Friday, February 26, 2010

Morning Meet at the Coffeeshop

I used to criticize the older men in my village for congregating at the coffee-shop in the morning and evening, enjoying a slow cup of coffee or tea and talking away. How could they do that when their wives, children (both married and unmarried), and grandchildren were waiting for them to bring something home for breakfast or afternoon snacks.They were certainly selfish and only interested in satiating their own gullets.

As I joined the group of senior citizens and pay frequent visits to the village, stopping by the coffee-shop in the morning or evening, I began to understand why that is the most satisfying stop for the older folks. Including some young ones too, of course.It is there that they find companionship ( no, no females there), good coffee or tea and roti canai, roti kawin, roti telur, nasi lemak etc, a good no-hold-barred discussion on current gossips and news (both national, state or local), an unlimited opportunity for airing their own views and sentiments, and getting a quick honest-to-goodness and often humorous, response.

They discussed the political, economic and socio-cultural conditions of the country today, as if they were in Parliament, without the vitriolic exchanges and threatening gestures. There were more exchanges of spirited humor than crossing political sentiments like they were flashing swords.There was more laughter than serious altercations.
"It's interesting that the young girls of today, especially the actresses, like to marry older men. We also have a chancelah if you have money," was what I heard one day."Money is all that they cared for."
"Even if you had a lot of money, Jongang ( Yong Ang), I don't think they'll go for you."
"Why, Kulup.You think I not handsome ah? I makan jamu you know. Young girls love strong men."

I wouldn't want to capture the other comments thrown at the two, lest this entry assumes the nature of pornography. The discussion and debate on the subject ran for well over half an hour. Then somone came up with a new topic.
" Hey, the rate for electricity and the price of petrol are going to go up again! But the price of rubber is not going up."
" They should use our rubber for manufacturing condoms. Probably then the price will go up for there is a great demand for the stuff," came a quick and naughty reply from a young man.
" Why use that stuff at all? There are many other ways of stopping pregnancy without taking away the fun from making it happen," came another view.
" You don't want the price of rubber to go up?"
" Of course I do but I don't want the thing to come down prematurely because of the wrapping."
" Does that happen to you?" And the whole coffee-shop shook and echoed with laughter.

No wonder. The coffee-shop also served as a substitute for a blue-film type of discussion and conversation. Where else could the senior citizens in the village go for that kind of entertainment? There are no bars, discoes or m - parlours. They maybe old but still very verile.More importantly, many of them had spent their younger days in the towns and cities.

Are our villages ready to reabsorb the senior citizens who have dedicated their younger days to the service of the nation or work in the towns and cities for a living? What facilities exist to allow them to spend their time usefully, meet their friends, and talk "on a more sophisticated level" than the genuine village old-timers? Most of the young men and women too have now emigrated to the towns and cities. What's obvious is that they are not interested in coming back to the village to stay after their 'fortune hunting" is done. So the villages all over the country continue to loose the young and also the older men (and women). The villages are being depleted of their population while the towns and cities become overcrowded.

Has any of our leaders thought of this and reflect on what's going to happen to the villages? You can see so many houses being left to rot for people do not want to come back accept for short vacation. UMNO's strength used to lie on the support of the village population. Can the party count on that now since the villages are rapidly loosing their people? And when they return to the village to cast their votes, they often carry their urban sentiments and frustrations.

As for the towns and cities, the population is increasing by the day. The urban population is sophisticated, self-opinionated, daring, materialistic, and very worldly. Can a party developed along a more rural and traditional values satisfy the need of the new urbanized population? Visit the coffee-shops in the villages and listen to the everyday conversation of the senior folks. The government could learn much more than listening to the debate in Parliament.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Evaluating the Profit and Loss of Our Development Efforts:and Intellectual Exercise.

Development and technological progress hascertainly brought much benefits or profit (P) to Malaysians. But I'm certain that there are many undesirable consequences, negative results or losses (L) as well. In economics we learn that Sales Price (Ps)- Cost = Profit. Can we apply this formula to estimate our net gain from development and progress in social and moral terms? For more tangible accounting results let's call the Profit, Assets (A) and Losses, Liabilities (L). Thus:
A - L = Gains ( Social and Moral). This can be a positive or a negative entity.

