30 August 2009

Cameron Highlands

Do you know where your tea comes from? Do you know what tea leaves look like before they end up in your cup? I do at last!

Cameron Highlands are famous for three things: Tea plantations and strawberries and cool climate that fosters both.

After two hours of driving in circles around the office (yes, really!) trying to find the right way out of KL (don't trust Google Maps) , we eventually manage to get out of the city (the trick is to ignore the bad signage) and hours later, hit the dizzying roads up and around the mountain, passing Orang Asli settlements. We reach a beautiful water fall and shortly after spot the rows and rows of tea plantations growing on the hills the valley on both sides. Tea for a nation.

After seven or so hours strapped to the car, my workmates and I pull ourselves out of the car, check ourselves into a colonial-style villa and go to have some “tea and scones” as advertised in a few places a long the winding roads. I feel like the Queen of England, sipping my cup of local tea and having some home-made strawberry jam while over-looking the tea home-made plantation (the cafe is on top of one of the valleys), together with (local) visitors.

I feel like a trek to stretch my legs and perhaps get a peek at a Rafflesia (world's biggest flower) but my companions prefer, zoning out in our salon (the common room is a spacious living room with high ceiling, carpet, warm cozy sofas around a TV. It's a documentary by National Geographic on how the Orang Asli get their honey - really fascinating actually: They trace the (giant!) bees in the jungle by looking for water. Once they find say, a water pool, they look into the canopy above and usually find a bee's nest. An elder starts chanting to make sure no-one gets bitten while they climb onto the tree and cut off the nest with a knife, only aided by some fire and protected wrapped cloth around their heads and hands.

Visiting one of the many strawberry farms was supposed to bring back childhood memories for all of us, however we did not get to pick them ourselves. We saw a lot of nurseries with most unusual plants and flowers through that even the local tourists snapped pics of in wonder.

While up there in the village of Tanah Rata, we saw several advertisements for Chinese steamboat, (a Chinese “dish”) and decided to go for it: You pick a soup and/or just hot water and get it served in a large metal pot on a gas heater placed usually in the centre of the table. Then you get plates of tofu, fish balls, shrimp, green vegetables, heap of rice noodles/egg noodles, meat if you want. Also, you get an eating bowl each, a Chinese soup spoon and two metal cooking utensils to put your food in the water and fish it back out again to put on your plate. The point is, you can cook what you want and how you want it and share with a group of people.

Trip absolutely recommended!

22 August 2009

Michael Jackson: More alive than ever?

“The day that Michael Jackon died” will forever be one of these days (like Chernobyl, like 9/11) where people remember exactly what they were doing when they heard the news. Not that I was a particularly passionate fan of his, not that I am hysterically bursting into tears now but hey, he knew how to make music! I will always remember that for weeks in Malaysia it was impossible to go about your daily business without being reminded of MJ.

I happened to be sitting in a bus one morning on the way to work, probably really groggy and was caught by the Earth Song playing on the little flatscreen I had a straight view at from the back of the bus. I was thinking absent-mindedly to myself, what a great single actually, and the video clip was quite gripping, too. You know you've landed a hit when people, whatever they are doing, have to turn their head, watch and can't help but to sing along in their heads. That is quite some achievement, I mused half-awake, half-asleep.

The following night, I receive a text message from Taiwan “Omg! Michael Jackson died!” and nothing else. I was like, WTF?! A few hours later, I get a text message from a friend of mine in Malaysia who goes like, “I can't believe it! Michael Jackson just died!” Deprived from stable internet and the time to go surfing on it, yet another person I bump into in the office, “Have you heard?? Michael Jackson died last night!”

All these consistent reports must mean sth, so I find some internet, sit down and look up the news – and indeed: The king of pop died unexpectedly of a heart attack at his ranch.

