Sunday, 31 January 2010

Complaining about unsatisfactory service

On Thursday, Rocky Bru picked up on a blog post by Singaporean journalist Reme Ahmad about the latter's unpleasant experience while waiting for a flight home on Malaysia Airlines from New Delhi to Kuala Lumpur. Apparently, the New Delhi airport was covered in thick fog at the time of departure and this caused many flights to be cancelled. Reme's dissatisfaction with MAS stemmed from the airline's miserable handling of the situation especially with regards to the passengers' welfare. To further highlight the poor service, the blogger wrote on how SIA's ground staff efficiently took care of their own customers.

You can read about it at Rocky's post that links Reme's original story -> Apalah Mas?

I am not writing this post to complain about my own experiences while flying with MAS. In truth, I don't recall any bad experience while travelling on our national carrier. I am fairly satisfied with the service but I must admit that MAS need to be modernising their fleet to keep up with their competitors.

This post is actually on the subject of complaining itself. All of us have faced bad service in one way or another. Lousy service at restaurants, slow response at government departments, terrible waiting at bank counters, long queues at supermarket checkouts, unscrupulous taxi drivers, etc. etc. etc. But what do we actually do about it?

If our expectation level is not high, then we would most probably dismiss it as a normal thing. More often than not, we grumble about it... we tell our family and friends. Some of us write letters to the editor of newspapers. Some people make a scene on the spot. Nowadays, if we have a blog, we can even blog about it! And if our post is picked up by another prominent blogger like Rocky, then our complaint gets a good chance to be read by the intended party. In Reme's case, MAS Head of Media Relations acknowledged the issue by leaving a response in the blogger's comment box.

I have made complaints about poor service before, or to put it a nicer way, given some customer feedback. The intention is always to help improve things. Having been on the receiving end of complaints as well, I know it is not a very nice feeling. That is why, when I make a complaint, I try do it in a proper manner. The approach is as important as the substance.

In these days of IT awareness, many companies have websites that include a customer feedback section. Feedback can be relayed in various ways... normally in the form of a feedback questionnaire or an email address. I have made use of such method because it is quick, convenient and goes directly to the party responsible. So far, the response has been quite prompt. I will write of one example.

There was this one time my family and I stopped by a Pizza Hut restaurant at Tebrau City Mall in Johor Bahru. It was a weekend and as expected, the outlet was crowded but we managed to get a table. After placing our order, we settled down for the wait. The soups and drinks arrived first. After waiting for half an hour, the pizza had not arrrived, so I asked one of the waiters to check. He replied that the kitchen is still processing our order. I waited for another fifteen minutes and still nothing... no update and no apology.

I went up to the cashier's counter and spoke to a young woman who I assumed was the supervisor (she wears a different uniform when compared to the waiters). I asked her about my order and was surprised to hear an indifferent reply.

`Nanti dulu encik. Orang lain pun belum dapat.'

Whoa... wrong answer, young lady! I almost blew my top. I immediately asked for the bill but they had trouble how to charge for the soups and drinks because they were part of a whole meal package. Once they finally worked out how much to bill me, I paid and we left the place to eat somewhere else.

Once I got home, I went online to the Pizza Hut website and fired off an email complaint. The very next day, I received a phone call on my mobile from a lady identifying herself as the Area Manager of a few Pizza Hut restaurants within JB area. She politely asked me for details and then profusely apologised for the incident.

Whether my complaint brought any improvement or not, is another matter, but I'll give credit to Pizza Hut for responding in double quick time. At least now, I have the number of the Area Manager stored in my phonebook. The next time any of her restaurants fall below the mark, I'll call her direct.

For readers who have something to gripe about, do try to check for a website with a customer feedback section and make use of it to send in your complaint. I am sure the responsible party would appreciate your feedback and respond accordingly.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Prayers for the new King

It has been seven days now since the demise of Sultan Iskandar of Johor. On my way to Friday prayers last week, I passed by Puteri Specialist Hospital and was surprised by the large police presence outside the hospital. There were already rumours by then of the condition of Tuanku. By late evening the sad news had spread by way of text messages and Facebook updates although the official announcement was made around 11.00pm.