What are the Assets of Development and Modernization. Let's enumerate them at random and try to label them with some key symbols.
               Assets                                       Liabilities

More financial gains ( F)          More risk taking, tension ( R)
Better health standard (H)      More health hazard (Hz)
More comfort (C)                       More dependent on technology,
                                                                                 eg electric supply ( D)
Easier physical work (E)         More training and skill required (S)
Less time used to
get work done (T)                     More work pressure (P)
Faster travel (TR)                     More accident (A)
Faster and Easier
Communication ( CM)             More miscommunication, disinformation (MD)
More entertainment (E)          More unsavory foreign cultural influence (FI)

So is Sigma A(F,H,C,E,T, Tr,Cm,E etc.)/N > Sigma L(R,Hz, D,S,P,A,Md,Fi etc)/N
or                                    ditto                              <               ditto                    ?                
where N= the number of items icluded.

If one were to put all the Asset factors on a desirability scale of 1 to 10 and all the Liability factors on an undesirability scale of 1 to 10 we can get the value of Sigma for A and L, which I'm sure can give us an indication of the positive (profit) or negative (loss) results of our development efforts. For now this framework can only be used for some intellectual evaluation and value judgement. I just want to share it with some of us who are quite uncertain as to whether development and modernization had given us a more satisfying life than that enjoyed by our forefathers or vice versa.

Crazy question? Think of how much time you spent on work to make money and then dying before you can spend it. Is the time you have with your family better in quantity and quality than that which you had with your parents in the old days? ( Some of us may of course have not enjoyed a good family life with the parents!). Do children enjoy their childhood now more than before? If you're happy with what life has given you now, then enjoy it by all means. Otherwise, we should think of how we can make the life we lead now more meaningful and satisfying, along the items enumerated above and any others that we feel should be included.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Common Errors in Malaysian English

Malaysian English can vary from almost perfect Queen's English, to American drawl, to comic convolution, Malay intonation especially with the Kelantan nasal variety, Indian tongue-twister or Chinese chapcai. Each has it's own beauty and attraction when the grammar is more or less correct. But when certain grammatical rules are flouted repeatedly, it shows a failure to grasp the rule well while in school. We can accept Malaysian English however it is spoken but when we write or speak with a faulty grammar, it sticks out like a sore thumb. It can be very nauseating.

I don't pretend to be an English language expert but many common mistakes made by Malaysians speaking or writing in English are so oft repeated that they become most embarrassing. Simple mistakes, perhaps committed w/o being aware about them, or purposefully contrived for fun, are okay. But some mistakes are giveaway clues to an inadequate understanding of the basic grammatical rules.

So why don't we highlight them and get rid of the embarrassment they caused once and for all.

The first common mistake is using double past tense, Eg. I did went, I did noticed, He did asked, did not betrayed, etc. This probably arises from the the common use of verbs in the past perfect tense - I have/had done, I was asked, He got involved in...etc. They look like double past tense too but they refer to past activities fully completed (past perfect tense). 'Did', however, already indicates something done in the past. What follows must, therefore, be in the present tense,eg. I did go, did call, did ask, did do, did say, etc - NOT did asked, did noticed, did came or did went.

Another common mistake involves the use of the past tense of the verb-to-be 'is' ie, 'was'. The verb to be, be it i in the present or past tense, MUST be followed by a verb in the present continuous tense or the past perfect tense. Eg. I was doing my work when he came ( present continuous). I was knocked down by a car ( past perfect). The book was gone (past perfect). To say " was excuse' is certainly wrong. It must be 'was excused', was invited, was heard, was told and so on. Beware. 'was overcome' is correct and not 'was overcame'. Reason: 'overcome' here is a condition ( an adjective), not a doing word (verb). Thus we say: was 'certain', was 'happy', was 'unsure' as compared to 'was informed', 'was checked', 'was unnerved' etc.

Other common mistakes include plural noun followed by a verb in the the singular form: eg. the boys runs away, the birds flies off, people doesn't like, etc. Or the opposite, single noun followed by plural verb: eg. the boy run off, the crowd break away (unless you're referring to the individuals in the crowd), the examinations was unnecessary etc. Such mistakes are often the result of forgetting the singularity or plurality of the noun used. I've heard professors making this mistake, unintentionally of course, but a mistake nonetheless.

