Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The need to know

Sometime last week a friend from Kuala Lumpur rang me up to ask for a favour. I couldn't directly do what he asked but I can try get help from someone else. So I said, let me check with someone and I'll get back to you.

Called my brother on his mobile but there was no answer. Called wife at home to ask if she has my brother's house number (I know she has, because wife and sis-in-law always chit-chat). Yes? Okay, sms me the number.

Called brother's house. Sis-in-law picks up. Surprised to hear my voice. I ask for her husband. Not home yet she says. Usually home by 9pm. Does not answer his mobile because he's probably still offshore. Anything important? Nah, I said... will call back around 9.

Just about to leave the office at 7pm when brother returns call on my mobile. Need your help, I said, to do this and this.

Brother : Urgent?

Me : Preferably tonight or latest by tomorrow lunchtime.

Brother : Hmm... should be possible. Let me check and I'll call you back.

15 minutes later, brother texted me, saying that favour has been done. Thanks, I texted back. Also texted my KL friend, everything settled.

I reach home. Wife asks why I wanted brother's home number.

Me : Couldn't get him on his mobile. So I need to try his home.

Wife : Was it urgent?

Me : Not so.

Wife : So you called him at home?

Me : Yes, but sis-in-law answered.

Wife : Why did you want to call him?

Me : To ask him to do something.

Wife : To do what?

Me : To do this and this...

Wife : Why?

Me : Because a friend from KL asked for my help.

Wife : Why did your friend need you to do that?

Me (already pissed off by now) : I don't know why! I'm just helping a friend!

Wife starts to sulk. Spoils the rest of the evening.

A few days later, met up with my brother at his house. Apparently, when he got home that night, he also faced a barrage of questions from his wife. Why did big brother call you? Was it urgent? To do what? Why did he ask you to do that?

The interrogation also ended with the terse response of, `I don't know why! I'm just helping out my brother!'

Women... always need to know down to the finest detail. Here's a tip for you ladies, if your husband gives short, sharp replies to your questions, then better stop being curious and don't push it. There's no need for you to know everything.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

English can be a very hard language

Here's an interlude for this month. Don't click on the image if you feel offended by culturally sexist jokes.

English can be a very hard language

Friday, 23 October 2009

Do you know what's in your belacan?

An interesting news article in yesterday's Berita Harian Online caught my eye. It is a classic example of misplaced priorities. It seems that a 56-year old lady from Terengganu, Puan Rahani Ali, has been found guilty of selling belacan (shrimp paste) that contained less than a specified amount of protein.

According to the Peraturan-peraturan Makanan 1985, belacan shall have a protein content of not less than 25%. The belacan packed and sold by Rahani has only 23.75% protein, and for that she was fined RM600 by the Dungun Majistrate Court.

The full article can be read at this link -> Pembungkus Belacan Di Denda RM600.

After reading the article a few times, I am actually surprised that the case went to court. To me, the District Health Officer should have considered the educational rather than prosecutional approach. I sincerely doubt the lady knew that there had to be a certain amount of protein in her belacan. Heck... I don't think she even knows what protein is! After all, she only re-packs and distribute the stuff. The belacan is made by someone else.

To be penalised for a mere 1.25% shortfall clearly shows overzealousness. Couldn't she have been let off with a warning? Would it not have been better for the District Health Officer to advise her on the correct thing to do? It is not as if consumers of the belacan would face nutritional problems because of 1.25% less protein content!

This episode is quite an eye-opener. It raises a lot of other questions. I don't think many of us know that there is such a ruling for the production of belacan. Apart from protein, what other minimum content requirements are there? What about salt content or other chemicals? Does the ruling apply to other traditional food items such as budu and cencaluk too?

