Thursday, May 10, 2012

On a Mission to Penang

"People walk a tight rope on a razor's edge
Carrying their hurt and hatred and weapons
It could be a bomb or a bullet or a pin
Or a thought or a word or a sentence"

Ain't No Reason (2006) by Brett Dennen

Yesterday, I escorted an old Chinese gentleman to the cardiovascular specialist hospital in Kota Semarahan for an MRI scan to confirm that his lung cancer had set up shop in his brain. He was always alone, this man. I've never seen any visitors by his bedside - so I make it a point to talk to him briefly everyday. I don't do these sort of things because I'm a good guy or because I care a whole lot about the wellbeing of other people besides myself. I do it because I would feel awful if I don't. That's how empathy works, and apparently mine works the way it's supposed to. When we return back to the Sarawak General and were waiting for the elevator in the lobby, he suddenly reached out from his gurney, grabbed my hand, and held it close to his chest. On the verge of tears, he told me: "You are a very good doctor."

"Just doing my job," I said, smiling wearily. I was at the end of my 30 hour shift.

He shook his head and insisted, "No, you are a very, very good doctor."

In a few hours, I would be boarding a flight and leaving the island of Borneo for the first time in almost a year. My destination is Penang, a place which I have vacationed at several times before because my most recent ex-girlfriend happens to study there. This time however, I am travelling with a brand new purpose. I am representing a minority which I belong to in a rendezvous with a local politician.

Chan Ju Ping from The Stray World blog and founder of Malaysian Atheists was the one who arranged this date with He or She Who Politely Requested Not to be Named, and this is probably the first time a member of the government deigns to meet the freethinking community, learn about us and find out how we wish to be represented as citizens of this country - which is kind of a huge deal because our very Rukunegara openly discriminates against our demography. I mean, we are so maligned that even our representatives in the parliament would only feel at ease meeting us anonymously lest it injures their careers.

"No, you are a very, very good doctor."

Chan is a newly-minted biology major (I think) BSc of Forestry Captain Planet and had taken a year six-month sabbatical after graduating to volunteer for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal - an act which I admire him greatly for because I would never do that. If I have a year, I'd spend it bumming out in some foreign mountains, hiking and going native. He's vegan too, which was a major lifestyle decision he had made for environmental and humane reasons. That's also something I would never do because meat is just too fucking delicious to give up.

Joining us in this little session of hush-hush hobnobbing is Cheryl Cheah, who you might remember seeing in the papers very recently,

Cheryl Cheah Shaving for Pussies
I secretly refer to her as the Crazy Cat Lady™ in my head

This week, she gave up her tresses for the love of cat, and became pretty much the media face for the Cat Welfare Society and its Spay Day campaign.

Chan too had a dalliance with the razor for a charitable purpose, but he didn't quite make the same splash in the dailies. All I can say is that I'm glad he's no longer wearing his awful goatee to the meeting. I was wrong. Holy crap, was I wrong.

You might notice a lack of representation from the murtad (or Muslim apostate) segment of our group, but that's not because they don't exist. They do and in staggering figures but due to religious persecutions from the Islamic authorities and risk of ostracisation from their families and communities, they couldn't very well air their unbelief freely. Also, the politician we are meeting had pragmatically requested that we leave the murtadins out of it for fear of damage to his or her reputation should word get out. I don't understand it but somehow, being associated with individuals who merely stopped believing in God is considered to be as disreputable as high-fiving drug lords, paedophiles, street criminals and other despicables. I find it baffling that simply having a sceptical attitude towards fantastic claims found in books written by ancient unscientific mystics could be so despised by so many.

Atheists like Chan, like Cheryl, like me are regular people. We are your relatives, your friends and your neighbours. You may have walked past us on the streets, sat beside us on a bus or inadvertently read about us in the newspaper. When you go to a hospital, you might even unwittingly receive treatment and care from us. We are no more likelier than God-fearing people to lie, steal, rape or murder. We live, we love, we work, we dream and we die just like everyone else.

Maybe one day, our elected officials would stop being ashamed of representing us.

P.S. The meet will be held on Friday (11 May 2011) on the island of Penang in an undisclosed location at 8:00 PM. If you are in the vicinity (i.e. on the island) and have the evening to spare, do join us. For more information, you can reach me at We godless peeps are probably going to meet up for lunch prior to that as well.

Atheist and citizen,
k0k s3n w4i


Rewarp said...

To the compliments, I can only respond c'est gentil.

BSc in Forestry Science, so it is related to biology - but you probably know more about cells than me since forestry is partly science and partly management in nature.

6 months with the SPCA-KK. I shall be off to Sarawak for a 3-month long research project in the tropical forests next month. So not really as noble, I am just selfish enough to recognise I need to do some things to improve myself as well.

Also, I would like to credit Ong Eng Wai too for donating a large chunk of the money to both me and Cheryl.

P.S. My goatee is back. You will have to explain why it grows so fast when we meet.

anonymous #2 said...

i remember you liked the beef noodles at beach st.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Rewarp: there. made corrections to my post. and for the benefit of those who wasn't there at our meet, hair grows about half an inch per month on average. your growth fall within the normal range. your goatee's at the same length as your hair, which you shaved off at the same time.

anonymous #2: yeah. first thing i ate as soon as i landed in penang was that.