Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Welcome 2011 - Year of Hope and Promises

Welllll...New Year is here again, with lots of promises to raise everyone's hopes to the sky.

In Malaysia we see the political parties in power undergoing a soul-searching transformation to face the 13GE. The National
Front (BN) sees UMNO, MCA and MIC overhauling themselves with old leaders taking a backseat ( or heading a no less powerful vehicle with less vroom) and new faces taking over. In many cases the new faces came as a surprise (even out of the blues) edging away some well-known characters. ( Thus the common edgy response: It's better to work with the devil that you know..) Even rejected leaders maybe pulled back to the front seat, Aaaagh. Many powerful Cabinet seats are not filled by popularly elected leaders but by trusted friends of the Numero Uno. And many popularly elected leaders are not pulled into the corridors of power.

Be that as it may, the size of the development funds and budget as announced from time to time by the government gives the impression that money is growing on tress in Malaysia. Billions here and billions there, hundreds of million there, more huindreds of millions here. Normal projects have become megas. Contractors all over the country must be dancing with joy. But are they? The smaller ones seem to be still grumbling. Probably the millions are not coming their way but through well-planned channels. Wallahu alam.

One thing that bothers everyone: the leakages and losts of public funds through negligence, mismanagement or corruption ( let the MACC determine which) are also running into billions and hundreds of millions. The GLCs seem to be where the biggest leakages occur with prominent politicians at the head while some senior civil servants and professionals have also been implicated and promptly brought before the court of justice. Many investigations involving the former seem to fizzle out without the real culprit brought to book and this seems to cause serious indigestion among the opposition members in Parliament and the more public-spirited men on the street. Independent bloggers are most articulate and noisy on this matter
while the mainstream media is very cautious and laconic.

As a last remark in welcoming the New Year, we cannot avoid noting the fact that the Pakatan is undergoing a serious strain
with some differences between the Party Keadilan Rakyat, PAS and DAP becoming more and more pronounced. Worse is the leadership struggle that seems to go on within the constituent parties, especially PKR. The de facto leader is not only under seige by the law but also by his former collegues.

Well, that's the scenario in brief without getting into specifics. A most interesting fact is that while there seem to be a lot of stress and strain on the political front with doubts and uncertainties riding on the financial state of the nation, the people and country seem to be stable and moving along well. There are flashes of racial tensions and conflicts in the press and in Parliamentary debates, but you certainly don't see them in the street. All races seem to be on the best of terms when enjoying teh tarik, ruti canai and nasi lemak in the restaurants and food stalls. There is no sign of tension whatever in the shopping complexes except among husbands saddled with a huge shopping bill.

On the social front, everything seems to point to a glorious 2011. We just hope that the political and economic squabbles among major contestants will not upset the peace and harmony that had prevailed for years.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Christmas Wish for Mankind

It's Chritmas time again and we see the towns and cities in Malaysia sprouting green and gold within their premises. The glitters are everywhere with the Christmas trees, the deers and sledges and Santa Clause beaming with Christmas cheers. Especially in the shopping complexes and hotels where the crowds are gathered.

As on other festive occasions in Malaysia, we see the country and people putting on their best festive mood and showing off a happy and prosperous life. The focus this time around is. of course, on the cities and towns, not the more rural areas as on other festive occasions like the Hariraya, CNY, Deepavali, Gawai etc. Even the New Year which will come in hot pursuit is not celebrated as conspicuous and voraciously in the rural areas, as in the urban centres throughout the country.

Do we see a rural-urban divide here? Maybe, but not in a serous way. The Christmas and New Year celebrations do spread into the rural areas because of the holidays and the hoardes of people going back to their rural roots to celebrate. Anyway, I don't remember any occasion other than the two Harirays when people in the rural villages really go all out to celebrate. The spirit of the urban festivities and shindigs does not seem to reach them, unlike when we celebrate the CNY, Deepavali, etc., not explicitly anyway.

Christmas and the New Year are celebrated more by our urban population, centered in the clubs, hotels and fun places. There will be partying, feasting and dancing till dawn. The booze and drinks will flow like the monsoon drains on a rainy day. The revellers represent mostly the business community people, the office workers and high society ladies and gents. They certainly represent the most prosperous segment and cream of the Malaysian Society, the upper and higher middle-class people used to a life of luxury and comfort.

That goes for the whole world including the common folks in Christendom. They will also go all out to celebrate but probably giving more emphasis to the religious tradition and ceremonies attached to Christmas. The church bells will chime, the seats will be full, sermons will be read, the hymns sung while the choir will belt out sweet Christmas carols. The clubs, hotels and fun houses on the other hand will devote all attention to just merry-making.

Are the Christmas and New Year celebrations merely for fun and merry-making? While most people are doing just that. let's not forget that they are others, Christians and non-christians, who are undergoing extreme hardships and torments in life, especially those who are the victims of natural disasters, epidemics, malnutrition and starvation and other calamities created by their fellow human beings such as through wars and socio-political conflicts and unrests. Don't we even think of them when we are drinking and dancing our way through the yultide evening and night, with food and drinks being wasted away like the baubles and glitters which decorate the festives ballrooms, halls and lounges? Are we supposed to forget all the woes and sufferings of these people for the period of the celebrations?

We wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year of course. But I also wish for mankind to think of the miseries and the miserables that plague todays world, in spite of the progress, prosperity and technological perfections achieved. I wish that people will stop killing and hurting each other in the name of promoting justice and humanity, trying to spread peace through wars, fighting corruption with corrupt practices, and instilling kindness among people through cruel laws and regulations. If the true spirit of Christmas and New Year is evoked, we will certainly move a step further towards creating a better world and a more humane society,

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Day of Solemn Reflection

I had some other plans yesterday (20/12/10) but destiny dictates otherwise. Early morning my wife received a call informing her that a close relative had passed away. We had to be in Juasseh, Kuala Pilah, to pay her our last respect and attend the burial ceremony. The previous evening our daghter had also become the victim of food poisoning. She was still very weak and dazed from a lot of purging and vomitting. We had to take her to her grandma's house before going to Juasseh. At least she'd not be left alone there.

It was some two and a half hours' journey by car to Juasseh before, now shrunk to about just over an hour with time for lunch. How come.? The roads have been improved consirably with a shortcut accross country via LEKAS ( the Kajang-Setemban Express Highway) and a straightened road over the hills of Bukit Putus ( the Seremban-Ulu Bendul Highway or SUBUH - no name given and that is my suggestion). The older North-South highway had become too congested while the old Bukit Putus twister road needs only a heavily loaded truck (lorry) crawling up in front of you to cause a bumper-to-bumper jam over a narrow, hilly area of some six kilometers. The name Broken Hill Road ( Jalan Bukit Putus) was really an appropriate sobriquet for the older passage between Seremban and Ulu Bendul.

The mad-rush journey was quite uneventful. Except for two or three accidents between cars and the same number involving motocycles. Is that uneventful? Yes consideration that an accident like the Simpang Pulai-Kampung Raja bus accident accident can quash 27 lives. No one seemed to be killed in the five or six accidents I saw though but the jams they caused were attrocious. Most surprisingly an accident on one side of a dual highway caused as nasty a jam on the other side of the road as well. People slow down to see and, seemingly, enjoy the sight. Then they speed on again as if nothing has happened.

When we reached the house of our late Auntie, the oft unoccupied house was already teeming with relatives and visitors.( See pics). I've never seen so many people gathered at the house while she was alive, even on a festive occasion. Yes, people really gather together at a house only on two occasions - a death or a wedding. Those are the times when you can see almost all the relatives and friends of people living in that house. Never at any other times. After meeting those assembled under the porch, i learned that the grand old lady had not arrived yet from the hospital at the place she passed away. Her remains was on the way back home, carried by a van dedicated for the transportation of the dead - the modern mobile hearse.

Every mosque in the village seemed to have such a van nowadays with the name of the village which owns it boldly emblazoned on the sides of the van. The van is often new and modern but the stretcher on which the corpse is carried often looked cheap and rickety. I would consider it an insult to the dead, seeing how others respect and pamper their departed. On two occasions, in my own and my wife's village, the Imam was complaining that there was no money to buy a new stretcher. I suppose the van is bought by government or with its assistance. Will have to check on that.

The Muslim's burial ceremony is very simple. The dead is given a last prayer in the house ( or mosque/madrasah) by those in attendance ( even women are allowed to join in), all standing up and in close formation. No rukuk, sujud or iktidal. A representative of the departed will then thank everyone in attendance and proclaim that if the departed had any outstanding debt to anyone, a claim for repayment can be made to him. Normally nobody does and the debt is just forgotten or considered as a gift to the departed. Yes, If the departed rests in the house overnight, visitors will come and read the al-quran (surah Yassin) on his/her behalf almost throughout the night.
The real burial ceremony is again very simple. ( Those who accompany the departed to the graveyard often take the opportunity to visit the grave of beloved ones).

The departed is laid to rest in a grave six feet deep and after the ground is levelled again with a rectangular ridge to mark where he/she is buried, the Imam and crowd sit beside it to perform the "hand over" ceremoney to Allah. The 'takqin' reminds the departed of what his/her answer should be when questioned by Allah's Inquisitioners ( Munkar wa Nangkir), that the joy of life on earth has ended for him/her, and that all were giving a final goodbye to him/her. The Doa will be read and everyone present joins in the endorsement of the praises to Allah the Most Merciful requesting Him to place the soul of the departed among the souls of the blessed.

After that everyone goes home leaving the departed in his/her final place of rest.( For three nights after this some people hold a doa reading ceremony with some refreshments}.

It's a most sobering occasion, inviting one to reflect on one's own journey in life and what one has done to deserve a place in heaven. Or will it be some place else? It's always a sublime experience to me and this is the first time I've recorded it in writing so that others might want to share it with me. Amin.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Politics, Business and Religion

(The trilogy of Human Duress)

To me the three topics - politics, business and religion - seem to command the concern of the world today. Sports, hobbies, fashion etc fill up the rest of human concern. Politics and business top the bill in the news media while sports and fashion make up the commercial headliners, which sometimes qualify as business news. Love, marriage and sex of course transverse the whole gamut of human activities and interests, often lying at the very root of all motivation.

I like to focus for now on the relationships between politics, business and religion, the three things that seem to divide the world.It's politics that create friends and enemies, supporters and opponents (or oppositions), divide people in the same country and region, cause unrest, protests, feuds and even wars. Business and commercial interests tend to bring people and nations together but not when there's a wrangle for ownership of scarce resources- land, valuable ores, oil etc. When that happens business interests become political.

But religion? It can be deadly divisive as when people kill each other over religious belief and faith in the past and to some extent even now, but otherwise it lies at the back of the human mind as a personal secret (not unlike love and desire) and only stirs up emotions when the followers of one faith begin to denigrate or insult the beliefs and customs of another group. That emotion, however, can quickLy spread to become a national and political issue, even on a global basis!

