Thursday, August 28, 2008

Merdeka '09 - The Aziz Ishak I knew


I really do not have the time anymore to blog, and I guess I need to make sure I move all my materials from my 360 blog to this one and I thought it is time I move this entry which I posted in conjunction with the 50th Merdeka Anniversary last year - posted on Aug 27, 2007.

I believe we chemical engineers do owe in many ways to this man and his vision, for without him, there might not be a dynamic industry that we can all prosper in.

The Aziz Ishak I knew

He remains an enigma even to me.

When I first met him I was just a little kid. He had driven all the way from KL to visit us in Lenggong in the days when there was no North-South highway (or may be he dropped by while on the way to KL from Penang, who knows). Of course it helped that he has his chauffeur with him. For us kids in the late 60s/early 70s, with bapak having just an old Morris Minor, we looked at him in awe (especially for having a driver) and the fact that mom told us that he used to be a minister.

I don’t recall much of that encounter, beyond the fact that bapak asked the driver if he would like to have lunch together with us on the main table and the answer was a polite no. Oh, and I remember him complimenting mom's dishes during one lunch with mom cooking gulai tempoyak. Mom's gulai tempoyak is very different from typical tempoyak dishes as it is cooked with coconut milk.

The Hariris on the veranda of Tok Jed's bungalow
in Batu Maung in 1967. There is another shot a few mins
later with the ship moving to the right side of the frame.
Of course before that encounter we had been many times to his house. We had attended his daughter’s wedding at his sea-side bungalow in Batu Maung Penang. It is located on top of a hill and from the veranda, you can see the open sea, with ships passing by in the horizon (batu Maung was at the southern entrance to Penang Port). 
Us kids in our cowboy shirts and the kolam ikan
in Tok Jed's house in Penang
We kids used to enjoy the the kolam ikan inside his house. And when you are tired with the fish pond, you can practically walk down hill from the house and within 5 minutes you would be at the lovely Batu Maung beach. When you are hungry, there are many stalls selling laksa Penang, perhaps for a few cents.

Laksa after a dip in the sea at Batu Maung. It is must have
been to hot (as in temperature) for Mak, while the three of us
enjoying our meals.
The wedding that we were attending at his house.
Yes, I do remember the details, as they were quite well documented by a series of photos taken by bapak and the subsequent holiday the family took in Penang that year. Unfortunately, the pictures were stolen from our family home in Taiping. (Fortunately the thief had returned some of the pics, and hence I am able to update this entry in Aug 2011.)

That was perhaps in 1967, a couple of years after he was incarcerated under ISA (arrested during the month of Ramadhan 1965, released more than a year later in 1966). He was under house restriction until 1971.

Fast forward to 1986. I had just returned from Melbourne and armed with an engineering degree and still looking for a job, my sister and I paid him a visit at his house in Taman TAR in Ampang Jaya. We had our small chat with him and his wife Tok Chah over some tit-bits.

“So, you just came back from Australia? Which university did you go to?” he asked me.

“Monash,” I replied proudly. He didn't bat an eye lid. “What’s your degree in?” he asked back.

“Chemical Engineering, Tok Jed,” I replied, hoping to impress him with big technological words.

“Oh really?” he sounded very surprised. Now I got his attention.

All of the sudden, he stood up, and left the table. We were puzzled, but continued our conversation with Tok Chah.

He came down a minute later with a book. While browsing the book looking for the right page, he said something that will always etch in my mind.

“Tok is the first one to advocate University Malaya to set up a chemical engineering department, and now I am proud to have a ‘grandson’ who is a qualified chemical engineer!” he announced.

He showed me the content in the book to emphasize on his point.

I was of course overwhelmed by the fact that, after his many years of fighting to improve the education level of the Malayan to take over all aspect of the British administration, and getting sack for it, I have been a fruit of, no matter how small, his struggle for the nation. Sure, since his time, Chem E department had been set up at UM, and I guess many graduates would have walked passed the door by the time I graduated from Monash in 1985.

