Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Six years with a leaky roof

I thought it would never be done, but at last I decided to go for it.

I love kampung-style house, in a limited way, but I could not afford to live in one. It would be too expensive to maintain, so instead I live in a brick house, like everybody else.
The old Cengal roof. It looks dilapidated from the top,
but mind you, this is Cengal. It would last at least
a century.
I had a cengal roof added to a veranda as a place for the family to enjoy the outdoor, but unfortunately it was not well built, so during heavy rains, it tends to leak. Since it was made of Cengal, it is too heavy, bulky and difficult to dismantle and rebuild.

I have always been wondering why we would always use tiles for our roof. I thought they are bulky and expensive, and I thought shingles as used in American homes would be ideal. I had thought from watching many home improvement projects in America that it would be something I could do myself.

If at least in my dreams.

To bring to the fore of my kampung life - something which I did not have, to be honest, I decided to have a wooden Cengal roof. It is beautiful, I love it - I would imagine life in Lenggong or Taiping, right here in the middle of KL, but it needs to be well-built and well maintained, something which it was not.

So in order to repair the leaking Cengal roof, I decided to use shingles on top of the roof to stop the leak, but from the veranda I could still enjoy the beautiful Cengal roof as it was meant to be.

Every grain of it.

I like shingle roof as they are very light, and have different shades, so it created some very nice pattern when seen from a far.
The new look

This is my first experiment with this type of roof, so if this is successful, I would love to incorporate more of this in bigger projects in the future.

So let's see if it can keep my veranda from the rains! ;)
Ensuring they are leak free

As a parting shot, let's enjoy this song from the band from New Zealand, the Split Enz.

They should know very well what I had experienced, for they had spent six months in a leaky boat. Don't ask me how they survived!


So today 31 May's night; it is raining cats and dogs and no more leaky roof! Yay!!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When RM1.00 was worth more than gold

"OK, time's up. Please exchange your answer paper with your neighbour and we will go through the answer together."

With her as a teacher, it was never ending class tests. If my life nowadays revolves around the two certainties in life (that is tax and death), in 1978 it would be geography tests. Each week we would be preparing ourselves for her geography test. It would be Australia, it may be Japan or Thailand; by test day I would have memorized all the important towns and cities in the respective country, and anything you would need to know about that country.

She has a way of teaching us Geography. I found her teaching methods very interesting, and inspiring. Her tests were no chore at all. I looked forward to all of them. At 3 am on test day, I would be wide awake in my dorm, using torch light to go through my Geography book, while others would be snoring in the bed.

It didn't bother me at all. All I was thinking was how to score in her exams. I don't need that extra sleep; I need that extra mark I can get

A particular classmate normally would booked  his place next to me everytime we had Geographhy tests. He would try to copy my answers. I did try to prevent it, but I was only successful only to a certain extent. Obviously I would not want anyone to outscore me; what's more by copying my work.

If only there was a short cut method of studying for him

"Ah, of course. It is easy for the boys to remember Nakhon Ratchasima," she exclaimed, while sporting big wide, smile. "They would only have to remember it as Nakhon Roshaima!"

Most laughed, while yang empunya diri must be blushing.

I guess back then she was one the favourite girls in class and in school.

Fortunately I did not have to resort to such trick. As I have said, I have not had my sleep since 3 am that day, so my study method then was conventional. I have to swear Shema, it has nothing to do with me! ;) It must have been Birin or Azli, hahaha. May be if I had known such trick, I would be able to study smarter and not necessarily harder.

But I knew it too late. Simply I could not change my study style and methods.

After going through the test on Japan that day, she announced that whoever got 100% for that test, she would present RM1.00 to him/her. I smiled knowingly, confident that I am going to be that recipient.

But it was not without hiccup. One of the question was about the population of Japan. The answers that one can select were very close, and depending on your reference point, they would be correct answer (say 120 million, 125 million, 130 million), so in the end she conceded that she would accept any of those answers.

In the real exam, she contended, there would only one answer and that all the choices would be distinct.

I was extremely proud when she gave me RM1.00 for getting all correct answers in the test on Japan. For someone who was on RM10.00 a month for pocket money (sometimes, nothing, I must say) from bapak, I was rich that day. Immediately for the break, I headed to the cafe on top of Dewan Makan, and bought myself roti telur (for 30 cents) and drinks (can't recall what).

