Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Not talking bullshit

When I learnt that Kee Thuan Chye would be coming back to his hometown on Sunday to read from his latest book, No More Bullshit, Please, We're All Malaysians, I knew that I should be going to the Queensbay Mall to lend him my support.

You may say that one good turn deserves another - he had rallied round by contributing a story for Fidelis, the commemorative book of The Old Frees' Association - but more than that, I just felt that I should show my old fellow retiree some support. Ever since his retirement from The Star newspaper in the middle of 2009, he has begun a new chapter in his life by writing hard-hitting political commentaries for online local news portals that are very critical of today's federal government.

His acute observations and objectiveness had often left me rather breathless and many times I told my wife that he was awfully brave to slay the government with his damning opinions about their excesses and stupidity. Of course, these were articles that would never see the light of day in our everyday government-controlled mainstream newspapers but that's really beside the point. I do believe that there is a ready audience for his criticisms regardless of the medium - print or web-based - and he has his legion of followers, if not supporters.

The problem is to reach out to new audiences that are not normally exposed to him. Thus, this reading of his book would show Kee Thuan Chye in the flesh, and he was real and serious enough to meet any sorry critic who would dare engage him face-to-face in a debate over the issues affecting Malaysian society today.

I've known Thuan Chye since school days. We entered Form One from different primary schools - he was from Francis Light School whereas I was from Westlands Primary School - but we had progressed together through the Penang Free School for seven years. We lost touch after that but somehow, our paths crossed again when briefly, we became colleagues at the now defunct National Echo newspaper. After that, we went separate ways again. I left the newspaper industry but he went on to join the NST Group and Star Publications. The arts had always fascinated him and it didn't surprise me when he also became well-known as a playwright, poet and actor.

Anyway on Sunday, I had arrived at the bookstore in Queensbay Mall a bit early. His reading was supposed to start at three o'clock and  I was already there 15 minutes earlier. I looked around and suddenly saw an old school mate at the payment counter. Chang Meng was holding Bullshit in his hands. I showed him my own Bullshit. Okay, so I was not alone...

Then I bumped into Oon Hup. And then in quick succession, Leong Teik, Teik Wah and Eng Siang, all proudly showing off their Bullshit. Golly, we were all there together in the same place for the same reason. Our common objective: to give our support to our old school mate. It would be easy to say that we were surprised to meet one another there but on reflection, we were probably doing what we thought was right to support an old friend.

This picture was snapped after our late-night steamboat dinner. She didn't want to but we asked Thuan Chye's wife, Choy Wan, to sit on his lap. Andrew, another old school pal, joined us in Kimberley Street. Needless to say, we were oblivious that the restaurant was closing up for the night. The restaurant staff didn't say anything to us but suddenly, we realised all the other tables around us had been cleared up and the chairs stored away.
Oh yes, before I forget, I was searching high and low for the book at the start of last week. I went to three outlets of one popular bookstore chain in Province Wellesley before I could find a copy. The counter staff drew blank looks when I asked them for it. Finally struck lucky, of course, only to discover that Thuan Chye's book was propped up beside a book by his favourite Prime Minister. Maybe Mahathir was hoping that his fiction could sell by association if it was placed next to a non-fiction best seller!

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