Saturday, February 17, 2007

Senjakala, Senjakala, Mari Kita Pulang

I was tending my garden today at around 7 pm when suddenly I have an audio flash back - this tune came haunting me. I think I learned this song while I was in standard 2 in SRJK Lenggong (1971).

Senjakala, senjakala
Hari sudah petang
Malam sudah datang
Siang sudah pergi
Sekarang kita pulang
Esok datang lagi
Senjakala senjakala
Mari kita pulang

Mind the lyric, ok - it has been nearly 36 year. I must have missed a word or two – make it a para or two. Anyone out there who can complete the lyric for me?

Yes, sunset can do this to you. For me, my best memory of sunset is with my aruah Bapak. Coming back from school holiday in 1979, aruah and I used to jog along rubber plantation behind our rented house in Bukit Chandan Kuala Kangsar. (We had moved to KK from Taiping in late 1978). We climbed up some hills and from on top of one of the hills, one could see an amazing view – the golden dome of the Ubudiah Mosque, the golden dome of Istana Iskandariah with its minaret, and the brownish - make that golden too, water of Sungai Perak - flowing lazily, all in the splendour of a golden sunset.
Picture perfect!

So there we were, staring dreamily at the Arabian fairy-tale view basked in the golden hue until it passed us by and was replaced by a reddish tint. It was an out-of-this-world scenery; or at least out of Malaysia. We didn't say anything - just absorbing the view in front of us.

These pictures do not do justice to what we saw basking in the splendour of the golden sunset (Ubudiah mosque with the Sungai Perak on the foreground (Left), while the Iskandariah Palace on the right. I believe both architecture are Moorish. Bapak and I were teleported to the 1001-night era that evening. Oh by the way, they are my two kids and one of my fav niece in front of Iskandariah.

I would love tracing back the path we took and take some photos. I am sure more hills have been cut for yet one more housing development, but I am keeping my fingers’ crossed. Kuala Kangsar and Taiping are pretty much sleeping hollow. May be I will still have my chance!
Anyway, back to the song, there is another song that I remember singing during a scout’s jamboree at the Padang, in front of the school in Lenggong. I think it is a Kedah folk song.

Tunang dia dok pi tang mana
Dok tengok tak dak
Cuba hang tengok
Cuba hang tengok
Depa suruh hang pi tengok di kedai
Tu dia, dia dok mai
Tu dia, dia dok mai
Dok mai, hang kata tak mai
Dok mai, hang kata tak mai

What were us kids, in a remote town near the Perak River and Tasik Chenderoh, just 50 km from the black area of Keroh, near the Thai border, in the early 70s - when the communist insurgencies were still rampant, doing, singing a Kedah folk song? And for that matter, singing about someone else's fiance at that? I don't have the answer, but I know it was fun - the song was catchy and funny.

How about a Siamese song then since we were that close to the border? Sure, we were taught that too!

Sawasdee Te Chan
Rama Po Chan
Tekap Chan

I told you I am an overpaid time traveller!

Originally Posted at Time in a bottle
Friday February 16, 2007 - 07:48pm (MYT)

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

This used to be my playground

How do you motivate the internet-era child to give boarding school a try?

It was so easy then. In the 70s, it was every school children’s dream to go to a boarding school, including yours truly. MCKK was top of the list then for every boy while Tunku Khursiah was every girl’s dream. But you need to get 5As in Penilaian Darjah 5.

During those days, in King Edward VII-1 primary school in Taiping, only one student got 5As (Zakri Mohd Khir, my best friend) to qualify for MCKK and another got 4As (Cheong Gim Leong), and may be another 5 got 3As, including this writer, unlike nowadays may be the whole school could get 5As. So how did mere mortals, like this writer, get into boarding school?

SRJK King Edward VII-1 Taiping where this writer kicked his first rugby ball. I love KE and the oldcolonial school building. It's very grand with the century old raintrees on the side. It's so green and shady unlike MRSM KB which is so barren. Then again, this is Taiping - the wettest town in Malaysia.