The following days, the world turned into a surreal movie, MJTV if you will: Whenever you take a taxi (every morning!), the radio would play MJ; many shops would suddenly play his music over and over again; when you passed a roadside eatery, you would see people staring at a MJ video on an old TV affixed to the ceiling and blasting the sound from gigantic loudspeakers. You walk into a DVD/record store and all they... DO is Michael Jackson: MJ Cds/DVDs at the counter, MJ video behind the counter, MJ poster on the shop window, another even flatscreen in the shop window playing a MJ live concert...! You use a public toilet in a shopping mall and guess what they're playing in the background! You spend a few hours in a coffeeshop to use their internet and you'd hear MJ songs over and over again, whether on the radio or as a CD. And I swear many Chinese fashion stores suddenly popped gilet style clothes back out on the rack.

It was crazy!

Was it foreshadowing that my attention was suddenly drawn again to MJ after at least two years of not thinking about him a day before he died? I was not even sure if he was still in business or not and it was only when I heard about his death that I also found out he had actually just launched another series of concerts – which might account for the increased exposure that ultimately also included the music clip I saw. A fellow intern suggested that MJ probably wanted to cancel his world tour so he just died – how mean! No piety!

One evening, Julie, Anurag and me shared a cab home one evening and the cab driver changed the radio station at a red light. Of course, it was an instantly recognisable MJ's song (Billy Jean?). We ask the older Malay driver if he was also sad that Michael Jackson died and he said, “Yes, of course! I listened to his songs already from when I was still very young and he was still young too!” - “It's a shame, isn't it? He was still so young and he had so many problems when he was a child.” - “I think it is good he died”, he says calmly. We look shocked. “I mean, if you die young, it is a sign that you have done well in the lessons God gave you. If you die as an old person, it means you maybe God will give you more opportunities to learn, maybe you were not good at learning [as in, over-coming challenges, becoming wiser, becoming a good person] or there is sth he wants you to do.” - “So you mean it's like when you fail a class and God says, you have to repeat it to learn the lesson?”, I mirrored what he was trying to say. The driver finds it hilarious, we all break out in laughter, “Yes, exactly like that! You are right!”

Two months after the initial news burst and when the hype had somewhat subsided to a plateau, I went to a dinner party in the circle of medical professionals with great taste in everything the other night and Michael Jackson's record came out on the high tech LP player as well as some other really stilish house music. That's when I fully realised his music will always be a classic.

Therefore, the upcoming tribute in Vienna's Schoenbrunn Palace has my blessing!

21 August 2009

Bali Impressions

Our bungalow-style room in Ubud!

The offering on the small table on our porch!

One of the MANY, many rice paddies around the island!

© Nathan

20 August 2009

Bali: Flower Shower!

Bali is stunningly beautiful: Wherever you look, some stone-carved statues of cows and Hindu mythological figures are adorned with the freshest flowers, drivers would put a leaf bowlof carefully arranged colourful flower heads on their dashboard. Streets are tidy, neat and structured – a refreshing surprise coming from chaotic, over-disconstructed Malaysia where many towns are an omnipresent eye-sore. Even Malaysian country-side is not maintained. The only patch of nature that receives close attention and sth remotely reminiscent of order in Malaysia, are monocultural plantations.

The only thing that could be improved is the immigration queue in Denpasar. Whatever was gained by landing 13 min ahead of schedule was entirely lost by spending 1.5 (!) hours in a packed, not air-conditioned hall with I swear at least 799 other passengers streaming in from the airfield and many people (Asian and Western) trying to jump the infinite queue. Just because I pass the time immersed reading a book on humanitarianism in crisis, that does not mean that I am not paying attention to the queue (we're talking Asian-style Q here – survival of the fittest; Brits and Japanese no chance!).

It took AGES on my two feet before I could even hear a loud stamp from any of the overwhelmed/understaffed immigration booths. Then the 10 US-$ visa on arrival can only be paid in alternatives from € to Yen, Chinese Yuan, Hong Kong Dollars, Australian Dollars and New Zealand Dollars – NOT MALAYSIAN RINGGIT! Ridiculous! Of course there is no ATM on this side of the border, so they let you walk through the border control without visa (!) to access one of five deserted ATMs in the luggage claim area – next to them the total bags of one flight pulled off from the belt by an elderly airport worker lying strewn on the floor, for they had been driving in circles for two hours already.

