Monday, May 27, 2013

What's in a Name?

"People's fates are simplified by their names."

Elias Canetti 

In the first year of medical school, I learned every name there is for every part of my physical body, and the names of every bit of physiological sorcery that keeps me alive. In my second year, I learned the names of the legions of diseases that physicians have demystified from the darkness of ignorance, the names of the microbial demons that plague us unseen and the names of the chemical weaponry we harness to subdue them. If you are ill, I will find out the secret name of what ails you, and with that name comes its nature, and more crucially its weaknesses. There is power in names, and there is mastery in their knowledge. This is one of the primary reasons I chose Galen's burden as a profession: I wanted to know them. I wanted to gain intimate ownership of my own mortal vessel. I wanted to know the names of Death so I will not fear it.

Okay, that's enough purple-coloured grandstanding for one day.

Thing is, names are a big deal to me, so when the time comes to naming my firstborn son, I spare a great deal of thought on it. Being ethnically Chinese but having no knowledge of the written Chinese language proved to be a colossal handicap so I decided to give the kid an English name, the language my thoughts are written in, because it is the only meaningful way I can participate in shaping his name. Meanwhile, the task of coming up with the Chinese parts of his name was taken up by my wife.

Before my marriage, before I even embarked on this footpath to fatherhood (and in fact, long before I even decided that I wanted a child), I have identified the criteria by which to guide me in this task of naming - and possibly deciding the fate - of the newly-born. Some are arbitrary and some are sensible. They are as follow,
  1. It must not be the name of someone I personally know or one that is too common. I don't want them thinking that I named my kid after them, or even give them enough fuel to insinuate such a thing. Also, I don't want common names because they are unimaginative, unoriginal and undistinguished. John? Which John? Even my given name (the last two words of my three-word name) is pretty common for those that have the same surname I do. On my first day of college, I actually turned up in the wrong class after reading the rosters, realising it only when both of us raised our hands during roll call. I had to sprint across campus to get to the class I was suppose to be in.
  2. It must be meaningful. It can be the name of someone I admire or it can be a name that holds personal significance to me. It can also have a meaning hidden behind its root language - what that language is is immaterial to me. They are fun conversation trivia, if nothing else. My name means "the outer part (of a city) attains greatness", I think.
  3. It must not have religious connotations or origins. Both my wife and I are atheists so naturally, names that came from a holy book, names of gods and names with religious significance (e.g. Abdullah which means "God's servant" or Immanuel which says "God is with us") are ironic and inappropriate. Besides, the sheer volume of people having names such as Muhammad, Peter, Isaac, Timothy and Paul really makes clichés out of them, violating my first criterion as well.
  4. It must be a real name, not rare, and aren't a real name spelled weirdly. I don't want to make one up from scratch and have my child be the only person ever to have that name (no matter what delusions of uniqueness I may harbour for him), and I don't want it to be too obscure or too flashy either. There are studies which showed that having an uncommon name (the so-called ghetto names like Shaniqua, Laquisha or Beyoncé) are correlated with juvenile delinquency but that could simply be because of poor socioeconomic status being predictive for both ghetto names and bad behaviour. Other studies found that having unusual or "black" names is correlated with poor grades in school while siblings of said unfortunately named children that have more conventional names did better, suggesting that the names themselves have predictive power aside from their association with socioeconomic factors. Common names with a "clever" deviant spelling (like Peter being spelled Petyr) is correlated with slowed spelling and reading capabilities. Boys given traditionally girly names like Alexis, Courtney and Kelly are found to display disruptive behaviour and have serious disciplinary issues. While I don't want dirt common names as per criterion one, I am certainly looking for a name that is instantly recognisable.
  5. It must roll off the tongue easily. Because if it's hard to call a person by it, then it is not doing a good job as a name. So names like Siobhan, Saoirse and Niamh won't make my list. I don't want names with too many syllables (more than three) like Nathaniel, Elizabeth, Horatio or Alexander either, even if they have simple diminutives.

An unspoken 6th criterion is that I must like it (though that goes without saying). After testing out hundreds of names against my criteria, I finally settled on one that fulfills everything I want in a name for my son. I initially meant to keep it provisionally, thinking that I'll think of a better one over time but I never did. In the meantime, Cheryl and I started addressing her belly using that name. Now, we can't imagine our kid having any other.

