Saturday, 29 November 2008

Of creed, colour and a clamp

I'll start off with the clamp first.

It is now the school holiday season here in Malaysia. During this time, Muslim parents who have young sons are planning for the `rites of passage' ritual for their boys. It is circumcision time... an anxious time of their life for the young boys. Sometimes the parents, especially the moms, are filled with anxiety and worries too.

The process of circumcision has changed a lot. The trade of the traditional Tok Mudim is dying away as most parents nowadays send their sons to private clinics. Doctors can even now offer their young patients the option of using circumcision clamps as opposed to the standard` snip and stitch' method. The clamp is a device that helps simplify the process because there is no need for sutures or dressings. The cut also tend to heal faster.

I've read some negative reviews about this particular method but having chosen this option for my youngest son's circumcision a few years ago, I can attest to its advantages. The clamp method is now widely used in Malaysia and some other developing countries. Not many people know that this device, commercially known as the Tara Klamp, was invented by a Malaysian doctor.

We'll come back to this subject a little later. I want to touch now on the subject of creed and colour.

Creed and colour relates to religion and race. In Malaysia, these two issues are so intertwined in the fabric of society and hardly a day pass by without something about race or religion being discussed in the mainstream media. The last few weeks have been no exception. I'm of course, talking about the decision of the National Fatwa Council regarding yoga.

Many blogs have touched on this issue and I do not wish to delve too deep into the merits of the decision itself. I just wish to share my observations based on what has been reported in the papers and the views and opinions of other bloggers. So here goes, in simple point form :

1. The National Fatwa Council cannot issue a fatwa or edict that is enforceable nationwide. Jurisdiction on Islam is a state matter.

2. The practice of yoga is not haram as long as it is not accompanied by mantras or chants that equates with the divinity of Allah swt.

3. The announcement by the council is a case of poor planning and foresight. Otherwise the Prime Minister and some Sultans would not have seen fit to publicly give their views on the matter.

4. The announcement has caused over-reactive response from both supporters and detractors. The response has come from non-Muslim individuals and communities too.

I do not think that this is the end of the story yet. I believe the Council could have handled this issue in a much better manner. While I appreciate their intent in issuing the directive (primarily that the Muslims who perform yoga do not become deviated in their faith - terpesong dari aqidah), they could have adopted a more thoughtful approach. The Gazer of Navels has an excellent example of how it could've been done -> here.

As I've said, many non-Muslim groups and bloggers have entered the discussion on this directive. This has prompted some Muslim groups to react by saying that `This is none of your business!'. Many Muslims are even chiding other fellow Muslims for questioning the ruling.

In my view, when it comes to issues like this, we Muslims cannot prevent non-Muslims from airing their opinions. Malaysians are not an exclusive society of this or that race only. What ever happens to one race could affect another... it's just a question of degree. We cannot fault our non-Muslim friends from showing their concern. What's important is the way this concern is raised... again we are back to the question of approach.

Similarly, Muslims cannot hold on to the position of exclusivity. By shutting out discussion, we are hindering the process of understanding. If we wish to attract other people to our religion or at least to understand it better, we should be encouraging interaction rather than building walls. We have to recognise that opinions and efforts of individual non-Muslims have their merits too.

Which now brings me back to the story of the humble circumcision clamp. After sending their sons to be circumcised using the clamp method, not many Muslim parents realise that the inventor of this device is a non-Muslim doctor. Dr Gurchran Singh won the Gold Award for his invention at the Geneva Exhibition in 1996.

Dr Gurchran donated thousands of his clamps to the young boys of Acheh in the aftermath of the tsunami. It's simplicity of use meant that the clamp was ideally suited to the non-hospital environments available in Acheh. This story of the good doctor helping out our neighbours in need was recorded by the Discovery Channel. Something that all Malaysians can be proud of.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Ramai Lari

The following pic was taken at the pump of a Petronas petrol station on Pasir Gudang Highway. Times must be so tough that people are willing to cheat even when filling up petrol.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

You can't fool me twice

It was raining that night as I left the office at around 9.00pm. The traveling time from my office at Taman Setiawangsa to my house at Taman Melawati was only around 15 minutes.

