Thursday, June 30, 2005

Learning From Adversity

In 1999, I wrote this message to my team mates after we returned to our company from a training program which sparked a controversy within the management ranks after a few colleagues complained of the harsh treatment they received.  This message was copied to the top management which resulted in a decision to continue with the program.  I reproduce it here in its entirety without any changes or corrections.


Human Re-engineering Breakpoint


21 June, 1999

Now that I have some time to recollect my thoughts, I remember that when Puan Rahima asked me what I thought about the program, I did not give her a satisfactory answer because my mind wasn’t clear for me to think about the whole episode.  Now I wished I had made this as a speech at the end of the course we’d just completed.  But then, I would not have made a meaningful speech, as speech is not my best means of communicating my ideas.  While I congratulate the few of you who boldly stood up to express your thoughts, I searched my memory, to focus on each event and evaluate it for the depth of its meaning.  Hence, I decided I should write all these down and, hopefully, help you recall the events that transpired during those few days and nights and what they mean to each and everyone of you, because what I write here only tells you my point of view.  It may be different from yours.  I encourage you to think and form your own conclusions individually and whatever benefits you derived from it. 


Let us take those lessons and put it through a real live test.


Appreciating what we have.

We realised while standing out there under the hot sun, suffering the humiliation of verbal abuse, crawling and bruising our knees and hands, (kissing a tyre, and a dustbin) suffering the indignity and being ordered around by some total strangers, suddenly our snug little world of a comfortable workplace, our prestigious positions as technicians, officers, clerks, engineers, supervisors and secretaries disappeared into thin air.  We had sworn to give up our positions.  Stripped naked of our pride, identity, money, and means of communications, we were reduced to nothing.  We were totally humbled, put back to square one.  Having lost something (but usually taking it for granted), we suddenly realized its value.


I began to think; what if I had lost all these friends standing beside me?  What if I was all alone suffering the cursing and humiliation on my own?  How would I have felt?  How could I bear it all alone?  What if I had lost everything else, like my family, my home, and all my worldly possessions?  The full impact of the few hours of suffering under the hot sun had not penetrated into the deepest part of my mind until now.  (And I think of the homeless refugees who have lost even their country and identity, through no fault of their own and felt a deep compassion for their sufferings.) 


Be thankful we have our (more than) Five Senses

I promised myself to use my senses right and use them well, each and every one of them.  Remember how, many of us found the wrong bridge?  (Because we didn’t listen more carefully, we found a “garden and a bridge” instead of a “Garden on a Bridge”).  Sometimes we only listen but we don’t hear.  We don’t think of what we hear to actually view its full meaning.  Then we learned to listen to our friends’ hopes, dreams, troubles and their feelings and fears.  We shared with them their happiness and sorrows.  And in turn, we opened our minds to communicate with them our deepest thoughts.


Then we were reminded of our gift of sight, how we ‘lost’ it and had to depend on the other 4 senses to go through life.  What if we lose more than one of them?  Imagine losing your ability to speak and your hearing, or losing the use of your limbs.  Imagine losing your sense of touch, not knowing what is hot or cold, the feel of something soft or hard, smooth or rough, sharp or blunt.  Or imagine not being able to taste the food that you eat. 


There is also a higher level to our facilities and that is our ability to think.  We should use this facility more often and with great care.


Whatever position we hold, We Are Important to theTeam.

If you are a plant, it does not matter if you are a bush, a grass or a tree.  You don’t have to be a great oak or angsana tree and to feel mighty and strong.  You are important even if you are a small bush or grass.  You may turn out to be a herb, valuable and sought after by everyone for your ability to cure ailments.  A humble Nipah palm that generations of the people have used to cover the roofs of their homes, (or the Tongkat Ali of which the name speaks for itself).  Whatever talent you may have, use it well, not just for your own benefit but for others as well.


Each one of us is important to an organisation.  The lesson we had with the 7 kayaks told it all.  The people who sat quietly in the middle had to hold the kayaks together.  Without them, the kayaks would drift apart, and each kayak alone on its own would topple over and sink.  The oarsmen had their jobs to drive the vessel and each one of the rest had their part to play as the situation arose.  Each kayak symbolizes a department of an organization.  If one dept. sinks the organization may still survive but will not operate to full efficiency.  But we could still recover by rebuilding the dept. and we did.  At first, we had successfully put the 7 kayaks together, but we couldn’t sail correctly because we did not have proper leadership, communication system, and destination.  Some want to go right, others want to go left.  When we realized that, we recovered and agreed to follow one Leader, one set of principles and finally we got into the correct rhythm and then to proceed on our course.  When we faced the danger of overloading, the team members at the back got into the water and floated and at the same time paddled their feet to help propel the vessel forward.