The official seven-day mourning period for Johor citizens actually ended yesterday but many male Muslims at today's Friday prayers still wear the tanda berkabung, i.e. the black Malay songkok with a strip of white. And today also, we heard prayers recited for the new Johor king, Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar Alhaj and his consort, Sultanah Zarith Sofiah bt Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah. May your royal highness rule the state with compassion, fairness and equality. Daulat Tuanku.

Pic from The Star Online

Sunday, 24 January 2010

A blast from the past

I hope readers would pardon me for indulging in a bit of nostalgia. Around this time thirty years ago, I boarded an aeroplane for the first time in my life, to fly to the land of our colonial masters. I am inspired to write about old times after seeing the photo album that my pal Badique (see previous post) created in his Facebook profile. The album is a collection of scanned photographs of his post-MRSM days while studying in the United Kingdom. I am in some of those photos.

It was sometime in December 1979 that I first met this friend of mine. I had arrived at MRSM Seremban to attend an orientation program being held by Mara for students selected to study in England. I arrived alone and didn't know anybody at Seremban. I wasn't sure who else from my school were selected. It was quite a hectic period because we had only just sat for our MCE exams the previous month and hardly had time to enjoy the break. Mara contacted the selected students by way of telegram. Back then, only the rich had telephones at home. Internet or emails were non-existent yet.

I was trudging up the slope to the entrance gate of MRSM Seremban when a guy in front of me looked back and asked where I come from.

`Dari Johor Bahru,' I replied. I was actually staying in Singapore at the time but I wanted to avoid explaining things too much.

`Sekolah mana dulu?' he continued to ask.

MRSM Kuantan, was my reply.

`Aku sekolah kat sini dulu,' he gestured to the place we were heading to. `Meh kita daftar sama... kalau nasib baik mungkin boleh dapat bilik lama aku.'

And thus was the beginning of my friendship with Badique, an ex-MRSM Seremban student. I can't remember how many students attended the orientation but it was quite a sizeable number. We were to be sent to a number of colleges in the UK in early January to do A-levels. It so happened that Badique and I were to be sent to the same college in London.

After the orientation, all of us had to make haste and carry out errands. We had to apply for our international passports, convert money to traveler's cheques and pound sterling, buy thick sweaters and jackets to face the cold English winter etc, etc, etc. In the midst of doing all these, we need to find the time to say good-bye to family and relatives.

The process of applying for an international passport those days is a bit more complicated than today. Among the requirements is for your application to be endorsed by someone of standing in your community, namely your penghulu kampung (village headman), your wakil rakyat (Member of Parliament), or a high-ranking officer in the civil service. Being a resident of Singapore, I did not know any penghulu or MP or civil service officer. I could ask for the help of relatives in JB but I was already in Kuala Lumpur at the time... no time to go back. Luckily, I had a cousin in KL who knew certain top people. He took me to meet the then Parliamentary Secretary of the Federal Territories Ministry, a certain Haji Abdullah Bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, whose office was located within PKNS Building at Jalan Raja Laut. Abang Man, my cousin, simply addressed the officer as Che Lah, and politely asked for his help to endorse my passport application. Che Lah looked at me and asked where I was going. I told him, to the UK for further studies. He reminded me to study hard and make sure I come back and help serve the nation.

My first international passport. Photo of a young man not yet eighteen.

The first UK student visa with date of arrival at Heathrow Airport

Our group of London-bound students left Malaysia to arrive smack in the freezing UK winter on 11 January 1980. I believe there were around 30 of us in the flight, consisting of students who intend to study Accountancy, Pharmacy and Engineering. Upon touching down at Heathrow, we were first taken to the Mara Hostel at Leinster Square in the Bayswater area of London. After a briefing and a short rest, we were divided into groups based on the college where Mara had enrolled us.

