Monday, 30 November 2009

Emila's Illustrated Calendar 2010

When I first started blogging in April of last year, among the earliest blogs that I linked to was Emila's Illustrated Blog which I came across in the Blog Malaysia directory. Apart from being a talented artist/illustrator, Emila is also a very good photographer.

Last month, Emila invited her readers to suggest suitable quotes that could be inserted in her upcoming calendar for 2010. She was looking for 12 quotations that would accompany her drawings for each month of the year and the selected entry would win a copy of the calendar itself. I suggested a quote from Khalil Gibran for the month of July (my birthday month) and as luck would have it, my entry was chosen.

Last week, Emila delivered the cute calendar to me, complete with a special indicator for the 6th of July. Thanks Emila, for this unique present.

The calendar is available to the general public at only RM12.90 from her online shop at this link -> Emila's Littleshop. While at her shop, you may also wish to browse other unique items on offer.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Salam Aidil Adha 1430 Hijrah

To all Muslim friends and readers, wishing you Selamat Hari Raya Qurban. May all the sacrifices and good deeds you have made in the past year be accepted by the Almighty.

To Muslim brothers and sisters presently in the Holy Land as the guests of Allah, I pray for your safe return.

We will be traveling back to the wife's kampung in Mersing later today to celebrate the Hari Raya. The family has arranged for some cows to be sacrificed. See you all next week. Take care.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Double meanings

I noticed today on Astro TV that the popular local cartoon programme Upin & Ipin has made the transition to English medium and would be aired on The Disney Channel soon. It is quite encouraging to note that a homemade production is progressing to the international stage. But what has an animation series got to do with today's post? I'll get back to that towards the end of this piece. (Image borrowed from Upin & Ipin official website.)

There are many words in everyday use that carry double or even multiple meanings. The English language contain many such words and I guess it is not necessary for me to give examples... but I'd like to anyway. Words like `wind', `set', `pass', `can', `blue', `surf' and `virus' all have multiple meanings. Some of these meanings are closely related but some refer to entirely different things altogether. No wonder many non-native speakers of English find the language confusing.

Take this other example I heard mentioned over a local radio station the other day, where a listener called in to tell the story of his wife withdrawing money at an ATM for the first time. Upon dispensing the cash, the machine asked, `Would you like a payment advice?'. The lady became puzzled and rang up the husband to ask, `Kenapa mesin ATM ni nak bagi saya nasihat...' Lol!

Like any other language, Malay or Bahasa Melayu is also not without its share of double-meaning words.

When I entered boarding school and met students from other parts of the country, I realised that my command and understanding of my own mother tongue is quite limited. I was surprised when a boy from the next room came over and wanted to borrow my `cebok'. All the while, I have understood the word to mean the act of cleaning oneself after doing the `big business' in the toilet. On that day, I learned that the word also means the container that is used to scoop water, which I would call as `gayung'.

`Ketayap' is another word that has two definitions ; a skull-cap worn mostly by elderly Malay men or a type of Malay cake similar to a rolled pancake.

Bahasa Indonesia, while sharing the same root as Bahasa Malaysia, also contain many words that carry a different meaning. `Bisa' in Indonesia means `can' (as in able to do) but in Malaysia it is `poison'. But perhaps nothing can match the stark difference in meaning of the word `butuh'.

Right... now to explain the link of Upin & Ipin that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. This popular animation series about young twin brothers is produced by a firm known as Les' Copaque Production Sdn Bhd. The name of this production company is a play on the phrase of `last kopek', local Malay-English slang meaning the last bit of anything (last effort, last chance, last piece etc.) How this slang came about is unclear but I use it quite freely in daily conversation.

Some years back, I was having lunch at a nasi campur stall with a female colleague who's from Kedah. When I saw the final piece of ikan pari bakar on the plate, I said, `Oh, nasib baik. Ada lagi last kopek ikan pari.'

This prompted my colleague to remark, `Uish! Apa ni sebut pasai kopek!'

Me : `Kenapa?'

Friend : `Hang tau tak apa makna kopek tu?'

Me : `Tau la... kopek tu kan satu perbuatan. Macam kopek buah durian ke, kopek kelapa ke...'