That's enough for now. We all make mistakes but a grammatical mistake repeated once too often can be quite embarrassing.
Even in SMS or blog lingo when English, Malay, Chinese etc are often mixed, the grammatical mistake can stick out like a dunce cap on your head. Even when we intentionally foul up the grammar in jest ( eg. very the nice day, long time no see, no gotlah, buy me a drink, can a? you got already ah?, etc) a real grammatical mistake can creep in and become very conspicuous. Mess up a sentence if you will but get the grammar correct.

New Mistakes Observed is surprised that...... should be "it is surprising that...."
...has convey......................(obviously unintentional)... should be "has conveyed..."
...he was completely oblivion about it......was completely oblivious about it...
...much hype about..........much hyped about.....
,,,can claimed....... should be 'can claim' ( you cannot say. 'can ate' can you?)
...they were too consume by their problems.....should be 'too consumed", 'too obsessed' etc.
Noted on April 1, NST p.8 Actor remanded. "He had allegedly beat.." Should be " He allegedly beat" or " had allegedly beaten.."
I still see people using a double past tense: did went, did slept etc. Should be did go, did sleep, did send, did come, did do etc. You cannot say did did, surely. But had slept, had sent, had killed, is right. The second verb is actually in the past perfect tense like had done, had proven, had gone ( not past tense did, proved, went etc).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

CNY Holidays in the Village.

We have often seen, in real life or on TV, and read about the CNY celebration in Kuala Lumpur or other major cities in Malaysia. We see the rich and wealthy holding family dinners and open houses, throwing lavish parties,celebrating in crowded hotels and exclusive clubs,and we hear the familiar exuberant cry ' yaaam singggg' denoting the highlight of the feasting sessions.Some of us might even have been a regular guest at such receptions.

Ever wonder how the CNY celebration is like in the remote and rural villages of Malaysia where some Chinese families live as shopkeepers, petty traders and also farmers. They have formed an integral part of the village population which is usually dominated by the Malays. In my younger days I know they lived in separate wooden houses pretty much like their Malay neighbors except that their houses were not built on stilts. But all the separate houses in the villages had been vacated during the emergency years when the communist threat was great, and the families moved to what were called the New Villages. Some of these had grown into small business centers or mini-towns after the emergency ended. Others have been moved into new residential areas with rows of shop-houses and low-cost terrace houses, semid's and even bungalows.

In my village called Juasseh in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan, the Chinese population had mostly become traders occupying most of the two-storey shop lots built in the center of the village, straddling the main road running between Kuala Pilah and Bahau (See pic as seen from the KP-Bahau main road). The ground floor becomes the shop while the top floor is the home. There are also Malay and Indian shopkeepers who may or may not live in the shoplots themselves for low cost public housing had sprung all around the shopping centre and some of the Chinese taukeys themselves have bought separate homes for their families to live in while using the shoplots strictly for business.

Our Chinese friends and neighbors have of course become totally integrated with the community and we know them all by their nicknames like Gemuk, Gagap, Panjang,Sayong, Ah Chong, Ah Meng, Ah Seng etc. They have of course multiplied in number and the younger ones have gone out to make their fortune in the world and we hardly know them any more. But in the main we still know the family and they know us like good neighbors.

So how do our friends in the village celebrate the CNY? Since I came back to the village late on Saturday evening, I had no opportunity to look around. But that very night itself gave me a good idea on how they were doing. There was an unending series of fireworks lighting up the sky and bathing it in brilliant multicolored sparkels,not just in one but a number of places, as if they were competing with each other. Boy, they must be really burning up money for the fireworks cost quite a fortune, involving a few thousand dollars per box. I of course don't want to ask how they could be acquired since their sale is illegal. It just showed that anything can be made available in the village if you have the money.

Today, the CNY day itself, I woke up early to make a tour of the shopping area with my wife and see how the shop-houses are decorated. They are full of the red lantern or tanglung, embroidered in gold, decorating most of the shophouses (see pic). I saw some of the kids and parents hanging around the front of the closed shops but to my surprise they were not dressed up in what the Malays would call 'baju raya'. There did not appear to be any sign of a prayer session in the morning although one shop displayed a prominent prayer alter as in pic, nor any big grouping of cars to show that there had been a gathering of family members the previous night for the big family dinner.