I reached the roundabout that connected Keramat AU3 to the MRR and stopped at the traffic lights. From out of the car window I saw a man holding an umbrella walking towards me. He reached the driver's side of the car and tapped gently on the window. I rolled down the window but only a quarter of the way, just enough for me to see the man's face and hear what he has to say.

The man was perhaps in his late fifties and neatly dressed. He initially greeted me in Malay and then proceeded to tell me that his car broke down and he has run out of money to call for a tow-truck. He asked if I could help him by giving some cash.

The sceptic in me immediately doubted this story and I could've queried him on details. But he looked a decent enough old man and standing there in the rain made him look even more pitiful. As if to convince me further, he offered to take note of my address and send me back the money. This last part he spoke in fluent English.

I was already tired from a long day's work and was eager to get home. I therefore gave him the benefit of doubt and handed over some cash. No need to send it back, I said. He thanked me profusely and the appreciation in his eyes seemed genuine enough.

It did cross my mind that the man could be a trickster and that I've just been conned. On the other hand, I pictured myself in his situation... facing some misfortune somewhere and honestly hoping for a stranger's help. Is it not a kind thing to help a fellow human being in trouble?

In situations like these, I have a simple rule... if I do not wish to help by giving money, then just decline... no need to ask any questions. Otherwise, just hand out the cash and hope that I've done the right thing. If the guy is not telling the truth, then so be it. In such cases, I believe the money was not meant to be mine in the first place. Bukan hak saya tapi hak orang lain. This way, it helps keep my conscience clear... and more importantly, it makes me feel less a fool.

The above incident happened around 3 years ago when I was based in Kuala Lumpur. Fast forward to the present... last week to be exact.

I was again in Kuala Lumpur and on my way to visit a friend whose daughter had undergone surgery (see previous post). It was around 8.00 pm and the earlier heavy rain had slowed to a drizzle. I stopped at the traffic lights at the turn-off from MRR to Jalan Ampang, near Ampang Point.

From the corner of my eye, I saw someone approach my car and then gently tapping on the window. I wound down the window and an elderly Malay gentleman greeted me by giving the Salam. He then told the story of how his car had broken down and he has run out of cash. Could I help him by donating some?

It was when the old man spoke in fluent English that I realised he was the same person who asked me for money three years ago...

"I'm on my way to home to Seremban when my car broke down," he said, "and I don't know anybody here in KL. Can you help me please."

What the f@*#! It's the same bloke I `helped' three years ago! By trying to sell the same story, it confirms that he's trying to con me.

I slowly wound up the car window and ignored the conman. He continued to tap on the window and buat muka kesian. The traffic lights changed to green and I drove off.

I wound up the car window not because I was afraid to tell him off, but rather to prevent things from getting ugly. Otherwise I might have reached out, grabbed him by the shirt collar and shout out a few profanities. Not a nice thing to do to a senior citizen.

As I drove away, the incident of three years ago played again in my mind. What are the chances of the same conman trying to play the same trick twice on the same person, three years apart? Not very likely, right? As the English saying goes... Fool me once, shame on you but fool me twice, shame on me.

Here's something else for you to ponder... If the conman works for about two hours that night, he could probably try to pull the trick on about 20 drivers. If we assume a 50% success rate and each kind-hearted driver coughs out RM10, then the trickster would end up with RM100. Not bad for a day's taking based solely on selling a sob story.

And so, my friends... if your are driving in the Keramat AU, Ampang or maybe even the Melawati areas and a stranger comes up to you pleading for help because his car broke down, you know what to do.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Mending a deformed backbone

Earlier this week I received news that the teenage daughter of a very close friend had undergone major surgery to correct her abnormally curved spine. I was in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday morning for a project meeting and later took the opportunity to visit my friend and his daughter at their home in Shah Alam.

Mariah Raihanah bt. Khushairi is 18 years old. Her backbone has an abnormal lateral (sideways) curvature to the right. The medical term for this condition is scoliosis. It's the first time that I've heard of the term so I looked it up on the internet to learn more.


Scoliosis is more likely to occur in girls than boys. The specific cause of this condition is not known. The spine curves either to the left or right. In some cases, it curves both ways, giving the backbone an S-shape. The degree of curvature is called the Cobb angle and anything above 40 degrees is considered severe. Non-severe curvatures can be corrected using a brace, especially if the condition is detected at a young age. Severe cases can only be rectified by surgery.

