Saturday, 31 March 2012

Tan Tin Tun

In the early 1980's, a local humour magazine called Gila-Gila was a huge best-seller. I was a regular customer and used to keep so many old copies of it. Among the popular cartoon series in that magazine was one done by the late Rejabhad called Tan Tin Tun. I cannot now recall what the story was about but it had to do with three characters carrying that names.

At that time, I believed that such names could only be found in a fictional creation... until one day, someone told me of a true-life example.

At my first workplace, I had a colleague named Atan. He married a pretty clerk who worked in the same organization called Zaiton. I was part of the groom's entourage for the wedding ceremony at the bride's kampung, somewhere in Kota Tinggi.

Some time after they were married, Zaiton became pregnant and later gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. The name they gave their daughter was Fatin (actually a long name of Fatin something or other, sorry can't remember). At first I didn't realise it and I'm sure my friend Atan had not either... but the happy family inadvertently became a complete set. Tan, Tin, Tun... for Atan, Fatin and Eton. True story.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Fit for the job

It is standard procedure nowadays for prospective employers to require would-be employees to undergo medical checks, the results of which would determine whether the employee would be offered the job, or if already employed, to be confirmed in his post. I have worked at so many places and the requirement of each employer is different. No doubt, the most basic of such requirements is the standard chest x-ray, urine test and vision check. Many employers today also ask for a blood test.

I remember when I first got a job in 1984, I had to take the medical check-up at the government hospital. Those days, the hospitals aren't as well-equipped as now and we had to wait quite a long time to go through each of the tests. Chest x-ray images required a week or so to be developed. Same goes for urine samples. Forget about blood samples... it would've taken weeks to get a result.

Nowadays, many private hospitals and some private clinics have the full array of diagnostic equipment to carry out whatever tests the employer wish to check, with most results being made available within a single day. The more complicated blood tests may take a day or two longer.

Earlier today, I went to a private clinic to do a medical. I had to pee into a small container, had my body zapped with x-rays and my arm pricked with a needle to draw blood. The clinic could've given me the result by tomorrow except that my employer wants my blood to be HIV-tested. That would take a few more days. I guess they want to be sure that I am not immune-deficient, have not been taking illicit drugs and be as healthy as I can be while in their employment.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Godown sand

A godown is the name given to a warehouse or large store but this name is only in popular use in south and eastern Asia. Don't use this word if you are in the west, otherwise the people there would think you want to head somewhere.

Apparently the word godown comes direct from the Malay translation of `gudang'. I had always thought it was the other way round.

Okay, back to the title... godown sand does not make sense but a sand godown does, i.e. a place where sand is stored. Only that it wouldn't be the correct translation of the Malay place-name which is the subject of today's post. Pasir Gudang is a township to the east of Johor Bahru city and is where my present workplace is. It is a large housing and industrial area first developed by Johor Corporation in the early 1980s. My first stint working in Pasir Gudang was in 1990 where I was part of the engineering department which undertook the construction works. My present employment is not related to my earlier job, which I left in November 1991.

On most mornings before clocking in at the office, I would stop by a nearby restaurant for breakfast. A few days ago, as I was holding a mug of nescafe tarik and looking for a seat, I spotted a familiar face sitting alone at a table. This person also saw me and a few silent moments passed as both of us try to recall who the other person is. He was the one who spoke first.

"Encik Fadhil ke?" he asks.

"Betul," I nodded. "Alias kan? Ingat lagi kamu kat aku ye."

He smiled, we shook hands and he offered me to sit with him at the same table. Alias Shahdan was an excavator operator who worked in the same the department as I did, more than 20 years ago. He worked under a separate section and did not directly report to me, so I was surprised that he still recognizes me. And he was polite enough to still address me as 'Encik' although I have long ceased being his superior. Alias is now retired, of course. We chatted a bit about the old times... when Pasir Gudang was still a barren and dusty place but busily growing like a restless child eager to become an adult.

There were perhaps 50 to 60 machine operators and workshop crew working with our department then but I can recall Alias by name because he was one of the more dedicated and hardworking ones. A soft-spoken man with no disciplinary issues.