He was the nation’s first agriculture minister under the Tunku cabinet of 1955. He loved it so much that he rejected a move to the Health Ministry. He knew he can contribute a lot in this low-key but critical portfolio – unlike many today who would think that the agriculture ministry spells the death to their political ambition, when many of the Malays were peasants and farmers. He wanted Malayans to take over running the fertilizer plant, which was so crucial to the nation economy.

He autographed the book for my sister and I, and gave us a copy that night. I of course had read the book inside out and knew what he went through in his struggle for the betterment of this country. (However, I have lost that copy, which according to the The Star is still banned in this country.)

While we celebrate the nation’s 50th birthday with many singing praises of our political forefathers - the Onns and the Tunkus, and very little of our warriors who literally sacrificed their lives, there are many whose names were not even mentioned in the mainstream publications, and their contributions are certainly no less than many we had been singing praise of.

Aziz Ishak, or better known as Tok Jed (pronounced as Jade) to us, is one of them. He was just too far ahead than many of his contemporaries. While I was too young then to really know what he went through, I am glad that he had left us a memoir for us to live by. A memoir of a true patriot and nationalist, who was in the game not to plunder the wealth of the nation for his own family, but to fight for the betterment of the people. He declined all state and federal awards, and would not even use the title "haji".

He died in June 1999, and I am glad I was around to pay him my last respect.

Alfatihah for Tok Jed.


The book is titled Special Guest – The Detention in Malaysia of an Ex-Cabinet Minister by Aziz Ishak. In his book he describes in detail the irreconcilable differences with the Tunku and the events that led to his resignation, subsequent detention and release. According to a recent article on him in the The Star, the book was banned and only allowed restricted access in university libraries.

I am taking excerpt of it on his suggestion for the setting up a chemical engineering department at UM, on page 40.


In early 1962, I wrote a letter to Tunku Abdul Rahman, as the new chancellor of the University of Malaya, after a discussion with him on the need to place greater emphasis on technical education not only at Trade and Technical School level, but at Polytechnics and University level
What I had in mind, of course, were the technicians to service the industries, such as the fertilizer plant, the paper mills and those in the private sector.

I recalled in the letter that no newly independent country could progress satisfactorily unless and until its national had attained a certain degree of technological and scientific competence. I pointed out that there was a conspicuous absence of a Department of Industrial and Chemical Engineering at the University of Malaya. The continued denial of training facilities in these fields meant that the country had to import high level technician for our growing industries, which for many years to come, would be at the mercy of foreign technologists. I further recalled in the letter that I had met Sir Alexander Oppenheim, the vice chancellor of the UM earlier and emphasized that very same point.

In the letter I then stressed the fact that it was not the policy of the metropolitan powers to introduce such subjects for the simple reasons that the former colonies and emerging countries were meant to be suppliers of raw materials and therefore not to take part in the industrial development. In this case, I quoted cases of universities in India, Ceylon, Singapore and those in African territories, but in contrast to the universities of white commonwealth, courses in chemistry were provided.

To stress in my point further the reason for this was because the UM had its development controlled by expatriate officers, so that our country would continue to be merely supplier of raw materials. My letter to the Tunku closed with the suggestion that “since we are already behind time and our industrial programe has gone forward without the necessary bases in the form of university courses in industrial chemistry and chemical engineering, the following line of actions need to be taken:

o As many Colombo Plan scholarship in Industrial Chemistry, Chemical Technology to be asked from friendly countries. Training should be requested US, France, Germany, Italy and Belgium

o That the University to be asked without delay to look into the possibility of starting courses in Industrial Chemistry, Chemical Technology and Chemical Engineering at an early date

o That steps be taken to set up a Polytechnic to provide courses not now available at the Technical Colleges.

The Tunku however merely passed on my letter to the Vice Chancellor, whose reply sounded to me very much like an apology for things not done than a full realization of the urgency of the matter. It contained no indication of positive action to correct the deficiency. My comment on Sir Alexander’s letter was also sent to the Tunku.

So far I know, not even today (1976) has a full department of Chemical Technology and Chemical Engineering been established.

