Malaysians and Shortcuts


In the days when things were less complicated, people were simply defined by the jobs that they did. You know, “Din’s a colonel in the army”, “Bakar’s a chef at a 5-star hotel”, “Bidin is senior manager at a bank” kind of stuff. However, attitudes have changed. Nowadays, things are no longer as black and white as they used to be.

As disposable incomes get bigger – and as the pressure to stay in the game mounts – Malaysians are re-discovering an almost forgotten means of dealing with the daily grind. They are re-discovering the pleasures of having a hobby. Only these days it’s no longer called a hobby. It’s called a lifestyle.

Today the harried surgeon isn’t just a surgeon anymore. Chances are he’d much prefer it if you saw him as a mountain biker. What about the airline pilot whose nerves are frazzled from carrying the responsibility for the safety of over 300 passengers on a daily basis? Probably he now prefers to be seen as a deepwater sports fisherman. And that sales guy who works in the pressure-cooker also known as the insurance industry? Well, these days he’s maybe busy re-inventing himself as a cigar connoisseur and expert.

Ask any of these people if these extra-curricular activities are their hobbies. Go ahead, I dare you! If you do, chances are you’ll earn yourself a well-placed roundhouse kick to the side of your head. These are not hobbies; they are lifestyles!

So, what’s the difference between a hobby and a lifestyle?

From where I’m standing it looks as if it’s got a lot to do with equipment. It’s a simple co-relation, really. The more somebody has got invested in his hobby, the safer it would be to call it a lifestyle. When you’re looking at a mountain bike with a 5-figure price-tag and the shipload of accessories that go with it, calling it a hobby would be tantamount to an insult, wouldn’t it? And is fishing a hobby? Not when you’ve got a 30-foot Sea Leveller to do it in. What about cigars? Not when the guy’s humidor costs twice as much as my car. Nope! These are not hobbies. They are lifestyles!

Zoe invited some of us over recently to sample her cupcakes. In real life, she’s the general manager of a swanky hotel here in Melaka. But these days she much prefers to be seen as a master baker. And she’s got the equipment to prove it!

Apart from thousands of books on baking that line the walls of her beautiful home, she also recently bought a brand new oven. I tried very hard not to bat an eyelid when she told me that she needed to renovate her kitchen so that the thing would fit in there. The cost of the entire exercise could have easily paid for a degree level education at a private university.

So, when she asked me what I thought of her cupcakes, all I could say was, “Zoe, they’re the most distinctive cupcakes anyone can ever hope to enjoy!” I was also very careful to look straight in the eye as I said it – and deliberately left out the part that her cupcakes tasted very much like last week’s badly made kuih bahulu.

Amin, an engineer at an oil refinery, was also at Zoe’s. Looking at him nobody would have thought he was in oil and gas. You’d be forgiven if you mistook him for a National Geographic photographer, at the very least.  He had two cameras slung across his chest. One was a massive rig that had an almost phallic foot-long lens attached to it. The other was sexy, black compact that gleamed as he walked through the door. He also had on him a RM2,000 Billingham camera bag that was bursting at the seams – and the twenty or so pockets of his photographer’s vest were bulging all over the place. To me, it was a small miracle that he could even move under his own steam considering all that weight he was carrying.

As soon as he had a chance to sit next to me, he unhooked the sexy, black compact, handed it to me and asked, “What do you think of this! Nice, eh?”

Sitting in my palm was an 18 megapixel, RM30,000 Leica M Monochrom. It shoots only in black and white but probably produces the best B&Ws you’ll ever see in any one lifetime. I knew this was the closest I’d ever get to a Leica. As the debate whether or not to slip the Leica into my pocket and make a run for it raged in my head, I felt Amin nudging me back into consciousness.

“So what do you think? This will surely help me make better pictures, right?” he asked.

It sounded curiously more like a plea for reassurance than a bona fide question.

“Of course it will, my friend. It’s a Leica, after all!”

I handed him back his camera and struggled to quell the fires of any criminal intent that was left in me.