Everything was so quiet and normal. Perhaps all the celebration was happening in the house or I was making my round too early in the morning though it was already 7.45am. Since I've not taken any breakfast I stopped at the Indian-Muslim restaurant at the end of the shophouse block for my favourite 'nescafe tarik' and 'roti canai'. The place was already buzzing with hungry early morning clients.

And there I saw the real early morning CNY celebration. While the majority of the customers enjoying their breakfast were Malays, there were on that day just as many Chinese and a number of Indians, filling up the chairs and sitting around the round or square formica-topped tables without any obvious racial grouping, busily eating away and holding a spirited conversation in genuine Negri slang."Camno rayo tahun ni, Akong? Hebat tak? ( How's the new year celebration, Akong? Great or not?)". "Cam biaso jo, Suman. Pagi ni semuo e nak makan roti canai. Tulah den datang pagi-pagi ni. Dah konyang isi porut den kang. baru boli bawak balik." He then shouted to the owner of the restaurant."Oi, camno, Hasan! Dah siap ghuti canai den bolum?". From somewhere among he busy kitchen staff came a shrill and tiny voice issuing from a well-rounded man:"Bolum, Akong. Ramai na oghang lapar hari ni!" Akong replied, "Copeklah sikit. Oghang rumah dan anak-anak den dah lamo nunggu 'tu." Hasan: "Yolah. Kito bekecapuih lah ni buek kojo."

Sorry, no translation. If you haven't been to a village coffeshop in Negeri Sembilan and also in other States I believe, you have missed a lot in terms of national integration and community neighborliness and friendship in this country. Everyone mixes with everyone else in the towns and cities too, but not in the style they do in the remote rural villages where people know each other by names, speaking in their own local variations of Bahasa. Who says we need the English language to bridge the gap between racial groups. Only the town and city people say this, speaking more in terms of professional and business interest.

As I enjoyed my own breakfast rogether with my wife and some friends who have joined us, I realize how enjoyable the CNY holidays can be in the village, even before going to the homes of some friends. And tonight we hope to witness and enjoy more colorful fireworks in spite of the noise. I'm happy that our Police friends in the village Police Station are taking it easy and not spoiling the fun. On CNY I see that they are doing the same even in the towns and cities. They only harass and arrest people during the hariraya celebration for playing with cheap fire-crackers. The fireworks cost a lot of money and beyond the means of the Malays in the villages and even in the towns and cities.

Gong Xi Fa Chai and a Happy New Year.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Ironies of Life

I have always been fascinated by the contradictions, the syllogisms or the ironies of life. But I haven't come across any attempt to collect and collate them for ease of reference or even to recognize the fallacy and facetiousness of human endeavor, or to just have a laugh at our own vanity. I thought I might enter a few here and build on it, hoping that others intersted might care to contribute.

One that I like most is: Man works hard to make money just to spend it. A naughty one is: Ladies wear a lot of expensive dresses just to attract men's attention and (sorry to be indecent) be undressed. Wealthy and powerful nations spend a lot of money to develop and manufacture murderous weapons and war machines in order to maintain peace. You've to buy more foodstuff with various types of nutrients and vitamins in order to diet. Modern ladies diet to death in order to be lithe and lively (sorry again) in bed. Modern men love party girls and socialites but want their wives to be demure and homely. Braggarts are usually dastards and the meek men can roar like a tiger with a tastety morsel in his arms.

People are always trying to make things perfect in an imperfect world. Some tried to create a heaven on earth and ended up turning their life on earth into a hell. The rich can buy everything they want but true love. However even true love can be corroded and corrupted by money.( New addition 12.4.10) The less money you have the more its power it has on you: you'd do anything just to get a few dollars. That's why its easier to corrupt poor people; keep them them poor and there'll anything you say for money.

This one I can't render in my own words."Don't forget: Marriage douses love's flame, leaving nothing but a barren and melancholy blackness. Of course, after marriage, love itself will vanish ..but happiness fills the void. Still, there are those hasty fools who fall in love before marrying and, burning with emotion, exhaust all their feeling, believing love to be the highest goal in life'" (Orhan Pamuk; Persan Novelist in award winning novel: My Name is Red). (An addition contributed by Akmal) Everone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.

