Thursday, 30 October 2008

The Importance of Being Educated

I studied for 13 years in a pretty damn good school. La Salle PJ was (and in many ways remains) a modest educational institute that had some really good things going for it. For one thing, we had a damn good school spirit. All La Salle schools claim to have a strong spirit of course, and to some extent that is very true indeed. Still, I will say that in the time I was there, the La Sallians of LSPJ were a very special breed indeed.

I hear that in the 25 years since I left, the school has seen its ups and downs. More recently, with a very strong and active board and parents-teachers association, the school is on the rise again.

Old La Sallians have come together and invested their time and effort in bringing back past glories. And that’s a very good thing indeed. The general national trend seems to be the reverse and certainly when I’ve had the opportunity to meet young Malaysian graduates, I’ve on occasion been more than a little disappointed at their poor communication skills.

If there is one thing that should never be left behind in terms of governmental emphasis and investment, it is education. It is indeed the foundation of the future.

So you can understand how when I came across this YouTube clip, one of my thoughts was whether this could have been a Malaysian kid doing this interview. Are there any truly capable children of this age out there, who have gone through a regular local education, and been given - and taken full advantage of - the opportunity to interview the possible future Deputy Prime Minister.

We must of course also ask ourselves how that possible future Deputy Prime Minister would have conducted himself in the interview. Direct comparisons with Joe Biden’s modest, humble and un-patronising interview are most welcome.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Fiddling About

Just a quick note to say I’ve fiddled with the layout - I realised the old design was a narrow design and with my verbosity, the page was getting very long indeed. Hope you like the new template I’ve chosen. Tell me what you think.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008


Have you been following the American elections? Like I did in 2004, I’ve been keeping a close eye on developments. In fact I’ve been virtually glued to the tube: BBC, CNN, CNBC, all the talk shows and interviews I can find on TV; and on my Mac: Slate Magazine, Huffington Post, the New York Times, and even Youtube - all for the latest on Obama and McSame.

OK you can tell who I am supporting, right?

Even if everything else were discounted, the very fact that the septuagenerian warmonger who’s gone 4 rounds with cancer chose Sarah Palin as a running mate is good enough reason for me to disqualify him from the race to the White House on the grounds of severely impaired judgement.

Hang on a bit though - the idea of experience actually doesn’t figure too prominently in my reasoning. On that, Obama certainly would have some gaps in his resume too. What Obama has in sled-loads and which Palin clearly lacks though, is intellect. If her interview with Charlie Gibson were not enough, then surely the even more painful Katie Couric interview is enough to cast aside any lingering hope that the lipstick is Adornment on Ability rather than just Prettification of a Pi… uhm… let’s not go there.

But, I mean, look, I could name 6 media channels I get my news from in the very first paragraph above, and she couldn’t name ONE?…

I’ve remained optimistic about Malaysia despite the turmoil of the last few years and especially the last month or so. All this despite the fact Malaysia, in turn, has given me little to be optimistic about. Here, we get some people spouting some semblance of the right ideas and what do we do? Clap them in irons…

As for the US, I am, deep down, optimistic that Americans will do the right thing. And the right thing is not McSame. In their favour, at least the Americans don’t have a history of sticking their good politicians and commentators in cells too readily.

Even if I do take issue with the existence of a certain prison in Cuba… hmmm… we’ll talk about that another time, maybe.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Dark Angel knocks thrice

I’ve been pretty quiet on this blog for a few months now. A couple of reasons. Not the least of which was my family dealing with visits from the Dark Angel, who it seems, visits thrice. Twenty years ago, when my father gave up the battle against cancer, he joined his brother and another relative - all in the space of a few months.

This time around, the Dark Angel’s grim visits began with my Aunt Helene at the end of February.

Perhaps the suddenness of her passing was just too much to bear, but early in July, Helene was joined by her brother, and one of my favourite uncles, Pak Hing, who suffered a serious and ultimately fatal heart attack one afternoon.

Pak Hing was a teacher who, like me, was the 7th in his family - I called him 7 Sook (7th Uncle on my father’s side). Perhaps it was that similar seniority (or in my case, lack thereof) in the family that meant I felt a particular affinity for the man. More likely it was that we shared a devilish and childish sense of humour.

