Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Look who's having a dip in my pool?

The online ad went: 'The Water's Warm - And These Deals are Hot!'

But look who's having a dip in my pool?

Wife practices recycling like it's a religion. Even collects used water from the washing machine for mopping floors.

This morning we heard something splashing around in the bucket of used water out in the porch. But when we looked, we saw nothing. Not even a ripple on the surface.


Whatever was in there had probably submerged to avoid detection... (unlike our French submarine... hahaha)

'Don't put your hand in there!' She warned me. She must think I'm used to putting my hand into some place where I couldn't even see what's in it. I'm not about to risk losing my hand nor any of my fingers for that matter.

Later, after we came back from our morning walk, I glanced again into the bucket and saw this 'handsome prince wannabe' enjoying a relaxing swim...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shot by ear...

Went hiking.  And as usual with my digicam in my waist pouch.  Then I saw this beauty flitting by.  (They must know I have a camera with me.  They love hanging around me!)  So I reached for my pouch and pulled out my camera.  Then lo!  I found out I forgot to pack my reading glasses along!  So, I shot this by ear.  I mean, I listened to the 'bleep' when the focus was right.  Auto focus.  Golly!  She turned out great!  Just what I wanted.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother of Mothers

A Mother's day dedication 
(in loving memory of Mother-in-law who passed away 10 years ago)

Before the funeral services began every son-in-law was given a black umbrella. As the youngest son-in-law, I took my place among my brothers-in-law standing to one side, while the eleven children of the deceased knelt before the casket. Vegetarian food, fruits and floral offerings decked the table before it. The Buddhist priest and nuns chanted solemn prayers to the tinkling of bells.

The morning started slightly cool and breezy but as the funeral service progressed, dark clouds rolled in overhead. When the rains suddenly pattered down, each son-in-law stepped forward, umbrella in hand to try to shield those kneeling from the rain. We were joined by friends who had come prepared with umbrellas. It was only for a short while but it came like a test of devotion. She could now rest in peace knowing her children and grandchildren would be well taken care of.

She had shown us all by her example that devotion is what counts the most to carry a family through thick and thin, from one generation to the next.

* * * * *

She had lived her teenage years doing odd jobs around the neighborhood, like pounding rice from the husks in exchange for some of the rice. Their mother passed away while they were still too young to know. Their father went blind. Though she came 2nd, when the father passed on she took over the responsibility of fending for the family.

The two young brothers they had didn't survive their childhood through lack of proper care. It was understood they died after falling sick having encountered some evil spirits on an evening while bathing at a remote well near the jungle behind their house. Piped water was unheard of. They couldn't even afford to dig their own well.

The 3rd girl was given away to a rich family when she was eight years of age as a ‘little daughter-in-law.’ But she worked the household chores day and night like a maid. Such was the custom in those days. Whenever there was a chance for her to return home for a visit, there would always be a tearful parting again on the very same day. In their poverty they accepted all as their fate. In time she was officially to become their daughter-in-law. By then, the parents were gone. But if wealth were of any comfort, she could now afford to send food, money and other offerings for prayers during their anniversaries.

When they grew up, there came a suitor for the eldest girl. Her older sister had the audacity to turn him down. She didn’t like his looks. To avert the embarrassment of the suitor she accepted the proposal in her sister’s place. Thus while still a teenager of eighteen; she was given away in marriage. Her entire trousseau was a blouse, a sarong and a pair of shoes.

For her humility it seemed the Goddess of Mercy saw fit to smile upon her. In the little town where they settled, there were two brothers who shared her same family name. The elder ran a rubber trading shop while the younger owned a petrol station. They came to her like the reincarnations of the two brothers she had once lost. They adopted her as their sister and took it upon themselves to help her start a sundry shop business and also bought a few relongs of rubber holdings in her name.

In time, the family grew to eleven, of four boys and seven girls. They continued to prosper, and the sons grew up and took over the running of the shop and the rubber estate. Having done all her share of menial labor, no task was too lowly for her. She continued to work as hard as anyone else, in the shop as well as in the kitchen or out in the back-yard feeding some ducks and chickens, and even planted flowers and herbs.

She was soft-spoken and gentle to a fault and never used a harsh word on anyone. The end of each year would see her boarding buses in turns, in various directions, bearing gifts of eggs, chickens, fruits and other foodstuffs and clothes to her sisters who have by then married and raised families of their own. She took it upon herself to visit each and every one of them to keep their ties intact in accordance to her father's dying wish.

They owned a car. In those days this little 'one-horse town’ was where you could count the number of cars on the fingers of one hand. If the occasion coincided with their regular trips to buy goods in the next town or city, she would rather let neighbors hitch a ride in the car, while with the youngest daughter in tow to help her carry her things; she'd quietly board public buses whose attendants know her by name.

