Saturday, July 12, 2014

Iftar With Marina Mahathir In Tokyo

 I am dying for someone to go to my Dad to say, 
"How does it feel to be Marina's Dad?"

on question about her relationship
with Dr. Mahathir

Malay Asian Cuisine, a Malaysian restaurant which was opened early this year and recently officiated by Tun Abdullah.

I first come to know about Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir through her bi-weekly column in The Star newspaper when I was in high school. At the same time, I also enjoy reading her articles on her blog at Rantings byMM. This bubbly, vivacious woman has no problem talking freely about sex, drugs or religion. That was more than a decade ago. Last night, I was lucky enough to join about 80 other Malaysians for a buka puasa (breaking fast) and dialogue session with this towering Malaysian at Malay Asian Cuisine, in Shibuya, Tokyo.

So, who is Marina Mahathir? Below is an excerpt of her biodata, taken from the website of Sisters in Islam (SIS), whom Marina is one of its Board Members since 2009.

Cute orange elephant and Mandarin duck at the reception.

The proboscis monkey, which is the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 mascot.

Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir began her career in advocacy in the HIV/AIDS sector. A graduate of the University of Sussex, she was president of the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) for more than a decade, and was also chairperson of the Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF). Through her work with the MAC and MAF, Marina came into contact with numerous vulnerable groups, such as the transgender community, drug users, sex workers, migrant workers and people with HIV. After leaving her position as MAC president in 2006, Marina went on to focus on issues related to Islam and gender. She was voted into SIS’s Board in 2009. 

Marina is also a prolific writer and has contributed regularly over the past two decades to Malaysian English-language daily The Star. Her current column, Musings, runs fortnightly on Wednesdays. She is also a popular blogger and her writings have also appeared in numerous other print and online publications. Marina is co-executive producer of the award-winning young women’s television series, 3R - Respect, Relax, Respond. She also co-produced the critically and commercially acclaimed Malaysian film Gol & Gincu, released in 2005, and which went on to spawn a successful television series.   

Marina is the daughter and eldest child of Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

And so, we were there for this rare event with our special guest - Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir.

Marina with Siew Fong, who was the main organiser for the evening.

Marina arrived at the restaurant just before seven, and the first thought I had when I caught the first glimpse of Marina was, "Wow, Marina is so beautiful with her sweet smile, greeting each and everyone there". She seems unpretentious and utterly ordinary. Light chattings continued for a while, followed by the buka puasa sessions.

The menu for the night was one of the best I have had in any Malaysian restaurants in Tokyo. One plate set of our national dish - nasi lemak with rendang ayam, ikan bilis sambal, hard boiled egg, ayam goreng, samosa, sotong sambal. And we also have keropok, acar, banana cake, bubur cha cha as side menus. The ikan bilis sambal and fried chicken was simply out of the world.

The menu of the evening. One word - fantastic!

Once everyone was full, the event officially kicked off with a brief introduction of our special guest by Iqbal, followed by a short (10-seconds) self-introduction by everyone there. Finally, it was the climax of the evening - the dialogue session with Marina, who used to spend 2.5 years in Kobe, Japan in 1987. She started of her speech with, "Minasan, konbanwa".

To summarise her talk, Marina basically talked about the civil society movements in Malaysia, anecdotes of her involvements in various non-govenrmental organisations (NGO), how these movements and organisations raised funds to repair a Catholic cemetery in Kuantan, helped to introduced a Protestant church and Catholic church to work together, the recent issue about the soup kitchen in KL, the introduction of the Wall of Hope for MH370, her participant in BERSIH, how she felt about the current state of education in Malaysia, her relationship with her Dr. Mahathir, her hope to reclaim back Malaysia for Malaysians, etc.

Marina in action, speaking her minds out on various issues.

A candid expression of Marina taking a question during the Q&A session.

Here are some interesting quotes from Puan Marina on the evening:
A couple nights ago, the PM and the FT Minister, and the Women's Minister, who actually started it all, went on a SURPRISE tour of the streets - soup kitchens. Must have been terrifying for them; such alien territory.

Apparently, the PM Tweeted up like, "Wow, the poor really appreciate the soup kitchen." And someone said, "Well, duh...."

I think at the moment, we have a big issue in leadership; as if we don't have one.

The fact that you can even have the discussions is wonderful. It doesn't matter if you disagree or it gets really heated. The fact that you can have it is wonderful; because at home we can't. We really can't. 

Somebody had the idea to bring flowers along (to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Klang). It wasn't my idea, I just went along. And turned out to be my picture on the front page, handing out these flowers.

