Friday, May 27, 2011

Comparing costs and charges.

Today the government finds it necessary to rationalize the prices of many consumer items to reduce the amount of susidies it has to pay to keep the price stable. Even as it is people are unhappy about the rise in the cost of petrol, sugar,chicken and many types of foodstuff sold at the restaurants and eateries. Not only has the price of certain local 'kueh' (cakes) gone up, the size of the kueh like 'buah Melaka', 'putu piring', 'pulut panggang' etc. had shrunk so much. Even the 'roti canai' has shrunk in size like a cheap hankerchief after it has been washed.

People are very unhappy about this of course. There is no control at all over certain accepted standards in the size of kueh such as those mentioned above, the size of the chicken, fish or beef cuts in the curry, or even in the amount of rice or mee goreng dished out in one order. I often found that they vary from shop to shop, ironically offering a bit too much when I'm not too hungry and very little when I'm famished.

Even charges for electricity, water , rents, tolls etc have gone up. The increse is even steeper when the supply and services had been privatized.

In explaining to the people why such increase in price is necessary, the government often resorts to making comparison with what people in other countries have to pay for the same commodity or services. For instance the cost per liter of petrol is compared with the cost in US, UK, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand etc. When the cost per liter here is comparatively quite low, the increase in price is therefore considered justifiable. The same is done for justifying an increase in toll charges where the ringgit or its equivalent for each kilometer of travel is found to be comparatively lower than what is paid by people in other countries. Other increases in price are also justified in the same way.

It must be noted that such comparison is not always valid. In the case of toll charges, for example, one must consider the total charges which must be paid for a trip between two or more popular destinations in a country. How much does an American pay in toll charges for a trip from LA to Pittsburg, for example, as compared to what we must pay for a trip say between JB and Penang. If the toll charges for the latter is more than for the former which contains more mileage, then our charges can be considered as high. You just have to pay more in toll charges than the Americans because there are longer stretches of toll-free roads in the US than in Malaysia.

One must consider the total amount to be paid in relation to the cost of other consumerr items. If you have to pay more than a hundred ringgit in toll charges for a trip by car from Penang to JB or vice versa remember that that could be more than the cost of ten or more meals for one person. That woul not be so in countries where the cos bof living is much higher. Thus the cost of living index must be taken into cosideration in fixing charges, fines etc.. If the index is twice as high then the charges imposed can be twice as heavy for the public to bear. The same goes for the price of petrol and othrr consumer items. When we compare how much we have to pay for certain consumer item or service in this country with others remember that the value of the money to us is different from ithe value of an eqivalent amount in a different country. When the police charges RM300 for a traffic offence, remember thst the amount could feed a poor family for maybe half to one month. An electric bill for RM400 has the same implication. Remember that the poor in the country must psy the cost for any consumer item as much the rich and we don't have food coupons or special discounts for the poor. The poorer Malaysians will suffer from any price increase as a result of removing a subsidy more than the richer Malaysian, in the same way that the payment of a heavier charges or fine on any servive or offence will punish them more than others.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Peace Corp Volunteers to teach English in Rural Areas

Undeniably, the standard of English spoken by the average Malaysians with SPM qualification ( even with a first degree thru Malay medium) leaves much to be desired. We hear not only a very Malay, Chinese, Indian or other dialectical pronunciation ( Kelantanese English for example sounds a little like French), but a Malay, Chinese or Indian grammatical arrangement. (Where you go ha?)( Buy me apple, can ha?) On the other extreme some oversea -trained highbrows try to speak English like a Londoner or New Yorker. But with many grammatical errors. Most graduates not proficient in English tend to keep mum among friends who speak in English more than Bahasa.

The greater concern is that those not proficient in English also seem to be wanting in ideas and conversational skill.They seem to have problem expressing themselves. What makes for a good conversation is not just the exchange of greetings and information but also bandying with words, joking and 'pulling each other's leg.' When your command of the English language is wanting, you just cannot join in, unless you are with friends whose spoken English is as bad as yours or who mix English and Bahasa, some time doing it intentionally as a joke.

Why has this happened? Some will unhesitatingly blame government policy of promoting the national laguage, Bahasa, in schools and institutions of higher learning.They forget that some ex-students from the same school or college (or university) speak excellent or at least decent English. They don't make embarrassing mistakes like "did went", "must be publish", "people is", "will not takes" etc.More importantly they are vocal and articulate even if they do make some unintentional or unconscious mistakes much as mixing the past and the present tense in the same sentence. (He sat in the chair and reads a book). The most embarrassing person is one who tries to copy the British or American accent but flouting all rules of grammar.