In the meantime, you can try to guess what it is. Just for fun, what names do you know that would pass my 5-point baby name screening checklist? How many names do you know that are meaningful, have no association with religion, is uncommon yet not too common, instantly recognisable, easily pronounceable and spelled conventionally?

P.S. Having worked almost two years here in Sarawak, I noticed that Iban and Bidayuh parents have a tendency to give very unusual names to their progenies. I know a nurse called Javelin and another called Sway
ze Patrick (her dad was a fan of Dirty Dancing). I'd name some of my patients but I don't think I'm allowed to make fun of them like that. They certainly paid heed to criterion one while gleefully violating criteria two to five in every orifice imaginable.

A proper noun,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Epic: A Review

"Fight for you and me
Look into my eyes and believe"

Rise Up (2013) by Beyoncé

This review contains epic spoilers.

There are cartoons and then there are animated films. All cartoons are animated but not all animated features are cartoons. On this note, I want to talk about a little film with a big name which I just saw with my wife a few hours ago.

Epic Film Poster
The Epic teaser poster.

Epic had been in my peripherals since it wormed into my ears and consciousness a year ago in the form of Snow Patrol's The Lightning Strike's ponderous piano keys, but like all of Blue Sky Studios' animated films (Robots, Rio and the Ice Age film series), they always ended up crashing on the worn couch at the back of my head till I see their titles turn up unexpectedly on the rosters during my daily cinema schedule survey. You see, Blue Sky Studios, unlike Pixar or Studio Ghibli, makes cartoons - and I find it impossible to take something seriously enough to mark it on my calendar when it has no intention of taking itself seriously at all.

Epic makes the promise to be better than that.

I walked into the cinema knowing only the basic premise of the film: it is about little forest people living right beneath the huge noses of us Muggles, or Stompers as the fairy-folks call us. Professor Bomba is one such Stomper who had dedicated his life's work to studying and collecting evidence of the existence of these diminutive sylvan beings. He pursued them to the point of desperate obsession. His wife left him. His daughter, Mary "MK" Katherine, thinks he is a madman chasing delusions. There is power in tragedy, but the film - to its own detriment - prefers to treat his arc as an afterthought and reduces Bomba to a largely comic role

MK (Amanda Seyfried) travelled to her obsessed father's house at the edge of a forest hoping to reconcile with him, but all her efforts were thwarted by the wall of constant distraction Bomba had carelessly build around himself brick-by-crazy-brick over the years. His eyes are unfocused and his mind wanders through the woods when he is not physically in them. Disappointed, she left a post-it note on one of her dad's surveillance monitors - one of the only places she knows he would look - before walking out of the house.

Then, the power of a three-legged plot point compelled Seyfried to run deep into the woods where she met a dying Queen Beyoncé, a Mother Nature-like avatar of the living forest, who promptly reduced the teenager down to size and charged her with the quest of carrying a McGuffin to caterpillar Aerosmith Steve Tyler's abode. Two Leaf Men and two comic relief gastropods joined her. Adventure ensues.

Collin Farrell as Ronin.

Besides Seyfried's and her dad's relationship subplot, there is also some significant backstory between the silver-haired Obi-Wan, Ronin Farrell, and the orphaned reluctant hero slash cocksure rookie, Nod Hutcherson. There is also a hint of romance between Queen Beyoncé and Ronin Farrell, but all of these were treated more like obligatory character flavouring rather than how you expect a film called Epic would treat them. As a result, the characters are all weightless paper dolls going through the motions of the story and I simply could not care less about their fates. I refuse to dignify the characters with their proper in-universe names because they aren't real characters anyway. In the case of Aziz Ansari, he is essentially playing a slug version of the same annoying character he plays on Parks and Recreation (though I must admit that he did manage to draw the most laughs for the film).

The strength of the film lies in its world-building and it is the only aspect that managed to live up to the movie's name. Within it holds the promise of discovery and I would gladly pay to see the sequels, if any is planned, just to immerse myself in this world again and learn more about the factions, the creatures and the forces that govern their livelihood. Steve Tyler's magic archive that records everything that ever happened is one of those things that fascinate me and the screenwriter cleverly used it to allow the dying Queen Beyoncé to record a message for Seyfried when she finally arrives there. There are also ingenious touches of details throughout Epic which really sold it to me like Dagda's ratskin cloak. When he moves in it, he scurries on all fours looking exactly like a real live rat. A dragonfly-borne boat made out of lily pads woven together would unfurl artfully into a flat platform as it lands on water. The foul arrows of the imp-like Boggans that raises galls on any tree they land. All great imagery.

