Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Don't "play play" in cyberspace

Don't "play play" with online content. Always be truthful with yourself and with others. If the truth is unsavoury, just keep it to yourself. Let it be buried with you. If you're proud of it and wish the whole world to know, go ahead, put it in your blog. Your friends would be happy and proud to know you. People who read your blog would thank you for sharing your knowledge and information. They learn something from you.

A real life drama has unfolded and a photographer has just been exposed as a fraud in screenshots the whole story is now being explained in HERE and here's the law that says you can't do as you please even in cyberspace. You think you can fool around with false info? Think again. The whole world is watching. Don't play play hah....

Monday, August 29, 2005

Political Awareness

Much as I dislike being drawn into making statements on politics, I found myself with no choice but to stick my neck into it, even though my neck just recently went back into its former nagging self of reminding me not to exert any stress on it.  It must have been when I 'volunteered' to help a relative drill some holes into an overhang of a porch to hang some shades.  I made the error of trying to drill into a concrete beam.  Man that was tough.  Unfortunately the resultant vibrations probably transmitted up my arm along the nerve which is touching the prolapsed disc, causing an inflammation again.  That was made worse when I carried some 10 kgs of durians from one end of the pasar malam to another.  OMG I've become such a weakling.  Probably I'll have to endure another long 6 months (as one doctor told me the last time) of nagging pain in the neck and tingling in right arm. 


Back to the politics, I found myself the last few days lending my voice to defend some commenters and the Sreenshots blogger himself when some other commenters went a little too critical of the blogger's objectives.  For details see: echo_chamber


We are talking about major changes here, and we have to understand that there is not much any single person or group can do, but whatever can be achieved is done through the concerted effort of everyone.  We have our differences of opinions, but definitely we need to agree that it has to be achieved without blood and bombs.

And then there is also the 48 year old race issue which Malaysians have carried as a painful and embarrassing baggage, which we think that our ruling party tries to keep afloat just as a reminder that their party is the only answer to National Unity and Progress.  We have now to start thinking if this is really so.  Most of us have our doubts.  See this: Race_policy

I have hi-lighted all these here just to keep you guys reminded you will soon be joining those going to the polls to decide who will form the next government or opposition.  Perhaps we already know who will still be in the government, but will it do this country any good if this government always holds the extreme majority?  We all know that anything in extremity is usually not good in the long run.  It is pretty unhealthy for a democratic country.


Well, I leave it to you to think about this.  I have no love for politics, but I need to keep my finger on the pulse of this country just like every good citizen.  And I also think I cannot just keep quiet and remain part of the Silent Majority while our system is constantly being abused.  At the same time I have to be careful with my statements so that they don't come out as racial or seditious.  Sticking out my neck is a risk but I have my concerns about your future.  The time will come when you have to do your part for the country and for the next generation.  I'm trying to raise your awareness to all these things.  The real learning of and from life has just begun.  Many things may not be what they seem to be.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Please walk the talk

I'm quite sure you're wondering what I've been up to these days, what with putting up all those web links on speeches of people like Dr. Lim Keng Yaik, writings of Dr. Bakri Musa, and "daily doses" an on-line archive dealing with Malaysian issues, Din Merican and even the Malaysian Constitution.  I must be leading you up to something.  OK, here's what has been going on in my mind.  Honestly, I'm rather confused as well as depressed by so many strange happenings on our political arena.  This is an area I'd rather cautiously tread, knowing the consequences of talking about something I don't fully understand.   So, instead of making statements, I’d be putting them up as questions, albeit, mostly without the question marks.  I just have to get this off my chest.

