Friday, October 29, 2010

The Intern & A place to dye for

This entry is obviously not about Monica Lewinsky, even if she was perhaps one of the more famous - or rather infamous, intern. And while the title sounds heavy, again like all my other entries, I don't write about heavy stuff here in this blog.

It is supposed to be light reading.

The summer before my final year at Monash, I was required to take up (summer) internship in order for me to gain some valuable working experience before my actual fling in the job market. Then most universities in Australia were a bit lenient on the duration, unlike many universities in Malaysia today - we were only required to take up to 12 weeks of internship.
The Menzies Building at Monash's Clayton Campus.
While I was interested to work in a Mat Salleh company in Australia, but since bapak had just passed away in a couple of months ealier (August 1984), I thought it would be wise for me to find a job in Malaysia so that I could return home (again) in December. (I had paid for my own way to come back in August 1984 for bapa's funeral, so that year I was back at home twice.)

There weren't that many choices, I guess. I could try the many plants mushrooming out in Terengganu, but I would not want to be away from home at all this time around, so not even the lure of the black gold was enough to entice me to leave my cocoon. Taiping, however, did not offer too many alternatives. No heavy industry in this sleepy hollow. With MARA's help, I managed to secure an internship at Taiping Textiles (TAIFAB) in Kamunting. It was the best option for me. It was perhaps the most well known textile company in Taiping, and the premier factory in Kamunting Industrial Estate.

I guess nama pun dah estate, what do you expect?

Then a local entity had just acquired the shares of TAIFAB from the Taiwanese.

I didn't really care where I would be doing the internship, to be honest. I just wanted to make sure that I fulfilled the requirement for me to graduate as an engineer. Nothing more, nothing less. I did not treat the internship as the most important thing that would make or break my study or future career. It is not like a lifetime employment, or choosing a girl for marriage. You can't afford to make mistake. In this case, three months, and I would be gone.

At Taifab, I decided to work in the lab as opposed in the production line. I thought I could learn better at the lab, as I would have time to reflect on my work, and since I knew next to nothing about making textiles.

The great thing about working there was that I was fetched to work by the company's van. No bas kilang for me - it was managers' van kilang instead. The managers have their own company transportation, much as the factory girls do with theirs, so it was a privilege for me to be able to join them. It was easy to impress the impressionable student then. I was thankful for the transportation even if it were not a BMW.

Like many wide-eyed interns before him, the internship did give me insight into working life and what the future held for me.

The funny thing about working there that until today I could not comprehend was the fact that everything (except the production floors) would shut down at 5.15 pm. Sharp! By 5.10 pm actually, everybody would be at the front gate, including the managers and the factory girls. You will see the blue busses lining up the street in front of the factory ready to ferrying the workers back to their homes in the neighbouring suburbs.

At 5.15 pm, the guard would open the gate and the thousands of workers would rush to their busses and leave the premise. 

Mind you, this included the managers. Obviously as an intern, I would not have any choice, but to follow with the flow, though then without any commitment, I would not disagree with this policy. It is more like I vehemently agreed to this wholeheartedly.

I have never seen anything like that since. It would be unthinkable to fathom leaving work for home right on time, like you were a clock watcher. I abhor that to be honest.

But I guess that's life then in the (production) factory.

Later on in life, I found out that there is such policy called OA5 policy. Funnily I learned this prior to my MBA days and I even introduced this concept to my management class at UIA - whether anyone has taken it or not, I am not sure to be honest. OA5 is a policy introduced by Dilbert in the classic The Dilbert Principle.

The key to management, according to Dilbert (Author Scott Adams) is knowing what's fundamental to success and what's not, for a company. "The goal is to get the best work out of the employees during office hours and make sure they leave work by five o’ clock. Finishing by five o’clock is so central to everything that follows that I named the company OA5 (Out at five) to reinforce the point. If you let his part of the concept slip, the rest of it falls apart."

The primary objective is to make each employee as effective as possible within the time frame of the operating hours of the company. I tried doing that in the early days of operating my own company in 2007, but I found out that Malaysian workers have a peculiar way to reacting to such privilege.

They tend to abuse it. One such person was a habitual late comer, and yet she would still be leaving at 5! Luckily she is no longer working for me.

I guess long before the arrival of the The Dilbert Principle, one Malaysian company was already practicing it; the only thing is that no one studied it formally and wrote a book.