There is also an amazing moment when Nod Hutcherson and Seyfried encountered a stag in the forest. The animators managed to get it to invoke a sense of gigantic majesty as it approached the tiny pair, making it seem more like a massive fantasy creature like a dragon rather than just a regular old deer.

The most memorable sequence by far in Epic for me was when Queen Beyoncé travels to a pond to select a flower bud for a revival ceremony for the forest. She appears to walk on water as stray duckweed would gather under her feet, keeping her and her trailing petal gown afloat. Then there was the ambush by the Leaf Men's enemies when millions and millions of imp-like Boggans camouflaged on a tree wearing tree-bark armour broke cover to attack - followed by the Queen's awesome dash through the undergrowth as she was pursued by the Boggans while she uses her ability to manipulate plant life to take out her pursuers as she flees. Subsequent action scenes would try and fail to live up it.

Speaking of Beyoncé, the song she supplied for the credits was excellent. I had it on repeat while writing this review.

Epic Mandrake
Christoph Waltz as Mandrake.
The bottom line is: Epic is a very good film, but it isn't great - which is unacceptable for a movie with such an overt ambition for epicness. The worst thing about films such as this one is that I can clearly see how much potential for greatness it had in it. This movie should have been 30 minutes longer to flesh out the characters and their subplots - perhaps then the Queen's death, and Bomba's vindication of his life's work and reconciliation with his daughter would carry more gravity. Nod Hutcherson's character (along with Pit Bull's toad mafioso) should be pruned entirely because he is less plot-relevant to the story than Aziz Ansari's slug character (this is not hyperbole). More focus should have been placed on the motivation of Christoph Waltz's Big Bad character, Mandrake, and his desire to bring his son back to life by subverting the enchanted bud.

Perhaps then, Epic would finally live up to its boast.

Lamenter of missed opportunities,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, May 10, 2013

You Can't Talk Politics with Stupid People

"You can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and still come out completely dry. Most people do."

The Phantom Tollboth (1961) by Norman Juster

I seldom discuss politics and for the longest time, all I know on the subject is that "poly-ticks" means "many parasites". Now that I have married a very passionate politically conscious journo (albeit a non-practicing one), I have levelled up on political knowledge just so I am better armed at aggravating her in our arguments.

After our 13th Malaysian General Election on Sunday, everyone became self-appointed expert political analysts and developed their own genius theories on how this country can best be run - and it wouldn't be so bad if most people aren't complete doofuses. Today, after an overnight call in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I was reluctantly roped into a conversation by some of the senior nurses on the May 8 rally at the Kelana Jaya Stadium where an estimated 120,000 gathered to protest the results of the recent election which was considered by a substantial portion of the voting public (if not the majority) as a fraudulent farce. The nurses I talked to were very disapproving of such public displays of discontentment, fearing it will lead to rioting and other similarly fun family activities.

Most of the nurses I work with, particularly the ethnic Malay ones, supported Barisan Nasional (which is the party which won Sunday's election without the mandate of the majority). The reasons they cited most frequently for doing so are twofold: they want to preserve stability and peace in this country, and that they do not have confidence in the ability of the opposition coalition to govern our nation.

Seeing as I was talking to an audience which consisted of highly-educated professionals (as nurses are rumoured to be) who live in urban Kuching, I brought up the recent Global Witness viral video which exposed Sarawak's Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud's corrupt and underhanded dealings that screwed the Sarawakian natives while profiting himself and his elite band of cronies handsomely.

The nurses (one of which is actually related to Taib Mahmud) told me that Taib's backdoor penetration of Sarawak's densely forested asshole is an open secret amongst Sarawakians long before Global Witness' investigation and exposé hit YouTube. Now, at this point, I got very confused. If they knew how corrupted Taib is, why do they persists in voting him back to power over and over again? Are they some sort of masochists for socioeconomical sodomy?

One of the nurses helpfully offered: "When I vote, I don't really care who the candidate is, as long as he belongs to the party I want - and that is BN."