We see then how important the trilogy of human duress ( I call it so because politics, business and religion put certain unavoidable constraints and impositions on people in society) is, in our life today. Politics can cause a war within or between nations, business failure can shake up the basic foundations of our life and religious enmities can spread like wildfire to wipe out an entire race. The dangers of all three often come together to cause men to become wilder than wild animals. See for example what's happening in Italy.

We all fear a nuclear war which can wipe out the entire human race. But what about this trilogy of human duress which can combine to become as deadly as a nuclear war? We've seen nations in our own time shattered and burnt down to smithereens because of a combination of the three human concerns - politics, business and religion - the latter to be taken in its broader meaning to include its elements such as ethical beliefs, concept of freedom etc. We see these three areas of human concern continuously pulling countries apart, causing tremendous strains on the people and causing them to break into partisan groups.

Yet, the torchbearers and leaders in all the three areas of human concern seemed not to be aware of the dangers they can create when the tensions in all three areas combine.

Let's take the Malaysian case. The political divide in the country is coterminous with the religious divide - UMNO vis-a-vis.
PAS. UMNO has formed its affiliates through Barisan National ( the National Front) while PAS has affiliated with Parti Keadilan and DAP to form Perikatan. The political and religious divides are clear enough. Is there also a business divide? Where do some of the more prominent tycoons and businessmen stand? Certainly many are in MCA, a member of the Barisan Nasional. But DAP certainly has a number of them on its side, from all racial groups. thus making the business divide quite clear. Religion does not seem to be playing a major role except for the Malay components of the two major contending forces in Malaysian politics. They are both Islam but their views differ far enough to break them up into two groups with different Imams even when praying in the same mosque. That was some time ago and I don't know whether it still happens now , openly or in secret. For more than fifty years the UMNO Malays and PAS Malays have never seemed to be able to settle their differences except for some brief period of political agreement and cooperation, when PAS did join the Barisan Nasional.

The stress and strains the Malays are going through because of this divide are not so obvious. But I'm sure they are being felt by members of the affliates in the opposing poitical entities. Business and functional relationships in their everyday life keep the Malays together to the extent that we sometimes only see the religious leaders bearing down on each others while the followers just smile or even laugh.

Can the situation ever be improved and the apparent conflict be resolved? The question, I think, is becoming more pressing as the younger Malays begin to question why two groups professing the same religion should be enemies. They are not even divided in their sectarian belief or mazhab since both adhere to the Sunnah walJamaah. Their differences are founded only in terms of minor issues that do not and cannot erode their aqidah such as on the question of creating an Islamic State, each party having its own interpretation of the term, the adoption of Hudud Laws (which only affects the Muslims), the acceptance or non-acceptance (haram) of interests in the banking system and business interactions, the covering of the head, face and hands (the aurat) for the womenfolk to be totally or partially accepted, etc. These differences seem to be fizzling out as the young Malays learn more about Islam, realize that some non-Muslim celebrities are finding it more comforting to their souls and embracing it. They are, therefore, coming back to the teachings with greater conviction.

More significantly the pressure of modern living in terms of business transactions, professional work and everyday life style seems to demand more of the young Malays' time than the obligations of their religion. The consequences of failing in their everyday endeavor to make a living will be more painful and obvious than the failure to perform a prayer or fasting in the month of Ramadhan, especially since they can cover up the failure when unintentional through late performance (kadha'). These and other arguments make religion a harmonizing and comforting socio-psychological factor to fall back on when life becomes pretty tough. As such they do not allow the religious concern to place a divide between them and their relatives and friends, which at one time happened in Malaysia.

We see, therefore, a possibility of business ( a general term for earning a living) becoming a bridge between the political and religious divide. In business we do not really care who the business partner is so long as we have a mutual interest and that our transaction can be mutually beneficial. Business interest can overcome other interests in many cases. If we accept this principle, politics can then be a means of self-identification in the social matrix of behavioral choices, taking a stand where necessary and giving support to a popular leader of our choice, while religion can provide a guideline for ethical choice and standard, guiding our spiritual growth without gross intrusion on our business life. In as far as Islam is concerned, it also encourages business. A saying of Prophet Muhammad SAW (pbuh) stated that nine tenth of our sustenance comes from business.

Can this thought or principle be practiced at the national and international level? I think it can provided we first take pains to study the relationship between the trilogy of human duress as I call it, and make sure that their destructive forces do not combine to cause a war between people, groups of people, racial groups and between nations. If that is allowed to happen the trilogy can become as dangerous as a nuclear blast. Politics and business can cause tension between people of the same race and religion. Couldn't the common religion be used to overcome political and business conflicts? When political and religious factors cause the tension, couldn't common business interests be maximiized to redice the strain? All national leaders and statesmen should, I think, take a look at the dangers and potentials of the trilogy and develop strategies that can bring peace to a nation and between nations by optimizing on their integrative forces and minimizing their disruptive tendencies.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Payoffs don't pay - No Favors Required to get Govt Contract.

I am sure the business people in Malaysia, especially those in the construction business, will be most excited to hear the PM saying that they don't have to pay or give favors to secure government contracts, tenders and concessions. Datuk Seri Najib blandly said that they don't have to pay to conduct business with the goverment and such belief or perception should be dispelled.

I say that businessmen will be excited about this because dispelling the belief can work both ways -- stem out corruption or delay the work to be undertaken by government, terribly.

Yes, if businessmen stopped giving payoffs and offering favors in order to get a contract from government, corruptipn will cease. It is the attractive offerer which creates the receiver unless the party offering the contract, approving the tender or the cocession makes a demamd before giving the approval. When there is no offer the approval had to be given to the businessman most qualified for the job to be ubdertaken. If a demand was made before the approval, then a clear case of corruption is already committed ab initio.

