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My 2009

One useful thing about blogs is that they also serve as a kind of 'digital memory' - like a diary, memories and thoughts are stored for a future time when you can go back and be reminded of what you've been through. How some things you thought were so important at the time have turned out to be insignificant, and others have developed into so much more.

Anyway - here's my retrospective of 2009

Nine posts. As for most of the year, I was reflecting and thinking about blogs - the topic of my PhD. I was ruminating about the importance of comments in The Commentosphere, and Bloggers, transparency, truth and personhood.

Also, as Chinese New Year and the Dancing God of Prosperity! beckoned, I made one of my many failed resolutions 'blog every day' in Decisions, decisions: ethnographic focus.

Sixteen posts for this month, which is probably a record. More thoughts on comments with The 10 types of commenters, musings on How SoPo blogs helped the advertisement industry; a fieldwork experience at Profit Blogging Bootcamp - Meeting for money?; and a cryptic references to events in Perak in Silver transformations.

Apart from helping me to get a cinema premiere ticket in I’m Going Kame Hame Ha with Dragonball Evolution, our dog Gambit appeared in The Star in Canine Car Seat Belt :-) (yes it was just a pose, no we didn't actually strap him in like that).
malaysian dog wearing seatbelt

Eleven posts in March; I tried initiating a map of Recycling Centres in Petaling Jaya, and did a little Tourist in KL post after a friend visited.

But the most important thing for me this month was on March 9 - myBlogS 2009 - Malaysian Blog Survey now open!. I relentlessly promoted and harassed anyone I could about it for a month, including at the Dragonball Evolution Premiere and my Thought Bubble :-)
huai bin sixthseal julian hopkins dragonball premiere

and the eLawyer Conference - Be informed!.

And amongst a few food posts, I admitted to My food fetish - Cili goreng!

Nine posts for this month, which saw quite a few events - I won a PS3 for dressing up as Bob Marley at the Nuffnang Music Bash - Super prize!. Due to that, and the myBlogS survey (myBlogS 2009 - 538 already and only two more days left!), I got some attention from The New Straits Times, who did a full page spread on me, boosting my readership (temporarily) by thousands, thanks to mentions by other bloggers, leading me to remark that Bloggers are not journalists, and blogs are not newspapers

Eight posts this month (note the decline :-|). Thanks to AMBP, I met some Star Trek Camwhores
trekkies in Malaysia
Continue reading "My 2009"

Auschwitz - The Death Camps

August 1990

I spent about three weeks in Poland from August to September 1990. It was a depressing place at times - heavily polluted, and with communist style buildings everywhere. And it has a tragic history too - it was designated as the part of the Lebensraum ('living space') by the Nazis, who intended to empty it out and fill it with German colonists (Wikipedia for more details). An example of this was Zamosc, a beautiful Renaissance-era town, which was emptied out and renamed 'Himmlerstadt' ('Himmler Town') after Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS.

For anyone visiting Poland, a visit to Oswiecim is a must - renamed Auschwitz by the Nazis, it was the location of two of the camps built to kill Jews, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Polish, Russian POWs, dissidents, and anyone the Nazis deemed sub-human or a nuisance. Those who weren't killed immediately, were used as slave labour until they died of malnutrition, disease or injuries.

A visit there is important, to bear witness to this horrific moment of the history of humankind - born out of racism and ethnocentrism.

I took this following picture in 'Auschwitz I', the smaller original camp.
crematorium at Auschwitz I

It shows the trolleys used for putting bodies into the crematorium. Although it felt voyeuristic and somewhat inappropriate, when I saw how it was so obviously made to put bodies in (note the shape and size), I felt that this photo could be a small way to show the truth to anyone who doubted it.

The camp itself was deceptively calm - red brick buildings and leafy trees (though the trees would be more recent).
fence at Auschwitz I

The exhibit that shocked me the most was this

and on top of the hair, I saw a blond plait (maybe this one, not my photo though)

It made me retch. It's one of the most horrible things I've ever seen.

At Auschwitz, they would use every part of the people they murdered - and this included making rough cloth out of the human hair. For that, hair was stocked - when the Russians liberated Auschwitz, they found 7 tons of hair, packed and ready to be shipped out.

A final note: while I was taking the bus to the camp from the train station, I started talking to an old man who spoke some German. I asked him how he knew German, and he said that he had had to learn it at school in Ozwiecim during the war; so I had to ask him - did he know what was happening in the camps? He shrugged and said Yes, everyone knew. How? I asked. He held his nose and said, 'The smell', waving his other hand to demonstrate the smoke wafting over the small town.

