Hey all! Check out my first interview with a real Formula One driver, Marcus Ericsson. A rookie on the grid with Caterham, Richard and I had a chat to him yesterday to see how it's all going... Read the piece on the site here!
So, the adventure begins! To be honest, I will be doing my gushing here :) The official business is happening on RichardsF1.com so head over that way to check out the reports and actual journalism that I will be doing with Richard over the #Sepang #MalaysiaGP but here...well here is where I let it all hang out :P
Backtrack - so I am now at the Malaysia GP as an accredited reported for the Malaysia GP (single round pass). I arrived last night and we picked up passes this morning...
It is a pretty interesting crowd. Definitely a 'who you know' world, but that is motorsport. The fun part is, I don't think they have too many African-looking hijabis wondering around the paddock (covered head to toe in the sweltering Malaysian heat #likeabaws) so it's always fun to be the one to mix things up a little...
Check out some of the happenings thus far:
'Should have just gone with the beef tepanyaki'...my mind wanders.
I enjoy taking a punt on foods and eating things that I don't recognise (as long as they are Halal!). It keeps life interesting and I've had some great experiences and well, some not so good ones.
This was shaping up to be a 'not-so-bad-but-should-have-gone-with-something-else' category.
I'm sitting at an 'authentic' tepanyaki house, if by authentic it means frequented by locals and staffed by people who look like they know what they're doing.
It is in a mall in Kuala Lampur though, so I am not sure how 'authentic' it can be called really, in the grand scheme of things. 10 meters away from this step into another world is a Burger King. The magic of globalisation...
It was the first non-franchised chain I had come across in the mall and seeing
I was running out of Rinngets in cash and didn't want to exchange any more money the prices were relatively reasonable I stopped and looked at the menu.
Beef Tepanyaki - something I'd never had but was always curious about, 12.90 RM. Sukiyaki, a dish I had never heard of with an interesting looking picture in a pot, 10.90 RM.
Ah, the bottom-line wins! Sukiyaki it is!
I mumbled to the man standing at the entrance, he nodded, ticked a box on a paper and handed me the slip.
I stood there, waiting and looked expectantly.
He gestured again, slightly impatiently. I ventured into the restaurant, bumped into a lady holding hot tea - sorry! ah, terimakasi! - and sat on an empty stool, one of the many at the large oval table surrounding the cooking surface in the middle. I placed my paper in front of me, hoping that was the right thing to do. Do I talk to someone? Who knows. Let's just look at what everyone else does...
Eventually a chef walks into center of the oval, looks at my sheet of paper, looks at the paper of those sitting next to me, yells a few things at the kitchen behind the counter, and begins cooking.
Ah! The fluidity of the movement! The gestured flippancy in the applications of herbs and spices as if he was merely miming how to put a dish together. I am mesmerised.
He isn't cooking for me though. My pot comes out after a wait, steaming, and definitely not what I expected. It is a bowl, hotter than hot, with at least three servings of broth, random eggs and bits of protein and full of thin, clear noddles that prove to have a very low friction factor.
I struggle slightly, sure that all the staff are secretly sniggering at my
balancing attempting to balance a ladle with chopsticks, eating with the right hand and attempting not to splash myself. Such self indulgence, to think everyone is paying enough attention to be laughing at you.
So vain! I mentally kick myself and return my attention to tackling the enormous portion.
A family comes in; mother , father and son, and sit near me on the oval table. They stare at my pot; perhaps I have ordered a family size my accident? I suddenly feel self conscious and clumsy.
Having gotten the hang of the noodles and tackled the bits of chicken in the soup, I am left with copious noodles and...a prawn. With the head, tail and shell intact.
This was something I hadn't prepared for. I am yet to see anyone use their hands to peel a prawn, and I don't want to make a mess.
How do you peel a prawn with chopsticks?
I try to spear it with my chopsticks unsuccessfully.
Attempting to remove the head with my ladle isn't successful either.
I end up with a chopstick in each hand, attempting to leverage the shell off. The father sitting opposite me observes me with a strange expression. The wife and son then begin watching the battle in turn...
For the first time in my life, I have a question that I am too embarrassed to ask. How was I expected to eat this prawn?
I arrange the chopsticks and ladle neatly next to the half finished pot and scurried to the counter to pay.
The prawn lies in the black pot, its head slightly peeking above the surface of the broth.
Prawn, you may have won this battle...
On the taxi ride to airport I ask the driver what he would do.
"No idea! I would probably use my hands. I am not very good with chopsticks..."
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. UN Declaration of Human rights, Article 14 (1)
How have we come to this point?
How is it the the nation of Australia, which hosts 0.3% of the global total of 45.2 million refugees (Source, 2012), has resorted to disregarding sense, moral obligation, compassion and fairness?
