14 October 2011

Creating cultures for the pocket

The pitch was heartfelt, and the message clear: “I want to make Malaysians aware of their heritage, and I’m doing it for free”.

Peter hopes to educate
fellow Malaysians.
There sat Peter Ho, his heart out on the table as he picked through his spaghetti. He was telling me about his new life’s work, which included writing a cultural booklet on the Keris.

Passed on by one of my silat teachers, Peter called me to get my input on his efforts. A 3-minute phone call was all I needed to dispel whatever notions I had of the selflessness of his intentions.

A 90-minute meeting totally blew me away.

A well-built man, who himself could have been a martial artist (although throughout our conversation, he never volunteered that information), Peter is a man of vision with objectives that spanned the breadth of every Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage policy I’ve ever heard of.

“Although I’m ethnically Chinese, but I consider myself Malaysian first and Chinese second,” he said, answering my unasked question when he first proposed to do the Keris booklet.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the little things in our culture that people take for granted such as the betel nut, the Keris, fireflies, cincalok, Malaysian ants and more. People might have heard of them, but can any Malaysian honestly tell me what they’re about?”

“For example, just the other day, I sat under a tree while eating some rojak and I was surprised that the tree shaded me coolly from the heat. I asked the mamak about the tree, and he said it’s a cherry tree. I remember this tree from my youth, because a lot of stalls would set up under or near one. We see it every day, but how much do we know about it?” he asked with sheer incredulity.

Peter smiled and passed me some samples of the booklet he wants to produce. I asked him if he was doing this full time, to which he replied that he was a one-man graphics designing company and supported himself with various jobs. However, this project was now his life.

The sets were beautifully designed and a slipcase contained two booklets (“subjects” he calls them), effectively making it a full colour, glossy, culture in your pocket shorthand. The Keris subject was paired with Sirih Pinang, while the Kelip-Kelip with the Geragau (strange combination, but being curious about it was a great effect) and the Semut Temenggung with the Periuk Kera.

The Culture, Tradition & Heritage series.
You can't buy it, but you'll have to find it when it's out.
He has produced working mock ups of these three series so far and is actively seeking sponsors to print them and distribute to schools, higher learning institutions, tourist spots and point of sale customers for free. Allow me to repeat that. For free.

“I normally get curious glances from the representatives of the companies I approach. They ask me if I’m asking for a donation,” Peter laughed. “It seems no one can believe that someone like me would do this for the sake of doing it”.

“However, I find that I identify with the little people, and they are the ones who, even without money, go out of the way to help me achieve this goal. I’ve had friendly secretaries who listen to my pitch and tell me the best way to approach their boss. I’ve had security guards guide me on how to send in a proposal to their administration. I don’t feel frustrated in my task, because I get to meet so many beautiful people, the real people of Malaysia.

I asked him, what his future plans are and how many more series he would be doing.

“I believe that we have a rich heritage to explore and be proud of. Every time I think of a subject to write about, I do deep research and I surprise myself with how much I didn’t know about my own country. There will always be something new to uncover. For me, it’s a journey for myself. It will never end”.

If you would like to contact Peter regarding connecting him with potential sponsors, please call him at 012-302 8138.

This writer has also committed to writing a booklet on Silat Melayu and needs a volunteer writer to match with enough material for a Wushu booklet. Please email me at nadzrin@silatmelayu.org if you're interested.


Original Article by Mohd Nadzrin Wahab