The congress was absolutely, staggeringly amazing!!! And I am not exaggerating! There was definitely a highly professional committee behind it. Every detail well organised in advance – free shuttle transfer from partner hotels to the International Convention Centre, Balinese dance, more than 2000 delegates and 300 security staff, high profile speakers, perfect coordination and media. The congress opening ceremony was chaired by nobody less than the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono himself.

The ICAAPs are only held in countries where there are no travel restrictions for HIV+ people. The whole closing ceremony reminded me of an Olympic handover party where the figurative red ribbon is symbolically passed on to the next host country.

We saw a video putting together the best of the 9th ICAAP in Bali and a teaser for South Korea. I was trying to find the former but so far could only get the welcome video from the opening ceremony. The congress itself was mainly sponsored by UNAIDS, AusAid, the Global Fund... and apart from pre-congress community networking events (ie “youth group”, “multi-faith group”), they also organised visits to local health centres.

I brought home a ton of material to mine through of course. But more on the congress and the issue of AIDS in the Asia-Pacific in a short while!

Bali is beautiful! No - it is honeymoon heaven! Heavenly high four-poster beds decorated with orchids that I privately call “island beds” because you climb onto them, the poles made of beautiful teak with white linen curtains thoughtfully draped over them; earthenware tiles; a colourful bush of tropical flowers outside your porch that would make my mother happy. You wake up in the morning, open the door to a garden landscape and find a fresh (Hindu) offering on the small table outside your bungalow. A spacey shiny bathroom with chrome fittings. Banana pancake (ripe!) with Balinese caramelised sugar and local coffee for breakfast, beef satay served on coals for dinner or chicken with crisp Balinese vegetables and spices, the freshest pure Mango juice, rice cake made with coconut milk for dessert. - In short, I want to live there! The sand warm, light yellow and fine under your toes, the water shallow and perfectly heated...!

My dream was to see a coffee plantation and go up to Munduk, a cozy village near the volcano crate (mundok in tagalog means "mountain" and in Indonesian probably sth similar; there you can see again that these languages are related!) and enjoy the reputed scenic views over the whole island and its tea and coffee plantations, spice gardens, vanilla crops. For that though, you had to book early so Nathan got to cycle through the rice paddies and bumped into some village festival while I checked out the local shops for the best place to buy my sarong. That I did not get to see the lush highland vegetation and the island spread out underneath under the sun shall be my incentive to return, same with sea diving. Bali is a wonderful spot to go scuba diving with great coral reefs and a vibrant sea life.

A crazy thing to see in Ubud is the mansion (sic!) of the so-called Dali of Bali, an eccentric Filipino who convinced the local raja to give him a plot of land that today houses his studio/gallery/house. When Antonia Blanco (as his common name goes) was still alive, he was rubbing shoulders with many international celebrities like for example, Michael Jackson. He does a lot of collages of naked women that look French-inspired and was particularly obsessed by female round forms. His muse used to be his wife, a Balinese dancer with whom he had children. His son has taken over his legacy and is now an artist himself. The house is that of a crazy artist, winding marble stairs and tainted glass atrium to let in loads of sunlight as well as noisy parrots and roosters in the decadent garden.

We got to see the Balinese Lenggong dance performed in Ubud, THE city of fine arts and crafts for more than a century. Since I got off one more day than Nathan, I even saw another Balinese dance called the Kecak. The main difference is that the Kecak dance is accompanied by a 100-man strong choir in Sarong that keeps doing verbal percussion canons with the word (is it even a word or just a sound?) “kecak” whereas the Lenggong is accompanied by a traditional Gamelan orchestra. The Lenggong was mainly choreographed dance with less interaction between the dancers. The kecak dance was more of a drama performance, showing a story of the Ramayana where Rama's princess got abducted by another king who tricks her with a golden deer and then Rama gets her out of there by help of Hanuman (the famous mythological monkey figure that you will see a lot in Thailand too) and the bird Garuda.