L-R: Pak Hing, Henry (Helene's husband), cousins Carol and Margie Rozario, Helene.

I recall having a wonderful time one school holidays when I stayed over at Uncle Pak Hing’s for a few days. One night we went out looking for durians and he bought a whole basket of over-ripe ones - to make jam. My cousins and I then began tearing gooey durian flesh off the seeds, helping to make durian jam. At breakfast the next morning, there I was spreading a thin layer of jam on my slice of bread when 7 Sook leaned over and said in that arresting yet friendly voice I shall never forget, 'Where got enough? Must be at least half an inch think lah'. So I slapped on more durian jam, and you know what? He was right - it had to be at least half an inch thick.

My few days over, he took me home in the Mini he had at the time. I recall Aunty Nellie was in the front passenger seat and I was in the back with one or two of my cousins. As we tootled along the main road coming down from Overseas Union Garden, 7 Sook spied a lady waiting by the roadside and without missing a beat, he swung the Mini closer, tooted the horn at her, then stepped on the accelerator and zoomed guiltily away. Aunty Nellie turned to me with a long-suffering expression on her face and said 'You see your Uncle?' and 7 Sook turned back and just grinned cheekily.

I've never forgotten that grin. And the many more times he flashed that playful smile over the next 30+ years. His childlike innocence and playfulness was, in many ways a reminder of my own father who could do the most hilarious things sometimes. And also, as I said, perhaps a little of me.

RIP Cheong Pak Hing. Your warmth, kindness and just plain fun-ness was an inspiration to us.

After her mother, Aunt Helene, passed away, my cousin Pauline continued her battle with kidney failure and diabetes. She’d battled bravely and gamely but in the end, it seemed the worries and difficulties of this world were simply too much.

Her passing was a shock - she had seemed to be getting back on her feet after a round of bacterial infection. Looking back on it now, I realise that Pauline, like many others at death’s door, had simply thrown us a dummy - the little perkiness and extra vigour she showed while recovering in hospital were simply her last feint before the knockout punch and blessed sleep.

She will be missed not just for her strength in the face of adversity but also for her weakness - she readily admitted sometimes that things were tough and that she could be better. That honesty and her ability to always pick herself up the next day, regardless, are qualities that have touched me.

Pauline with very dear relation Beth Rozario

RIP Pauline Lin Wen Ling. Your strength, and fragility, are a reminder of the very best values in a person.

In the last few months, much has occupied my thoughts. The Gordian Knot of ideas, thoughts, emotions, words has taken awhile to untangle. If I only had a sword to slash through the mess - alas, I’ve had to patiently sift through the tangle and I think, now, I am finally making some sense of things again. Expect more soon.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

A letter to PM YAB Dato Seri Abdullah Badawi

Dear YAB,

Re: Making the right choices

I have lived outside of Malaysia for almost 20 years now but still have a deep and strong love for my country. Late last year, I became very disillusioned because of the news I was reading about how corrupt, unsafe and disunited my country had become. As I said, I have a deep and strong love for my country and although I could easily have decided to leave it all behind and cement my economic move to another country with that country’s citizenship, I chose another path.

I chose to find out for myself if the country I was born and lived 21 years in had really changed that much. I had grown up surrounded by friends of all races. We never paid much attention to our differences, mind. Instead, we reveled in what we shared in common.

We flew kites we’d built, shot at targets - live or inanimate - with catapaults we’d made: mine was a steel-framed lorry-inner-tubed wonder that could punch holes in an evaporated milk can from 20 yards. We caught fish in the longkangs, cycled, fell off our bikes, slapped on some TCP and Handyplasts and cycled again. We went for walks in the jungle behind our house where we fished in the stream, climbed the trees and once - and I am sorry now that I did this for nothing more than teenage machismo - even chopped down a tree with my father’s parang.

At school, I passed my SRP and SPM Bahasa Malaysia (I was one of the 3 top SPM Bahasa Malaysia students in my school) papers because my Malay friends let me practice daily with them. I was a member of the Hindu Society - well OK, a fringe member as I was really just hanging out with my Indian friends. I still have a soft spot for Shaw’s Pygmalion simply because I was Henry Higgins in our little excerpt from the play which we put up as our class effort in our annual English Drama Competition. Oh, we won the finals you know.

