Friday, October 29, 2010

All Alone in the Old Village Home.

The Ulu Bendul Mosque
Sister Azizah and Me

Tun at Work

It's certainly not the first time that I have returned home to the old village house in Ulu Bendul, NS, to clear up the compound and do what I can to keep the unoccupied house in shape. Once it was almost swallowed by wild elephant grass and "belukar' (secondary jungle) until I decided to take over its upkeep, although according to the matrilineal adat laws the place belongs to my sisters.

One of my sisters stays in Kuala Pilah with her family, some 12 km away. She too often visited the house with her husband to do some repair and clearing work. But she certainly needs the weekends for herself and family. Being a pensioner I have all the time to go there and undertake all the weed-clearing and grass-mowing job that needed to be done. Quite a job to travel from KL to do it, all alone.

Since my wife is still working fulltime, she could only accompany me on weekends. Not much can be done with a few hours per week and about an acre to clear. As such the major job must be undertaken on weekdays because the multifarious little things that must be done cannot be packaged and contracted out to paid laborers. Nor are such hired hands easily available in the village for all the villagers have their own piece of land to work on and which often remains unproductive . Some friends who have to return to the village to take care of inherited properties say they have to bring laborers from KL to do the work. It isn't worthwhile for me to do so since according to the adat laws a son doesn't even own the property left by his late parents. It goes to the daughters only to ensure their wellbeing, while the menfolk will take care of their wife's property. That's Adat Perpatih in brief.

Hey I'm not complaining. I certainly enjoy going back to my old home, the house in which I was raised though born in a different house in the village now owned by my late mother's sister ( but also left unoccupied after her children flew the coop and her husband passed away). Everytime I opened the locked door and entered the house alone, a creepy feeling crawled up my spine and neck. But heck, I used to stay all alone in that house as a little boy. So what was there to fear. I'd quickly step inside to open the windows and switch on the lights in the darkened rooms one of which used to be my study and bedroom. Hey. a lot of memories is buried in there....

For years I stayed with just my Grandma and a sister, many more years with just my Grandma for the sister also followed my other siblings to live with my parents wherever my father was posted to as a policeman. While in the day my Grandma kept busy working in the padi field, at night she'd spend hours weaving mengkuang leaves to make floor covers called tikar. And I'd be reading by her side sharing the gloomy yellowish light from an oil lamp. That went on from the time I was in Form 1 to Form VI. Prior to that we lived in a different house with my Auntie. When she got married and moved to Singapore we were left alone and we moved to the new house which had just been completed, the house I'm now taking care of.

Believe it or not I still don't feel comfortable resting in the house itself between work. All the memories came alive and I felt swarmed. I prefer to rest on the landing built for the steps, a little balcony-like structure with a knee-high railing made of wooden bars placed five or six inches apart. So you can easily see what's going on outside as you lie down there, enjoying the
breeze, aided by a fan blowing through the open door from inside the house. That's the wonderful part of the stay and I often dozed off for hours there. On Friday. I also have the pleasure of attending Friday prayer in the old mosque at Ulu Bendul and meeting the old folks, many of whom are older than me. (That makes you feel younger somewhat though death doesn't bother about your current age and comes when it comes)

The work that I do is simple enough, Mow the grass and clear the belukar around the house that kept creeping in like the surf on the shore. Want to know something about grass? It keeps growing (and wildly too) where you don't want it to grow and doesn't grow where you really want it to. Doesn't that remind you of some of the hairs on your body? I keep mowing and mowing just like we keep shaving and shaving everyday without winning the war. Even Sun Tzu's book on the Art of War cannot help us to win that war, hehehe. That's why I have been going back and forth to the village house with no end in sight. The work seems to increase all the time as the house gets older and older.

That last point makes me love the house more and more. Ey, what's that last point? The common experience of getting older and older together everyday. As I worked or relaxed at the balcony or landing, we implicitly realized that one day I will disappear and the house will have to depend on others to take care of it. And I hear the house say, stay on brother, stay on. We still need each other. That gives me the strength to carry on more than what the family members can say when we meet once in a long while.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

History to become a compulsory subject in schools..

