Friday, 31 December 2010

Time to move on...

I have been mulling about posting on this subject for some time now... the reason being that it touches on something that makes me feel a bit sore. But I decided that it may actually be good for me to write about it so that many years later I can read about it again and recall that being knocked down once in a while is part and parcel of life. And since this is the last day of the year, it seems a good time to close the issue and move on for better things.

Regular readers of this blog may recall an earlier post in March about my job transfer from my hometown in Johor Bahru to the head office in Kuala Lumpur. I wrote about that change and my hope that it would bring me some good. Actually, it didn't.

After only four months working in KL, I was told by my boss that I wasn't needed anymore. To put it in crude terms, I was fired. The official reason given was that the company was feeling the economic pinch  and the directors have decided to downsize the staff. But I wasn't born yesterday... the real reasons are not that difficult for me to speculate.

What really disappointed me was that my move from JB to KL was at the request of the boss, purportedly on the need to have someone of senior experience to lead the team of young engineers and also to represent the boss at high-level meetings with clients. I initially declined to be transferred, preferring to be released from the firm so that I can look for another job in JB itself. I have been on the move for so many years in my career and I thought that the time has come for me to stay in one place. The boss pleaded with me a few times and I finally decide to accept the transfer because I believed that it would be good to share my knowledge with the young engineers. I made the move to KL in February this year but my family was left behind in JB. In my first day at the new office, the boss expressed his deep appreciation for my decision to come over. His words of thanks were so superfluous that it embarrassed me a bit to think that I am that valuable a staff to him.

Not even half a year in my new post, in June I was given a letter of termination. Although the termination comes with some monetary compensation, the principle of it is entirely wrong. You don't retrench someone whom you asked to join just a few months earlier. Now tell me if that doesn't leave a sour taste in your mouth...

So that is why my friends, I have been taking a break from blogging for a while, just to cool my nerves so that I am not tempted to type posts that would contain nasty words.

Many friends who knew of my situation came to give words of support and encouragement... you know, the standard stuff of : things happen for a reason, you'll be tougher after this episode, God has planned better things for you etc... But the real considerate friends are those who are willing to sit with me over a glass of teh tarik and simply listen to my grumbles and rantings. Listening to my grumbles won't change a thing... but it helps release the tension in my mind and body, and allow the calm to return.

Perhaps as a means to pacify myself, I say that this event is the thing I need to push me to do something on my own and to pursue that unfulfilled ambition. And that someday, I would probably thank my former employers for giving me that push.

Well.... as it is for now, I am on my way to chase that ambition. But until I do achieve what I hope to achieve, any words of gratitude will not be forthcoming.

Happy new year to all friends and readers. Selamat Tahun Baru Masehi 2011. May the Almighty grant you all your wishes. Stay healthy and happy always...

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Close call on the highway

I was driving from my home in Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur late last night. It was just past 10pm when I left the Kempas toll plaza heading north on the NSE. About 1km from the Skudai interchange I heard a bang and saw that a car in front of me had stopped and smoke was coming from its engine. I managed to slow down in time and as I passed the stalled car, I realised it had run into an accident with a bus in front of it.

The bus slowed down and stopped by the shoulder and I did the same. I got out of my car and walked back towards the accident scene. The bus driver was already standing at the rear of his vehicle examining a huge dent on the right corner of his bus. I asked him what happened and he said that something hit the bus from behind. I looked back towards the accident spot and to my horror, the driver was still in the wrecked car that had stopped on the left lane of the highway. This stretch of the highway is unlit and the car’s lights were all dead. Anytime another vehicle would be speeding up the lane, spot the stationary car too late and crash into it.

I immediately made a dash to the car and saw that an elderly gentleman in his 60’s was in the driver’s seat. He appeared to be talking on his mobile phone and does not look injured. Fearing for his safety, I knocked on the window and shouted at him to get out of the car…. but he did not seem to hear me. Either he is to engrossed in his call or maybe he is trapped and could not get out.

I had to make a quick on-the-spot decision : do I help him out of his car or do I signal to oncoming traffic to avoid further collision? I decided to do the latter. I have a torchlight in my car but I fear that running back to get it may be too late. The only other available source of light is my mobile phone. I turned on the phone screen and started to frantically wave at the oncoming traffic. It was one of the most dangerous things I ever did. I wasn’t sure if the tiny light from the phone is visible enough to other drivers but I had to try something. I stood by the edge of the road trying my best to warn other drivers, jumping out of the way at the last minute if they do not spot me. A few times, there were cars driving too fast…. I had to jump out of the way, heard the tyres screeching and was expecting to hear the loud bang of cars smashing into each other… but somehow they manage to swerve and avoid hitting the stationary car.

I was already praying… Dear God, I really need your help right now. Please don’t let anybody die here tonight. As if in immediate reply, the next vehicle that came by was a lorry whose driver manage to spot my frantic waving in time and slowed to a stop. The lorry driver switched on his hazard lights and helped divert other oncoming traffic to change lanes. Under this cover, the bus driver helped the old man out of his mangled car to the side of the road. Unfortunately, the lorry driver did not stay for long. As soon as the old man was out, the lorry switched lanes and moved off, leaving the smashed car still on the path of oncoming traffic.

I walked about 30 metres further up the road, still waving the tiny light of my cellphone, hoping to at least give earlier warning and increase the stopping distance. In between, I managed to squeeze in a call to Plus helpline on their 1-800 number to report the accident. Being a regular customer of Plus Expressways, their helpline number is already stored in my phone. I told the person on duty the location of the accident and stressed the need to get help fast because the area is very dark and there’s a high chance of a secondary crash.

The next few minutes waiting for help to arrive were extremely nervy. I continued to warn the oncoming traffic as best as I can and there a few more occasions of near misses. The sound of screeching tyres of cars braking hard can be quite traumatic.

I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I spotted the flashing beacon of the Plus patrol truck. The Plus personnel quickly deployed road cones and arranged for the crash debris to be swept off the road.

I made my way back to old man and asked him, `Are you okay, Uncle?’ Yes, he said. I told him that I was worried when he did not get out of his car and my fear of another vehicle hitting him. He said he was in a bit of a shock then and his first reaction was to call his friend. It didn’t occur to him that he should’ve gotten out of the car first.

He then took my hand and shook it. `Thank you,’ he said. `Thank you very much.’

By that time the traffic police had arrived and wanted to ask him questions, so I slowly slipped out of the way but not without snatching a pic of the damaged car.

Luckily the old man was driving alone. I dread to think if there was someone with him in the front passenger seat.

 Close call for the driver of this car

Friday, 24 December 2010

Three reasons to be proud

Whenever there comes a need for me to reflect on my achievements in life thus far, I always fall back on the fact that I have three smart and responsible sons. I may not have hit my ambition of making my first million by forty. I am not yet a big tauke and I still have large credit card debts to settle. But despite all the problems and struggles, I can still look at my three sons and say that I have at least done that part of it right, the raising of them I mean.

My first and second sons did very well in their studies and are now pursuing tertiary education overseas. Both are taking up medicine.

Yesterday, my third and youngest son Imran Azizi showed that he is as clever as his elder brothers by scoring in the PMR exams. My hope is for him to continue to study well and proceed to the highest level. He has indicated that he is not interested in becoming a doctor but that's okay by me. He can be anything he wants to be as long as he puts his skills and knowledge to good use.