In a way, I felt quite lucky. I had already learnt the lesson that I suspect Amin was about to learn real soon. And the lesson hadn’t cost me anywhere near RM30,000 (primarily because I don’t have access to RM30,000).

The lesson? Cameras don’t take better pictures. People do!

Looking at Zoe from across the beautifully appointed dinner table, the lesson suddenly repeated itself – albeit in a different context: “Ovens don’t bake better cupcakes. People do”, went that small voice in my head. This, in turn, brought on flashbacks from my days coaching the national mountain bike team: “Expensive bicycles don’t win races. People do!” My head was getting to be a very uncomfortable place to be in.

Ilsa and Victor Laszlo’s plane has left Casablanca for Lisbon – and Rick is left with Captain Renault to ponder the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It’s time to accept that no amount of equipment will turn us into a better anything.  It’s never about the equipment we own – ever.

But as more Malaysians are discovering our passions and trying to redefine ourselves according to our preferred lifestyle choices, it is quite probable that a lot of us are missing the point. To be a better whatever does not depend on equipment we own: never has and never will. Owning a Gibson Goldtop Les Paul, for example, will not make us a better guitarist any more than owning the latest Macbook Whatever will turn us into better writers. Put in this way, the logic is pretty evident, isn’t it?

But the idea that owning the best equipment will somehow help us become better cyclists, photographers, anglers, writers or whatever still appeals to us, doesn’t it? What can I say? We Malaysians believe in and love our shortcuts.

Me? Personally, I don’t believe that I will ever buy a RM30,000 camera – for any reason! . But do try asking me again in about five years’ time when I can draw on my EPF again.

18 thoughts on “Malaysians and Shortcuts

    • Actually, I was taking a potshot at myself when I wrote that Mac quip. At one point, seriously believed that it could turn me in to a writer of some import. After giving it a second thought I said to myself, “Nah! Better use the money to buy lenses!” 🙂

    • I’m sure you can, SPD. A Leica, no matter how good, will not take pictures on its own much less compose it properly. Keep on shooting, boss!

  1. you know what they say about shortcuts… most likely to get you lost. 😉

    on a more pensive note.. since i don’t even have a job, even if i wanted to, i can’t even take the next step of having a lifestyle. then of course there’s all that capital outlay. don’t have an epf payout to anticipate either. *sigh*

    • Hmmm… no job, unable to get employed and lifestyle-less. That makes two of us, ma’am 🙂

      Yes, I do have EFP. But by the time my creditors are done with it, I could probably splash out and spend all the 57 ringgit that’s left on a few packets of Winstons. By that time think 57 ringgit would maybe get me two packets plus some loose change LOL

      • may have to forego the life bit, but it’s probably still possible to cop a bit of style by training yr lens on yourgoodself taking a deep drag on a lighted winston while jangling loose change with the free hand… think james dean [shirtless, optional]! 😉

  2. MatB is back…. and he’ll agree with me that the Mont Blanc doesn’t make his handwriting any more legible, hehehe…

    But I still dream of that phallic telephoto lens lah bro… so when can we go for a photo shoot?

    • I would very dearly love to go on a photo shoot with you, my friend. And yes, a Mont Blanc has never made anybody’s writing more legible. Then again, I am very biased… AGAINST Mont Blanc.

      Somehow, I’ve never acquired a taste for telephotos. Primarily this probably because I’m not savvy enough to work them properly 🙂 Photographically I live in the 15-40mm focal length range.

  3. Boe.. another well-written observation. But I rather see affordable people (and also unaffordable people) buy lifestyle toys than spending the equivalent money on women and wine. Quite a many don’t bat an eyelid for an ego-boosting 5K Dangdut session. With the Leica, you have a body you can caress at any time you shall desire. Anyway, if it doesn’t work out, there always be a queue for the handouts. Write often Boe!

    • How right you are about the partying lifestyle, bro. At this point in my life, that lifestyle seems a bit too fleeting to be anything of substance. A Leica, on the other hand, would be much more permanent… more productive, even.

