Sunday, July 31, 2005

Life on the Farm - Part 1

The Family

My life began on a countryside farm.  I saw more of grass, trees, chickens, ducks and farm animals than people.  The only people around me were my brothers and sisters, Ma and Pa and sometimes our paternal Grandma.  We never knew our Grandpa, because he passed away before we came along.  And we'll never know how he looked like as he refused to have his photo taken.  As Pa said, he'd rather spend his money on food.  But there was sometimes that resentful mention by Grandma that he would sneak away somewhere to indulge in some opium smoking, and that's where most of the money he earned from his odd-jobs went.

I came 4th in our family of 5 boys and 3 girls.  We either played together or quarreled and fought over petty things or when there weren’t enough goodies to go around for everyone.  Both parents were usually too busy to mind our affairs until one or some of us get too ‘oppressed’ and started complaining, usually to my mother.  We had neighbors too, who lived on their farms next to ours, but we seldom have time to mingle with them.  Some of them though, seemed to have all the time in the world to loiter around our place while we were busy at work.  Pa seldom let them hang around for long.  He would get rid of them by asking why they had nothing to do.

My 2nd brother and I occasionally got involved in arguments.  Once, we even ended up in a brawl.  He had a corrosive tongue and I had my hot temper, a great combination for an explosion every now and then in this quiet country-side farmhouse!  But we were always careful and would bear whatever suffering and waited until my father was not around to let it escalate into an open battle.  Occasionally, we got careless and ended up facing the peace-maker (the Rotan hanging in the wall).  Pa would grab one of us and reach for the cane with his other hand.  Anybody who escaped at that moment had still to face the music later.  Pa seldom let anyone off scot-free.

The lesson was quite clear.  We either learned to live peacefully together or all parties to the mayhem get it equally.  It was a good training, like what you'd get in the army.  In everything we did, it was not just for individual benefit.  We had to think of everybody else in the family.  In the end we learned to take care of each other.  I can still remember when we were growing up, Pa would tell us that if we were to be good to our friends it would be meaningless if we don't take care of our own brothers and sisters.  Pa didn't have much education but he practiced and taught us the great philosophy that "Charity Begins at Home".

We each had our share of work and responsibilities.  But hot afternoons were our respite from tight scrutiny and control.  We noticed pa would go off to the local kopitiam for his regular pow-wow with his fellow villagers.  That was when we were free to run with our carefully-hidden kites, spin our home-made tops, play marbles or shoot pop-guns made of bamboo using cherries for bullets.  We also hunted birds with our catapults, or fished in the streams.  At times the whole gang of us would be up in our favorite guava tree, playing Tarzan.  That was when, one day, 2nd brother tried to swing down from the tree on a rope which slipped off.  He dislocated his shoulder.  Eldest brother, being the one who tied the rope, was scared out of his wits.  2nd brother was in pain and Pa had to know.

The next day Pa took him and the whole gang of us on a bus ride to town.   There was a Sinseh in a fruit shop who fixed the shoulder.  Much to our relief, no one got punished for the mishap.  Perhaps the painful experience for 2nd brother was enough punishment for him.  For us all, that was a lesson in gravity.  Though we’d never heard of Newton’s law as yet, but we know for sure that if you come down the short way from too high up or on the wrong end, it can be pretty painful.  Also that there are many different kinds of knots you could tie with a rope, depending on how you intend to use it.  And never tie a slip knot if your health depended on it.

One afternoon, we heard a loud clucking coming from some bushes behind a chicken house.  We went to investigate and spied a cobra.  A hen was pacing around her nest yelling her little head off while the snake had his head hidden somewhere in the bush.  Having heard from Pa how he’d tackle these critters, we each grab a stick and went after him and whacked him to pulp.  We couldn’t tell if he’d swallowed any egg.  There were a few eggs in the nest.  We left mama hen to get back to her hatching, while we stretched the snake out on the ground.  If I got it right it was probably about 5 feet in length.  We couldn’t tell if Pa was alarmed, angry or proud of us but Ma was definitely worried about us although she never said so.  That incident probably prompted Pa to take precautions for our safety.  He bought a pair of geese.

The geese grew up and roamed around on the farm.  They were like watchdogs.  It is popularly believed that their droppings contained sulphur which could deter snakes from coming into the farmyard.  But their presence was a threat to us kids.  Both goose and gander were equally aggressive and would attack us whenever we entered our animal farm through the gate.  The gander was huge and its wingspan opened out to about 6 feet from tip to tip.  I once got pecked a few times on my back when I had nowhere to run.  We often had nightmares as a result of these attacks.  It got to a point when we were so scared we had to arm ourselves with sticks whenever we get inside the gates of the farmyard. 

Pa told us to grab him by the head the next time he attacked.  So one day, I got up the courage to do just that, with some of our gang behind me.  Talk about picking on someone your own size.  He and I stood up to almost the same height.  Defiantly we waited for him to rush at us.  Sure enough he came right at us.  In a blur of action, I didn't notice what the others did but I managed to grab hold of the neck and almost choked him.  After that I guess he realized he couldn’t bully little kids anymore.  He kept his distance whenever we approached the farm but once in a while would lower his head as if to charge at us again, but when we refused to turn and run, he gave up his intimidating stance.