So, to improve the standard of spoken and written English in Malaysia, some Peace Corp volunteers are going to be imported. The US promised 30 but the PM wants 10o to 300 - Note: this is not the same as "He sat in the chair and reads" for the PM just wants (even now) not requested it at the meeting where the promise was given!. Can 30 or 300 or even 3000 "orang putih" help to improve the command of English among Malaysians, especially in the rural areas? Teach students to speak and pronounce the words like them, may be. But enable them to speak fluently with the right grammar? That would be a miracle since even some of the young graduate teachers could not do so efficiently. Just note the number of grammatical mistakes even in English examination papers. am issue raised some time ago.

There are, I think, thousands of ex-teachers and senior citizens( retirees) in the country who speak English reasonably well if not very fluently. Can't the Parent-Teachers Association in every school help to identify these people and enlist their help to teach English in their spare time? I don't think they will ask for a fat allowance for doing so though I wouldn't recommend that they do it gratis. They should be given some recognition in cash or kind and their effectiveness properly evaluated. The English lessons should not be made an extra burden to the students or teachers by holding extra classes on weekends. They must be alotted time within the normal class hours and given equal emphasis like any other subjects of study.

Anyone following CCTV will see how China had trained her TV personalities to speak English with the proper American accent. We used to and still have a few RTM personalities who speak English with
the English accent. Must we follow their accent at all? The Indians and Philippinos speak English in their own way but very fluently. The Japanese never follow the English or American accent but got on very well with advanced technology and the advancement of knowledge, Yet,after so many years of using Bahasa and English side by side, we are only now trying to improve the standard of spoken and written English and calling in the "orang putih" to teach us again.

Ironical but maybe necessary. I for one feel rather ashamed.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Are Our Schools Inculcating the Basic Values...

Some examples of littered areas.

I've noted s number of tendencies among the young school children of today which makes me question whether they have been taught and infused with some of the basic societal values that help to hold society together at school. Their total neglect of such values makes me wonder whether our schools are really educating the children or just training them to pass examinations.

My first concern is over the lack of respect for the older people which has been voiced by many people before this. Children don't seem to bother about greeting and giving way to older and elderly people anymore. Respect for the older folks is a fundamental value that underlies many others such as obedience to the parents and other older members of the family, respecting authority and accepting the order of seniority in life. We expect this hasic value to be taught and inculcated in the young at school. At home parents and elders are often too loving to enforce this value on the young. As such they are often allowed to have their own ways, with the parents and elders often bowing to their demand. This is, in fact, the basis for creating a very permissive society where the kids and the younger people are allowed to do what they want without any serious criticism by the older members of society.

A second concern hit me while attending the Friday prayer at a mosque recently although I have noticed it many times before. The Imam was delivering his khutbah (sermon). But the school children in the back-rows of the "jemaah" (congregation) were talking to each other as if tbey were in the market place. Many people threw glances of embarrassment at them but the talking went on. Haven't these children been taught by the ustaz in schools that talking while the khatib or imam is delivering the khutbah is a great sin (dosa)? Weren't they trained and conditioned to remain silent while the imam is addressing the jemaah? If the ustaz teaching religion fails to inculcate this simple and basic act of obedience ion the the teaching of Islam, how can he make the children accept and obey other more difficult rules of conduct and injunctions. Have they just been taught but never conditioned to practice what was taught? If the school is not made the training grounds for the observation of the teachings, where else will the children learn to obey the rules? Has our education system failed to inculcate the values behind the lessons that the children are taught?

A third conern is with regard to littering. I have seen children, and in some cases even adults, nonchalently throwing some rubbish out of a car or out of hand while walking by a clean and tidy place as if they had never been taught not to dirty up a clean place but must help to keep it clean. The failure of the ecucation system to inculcate such simple rules and basic values among our young coukd be the reason for many public areas in the towns and cities to be littered, like the location of a night market after the stall owners moved away as seen the next morning. It's enough to make one swoon and the City Council or Local Autnority workers must work darn hard to clean up the place the next morning. . This unconcerned littering despite warnings that one could be fined for doing so, is a clear indication of a basic failure in the education and upbringing of the children ( and the adults too). The failure must have happened in schools where the children received their basic training and education, while at home parents can only holler at an irresponsible act when they see it being committed.
An example of a tidy though rural area.