I've been thinking hard like all thinking Malaysians, including the ones mentioned above.  I’m pretty distressed after reading about the rhetoric of a youth leader of our ruling party at their recent general assembly, which included the brandishing of a keris at unmentioned enemies.  An assembly in which we saw how loads of easy cash in the form of APs (approved permits) were being handed on silver platters to some chosen cronies without regard to others of their own kind who still wallow in poverty in spite of 35 years of 'corrective action' in their favour, not to mention the underprivileged members of other communities who are also considered citizens.  What have all their representatives in the so-called coalition been doing all this while?  Condoning their actions or also joining in the fray? 

Meanwhile, what about the costs of utilities, essentials, and tolls that has been upped by several notches within a couple of years?  More still are slotted to go up, while the questioning voice of the minority opposition which pleaded for transparency in government dealings with concessionaires are met with total silence.  I wonder who's really responsible for all these.  What’s going to happen to those who live from hand to mouth?  Will the hand reach the mouth after this?

My thoughts have been going back to the hungry years when we had to struggle to get a decent job.  We had taken it in our stride and accepted that we needed to work very hard to get what we wanted.  And we're quite happy with whatever we got.  We even take our hats off to those who made it to top places through their own efforts without any connections with people in high places, even though some of them are not of our own race. 

Ironically, after 48 years of independence, it's still 'us' and 'them' in this country.  Why are we still divided as bumiputras and non-bumiputras, muslims and non-muslims by the decision makers.  Aren’t they ignoring the real reasons, while trying to artificially create racial harmony by such means as national service programs, coerced interaction among students and other window dressing?  Why is there always an invisible wedge being driven between 2 main groups of citizens while outwardly we are told to unite and be seen as a harmonious nation? 

I am concerned because the bulk of the under-privileged are still out there regardless of whatever race they belong to, trying hard to make ends meet from day to day, while the clamouring by the privileged few for that strangely elusive 30% is still going on, in spite of the fact that some of these people or their friends can afford to live in huge bungalows complete with their own helipads.  And I feel sad because, in spite of being born and bred here we, who are also accorded equal rights by the Constitution, are still struggling to be regarded as equals.  As Dr. Lim rightly said, I can understand but how can I explain that to my children?  Try harder?  I'd hate to see my children go through the hungry years like me.

I am wondering whether the promise of a corruption free government will ever happen in my life time so that I can at least see more honourable use of our tax money, EPF investments and oil profits to further improve the lives of more of our country folks, reduce crimes and provide more job opportunities to our university graduates.  But sadly, from what I read in all the writings by those in the know, it seems our people in high places are more preoccupied with garnering more votes during every election just to ensure that they are the ones holding the absolute power to do whatever they like so that they can distribute more wealth amongst themselves.

Over to you, Pak Lah.  Please walk the talk now.  Otherwise your team may not be cheering after the next elections.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Life on the Farm - Part 5


Farm Boy in School


My elder brothers, elder sister and two younger sisters all attended Poay Wah Chinese Primary School, located somewhere behind the main Tanjung Bungah market.  What they learned at school, they repeated loudly at home.  I soon began to repeat what they read without even looking at their books.  Home life became dull when they went off to school so much so that I wanted to go to school too!  I cried and told my father so.  He laughed and said I needed to grow up first.


During this time, though, I used to listen while my eldest brother played his harmonica.  He had bought it for $2.00 from our uncle’s sundry shop.  “Butterfly” brand - made in Japan.  (Twenty years later, I saw the same brand on sale at a supermarket with a price tag of $24.00!).  When he went to school, I would take the harmonica from his cupboard and played whatever tunes that he played.  I kept at it until I could get the tune right and kept practicing.  One of my favorites was old_black_joe and some old Chinese marching tunes.  Like a good brother he never questioned how I could play so well without even practicing.


