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The Future


The future is an endlessly moving target.  Every community and every civilisation is attempting to finesse the present with an eye to the possible future.  The way they go about this is highly dependent on the culture.

Like Australia, Malaysia is a resource rich country.  It is attempting to get these riches more evenly distributed across its population.  But in doing so it has alienated much of its middle class: Chinese, Indians and non-Muslim Malays.  This is highly risky.  The country's middle class provides the skills that are so evident in its advanced infrastructure and competitive manufacturing sector.

Squandering its resource wealth on social programmes and cheap petrol is certainly a way of keeping the ringgit low and manufacturing competitive but it is at the cost of economic efficiency; and a lower overall standard of living than would otherwise be achievable.  It is unlikely that the Malaysian middle class will go to the barricades, or that interracial rioting will break out yet again, but the educated minorities are voting with their feet. 

There have been vast and costly efforts to educate working class Malays (Bumiputera) but as far as we could determine virtually the entire newly educated and upwardly mobile working class reads and speaks only Malaysian (Bahasa Malaysia).  This language is useful only in Malaysia, with a population not much bigger than Australia's, and in some parts of Indonesia.  There are less than 11 million native speakers worldwide, many of whom are poor and disconnected, compared to over 400 million native English speakers and a further 1.8 billion who have English as a second language. 

On the other hand most of the ethnic Chinese we met are very fluent in English and many have Mandarin as well (around 1.3 billion speakers and more who can read and write).  I was surprised to hear the Chinese Malaysians speaking Mandarin, rather than Cantonese or another southern dialect, but Mandarin is the official, if not first language, of Singapore as well as Taiwan and China; now officially the second largest economy in the world.  That is thinking to the future. 

More than many, less strategically positioned countries, Malaysia has always depended on international relations and trade for its success.  If current trends continue for any length of time, and as ethnic Malays predominate politically and as a proportion of the population, there is a serious risk that the country could become inward looking and increasingly radicalised. 

Recently the retiring U.S.  ambassador, James Keith, wrote an article that caused outrage in Malaysia.  He apparently had the temerity to warn of potential problems that were facing the country.  But the press did not take apart his arguments to refute them, rather they attacked him as a second rate intellect and a mediocre diplomat.  Nowhere could I find an analysis of what he actually said.  It seems to me that this sensitivity to criticism is a real problem in determining the truths that are necessary to negotiate an uncertain future.

At some point Malaysia needs to become less sensitive and to face some potentially unpleasant realities.  The censorship of uncomfortable ideas, particularly around religion, needs to end.  In particular the Government needs to mend their bridges with ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians.  They also need make sure that everyone can speak, read and write in an international language.  If English is no longer to their taste they should immediately begin to teach the remainder of their population Mandarin.


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In October 2012 flew to India and Nepal with Thai International and so had stopovers in Bangkok in both directions. On our way we had a few days to have a look around.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Egyptian Mummies





Next to Dinosaurs mummies are the museum objects most fascinating to children of all ages. 

At the British Museum in London crowds squeeze between show cases to see them.  At the Egyptian Museum in Cairo they are, or were when we visited in October 2010 just prior to the Arab Spring, by far the most popular exhibits (follow this link to see my travel notes). Almost every large natural history museum in the world has one or two mummies; or at the very least a sarcophagus in which one was once entombed.

In the 19th century there was something of a 'mummy rush' in Egypt.  Wealthy young European men on their Grand Tour, ostensibly discovering the roots of Western Civilisation, became fascinated by all things 'Oriental'.  They would pay an Egyptian fortune for a mummy or sarcophagus.  The mummy trade quickly became a lucrative commercial opportunity for enterprising Egyptian grave-robbers.  

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Opinions and Philosophy

How does electricity work?




The electrically literate may find this somewhat simplified article redundant; or possibly amusing. They should check out Wikipedia for any gaps in their knowledge.

But I hope this will help those for whom Wikipedia is a bit too complicated and/or detailed.

All cartoons from The New Yorker - 1925 to 2004

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