Muka masam tidak suka frngan cadangan.

The 61st UMNO General Assembly has ended and one of tht bold resolutions made was that history should be m
ade a compulsoy subject in schools. As we usually understand it a compulsory subject means that all students must take it and get a pass, otherwise you fail the whole examination.

One can imagine the reaction of our kids to this momentous decision for as far as i know many of them hate history - the srudy of things which happened in the past. It's considered as one of the most boring subjects in school. If this is not so amymore, well everything is ok. I suppose Prof. Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim is very happy about this. Those people who don't know history might tend to repeat the mistakes of the past again. The citizens of this nation should know the history of the nation, how Independence was gained, how the people of Malaysia (then known as Malaya) from various racial origins worked together to convince the British that we can govern ourselves, how we fought the Communists, overcome the bloody racial clash of May1963 etc. It is believed that only a good understanding and knowledge of these crucial periods in our history will make people appreciate what our past leaders have done for them and how fortunate they are to be a citizen of this country.

Well, the argument is convincing and plausible enough. But history covers a very wide area of interests. Everything that happened in the past csn also be given several interpretations. Our understanding of history depends on how the textbooks are written, who writes them and how the subject is handled in class. If the teaching of history falls into the wrong hands one can imagine the damage and injustice that can be done to the thinking and emotions of our students. As it is do we have sufficient textbooks on the history of the nation to cover all those aspects of political development that the Prime Mnister covered in his Keynote addreess a the UMNO Geneeral Assebly and do we have enough teachers who can handle the subdject effectively? As I understand it there's yet many aspects of Malaysia's past and contemporary history which have not been written. Who is going to teach them? teachers who are UMNO leaders?

Talk about giving our kids a good comprehensive education that will enable them to function as a skilled and informed citizen on entering the work force, there are many other subjects that had been identified as crucial to their wellbeing. Computer knowledge has been emphasized in other meetings before while the study of Science and Mathematics is considered as a basic need for a good education. Then comes the need to improve the command of Bahasa and also English. I believe that a pass in all these subjects is still necessary to pass the UPSR and SPM examinations. With history coming into the picture, I really pity the students of today.So many subjects have become compulsory that they have no choice of their own.

Friday, October 15, 2010

2011 Budget - Towards a High Income Nation.

Can't we manufacture utility equipments like these?

Everything looks so rosy and promising in the 2011 budget. While listening to the PM's speech proposing the budget, we can hear our Parliamentarians banging their desks repeatedly with glee. All Menteri Besar's seem to be very happy and full of praises for the budget ( or PM?). But nothing in the Press (at least for today) from the MBs from Pakatan Rakyat with the exception of Kedah if I'm not mistaken. All praises and kudos.

I'm as happy as everyone else about the budget, about what it promises. The biggest raise in salary and allowances (in aggregate terms) perhaps is for the Chairmen of JKKKKs and Village Heads (Ketua Kampung) and the Tok Batin.. Almost a 100% increase (double the amount) and the allowance for each meeting is raised to RM50 or so. Ten meetings would give an allowance of RM500 which added to the salary of RM800+ would give a total of about RM1300. That's a whopper and how many thousands of them do we have in the country? But with the increase in the number of small village projects triggered by the Government Incentive Package of RM67 billion, the spill over from the little little projects which are given to the villages can amount to quite a fortune. That is even more income-boosting than the allowances.

With a rise in the income of people within a nation, the obvious danger is INFLATION. The budget says it is expected to increase to 4% and aside from the launching of a Website where consumers can report on any matter relating to the prices and availability of consumers goods, the budget is silent on what steps are being taken by government to curb spiralling prices. One needs only to check on the prices of their teh tarik, nasi lemak, roti canai, and many other food items in the menu of their favorite restaurants to see the changes in price. Go to a retail shop or store with RM50 and see what you can buy. You'll get more if you go to a supermarket.