It was a good meal that morning, much better than what was on offer at Dewan Makan. It was so pleasurable.

Waking up at 3 am preparing for her test, it had been certainly worth all the effort. The freshly made roti telur was perhaps the best I had ever tasted in my life.

That's for sure.

For a 15-year old with little pocket money, if any, that RM1.00 note she gave me that day was worth its weight in  gold to me. Otherwise I would not have remembered the details after 34 years. 

And that was not the only ringgit I had gotten from her.

In 1979 she rewarded a bunch of us with another ringgit each for getting A1 in geography for SRP. Somehow she had been generous with us. I don't recall what I spent it on then; certainly the first ringgit, and being the sole recipient, would stuff memories are made of.

(How important was this in the overall scheme of things? Very very important. It was the only present I got for SRP 1978. The promise the Pengetua made to me when I called to get my results did not materialize.)

When I first met her again in 2003 after a lapse of 23 years, obviously she would still remember me. I have no doubt that that would be the case.

But my first sentence to her, while in introducing myself to her at her MRSM Jasin quarters, would be to remind her of the ringgit I got from her. "You gave me RM1.00 for getting 100% on a geo test!" I told her.

"Rahman, tentunya," she smiled broadly.

Immediately my grin grew wider!

That's Dr Fatanah Mohamed for you, a Maal Hijrah recipient at the national level. Obviously since the 70s, she had gone on doing very well with her career, perhaps something I would be unable to match myself. Knowing how she had motivated me to study hard for my exams, it was no surprise to me.

But to me, after all these years, she is simply Cikgu Fatanah, a teacher, firstly and foremost.


She would always oblige my invites. At times I do feel guilty as I thought as her former student, I should be the one crossing valleys, and climbing mountains to fulfill my teachers' invites (or visiting them) and not the other way round.

But then again she is a different breed of teacher.
Nov 2007 at my office warming party. Here Cikgu is seen with the host
and blogger and former student who still think very highly of her and would
bring the RM1.00 memory to his deathbed. 
These pictures were taken in 2006 during the Raya Open house at my place. She can be seen with her former students. She stayed on for quite awhile that day with the steady stream of her former MRSM students dropping by that day.
Once a teacher, always a teacher...Going through the pros and cons
for Arif to consider in deciding whether to follow
his father's footstep in heading to MRSM or not
Cikgu Fatanah must have some stories to tell her former students - the
Darwin 3 (1978) girls. Nakhon Ratchasima is on her left, while
Zaharah and Soraya listen on in this Raya 2006 open house. Eh I mean to
say Roshaima lah.
Cikgu Fatanah with her two daughters and her former students at my house
for the Raya 2006 open house celebration.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lagu untuk Seorang Ibu

There are many wonderful songs that were written as dedication to the thankless job of being a mother.

As a father myself, I would not be envious not being considered in the same wavelength as the mother of my children no less.

I am only being honest here, as I am my mother's child anyway, and I know their exact sentiment, and I do know first hand the sacrifice of a mother vis-a-vis a dad.

Anyway, I am here to reminisce what I thought would be the best mother song ever written in the Malay language.

I guess I am entitled to my own thought, so I can't be challenged here. :) My only wish is for Akmal or Arif to write an equally beautiful song for their mother - one of these days.

1. Lagu Untuk Seorang Ibu - Kembara (M Nasir)

I would rate this 1981 song very highly. May be for sentimental reasons, may be. I saw the clip after coming back from my matriculation in Perth. I saw it at Nenek Bulan's house in Aulong no less and I dreaded the sentiment of the song then, not realizing that the very next year, a similar story will be rehashed for a family very dear to us and only to be followed by our very own story two years later.

2. Ibu - Blues Gang

This is another great song from the 80s. While I have never been a fan of Blues Gang and perhaps would never be, but I would always be a fan of this song by Shaik Karim.

3. Bonda - M Nasir

What can I say of this song? It is a celebration of every mother in this world. While the first two songs are sad songs lamenting the loss of someone very close in her heart, this is a happier song about the virtues of a mother.

4. Ibu - P Ramlee

I love the song by the twist in the scene where P Ramlee would sing this song as a dedication to his mother rather than the young woman in the bar scene.

I love the look of her when her face was reduced from smiling to scowling.

I'll paste her Akmal and Arif's instrumental version

5. Kasih Ibu - Sharifah Aini et al

A melancholic song about motherly love vis-a-vis fatherly love. It is a staple in Malay's psyche about parenthood, and how we perceive them.

