Saturday, 27 May 2017

Are wolves really bad?

In the European fairy tale 'Little Red Riding Hood', a big bad wolf tricked a little girl by pretending to be the girl's grandmother and then ate the girl up. Wolves have had a bad rap for a very long time. At the Yellowstone National Park in America, they were hunted to a near wipe-out by the 1920s.

In 1994, the US National Park Service embarked on a project to re-introduce wolves at Yellowstone. Over the years, the project was closely monitored. More than 20 years has passed since the project started and the researchers have found that wolves bring a positive impact to the ecosystem at the park. Apart from keeping the population of deer and elk in check, the subsequent effect of less grazing resulted in more growth for certain types of trees and bushes. This in turn brought in more birds and beavers. The dam-building habit of beavers caused change to waterway courses which resulted in the increase in population of fish and other small mammals. Overall, the wolves are now seen as the good guys.

(For a short video about the wolves at Yellowstone, click this link -> How Wolves Change Rivers)

Yesterday 26 May 2017, I went to meet a good wolf, although the wolf himself claims to be bad.

The Big Bad Wolf Book Sale at Mines International Exhibition & Convention Centre in Serdang began yesterday. For this sale, the organizers have opted for the box concept first introduced in 2014. Customers buy a box for a fixed price, then fill the box with as many books as he wishes as long as the box flaps can be properly taped down without bulging.

This time around, BBW offer two box sizes, a large one priced at RM100 and a small one priced at RM80. There is an additional option of buying both boxes (named as the Family Tapau Pack) at only RM160. This was the option I chose. I gave the small box to my son while I of course, took the large box.

We spent about two hours browsing and selecting books we liked. In the end, we came back with a haul of 42 books of various size and thickness. Therefore the average cost works out to a mere RM3.81 per book! Now tell me if that isn't a good deal.

Hard covers, fiction and reference books. Should last until the next book fair.

My own selection of books consisted mainly of paperbacks in the general fiction category. A large number from my favourite authors such as Jeffrey Archer, Stephen King and Bill Bryson. Quite a number too are from writers I have not read before.

Of all the books, my most interesting pick would be one that is titled 'The Indispensable Book Of Useless Information' written by Don Voorhees. To use the publicity blurb on the back cover, nothing you'll ever need to know is in this book. I had a quick flip of the contents and immediately decided that I wanted it. You see, I'm a sucker for trivial bits of seemingly useless information. Have a look at the sidebar of this blog page and you'll see a category marked as `merapu'. Go ahead and read some of the posts in that category and you'll understand what I mean. Hehehe...

Apparently this is part of a series of already 8 books

As a teaser of what's in the book, I'll share the following :

The ATMs in Vatican City are in Latin.

Maybe I'll include more of such useless facts later when I've read the whole book. Okay that's it for this post. Good day folks. Wishing Muslim readers a blessed and fruitful holy month of Ramadhan.

Footnote : BBW Book Fair at MIECC is on until Sunday 4 June 2017.

Friday, 19 May 2017

One local destination a month - Part 4 : Taiping, Perak

I had not planned that the 4th instalment of this series to be again about Perak. My original intention was to spend some time to explore Jugra in Banting, Selangor but my wife told me that an old friend of hers from university days had invited us to attend the wedding of her son at her hometown in Trong, Perak. So I said, yes... why not. I have been to Trong once before and even blogged about it (A town called Aubergine).

Trong is not very far from Taiping and it was at the latter that we stayed for the night. Taiping is an interesting town with quite a bit of history. It used to be the capital of Perak before Ipoh took over the role in 1937. It has a number of tourist attractions within its vicinity, the most famous of which is perhaps the picturesque Lake Gardens. But I'm not going to write about the gardens, or the zoo, or Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill) or even the savoury delights of mee udang Kuala Sepetang. Instead, I'll write about two lesser-known places.

1. Taiping War Cemetery

On the road leading to the foothill of Bukit Larut, you will pass by a serene and well-kept graveyard that is the final resting place of Allied servicemen killed during World War II. When the war ended, the British military authorities headed by Major JH Ingram, decided to move the remains of their fallen personnel, spread over various villages and temporary burial grounds, to a common cemetery where the men would be honoured and remembered.

There are more than 850 graves at the cemetery, including more than 500 who remain unidentified. The cemetery is divided into two parts on either side of the road to Bukit Larut. One side holds the Christian graves while the other hold the Muslim and other denominations. If you observe carefully, the headstones on the Muslim graves are at an angle to the central dividing road whereas the Christian headstones are perpendicular. This is because the Muslims are buried facing the qibla in accordance to religious requirement.

The upkeep and maintenance of this war memorial is under the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which explains why the place looks very tidy. A slight drawback is the absence of a proper parking space. To stop and visit, I had to park my car by the roadside where the narrow side-table meant that half of the car's width still sat on the roadway. Luckily, the road to Bukit Larut is not that busy, otherwise the obstruction would surely inconvenience other road users.

A low wall marks the perimeter of Taiping War Cemetery. Visited 30 April 2017

The Muslim section of the graveyard

2. Kota Ngah Ibrahim

Ngah Ibrahim was a Malay statesman from Perak and administrator of the Larut district in the 1870s. The `kota' was his private residence. Although not quite a fort in the strictest translation of the word, the two-storey house sits within a large compound that is enclosed by a high brick wall. For its size at that period of time, it is quite obvious that the owner was a very rich man.