It's difficult, almost impossible really, to imagine what happened. But it did. And we should never forget it.

The Golaniad ID

This is one of my most valuable souvenirs - it may not look like much, but for me it's from a time that I will never forget.
Golaniad ID

In April 1989 I flew to India on the Polish Airlines, LOT. When I came back in October, Poland had liberated itself from the Soviet Union and the totalitarian communist dictatorship. The way I noticed this was through the greater choice of drinks in the plane: on the way out the choice had been "Orange or beer?", the diluted concentrate and warm beer being served by a brusque stewardess holding two one-litre bottles in each hand. Coming back, I remember soft drinks, cartons of cheap fruit juice, and more. And a smile.

I arrived at Glasgow University late, and signed up to do English, Sociology and Arabic. Eastern Europeans were ripping the geopolitical landscape of my childhood apart in one momentous shove after another. By Christmas, when we watched TV reports of armed skirmishes in Romania, and the hurried dispatching of Ceau?escu, Europe was transformed beyond all expectations.

Back in Glasgow for a second term, I was unhappy with my courses and chafing to get back on the road; although I loved Glasgow, I felt I was missing out on history. So, I decided to start university again the next year, and go to Eastern Europe - specifically, Romania, which seemed like the most exciting place to be. Elections were scheduled for May 20th, and I decided to be there.

I hitchhiked from Brussels to Vienna - via Luxembourg and Nuremberg, and from there across the border into Hungary. From then on I took the train: at Budapest a man hit me in the face while I was walking in the street - I can't remember why, he must have been drunk and I looked at him the wrong way or something. Or he knew I was a foreigner perhaps. Anyway, it didn't hurt much, and nothing else happened. I was scared for a while though.

I got a train to the town closest to the border with Romania: international train tickets usually cost more, so by getting across the border on foot or something, and taking the train in the new country, I would try to save money. Anyway, that was the theory, but in this case the town was too far away from the border or something, so I had to get an overnight international train anyway. I took the cheapest ticket, but was able to pay the conductor five Deutschmarks and get a first class sleeper cabin for the night. I slept really well that night :-)

In the morning, I was woken by the border guard who wished me 'Welcome' - he was friendly, and that set a pattern for most of my time in Romania. Everywhere, people were welcoming - in the two months that I eventually stayed there, I stayed in a hotel for only about seven nights in total. The rest of the time I stayed with people I met.

So, back to the tatty envelope, with a photocopy of a 'V for victory' hand and my name... When I got to Bucharest, I went straight to what was then being called 'Piata Libertilei' (I think, or 'Libertati'); it was the place where thousands of demonstrators were gathering every day and protesting against the newly elected FSN government, made mostly of Communist apparatchiks who had orchestrated the coup against Ceau?escu. They were called 'Golani' (hooligans) by the government, and so they called this space of protest 'Golaniad'.

Most people came and went. But some slept there in the tents that had sprung up on what must have been a lawn. And when you stayed there, you had to register with the committee in charge, who gave you an 'identity badge' so that you could be marked out from informers, and random others. I was number 269.
Golaniad ID

Proletarians of the world, unite!

I'm starting a new category, to talk about things from my past. I used to travel quite a lot, and although earlier on I was 'too cool' to take photos (because that's what 'tourists' do), I do have some. So I'll try to have a picture and few comments about it.

This is my first one: taken in either Berlin or Warsaw in August 1991. I was with S; we had hitched from Brussels to Berlin, and took the train to Warsaw. The Soviet Union still existed then, though it was in its last throes, and the sleeper wagons that came from the USSR had the coat of arms of the United Socialist Soviet Republics embossed on the side.
USSR coat of arms on a train 1991

During the Cold War, there was a constant diet of warnings of how the Communists/the Russians/the Soviets wanted to take over the world. I was always suspicious of this propaganda, but later learned more about how deeply the Soviet Communist Party managed to infiltrate many organisations in the West.

This symbol, with the hammer and sickle stamped on the globe, was a powerful symbol of the internationalism of the Soviet/Communist ambitions and it was a bit creepy in a caricatural way.
USSR coat of arms on a train 1991

The writing around the edges translates as "Proletarians of the world, unite!" and it's written in all the languages of the USSR I suppose (clearer picture here). It's a slogan from The Communist Manifesto by Marx & Engels.