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Cut Costs, Not  Ribbons


Back in 2022, I went back to Malaysia to visit my family. It had been two years and a lot of things felt foreign 一 like the humidity, the frowns, and the unsettling glances from the opposite gender. Nevertheless, the joy on my parents’ faces, my Ah Kong (who did not recognise me at first), and the glorious food, made the visit welcoming enough. That night, we went to a nearby mamak so that I could have a first taste of Maggi goreng and roti canai. Classic mamak dishes. Needless to say, they did not disappoint! You will see why food is an important element to this little article.

While digesting and chatting with my parents, the mounted television was tuned to the national channel, showing reruns from the 9 o’clock news. The rerun was about an officiating ceremony somewhere in Semenanjung, showing several people (mostly dressed in beautiful batik clothing) cutting a ribbon together on a grand stage with an LCD screen backdrop, followed by their shaking-hands-while-smiling-at-the-camera protocol. 

The next rerun was another ceremony. 

This time it was a brief celebration in a local town. The clip showed children dancing on stage in front of people in batik clothing. The next few clips were montages of a child, followed by another, and another, receiving each a goody bag from a person-in-batik, while cameras snapped pictures as the two posed in front of the camera. Right before the end of the news segment, a two seconds’ worth of clip showed the ceremony feast, showing about a dozen tables with 10 persons seated around a lazy Susan piled with food. 

Unable to doze off despite the fatigue (probably due to jet lag), I pondered the difference between Malaysian news versus international news outlets. How often do we see banquets, feasts, and ceremonies being reported (or if I may say, celebrated) on national TV? Countless times have I seen a mere officiating ceremony in a rural town being greeted with performances by the young and enjoyed by the ‘visiting people in batiks’. An officiating ceremony for a campaign, awareness month, infrastructure, and heck 一 a simple newly introduced initiative, would often be a fabulous setting. At the least, a grand hall with a stage, maybe a performance from a talent or two, and of course a caterer for the table(s) of food, if not a buffet, to accompany the ceremony. 

Think about it … shouldn’t budgets be put to better use to optimise infrastructures, campaigns or just to improve lives rather than focusing on how to officiate things?

Would the ceremony NOT be official without a celebration?

Would people NOT ATTEND the event if there was (heavens forbid) no ‘makanan free’?

I find it ironic that a ceremony to officiate the handover of money/charity/projects/proposals is sometimes hosted by the receiving party.

A lot of hassle is put into grand-scale events for the benefit of people-in-batik, and for what? To please whom? In the honour of who? The rakyat? Or is this all essentially just for the feast and enjoyment of the people-in-batik?


The planning 

My first ever national-level participation was as a dancer when I was in Standard 4, in my hometown, Kuching. It was for a sports event in an open-air stadium somewhere in Petrajaya. As it was a group performance, we were a group of a few dozen of us Standard 4 girls.  Months before the performance, we were called into the hall and briefed that we were the ‘chosen ones’ to dance for some VIPs in a stadium. 

Chosen ones? For VIPs? In a huge stadium?? Man, as a 10-year-old, I was sold! Imagine the brazen (more like sunburnt) face when I entered class late after morning routines in the sun as I told my classmates that I had just got back from ‘practice’. Weeks prior to D- day, we, the chosen ones, spent hours learning positions, entrance/exit timings, hand and body movements with our coloured plastic pom-poms. We were divided into four groups 一 red, blue, yellow and white. I was in the red group. Soo ugly, I tell you. But what did I tell my parents when they inquired about my-two-shades-darker-than-usual skin tone? “It’s fun, I like dancing with my friends.

D-day finally arrived. We had our hair in ponytails tied with a ribbon that matched the group colour, and stuffed in a school bus. I cannot remember the event clearly, because as soon as I knew it, we got off the bus, stood in a line, ran onto the large field and performed what we trained weeks for, and hopped back onto the bus. I did not see a single VIP, or take a picture (back then, handphones were prohibited), or even had time to process it all. 

Weeks of training, gone in minutes! I didn’t even get to keep those ugly red pom-poms that kept falling apart when I shook them.

Now looking back (as I write this article), I feel exploited haha. Would that VIP even remember the performance that took weeks to perfect? And that’s saying something because, have you tried controlling a group of 10-year-old girls? Could those hours spent in the sun be used to study, or read, or just play with peers in the classroom instead? Would I, if I ever became a parent, ever let my child spend hours in the scorching sun preparing to perform for people who probably were not going to  remember it anyway?

In general, an officiating ceremony would take two months (minimum) to organise. From booking the perfect venue, to hiring and training the talent lineup, to finding caterers, to making adjustments to the sound and audio systems, and to just…MAKING IT HAPPEN. 

