By Mariam Mokhtar
When politicians of all persuasions hold ‘Open Houses’, after a festival, they attempt to show the spirit of unity by giving the rakyat the opportunity to rub shoulders with VIPs, and also consume free dishes like lemang, rendang, satay, laksa and cendol. Contrary to popular opinion, the cost of hosting the ‘Open House’ is not borne by the politician, but is paid for by the taxpayer. The taxpayer should be happy that he is able to make a small contribution towards national unity.
It is only the truly patriotic Malaysian who does not mind queuing up, alongside other Malaysians, thousands of whom are ahead of him in the long line of guests. The people who have made annual ‘Open House’ visits, have only one complaint. The weather!
Those who attend ‘Open Houses’ are unwavering in their belief that they are helping to create a harmonious nation. They dismiss allegations that they are freeloaders, who are only interested in a free lunch, and are looking their best, as they pose for ‘selfies’ beside the politician and members of royalty.
Members of the public who visit ‘Open Houses’ are careful to dress well, because they have heard recent reports of several people being turned away from government departments. More often than not, the women who frequent these places had exposed their bare arms and legs. As Malaysia is an equal society, the men folk may no longer be able to escape scrutiny, as department heads are mulling over the enforcement of dress regulations on men who dare to expose their knees, or who wear socks with sandals.
The enthusiasm of the regular ‘Open House’ visitors is evident, as they begin to queue-up at least two hours before the opening time. These regulars hope that the host, will see his guests being drenched by rain, or sweltering in the heat, and will send their waiters with huge trays of drinks and titbits.
Politicians know that the pool of people who wish to attend ‘Open Houses’, is limited so there is a lot of rivalry between the politicians, to attract a large crowd at their ‘Open House’. The competition is stiff.
The rakyat claims that their ‘Open Houses’, are more popular that those of the politician’s. Family and close friends don’t normally visit a politician’s ‘Open House’. It is also a well-established fact, that people who like to be photographed by the media, are normally found in the queue to the politician’s ‘Open House’.
Malaysians are friendly people. They gather by the thousands and they are normally busy chatting to their friends, on their handphones. A survey done by a consumer group found that people are more likely to attempt to strike-up a conversation with strangers if they are not in the company of friends or family.
Children are particularly welcome at ‘Open Houses’. Then, politicians can pose with the babies and children of their guests. The only problem faced by the politicians, is the child who has consumed too many fizzy drinks and sugary foods. There have been a number of times when children have regurgitated the contents of their stomachs onto a bewildered politician. The tendency nowadays is for the politician to pose beside the mother as she holds her child or toddler, instead of the politician cradling the baby.
The other issue, which was unresolved for several years, was the early guests consuming the food at such an alarming rate, that very little was left for the late comers. The event organisers solved this problem very simply. They did not have to pay huge sums of money to a management consultant. The solution was to issue guests with paper plates and plastic cutlery.
Anyone who has eaten from a paper plate will know how frustrating it is and that it is almost impossible to pile a huge amount of food on it. The plate simply sags in the middle or gets soggy, with gravy. The plastic fork is extremely bendable and jabbing at a piece of meat is impossible. Cutting anything huge, with a plastic knife only snaps the knife.
People are frustrated in their failed attempt to eat quickly and return to the main table, for seconds. So, they will leave plates of uneaten food. This confuses those who have yet to eat, because plates of uneaten food make people think that the food is inedible.
Hari Raya ‘Open Houses’, like other ‘Open Houses’, are a magic and instant cure for unity.