Never mind the critical failure of logic here. Never mind that these people, Taib, Najib, Shahrizat et al belongs to BN and that a party is essentially the people in it. They are seeing BN as an eternally unsullied and incorruptible banner of our nationhood and it doesn't matter one whit to them even if everyone flying that banner might be crooks, thieves and exploders of Mongolian girls. At this point, William Gibbs McAdoo's words echoed in my head like the meaningful flashbacks that movie characters have: "It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument." Not helping, Bill.

But I tried valiantly anyway. I pointed out the numerous patients we have who had to be flown on welfare for treatment because of the lack of an effective healthcare infrastructure penetrating most of the Sarawakian heartland unlike Taib's cock. I recounted one particular story of a patient I had when I was serving at the Heart Centre where I couldn't even discharge one diabetic patient home with insulin because they didn't have a fridge or even electricity where they came from. Sarawak boasts some of the most impoverished people in the whole of Malaysia in spite being probably the richest state in terms of raw natural resources, and this poverty had been carefully maintained under BN's watch.

This ignited an often murmured sentiment amongst Sarawakians. One nurse turned that sentiment into audible noise, "All of Sarawak's wealth is being siphoned to federal government. We are better off if we secede from Malaysian."


I couldn't yell all of those at the top of my voice in the NICU, of course. I was also called away to attend to a patient at that time. Luckily. On a lighter note, here is mock film poster on the Chinese Tsunami controversy I mentioned in my previous post which I put together while fooling around in Photoshop,

Chinese Tsunami Bruce Lee Najib Film Poster
Najib's Chinese Tsunami! Now a major motion picture!

Not a Sarawakian,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Monsters in Our Midst

"If only closed minds came with closed mouths."


It's now two days after the 13th Malaysian General Election. Pakatan Rakyat lost the majority of parliamentary seats (89 to Barisan Nasional's 133) but won 5.489 million votes to BN's 5.220 million. What this basically means is that PR is more popular with the voting public than BN as a whole, but BN gets to shamelessly rule us anyway because they managed to magick 46.5% of the totality of Malaysian voters into 59.9% of the parliament's seats.

I like how government-controlled newspapers like The Star and News Straits Times reported BN's 46.5% but carefully avoided mentioning the far more pertinent and mindblowing story that PR received more overall votes than BN did. They also craftily avoided tallying the votes that PR's constituent parties received in their breakdown, preferring instead to list them individually. I would love to have a been a fly on the wall in their meetings when the editors of these papers discussed how they could spin doctor the numbers to make BN look good.

In other propaganda news, Najib blamed their unprecedented decline in popularity and seats on the so-called "Chinese tsunami" of voters jumping onto the PR boat which proves once and for all that our unwelcomed Prime Minister does not understand percentages or even simple mathematics because even if every Chinese voter in Malaysia voted for PR, they will only make up half of the total number of people who voted for PR.

Yes, we as a race is a natural disaster. I can't wait till the day we become the "Chinese Question" and hear Najib's "Final Solution".

Compounding the racial tension is Najib's UMNO-owned paper, Utusan Malaysia, which characterised the Malaysian Chinese electorate as a greedy, ungrateful group with political aspirations of robbing the Malay people in their article: "Apa lagi orang Cina mahu?" ("What more do the Chinese want?").

More disturbingly, pro-UMNO blogger Papagamo had been arrested today for hate speech and for trying to incite the Malay people to take violent actions towards the Chinese people in a twisted reenactment of the bloody 13th May race riot of 1969. My wife was one of those who made police reports against him and one of Papagomo's fan, Shahrizad, who proposed that the Malays should take to the streets to "kill all the Chinese scums in Malaysia" and to "slaughter all Chinese like pigs".

Crazy Malay Blogger
Terrifying, isn't it?

Today, one of my friends shared a screen-cap of a Facebook conversation in which one of the clerks working in my old medical school repeated some deeply troubling racist sentiment stirred by the people who demonised the Chinese in this election. It hit hard for MMMC alumni (which is a pretty equal mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian doctors) because we have always seen her as one of the most friendly and helpful staff members of the admin office,

Racist MMMC clerk
It's the second one from up top.

What she said, translated fully into English, was essentially,

"For those Chinese who are not satisfied with the Malaysian government, you are welcome to go back to your own country. Don't stay here because you are not welcomed here. Go back to China, work for 8 hours and be a billionaire. You are merely living in other people's country yet you are so ill-bred. Can't even speak Malay yet you complain so much."