I swam a bit with the Baywatch suit my mother sent me (bright red) - sth I could never wear on my own in Malaysia without a shirt to ward off confusion or unwanted attention Рnever aggression. And while I was doing my backstrokes in the pool looking at the green trees and green-everything around me, I thought, how great it is to be able to walk around without having to be self-aware of what you are wearing and how you are wearing it. Not that I am desperate to get my clothes off or that I consider anyone modern or backward or that I don't expect a certain level of appropriateness from my own fellow citizens - but when you grew up in a country where it is alright to show a bra strap, where you don't get harassed for wearing an open skirt covering your knees, where you can absent-mindedly go to a public pool wearing a bikini, where you can go buy some groceries at night without having to don a shawl across your d̩collet̩ or where you can wear a fitted sleeveless girl shirt without men staring at you, that is certainly refreshing!

It's a trip I'll always remember and an island I definitely want to return to – this is where I want to settle!

10 August 2009

Taman Negara – Somewhere in an unknown location in the jungle...

My hair is flying in the breeze under the full moon as my bum is firmly planted on the outside sitting space of a fourwheele drive in the middle of a palm oil plantation in Pahang. With me: Three friends and our night safari guide, perched at the top of the car in what would normally be the luggage boot, on a sponge mat swishing a power torch in all directions.

Pahang, Malaysia's centrally located state is famous for the Taman Negara (National Park), one of the most popular tourist destinations for locals and foreigners alike.

We drive deep into the plantation and after two hours on roads that are all surrounded by identical rows of palm trees, I had totally lost the orientation. Every now and then we spot the odd bird, one with a red cap and one which was as serenely turquoise as a peacock's. As to how the guide spotted it perched sleeping on a twig behind a five meter long and one meter wide heavy palm leaf, I have no idea. He also spotted a worm like small snake wrapped around some reed-like grass. The guide says it's not poisonous and Nathan gets out of the jeep to touch it. Toads would quack loudly in concert around the small pond in the background. We also spot a big family of boars moving around for a snack. Eventually, we spot a leopard cat, at a distance of perhaps 15 meters, sitting and staring nonplussed at us. The guide and the driver do everything to get the cat closer to our jeep and after 15min we tell them that, it's ok, they don't have to make clowns out of themselves for us, we're totally satisfied with seeing it even from a distance. They pick up clumped soil from the ground and throw it at the cat but it still doesn't even flinch. That's when we realise these guys were really into it, and animal spotting was their own hobby. Unfortunately, we didn't see any tapirs or tigers because they are both looong chased out of their habitat.

Luckily, the whole day before had been much more fun. Getting picked up in the morning by three cheery fellow interns that I also count as friends and starting off with some funky music from either the English radio station or someone's Michael Jackson CD with some weird psychedelic Bollywood musical/meditation thrown in to spice it up and starting off by driving around KL's concrete labyrinth of roads and badly signed highways (i.e. signs 5m before or after an exit on a highway where most people drive at least 100km/h and intricate knots of exits that take you into unexpected directions – and we're speaking here of a mixed Malaysian behind the steering wheel) before finally hitting the right road (the one that goes out of town!) – what a great start for a weekend trip!

About two to three hours, 200 km and a nap later, you're woken up because the meandering narrow but good countryside roads make your head bob from side to side and against the window in an uncomfortable fashion. You open your eyes, slide down the sun shades and – look upon miles and miles of palm trees in endless regular lines – oil palm plantations for one of Malaysia's greatest exports. We would drive by hundreds of thousands of palm trees and nothing else on either side, a group of (wild?) buffaloes more closer to the Kampung of Kuala Tahan, at the Southern edge of Taman Negara.

