The Sun (Malaysia)

Going way overboard

> Asia’s obsession with identity cards spreads even to pets and trees


IT’S AMAZING how quickly Asians have picked up the West’s pet-owning habit, although I have to admit that one of my friends uses his cat mostly as a towel. That thought was interrupte­d by a reader who opined that the main difference between East and West was that Asians work in unison as a single organism like a colony of bees, while westerners operate as separate individual­s like cats.

This columnist silently dismissed the offering as This Week’s Wacky and Somewhat Offensive Idea and prepared to move on.

But then, he said: “The ID cards prove it.”

It just so happened that a different reader had been urging me to write about Asian countries’ obsession with identity cards.

In the US, the UK, Australia (spirituall­y in the West) and other western countries, any attempt to introduce ID cards creates rioting in the street.

You could more easily get a law passed introducin­g compulsory human sacrifice of royal family members.

In Asia, it’s the opposite. We are so obsessed with ID cards that almost all Asian countries are introducin­g them with a scary level of enthusiasm.

In Indonesia, the government has just announced that all children, specifical­ly including newborns, are to be issued with ID cards.

The official reason given is that this will enable them to avail themselves “of their constituti­onal rights”.

Indonesia’s constituti­on, which I just looked up, says that each citizen shall have the right to an occupation (which seems to be ignored, judging by the unemployme­nt rate), and each citizen shall have a “duty to take part in the defence of the nation”.

Now, maybe, my family is just really lazy, but even when my father lived in Jakarta, we never made our newborns

work, nor did we even consider teaching them how to handle weapons (in the way that one imagines Americans probably do with their one-day-old babies).

Our only expectatio­ns for the newborns were that they should drink, belch and sleep. No wait, that was the pre-nup agreement I gave my wife about a husband’s duties in marriage.

But as my wife says: husbands, children, basically the same thing, right?

My Indonesian friends admitted to being baffled by the new law, but several murmured grimly about it being “yet another reason” for ordinary people to line up and pay fees to officials.

Lo and behold, the very next day, a reader from Kolkata writes to say that a government office in his area has introduced ID cards for trees.

The Konnagar Municipali­ty has issued cards for 28 varieties of trees, from banyan

to betel-nut. The leader of the project was quoted by the press saying: “Just like your voter ID card, the tree ID card has details like local name of the species, scientific name, geographic­al coordinate­s of its location, photograph, weight and wood density, etc.”

This suggests that human ID cards in that district also record people’s species, weight and density, which is probably a good idea.

At present rates of growth, all sentient beings (and non-sentient ones, such as trees, statues and nationalis­t politician­s) in Asia will have ID cards within a few years.

At least it will be good for a certain cat who can prove that she is not a towel.

Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and comments to


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