End of quote

I got this from a website which I believe reinforced Tok Jed’s story.

From RPK

Cancer Man also told me that Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman sacked the late Agriculture Minister, Aziz Ishak, because he had wanted the government to take away the monopoly on fertilizers held by a big British multi-national corporation. Aziz Ishak asked why the country should allow foreigners to control a commodity produced in the country that is essential to the farmers, who were mainly Malays. He was sacked and discredited.

Aziz Ishak died last year. The younger generation was not told of his noble intentions until the day he died. There was not even a footnote anywhere to register his contribution towards the well being of the downtrodden Malays.

Yes! The truth is out there, but can you ever find it? The X-Files do exist in any country, including ours.Yes! The truth is out there, but can you ever find it? The X-Files do exist in any country, including ours.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bapak, Ini Tanah Kita


We have sold the only piece of land that you bought for us. I remember in many of the letters that you wrote to me (yes, typically in an aerogram), when I was still studying at Monash; you were saying how that piece of land was fit for an accountant or an engineer; that it was not for you. I know you wish that one day we would build a house there.

That was your dream.

But we didn't fulfill that dream of yours. We just could not. Not when many of us have instead made KL our home. The house that you built - the only house that you ever bought; the house that you only managed to stay in for only a week before you were called to meet with Him, it is still there, and will continue to house the family.

But Bapak, your sweat and tears that went into buying that piece of land would not go to waste. I have made it my mission to have it replaced on the very day the land was sold. Now my task is completed, so to speak. I have replaced that piece of land with another. This is your land; this is your legacy. The crystal-clear stream that passed by, the cooling and fresh air, and the mist surrounding the hills; these are yours. You may not be able to physically enjoy you, but I know your sons and daughters, and grandsons and grand-daughters and Mak would one day enjoy it.

A wooden kampung house, with veranda to enjoy the view of a piece of land that was built by our own sweat and tears - I know you would enjoy that. I know you love wooden house - I will try to make that a reality. I hope I would live long enough to make this dream comes true.

And all the fruits that we would enjoy on the veranda.

Bapak, this one is for you; and I do hope Mak would be able to enjoy them.

Bapak, Ini Tanah Kita. This would be our Greenfields.

Bapak (Sudirman)

Bapak lihat ladang kita
terbentang luas subur dan menghijau
tanah yang merdeka

Bapak, ini rumah kita
pusaka peninggalan untuk melindung keluarga yang merdeka

Bapak, yang hendak ku kata
Pengorbanan mu memberikan kami kelahiran yang merdeka

Terima kasihku

Sunday, August 10, 2008

One Year On - A National Tragedy Revisited


So it is
nearly a year now (20th Aug 2007) that little Nurin was abducted at a pasar malam in Wangsa Maju. I didn't realise that it has been that long. Thank you to the The Star for rekindling the story. I thought with that sad anniversary, I would like to rekindle my anger and my consciousness when I wrote the piece below and posted at my then blog at

So I guess this is one of the thousand of cases that may not see the daylight in a court of law. Irrespective of the promises by our top guns in the police force, albeit being empty promises, nothing has happened.

I don't know whether to laugh or or cry to read the article in the The Star today on the policeman who went to Jazimin's house asking if he knew the missing girl (Nurin) with little inkling that he was asking the father of the missing girl. Of course his excuse was that he was new, but then again, didn't he read the newspaper or watch the tele? Is he pathethic or what?

anything changed from a year ago? Of course since then we have had Ninie and many more!

A National Tragedy (posted 21 Sepetember 2007)

I had never thought I would shed a tears for a stranger.

I was driving back to the office on Thursday after spending two hours at LHDN Wangsa Maju when the news break at the Klasik Nasional informed listeners about the matching DNA of the body of the young girl in a sport bag with that of Nurin. I was overwhelmed by the news that all of the sudden, I had tears in my eyes. I had seen the mugshot of the murdered girl, no doubt with bruises and cuts all over her face, she didn't exactly look like her. But I thought she looks as sweet as Nurin, even in death.

