Thursday, 30 April 2009

It's so taxing

Being the perennial last-minute guy that I am, I've just managed to squeeze in my income tax returns by e-filing a few minutes ago. Luckily I could access the Inland Revenue Board's computers because the servers were jammed when I tried them yesterday.

I have just realised that we can now claim for deduction of expenses for sports equipment up to a maximum of RM300. This includes purchase of consumable sports items such as golf balls and shuttlecocks. Looks like I better resume playing badminton again this year.

I started posting in this month of April with a joke so maybe it's good to close with a joke too. This time, it is about an Irishman who meets his tax inspector.

Paddy and The Taxman

The Inland Revenue decides to audit Paddy, and summons him to an appointment with the most thorough Tax Inspector in the office. The Tax Inspector is not surprised when Paddy shows up with his solicitor.

The Tax Inspector says, "Well, sir, you have an extravagant lifestyle and no full-time employment, which you explain by saying that you win money gambling. I'm not sure the Inland Revenue finds that believable."

"I'm a great gambler, and I can prove it," says Paddy. "How about a demonstration?"

The Tax Inspector thinks for a moment and says, "Okay. You're on!"

Paddy says, "I'll bet you a thousand pounds that I can bite my own eye."

The Tax Inspector thinks a moment and says, "No way! It's a bet."

Paddy removes his glass eye and bites it.

The Tax Inspector's jaw drops.

Paddy says, "Now, I'll bet you two thousand pounds that I can bite my other eye."

The Tax Inspector can tell Paddy isn't blind, so he takes the bet.

Paddy removes his dentures and bites his good eye.

The stunned Tax Inspector now realises he has bet and lost three thousand quid, with Paddy's solicitor as a witness. He starts to get nervous.

"Would you like to go double or nothing?" Paddy asks. "I'll bet you six thousand pounds that I can stand on one side of your desk and pee into that rubbish bin on the other side, and never get a drop anywhere in between."

The Tax Inspector, twice burned, is cautious now, but he looks carefully and decides there's no way Paddy can manage that stunt, so he agrees again.

Paddy stands beside the desk and unzips his trousers, but although he strains like hell, he can't make the stream reach the bin on the other side, so he pretty much urinates all over the Tax Inspector's desk.

The Tax Inspector leaps with joy, realising that he has just turned a major loss into a big win. But Paddy's solicitor moans and puts his head in his hands.

"Are you okay?" the Tax Inspector asks.

"Not really," says the solicitor. "This morning, when Paddy told me he'd been summoned for an audit, he bet me 10,000 pounds that he could come in here and pee all over your desk - and that you'd be happy about it!"

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Why do secretaries get a week?

Why is it that secretaries get a week when everyone else gets recognition only for a day? We have Mother's Day and we have Father's Day. We have Labour Day, Teacher's Day, Children's Day, Warrior's Day and a day for lovers called Valentine's Day. Even our planet gets only a single day... Earth Day. But secretaries get a week! They must surely be a special group of people to deserve that.

I am prompted to write about this topic after seeing the pictures that a friend posted on her Facebook profile of the Secretaries Week Luncheon she attended last week. She got to go to the one hosted by Siti Nurhaliza.... hmm, lucky girl.

I attended a similar function two years ago. It was the one hosted by Malaysia's most popular male singer with that certain aura... Mawi. The company decided to buy a full table as a treat for the four secretaries, some of the senior admin staff plus some section heads. Initially, I had declined to go because I was just back from overseas posting and had tons of work to catch up on. But the section head that was meant to attend had to go somewhere else. My own secretary was pleading for me to come along so that the ticket would not go to waste and so I finally relented (err... sexytary ni semua memang ada skill memujuk, boleh cair you...).

Truth be told, I actually feel a bit uneasy to be in a room full of young and middle-aged ladies who are clamouring for the attention of a single young man. Quite unnerving. When Mawi came down from the stage to mingle with the audience, the rush of the women trying to shake his hand and take photos with him was extraordinary.

Mawi co-hosted the show with the petite and dynamic Indonesian singer named Rossa. The cross-dressing Dee compered the event. Overall, it was quite an entertaining afternoon. I have to give it to Mawi... the guy can actually sing and interact with his audience.

