31 Dec 2008

Farewell 2008, welcome 2009

I was watching a re -run of "Man of the Year" - remember that one? The one in which Robin Williams was elected President of the United States through a computer glitch. It got me thinking about a lot of things - some of the things he said reminded me so much of Obama ? About people wanting change and they didn't care what kind of change it was, as long as there was change. This brings me to Bush and the shoe throwing incident. I don't like Bush - I believe he is the cause of so many things that went wrong in the world today. If he had just let Iraq alone - it wouldn't be so miserable now. I don't know whether people in the US understood what's going on there before Bush attacked the country. He claimed that there were "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq and that it was planning to attack Israel. After they had destroyed Iraq and left it in pieces which until today could never be put together again - they found nothing incriminating about Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found anywhere in the country. And did he apologise to the Iraqis for destroying their country? No . He had "regrets" but no apologies. Why? To apologise would be to admit he was wrong of course. So I don't blame the frustrated Iraqis for hating him and all he stood for. I think at least half of the world hate him in fact. Hence the shoe. I only wish it had hit him right there in the face. He would have deserved it. No, he derves much more than a shoe thrown at him actually.
Another thing Robin Williams in his role as Tom Dobbs, president elect in "Man of the Year" said was "politicians are like napkins - they ought to be changed regularly". Do I agree with that sentiment! Especially here in Malaysia.
In this country, once a politician is elected, he stays on for ever. And do they stay on and on and on. Some, even after they are not elected, insists on staying on - Rafidah Aziz, Samy Vellu to name just two. Then there are those who do get elected by fairly narrow margins - Mohamad Taib, Najib (who will be next PM mind you) and so many others. I guess you can't blame them for wanting to stay on. After all its power isn't it? Oh of course they all say that they have the country's best interests at heart. They all do that but we the rakyat know better. Even the opposition leaders - do we ever get to see a new set of faces? It's always the same - Karpal Singh, Lim Kit Siang and his son , and now Anwar and his daughter. We hoped after the last election things would change but I see nothing has changed. In Penang, Selangor and Perak where the opposition rule I haven't seen anything substantial as yet. Little unimportant things like street names make headlines now and then. I wonder about the justice system; and the Altantuya case come to mind. Will she ever get the justice she deserved or will she just be one of the cases that gets pushed into oblivion. People tend to forget easily. But come on - she came here to Malaysia looking for somebody called "Razak", and some time later her body is found in pieces - bombed out by substances that could only be found in the police force. A mystery that. And Razak Baginda, the man she was suposed to have had an affair with, the person she came to KL to see, is set free - because there is not enough evidence. What do you make of that?
And Najib himself. How is he connected to the case? Or is he?
So here I am saying farewell to the year that was and saying hello to the year that will be. I hope again that I will not be disillusioned by our politicians and one day our country will be born again - refreshed. I'm a Malay, but a Malay that has Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Afghan blood in her. So I do want to go for that Bangsa Malaysia idea. My daughter -in -law is Chinese, my grand daughter half chinese, 1/4 Malay and 1/4 Pakistani. What does that make her? The law insists that she be termed Malay. But how can we call her Malay when she is only a quarter Malay ,if that? So why must we have the race thing at all? Why can't we just get rid of that column and just put one thing - citizenship. We should be proud to call ourselves Malaysians first and whatever race we are as secondary. Will we ever be able to do that? And I'm not talking of the Malays. I'm also referring to the Indians and Chinese who jump a mile high the moment someone mentions we have a single education system. Why not if we are sincere about wanting to have a united Malaysia? Thailand has only a single education system; so does Indonesia. The Chinese in Indonesia even have Indonesian names - Rudi Hartono for example. We don't even have to go that far. I only want a single education system for us all - one school for all the races in this country. No vernacular schools. Is that too much to ask? The various languages will be taught - just as Singapore has now. Mandarin and Tamil are taught in schools for those who want to learn them. Malay should remain the national language but English should remain the language of instruction, especially for Science and Mathematics. Then and only then can we slowly go forward towards unification and maybe in 50 years hence, we can say we have a bangsa Malaysia. But the other races should not ask the Malays to lose their priviledges and expect to keep theirs. Having vernacular schools I feel is a priviledge. What other country in the world has this? How fair is that?
And what do I wish for 2009? A better world for my grandchildren, that's for sure. A safer one too - better quality air, better cared for environment, a unified Malaysia, no wars in the world. A dream? Perhaps, but if Martin Luther King can have his dream - and look at US now - I think his dream has been fulfilled; then so can I.
On a more positive note, I wish a happy and prosperous 2009 for all of us. Let us hope that the economic outlook will improve and that the world will indeed be a better one.

