the settlers later were offered unsold housing units in lieu of cash, but the value of the house was only a fraction of the land value in the original agreement.

"We took the offer rather than have nothing at all," said Timah who now lives in Bandar Sungai Buaya.

Today, the Felda is reduced to a cluster of houses in a village called Kampung Sungai Buaya.

New Straits Times, April 9, 2010