One other thing that I noticed there is the very pittance salary paid to the workers. If I am not mistaken, on average, they were paid RM220 per month, while I, as the intern, was paid RM300. Mine was pittance too, but I was on full scholarship even when I was back in Malaysia, so the internship allowance was just pocket money for me.

And I don't have to pay for my room in Taiping.

It is a pity and honestly even in 1985, RM220 would not take you anywhere, and unlike me, the workers have no other income. (As a comparison, as stated in my previous entry, I was paid A$420 a week or A$1680 per month, and I was a labourer. On the other hand, workers at Perak Hanjoong were paid about the same amount RM200-RM250, depending on their qualification.)

But then again, that's the discrepancy of salary of workers in Malaysia. There was, and still is, a big gap on workers and management salaries.

Life in the lab was reasonably good. All the lab technicians were girls/ladies, so the lab manager and the intern were surrounded by the gals all the time. Basically our tasks were to come up with the proper dye composition to be used in the production line depending on customer requirements. 

The lab technicians with the intern squeezed at the
back, in the dye laboratory at Taiping Textile,  in Kamunting. A place
to dye for, so to speak. ;-) I have forgotten all their names except perhaps for Maria.
Nice people, they all were.  Can you see the sewing machine on the left?
It is a textile company, obviously we have to use them in our work there,
but I normally would leave it to the gals to use them! ;-)
Yes, we can make your clothing water-proofed too, if you asked for it. And I have forgotten how to make the army uniform of celorang-celoreng.

I have really enjoyed my time there. The gals were helpful. They knew a lot more than the intern obviously, but would not qualm about assisting him. Being an overseas student helped a lot too in my socializing with them. The manager, a Malaysian Chinese, was every willing too to ensure that I got the most from my internship. Three months (make that two actually) was way too short to be learning much about the textile industry, but I did learn about the working environment - a whole world away from life as a student.

Honestly, I was just fulfilling part of the requirement to graduate at Monash. The internship was not meant to be a be all and end all in the grand scheme of things in life. Thirty more years of working life awaited me then; so the value of the three month summertime internship was much less that what was perceived by many. I disagree with the current (local) university practices of asking their students to take up 6-8 month internship which would form part of their semester.

It is not like this internship was added to the duration, so I am not sure whether the students have a good foundation since their time at school are cut short.

I completed my internship in February 1985, went on to complete my final year that year, and since returning in 1986 I had never returned to Taiping Textile again. I have only worked in the heavy industry since those days. It was my own choice. I thought it was not as much fun working in a covered area, and thought working in the the sun and the rain would be a lot more healthier. 

Taiping Textiles did leave me with a lasting impression of the working environment, and a few key points central to management.

The value of education; and the hardship of earning a salary for the general workers, and hence the need to have a minimum wage for all workers in Malaysia. Obviously I am sure no one gets paid RM200 anymore, like many were in the 80s, but I am reasonably sure whatever they get paid in 2010 aren't that much better.

In 2010, the maids are paid RM400, double than the factory workers of 25 years ago.

But nothing has changed really, if you were to consider inflation.

It's a pity, isn't it? Rakyat didahulukan?


I think I am going to be a lot of brickbat from a certain professor on my view of the current practices of internship by our universities. Take me on, prof! ;-)

What else did we learn today?

Minimum wage and Out at Five.

Enough lesson for the day!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Puteri bunian di Padang Rengas?

If you were a student, and were looking forward to earning your money after completing your studies, you would do a lot better by not graduating in late 1985.

Like I did.

May be I should have tried failing a subject, and then I would have to repeat the whole year. That would allow me another year stay in Australia. If you had gotten married, then you could use that as an excuse for not returning either as you would have to wait for your spouse to complete her degree. A few of us at Monash used that excuse.

But I did not use any of those - no one at Monash was interested in me ;-), and hence I had to return home in April 1986.

The mid to late 80s was the worst of time in as far the economy is concerned. The country was deep in recession, and jobs were scarce, and obviously unemployment was rife. You would be lucky if you could land a job within a year.  The internship scheme was introduced then to help graduates find job, or getting retrained, I guess. Many had to go through this scheme and they were paid pittance.

It was within this context that I returned home in April 1986. Many of my friends had returned home by December 1985, practically upon passing their final exams, much earlier than I. I decided that I wanted to earn some extra money that summer; so I entered a student employment scheme at Monash where the uni would help student get temporary job during the summer, and delay my departure home until the very last moment.