When my son was taking the exams a few months ago, I decided to be the one to drive him to school everyday. This was after hearing advice from a close friend who said that being there for my son would be the best support that a father can ever give. By coincidence, two situations abled or perhaps forced me to carry out the task. Firstly, I was without a steady job at the time and secondly, my wife was still recovering from ailment which caused her to be hospitalised the week before. So like it or not, it was something that I had to do... and I wanted to, anyway. So everyday on exam day for almost 2 weeks, I drove my son to school, dropped him off at the gate, got out of the car, say a short silent prayer before hugging him and wishing him luck. He may not have required it but there's nothing to lose and it feels good doing so.

There was even one day where there was another exam paper in the afternoon which meant he couldn't come home for lunch. On that day, my wife and I bought him his favourite nasi ambeng, brought it to school where we had lunch together. I enjoyed doing that and hope I can do it again some time in future. Pretty soon he'll be all grown-up and there's no more child of school-going age left in the house.


I am sort of going through a rough patch on the workfront since a few months ago but the good results from my son yesterday really brightened up my day... so I hope readers can pardon me for this post of self-gratification. I am pretty confident things will become better for us in the coming days. Thanks also to my better half for helping raise three lovely boys. Most of the credit should go to her...

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Effbeeing... a new word to add to your vocabulary

A few weeks back, some of the commenters suggested that I have been away from blogging because I probably spend more time on Facebook. Hmmm.... to a certain degree I guess that is true. Although I have been an FB member for more than two years, the appeal of logging online to this social networking website is still not lost to me.

Effbeeing is different from blogging.... yeah, I know there is no such word as `effbeeing', but I'd like to use it anyway. It is an alternative way of saying `FBing' or `facebooking', i.e. the action of spending time online on Facebook. Some of my friends even use the Malay version of `berfb' (pronounced ber-eff-bee), so go figure.

I'm sure many of you have read or heard stories of addiction to this latest online activity. It has been blamed for non-productive employee hours to the extent that some companies block the connection from their office computers. I am not quite an addict but I admit that I do spend time effbeeing because I like to be connected to friends. And thus the likely cause of me spending less time on blogging...

Blogging really appeals only to writers... because that is what it essentially is, putting thoughts, stories or ideas in the form of words onto paper, or in this case, on a computer screen. And since I consider myself a writer, I don't think I'll stop blogging any time soon. Only that my writing is now a bit sparse compared to when I first started... and to justify this, you'll expect me to say that it wasn't about quantity in the first place. Hehehe... excuses, excuses.. Actually though, there is a more valid reason why my frequency of writing has dropped of late... but I'll write about it a bit later, next year perhaps.

Ok back to this phenomenon of effbeeing... apparently there are more than 500 million users of Facebook today and the company is estimated to be worth USD35billion. Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of FB is the youngest ever billionaire. I recently watched the movie `The Social Network', about how it all started. Quite an interesting film actually, because it does not have the documentary style that I sort of expected. One lesson I remember from the movie is this : When it comes to money (especially when it is a lot of money), loyal friends can become enemies.

The question in my mind now is, after FB, what next? For those of us who grew up with computing from the days of punchcards, writing in BASIC and working with DOS, there have been many revolutions in the IT world. IBM, Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Windows, Internet, dotcom explosion, Yahoo and Google. Some have survived this far while some are now but distant memories. Will Facebook last or will there be another phenomenon after it?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

May her patience be rewarded

It was on this day last week my wife received a telephone call from someone at her hometown. It was unexpected news. My mother-in-law has passed away while seated at the living room. Her death was discovered by a neighbour who had come to visit my ailing father-in-law.

I say that her demise was unexpected because it is my father-in-law who is the weaker of the two. He is now 95-years old and has been bedridden for more than 4 years. He suffers from most of the ailments inherent of old age but the primary affliction is prostate cancer that I previously wrote about two years ago, here -> Internal plumbing.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, was still able to move about on her own and except for her history of hypertension, was comparatively in better health. Actually she was not exactly my mother-in-law... because my original one passed away in September 1998. After a year of her passing, my father-in-law remarried another lady because he felt that he still require the companionship. At that time, my new stepmother-in-law, if there is such a term, was already a widow of more than 30 years. It actually puzzled me a bit why she agreed to marry my FIL, because it was quite clear that the ensuing years would entail difficulties. My FIL is not a young man anymore, he can hardly be called wealthy and he is known to be short-tempered.

Over the years of this new marriage, she tried her best to take care of my FIL. As the old man's health deteriorated and his need for attention became more demanding, the challenges became tougher. There were voices of dissatisfaction from both sides of the family. At one instance, some of my wife's brothers even took the drastic attempt of trying to separate them.

But the will of the Almighty is great... the old couple remained together despite the troubles and my stepmother-in-law did her best in carrying out her duties. She may have grumbled a bit, here and there... but that's to be expected. Taking care of an old and temperamental man is not easy work by any means... but she stuck to the job very well. Only Allah swt can repay her for her patience and kindness.

Hajjah Satirah Bt Omar passed away on 2nd December 2010 at the age of 74. May Allah swt bless and protect her soul. Ameen.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Okay, that's fine too...

I read with interest the news in today's The Star Online about the government's offer to traffic offenders who have outstanding summons. A 50% discount is offered to those who pay up within the first half of this month. The offer then drops to 30% if the fines are paid in the second half of December. After that, there's no more mercy.

On the way home from work, BFM radio station invited telephone calls from listeners who wish to air their views on this matter. A number of those who phoned-in, disagreed with the discount offer primarily because they believe it will make traffic offenders more complacent. Some even suggested that the fines should be increased, otherwise we would never see a reduction in our accident statistics.

We can argue about this issue both ways but personally for me at the present moment, I am all for the discount offer... and I am sure all of you can guess why. I have two outstanding summonses to my name, amounting to RM450. Half of that amount is not an insignificant value by any means of measurement. While I appreciate the reduction, it does not mean that I condone traffic offenders. I seriously believe the reckless drivers should be penalised heavily and this discount offer apparently does not apply to those in that category.

In my case, both my summonses apply to speeding but my gripe is that they occured so long ago and I never received any written notice from the police. The first offence was recorded as happening in 2005 while the second one presumably took place in 2007. I never had any trouble renewing my road tax from 2005 until this year... and that's a 5-year period. I only knew I had unsettled summonses after registering with the MyEG portal two months ago.

The police are probably right about those occassions they caught me speeding and probably I deserve to be fined. But what I am not quite satisfied about is the time and method they took to issue the summons. Actually, if I had not registered at MyEG, I wouldn't have known about it. It shows a lack of urgency on their part for not following up on an offence that was committed five years ago. Alternatively, we can argue that speeding offences are not a priority on the police list and therefore not serious.

Anyway, everything is fine now... I'll just settle half of my fine and then I'll be fine.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Soporific...

A few days ago, I was about to go out on some errands when I was distracted by something being shown on TV. The television was on the HBO channel and was playing a movie called `Wit'. The scene was a hospital examination room and the patient, played by Emma Thompson, was narrating something in a lovely English accent. I ended up watching the movie right to the end and forgot all about my errands.

Vivian Bearing is a professor of English literature who has just been diagnosed of ovarian cancer. She is about to undergo an experimental aggresive chemotherapy treatment and the movie shows her struggles throughout the process. A large part of the film shows Bearing in monologue... and it clearly demonstrates the strength and acting skill of Thompson in handling the character.