I picked these at random from books and render them freely. Hope to collect more since I forgot more than I can remember.
A final entry for now is something about creativity and innovation which the PM demands of public officials and civil servants
together with fast decision-making."..psychologists now believed acertain amoungt of random behavior was necessary for innovation. You couldn't be creative without striking out in new direstions, and those directions were likely to be random.."
So, would the PM tolerate a certain amount of random behavior among civil servants to usher in creativity and innovations?
Right now the GOs and Circulars tie them up like iron bands.

Well...the ironies of life make life more interesting and unpredictable....

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Evaluating Performance and End Results

And so we now have the KPI and the NKRA as instruments for evaluating the performance of the government and its functionaries!
The NKRA defines the six key areas of national concern that will be focused on - reduce poverty (p), reduce crime and corruption (2c), improve accessability to quality education (e),elevate living standard of low income group (ls), expand infrastrucutral facilities (if) and improve public transportation (t). The KPIs are still being compiled though some have been defined,

I've abbreviated the National Key Result Areas as pccelsift or POCELSIFT for ease of memory. The KPI will certainly have to include: current rate or index (ci) and the targeted rate or index (ti), time required (tm), expenditure involved (ex), manpower required (mp), level of public satisfaction achieved (sl), unexpected consequences (uc) etc, etc. They must indicate the situation now and what is desired, the time taken (for getiing a bridge repaired in five years, for example, is nothing to be proud of), the expenditure involved (for spending RM2M to repair a small bridge is surely a case for the MACC), the manpower utilized ( even a mountain can be moved with thousands of workers hired with exorbitant pay), the level of satisfation achieved ( for you can't always satisfy 100% of the people at 100% level but only say 70% at 100% level or 100% at 70% level - Pareto's optimum),etc. We will have to see what the Six Lead Ministers responsible for the NKRA will come up with.

It will be obvious at this stage that the evaluation of performance and end results is not a simple and straightforward thing. It can start an endless chase for the illusive pot of gold and many top ministers' man-months or man-years could be wasted on the matter. There's always the Pareto's curve coming into play - more people satisfied ( or high target achieved) at a lower level of satisfaction or less people satisfied ( or lower target achieved) but a a higher level of satisfaction!

What I would stress on is that the evaluation system should be simple ( remember the KISS principle - Keep It Simple, Stupid).
One way of doing this is to go for the lowest common denominator. If we are talking about reducing poverty, check on the most tragic cases of poverty as identified in the villages or urban slums, work on alleviating those cases and the less serious ones can also be dealt with mor easily). On crimes and corruption, those involving the common men and the poor, can never be eliminated entirely, even in the USA, UK or Japan. The worst common denominator is crime and corruption among the rich and powerful. It leads to injustice, exasperation and despair. Deal with that and the petty crime and corruption can be dealt with as a normal daily routine for the law enforcement officers.When caught the culprit will quitely go to jail and cease to operate. But the rich and powerful when involved in crime and corruption, corrupt the entire nation and the people. The common men just follow their leaders. In education, check on the opprotunity of the most empoverished kids to get a good education. If they can get the opportunity, the rest of the children can certainly do so. As for infrastructural facilities check on facilities accessible to the poor families in the towns and in the villages. If accessible to them at an affordable rate, don't worry about the more able and higher-income population. They can certainly take care of themselves. As for public trassport facilities, check on the comfort and convenience level of using them. The lowest common denominator is the crowded buses, never on time, non-airconditioned with broken and uncomfortable seats. Improve these and even the high-nose executives wouldn't mind taking a bus to the office.

I think the simple down-to-earth and easily seen improvements in all the areas of concern focused by the NKRA, is more desireable than a complicated high-brow evaluation system which I'm sure will have to use the computers to produce comprehensible results. The system evolved will have to be tested, fine-tuned etc.etc. Meanwhile actions on the ground continue to grind at a slow or retrogressive pace. One can identify many things now that seem to be worse off than before.
Let's not be successful in building up a sophisticated evaluation system but not in bringing about the desired results, as shown by the lowest common denominator or the worst-scenario cases.