28 Dec 2008

Batu Berendam, Malacca

Chi Chi, posing inside a shopping bag.

Its the long weekend - Christmas plus Awal Muharram so repin and I took the golden opportunity to go back to the home of our hearts - Batu Berendam. After being away for more than a week I worry about my plants, especially the ferns which need watering at least twice a day, and of course my roses. They are all fine; however one little fern did not win the game against the dry wind and the pitiless sun. I found it scorched to death in spite of being under the cover of the verandah. Efforts to revive it are still being carried out but I find it a real struggle. The good news though is that all my koi are doing very well and the water is extremely clear, one can even see the tiny dots at the bottom of the pond. I also found not one but a whole family of moss eaters - the bottom dwelling brown coloured fish that lives on moss. NO wonder he pond looks clean! So what happened I wonder. When I thought it had disappeared and gone into the pump system, it probably had just gone there to multiply! So now I have two pairs of these sucker fish instead of a pair.

Our travelling felines are also down here with us, enjoying their freedom and galloping on the lawn, rolling in the grass or hunting in the "wilds of the garden." Here is a picture of Ginger, our orange tabby, now a full grown two year old and her friend Chi Chi, a mixed Persian and Siamese. We've dubbed these two the travelling felines because they are the two who have been going up and down between KL and Malacca. Ginger, the quieter of the two is a placid cat - she just closes her eyes once she's in the carrier and relaxes the whole way. But Chi Chi is noisier and sometimes even rolling around in her carrier, whining to be let out.

26 Dec 2008


Trying to seduce Pixel into letting her "comb " him.

"Reading" her tellytubby magazine

"Hi Lala!"

I didn't want to post anything initially - just lie low for a few days until the new year.But then I got some new pictures of Sophia, my grand daughter. She's very much into the tellytubbies right now and loves them so much will watch a programme right through. In fact the moment you switch on the tv she'll hand you the remote and in her own inimitable way tells you to turn on the dvd. Then she'll pass you her tellytubby tape and insist that you switch it on. This has been going on for the past few months - this teletubby fixation. She laughs out loud and nods happily at the antic of the tellytubbies. So when her dad went to Dubai recently he bought her Lala, the yellow tubby. It's now her favourite friend.

24 Dec 2008

Tea party for my English class

Tomorrow being a holiday and most of my students saying that they may not come next week, I decided to give the tea party today after all. So after 4pm, having made my order to Halle Catering earlier, I stopped the class and told them we're having a surprise party. They seemed surprise anyway, especially when the caterer came in with the tea and cakes. But after the initial surprise they tucked in and we all had a jolly good time, with tea, doughnuts and currypuffs. Even the shy and quiet Afiq came out and helped himelf. Latimin and Azmi chatted up the ladies, cracking jokes and generally enlivened the atmosphere. Most of the women in my class are quite shy actually but opened up as time went by. This can be seen especially Zaiyah, Siti Zawiyah and Hasimah. I really enjoy teaching them - they seem quite eager to learn and to want to speak English. And I think they are improving too - if only we can continue the class.

This will be a kind of farewell for me - I may not see some of them next week for they said they are taking their annual leave.

18 Dec 2008

UM class

Oh we had a terrific time today in class. For once most of the students came - 26 of them. Towards the end of the lesson I introduced another word game, a bit like scrabbles but using cards on which the letters had been written. They were organised into three teams with the team forming the most words (the longer the word the more the score) winning. They enjoyed it so much that we went into "overtime". That was a fun day - for me because I could see them enjoying themselves and for them because they felt they had accomplished something too. For 30 and 40 + - for once I think they really let down their hair and behaved like students - trying to beat the other teams in getting the longest words. Jeering at the other teams and cheering their own - they seem to enjoy themselves.