This is a longstanding racist canard describing ethnic Chinese people in Malaysia as mere immigrants when in actuality, we are full citizens holding legitimate documents certifying our citizenship. It suggests that we shouldn't exercise any of the rights that we are entitled to. I speak Malay just fine, and I can't even write in Chinese. And I can't go back to China because I would actually be a foreigner there. Her outburst really came as a rude shock to me and my old med school friends. Many are now petitioning for her resignation.

Cina balik China
I mean it's not uncommon. Just today, I got told on Twitter by a separate person that I should go back to China for making the image macros above contrasting Najib's statements.

But then again, this isn't the first time a beloved MMMC figure had her darker side exposed. In 2010, our sweet motherly cafeteria lady and her son were charged with beating their Indonesian maid to death (and rumours surfaced about her longstanding abuse in their hands). There are monsters in our midst and it is frightening how seamlessly they blend into normalcy. I guess you just can't know, can you?

Anyhow, amongst the alumni in the Facebook discussion thread that are branding her racist and screaming at her to resign, there are some of these witchhunters who have made racist remarks about the Malay people to me in private in the past. There are also some of them who have openly made racist remarks about the native Indians in India back when we were in the Manipal campus on the subcontinent - I am itching to call them out. I wonder how they can feel so righteous in calling repercussions on that admin clerk now, having done basically the same thing themselves but escaped the witch-hunt.

Monsters in our midst indeed, even amongst those hunting for monsters.

Is an unstoppable, coast-devastating force of nature,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, May 06, 2013

My Live Tweets during the 13th Malaysian General Election

"Mister Blue, you did it right
But soon comes Mister Night creepin' over
Now his hand is on your shoulder
Never mind, I'll remember you this
I'll remember you this way"

Mister Blue Sky (1977) by Electric Light Orchestra

Yesterday, the ghost of democracy swooped into our country. It heartened the spirits of those who believe in it and gave the powers to be a scare. Then, it swoops out again without doing much more than that because just like any other sort of ghost there is, democracy doesn't really exist - at least in the context of Malaysian politics.

Now, full disclosure here: I didn't vote.

I didn't register early enough to qualify for this General Election. I also hold the very Chinese practical view that it is not going to be worth the exorbitantly priced air tickets to cast my ballot, which I feel would be diluted to the point of irrelevance by all the alleged Bangladeshi ghost voters (which apparently exist) that were illegally given identity cards and were bribed to vote for the reigning coalition, the alleged undisguised buying of votes in broad daylight, the suspicious alleged 11th hour blackouts and the alleged attempts to smuggle extra ballot boxes into the counting stations, and the frankly admirable work of gerrymandering and malapportionment that translates 50% of the citizens' vote (the real ones plus the allegedly real ones) into 40% of the parliamentary seats. For those of you who are weak at maths, Pakatan Rakyat reaped the majority of the all the votes in Malaysia but only got about two-thirds of the seats that Barisan Nasional got. I never thought that the Pakatan Rakyat had a ghost of a chance at winning because like I said, I don't believe in ghosts.

I have been told that since I am not voting, I don't have a right to comment on this General Election. Well, fuck you and your little dog too. Who taught you your constitutional rights, dumbass? How does not voting disqualify me from my right to free speech? It is my right to abstain from voting. It is also well within my rights to vote for BN in the next GE just to spite you.

Of course, my response to being told I should shut up is to speak even more loudly on social media, because actually shouting from my balcony wearing nothing but my boxers just makes me look like a crazy person.

Now, for the first time in my life, I am genuinely interested in the electoral process and happenings. I even broke my decade long abstinence from television just to have propaganda blaring into my living room to set the mood while I followed the live updates of election results online as fervently as I sometimes watch the fluctuating download speed of my torrents. I was also guilty of driving a keyboard while under the influence of too many homemade Old Fashioned - hence my unprecedented output on Twitter.

Here are some selected tweets from last night.