Secretaries Week luncheon shows are not cheap. Whoever thought of this event sure got it right. The one that I went to was sold out. I reckon that it is no different this year, economic crisis notwithstanding. Secretaries Week create a sort of dilemma for the bosses. Buying a ticket for your secretary to attend a luncheon show is expensive but if you do not do it, you risk being considered a cheapskate who is ungrateful for the work she has done.

Personally, I think this Secretaries Week thingy is overrated. I would rather reward my secretary with a special treat by taking her out to lunch or dinner where we can have the free time to talk about anything and everything other than work. This however, is not an easy thing to do... if your wife has a jealous streak. Doubly difficult if your secretary is married to a husband with a suspicious nature. So what I've mentioned is actually not good advice... please do not follow it ;-)

Friday, 24 April 2009

The Thrill Is Gone

This is probably the longest I have gone so far in not updating this blog. Last weekend was a bit hectic because I had to send the missus for medical treatment for two straight days. Saturday was her appointment with the orthopedic surgeon for treatment on her inflammed knee joint. Then on Sunday morning, she woke up with a severe infection on her eyes.

The week that followed was busy with tasks on the work front. I have just arrived in Kuala Lumpur for a meeting tomorrow morning and is squeezing this post in, just before hitting the sack. It is simply a Youtube video of B.B. King performing a blues number called `The Thrill Is Gone'. Gary Moore is the guest guitarist.

Youtube video by gasol777

Do not let the title of this song mislead you. I have not given up on writing blog posts (yet). Stay tuned for upcoming stories, time permitting.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A bridge too far

The change in our country's leadership and ministerial line-up has caused some parties to use the opportunity to raise old issues. It seems that the Malaysian Indian Congress is still harping on more cabinet representation, to the extent of issuing veiled threats of pulling out of the BN if their requests are not met. At the Johor state level, I would think that Johor UMNO members would feel pleased that the Deputy Prime Minister is a Johorean.

This post of mine, however, touches on the subject of the `crooked' bridge that was to replace the almost century-old Johor Causeway. Apparently, Johor UMNO Youth has called for this project to be revived. I was alerted on this news by Nuraina Samad's blog post yesterday and the same subject was picked up by The Ancient Mariner today. I left comments at the two blogs but I thought I could expand on my views by putting up this post.

As a Johor Bahru resident and a frequent traveler on the Causeway, it is impossible for me not to discuss this crooked bridge issue. In 1996, when former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir announced plans that a new bridge would be built to replace the causeway, I was quite excited. The traffic jams at the causeway were becoming unbearable. Although another bridge linking Malaysia and Singapore was being built at that time (The Second Link), it is located too far from the city to be of convenience.

Sadly, the collapse of bi-lateral negotiations saw the Singapore side disagreeing to the new bridge. Malaysia was insistent on building it and went ahead to engage a turnkey contractor to prepare the design of a bridge that would replace its half of the causeway. In order to maintain an acceptable road gradient but at the same time to allow headroom for small boats to pass under, the bridge had to take a long and crooked route. My first thought when I saw the artist's impression of the proposed bridge was that it was UGLY. Some joker had this bright idea of calling it the `Scenic Bridge'.

When Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became Prime Minister, he scrapped the bridge portion of the project but the new CIQ complex proceeded as planned. This scrapping raised the wrath of his predecessor and TDM became a thorn in Pak Lah's administration throughout the latter's short reign as PM.

I supported Pak Lah's decision to cancel the crooked bridge project although I suspect the real reasons for the cancellation were not revealed. If the bridge had been built, it would've become testimony of sour relations for years to come. Our children and grandchildren would have wondered why in heaven's name that leaders of the past could not have sat down and agreed to do a proper, decent and beautiful bridge.

I do, however, agree that the causeway need to be replaced... but replace it with a proper bridge please. A straight bridge that is built with the consent and support of both sides. A functional bridge that also carry the KTM railway line and the PUB water pipelines. One that has adequate road decks to support traffic for the next 50 years. A link that benefit both countries. If both parties cannot negotiate and agree to build it jointly, then we shall have the Causeway remain as it is, perhaps for the next 100 years.