From age 4 or 5 as I remember, I had to do my share of the farm work using a cangkul (hoe) with a handle somewhat taller than me.  We struggled to keep the tapioca plots free of weeds.  Sometimes, we had to tackle thorny Mimosa and other prickly crawlers.  There were the unbeatable lalang on our neighbors’ vacant lots on which they never planted anything, and these lalang, with their sharp penetrating roots, kept encroaching into our tapioca plots.  During the dry season, usually around December to February, we always had to be on the lookout for bush fires as these dry lalang can burn very easily. 

We also had to deal with mosquitoes and other biting insects.  The most dreaded of these were fire ants, whose bites are hot like fire on the skin.  I had my fair share of suffering their bites, and strangely, the immediate relief for fire-ant bite is kerosene, the fuel we use for starting fires.   A drop of the liquid on the spot soon relieved the itch and only a reddish spot remained for a few days and no pus or sore would develop.

…to be continued

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Samuel of St. Nicholas, Penang

I was reading a fellow blogger's article about unsung heroes and heroines in our everyday lives in :

girl on the bus.  It reminds me of two ex-classmates, Samuel and David, who studied with us in lower secondary classes in SXI.  They came from St. Nicholas School for the Blind (now called the Visually Impaired) in Penang. 


Some of the rest of the class took turns to read to them what the teacher wrote on the blackboard while they typed it into their Braile machines.  Samuel was the one with the more cheerful personality and he would chat endlessly with us whenever we had some free time.


Many years later, while splashing around in the water near the beach in Tanjung Bungah with my family, I noticed a familiar figure from among the crowd.  He was spotting his usual crew-cut.  I went over and took a closer look and called out, "Samuel?  Are you Sam from SXI?"  He turned his head around, nodded slowly and flashed a big smile in my direction and called out my name!  I said, "Sam.  You're fantastic!  You can recognise my voice!"   I don't know how he could do that.  Perhaps the lost of sight helped to sharpened his hearing.  For me, if I don't see the person's face, I wouldn't be able to remember him.  Maybe some people are more "audio" than "visual".


We spent the rest of the time exchanging histories on what happened to us since the days at school.  Unfortunately, I couldn't think of any way we could exchange addresses or other means of keeping in touch with each other.  We were out there on the beach, no pen, no paper.  So we parted company with the hope we would bump into each other again, sometime, somewhere, somehow.....

Monday, July 25, 2005

Don't lose your head over your hair.


I like to go around asking matter-of-factly if anyone knows a guy by the name of Koay Hock Seng.  Most people looked blur until I mentioned the Chinese version of Aaron Kuok’s name.  The above is the localized Hokkien version of his name.  I just love it when I get everybody in stitches with lines like that.  But, speaking of Aaron, look at him now!  He’s not just looking great he’s not looking back.  And I don’t think he even bothers to look in the mirror nowadays.  He’s just gone bald, and loving it!  And they think he’s sexy like that!  I can only hear his cash register ringing and his concert tickets slipping over the counter non-stop.


The same trend has been hitting a lot of big stars in other arenas like sports.  And it certainly helps to make me more comfortable because most of my hair’s not coming back after waving goodbye.  They used to wave pretty nicely when I was a lot younger but then they started disappearing when I hit the thirties.  By my mid-forties, my head began to appear like a convertible with the canvas top folded back. 

And my favorite rhyme still is: 


The Lord is great, the Lord is fair.

To some men he gave more brains.

The rest just got more hair.


My mother never get tired of suggesting that I rub some brandy on my head daily to get them to grow back again.  I said I’d prefer to drink it straight down instead.  That kind of retort usually sets my dad laughing his head off.  It sort of echoes the way he loved to put his remarks.  Like father like son.  But my retort never bothers mother in any way.  Months or years down the road she’d be back peering over my head through her reading glasses and saying exactly the same things again.  I’d always maintain that I’m not bothered at all.  I’m just one of millions of men whose heads look like this at this age.  Just so happens that none of her other sons or their dad have their heads in this condition.  I just have to be different, otherwise lots of people tend to mistake me for my elder brother. 


Some hair losers feel pretty self-conscious.  They try to comb a few strands over from one side to the other and pat them down with some cream.  Others wear a hairpiece.  One drawback is that they have to keep on doing it, day in day out.  Otherwise their friends might have difficulty trying to recognise them.  On windy days, they'd have to spare a hand for their hair.  For me, instead of spending time taking care of what’s outside my head, I'd rather be taking more care of what’s inside. 


Me, I’m not bothered.  I save a lot on shampoo and hair-cream.  I don’t have to carry a comb in my pocket anymore.  Whatever's left on the sides I just pat them down with my wet hands whenever I have to hurry.  Besides, my hair-stylist (my wife) has lesser and lesser to snip off every few months.  She's happy, I'm happy.  Except for some crazy ones, no other woman's gonna waste a second look at hubby.  I'd like for her to keep thinking that way, but somehow I don't think she's buying it.  I don't know whether to be happy or sad about that.


