For well over half a century, Washington SyCip, a sprightly, nonagenarian professional (who passed away in 2017) was the key to the Philippines. Straight-talking, warm, funny and enormously curious – he read voraciously – “Wash” (as he was called) left a huge, enduring legacy in the region’s fastest-growing economy.
“Our freedom and our rights are fast-disappearing. This wasn’t like the “Occupy” movement back in 2014. Back then, the general public weren’t so convinced. This time, it’s very different. Many people feel they have no choice; that they have to demonstrate in order to preserve our current way of life and our autonomy.”
Whatever you call it: Eid al-Fitr, Hari Raya Aidilfitri or Idul Fitri (or more simply, “Lebaran”), the end of the Ramadan fasting month is a major holiday for both Malaysians and Indonesians. This is unsurprising when you consider that 61% and 87% of our respective populations are Muslim. Both our capital cities – Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta – experience a huge exodus of people as millions head back to their “kampung”, or hometown. Indeed, it’s estimated that some 15 million people leave Jakarta in the weeks leading up to Lebaran – returning a few weeks later, in ever greater numbers.
Tash Aw is a successful, international prize-winning Malaysian novelist. He is also a sophisticated and well-travelled essayist with an intuitive grasp of the zeitgeist and mood of wherever he is. Born in Taipei forty-seven years ago, he has lived and worked across the globe: from Shanghai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Paris to London, where he is currently based. And yet Tash’s writing only really comes alive – literally crackling with verve and shot through with a combination of both poignancy and menace – when he turns his attention to the gritty working-class milieu of his extended family back home in Malaysia.