When I worked in advertising in Malaysia, my mentor was Zul, our studio manager who took this young designer who couldn’t keep his mouth shut under his wing. I learnt much from him and sometimes when I teach at a local design college here, I find myself repeating some of Zul’s stories.

So you see, when I grew up, right up until the time I started work, Malaysia was an amalgam of the new and the old, all races and cultures, rural and urban folk. Malaysia then wasn’t any ONE of those things - she was ALL of them.

So, in 2007, when the news seem to be filled with so much doom and gloom, so much about the racial and religious divides, so much about vested interests and corruption and abuse, I could have turned my back but I chose not to.

Instead I turned wheels. Bicycle wheels, to be precise. I rode from the southernmost tip of Johor to near the northernmost point of Perlis. I rode through kampungs and villages. I met a lady with astounding business acumen who ran a small food shop on the edge of padi fields. A young man who owned a bicycle shop and was committed to making it work. A bankrupt who was making good once again with a modest motorcycle repair shop. Security guards coming off a shift who bought me my dinner of Nasi Lemak and Teh-O and sat down and listened to my travel tales. A retired teacher who ran a medicine shop, who shared my name and when we realised that, took my arm, looked me in the eye and said ‘You’re meant to do this ride’. A Tenaga employee nearing retirement who hosts travelers from all over the world and who brings them to see the sights and sounds of rural Malaysia. An ex-footballer who now helps at his father’s gerai under some trees - and who told me how he walked away from sports corruption. And, would you believe it, I met a DAP and an UMNO member enjoying breakfast like they had done for years, just because they were friends?

Over the course of 5 weeks and 1200 cycled kilometres, I met normal, everyday, typical Malaysians. They were not Chinese, or Malay, or Indian Malaysians. They were simply Malaysians.

And more importantly, I was simply a Malaysian to them too.

Now it is a year on from my ride. The ride I returned from and declared ‘Malaysia as we knew it, is still there’. My euphoria may be diminished but my conviction remains.

You see, although I recognise that Malaysia has changed in many ways in the last two decades - new highways, tall iconic skyscrapers, grand cities, mega development projects and so on - in many other ways, I sense that Malaysia has not changed at all.

The Barisan government may claim credit for much of the infrastructural development, but it surely cannot ignore the fact that alongside the shiny and the new and the mega, there is also rising crime, corruption, abuse of power, disenfranchisement of indigenuous peoples, rising poverty, greater disparity in the extremes of many demographic criteria and so on. If the government was not directly responsible for these, then it is culpable for not having dealt with them.

As I mentioned earlier, for some time, I’d begun to think there was no turning back time and the wheels of progress - if indeed we can call it that. For someone who has always been passionately Malaysian even while living away from home, hearing or reading of things like threats to bathe a keris in the blood of the Chinese, or more recently, being referred to as squatters, brought a sense of dread - that the Malaysia we had all grown up in was now on an irreversible path of segregation, polarisation and self-destruction.

What I eventually found out though is that things like national pride, friendship and loyalty don’t change overnight. Despite all the doom and gloom I had been hearing and reading, the reality as I discovered is that the spirit of Muhibbah remains, perhaps not so much in the towns, in the mainstream media, in government even. But it remains in the heart and soul of most everyday Malaysians.

And that is why I write to you, Prime Minister.

The last couple of decades have been like Malaysia’s national puberty. We’ve grown prosperous - more quickly than many others, we’ve flexed our muscles on the world stage, achieved many firsts and experienced ups and downs.

And now, we’re finally reaching maturity and adulthood in our 6th decade. And like any human adult, we’re more independent - both in thought and in action. We saw that for the first time on March 8th and again on August 26th. And now we’re seeing it again - in our blogs, on our streets, in political discourse, and alas, in Kamunting as well.

