A photo taken from Facebook showing what the woman wore when she was denied entry to the Balik Pulau court complex.
The mission: service first
Malaysian taxpayers should be treated as customers who deserve the best service. Government departments should aim to keep their standards high and not fuss over how their customers are dressed.
TEACHERS are supposed to teach. And when members of the public visit the hospital, the Road Transport Department, or any government facility for that matter, they are there for a service, and they expect to be given that.
After all, as has been said many times before, the public service exists because the taxpayers are the ones who pay the salaries of the civil servants.
But things do become complicated when some individuals get side-tracked from their job specifications, and start to bring politics and religion into play.
The problem with some Malaysians is that we are also not very good at exercising reasonable discretion. Maybe we fear those who hold higher positions and dare not question their authority, as it is not part of our culture, or simply because of fear of reprisals.
So, if you are a security guard, whether a member of the People’s Volunteer Corp (Rela) or someone from a security firm, you would be expected to just carry out the orders made by the boss, or maybe the smaller bosses, which in most cases, can be more difficult than the real top boss.
Malaysians would know by now, judging from incidents in the past weeks, that it’s always these little guys who get the blame.
If you are being asked to wear a sarong over your skirt which is deemed too short, you will look quite unnatural, and are bound to draw strange looks from others. Wouldn’t the front desk officer enquire from you, in a puzzled manner, why you are wearing a skirt with a sarong on?
But if the officers are indifferent to the situation and the head of the front desk does not even bat an eyelid, it is obvious that they are fully aware of what the security guard has ordered the member of the public to do.
Maybe this has been going on for a while, except that no one has complained, and a recording of the event had not gone viral.
Since incidents of such a “humiliating” exercise have been reported, many others, including a former colleague, have shared their experiences on social media.
My ex-colleague took her case all the way up to the JPJ chief, who apologised for the unfortunate incident. But in her case, she has access to the boss because of her job.
I have been following the exchange of opinions on social media and, by now, we are well aware that we are also not very good at articulating or advocating our case well. Many of these views seem racially and religiously prejudiced and, as a result, a sense of reasonableness is lost.
Dress codes are not something unusual. Even casinos, as some have pointed out, have strict dressing codes before anyone can enter. But the question here is how these rules are reasonably enforced in our government departments?
In all fairness, checks by our reporters have shown that most government departments are reasonable and seem to totally ignore even their own dress codes. Their priority is to provide service and the people are served even if the skirt’s hemline is above the knee or they are wearing slippers.
We actually have photographs of inadequately dressed men, including one in a pair of shorts and singlet, rushing into a JPJ office and were properly served.
As with all debate, there are those who argue whether micro mini-skirts and bikinis would be tolerated, which I think is stretching the argument too far. Anyone who wants to dress that way in public, not just in a government facility, will most likely be hauled up.
No sane person would go to any office, private or public, in a bikini, so such arguments are flawed and unreasonable.
The recent cases whereby the women were asked to wear the sarongs are certainly not in this category. Anyone with a fair and objective mind would surely agree that all the ladies were properly and decently dressed.
Then, there have been a number of cases brought to light recently of teachers who want to play moral guardians in schools.
One incident was when a teacher reportedly confiscated the little crucifix that a student was wearing. A police report was subsequently lodged.
But according to the latest report, the cross has since been returned to the student and the father has accepted an apology from the school principal and also withdrawn the report.
It has also been reported that pressure was exerted on the headmaster and school management board of St Mary Labuk in Sandakan to remove the cross from the new school building. But Deputy Education Minister Datuk Mary Yap stepped in and guaranteed that the cross would remain, saying it had been clearly stated that mission schools are allowed to upkeep the ethos and characteristics of these schools.
It seems to be a phenomenon of the past decade. We all know the crucifix has long been removed from classrooms in mission schools, because of an order from the then minister who is now in the opposition.
About the same time, the symbol of the crucifix was also taken out of mission school badges. The Latin mottos fortunately have remained and presumably no one understands what they mean.
Well, Malaysia’s problem, or rather the Little Napoleons’ problem, is that we seem to channel our energy in a very unproductive way. There is a lot of fire-fighting because these people think they can get away with anything, and only when it becomes an issue do they step back.
Teachers should be striving to make our students top in Maths and Science and be competent in the English language. Instead, in these core areas of education, we have continued to deteriorate further.
Our students are no longer gaining entry into Ivy League schools such as Harvard as we used to. Schools used to be able to boast of these achievements but these days, many of them get into the news for all the wrong reasons.
Even if we seem to be generating many students with a string of As in the public examinations, these premier universities are not that easily impressed.
Meanwhile, no one will deny that our government-run hospitals are providing good service to the people. We must commend our doctors and nurses who toil daily for the public, at wages that are far less to what their counterparts in the private hospitals can command.
But the people who run these hospitals must also focus on keeping the standards high, and even raise the bench mark. The least of their concerns should be to worry about how visitors are dressed.
Just like at the JPJ, surely worrying about the dressing of the public is not part of the JPJ mission statement.
Malaysian taxpayers should be treated as customers who deserve the best service. They should not be sent home, denied entry or asked to wear a sarong, simply because someone takes offence to how they dress.
Moderates, stand up
Before and after: Photos posted on Tan’s Facebook page showing her original attire (left) and the sarong she was asked to wear at the JPJ office.