Much has been said about the strained relationship between Malaysia and Singapore. But the sourness of any particular situation is actually dependent on the personalities in power at the point in time. I'm sure our leaders (and Singapore's as well), if not now then those in power in future, would find ways to resolve this issue. The mutual benefits are obvious... we don't need to study the detail traffic data to know that more Singapore-registered vehicles come to JB than the other way round.

A bridge is built to link two sides. It is a form of communication. It improves relationships. As the popular saying goes... build bridges, not walls.

The relationship between Johor and Singapore is closer than most people think. I say... go ahead and build the bridge. But do it for the right reasons. Not because of political pressure, or to enrich some cronies, or simply to spite our neighbours. Put aside egoistical and emotional considerations. Build the bridge because it is what the nation needs and not for anything else.

Footnote : A Bridge Too Far is my all-time favourite World War 2 movie. Produced in 1977, it had an ensemble cast that included Sean Connery, James Caan, Edward Fox, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford and Lawrence Olivier.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Nurturing artistic talent

The 8th of April last week was a public holiday in Johor. That afternoon, I took the family out for some shopping at Plaza Angsana in Tampoi.

There was some sort of performance being held at the main concourse of the shopping mall. On stage, a theatre play was being performed totally by young teenage children. After the play, a young girl came on stage to sing a song accompanied by a live band. The musicians are all young kids like the singer. This performance was later followed by more singing and also a traditional dance.

A budding Siti Nurhaliza wannabe

Apparently, the show was being put up by students of the Sekolah Seni Johor Bahru as part of their Festival Kesenian 2009. I have never heard of such a school before but I was told by my wife that it was set up a few years ago. A family friend had enrolled her daughter to this school.

Sekolah Seni Johor Bahru is a special school established by the Ministry of Education to train our children to excel in Arts. Apart from the standard academic syllabus, there are four other subjects being taught : Visual Arts, Dance, Theatre and Music. This school is so new that it doesn't have its own campus yet. It is temporarily sharing premises with SMK Mohd Khalid at Jalan Abdul Samad.

The showcase of the school's talent at Plaza Angsana on that day was not limited to stage performances. There was also an exhibition displaying the students' drawings and sculptures. I was quite impressed with what I saw.

I am pleased that MoE has decided to set up a school to nurture the artistic talent of our children. We already have smart schools, cluster schools and sports schools. It is high time that children who are artistically talented be given the avenue and opportunity to expand on their capability. Not everybody can become engineers or doctors or lawyers. Successful careers in the Arts is something that parents can be proud of too.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Giving a lift to a total stranger

The government clinic is housed in an old building built pre-independence. It is located at the outskirts of town, away from the urban congestion. I didn't actually know that there is such a place. The missus and I are there to visit someone. It is a brief visit.

As we walk back to our car, I study the surroundings. Although the building is old, it seems to be well-maintained. The grass is neatly trimmed and a few flowering bougainvillea shrubs gave the large surrounding compound colour. A big old angsana tree grows just next to the entrance, providing much needed shade. The presence of a slight breeze complements the tranquility of the mid-afternoon moment.

We get into our car that is parked in a small paved area not far from the main gate. I mention to my wife, "The peaceful surroundings sure suit the clinic... but for the general public who don't have their own transport, it can be quite troublesome to get to this place. I don't think the public buses come round here. I doubt there are any taxis either... it is too out-of-the way."

My wife nods in agreement. But what startled me is a voice coming from the back seat of the car.

"Betul tu dik... dah lama akak tunggu teksi tapi tak sampai-sampai. Nasib baik la adik bagi tumpang kat akak."

I turn around to see a middle-aged Malay lady sitting at the back smiling at me. Good God! Who is this woman? And how did she get into my car?!

"Adik turunkan akak kat bandar ye..."

I take a big gulp but my throat is suddenly dry. I can only mutter a muffled, "Uh-huh" in reply. She is already in the car... so I can't ask her to step out, can I?

I start the engine and slowly drive out of the clinic compound. My wife sits quietly, looking straight out the front windscreen as if nothing is happening. I thought she is doing a good job of remaining calm by ignoring who (or what) is sitting at the back and focussing her mind directly on the road ahead. Good move, buat tak tahu aje.

Throughout the drive into town, it is eerily quiet inside the car. Nobody spoke. I occasionally steal some glances at my rear-view mirror. Firstly, to check if my unexpected passenger is still there and if she is, to have a more detailed look at her appearance.