That 35 people in 7 kayaks, in my opinion, was the most meaningful lesson in teamwork that I ever learnt.


Suffering Shared is Suffering Diminished

I thought with my backache, I was bearing it well, and felt proud of the fact.  But when I looked around me I saw one who had fallen and hurt herself still bearing it well, and there were others too, who probably wished they could give up and lie down, but still remained on their feet, I was humbled.  None of us wanted to give in to our tiredness and go off early to bed because we could not bear the idea of being comfortable while the rest are still suffering.  If one has to suffer let us all bear it together.


During the infamous dinner called ‘Pudu Jail 1945’ I found myself struggling to keep my composure for the sake of my dignity.  (Some of you are young enough to call me ‘Uncle’)  I also hoped my strength and calmness could reassure the weaker members to hold on and not give in to panic and distress.  The Chinese have a saying, ‘A person having a meal must be respected as though he is a King’, but this guy here was making us eat off the floor like dogs.  (I thought if I were some years younger, I would have kicked our tormentor in the ribs and end this torture, but I remembered it was only a test of our patience!  And there were those two commandos always a few steps behind him!)   In one of those continuous harassment’s, when I thought I could not hold on any longer, being a Buddhist I started to repeat a mantra “namo-omi-tho-fo” to calm myself. 


In my forty-six years of life, I’ve not suffered this much indignity, although I’ve had my share of hardships.  This was the ultimate lesson in suffering although it was only simulated, it was very real and evoked some measure of emotions of fear, anger and possibly, hatred, within most of us. 


Although I did not show much emotion then, I did shed some tears when my wife served me some dumplings she reserved for me from the ‘Chang’ festival which I missed during our training course.  I felt thankful for having such a wonderful wife. 


It is through our ability to bear suffering and live through it that we become better human beings.  I guess we passed this test.  We found ourselves looking after each other without second thoughts.  I wish all of you a better future as a better person.





Your Friend in Adversity,


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Petaling Street Project?

When I first came across Project Petaling Street, I thought it's only a development taking place in KL.  Or maybe it was another extension of the place from where my daughter bought me a "Rolex" as a gift on one of her holiday trips.  It was only when things got hot and also high-lighted by the Star and when they had the bloggers' bash and all those lively bloggers started telling their stories of how "hot" it was that I woke up to the fact PPS is actually a site where all Malaysian bloggers throw in their blog contents so that other bloggers know what they're up to.

I found it a humbling experience. I thought I could spin, twirl and loop the loop with words (my delusion, really), but after I've gone through a number of those very well written blog articles, some of the writers are not even out of their teens, I have to take my hat off to them. And also thanks to Petaling Street, I discovered I wasn't the only "Uncle" in Blogosphere. There are retired government officers, retired businessmen, lecturers, parents and grand-parents etc, happily blogging away.

I quote organiser of the recent PPS bash, Aizuddin: - "I truly believe in the power of blogs as a tool for self-improvement, and mutual-education". And I totally agree with him.

To all fellow bloggers, Happy Blogging.

Monday, June 27, 2005



Yesterday, Missus and I were out on our usual morning walk and came across this ugly scene. Some young saplings near a park bench (recently erected by the MPSPK) were destroyed.  They looked like they were deliberately sawn down by someone with a hacksaw.  There was rubbish strewn all around.  The monster or monsters even built a bonfire under the bench.  Such despicable acts of vandalism!!!  3rd world mentality at work.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just Keep On Dancing....

Like stepping on other dancers toes or bumping into behinds on a dance-floor, I might have one time or other offended people without even being aware of it.  Sometimes I feel that maybe I've used the wrong choice of words, but since nobody's telling me to shut up, I assume everything's ok.  So, if ever anyone out there feel I've been stomping on your toes and making you feel really, really uncomfortable, here are my humble apologies.  Let's just carry on dancing.  Although unfortunately, my other half doesn't like dancing, I've somewhat retired from that ever since we got together. 


But I'm not sweating it at all.  Life has a lot more for me in store.  Actually when I think about it there are so many things in life I want to do, or often thought I'd love to do.  I'd need about the same number of lives as a cat to do it all.  And the other factor is, I like to take my own sweet time doing the things I love doing because it's not work.  And there's no deadline attached.  And, hey I am really looking forward to retirement!  Considering that I started working as a farm boy at age 5, all through school and after, I 've actually been working for 47 years!!  But, ok, in all fairness, I did have some breaks and some fun in between.  How would I have survived otherwise?