The national park is huge (4343 km2) or roughly ten times the size of Vienna. It has Peninsular Malaysia's highest mountain, Gunung Tahan (2187 m) and is home to tigers, rhinoceroses and elephants if you go deep enough.

We decide to spend the afternoon walking around the jungle (a personal premiere!) which requires an ultra-short boat ride across the river that is lined by a few so-called “floating restaurants” on stilts which generally serve as docking station. Not deep into the jungle, we spot what I call “ant highways” (you can actually hear them crunching leaves), strange flora (something that looks like bamboo with spikes all-over; not anything your cat would want to jump on by mistake; rotan which is used for corporal punishment in Malaysia; really strong liana, squirrels), giant bees making hives in the space between the glass and the actual educational sign, skinks (look shiny-slithery like snakes but with legs and tail, maybe 25cm in entire length) and the roots side of an old, wide (I would absolutely fit into its diameter) fallen tree and wish we'd seen others (like the elephant stump plant or what it's called, a plant that smells so strongly like decaying meat that it makes people pass out if they come to close). As we follow the trail, we occasionally bump into other people, Dutch, French, German, locals in Burung Melayu and hijab, Sikhs in turbans, a guy who looks like an old school German/English travel reporter with polo shirt, khakis, colonial-shaped hat, colonial mustache, super size lens and machete (!) in fitted black leather sheath.

Always the slowest person on hill ascents, I at some point find myself on my own in the jungle with only the unfamiliar sounds of uncomfortably loud crickets and sounds that come from animals you would not normally associate them with (no, that long whistling sound is not a bird, it's another reptile!). Hot and a bit dehydrated (thanks guys for running off with 1l of water!) in the humid heat inside the canopy-covered trail, I decide to take a break on a bench for a while. There's a waterfall somewhere below all the shrubbery nearby. I study the amazing smooth round roots on the floor that just grow wild all over on top of each other and spot a medium-sized light-coloured wiry spider jumping (!) into my direction – Hm, jeng jeng, time to move on! I meet the other guys at the “top” of this trail or the start of the famous canopy walk-way and buy a bottle of water from one of the local male Malay guides manning the closed hut that is the start of the canopy walk-way (you need to get a ticket), drink most of it and pour the rest of it over my hair, careful to bend over so as not to wet the front of my shirt. Luckily, Katrina is the last one behind me, tall, pretty with a British accent but also able to speak Malay, I listen how she tells the curious guide of where she stays in Malaysia, how long she's been here, what she's doing in Malaysia (or in other words, the usual questions one gets in Southeast Asia) and she discreetly mentions her non-existing husband. No, she doesn't have any children yet. He then moves on to ask her questions about me, carefully walking over the rope-tied aluminium ladders past the canopy of really high trees. I, at a safety distance in front and pretending not to understand any Malay, listen to that I am from Austria, that I live there but that my mother is from the Philippines, that my equally non-existent husband also lives with me back in Austria (I guess my strategic “engagement ring” supports that story). Katrina then turns the questions on him, turns out he's married with three children. I am sometimes confused as to where the border is between curiosity towards expats in Malaysia (what the HELL brings you to Malaysia out of all places??) and subdued affectionate interest for women.

A bit exhausted from the walk, we rest in our shared kampung house style bungalow with a bathroom I'd love to take home with me. We were all dozing away for a while, until suddenly there is this loud sound right on top of our roof. I, heavy-boned mumble “Sounds like a helicopter...” into my pillow. 5 seconds later, Nathan shouts out excitedly, “Oh my God! It's a helicopter! It's landing in our yard!!!” and by the time I open my eyes, he had sprung up from his bed and was at the door. I look out of the window and only see leaves flying around. Julie completely passed out due to work-related lack of sleep blinks groggily. Katrina is on her feet to the porch too. And indeed: It's a big-ass helicopter landing in our hotel lawn. What the hell?! The few guests that are actually in stare in amazement and wonder. We walk down and watch as a scandinavian-looking paramedic gets out of the helicopter. He grins amused at all the stunned people and tells us they're shooting a movie. Before I can ask him if he's an actor or a real paramedic, the rotors come to a stop, all four doors of the helicopter are opened and two people get out to fill up the tank with some Petronas oil and professionally clean some parts. We peek into the helicopter, so many knobs and a mysterious red capped button on the “joystick”. Hm! Nukes to get rid of the last shreds of nature and create condo space? ;P KL used to be a jungle too and changed so fast that even Katrina noticed in her mid-twenties. We ask the two Malay guys (pilot&engineer?) what movie they are shooting; is it a documentary? “No, it is a Television series... Something called... thinking for a moment “Get me out of the jungle?? (“Holt mich hier raus, ich bin ein Star!”) - Mumbai edition, produced by ITV (British) and some other channel. “Who's the celebrity?” They (pretend? That they) don't know.


