Friday, October 30, 2015

Aman Central - A Lifestyle Beckons

For many of us, an occasional trip to Penang often means going into a city with all its glitzy malls, branded goods and chic restaurants.

Aman Central opened on the 1st of this month. H&M, Chi, Sakae Sushi, Padini Concept Stores, Nando's, Starbucks... with one opening of this new upmarket mall, a new lifestyle is emerging. Coffee above RM10 a cup, gym in a mall, hawker food in a posh environment, everything shiny, bright and inviting. Where once, Alor Setar used to be a city with a town kind of lifestyle, this will surely and subtly infuse a lifestyle of branded names.

You walk into the mall and you can feel the difference. Baskin Robbins at RM10 per scoop. We used to balk at such prices for ice-creams. Yet if you look at the traffic at the ice-cream parlour, you would think that the people don't seem to be batting any eyelids where the price is concerned. Expensive clothings are flying off their racks too. The economic slowdown doesn't seem to show yet.

But perhaps that lifestyle has always been there. It was just that there were no avenues for it to be gauged. I was admiring a pair of shoes which was almost RM400. There were at least 5 pairs hanging on the rack. A few days later, they were gone, replaced by another series. Maybe the opening of this mall is good for the local economy. It is too soon to tell but already hawker centres in the viccinity are undergoing their own facelifts.

Yet there are still little tell-tale signs of small town here. Patrons who seem lost in the vast multi-tiered parking lots. One pakcik even drove against the traffic coming down the multi-tiered carpark. Toilets are smelly and wet. It feels as if those using it don't quite know how to keep the floors dry mostly. But these will surely change.

The official opening will be held in November. Not all outlets are operational. Not all business space is occupied. It is almost a month down the road. Cars still jam up the place, albeit at specific times now. Some businesses are thriving but there are those which are struggling too. But whatever it is, this mall heralds something new to this town-like city.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Parking Lot

Son started work this year. Like many of young adults entering the job market, the place to start.... the bottom. It's a place devoid of perks. And like most parents whose kid has just started work, conversations evolved around his new phase. In one of our conversations, it got to the parking. When you are a junior, you sometimes don't even get a parking pass. You find your own parking sometimes. So, he told me.... some day he is going to have his own parking lot.

A parking lot. Those in the senior positions often get their own parking lots. Senior management have designated parking lots. The bigwigs get paid parking lots. Small people with limited $$$ pay for their parking lots.

The parking lot conversation made me think about leadership. Contrary to what people say about being given the opportunity to serve as a leader, I think it is more about privileges than anything else. A parking lot is just one of many.

I once parked my car in a shaded car park by mistake. Being new, I did not realise that some of the further lots were designated parking lots too. I only parked there for a day as the usual place I parked was undergoing some construction. I am usually very early to work. In the gray light of dawn, I missed the sign above. A few days later, as I was walking, a voice called up to me and asked whether a certain number plate was my car. I said yes. And immediately after, I was reminded that it was his parking lot. A parking lot serves too as a reminder of position. When that position is deemed to have been tresspassed, there seemed to be this need to reaffirm that position.

Parking lots are symbols of power too. Go anywhere and you will see designated parking lots. In olden days, the division of our social structure was very clear. The world seems to have move on but the feudal mindset has remained entrenched as ever. Leadership comes with even more privileges. In the olden days, generals and kings would lead the charge in a battle. They stand an equal chance of dying in the battlefield. History is filled with stories of such leaders. Fast forward a few centuries, leaders these days hide behind an amazing array of defenses.

Service.... If at all it is service that is the core of leadership... Privileges and recognitions. I think they ring truer for reasons to lead. A leader gets a private jet. Small people never get that.

Parking lots are about wealth and power. Take a walk in a condo and an apartment. The difference is clear for all to see. Designated and none designated. Shaded and road side parking. Parking lots... We need to buy them or get them designated to us. Either way, they point not to humble leadership but arrogance of power and wealth.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


When you are a kid, you tend to think that things would remain very much the same. You can't wait to grow up cos it seems so far away. Then you finish school, university (for some) and then work. Everyone around you goes through almost the same path. Most get married, have kids, move on. Time begins to whizz past. Before long, a few decades would just pass by. 

We talk about kids growing up... then we feel a sense of pride when they move on too. Then they leave, just like many of us long ago. We encourage them to spread their wings, fly high, reach for the stars, as our parents did so long ago. 