Year ends would also find her traveling to all the temples that housed the deities from whom she had occasion to ask for blessings, cures and protection for her family throughout the year, bearing offerings of food or cash for charity and prayers in thanks-giving for the blessings she had abundantly received.

Poor neighborhood kids would not go hungry as long as she knew about their conditions.

At times when their next-door neighbor found it hard to make ends meet, she would quietly passed bags of rice through a side door without her husband’s knowledge.

She would make sure that any visitor to the house would have enough to eat and have as comfortable a bed as her own children if they choose to stay. And much to the chagrin of the children, many an occasional visitor, related or otherwise, could stay as long as he/she needed.

* * * * *

From the very day that I had spoken for her daughter she had treated me like a son. And all would attest to the fact that she valued every son-in-law like she would her own flesh and blood. By then, she was of the age when her legs were not as strong and steady as they used to be, which was not helped by her failing eyesight, and I, when I could afford a car, was only too willing to drive her to wherever she wanted to go.

Because it was my wife being most available to attend to her needs and being her closest confidant that she chose to spend her last days in our home. We had hoped that she was trying to recover her health, but it seemed apparent she was already prepared to go. Somehow, I felt I could have done more for her in her final days, but alas, it was too late for misgivings.  And in an intesive care unit of a private hospital quite a distance from home, she breathed her last.

It was but after the funeral, when we’d returned from the cemetery and the last of visitors and service people had left, that I sat down in a state of numbness in the hallway, when it finally came upon me like there was an immeasurable emptiness inside my chest that my inconsolable emotions gave vent to an undignified torrent of tears.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Stories from the workplace III

After I quit the nightmare job in Jakarta in 1985, I returned to Malaysia.  It was a bad year for job-hunting, but I had no other option.  I was at the end of my rope.

By sheer good luck, a friend of my wife told me to contact her friend, a Managing Director of a plastics injection molding factory called Exzone.  My job involved anything that came along; from product and process designing, trouble-shooting, to delivery and debt collection.  The pay wasn't enough to cover our daily expenses, but I took it.   
To augment my income I set up a classroom in my rented house and taught Art and English in the evenings and took on any other part time job that friends could come up with.  Those were my new friends in SP town but they willingly helped me out when they heard my story.

One day, after I had been with Exzone for a year, I was told to report at Euston, an American owned contract manufacturing plant.  (The owner resided in Hong Kong.)  I had, on a few occasions met executives from Euston as we were one of their vendors.  I had often wondered to myself whether I could get a chance to work in there.  My boss had a deal with him to send me there for a month.  

I went to meet the General Manager called Andy.  He wanted me to make sketches of Euston, the people at work, the machinery, the facilities, etc.  His intention was to create a brochure to promote the factory's facilities in the USA.  He wanted something unique, artistic and low cost.  He hired me for a month to do the job.  I finished the sketches in about ten days and handed them to him.  He said he'll get someone in the US to take care of the rest of the job.  I don't know till today what happened to those sketches.  I never saw any brochure either.

I just knew that I wouldn't be short of anything to do with the rest of the time.  While looking around the factory, I met a supervisor who was wringing her hands in frustration.  She was struggling to meet a deadline to deliver some painted toys but the Tampon-Printer broke down and she had no replacement–part available.  The replacement part had to be ordered from Hong Kong.  She asked me if I could think of something.  I took a look at the machine and realized all she needed was a wiping blade.  I asked her to find me a box-cutter blade.  I replaced the broken blade with the cutter blade after leveling off both slanted ends on a bench grinder.  It worked just fine and she completed the order without a hitch. 

Then she asked if I could help her with another problem.  She was short of some spray paint of one particular shade.  To order it from Hong Kong would take at least 2 to 3 weeks to arrive.  I told her to get me all the colors she had.  I then mixed a few colors together until I got the right shade needed.  This and other little problems helped make my days get by easier.

Euston's temporary canteen was in bad shape.  The original canteen was turned into an office after a fire burned out the factory office and store earlier that year.  Andy suggested that we built another canteen.  He wanted it built like the attap huts he saw at the beach hotels in Penang.  So we threw in whatever we got in terms of experience in building a house with nipah roof.  One morning, Andy was trying his hand at tying the nipah leaves up on the roof and he yelled, "Ouch, Shit!" 

I asked, "What's that?" 

He said, "Oh, it's something soft and brownish and smelly..."  I laughed.  He said he poked on his thumb with the sharp end of the split rattan string. 

He asked me what to do if a piece of split rattan string ran out.  I said to join it with another length of string by tying it in a weaver's knot.  That way we get the smallest possible knot.  After that I kept hearing him swearing away at weaver's knots until we ran out of split rattan strings. 

We did not finish even one-third of the roofing when we gave up and he called in a guy who could do it professionally.  He used rafia strings and a big needle and finished the job two weeks later.