Towards the middle of the movie, there is this scene in flashback where Bearing recalls the exact moment when she knew that words would be her life's work. She was reading a Beatrix Potter book titled `The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies' when she comes across a new word that she does not know the meaning of. Say it in bits, says her father. So-por-i-fic.

It means something that tends or has the the effect to cause sleep. Like certain drugs and medication... or boring conversation... or a heavy meal on a warm afternoon.

The movie is almost pure dialogue with no action scene whatsoever... and I loved it. Indeed, it would ironically have the same soporific effect on viewers who prefer the action-flick movie genre.

Soporific... what a wonderful new word I learned this week. It brings to memory of a time that really fits the description of this word. The year was 1979... and I was in Form 5 of boarding school. The Science subjects are all taught in the laboratory classroom where three long workbenches face the front blackboard. There were 25 students in our class consisting of 9 girls and 16 boys. By tradition, the girls would sit at the frontmost workbench while the boys take up the remaining two rows.

When it came to Physics class, the boys would make it a point to come early because everyone wants to sit in the back row, even if it means squeezing for space. At times, there would be up to 12 guys seated at the back... meaning that only 4 would sit in the middle row. Glaringly obvious and disproportionate. The reason for this is that Physics class is real boring and it is quite a challenge to remain awake. Presumably, sitting as far away from the teacher as possible would make it less likely for him to spot us dozing off during his lecture.

I could not be bothered to rush for a back row seat so most of the time I am one of the minority who sits in the middle row. To stop myself from falling asleep, I began to sharpen my skill in doodling. My Form 5 Physics notebook probably has more creative drawings than formulas or calculations. It still puzzles me sometimes how I ended up doing engineering.

Soporific... lovely word.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Sacrifice... just a simple word

It has been more than a week since Aidiladha and my post about the qurbani celebration of this year is still not up. Just shows you how much I have been procrastinating.

Sacrifice... just a simple word. What does it actually mean? Is it a difficult thing to do? Is it actually worth doing?

Of course there are no straight answers. Sacrifice means different things to different people... and it comes in different levels. If we are to consider the historical act of Nabi Ibrahim (a.s.) offering his son Nabi Ismail for slaughter, then I have in no way reached that level of faith. Nonetheless, each and every one of us has faced tests and trials in our lifetime and no doubt, has had to sacrifice something along the way. Perhaps what makes certain levels of sacrifice a difficult thing to do is when we have to offer something of value in exchange for something that is not yet tangible or certain. In all likelihood, we may not even be able to experience or get the return we expect the sacrifice to bring. In other words, there is always the chance that we may lose. Sounds a bit like a wager, doesn't it?

But to me, it is not... because the noblest aspect of sacrifice is expecting nothing in return.

Ok then... now to what I did during the Hari Raya Korban holidays. This time around, we made a day trip to my parents in Singapore. Ar-raudah Mosque is located just across the road from my mom's flat in Bukit Batok. Every year the mosque organizes a community qurbani event where sheep are offered for slaughter. When I was younger, I helped out the organizing committee as a volunteer... basically doing simple things like herding the sheep, packing the mutton and cleaning up the place. It has been quite a while now since I last volunteered. Many of the younger generation are at hand to help out. Nowadays, I am just an observer.

Ar-raudah Mosque committee has been doing the qurbani for so many years that they have near-perfected the system of organization. From the initial registration, the import of sheep from Australia, the veterinary requirements, the temporary pen, the slaughter, the butchering, the packing of the meat, the distribution of various portions and the final clean-up and disposal. As smooth as clockwork. The following are some pics that I took of the process... except for the part where the sheep went under the knife because I couldn't get access.

Hope that your Aidiladha this year was a memorable one...

Ar-raudah Mosque front entrance

Sheep for the slaughter

Cleaning up the crap is a dirty job, but someone has to do it

Crowd at the meat distribution counter

Volunteers distributing the portions of free meat. Note the sign above...

I didn't have that level of `sabar'... so I didn't `beratur'

Those who queued for the free mutton

The mid-day heat did not deter those who have patience

The queue stretched to the outside of the mosque compound

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Jangan tinggal daku...

One of my favourite songs to sing at any karaoke session (which is not too often, if I may say) is P. Ramlee's `Jangan Tinggal Daku'. No particular significance why I like it except that it has a soothing melody and that the song's key fall within my limited vocal range.

If this blog can sing... that would probably be the song of choice. I have been neglecting this blog for too long and who could blame it for feeling left behind. Even the last post was a feeble attempt at giving it an impression of being updated... *sigh*

It is going to be Aidiladha tomorrow.... and I can still remember our qurbani celebrations of last year. It is a bit quiet for this year.

I am still working on getting things in order on the work front.... which explains part of the reason for silence in this blog. Hopefully things will work out soon so that I can get back into the rhythm of writing. Thanks to some friends and readers who dropped me a message saying that they are missing me. Seganlah pulak I dibuatnya... heheheh...

Anyway, just a small point to highlight before I end this post... I've just noticed that the Malay word `tinggal' carries two meanings that are distinctly opposite. It can mean `leave'... as is in `Don't leave me...', the translation of this post's title. It can also mean `stay'... as in `Anda tinggal di mana?', translated to `Where do you stay?'

Hmmm.... so should I leave or should I stay?

Selamat Hari Raya Korban to all friends. May all your sacrifices be amply rewarded...

Monday, 11 October 2010

The no. 1 breakfast

Without doubt, the most favourite meal to start the day for most Malaysians is a plate of roti canai. Pair that with a glass of teh tarik (or in my case, nescafe tarik) and we have the quintessential Malaysian breakfast.

Roti canai is a simple flat bread that originated from India. I first knew of this bread by its original name of paratha.There are a few theories on how the Malay name of canai came to be... Wikipedia offers three possibilities.

What started off as a simple plain dough-only bread has now evolved into a few versions. We now can order roti telur (an egg beaten into the folds of the bread), roti telur bawang (the previous version plus chopped onions), roti planta (with a knob of margarine), roti sardin (with some sardines) and even roti pisang (with sliced bananas). Another popular variety, at least here in JB, is roti tampal. I had breakfast with a friend from Penang recently and when he heard me ordering roti tampal, he was a bit puzzled. Roti tampal is made by frying an egg (bull's eye style) and placing an already fried plain roti on top of it so the egg sticks to the bread... hence the `tampal' name. The skill in doing this is to make sure the egg sticks and the yolk remains round and not fully cooked. This way, you will have the nice gooey yolk smearing over the bread pieces as you tuck in.... yummy.

Even the way roti canai is served has different variants. While the standard sauce or gravy accompanying the bread is plain curry, most mamak shops offer dhal-curry or fish-curry. Most Malay stalls also offer a dollop of sambal tumis on the side. Some patrons prefer the gravy spread over the bread and soaking it... the term being used here is `kuah banjir'. Others prefer the bread to be shredded to pieces first before serving (roti koyak). And then there are others who like their roti canai served with sugar or even condensed milk.

When I worked in the UAE a few years ago, it was easy for me to have paratha for breakfast because there are many Indian restaurants. A standard order of paratha comes in two pieces... it seems that the Indian workers over there have large appetites. But that's just about it... no roti tampal or roti telur or roti bawang or whatever else have you. So when it comes to variety, there is no place like home.