Scoliosis is not caused by bad posture, sporting injuries or lifting heavy loads. The condition does not actually cause much pain but if left untreated, may cause complications to other internal organs in future.

Raihan's spine was curved at 48 degrees. She underwent a 5-hour surgery at Damansara Specialist Hospital three weeks ago. Alhamdulillah, the operation was successfully done and she is now recuperating at home.

Khushairi showed me the X-ray images of his daughter's backbone taken before and after the surgery. The `before' image shows a curve in the lower or lumbar region of the backbone. The `after' image shows the affected vertebrae straightened with a short metal rod about 8" long and held in place by five screws. The operation also involved taking a piece of bone from her rib cage, crushing it to a paste that's later used as a filler in between the vertebrae to encourage fusion and therefore restraining the curvature from progressing further.

I cannot but imagine how complicated the procedure must have been and the pain and discomfort that Raihan is going through. But she seemed cheerful enough and very positive when I talked to her.

My wishes to Raihan for speedy recovery. You sure are a brave girl, my child.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Autumn in the land of the rising sun

I was browsing through the pictures posted by my sister-in-law in her Facebook profile recently. She posted some beautiful photos of the autumn season in Epping Forest, located north-east of London.

When I was a student in the UK, of the four seasons, I loved autumn the most. Apart from the colourful sight of the falling leaves, this particular season always give me a calm and relaxed feeling.

I managed to experience this season again when I was selected to attend a course in Japan in 1990, courtesy of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The course started in late August and ended in December. The training was held at JICA's International Centre in Kitakyushu and was made up of only eight participants from different countries.

The overall course was very well structured, with a combination of site/factory visits in addition to classroom lectures. We were also provided with optional classes to study the Japanese language. Towards the middle of November, there was a one-week break in studies followed by a guided tour cum factory visits to the capital of Tokyo. The official schedule was for the whole class to travel by train from Kitakyushu to Tokyo and put up at one of JICA's training centres in the capital. Since there were some free days before the official Tokyo trip, me and three other coursemates (Tino from Argentina, Malou from Philippines and Wipa from Thailand) decided to seek permission if we could travel ahead and meet up with the rest of the class in Tokyo at the designated time. Our intention was to go for some sightseeing on our own.

The first time we forwarded our request, our course coordinator Mr. Manabe, was very reluctant to give permission. He didn't actually turn us down but since the Japanese find it difficult to say a flat-out `No', Mr. Manabe was giving this and that reasons why we should not venture out on our own.

When word got back that our request was not likely to get approval, my friend Tino was a bit cheesed off and was about to blow his top (Among Tino's words - Who do they think we are?! Kids that have to follow their every rule?!). I managed to calm him down by saying that I'll try to negotiate with Mr. Manabe in person.

I arranged for a suitable time to see our course coordinator and explained to him our intentions and hear his concerns. I told him that we wanted to visit the cities of Osaka and Kyoto because we've heard so much about them. Our training here was sponsored by JICA and it was highly unlikely that any of us would be able to come to Japan again on our own. We wanted to see as much of Japan as we can before flying home. Mr. Manabe understood my reasoning but he was worried that we could get lost in Osaka or Kyoto. Osaka is a huge city, second only to Tokyo.

I helped put his mind at ease by saying that my basic Japanese (gained from those optional language classes) has been passable so far. I could count quite well, so asking about train/taxi fares or prices of items is not a problem. Asking for directions should also not be difficult because the Japanese are very helpful people. I probably clinched the deal by adding that Japan is the safest country that I've been to. I can walk alone at night without the fear of getting mugged.

At the end of my pitch, Manabe-san looked at me and smiled. Okay, he said, but let us help you book the hotels at Osaka and Kyoto so that you don't get sent to the expensive ones.

And so, at this time of the year in 1990, me and three friends went traveling on our own to visit Osaka, Kyoto and a few other places around those cities. We took the so-called bullet train (Shinkansen) from Kokura Station in Kitakyushu to Shin-Osaka. I can't recall how fast the train went.... but it was very fast!

It was my idea to visit Osaka because I very much wanted to visit Osaka Castle, having been much influenced by watching the telemovie, Shogun (Richard Chamberlain acted the leading role). The castle is located over a large sprawling park right in the middle of the city. Walking through the castle park reminded me of scenes from the many samurai movies that I watched over the years.