It was easy to get a temporary job then. One would need to come early to the Students' Office at the Union, and put your student ID in a box and they would randomly select and categorize you by giving priority to those chosen in a descending order. I was given No 5 that day.

Then they would announce job vacancy, the location, job description and how much one would get paid. If it is to your liking, you could vie for the job. For example, if someone with a No 3 ranking decided to vie for the job with me, he would get the priority as his rank is higher than mine.

After 3 job offers, which I did not bother to go for,  this job came up. The job was as a Packer, working in a warehouse, and it calls for packing swimming pool chemicals into 1, 5 and 10 kg boxes. Obviously they are anticipating a lot of demand for chlorine during the summer. I like it since it involved chemicals and the fact that I could reach the warehouse by taking a single bus.

No one seems to want the job. Nothing wrong with the pay though. It pays A$10.50 an hour, and you work for 8 hours a day, five days a week. At the end of the week you would be paid A$420. That's more that what MARA would give me as my monthly allowance.

And it was tax free!

So I decided to take up the offer; there was no competition at all from anyone. Later on, I found out why no one would want the job.

The smell of chlorine (chloroamines) was just notorious. It was pungent, and attack your eyes and respiratory system. You would be sneezing quite a lot. We have to wear a mask while working. Even at the end of your shift, you could still be sneezing. And lots of hard, physical work.

But we were young and healthy, and the money was good. And I worked hard through out summer of 1985, and made tons of money - tax-free, mind you, and none of the commitment of today. No house to pay for, no bills either.

I was rich! If at least in my mind, and relatively speaking, I guess.

I must have been that good, working as a labourer then, that the management kept on asking me if I knew anyone else who would want to work there, and I managed to bring in 2 more friends that summer. The Aussies could not have enough of Malaysian students to ensure fresh supplies of chlorine for the swimming pools that summer, so that the guys could enjoy the gals in bikini dipping in the pool, and putting the shrimp on the barbie. ;-)

I did play my part in the Australian economy and social lives that year, albeit a rather miniscule role.

It was with this money that I was able to fly Mak and two siblings for a tour of Melbourne and Sydney before returning home. But that's another story altogether.

So despite the good pay, I decided to return home and find work as an engineer. I can't go one being a labourer in a warehouse. Money could not buy me dignity. I have a paper qualification, and I want to be called an engineer. Or so I thought.

Besides, my student visa was running out! ;-) I was just trying to turn this piece into a feel-good piece.

As I have mentioned, it was the worst of time to return home. It was the beginning of the recession that would last nearly four years in the country. I did have faith in my ability to find a job, but as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, it was running thin to be honest. Fortunately with my saving, I could survive months of unemployment, but fortunately for me, I could only be singing Aku Penganggur for three months before landing a job as a production engineer at a cement plant in Padang Rengas. The beauty was that it is just about 20 km from home.

At last I was an engineer, never mind that the pay was pittance. It was July 1, 1986, to be exact, that I stepped out of the bus from Taiping into the muddy surrounding what was then a construction battlefield that was Perak Hanjoong Simen (now YTL Cement).

This is The Engineer in late 1986. I guess I must be about
to enter the manhole of one of the equipment, a cyclone may be. The whole plant was my
 training ground. I even appeared on the telly during the official opening ceremony of the
plant, explaining tothe Perak MB , if I am not mistaken. It was quite a big ceremony
as the government wanted to showcase it and the benefit it brought to the economy.
Seriously, I earned more working as a labourer in Australia than I would as an engineer in Malaysia. My one week's pay there was about the same of what I would earn in one month here.

"Macam gaji cikgu saja," was the then MCKK principal's verdict when I visited him in his house in Bukit Kerajaan, Kuala Kangsar, just to inform him that I have gotten a job - as a show of respect. He was a neighbour, and a good friend of bapak when we were staying in the nearby government quarters in early 80s.

Gaji cikgu pun gaji cikgu lah, more importantly I had secured a job. The 1.2 M metric tonne capacity cement plant is going to be there for a long while. Even though construction industry was not in the best of health due to the recession, in the long run, we would be slowly chipping away the limestone crop of Padang Rengas. The production team, that I was part of, was a young team. The heads and the managers were Korean, and we had to learn their style fast.

Puteri bunian of  Padang Rengas. Not!
I wish though as she looks
beautiful except for those ears.