On accounts and videos of vigilantes profiling, harassing and beating up Bangladeshi ghost voters,

On the indelible ink which was only allegedly indelible,

On the ongoing online petition to the White House asking the US to intervene,

On the Pakatan Rakyat leader's very premature claim that they have won the election. To quote him, he said this on his Facebook page: "PR has won. We urge UMNO and the EC to not attempt to hijack the results. #ubah"

On the advice that's going around urging people to stock up on essentials like food for fear of massive unrest on the streets,

On deciding what to have for dinner yesterday,

On the Pahang's Menteri Besar's promise that he would cut off his ears and jump into the Pahang river if PR wins the Bentong constituency and the subsequent reneging of his promise, claiming that he didn't meant it literally,

On BN's sweep of most of the constituencies in the kingmaking state of Sarawak (Disclaimer: I don't actually know how many seats are up for grabs in Sarawak, or the difference between a state and a parliamentary seat either but I heard the real number is like 31 and that 's 14% of the total),

On the passion I see from the more reticent demographic groups in Malaysia,

On the BN statesman Ali Rustam, the incumbent Chief Minister of my home state of Malacca, who I later found out unexpectedly lost his Bukit Katil seat by just 44 votes,

On how PR supporters can win no matter what à la Anwar Ibrahim's prophecy style,

On masturbation,

On the renewed cries for the US to intervene after it became clear that PR wasn't going to win,

On the naïveté of PR supporters who were praying to God for a miraculous turning of the tide. Amusingly, this tweet was re-tweeted by BN supporters who completely missed the point and clearly did not understand what the word "atheist" means in my Twitter profile,

On always looking on the bright side of life,

And here is a bonus Facebook exchange between a colleague of mine and I after he expressed disappointment at PR's defeat,

PRU13 Star Wars metaphor
And at some point, Najib will reveal to Anwar that he is in fact his father.

Here's another one in which my wife, after discovering that PR had lost, blames me for it,

Wife Blames Me for Election Lost
I am monster!

Hope you enjoyed my tweets. Or got enraged off by them. Whatever man, I don't really care.

Is somehow responsible for PR's lost,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Being a Woman in Malaysia

"Feminism is the radical notion that women are people."

Cheris Kramarae and Paula Treichler

Still the most nail-head-hitting definition of feminism I know.

This post retells two of the recent stories I shared on the Malaysian Atheists, Freethinkers and Agnostics (MAFA) Facebook page on the subject of feminism, gender equality and sexism which I wonder if they will make you as angry as they made me.

You see, I always laugh a bitter laugh whenever they tell me that the fight for gender equality is over. We have won the war, they say. Women can now get educated, vote and work. The feminism movement should be put out to pasture to graze on the sweet, sweet grass of women's liberation. Why then, I ask, do the ghosts of inequality still haunt me every day? Why am I still seeing their ghoulish mocking faces in broad daylight?

Shortly after discovering that my gestating child is a baby boy last month, I started working on his name immediately. Names are something special to me, and even back in my high school days, I wondered why children are expected to carry their father's names. Why is it the cultural standard for my people, the ethnic Chinese? Why is it so for the Malays, Indians, and the other assorted minorities in Malaysia? Perhaps my fixation on surnames and patronyms stemmed from my history of being teased for mine, which is a homophone for the male organ - I don't know - but it always struck me as very odd that women would be okay with this arrangement.

The nobility of motherhood was deeply impressed upon me by society and school all my young life - y'know, the 9-month-long pregnancies and excruciatingly painful labour that they have to endure to bring every new person into this world. Why is it that as soon as the babies are out, everyone decides that it is fair to stamp these neonates with their father's name? I mean, every single cell, every molecule, in every human being who ever lived were made and assembled entirely in their mother's womb out their mother's flesh and blood. Theoretically, only half of the nucleus in one measly cell out of the billion bajillion cells in a newborn came from the father, from that one sperm that could. Even if you take the genetic or "intellectual property" viewpoint that half of the kid's DNA came from dad, it still seems ridiculously unfair to name every single baby after the male parent. It deeply upsets my sense of justice.

Hyphenated surnames are quite unsightly for Chinese names, so I decided that my child will bear his mother's name. I felt a sort of mild gut resistance to that idea initially but then I remember that this decision to allow your child to carry the name of your spouse is readily made every single day by almost every mother in the world in all of time without any fuss. Since, I don't even have to suffer the hardships of carrying our kid to term or experience the agony of bringing him out, why should I feel even a smidgen of entitlement at all? The boy is my son. He is my son no matter what name he bears because half his genes came from me and nothing will ever change that. I am not so insecure as other men that I need him to carry my name to reassure myself of that immutable fact.

