YOU may recall the lament about the troubled lead character in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman: “Attention must be paid.”
The import of it hit me again during a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia last week, and to Malaysia and Singapore shortly before that.
In all these places, there was political and economic reporting to be done about issues deemed significant for all of us.
But in mid-trip, at six o’clock last Monday morning in Saigon, an email informed me that one of my closest friends had cancer.
Shying away from open expressions of emotion, he informed me that except for the effects of the radiation, he was “not feeling poorly, just scared”.
Well, let me not bore you with further details, except to say that the portents are not good.
But attention must be paid. So, despite facing a daunting day of appointments and travel, a reply had to be composed, immediately.
It was inadequate; but we are not islands and it came from the heart, a suddenly heavy and sad heart, at dawn thousands of miles away.
Then it was done and dispatched and the shower and breakfast beckoned before the day’s tribulations.
Inexplicably, however, there was no hot water and as the cold jets poured over me, I shuddered and could not take it and gave up.
Perhaps a subliminal shudder of my own mortality also kicked in, because I became angry – at my hotel, at Saigon, Vietnam, my friend’s cancer, the whole damn thing.
It was one of those WTF moments. And I was scared too, though my travails were pitiful compared to his.
However, they started a train of thought that linked many of the comments I’d heard during my travels about how several regional leaders are also scared at the moment.
In 27 days, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Ernest Milquetoast of Thai politics, will lead his Democrat Party into a general election. If the ides are accurate, he faces defeat.
Last week, someone chucked ice at him. It was shrugged off because it occurred in northern Chiang Mai, still fiercely loyal to former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who, unlike the Democrats, paid attention to the rural masses.
However, when Abhisit was heckled by stall holders at a Bangkok market on Friday, he hurried on quickly, looking very uneasy.
In fact, he is running scared because Bangkok is the Democrats’ base.
If they lose the capital, they lose nationally – and lose big.
Another election looms in Malaysia, where the National Front, led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, is facing turbulence after half a century in power.
In the last election, it lost its two-thirds majority in parliament and the opposition won an unprecedented five state legislatures.
In April’s state election in Sarawak, the Front retained power but lost eight more seats as the minority Chinese swung to the opposition.
Najib was so spooked that he promptly invited the opposition Islamic Party of Malaysia to join the ruling coalition.
However, attention must be paid, and it had not been, so he was rebuffed.
The same happened to Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after his People’s Action Party neglected the needs of plain folk in the housing development board estates.
The PAP took a hit in last month’s election and now they too are running scared and dumping ministers and formerly sacrosanct policies.
As for Vietnam’s PM Nguyen Tan Dung, he is in the scariest mess of all.
His regime has just cut its growth forecast to 6 percent, raised the projected inflation rate to 15 percent, and revealed that foreign direct investment is down 48 percent this year.
All this comes on top of a spiralling trade deficit and repetitive currency devaluations. As I discovered last week, it is grim in Hanoi.
So Dung, Lee, Najib and Abhisit all join my friend in being scared of what lies ahead. It does not look pleasant for them.