Before the end of that month, Andy asked the secretary to make out a check for me.  I was told that the company's cash in the bank was in limited supply.  There was also the guy who repaired the canteen waiting to be paid.   

As soon as I got the check, I said to Andy, “I’m going to the bank.”  He remarked that I seemed eager to get my money first before anyone else got it.  I laughed and said I got a wife, a 3-year-old kid and a new born baby at home.  I needed the money.  Andy followed me to the bank.  He helped me to get the check deposited into my account.  It was the first time I used an ATM card.  He then followed me to the house and I showed him the new baby, our second daughter.

On what was supposed to be my last day, Andy said to me.  “How would you like to work for us permanently?  We seem to get along pretty well”.  I thought he was joking, especially about the 'getting along' part, but I said I'd love to.  We discussed my salary and he said I’d get whatever Exzone was paying me.  I said it would be an insult to my current boss.  He raised the offer by another RM100.  I took the job.  I was to learn later that it was a colleague, who suggested to him about taking me on.  But a few days later, before he could give me an official appointment, he resigned as GM.  I was left without a post but he told me not to worry about my job status. 

One day the Managing Director came over from Hong Kong.  He told the secretary that as he was walking around the factory he noticed a "Chinese guy" who was working even after everybody else had gone home.  The secretary told him who I was, then explained to him the precariousness of my position.  The next day she gave me an appointment letter signed by the MD which I immediately accepted.  That was August 1986.  I was placed in charge of a lawn-sprinkler production line. 

Three months later, I had the good fortune of accompanying a colleague who wanted to ask the MD for some extra benefits, and I raised the fact that my probation was up.  He immediately promised that I’d be confirmed in my appointment.  The next day I received a confirmation letter stating that my pay has been raised by another RM350.  For the second time in my working life I was earning a four-figure salary. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

Stories from the workplace II

When I was at my first job I thought my boss was terrible. One day I saw a poster on the wall of a client's office. It said: "Be nice to your boss. The next one may be worse". The message became stuck in my mind.

The best boss I ever worked with was an Australian who declared, "My highest qualification is my driving license". He actually had an Able-Seaman's Certificate. He was a sailor before he became an automotive production engineer. He was the Engineering Manager who hired me. His method of solving problems reminded me of MacGyver. He once used chewing gum to stick parts on a viewing platform of a gyroscope. He has since retired to his farm in Australia where he built his own house from scratch. The last I heard of him he was building a boat.

I learned never to argue with a boss. I'd put in my opinion if I thought something wasn't right. But I always kept in mind that no matter how stupid he is, he's still the boss. But I had one boss with whom I had a huge tiff. One morning, I was under heavy pressure to solve a few problems, all of which came up at the same time. While I was handling the calls he announced and insisted that the report on our job responsibilities he wanted from us had to be handed to him as soon as possible. I lost my cool there and then. I raised my voice by several decibels wanting to know what's so important about the damned report when there were more important issues to settle. Our unwritten rule was that production problems were treated as top priority. Obviously, he wasn't aware of that. He insisted that if I couldn't accept his demand as a priority, I shouldn't be disappointed at the end of the year when the appraisals were given out.

I couldn't believe he'd stoop so low. Although I wouldn't give a damn about his appraisal, I ate humble pie and apologized for raising my voice, but the report he wanted still had to come later when all other priorities were settled.

Weeks later, another of my colleagues had a tiff with him. This guy didn't hesitate to give him a piece of his mind either. Within the next few minutes, he'd type out a resignation letter and threw it on his desk. I would have loved to do the same but that particular engineer had a Masters in Engineering from U.K. under the Prime Minister's Scholarship. He could get another job as soon as he walked out the door.

We could sense that the working atmosphere in our department had deteriorated beyond repair.

There were several problems which the Supply Dept and the supplier couldn't solve. A metal part cracked under our process. Our boss had to answer to the CEO on this as the customer was demanding delivery. He ordered me carry out several experiments which he proposed, to improve the results. All of his proposals didn't show any positive results. Without his consent I had done some experiments of my own. The parts didn't crack but looked dull and might not be acceptable to the customer. I proposed that we show the CEO the results of my experiment, but he hesitated. 'He who hesitates is lost', I thought to myself.

Then a funny thing happened. The CEO called for an emergency meeting which included all engineers. As expected the CEO was furious after seeing the results of the experiments. I looked at my boss. He looked like he was lost. He tried to argue that some of the results he showed could be used as the rejects were quite low. The CEO could not accept that. He looked around the room and asked if there was any other solution.

I had the results of my experiment together with samples in my pocket. I took them out and laid them on the table without a word. The CEO looked at the samples and said if we could produce parts like that without any cracks, then we should proceed. I said that we could introduce that change of procedure as a temporary measure until the supplier could give us improved material. Somehow, that temporary measure had since become permanent.