Well, whatever it is, belacan manufacturers all over Malaysia should beware. The next time you the consumer, buy your pack of belacan, make sure the label carries the requisite nutritional information. Otherwise you may be buying something that is illegal.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Pangkat dan gelaran

Entri kali ini takde kena mengena dengan pingat atau darjah kebesaran yang diberi oleh kerajaan ataupun raja-raja Melayu, tak kiralah samada pingat itu dianugerah ataupun dibeli. Pangkat yang saya maksudkan ialah panggilan atau gelaran yang digunakan oleh orang-orang Melayu untuk ahli keluarga dan sanak saudara mereka.

Kalau anda perhatikan dalam posting-posting saya sebelum ini, saya menggelar tiga orang anak lelaki saya sebagai Along, Angah dan Adik. Bagi pembaca-pembaca Melayu, gelaran-gelaran itu boleh difahami dengan jelas dan tidak perlu diterangkan. Namun begitu, terlintas di fikiran saya bahawa mungkin ada pembaca blog yang bukan Melayu yang tertanya-tanya mengapa gelaran tersebut digunakan. Jadi, apabila tergerak hati untuk menulis sedikit tentang topik ini, saya cuba selidik pula tentang gelaran ataupun nama timang-timangan lain yang biasa kita dengar.

Tidak semua keluarga Melayu mengamalkan panggilan timang-timangan ini dan sudah tentunya terdapat variasi maksud sesuatu gelaran itu mengikut negeri, daerah mahupun suku kaum rumpun Melayu. Sebagai contoh, di kalangan adik beradik saya, ayah dan ibu kami tidak memanggil kami dengan nama timang-timangan. Berlainan pula dengan keluarga sebelah isteri yang mana beberapa ahli dipanggil dengan nama gelaran.

Pada dasarnya, nama timang-timangan yang diberi kepada seseorang itu adalah mengikut turutan kelahirannya. Along adalah gelaran yang diberi kepada anak pertama atau anak sulong. Apabila Along menjadi dewasa dan mempunyai anak-anak saudara, maka gelarannya akan menjadi Pak Long (lelaki) ataupun Mak Long (wanita). Di sebelah keluarga saya, anak-anak saudara saya memanggil saya Pak Long. Secara automatik, isteri saya bergelar Mak Long. Sebaliknya isteri saya adalah anak kelapan dari tigabelas beradik, jadi gelaran Pak Long/Mak Long adalah hakmilik orang lain. Sebenarnya, anak-anak saudara sebelah isteri menggunakan gelaran moden untuk saya, iaitu `Uncle'. Hmmm... pelik juga.

Angah adalah gelaran untuk anak kedua. Asal-usul gelaran ini ialah perkataan `tengah'. Tapi, kalau kita fikirkan dengan lebih mendalam, mungkin boleh timbul sedikit kekeliruan. Ya lah... kalau anak cuma tiga orang, yang kedua tu bolehlah dianggap tengah. Tapi kalau anak dah ramai, kedudukan nombor dua kan bukan di tengah lagi. Apa-apapun, begitulah definasi gelaran Angah. Gelaran-gelaran yang berkaitan adalah Abang Ngah/Kak Ngah, Pak Ngah/Mak Ngah mahupun Tok Ngah/Nek Ngah.

Bagi pangkat adik-adik yang berikutnya, terdapat beberapa perbezaan amalan, bergantung kepada negeri ataupun keluarga masing-masing. Di sesetengah tempat, anak ketiga digelar Alang. Tapi saya pernah juga mendengar gelaran-gelaran lain iaitu Achik ataupun Uda.

Bagi anak yang keempat pula, gelaran yang biasa dipakai ialah Utih (atau juga dieja sebagai Uteh). Besar kemungkinan gelaran ini adalah singkatan dari perkataan `putih'. Menurut Kamus Dewan, orang Perak menggunakan nama timang-timangan ini untuk anak yang keenam. Hmm... nak kena confirm dengan kawan-kawan saya dari Perak, samada betul ke tidak ni.