Osaka Castle Park

After Osaka, we made a stop at the town of Nara before heading to Kyoto. My Thai friend Wipa, wanted so much to see this place because she read about a beautiful buddhist Golden Temple. I cannot describe the beauty of the Japanese gardens and parks in Nara. As it was autumn, the changing colour of the leaves on the trees was breathtaking. We spent a whole afternoon sightseeing in Nara before taking an evening train to Kyoto.

A very young yours truly and coursemate Wipa Hirunsurong in Nara

Kyoto is the ancient capital of Japan. It is a very historical city with many gardens and old Japanese architecture. If you want to have a feel of the old Japan, then Kyoto is the place to be.

A garden in Kyoto

After exploring Kyoto for a day (hardly enough, I assure you), we took another bullet train to the busy city of Tokyo. The highlight of this train journey was when we reached an area near the foot of Mt. Fuji. The train track passed an area about 20 to 30 km from the mountain and the view of this dormant volcano from our train window was awesome. The mountain is near conical in shape with its peak covered with the white of snow. Having previously seen this mountain only on postcards or pictures, the first-hand view was something else. If not for the plans to visit Tokyo, I would've made a stop right there and spent more time exploring the towns at the foot of this famous Japanese landmark.

We reached Tokyo a few days earlier than when the other half of our class was scheduled to arrive. We had planned it that way because we wanted the opportunity to tour the city on our own. We visited so many interesting places : Shinjuku, Akihabara, Tokyo Disneyland.... but those stories are for another day.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

True colours

Two weeks back, blogger-friend Versedanggerik posted in her blog about a wedding event that she helped plan and organize. The post contained photos of the event and some pics of the blog owner looking gorgeous in a red dress. This prompted me to comment that she reminded me of the Chris De Burgh song `Lady In Red'.

A few days later, by coincidence, I came across an article on MSN News titled - When Men See Red, They See Hot. The opening paragraphs are as follows :

The popular ballad "Lady in Red" is poised to take on a whole new meaning: a study published Tuesday showed that the color red makes men see women as hotter or, more scientifically put, more attractive.

Researchers from the University of Rochester in New York conducted five psychological experiments to demonstrate that the color red makes men feel more amorous toward women.

In the experiments, groups of young men looked briefly at a picture of a moderately attractive woman printed on a red background, and the same woman then on a white, grey or green background. They also looked at a woman in red clothing, and the same one in blue clothing.

The men found the lady with a red background more attractive, both physically and sexually.

The full article can be read at this link -> When Men See Red . One of the conclusions of the study is : Men act like animals when in the sexual realm.


Youtube video credit to itweb

According to some researchers, you can tell the personality of person from the choice of his/her favourite colours. One such test was devised by Dr. Max Luscher in 1947. You can try an online modified (and unofficial) version at this website -> ColorQuiz.com

I've tried the test.... a few times, at different intervals. I find the results a bit perplexing... while I agree with the primary finding, other conclusions are way off the mark. As an example, the test reported that for My Actual Problem - Disappointment and the fear that there is no point in formulating fresh goals have led to anxiety, and he is distressed by the lack of any close and understanding relationship or adequate appreciation.

Hey, I'm not suffering from any anxiety... I'm cool! And unless I'm really in self-denial, I have my fair share of close and understanding relationships. Thank you very much.

Well, anyway... I actually do not have any specific favourite colour. I like different colours at different times and different situations. I like light blue shirts for office wear but my T-shirts are mostly dark or black. I prefer my car in light tones but my furniture in dark.

If I really have to choose a favourite colour, then it would probably be grey. Why grey? Hmm... maybe because life situations are not always in pure black and white. There are plenty areas of grey. Grey is a smoky colour and symbolizes haziness, non-solidity and uncertainty.

That is why among my favourite words are : maybe... probably... perhaps. You see these words quite a lot in my writing.

Does my choice of grey as a favorite colour make me an `unsure' person? Hmmm... maybe, I guess :-)

So what is your favourite colour?

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The best husband

I've been meaning to post something else today but at the special request of regular reader Hanitha, here's another interlude (credit to kyra_ayu @ cari.com.my).

