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Sit down and be counted

The time has come once again for those living in Malaysia to be recognised and counted. It’s not the impending 15th General Elections but the 2020 population and housing census.

Back in the analogue years, census recruits would go door-to-door to conduct the exercise, if they managed to get their answers before being chased away by the owners’ dogs. Once completed, a small A6 sized bit of card would be stuck somewhere around the door to fade over time.

These days, it’s a lot easier to conduct the census online in the parts of Malaysia that have electricity and an Internet connection that do not require climbing up a tree to connect to.

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To do the e-census, refer to the postcard that has been delivered to your dwelling; which indicated you are one of the chosen ones. Apparently not everyone gets one.

There are step-by-step instructions on how to do it, so there are really no excuses. Just put aside about 45 minutes, put on some lo-fi music to help you concentrate and let the personal sharing begin.

The questions start off simple enough – name, telephone number (which every mall security guard and restaurant owner already has anyway), address. Very straightforward stuff.

A bit of math is required to count how many rooms your dwelling has, not including the bathroom. But before you begin this exercise, you’ll also need to know how far your dwelling is from a paved road.

Now is that the paved road from my condominium lobby to the internal one or the one that leads to the entrance of the condominium or the race track outside my window where the T20s rev their race cars in the wee hours of the night?

Luckily there are objective answers, just like when we were in school. One can make an educated guess but it does marginalise the minorities who lack distance perception. I based my answer on how far the food delivery guy has to walk to me.

For those seeking equality in the family hierarchy or even those sharing the rent, the challenge is in how to answer one’s relationship with the “Head of Household”.

Do the same MCO relationship rules apply where the one allowed out to buy groceries is the designated head or is it the one who commands the majority of confidence of the family members? It’s difficult to identify which party it is. And what if one has a strained relationship? No answer options for that scenario.

I had a problem in section E27 where question 81 wanted to know if I have trouble remembering or concentrating, at which point I had forgotten I had boiled some water for tea to drink as I worked my way through the census.

The same section, despite having earlier established that I was male, asked if I had ever given birth.

Under the health and fitness section, I had to decide if Pilates is considered yoga or other sports. I decided that since one did not have to be vegetarian, think calm thoughts or greet the sun, it was not any type yoga.

But is e-sports really a sport? If it is then why did my parents use to say that sitting in front of the TV all day was unhealthy? I was practically a top-class athlete back then.

After lulling me into a false sense of confidence that I would pass the exam by clicking all the objective answers and yes or no options, it got tricky and personal.

It asked if I had ever been married and, grumpy old guy that I am, I had to say no. But the question carried with it a clarification – it could only be answered by those aged 10 and above. Not the legal age of marriage in Malaysia, but from the age of 10. I was still being athletic and watching cartoons on TV at that age.

It also asked me how many times I had a coffee break a day. Without giving away any indication of my diligence at work, my answer was more than one. But the option went up to 9 a day. But I don’t work in those places where you get sent from one counter to another only to find some are not being manned for some reason.

Then it wanted to know how many times a day I had breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the answer also going up to 9. How much can one eat? It’s no wonder Malaysians are one of the most obese people in the region.

I also had to reveal my social media accounts and it may be a subtle hint of US influence that TikTok was not on the list. WhatsApp is but I consider it a messaging platform rather than a social media account.

The entire exercise is actually less painful than a corporate Zoom meeting. It was over before you know it. A bit of mental juggling required but it helps not to over analyse each question.

And just when you think it’s over, you get a warm fuzzy feeling when the government sends an email expressing its gratitude for your commitment and knowing that your information will contribute towards national planning and development purposes.

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