Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Reply from the Swedish contact

My Swedish contact has finally replied to the e-mail.

Dear Ridzwan,

Your letter was so thoughtful and interesting that I thought I should reflect before answering.

As you can see, I reflected a long time! Sorry for the delay, too many (far too many) emails in my life.

You raised so many important questions. How can I do it justice?

First, I can only sympathize with your fascination with Sweden. I share it, obviously. I fell in love with a Swede and moved here. Now I love Sweden, too. I am a citizen now (dual citizen US and Sweden). I still love both countries, but I plan to live out my life here, with my Swedish family -- if I am allowed by the twists and turns of life, that is.

The society is not perfect -- I am currently very worried about the schools, some of which have a kind of violent atmosphere (one school just suffered from 30 students essentially "bombing" it with big fireworks and such, and 10 school were simply closed last year because of gang-related violent atmospheres). But it remains a good place, where people are relatively well educated, and the social policies are closer to what I think works best to create a decent human society (regardless of religious belief). But this obviously reflects my own values, and those values were formed in a family that had strong Scandinavian roots and in the city of Seattle, also formed by Scandinavians.

Sweden has the reputation of being one of the better countries in Europe for integrating immigrants, especially muslim immigrants. But that is a "contest" that we win (some say) only because the other competitors are not terribly successful either ... there is a terrible row over burkas now, as you know. It has not reached us yet, though.

Yes, I do know muslims here, I meet quite a number of muslims in the course of daily life ... but I cannot say that I am friends/close with any, really. But that has much less to do with their being muslim, I think, than with their being religious. I will not bore with my own religious history, but I tend not to feel personally comfortable in an organized religious setting anymore. I know very few active christians or buddhists either -- at least in Sweden. And there are many others who express themselves similarly here in Stockholm, anyway. Nonreligious and religious don't mix very much, regardless of which religion we're talking about!

On the other hand, because of my work, interaction with religious communities is becoming more and more essential; and I personally think religion can and does play an truly essential role in supporting people to live ethically.

It is certainly not an exaggeration to say that some parts of the major cities are now more muslim than anything else. But I am sure that whatever negative picture you have picked up is exaggerated. Sure there are problems, but the problems are equally about young rootless and aimless kids, lacking a clear sense of direction an opportunity. The lack may partially be based on immigrant status (and not just muslims, there are many assyrians here for example, greeks ... and they all get some discrimination), but it is also a general problem in society that is exaggeratedly expressed among those who must also battle prejudice and discrimination. I am guessing that in reading about problems in Sweden, you have not gotten information on the growing presence of the neo-nationalists, who made big gains in local elections last time. This I see as a serious problem, something to be addressed as a problem; while muslim immigration and integration into swedish society is more accurately framed as a challenge, with many positive aspects.

Moving here is hard, though! The barriers are high. If you found someone to hire you, that would make all the difference.

Now, about Malaysia: I read that ethnic tensions are on the rise again, between Chinese and Malay especially. How true is that?

Warm regards from Stockholm,

I allowed myself a few days to gather my thoughts and here's my reply:

Dear Alan,

So glad to hear from you again. I actually thought I might have scared you a bit with my last email!

Have you heard from Cedric about his latest cartooning projects? Well I can tell you about one that was particularly exciting. Crazy. Whatever. Recently, we had this event, the Malaysian 24-hour Comics Challenge, so called because he challenge was for each cartoonist to create a 24-page comics story in 24 hours.

Cedric and Wong organised it (they had less than two month to put it together!) while I was a (reluctant) participant along with 19 other comic artists. In the end, 18 of us managed to finish our 24 pages, myself included, which was fantastic!

We actually created some sort of history! It was the first time a 24-hour comics event was held in Malaysia and we became only the third Asian country to have done this. More importantly, it got everyone in the local cartooning fraternity closer and talking.

Already we are looking forward to the 2007 edition and as a close friend, I'm happy that Cedric and Wong are making progress with their dreams.

The fact that two of my buddies are Chinese -- and I don't have many buddies! -- says a lot about how I think the race relations in Malaysia is fine the way it is. True, there was a bit of tension recently between the Malays and the Chinese within the ruling coalition, but it was dealt with quickly so it didn't manage to get out of hand.

Sometimes I do get the feeling that things are swept under the carpet and we won't be able to do this forever. But whatever. My friendship with Cedric and Wong, for one, is not based on anything racial. We share the same interest, obviously, but it's also because they are decent, everyday people. People of integrity.

Anyway, back to the subject of Sweden. I think it was obvious that what I was feeling about Sweden back then was euphoria. A kind of feeling not unlike the experience of falling in love with a person.

This kind of feeling don't last and true enough, that euphoria has subsided somewhat. But the good news is I remain committed to see how far I can take it, this association that I have with Sweden.

So next week, I will begin my first lesson in the Swedish language.

I'll be joining a class in Sri Hartamas, at the apartment of a lady named Pernilla. Her husband works here and she teaches some of the local staff at the Swedish embassy as well.

I was told by Pernilla that her students are all women, and that sometimes they even cancel class altogether and cook instead! So that should be interesting heh.