A bribery offer is usually made by a businessman who isn't confident of getting a job based on offering 'the best for the least' in his tender proposal. The grand price quoted in the tender is made after including all costs. including the bribe to be given out of course, in the tender prosal. It is for this reason that the prices quoted in tenders are often rediculously exorbitant. If the cost of bribery had not been included in the tender proposal and had to be paid from the profit margin expected to be made my the contractor, it is a sure invitation to running a loss. Are businessmen prepared to do that? It may lead to the case of unfinished jobs and abandoned projects to ovoid serious cost overrun and perhaps bankcruptcy.

Those than are the dangers of not making allowance for paying bribes or payoffs. If no payoffs or favors is offerred at all to the party awarding the contract, tender or concession, it may also be the last contract the businessman might get. There would be others who are willing and prepared to pay, waiting to get the job. These businessmen would have included the bribery costs in their cost evaluation for the tender.

Delays in work implementation can be caused by many factors such as difficulties in getting the supply of work and building materials, incurring cost overruns, delays in getting progress payments, and the ultimate inability of the contractor to finance the work. Such problems on the part of the contractor can be due to all forms of delays on the part of the government, each compounding his problems. A delay in the initial start of work can be due to getting all the documentation ready and the approval to start work. All of the above involve continuous interaction between the contractor and the government. Thus at any point any delay by the party responsible in the governemt for giving the approval can cause serous problems and delay for the contractor which inevitably will lead to cost increases. Can the contractor accept this or isn't better to give some titbits all the way to get the things that you wants quite promptly. Otherwise the little delays will all add up to a huge implementation
shortfall that is not uncommon in the government.

The issue here is can the government just say"stop giving money and favours in order to get government contracts, tenders
and concessions." Businessmen will just be happy to do that but won't the government agencies responsible for issuing the contracts. evaluating the tenders, giving approval to start work and various other approval certificates before the work can be completed. approving payments etc. suddenly play cool and take their time to give the necessary approval such that all work will be slowed down? Businessmen talk about paying "grease money" to get things go faster and smoother. How can these be stopped as well aside from seeing to it that tenders, contracts and concessions are all evaluated, approved and issues without seeking some payments or kickbacks that we here generally call corruption?

A deeper examination of the way major works are done from the word go to their completion must be done to see where the payment of "grease money' might be involved aside from some commissions or kickbacks that really involve substantial amounts. Corruption is not a once-over thing in getting a government job done. It can happen all along the way. Whilst the MACC is doing a fine job to get the culprit taking huge payoffs from major government projects, many smaller payoffs might be missed.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mind of the State

(At the request of a friend and for the fun of a digression, my entry this time takes the form of a poem. It's about political development in the country but focusses on nothing in particular. Just let the images invite your mind to wander and you might get what I mean or feel something arising from your own imagination. Don't hold me for it.)

Mind of the State
(the pictures may help to stimulate your imagination)

The state of one's mind is no one else's business
but the mind of the State keeps us all anxious;
for it runs the ship with its rowdy loads
of different creeds with different needs or greed,
each croaking in democratic cacophony like drunken toads.

The State is but a corpus of different minds
brought together by history and Constitutional binds;
in prosperity nobody cares who does what and who rules the sun.
so long as my fortune is safe and life's a bundle of fun:
but comes a depression- your excesses are my obsession.

Since the rain never falls evenly in everyone's garden
the toads begin their throaty croaks to unleash their angry burden;
the giant Bifo Marinus becomes the envy of all anuras
a foreign breed grown prosperous in the major ponds and rivers,
while others though indigenous live in abject weariness.

In such a turmoil the leaders go bonkers,
protect the rich and the poor will tear up their fenders,
champion the poor and the rich will abandon ship
scoot with the loot and the State will drift into the deep:
like so many countries where no one can peacefully sleep.

Thank heaven in this blessed land of multiple breed,
the toads and frogs do fight but won't each other bleed,
It rains a lot but the water tanks often run dry,
for the mind of the State is oft upturned to the sky:
where the silver clouds and golden rainbow lie.

9. 12, 2010

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Welcome December Twenty Ten

A Maal Hijarah Procession

Well folks, here we are in December again, December twenty ten, and the first week is gone. The year is coming to a close and a brand new one will begin - twenty eleven. Isn't that easier to say and remember than 'the year twenty thousand and eleven'? We enter the second decade of the 21st century. OMG. How fast time flashes by!

An Imagery from Chap Goh Meh Festivity

Three important events await us in Malaysia - the Maal Hijrah on the 7th, Christmas, and of course the New Year. A Muslim event, a Christian, and an international festive day. The Aidil Fitri and Aidil Adha, the Chap Goh Meh, the Deepavali, the Gawai etc had just been celebrated a few months back. Hey, even Thaipusam had been made into a public holiday for Malaysians. We certainly have a good number of public holidays in this lovely country. When our next door neighbors celebrate we all celebrate too and that is the secret of our happy relationship and the foundation of our national unity. When we can feast, have fun and celebrate our good fortune together, we'll certainly remain together no matter whatever else happens.

A Thaipusam Spectacle

But wouldn't it be more meaningful if the younger Malaysians are acquainted with the full background story behind every one of the festive days that we celebrate? What is the Maal Hijrah about. for example, or the Chap Go Meh, the Thaipusam, the Gawai, the Ponggal, etc.? These festive days are not as widely celebrated nor in as grand a way as the more famous Hariraya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Christmas and the New Year. The shops and the towns and cities do not get lighted up and decorated as they do for the more famus occasions. Even the radio, the TV and the news media do not take pains to explain the full meaning and implications of the lesser known fetivals and as such the celebration is less widespread.