Ok then... enough of writing. Time to get my morning dose of roti tampal and nescafe tarik...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Someone watching over me (Part 2)

To read the preceding part click here -> Part 1

He first saw her in the university library. She was sitting alone at a table with a few thick books around her, intently reading one and occasionally writing down notes. She was dressed in a simple beige-coloured blouse and denim jeans… it surprised him that he had not noticed her earlier. He had started to help out at the library since the start of the term after completing his degree in Library Science the previous academic year. She must have been coming to the library before that day but somehow managed to remain inconspicuous, to him at least.

But it was only three weeks later that he managed to work up the nerve to say something. He had been observing her the past weeks and noted that she mostly spent time in the library in the afternoons. Sometimes she would study with some friends but most of the time she was alone. None of the friends who have accompanied her so far, are men. That afternoon, she was again alone and was tidying up the table to go home. She brought a thick book to the checkout counter where he was on duty.

It is now or never, he thought.

As he scanned her library card and stamped the due date on the book, he noted the book’s title. `An Introduction To Fortran Programming’ by some overseas professor with a weird-sounding name. Whoever thought to call a 2-inch thick book `Introduction…’ must have got his bearings wrong.

As he handed the book back to her, he said, `That’s heavy stuff you're reading.’

She smiled and replied, `Yes, literally.’ He can’t help but smile back. The ice has been broken.

The polite greetings the following days became easy… but it was not until another three weeks that he found the guts to ask her out for a date. Well, you can’t really call it a date because it was just a drink at the cafeteria located opposite the library.

Their friendship blossomed and he continued courting her throughout the three years she took to complete her degree. They married the month after she graduated.

It was a happy first few years for the young couple. She easily got a job at a multi-national computer chip manufacturer while he had secured a permanent posting at the university’s library a few years earlier. There were no signs of the stork arriving yet but they were not unduly worried.

And then in their third year of marriage, the bad news came to the surface. She had been complaining of sore throat on a number of occasions which were treated by the standard prescription of antibiotics and lozenges. The illness came and went. But when her voice became hoarse and breathing became difficult, they decided to seek specialist advice. After a few tests, the diagnosis was heartbreaking.

She has thyroid cancer…

Monday, 27 September 2010

In appreciation of friends and teachers

I guess it is now time for me to get off this break and start writing something again. The hiatus is not doing any good to the creative juices yearning to escape from my idle mind. Perhaps I shall resume with an event that happened during this Hari Raya month.

Two Saturdays ago, I helped organize a reunion of my old schoolmates in conjunction with the Aidilfitri celebrations. Previous reunions have been held before but on a smaller scale. What made this one a bit special than previous gatherings was the presence of some of our former teachers. In fact, this particular event was made in special dedication for a particular teacher named Mohd Zin Abu.

It all started off with an exchange of comments during the fasting month between Cikgu Zin and some of my friends on Facebook, on how he would love to meet some of his former students from MRSM Kuantan. Cikgu Zin is presently posted in Cairo, Egypt but would be back in Malaysia for the Hari Raya holidays. This prompted a few of us to get together and decide to hold a reunion. And so it was, on Saturday 18 September 2010, a lovely and cheerful meeting between old friends and teachers was held at Shah Alam. For some of us, it was the first re-connection after a lapse of 31 years.

Thirty-one students of the MCE/SPM batch of 1979 turned up plus seven of our former teachers. Some came from as far Kuantan, Johor Bahru and even Kangar, Perlis.

Cikgu Zin used to teach us Science... but apart from the academic subjects, he was like a father and advisor to most of us. It was a role that he carried out extremely well and even after retiring from teaching, he is asked to perform the same tasks today. Cikgu Zin is presently in Cairo on the payroll of the Negeri Sembilan state government, to act as guardian to all NS-sponsored students pursuing their tertiary studies in Egypt. The students there call him `Ayah' and his wife `Ibu'... what more endearing term can there be.

We took the opportunity to invite some other teachers to come to the reunion as well. Our thanks to Mr Peter Ng, Cikgu Kandan, Cikgu Rahmah, Ustaz Yusof Othman, Cikgu Hasmah and Puan Faizah for graciously making the event a truly memorable one. My thanks to all my old friends too... for making it an everlasting friendship.

Footnote : This post is also in dedication to blogger-friend Dr Hasmawati of BrainDrain, in Manchester, England. 

 Cikgu Zin sharing with us his adventures to date

Three wise educators - Cikgu Kandan, Ustaz Yusof and Cikgu Zin

Group photo of those who attended

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Taking a break...

In my post of last year at this same time, I mentioned that, to me, nothing marks the passage of time as significantly as the arrival of the holy month of Ramadhan. It seems like only yesterday that I was helping my father cook the bubur lambok at Ba' Alwie Mosque in Singapore to be served to the congregation on breaking of fast.

The fasting month is the preferred time to practice restraint and patience... and for that reason, I have decided to take a break from blogging to reflect and resolve some issues on the personal front. The past two months or so has been quite trying and although I have tried to keep this blog updated as frequently as I can, my effort is obviously half-hearted.

Thank you to blogger-friends and readers for your support and company. Hope to come back soon when things are a bit better..

To all my Muslim friends, selamat menyambut bulan puasa yang mulia ini.... semuga Ramadhan ini menjadi yang terbaik dalam sejarah hidup anda.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Interlude

I know I promised my readers the next part of the story published in the previous post... but there is this extremely funny thread started by my friend Captain Norhisham Kassim on his Facebook wall which I wish to share. The following was copied from Norhisham's wall without his permission... but I'm certain he wouldn't mind.

Kenangan bersama adik beradik masa nak tidur….

Pak Pandir panjat pokok pisang. Pokok pisang patah. Pak Pandir panjat pulak pokok petai. Pokok petai pun patah. Pak Pandir pun panggil Pak Paiman Polis. Pak Paiman polis pencen. Polis pencen pun pakai pistol? Pak Pandir pikir… Pak Pandir panik. Pikir punya pikir, Pak Pandir... pengsan. Polis pencen pulak panik. Panik punya panik… polis pencen pulak pengsan. Pinish…

The thread was started yesterday 29 July 2010 and is continuing with contributions by friends who have posted stories where the words all start with the same letter. The original story above starts with P. Since then, there have been those starting with J, S and K. Totally hilarious!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Someone watching over me (Part 1)

He looks down hard at the piece of paper the doctor has handed to him. It is a form of some kind… neatly printed out with check boxes alongside lines of text that explains the choices available. He has been requested to tick his option and sign at the bottom of the form.

'Can you give me some time, Doc… please..,' he says.

'Okay,' the doctor replies. 'But don’t take too long. I am sorry to have to ask you to do this.' The doctor gives him a gentle squeeze on his arm as he leaves the room.

The room in the Intensive Care Unit is quiet now except for the rhythmic beeps coming from the life monitoring machine. Tubes and wires are connected all over the patient who is now in a deep state of unconsciousness.

Amir looks at the pale-white face of his wife Maryam lying on the hospital bed… and his eyes slowly starts to well up with tears.

He speaks to her in that soft and gentle voice of his. 'Yam, I don’t know what to do… they have asked me to choose. I know I made a promise to you that we will save the baby… but I can’t do that. Yes, we have waited for ten years to get him. But… I can’t let you go. I just can’t…'

'It no longer matters to me that we might not have another baby… because I don’t think I can find another you. I am sorry to break my promise… but I want you to come back. Please.'