Kota Ngah Ibrahim is now officially known as the Matang Museum. It is located about 8km from Taiping on the Kuala Sepetang road. The building has an illustrious history. Apart from being the home of a local headman, the British used it as a court to hear the case of the murder of JWW Birch, the first Resident of Perak. On 2 November 1875, Birch was killed by a group of Malay men led by Dato Maharajalela while taking a bath by a river in Pasir Salak.

The trial was held from 14 to 22 December 1876. At the end of the proceedings, three men including Dato Maharajalela were sentenced to death by hanging. The other two were Dato Sagor and Pandak Endut. The hanging was carried out in Taiping on 20 January 1877. Dato Maharajalela's real name was Lela Pandak Limo, son of a Bugis king from Sulawesi. The 'maharajalela' title was awarded by the sultan to one his ministers with the specific authority to decapitate anyone who oppose the king. Nowadays, the Malay word maharajalela carries the meaning of someone who acts or does things as he pleases or out of control. The word is almost always used in the negative sense.

Sultan Abdullah and Ngah Ibrahim were also found guilty of collaborating in the assassination of the British Resident. Both were exiled to the islands of Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. Ngah Ibrahim was later allowed to return to Singapore where he died in 1887. He was initially buried within the Aljunied Mosque compounds in Singapore but in September 2006, his remains was brought back to Perak and re-buried near his house.

The artifacts on display at the present-day museum are really nothing fancy or impressive. The main exhibit on the upper floor of the house is a mock-up of the courtroom where the trial of the Birch killers was held. Although the displays were static and simple, I thought that it was 45 minutes of my time well-spent. I learned a bit more of Perak's history in that short visit compared to the actual classes in school. Admission is free.

In the neighbouring compound beyond the walls of Ngah Ibrahim's fort is another old building which used to be the dwelling of the first Assistant Resident of Perak, Captain Speedy. The house seems well-preserved but was not open to the public.

Home of a Perak statesman

Part of exhibits on the ground floor

Present-day grave of Ngah Ibrahim that was relocated from Singapore

Historical personalities of Perak during those turbulent times

Courtroom mock-up of the Birch murder trial

House of the Assistant Resident of Perak

The Matang Museum as viewed from one corner of the boundary walls

Monday, 8 May 2017

A debt of gratitude (Part 2 of 2)

Headnote : The preceding part to this story can be read here -> Part 1


Simon began his father’s story.

“It was late 1942. The time of the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II. My parents are originally from Kluang. According to my father, he was about 5 or 6 years old at the time. My grandfather had a small provision shop near Kluang town which he operated from a rented lot owned by a respectable Malay man named Pak Haji Rashid. The landlord’s own house was located behind the shop lot, meaning that my grandfather and Pak Haji Rashid were in fact neighbours.

It was a very hard life in those days. My father said the Japanese soldiers were extremely cruel. They were especially merciless against people of the Chinese race. They would arrest and torture anyone whom they suspect is opposing them. My grandfather had seen a few of his friends lose their heads at the stroke of the samurai sword. Business premises owned by the Chinese were plundered and taken over at will. Even schools were not spared. When they ran out of firewood, the soldiers took some wooden chairs and desks from the local Chinese school. The chairs and desks from the upper floor classrooms were simply tossed over the balcony so that they crash and splinter to the ground below. Easier to burn, they said.

To avoid capture, many able-bodied men ran into the nearby jungle to hide and fight back. My grandfather was sympathetic to the cause and he secretly helped the fighters by providing basic necessities. Of course, this was a very dangerous thing to do. If the Japanese found out, he would definitely lose his life.

Indeed, this was what happened. Somehow, information about my grandfather’s activity was leaked to the Japanese and word was out that the soldiers wanted his head. That particular evening, my grandfather was hiding in the shop together with my grandmother and my father. He didn’t know what else to do. He heard a sharp knock at the back door and the voice of his neighbour, Pak Haji Rashid. My grandfather opened the back door and Pak Haji Rashid told the whole family to leave the shop and follow him to his house. The Malay gentleman had offered to hide his neighbours from the search party. Using two large mengkuang mats, he rolled my grandmother and my father in one and my grandfather in the other. He placed the rolled-up mats, squeezed between a clothes cupboard and a sidewall. He told the family of three to be quiet. Be very quiet.

My father remembers this episode quite vividly. It was dark. It was hard to breathe. He wanted to cry. He wanted to pee. He hugged his mother as hard as he could.

The Japanese soldiers came. Broke into the shop. Ransacked the place. Not finding their intended targets, they took away whatever little provisions the small store had left. Somehow, they did not search the Malay man’s residence at the back.

The following morning, Pak Haji Rashid made arrangements to transport my grandfather and his family out of Kluang. My grandfather had relatives in Johor Bahru. That was where he would hide. Before leaving, my grandfather told Pak Haji Rashid that he and his family owed him their lives. How can he ever repay such debt of gratitude? The landlord had put his own life in danger in helping out his tenant. The Japanese would have surely executed him too had they found out.

My father told me he remembered Haji Rashid’s reply very clearly. You do not owe me anything, the Malay gentleman had said. But if you wish to repay me, then just repay mankind in general. Help out those in need, even if they do not ask for it.”

Simon paused his narration. He was looking at nothing in particular in the distance.

After a silent moment, he made a slight shake of his head, picked up his teh tarik mug and took a long sip of the already cold drink.

He then looked at Suresh and me before saying, “And that is why I am here today with you, my friends. My father remains alive and healthy to this day because a kindhearted man made a decision to help someone in need, even though that someone had not asked for it.”