Well... she is still there. She wears a simple baju kurung in a light-blue floral pattern. Her hair is wavy and shoulder-length with streaks of grey showing all over. She sits there calmly with both hands neatly on her lap as she looks out of the window at nothing in particular. The slight smile on her face gives the impression of contentment. I couldn't see if she carried a bag or anything else.

We reach a busy part of town and the silence in the car is broken by my passenger.

"Adik boleh berhenti kat sini. Akak nak turun sini."

"Oh.. okay," I reply.

"What okay?" my wife responds. "And why are we stopping here?"

"Err... our passenger wants to get off here," I answer while twisting my head slightly to indicate the back seat.

My wife looks at me quizzically and asks, "What passenger?"

Both of us turn to look at the back seat.... but there is nobody there.

I ask my wife, "You didn't notice an old woman riding with us in the car from the clinic? She wanted a lift into town."

My wife has a bewildered look on her face. She slowly shakes her head and reply, "No... "

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Setahun jagung

This blog is one year old today.

I started off my first post in this blog with something I received in a forwarded email. The article, Paradox of Our Time, was purportedly by the American comedian George Carlin. Before posting, I googled about Carlin and from his official website, found that he denied writing such crap.

A year has now gone by... George Carlin passed away on 22 June 2008. And I've met more friends in blogosphere. Some blogger friends became Facebook friends and in turn, I hope we would have the chance to meet in real-life someday.

Thank you to all who have taken the time to drop a comment or two.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

The need for speed

It's motor racing season again. The second race of the Formula 1 Grand Prix is being held today at Sepang, Selangor.

Not many people know that there is another motor racing circuit of international standard in Malaysia. It is located in Pasir Gudang, Johor.

The Johor Circuit was built in 1986 by Johor Corporation as a means to promote motorsports in the state. In 1990, just after four years after it was built, the circuit was upgraded to comply to the strict FIM World GP specifications. Among the improvements made were lengthening of the track from 3.1 km to 3.86 km, introduction of new bends, reconstruction of run-off areas at some corners and improvement to the pit facilities. The track now has 12 turns or corners.

I was attached to the Engineering Department at Pasir Gudang at the time and hence became directly involved in the upgrading works. Our department was responsible for the construction of the track extension and supervision of the pit improvement works. The earthworks were carried out using departmental machinery and we worked round the clock to meet the tight schedule. The first race to be held upon completion of the upgrading works was the Johor International Formula 3 grand prix.

We managed to complete our portion of the works on time and I was proud of our in-house construction team. The completed track has to undergo an independent inspection before it can be certified to world standards.

One afternoon, I was at the track with two colleagues to check up on last minute preparations prior to the independent inspection. We completed our tasks earlier than expected and were taking a break sitting at the grandstand area while viewing the quiet and empty circuit. The tracks have been re-surfaced and the overall view was quite impressive.

Out of the blue, my colleague named Ismail remarked, "What a nice track and what a nice day..."

"Yeah," I said.

Ismail turned to look at me and asked, "You want to race?"

"You're kidding, right?" I replied. I looked at Ismail's face and saw that he was not.

And so I said, "Okay, let's race!"

It was a spur of the moment decision but it did cross my mind that we would never get the chance to take our cars for a spin once the track is formally opened. I had previously driven around the circuit before but those drives were more to inspect the progress of construction works by my staff. Now that the track has been fully re-surfaced, I'm itching to try out a spin at racing speed.

Ismail and I scanned the premises to make sure the circuit management staff were not around before we quietly sneaked in our cars onto the track. What we were about to do was something that was definitely against the rules. But hey... nothing ventured, nothing gained. We decided that the race shall be over 2 laps. Hopefully we can sneak out after those two laps without getting caught. Our other colleague named Samad declined to ride with either of us and so acted as the starter to flag us off. To show that he was serious about the race, Ismail even put on a motorcycle helmet.

I was driving a Mazda 323 Hatchback at the time. It has a 1.5 litre engine with manual transmission and was my first car. It was maroon in colour and had a rubber spoiler attached at the rear. Not a bad-looking car.

Ismail's car was a 1,000 cc Daihatsu Charade, the pre-cursor of our Perodua Kancil. To balance the mismatch in engine power, I agreed to take on a handicap by starting two grid positions behind him. I was confident that I could catch up by the end of the first lap.