He wipes away the tears that have wetted his cheeks. He ticks a box on the form, signs it and leaves the room to pass the paper back to the doctor.

The doctor takes a look at the form and then nods in agreement.

'We will try our best to save them both,' he trys to reassure the man who has just signed the consent.

The doctor then directs his surgery team to move into action. The clear and specific instruction being that in case of any life-threatening emergency, the mother's life comes first.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Blooms and blossoms

A flower and garden festival is currently being held at Putrajaya. Officially named Floria `10, the event is organized by the Putrajaya Corporation at Precinct 2 along the lake waterfront. I became aware of this festival after reading a post in Mamasita's blog.

Having been to such events before in Johor Bahru, I knew that it would be a good place to experiment with some digital photography skills. The splash of colours is wonderful to see. Almost everybody was snapping pictures at all sorts of angles... here, there and everywhere. From the simple camera-phones, the compact digicam to the high-end DSLRs of the pros... the full range of cameras can be seen in use.

Previously, when I took photos using a point-n-shoot compact, I envied the guys snapping away with those classy DSLRs. Now, with a Nikon DSLR myself, I envy those who have the long telephoto and short macro lenses... never can we be ever satisfied. Anyway, here is a sample of my effort from yesterday.









The festival ends tomorrow 18 July 2010. I end this post with the opening lines of Afternoon On A Hill, a lovely poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay :

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

Monday, 12 July 2010

A new addition to the family

On Saturday, my brother-in-law (my wife's youngest brother) got engaged to a sweet young lady from Bagan Datoh in Perak. I was part of the `rombongan meminang' which included four elder sisters, two elder brothers and an assortment of in-laws, nephews, nieces and friends. It is the first time we are all to meet the young lady in person.

We assembled at my brother's house at Shah Alam very early in the morning and it took us nearly three hours to get to the young lady's place by way of the coastal road via Kuala Selangor and Sabak Bernam. My brother's fiancee hails from a kampung in Hutan Melintang. This prompted some of us to jest that my brother would be marrying an `orang hutan', hehehe...

God willing, the wedding would take place in February next year. We welcome Cik Nurul-huda Ismail as the latest addition to our extended family.

Part of the gifts from the gentleman's side, Godiva chocolates. The name comes from the legend of Lady Godiva of Coventry in England. Google the name to read about the interesting legend.

Nine trays of gifts from the lady's side in return for seven

A happily smiling bride-to-be

Friday, 9 July 2010

The song of a nation

I watched the football World Cup semi-final match between Spain and Germany early yesterday morning. Before each game starts, the national anthem of the two countries are played. I had not previously paid any attention to the anthems played at the previous matches but this time round I was quite captivated by the national song of Germany. It has a beautiful melody and to my mind, is the best anthem I have heard so far.

This prompted me to do a bit of online reading on this subject. According to Wikipedia, a national anthem is a patriotic musical composition recognized by a nation's government as the official national song or by convention through the use by its people. They are played on national holidays and festivals, and have also come to be closely connected with sporting events. Most of the best-known anthems were written by little-known or unknown composers. For example, the author of the British national anthem `God Save The Queen' cannot be verified or is disputed.

In rare cases, there are anthems of some countries that were written by famous composers. Germany is one such example. Their anthem titled `Das Deutschlandlied' (The Song of Germany) was written by classical composer Joseph Hadyn. No wonder it sounds so lovely.

By comparison, our national anthem Negaraku, is based on a folk song called Terang Bulan. This song is said to be adopted from a French composition titled La Rosalie written by Pierre-Jean de Béranger. It was originally popular in the Seychelles islands, where the Sultan of Perak was living in exile. I am a bit amused upon reading how the melody came to be the Perak state anthem which later got selected to be Malaya's anthem upon independence. Even well before that date, a version of the song was commercially recorded under the title of Mamula Moon with a distinctive Hawaiian tune. You can google the title for a Youtube video and listen for yourself.

I then read up on the anthem of Spain, the other country in the second semi-final game. Interestingly, Spain's national song La Marcha Real (The Royal March), has no official lyrics. No wonder I didn't see any of the Spanish players singing when their anthem was played. Imagine that... a national anthem with no words. If Negaraku was a wordless song, then we would be standing still during weekly school assemblies just listening to it being played, with no need for our voices to be heard.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The influence of numbers

I first became part of the workforce in September 1984 after graduation. Six months later I decided to buy my first car because having my own transport was an essential part of my job and the organization that I worked in offered staff loans at a very attractive rate.

After deciding on the make of car that I wanted, a 1.5litre Mazda 323 hatchback, I went to the Road Transport Department to see if I could book a nice registration number. On the RTD's notice board was a list of new registration numbers on offer... of course the really nice ones (the ones with only 3 digits and those containing the number 8) were mostly taken up. But I knew there would be some that would still be available, especially those that include the number 4. Most Chinese individuals (and probably some Malay folks too) would avoid this number because in the Cantonese dialect it sounds the same as the word for `die' or `death'. In other words, not so lucky laa...

I ended up booking the registration number JBJ 4400 and paid only RM200 for it. Four-four-zero-zero... die twice and end up being nothing... twice. How's that for tempting fate?

Over the years, I enjoyed driving the car very much. It was nifty and had reasonable acceleration power, or to use the common local term, got good `pick-up'. Some people call the 323 as Tarzan's car.... tree to tree, get it? It was my trusty companion on all the outstation trips to visit project sites. Before the days of toll highways, I was a regular traveller on the old JB - Air Hitam road of the Federal Route 1. This stretch is famous for notorious road accidents and I chalked up thousands of kilometres on this route on my trips from Johor Bahru to Batu Pahat or Muar or Segamat and back, mostly without incident. I say `mostly'... because there were a few near-misses, very near misses.

That Mazda however, did get involved in a few accidents... two of which were serious because the car had to spend quite some time in the workshop for repairs. But these accidents I consider as not my fault because on both occasions, my car was hit from behind. After 4 years of trusty service, I decided to sell my car... not because I felt unlucky with it, but because I thought it was time for me to upgrade to a bigger one.

So, do certain numbers have influence on our lives? Many people think they do. While Chinese dislike the number 4, some people of western cultures have a phobia on the number 13. In the particular apartment complex where I now stay, there is not a 4th floor or even a 14th floor. The elevator buttons show Floor 3A and Floor 13A. I would assume, a similar high-storey building in the west, may possibly substitute Floor 12A for Floor 13. I was told that on certain airlines there is no row of seats numbered 13.

If there is belief that some numbers bring misfortune, there would of course be belief in some numbers that carry good luck. In Chinese culture, 8 is such a number. It is thought to bring prosperity. Some property owners go out of their way to try effect the favourable fortune that such a number is believed to bring.

One such example is the Swiss Garden Resort Hotel in Kuantan. We stayed there during our holidays in December last year. The hotel rooms are numbered with 4 digits starting with the numeral 8. This does not mean that the hotel has 8 floors (it only has 3) or it has more than eight thousand rooms. It's just the hotel owner's belief that having room numbers starting with 8 would be good for his business and maybe good for his customers as well.

While many people do not believe in the influence of numbers on their fate, most people do have certain numbers that they consider to be favourite. The legendary Malay film-maker P. Ramlee is known to like the number 3. Madu Tiga and Tiga Abdul are two of his popular movies. His Bujang Lapok series of films show the adventures of three comical bachelors.