Suami Terbaik

Sekumpulan lelaki berada di bilik persalinan di salah sebuah kelab eklusif lagi mewah di pusat bandar, setelah keluar dari gym. Tiba-tiba kedengaran deringan handphone di penjuru bilik tersebut. Seorang lelaki menjawap panggilan itu dan terjadilah perbualan seperti berikut :

"Hello?"
"Abang, nie sayang nie."
"Emmm... "
"Abang masih ada di kelab lagi ke?"
"Iya."
“Sayang sekarang nie berada di shopping complex dua block dari kelab abang tu. Sayang ada nampak kain sutera terbaru. Cantik bang. Boleh ke sayang beli?"
"Berapa harganya?"
"Cuma RM1,500.00 aje.."
"Okay, belilah kalau memang awak dah suka sangat."
"Ahhh thanks bang. Dan tadi sebelum datang sini sayang ada singgah di Cycle & Carriage dan tengok Mercedes model terbaru 2008. Sayang suka kat satu model tu. Dan sayang dah bincang dengan jurujualnya dan dia setuju nak bagi good price . . lagipun elok juga kita tukarkan dengan BMW yang kita beli tahun lepas tu. "
"Berapa harga yang dia bagi?"
"Cuma RM280,000 ..."
"Okay, tapi pastikan harga tu dah on the road."
"Great! Before we hang up, ada satu perkara lagi..."
"Apa?"
"Abang jangan terkejut pulak, sayang dah semak akaun bank abang dan.... pagi tadi sayang singgah di pejabat ejen hartanah dan sayang dapat tau rumah yang kita tengok tahun lepas tu... sekarang nie untuk dijual. Abang ingat tak? Rumah yang ada swimming pool bentuk love tu, ada taman orkid kat belakang, berhadapan dengan pantai tu. . cantik kan bang. . "
"Berapa harga yang mereka minta?"
"Cuma RM740,000... Okay kan bang? Sayang tengok dalam akaun kita, boleh cover harga tu. . ."
"Eloklah kalau macam tu, confirm cepat sebelum orang lain beli, tapi cuba dapatkan harga RM700,000. Okay?"
"Okay, abang sayang, terima kasih bang, kita jumpa malam nanti ye!! I love you !!!"
"Bye... I love you too..."

Lelaki itu berhenti bercakap, menutup flap handphone . . sambil mengangkat tangan yang memegang handphone tu dan bertanya pada yang ada dalam bilik tersebut :

"ADA SESIAPA TAHU KE HANDPHONE NIE SIAPA PUNYA? "

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Hitting the century mark

This is my 100th post! For today, I thought I'd just spend some time looking back at how this blog has come along. A nice way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon...

I'm borrowing some ideas from blogger-friend Versedanggerik in this write-up. Boleh kan Verse?

Actually, my first foray in blogging started much earlier, some time around 2001. But it was short-lived... in fact, it had a single opening post (me ranting about my job, the typical overwork and underpaid stuff). The weblog didn't survive because the laptop I was using had to be returned when I left the company. Blogging at home was out of the question because broadband connection for the general public was non-existent back then. Accessing the Internet on a dial-up connection is a real test of patience.

This particular blog came to existence in April this year. The first post was made on 8 April 2008. Seven months down the line, we reach the 100th mark. That works out to an average of just over 14 posts per month. Kira okay la tu...

While it has never been about quantity, I was nonetheless concerned about actually having worthwhile things to write about and share with other citizens of blogosphere. So far, the ideas have been coming in quite regularly... it's always the effort of typing it all out on the laptop that's holding things back. No doubt, some of my posts are just fillers or what I call `interludes' but generally, what I've written are from my own personal experience.

Anyway, here are some highlights :

First commenter - Saudara Mutalib Saifudin on 1st May 2008.
First blogroll link-back - The fiesty Fie The Elf.
First blogging award received - The talented Emila Yusof.
First Facebook friend also on Blogger - Nurie, living life in Riyadh.
First award citation - On 08.09.08 by Patricia, who lives in an English Cottage.
First fellow blogger I met in person - Versedanggerik, in Kuantan on 14 August 2008.

My most sincere apologies to other regular friends and occasional visitors whom I've failed to mention. There are so many of you... I am so honoured by the visits, comments and link-backs.

