Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Talent is 99 percent perspiration

I hope it is not premature for me to talk about this, but I need to update my blog.


And urgently.

And I am running out of topics, and ideas. But I certainly hope that I am not tempting fate.

For the past months, a few of my friends have been commenting - and complimenting, on the videos we have been churning out lately - at our Youtube channel and Facebook account. Actually I have been hearing about it for quite sometimes now, especially from strangers. (Funnily, I seldom got it from my own siblings or relatives. I even had a friend who after commenting positively about them, decided to delete it, not realizing that FB has sent that message over to my FB account.) Most of the time I would just dismiss it, without batting an eyelid. Much I like their compliments - make it that I love them, I prefer not to dwell on it too much. You can't bask on glory alone. It won't pay the bills, and there is much work to be done ahead of them. 

I remember the occasion very well, almost like it was yesterday. Like I know the back of my hand, so to speak. It was a profound moment in my life as a father.

The year was 2000. We had just returned from Houston, after my second tour of duty there.

"Abah, Arif nak belajar violin."

I looked up to him with raised eye brows. I had not cajoled him into saying that, nor have I been pestering about it to him. To be honest, until today I have no idea where he got the idea, and desire, to learn the violin. I am quite sure that there was no MPO then, so he could not have been listening to the classical.

I was not listening to dead men's music. I was too young for that then.

Instead of answering him (Arif), I asked his brother Akmal, "What about you? What do you want to play?"

The piano. Akmal's response was swift. There was no two ways about it. Not from him anyway. He knew what he wanted to do even as a six years old.

"OK, I want the both of you to take up piano first. After you have mastered the piano, then you can learn the violin."

To my surprise, I was decisive then. There was no hesitation on my part. I was a willing supporter in their quest. They didn't argue with me, fortunately. They didn't have too many choices; in fact they didn't have any.

The next step was to find a music centre a.k.a. music school for them.

There was a music school near the house in Taman Kosas Ampang. It is not a Yamaha music school; it was just a mom and pop's music school. But then again, Arif was nine and Akmal was even younger ato six; any teacher would be able to teach to these kids with no music background; much more than their musically illiterate dad would be able to offer them.

Akmal playing on the RM600
keyboard in 2007. El cheapo me.
Unlike Bapak who purchased a RM6,000 Yamaha organ when he wanted his daughters to learn music in the early 80s, I decided to minimize my risk, and only bought a RM600 keyboard a couple of months later for them to practice. By then they had gone through many lesson in their school, and they were only able to practice when in school.

Arif and the RM600
keyboard. I can't
tell you enough how
cheap I was then
compared to my
own bapak
I was adamant to not let what happened to Bapak, happen to me.

If Arif and Akmal were serious about it, they would cross any hurdle with determination. If not, their foray into the music world will die a natural death.

I was not too worried about hindering their progress with music. I had no objectives, and thought that as long as they were enjoying it, that's more than good enough a reason to do it. In hindsight, may be they would have been a faster learner had I bought them the real thing early in the beginning of their musical life and had targets set for them.

It was only two years later - in 2002, that I decided that they are serious music students, and bought them a reconditioned piano, at that time costing me RM4,500. Still cheaper than the RM6,000.00 organ that my dad bought, mind you, in the early 80s. 

So how much would RM6000 (in 1982) be worth twenty years later?  A lot more than I had spent, I guess.

I am sure I was earning then multiples of what bapak was earning, and yet he would spent much more for his kids' musical education.

God bless bapak for he loves music so much, despite being a very religious person. I guess he was probably interested in music when he was a kid, and circumstances prevented him from from pursuing it - not much different from my own, I guess. My uncle PC Ya told me recently that bapak has a melodious and soothing voice.

I had never heard him singing, to be honest, but he has for many years when he was in Lenggong been calling for the prayers at the nearby mosque, and I have to admit I love it when he said the azan, especially for the dawn prayer.

Unfortunately, his investment was one without a payback - even if I said so myself, and even then by mere observations, and not to find fault with his decisions 30 years ago. Both his two daughters did it half way, though his untimely death may have some impacts on their progress for sure.

Then again, if they so desired, they could have self-taught themselves beyond their formal education. But they didn't. I guess they weren't really interested, but it was bapak pushing them to do it. 