Thirteen of us, including Badique and myself, were sent to a college in Greenwich called the Centre for Business Studies or CBS for short. It was the first time Mara is sending students there, hence we were sort of guinea pigs to find out if the college is good enough. CBS is a private college that takes mainly overseas students who want to pursue diplomas in business studies, banking and stuff like that. GCE A-level classes form a small part of their curriculum.

The overseas students were overwhelmingly Africans... prompting us to remark that the place is `penuh dengan gagak'. It was not a good place to study, at least not for A-levels. I didn't learn very much while I was there. I was practically enjoying myself most of the time. We would spend most weekends exploring London. The West End, Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park are among our favourite haunts. Not that the allowance Mara gave us was lavish but we had to teach ourselves how to spend wisely. To save money, cooking at home is a must. I can still remember buying cow's liver (the cheapest meat available) with such regularity that the halal-butcher would instantly know what I want the moment I step into his shop. London is an expensive city... then and now.

With college-mate Adzim, feeding pigeons at Trafalgar Square. Still to rediscover this friend since separating after A-levels.

We reported to Mara of the poor quality of teaching staff at the college and requested that we be transferred elsewhere. At the end of six months, Mara took us out of the place and registered us at Aston College in Wrexham, North Wales for our second year of A-levels. Aston College had been a favourite institution for placement of Malaysian students for many years.

The autumn of 1980 saw the group of 13 young men being sent to a place where the people speak an entirely different language. We joined our fellow Malaysian friends who had been there much earlier and add to an already sizeable Malay student population in Wrexham.

After a game of football in Wrexham. Can't remember most of the guys now. Yours truly is at the back row in the blue and black striped shirt. Badique is to my left.

Life in the small town of Wrexham is certainly very much different from the city of London but interesting in its own kind of way. But I'll leave these stories to tell for another day.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Two birthdays. One, happy... the other, not so

There are times when someone would come up to you wanting to tell good news and bad news, and you're then asked which one you would like to hear first. This post is somewhat like that. I'll start with the good news...

1. Monday, 18 January 2010

On this date nineteen years ago, my second son was born. Harith or Angah as we affectionately call him, left the comfort of his mother's womb without too much complication. When I first set sight on him, I was a bit surprised that he didn't look much like his elder brother. His skin was very fair and his facial features were more Chinese than Malay. My wife even had to ask the maternity nurse if the baby really was her son.

At that time, I joked with my wife that if she had managed to delay the delivery by one day, our second son would have a lovely number as his birthday, 19.01.1991. She tersely replied, `Kalau dah nak terberanak tu, mana boleh tahan-tahan!'

Angah at 11 months, Taman Cempaka, Johor Bahru.

I happened to be at our Kuala Lumpur Head Office on Monday and so took the opportunity to treat my son for a birthday dinner later that night. Before leaving the office at around 6pm, I sent him a text message about the dinner plan and for him to invite his room-mates as well.

It was raining very heavily in Kuala Lumpur as I drove out of the city on the DUKE highway heading to Shah Alam. The rain however dried up as I reached PJ area.

Upon reaching UiTM, I was surprised that five of Angah's friends wanted to come along. As long as the five of them are willing to squeeze in the back seat of my car, I am more than happy to treat them all to dinner. We went to Restoran Tasik Indah, the seafood restaurant located by the lake in the middle of Shah Alam town.

It was quite a sumptious meal and delicious too. We had fish, squid, prawns, lala, tom yam and bean curd. You can see the delight in the faces of the young men as they heartily tucked in the food. The plates were all wiped clean... and that made me very happy indeed.

Angah (3rd from left) and his room-mates in the after-dinner pose

During the meal, some of Angah's friends asked me about career advice and I was glad to impart some. I can see that they are all good boys and I wish them all the success in their studies.