Before I left Pasir Gudang in 1991, one the last projects I handled was the construction of an indoor stadium. It was still at the initial design stage at the time but the top bosses wanted to hold a ground-breaking ceremony so that the Menteri Besar would have a reason to come to Pasir Gudang. My colleagues and I discussed on what manner the actual ground-breaking event is going to be. We decided that the MB shall sit on a Caterpillar backhoe, work a few of the levers to move the bucket and symbolically dig a hole in the ground. Of course, you can't expect the MB to actually know how to operate a backhoe so we had to have one of our operators to be his guide. The choice of who this operator should be was obvious... it has to be Alias bin Shahdan. And so, the man was informed of his upcoming important task and he accepted the news with hardly a complaint. Over the next few days, he took the extra effort to have his machine cleaned up and applied the standard yellow colour touch-up paint. When the day came for the actual ceremony, the backhoe looked like it just came out of the showroom.

The Menteri Besar of Johor at that time was Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. When the MB finished reading his officiating speech, Alias accompanied him to the backhoe parked some metres away and invited him to sit in the cab. With the MB seated comfortably, Alias crouched alongside the VIP and coolly showed him how to work the hydraulic levers. The bucket made a small arc, dug a bit of the earth and the ceremony was done. Alias had his pictures in the newspapers the next day.

I departed from Pasir Gudang shortly after that and so did not see the stadium being constructed. Even upon completion I have never actually set foot inside it. Yesterday afternoon after work, I took a drive to the stadium just to view it from the outside.

When it was first completed, the indoor stadium was simply named Stadium Perbadanan, to reflect the fact that is was built by Perbadanan Johor, the state development and investment body. It has since been renamed Stadium Perbandaran Pasir Gudang, after the state civil service took over the administration of the local authority now known as Majlis Perbandaran Pasir Gudang.

Stadium Perbandaran

A signboard that is proof the stadium originally had a different name

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Colours of the rainbow

I really must have nothing better to do to be writing a post on this subject...

ALL men see in only 16 colours, like Windows default settings. Peach, for example, is a fruit, not a colour. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.

The above statement is one of twenty-three from a list of observations called `Men's Rules' some smart guy wrote as a relationship guide for his female partner. I posted this list previously under the heading of `No hints please. Just say it!'.

I'm not talking about the rules again this time but about colours... specifically about the various unfamiliar names given to the hundreds of shades of colours. I remember back in secondary school, my science teacher asking the class, "How many colours are there in the rainbow?" Of course, the standard answer that came back from us students was seven. Well, that's what the textbooks tell you, my teacher said. "If you are to go and ask a shopkeeper selling paint," he continued, "he will say that there are hundreds of colours."

Indeed there are... a few hundreds from what I can see in Wikipedia's article on this topic. Unless we are working in an industry that depends on colours (for example : fashion design, paint, lipstick, electronic display screens), most of these names would escape us, let alone identify which shade of primary colour it is.

I just found out that there are two sets of primary colours : the Red/Green/Blue grouping is called the additive combination (as in overlapping projected light or CRT display) while the Red/Yellow/Blue grouping is called the subtractive combination (as applied to pigments and dyes). All the other colours can be obtained by mixing of the primary colours, in varying proportions or degree. And since there can be an infinite combination of such mixes, there is therefore an endless shade of colours. New names are coined to go with the new shades, which sometimes add to the confusion.

Apart from the primary colours, the established secondary colours are well-known and readily identifiable. Colours like brown, pink, purple, grey and orange are easily understood. It is when we come to the derivatives that we get stumped. Maroon is reddish-brown, or is it brownish-red? Beige is a popular colour but is it more pale-brown or pale-yellow? Cyan is another well-known modern day colour that's found on our computer display screen (although the origin of the name is quite ancient). It is a blue-green combination... but how much blue and how much green?

The names of many of the colour shades come from nature, especially plants and flowers. Names such as peach, lavender, periwinkle, lilac and asparagus (yes, there is a special shade of green that takes its name from the vegetable). Some natural sounding names are easy to identify (charcoal, ivory, maize) while some takes a bit of describing (fallow, teal, russet). I am quite hopeless at identifying colours. That is why I guess, I like to stick to grey (or sometimes spelled gray) as my favourite colour... there's just light grey, dark grey, ash grey, smoky grey and maybe one or two more. Pretty drab and unexciting, huh?

So what's the colour of this orchid flower?
My previous post on a similar subject -> Colourful words.
Interesting source for origin of some colour names -> The colour of words.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The absence of darkness is light

My current read is a novel I borrowed from the local library called The Rule Of Four, written by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. It has been three weeks since I first took it out and I still have not finished reading it. I am perhaps two-thirds done... pretty slow by normal standards but I want to complete it nonetheless.

It is a story about two university students trying to unravel the mystery contained within the pages of a book written by an Italian during the Renaissance period. Quite heavy going sometimes.