Sorry but I digress. In my case, I didn't ask Arif and Akmal to learn the piano. They did it on they own accord, and in the end, it shows.

I knew that Arif and Akmal would work hard to succeed. There was no two ways about it. There was no one in the family with musical talent - not that I know of anyway. I know they would have to work hard, but I do know too that I had never put the pressure on them. 

If they were to succeed, Alhamdulillah. If not, well...we were (really) not a musical family, so there was no risk.

In the beginning, Arif was the more prodigious son, and he was much quicker in progressing to the next level. He would pound the cheap plastic keyboard for years, before he got his hand on the real one. He even won the Oustanding Student Award during the year end concert, when he was only 14.  Akmal was much slower, but I can't think of a time I would have to shout at them to get them to practice.

They were diligent students, and I had an easy job as a father.

On the other hand, I didn't put extra pressure by asking them to play this or that songs, other then the classical songs they had learned at school. I totally leave it to them to absorb all those in front of them.

However, since taking up flying, Arif has not be doing much music. Akmal on the other hand has improved by leaps and bounds, and has left me breathless with his musical proficiency. I remember him being the slower learner; I remember him that he would do his practice when I was not around, or after we bought a digital piano, using the headphone, so that I would not be able to hear him practice and hence I would not be able to criticise.

I think all these whiles he has been living under his brother's shadow, and without him around, he was under no pressure for him to excel.

And excel he did, and I must say I am proud of him with the high quality of music that he has been churning out.

It didn't come out naturally at first, and effortlessly on their side. They are skillful, but certainly not gifted. They are good, but certainly they weren't prodigies when they were kids. They put a lot of hours in front of the piano.

On the piano stool, which can't be the most comfortable of chairs, I must say.

The only evidence that we have to show that we do have music in our blood. Well, a little bit I guess.
The girl, second from left, is the great grandmother of Arif & Akmal. Apparently
according to her son - my uncle PC Ya - she played the violin too. 
I am not sure if I had planned for them to become musicians. In some sense, may be I did. Afterall,  I had bought a piano book in 1985, just before I returned from Melbourne, thinking that one day, I would have someone to play it for me. The book is still intact; and now I have two sons who could play them for me.

Note for note.

In reflection, I am not sure if the both of them had any talent. I guess it does not matter. In the end, I know they have put in their heart and soul into learning music for the past 10 years. There was no easy shortcut for them; they put in long hours in their musical pursuit.
The picture is PC Ya with the Kilat band, who beat
Najib Hanif in a singing competition. Taken without
his permission from his FB.

Talent is, after all, ninety nine percent perspiration, if we are to be believe Edison. (Actually I twisted his statement a bit. Genius is 99% perspiration is the actual saying attributed to Edison.)

I am very sure I can't dispute him. Not with him being the most prolific scientist, and engineer.

Obviously Arif and Akmal have a long way ahead of them. They are still nobody in the industry - I am sure that was not the target when they first started. They were supposed to be able to entertain us. But since they are here, no one can say that they should not go far. They have the passion to do it.

Well, enjoy Akmal playing the Beatles. Now after 10 years, it is payback time. How many were able to enjoy live piano music at one's behest and fancy?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My sympathy and condolence with the Japanese people

If there is one country I admire the most; a country that I think the world of; that country would be Japan.

When I graduated with an engineering degree in 1985, I first worked with Korean engineers. My boss was Korean. Most of the equipment were made in Korea; there were only a couple of items that were made in Japan.

But it was the Japanese who stole my heart with their brilliance, engineering ingenuity and sheer dedication. And it is a lifetime admiration. I got to know about them and their traits first hand when I was sent to Japan under the Japan Cooperation Centre for Petroleum (JCCP) in 1988, and in the early 90s I nearly made Japan my second home by going there every few months for nearly two years.

Me as a young engineer in Chiba on Sept 28, 1988. I was the youngest
engineer in the group 9 engineers from Africa and Asia being
trained in Japan by JCCP.
Tokyo, Yokohama, Chiba, Kobe, Kyoto and the southern city of Tokuyama were some of the cities I spent time in while I was in Japan.

My admiration grew every time I was there.

The Chiba refinery in the background in 1988. Chiba
will rise again, insyaAllah.
In this difficult time for Japan and her people, I would like to reminisce on my time in Japan and the sweet memories I have of friends and colleagues from the Japanese archipelago, and I would like to wish them all the best for their future in face of the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

I know in the end, they will be ok. In fact they will rise from the ashes of this tragedy.