2. Wednesday, 20 January 2010

One of the real advantages to sign up on Facebook is the ability to re-connect with long-lost friends. In the middle of December last year, I received an add friend request from someone whom I knew from our A-level years in the UK.

I first met this friend in December 1979 at MRSM Seremban when we attended the orientation that Mara held for students selected to go overseas for further studies. He introduced himself by the nickname of Badik, or as I later found out, he likes to spell out in the stylised form of Badique. In Malay, badik is a small knife primarily used as a weapon. How he chose (or was bestowed) this nickname was not revealed.

Four close pals in Wrexham, North Wales, UK circa 1980.
L to R : Khairil, Shahrin, Oldstock and Badique.

Apparently Badique had read my blog and knew that I frequently come to Shah Alam to visit my son in college. He left a message on my FB profile, inviting me to drop by his place at Section 30 for teh tarik anytime I'm again in the area.

Yesterday, I took the opportunity to do just that but I did not inform him beforehand, preferring to make it a surprise visit. He has his house address written as Taman Aisya in Kg. Jalan Kebun at Section 30, Shah Alam. I searched Google Maps but Taman Aisya is nowhere to be found. Jalan Kebun itself stretches for a few kilometres and simply driving along without any pointers would be too time-consuming. I then recalled a reply that Badique made to one of his friend's comments on a photo of his house... something about the house being located at the end of Jalan Haji Abdul Aziz. Another refined search of the map revealed a possible location and I decided that it was good enough. I could have simply called up my friend to ask for directions but I'm always game for a bit of adventure.

I headed out of KL using KESAS highway and easily located the Jalan Kebun exit. From there, it was just simply trial and error. I found my friend's house soon enough, based on the photo he had posted in his FB profile.

Apart from wanting to meet a friend I last saw in 1986, there is another reason why I really need to see him.

Badique is suffering from bone cancer. As I stepped into my friend's house yesterday afternoon, he was really surprised to see me but even after lapse of 24 years, he instantly recognised me. On my part however, seeing my friend in a frail condition immediately saddens my heart. Badique could not stand or walk properly without the aid of crutches. But he hides his suffering bravely and he remained in high spirits throughout our conversation.

For nearly two hours we chat about old times, about old friends we have lost touch, about re-discovering each other in Facebook, about our jobs both previous and present, and about our kids. We talked a bit about the cancer, but not much.

The cancer started at his pelvic bone but how far it has spread, he didn't say. And I didn't have the heart to ask. Badique has declined the conventional treatment of chemotherapy. He believes in alternative medication and is trying out remedies on a few fronts.

Today, the 20th of January, my friend Bahruzzaman Abdul Kadir a.k.a. Badique is 48-years old. Happy birthday, my brother. I pray to Allah swt for the success in your treatment and recovery. I hope to be meeting you again at your next birthday with you hale and hearty, insyaAllah.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Relax kejap...

I guess it is quite normal for the beginning of the new year to be a busy time for most folks. The whole country is mired in this unnecessary religious tension relating to the name that one should use to call one's God. I would like to share my views on this issue too... but it would require a bit of extra thought, time and care to write about something that is sensitive to many people. Maybe later, I think... when things have cooled down a bit.

For now, let's relax and enjoy a piece from my Lawak Santai collection. Credit for the joke goes to rosary_razz at

Minah, oh Minah...

Alkisah di sebuah kampung Tirai Malam (malam jarang pakai tirai kan..hehehe), tinggalah sepasang suami isteri yang memiliki seorang anak dara yang cun gila wa cakap…

Namanya Minah...tapi ilmu kurang sikit.. hehehe.. biasa la setiap insan ada kekurangan dan kelebihan masing-masing. Tahap air laut la kemasinannya... Minah ni memang menjadi siulan jejaka-jejaka dan jantang miang kat kampung tu tapi sikitpun tak diendahkan.