Just like nursing mothers who get bombarded daily to slim down immediately after giving birth just to fit the mass media’s ideal shape of a woman, we males get daily-fed with the idea that only with a load of hair on our heads that we could get better paid jobs, head-hunted by bosses, admired by females or any other thing that matters.  Those 'hair raising specialists' are not getting to me no matter how good they make those with a whole head of hair look.  I don’t need to look glamorous in their terms.  I'm joining the other group to create awareness to another icon for glamour.


So, kam-siah Mr. Koay Hock Seng.  Thanks a lot.  You make my day.


Friday, July 22, 2005

Accepted Without Conditions

This one's dedicated to The One I married and loved for the last 23 years and hope I can continue to do so until we're both really old and wrinkled. A mushy love story if anyone intends to see it that way.


Someone wrote that there was a philosopher who built a bird-house and called it "Insight". When asked why he called it thus, he replied, "Insight is for the Birds". I don't mind being a bird though. I'm always in the habit of sitting back, thinking and reviewing my life.


When I was young and idealistic I dreamed that I would only get married when I found someone I love. As time went by I stopped believing in love after failing in many attempts to find it. I mean the kind of love that Hollywood and Hong Kong movie makers produced by the dozens in those days. They seemed too convenient and wishy-washy and simply didn’t fit into real life in most ways. And especially in mine. I began to understand why these notions failed by looking at what happened to some of the people I know who 'fell in love' and got married before I came of age. You could say that I did case studies long before I knew what 'Case Study' was all about. There were some divorces and separations, while some who managed to keep their marriage together weren't too happy about their choices. It seems to me, those marriages that stood the test of time were the ones that were match-made.


I was trying to find someone who could share my interests, has character and good family background. Tall order indeed. But then, those girls who I thought were good enough for me didn't think I was good enough for them. And those who thought the world of me, I found them lacking in the things I imagined my ideal wife should be. After several blunders and failures and making a complete idiot of myself, I gave myself a break. But I never gave up my ideals.


Then I became reckless. I decided to stop playing by the rules (whatever they were). There was one girl who I got to know just casually while on the way to work each day. After dating her a few times, I asked her if she would like to make a long term commitment. (It sounded like a business deal.) She didn't give me a yes or no answer. So I waited. But I didn't wait around too long. I met the girl who is now my wife. She didn't want to know how poor I was. She knew I wasn't rich. She didn't lay down any condition or criteria. She accepted me as I was. We never had any pretenses. Unfortunately, she was also pretty shy. We were working in the same factory. There were some jealous and sacarstic words thrown around but she weathered all that without a word about it to me.


When the other girl came around to it, she found out she was too late. I wasn't available anymore. I felt sorry for her but I'd already made my choice. You just can’t drop someone who was ready to accept you without conditions.


The chemistry between us, you couldn’t call it love just yet. We started off with what I’d call mutual acceptance. I found out later that there were a few suitors before me. There were those who tried to get her friends to introduce them and there were those who sent match-makers to see her mother. One was from quite a well off family while another owned a repair shop in town. She just wasn’t ready to settle down. There were also some 'not-so-honourable' mentions. The guys who wolf-whistled her whenever she passed by the coffee shop by the main road leading to her house. I'm not saying she was such a ravishing beauty, but there's something about her like a jewel that you'd want to preserve and protect. I guess I just got lucky and came at the right time. She later told me her mother couldn't decide about me after the match-maker friend of hers made a representation on my behalf. She went to a temple to pray and came away with a “chiam-si” (=Hokkien for note with her fortune written on it) that said she was about to be sprinkled with some gold dust. (Ahem)


I didn't believe fairy tales ever happened in real life. At least, not the ones that ended 'happily ever after'. When the music fades away, that's when real life begins. There are the bills to pay, jobs we have to go to everyday and the little unsavory habits and mannerisms in each other we've never seen while we're still dating. Then there are the in-laws and relatives from either side with their worldly wisdoms and unsolicited opinions we'd never heard before. For most of us, before we could get used to all these, there's the baby to feed and change of diapers in the middle of the night.


We started our life together without the frills of an eight course dinner, noisy band show and boring speeches by some Datuk that everyone else had, to proudly proclaim to half the town's population that they're married, other than the essential tea-ceremony in which all my older relatives were introduced to her at one go. Most of these faces she'd already forgotten by the time we came back from our honeymoon.


Now, in spite of our ability to afford most of the luxuries we dreamed of, she still saves and recycles whatever worth the effort. Aluminium cans, newspapers, card-board cartons and sometimes scrap metal are stacked in one corner of our front porch for sale to a regular collector. Water from the washing machine goes to mopping floors, watering plants and flushing toilets. Our meals seldom have left-overs. Also because we're not picky eaters, even the neighbors' excesses generously found their way to our dinning table. Our constant battle with our waistlines attest to that. Thats what the evening walks are for. But if ever she found out that the goodies in exchange she passed to the neighbor got thrown out as left-overs, that neighbor can say goodbye to those goodies thereafter.


We are blessed with three girls. But she'd wonder out loud if I ever had any regrets we didn't have boys. I said I'm happy to be called "Charlie" by our neighbor next door. Live is great having three angels around. My mother never got tired of hinting of "trying again", but I'd rather not put her through the agonizing "morning-till-night" sickness and labor pains again. The last girl had her suffering right off from the second month until delivery. She was starving most of the time and was so frail by the time she delivered I'd wonder where the nutrition for the baby came from.


