Two lessons on power costs 100 ringgit

Friday night 8 plus pm, we made our way to Johor Bahru to wait my girlfriend’s brother to come and pick us up. At the street right beside Citysquare, a street that was teeming with vehicles, we saw some policemen blowing whistles at the incoming traffic and waving the cars onwards, but they didn’t seem to be bothering with the pedestrians.

We found an opening and chiong-ed across the road, just as her bro’s car came along. Immediately the policemen pounced on us at the other side, yelling, “IC, IC, IC!”

The situation was quite bewildering, and we were quite unable to enter the car, so we handed out our Identity Cards, and were sent back across the road.

There, an old Chinese dude in plain clothes herded us to a police car, dripping with sarcasm as he did so. I was quite pissed and said I had no idea what the police were blowing their whistles about. He got even more pissed that I was talking back to him, amd started raising his voice in Mandarin, “你沒有讀書啊?!沒有看到有橋啊?!”

As he wrote our summons, he continued to be caustic, telling us to tell the judge that we couldn’t see the bridges. We wanted to pay the fine on the spot, but he insisted on sending us to court on Monday. After scribbling down two offences, he paused and sneered at us, “asking” us for our opinion, whether we would like one more offense to be added. When we mumbled, “dun need lah”, he gleefully cooked one more up.

I saw that he was cancelling this section on the bottom of the receipt, and I was getting suspicious. So when he demanded me to sign at the bottom of the summons receipt, I asked him what that section was, why he had to cancel it. He refused at first to tell us, then he said cancelling it means we can’t pay on the spot, and if I don’t sign, I’ll be sent into lock-up.

After we were sent on our way two summons richer, her brother told us to use our camera to take pics of people still waltzing across the road, and the police not stopping them. We approached some of the policemen demanding why they didn’t catch those people but caught us. They told us that we were extremely unlucky to have run into the head of traffic at JB, their boss, so there was nothing they could do, and that usually they don’t give a damn. And right after we were caught, this boss had left, so “business” went back to normal.

***

In the car that night, I was struggling with the hatred that arose in my mind for that supposed head of traffic.

We were obviously in the wrong for not using the pedestrian crossing, and we were of course simply unlucky to have fallen foul of a failed attempt at pacifying public opinion of the inefficiency of JB law and order.

But what my mind fought most strongly against was the fact that the man had used threats and fear to cower us into meekness. He had obviously emerged victorious. For five minutes at least, after he drove away, he would feel satisfied that he had caused us inconvenience at having to appear at a court of law on Monday, to say the least, if not also two days of trepidation and suspense at what the statutes of this country holds for us. He was able to do this only because he was in a position of power, as simple as that.

“If we were children of powerful people, the game may have had a different outcome.”

This feeling will be of the same quality that drives people to acquire more power, to protect themselves, to one day enact revenge on all those that had dared to abuse or offend, and to uphold a sense of justice perverted by the ego.

Having come to this conclusion, I suddenly felt greatly relieved, and much of the anger seemed to have lifted.

***

We were in the court of JB, awaiting our turn to walk up to the front to face the Judge, whose name plaque I saw as “Shariffa Muleena binte Syed Hussin”. She was haughtily beautiful, looked barely thirty, and upkept a stern composure to the traffic offenders that brought themselves before her.

Traffic offenders, all who had been hauled up for dangerous or irresponsible operation of motor vehicles, except for two idiots who were present because they jaywalked.

Our turn was eventually delayed, and the legal clerk was flipping through books and papers with a perplexed look on her face, because (1) she was obviously out of her depth having to say everything in English for my sake and (2) she had to find out how to interpret such a minor offence that sends us to a court that only handles maximum fines in the thousands! (Another male legal clerk announced before the first session started that this court does not handle offences that costs hundreds, only those that are in the thousands, so we’d better get our ICs out, and plead for leniency.) During an adjournment, her discussion with a prosecutor that was present led to an exclamation by the older man that (translated:) “how can one person at one time and one place commit three offenses of the same kind??” He was so exasperated that he stormed out of the court into the adjoining room.