Si Minah ni berjiran dengan Lebai Aji dan Mak Aji yang mempunyai seorang teruna yang alim lagi warak dan muda remaja. Maka kedua-dua keluarga pun menyatukanlah mereka berdua dalam upacara gilang gemilang.

Selepas semuanya selesai.. maka keesokannya mak Minah ni dok la kat dapur sembang-sembang sambil bagi nasihat kat anaknya yang baru kahwin tu…

Emaknya : Beruntung kau Minah dapat kawing ngan si Mamat tu.. bukan saja hansom tapi baik...warak budaknya.. pot pet pot pet, mak Minah ni dok puji menantu dia.

Minah : Baik apanya... semalam dia selak kain Minah!

Stay cool you all... don't let a few mindless jerks spoil the harmony that we all enjoy :-)

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The first departure in 2010

On the morning of Sunday 3rd January 2010, I received a call from my sister in Singapore informing me of our uncle's demise. It was a good thing that we decided to come home the night before after sending our son back to college in Shah Alam, otherwise we might have missed the burial.

My uncle's departure is not unexpected. He had been suffering from heart and kidney ailments for quite some time. I last met him during Aidilfitri celebrations in September last year. Although the death occurred more than a week ago, I want to post about it because there are two related topics that I wish to write about. The first is more for personal reflection while the other is for general information.

1. Strengthening family ties

In Johor (and perhaps Melaka too), there are many families similar to mine who have relatives on both sides of the Causeway. This is hardly surprising because Singapore used to be part of Malaysia not too long ago. Before that, both countries were British colonies.

My mother originally comes from Pontian in Johor. When she married my father, the family moved to Singapore. A few of my mother's sisters also did the same and even took up Singaporean citizenship. Some of my mom's siblings remained on the Malaysian side. I therefore have about equal number of relatives on either side. If you are to count the cousins, the second-cousins, the nephews and nieces, it would be a large number indeed.

As is the norm, the extended family members would get to meet each other once in a while during the standard occassions, i.e. weddings, funerals and Hari Raya. Not all family members come under the `close and cordial' category. There are of course some of us who prefer to remain distant, either by choice or by design. That's the nature of human beings, I guess. Some people prefer to be left alone.

In this respect, I have observed that my Singaporean relatives are more cordial than those from Johor. Whenever a Johor family member holds a wedding, many of the Singaporean cousins make the effort to attend. Sadly, it's not quite the same the other way round. I have heard many excuses but the main one is always, `takde passport nak pergi Singapura.' Granted that it costs a few hundred bucks to apply for a passport but if you do use such an excuse, it just shows how much value you place in the importance of forging close family relationships. And my Johor cousins are not desperately poor people either!

Such an excuse was again heard when news of my uncle's death was being passed around. Being based in JB, I became a sort of point-man to relay the news to relatives in Johor and other parts of Malaysia. Those who stay in distant places such as KL and Shah Alam are not expected to come but I would've thought the ones in Johor Bahru could've easily crossed the border. A few came... but many more did not, mostly citing the sorriest excuse ever.

Entahlah... dah tak tahu nak nasihat macam mana lagi...

2. The need to recycle

In one of my earlier posts in July last year, I touched on this subject of Muslim burials in Singapore. The common burial ground for Singaporean Muslims is called Pusara Aman, located on the western side of the island.

Since the past few years, the authorities have revamped the burial plots by constructing pre-cast concrete chambers or boxes laid out in a grid system, each plot assigned a unique number. This way, all the plots have the exact same dimensions and are neatly positioned with no waste of intermediate space.

When the time comes for burial of a body, the lid of the chamber is lifted out using a small mobile crane to reveal a 6-ft deep cavity whose base is lined with sand. The body is then placed on the bottom and another small backhoe fills the chamber with red earth till about half-way level. The final prayers are then said and family members say their last good-byes. When everyone has left, the cemetery workers would later top-up the earth to full level and re-install the lid. Quick and efficient. Not a single cangkul in sight.

