30 Jun 2009

End of Literature class

Its the last day of class and I invited my 'children' for a bit of home cooked lunch. Dilshore, Kudret and Ikram came in their own car but Isil, Liang and Marilynn came with me. Tim could not make it because he was working. A pity that. I wanted to keep in touch with him because he interests me, that boy. I like his quirky humour, his irreverent personality and his independence, which is quite typical of the average American boy I think. The Turks are close knit and shy but always tries to take advantage of you when you least expect it. Liang the girl from Beijing was very shy at first but warmed up towards the end but her poor English and worse pronunciation made it difficult for her to be understood. I wonder what she'll do if she fails this semester. Dilshore, from Uzberkistan is very hardworking. He's older than the boys from Turkey and more mature too in his attitude and thinking. We had a number of interesting discussions while waiting for the others to turn up in class because he is always early. One topic we talked about is the attitude of many Malay students - he could not understand why so many still find it difficult to speak and understand English after learning it for 11 years. Well,neither can I - its something I've questioned time and again. And now that the government is emphasizing English once more, the Malay zealots are once again protesting - to protect the sovereignity of the Malay language it seems! When will they realise that without English we cannot go far in trade and commerce and that to progress we all need to be proficient in English?

28 Jun 2009


Jakarta hasn't changed all that much since I was last here - early 2008. The traffic jams hit you as soon as you leave the airport and our time of arrival didn't help! We landed at about 4.30pm and by the time the luggage arrived and we left the airport we ran right smack into the rush hour traffic. So it took us more than the one hour it normally takes to reach the hotel - The Sultan,the former Jakarta Hilton.
The hotel is lovely - set in a garden with a lake in the south side. Our room faces this lake. That night Repin had a meeting so I was left to my own devices. Since I had brought a book - that was it. I spent the time reading.
Next day, after breakfast Puan sri and I went for a massage. She also had a manicure and pedicure though I didn't have time for it. It was total R and R for the two of us! After two hours of being pampered, we were driven to a fabric shop there to wait for Prof Mansor and Tan Sri. Meanwhile Puan sri and I looked around at the fabrics. Within minutes I had already decided I had to get a few metres of Thai silk - the colours were gorgeous! I bought a length of light purple, turquoise and a salmon pink - to make baju kurong, our national costume.
That day was truly shopping day! I think I spent a total amount of 989 thousand rupiah which is roughly equivalent to RM350. A bargain.
Driving through the streets of Jakarta I noticed a number of changes -or maybe they were always there but we never really noticed them before. For one thing there were lots of flowers and fountains especially along the main road. The roads looked cleaner and better maintained and although there were always thousands of cars on the roads, and traffic looked congested, it actually was not. There were no jams anyway - just slow traffic. And I loved looking at the gardens - especially along General Sudirman road. The flowers were glorious - pinks, reds and yellows.

25 Jun 2009

Brief respite

I breathe a sigh of pleasure and relief. Class is over for the week and next week will be the last. Not that I hate teaching - far from it. But it can be quite tiring at times. This class may be very small, after all I've got only a handful of students but whether you're teaching 6 students or 60, the preparation time is the same. maybe less marking perhaps. And this is a Literature class so definitely more preparation, seeing that the last time I taught Literature was almost 20 years ago, not counting last year's personal tuition of Adila and Hannah. Anyway I did enjoy reading back Romeo and Juliet and looking up all those notes on the different elements.
As for my class - today they're having their exam. I hope they'll be okay but I think they will be - at least Marilynn, Tim and Dilshore will be. I'm not too sure about Kudret and Isil. I wonder if Liang will turn up for the exam. She didn't even turn up for class today.

And me? I'm going to Jakarta for the weekend. Repin has a meeting there and since Tan Sri and Puan Sri are already there for a visit, Repin invited me to go along with him. For me, its not the fact that its Jakarta that excites me. Its just the fact that I'm going to have a nice relaxing time and hopefully I can fit in a visit to a spa. Just the thing to relax me.