      But mind you, I’ve seen people like Zainal Hisham, Khairil Faizi and a few others at Facebook’s MRSM S’ban Photography Group produce work that would match any Leica. And all this on compact cameras that cost 1/10th the price of a digital Leica. Amazing!

  4. I do scale model of cars. Well, used to. After reading your post, I’m not sure if this is still consider a hobby when substantial amount of money had spent on it. Where are they now? Shyly hidden in loose boxes covered with spider web at the corner of the wardrobe.

    What really qualifies as lifestyle now are, guilty as charged, photography, and paintball.

    Lucky enough for me, as an advertising creative, I’m able to capture compositions and moments in photos. Minus the technicals. As for paintball, I feel – hope I’m not lying to myself – healthier now. Plus the battle scars.

    Yeah. All these add up are close to 5-figure.

    • Photography and paintball? I’m sure if I tried paintball it would figure pretty big in my life, too.

      Birthie, I’d like to qualify what I wrote a little. Most of the time spending mega-bucks is an indication of a lifestyle… but not always. When something is just a part of our life, its most like likely a hobby (e.g. collecting stamps, tending to the garden, cooking, etc). But when our entire life revolves around a thing or activity, it is most likely a lifestyle. But hey, this will usually require spending mega-bucks 🙂

  5. Lifestyle goes with the times . One may not get as an exciting lifestyle as one must have to pay a lot for it today.

    As an example nowadays, I would need to be kitted out in tight leathers, neck to toe with steel studs at elbows, knees and end-shoulders. The helmet would have built-in radio phones and the bike would have to be a Ducati, Harley or BMW. It’s the RM 30k Leica thing.

    Many years ago, I had only rolled out my Yamaha 750 and rode alone on the old roads to Penang, Kuantan or JB.Overtaking long convoys of lorries at 160kph and outspeeding everything else on the night roads in just in tee-shirt, jeans and sneakers I had got almost continuing adrenaline rushes. I don’t think I would ever get that riding today’s weekends with all the Bro.

    It’s great to have you writing again. A lifestyle many of us just loving to join you.

    • How right you are! These days – maybe because a large number of Malaysians are quite affluent – equipment, apparel and other trappings are mistaken for the lifestyle. In my books, a lifestyle is an attitude – a state-of-mind. It’s about waking up one day and finding that life revolves around a chosen pursuit. Simply having the right equipment and looking the part doesn’t quite cut it.

      Good to hear from you again, sir. And its good to be back

  6. This is a Gen X malady I think.

    Most of us were railroaded into doing things so that we could get jobs that earn good money, or that helps in nation-building, or that helps in getting our siblings a good education.

    In short, most of us Gen X were doing National Service. Now I suppose its just us having the means (time and money) to indulge in what we are really passionate about.

    But, (and its a BIG butt, homes), some of us have lost sight (feelings?) of what those things were – twas so long ago, after all.

    So we take up what’s “fashionable” instead. Thus the 30K Leica syndrome.

    I was serious about photography when I was younger. I ended up with a Canon A1 SLR with 28mm, 50mm and a 70-210mm set plus accessories etc.

    But what really taught me how to compose was a dinky Ricoh. It had a viewfinder that distanced itself a bit from the eye, so u actually saw the view framed by a black border.

    All I needed to learn was to always ask the question “Would I want to buy this picture if it was printed as a poster,” before pressing the button.

    Plus shooting in film helps – you know u can’t undo errors and thus the drive to get it right the first time. Only pros have the luxury of bracketing shots – poor students like me have to hoard shots every outing.

    • I get what you mean, bro. These days the bicycle roof-rack on a car is more a fashion statement than a utility. And a dslr (preferably with an obscenely long lens) is more a fashion accessory than a serious camera. All I can say is that perhaps nowadays Malaysians do have passion – for fashion.

      And what you said about the Ricoh rings sooooo true. A lack of options will always force us to learn to compose properly. And this is a good thing. After all, composition (in my book) is with what makes or breaks the photo.

      And thanks for the tip. From now on I will always ask myself, “Would I want to buy this picture if it was printed as a poster?” Its a great way to help eliminate the fluff.

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