Reading three newspapers today, I could not help but shed more tears. I can't claim that I can imagine the agony of her parents. I can understand why they didn't accept it in the first place, but I can't imagine how they could have missed identifying her body. Then again, we didnt know what she had undergone through that caused major changes to her body and face that even her parents could not recognize her.

I don't think any Malaysian had not been touched by her disappearance and muder. I had never seen an imam in tears while leading the jenazah prayer!

But beyond being sad, I am also very upset and I am angry.

I had written in an earlier entry about the depressed social climate in the country. This is one of them, in the long list of crimes (solved or unsolved) perpetrated in this country. I blame it on the society for what had happened to Nurin - that include people like ME. (I know I am part of society and share some of the blame.) We had been too materialistic and too money minded that we care less about moral decay of our society. All we do care is how we can make more money for ourselves. It has made us indifferent and apathethic.

I blame it on the government for cultivating that materialistic culture. Politicians plunder the wealth of the nations for their own pockets - billions of ringgit, that everybody now believes each one of us has the same right and should plunder wealth of the nation in our small way.

We reap what we sow.

I blame it on the police. They had been too busy chasing innocent people who went to listen to ceramah. They were busy shooting real bullets at the people of Terengganu. They were busy chasing pigs, but were instead chased out of the pig farms and they retreated with tails between their legs. They were busy blowing up people to pieces with C4. They were busy hiding behind bushes trying to catch smalltime traffic offenders. They are busy plundering the wealth of the nation, following their political masters' lead (remember the two senior police officers' wealth at RM27 million and RM9 million respectively?).

The IGP had the cheek today to blame it on the parents of Nurin for her death, and would consider charging them with negligence. Shame on him. I think he has a vendetta against the father for refusing to accept the DNA test and blaming the police for not informing him directly about the results of the DNA test, which he got from the media, or at least that's how I perceived it. I don't disagree with her father on this part. Typical of our bureucracy and the non-confidentiality nature of our government wheel, where everybody would know about it but you. If it involves you, you would be the last to know, and you might as well read about it in the next day's newspapers.

I blame it on the police that Malaysia has become so unsafe that my kid can't walk to the pasar malam or pasar ramadhan alone. We used to walk alone to every where in the 70s and 80s without any care in the world. We used to cycle back at midnight when we were in primary school every Friday night (malam sabtu) after watching PRamlee's movie at our grandma's house at the other end of Aulong. Are you going charge my parents for being negligent too, Musa Hassan?

To even suggest it is blasphemous of him. Nurin's parents are an easy and soft target for Musa Hassan, but the elusive and brutal murderer is not. Why don't you pick up someone your stature, Musa? Like the murderer.

The situation had degenerated into a farce ever since the police decided that their existence is not to protect the general public but their political masters. I should know. Eight years and two days ago (19 Sept 1999), Malaysians were shot with tear gas and whacked with batons - in the compound of the national mosque. The reason for the gathering? Solat Hajat. All we had then was a camera to record the event and a hp to call someone should anything happened to us, and our ketayap (skullcap) for prayers. Of course the police and newspapers claimed that we had molotov cocktails and all kinds of weapons.

I remember the solat hajat and later on the berzanji led by Dr Badrul Amin (his voice was so calm, so soothing like always), that day, after many of us had the unfortunate experience of being in contact with the tear gas in the mosque. Trust me, you don't want to be contact with tear gas. I was in the mosque when a windshift brought a cloud of tear gas into the mosque and I was gasping for air and momentarily blinded when it happened on 19 Sept 1999. The police in a show of might at Masjid Negara - they even use the heli on us. In the 4th pic (below) the police starting to shoot tear gas at the public. I am sure criminals would be intimidated if the police were to go all out at them, the way these police went for went for it in the pic sequence - loads of police trucks full of rottweillers, ready to pound on you if they were to be unleashed.

There were many SBs around too trying to befriend us and get into conversation with us. We were smarter than them in many respect than to do that.

Flag burning? What flag burning? We were flying the flag in 1999.