For far too long we’ve been fed a diet of fear - fear that some of us - the ‘pendatang’ - will take what is the right of the others who have been here longer; that if those who have been here longer don’t protect ourselves, those who came and made their home here later will turn out to be no better than the former colonial masters, bent on plunder and subjugation. We’ve been taught to look at each other and to categorise and distinguish between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Well, we’ve grown tired of what’s been put on our plates and we’re making choices for ourselves.

We know what’s best for us now, or at least we know what is better. We’ve chosen to remember those values we had at the very birth of our nation - those same values that still remain in everyday Malaysians. We’ve chosen to reject the policies and politics of division and corruption. We’ve chosen to take our chance with a new government because we recognise that the very things we have been told to fear are indeed right there in the hearts of those who have been telling us to fear.

And we’re choosing now no longer to fear. Not the things we have been told to, nor the ones who have been telling us.

So YAB, may I be so bold as to suggest this be a time for some reflection? This letter is all about choices that have been made. And in some way, all these choices lead back to you, and the choices you now have to make too.

On the one hand, some choices will lead to more of the same. The same fear-mongering, the same corruption, the same social problems. In making these choice consider that the young adult will ultimately find his own way to where he needs to go, despite the best efforts of those who would deny him his dreams.

On the other hand, there is another set of choices which would bring about a return - a return to values, ideals and standards that we believed in at our birth. A return to the dreams and aspirations our nation was founded on. A return to the example we were setting for the rest of the world.

The everyday Malaysian has made his choice - now what will yours be?

An everyday Malaysian at heart, I remain
Yours patriotically,

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Year of Magical Thinking

Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking.

In late 2003, Joan Didion and John Dunne’s daughter, Quintana, fell ill with what at first seemed to be the flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. The doctors put her into an induced coma and onto life support.

Then a few days before Christmas, just as they were just sitting down to dinner after visiting Quintana in hospital, John suffered a massive and fatal coronary.

This book is about the year after, as Joan tries to make sense of a world without John. Her grief, bewilderment, anger, all come through clearly and painfully. You follow Joan viscerally and vicariously as she, a respected American writer herself, seeks solace and answers in literature - she searches for the hows and whys in medical journals, and in poetry and prose she asks yet more hows and whys.

I picked up a copy at Borders over a year ago now and got a few chapters in but then put it down, not to pick it up again until a few days ago.

I have dealt personally with death and am no stranger to grieving - my father 20 years ago, uncles, aunts, even friends. All were sad, and some truly shocking in their unexpectedness. My own spiritual outlook on life is that death is simply a step to another life.

And yet, I struggled with this book. Joan’s pain was too alive, too clear, like a bleeding cut washed for the first time under running water. It was a pain too sharp.

I eventually pulled my hand away and put the book aside until, as I mentioned, a few days ago.

In March this year, my ex-schoolmate Nicholas lost his wife, Karie. She had, like Quintana, started with a flu, gotten worse but then was gradually improving. An obstruction in her trachea reversed the situation with deadly and tragic effect. From thousands of miles away we read the news by email and were all shocked and saddened. Nick and Karie had a daughter and we heard often about their happy home life, now shattered by grief.

A couple of months ago, my Aunt Helene passed away. She had just come back from dinner, complained of feeling unwell then suddenly slumped over. She was 70 and had until the last moment been bubbly, loud, lively, friendly, caring.

When I got the message early the next morning, I thought it could not be - that the sender had got the details mixed up. Not Helene, she was indestructible. She was too full of life, closer 50 years than 70 - surely not her.

But it was our families, her siblings, and her daughter, Pauline, and husband, Henry, who had to carry on, asking hows and whys.

Then yesterday afternoon, I saw an email from another friend in Australia saying our friend in Singapore, Pritam, had lost his daughter who was studying in Melbourne. The details emerged after some frantic calling, emailing and messaging about. A freak skating accident, she had fallen and failed to regain consciousness.

She was a houseman, embarking on a medical career - like her father before her. And like her brother, who had passed away the year before.

Our friend, Singam, wrote “I cannot begin to fathom why this has to happen to anyone - to first tragically lose a son and then a daughter just as they end their studentship and are about to begin their careers. If life is random, this is utterly cruel. The imbalance defies all odds.”