How wrong I was! As soon as Samad flagged us off, Ismail's Charade took off at lightning speed. I gave chase with all my might. The Mazda's engine revved to the danger levels in a bid to squeeze every bit acceleration that it can deliver. When I reached the corners, I braked as late I dared and shifted gears downwards and upwards in near frenzy as the tyres screeched in mercy. It was constant gear-shifting between the 2nd and 3rd gears throughout. There was hardly any time to switch to 4th gear except for the long back straight.

Images of a Mazda 323 Hatchback and a Daihatsu Charade, mid-1980's model

As we reached the end of the first lap, I was nowhere near overtaking the Charade. We crossed the start/finish line on the first lap with me still 2 car lengths behind Ismail. Ini tak boleh jadi ni, I said to myself.

I floored the accelerator and coaxed my car to give its all. In a bid to make up the gap, I braked even later, causing the tyres to screech even louder. As we reached the last turn on the 2nd lap, I was side-by-side with the Daihatsu. I took the outside line, made a smooth gear change and stepped hard on the accelerator as we exited the last corner. I overtook my friend just as we crossed the finish line. The rush of adrenaline was indescribable!

Suddenly, I saw a man standing in the middle of the track with both arms spread out wide... an obvious signal for us to stop. It was Harvey Yap, the Track Manager. Crap, I thought... we're gonna be toast!

As we brought our cars to a stop, we heard Harvey yell, "Are you guys CRAZY! You want to kill yourselves?!!!"

Ismail quickly got out of his car, took off his helmet and approached Harvey. "Very sorry, Harvey. Very sorry," he pleaded profusely. We were like begging Harvey for our lives at that moment.

Mr. Yap, a retired race car driver, gave us a severe tongue-lashing but quickly cooled down. He let us off with a final reminder, "Next time, if you want to race, you let me know first! I'll show you how to do it properly."

We thanked Harvey for the let-off. He kept his word by not reporting our crazy escapade to our bosses.

And to this day, not many people know that the very first race on the upgraded Johor Circuit was run by two amateurs who, at that time, do not know the meaning of the word `insane'.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Lawak buah

Let's start this first day of April with a joke...

Lawak Buah

Tiga orang pengembara dalam hutan ditangkap oleh se puak orang cannibal. Ketua puak tu pun mengarahkan anak buahnya supaya membunuh ketiga-tiga lelaki itu untuk dijadikan santapan. Ketiga-tiga lelaki itu pun merayu dengan sepenuh hati supaya mereka dibebaskan.

Oleh kerana mereka merayu dengan bersungguh-sunggguh, ketua puak itu pun setuju untuk melepaskan mereka dengan satu syarat. Syaratnya ialah mereka perlu mencari 10 biji buah dari jenis yang sama.

"Ah.. nie simple punya keje".. kata mereka dalam hati.

Maka mereka pun berpecah ke dalam hutan untuk mencari buah-buahan tersebut dengan diiringi oleh beberapa lelaki dari puak tersebut.

Lelaki yang pertama keluar dengan membawa 10 biji buah nenas. Kemudian berkata ketua puak kepada anak buahnya, "Sumbatkan buah tersebut ke dalam punggungnya. Kalau dia mengeluarkan bunyi, bunuh dia!" Lalu buah nenas itu pun disumbatkan ke dalam punggung lelaki malang tersebut. Pada buah nenas yang kedua, lelaki itu pun menjerit dan dia pun dibunuh.

Kemudian lelaki kedua pun muncul. Dia membawa 10 biji ciku bersamanya. Dia pun dikenakan tindakan yang sama. Oleh kerana buah ciku kecil, lelaki itu dapat bertahan sehingga buah ciku yang kelapan. Pada masa ini, tiba-tiba lelaki tu ketawa. Maka dia pun dibunuh.

Apabila sudah mati, roh orang yang pertama pun berjumpa dengan roh orang yang kedua. "Kenapa kamu ketawa pada buah ciku yang kelapan?" tanya roh pertama. Jawab roh yang kedua, "Aku nampak rakan ketiga kita tu keluar dengan membawa buah durian!"

Moral: Jangan gelakkan orang... heheheh...

Credit to