They have risen before from the ashes, literally.

They are after all the Japanese.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Best Time to Plant a Tree II - The surveying

Ini pohon durian? Are they mine?
It has been quite a while since I last updated the blog.

Of course the excuses are numerous. Busy could be one. Mental block is another. Lazy. Loss of interest. Did I mention lazy? Oh I did, but let's have another laziness as the excuse. I think it is three times lazy to be honest.

You can name anything, they are all applicable.

It has also been awhile since I first bought a piece of land in Ulu Langat. At least two year, to be precise. Since then I have done nothing. If I had planted some cempedak or rambutan trees, they would be bearing some fruits for me by now.

But I did nothing; and obviously, I got nothing in return.

Just lost opportunities. Time flies away, and it is gone for sure.

But lament I will not. I knew about the African proverb very well from nearly a decade ago. "The best to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today."

The last entry I wrote about this proverb, it is more as a metaphor. But this time, it is literal.
The view of the durian trees from the valley. 
Just for the record, it is a small piece of land. Nothing of significant, but more than enough for a family of four. Tanah sekangkang kera. As far as I am concerned too, there is nothing of value there. It is more a jungle out there; hilly enough for us enjoy some view and the fresh air, but flat enough to let this unfit forty something to enjoy the little terrain without breaking his back and twisting his muscles.
Reasonably dense I would say. I am a couple
of feets away from Arif and yet I can't be seen here.
So yesterday we went trekking to the site. The objective is to identify trees that will have to go and those that will be retained for one reason or another. The bulldozer will be coming in soon to clear the site and (re)planting will have to start very soon.

Just like in Ali Baba dan 40 Penyamum, we bought red and gold spray paint to identify trees that will be retained. You know the X symbol that the Penyamuns used to identify their victim's home is used in our endevour this time around.
Silap-silap memang boleh tergolek. Been there before! The slope is
reasonably steep. A good one for planting D24 or Musang King durians!
But we managed to identify only three trees; once we started scaling down the steep slope, and upon hearing to sound of water stream, we lost focus and started imagining ourselves enjoying the cool stream.

Kali or mata air. Too small to be called a river.

I would say the water is pure mineral water and the stream passes our land.

We stayed put for about 15 mins, clearing the shrubs so that the stream can be seen clearly. The previous owner had taken bottles of water from this stream whenever he at site. I am yet to do that, of course, as this was only the second time I had been here, but hopefully I would do that more often once site clearing has been done.

Beautiful small stream; full of rocks and soft sands. I wish it is a bit bigger,
but hey, this is mine. A small pondok somewhere and I would be able
to enjoy this weekly. The question is how long this stream can last
in view of the development taking place in Langat.
Another view of the stream, downstream I guess. This is no longer part of my land.

This part is very sandy. The question is how long will it last.
As long as there is no development upstream, may be I will enjoy this,
but once owners upstream start demarcating their lands for house
development, then we are doomed.
We had two choices. We could climb back and follow the same path to return to civilization. Or we could follow the stream and hope for the best that it would take us to a kampung or main road.

We decided on the second option.
Fortunately the two pianists are ever willing to accompany their dad
in surveying the land. I guess this is not their normal chore and hence
it is nice distraction for them.

Until we reached this part, we thought we had made the wrong decision. There is no way through vertically. We had to walk close to horizontally. Well, not quite, but all three of us were on our knees.
Arif on bended knees. I think I have pulled a muscle or two in
this position while trying to pass through.
It was a long walk in the stream, close to 45 mins, at times lamenting on our decision that we've made. By this time, we were tired, but we weren't dehydrated as there was plenty of water!

Obviously we found our way back to the car. And I guess that was no incident worthing writing.

Heck, it is not even interesting.

Love this, but I am not sure of the species. Anyone can identify them for me?

But we love the floral and fauna in the jungle of ours. Well for now let's just enjoy the floral. We didn't get to me the small four legged animals, which we had met a couple of years ago, and obviously our hearts skipped many beats that day.

And the floral was just beautiful. I am sure if we were to explore a bit more, we would find more exotic plants in there.

The question is whether I have the stamina to do this on a weekly basis.