And so the circus went on for a while, as the legal clerks and prosecutors gathered together to argue how to present our summons to the judge. It amused at least two other people awaiting their own hearings. An Indian court sergeant, similarly bemused, asked us who was the man that issued the summons. We told him what we knew.

Finally, we were separately called into the adjoining room (not in court session). When it was my turn:

The legal clerk, somewhat embarassed and smiling instead of her usual cool self out there, began the summary proceedings, “Mr Chong, you as a pedestrian are being charged for not using the foot-path bridge… ya…” I nodded.

The judge asked, in crisp, clear English, “You are Singaporean?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t understand Malay?”

“No.”

“Not at all?”

“No.”

“Poor you.” A smirk flickered through her usually icy eyes.

Time slowed as I was first taken aback at these two words, and struggled to understand what she meant by them.

Poor you?

“So do you plead guilty?”

“Yes.”

Poor you.

Poor you.

Poor you.

“What do you have to say in your defense?”

Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you. Poor you.

Poor you.

“I’m a student, so I hope Your Honour would show me some leniency.”

“Are you a part-time or a full-time student?”

“Full-time.”

“Where are you studying?”

“At a university in Singapore.”

“Okay, your sentence will be a hundred ringgit fine.”

Both of us had the same sentence, so we went out to pay the fine. Along the way, I seethed with anger again, at the mysterious meaning of those two words that she uttered. Had she just slighted my entire nation? A thousand possible responses burst into my mind, all too late, but fortunately so, for if I was not able to hold back and blurted out a demand for her to explain what she meant, it would not be just a fine that I would have been given. This was my second lesson on power.

***

Over lunch, we discussed our indignation at what had happened, and our conclusion was: as what Venerable masters would probably have told us, there is no right or wrong, only the right time to say and do the right things for the best results, or the wrong time to say and do what we think are ‘right’ things for a worse result.

Clinging on to our correctness and our viewpoints, however justified they might be, would not always be the most fruitful thing to do, because the circumstances simply do not allow it. If we were clear about the situation, we would take the correct action, even if it meant eating humble pie, and with a clear mind, we would not suffer from an inward sense of wronged-ness, because we were at equanimity with the causes and conditions.

When I related the words of the judge to my girlfriend’s sister, her response was akin to, “WTH?” When I related it to my brother, he immediately said, “Yes, a Malay supremacist.” This should not be construed as a racist remark, for there are also Chinese supremacists, White supremacists, Japanese supremacists, Thai Buddhist supremacists, Mahayanist supremacists, Christian supremacists all just as bad and just as existent. Up front, I saw an example of the elite of Malaysian society, the kris-waving, turnoffwatertap-thumping kind that sees the jewel in their south with an incomprehensible ill will. It is also these moments that reaffirm how glad I am to be born on this side of the causeway. For all my country’s imperfections, this is where the citizen-on-the-street has sufficient protection and stability by the police and the law.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said that his first real lesson in politics was staring into the barrel of a Japanese gun. I cannot agree more, except that mine was at the cost of only RM100 and 20 minutes of my nationalistic pride.

I believe Ajahn Brahm was in a same situation of political powerlessness when he was excommunicated from the Ajahn Chah sangha. I believe in Ajahn, and the Buddhist approach of not over-reacting, but to speak firmly and gently against any false representation.

I never believe that the Buddha would have taught us to be complete political nimcompoops (although I believe that he teaches us to keep our lives free of and above politics). I put my faith in learning to be skillful, to protect and bring benefit to others, in the face of adversity.

***

Verses 3-4 of the Dhammapada:

He abused me,
He struck me,
He overpowered me,
He robbed me.

Those who harbour such thoughts
do not still their hatred.

He abused me,
He struck me,
He overpowered me,
He robbed me.

Those who do not harbour such thoughts
still their hatred.

 

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2 Comments

  1. sotkoon said,

    17 November 2009 at 10:41

    I dont understand why u have to go court..cannot ignore it? they are not that efficient to have ur record on this everytime u passing through custom

  2. kwekings said,

    17 November 2009 at 15:29

    wah lau, dun want to risk it liao lah… haha… sekali i suay and they are efficient this time??


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