Singam and I share a commonality of spiritual perspective. In previous discussions we have found that we agree on a number of spiritual concepts, not the least of which is that physical life is impermanent and transient and death is merely a step for life to begin afresh.

And yet… Singam’s words indicate a sort of confusion. One I am feeling all too acutely now too.
In the last year and a half I have lost relatives and friends.

“Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”

What did you discover, Joan, at the end of your year of magical thinking? What answers came to you? What enlightenment did you attain? How did you come to deal with your grief?
I think it’s time for me to finish the book now.

Sad to think that shortly after you finished writing it, you had to deal afresh with grief - Quintana too, died.

Find out more about:
The Year of Magical Thinking

Friday, 6 June 2008

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

My mind filled with thoughts of ‘Making a Difference’, I stumbled upon this book while killing time in a shopping centre. Written in 2000, I may be a little late coming to this book, but perhaps Gladwell’s thoughts may have meant nothing to me 8 years ago.

As I write this, I am still reading it so perhaps a review is a little premature. Still, for reasons I shall get into in another post, I am not just caught up with thoughts of making a difference, but also with the realisation that achievement doesn’t necessarily follow purpose. At least, not immediately.

People who set out to make change happen, in whatever form, generally start with a huge well of good intention. If that intention is focussed, a sense of purpose, a clarity of vision is usually manifested and energies become more tightly concentrated and results a little more efficaciously attained.

And yet, there is much more to success. A wrong strategy, failure to leverage on the resources at hand, poor strategy, even the lack of the right mix can make the road so much tougher. And that is where ‘hope’ comes into the picture.
The blurb on the cover proclaims that this book explains ‘how little things can make a big difference’. Reading that, I was transported back to my earlier thoughts on ‘gnat bites’. And how millions of Malaysians, together, made change happen on March 8.

How much change can one person, one gnat, create? Or perhaps, we should be asking how much change one person can influence.

The answer appears to be ‘quite a lot indeed’.

Tipping Point is, to me, a book of hope. Gladwell examines the little factors that lead to a tipping point - a moment when an idea or a trend catches on and spreads like wildfire. Citing examples like Hush Puppies shoes (remember when they went out of fashion? And then suddenly caught on again?), he explains that it really is ‘the few’ that create change in the many.

And that is why I think this is a book of hope.

Gladwell goes on to talk about ‘stickiness’, that aspect of an idea that is engaging, captivating, appealing, compelling and I’m currently at this point, about halfway through the book, immersed in ideas why Sesame Street works, and why Blue’s Clues works better.

I’ve been quite busy of late and have not devoured this book in my usual manner. As such, it has been accompanying me everywhere for those few minutes when I do have time. Some have accused Gladwell of over-simplyfying or failing to consider or do justice to some key research. Perhaps, nevertheless, it is an absorbing read and I can’t wait to finish it. I may then have a more complete review.

Have you read this? Tell me what you think.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Change. It's a verb.

Well, it’s been a long time since I last wrote and of course, much has happened since then. I refer of course to March 8 and all that the results of the Malaysian polls signify.

The outcome was gratifying for a number of reasons. First was simply that the democratic process is clearly alive and well in Malaysia. It seems that the People’s vote does count for something after all. That realisation gives me (and many others too I’m sure) great comfort and encouragement.

Just as deeply satisfying was the overnight birth of a system of very real checks and balances. The chance to swing a wrecking ball at the walls of corruption and all else that has become wrong with our country is a compelling one indeed.

Some time ago, it seemed that so many people were falling into a deep sense of helplessness, despair, even cynicism. Perhaps it was a good thing. Perhaps it led to an attitude of ‘enough is enough’ for then came all those protest rallies and suddenly it seemed people began to realise the power of numbers. Ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty… it doesn’t matter. On March 8 scores of thousands of little gnats came together and made change happen through their individual votes.

And the wonder of it all is that the change continues to happen.

Now, this is not a political blog. I have my political opinions but serve no allegiance to any political entity. Instead, I serve allegiance to a Malaysian Ideology built on a foundation of some very sound principles. These principles are apolitical, even if they have been politicised before. And indeed continue to be.