When a teacher dropped by in our Std 6 class to announce about MRSM entrance test, the reaction was,” MRSM? What’s that?” But for someone who had announced his intention that he was going to a “sekolah asmara” (and I were relentlessly teased by my sister for that gaffe), that was a dream come true.

We had to sit for the exam at one school, somewhere near Kg Boyan, I think. (Do you remember exactly where, Aya?) The exam started just before zohor – I remember that well because aruah Bapak insisted that we performed the prayer first. To be honest, I was furious with him as I was 15 minutes late for the exam. But no problem, they let me sat for it without any hassle. And in hindsight, aruah Bapak was so right, as always. Yes Sir, I should have known better.
I was told later by him later that I came out 4th in the exam that was sat by students from the whole district of Larut Matang – he has his way to find out, being a government officer at Taiping's District Office. He also told me that two girls were ahead of me – could you be one of them, Aya?

Back then, the motivation to go to a boarding school was great. It was so prestigious to go to one – for the student and the family. You can perhaps count boarding schools with your fingers and year in year out you would hear how well they (the boarding schools) would do in LCE/SRP and MCE/SPM. I am sure aruah Bapak and Mak wanted it as much as I did.

Aruah Bapak and Mak had always emphasized on education for all their kids. They may not be university graduates themselves but aruah Bapak passed his senior ‘Cambridge’ and mum, despite the fact that she didn’t finished her high school, was better educated in English Literature than this writer!

I come from a family of 13. Now that’s one big family even by yesteryears’ standard. But in 1975 (when I was in Std 6), there were only 9 of us. While typically one would think that it was a bit crowded, that was not the case, as I remember it. We stayed in a reasonably-sized government bungalow with big compound - big enough for 5 rambutan trees, 2 mango trees, and 2 durian trees. We can play football and rounders with three rambutan trees and a mango tree forming the four bases. (For some reasons, the compound was within the Aulong Police Station so it was very secured with Police Sentry saluting us whenever we go home, until about 1978 I think when it was demarcated.)

I must also add that we could see the tin dredge from our living room - may be about 500 m away from our house. The tin dredge was a sight-to-behold at night, due to its bright lighting especially against the dark Maxwell Hill with its flickering light at the top as the backdrop.

Tin Dredge – This is not the one in Aulong, unfortunately. It was dismantled and the tin mine is a now housing area

So family or space was not a motivation for me then. I was sharing a room with a brother, and I think I could have studied at home without much problem. The only ‘problem’ could be noise as many of my siblings were small, and I believe we even have a baby sister that year. May be, but definitely it was the prestigious thingy that got me going. (Of course then MRSM was an unknown entity until KB76ers came along! , masuk bakul ni.)

I am sure that facility-wise, MRSM KB had so much more facilities than aruah Bapak or SM King Edward VII could provide. The teachers had been excellent, and the competition provided by my schoolmates were great. In hindsight, I would not have it any other way.

SMJK King Edward VII – my school for 3 weeks while waiting for my date with destiny on the 24th January 1976

I don’t know, what else could be our other motivations then to go to boarding school? May be someone can enlighten me. Li, Shema? Suri perhaps?

Anyway, back to 2007, the situation is so much different. MARA have about 40 MRSM throughout Malaysia, and I am sure the Education Ministry have more boarding schools. It is no longer as prestigious now as it was back then to go to boarding schools.

With his own room, computer, and internet connection 24/7 and his mother, always at his behest, it is difficult to convince Arif that he should give MRSM a try and queue to take his bath and for food and do his own laundry. “What about my piano exam in June?” he asked me. No, he has yet to find out about the laundry. “I’ll go and pick you up from MRSM the day before the practical”, was my reply. “Are you sure there is a piano for me to practice in MRSM?” he retorted. Well I remember us singing along lagu Maktab during assembly with Doris playing the piano (and Kak Rosilawati conducting, as if we were all graduates of Julliard or Berkerly and knew how to interpret her hand waves!) during those days, so there must be one. Wishful thinking on my part, I must admit.