What happened to 'we've boundless plains to share?'
There are no words to describe the ridiculousness of the current asylum seeker policy debate. In fact, to call it a policy debate in disingenuous. This isn't about policy. This is about, as others before have stated vehemently, a race to the bottom. A way to capture a vote in the conservative, close minded and those who feel threatened. A way to talk about 'security of our borders', as if the asylum seekers that arrive on our shores via leaky vessels are invading our nation when in fact they are seeking our protection.
It is an issue that evokes a strong almost visceral emotional response in almost every individual. Good policy isn't about emotional pleas though. 'Good' politics on the other hand...well, it seems that all our politics relies on is emotion.
Emotion aside however, the facts are simple.
- We have an obligation to the United Nations 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees which, as a nation, we signed and committed to (as well as the 1967 Protocol). This means that we are obliged to process asylum seekers who come to our shores. We are NOT to discriminate based on mode of arrival.
- 90% of boat arrivals who have been processed have been deemed refugees. Those who have not have been repatriated or held in detention. The distinction between asylum seekers and refugees is important. Asylum seekers are those waiting for their 'refugee claim' to be processed. Refugees are those who the UNHCR has already processed and are waiting to be resettled into a third nation.
The question that is often asked is 'why then have boat arrivals increased substantially since the Labor government came into power? Is this not due to the dismantling of the Howard Government's Pacific Solution?'
That is highly unlikely.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to the increase. This includes better organisation of the 'people smuggler' business, increase in zones of conflict (in 1999 we had yet to enter Afghanistan and Iraq) and the fragmented policy positions of the last few years. There have been multiple changes in the last three years – this encourages people to consider the option and helps the smugglers sell the proposition.
There are two aspects to the discussion. One is the morality of treatment of those who make the journey and arrive to our shores on boat. The second is the international effort to reduce the numbers coming by boat for their own safety, if this is something the Australian public truly wants (for the right reasons).
The policies being suggested may 'work', if by 'work' we mean reduce the number of individuals who arrive by boat, but this is to be seen. The true issue however, is the intention behind the policy and the treatment of those who have already arrived and the opportunities they are afforded.
The Coalition's policy is a step backwards to the world of Temporary Protection Visas. These reviled visas, implemented in 1999 by the Howard Government defeat the purpose of being granted asylum.
Being given a temporary visa means individuals are unsure as to whether they should start a full life in Australia or if they will be deported the moment the Government decides their country is safe to return to. It meant that you were effectively separated from your family permanently as you are not allowed to leave, but not given permission to help bring your family to Australia. In this edition of the policy, refugees will also have to work for the dole indefinitely.
The only slight tinge of silver lining is that boat arrivals won't be counted under the 13, 750 humanitarian visa allocations for the year under the coalition government, meaning more refugees can arrive through the UNHCR process. Ideally, this number should be increased substantially.
''The essential point is, this is our country and we determine who comes here,'' Mr Abbott said.
Well considering the largest proportion of illegal migrants are actually British and European visa overstayers, maybe that is who we should be turning our attention to.
I had too much to say, so find Part 2 of my thoughts here.
Defining ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ has been the subject of some debate since the release of the Federal Government’s White Paper in October last year. But how much do we know about the neighbourhood we are calling our own?
Last month I found myself in the hot and humid Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur with five other ‘cultural exchange’ participants and a diplomatic entourage. I was a guest of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and our mission was to learn as much as we could about this nation’s rich tapestry in one week.
Malaysia is often seen as an exemplary model for Muslim countries around the world; a country with a Muslim government where halal food is abundant and hijab fashion shops sit comfortably next to Chanel and Hermes.
For me, the opportunity to delve beneath the surface was an experience that offered much to reflect on, particularly for a migrant Muslim who calls multicultural Australia home.
I will hopefully now be a regular contributor on a whole random range of issues so watch this space!
Why the sudden interest in Malaysia? As part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Cultural Exchange program, six young Muslims from Australia are partaking in an exchange program in order to deepen cultural understanding. I have the immense honour of being one of the participants of said initiative.
Traveling through Kuala Lumpur over the last couple of days and engaging in deep and meaningful conversations with various Malaysians has been an enlightening experience indeed.
What has emerged from the conversations?
To an outsider, it seems there is an underlying undercurrent of confusion and frustration in the Malaysian population about identity, politics and religion.
It is important to start with the understanding that Malaysia is made up of three main ethnic groups; Malays, Chinese and Indian.
The Malays are the majority, and they are also defined in the nation's constitution as those who are Muslim and speak Bahasa Maleyu.
If you are Malay, you are entitled to many privileges under the 'Bumiputera' policies.