C'mon Musa Hassan, be a professional (then again, what can we expect from cop whose main achievement (if it can be categorized as such) is being the infamous pengusung tilam!). You should be stripped of your post as the top cop of the nation. After 31 days, not a single suspect has been picked. Musa Hassan and his band of merry men are still clueless!

Police should be chasing the crooks and the criminals and not those who attended ceramah. Put your resources on ensuring the safety of Malaysian public and not the political survival of your political masters.How many more child had to die before our police awakens? How many unsolved murder cases involving schoolchildren do we have? How about Nurulhuda in Johor, the litle Siti Syazwani in Sg Petani, how about Audrey, the Indian schoolgirl in KL? (The Star says 17, the Strait Times Singapore says 130.) How many more of our ladies had to die from many more kes ragut? How many more ex-IGP homes had to be burgled before they would act?

Malaysia is fast becoming an anarchy state where even public enforcement officers were threatened (JPJ/DOE etc) and nothing much the police could do. They can't even solve the MatRempits' problem, and in a few cases were bashed by the MatRempits themselves. I remember the case of rioting by illegal Indonesian immigrants where the police retreated for fear of being bashed by the Indons many years ago.

These people were the 'criminals' that the police at the above pics were targetting their tear gas, the acidic water cannon, their batons, and rottweillers. The Malays are an easy target for the Malaysian police ironically. Typical jagoan kampung! (All of these pics were taken by yours truly. )The police need to do their job professionally, like those in Bukit Kepong more than 50 years ago. Police should be concentrating on their core business, and their core business is maintaining the public security. Only then we can bring back the peace and security to our backyards.


thought there had been just a tad too many people commenting on Nurin's case in blogs - not to mention in the mainstream newspaper. Ministers, Prime Minister, and even prime minister's wife (who told us Malaysians to love our children since anything can happen to them. Huh? What an intelligent remark by a prime minister's wife. As if Nurin's parents didn't love her. But she is right about her 'anything can happen' statement. She should know - her husband is the Minister of Internal Security!

the sight of Musa Hassan threatening sanction against her parents was the last straw for me. I have to have my say too - hence this piece.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Apple, Oranges and Durians


I have a new toy and I am blogging for the first time using it.

I never thought of having one - not in my lifetime anyway. For one it was too expensive for me, and of course the scarcity of software in my related field would not encourage people like me to convert from DOS in the ancient days or Windows in modern era, despite it being the most advance operating system then (and even now, I guess, though it is debatable).

I guess we can't resist giving our monies away to one Mr Bill Gates.

But I decided that I want to give a try after seeing a European colleague using one. It comes with dual operating system; Windows XP or Vista and of course a Mac OS. Honestly I thought it is cool; the design is cool and Mac OS is fast.

Then again, today is only on my second day and would blog more once I get the hang of it.

I would like to, one day, use a Malaysian computer with the name of Durian! Would it be a best seller like the Apple?

And to commemorate our tropical fruits, especially the King, I would like to re-post my entry from a year ago (July 14, 2007) in this blog. This year I had for the first time in years - if not decade, bought 3 fruits for RM10, and I have to admit that it was well worth my RM10.

And you know that it is durian season when you have sore-throat and cough! And of course the Durian song by Mr Os.

Oh kome, deghoyan udah luruh

Aaaah, the fruit with the smell from hell, and the taste from heaven...

So...the durian season is here again, eh? Stalls are sprouting out everywhere in KL like 'cendawan lepas hujan'. Good la. I love the durian but for the fact that my two kids hate the smell [1], I have not bought any for the past decade or so. As far as the durians are concerned, the car and the house are off limit. We are never to transport them in it, or bring one home!
Of course like many true blue Malay guys, having a durian orchard for my retirement years is something that is always on my mind. It is in the Malay guys' psyche I guess. Tranquility while waiting for the heavenly durian to fall! [2]

Many years ago, I was that close to buying a piece of land in Batu Kurau for that purpose. It didn't work out. I should have. Every durian season I am reminded of that African proverb that says "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago." [3]

Of course Batu Kurau and Bukit Gantang - make that Taiping, are well known for quality durians. I believe they hold the Pesta Durian Bukit Gantang every year - we may just missed it this year (1 July?). They are all coveted by the durian connoisseurs from all over.