All this, just to cut a ribbon or receive a signed cheque on stage. 


The eating

The next point (also my favourite) is food. It has come to my attention that food is the glue that brings us Malaysians together. A get together? Potluck jom. Homesick? We cook this weekend lah. Celebrating a wedding? Nasi minyak mesti ada tau! Company town hall? Ada brunch buffet dekat pantry room, tapau untuk lunch nanti ok? 

In the situation of a hosted event, the cost of food is enormous to feed a hall of a hundred attendees. One might argue that it is tradition to have food when there is an important discussion. I speak as a representative of the Chinese community, where we believe that successful discussions result from a good atmosphere at the dining table. Hence why there should be seafood served during business meetings, because seafood is expensive. Because, if this counterpart is willing to spend hundreds on fish and crabs, surely the project that you are about to sign on for would be profitable enough for him to make up for the delicious costly seafood dishes!

You would notice by now that most officiating events are accompanied by buffets or tables of food for the attendees. It is as if serving food is the textbook answer to event hosting in Malaysia. I would agree if the food was in honour  to celebrate festivities. Of course, because who are we without our food identity? 

But in cases of cutting ribbons, not so much. Imagine if every province has a province-level event, and some (if not each state) has their state-level event, followed by the national-level grand scale event, how much money is being pumped into (and allocated out of state funds) to host such events? On top of that, there are more attendees during the makan-makan session compared to the actual officiating event itself. Money flows like a leaking tap just to feed people who can afford to have their own meals before or after the event. The worst case scenario is that the food at the events is not even finished. Where does it all go? I don’t know specifically, but I would like to think that they are repacked, and then donated to the poor and homeless. 

Was the expenditure for food at ceremonies necessary? 

Nanti orang tak datang kalau tak ada makan leh…

And so what? Shouldn’t the objective of the event be to spread awareness and/or congratulate the deserving parties of the mentioned event? 


The frequency 

Blessed to be in a colourful, deep with history and culture country also means numerous celebrations (and holidays). I am not here to complain about the amount of festivities. Oh, I love how each festival has a different value to offer. However, what SHOULD raise eyebrows is the unequal treatment given to other communities when it comes to holiday extensions/durations…since people-in-batik claim that all Malaysians are equal in tax paying and contributing to the country, no? But, that’s another discussion altogether…

What I want to highlight specifically is the number of ceremonies hosted in Malaysia to celebrate a…something. Tune in on the 9 o’clock news, and you will often find AT LEAST ONE news covering a ceremony, involving a grand stage, or makan-makan, or a ribbon-cutting session with a few dozen photographers. How necessary is this coverage in the national media? 

Why are we celebrating the opening of a new public transport line or hybrid-energy bus? 

Shouldn’t these initiatives/infrastructure be given as part of the responsibility we (the rakyat) grant upon (via election) our rulers and political parties? 

Why does it feel (at least to me) that these facilities are celebrated as if we (the rakyat) have begged for it and it has been finally implemented? 


The whole point of cutting the ribbon is to mark an opening or inauguration of a new facility, building, business or public space. If you were to put a prompt on ChatGPT, “Hey, can you define what ‘cutting ribbons’ mean?”, you would probably get: “A way to ‘celebrate milestones’ and to ‘generate excitement’ for the new venture.” Personally, I do not see the relevance to ‘celebrate’ facilities officiating events when the people have been asking and hoping for these facilities to be implemented. As a taxpayer,  educational scholarships, tarred roads, increased frequency (of at least 3 minutes, especially during peak hours) of public transportation, subsidised transportation fares, awareness programs (and the list goes on) should be part and parcel of the amanah that comes with holding the title of a head of state- to address needs of the people, representing the country’s interests, and manage country crisis … not wait for the annual monsoon season to come and make a statement that, “this was a ‘not-expected’ crisis.” 

So if I were to sum this paragraph, it would be: do not treat yourself (as a citizen)  as though you were in a toxic relationship. You keep giving (pay taxes) but celebrate excessively when the minimum is granted. 


In conclusion, as much as makan-makan is something a great majority of Malaysians look forward to at economic and political events, perhaps, after restudying the relevancy and scale (monetary and effort) of some of those events, they should be kept to a minimum. As much as national media idealises officiating ceremonies which cost (monetary and effort), perhaps, it could have been a short announcement instead. And finally, as much as we seem to be excessively grateful for infrastructure, remember, that came also from the pockets of our parents (or yourself, if you are a working adult) as well. 


So, makan-makan all you want, but let’s keep that as a personal agenda, rather than a national expenditure, shall we?