Take the haunting violin by Arif instead for this song.

6. Mawar Putih untuk Mama - Sharifah Aini

Yes, she deserves this and more.

7. Ummi - Sulis & Haddad Alwi

I prefer the orchestral version of the this song, and both Sulis and Haddad are simply great singer

8. Ummi - Dato' Shake

At times, I thought this is a song dedicated to a girl named Umi, but I guess I was wrong. It can be for both actually, depending on your perspective.

9. Oh Ibu - Alleycats

I would not dare singing this song to be honest. It is too sad. They don't make this type of song anymore. I would always shed tears listening to this song.

10. Mama - Hetty Koes Endang

This is a break from tradition so it may not be suitable as a dedication for mother. It is extremely sad when you lost you mother. You would be crying for her.

11. Ditinggal Mama - Lilies Suryani/Uji Rashid

Same category as Hetty Koes Endang's Mama. But it is a sad song nonetheless and it involves a mother.

These are the top Ibu songs for me.

Even if I could write all these beautiful songs and dedicate each one of them to my Mak, I know I would not be able to repay my debt.

Durian Durian!

As I have mentioned many entries earlier (read it here), having a Durian orchard is in every Malay guys' psyche.

Not much different from the dream of having more than one wife, I guess.

Somehow I think it is engrained in the genes of the Malay guys - but I would like to disclaim myself from it. :)

Hey, don't misjudge me. I am just a writer who writes about what I observed. In fact I am beginning to think that these two traits are reasonably neutral in characteristic and virtue. There are too many negative traits peculiar to the Malays - CBT and one other I prefer not to talk here.

Even melatah and nyanyuk seems neutral enough compared to say CBT.

Can some geneticists study what's inside the Malay genes and brains?

Anyway, before I continue bashing the Malays, I'd better come back to Earth. For now I will settle what I hope will be my retirement pursuit.

So on Saturday, I decided to head to Karak in pursuit of the hottest and most durian and I thought supposedly the mountainous backbone of peninsular would hold some of the keys to this pursuit.

The Musang King!
A catalog of the many species of the Durian. D197 also known
as Raja Kunyit, also known as Musang King is obviously the King
of the King, or shall I term it as the Emperor's Durian!
At the peak of the durian season, this variety would cost you at least RM20.00 per kg - may be more, while the generic kampung variety would be sold in bulk  at say RM10.00 per lot. Others like D24 or Udang Merah would probably sold for RM15 or less, IOI or Durian Mas at RM12 per kg.

Sounds like a good commercial deal.

While I know I am a few years late, it is better late than never. And it has to be done today, and not tomorrow. My today will always move I guess, I know I got to start looking for the seeds to plant today, so that I can plant it today, and hopefully five year later today, I will get to taste my first handplanted durian.

My very own.

If I live that long, that is. (Amin)

Soon I found myself at Tapak Semaian Tong, about 3 km from Karak's Town, a town I used to pass by when traveling from Kerteh to Kuala Lumpur, but seems like a forgotten town to me with the completion of the East Coast Highway.
The entrance to the nursery in Karak, Pahang
Here comes the King!
At RM15 a pop, they are cheap, but they
are smaller/shorter, and you probably need 6-7 years for the
trees to bear fruit.But they are cheap.
Aah, this is more like it. At RM80 a pop, they are
longer cheap, but it is at least 3 ft high, and probably
1 1/2 years old. Theoretically it can bear fruits
after 5 years.
A mature 10-year old Musang King durian tree, properly
tagged by Jabatan Pertanian
According to Mr Tong, the owner of the Nursery, durian trees need a lot of sunshine and can't be in the shade of another tree. Typically planted 30 ft apart, in a hilly terrain they can be planted closer at 25 ft apart. Bimonthly fertilizing is all that it needs.
Another view of mature Musang King tree
According to him, Durian Mas is another specie to plant. It is sweeter and has no bitter after-taste, compared to Musang King. But its fruits have to be consumed two days after they fall, as they tend to open up after that - unlike Musang King, which can be kept in storage longer.

Mr Tong with the blogger at his nursery.
I am keen on Durian Mas, but I guess nobody's perfect. There will always be pros and cons.

He did not recommend the variety from the North aka Udang Merah. It tends not to do as well here in Pahang and Selangor.

But men do not live on durian alone, so I went scouting for many other species at his farm.