So, do you have a favourite number?

Monday, 28 June 2010

The next game to watch : Germany vs Argentina

In the previous post, the England team was not on my list of favourites to lift the title. The just completed game against Germany shows us why. Even if we were to count in the clearly legitimate goal by Frank Lampard, it would still not be enough.

The Germans were devastating in their quick and accurate counter-attacks. And they have talented youth in their side. The England defenders were simply too slow.

Germany will next meet the winners of the Mexico - Argentina match. It would most likely be Argentina.

At least for me, Ghana has moved to the last eight. Something for me to continue cheering for..

Update 6.30am : Argentina beat Mexico 3 - 1. The first goal by Tevez is also controversial.

Friday, 25 June 2010

The games are getting interesting...

It is already halfway into the World Cup 2010 campaign and I have yet to post anything about football. How come?

I am somewhat uninterested in following this year’s tournament compared to previous editions. I am not supporting any particular team. I would have supported England as I have done on earlier occasions, except that this time around, I think they have the weakest squad of players ever.

Anyway, what prompted me to post about the World Cup in South Africa is the Italy – Slovakia game last night. I caught the game on big screen at a mamak restaurant in Taman Melawati. I hadn’t intended to do so. On the way back from the office, I stopped by the bank to withdraw money from the ATM. The noise from the nearby restaurant caught my attention and I could not resist going over there and take a seat. As it happens, I had not had my dinner yet. And so, over a plate of mee goreng and a glass of teh tarik kurang manis, I enjoyed a thrilling soccer match in the company of other football fans.

The atmosphere of watching football at a mamak makan place is entirely different from sitting at home and watching it alone on the flat-screen TV. Although I do not know anybody in that small crowd, I can easily exchange remarks with the guys sitting at the other tables around me. The dramatic game itself helped heighten the lively atmosphere.

I was cheering for Slovakia last night… for no particular reason except for the fact that Liverpool’s defender Martin Skrtel is in the Slovakian team (I am an Anfield supporter) and maybe because I like to root for the underdogs. Defending champions Italy were defeated by a tiny European nation playing in the finals for their first time. Skrtel’s goalmouth clearance was one of the key moments of the game that helped Slovakia maintain their lead and finishing as winners by 3 - 2. They are now through to the last 16 knockout stage.

So now, both the holders and runner-up of the 2006 World Cup are packing their bags to go home. Favourites to win the title remain the teams from South America (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay) and those from Europe (Germany, Holland, Spain and Portugal). So which one will I support now? None of them… I think I’ll cheer for Ghana.

The tournament now is sure becoming interesting.


Skrtel blocked an Italian scoring attempt right on the goal line. Pic borrowed from liverpoolfc.tv

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Blogging from Kuantan

If there is such a thing as an adopted hometown, then Kuantan would be mine. Perhaps I'll retire here...

I am in Kuantan now to attend the wedding of a nephew on my wife's side. The nikah ceremony would be held this morning but I don't want to wait after that to post something because I may not have the time. It would be a busy schedule to travel back to KL later today and then rush back to JB on Sunday morning for another wedding invitation there.

So to kill some time before breakfast, here's some pics taken in Kuantan.... what else but my favourite subject of food.

The first night here, we had dinner at The New Horizon Garden Restaurant. It's the second time we are there, the first being in December last year. It is a very cosy restaurant recommended by blogger Mamasita and I'd now probably be patronising the place every time I come to Kuantan. After the dinner, I uploaded one of the pics to my FB wall and immediately got a response from another Kuantan blogger-friend, Versedanggerik. Apparently she was also there at about the same time but she was dining with her friends on the upper floor. So near and yet so far...

Lunch the following day was at Restoran Wak Sofian, located in one of the old row of shophouses at Jalan Besar. This place serves minang food or what I call as nasi padang. Quite tasty. Reminds me of a nasi padang stall in JB I used to frequent for lunch during the early days of being a salaried worker.

The boys were first to dig in, as usual

Deep fried siakap Hongkong style

Sizzling spicy squid

Large squids cooked minang-style

Monday, 14 June 2010

Antan patah, lesung hilang

A friend's status update on Facebook last week caught my eye. He overheard a Malay proverb wrongly quoted by someone and lamented that it's damaging the language.

What he heard was, `Aku ibarat sepah, habis madu aku dibuang.' The original Malay peribahasa is of course, not expressed as such, although the intended meaning is not far off the mark. This twist in the expression seems more personal... the person who said it feels strongly about the situation to equate himself as the sepah, not caring that he has mangled the original saying in the process. The literal translation of sepah is residue or waste by-product... so you can see what the guy was getting at.

I have long been fond of the Malay peribahasa or proverbs, although I'm quite poor at remembering them, what more to apply their use in daily speech. The beauty of the Malay proverb is in the way a point or message is delivered by referring to something else. Call it metaphor or simile or inference or whatever you like. It is the art of saying something without obviously saying it. You just have to marvel at the way our forefathers come up with such literary gems. Some say that such proverbs were created because of the peculiar Malay trait of not being able to say things directly, whatever the reason may be. It is no surprise therefore, a well-placed peribahasa can sometimes have a more potent effect than just stating the obvious. Jika kasihkan padi, buanglah rumput.

There are hundreds of such classic phrases, but what puzzles me is how and when they originate. The books and online sources that I've read about peribahasa Melayu do not offer any clues as to their origin. Who actually first uttered the phrase? When was it said? Was there a particular situation or event that caused it to be said? When was the first time such saying was seen in print?

Compared to online sources about English word and phrase origins, there aren't any about the Malay language, at least not that I've discovered anyway. I sure hope the cerdik pandai in our universities make some effort in doing research in Malay word and proverb origins and share the research findings with us. It is not enough for me just to know the meaning of a proverb, I want to know how it came to be as well. I'd also like to know if there any recent or modern proverbs and whether it is possible for me to be the creator of one.

This subject of peribahasa Melayu reminds me of an acquaintance whom I met in 2001 while working on a construction project in Kuala Lumpur. This seasoned gentleman we call Pak Lang (short for Alang) is around 60-years old and was employed as the site supervisor. I loved chatting with him because his stories are freely peppered with lovely phrases. He always seem to have an appropriate peribahasa to fit any particular situation. He would tell me the story of some old relationship and then end it with, `Anak sungai lagikan berubah, inikan pula hati orang.' Or he would sound out a warning to one of the lazy workers by saying,`Kau ni macam pahat, tak ditukul, tak makan.' Or when I see him carry out a heavy task and tell him to take it easy, his reply would be, `Alah bisa, tegal biasa.'

I wonder where Pak Lang is nowadays. Hope you are well, my friend. Tuan adalah ibarat tiram di lautan...

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Heartbreaker

Why do you have to be a heartbreaker
Is it a lesson that I never knew...

The two lines above are part of the lyrics of a 1982 hit song by Dionne Warwick. It was one of my favourite songs during those struggling days studying for a degree. I remember it particularly well, not because I've been through any heartbreaking experience or the like, but rather for the fast catchy tune and the lovely voice of the singer.

A number of years later, I heard the word `heartbreaker' mentioned by a friend in a casual conversation and yesterday, I was reminded of that occasion again.