As they say, no one ever kicks a dead dog.  So being alive and trying to live it to the full we simply can't avoid interacting with people.  While doing that, being humans, no matter how nice and diplomatic we try to be there is no way we can avoid offending others or getting offended in return.  The only thing we can do is to accept that this is part of life and take it in our stride.  If you think someone is being offensive or criticising you, simply adopt the "Duck's Back" theory.  You know, ducks feathers have a very waxy surface.  That explains why they don't get wet in the rain or when those ducks go for a swim, they're dry as soon as they leave the water.  Simply let all that unpleasantness dribble down and drain off. 


Or you can also use the "Wet Dog" theory.  Those who give their dog a bath should know this.  The shaggy guy simply gives its whole body a vigorous shake.  Don't know how it does that.  Must be a natural thing for a dog.  So that's why you end up having to take a bath yourself.


What I'm trying to say is that, in spite of what happens around us, or whatever people do or say, we can remain happy as long as we remain in control of our emotions.  If we react to negative situations badly, then they will take us down with them.  If we remain positive, we may find it to be a good lesson to learn.  Here's my favourite quotation: "If life hands you a lemon, turn it into a lemonade". 


That's enough of mind wanderings for now.  I sort of got tired of writing rhymes to pass off as poems.  Again, for want of trying something which I always wanted to do.  Maybe these things need a lot more polishing.  But I'll keep trying anyway.  I got nothing to lose.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Father’s views


Before I became a father myself I couldn't imagine the difficulty in making certain decisions, especially when the welfare of the whole family is involved.  Sometimes you have to make a difficult choice among priorities.  Take for example when one of the boys has a swollen hand due to an infection, while you have a whole farm of vegetables to tend to, and farm animals to feed.  And you’re shorthanded due to the dry season and the vegetables needed extra water to keep them from drying out.  And it is especially during the dry season that vegetables grow exceptionally well and that means more work than you can handle.  To take the boy to town to see a doctor would take off at least 3 hours of your time, during which the vegetables would bake under the hot sun.


Such was the dilemma my father had to face.  And I was that child.  My right hand was infected with a painful lump filled with pus.  I was suffering for several days and the hand kept getting more swollen each day.  To put to risk a sizeable plot of vegetables (we didn’t have the luxury of water pumps or sprinklers back in those days) which could perish and lose the income, which could mean hardship for the whole family, or let the boy suffer a few more days until the occurrence of a more favourable weather, which might not happen.


Meanwhile I couldn’t write with my swollen hand and my schoolwork suffered.  The farm was short-handed because I couldn’t contribute my share.  Mother could only do her part of the workload which also included most of the housework.  My two elder brothers were then studying in the afternoon session.  Father relented and took me to a doctor.  Waiting for the doctor took longer than expected and sure enough, the vegetables suffered. 


It was only when I became a father myself and faced with similar situations, that I understood the reason that caused my father’s indecision.  Today, I can still see and feel the little scar on my palm.  It serves to remind me of a father’s responsibility and care for the whole family and also for each child individually.  It reminded me that all character building, leadership training and decision making has to begin at home.  


My father did not complete even 1 year of education, but his advice for living were sound enough for us write in our hearts and remember for life and hopefully to be passed on to the next generations.  What he couldn’t get from his limited schooling, he learned from observing the successes and failures of others.  His favourite sermon:  If you want to do good deeds to society or treat your friends well, you must first learn to love your brothers and sisters and treat them equally well.  Otherwise you are only a hypocrite and whatever good that you do for society is meaningless.  He has never heard of the saying, ‘Charity begins at home’.  He just practiced it.


To all fathers out there, Happy Father’s Day.


Friday, June 17, 2005

Tribute to Screenshots

Today I wrote a rhymic tribute to Screenshots (Jeff Ooi) on being voted as "FREEDOM BLOG', Asia.

