MCOBA Official Centenary Webpage Zacknina Galleria: Of Astronauts and Cosmonauts, or, An Open House In Outer Space

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Of Astronauts and Cosmonauts, or, An Open House In Outer Space

Zaim Al-Amin
0828 hours, Wednesday
05th day of Syawal, 1428
17th day of October, 2007
Ampang - Petaling Jaya

Salam & salutations,

Re : Zaim Al-Amin's Transcendentia Column, Rentakini Section, Malaysiakini
Title : Of Astronauts and Cosmonauts, or, An Open House In Outer Space

Last week our Angkasawan held his Hari Raya Open House whilst in orbit. Malaysians watched gleefully as Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor shared Rendang Tok and Satay Ayam with his Russian and American counterparts on board the International Space Station.

I mentioned `counterparts' instead of `fellow Astronauts' because it seems that the Americans have this cosmic problem to recognize him as anything other than a `Space Flight Participant'. After some brouhaha over this, the sporting Russians hastily announced that he is nothing short of a full fledged Cosmonaut. The Americans largely stuck with their earlier definition, but who cares anyway. Whatever anybody chooses to call him, to us proud Malaysians, he is our very own Angkasawan. Which meaning of course equals to Astronaut or Cosmonaut or Taikonaut or whatever nauts you could possibly come up with.

In the first place, why the need for such distinction? After all, Astronaut literally means `Star Sailor'. Or perhaps other variations like Cosmic or Space Traveler. So, being called an Astronaut does not necessarily mean that you have to be the one who pilots the spacecraft; speaking of which that, too, is mostly done by Mission Control. So, unless you really want to make a distinction between a commander and the crew, then an Astronaut is an Astronaut. If you board any aeroplane, you are called an air traveler; not an air flight participant. So there.

True, Capt. Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar is a product of a Who Wants To Be An Astronaut type of `reality programme'; not unlike the Akademi Fantasia kind of thing (save for the absence of SMS votes). Even when it came down to the last two `contestants'; many thought that, all other things being equal; it all boiled down to who looked better wearing the space suit and holding up the Malaysian Flag. And what with all those advertisement opportunities, this full time Doctor and part time Model should win hands down (or even upside down). The important thing is that ultimately, we have identified a Malaysian face, a Malaysian persona who stands tall (dark and handsome) with any other Astronaut.

Instant Astronaut notwithstanding, our Angkasawan has passed the most stringent tests and undergone all the rigorous trainings required by the Russian Space Agency. Plus he managed to perform all the unglamorous microgravity twists and turns whilst all the time looking like a telenovela heart throb. No doubt he already has a wide fans base and after a pompous earthly homecoming will become more popular than all the Akademi Fantasia stars grouped together. Just imagine if it turns out that he can also sing. His name will be etched in the Malaysian Book of Records as the man who holds the greatest number of records (first Malaysian Astronaut, first Malaysian in space, first Malaysian eating in space, first Malaysian reciting Rukunegara in space etc.) With everybody from the Prime Minister down to the ordinary man on the street so wax lyrical about him, it's a shame we can't have him in wax in our equivalent of Madame Tussaud's.

And to think that whilst he is performing all these cosmic wonders; from spinning a top to eating rendang and satay to reciting rukunegara to experimenting on crystallization of protein and cancerous cells; us ordinary Malaysians are stuck here on Mother Earth doing other more mundane Malaysia-Boleh things. If it is of any consolation, we are also actually carrying on and keeping lively the very tradition that he is trying to promote to the world and the universe at large. The oh-so-very-Malaysian Hari Raya Open House.

Beautiful concept, this Open House thing. You prepare food and delicacies, you invite relatives, friends and colleagues to your house. Everybody comes and have a good time. Tomorrow or next week will be somebody else's. And so you solemnly swear that Open House is the way to go. It's the perfect recipe for joy, racial harmony and camaraderie. Yes?

Well, the answer is Yes and No. To a certain extent the Open House tradition do promote harmony and provide the much needed stitch for our society's fabric. But in a way, the modern Open House concept (as opposed to the more traditional one still practised in Malaysian villages), pose a serious threat which, ultimately, might defeat the original spirit and purpose.

In the traditional Open House concept, houses are `open' at any (albeit reasonable) time of the day. Everyone is welcomed, so practically anyone can drop by without any feeling of guilt for being uninvited etc. And this continues for the whole of the Hari Raya month. Whereas in the `modern' Open House concept as practised by urbanites nowadays, a house is declared `open for guests' for a particular day. And that too for a specific period of time (often for not more than six hours). And that, too, only if you get invited.

Hence the irony; by declaring an Open House nowadays, you are in effect suggesting that your house is `closed' for the remaining 29 days. What happens when somebody is not invited (accidentally or on purpose)? Or if somebody gets invited but cannot come because of distance, timing or a clash of dates with his own `open house'? And what happens if somebody cannot afford to hold a full fledged Open House? Wouldn't he have to keep a low profile and just hope that he gets invited to other people's do? In the end, nobody visits any house unless he is invited, lest he'd be seen as a gate crasher. Gradually the spirit of visiting each other at will might just fade away. For better or for worse.

Whilst it's noble to share nice food with people, an Open House is not all about dishes. After all, Hari Raya should be more about meeting people and asking for forgiveness and less about eating. So, it would augur well for everybody if we all stick to the original way of having an Open House.

Unless, of course, if you were a Minister. Or a Rock Star. Or an Angkasawan in orbit...

p/s: Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Maaf Zahir & Batin. Kalau buat Open House, janganlah tak jemput pula...

~ This article is dedicated to my wife Nina Norfaizah and my kids Daniellia Zainisya (12), Hilmi Firdaus (10), Daniellia Zetrisya (8) and Iqmal Firdaus (8) ~

Cheers & best regards,

Zaim Al-Amin
E 28, Fellowship of Kingtho (MCKK Class of 84)
Founder/Chairman, Bargreaves Ballerz (MCOBA Theatre Group)
Editorial Board Member, Berita MCOBA (MCOBA Bulletin)

Zaim Al-Amin, Esq.
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