I love having pulut with kuah durian (sticky or glutinous rice with durian gravy) for tea. Someone just told me of another version of this. Hers is pulut with (slightly) 'salty-ish raw santan and (raw) durian' all meshed up to make a thick gravy - uncooked mind you. The durian would still have it textures, unlike its thinner cooked durian gravy counterpart. Hmm... yummy..sounds "durilicious" to me. High cholesterol though, I was warned. We only live once, I retorted.

How about gulai tempoyak, and of course the tempoyak (fermented durian) itself? Perakians are supposed to love all these dishes. Dodol (durian). Lempuk. Wajik (durian). Bubur kacang durian. I can even find durian ice cream in Houston. In Jakarta, durian drink too.

I used to drive one car full of Mat Sallehs from Kuantan airport to Kerteh. We dropped by at Kijal, which is noted for its durian in Terengganu for their first initiation of the king of fruits. One guy luvs it, the others can't handle them at all. "Taste like a cement paste," one Japanese friend Oiwa-san would tell me. I doubt it that he has tasted cement paste before. I think he was saying that based on his sight and touch senses - the texture is much like a paste. He is better off not liking it though - a single (frozen) durian fruit would cost something like 10K yen in his home town Tokuyama.

I dislike Thai, no dislike is too mild. Actually I hate Thai durians. They are not durians at all with little smell and production-like sizes (I think them as mutant in term of their sheer size). Many Thai types would give a bitter after-taste compared to our mostly sweet after-taste. It is more fun with kampung durians. One can never know what to expect - it is like opening a treasure chest. Taste from one tree will differ from another, and since typically it may be of many different sizes, one can have the best of many worlds in term of taste. Give me kampung durians anytime, or give me no durian at all!

Hey, anyone remember this funny song from Mr Os? It is a catchy song in the Perak dialect released circa 1986. I thot it was very well written. I luv the part in that you have many relatives during the durian season (who would disappear as soon as the last durian falls)! Yeeah, and when it come to menebas, batang hidung pun tak nampak!....hahahaha..Os Os...sebijik deme bagi..

Click here to listen.

Oh kome durian dah berbunga
Moh kite minang anak dara
Anak dara anak dara Bota
Teman jumpa di padang tenggala

Oh kome deghoyan udah luruh
Lebih baik cepat pegi suluh
Lambat sikit kome dapat habuk
Kalau tido jawabnya tinggai pokok

Duit deghoyan yang tua nak ke Mekah
Yang muda gatai nak menikah
Musim degohyan ramai sedara mara
Bila menebas seeko tak nampak muka


[1]. I remember that Arif would scream and cry whenever he came into smelling distant of the durians. "Busuk, busuk," he would cry. He would get upset if his mom would touch the durian flesh - he knew that's the very hand that would prepare him his meal. Akmal is less adverse to the durians tho he does not like them either.

[2]. I wonder why we didn't produce a great scientist who would come up with the theory of gravity while waiting for the king of fruits to fall. Then it occured to me that we might have, had he not been killed by the falling durian while sleeping under the durian tree. So that was the end of Isa Nasution (a North Sumatran) and it was then left to an Englishman named (Sir) Isaac Newton and his falling apple! Ah well...

[3]. There is a second part to the African proverb. "The second best time is today!" Now, while we can lament on the what-ifs of life, and the durian trees that we all wished we had planted a decade ago, we can still plant it right now. And that's the beauty of the African proverb as we have no one else but ourselves to blame if we didn't do it.

Nowadays economically, it may not be worth it to have a durian orchard except for the fun of it. Durian at the height of the season can be quite cheap, bordering to worthless. Especially if the season coincides with the fasting month. I do remember a few years ago, durian was so cheap, you can have a bunch of them for a ringgit!