Only the business sector will do its best to promote and highlight every exploitable occasion to capitalize on the sales of relevant merchandise. Lately, Valentine Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day etc seem to have become a day of generous spending and expensive treats. The price of red roses can go up to RM15 for one pretty bloom on Valentine day while the Velentine and other greeting cards have become a rip-roaring business on the appropriate occasion with prices going up to RM50 and more.
The festive atmosphere created by the business sector is most impressive.

All at the expense of the more religously oriented festivals such as the Maal Hijrah, Chap Go Meh, All Saints Days and many others as observed by the followers of different religion. The business sector seems to be leading the show rather than the
religious organizations involved. This has the effect of not only deemphasizing the significance of the occasion from a religious point of view but also turning such an occasion into a business promotion exercise. In this regard even the more
celebrated festive days like hariraya, CNY, Christmas and the New Year have lost much of their religious significance with more emphasis being given to their social relevance. This may not be a healthy trend for the younger Malaysians in terms of their spiritual development.

Whatever it is, December certainly holds out a lot of memories and hopes for all of us. We've fond memories of twenty ten to savour and a rising pile of hopes and expectation for twenty eleven to be excited about. So let us welcome December, the last lap in the twenty ten race for progress and prosperity, although one week is about gone even before I get to write this note.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Biotechnology or Genetic Engineering in Malaysia as seen through the MAHA show.

Let's watch some of the photographs which I managed to collect, not just from the MAHA 2010 show but from other sources.
Are you impressed?

How huge is the papaya, the jack fruit, the pumpkin and the star fruit! What about the chickens with no feather, just flesh so that you can just pop them into the oven or cut them up as you please on your dinner table. What about the goat which is almost as tall as a man or the black beast that you see which is neither a goat nor a horse. I didn't take a picture of the huge cows for they are already too familiar.

These genetically engineered vegetable, fruits and animals are already here in Malaysia, some of which are the product of our own scientific research endeavors in biotechnology. Even years ago we already have mangoes the size of a coconut called mangga harum manis. I did grow them once but few of the huge fruits could be enjoyed since the skin and flesh broke open while still too young to pluck and stow away to ripen.

Genetic engineering or biotechnology holds a lot of promise to become the science that will save human beings from hunger in the future with food production of fruits, vegetables, and farm animals that are huge and one unit itself can feed so many people ( like the ostrich egg). You will need only one papaya or starfruit to serve as an appetizer or dessert for maybe ten people at a dinner table. One pumpkin or a jack fruit would be able to serve a whole commumity of people.

Would that be nice?
Would it be nice to eat an apple as big as a pumpkin?
Would it be nice to eat rice with the grains as big as a groundnut seeds?

Obviously there are those who are opposed to the genetic engineering of food products and farm animals. One result that has been known is the spread of certain herbal strain that will resist weed control. It will just grow and grow and maybe overcome other herbal or vegetable growth. The effect on animal can be seen in the huge goats and cows that now exist, some with real ugly faces and appearance ( the chicken in the picture for instance). What if the transgenes in the genetically engineered vegetables and animals also affect human beings that consume them?

Genetic engineering on a human being might produce a frankenstein. I wonder what woudl happen to us if the dogs, horses, bulls, even the cats and chickens started growing to become bigger than we human beings. The age of the dynosaurs might yet return if genetic engineering is not property controlled and supervised.

These were some of the thoughts that filled up my mindght as i walked through the throngs of people visiting MAHA 2010 show ar Serdang. Other concern includes the crazy traffic jams, the great distance that you must walk without trams that can pick up people from anywhere at all in the expo area and drop them anywhere they want. The animals on display can do with a little bit of animal shows to attract the cowd and entertain the children.

As far as agricultural implements are concerned. the MAHA expo shows that only the simple and light inventions such as the oil-palm fruit cutter, the coconut husking device etc seemed to have been produced locally. The heavier machines are all produced overseas. I couldn't even find a small ride-on lawn mover which i needed very much. Only the light tilling machines are available and they are made outside the country.

The most obvious improvement made by our entrepreneurs seemed to be the packing and merchandizing of local food products. Yes the packing has certainly reached a standard suitable for overseas marketing. The variety of food products now commercialized is indeed very encouraging. You can have a free tasting of them all at the MAHA fair. Where else can you do such a thing?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Revival of the Theatre