Still, I made a deliberate choice not to make Celebrate Malaysia! a political soapbox.
Instead, Celebrate Malaysia! has always been about making change happen, one person at a time. In October last year, I began a journey that would take almost 6 weeks and which would change me. I spoke then about the concept of influence and I expressed the hope that people who followed my story would, in their own way, be influenced. And changed. It was deeply fulfilling to discover that some people indeed were.

Change continues to happen. We’ve proven to ourselves that we can - ‘Malaysia Boleh!’ and despite the cynical and even satirical usage of that phrase since its creation, I can’t think of any that is more appropriate. The idea that we are not helpless is a compelling and empowering one, and like a drug, it consumes us and we want more and we want to do more.

Well, come the end of this year, around the time of the first anniversary of my little ride, I hope indeed to do another.

This one will take less than a week, but will be far from ‘little’.

300 people. 300 km. 300,000 Ringgit raised for 3 charities or worthy causes.

This idea may be mine, but the effort will be Malaysian. And as we showed on March 8, if little gnats get together, anything is possible. So, I have no doubt we can do this, and more besides.
So, come join me. It will be monumental, historical, and utterly Malaysian. It will need all sorts of people to make it happen - PR people, media, drivers, organisers, co-ordinators, sponsors, accountants, medical… the list goes on. If you’re keen to join me in planning and executing this, contact me.

We have 6 months or so, so don’t sit around. Let’s continue to make change happen.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

In search of memories

I previously wrote about Dr Heaslett, my friend Diana's late father who worked in a little town in Johor called Cha'ah during the Emergency.

Researching the post, I managed to reconnect with Diana who had since moved to Australia. Then a week or so ago, I received this email:

I came across your blog during a search for my family history and have enjoyed reading it.... I was so surprised to read about your friendship with Diana Heaslett!! She is my Aunt!! Dr. Heaslett was my grandfather!! I enjoyed reading about what happened to him, I do remember as a small girl him telling me the same story.... thank you so much for writing and including them.... do you possibly have a photo of the street sign named after Dr. Heaslett?? I would love to have a copy if you do- and, if you have anymore wonderful stories of him or my Aunt... I would love to hear them!!
Thank you so much and Happy and careful travels!!!
~Anna Heaslett-Brown'

Well, no more stories of the good Dr Heaslett, but it did set me thinking... And so as I prepared to go up to KL for Alex Yap's farewell, I made the decision to take the scenic route and drive through Cha'ah.

The last time I drove through, Cha'ah was still fairly small, a backwater town with a strange name and not much else of prominence. It seems to have grown in the last 5 years or so though - new double-storey shop houses, more streets, and a larger footprint on the map of Johor than I remembered from before.

Going through the new bits, I spied the Police Station which I had dropped by, asking for the whereabouts of Jalan Heaslett those years ago. I took the next right turn off the main trunk road and found a few new buildings dotted here and there. I recognised the little stadium, now roofed, and turned into the street that I remembered to be Jalan Heaslett, renamed as Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

The shops looked very much the same but I could find no street sign to take a picture of. The only one in evidence was faded and I could just make out the current name - not the first prime minister as I had remembered, but Tun Dr Ismail. One doctor's name replaced with another.

I wandered off to have lunch and found an old hawker who remembered the Mat Salleh doctor dimly.

Anna wanted a picture and the one I had taken many years ago had not been unearthed in my brief search before I left. A new picture was imperative... so I strolled down the short street after lunch, snapping some pictures.

Jalan Tun Dr Ismail was a throwback to an earlier age, but it was almost at the very end that I finally found what I was looking for. A set of old blinds hung down the front of a shop. And there, on the partially unfurled middle one was the name of the street. The original name: Heaslett Street.

I snapped a couple of pictures and was sure Anna, and Diana, would be pleased.

Goodbye. Farewell. And a Man.

One of my favourite programmes on TV was M*A*S*H. I still consider the last episode of the series as one of my favourite TV shows of all time. Hawkeye's mental breakdown was as touching as it was shocking; after years of futile conniving to escape the war, Klinger's decision to stay for love encapsulated the farce/comedy/drama/political-commentary feel of the series perfectly; Charles' declaration that music, until then his refuge from it, was instead to be a painful reminder of the horrors of war reminded us that war destroys with no respect for race, creed, background.