The next step I took was phone the Registrar of Births and Deaths' office to find out if it can be done. A female staff member there answered my call and when I put my query to her, she was taken aback. She said no one has ever asked her such a thing before. And no, my child cannot carry his mother's surname, she told me. There is actually a rule in the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1957 (Act 299) that does not permit it. Article 13A says,

The surname, if any, to be entered in respect of a legitimate child shall ordinarily be the surname, if any, of the father.

Suck It
The Man says suck it, Woman.

"Is there any way around it?" I asked the lady.

She thought about it awhile and said, "Well, you can declare the child illegitimate. He or she will then take the mother's name."

Sainted copulating faeces! So, if I name my child after his mom, he is by default illegitimate? Are women considered so lowly in this country that only bastards are allowed to take their mother's name? The fact that a man's privilege to name his offspring after himself is protected by law is indicative of how sexism is legislated in this country. The fact that no one saw any problem with this is evidence of how sexist our culture and society are.

Tomorrow, the 13th General Election of my country and many are hopeful that it will finally turned this leaky, sinking ship of a country around after it was helmed for more than half a century by a radically racist, incredibly inept and cartoonishly corrupted government.

Google Commemorating PRU 13
If you noticed, that is what today's Google Doodle is celebrating.

GE13 YouTube
... and YouTube too.

One of the most hotly challenged issues is the providence of special rights and privileges for the ethnic Malay majority of this country in our constitution, and we cry so foul because it is racist, it is unfair, it is wrong to be discriminated against for not being Malay. However, we are completely silent when 50% of our population is being discriminated against by law and by society for not being men.

I see this cultural assent of women's inferiority all the time, particularly now that we are expecting. The first thing anyone always ask after finding out that my wife is pregnant is, "Is it a boy or a girl?" We get very hearty congratulations when we tell them that it's a male child. When I share the fact that my wife and I were playfully expecting a girl before we found out, they always ask me why - and not in a curious way either but more in a surprised fashion, as if it is unthinkable why anyone would prefer girls over the clearly superior boys. Last week, one of the medical officers I worked with brought his 3-day-old kid to the nursery for phototherapy because of neonatal jaundice, and I struck up a conversation with him about being new fathers. As expected, he congratulated me for producing a male heir, and when I talked about wanting to have a girl initially and that my wife actually sewed a dress, he asked "Wouldn't you want to get a boy first, and then try for a girl later?"

When I told him that we only want one kid, he asked, incredulous, "You wanted your only child to be a girl?" Mind you that this came from a modern medical doctor, not some peasant from the Tang dynasty.

So women of Malaysia, how do you feel about being considered as being deficient compared to men before you are even born?

And this ingrained cultural preference for boys is not harmless. Even though Malaysia is nowhere as bad as say, India where it is illegal for doctors to reveal the sex of unborn children for fear of parents aborting female babies, this baseline misogyny has very real and very insidious effects.

Recently, I attended to the Caesarean birth of a baby by an Indonesian woman who married a Malaysian. She had to undergo a Caesarean section because we deemed that her previous Caesarean scar, done less than one year ago, had not healed sufficiently to attempt safe natural birth (or "trial of scar" as we termed it). I did the maths and realised that she conceived just 2 months after her last child was born. Then, we found out that she did not use any contraceptives because her husband  forbade her to use any while he refused to use condoms himself. That made no sense. When we pressed her for the reason, she said it is because her husband wanted a boy as soon as possible, as their first child was a girl.

We generally counsel women to space their pregnancies two years apart, particularly if there is a previous scar that can rupture and kill them with blood loss during subsequent labour. We counselled this woman and her husband previously, so he knew full well he was wagering his wife's life. The last I heard of her (as I was not her primary physician), she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for severe postpartum haemorrhage.

But congratu-fucking-lations, he got what he wanted; a teeny tiny baby wang between his second child's legs. The wife's health and safety was clearly secondary to this goal because after all, that's what women are good for, aren't they? Means to an end.

So no, the fight for gender equality is far from over. There are still battles to be fought in the hearts of all Malaysians. There are still unbroken shackles in our minds, legacies of our barbaric ancestry, which we must see broken. This is completely arbitrary and personal, but the day I lay down arms is when half of all children born in our country can expect to be named after their mothers, and they will bear their names without any shame. It was what I thought is fair all the way back when I was in high school, and it will still serve as what I think is fair now.

P.S. Since the wording of article 13A in Act 299 seems to suggest some flexibility in interpretation, I wonder if it can be challenged.

Ironically named feminist,
k0k s3n w4i