Who is really to blame when cats and dogs fight in Hong Lim Park

September 29, 2014

The Teochews and Hokkiens don’t get along very well with each other in my kampung. It’s been this way since everyone can remember. As for the ‘beef’ between them. Even less can be recalled. Not even those who have more white hairs than they can count can recount with any measure of accuracy – it’s fair to say, it’s one of those historical artifact that stretches all the way back to the days when the first Chinese settlers came to Malaya.

This is the way politics is conducted in a kampung. The waters usually run long and deep thru the stream of consciousness……

Every year without fail, these two clans would jockey to be the first to stage their traditional pre-harvest makan (dinner gathering) in the only town hall in the village – it’s a delicate matter of face and has to be managed with a deft hand to avoid unnecessary complications.

Since I am of Hakka stock. I am considered a neutral party. So every year I find myself having to sit beneath the shade of a tree to hear the petition of both clans. To resolve the contentious question of who should have the first right to stage their pre harvest dinner – two years ago. I suggested that they take turns. One year it would be the Teochews and the following the year the Hokkiens and so on and so forth. The system worked well…the peace was maintained…the laws of heaven and earth were suitably appeased.

This year, one of the village elder experienced a rare moment of epiphany and suggested – there was no reason why the dinner could not be held concurrently by both clans in the same venue. His argument…on the surface appeared compelling. The venue was amply large enough…. they only needed to hire one caterer and since the expensive cost of the pre-harvest renovation could be shared – the cost savings would be significant – it would be as he mentioned, win-win.

When the dinner was staged. A fight broke out between the two clans. Thereafter both sides insisted they didn’t do anything and the blame game ensued with both sides producing their list of suspected troublemakers who started the fight.

Not long thereafter. I found myself sitting beneath the shade of the tree again. This time having to arbitrate over the impasse to determine who was at fault and who should bear the cost of the damage. This time the three alleged troublemakers were before me….one chap, was the bicycle repair apprentice…he was accused of calling another man’s mother a smelly bear. The third man took it as a clan directed insult. Presuming the insulter had called his clan, descendants of smelly mountain bears. This man took a beer bottle and hit the insulter over the head. Thereafter all hell broke loose.

When my opinion was asked as to whether these three troublemakers should bear the brunt of paying for the damage to the town hall. I merely mentioned cryptically,

‘Whose fault is it when it is agreed that a dog should be put into a small room with a cat. Only for both of them to fight and overturn the oil lamp and set the entire house on fire? Huh…whose fault is it! Does it really matter whether it is the cat or dog who tipped over the oil lamp? Have you all lost your senses – is this what all of you have walked up the hill to ask of me? Are you all trying to insult me by asking me to quibble over meaningless details? Tell me….Do I look like a bloody fool to all of you! Can you all not understand the house is now burnt into a pile of cinder!’

I put my plastic pipe in my mouth. Clenched it hard making a stretched leather sound. Then glared at the clan leaders and their retinues sternly. They bowed their heads. That was when, I saw a momentary reflection of the face of that man on a car window – it reminded me of the crimson warlike angry features of the god of war, Kwan kong…..I shuddered.

I demanded the names of the elders who approved this dinner. They stepped forward. And told the crowd there and then. These men are solely to blame…the rest are innocent – they will bear the cost of damage to property.

That was when I noticed the elder who suggested the great idea holding the pre-harvest dinner concurrently was ostensibly absent from the proceedings. I remembered wondering to myself…….how convenient….how very convenient.


‘What transpired is NEVER as important as the cogent question – was the outcome FORESEEABLE?

Specifically, could it have been avoided?

After all if we can all buy into the common sense school of thought without too much difficulty – it’s never a good idea to store inventories of matches and dynamite in the same confined space. Or to even allow vampires apply to hold positions of power and influence in the national blood bank. Along with discounting people who regularly break out in tongues whenever they are stressed to apply for jobs as air traffic controllers.

Then pray tell. Why even sign off on the bad idea of putting cats and dogs in a confined space? Or two groups of people who have nothing in common with each other and who really can’t bear the sight of the other?

What possible good can come out of this? Can anyone please tell? Because I really can’t see any pluses where I am squatting in the five foot way.

To me. The measure of culpability turns entirely on the decision makers as only they have the requisite knowledge to determine the issue of foreseeability – that is the priori onus that accrues from those who have the power to approve and disapprove an application to use the public square – they owe a duty of care to scale the threat level of any event competently irrespective of who uses this space to advance whatever cause.

In this case, you have decide whether the decision makers who were responsible for managing this space had sufficient information to draw the straight line conclusion that it was reasonable to conclude it would have panned out the way it did….what happened thereafter…who is right or wrong is obiter. To me, the only question on the table….is, was it foreseeable.

That I shall leave to you to answer.’

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