Then it was quite fun, to be honest. Climbing the limestone hill was the most fun. We have been to the very top. The view was fantastic. You could see the hill if you were to drive to Penang from Kuala Lumpur, as you passed by Padang Rengas. There is a big crusher up there that would take blasted limestone and turn them into smaller pieces for processing.

Obviously working on night shift was even more fun. It was bright and cheery in the plant, but the hill was dark and gloomy. You would not want to walk alone for too long.

The Korean contractors then were quite superstitious. A cow was sacrificed before the plant was commissioned and started up. This was to ensure the spirits that roam the limestone crop would be appeased.  The blood of the sacrifice was splattered all over the ground. Some bomohs must have officiated the ceremony. We did not join in; young engineers then would baulk at such ceremony.

They must have been feasting the bunians, I guess. Then there was nothing in the vicinity of the plant but deep jungle with thick folliage. Stories about spirits roaming and bunian dwellers were rampants amongst the operators and workers. To make it worse, working as a shift engineer would entail one to roam around the plant on our own, and not just stay in the control room. It is one thing to have someone with you, but most of the time, you would have to do your job alone.

But unfortunately, or unfortunately, depending on one's perspective, I did not get to see any puteri bunian, not even during the graveyard shift [sigh]. Did they really exist here in the 80s? Many thought they did. Or were they trying to avoid me during those years?

I think they must have known that I was just a poor engineer, with pittance pay and would not be able to support the lifestyle of a princess! Hehehe..

The cement plant in 2009. Supposedly in 1986, the limestone crop was home
to thousands of bunians, but for some reasons, even as a bachelor then,
I did not get to see (or marry) a puteri bunian there! ;-) 
I have more stories to tell about this plant, but I guess, that would have to wait for another day.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Raikanlah kepulanganku

Entah mengapa tiba-tiba hati saya tiba-tiba berdetak, dan sedetik kemudian, mata saya berkaca. Suaranya terlalu sayu, seakan merayu. Lamenting on his fate.

I have not heard this song for a long time. Since the demise of vinyl in the early 80s, I have only bought cassette everytime he came up with a new album. But cassettes do not have a long life span and I have no no idea where the cassettes are - Orang Baru and Orang Kampung. When it comes to the cassettes, I did not treat them with the greatest of care, like I would with my vinyls.

Taken from Mesin Taip Buruk.
Orang Kampung was released in 1986, the year I came back from my studies in Melbourne, Australia. Orang Kampung was a gem of an album. Salam Terakhir, and Dimanakah Nilai Cintamu became a favourite of mine. I love this and I am still hoping that EMI would release it as a whole and not as compilation.

I have nearly forgotten this song until late last week. And now I am playing this song 10 times a day (in the last 3 days).

Aaah, the lyric. It was so apt then, and I can still feel the brunt of it. The lyric team of Syed Haron, Sudirman and Habsah Hassan did a wonderful job and coupled with the musical genius that was Syed Haron as the songwriter, I could not help but listened dengan mata berkaca.

Did I feel that way in 1986 when I was returning home? I have no idea now - most likely not since I would not have known this song by then, but in 2010, it is another story. The emotion that he evokes from this song is phenomenal. It is so sad, isn't it? Twenty five years on, I can still feel the sadness the song evokes.

Raikanlah kepulanganku
yang sentiasa mengharap cintamu

Begitulah harapan hati
kau menyambut kepulangan ku nanti
Tapi ku tahu itu hanya impianku
tak mungkin kau ada di situ

Selama aku dirantauan
tercabar kasih dan kesetiaan
kau bukan lagi kasih yang ku tinggal dulu
yang setia menungguku

kau titiskan airmata pilu
ku terharu merenung wajahmu
kiranya itu kali yang terakhir
aku menatap wajah seoprang kekasih

tiada air mata bahagia
tiada yang menyambut ku tiba
tapi mataku terus mencari-cari
dengan hati yang merintih

Raikanlah kepulanganku
yang sentiasa mengharap cintamu

(Syed Haron/Sudirman)
Orang Kampung, 1986


1986 was special. I had just completed my engineering degree (in late 1985), and after a couple of months working at a warehouse in Melbourne in Australia (and a restaurant in Sydney) -  in order  to save some money, I was ready to go home, and home I did  return to in April 1986. I still remember the journey home reasonably well. I am not sure if it was the modus operandi then, but MARA got me a business class ticket - something I had not expected that I had to call the travel agent to ensure they had given me the right ticket. Obviously for someone who had always sat at the back of the plane, and years of living on Mars Bar, it was an honour then.