Friend : `Betui la tu... tapi kopek pun ada makna lain. Pasai buah jugak... buah yang ada pada orang pompuan.'

Oops! How was I to know that the word also meant a certain part of the female anatomy? Only then the scary stories of the hantu kopek that catches naughty kids and hide them under her huge mammary glands sort of make sense. I now have to be wary how I use this phrase, especially in front of ladies.

The producers of Upin & Ipin are smart enough to modify their company's name to a French-sounding one. Otherwise they could have run into trouble with sensitive women from Malaysia's northern states.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The zipper club

We were up at KL and Shah Alam last weekend to send our second son back for his second semester at UiTM. After sending my son back to his hostel, I took the opportunity to visit a friend who stays at nearby Section 7.

My friend Yos, had just undergone bypass surgery on his heart 3 weeks ago. On Sunday, he held a kenduri doa selamat (thanksgiving lunch reception) at his house and invited close friends to come over.

I have known Yos since we first met at boarding school in Kuantan. He went on to study in Australia while I went to the UK. We met again when both of us started our engineering careers at the same organization in Johor Bahru.

I first received news of his ailment through our email group in Yahoo just before the operation was to take place. I couldn't make it to KL at the time so I just sent him a text message praying for his successful surgery. So when it was time to be sending my son back to college, it became convenient for me to drop by for a visit.

Yos was in cheerful mood, as he has always been. He told me that he went to see a cardiologist at Damansara Specialist Hospital after feeling some chest pains. The cardiologist, Dr. Daud, who happens to be our junior at boarding school, arranged for a full check-up. As my friend commenced the first steps on the treadmill stress test, Dr. Daud immediately stopped the test and called for a senior cardiologist to review the results. Further tests confirmed that Yos had blockages at 4 locations and that bypass surgery is required.

The surgery was successfully carried out three weeks ago and hopefully my friend is on the road to a quick recovery. Yos is the second close friend of mine who has undergone open heart surgery (the story of the other friend can be read here -> The heart of the matter). He is now a member of the exclusive zipper club, whose members carry the distinctive Y-shaped surgical scars on their chest.

That Sunday afternoon, a few other batch-mates from MRSM Kuantan were also there. One of them asked Yos how healthy he felt at the moment... 60%? 70%?. Before Yos could answer, another friend jokingly asked if he has already resumed the husband/wife activity. Yos sportingly replied that this is in fact, one of the FAQs in the post-surgery info the hospital provided to its heart surgery patients. According to doctor's advice, if the patient can walk 1 kilometre with ease, then he should be able to proceed with lovemaking activity.

Yos then pointed to the children's playground opposite his house. `The footpath around that playground is about 300m', he says. `And I have been completing five laps of it everyday...'

`Yeah?', one of us chipped in. `But have you been doing it with ease?' Hehehehe.....

To my friend Yos, I pray for your continued recovery. Be careful of what you eat. Continue with the therapy and exercises. Pretty soon, you'll be walking that 1km with relative ease :-)

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The power of prayer

Over the past few weeks, many of us have said farewell to friends who are headed towards the Holy Land to perform the Hajj or pilgrimage. It is custom for the pilgrims to seek forgiveness from relatives and friends before they depart. In return, we wish them a safe passage, ease in performing the required rituals and hopefully blessed with a haji mabrur, and finally a safe journey home.

Some of us would take the opportunity to request a small favour of our friend, and that is to pray (doa) on our behalf when he/she is in front of the Ka'abah. It is said that the Masjidil Haram in Mecca is the preferred place on earth where The Almighty listens to his subjects and grants them their requests. It is also mentioned that, within the mosque itself, there are a few spots where such prayers are especially heard and have a good chance of being answered. No doubt, such places are highly sought after by all pilgrims and one must really be brave to compete with the crowd to secure such a spot, especially during the Hajj season.

One such place or tempat mustajab as we say it in Malay, is the small zone of the Ka'abah wall between the door of the Ka'abah and the corner of the black stone called Hajarul Aswad. I was advised by a learned man that if I can squeeze my way to a spot on this wall, I should then spread my arms and place my chest flat against it as if in attempt to embrace. And then I should fully open my heart and reveal to Allah swt all that I have longed for all this while.