I have followed a series of plays ( or theatre) this year at the Istana Budaya. Beginning with Puteri Gunung Ledang, I witnessed Cuci the Musical, The West-End Story, P.Ramlee the Musical,  Tun Mahathir the Musical, and the preview of Natrah, with a few in between which I missed and can't recall their titles while the Istana Budaya Portal does not provide a ready list of theaters over the years aside from the concerts and other miscellaneous shows . Previous to that I have also watched Samad Said's Pentas Puteri Pinki and MaMa Mia. On most occasions the theatre hall was booked to full capacity.
That was a big surprise to me, knowing that in previous years theatre attendance had been lack luster. I've had the experience of watching the hall half-empty before and people leaving the theatre halfway through the play, leaving the hall almost empty after the intermission. I've also seen some members of the audience falling asleep after a half hour run of the show. The Bahasa shows were normally attended more by the Malays while the English presentation more by the non-Malays. I've heard of ticket prices being slashed due to a very poor response.
All those seemed to be a matter of the past. Starting with Puteri Gunung Ledang the Musical, I have witnessed Istana Budaya becoming the venue of well-dressed theatre enthusiasts from all ages and racial origins, before the start of a show. Yes, people in coat and ties, evening dresses that glittered with sequins, and prosperous-looking tycoons trooping into the theatre. Even the cafe at the entrance to the IB was crowded with hungry people who had no time to dine at home and had to come early to avoid the traffic and get some good parking spots, close to the building. Slowly I saw the dress becoming more and more casual as the Istana Budaya relaxed its dress code. For the Natrah preview I even saw some guys in t-shirts and discolored jeans. Of course the preview was open to media personnel., not the paying audience, while the IB dress code, I believe, remained in force.
But that's a different issue. What I want to stress is the revival of interests in theatre performance. Or is this an entirely  new development after the death of the old Bangsawan shows? Have Malaysians finally woke up to the norms pf a modern, culture-loving and high-brow society who are known to be the patrons of the performing arts, as different form the younger middle-class urbanites who only had a love for the movies? Yes. I've attended the movies too ( Avatar, Alice in Wonderland in 3-D, Pisau Cukur etc) and the crowds have indeed swelled to give film-makers their multimillion ringgit box-office collections. While the new generation movies thrive on Computer Generated Images (CGI), what has the theatre offered to entice the more cultured and elitist audience?
Obviously, the theatre had improved considerably in terms of its decor. props and technological gambits including computerised lighting effects and audio suppport. The multilayered and gigantic rock formation in Puteri Gunung Ledang was really impressive and realistic. So was the train and railway station in P. Ramlee the Musical,  the tall buildings in Cuci the Musical and the cargo ship in Natrah. Theatre audience can now experience more authentic replica of scenes, locations, furniture and gadgetaries going back into the past. What is still lacking is a sense-surround effect which only Disneyland shows can create ( Star Wars). Otherwise, Istana Budaya had all the cutting-edge technology and facilities to stage a world standard theatrical performance and only the Directors' imagination is  the limit to the sophistication of the presentation.

What must rest entirely on the Production people to generate in order to achieve international ( or Hollywood) standard is the screen play with its plots and sub-plots, the acting, the choreography and in particular the dialogues. Even a good literary product may fail to create a successful theatre performance with verbose, circumlocutious  and dry dialogues. There must be plenty of witty and humorous lines to punctuate a long drawn conversation, argument or monologue. Beautiful literary lines might have to be replaced or at least interspersed by rib-tickling humor or even deceptively stupid/unexpected jokes (Cuci had a lot of this!), Even technological wonders can bore if the dialogues are too literary, pedantic or melodramatic. Aflin Syauki and Awi can even get away with impromptu mumbling to cause extended bursts of laughter ( Cuci the Musical again}. Siti Asmah tickled the audience when she aped Mahathir's way of saying "Ase Mana?" ( Where are you from? ) in Tun Mahathir the Musical. To include some witty lines in the play is obviously  the concern of the writer but the producer or director of the play must  also help to plant in some "laugh bombs" to wake up the audience when facing long-drawn interlocution.
Well, so far the series of plays I've attended had enough of the interest- and attention-jerking gambits to take us through without being bored. This new tradition of theatre must be developed further and nurtured by the younger writers while Producers must nurture and encourage them to write more plays for the theatre. There are many prize awards now for the movies, film/TV actors and actresses and for singers. It's time that the theatre be given its own awards and recognition if the theatre in Malaysia is to develop into a status symbol for the  connoisseurs and lovers of the theatrical art and the creation of such a community within the Malaysian society.           

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Reliving the Kampung Life.

This Hariraya Korban or Aidil Adha my wife and I had a chance to go back and live in the kampung for a few days. How come since there was only a one day public holiday? Too many people take a long holiday for the Hariraya Puasa, but few do so for this second festival. So, my wife took advantage of the low demand. Her parents and two unmarried sisters also decided to spend a long holiday back in their place of origin, the old kampung house which had been renovated.

First order of the day was compound cleaning - removing the overgrown grass and shrubs and sweeping away the plethora of dead leaves accruing from some 60-70 rubber trees planted in the enclosed compound. My in-laws arrived late. We had to break the chain on the gate to get into the compound as start the cleaning-up work. We've almost swept the entire place clean when they arrived, blaming the traffic jam for the delay. That was on the eve of Hariraya Korban. As we took our rest we let them get the food ready for the evening. The highlight of the food item was a huge chunk of beef stew or bone stew (sup tulang) ( chosen from the hip-bone which could not be broken into small pieces) served in the pressure cooker itself. We took turn to carve out a piece of the meat for our own consumption. Some, including me, went for a second or third helping. We fell asleep that night watching the TV, even when the program was emmm....just so-so. Nubhan showing his new album.

                                                                      I forgot. That evening we talked about the rising costs of things. One good thing, the price of rubber had also gone up. I raised the possibility of us doing some rubber tapping as a joke. To my surprise everyone was very enthusiastic about it. They have never tapped the rubber tees before and would like to try their hands at it. The rubber trees in the compound had been badly tapped before leaving deep swirly scars that had not fully mended. Who's going to be the instructor? I had some experience in helping my late grandma tap rubber before and shyly 

Auntie Cik Lang with her favorite kampung transport

volunteered to help. My wife insisted on calling a Chinese gentleman Mr Chung who was tapping the family small holding, to help. I agreed but we should get all the necessary things ready - the tapping knives, the cups, the holders and the tin ladles leading the latex flow to the cups.

Tun trying her hand at it.