Back to the original subject, of course everybody wants to find someone who's compatible or at least having most things in common. I think I sound old-fashioned, but I believe being old-fashioned is a lot better than seeing things as rosy cozy and then waking up one day to find your “ever after” is not half as happy as you expect it to be. In reality, before love gets in the way and screws up your thought processes and applied rose tints on your glasses, you have to deal with all the factors. You're going to have to face the cold hard facts of life after you've made your choice. You can't just wake up one day after you've lived with someone for some years, have a few kids and then say that you're incompatible and you want out. No. You find some common grounds and develop the rest from there.


As one commercial said there's "no turning back!" We're not without our differences and misunderstandings. We just kept working around those sharp edges and barbs and try to point them away from each other. That reminds me of the wedding ring she gave me. It used to scratch me once in a while when I wasn't careful washing my face. The Chinese inscription on it says, "Everlasting Love". Having worn that for so many years, the sharp edges are now all gone, just like the sharp edges of our personalities that became worn down to prevent us from hurting each other. But the inscription stands out as clearly as ever.


I definitely wouldn’t go back and start it any other way with any other person even if I could.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Tears for a brother

We were discussing in other blogs about how some men don't cry at sad movies and all that tear-jerking stuff.  Then I remember this little story that has been going around in the internet and was also published in the Star some time ago.  I have it reproduced here.  Now read it.  And if you cannot at least wet your eyes (try sprinkle some water....), then you either have read it before, have a stone for a heart, cannot connect between heart and head (have the system checked by EDP dept) or you don't read English good-good.....


I WAS born in a secluded mountain village. Day-by-day my parents ploughed the dry, yellow soil with their backs to the sky. I have one younger brother.

Once, to buy a handkerchief which all the girls around me seemed to have, I stole 50 cents from my father’s drawer. He found out right away and made my brother and me kneel against the wall as he held a bamboo stick in his hand.

“Who stole the money?” I was too stunned to speak up. Father said: “Fine, if nobody wants to admit to the theft, both of you will be beaten!”

He lifted the bamboo stick ... Suddenly, my brother gripped his hand and said, “I did it!” The long stick hit my brother’s back with a thud. Father was so angry he kept hitting brother until he lost his breath. After that, he sat down on the stone bed and shouted: “You have learnt to steal from your own house now. What other shameless things will you do in future? You should be beaten to death!”

That night, mother and I hugged my brother. His back was red and swollen, but he didn’t shed a single tear. In the middle of the night, all of sudden, I cried out. My brother covered my mouth with his little hand and said, “Sis, don’t cry. It’s over.”

Years have passed but the incident remains fresh in my mind. I still hate myself for not having the courage to admit to the theft. I cannot forget my brother’s expression as he spoke up to protect me. That year, he was eight years old and I, 11.

When my brother was in his last year of his Lower Secondary, he was offered a place in an Upper Secondary school in town. At the same time, I was accepted into a province university. That evening, father squatted in the yard, smoking continuously. I could hear him say, “Both our children have very good results.”

Mother sighed. “What’s the use? How could we possibly finance both of them?” Just then, my brother walked up and said, “Father, I don’t want to continue my studies any more. I’ve had enough of books.”

Father swung his hand across brother’s face. “Why do you have such a weak spirit? Even if I have to beg for money on the streets, I will send the two of you to school until you complete your education.”

Late in the night, I placed my soft hand on my brother’s swollen face and said, “A boy has to continue with his studies. If not, he won’t be able to leave this life of poverty.” On my part, I had decided not to accept the university offer.

But before dawn the next day, my brother left home with a few pieces of worn-out clothing and a handful of dry beans. He left a note on my pillow: “Sis, getting into a university is not easy. I will find a job and send money home.”

I held the note as I sat on my bed and sobbed until I lost my voice. That year, my brother was 17 and I was 20. With whatever father managed to borrow from the whole village, and the money my brother earned from carrying cement at a construction site, I entered university.

One day, during my third year, a roommate said, “There’s a villager waiting for you outside.” It was my brother. His whole body was covered in dust, cement and sand. I asked why he didn’t tell my roommates who he was.

“Look at me. Wouldn’t they laugh at you if I told them that?” Tears filled my eyes as I brushed the dust from his body. He then took out a butterfly hair clip from his pocket and fixed it on my hair. “I saw all the girls in town wearing this, and I thought you should have one.”

I pulled my brother into my arms and cried. That year, he was 20 and I was 23.

The first time I took my boyfriend home, I noticed that the broken window pane had been replaced and the whole house looked clean. After he left, I danced around Mother. “You needn’t have spent so much time cleaning the house!” I told her. “Your brother came home early to do it,” she said. “He cut his hand while replacing the pane.”

I went into my brother’s small bedroom. As I looked at his thin face, I felt a hundred needles pricking my heart. I applied some ointment on his wound and bandaged it.

“Does it hurt?”

“No, it doesn’t. You know, when I was working at the construction site, stones fell on my feet all the time. Even that could not stop me from working and ...”