Yes, many more examples can be given but the above three are enough to show that some simple and basic societal vales which should be taught in schools and effectively inculcated among the young through the discipline in schools had not been successfully done by our education system. The system seemed to be more geared towards passing examinations rather than implanting tne essential good values of human society so that the young wiil grow up into civilized men and women. If the current education system fails to do that, what hope do we have of inculcating the more subtle and complex human values to make the future citizens of tbe vountry more civilized and sophisticated, When we talk about achieving a developed nation statur I believe that these basic values must first be put in place. If the education system failed to inculcate those basic values in the schools, the country will end up having intelligent citizens but quite uncouth and less than civilized.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Reflections on Mothers' Day

a cake to mark the occasion

It certainly is a great feeling to see both young and old paying tributes and reaffirming their love and respect for their mothers. Mothers' Day this year seems to be celebrated with greater fervour even in Malaysia and among the Malays too. I mentioned the Malays because the Muslims don't encourage celebrations not observed during the times of prophet Muhammad ( PBUH). Even celebrating the birthday of the Prophet himself ( Maulidin Nabi) is denounced as improper by some purists.

My children with their husband and wife like many others, gave their mother ( that's my wife Zaitun, of course) , a grand dinner. It was at a great Japanese restaurant where the menu book itself was as big and colorful as a prayer mat or 'sejadah'. We spent so much time studying the scrumptious dishes available and unable to make up our mind that we ended ordering everything that was suggested by anyone. I think we can visit the restaurant for a week and yet could not exhaust all the possibility.

Ordering food calls for a long, serious deliberation

By the time the first dish arrived i was famished like an undernourished orphan. Forks and chopsticks went flying around like swords in a battle royal trying to get to the nearest morsel.

Yes, as the dishes kept coming and the chomping grew more rigorous, we forgot everything that we were discussing just a whike ago. About the rising cost of food and gas in the country, about inflation, the astronomical rise in the price of land and houses in KL and all the major cities in the country, the low price offered for trading in a car and the exhorbitant price for buying a new one, arguing on why the taxes imposed on imported cars are so high, the failure of our education system to produce nation-loving citizens, the rising tide of racialism andreligious extremism etc, etc. We just ate and drank until we suddenly felt bloated. When the Happy Mothers' Day cake and other mouth watering sweet pies came around, no one was really capable of taking much anymore.

The celebriti was then requested upon to give a speech. I think it's a very good idea to give mothers a chance to address everyone in the family after a good dinner. She can say anything she wants in the spirit of the celebration. I was thoroughly amused. Yes it's easy to level criticims against people including members of your own family. But try to find good things to say about them and you might run out of ideas or vocabulary. I think my wife felt that too but she was too happy and surprised by the reception that the words of praise for her lovely children just flowed out like honey from a bottle.

I had never really subscribed to celebrations like mothers' day, fathers's day, teachers' day , secretaries's day, armed forces' day etc since people of every profession seem to be in the mood of selecting a day of the week for their self-accredition and aggrandization. But i am beginning to appreciate them for the chance they give to be with those beig celebrated and to enjoy their company in a festive mood. I have celebrated Mother's Day before with my wife and her mother. But this time around the children themselves arranged and paid for it. I was so happy to be just a guest and i think i must have eaten the most. It was a blessing to see my wife so happy and satisfied with the brew she had brought up.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Now that the Hunt is Over......

Will there be other devils to hunt and kill?

No one can really estimate the amount of destruction and the number of deaths caused by the US in the hunt for Osama ben Laden. He gave ex-president Bush the reason to attack any country or people alleged to provide him shelter since he was wanted dead or alive. Afghanitan was almost reduced to ashes in the hunt for the man.

Now that he has been pronounced dead, will the US stop hunting and destroying cities, people and properties under the rubric of 'collateral damage' in the pursuit of the man who alledgedly masterminded the September 11tragedy whicj killed more than 3,000 people? Or will the US declare that there is another devil to hunt and the destruction and killing will continue?

Osama was said to have been killed along with his grandsons and several other men and women. Muammar Gaddafii's son was killed instead of the father. Many many people (some quite innocent) had died in the effort by the US and allied forces to eliminate a prime target. Even the justification for eliminating the prime target was never provern as in the case of Sadam Husin, alledged to posses nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction. Even Osama, accused of being the mastermind behind the September 11 tragedy and many vicious attacks on innocent people through the suicide bombers, has never been proven to be the soul author of the crimes.

It's hightime that a new international law be drafted, approved and enforced by the United Nation stating simply that 'when people fight in their own country it's a CIVIL WAR but when a foreign power lauuched an armed attack on another country it's an UNCIVILIZED WAR. It's really disgusting to even think of a all powerful foreign ppower with a highly educated and civilized population threshing a small and militarily weak state for something that they don't like happening in that state. What gives them the right to interfere in the first place? They can only come in if invited by the legitimate government.

So, let's see if the hunting will stop now that the hunted man is down. Will another 'devil' be found , to be hunted and gunned down wherever he is hiding even if a whole country must be ravaged and destroyed to get him? If the hunt doesn't stop hencefort we will know that the hunter needs only a bluebottle to fly around to bring out the warships. the warplanes and the war machines to hunt down the fly.