Some years later, my father bought a Chinese flute which he tried to learn.  He was not successful but he left it hanging on the wall.  I took over and kept at it until I managed to get a recognizable tune and able to repeat it.  But I managed to obtain only 6 notes.  I kept asking him if that was all we got?  Is there no way we can obtain more notes to give us a wider range?  I can’t remember how long I kept at it.  I wanted to ask an old man staying across the river, who occasionally passed by our place to go to the foothills to trap birds and some small animals.  I heard that he could play the flute.  But I never got to ask him.  He seemed unapproachable as he kept to himself and seldom talked to anyone.  Eventually I stumbled upon the secret.  I had just to blow harder to get a higher pitch to get the next 6 notes.  Voila!  I have now 12 notes to play with!


So, some evenings on this quiet countryside you could hear a Chinese flute playing a classical tune, that would be me.  Some neighborhood guys told me I risk injuring my lungs and I could cough out blood and die if I kept playing it.  I believed they were jealous that I could do what they couldn't.  But I kept quiet and didn't rub it in.


When I was born, my father bought a “Robin Hood” bicycle.  He had bet some money on my birth certificate number and won some money.  It came with 3 speeds and a “hub” brake, some kind of new feature in bicycles at that time.  It was a strong machine.  I used it when I later attended St. Xavier’s Institution from Form 1 - 5.


When the time came for me to attend school, my mother decided to send me to an English school.  She thought I could do with less homework.  I assumed she was just following what our 2nd Uncle’s wife did.  She sent her son along with her sister’s children to that same school in Pulau Tikus, a half hour journey by bus.  I became the only kid in the neighborhood with an English education and also the neighborhood kids’ target of ridicule as an “ang mo sai” (red haired man’s shit!).  I hated it for a long time.  But I ignored the ridicules and other snide remarks.  I somehow decided I'd be going places where none of them ever would. 


The first few days at school was pretty confusing for me.  I wondered why some of the other kids had to make such a huge fuss attending school for just a few hours.  They wouldn't let their mothers out of their sights.  They yelled out their lungs and disturbed everyone else. 


We wore white shirts and shorts for uniform.  We were allowed to wear any kind of shoes then.  I had a pair of leather shoes handed down from my uncle.  One day it rained heavily on the way home.  I waded through the puddles in the roads without removing them as I didn't want to hurt my feet.  By the time I reached home, the shoes had fallen apart.  I got new shoes after that.


One evening, after the first few months at school, as I was rushing to board a bus, being afraid that I could not get on the bus and be left behind as it was getting quite late, I slipped while grappling with another boy trying to get on the bus before it could stop.  I fell and I cannot remember what happened next, but I ended lying on the ground with both my legs hurting badly.  Some gentlemen whom I didn’t recognise got me into a car and sent me to hospital where I stayed for a while.  They wrapped a plaster cast on my left leg after putting me through x-rays, and I was unable to get up to go to the toilet.  I didn’t know how to use a bed-pan.  I couldn't go lying on my back so I wet the bed instead.  But I did enjoy some of the food they handed out, especially the bread with jam.  I never had that on the farm.  The jam tasted wonderful.  Sometimes I still try to recall the taste of it. 


After that I stayed home for another length of time.  I still couldn’t walk so I crawled around the house.  My father had to take me back to the hospital for regular check-ups.  We had to take a bus to Pulau Tikus.  From there, we boarded a trishaw which took us via a shorter route to the hospital.  Once, it rained heavily while we were in the trishaw.  We both got very wet by the time we arrived.


By the time my legs had healed enough for me to walk and return to school, I had missed a lot of lessons.  I didn’t know how I did it but I managed to get through primary school all in A classes and even became a prefect in Standard 6.  I was poor in mathematics and had migraine attacks almost every day around the time we had our maths lessons.  I was quite interested in drawing and was getting to be quite good at it.  When I was in Standard 3, a teacher drew some posters in pencil and told me to color them, then entered them in a contest.  One of the posters was judged 3rd prize.  I won some books as prizes and everyone congratulated me.  But I wasn’t very happy about it.  It wasn’t my work and I didn’t think I would have won anything if I did it all myself. 