The next day, we set out for a river trip in a long shallow wooden boat and follow the turns of the river inside the jungle where you can swim. It's great and even more beautiful than the first day with huge-ass trees of 2m in diameter robustly hanging across the river at a 40 degree angle, held back by super-roots, super-green trees and lianas entrenching the blue sky, round stones inside the river, micro-beaches (where does the sand come from in a muddy environment??) and really high, light and smooth birch-like trees that would make perfect Maibaeume, I guess.

The others strip their outer clothing and reveal their swims underneath while I pick a good stone to sit on and let my feet dangle in the clear jungle water, enjoying nature and watching the crowd of (Malay) locals that are standing to their chest in the water: The men with soaked T-shirts (one or two top-less) and knee-length basketball shorts, the women with long-sleeved shirts and long pants with stretch hijabs - the kind they use for sports. The cheerful men that were chatting and doing practical jokes in the water before suddenly grow a bit quiet. I follow their confused gazes and see my two female friends in bikinis. I was wondering what was going on, if they were just stunned at the unexpected display of flesh or awkward around us or confused at our weird foreigner combo: one Arab/African-looking guy, one Chinese-looking girl, one white-skinned Malay-looking girl (non-conformist with Muslim dress code but not taking her clothes off either) and one undefinable tall feminine girl with a tan. The single Malay friend of their on our part of the river at that time let her knowing gaze wander into the round of her male friends and us and was grinning to herself; maybe she was assuming there was sth going on under the surface... Eventually, the three jumped into the water, the moment was broken, the guys slowly went back to their day trip playfulness, proportionately increasing with the distance of my friends who started swimming and were targeting a perfect stone for sunbathing 50m away. Of course, once I am “unit = 1”, I get spoken to by one of the men who boyishly asks me, “Miss, can you swim? I can show you!”, trying to make a manful joke among his friends and getting everyone to laugh. I smile, rolled my eyes at this display of immaturity and politely tell him that I knew how to swim and had done this many, many times. 15 min later, his friends are trying to drown him and he cries, “Miss! Miss! Help me! I'm drowning, hahaha!” - So stupid it's actually funny, haha!

On the way back to KL, we pass out soon after spotting a random lemur crossing the road. Great trip!

01 August 2009

ISA Rally in Kuala Lumpur!

Social unrest and political demonstrations used to be rarely heard of in Malaysia. But today, half the city centre was blocked off by police as some estimated 20 000 demonstrators gathered for a rally through Malaysia's capital to protest against the Internal Security Act – a controversial law that in its essence, gives the government the right to detain you without trial incommunicado (that means that neither lawyers nor family can visit you) for 60 days if you pose a threat to Malaysia's security, essential services or economic life.

It's a good thing I was partying late last night and subsequently was pretty lazy and tired today to go out into the city centre for if I had decided to go into the city centre, especially the Central Market or KLCC (Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, also synonymously used for the towers themselves with the shopping centre or the area around them), I might have ended up caught between crowds of people wearing Anti-ISA shirts and placards and the police spraying, no showering, teargas and chemically laced water, unaware that a protest was planned for the day. Then again, once I had found out, I would have probably stayed on to demonstrate against the violation of human rights by this act.