That boss of ours did not last out till the end of that year. I wasn't surprised at all and I'd forgotten whether my year-end appraisal turned out any worse than usual. Like I said, I wouldn't give a damn. He didn't get to do anybody's appraisal anyway.

A month later I had a phone call from a friend who was Finance Manager of the company that had just hired him. He asked me what kind of an ex-colleague I had, who quarreled with the security guard on his first day at work. I said that he was my ex-boss and he's not my problem anymore.

That finance manager friend of mine would eat people like that for breakfast if it comes to a showdown. He used to be company secretary and also worked as consultant to several organizations and had a reputation of being very aggressive in the board-room.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Stories from the Workplace I

I read somewhere that working with idiots can kill you. I'm quite sure of that. I've had a fair share of working with some of them throughout my working life, enough to fill volumes. But I'm not going to dwell on too much of it. God knows, I was one big idiot myself when I first started out. I got a job as an artist cum dispatch person in a small 5-man advertising company. Luckily, there was no one around at that time for me to kill.

I didn't know how to use a telephone so I had to start to learn it the best way; by making mistakes. You can't blame me though. We didn't have a telephone at home until after I'd been working for a couple of years. The first time it rang when nobody else was in the office, I almost panicked. After its umpteenth ring, I managed enough courage to pick it up and put it against my ear. I wondered why the voice from the other end sounded so far away. And when I spoke, the other person screamed for me to speak up louder. Oops! I was supposed to speak into the mouth-piece which I was holding against my ear. Talk about not knowing which end's up!

Like all the 'macho' guys lounging around the office building, I wanted to look the same. I decided I wanted to try smoking while at work. The commercials at that time said it's "Sumber Inspirasi". I bought a small, 5-stick pack and lighted one while sitting at my desk doing some artwork. I took a few puffs. Just then the boss walked in through the side-door. Quickly, I snuffed out the cigarette and stuffed it in my drawer. I didn't know why I felt so guilty about smoking.

Everybody else did that at work those days. Besides, there was no air-conditioning. The boss himself did that occasionally. He looked around and sniffed the air and spoke a few words with me and the other artist who shared the same room with me. After he left, I opened my drawer to retrieve my cigarette. It was still smoldering and it burned a hole in my drawer. I decided then that smoking and working doesn't go together, for me at least. Anyway, I gave up on cigarettes. I just wanted to know why people are always dying for a smoke. I hated the smell.

I get so used to doing anything and everything at work. We took turns to sweep the office and throw out the rubbish each morning. On our way to the dumpster, we pass through the reception area of a newspaper office. A young officer I happened to have met while I was working at another job remarked, "Wah! Rubbish also you have to throw ah?"

I said, "This is work, right?"

As soon as he was out of earshot, an older guy said, "Some people don't understand the Dignity of Labour". I was reminded of that episode while reading the following passage by the world famous IT magnate from India, Mr. Narayana Murthy:

"Dignity of labor: Whereas this is an integral part of Western value system, in India, we revere only supposedly intellectual work. For instance, I have seen many engineers, fresh from college, who only want to do cutting-edge work and not work that is of relevance to business and the country. For anything to be run successfully, everyone - from the CEO to the person who serves tea - must discharge his or her duties in a responsible manner. We, therefore, need a mindset that reveres everyone who puts in honest work, no matter what it is."

From an industrial leader, that is a good lesson.

One day, the boss gave me a girl's name and an address. He wanted to hire a secretary. He told me to bring her in for an interview. I found the place, told her where I came from and the purpose of my visit. A short while later she came out in a mini-dress. That was the standard dress those days. There was no law that said you had to wear a crash helmet to ride on a motorbike either. She just got on behind me on my bike and off we went.

I thought it strange she could just do that without hesitation, like it was the most natural thing to do. I mean, riding off on a motorbike with a total stranger! Oh, she was pretty alright. A round face, large "Bambi" eyes and cute little mouth with full lips, and a voice so sexy, M&Ms wouldn't melt in her mouth. My boss hired her and she started work immediately. I found out later, her boyfriend was one of my ex-schoolmates. (Awwww....)

We had an accounts officer working with us. He was 2 years my senior, worldly wise guy with a pleasant personality and was a pretty smooth talker. He got us to guess what color underwear the secretary was wearing each day. She was mostly sitting behind a well covered desk in front of the boss' office. I wondered how he could guess. I hadn't taken any notice until the day the boss was out and she came into our office to chat with us. She forgot to straighten her dress properly. She must have got so used to it she wasn't conscious of her exposure until the accounts guy announced, "Today it's red color". She immediately caught on to what it meant and screamed at him. We laughed. She made sure she came to work with longer dresses after that.

Some years after I left the company I learned that she'd married the boss. Things don't usually work out the way you expected.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Getting to the Truth

In the west, getting to the truth...