After that, we thought, hey look, there are things that Malaysians can do, which are very simple, which represents a different face of Malaysia. Instead of seeing these angry faces all the time, spewing really a lot of hatred, we (Malaysians for Malaysia) wanted to present a different face. So, we started something called "A Walk in The Park".

We got Marina a little present - a cute Wajima nuri (lacquer art from Wajima, Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa)
and two small cute plates with gold fish and water ripple pattern.
In the mainstream national  school very near where I live, the kids, when it comes to sports, they are stereotyped and they cannot get out of the stereotype. They are told to play games according to their stereotype.

So, the Malay kids play football, the Chinese kids play basketball, the Indian kids play hockey.... How to win, like that?
And they wonder why they never win anything. They are not choosing by talent, they are choosing by race. Gosh... You always thought the Brazilians all can play football, right? And now we know they don't necessarily (referring to the 1-7 semifinal lost to Germany). I've been watching a little bit... I know where to hit where it hurts.
Our secondary school kids are in the same level as the primary school kids in Vietnam. It's incredible.
She (Marina's second daughter) started looking at everyone (within few months of enrolling into her school), in terms of what race and what religion they are. And she wanted to know, always.

In the end, we took a very difficult decision, which was to take her out there. The day I had to take her out, I actually cried. I felt so sad because I believed in the (education) system so much and it was really disappointing.

But there are problems with international school too, because it's simply not Malaysia enough.
Her Malay isn't very good. I don't think any of those kids can even name the 13 states in Malaysia. And that is very sad.

 Marina's Tweet on the event on her Twitter at @netraKL.

In many of the (court) cases, if someone overstepping, making a mistake, and overstepping, and then having too much ego to want to step back. And that (Borders bookstore manager, Nik Raina Nik Abdul Aziz pending court case) is a very typical of a lot of cases that is happening in Malaysia these days, where people (the authority) have made a mistake; they know they have made a mistake but they can't backtrack because they feel that they will lose face. It is all terlanjur sangat dah; cannot pull back already.
If you tell me that it will only gain traction if I talk about it, you are dis-empowering yourself, and that's the problem. Because we keep wanting to put power in the hands of a few, whereas the power is among everybody, it's in everybody. So, everyone needs to take responsibility for their own cause.
Malaysians really got to learn that democracy is not every five years. It is not something you just do every five years. It has to be an ongoing, living process, all the time, all the time.
My husband (Tara Sosrowardoyo, a renown Indonesian professional photographer) blames it (failed in their application to get a Malaysian PR) on me going to BERSIH twice.
I think what we really want is for some sort of sense of rationality, calmness and civility to come back to Malaysia because we cannot carry on like this.
Sleep! And being with my family. (on question about what Marina does to unwind herself)

What's my favourite book? Well, you know, it takes me forever to finish a book because every five minutes, and then I'm asleep.
Actually I think the best way to relax is to turn off Facebook, turn off Twitter.
I was brought up by my father to think, and I think if I didn't think, he would get mad with me. So, it's not been an issue for us. It's been less of an issue for us, than it has been for everyone else.

I get all sorts of nasty things, like, "How can you be like that?" (and I go) "Yea...? (what would you expect?)"

We are so similar. We are both opinionated, we both read a lot, we are concerned about issues; so I think we are very similar. The fact that we have different approaches to things, to me is normal. So it is not an issue at all, we have no problems, we have dinner together, we go on holiday together. It's not such a big deal, but it is a big deal for other people.

They get really like, "Huhhhhh, awat dia buat macam tu???"
I remember once, I just started at the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC), few years in and I had an interview with a business newspaper. We were supposed to talk about the business on running an NGO. And this guy came in, obviously very resentful of having to come and interview me because I'm not some hotshot business person. When he came in, and he sat down, and the first thing he said was, "How does it feel to be the PM's daughter?" And I said, "Get out".
Why? You all have to run home is it? (on calling a close to the dialogue session)

Marina actually left a comment on my Facebook personally. This tells you so much what this towering lady is made of.

I tell you one funny story. My brother, Datuk Mukhriz, he was the Deputy Trade Minister, had a meeting with some foreign trade minister from some other country. And this foreign trade minister said, "Haiz, you know the problem is with my sister. You know, she works in NGO and she's always you know, saying things that are a bit difficult for me and all that". And my brother (Datuk Mukhriz) goes, "I now how that feels".
Malaysians, no matter how far away, or how long they stay away from home, there's a string there that is attached to home. And occasionally that tucks back.
I think, you know, Insha'Allah, one day, I think we will get Malaysia back, but it needs to have everybody working towards it.

It was a great pleasure to meet Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir in person and listening to her inspiring speech.
She is simply a down-to-earth person and there's never a lack in smiles on her face.

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