Of bahasa and badminton: One night with DAP ‘younglings’ in the Malay heart of Selangor

Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Steven Sim speaks during the ‘Sembang Kopi’ event in Shah Alam May 2, 2019. — Pictures by Yusof Mat Isa
Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Steven Sim speaks during the ‘Sembang Kopi’ event in Shah Alam May 2, 2019. — Pictures by Yusof Mat Isa

SHAH ALAM, May 3 ― Surrounded by toy cars and action figures such as Star Wars hero Padme Amidala, DAP representatives Steven Sim and Shakir Ameer sought to connect with Selangorians in a hipster-geek-inspired cafe here last night.

Sim who is deputy youth and sports minister was continuing the DAP’s drive to shed its “Chinese party” image prevalent among many Malaysians even after forming government last year through the conversation series called Sembang Kopi, which started in Penang.

In the relaxed cafe setting with some 35 coffee sippers of both genders who were mostly Malay urbanites, the conversation inadvertently turned to the use of the national language among DAP leaders.

One attendee wanted to know why elected representatives were not fluent in the national language, even in Parliament sittings.

Speaking in fluent Bahasa Malaysia, Sim acknowledged that the DAP has come under attack over the very same issue, recalling a poster on Facebook circulating when he first became Bukit Mertajam MP in 2013 of 10 partymen including himself with words alleging that they were unable to speak Malay well.

“We don't deny it. Maybe there are leaders, not only from DAP, who are not fluent in the Malay language. Conversational-wise they are OK, but from a bahasa rasmi point of view, there are many,” the second-term MP replied.

The audience at the ‘Sembang Kopi’ event in Shah Alam May 2, 2019.
The audience at the ‘Sembang Kopi’ event in Shah Alam May 2, 2019.

Contrary to popular opinion, Sim said the DAP has many MPs fluent in BM and named his colleagues Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng; the latter’s ministerial aide Tony Pua; Transport Minister Anthony Loke; Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister Yeo Bee Yin; and Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh  among them.

To the 36-year-old, it wasn’t so much standard BM that was a problem. Instead, he said the different Malay slang and loghat or patois used by politicians from different regions nationwide was a challenge to understand, even for him.

He indicated that the DAP has always prioritised the national language, and said the government needs to enable and encourage the wider usage of BM in both scholarly and creative works.

“Then, even non-Malaysians would want to learn Malay, so that they can understand our work,” he said.

When queried by another attendee about sports-related matters, Sim spoke about the opportunity for local badminton players who are not part of the Badminton Association of Malaysia to represent their country in international tournaments.

“It will be just like what's happening in Japan and Denmark, the private clubs,” the deputy youth and sports minister said, highlighting the higher chance for more Malaysian players to represent the country internationally.

DAP Socialist Youth national vice-chief Shakir also cut a dashing figure as he engaged the crowd.

Just like the Jedi “younglings” groomed to protect queen-turned-senator Amidala ― a figurine was on display near where they sat ― Sim and Shakir were part of the DAP future generation of leaders that last night tried to clarify their party principles to a Malay audience.

In Star Wars Jedi lingo, younglings means the younger generation.

The Shah Alam session is the second of the Sembang Kopi series.

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