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.'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.