Another potential problem for him is food. For someone who does not eat rice, and would need his daily doses of cheese and pizza, that will be his biggest headache. Especially that Pengkalan Hulu is really far from civilization and civilization in this case is Domino’s or Pizza Hut, from Arif’s perspective.

He will also be missing the opportunity to fly his RC on the weekend. I have told him his brother and I would take over and fly it for him, much to his chagrin!

I really want him to go - to be independent (he is 16 this year, 3 years older than I was when I went to Kota Bharu), and to be able to compete with the really good students. He needs the competition. It is time for him to get out of his cocoon and experience the world.
Of course the teachers are very motivated to get the best out of each student. I know that and I had experienced it. And I know Arif needs that, a lot. He said so. So MRSM would be perfect for him, from this perspective.

He has had some advice from Cikgu Dr Fatanah during the Raya open house recently. I am sure her words would stick to his mind – give MRSM a try.

Cikgu Dr Fatanah with Arif. She is my former Geography teacher, and former Pengetua MRSM Jasin and a recipient of Maal Hijrah award at the national level in 2002. She was seen here discussing Arif's options to him - to go or to not go..

I know I will miss him and so will his brother and mum, but like Sting says, if you love somebody, you must set them free! I hope he is right.

I don’t know much about MRSM in 2007. My view of MRSM was that of my experience in the 70s and it may be distorted by now. I am sure it has changed but I am sure in the quality of education, it has not.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

From Lhokseumawe to Malaysia's Favourite Son

You know, while overseeing Arif assembles his new ARF radio-controlled aircraft, I was also watching another-one-more-anugerah-so-that-everybody-will-at-least-get-one award ceremony on TV3 last night. Not that I care much about it or who won or lose in this far-too-many awards for our tiny-dead-and-boring entertainment industry (hey, our new movies are lousy and our new songs suck, big time!), but a tribute to P Ramlee – with Ramlah Ram and co. singing his song “Inang Baru” which won him the best song in a film at an Asian Film Festival in the 50s, caught my attention when Ogy mentioned his name "Tan Sri P Ramlee".

I brought this up in the NST in 1990 in a letter to the editor, which was published but was of course edited out, so the message was lost. P Ramlee was awarded an AMN in his lifetime and posthumously awarded the title Tan Sri by our Yang Di Pertuan Agong (the current Sultan Perak) in 1990. Yes, I was pleased; he deserves it. But I will ask the same question again 16 years on – why couldn’t the power-that-be confer him the title Tun?

I don’t think I am exaggerating if I were to say that we Malaysians live and breathe on his films, and songs. Where would we be if not for him? My siblings and I cycled to our nenek's house on the other side of Aulong every Friday night, so that we could watch his movies in the 70s - I think I told you we had no TV then. We laugh at his antics in Ali Baba, Labu Labi, and Bujang Lapok, we cry with him in many of his movies. To us, he was Amran, the trishaw man (Penarik Beca), Hassan the orphan (Anakku Sazali) and Kassim Selamat, the saxophone player (Ibu Mertuaku) and we can relate with their characters and predicaments. Our hearts are tinged with sadness whenever we listen to “Dimanakan ku cari ganti” or “Dendang Perantau” and the many hundreds of his songs.

My kids are all hooked on with his movies – three generations apart. Which kid does not, anyway? My North American friends were asking me last week if I could get them the movies on DVD – when I took them to Saloma’s Bistro at Jalan Ampang for dinner.

Now tell me, how many politicians, and businessmen carry the title Tan Sri? Can we said in the same breath that these people - with due respect to them, that they are P Ramlee’s equals (in whatever field that they are/were in)? Or if they have done more that what P Ramlee has done to the common folks of Malaysia? One veteran singer I like has a Tan Sri title. Great, rightly so too, but again, is he anywhere in the league of P Ramlee?

