Today I Met Zairil

“Can you write CM’s speech for Oxford?” he said while on the phone.

I assume he was referring to Lim Guan Eng. Before that, he shook my hand and being well excited I paced back and forth while waiting for him to get off his phone.

“Busy ah?”

“Uh not really. Still got time la”

Today I met Zairil. He’s the Member of Parliament for Bukit Bendera, and he is the Executive Director of the Penang Institute, a state-funded public policy think tank based in Penang. He spoke at a book launch at Rumah Gerakbudaya today, which I will write about tomorrow.

It was really easy talking to him, and it felt like he was not holding anything back – a rare trait in the average person today. We talked about how to write well, his life as a generalist, and how debating Shahrul “Salted Egg” Hamdan was an insult to him. Ham-dan is salted egg in Cantonese, and that’s how I always said it in my head whenever I see his name.

Being a close follower of his blog, I noticed how everything felt structured and clear, as though the reader can be brought through each step of his thinking process to send a complicated point across.

He told me, “Practice makes perfect. I know it sounds cliché.”

“It is damn cliché man.”

“Yeah, but it’s true! You know why or not? When you write, you are forced to outline your thoughts in an orderly manner.”

But that was not the only thing. Having studied information systems engineering, he credited the progress he made in writing and thinking to being an engineering student – specifically logical thinking – which I realised is something I am not exposed to being an Economics and Finance student.

Other than that we talked about his recent debate with UMNO’s Youth Shahrul Hamdan in Malaysian Student Leaders’ Summit organised by UKEC. I had watched the entire debate and we managed share our opinions about it.

“Is he really the rising star of UMNO?” I asked.

“My friends in BN tell me they call him KJ’s blue-eyed boy; people in UMNO love him too.”

“For real? But he was comparing Malaysia’s education to Ghana and Honduras!”

“I know right! I knew that he got a 1st class from LSE, so I was like “Wow I better get prepared”. After hearing some of his arguments, I feel so insulted.”

“He was also totally deflecting the issue of corruption too,” I added.

During the debate, Shahrul mentioned how corruption was a problem everywhere in the world and never tackled the issue of the 1MDB scandal head on. In hindsight, he said what any BN politician would say: “Look where we have come”, “Tak ada ekonomi yang perfect”, “Our GDP is strong”. If you watch plenty of BN politicians talk, they all usually talk about how the government is doing its job, and never addressing the most pressing issues – Ringgit, 1MDB, racism – head on. 

“You know, if I was him I would tackle the issue the head on. The whole crowd would be cheering for you man!” he exclaimed.

“Do you think it is like taboo to talk about the scandal in BN?”

And at this point I forgot how the conversation went on. But the lasting impression is that he’s down to earth la. Like that guy in school you can talk shit with, but always believed strongly in a few important things. For Zairil it was good governance, decentralisation of power, and writing as a way of thinking. Nice to meet you man.

i look like shit because 1) i was nervous, and 2) i went for facial that day so it looks like my face went through seven years of warfare
i look like sad and depressed because 1) i was nervous and i stopped breathing just to smile properly (which failed), and 2) i went for facial that day so it looks like my face went through seven years of warfare
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