The day before the event, the police set up road blocks in an attempt to deter protesters from entering the city centre. When I went to KL Sentral, my bus was stuck in a huge jam on the federal highway, one of the main arteries for locals from the residential areas and commuters alike. When I got into the station, I was wondering why there were so many people there; it looked like the first day of the summer holidays, with long queues of 20 people in front of everything you could possibly queue up for, LRT ticket machines and the ticket office (because of course, half the machines were out of service), Komuter train ticket office, ATMs... I ask someone what's going on today and then go to find a newspaper. The taxi ticket counter was closed entirely and instead, a teksi marshall on the outside with songkok and walkie talkie was managing a queue of 30 people, waiting like me, around 20 minutes for one of the few taxis out there today to drop by KL Sentral in this jam. He did a good job, shouting out for people's destinations and pooling them into sparse taxis.

Wikipedia thankfully summarises the key facts about the law really well:
“Preventive detention first became a feature of the then Malaya in 1948 primarily to combat the armed insurgency of the Malayan Communist Party during the Malayan Emergency. The Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948 was made, following the proclamation of an emergency, by the British High Commissioner [...]. It allowed the detention of persons for any period not exceeding one year. The 1948 ordinance was primarily made to counter acts of violence and, conceivably, preventive detention was meant to be temporary in application. The emergency ended in 1960 and with it ended the powers contained in the that ordinance as it was repealed. The power of preventive detention was however not relinquished and in fact became an embedded feature of Malaysian law. In 1960 itself, the government passed the Internal Security Act under Article 149 of the Malaysian Constitution. It permitted the detention, at the discretion of the Home Minister, without charge or trial of any person in respect of whom the Home Minister was satisfied that such detention was necessary to prevent him or her from acting in any manner prejudicial to national security or to the maintenance of essential services or to the economic life in Malaysia. “

In recent years, the list of detainees who have been arrested under the ISA includes opposition leaders (such as prominent figure Anwar Ibrahim, currently still in a court battle for accused sodomy), HINDRAF activists (Hindu Rights Action Force; a big alliance of Indian NGOs with the objective of gaining more representation for what they perceive as marginalisation of Indians in Malaysia), a few human rights activists and a lot of alleged terror suspects of JI (the organisation that has been linked with the Bali bombings).

The anti-ISA movement on the political front as I understand, is strongly supported by DAP or the Democratic Action Party, led by Anwar Ibrahim, a secular, multi-racial, social democratic/democratic socialist party and PAS, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, an Islamist, traditionally conservative party which in brief envisions Malaysia to become an Islamic state and believes the ISA to be contrary to moral ethics. Contrary to what you may expect, the PAS used to be too radical even for many Malay Muslims and since the 2004 elections tried to reach out to the non-Muslim Malay population by moderating their views. The main leading party, UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) which has led the country ever since independence in 1957, has however been experiencing a drop in popularity in the last few elections, with a historical low number of states won, mostly due to a lot of scandals and what is perceived as racialist and segregating politics by many locals. Two former Prime Ministers used to criticise the ISA while in opposition and then, after the election suddenly called it a “necessary” law. Right now, the government is about to review the ISA, amendments are said to be made in September. About the PM's statement on the rally, The Star quoted, “Why have a demonstration when we are in the process for discussions and getting feedback from the people?” “What is important is to give opinions, suggestions and productive ideas on how best to improve such laws instead of protesting” and “When the protest continues, then it is up to the police to take the necessary action” 438 people were arrested, of these 37 women and 38 juvenile. I heard that at one point, people were taking cover from the teargas in the National Mosque and the police sprayed right into it. But in general, as far as I know, the police did not use excessive physical violence but just randomly arrested people who were prepared for this already. The fact that people went out to demonstrate for this shows how strongly they feel about this issue. A local person's opinion was that usually, Malaysians keep quiet because they can get arrested for defamation or sedition but then come election day...!

Watch the three really good videos on my blog if you want to see the whole thing in motion!