I wonder if Malaysians, young or old, know anything about the other Tan Sris that we have? From Wikipedia, I am told that there can be 325 living Tan Sris and only 25 living Tuns at any one time. (For some reasons, I believe we have more.) 325 living Tan Sris? How many living and dead Tan Sris do we have and tell me how many are up there with P Ramlee in our nation 50-year history?

Don’t get me wrong. Whatever the reasons a Tan Sri is given to anyone, it is not for me to question it - at least not in this blog. (That my friends, deserves another full fledge treatment on its own.) But P Ramlee deserves the highest honour our small nation can give to her most treasured and illustrious son.

We mention his name at every award we organize. Many singer would do a cover version of P Ramlee’s songs at one time or another. Some singers, like Sheila Majid, would even do a full tribute. But I think that’s not good enough.

Yes, he is in the people’s hearts, but as a nation, we need to show that he is above the many politicians and businessmen with Tan Sris that we have. He should be Tun P Ramlee. Period!

By the way, Rita (Rudaini), I do have a moustache. In fact I will do one better – I have a moustache and a goatie!

Monday February 5, 2007 - 05:06pm (SGT) Edit Delete Permanent Link 0 Comments

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Don't get me wrong - I love nucleur energy

I was all eyes when I read the following anecdotes from Gurmit Singh published in the The Sun yesterday.

A cyclist can travel about 5 km on the energy of one egg
A person walking would require three eggs to go the same distance
A loaded bus requires the equivalent of about two dozen eggs for each person it carries for 5 km
A typical car requires the equivalent of seven dozen eggs to carry one person 5 km
Even if you double the fuel efficiency of the car, and double the occupancy, the car would still use the equivalent of 21 eggs to make the trip – more than 20 times a bicycle

I don’t know if that will give you a picture that all of us can visualize and understand. An American friend of mine was telling me how his son was not able to comprehend it if he were to tell him (his son) that it costs him such and such dollars to send him (his son) to the university every year. His son didn't have the feel for the numbers. Then, he started telling him that yearly it cost him one ‘car’ to educate him and the end of each year, he would just take the car and ramp it against a concrete wall and totalled it and then replace it with a new car each year. Now, for a teenager in the US, that is a lingo that they can comprehend. They know the value of a car. (Although it backfired on him when his son asked him to buy him the car instead of going for the degree!)

Hopefully the eggs will do it for us here.

Let me tell you this.

It is not the Malaysian culture to walk or jog or cycle. (“Hahaha, that fat guy is trying lose weight", you would hear them whisper if you were to jog or “That family must be very poor for not having a second car. His wife had to walk to the shop. Pity her for marrying that poor guy.”)
We park our car at the nearest point to the entrance, or elevator. If we could park our cars inside our offices, or home, or shops we were going to, trust me we would. We would go round and round the block to find that nearest parking spot. (if we can't find it, then we double park!) When we visit someone, we would prefer to park our car in front of his gate. If his is not available, his neighbour's gate would be a good alternative! The objectives are two folds: show off our gleaming new car, and walk less.

We don’t climb stairs. We prefer to exercise our index finger by pressing the button so that the little steel box will take us one floor down. Yes, one floor down!

We complain about hot KL is nowadays and how things were much comfortable in the old days. What do you expect when we have created micro-climate in our cars, homes and offices with our airconditioner? Do you expect our environment will get cooler this way? A favourite question in first year chemical engineering exam – Can you cool down your room by using a refrigerator?


That bulge on your stomach or the spare tyre is a sign of prosperity, and proud of it.
But don’t blame ourselves only, the responsibility lies too with the city planners (read: government) to create a conducive environs for all of us.