This leads to an interesting dilemma.
1. If a nation is seeking to be truly multicultural, an affirmative action law that racially privileges one over the others makes life difficult for those in the minority (Malays make up just under 60% of the population). What then is a 'Malaysian' exactly?
2. If the criteria to be a Malay includes being a Muslim, how does a nation separate 'Mosque' and 'State'? Does the religion simply become part of an identity of a race rather than a true spiritual practice? How do minorities fit in a society that only 'accepts' one standard version of Islam?
These are the two questions that have been at the root of many of our conversations. It seems clear that the issues are far from resolved, and the results of the recent election raise more questions than they answer.
There is much more to be said and shared, but this is only the beginning of the program, and I am weary of making judgements that may be unfair.
Observationally though, it seems there is an insecurity around the idea of identity, of what it means to be 'Malaysian', both individially for Malaysians and for the nation itself. It is clearly still a country that is journeying through the nation building process.
What is concerning is the politicisation of Islam and the use of the religion for political gain, or on seemingly superficial matters. This is one such example.
What this means for the future of the nation, particularly one where the opposition is a coalition of the PKR, PAS and DAP parties (i.e. Muslim Malays and Chinese Malaysians who are varied) is interesting and unknown.
I will no doubt learn and reflect more as the week goes by. What are your thoughts though, on how Malaysia deals with the issues of identity, as a nation and individually?
I am currently attending my first official Track II diplomacy level conference, and so far it has been an intense and slightly Model UN reminiscent experience.
The last session of the night however, was an amazing presentation by a certain Professor Andrei Lankov.
The guy has a wikipedia page. That, in my book, clearly indicates he is an academic of worth (hehe).
In all seriousness however, it was probably one of the best presentations I have ever attended, let alone on the issue of North Korea.
In his adrenalin fueled, Russian accented speech, Professor Lankov gave us an insight into where North Korea is at, and why he believed that inevitably the nation would collapse.
He started off by emphatically stating:
You may think that the North Korean leaders are irrational and unpredictable. You couldn't be more wrong.
The North Korean administration he stated, are the world's best Machiavellians. They are rational, pragmatic and cold minded.
They are in the business of SURVIVAL.
What do we mean by that, you ask?
Well, the North Koreans for decades now, have run a tightly controlled state in which they perpetuate the fantasy that their neighbour, South Korea, is poor, malnourished and beneath them. They are proud of being the North Koreans.
If the North Koreans understand however, that the Kim Jong era has in fact failed economically, that their previously impoverished South Korean cousins are now flourishing and prospering, the Northern state will fall apart. As such, the administration is in the business of stability.
The Four North Korean Rules of Stability are summarised as such:
1. Do not reform.
If the NK's begin reform, there is the almost inevitable possibility that information from the outside will filter through and the dictatorship will begin to lose control. As such, avoiding reform means avoiding avenues that will lead to loss of control.
2. Kill all dissenters.
So that no one with a single opposing view remains. Until the mid 90's, if an individual dissented, they and their family would be jailed for their disobedience. The zero tolerance approach is a crucial component of controlling the populace.
3. Keep the nukes.
Talks about disarmament, Lankon cautioned, will never come to fruition because the North Koreans will never give up their nuclear weapons. Why? Nukes are the dictatorship's currency: they are an effective deterrent and their most effective diplomatic tool.
The Northern Koreans know that as long as they have nuclear capability they will not be invaded: if Libya hadn't given up it's nuclear weapons a decade ago for example, NATO wouldn't have aided the rebels/freedom fighters against Gaddafi. The US, China...no country will attack a country with such a high risk.
Furthermore, the North Koreans use their nuclear program to secure an exorbitant (read millions of tonnes) of free aid and food by promising to freeze their nuclear program, due to the world's desire for disarmament. Essentially, they are eating their nukes.
4. Control changes from below.
One of the ways that change may happen is from below -- similar to Tunisia. As long as these changes are kept under control, the risk of change is minimized.
It would seem that the collapse of the North Korean state is inevitable, but that time frame in which that will occur is unknown. If they newer generation of leaders (who are all educated overseas, proud of their country, enamoured by the cases of China and Vietnam) decide to undertake reforms in the next decade or so, Lankov believes they probably won't survive the transition. If they are cautious, emulate the policies of their fathers and forefathers, it is likely they are "just waiting..."
It is amazing to think a nation like North Korea still exists today. A nation where health care and education are comparatively high due to the socialist method of care, but where owning a tuneable radio can lead to a five year prison sentence... a nation which, if they fail, will produce millions of refugees, the opportunity of kilos of plutonium for sale and procure an extremely costly rebuilding project...all on Australia's (relative) doorstep.
Food for thought.