OTHER than being the name of the eighth month of the year, ‘August’ also means ‘respected’ and ‘impressive’, though you must pronounce “awe-gust” when you want to mean that.
And so when we refer to a state legislative assembly as the ‘august Hall’, we mean that it is venerable, honourable, stately and eminent.
Being a rookie reporter, the Penang Legislative Assembly is all that for me.
I vividly remember the first time I strode into the heritage state assembly building in Lebuh Light in 2018. I was so awed. Here was where state laws were made; here, the state government was queried by elected representatives for its acts and omissions.
Covering the state assembly meeting was a huge assignment for me as it was a gathering of senior journalists and all the ‘big shots’ of the state.
I was so dizzy over the significance of the place that when I left, I forgot to collect my identity card and the guards had to call out to me to take it back.
That 2018 assignment was the first and last time I covered the state assembly meeting at the heritage building.
The building then closed for renovations for two years and thereafter, the pandemic came crashing in.
Knowing that the state spent RM3.6mil to repair the old building, I eagerly awaited the prospect of walking back into the place for the recent meeting.
But it was not to be. To reduce Covid-19 risks, the media was not allowed to be physically present.
The sitting was also cut short from a week to only three days.
Now, if Penang is the land of good food, then it follows that when its elected representatives meet, this has to be reflected.
One of my seniors never fails to wax lyrical about the top-rated food served at the state assembly.
She gave me a long list of the delicacies to watch out for: apom balik, mee sotong, laksa, nasi briyani with chicken, fish sambal, nasi lemak, prawn curry and “incredibly freaking good tea”, to quote my colleague.
So, without being allowed to be there, that means we did not have the privilege of enjoying all that good food. Urgh...
So until the pandemic has been stamped down, we have to be content with covering state assembly meetings online.
And though it feels impersonal, there are some advantages to this virtual reality.
By watching the debate online, I can rewind and listen to speeches more carefully, especially when the state assemblymen speak too fast when they get emotional.
I can leave the formal wear in the closet and be dressed casually as I ‘attend’ the meeting.
For the less well-known and newer assemblymen whose voices we may not recognise immediately, the screen helps a great deal with the insertion of their names and constituencies in the ticker.
Business and community leaders who have the time, can also log in and benefit from hearing for themselves what the state exco members have to say about current issues instead of waiting to read about it from the newspaper.
A kind reminder to all YBs, the cameras may be broadcasting your side of the Hall at any time, especially when you least expect it.
We are all watching you, so please remember to set good examples by making sure that you adhere strictly to the SOP, and don’t get caught napping and becoming the subject of viral screenshots.
However, what is sadly lost in the virtual coverage is the chance to socialise with all the YBs and exco members when they are compelled to congregate.
Humans are social beings. It is when we are together that our exchanges lead to progress, development, inspirations and epiphanies.
Previously, we could corner assemblymen after their speeches for more information but now, we can only text them or their special officers.
Previously, journalists got to talk with assemblymen during break time, which is valuable for building rapport.
My colleagues and I would ‘divide and conquer’, splitting up to hound after specific assemblymen.
Ah, how I miss the days when we got to gather and socialise at the state assembly.
I look forward to the day when we can lead normal lives again but right now, we have to co-exist with Covid-19 and have everyone vaccinated till the disease is nothing more than a bad cold.