With the budget going into trillions, the basket of goods that RM10 can buy in Malaysia seem to shrink although the parity value of the ringgit seems to stay or even go up. I use an RM10 measure for RM1 is incapable of buying even a loaf of bread , a nasi bungkusor a newspaper. Higher income doesn't mean much if it can buy less than now. It will just be a money illusion.

Another significant fact mentioned in the budget is that while export goes up by 22%, import increases by 28%. This seems to spell a negative trade balance. Are we buying too many things from outside with the import of capital goods rising by 18%? Aside from buying heavy equipment can't we manufacture more of the things we need? What happens to the policy of import substitution? If we're to transform the economy of the nation, let's manufacture many more of the things that Malaysians need rather than import them. With multitudinous housing projects springing up in the country we need a big number of motorized lawn mowers, small ones that we can ride on. Can't this great country manufacture that? Now. even the the swinging-blade type must be imported!

I think there're so many things that Malaysia should produce itself. Stop depending too much on foreign import. Unless the number of factories increase dramatically, how are we going to employ the increasing number of skilled and better educated manpower that we want to produce. The market demand for them must be stepped up for only that will ensure that they will be employed at a higher salary.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tragic Accidents Involving Express Buses.

The newest accident killed 12 people and injured several. Almost every month we hear about such accident involving express buses with deaths reaching up to twenty or more. The authorities have been busy experimenting on all sorts of methods to prevent such accidents like enforcing a compulsory rest period for drivers, putting an officer incognito on the bus to ensure that there is no overspeeding, doing a more thorogh check on the background of drivers etc. But the accidents keep happening, reaching more macabre proportion.

If tightening the qualification, experience and good character requirement for EXB drivers would only cause a shortage of drivers, and reducing the maximum speed limit can cause longer traveling hours, delays and more expenses for the Company providing the services, what other steps can be taken to reduce the possibility of EXB being involved in accidents? As it is companies are
overwhelmed with the problem of driver shortage and rising costs of operation.

I wonder if we have ever thought of giving the EXB drivers more prestige and perquisites aside from ensuring a mandatory period of rest. What prestige? No, don't talk about giving them smart uniforms with a cap and requiring them to wear a tie. That's making life more miserable for them. It's more like providing them with a special place of rest at convenient intervals in a journey,
serving them good food and warm drinks. Maybe even allow them to take a short nap while the passengers stop to eat and drink.
A safe-trip allowance can also be thrown in, which can be accumulated over a month. Buses breaking down should not be blamed on the drivers unless there are complaints against them for bad driving.

Will all those ensure that EXB drivers drive safely with maximum concern for the safety of the passengers? Maybe not. They will only be very concerned with safety if someone they love is also on the bus. If that is so how about allowing EXB drivers to have a few seats on each trip reserved for their family members, close relatives or good friends. Maybe just two seats would do it.
The drivers can bring along whoever they want so long as they are close family members or intimate friends. With such people in the bus they will certainly not take any chances on their safety or life. Those people will also surely talk to the driver if his or driving is causing them some concern. Friendly persuasion is certainly better than a scolding or an angry exchange of words which can make an EXB driver more irritable.

Well, a solution has to be worked out before more people are killed on the Express Bus. The solutin must come quickly fro the EB seems more popular now inspite of the tragedies that g=had taken place.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Six-Day Fasting in Syawal

A month long obligatory fasting in the month of Ramadhan somehow feels less challenging to me than the six-day (optional) fasting in Syawal. I've realized this before but not as clearly as i have now after completing the six-day challenge. And I certainly have never thought why it would be more challenging since it's only for six days or one fifth of the Ramadhan requirement.

So let me list down some of the reasons, for the benefit of those who have never accepted the challenge and experienced the
"fulfillment" it brings, or have performed it in a rather lackadaisical way. By that I mean doing it a day or two at a time with a few days break and then adding a few more days until you complete a total of six: not doing it at a stretch with full determination. The former method is also acceptable anyway, but it just doesn't trigger off the full salvo of the challenge.