23 Jun 2009

Conversations with Sophia

My grand daughter is a terrific conversationalist. Yes... you'll wonder what a 23 month old toddler has to say. This is part of her conversation with me today. I'd gone to her house to pay her a visit after class and lucky for me she had not taken her afternoon nap yet. First thing she did once I had sat down beside her was to tell me - "Nenek read book."
"okay," I said. "What book do you want to read?" I showed her the ones that were lying on the table. At each one she shook her head. "Thomas," she said. I looked through and sure enough there's one on Thomas the train engine. After going through that book and pointing to me all the hiding places of Thomas and friends, she wanted "another book". She speaks quite clearly and cand easily be understood. No baby talk for her. In fact when Jona the Filipino maid told her that she could tell Sophie a story, she told Jona in no uncertain terms - "Jona don know how!"
We then went through all her favourite books after which time Jona told her she has to take her nap. Our little princess shook her head and said clearly, "Doh wan!" Next she climbed the chair next to the sofa and stood on the arms, balancing herself against the wall.
" Sophia so high" was her next comment.
Yes, I said, but be careful. You'll fall.
"Sophia so high now. Oh Oh... Sophia too high, Sophia cannot climb down."
This is said with glee... she knows she's being naughty but enjoys the sensation.
The maid tries to get her to climb down from the chair but the intrepid climber refuses, repeating, "Sophia too high... Sophia stuck! Sophia cannot come down! Sophia stuck because Sophia too high. Sophia cannot come down."
All this is said with great relish. The emphasis is on the word "stuck". That she had the word in her vocabulary amazes me. That she could use cause and effect clearly astounds me. This little girl is one fast learner. I wonder what she'll be able to say once she can master language.
She understands most words and recognises most of the animals in her picture books. While reading her the book on farm animals I showed her a picture of a cow and said - Is that a pig? She looked at me in surprise as if to say -"How can you not know?" and told me rather disdainfully - "Nooo... that's a cow!" Yes, she can say "that's" and many of my university kids can't even use that, often saying phrases like"that's means..."

She can count from 1 to 10 and understands the mathematics of it. I'm not bragging, just amazed.For example she knows how many is 2 0r 3. "Sophia has 2 ears. Pooh bear has 2 ears too." Then looking at me ,"Nenek also have 2 ears."
Yes darling... all the better to hear you talk.

21 Jun 2009


Repin and I are now in Singapore visiting our son Rizal and his family. Sophia my grand daughter is now almost 2 years - she'll be two come July. She's quite a vocal little thing, chatting all the while. I love to listen to her " Sophia eat bread now. Bread has jam on it." Yesterday she got us all laughing with her innocent remark - "Daddy has hole in his tummy!" She was referring to his belly button.
When told that Sophia too has a belly button, she said "No, daddy's hole is big!"We all had a good laugh.
Yesterday we went to the museum - The National Museum of Singapore and was pleasantly surprised. The museum is housed in a beautifully maintained Victorian styled bungalow and here again I really love what Singapore has done to old buildings in this country. They've maintained the facade and added a newer block at the back. And the museum itself is really interesting. We enjoyed the film section where they showed snippets of old P. Ramlee films - from his earliest to the later ones just before he moved to Malaysia. Even though we in Malaysia claim him for ours, many of his earlty films were done in Singapore - at the Jalan Ampas studio. There were other old films too - mostly produced by the Shaw Brothers. Then we moved to the History of Singapore section where I expected to be bored. But no way - they have done a really good programme using audio and visuals. We were all given a head phone with a teleguide on which were numbers which corresponded with the pictures on the walls. Once the numbers are pressed we could listen to various recordings concerning the various pictures. Everything was very interactive, history can actually be fun and very personal. I think I can easily stay there for hours, just listening to these accounts. Some were personal stories of Singapore's heroes, some were recorded accounts of interviews, or recorded accounts of actual events. Even news items from radio stations and so on. However we didn't have that much time to spare so could stay for only 2 hours. Well - that's one place we'd be sure to visit next time we come here!
From there we walked to the the Rendezvous Hotel. This was where Repin and I had our first date all those years ago and it is still there. We spent a quiet hour there having lunch - Repin's favourite nasi padang. Then another walk - this time to the esplanade. On the way I took time to admire the huge old trees that lined the roads - another thing that I wish we had kept! But no Malaysia has some thing against trees - hence the PWD cuts all the old trees that line every road we have! As the ones in Jalan Setapak and Jalan Genting Kelang. No more trees exist there now - they've all gone. In place we now have concrete pavements. Smart old KL - adding to the global warming.