I think I've made the most of my Stockholm trip. The Swedish embassy people have become my friends, obviously (my name is listed there under 'Sweden supporter'). Through them, I also met people from Norway, France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

I also got to know a family from Finland, who have been staying in Malaysia for the past 8 years and whose daughter has become a very good friend.

And to think that all these probably would not have taken place had I not missed an earlier assignment. You see, prior to the Stockholm trip, I was supposed to go to UK/Germany to see the MINI Cooper factory -- a dream assignment. But it fell through.

I can see now that it was a blessing in disguise.

Nowadays I'm just looking forward to making more Swedish friends through the language class or -- on days when that gets cancelled -- plenty of Ikea k├┤ttbullar (meatballs) to devour. Wish me luck!


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It's that dog again

Remember that dog? You know, the one which wouldn't go away?

Well I think I met him again on my way back from the office last night.

Same story. Dog seemed so glad to see me and followed me again.

No, he didn't come inside. He stopped at the gate.

p.s: This morning, before going to work, I put on some perfume.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's done

My wife and I are finally divorced.

I let out a quiet sigh of relief when it was over yesterday morning at at the court at 9.59am.

It had been a difficult journey. My decision wasn't very popular. My mom actually thought that it was the work of the Devil.

On top of that, I also had to deal with my own weaknesses. See I'm a soft-hearted person. It wasn't easy for me to arrive at this decision, knowing that at least one party will be ruined becos of it.

But now that that's out of the way, I'm glad. So I can begin to focus on the future.

Where do I start? Not by looking for a new woman. I'll start by working on myself. There are things about me that I'd like to see some improvement.

There's hope now!

Friday, January 12, 2007

So it's a phone

So Apple has announced the iPhone.

Dammit! They'd been working on that thing for the past 2.5 years and nobody knew what they were doing!

That means when I was at Steve's keynote in Jan 2005, grinning from ear to ear watching him show off the iPod shuffle and the Mac mini, he already had the iPhone at the back of his mind.

And as soon as he was finished and got everyone talking about the shuffle and the mini (Creative CEO Sim Wong Hoo dismissed the shuffle as a "non-starter" and look where Creative is now. Haha!) Steve and his team was already fast forwarding to 2007 and the iPhone.

I wonder what they're working on now. Something for 2009 perhaps, an anti-gravity belt so you can download songs to your iPhone "over the air"?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The story so far

A week into the new year, I think I've done well so far with my new year's theme:

1. Wednesday finished all 8 Sunday comics that I promised Theresa the week before (had to completely forgo sleep to achieve this)
2. Thursday submitted the bihun sup story to Sam
3. And today finished doing the reformasi on my brother's PC and putting together a wireless home network

In fact, I'm typing this very post on the new home network. It's an Apple Airport Express network that for now serves two computers: one is the brother's PC which uses a USB Wi-Fi adapter and the other is my sister's iBook which already has an Airport card in it.

So now any time anyone brings a computer with Wi-Fi in it, he or she will have ready access to our Streamyx. Slick!

I should've done this earlier but I was dragging my feet with the home network project. Mainly becos I hated the fact that my brother's PC is a Windows PC.

A few years ago, he did something online with the PC which rendered it unusable.

I was the unofficial home computer administrator so he turned to me for help. But I was getting sick of having to undo another person's stupid mistakes so we left the PC at that.

People should be made to obtain a license to use a PC. There are just too many owners who are only interested in using a PC but not maintain it.

But now that the brother has grown up a little and has promised to learn to care for the PC, I agreed to the project.

Still, it wasn't an easy thing to do. Some of the components were no longer working so I had to replace them. And then there were those tons of updates to the OS. Driver reinstallations. Cryptic warning messages. Wires everywhere.

Things you don't have to deal with if you used a Mac. But I guess you need to allow yourself to do things that you hate doing once in a while. Great for character building.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Alhan Farhanah Mohd Ridzwan

At one month old

Syakir wants me to go to Sweden

So now my five-year-old son has shared my enthusiasm in going to Sweden.

During the new year break, he told me the first thing that I should do once I come back to work from the holiday is buy a plane ticket and go to Sweden. I was surprised. I asked him why.

"Syakir nak suruh daddy beli Ultraman untuk Syakir kat Sweden." (I want you to buy an Ultraman for me in Sweden.) Oh, no wonder; he has vested interest.

But I told him there's no Ultraman in Sweden. I was fairly sure about it. But he told me not to assume. "Tanyalah dulu." (Ask them first.)

So it's another new year

So we have yet another new year.

I don't have resolutions for new year. What I have are themes. I figure it sounds softer than resolutions, so I won't feel so bad if I don't achieve them. There are no absolute objectives; all I have to do is be aware of my actions throughout the year so as to conform to the theme that I have chosen myself earlier in the year.

Last year's theme was honesty. This year, it's punctuality. I think anyone can go very far with these two qualities.

To help me become a more punctual person, I will soon create a character called Punktual Punk in my comic.

I think having themes every year is great for personal growth. Somewhere down the line, I can see myself having themes like courage, compassion and financial independence.

Some people are afraid to speak up so a theme like (guess what) speak up will do them good.

Some people talk so much so a good theme for them will be listen.

Some people like my colleague Leem Yeah Earn are juvenile so the theme for them is grow up.