He stopped in mid sentence. I turned my back to him as tears rolled down my face. That year, he was 23 and I was 26.

After I married, I lived in the city. Many times, my husband invited my parents to come and live with us, but they declined, saying they would not know what to do if they left the village. My brother sided with their decision. He advised me: “Sis, you just take care of your parents-in-law and I will take care of Mother and Father here.”

My husband became the director of his factory. We then hoped my brother would accept the post of manager in the maintenance department. But he insisted on starting out as a reparation worker. One day, my brother was on a ladder repairing a cable when he got electrocuted. At the hospital, I grumbled, “Why did you reject the offer? A manager wouldn’t have to do dangerous things and risk serious injury. Look at you now.”

With a serious look, brother said: “Think of brother-in-law. He has just been promoted. I am almost uneducated. If I became the manager, what would people say?”

My husband’s eyes filled with tears as I cried out: “But you lack in education because of me!”

“Why talk about the past?” my brother replied as he held my hand. That year, he was 26 and I was 29.

My brother was 30 years old when he married a farm girl from the village. At his wedding reception, the master of ceremonies asked him, “Who is the one person you respect and love the most?” Without hesitating, he answered, “My sister.” Then he went on to tell a story I could not even remember.

“Our primary school was in a different village. Every day, my sister and I walked for two hours to and from school. One day, I lost one side of my gloves. My sister gave me one of hers. When we got home, her hand was trembling so much she could not even hold her chopsticks. That day, I swore that as long as I lived, I would take care of my sister and be good to her.”

Applause filled the room and every guest turned to look at me as I stood up. “In my whole life, the one person I would like to thank most is my brother.” And on this happy occasion, in front of everyone, tears rolled down my face once again.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Long Lost Friends

I am thinking about my friends.  I mean, long lost friends who meant a lot to me during our school days.  I don't mean that we really hanged out together like what other kids do.  After school we just went back to our own homes and lived our own lives.  It was only during school hours that we kept each other's spirits up during bad times and cheered each other on during the challenging times.  We shared our agonies and triumphs.  Stories about what happened at parties, dates and family and girl-friend problems.


One of them was SK P'ng.  He once sat in front of me in class.  One day our Moral teacher was reading aloud from a book and he made an error.  I remarked sofly that he should change his specs.  Somehow he heard that remark, looked fiercely at SK, strode straight towards him and raised his book high above his head.  He was big sized.  Without thinking I stood up and said I was the one who made that remark and I immediately apologised.  He glared at me, said something which I can't remember and walked back to the front of the class.  That was a close shave.  I learned to keep my mouth shut after that.


After we left school, I used to drop by at his place and we'd discuss what we'd do with our lives.  The subject just went round and round with no progress.  One day we decided to pay a visit to our former Art teacher.  We rode around looking for the house until we located it.  We discussed the pursuit of Art as a future.  He showed us some of his art works.  His wife was baking some crabs and they were getting ready for lunch.   He started to drop hints that we should go somewhere else.  I guess they didn't have enough crabs for 4 so they didn't invite us to join in.  We bade goodbye and left them to enjoy their lunch.


I lost SK P'ng when he was in the final year in University Sains Malaysia, Penang.  He was on a motorcycle when a bus reversed into him, and then ran over him.  I wasn't aware of his demise until I dropped by at his place on Chinese New Year day as I always did before.  When I asked for him, his mother came out of the house and told me what happened to him with tears in her eyes.  I left the house in a daze and rode my motorcycle to Prai to look for my other friend, Jimmy Ooi.  He already knew as he had read about it in the papers.  We both felt lost.  We were supposed to be celebrating.


Now, I keep wondering about Jimmy (photo above).  We used to keep each other updated on our progress with life and work after we went out the school gates for the last time.  He left for Singapore to join the Police Academy and last I heard, he was in the anti-narcotics unit. The last time we met was when I went to work in a plywood factory in Kranji.  He took time off to visit me at our living quarters in Sembawang area.  However, my time in Singapore was over when I returned home a few months later.  We managed to keep our communications line open for a while after that.  The last time we corresponded was in 1975.  After that there were no more replies from him. 


Jimmy Ooi Khoon Beng, if you're still around somewhere and happen to be reading this blog, just leave a message.  


Just hoping......

Friday, July 15, 2005

Switching to Streamyx


For want of a better means to access the web I finally made the switch to Streamyx.  But at a great cost.  I had to forget about the RM75 prepaid balance left in my Jaring account.  And practically throwing away my dial-up modem.  No sense hanging on to that anyway.  To utilise that I would have to run up another RM112.50 in telephone charges and more frustration.  Everytime I log on I had to find something to chew on to prevent myself from falling asleep waiting for something to show up on the screen.  On top of that you could get cut-off in the middle of downloading something or doing a transaction.  It was definitely getting worse recently. 


Last weekend was the worst when it was totally inaccessible.  For 3 whole days I couldn't read emails nor get into my blog.  I 'shitted' and cursed the PC (quietly so that my kids couldn't hear me) and banged on the keyboard.  Luckily it was made to withstand this kind of treatment.  The people who designed it probably knew how frustrated people can get when using PCs, especially with the kind of dial-up service we have.