Fifteen years later, the remains would be exhumed and grouped together with the remains from seven other plots for re-burial at a smaller space elsewhere. The original plot can be re-used for another body.

Empty plots prepared well in advance

Lifting the lid off from one of the chambers

The eldest grandson saying final prayers for his grandfather

As I have mentioned before, trust the Singaporeans to come up with ingenious ways to solve their limited space problems. I don't think we'll see such a system in use in Malaysia anytime soon but it is something worth considering for overbuilt urban areas such as Kuala Lumpur.

Buat Allahyarham Ayahanda Supian Bin Ahmad, semuga Allah swt mencucuri rahmat ke atas roh ayahanda dan ditempatkan di kalangan orang-orang yang beriman. Amin.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Meeting old friends in the new year

Another obvious sign that you are reaching the veteran phase of your life is when close friends of your age-group start to marry off their kids. You get invited to their wedding receptions and then start to ponder on when you would be holding such receptions for your own children.

We were in Kuala Lumpur on the 1st of January, to attend the wedding reception of the daughter of a close friend. The reception was held at the newly-built Dewan Serbaguna Taman Tasik Ampang Hilir, just off Jalan Ampang. Tasik Ampang Hilir used to be an anomaly of sorts some time ago. The lake, which I presume to be an old mining pool like many others in and around the Klang Valley, is located in an area bordering Ampang/KL. On one side of the lake, you find upmarket dwellings that include expensive bungalows and residence of foreign ambassadors. On another side, there used to be crammed squatter houses that were visible to traffic plying the MRR2.

The squatters have since been relocated and the lake surroundings were developed into a scenic public recreational park by Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur. The park is now becoming popular venue among Ampang and Pandan residents as place to jog, picnic and in this case, hold wedding receptions.

Groom and Bride

The beauty of attending such receptions is the opportunity to meet old friends that we have not met for years. This time was no different. There was a sort of small gathering of ex-colleagues who all used to work in an organisation in Johor. All of us left the organisation many years ago to pursue separate career paths. But the close friendship still remain.

Old comrades... literally. L to R : Khushairi Hashim, Fadzullah Hassan (father of the bride), Fadhil Isma a.k.a. Oldstock, Hj. Azman Kassim.

Two old couples smiling for the camera. These friends of ours are parents to the young lady who underwent surgery to correct the scoliosis condition that I wrote about here -> Mending a deformed backbone.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Translation skills

This first post of the new year is so late in coming...

An uncle of mine passed away on Sunday morning so we had to rush to Singapore. We just got back from KL the night before.

I was thinking of writing something about the sad occasion but perhaps on a later day. For now, just a simple post about some signs I saw on my travels.

Pic 1 : Bbeteng Restaurant at Taman Tamaddun Islam in KT

Pic 2 : Menu at Bbeteng

Pic 3 : Notice at Jusco Setiawangsa

The first photo is the entrance of Bbeteng Restaurant at the new Taman Tamaddun Islam in Kuala Terengganu, where the Crystal Mosque is located. Nothing interesting in this pic except for the banner proclaiming a special `Menu Musim Bah' that was on offer. It is an introduction to the next photo which shows the restaurant menu... where Keropok Lekor is translated as `Deep fried fish farce'. Hmmm....

The third photo is a notice at Jusco Setiawangsa in Kuala Lumpur, placed in front of the Christmas tree display. The Malay part of the sign sounds okay... but I cringe when I read the English translation.

Update 06.01.10 : Perhaps I should clarify a bit on this post to avoid misunderstanding. It is not my intention to make fun of the mistakes or to show that I have a better command of English. Rather, I am hoping that those who do such translation work to take a bit more care in what they do. If you are translating something that would be read by thousands of people, then please make the effort to do it correctly. If you are not sure about your translation, get help from people who can check your work. And that, I believe, is not a difficult thing to do.