IT is said that ignorance is bliss, but not necessarily so all the time. Most Malaysians must have been amused, rather than upset, over a recent Facebook posting that went viral and eventually caught the attention of a news portal.
It started with an angry customer, going by the name Mista Bob Faishah, posting on the Texas Chicken Malaysia Facebook page that the fast food chain obviously did not take into account religious sensitivities because the franchise’s brand dipping sauce is named “Church”.
“Dear TCM... Please do explain (yo)ur dipping sauce brand at Malaysia Franchises... Most of (yo)ur customers is a Muslim... AND Muslim didn’t not eat for food from ‘church’ brand,” he wrote. He also shared the image of said dipping sauce together with his post, the portal reported.
Soon, an equally outraged Facebook user, Halim Zainal, left a comment saying that Texas Chicken Malaysia should change the name on the packet as a sign of respect to its Muslim customers.
The angry person warned TCM that they would not be able to sustain their business if they were not sensitive to Muslims in the country.
The management of TCM had to patiently explain to the customer that the franchise’s “Church” brand dipping sauce was named after the founder and did not represent the Christian house of worship.
“Please be informed that the brand Texas Chicken was founded in San Antonio, Texas USA by our founder by the name of George W Church Sr — Church being his surname and the name of the brand Church’s Chicken.”
The Facebook post elaborated that the word “church” was not used in a religious context and that some of the dipping sauces were imported from the United States, where the food chain originates.
But it has ended well. The customer has now posted an apologetic comment: “Deepest from my heart that I want to ask apologized for my post (1 June). For that time I only want to inquiry regarding the brands of “church” brand. And after TCM do explain to my inquiry n I accepted that was the co brand from san Antonio, Texas.
“I hope with my apologized here can stop all the negtive things goes more bigger. That what can say I only just want to inquiry regarding that brands only..But for ur info, I stlll enjoy my meal with my favorite winglets from TCM!
“Once again..I’m apologized for my post before that I had removed because I don’t want that all people read n negtive thingking of my inquiries.”
Well, as we can see from the postings, the person’s command of the English language really leaves much to be desired.
That could have been one reason why he did not first check, via Google or other search engines, for information about this food chain and why its products are named as such.
Our English language proficiency, sad to say, has hit rock bottom and many of our Internet users are missing out a lot because they have such a poor command of the universal language.
He only associated the word “church” with religion, without being aware that it can also be the surname of many people. Christian Bale would be really worried if people stop going to watch his movies if such an association is made.
But let us keep this in perspective. We can all accept Mista Bob Faishah for sportingly admitting his mistake. We are sure he has no intention to create a controversy.
But another issue that we need to be concerned about, apart from poor English, is whether we are seeing a rise in religious conservatism where many modern-day practices that everyone in our plural society used to accept as a matter of course – from food to sports and entertainment – are being looked at from a different, and more radical, perspective.
Those who spew hate messages in the name of religion can always find a ready audience in those who are prepared to take what they say without question.
And this applies to all religions where such leaders thrive on those who are blissfully ignorant on the true nature of their faith.
Such an environment makes it easy for these people to create fears among the followers that they are constantly under threat. The bogeymen in flavour today include Christians, Jews, the LGBT community, liberal-minded people, etc.
Fortunately, we are still a country where people of different faiths can co-exist peacefully and in harmony with one another.
Faith is a matter of the heart and whatever the rabble-rousers may want to ferment, few will believe that just seeing the religious symbols of another faith will so easily shake their own beliefs.
Be that as it may, we need to also be on guard against the rise of extremism, especially when it comes quietly in every day situations.
The voices of moderation must be heard, and the silent majority cannot afford to be quiet if they value the kind of society we live in.
Why are so many Malaysians not surprised to read about the middle-aged “aunty” who was asked to wear a sarong before she could be served at a Road Transport Department office? The Rela guard felt her skirt, which was just above her knees, was too short and did not adhere to the dress code.
It may be a small matter to some, but it was good of Suzanna G L Tan to share her experience on Facebook by posting a photograph of herself outside the office, showing her attire for the public to judge.
“I had to go to JPJ personally to sign the transfer form for the car I sold. That in itself is already a pain,” Tan wrote.
“I go dressed like this. Indecent meh?” she asked in reference to her dressing in the photograph.
Tan said while she was at the counter to get a queue number, she was handed a sarong to wear “or they would not entertain me”.
The blame eventually fell on the Rela guard but none of the other officers at the JPJ office bothered to tell off the Rela guard for his over-reaction. They have kept silent over this demeaning exercise.
We used to be able to blame the little Napoleans for incidents like this but with the advent of social media, such actions can always be recorded for the public to judge.
And then we have our Malaysian gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, who has just won a gold medal at the Sea Games, being criticised for not covering up. But to be fair, there were many who came to defend her on Buletin TV3’s Facebook.
Instead of applauding her flawless performance, there seem to be those with perverted minds whose minds are focused elsewhere.
These people thrive on attention and their antics have a way of being magnified way beyond their actual influence.
But here’s the saddest part. Those who speak out for Farah Ann are the usual known personalities and non-governmental organisations while those we wish to hear from – including politicians from both sides of the divide who hold national level posts – are strangely quiet.
But we are glad that the Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who has to protect our athletes, spoke out.
“In gymnastics, Farah wowed the judges and brought home gold. In her deeds only the Almighty judges her. Not you. Leave our athletes alone,” wrote Khairy on his Twitter account.
By Wong Chun Wai on the beat
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group's managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.
On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.
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