The next day being the festive day, no work was done. It was a day of prayers and feasting. A number of nearby relatives came to the house, After lunch and the afternoon prayers I took a short ride through the village on our battery-powered motor scooter and passing by a notable house saw the young singer and TV star who made the house notable ie. NUBHAN, playing around with his brother. I didn't stop but returned home and told my wife about it for she knew the boy very well. A quick phone call and Nubhan came with his mother, brother and a few other relatives. The evening slipped away on a boisterous note with lots of fun and laughter but one task was done, to get all the things we need for rubber tapping ready.

A new experience at a late age.

The next day the new adventure began rather late. After cherishing the normal food and drinks served for guests on hariraya, the Mr Choong agreed to show us how tapping is done. Only my wife and her sisters followed him as he gave the illustration on a few trees. When I came out of my room after a short nap. I joined them just to make up the number of enthusiasts. After he left my wife, hers sisters and their father, began to practice on an old chopped up rubber tree. Mr Choong promised to come the next day with an assistant to help with the first cut on all the trees in the compound. Since he came late I started to tap one solitary tree, to convince everyone that I have the know-how and experience to do it. I did two cuts, an upper and a lower level one, as shown by Mr Choong. When he came that afternoon he conformed that the lower cut which followed an old one was okay, but the upper cut which ran through an old one with a jagged surface was all wrong. My critiques rejoiced at the remark. I noticed later that even Mr Choong and his assistant could not always avoid cuuting through the old jagged "scars" for the tapper had done a really bad or even "ill-intentioned" job - a job tyhat could kill the trees.

Me working on a tree.

The next day was fun with someone calling on everyone to wake up early in the morning to go tapping. I pretended not to hear the call and continued with my sleep since I had got up very early for my morning prayer. No one disturbed me until I have had my breakfast and came out to the compound to see what they were doing. The teasing was quite intensive:" You said you could do all the tapping but so far you had tapped only one tree." I was quite flustered, took a knife and started to tap with speed and some fury. After about ten trees my shirt was all wet and draining with sweat, It was heartening to see that after I finished tapping two rows of trees my father-in-law had only done three trees, and the latex was not flowing out because the cut was not deep enough. The latex on some of the trees i cut was not flowing into the cup. diverted by a kink or a false cut. I had to repair the misttake.

Pheeeeew...it's no easy job and we all learned a lot from the experience. My wife complained of mosquitoes bites and pain in the finger joints. But agreed that she had a lot of fun getting the job done. When on the next day we spent time answering wedding a and birthday invitations we really had a lot of things to talk about. We rediscovered the joy and fun of reliving the old kampung style of life. This was a hariraya holiday with a difference.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hariraya Haji - Aidil Adha - Hariraya Korban

A mother (Pijot) and a girl (Emi) celebrate their birthday close to Hariraya Aidil Adha. Hence this party. Norzam Adha ( seated left) was born on the night of the Aidil Adha itself.

Three alternative names for the second hariraya to honor the completion of the Haj ceremonies for the pilgrims in Mecca and the end of the Muslim year. We will have only a one day holiday but many Muslims I'm sure are taking extra leaves to celebrate the occasion. For the Kelantanese, I believe, this is a more significant occasion than the hariraya Puasa or Aidil Fitri and celebrated more earnestly.

The greater significance if the occasion is indeed reflected by the fact the Takbir and Tahmid ( chanting the greatness of Allah) will continue for three days, not just a day and night as in the case of Aidil Fitri. It will continue until all the pilgrims have completed the three days of 'stoning the devil' ( tasyrik ie on the 11th,12th and 13th Dzulhijah) and returned home. Those doing the pilgrimage for the first time will then undergo a change of name to Tuan Haji. We have stories of people who insisted on the change of name being reflected in their iCs, Passports and other documents. But so far we have no such floods of request being reported by the Authorities concerned in Malaysia.

22 deaths of Malaysian pilgrims and 85 cases of being sick were reported this year. There's no explanation with regard to the cause as yet but the loss will be met with mixed feelings. On the one hand death while doing the Haj in Mecca is most welcomed and even desired by the elderly pilgrims for they will go straight to heaven, to the members of their family the sudden loss is quite traumatic. While others go the the airport terminal to welcome home their beloved ones, they could not see those they loved again for they are buried in Mecca in unmarked graves. You couldn't even go to visit their final resting place.

The return to Malaysia after a long sojourn in Mecca fulfilling the full obligations of the Muslim faith, is often quite traumatic.
While the hallmark cough of having done the Haj is a lingering reminder of the trip which some proudly enjoy, some changes in the manner of conducting the prayers may suddenly be realized. There's no "doa qunut" for the Subuh prayer in Mecca while that is a must here at home. In Mecca you can do the 'Sunnah' prayers for so many reasons (niat) and for as many times as you wish ( 2 raka'ts for each prayer). Back here in Malaysia it's forbidden to hold a sunnah prayer after Subuh and Asyar. The Khatib
in our mosque also does not echo loudly what the Imam recited before and after each movemnet in the prayer as they do in Mecca. We just follow the Imam or the movement of others when we can't hear him, especially in a small madrasah where the Imam does not use a microphone.

Well the Hariraya Korban itself is quite the same as the other hariraya except that it's marked by the slaughtering of some cows, buffaloes or goats, the act which gives the festive day its name. The animala are slaughtered to commemorate the day Prophet Ibrahim went out to sacrifice his beloved son Ismail to fulfill Allah's command. But just he was about to perform the goary task as proof of his unreserved loyalty to Allah, Allah replaced the son with a ram. Thus the ram became the sacrificial animal. But the day also coincides with the day of the wukuf for the pilgrims in Mecca, the final rite for being annointed as a Haj.