A recognition for your tireless dedication
To truth and freedom of expression
Welcoming opinions to your timely reports
You've gained a multitude of public support

To help chart a greater destiny
Engendering a truly Malaysian identity
Personal leisure you often forsake
To weather on with whatever it is to take

And fight on despite threats so vicious
To uncover practices vile and atrocious
In a world so frought with insincerity and spite
You shine like a beacon in the dark of the night

Tuesday, June 7, 2005


The Mimosa is a thorny plant with pink flowers shaped like spikey moth balls.  The leaves are like tiny ferns each with an inch long stalk which quickly bends out of the way as soon as you touch any part of the plant, exposing its thorn.  It used to be a nuisance on our farm when it multiplied and spread too fast.  We had to get rid of them every now and then.  It was a fairly difficult task.  If you grab it too gently you can't pull it off the ground as the roots go quite deep.  But the harder you grab it the worse pain you suffer for the thorns are sharp as needles. 


Over the years I have learnt to appreciate its beauty and treat it with respect since it is no longer a threat to my occupation.




The mimosa is a sophisticated lady

She grows seemingly fragile, sensitive and pretty

Standing on limbs nimble and slender

Sways in the breeze appearing so tender


Quietly by the wayside blooming in pinkish hue

Fresh in the morning still moist with dew

But touch her not or sharp thorns she will bare

She dares to hurt you so better beware


She cringes at every touch ever so mere

Take heed for that is no show of fear

If ever you invade or violate her virgin sanctity

She will defend herself with righteous ferocity


Her dainty leaves like fans she deftly lower

Swiftly strives to protect her every flower

So stoop not to take her in a manner so fierce

The harder you grip the deeper she'd pierce


This principle of nature to remind you less you forget

Within every life a means itself to protect

Judge not this lady by her gentle demeanour

Treat her with respect and safeguard her honour



Thursday, June 2, 2005

On This Farm We Grew Up

In a house on this farm we grew up then

Five boys, three girls, Ma and Pa to make up ten

With little time to play but lots of work to do

And once in a while grandma would stay with us too

At one another's silly jokes we would laugh

Fought and cried over little things we didn't have enough

Kept company and had fun with some cats and dogs

Even shared the playground with chickens and baby hogs

For toys we played we made by our very own hands

The girls played skip-rope by joining up rubber bands

Spend hot afternoons climbing shady jambu trees

Catapulting the birds and avoiding hives of the bees

Once we heard a hen clucking out loud from her nest

A cobra was about to devour her eggs so we killed the pest

Pa was both proud yet showed us some anger

Ma would rather we do not have to face such danger

We'd get the season's first taste of durian from either tree

Most of the rest were sold, since we didn't get them for free

We had a goose so large and fierce with wingspan wide

Chased us, we'd run but from nightmares we couldn't hide

Pa said we must be brave and catch him by his head

Taught us not to run from a problem but face it instead

Water for farm use we had to pipe down from a hill

During dry spells we'd watch nights until the ponds fill

Loads on both ends of pole on the shoulder we had to endure

Basket in one hand, scoop with the other, spread the manure

With cangkuls and rakes in calloused hands turn up the soil

No ploughs, machines nor animals to lighten our toil

From sun-up till sun-down we toil on this land

To build concrete structures we shovel up the river sand

On this farm with these tools we learned our lessons for life

Into the world wherever we go with these to survive

We grew up strong and we grew out tough to face the ruthless world

All these memories are sometimes worth more than silver and gold

No regrets, the tough life, nor the wealth that we never had

But for the beauty of farm-life and growing up then, we are glad

Now that the farm and the home we loved dearly is gone

Into our lives our children in new homes have been born

And as they grow up and go forth to fulfill their destinies

We realize how much we miss the old farm and the memories

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

The Brain Drain


I testify that I shiver not

From the weather humid and hot

Under thick blankets of clouds dark with anger

That promise of rain yet refuse to deliver.

But only yield a pittance some drops of water

While continuing to stifle the air and smother.

Inducing suffocating thoughts that our brighter citizens

Have gone for better promises in other nations.

Leaving us to shout slogans of 'boleh' falsely proud.

Empty halls where once our finest students crowd

Mingled with the children of who's who in society

Standing tall in their achievements with propriety.

Their parents and relatives beaming with pride.

Friends of different races cheered from every side

Now hide behind their titles in secret shame.

Whose children excel because of their name.

Will our future generations have to hold

Still, the epitaphs that read in bold

'Beneath here lies meritocracy'

In exchange for racial pride and supremacy.

But who weeps in vain for this nation

In the onslaught of globalisation

Unable to unite every citizen's brain or might

We fail in our ability to stand upright?

Wake up now every Malaysian

Whether or not you love this nation

Live by your conscience break the rules not

Positions of power be neither sold nor bought

Honestly toil and sweat for what each truly craves

Else all shall vanish under the global waves.