By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
December is fast descending on us and soon the New Year will be celebrated with much gusto and merriment. It is a ritual many of us would not miss for all the goodies and the miseries this wretched world has to offer. It makes me wonder how Malaysians can still smile when things around them are falling apart. Is this part and parcel of our mental makeover or is it our destiny?
I have no answers for this less-than-favourable condition. Rising cost of living, spiralling out of control exacerbated by an electricity rate revision, will nullify whatever dreams of a better 2016 that many hold on to. It is hopes against hopes just like a grieving Cho-Cho-San pining for her non-returning American naval husband in Puccini’s operetta, “Madame Butterfly”.
Will this bleak situation dissipate, paving way for a brighter year ahead? Only time will tell. As things are today there is no telling what lies in our path. The opening of our markets with the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement in 2016, the weakening ringgit, dwindling oil reserves, the never-ending 1MDB scandal and the hastily passed National Security Act are some of the excess baggage the long-suffering rakyat have to carry into the New Year.
Notwithstanding this, developments in Ipoh have been encouraging of late. Mayor Zamri Man proved his mettle by walking the talk. His car-free day, conducted on a trial basis, in November has gained traction with the public. The occasion has presented the mayor an opportunity to mingle with Ipohites and to see their problems, first-hand. This has prompted him to find ways to improve the city’s neglected infrastructure. Road shoulders are repainted, parking bays redefined, trees trimmed, clogged drains cleared, illegal rubbish dumps reduced, the out-of-commission toilets at the public pools site repaired and the unsightly Kinta Riverfront Park (People’s Park) revamped.
The painting job cost RM810,000, toilet repairs RM287,680 while RM150,000 was spent to enliven the riverfront park. It is money well spent and when the Council is transparent when it comes to spending Ipohites’ money, no one complains. That should be the way, as making Ipoh a liveable city has long been the aspiration of residents.
I took a deserving break away from the maddening crowd recently. My two-week stint took me to Hanoi and Da Nang in Vietnam. As was the practice, my wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandkids were in tow. It was a family outing, minus the frills. A time for fellowship and camaraderie as is expected out of any closed-knit family unit.
Considering what Vietnam has gone through from the 1950s right through the 1970s, the country’s transformation is phenomenal. I can still recall how we were deployed along the coasts of Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang and Johor in the late 1970s to stem the flow of Vietnamese refugees fleeing a Communist-overrun South Vietnam following the withdrawal of American troops in 1975.
The moniker “boat people” was given for a reason. The refugees fled with just their meagre belongings traversing the pirate-infested South China Sea in wooden fishing boats seeking a safe haven down south. Many perished and countless bodies were washed ashore. The dead were buried in mass graves along the shores and I was privy to it. Incidentally, I was among the pioneers of Pulau Bidong having been the settlement’s guardians during its formative years.
South of Da Nang is the ancient seaport town of Hoi An. The town has been preserved in all its grandeur and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999. It is one of the foremost attractions Vietnam has to offer to tourists, especially Westerners who come in droves to enjoy its rustic charms.
If a war-ravaged country like Vietnam, which knew no peace until 40 years ago, could do the unthinkable, I don’t see why we could not? Ipoh’s Old Town has much to offer. If only the Council could do a Hoi An, Old Town would be Ipoh’s star attraction. The ball is in Zamri’s court.
This is among my many hopes for the New Year. Wishful thinking! Nope, I am just being a little optimistic.