But connecting to Streamyx wasn't a breeze either.  I managed to get a friend to get me a modem.  I installed it myself.  That was the easy part.  To get connected I have to call the connection centre.  Everytime I called, the voice said, "Your call is valuable to us.  We are sorry but all our agents are occupied at the moment.  Please wait...." 

They played some slow music (trying to lull my senses).  A minute later the music stopped and the voice said the same thing again.  That same piece was repeated about every minute.  In my mind, the telephone bill was ringing up the charges.  After hearing about how valuable my call was for about a dozen times I'd already knew how valuable it was.  It was definitely not going down.  It was definitely valuable to them, but not to me.


I wondered if things are done differently elsewhere.  Here, we are tested for our patience everytime for whatever we need, as if we're not having to pay for it.  Are we really progressing?


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Desperate Houseflies


Pun intended.  This is not for TV series.  It is a boring Tuesday, oops, I mean Wednesday.  Starting the work-week on a day other than Monday sometimes throws my brain out of sequence.  Noticed a fly buzzing around at my desk.  What?  Right here in the office?  Yes.  It lands on my head, monitor, paper files and sometimes tickles my hand as I try to write an email.  Talk about flies.  They seem to be everywhere these days.


I remember at home early one evening while we were sitting down to a dinner which included a Petai dish.  It was still bright outside.  (Yes, our dinner time is around 7.00).  Petai curry already warmed up in a stainless steel pot.  We could catch whiffs of the captivating smell.  Those who've eaten or smelled Petai should know how captivating it is.  But we're not the only ones to notice.  As soon as the pot was opened, about half a dozen flies showed up buzzzzing.  Not only that.  They attacked.  They raided us.  They swarmed all over the dining table.  We got out 2 fly-swatters and counter-attacked.  I had to work my racquet (I mean swatter) like a Thomas Cup player.  I downed 3 of them.  They retreated for a moment.  But as soon as we settled down to eat, they buzzed us again.


They like to hover around close to your face, then try to land on the Petai.  As if they know you dare not hit them there.  You don't want to have Petai curry flying around as well.  So, we eat with spoon in one hand and swatter in the other because they also noticed as soon as you put down the swatter, they're cleared to land.


These flies probably come from the open dumpster on the opposite side of the junction from our back lane.  How I wish we have better garbage disposal system.  At least, people should be made to wrap up their garbage properly before they dump it.  As it is, people who rejoiced they bought a corner lot are now living in regret.  They have this open dumpster right outside their windows.  We are a little bit better because ours is one house further away.  Big deal.  We still have to deal with uninvited guests at mealtimes. 


Thursday, July 7, 2005

Human Re-Engineering - The Program



Day 1


·       Introduction of Instructor and team.

·       Introduction to the course, it’s major purpose.


1.    Changing mindset: perception from different points of view.

2.    Appreciating friends, job, and possessions

3.    Improving communications; speak with clarity and sincerity.

4.    Playing part in a team to make it strong.

5.    Replacing negative mindsets with positive attitudes.



Breaking Down

Like an old and decaying house, the old and stale mindset must be torn down completely, unwanted petty, self-centered, biased and prejudiced thinking eliminated and cleaned out and then only the rebuilding process begins.


Participants are allocated their rooms and told to get their baggage to go to their rooms to relax.  So the jokes, chattering, cigarette smoking starts and everbody grab their bags without any sense of hurry, care nor responsibility. The lessons have to start suddenly taking all by surprise.  This is the moment the military styled Commandos come in and start their action.  Nobody fools around with military officers.  They respond and obey instructions instinctively.


The trainee is put through a humiliating verbal barrage of insults, mockery of his/her pride in his job, position, and power; to bring down his self importance to the lowest level.  There is no more rank.  All must suffer if one of the team makes a mistake.  Those who show signs of pride, aloofness or uncooperative are singled out for special ‘treatment’.  The heat of the midday sun, rain (if any), crawling, kneeling, press-ups and other punishments are meted out to turn the soft, pampered and cosy lifestyle of routine work in an organisation into a living nightmare.  The objective of this drill is to create a sense of loss of one’s personal pride, source of income, life-style, and all connections with the rest of the world.  (Care is taken that nobody is physically threatened or injured) 


All watches, wallets, money, credit cards, phone-cards  and I.C.s are surrendered.  These are placed into plastic bags by the participants themselves, labelled with their names and taped up.  These are then put into a huge black plastic bag and then taped up completely.


In place of their identity cards, each person is given a ‘golden egg’ to keep throughout the course.  Each must ensure that is not broken.  Paticipants are then made to run to a higher ground a short distance away (about 50 meters), swear at the top of their voices to relinquish their jobs and to obey all instructions given by the instructor without question.


This is followed by another round of tongue-lashing to admonish those guilty of being lazy in their jobs, shirking responsibilities, blaming others for their own mistakes, quarrelsome, petty, back-stabbing others, while bringing attention to their clumsiness and inability in following simple instructions previously given.


Apologies and pep-talk

Instructor and assistants say sorry for their rough treatment of participants and explain the neccesity for the procedure.  There is a pep-up talk and the participants are taught a self improvement recitation (example): “I believe in what I’m doing and because I believe in it, I can achieve it.”