Kedondong galore!
Kedondong seems to be a drink of choice at Lanai Kijang, the Bank Negara Malaysia's training centre, and it is getting very popular, due its (supposedly) healing power. I don't know what - hypertension may be, and whatever it is touted to be. Go and search in the internet, and let me know please.

A ripe kedondong
Or ask Bank Negara employees. They must be in the know!
Otherwise, you may want to go for Duku Langsat.
That's another favourite.
Petai anyone?
You should not be planting durian trees at the
boundary, just in case the fruits fall to the other side.
But you can plant this gaharu trees to denote your
boundary as it bears no fruits, and you are ready
to fell it after 7-8 years.

Spent nearly 1 1/2 hours talking and chatting with the owner, we went back to KL at noon. But not before stopping at a roadside stall. Musang King is not in season (yet); it should be in June, so I did not get to try it.

But I got to taste udang Merah at RM18 a kg.

And I must say I am in love with Udang Merah. It is soft, but not utterly soft texture. It is sweet, and has no bitter aftertaste.

Just as a Durian should be.

This is not reddish as Udang Merah from the north should be.
This is Raub's Udang Merah, so it is yellowish in colour.
But I love this durian. It is the best that I have tasted in years and it
cost me RM18 for this single durian.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

1985 and Dee C Lee

1985 was a great year for me.

Specifically the end of 1985.

By then I had finished my study after four toiling years at Monash, and by early December, we would have gotten our results. In hindsight, we knew our student life were coming to an end.

In 1985, got to know this great lady. I thought I was in love with her voice.

And her song.

In an era where there was no Youtube, we had to wait for Australian Countdown perhaps, and other limited musical programs on the telly to sample and watch the great video clips of the 80s. So it was always a pleasure to watch her on my B&W tube.

And not worry about study at all.

While Whitney Houston released her beautiful ballad in early 1985, Dee C Lee chose the right time to release them after I had finished my exams.

I thought her voice and song were a perfect match - a match made in heaven.

Twenty seven years later, I am still in love.

(The song and her voice lah!!!)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What is with the Malays and Money?


Ada yang panggil ringgit
Ada yang panggil dollar
Ada yang panggil baht
Ada yang panggil rupiah
Semua ini duit
Bikin orang belit

Duit! Duit!
Di mana kau duit
Duit! Duit!
Hutangku membukit

Ada yang benci duit
Ada yang cinta duit
(bikin perut buncit)
Skandal sana sini
Punca juga duit
Cari duit halal
Agar jangan kesal

Duit beli duit
Buat beli cinta

Ramai orang yang berkata
Duit punca banyak dosa
Jangan sampai makan rasuah
Nanti bangsa jadi musnah

Zaman ini zaman duit
Tak ada duit diri tercepit
Tapi jangan jadi hamba duit
Nanti musnah diri sendiri'

I am always very careful with my money, especially since I don't have that much.

I am careful with my own personal budget; I would alway ensure that I would spent much less that my earning, especially since I don't earn that much. You would not find luxury items in my home, irrespective if I can afford them or not; and in most case, I can't afford them, anyway.

You can even call my stingy if you must, and I would not punch you, but merely will smile back at you.

My 29" TV is from 12 years ago, so you can be assured that it is no flat screen LCD. We don't have ASTRO; one of the few houses in Klang Valley that doesn't have one. I have a car dated from 1994, and it is still running. Obviously it is now not a first (or only) car for us, since I do need to drive safely, long distance and that my son is now an income earner.

But it is car we still drive nonetheless.

When it comes to investing, I am perhaps too careful, and hence I am not not multi-millionaire. I am comfortable - perhaps too comfortable, but I am not there, if you know what I mean. Perhaps it is because I am too cautious (that I am not a multi-millionaire), but then again, I never had to mortgage (or lose) my assets through out the years.

Fortunately, or unfortunately - when it comes to giving too, I am a bit too conservative. People have told me that we should just give and not bothered to ask (too many questions) when thinking of giving. If they were con-people, well, they were answerable to Him on the day of Judgment. We have done our part.

My sister said we pass through this life but once; hence take the opportunity to do good deeds.

I don't disagree with those reasonings, but I will continue to be conservative irrespective.

May be it is because I did not come from a well-to-do family. We were not poor, but we were far from having enough. May be 'barely' is adjective to describe our lives then.