Lawan bagi perkataan `putih' ialah `hitam'. Itam pula adalah panggilan mesra untuk anak yang ketujuh (di Negeri Sembilan, anak yang kelapan). Alahai... kenapalah dipanggil budak itu Itam, kesian dia. Maka apabila dewasa kelak, jadilah dia Pak Itam atau Mak Itam. Untuk glamer sikit, dipendekkan jadi Pak Tam/Mak Tam sahaja.

Terdapat beberapa panggilan lain yang biasa saya dengar tetapi posisinya dalam turutan adik-beradik tidak berapa jelas. Gelaran-gelaran itu ialah Andak dan Anjang. Sekiranya anda tahu hakmilik anak keberapa gelaran ini, harap dapat dikongsikan pengalaman anda.

Yang pastinya, anak yang bongsu akan mendapat gelaran Busu atau lebih manja dipanggil Ucu. Panggilan Ucu ini hanya boleh digunakan oleh anak-anak saudara kepada bapa atau emak saudara mereka yang paling muda. Saya tak boleh nak panggil anak bongsu saya Ucu, sebab manalah tahu ada rezeki dapat tambah anak lagi... ehem, ehem :-)

Friday, 16 October 2009

A young boy's initiative

This post is somewhat an extension of the previous entry. It is a story about my eldest son, not quite about what he said that caught me off-guard but rather, what he did. It happened many years ago when he was still in Year 1 of primary school.

When it was time for Along to start primary school, we enrolled him at Sekolah Kebangsaan Taman Sri Amar, which is located in a neighbouring area across a trunk road from where we stay. There is another school within our neighbourhood that is nearer but we chose to send him to the other school because some of the teachers there are our family friends.

On his first day, I sent him to school in my car. Year 1 students are in the afternoon session and we arrived with plenty of time to spare. The school compound was understandably rowdy with nervous young children and anxious parents facing the start of a new experience. The sound of crying kids and voices of cajoling moms could be heard here and there. My son was as cool as a cucumber… no tears or tantrums from him.

After the students had entered their classrooms, I left the school to return to my office. Later in the evening, I went back to the school to fetch my son. How was his day, I asked. Oh okay… made some new friends, he replied. Not a talkative type, this eldest son of mine.

The next day, I took an early lunch break to go home, fetch my son and send him to school. This time, I just dropped him at the gate because he already knows how to get around. I returned to the office and got busy with work. I was tied down in a meeting and realised a bit too late that I need to fetch my son after school. I rushed out of the office and headed for the school, which is actually not really that far away. Thankfully traffic was not that heavy.

As I reached the last turn of the road about a few hundred metres to the school, I noticed a small schoolboy in the distance, walking on the roadside towards my direction. Poor boy… I thought, to be walking home alone. Why aren’t his parents fetching him or arranged for a school bus?

As I got closer to the boy, I was hit by a bolt of shock. Goodness me, the walking schoolboy is my own son!

I slowed down the car and then stopped when I reached him. I opened the passenger door and my son climbed in. It took me a few moments to recover from the surprise… before I managed to calmly ask him, `Along nak pergi mana jalan kaki ni?’

He simply replied, `Along nak balik rumah la. Habis tu, lama Along tunggu Abah… tak sampai-sampai.’

My next question,`Along tahu ke jalan nak balik rumah?’

`Tahu… ikut jalan yang Abah drive masa hantar tadi,’ he answered confidently.

I was momentarily at a loss for words. The route from my house to the school follows a roundabout way because of a 6-lane trunk road that separates the two areas. The driving distance is almost 3km but a route on foot (if you so wish) is half of that. If I had not crossed paths with my son, he would’ve walked 3 kilometres along unfamiliar roads. The thought of him having to cross the busy trunk road gave me the shudders.

I wasn’t sure what I felt at that time but I guess overall, it must have been a huge sense of relief. I was not angry with my son because it was actually my fault for not giving him instructions on what to do in case I was late. He had taken the initiative to find his way home… the least I can do is to give him credit for that.