17 Jun 2009

Literature class

Life's getting pretty hectic these days. Most of my time now is spent on research - notes for my Literature class. You see back in the old days when I was studying Literature it was mainly British and American Literature. We studied Shakespeare, Milton, the Renaissance poets, The Romantic poets and later the Victorians. Of the modern writers we mainly did people like Hemmingway, Hardy, Fitzgerald and the like. But today's literature curriculum is wider with lots of newer writers from India and other English speaking countries. So I do have to study and research my writers and at least be ahead of the class! But I do enjoy my class - I've got quite enthusiastic kids and rather cheeky too. There's Kudret the Turkish boy who's always thinking of girls. It seems he likes Chinese girls but they are scared of him! Liang the timid Chinese girl and Marilynn from Brunei are also very quiet. They don't seem to lack confidence but hardly volunteer to talk. The other girl is Isil from Turkey and this one , though not a chatterbox, is quite a talker. I think they are beginning to open up a bit, especially Dilshorbek and Kudret.
Today we had an audit and who should I see but Yap Beng Liang - a former classmate back from my Malacca school days. She's now Dr Yap of course. It's been more than two decades since I last saw her and imagine meeting her in class at UM. We couldn't really catch up with old times of course since she was auditing my class but we did exchange phone numbers!

13 Jun 2009

back in malacca

I've not been back home for weeks now. My tortoise seems to have disappeared - is it because of the dry spell we're having these days? The plants seem to be doing ok though two of my roses have died. The weather has been rather hot - in the high 30s lately and there's been no rain either. But something good has occurred - the tilapia gave birth! And I actually saw it. I noticed the tilapia staying still for a long time in the pond and wondered what happened. When I commented it to Yatie my maid, she said perhaps it was giving birth. I looked again and true enough, not long after I saw a cloud of tiny, silvery fry coming out. Birth is such a miracle - whether it is man or animal or as in this instance - fish! And the mother fish was so protective. Any errant fish who dared come near her fry was quickly chased away. And they were literally hundreds, if not almost a thousand fry. I wanted to protect them too, so put up a net across the pond to prevent the other big fish from eating up the fry. However nature has its way I guess - the fry just swam off through the holes in the net and could not be protected. By evening of the same day I noticed a much smaller cloud of silver and the mother fish was still trying to protect her wee ones.
So what Yatie and I did was to catch the ones still left and put them in the aquarium used to keep my guppies and other small fish. Hopefully they'll survive. Can't wait to go back now to see 'my little one ' grow. Ha ha..

10 Jun 2009

The White Tiger

http://mattviews.files.wordpress.com/2008/10/whitetiger.jpg Is Adiga's hero really a white tiger or just another murderer?

I've started another class - this time in Literature for ESL and I've got six students! Isn't that great? I've got an American boy (wonder what he's doing studying in Malaysia), a Chinese from Beijing, another from Brunei, one from Uzbekistan and two from Turkey. Right now we're doing Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger. I can hardly get two words from the Beijing girl and sometimes it seems that the discussion is between Tim (the American) and me.
But re reading The White Tiger has been fun nevertheless. The first time I read it I found I didn't like the protagonist Balram so much so that I merely skimmed the rest of the text. I find Balram obnoxious and crude with his talk of "dipping his beak" and scratching his groins. The language is neither scintillating nor brilliant and the story of a boy from a poverty stricken village becoming rich is common enough. What is uncommon though is the way he rode to power - by murdering his kind but weak boss. If he is not a psychopath what is he? There are glimpses of light though - the beautiful imagery of Darkness and Light ( the vast majority of rural India is described by Balram as the Dark whilst the illuminating lights of the city is the Light. The rich live in a protected coccoon of an egg - and most of them do not even realise how the other half lives. Balram longs to be part of the Light and to gain his ambition and escape from what he calls his 'chicken coop', has to do something drastic. Portrayed through the jaundiced eyes of Balram, India seems a harsh land where the poor will always remain poor, the government officials are corrupt and the law only helps those who can grease its palms. But the irony is that Balram ended up just like them - as he himself said - his belly was getting bigger (meaning he is getting to be rich and fat, just like the people he used to serve.)
Is there a moral to this story? Is it that one must do whatever one can to get to the top - even if it means getting all your relatives killed (as Balram said his would probably be after his boss's family found out that he had killed Ashok.)

7 Jun 2009

Back in Malacca

Back in Malacca for a night. It's past midnight because we drove back after 10.30pm. In spite of the late hour I go through my garden, examining my roses. Hmm - lots of dead leaves. I know that it hasn't rained for some time and luckily for us, Bakar our kind neighbour waters my plants every day. But the orchids are blooming. There's a purple catalya which has just opened its buds and I look in awe and delight. This orchid has never bloomed before! It must really like this place to bloom now. Wow... wait till my mum in law sees it!It's a deep dark purple, almost reddish in colour.
The water in my fish pond is also definitely shallower than before - a testimony to the hot days. I wonder if there are any tilapia fry that has survived. Its too dark to see anyway so I switch off the waterfallto let it rest and after watering the plants (at 1.00 am!) decide to sleep. Tomorrow is fine enough to say hello to my fish and my tortoise - if he is still around.!