My first visit to Mecca was during hajj season many years ago. I wasn't brave enough to fight the crowd for this coveted spot. However, at my next visit a few years later for umrah, I managed to find a place on the Ka'abah wall after solat subuh and draped myself on the holy house of Allah for a precious few minutes.

It was one of the most moving experience in my life... with my chest flat against the wall, the house of Allah can feel my every heartbeat. It is as close as you can physically be to the symbol of your Maker.

In such moments, what do you pray for? What do you actually ask of God? You are there as his guest and you feel so humble. Would it then be proper of you to be asking of so many things?

Yes, it is... for Allah swt is All-Listener. And hence, there I was, embracing the Ka'abah with my eyes closed and pouring my heart out to the One and Only, seeking forgiveness, asking for compassion and requesting for help. After some minutes of saying my personal prayers, I continued with prayers requested by some friends back home. Among these is a doa by a female colleague who was still childless after being married for a number of years.

The first few years after my return from umrah, there wasn't any sign that the Almighty is answering her prayers. She was still childless... until one day, someone came to her with the news that a baby is available for adoption. She and her husband decided to take the baby.

We may well say that God has not actually answered my friend's prayers yet... but to me, seeing that the child has become the light of her life, it is a wish that was granted.

Perhaps the point of my story here is to say that we should never give up hope. Some of us may be facing problems that are so complicated that they seem insurmountable. Even after putting in all the effort to try this, that and everything else, the solution is still not in sight. In times like these, when there is possibly nothing else we could do, the only thing left for us to fall back on is the power of prayer.

If we can afford to travel to Baitullah in Mecca, then do so. If we can't, then do not despair. If we know of a friend who is going there, then do ask their favour to say a prayer on our behalf. Good friends would be glad to do it for us.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

The need to conform (ISO vs ISA)

In one of blogger Justiffa's earlier posts (Audit Fever), she tells the story of experiencing stress and anxiety in facing auditors checking the workplace compliance to ISO procedures.

For those of us who work in ISO-certified organisations (manufacturing, engineering/construction, service industry), the yearly audit exercise is looked on with some dread. While the main objective of all audits is to detect for conformance to the agreed procedures and improving weaknesses, most of the staff hate to be audited because they do not wish to be seen making mistakes. It is simple human nature. Everybody thinks (or wants to think) that he/she is perfect. Nobody wants to be seen to be doing their job poorly and least of all, being made an example to the rest of the colleagues.

My personal view on quality system audits is somewhat mixed. The primary purpose of setting up and maintaining a quality management system to ISO (International Standards Organisation) regulations is simply that... Quality. If our firm produces quality goods or provide quality services, then we will get very satisfied customers which in turn, would result in more business and hence improved profitability. So why then the mixed views? Because complying to the system entails hard work, especially in the area of documentation and record-keeping. While we can be proud of our staff for being hardworking, not many of them are good in the paperwork side of things.

As an example, in my line of work, we issue design changes and revised drawings all the time. No project is perfectly designed at the inception stage. Changes during construction are inevitable. Hence, any particular section of the work may have to be revised a number of times, for whatever reason. Keeping track of such changes is therefore of paramount importance. We have to make sure that the guy who is actually building the thing is in possession of the latest drawing and not one that was superseded three or four times over.

A proper quality management system ensures such revisions are properly recorded, relayed and implemented. The key area of concern here is traceability... who instructed the change, when was it authorised, were the revised drawings issued properly, was receipt of the drawings acknowledged, etc., etc., etc... So, if we do find the toilet being built in a location where it's not supposed to, we check the paper trail, find out where the cock-up occurred and then decide who gets the screwing.

I guess now you would have an idea why many people hate to keep records.

I am taking time to write on this subject because our company's ISO audit is scheduled for some time this month. I was informed that my project is the one proposed for the external auditor to visit because our documentation and filing system is in reasonably good shape (as opposed to other projects whose record-keeping is not quite up to par, it seems). Ironic, isn't it? I would have thought it would be more beneficial to send the auditor to the other projects so that the weaknesses can be detected and improvements made.

Anyway, what has ISO got to do with ISA? Actually, not much... although the ISA (Internal Security Act) has also got something to do with conformity. You better conform to what the government say or else the Minister of Home Affairs can lock you up without trial.