KL is not meant for walking. You will shorten your life span if you were to do that – pollutions, motorcyclists

And if you think our suburbs are any better, your are sadly mistaken. They are not meant for walking either. In my neighbourhood, you have to start your car to drive your kids to school 400 m away, you drive to the mosque 100 m away and you drive to the shop 900 m away. Prof Tajuddin (the maverick architect from UTM’s School of Architecture), you are so right!
Housing developers will go at length to sell you a house with a porch that can fit in two cars side by side, even if that is the only reason to buy the house. And as if that's the only reason you and I buy houses - for our cars. Nevermind the location, the location or the location of the house - noting the mantra of the properties guru.

There is a reason why they did that. The government wants you to buy more cars so that you pay more taxes. They can't tax you for walking.

I don't think I need to list down what are needed for our suburbs. That has been discussed by many like Dr Tajuddin. Let me end this with another quote that will give us some perspective of the title I had chosen for this piece.

"Dont get me wrong. I love nuclear energy! It's just that I prefer fusion to fission. And it just so happens that there is an enormous fusion reactor safely banked several million miles away from us. It delivers more than we could ever use in just about 8 minutes. And it's wireless!"
William McDonough, Fortune Brainstorm Conference, 2006

Tags: social Edit Tags
Saturday February 3, 2007 - 10:22am (SGT) Edit Delete Permanent Link 0 Comments

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Much Ado about English

Did you read about the study conducted by Monash University which concluded that one third of Asian students graduating from Australian Universities have such poor English skills they should have never been admitted in the first place? It was reported in an English language tabloid yesterday.

I was only 18 years old when I went to Australia for my degree in 1981. Prior to this, I was educated in the Malay medium - where everything, except English, was taught in Malay. (English was of course taught in Kelantanese! ) We were the first batch of kids in the nation to go through a full 11 years of education in Malay in totality, unlike the previous batch lucky enough to have a choice to either go to English or Malay medium school.

Studying for the matriculation in Perth at Leederville Technical College, one had to take English Literature as a subject. Yeah, it was all about Shakespeare and literature review. We had to read and discuss classic Australian novel like The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and My Brother Jack or simply classics like The Outsider by Albert Camus and act on Macbeth with its old English lingo.

I would be the first to admit, no matter how embarrassing it can be, that I had difficulty trying to read and understand those novels, and let alone be able to intelligently discuss and bisect them in class. I remember vividly how one day, the English teacher, Mr Sean, would call upon me to discuss on the indifferent attitude of Meursault in The Outsider. As the clock ticks - minutes seems like hours, the class went into silence as I kept quiet with my head bowed down in shame, not able to say anything intelligent. I couldn’t even tell him, ‘Sorry Mr Sean, but I couldn't understand the storyline at all.” That was the last time he ever asked me of anything. I just hope that Abu and Ime (Rahiman) would not remember that incident.

Well, I survived the matriculation to be able to study engineering at Monash, but I have to admit, barely. It would be too embarrassing to publish what I got for my final - for sure it was less than my age. For sure they didn’t admit me on the basis of my ‘excellence’ in English Literature.

Worst was to come. I simply could not understand a single lecture that I attended. Don’t get me wrong. I was the kind of student who would attend every lecture religiously and not the kaki ponteng type. It was one thing to try to understand the technical aspect of the lecture, it was totally another to decipher the accent of the lecturers. So my studies deteriorated rapidly, so much so I was even called to the Dean’s office and was warned that I would be kicked out if I didn’t improve in the next test. I guess I was on the Dean's Lists, eh?
First term exam didn’t help either. A check at the results board revealed my exact position in the ranking of the first year students (which include our very own best student, Rashid Mohd Nor) in the faculty – second, from the bottom, that is!

What do I do? I was heading nowhere. The subjects were on a totally different level that what we had at SPM and Matriculation level. The only decent thing to do now was to see the Malaysian Consul in Melbourne and seek her permission to pursue my studies in Malaysia where language should not be a problem for me. Next was a phone call to my sister asking her to get University Malaya’s admission forms.

