Now we all know that YES2009 is a thinly veiled data-mining operation of massive proportions.
But a few days ago I received a free ticket via their lucky draw, so yay me: free hotel stay! Chen Chow pointed out that I was but part of a fortunate 500 who were selected out of 550,000 people, for a 0.1% success rate. And off I went to YES2009 as a delegate. Gratis, muchos gracias.
And now the best (read: aptest, most truthful, critical, scathing) review so far of the event has been by Zedeck Siew on KLue, and adding to the cacophony of post-YES2009 comments are my rants.
One must wonder, though, why no one has written about all this except Zedeck, especially given the massive media coverage of the event (CNN, IHT [what. really? official partnership = free IHT newspapers in their definition], Media Prima, et al] with the Malaysian journos and dozens of self-proclaimed twitterati in attendance.
But we all know why.
This was how low the New Straits Times stooped:
YES2009 was held in the Putrajaya International Convention Center, which despite its spanking interior design and impressive architecture, was a massive flop.
Wi-fi sucked ass, and was as steadfast as Ibrahim Ali and Jelapang’s Hee Yit Foong. But the clincher was that the designer of the 5,000?-seat auditorium did not find it fitting to place plug points anywhere near the audience, and where plug points were placed, they did not work. Syabas, Malaysia boleh!
If this is an International Convention Center, my college Lecture Hall must surely qualify to be an Interplanetary Convention Center. Okay, bad joke.
What was truly disappointing was not the USD450 ticket price, the non-engagement (only two questions from the floor for Biz Stone, really?), the shoddy logistics, the shitty Hotel Malaya with its nonexistent wake-up call, or the misnomer “Youth Engagement Summit,” as Zedeck points out. Rather it was the patronizing attitude with which the organizers saw fit to treat the “youth” in the summit. This is the biggest irony of it all: that a convention supposed to “inspire” and “empower” youth import and duplicate such “adult” condescension from the outside world.
Right before the summit began I went to relieve myself, as is my habit, trained no less by 11 years of Malaysian education. When I came back, however, a couple of delegates and I were told to “wait outside” because “dia kata apabila pintu dah tutup, tak boleh buka” (instructions are that once the doors are closed they cannot be opened again). Right.
So I asked “Bang, dalam ada tandas tak?” (Are there bathrooms inside [the auditorium]?)
“Ah. Jadi bagaimana?” (How now, brown cow?)
The guy was hesitant, but another person in charge was nicer, smarter, and opened the door for the rest of us to go in.
Such bullshit. Of course I was incensed. As if they were going to tell captains of industry or CEOs that they could not go to pee, because if they did, they would not be allowed in. This was way before the summit started, and when we were allowed in the band had just begun playing their opening song.
This was the attitude with which YES2009 treated its youth delegates throughout the event.
Underlying this condescension was a sickening, parallel system which treated “non-delegates” better. Youth delegates who came for free (all 500 of us) were given blue tags, and everyone else (sponsors, media, paying delegates), who probably outnumbered the youth, had tags of different colours (refer to picture).
In this system, non-delegates sat in front; the youth sat at the back, away from the speakers.
Non-delegates could go pee anytime they wanted; youth delegates would be locked out.
Non-delegates could enter the auditorium from the ground floor; youth delegates, coming from lunch at the cafeteria on the ground floor, had to enter the auditorium after a pointless climb on three or four escalators, and take their seats after descending a few flights of stairs.
During tea breaks non-delegates and youth delegates were served in exclusive areas: no cross-socialization was allowed.
These are small things, yes, but all these small things exactly replicate the inequality in access, status, opportunity, information, and networks that the youth face, vis-a-vis the rich, old, connected, and powerful, in the outside world. That a self-proclaimed equalizer of the playing field (“where opinions, discussions, and experiences can be shared”) can duplicate real-world, systemic, structural barriers is the ultimate irony.
Youth Engagement Summit? More like Non-Engagement Summit. Or Non-Youth Engagement Summit.
Of course there were good things.
Goethe-quoting Geldof was very inspiring.
I had fun, I met amazing people, I stayed in a shitty hotel, and (this is for you, Zedeck) I talked to some very cool Indonesians about rasa sayange and batik and told them how much I liked their Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Corruption Eradication Commission).
All in all, however, it was a very expensive (rumour has it that Sime Darby paid RM5 million? and AirAsia more than that?) summit that did not walk its talk. Really, all I wanted to do was to meet more amazing South East Asians. But there was no time and no structured program through which to do so. Ahmad, fellow Malaysian, shares my longing for more engagement.
And thus, YES2009 is at most but a wasted opportunity: feel-good, inspiring in the vaguest sense possible, and enjoyable for most participants, but utterly and sickeningly hypocritical for me.