Anyway it is not my intention to do a book review. I just would like to share a passage from the book which I found quite enlightening. I was afraid if I wait until I finish reading the whole book, I might forget where the passage is. In this paragraph, the narrator is musing about his room-mate and fellow researcher...

The fact is, Paul has always kept secrets from us. For years he hid the truth about his childhood, the details of his parochial school nightmare. Now he's been hiding the truth about his relationship with Taft. Close as he and I are, there's a certain distance now, a feeling that while we have a lot in common, good fences still make good neighbours. Leonardo wrote that a painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light. Most painters do the opposite, starting with a whitewash and adding the shadows last. But Paul, who knows Leonardo so well you'd think the old man slept in our bottom bunk, understands the value of starting with shadows. The only things people can ever know about you are the ones you let them see.

The Leonardo mentioned above, is of course, Leonardo da Vinci, the genius artist, inventor, mathematician, engineer and everything else. The last sentence in that passage is the one I really like.

I guess I am like that... I don't reveal too much of myself. The surface me does not tell too much of the inner me. Even close friends or family members have different bits and pieces of who I am. If they are to gather around and share information, some of them would probably say, `Hey, I didn't know that about him.'

The only things people can ever know about you are the ones you let them see...

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Early withdrawal will lose interest

I think I'll write about an interest subject today... yes, that's right, an `interest' rather than `interesting' subject. Although I do hope the post may turn out interesting for readers in the end.

But first, I have to go back in time a little bit. It was the winter of 1983 and I was in the final year of my engineering degree. One of the toughest subjects in that degree course is Structural Mechanics, not one of my stronger suits. The professor who taught us that subject is Dr. Neil Taylor, a brilliant and aggressive man who's quite unlike any of the other lecturers in our faculty.

Dr. Taylor is slim and tall, sports long hair to his shoulders and keeps a beard and moustache. He normally wears a white shirt with a narrow tie but with collar unbuttoned. Over this he dons a black leather jacket. In fact, he looks more like a rock star than a university professor. His classes are never boring. He speaks in a loud, clear voice and at great speed. You'll never fall asleep during his lecture... or perhaps you dare not fall asleep. He'll pick a bored face among his students in a second and start shooting questions about the subject at hand, just to make sure we all understand what he's talking about. I was always afraid to be caught by him because, as I said, I'm not terribly good at Structures.

He would start his lecture by first talking at length about a particular topic. After that, he would scribble out his notes, longhand, on the blackboard. His notes are copious and he writes like he speaks... at great speed. When he runs out of writing space on the blackboard, he returns back to the earlier section and starts rubbing them out. Sometimes, those of us slow writers would need to hold out our hand and shout, `Whoa! Sir..', and he pauses for a while to give us time to catch up.

It is during such pauses that Dr. Taylor would usually tell a story or share bits of trivia that has got nothing to do with engineering. It can be something about music, movies, sports or current affairs... practically anything. And such interesting stories too... which sort of put the slow-writing students in a dilemma. Do you stop writing to listen to the stories and risk not copying down the complete notes... or do you continue to scribble furiously before he starts cleaning the blackboard and you miss the story being told?

I liked listening to his stories so I trained myself to be speed-writer.

One day, after filling the blackboard with his sprawling handwriting, he paused for a while to allow us some time to finish copying... and then starts to share another trivia.

`Do you know why most of the big time bankers are Jews?' he asks. None of us answer... so he begins telling the story about Christians being forbidden to be involved in usury and that the Jews may not charge usury among their own kind but can do so to others. He said that money-lending first started out as one of the least respected professions and strangely enough today, it is the money-lenders who control most of the world's economy.

`I bet you didn't know that, did you?' he mocks us. `Heck, does anybody even know what usury means?!'

`Yeah,' I immediately quipped. `Interest...'

`Who said that?' Dr Taylor looks around at his students, his eyes wide in disbelief. I sheepishly put up my hand halfway.

`Right, you are!' he said. And with that, he turned around, erased the blackboard and resumed writing his notes.

When the class was over, Dr. Taylor heads out of the room but when he reaches the door, he turns back and walks to where I was sitting. He bends down to my eye level and nodded to me to say, `Usury... that's good.'

From then on, I could no longer remain low-profile in Dr. Taylor's class. But the good thing was that my grades in Structures improved...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Nature at home...

I was doing a spot of gardening earlier today and came across a reptile and an amphibian enjoying their day among the leaves of my plants.

Garden snake on the stem of a potted palm

Frog taking a rest on an orchid leaf