By chance, I met a senior who was in his second year in electrical engineering and explained to him of my intention. Being the nice guy that he is, he took it upon himself to give me extra classes in physics, chemistry, and the engineering subjects and patiently handhold me. With the basic understanding on the subject at hand, going to the lecture hall was no longer a chore. In fact, I was beginning to enjoy momentum transfer and vibration analysis and their G’die-mate accent and no-worries attitude.

Thanks to him (one Dzaharuddin Mansor, now Dr/Prof) and his extra classes, I survived my first year engineering at Monash, which has quite a notorious drop out rate. I'm glad that I was not part of that statistic. My first year results were nothing to shout about but it was more than adequate for me to continue to second year.

I guess that was all that I need. My English was still as bad as ever, but enough to get me around talking and discussing with the lecturers and fellow students. Once I got the hang of it, I guess I breezed through the subsequent years graduating with honours in the minimum time allotted. Furthermore, in engineering, it’s more about the mathematics – the differential equations and the laplace transform. You don’t need to be a Shakespeare to understand them, may be just rocket scientist!

Another factor that helped me improved my language skills was the fact that I was practically the only Malay student in my chemical engineering class. I had no choice but to mix around with my Australian counterparts. My best friends then was an Australian (Neil Horvath) and a Singaporean (Chuan Aik), and they definitely could not speak Malay.

I don’t disagree with the finding by the don. However, you can't blame the universities. I believe it is the responsibility of the feeding school (high school) in Malaysia to ensure that students are proficient in the English language. I think it will take more than just teaching ‘English’ to our children. I think what we are doing now in teaching our science and math in English in junior high school is a step in the right direction for our children. We need to get our children to use the language in every aspect of their life and thinking, nonchalantly. Let’s not worry about the political implications and decide on what is best for the future of our children.

My elder sister, who was fortunate enough to be born a year earlier and hence went through English medium, spent her early childhood reading Enid Blyton (Famous Five, Mallory Towers etc) and of course she graduated to Mills & Boon later on in life while this writer lived on the Malay translation of ‘Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigator’. Jupiter, Pete and Bob became Jalil, Ah Meng and Gopal in Tiga Penyiasat! (Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy Misteri Mumia Berbisik.) I didn’t read Enid Blyton until much later.

Today I find The Outsider by Albert Camus fascinating and makes me ponder about life's absurdity as the young Mersault had experienced in the dusty streets and courthouse of Algiers and I am sure Cikgu Nik felt the same way about the book (I loaned her the book a couple of years ago). My Brother Jack was as engrossing as ever as I kept on visualizing life in interwar Melbourne compared to when I was there in the easy 80s.

While I worry about our children's language skill, which is deteriorating fast, I am aware too that I am not perfect myself. I hope that Cikgu Nik Faridah and Ms Joyce would not cringe if they were to read this – may be no spelling error with the advent of the word processor, but perhaps, God forbids, full of grammatical errors. They may disown me as a former student. Perhaps my predicament with the language may not be representative of all of my classmates who went through the same five years of education in that school in Kota Bharu. Definitely not for one Soraya Merican. She was perhaps exposed to some kind of radiations in the physic lab those days to be so good with the English language.

I wonder though that if one third of Asian graduates of Australian universities have such poor skills in English, what about our undergraduates in the local universities, right now? I would cringe thinking about it - unless of course if they were lucky enough to exposed to same radiation!

Tags: education Edit Tags
Wednesday January 31, 2007 - 09:02am (SGT) Edit Delete Permanent Link

I agree, the standard of english among our young ones are appalling. I went through a number of hair raising ( hair pulling too!!)experience during my banking days. Btw, the only harrowing experience i had in our science lab (as far as i can recall) is when the gas tube to the bunson burner exploded & singed my eyebrows & the hair off my arms...! What a fright!
Wednesday January 31, 2007 - 03:11pm (SGT) Remove Comment

Aha, that explains it then!I guess that must have been at the old lab at the top of the academic building, no?The gas have been left running without igniting, or something like that.
Sunday February 4, 2007 - 03:15pm (SGT) Remove Comment