After this, all proceed to canteen for lunch.  After lunch, participants are given some time to wash and clean up before proceeding to the lecture room for another round of lecture.


Out on a Treasure Hunt.

Objective is to get the participants into groups, listen to a set of instructions, plan, choose a leader, and proceed to the objective.  Participants are told what is the objective, the time limit for them to reach it and return with the results, but not told how to go about it.  They have to figure it out for themselves. 




The Hot Chair

After dinner, participants are required to gather again for an all night session called the “Hot Chair” when the volunteer tells the group about himself and requests the group to tell him his faults, then sits quietly on a chair in the middle of the group and listen without interruption or defending himself by arguing against any criticism of his weaknesses, (which most people tend to do, thus failing in their effort to correct themselves) while his friends tell him his bad points so that he can improve himself by correcting his faults.  There must be enough time for every person to get a chance to sit on the chair.  There should be a break in the session after every few participants have their ‘hearing’ to enable their minds to relax, clear, and reset themselves.


There is break for light meal and refreshments.


In the deep of the night, music is played and the instructor speaks to the audience about correcting personal feelings towards work, friends, colleagues, superiors, subordinates, neighbours and family.  Trying to change from Negative to Positive Attitudes.  Appreciating the friendship, love and care shown by others.  Appreciating personal possession of job, income, home, and other material wealth, health and a sound mind.  Count the blessings and not the woes.




Day 2


Breakfast is served, buffet style.

Morning exercise is led by someone appointed from among the participants.  A mini-compo is made available for music so that aerobics exercise is also used.  The instructors then show up and some military training songs, self-improvement songs are taught.  A rallying shout is also introduced: “2,3,4, We Can -- We Must -- We Will -- Yeeeaaahh ... _(Company)_ BOLEH!”


The whole group then goes off jogging while singing the training song.  A car is on stand-by for those who cannot continue with the jogging.



Getting to REALLY Know Your Friends

The groups formed from the previous day is gathered.  Each member of the group gets a few minutes to tell the others about themselves, their likes and dislikes, feelings about life, their families, or past mistakes and future plans.  The rest of the group are told to listen carefully and remember their friends’ ‘stories’.



To Be Blind and Helpless

In this ‘race’, only the leader is not blind-folded.  The other members are not able to see, not allowed to talk, nor touch any of the others.  They are only to hear and follow the instructions of the leader to move towards a specified destination.  The competition is to get the whole group to reach the destination in the shortest time possible.  The lesson here is also to get a taste of what it is like to lose your sight and speech.


After this stage, the groups are informed that they have to prepare a sketch to be acted out, a group song and an individual song to be performed at the night gathering.


The whole group then heads back to the venue for lunch.




Appreciation, Responsibility and Teamwork

The participants, by now are relaxed about their behavior after eating just leave the table as it is.  The lesson continues with group singing lessons right after lunch, next to the lunch table.  Everybody enjoys this session thoroughly, singing along.  This is followed by the cheer-leading cries of ‘We can, we must, we will.... jokes and tricks and funny stories.  The instructor then tells everybody to go back to their rooms and clean up and relax.....


This next episode has to be a surprise.  A sudden change from relaxed mood to total tension.  Everybody is told to STOP right in their tracks. 


Thus begins the lesson of appreciation for the food one is served.  All are repremanded for being without any care for the messy condition of the dining table, the dirty dishes, forks and spoons just left strewn around after they have eaten.  After the tongue-lashing, everybody quickly proceeds to pick up dishes, forks and spoons, only to be told to STOP!...because they’re making too much noise, which means to sound like they’re doing it rather unwillingly, and only because they’ve been scolded.  They’re supposed to do things quietly.  NOT A SINGLE NOISE...  They start again, hap-hazardly, only to hear the STOP! command again. 


They are to complete the job in 2 minutes.  They are to organise themselves properly and work as a team, not each person on his own, and to arrange the items properly in the kitchen area.  If they think there’s not enough time, how about negotiating for more time?  Management is always willing to negotiate if the request is reasonable.  Five minutes?  No, only 4 minutes is given.  (Someone is supposed to ask for a watch to tell the time).  How to tell time without a watch?  They are told to go back to basics, to tell time by counting the seconds.  Obviously someone has to be the time-keeper.  Thus, as in all tasks, a meeting or discussion is required to plan the action.


When the job is completed the instructor comes in and congratulates everyone.  This follows with a lecture on the importance of working as a team, organising time, people, using whatever available resources and most importantly that each person in the team counts.


All go back to their rooms to refresh themselves and then return to the lecture room to watch a motivation movie.  The groups are to watch and note the important aspects, who are the real heroes, the motives, the meaning and the moral of the story.


The next project for the groups is to create a group logo, a name, a theme, a group song and finally to present it.  They are to discuss and are allowed to move freely to find their own private place to carrry out their assignment.  This is doubled as tea-break.


After the group theme, logo and song presentations, the participants proceed to another location for game of pretense and acting with a pillow.  The group form a huge circle and each person is to take turns to act out with the pillow whatever he perceives it to be.  On the next round, the pillow is replaced by the next person in the circle and he has to act out the similar action he did with the pillow!