Of all the little endings, perhaps the one that was most poignant, and which aptly ended the series, was BJ's ability to finally say 'Goodbye', spelt out in bricks on the ground for Hawkeye to see as his helicopter pulled away.

Well, we too said 'Goodbye' and 'Farewell' to a friend on Monday night. Alex Yap, whom I have mentioned briefly before, is moving to Australia with his family. Johari hosted a dinner in his honour for a small group of ex-La Sallians.

Malaysia is a land of migrants. My own lineage is traced back only one generation on my mother's side and a couple on my father's. Whether from the Indonesian archipelago, China, South Asia or Europe, people flocked to the Malay Peninsular in search of a better life, a journey many continue to make today.

The journey outwards holds true too of course. Many Malaysians resort to the 'migrant' route in search of the same ideas their forefathers might have journeyed for - a better life for themselves and for their children. The reasons have scarcely varied through the generations even if the destinations have. Australia has long been a favoured new home - two of my brothers are indeed now Australians and I was once an Australian PR too.

Alex is simply doing what many thousands before him have done. And as much as he will likely gain from this very challenging move, Malaysia will surely lose in letting him go.

'Greatness' is something many aspire to. Some indeed make it their lifelong obsession - don't we all know of public figures who are thus predisposed? And yet the concept of 'Greatness' is one of paradox.

Firstly, 'greatness' is not determined by the one striving for it. It is instead conferred by others.

Secondly, 'greatness', far from being achieved through any particular extraordinary feat, is often attained through a myriad of little ones. It is not the flash of brilliance that qualifies one for 'greatness' - it is the consistent achievement, the steady effort, the regular output that makes one truly great.

As I write this, Alex is spending his first night in his new home. And Malaysia has lost a son I can say without hesitation is one of her great ones. Through the years, Alex has demonstrated leadership qualities and human and humane traits in abundance. He has consistently been there for the people around him, offering help when help was needed. And without a second thought.

And as he sleeps what must be the sleep of a man tired by relocation exertions, I sit here and silently raise a glass to him.

Goodbye, Alex. Farewell. You're a great man and I hope your new home recognises that in you in a way that perhaps your old one should have, but didn't.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Speeding Merrily Along...

I was up in PJ about a week ago. Went up for my cousin, Pauline's birthday. The fact that I greatly admire Pauline for her spirit whilst dealing with difficult health issues was a major part in making the decision to drive up on Saturday for a Sunday birthday lunch and then immediately back again.

That's another story, however.

What I'd really like to talk about is how on the way up, I got my first speeding ticket in many years. I have been stopped a few times before of course, but I have not been given a ticket in over 20 years.

It may surprise you to know that I have never as much as offered a bribe either. So how did I escape when it was painfully obvious in some instances that the policeman was out looking for some extra income?

Well, all I ever did was to admit that I had done wrong, and that in that case I would be ready to pay the penalty. In all cases, the cop just gave me a warning. In one case one Chinese New Year's eve, despite being clocked at 145 km/h I got a warning and even a wish for a safe journey home and a good reunion dinner too.

I guess it always helped that I speak decent Malay. What really made the difference however, was my honest insistence that if I'd committed the offence, I would pay the penalty. When the cop realised he wasn't going to get a contribution to his wide-screen plasma TV fund, he would invariably just let me go and save himself the paperwork.

This time around he didn't. He took out his book, asked me directly for my licence and IC and gave me a ticket. He told me very politely where I could pay it and that was it.

And you know what? I was very happy indeed to be getting that ticket. The reason is simple and it has everything to do with the spirit of Celebrate Malaysia!

I've extolled personal change here often enough it must surely soon start to wear thin. This incident, however, is indeed about personal change. When you encounter corruption at a low level, what do you do? The cynic will expect it, and indeed be resigned to participating - "everyone is doing it so I will too". I find that attitude completely counter-productive, as you well know.

If we faced up to corruption with the attitude that it's wrong and we shall not, therefore, add to it, we become instead the instigators of change. OK, so you pay the fine, but you're doing what is right, and you're therefore reinforcing the concept of justice.