It is within this context that I asked a friend about the many tabungs (funds) he was proposing to us for our small way of giving back to our alma mater. It is no doubt in my mind that without our alma mater, I would not be what I am enjoying in life (in my own little way), and there is no doubt in my mind too that he was doing the right thing.

However, I have this strong feeling - negatively - about the Malays and funds. Somehow irrespective of our upbringing - socially and religiously, I would always be wary of the Malays when it comes to handling money.

Sorry. To qualify that statement, let me say I am Malay too (though technically I am a Minang), so those who dislike my statement could call me a traitor.

I don't care. I am entitled to call my own race anything, since I know I can't be called racist.

There had been too many cases, even in religious organization such as the state Islamic departments, or even the tithe departments (?), or even in the haj pilgrimage fund, that those in charge had use the funds to enrich themselves, to beautify their offices, or homes, or defend themselves in a court of law.

They are Malays, typically a haj, and typically would be wearing the skull cap when in court. Looked very religious, and would probably shed croocodile tears.

When it comes to money-grabbing (or criminal breach of trust - read: pecah amanah), the Malays are the no. 1 culprits. (Who says Malays are good for nothing? We can be the best without even trying!)

A minister nonetheless was accused of just that recently. A tithe collector, appointed by the Johor MAI was recently convicted of stealing about RM19,510 and was sentenced to four years in jail. In another case involving MAIWP, two Malays were sentenced to four years in jail for breach of trust case of RM2 million.

That was in 2011.

Two cases, one a paltry (if I may say so) sum of RM19,000 and the other one a substantial amount of RM2 million, but in both cases they were all sentenced to the same four years in jail. Unfortunately I can also report that if I were to continue working for the next four years, I would not be able to gather RM2 million.

Yes, I am a poorly paid person, I am sad to report, and it seems to me crime pays. [sigh]

Earlier in 2009, two general managers of tabung haji, were sentenced to 10 years in jail for a CBT involving a whopping RM200 millions! They were later released by the court.

It goes without saying that the cuprits were Malays and muslims, not Chinese or Jews. 

There was another case involving RM700,000 of tabung haji's money in 2001. I am not sure of the finality of the case.

As such, I told my dear schoolmates, I am a bit wary of 'us' wanting to raise RM400,000 for our school, and another fund to be set-up involving RM1 billion, supposedly to help the Malays.


My mind stopped working when I hear such astronomical number.

Upon returning back to Earth, my mind was working out wildly wondering whose bank accounts in Switzerland are going to be stacked with this princely sum.

Our alumni (ANSARA) has Tabung HIP. It was launched awhile ago with much fanfare and if I am not mistaken by none other than the then PM (Tun Mahathir). But since then, I have heard many stories floating around about the funds, and many are not too pleasing to the ears of proud former students like me.

I know, I know, beyond my questioning of our ability to hold trust properly especially if it involved money, I had many years ago question the Malays as being the worst 'pen-dengki' in the world, so we should take these stories with a pinch of salt.

(Somehow even the google translation of dengki (jealousy) somehow pales in comparison of the actual meaning of the Malay word. Only the Malays have such fanciful description of their own  bad traits. But I digress.)

So this friend of mine explained that under the charter of Tabung HIP, we can open our own fund and administer it and hence can dictate how we want our money to be spent. It sounds like a plan to be honest, but at the same time it requires commitment on my side too.

Hahaha, not that I have a million dollar to donate and I do hope that friend of mine knew of my inability to donate such princely sum since I don't have it.

But as I have mentioned, I have little to give and I want to ensure that that little money would go to the needy or a cause close to my heart.

And not to some undeserving soul to purchase a bungalow in Mont Kiara or get the latest BMW toys.


Thank you my friend for the chat yesterday. I am not totally turned over yet, but I think there is a way forward for us. I still need to talk to my accountants (just to make me sounds so important, and that I am doing my due diligence.

It is my weakness that I am this way.

On another front, I told my cab driver, while he was driving us from my hotel to SukarnoHatta, that we can never be sure how we ourselves would not react the same way, should we find in such situation in cases above. Would we be tempted ourselves, or would we walk away with our principle intact?

I don't know to be honest. It is easy enough to be an armchair's critique. I am glad that I have not been tested in such a way, and I do pray that I will never be tested or tempted. It is easy to say that I would not be tempted by a few hundred ringgits, or a few thousands, but when  it goes to the millions, I myself may be having second thought, God forbids.