I was pretty shy in school but I tried to get along with other students.  I managed to join them sometimes in a few games of marbles.  One time, I won quite a lot in a game and put the whole lot into my school bag.  The so-called school bag happened to be made of thick cardboard to shape like our present day executive’s briefcase, but thicker.  So, imagine a few dozen glass marbles loose inside the case!  My father, one evening lifted it up for no apparent reason to find it so heavy and noisy with the sound of marbles rolling around inside.  He gave me a lecture about spending my time playing instead of studying in school.  


Sometimes we would play “Cops and Robbers”.  We would split into 2 groups.  One became the cops and the other, the robbers.  The cops would have to catch all the members of the other party and bring them into a ring drawn on the ground.  They were to stay in the ring until they were ‘rescued’ by members of their group.  The cops had to catch all of the robbers.  After that, they would switch sides and became robbers instead.  It was more fun being robbers and try to outrun the other side.


On another occasion in our school canteen I won quite a lot of sweets at a “Tikam” board, a game of chance whereby you pay five cents to pull a piece of folded paper off a board, open it to find a number which you match with bags of items attached to the board.  If your number matched with any of the numbers on those items, you’ve won it.  (These board games were later abolished from school canteens as they were supposed to be a bad influence on school kids.)  I kept the whole bag of sweets in my school bag and ate them everyday, all by myself!  By age 10, most of my teeth had cavities!  Luckily, we had a school nurse who ran a dental clinic.  I had all my cavities filled with silver fillings.  Those were times I spent in agony anticipating a call from the nurse who sent the summonses on a white form with a green sticker, brought to our classroom by a student who had just come from the “torture-chamber”.  If your name was on that form, you had to take it and present yourself at the clinic.  Then resign yourself to the chair and let the nurse “torture” you with her drill on any tooth she so chose.


Like most kids I had to face school bullies sometimes.  Once, a cousin of mine who was a year older than me insulted one of my classmates.  His elder brother angrily came over and thumped me on the shoulder with his fist.  I was curious as to why he did that.  Maybe I was smaller in size than my cousin.  I didn't know whether to feel insulted, laugh or get angry.  These shoulders that had carried heavy things and been hit by harder objects than that, didn't feel a thing.  Pa had always warned us about fighting with other kids.  Win or lose we'd get it when we get home.  I let those kids have the benefit of the doubt.  I was in Std 5 when I really had no choice but to floor one kid who went too far.  He was shoving me and trying to get a fist into my face.  I placed a foot behind him and shoved back at him.  He landed on the dusty ground.  He didn't try to intimidate me after that.


Life on the Farm - Part 4

Planting Vegetables

Before 1960, our farms had only one access to the main road.  This little road passed through a pig farm belonging to our stock feed supplier.  It was a huge place. They kept half a dozen dogs running loose around the place.  It was always a frightening experience trying to get pass the place without disturbing those canines.  Their barks were worse than their bites, or so we thought until, one day, I got a taste of one of their bites.  I was running after my mother.  She was learning how to ride a bicycle.  A few of the animals came after me and one of them sank his teeth into my calf.  Luckily, my mother’s shouts managed to get them away or I would have suffered a fate worse than just a few fang marks on my legs.

Further on down the road, there was a wooden bridge across a stream larger than the one that ran behind our pig sties.  Crossing this bridge and another 100 meters of earth road would take us to a tarred road, called Vale of Tempe (now renamed Lembah Permai).

There was another route to get to the main road, but there was no bridge here.  We had to wade across the stream.  This was where our smaller stream joined the larger stream.  The shallow area happened to be the widest part, about 6 meters across, and the water during good weather, was about knee deep for adults.  For me, every time after I crossed that place I had to remove my pants and wring out the water.  During the monsoon rains it would be suicidal to try to cross the stream. 