But I did try to change it as I wouldn't be flying back home alone this time around, and I was feeling guilty to be at the front end of the plane while she was at the back. No lah, nothing like that as returning journey home with me, after 5 years in Australia, would be Mak and the youngest two of my sibling, who had arrived about two weeks earlier.

With Mak, and my two youngest sibling in tow at the back of the plane (after two week holidaying in Sydney and Melbourne, courtesy of months of toiling in the warehouse), we left Melbourne Airport for Subang with such high hopes. I don't remember at all who was the airport but I am sure many were waiting for our return, after all it was Mak first trip abroad, a mere two years after the demise of bapak.

And, now I can see the context of this song clearly in the album that was released in 1986. Obviously I only knew of this song after I had been back in Kuala Lumpur, so I could not be singing this songs in the business section's entertainment unit of MAS.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The most beautiful lake in the world

I have been lucky to have been at some of the most beautiful places in the world (and I guess I was even luckier as it didn't cost me anything to be there in the first place).

Obviously, I had enjoyed the most spectacular road in the world that is the Great Ocean Road. You can read about my travel here. This is my favourite journey by road that I have undertaken when I was a student back then in the mid-80s. Another favourite of journey of mine would be the around the Rockies in Canada.

Yahoo Travel recently highlighted the most beautiful lakes in the world recently, and I have included that entry in my blog here. In the article, rated at No 2 is Peyto Lake at the Banff National Park in Alberta Canada. Unfortunately when I was travelling during my jet-setting days, there was no Yahoo Travel as my reference point. Heck, there was no internet either, so I did not visit Lake Peyto even though I was only about 60 km away from this picturesque lake.

If Great Ocean Road was No 3 in the list, Lake Peyto is at No 2. But really, I would rate Lake Louise as my No 1 lake.
Lake Louise with Chateau Lake Louise in the background. This is one
view I did not get to see as I was at the Chateau end. We were at the
opposite end of this picture. I got this pic from the net.
Back then I would consider Lake Louise, which Lake Peyto's more famous lake as the most beautiful lake in the world, and I will show you why I thought so highly of this lake right in the midst of the spectacular Rockies.

When I was informed by a software company (which turned out to be a future employer of mine - 5 years later) that they would be holding an international simulation conference in Banff, I knew it was my calling. I had been using their tool as part of my work in an oil company and were considered as focal point engineer in that area, and the department manager, without batting an eye-lid, approved of my travel there (even when there was no budget for this conference), and suddenly I found myself at this picturesque lake.

This is the view of Lake Louise from the Chateau end. A view to die for. I got this
picture from the internet, so I could not photoshop myself into this picture.
These are the two pictures of what I would rate as the most famous lake and it is at the Banff National Park, say about 2 hours drive from Calgary or about 130 km West. It is taken from Chateau Lake Louise and is the view is from the opposite view point of the earlier picture.

Lake Louise holds many memories for me. If I was a bachelor when I took the tour at the most spectacular road in the world, by the time I got to visit the most beautiful lake in the world, I was already married. So we got to enjoy the view together as a couple, I guess, even if by then we had been married for three years.

That was 1990, September to be exact, and being a mountain person, I thought the Rockies are majestic, unlike other mountains that I have seen in Malaysia and Australia. The Rockies, to my mind, are the only real mountains.
There we were at Lake Louise in September 1990. Unfortunately the sun
 is just behind us, and coupled with the deteriorating chemicals that formed the
colours in the pic, the picture we took that day was not as great
as the picture above. 
The Banff National Park in Alberta is a must if you love mountains, turquoise-blue lakes, crystal clear river and glacier. You will find lakes in between mountains or river snaking through the valleys. There are just way too many of these around here and you will be spoiled for choice. And they are all spectacular. I have also traveled the length and breadth of Colorado which is also famous for its Rockies, but I think I love the Rockies at the Banff National Park a lot better.
Lake Louise is right in the middle of this picture. It looks so tiny amidst the
monster that is the Rockies. Just imagine yourself being dwarfed by
the mountains when you are at Lake Louise.
Honestly, if you were to drive from Calgary to Banff as you enter the vicinity of the Rockies, you would be stopping at every few kilometres. Just like what we did at the Great Ocean Road and we did it again in Banff.
We stopped here, there and everywhere, while on the way to Banff from Calgary for picture. This is
one of the many lakes one would find along the way at Banff National Park.
Peter was my driver that day. Then he was the host, and later on in life we would be partner.
Business partner that is.
Obviously the journey around the National Park was to me then a journey of a lifetime. All my life I had been dreaming about the Rockies, but unfortunately MARA decided to instead send me away to the most flat country in the world - that's Australia. Luckily I was shrewd, and managed to escape to a city not too far away from the Kosciusko and the Snowy Mountains, from the intended city of Perth.