The Dinner Torture

Dubbed as ‘Pudu Jail 1945’, it is ultimate lesson of the whole course and is considered the toughest test.  Dinner is served.  All plates are filled with rice by the commandos.  The food looks delicious.  Participants are invited to sit down at the table.  The Instructor comes in when all is ready, dressed in army jungle camouflage, head covered by a black scarf and tied up at the back, looking mean and tough.  He instructs all to eat only with a fork.  There should not be a single sound.  All the food must be finished.  Nothing is to be left on the plates. 


There are always 2 commandos close by the instructor.  The 3rd man stays at a distance and watch the overall situation.  The ‘harassment’ begins almost immediately.  Nobody owns up to making the first noise.  Everybody gets punished.  No fork is allowed.  Eat off the plate with the mouth.  If anybody’s plate is empty, he must ask for more rice.  Keeping quiet means another tongue-lashing.  The 1st round over, they go back to using the fork.  The Instructor goes away.


Round 2:  ‘Somebody’ makes a noise.  This time, the whole group stands up, hold the nearest person on both sides of him by the ears, and the whole group eats off the plates.  Then they have to do press-ups until the instructor after keeping up with his barrage of scoldings, is satisfied.  He gives instructions to resume eating ‘normally’ and goes away.


Round 3:  This time some kind-hearted soul ‘owns up’ to making the noise.  He takes the punishment of standing up on 2 decks of high chairs.  The 3rd man always on guard beside his chairs.  The rest of the group move back their chairs, take their plates and place them on the chairs and continue eating, without forks while holding on to their neighbours ears.  Again, after the instructor is satisfied, he gives the order to resume ‘normal’ eating.  The guy on the high chair gets a pardon as the rest of the group have taken the ‘punishment’ for him.  He has to say sorry and thanks to everyone before going back to his seat.


Round 4:  This round is the final.  Someone (a good natured guy whom everybody loves) is picked to take the ‘blame’ for the noise.  He has to stand on the high chairs.  The rest of the group puts the plates on the floor, hold each others’ ears, and continues eating off the floor.  Finally, all are allowed to stand up and listen to more scoldings and insults.  They are to hold the fork close to their eyes and look at the fork and think what they could do with it other than eating.


They are then told that to follow such instructions as eating with fork on porcelain plates and not making any noise is impossible, yet being intelligent people, why do they still follow?  Some of them are supposed to remember the oath they had taken on the first day, and to give that as the answer. 


The guy from the high chair who has ‘caused’ the rest of the group to be punished with such humiliation, now has to get down on all fours and crawl to each and every member, look up into his eyes and beg for forgiveness.  He should have, by now, a deep sense of remorse for causing everyone to suffer for his ‘clumsiness’.


When that is over, the Instructor explains to everyone that this part of the course is the toughest for him and his men, because it is not easy being cruel to people.  He certainly finds it very distasteful to go through this session, but because it has its major purpose, it must be done.  He hopes that nobody will harbour any grudges against him after this.  Then all members of his team proceed to shake hands with all the participants, apologise, hug them (except for the women) and ask for forgiveness.


The wallets, handphones and watches are then returned to their respective owners.  They are allowed time to make phone calls home, return to their rooms to wash up, then to get ready for the evening group songs, sketches, etc.




An Evening of Entertainment

The groups are allowed enough time to rehearse their sketches and songs.  And the home made entertainment starts and continues into the night, with a pause for snacks and refreshments.  This followed by disco dancing, just to allow some free expression.


As on the previous night, the deep of the night is again set aside for thought provoking lectures.  With pauses for sentimental music in between.  This time the focus is on Mother.  The listener is led to think as far back as he can remember, to the time he was aware of the mother’s care and love...etc... to remember every little thing that mother did for him.  The idea is to remind the person that without Mother, he is nothing....




Day 3


Spider Web

After breakfast and morning exercise, the whole group walks to a lake where kayaking facilities are available.  Here, another team event takes place before the kayak event.  A net with a large hole in the centre (for a person to go through without touching the strings) is strung between two trees.  This represents a high power electrically charged fence.  Each group, one on each side has to pass its members from one side of the fence to the other without touching the ‘fence’.  The game finishes when all members of one side are safely passed to the other side and the same goes for the group from the other side.




The Combined Kayaks

The objective is to get as many as five persons on each kayak.  This is not possible if each kayak is on its own.  Therefore, some organising work is required.  The people are allowed some time to row around with the kayaks for a while to experience with manouvering, turning, and reversing.  Care has to be taken to pair off those who can’t swim with those who can.  Safety rules like wearing lifevests must be followed. 




The Closing Ceremony and Certificate Presentation

After the kayak outing all participants proceed to lunch and then to their rooms to clean up and get dressed for the closing ceremony.  All are advised to prepare a speech, but due to time constraints, not all will be given a chance to speak.  Therefore speakers will be picked at random.


The chief instructor will give a summing up lecture, again outlining the importance of change in each person.  Change for the better, from negative to positive mental attitude.


Passing out certificates are then presented to all participants.  The whole group are gathered outside for a group photograph.  All members of the instructors team come forward and shake hands with the participants on the way out to the waiting transport.