Nearby, one of our neighbors used a spade to scoop sand and throw it up the bank creating sand pyramids.  He probably sold the sand to construction companies.  He also created a pool which was quite deep.  Ma and I used this spot to wash our mosquito nettings once a year during spring cleaning.  My brothers and I went swimming here once.  When we got home, Pa was waiting for us with a cane.   He whacked my 2 elder brothers mercilessly.  I watched in fear and horror but stood by waiting to be caned as well.  But I wasn’t.  My mother later told me according to a fortune-teller I was not supposed to go swimming before I reached 18 years old.  As if it was an unspoken promise, father took us all to the beach and let us learn how to swim after my eighteenth birthday. 

In 1959, a rich man came to our area and started a granite quarry at the foot of the hill behind our farms.  The quarry interfered with our water supply and from then on we were always having problems trying to get enough water for our farm use.  This “Towkay” widened up the small roads so that his tractors could get to the quarry.  He also built a concrete bridge across the big stream.  During rainy weather, the roads became rivers of mud and usually his trucks or car would get stuck and he would get his workers to push to get them going again.  From the time the quarry started operation, we never had a quiet day except Chinese New Year and some weekends when the quarry stopped work.  In the beginning, we could not get used to the blasts of the dynamites they let off during rock blasting operations.

Although we were not considered poor we were always in debt to the stock-feed supplier.  Each time we sell off 1 lot of pigs, we managed to pay off a portion of the debt.  But in a matter of a few days or weeks, we were back to the old score.  Once, father bought a new motorcycle.   The supplier came and gave my father a hard time.  Even though he was a distant relative, a cousin of my uncle who married my father’s younger sister, it did not make any difference.   We never got free of that debt until we finally gave up pig farming after my eldest brother got married, started a family and moved out of the farm.

While we were growing up and more of us could handle more work, father started to plan a vegetable farm.  Tapioca plots soon gave way to sweet potatoes and vegetables.  For water, we depended on the drains that flowed from the foothills.  One of these flowed through the neighboring farm before it reached our ponds.  During dry season we had to keep going to the source of the supply to make sure the water continue to flow into our drain.  Sometimes we had to do that at night when nobody else needed water.  If didn’t do that, our ponds would not have enough to water our vegetables the next day.  The worst part was vegetables grew best during the dry seasons.  Yet, for more work, we didn't get more gains because vegetables usually became too cheap then.

To water the plants, we used large watering cans carried on two ends of a pole balanced on the shoulders.  It was tricky at first but when we got used to it we could also switch from right shoulder to left and vice-versa, in order to water the plants on the either side of the beds.  Each can contained about 25 liters of water which would be about 50 kilograms total in weight.  Except for mother, none of our girls had to do this job.  To scoop up the water from the pool we had to get in the pool with both cans carried the usual way.  In some places we cut steps into a coconut trunk and stick one end into the bottom of the pool and lean the trunk against the side.  Getting out of the pool on the narrow steps with the loaded cans took considerable skill.

Vegetable seeds were sown separately on a nursery bed.  When they were about 4 – 5 inches high, the seedlings had to be transplanted.  Pa or I prepared the beds making sure they were properly leveled, while my two younger sisters did the transplanting.  They probably had the fastest fingers this side of the hills.  They could finish transplanting a 3 X 40 feet bed in half an hour!  After this I had to cover the newly planted seedlings with coconut leaves.  3 days later the coconut leaves were removed and I would cut furrows with a small rake in between the seedlings and put some organic manure (translation: chicken dung) in them. 

The chicken dung was from the various locations and accumulated in the dump and left to ferment and dry.  There were always millions of maggots crawling around.  The maggots were actually helping to loosen up the dung.  When you stir up the dung the smell could be horrible.  Usually it would be steaming hot as well.  If you were having a cold it could help to clear up your stuffed nose pretty quickly.  I think it would also be good for those who fainted.  It should wake them up in no time.  Well, living so close to these smells sort of immunized us.  It was only usually visitors who noticed that living on a farm wasn't as idyllic as some people try to make it out to be.  Some people like me.