That was just as a little reminder to all the young Muslims. It shows not only how loyal Prophet Ibrahim was to Allah but also how loyal and courageous was Ismail to Allah and his father, ever willing to die as a scrfice to Allah at the hand of his beloved father. Would any son be willing to do that now? I think he would rather call his father mad and run away as far as he could from the old man. I for one, pity the animals that are sacrificed but they would ultimately face the same fate and to be selected for the sacrifice must, therefore, be something special for them.

The Aidil Adha is indeed a day of hallowed rejoice and a warm welcome home for the new Hajis. We celebrate the day in their
honour and in memory of Prophet Ibrahim and his son's sacrifice. The sacrificial meat is also given to others to cook and enjoy, thus spreading the festive mood to others. So, Selamat Hariraya Aidil Adha to all the Muslim and non-Muslims in this country.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Language of Business.

In our efforts to make Bahasa the national laguage in Malaysia, it must be appreciated that Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka is NOT the only institution involved or responsible. The schools, colleges and universities whether the medium of instruction is Bahasa or otherwise, the Government offices and business organizations are all responsible. It's not only the command of Bahasa that must be strengthened to meet the need of a developed country but also the command of other business languages particularly English, Chinese and Japanese. Spanish and French can also be of great help for going into the European, Latin American and Africa markets.

Is the Malaysians' command of Bahasa good after more than half a century of independence and more than 50 Bulan Bahasa as launched by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka? ( Cannot get the date for the first launch in spite of many write-ups about it in the Google)). I doubt the ability of even some of the Malay students to express themselves in Bahasa as fluently as as say Senator Lee Lam Thye or YB Chan Soi Lek. But more disturbing is the English being spoken by many Malaysians, what more the students. Under the pretext of fooling around with broken English, they sometimes show that they fail to grasp even the basic thing in English grammar. Thus we hear things like " I did went", " He don't care one", " I so lucky", "it no good", etc, etc. It sounds most embarrassing at times. Sometimes back we have seen that even examination papers for schools cpntained a number of grammatical errors. No wonder Government is going to import more than 370 English teachers to teach English in our schools. Local teachers don't seem to be able to produce Malaysians with a good command of the language like before. One should tune to CCTV to see and hear how the Chinese in China have mastered the English or American language.

AS for learning other languages, the urgency doesn't seem to be there. Adults begin to learn another language when their work requires them to do so. But I'm wondering why schools could not introduce other languages as a fun class, Students can do anything they want but
must speak in the language that is being introduced. Yea, yea the school time-table is already so crowded, how on earth can you introduce a fun class? This probably is what is wrong with our education system today. We've taken away all the fun from learning and we try to pump in as much 'book knowledge' into the heads of the students as possible. And we force them to learn up things by setting up examinations after examinations.

But everyone knows that problem. Until someone high up there cares it will continue to remain with us making everyone inured to it. As they say: mind over matter, if the boss doesn't mind, it doesn't matter. So let's talk about something that does matter and affects all relationships ie. marriage.


Five of us attended a wedding in Lubuk Cina, Melaka, on Saturday. We drove off in one car at about ten in the morning expecting the normal road jams and the crawling traffic from KL and therefore giving a lot of time for that. The invitation card says it begins at 12 noon and when we arrived in Lubuk Cina at 11.45 am I suggested that we kill some time so that we don't appear too early. We visited the Lubuk Cina Mosque (a beautiful place indeed), relaxed, and then approached the place again. It was already full of guests and many had already started lunch - at about 12.05. After meeting the hosts and the relatives who invited us we also joined the feasting. Boy, the food was just excellent and sumptious and most of us had a double helping.
See pics. The feasting begins
After a hefty lunch we went into the bridal chamber and found the bride still in her homely attire. about to be ready for the warpaint and the the bridal dress. The bedroom was still not ready and a photographer was waiting for the bride to be done up.
A peep into the bridal chamber

From the time we arrived. the most entertaining part of the wedding occasion was the music playing in the background and the running commentaries which were fluent, humorous and lively. Guests were welcomed, funny incidents highlighted and family members given a friendly teasing. I just couldn't resist the urge to get to know him and finally got a picture of the pleasant young MC. He was not even formally dressed but and taking things in his stride.

(See pic - The Sweet Cameralady)

As I joked around with the MC, off record certainly as he kept the music going on joyfullt, the bride appeared all dressed up and accompanied by two young and angelic bridemaids.

The Fun MC.

It was not long after that before the bridegroom came and meet the bride accompanied by
The bride appeared with two angelic and young bridemaids.

a volley of kompang beats and drums - a traditional Malay reception for the bride and groom. All present
strained their necks to have a close look at the
King and Queen of the Day ( Raja Sehari) as they appeared in a gleaming royal attire. I managed to rush to a point where I could snap them entering the well-adorned bridal arch and you can see the result. Not a very good shot but a perfect angle. What can you expect of a handphone camera! The bride is from Lubuk Cina and the groom from Kulim, Kedah. That's a long way off but "Ikan di laut, asam di darat, dalam periuk mungkin sepakat". A marriage is really made in heaven.
The bride and groom

The wedding over we travelled back to KL stopping at a birthday celebration in Senawang. In the car the wife was silent and sullen. suffering from a tummy-ache she had had since two days ago. Could be that she had eaten a little too much. Out of expectation, after chatting around with the guests at the reception, a relative saw the wifes's sullen face and commented that she could be suffering from a windy tummy. A small massage session took place in front of everyone ( See pic) Duan the masseur at work

Hehehe. She did improve and could smile and laugh after that persuading some four or five people to go for a massage at that place. In a separate room of course.....
Oh, what a day. The Language of Business involves not only languages but family business sessions.