Teaching is so satisfying when I can get my students to enjoy themselves. It's easy to do that with kids, because I think the younger they are the more eager they generally are to learn a language. And for this group - working adults - they have been forced to take up this course mainly to meet the requirements of their service. Civil servants have to fulfil a set number of hours every year to upgrade their skills and for many civil servants in Malaysia, they are required to learn English as a foreign language. This group of students at least have the basic level - they can converse in English, albeit with some mispronunciation and language errors. I think that they are so much better than some teachers that I've talked to. At least they can use words like "enhance my vocabulary" which gives me a warm feeling. And when they show their interest and ask me questions, I feel good. I wish we had more time though. No doubt their bosses can't really spare them for two hours a week for a month , but if we can have this for 6 months, maybe we can make some real inroads. So far I've been empahasizing on the spoken part of the language - pronunciation and lots of speaking exercises, getting them to give short speeches, explanations etc. But I do think they have improved. Or at least they are more confident. Zaiyah once said that at work or at home they hardly spoke English which is why it has deteriorated so much for many of them. I told them - use it or lose it. It's the same for any language.

Connected to this topic is the current debate in parliament about retaining or rejecting the teaching of Maths and Science in English in primary schools. For 5 years Maths and Science have been taught in English at the primary or elementary level. So far, as results from the Primary School Assessment (UPSR) shows, it has helped students improve their English. Statistics also show that students prefer to answer the questions in English rather than Malay, the national language (53% only but its early days yet). I think the powers that be should not intefere in education and detractors against this policy are only trying to gain political mileage, or maybe as in the case of the Chinese school Council, afraid to change and lose their power over the Chinese. When I was in school English was the medium of instruction and I never felt that my own language (Malay) was at risk of being lost. English is a powerful tool in any international business enterprise - whether you like it or not. Being able to communicate and better still manipulate terms in this language would be an advantage. And as a nation we are slowly but surely losing this advantage as our children's usage of the language decline. There are other advantages too - I think it levels the playing field in a big way. No one can say that this or that person scored because the test is in his own language. This time the language is neutral.

16 Dec 2008


Back home at last and back at the grind. My other half has gone off to another assignment, this time at Bukit Tinggi Resort. Another workshop.My English class expanded today (3 new students) and four came back from an extended holiday. Teaching adults who are working is so different from teaching young adults who know that getting a job depends on their English results. These students don't really care that their English is not good, especially the men. They come and go as they please - especially when they are already 40 years old and not going anywhere in their jobs. I have a tough time getting them interested - they don't like grammar and yet its so essential. They enjoy the games I do with them, they're quite competitive too. But we can't be playing games all the time can we? No doubt some of the games are based on grammar but we have so little space in the class and we can hardly move. If we had the seminar rooms at the Linguistics Faculty it would be better.

Yesterday we played a board game introduced to me by Alby. Its a little like monopoly, only difference is we buy vowels and consonants to form words. The person with the most number of words wins. Its a great game to teach vocabulary and the class enjoyed it. I think next time I'll introduce Boggle to them. But I'd have to have at least 4 sets of Boggle which would not be cost effective.
Today I have to teach them writing. The syllabus says I had to teach them only business letter writing, but since most of the students do not write business letters they want ordinary letters. I told them we could do stories instead and they agreed. So it'll be story time today.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Street scene in Hanoi
Ha Long Bay

Our pretty assistant, Hien

Ha Long Bay (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

lunch offering

Repin, the intrepid traveller

Young girls at an embroidery factory, Hanoi

12 Dec 2008

Hanoi, Vietnam

One of the colonial buildings, remnants of French occupation Night market scene
Remember the show - Good Morning Vietnam? Starring Robin Williams as the DJ who entertained the US troups while they were serving in Vietnam.

11 Dec 2008

Hanoi, Vietnam

I'm in Hanoi and right now am taking a break in the Intercontinental after a morning of walking around the city. Its a lovely city, if you forget about the dust and the dirt and the traffic. It has a slightly European ambiance about it, though frayed at the edges. Like an elegant old lady who is still beautiful despite the lines and look of tiredness, Hanoi has a charm that is different from other Southeast Asian cities. There are lots of trees and there are parks at almost every corner, forming a cool avenue for pedestrians. Underneath the brassy look of the newer buildings - all glass and modern high tech - the older Vietnam peeks through and this has a charm reminiscent of the French Quarter. The roads are very narrow with thin ,tall houses on both sides. Land is at a premium I heard and that is why most of the shops are narrow and go upwards. We walked through the market street ( can't spell out the Vietnamese name) and gawk at the wares for sale. At the fresh produce section there are all kinds of fruits and flowers - they are so colourful. There are huge bunches of orchids, you wouldn't believe they are so cheap. I notice strawberries in large baskets and ask where they are from. The only time I've seen strawberries in baskets that big was in LA - at the 32nd Street Market. And that was in Spring only. The guide tells me they are from thenorthern part of Vietnam, where it is cooler. There are passion fruit, ciku (brownish oval fruits that we can also get in Malaysia), mangoes, rambutans, all kinds of oranges or citrus fruits - large ones, very small seedless ones and even oval ones. There is also a fruit - a hybrid - that is a mixture of pear and apple. It looks like a pear (oval) but tastes a bit like an apple.