I married my wife in November 1988. She hails from the town of Mersing on the east coast of Johor. A few of my bachelor friends accompanied me for the wedding ceremony and we stayed at the house of the bride's elder sister (my sister-in-law to be, at that time). We were introduced to the sister's family that included three children, two girls and a boy, who would officially be my nieces and nephew by the next day.

At the time, the youngest daughter was around kindergarten age and was understandably shy to greet us. She was very sweet and pretty, and all my friends were smitten by her looks. One of them softly spoke to me to say, `You have a lovely niece... when she grows up, she's going to be a heartbreaker.'

Over the years, I've watched the girl grow into a very beautiful young lady and see that the prediction of my friend come true... a few times over. This is the same person who is the subject of my earlier post -> The last person to know.

The young lady's parents was at our house yesterday and my sister-in-law took the chance to tell me and my wife on the latest situation about her daughter. She also revealed the events that followed after the day the daughter brought home her Chinese boyfriend. Towards the end of her narration, my sister-in-law broke down in tears... if I do come across my niece in KL, she says, please do look out for her and give her advice.

Well, young lady... I doubt there is much more that I can add to what I'm sure has already been said by your mom. You have already been granted what you wish for, and no doubt you know the huge challenges that you face ahead.

Perhaps if there is one advice that I can give, it is this : work hard to do things that will heal your mother's broken heart. It is not enough to say or promise that you'll do your best. You have to show the effort and commitment. Sure, it will take time, a long time... but it is not something that is impossible. And we are here to support you if you need it.

Just remember, a mother's affection for her child and her capacity for forgiveness is boundless. Her blessings and prayers for us are something that we don't want to do without.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A new taste to savour

Sometimes we think we know everything... or at least we think we know enough just so as not to look stupid. Suddenly we read about something and find out that there still things that we do not know. At times like these, the most apt cliche that comes to mind is : we learn something new everyday.

I was reading the latest book by Malcolm Gladwell last night. It is a bestseller titled `What The Dog Saw, and other adventures'. It is a collection of articles and stories that Gladwell wrote for The New Yorker, an American magazine where he is a staff writer since 1996. It is a work of non-fiction and so far I have just finished reading the 5th story out of 19. Very interesting stories on a diverse range of subjects and I would have continued reading had I not considered the fact that I needed some sleep. The five stories I have read touched on salesmanship, the tomato ketchup, the financial options market, hair dye and the birth-control pill. How do you create interesting pieces out of seemingly mundane topics? This is the particular skill that Gladwell possesses that has made him an award-winning author. He has written three books prior to this and all are bestsellers. I have the first two : The Tipping Point and Blink.

So what was the new thing that I learned last night? Many things actually... but the one that I pick is this : umami.

Apparently, there are five known fundamental tastes in the human palate : sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. I know the first four, of course, as I'm sure all of you do... but umami? Gladwell explains that umami is the proteiny, full-bodied taste of chicken soup, or cured meat, or fish stock, or aged cheese, or mother's milk, or soy sauce, or mushrooms, or seaweed, or cooked tomato. The word is not in my Longman's Dictionary that I keep on the shelf by my desk so I had to look it up online. The online dictionary further explains that the word is of Japanese origin and describes the meaty taste that is produced by amino acids and nucleotides. Perhaps the best example given is that of monosodium glutamate or more famously known as MSG.

Wow... I certainly know that taste. It is something that I have tried avoiding (or at least minimising) for many years. Only that I'm not sure if I can use the word in everyday speech as yet.

Next time someone asks me how does the chicken soup taste, dare I reply... umami?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Friends are forever...

Since early this year, I have been fortunate enough to re-discover by way of Facebook, many old friends whom I knew during my boarding school days in Kuantan. Although I only spent two years there, the bond of kinship that was forged with my schoolmates are very strong... strong enough to span a duration of 31 years and for some, a distance across continents.

The re-connection in FB led to reunions or mini-gatherings so that we could meet again in real-life. For the past three months including this one, I manage to attend three such events, starting with a dinner in KL in March where 8 guys from the '79 batch turned up. This was followed with an afternoon tea session in JB in April where 9 persons (including 2 ladies) were present. The third mini-gathering was done early this month, and it had the largest turnout so far. The event was held at Beriyani Selatan House, a restaurant at Section 19 Shah Alam owned by fellow K79 friend Syed Idrus. Twenty-three of my MRSM Kuantan batchmates were there and it was certainly a fun and memorable evening.

The three occasions prompted me to write a note or article in FB as a way to record snippets of information about all the friends whom I have re-discovered. I do not wish to repeat the note in this post but re-reading it again just now reminded me of another Kuantan schoolmate whom I've written about in this blog, not once but twice. I re-connected with this friend in FB in early February, or rather she re-discovered me. Her name is Norhayati Shaharuddin.

The two earlier posts in which I mentioned about Yati were published in October 2008 and August 2009. The stories can be read here -> A rose by any other name and We've got talent.

In each of those stories, there were unanswered questions which I had hope to ask my friend should I ever get the chance to meet her again. By the grace of the Almighty, on 11th February an add-friend request came in my FB inbox, from who else but the girl from Gopeng herself. I have since invited Yati to read the two blog posts, primarily to know if she has any objections to my writing about her, and secondly to seek the answers to my queries. She has gracefully replied and I now reproduce both the questions and the relevant answers for the benefit of readers.

In the first post about nicknames, I mentioned that Yati was also known as Hai Hong (the name of the Vietnamese refugee ship that landed on our east coast shore in 1978), but I didn't know how she got it. She told me that the name was teasingly given by one of our Maths teachers, in reference to her fair skin and oriental looks. Apparently the teacher had mentioned that Yati's relatives had just landed on the beach.

In the second post, I wrote about our stage performance in a musical drama where Yati and I played the lead roles. I sang an old Malay 60's song which was then reciprocated by her... but I could not remember the song she sang. She told me that she sang `Mustika Hatiku'.

Thank you Yati for the explanations. The two stories are now complete.

And now, if only I can get to meet you and a few of the other girls for tea... that would surely be wonderful. Tapi kita fahamlah, wanita yang dah berkeluarga ni memang rumit sikit nak dapat kebenaran berjumpa dengan kawan lama.

Anyway, it's lovely to be in touch again... and thanks too, for the memories.

Group photo of the K79 mini-gathering early this month. We are already planning for another one next month.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Jalan-jalan & makan-makan

Ever since coming over to work at our KL Head Office, I have encouraged my staff, especially the junior engineers, to visit the project sites while the works are still under construction. This will broaden their knowledge and provide them with some understanding on the methods of construction. Sometimes, young engineers prepare designs based on ideal theoretical principles without consideration to practicality.

Last Friday, I took a group of them to visit two of our project sites, in Perak and in Penang. The first project in Terong, Perak is a secondary school in its early stages of construction. Afterwards, we headed out to Butterworth where we spent the night. The next day, we visited the second project at North Butterworth Container Terminal, where the construction of the extension berth and container storage facilities is nearing completion.

Apart from the technical visits, there are of course the makan-makan sessions which everyone looks forward to. We had dinner at Puncak Mutiara Cafe... the place I previously wrote about here -> Beriani Peha Kambing.

Lunch was at the famous Din Ikan Bakar of Kepala Batas. Actually to me, the taste of the grilled seafood at Din's is biasa-biasa saja... but what makes the place really special is the variety of fish that you can find. This includes ikan merah, ikan pari, sotong, udang and ketam. In addition to seafood, they also have a variety of daging and ayam bakar. All of them really mouth-watering... and I've not even mentioned the soups.