One of the toughest aspects of the challenge is that you're fasting while the people around you are celebrating open houses here and there, having parties and gatherings everywhere, with food and delicacies piling up high on the dinner table. You can of course keep away from these gatherings but you can hardly avoid them. I had the experience of sitting at the corridor of a police station waiting for my firearm license to be renewed while policemen and officers were indulging in a hariraya feast a few feet away. The caterers keep bringing out new supplies of savory food for the officers as they took turn throughout lunch time to have their fill. I had to wait by the window in the wall for my license and cannot but just watch the gorging and the bandying of police jokes, though I keep pretending to look away. No, the eating and drinking didn't bother me at all, but imagine a starving person who has not eaten proper food for three days watching the scene.

Another aspect of the challenge is that in Ramadhan people know you're fasting. Everyone at work sort of slows down a little to conserve energy or at least don't expect you to be as vigorous as you're on normal days. For the six fasting days in Syawal, no one knows that you're fasting. They expect you to be as fit and active as usual and if you're seen as a slow moving panda, well
you can be marked down for one. Of course you can tell anyone who asks why you're dragging your feet, especially towards evening, that you're fasting but that's like asking them for pity. I prefer not to let people know that I'm fasting an additional six days after Ramadhan.

It is in trying to really be like usual and working or doing anything at all like on normal eating days, that the real challenge of fasting is felt. The poor, starving man whose hunger you're trying to understand, didn't have a good feed in the wee hours of the night before fasting. Some water to drink perhaps, but not a big glass of Milo, coffee or tea with milk etc. And he was not anticipating any big dinner at the end of the day, He could only have whatever comes his way. That exactly it for the six day fast. You may take a meal in the wee hours of the night if you wanted to but since Ramadhan is over, you don't make that a normal practice. For two or three nights i missed out entirely on the night meal after taking dinner at eight thirty or so. Nor any additional liquid since when you woke up it was already too late to fill up. So you just go through the the next day on an empty tank, with only your faith and determination to deter you from giving in to hunger and thirst. Have you really tried that?
If you haven't the real meaning of fasting may have just escaped you.

Breaking fast without the preparation and fanfare as you did during Ramadhan is another interesting aspect. You don't sit around the dinner table with your family members waiting for the 'azan' to be called and the moment it's heard from the mosque or radio/TV started digging in. You could be doing anything like on a normal evening when the 'azan' isa called and you then quietly walked to the kitchen to see what is available to eat or drink before the usual dinner time for the family which is often an hour or so later. Of course If there are others in the family performing the six day fast, the breakfast fare in the month of Ramadhan might be repeated. Even then it would not be on the same scale and such repetition will again reduce the
full significance of the fast in terms of trying to understand the sufferings of the impoverished members of society. What I did was to just get something to eat and drink, then proceed with the Maghrib prayer. Even dinner was often delayed. When the kids are all grown up and often go out for dinner leaving you and the wife alone, your dinner often consists of a hastily cooked dish and some rice, or bread. It's often that you have it after the night prayer, Isya.

Well, the most interesting aspect of the six day fast is in trying to live through the day without food or drink in as usual a manner as possible without the botheration of breakfast, lunch, and tea and the late night or very early morning supper that you have without fail before a day of fasting in Ramadhan. The fasting as as close as it can be to the experience of the impoverished and starving human being who is forced to live through the day and night without proper nourishment. The Ramadhan fasting is often too "manipulated" and "superficial" to give the actual experience of extreme hunger and thirst. Only the six day fast in the month of Syawal and on any other month beside Ramadhan, can be turned into a real test of endurance and determination.

For those who haven't tried it with it's full challenge as indicated, try it and you'll see that the sense of understanding and fulfillment that it brings is a truly God-fearing experience. For the younger Muslims who feel that Ramadhan is already a very difficult experience, try the six day test next year. You'll then realize that the fasting in Ramadhan is a breeze or just another kind of celebration that Allah has bestowed on the followers of His chosen faith.