I reproduce here, part of what I posted previously as a response to the nomination from Pat :

I created this blog primarily as an avenue to sharpen my writing and story-telling skills. It's a very modest journal on personal experiences mostly. It also gives me the chance to meet other writers in blogosphere. Along the way, I get to be friends with readers, commenters and other fellow bloggers... and this is a good thing. Thanks to all of you for dropping by and having something to say about what I write. Most appreciated. I truly hope that we'll be able to meet in real life, one day.

I'll end this post with something that I hope would make you smile today. Remember last week when it was announced that a fatwa was going to be issued about yoga? Well... this one is about a fatwa too.

HARAM MENIKAHI GADIS SATU KAMPUNG

BERITA GEMPAR!!!!! HARAP-HARAP TENANGKAN PERASAAN SEBELUM MEMBACA LAPORAN INI, BAGI YANG TELAH TERLANJUR... APA NAK BUAT!!!!

Haram menikahi gadis satu kampung. JAKIM telah mengeluarkan fatwa baru. Setelah diadakan perbincangan dan diskusi di antara para pemimpin, JAKIM dan ahli ulama' memberikan fatwa pada tanggal 3 Oktober tahun 2008 :

"HARAM HUKUMNYA BAGI SEORANG MUSLIM LAKI-LAKI UNTUK MENIKAH DENGAN GADIS SEKAMPUNG"

Fatwa JAKIM ini telah menimbulkan perdebatan dan bantahan yang sangat sengit antara yang pro dan kontra. Bahkan banyak pihak yang menyatakan bahawa JAKIM telah mengambil keputusan yang tidak munasabah dan terburu-buru. Wartawan Berita Harian telah meminta pegawai kanan JAKIM untuk memberi ulasan yang mendalam sebab-sebab JAKIM mengeluarkan fatwa sedemikian. Inilah isi wawancara tersebut:

Wartawan: Bagaimana JAKIM boleh mengeluarkan fatwa haram untuk menikahi gadis sekampung?

Pegawai Kanan : Bagaimana tidak haram, sedangkan menikahi empat orang wanita sahaja sudah berat, apalagi satu kampung... ... ... .!!!

Hehehehehe... jgn marah ah... nanti kena jual, saya gurau je ... :-)

Have a good week everybody!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Interlude

Congratulations to Barack Obama on being elected as the 44th President of the United States of America. It took more than 200 years for Americans to effect a seemingly impossible change, but change they did. I hope that we Malaysians need not wait that long.

In the mean time, I leave you with this bit of trivia about Americans that would probably apply to us too...

Sporting Preference of the Workforce

In the United States, a research was carried out to determine the sporting preferences of the workforce.

The sport of choice of the general workers and unskilled employees is basketball. The sport of choice of the technicians and supervisors is bowling. The professionals and executives prefer baseball.

The sport of choice of the top managers and CEOs is of course, golf.

The conclusion of the research is :
The higher you are in the management heirarchy, the smaller your balls.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

School hours in Malaysia

Just a short post on serious stuff for today.

My youngest son is in the first year of secondary school. He's in the afternoon session. Occasionally, when it is convenient, I would pick him up from school on the way back from work.

Last week, while waiting for my son outside the school gates, I overheard a conversation between a parent and a schoolbus driver, lamenting about how late the school ends. The afternoon session finishes at 6.45pm and given the early sunset time these days, most kids get home after dark. For schoolchildren taking public transport or the schoolbuses, they reach home at around 8pm to 9pm. Ideally, I heard the parent say, kids should be safely at home by sundown. As it is now, this is not quite possible for those in the afternoon session. If you consider our children in Sabah, where the sun sets earlier than in Peninsular, they are even more unfortunate.

I tend to agree with this comment. Schools should finish at around 5 or 5.30pm for the day, so that the children don't have to spend the maghrib hours still on the buses. For this to happen, Malaysia need to implement a single-session system. To achieve this means building more schools.

If I were the Minister of Education, this is something I would aim to do, apart from making teaching an attractive profession by improving the incentives and benefits. Don't tell me our country doesn't have the money. Just today, the government announced a RM7 billion economic stimulus package.

It's never too expensive to invest in our young and future generation.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Streets of London

As some of you may have noticed, I've recently updated my blogroll to include newly found friends in blogosphere. One of these is Kak Teh, whose Choc-a-Bloc Blog, has a large and loyal following. I'm one of those who regularly visits her blog but have never left any comment until last week.

Kak Teh is considered a veteran blogger, having kept a weblog since December 2004. She resides in London and her posts about life in that city and the UK in general are very interesting.