It was a really tiring two days but thoroughly enjoyable... and I hope my staff have learned something new too. Now what I need to do is to work out that excess food in my system...

 
  At SMK Toh Johan, Terong, project site

Post-panamax quay cranes at NBCT project site

Thumbs-up for the grilled kambing

Ikan merah bakar, ikan pari bakar dan ulam-ulaman... masa ni udang bakar belum sampai

How can you think about cholesterol when you see grilled prawns like these...

Just look at the size of that shrimp.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

At the end of the day...

I recently came across an interesting book titled `It's Not Rocket Science... an other irritating modern cliches'. Written by two British authors, Clive Whichelow and Hugh Murray, the book is a collection of modern cliches which most of us have heard (or used) with much regularity. Cliches are very useful to spice up a conversation... but when overused, as they tend to be, they do make some listeners cringe.

In these days of online connectivity, everything is available at the `click of a mouse'. Some people boast of being so hardworking that they are at it `24/7'. And if you're not `up to speed' you'd be `left out in the cold'.

So how do we define a cliche? According to the authors, it not quite easy to do because one person's idiom is another person's hackneyed phrase and yet another person's cliche. One good test is if a phrase induces an inward groan... and possibly a roll of the eyes too.

Whichelow and Murray are TV and radio writers. They have grouped their collection of overused phrases into various chapters covering general, media, entertainment and political categories, although it must be said that some cliches are so aggressive that they can be heard in almost all situations. The classic one being, `at the end of the day'. Now you tell me if you have not heard this one mentioned by someone very recently... or perhaps it was you who used it!

The authors have listed many other lovely and familiar phrases but I'll just list down a few of my personal favourites for starters :-

Environmentally friendly : This is such a vague phrase to be virtually meaningless, but it puts a warm glow of self-satisfaction into most of us who like to feel we're doing our bit without actually changing any of our environmentally unfriendly ways.

Hearts and minds : Something politicians are always aspiring to win - haven't they got any of their own?

Your call may be recorded for training purposes : Yes, you often feel as though your experience at the hands of operators would be perfect illustration of how not to do it.

Quietly confident : Or `smug', as it used to be known.

The facts speak for themselves : Clever old facts, we say.

I can see where you're coming from : Why is this phrase so irritating? Is it because it is verbose or patronizing, or because you know that the speaker is just about to contradict you?

Having read the whole book, it seems to me that the authors may have missed out on a few other cliches... at least those that I would consider as such in my book. Among these are, `to be honest with you'. I've often heard this phrase used by someone who thinks he/she is bringing you into the inner circle by confiding something that is not being told to others.

`To be honest with you, we have spent more time preparing this proposal than our management allocated for.' Yeah, right... so you're honest with me only for this one. At other times you're not, is that it?

Another overused cliche is `the big picture'. I admit I'm guilty of saying this one too often in my discussions with my engineers when we come to minor disagreements. I use it when I need to overrule them on certain decisions without letting them know of the underlying reasons. Crafty, eh?

For better or for worse, cliches are almost impossible to avoid... so what's your favourite?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

A dedication to all my teachers

I have previously noted the joy I experienced when re-connecting with old friends on Facebook. Many of these long-lost friends are those I knew during my days at boarding school in Kuantan. Most of them I have not met since we left school in 1979. We were 17-years old then, and now, some of us are making the effort to meet up again to strengthen the bond in friendship first cemented 31 years ago.

On three different occasions over the past three months or so, I met up with my MRSM Kuantan friends over dinner or tea, in what we call mini-gatherings or reunions. The most recent of these was held last Saturday at a friend's restaurant in Shah Alam. Twenty-three of the MCE'79 batch turned up, made up of 7 ladies and 16 guys. Also present was our English teacher Mr Peter Ng and our librarian Puan Faizah.

I had first thought to post a story about the friends I met during those gatherings but upon meeting Mr Peter again last week, I decided it is time I write something about my teachers, in particular, the ones who taught me English at MRSM.

We have a peculiar, if somewhat unique way of addressing our English teachers. In normal convention, when we call someone by their name, the `Mr' would be attached to the surname, and not the firstname. For instance, we would address Tom Jones as Mr Jones (and not Mr Tom). But not at MRSM Kuantan... our English teachers like Peter Ng, Stephen Ambrose, Michael Tan and Kamini Devi are addressed as Mr Peter, Mr Stephen, Mr Michael and Miss Kamini. This way, we feel closer to our teachers because we reduce the air of formality while still maintaining a measure of respect. It may not be technically correct but I agree with it wholeheartedly.

Mr Peter once headed the English Department at MRSM Kuantan. When we re-connected on Facebook, I was quite surprised that he took the time to read this blog of mine. I was doubly pleased when he said that he liked what he read... what can be more encouraging than getting praise from your old English teacher?

The other English teacher who I remember particularly well is Miss Kamini... because of her height. At six-foot plus, she was easily the tallest lady teacher we had in the whole of MRSM Kuantan. It's a pity I do not have a photograph of her because my memories of how she look is starting to fade away. A few friends have uploaded old photos of our time at school and some are pics of us with our teachers, but so far, there isn't one that includes Miss Kamini.

Apart from the academic side of teaching, the teachers at MRSM were also our homeroom advisors. A homeroom is a smaller group of students from different classes... a sort of small family of brothers and sisters with the advisor acting like a parent or big brother / big sister. That is why we feel very close to our teachers... and we know that some of our teachers are very close to us too. This can be clearly seen from the keen participation of our former teachers in many of the reunion events held by the various batches. Photographs of these gatherings are published in the FB profiles of friends and from these I can recall my cikgu-cikgu from yesteryears :- Cikgu Ramli (1st Principal), Cikgu Sharif (2nd Principal), Cikgu Idham (Geografi), Cikgu Fadhil Onn (Geografi), Cikgu Zamri (Chemistry), Ustaz Yusof (Pendidikan Agama), Cikgu Rahim (Physics) and of course, Cikgu Peter. There are certainly many more of my former teachers... some I am told, have already departed. My al-Fatihah and prayers untuk cikgu-cikgu yang telah pergi.

How do we do justice to the valuable knowledge and guidance that our teachers have imparted on us? My answer to this is, by trying to be the best person that we can be. This does not mean that we have to be successful professionals or rich entrepreneurs but simply being an honest and dedicated individual who pass on the noble values we have learned to our children and fellow human beings. The measure of this is when our old teacher whom we have not met for more than 30 years, comes to us and say, `I'm proud of you all!'. That, to me, is saying a lot.

Happy Teacher's Day to all my teachers, wherever you may be. You are the best teachers there are because you teach from your hearts and not merely from the books. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Teacher's Day greetings too are due to my K79 friends who have taken up this noble profession : Suzyanna Mokhtar, Zulika Abdullah, Siti Zaleha Md Said, Fauziah Abdul Ghani, Rohana Mustapha, Dr Adriana Ismail, Dr Khairanum Subari and Prof Shahrin Mohd. My apologies if I may have missed out anybody.
 
 Then : The English Department staff at MRSM Kuantan, late 70s. Mr Peter on leftmost of the group. Pic borrowed from K79 friend Norila Yahya's FB album.


 Now :  Mr Peter (left) with one of his students, Norhisham Kassim, an airline pilot with MAS.