Have you heard of the song Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie? First written and performed during the height of the anti-Vietnam War protests, it was about individuals standing up to be counted and saying they will not be a part of something that was unjust.

Well, I firmly believe it works - and it always starts with one guy standing up and saying "I will have no part in this".

Doing it on my own may have made little difference over the past 20 years and the 4 or 5 times I have been stopped by cops. But, if everyone reading this who has ever bribed a cop had done the same, would it not be conceivable that perhaps the level of corruption now wouldn't be as significant as it is?

I will say this again: Cynicism is a step backwards. Only active participation makes a difference. If you want to stop corruption, stop being a part of it - stop being corrupt. It really does start with you.
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Sunday, 13 January 2008

The Cycle Begins Anew

Welcome to 2008!

Don't pay heed to anything you might hear to the contrary - it's going to be a great year!

How do I know this? Well, I reckon your situation is what you make of it. If you decide it's going to be a great year, then it will be.

That is not to say that the actual problems around you will disappear just like that. Unfortunately there is no quick fix, no magic formula that will transform the juggernaut that is our country's problems into a beautiful pumpkin. What will change however, is our desire to do something about it.

I recently received a beautiful email from Jaclyn who wrote from UAE where she now works. A Malaysian who grew up in Brunei, she returned for college and university and then worked for 5 years in her homeland.

In those years, she grew to love the people she knew, yet grew more fearful and paranoid of those she didn't. The stories of crime in her neighbourhood stoked her fear of being a victim. Her paranoia grew so strong she slept with her car keys in her hand and the daily return to a dark, empty house was tortuous.

She now works in the UAE where it's safe and crime is rare. I'll let her continue her story:

'I now work in the UAE and it's a 360-degree turn over here.Handbags are left in trolleys in the markets, on the table in an open office, in cars with the doors open and engine running and so on. I walk without fear of being bopped over the head just so someone can take the fifty bucks in my purse and all my credit cards. I was still paranoid when I first arrived and clutched my bag to me, staring menacingly at people coming too close in shopping malls and hid my colleague's handphones whenever they left them on the office tables, but slowly, I came to trust a country that I was just starting to know. It saddens me to think that we don't have the opportunity to feel safe and secure back home.

A month ago, one of my closest friends in KL was hit unconscious while she was walking back to her car just so they could take her bag. She was in ICU for a week in a coma. I was distressed as were my friends who could just keep me informed every now and then to let me know what was happening. This friend was a successful lady who had just gotten married last year, moved into her new house three months ago and started her own business two months ago. She's a hardworking person who always spares time for a smile and a 'hello, how's your day' for all but to those guys who hit her, she was just another RM100 or more, depending on what's in her handbag. She is out of coma and now recovering, praise the Lord, but no one has told her what has happened and she thinks she tripped and hit her head on the fall. The reality of the incident would paralyse her with fear.

Bear with me here, I am reaching the point of my mail :-) From the day of the incident till just before I read your blog, whenever anyone asked me about Malaysia, I would tell them that it was a fabulous place rich in culture and religion, but I would always end with - but be careful as it's really dangerous, hang on to your bags, be careful in crowds and the taxis rip you off. I was proud, yet ashamed of my country and it pained me. But reading your blog brought a sense of peace within me... reading about the genuine kindness and hospitality of the Malaysians in the small towns you cycled through and the truckers. So there still ARE Malaysians who look not at what you have but who you are - another Malaysian, just like them!

I really can't explain how much this meant to me. But let's just say that I'm sniffing little tears of pride for the home country :-) I'm really very happy you had other Malaysians to encourage you and make you feel at HOME.'

Yes, although Mei and I were indeed a little concerned about my personal safety, the ride went very well indeed. At no point at all did I feel threatened or fearful for my safety - well nothing that cycling on major roads doesn't throw your way anyway.

It was gratifying reading Jaclyn's email. Not just because I had a part to play in her feelings towards her homeland, but also because it illustrates that change can happen - if only in your heart.

And that's a great place to start!
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Forever Falls - a day trip to Selama in Perak

Fishing in Oil Palm Estates It seems this part of Perak is all about waterfalls. We’d seen signboards for so many in our recent travel...