Still, it was nothing like what Banff and the Rockies have to offer, I must admit.
So Lake Louise is just midway point if we were to head to Lake Peyto. But honestly, I have no regret. In my mind I still think Lake Louise is the most beautiful lake in the world.
Another lake, this time around with a cement plant and the Rockies
as the background. As I was a former cement plant engineer, it was
hard to resist not to take this picture.

I do wish we had digital camera then. This is another great view
with rives the foreground and the Rockies in the background. Alas
for the deteriorating colour.
We did not get to stay at the Chateau Lake Louise that week as the conference
was held at the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort. The Resort instead
face this spectacular mountain protruding out from the land beneath.
We got to meet the Banff National Park's most famous
resident - the Elk. They were roaming freely at the Park.
Fortunately we were there late September. The weather was just excellent. It was chilly, but not downright cold. A sweater would do you just fine, so we did not have to carry winter clothing. The sun was shining too and it helped us enjoy outdoor once the conference was over.

Actually I have written an entry about this journey twenty years that was supposed to be written for the NST. If I find it again, I will publish it here in this blog.

Anyway, I would recommend Banff National Park to anyone looking for getaway. Forget your usua London, New York and Paris as a destination. Head to the Rockies.

To be honest, I would not mind retiring here, if only the weather in winter time is not as harsh. In fact if I have my way, I would.

Friday, October 15, 2010

We are better than Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uganda!

So Delhi was our best showing thus far in a world class sporting event.

Supposedly our athletes performed better this time around; even beating the records when we won 10 gold medals in 1998. Mind you then we have had home ground advantage.

Indeed we are better than those countries. The theSun and Tunku Abidin Muhriz, of all people, picked up the story and compared our achievement to countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uganda, all of which have bigger population than us. And according to the president of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, this is a testament to our superior talent, training and facilities!

Wow. Don't you feel really good?

And the theSun front-paged our Delhi achievement with "Golden finish" headline and spiritedly told us about how our athletes made it good this time around.

Oh boy.

Since when did Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uganda set the standard in sporting excellence? I thought that would be Australia, which has a population similar to ours, and yet they ended up with 6 times more gold medals (74 vs 12 of ours) than us, and a total of 177 medals (our total is 35). And all the gold medals that matter, actually.

How about comparing ourselves to our Southern neighbour Singapore? A fraction of our land space - in fact they would all be flooded and drowned in Bakun, has only one-tenth of our population and yet they ended with just one gold medal short. No lah, not just one medal lah - one medal short. We have 12 golds, and they have eleven. Just one medal short; not just one tenth of our medal if Tunku Abidin's argument was to be used.

I guess that goes to show their superior talent, facilities and training. And on the other hand, it tells us how pathetic we have been in these areas. No wonder LKY has told us many times that we are a failed state.

We will do anything and everything to justify our so called achievement and make us feel good about ourselves. NOthing wrong with that. We need it. Normally newspapers like the theSun would put things in perspective, but this time around, they all wanted to have some share of the spoils. The readers are now longer uneducated. We are at least a decade old in the new millennium.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Farewell to thee, Bayum

The cousins during Raya 2009.
Bayum is the one in the middle in the background. The
Mahmuds are such a close-knit family.
Baharom bin Mahmud, 1963 - 6 Oct 2010

A dearest cousin of mine, and teman sepermainan back in the 70s in Aulong Taiping, passed away two days ago at Taiping Hospital after ~3 weeks in coma. I have only recently met up with him - on the 4th day of Raya, to be precise, and he was his usual self. I am not sure if I have talked much with him, as there were quite a number of people. So our conversation is still fresh in my mind. I could not have detected that that would be our last, to be honest.

They dropped by again after a couple of hours to pick up some duit raya we didn't get to give the kids earlier, and I told him at that point I didn't know the way to his twin Baharin's house in Simpang (they were all heading there).

"Tak pa, nanti Aman sampai sana, bagi tau, Bayum datang ambik," he said.