I've stayed in London before, as a student of course, but only for a short period of six months. But what a memorable six months it was. It was supposed to be the first year of my A-levels but I practically didn't study anything during that period. Not a good example, you might say, but that's just me... no need to hide it.

I first arrived in London sometime in January of 1980. Bloody freezing cold. I was part of a large group of students sent to the UK before our MCE results were out. While most of the students were sent to established colleges all over the UK (where other Malaysian students have studied before), a group of 13 including yours truly, were enrolled at a private college in Greenwich, London for the first time. The Malaysian Students Department (MSD) was sort of testing to see if this college was up to the mark. As I mentioned earlier, there wasn't much studying done, and after a few months, we reported back to MSD and asked to be transferred to a better college for the next term.

Upon arriving in London, this group of 13 naive boys were first housed in an old boarding house called Blackheath Hall in the south-eastern suburb of the city. Although the hall had central heating, it was still drab and dreary. The walk from the hall to our college was about 20 minutes, past open public fields. The stay at Blackheath was temporary, only for about 2 weeks, if I recall correctly. In that period, we were tasked to find permanent accomodation on our own. Since there were no Malaysian seniors at the college, you can imagine how difficult it was because we had no-one we could refer to for advice. Nonetheless, we were told by other foreign students to search the advertisements in the evening papers.

After Blackheath, I stayed at two different places in an area called New Cross. It was a bit far from college but the rent was cheap and we had many other foreign students as neighbours. The daily journey from rented flat to college was a single bus ride for about half-an-hour. While the particular college we went to was nothing to brag about, the sub-district of Greenwich is actually a beautiful and historical place. There are many places of interests within walking distance of each other but the most memorable one that I went to was the Royal Observatory. This is the origin of the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the Prime Meridian or Zero Longitude that divides the globe into east and west.

Gabriel on the right is standing in the west, Khairul in the middle straddles Zero longitude while Silla is standing in the east. Pic taken at Greenwich Royal observatory in 1980.

The GMT has now been replaced by the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), but to me Malaysia is and will always be +8 hours GMT.

The financial allowance that we got from MSD at that time was not particularly lavish, especially if you consider the relatively high cost of living in the city of London. Most weekends were therefore spent at home or at most, browsing around the shopping areas of south-eastern districts such as Lewisham and Brockley. Occasionally, we would take the bus or underground train to go to central London. The first stop would of course be the Malaysian Hall at Bryanston Square near Marble Arch for the subsidised lunch at only 50 pence. After lunch, we would walk the length of the famous shopping road of Oxford Street, not actually buying anything. Some years back, I read that Malaysian Hall was going to close down because the lease was up. I wonder if it's still there.

One evening, during early spring, my two friends and I, decided to explore the West End area of London. Although called `west', the area is actually located in central London and is famous for its many tourist attractions such as museums, theatres, cinemas, restaurants and nightclubs. In short, it's the entertainment centre of London. We spent the earlier part of the evening strolling the area of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, and later decided to catch a late night movie at one of the cinemas. I can't recall the title of the movie but most probably it was one with an adult rating. After the movie, we walked around trying to find a place to buy fish and chips. It was after finishing the meal sitting on a park bench, that we realised that the buses and trains have stopped for the night. Crap! How were we going to get home? Taking a taxi would be too expensive and we weren't sure we had enough money left anyway.

The only other option was to walk back home. Since I was fairly confident of the route (as traveled by bus earlier in the day), we decided to take the walk although we were not sure how far we actually had to travel. And so that night, three young Malaysian chaps braved the unknown to walk from central London to the south-east district of New Cross. After all these years, I can still retrace the route that we took. From Leicester Square, we walked past The Strand, crossed the River Thames on Waterloo Bridge to get to South Bank, down Waterloo Road to The Elephant & Castle roundabout, down New Kent Road that led to Old Kent Road (also known as the A2), on to New Cross Road before finally turning to Pepys Road where our flat was located.

The route took us through tough working-class neighbourhoods. I re-traced the path we took using Google Earth and measured it at 8.3km. On hindsight, it was probably a crazy thing we did that night.

The path of a night stroll in London, re-traced on a Google Earth image

I haven't had the opportunity to visit London again since I finished university. Sure hope that someday I would be able to do so.