It's just that every ISO audit exercise reminds me of something someone told me many years ago.

`Aku tak suka lah ISO audit ni! Letih kena soal-siasat. Lebih baik ISA!'

Which prompted me to ask, `Kenapa?'

`ISO kan Ikut Suka Orang... ISA tu Ikut Suka Akulah!'

P/s : Graphic above borrowed from Saja nak buat Zendra tersedak, heheh... and thanks to Nurie for leading me to this site :-)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Nak potong ke tidak?

When we received our Telekom bill for this month, my wife noticed that the Streamyx broadband charge has increased to RM88 from the previous RM77. When she went to TMpoint to pay the bill, she asked them about it. She was told that the previous charges we paid were based on an introductory offer when we signed up for the service two years ago. Apparently, the rate was valid for the initial two-year contract only and we now have to pay the increased charge if we wish to remain in the same package. We have the option to switch to a cheaper package but the connection speed would be slower.

My wife mentioned to the TM staff that they should have at least sent us a note informing of the increase. Simply inserting a new charge in our bill is quite unprofessional. The staff was gracious enough to admit that it is one of TM's weakness and promise to take note of our feedback.

My first reaction to this increase was to look at other options of Internet Service Providers. The one that immediately came to mind was of course, P1 Wimax, whose cheeky TV and billboard advert is drawing a lot of attention (to those asking for the ad to be withdrawn, I have this to say... lighten up! Have a sense of humour!).

I therefore browsed their website to see what they have on offer. Before considering any of the P1 packages, I have first to check whether my residence is within their area of coverage. The result is No (or not yet, anyway). Nonetheless, I had a look at the cost of the various packages available. For the equivalent service that I'm presently getting from TM Net, the Wimax package is slightly more expensive. In addition to that, I would have to cough up a registration fee of RM100 and another RM60 for activation fee.

All in all, looks like Streamyx is still cheaper. So... tak jadilah nak potong.

I wonder if any blogger friends out there are already subscribed to Wimax. Putting the costs considerations aside, is the Wimax connection better? Would love to hear from you on this.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

A short working stint in UAE

It was around this time 3 years ago that I was working on a project at the United Arab Emirates. Our company was involved in the construction of marine structures for a beach resort hotel in the emirate (or state) of Fujairah. The new hotel is about 120km from Dubai and is located on the eastern coast of UAE facing the Indian Ocean.

Our scope of works basically consisted of the construction of two rock-filled structures called groynes and the pumping of sea sand to fill up the beach. The groynes are located either ends of the resort boundary and act as wave-breakers so that large waves coming in from the open sea would reduce in size before impacting on the beach. The primary objective of the design is to create an area of relatively calmer water that is conducive to swimming and snorkelling.

The process of pumping of sea sand is technically known as beach nourishment. The original beach was quite narrow and has coral and rocky outcrops at certain areas. By pumping white marine sand dredged from the sea bed, a wider and more aesthetic beach was created.

Beachfront before sandfilling work

Sand pumping in progress

Construction of the north groyne

It was a tough and challenging work. Apart from the hot weather (temperatures hitting 40 degC), we had to contend with very demanding clients. Working in a marine environment also carries with it additional risk. Bad weather and sea-storms caused some delays. One particular storm was so severe that it battered our tugs and barges. The waves were so strong that the mooring ropes on one of our barges snapped, causing the barge to break loose. Luckily, the barge's movable ramp got wedged between some rocks, otherwise the barge would've drifted away.

Our hired tugboat was not so lucky. The waves pushed the tug towards the shore and run aground over some rocks. The rocks punctured the boat's hull, causing it to take in water. The boat partially sank and rested on the rock bed. After the storm had subsided, we quickly arranged for a salvage company to assist in the re-floating operation.

I left the UAE to return back to Malaysia in March 2007. The hotel opened for operations not long after that. The following photographs showing views of the completed beach are taken from the hotel's website here -> Hotel JAL Fujairah Resort & Spa.

View of hotel and beach with north groyne in the background

View of beach facing south

The view of the Indian Ocean from the hotel is quite breathtaking. It has crossed my mind to perhaps spend a night at this resort, if I ever get the chance to visit Fujairah again... but at around RM600 per night for the cheapest room, I guess it will remain just a thought.