I nodded my head.

30 mins later, he picked us up on his old motorbike and showed us the way to the house.

Earlier, he had visited Mak and us on his old motorbike. I have to emphasize on the word old. It didn't  even have an odometer. The place where the meter used to sit in, is now an empty socket. Just like an empty socket without the eye. It is really in bad condition. I should have known that everything about the motorbike spelt trouble.

"Nanti simpan lah duit, beli kereta lepas ni,' his big brother Abg Ned told him that day. I was there to hear the conversation, right in the middle of it. I think he pitied his brother as he was the only one riding a motorbike that day - an old, dilapidated one at that. "RM3000-RM5000 saja." I am not sure what kind of car one would get for that amount of money. I didn't know one could get a car that cheap. Then again, I am sure Abg Ned was not talking about a new car.

But it was an advice a tad too late. A week later he met an accident on his motorbike and passed away 2 weeks later. 

Kak Sham and I decided to visit him about a day earlier. I was about to drive to Kuantan, but decided to postpone the trip when told about his deteriorating condition, and we both thought that it would be wise to visit him while he was still alive, albeit in coma at the ICU. His hands had already bloated - a sign that his internal organs had failed him. We went to his bed and flanked him - KSham on the right and me on the left..

"Bayum, kuat kan semangat. Ingat anak-anak. Nanti depa nak kawin, nak tengok Bayum ada sama," KSham whispered to his ear. I touched and held his turgid left hand.

We wanted him to fight to stay alive. But we were only met with silence - only the sound of the machine pumping oxygen into his chest, and the voice of KSham filled up the quiet atmosphere in the ICU.

"Aman nak raya sekali lagi dengan Bayum," I told him, after KSham had left to allow other to join us at the ICU. We would normally be alloted about 5 mins each, may be 10 at most, if we were to negotiate. But that afternoon we were the first visitors, so there was no competition for the ICU badge. "Aman tau Bayum kuat; nanti Aman datang rumah Bayum pulak."

There was no response whatsoever from him. I would not be able to tell if he would be able to hear me. My instinct told me to keep on talking and that they would be able to hear it in their mind. That's what we did with MCak when she was recuperating a couple of years ago. I was really hoping he would be able to hear me out.

He was looking forward to turning 50 in a few years. He has some money in EPF when he was working at Taiping Textiles aka Taifab in Kamunting  - we are all connected to Taifab in the 80s when I was an intern there, and he was a fulltime worker and he was looking forward to be able to withdraw some of his money saved. That's what he told KSham a few months ago.

But it was not meant to be. Tak sempat aruah nak merasa titik peluh berbelas tahun bekerja kilang, we all thought.

As for me, there will be no more Raya with him next year. For two consecutive Rayas (2009 and 2010), he had visited us in Sri Kota Taiping on his old motorbike. Without fail. We grew up together in Taiping, specifically in Aulong, so I can consider him as a friend and cousin. He is unique in the sense that he grew up with our grandparents - Tok Adam and nenek Bulan, which he would affectionately call as Abah and Mak respectively. And Mak, who is his auntie, was called Akak.

And I know I am going to miss him.

We had used his house in Kamunting as the venue for the dodol making in 2006. Once during Ramadhan 2005, I decided to sponsor his children's baju raya. So Mak and I took the children in the car and bring them to Taiping for a shopping spree; sort of. That's was about the only time I did something for his family. Looking at the shirts he wore during Raya 2009 and 2010, I knew I should have done more.

Looking back, should is a norm word for me. This is one person who didn't know how to help others more when he could.
A very young Bayum (right) with the blogger during Raya
in the 60s in Assam Kumbang. We are of the same age,
and hence can relate to one another.
He left behind a widow and five children, the youngest in Std 4.

Selamat jalan, Bayum. Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat keatas ruh Bayum dan dimasukkan Bayum kedalam golongan orang-orang yang solleh.



Monday, October 4, 2010

Letter for my Mother

Actually, for some reasons I remember having a bunch of letters that bapak sent to me when I was a student.

But I don't remember if Mak had written much, though I am sure most of my letters from Melbourne would be to her.

It is unfortunate too that I have lost all of bapak's letter during one of those one too many house moving. These letters were all well kept until the late 90s.

But I do wish I was this eloquent in my letter to Mak.

This is Arif Kashani's rendition of the one of the most listened letter to a mother. I wish I had written it.