As my son settled himself in the car seat as if nothing has happened, I drove towards the school and parked by the roadside in front of the gate. We both got out and I held his hand as we walked back into the school compound towards the canteen. The compound was largely quiet by then… only a few children left waiting for whoever or whatever to take them home.

We reached the canteen and sat side by side on a bench. I then carefully spoke to the him, `Esok atau lusa, kalau Abah lambat datang nak amik Along… jangan pegi mana-mana ye… Along tunggu kat kantin ni, sampai Abah datang, okay?’

`Okay,’ he said.

We walked back to the car and headed home but not before stopping at a coffee shop for a drink. I guess the drink was more for me to reflect on the situation rather than anything else. I ordered Nescafe for myself and ice-cream for my son. I silently watch the young man eat his ice-cream and wonder how a 7-year old boy can be brave enough to make such a decision. I was never that brave when I was his age.

The following day, I made sure I left the office in time to reach school before the kids get out. To test if he understands my instruction, I purposely parked the car some distance away and out of sight. When the classes were let out, I spotted my son among the hundreds of other children. He had a look at the gate where all the other parents were waiting. When he couldn’t see me, he walked back to the canteen and waited there. I stood by a little while longer, just to make sure.

It has been thirteen years now since that incident. Along is now into his third year at a university in Jordan. In that time, he has already made two trips (with friends) to the holy land in Mecca to perform umrah and one trip (alone) to London to visit his uncle (my youngest brother) during winter break.

May the Almighty always watch over you, my son.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Father-son conversations

For the past week or so, a few blogger-friends have posted interesting and amusing stories about the conversations with their young children. The witty responses that come from the mouth of our young ones sometimes catch us off-guard, but they never fail to raise a smile or a chuckle from us.

Recording such beautiful dialogue in blog posts is a wonderful way of preserving the memories. Pretty soon, our children grow up... and we long for the days when we could cuddle them and listen to their innocent banter.

My days of cuddling the boys are already over. As you can gather from my earlier posts, my sons have all grown up into young men. The youngest one is already a teenager. So stories about funny and witty replies are all but just memories. A few of these stand up in mind but maybe I'll post them on another day.

Father and two sons, circa 2000

Father-son conversations are not as common as mother-son conversations. The reasons are quite obvious. In general, sons are closer to their mother than their father. There are things that a son can only tell his mother... especially things that relate to emotions and feelings. It is somewhat not a `manly' thing to do to be talking to your dad about stuff like that. Moms understand these things better. Often, the father is the last person in the house to know. Fathers only get consulted on really formal stuff and in particular, any decision that has a financial impact.

My sons have always been closer to their mother... and it is fine by me. Because I can say the same for myself too. So don't ask me if I know the names of my sons' girlfriends... or if they actually do have girlfriends already. My wife would know.

When the eldest boy got the opportunity to study overseas about 2 years back, I had Streamyx broadband installed at home. The main purpose of which was to allow the mother to be in contact with the son on Yahoo Messenger. And when I fitted the webcam on our home desktop a bit later, she can see the image of her son in real-time, all those 8,000 km away. And then she starts worrying if her son is eating well because he looks so thin...

The technology of today has made the old form of communication near obsolete. I am of course, referring to the art of letter-writing between a son and his parent. I don't think my son has ever written a letter to his mother, not even when he was in boarding school. He would feel hard-pressed to write one now, especially in decent, if not classic, Bahasa Melayu. His YM chats with his mother are in standard everyday informal prose.

I remember as a student, writing letters to my mother in classic writing style... the one that starts : Kehadapan ibunda ku yang dikasihi, semuga ibunda dan ayahanda yang berada jauh di tanahair sentiasa dalam keadaan sihat hendaknya...