Hanoi is also called City of lakes because there are many many lakes all over the city. Our hotel, the Intercontinental, sits on one of the largest lakes in Hanoi, the West lake. There is an East Lake and a South lake. The Westlake is so big, I thought at first it was the sea. You can't see its banks. On our walking tour this morning we came across at least 3 other lakes - still fairly large by my own standards. And all these lakes are surrounded by parks and beautiful walkways. But as I mentioned earlier the dust, dirt and traffic sort of dulls the beauty of the city.

This is our second day here. When we first arrived yesterday we were met by the dapper Mr Ben Taat, a Malaysian entrepreneur residing in Vietnam and married to a Vietnamese. A gentle, soft spoken man he is the one who is organising meetings with various agencies for OUM. Today they met with the President of a tea exporting company as well as some members of a private university. Mr Ben Taat owns a restaurant here in Hanoi among other things, and we have been eating at his place. Food is delicious and very Malaysian ( so typical of us - we always want our own food when we go abroad). Its easier anyway because of the halal thing.

6 Dec 2008

When the rains come

Its happened before and is happening again - killer landslides in the Ampang -Ulu Klang area. This one happened early this morning - about 3.30am I heard. When will we ever learn? Four people died in this recent landslide; 14 houses destroyed and a number of casualties. One of the people who died was my vet - yes the one who looks after our six cats! She's the most patient person I know and always caring about the well being of our cats, especially Apin. Its such a terrible waste of a life. And yet when we look at the history of landslides in our country - its a tragedy waiting to happen. After the terrible landslide of Highland Towers in 1993 where 48 people died, I wonder at anybody wanting to live anywhere near a hillslope. And this area - the BUkit Antarabangsa area is really a landslide prone area. The local council should have banned any further development of the slopes or even on top of the hills.
Malaysia is well known for its lackadaisical attitude towards the environment and I believe this is the outcome. Every time it happens, and small landslides occur every year at this time of year - all the big guns will come out to the site in their bush jackets and files; every year they will say no more development on hill slopes". And every year another landslide will occur. Only this time more lives have been sacrificed on the altar of development and greed. There is just no political will to make it stop. Trees are still being cut on hill slopes; forests disappear before our very eyes. Red earth flow downstream like tears on the craggy surface of mother earth. Most of us silently scream - when will this desecration stop? From my own highrise facing the Melawati Hills where once I see a sea of lush greenery, I now see cranes and skeletons of buildings newly built. The hills are no longer sacred. Developers are perennially greedy - I don't really blame them. The local council should not have approved any development on the hills. They should have reinforced the older developments or made sure the developers did. What happened in 1993 should have been a warning but it was ignored by everyone until another landslide occur and more families lose a child, a mother or a father.

4 Dec 2008

parting with a dear old friend

The Nissan x trail - my favourite 4WD.Last week I had to finally let go of my beloved X trail. To me the X trail is not just a car - its part of the family. Especially for me - sending Sarah for tuition classes, picking Shasha up sometimes, going back to Malacca - its always been reliable and very very comfortable. But my other half prefers a new car - he doesn't like any cars older than 5 years!! I'm lucky its only cars and not wives! What if he wants to trade me in for a newer model? Hah! Our new car arrived yesterday - a Nissan Livina - nothing like the X Trail. Its a more compact MPV (or so they claim) but driving it I prefer my X Trail. I really really love it and miss it - especially that now its the rainy season in Malaysia. You can imagine driving the smaller Livina through KL's flash floods. With my X trail I can just go through the waters without any worry. Now I dread going home late in the evenings because that's when the rains come and the floods await.

Going home to Malacca with the cats is no big deal - all the cages can go in the huge boot, as evidenced in the recent Hari Raya where we took home with us all 6 cats, including Apin and Momo.