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Thursday, March 6, 2008

The better life - for me only?

Malaysiakini reported today that thousands of young Malaysians see no hope in the Elections. In contrast, it is the young Malaysians who are proving to be the new backbone of political parties today, especially the Opposition. Nurul Izzah, Nik Nazmi, Ginie Lim, Hannah Yeoh... they are showing these cynical why-bother youths that being in your 20s matters just as well.
In this second instalment, GetanMP-PJ Utara profiles another young candidate Lau Weng San, who's running for N35 Kampung Tunku in PJ. We ask him 'Why bother?'

“Give me a minute,” says Lau Weng San, upon finishing an errand. “I better go take my medicine. Voice almost gone.”

The past weeks are taking its toll even for the 30-year-old square-shouldered man who's contesting the DUN Kampung Tunku seat. He faces BN's Sheah Kok Fah. If stereotyping was to be taken seriously, Lau Weng San would be bopping his head with friends in a club on any given Saturday. His wallet would be lined with platinum plastic; he'd be dreaming of that sleek car and hedging on stocks which have been rumoured to soar.

Instead, his Chemical Engineering degree – passport to a 'better life' – is tucked away in a folder in his SEA Park home, and Weng San is down in the trenches with the DAP volunteers at No 77. That's what they call the Operations Centre over at Paramount Garden; it sits a stone's throw away from the party's National HQ.

Better Life?
“Sacrifice? Maybe it is. Somehow it doesn't feel that way,” says the man donned in Rocket fatigues, the ubiquitous white shirt. There is no hint of regret nor longing for the plusher life.

“I was working in petrochemicals after I graduated. It's true oil and gas is big, and the petrochemical industry is doing well. But you can't avoid dealing with Petronas when you're in this field. Clearly I would have been a liability to any company if I were to remain active in DAP. So between the two, I chose politics.

“Fairness is too precious.”

Conversations like this affirms that you are listening to a man raised in Confucian values, the moral code among many East-Asian ethnic communities. Loyalty, piety, the Gentleman. And perhaps it comes as no surprise.

Formative Years
Weng San was schooled in one of the nation's best, the Sam Tet School in Ipoh. Started by a Catholic priest in 1934 to arrest illeteracy among the local populace, Sam Tet today boasts of consistently producing some of the best results during the national exams. But studies aside, it was also there when he first became politically aware.

“Just aware, nothing serious. It was more about basic values.

“In varsity, this awareness increased. I was in UM during the Reformasi days. You can't help but be swept by it. It's a matter of degree. I became more active in my second year; kept contact with human rights group, attended meetings and forums on AUKU (College and University College Act). And you realised even within that short period, campus democracy was being eroded. I started writing columns in the Chinese press. More so after graduation.”

It was during that time he came into contact with the DAP and met new friends fighting the same cause of fairness.

“Ronnie Liu was a huge influence. Still is. He brought me to visit people who were oppressed. Kampungs, setinggans, the SOS Damansara campaign. He reinforced that it was never about race. Never about religion.”

Papa and Mama
You broach on another hot Confucian item: Filial piety.

“Yes, it worried my parents. They put me through an education, to get a better life, faster-faster get grandchildren and all that. When I decided to join DAP full-time in 2004, they applied some subtle pressure to not go there. They said 'Go ahead, vote for the opposition all you want. Keep in tune with government abuses. Write about it. But must you join?' They had fears of me getting arrested, beaten up or jailed. It's a very common fear.

“It's true I had my college degree. It was very marketable. And, yes, there was a part where I feel I owe them so much; you know, must return the kindness. But there is a bigger picture. I had to be stubborn in this case. Today they are very supportive.”

Weng San strikes you as pin-sharp focussed. If he ever picks an Anglo name, he should consider Will. Kinda suits the character; driven, cause-internalised, disciplined. There is a meticulous quality to his operations, not necessarily neat, given the hustle-bustle of campaign time.

Take time, for instance. He indicated earlier that he had an hour to spare for the interview after which it's on to a meet-the-people session. His watch beeps at 3pm sharp. Weng San tries to ignore it. He talks a little more, barely a minute or two. His cellphone rings - a field manager is on the line saying: “Oi, time to hit the road.”

“Sorry,” Weng San says. “My general saman me already. These people make sure I keep my word. So at the DUN level I'm sure it will be like this; they will make sure I deliver. People first lah.”

Additional info:
Weng San's blog

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