My mother was a schoolteacher once, hence my letters to her need to be tip-top. It wasn't too much of a trouble for me because I loved writing. Letters to my mother could be four or five pages long. Comparatively, one to my father would be 2 pages at most :-)

I wonder if my mom still keeps my letters. It would be real interesting to re-read them after all these years. I wonder now, what was it that I actually wrote about. Surely personal and emotional stuff mostly, and probably ridiculously embarassing on hindsight. But one thing I can assure you is that the language is gracefully classic.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The voluntary is more difficult than the compulsory

I am of course, talking about the voluntary fasting for six days in the month of Syawal, or more popularly known in Malay as Puasa Enam.

The act of carrying out six days of fasting within the month of Syawal (also known as bulan raya for Malays) is highly encouraged. Prophet Muhammad's (s.a.w.) hadeeth, as recorded in Sahih Muslim, says : He who observed the fast of Ramadan and then followed it with six (fasts) of Shawwal, it would be as if he fasted perpetually.

On the face of it, it really shouldn't be that difficult to fast for six days, since we just completed doing the same thing for 30 straight days just the month before. Furthermore, we are allowed to choose any six days within the month (except for the first day of Aidilfitri), and these six days need not be consecutive. We can spread them out if we so wish.

So why is it then, many Muslims (yours truly included) find it difficult to carry out this task?

I would humbly venture to give the following reasons :

1. Nobody else is doing it. That's why it is difficult to do alone.

Well perhaps, rather than saying `nobody', it is more correct to say `not many'. Muslims who fast in Syawal don't normally declare to others that they are doing so. Since everyone else around you is eating and drinking as they please, it becomes a real challenge for you to fast in such a situation. Fasting the first day out of six is always the most difficult. You go to work and see someone on the roadside lighting up a cigarette.... and you wonder why isn't that guy fasting? It takes a while for it to hit you back... that you're the one who is fasting and not the rest of the world. It becomes doubly difficult when you reach your workplace because you would always have friends and colleagues inviting you out for lunch or teh-tarik.

2. Many friends invite you for a raya makan-makan

The Malaysian culture of holding `open houses' to celebrate the festivities make it difficult for you to find a suitable day to fast. Sometimes when you have already decided to start fasting for the day, a last minute invitation to a makan-makan would tempt you to break your fast. It is somehow not proper for you to accept a friend's invitation but yet, not partake in the spread of delicacies. Nowadays, many companies hold their `open houses' during working hours, hence it can also be tough to fast during the weekdays too.

3. The willpower and motivation becomes weak

Perhaps, this is the main reason why most of us can't do the Puasa Enam. Fasting in Ramadan trains us to be patient and reserved. We are reminded to be watchful of what we hear, say and look at. The moment Syawal arrives, many of us can't wait to free ourselves of such inhibitions and behave in our normal self. Puasa Enam is not obligatory anyway, so why bother? I have to constantly remind myself that the incentive to do voluntary deeds is only evident to those who seek.

Over the years, I have tried a few strategies in maintaining the willpower to carry out Puasa Enam. Initially I thought that doing two days in every week (say each Monday and Thursday) would be a good method. Unfortunately, the uncertain schedule of my work (outstation travel, site meetings etc.) meant that I missed some days. Now, I am trying a different way... I am fasting for six straight days from Monday to Saturday. I'm sticking to my plan, no matter what. Sorry friends, if I can't join you for breakfast or for afternoon tea.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Random pics of nature

Photos taken at Lembah Warisan Bernam located on the upper reaches of Sungai Bernam near Tanjung Malim. The river is the border between the states of Selangor and Perak.

Entrance to common dining area

View of hostel on the upper slopes

Enjoy a dip in the cool waters of the river

Stones and boulders create gentle rapids

Small boulders and pebbles line the river banks

Jantung pisang

Yellow lizard

Caption corrected to : Rajah Brooke butterfly (Tq Pak Zawi)

Individual chalets located on the hillslope with a view of the river