We set them on the path of life as we know it. That's where I sometimes wonder the wisdom of the way we perceive things should be. Kids fly high and far... I am okay with the 'fly high' but far? These days I am not very sure. Kids who are far... one in a while we pop in to see our parents. The further they are, the less often they pop in. The old adage, "out of sight, out of mind" rings true. The old ones get left behind... bur that cycle plays itself over and over again, maybe pushed by the insatiable drive for a better something.

Used to think that things are set. These days, am not sure whether it's yet just another thing manufactured, invented by us. Ideals can be manufactured too, like many things. For the sake of social order, perhaps. 

Seasons come and go. But perhaps while they come and go, how we live those seasons or how we celebrate them might not need to be similar as in the ages before us.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Mid Year... Another One Come By

Time flies when you are busy... and crawls when you are not.

Busy is the word these days and so time tends to feel like it is whizzing past. Ringgit is at a very low point. GST is in full swing. Cost of living is high and everyone feels the pinch. And petty issues hog the newspaper. Sarong, towel and even a guy in a cute pink shorts denied entry to KLIA office to claim a lost baggage. What is becoming of the country that we dwell on the outward appearance.

The royalties seem to be a little different this time around. A dig into the archives of an old treaty highlighting the right to secede, pardons for the activists who took part in an unlawful assembly back in 2009, an idealistic young man just back from Geneva to face a possible jail term... there might still be hope yet for us.

Being stuck... ever feel like you are stuck? Feel that a lot too. Institutions around us feel like jailhouses actually. Inequality resides in even the most sacred of them too. How does one get out of being institutionalised for life? Yet everyone of us is a jailbird, one way or another.

Adolescents.. how is that I feel there is a general deterioration of everything. Met many parents over the week too and this stood out. There are more disappointed and a number of angry ones. The reason... their kids. Kids seem less able to empathise with the struggles of their parents. Parents too don't seem to be able to connect with their kids. Majority suffer from the lack-of-time syndrome. Tuitions, school activities fill one end of the spectrum. The busyness of life fills the other. 15-year-olds still go to after-school-daycare. Parents can't leave them at home. Fifteen!!! Babysitting still needed.

I've done some new things too this year, things I never thought I would do. Learned a lot about bricks and mortars. There are so many types of cements out there! Sat and watched cranes and mixers work. But skills... oh, they still do matter a lot. Attention to big and small stuff... they sap your energy and attention span too.

Mid year.. mid term at midlife. The coming of the autumn of life...

Monday, June 15, 2015

Keeping To A Standard

What does it mean? Standard? Yardstick? Rule? Law? Just watched a video on TED of a song presented by lifers, people with incarcerated with no hope of parole. 30, 40, close to 50 years in prison, for a wrong done. No hope out. Lifers... one might be excused for thinking that the word implies something that is eternal in a positive way.

Made me think. A sin is a sin.... big or small. Still a sin. No compromise. Yet we still measure them with different yard sticks. Made me think too. If all these ideas that we have are all just a brew made from the ingredients we put in.

This coming at the heels of the slew of comments of a gold medalist gymnast whose attire became a subject of criticism. Yet the same people reserved their comments when it came to cigarettes or footballers who are also not 'correctly' attired... if the same yardstick is used.

There are so many different standards actually.

Or we could just say all these are just efforts to strive for perfection, which all of us, I suspect, know will fail miserably. I guess some sins are just not pardonable. Pearly Gates and Hades work along that premise too, I supposed. There is always an if, a caveat, an exception.... So, these lifers are condemned a lifetime.

Haves and the have-nots, rich and poor, the leaders and the servants, one gender role and the other gender role.... there is always this great divide. Woe is the one on the other 'wrong' or lesser end of the divide.

Just some ramblings.....

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Of 3D Printing, Lego Bricks and Stuffs...

Teaching is so filled with help these days. I do formative and summative assessments online with my students. I keep in touch with my students via the communication network... email, What's App, iMessage.... I can't keep up with all the new apps. I collaborate with students in the cloud which comes in all kinds of names these days. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.... the list seems endless... There are Dropbox, Box, Drive... again another long list. From the big bulky desktops, we have moved to chromebooks and who knows, perhaps tablets will be making their presence felt soon too. They are already in many places.

I use AppleTV to transmit lessons on the screen, write on little tablets instead of chalkboards. Mind maps make appearances with great ease because apps make it possible. Videos and animations too with great frequency. Students submit homework online. I still use the exercise books, though but they seem such a waste. Papers come from trees and we waste so many pages in an exercise book each year.

When I started teaching, cyclostyling was how we did the printing. You type on stencils with the clunky typewriter and had this red liquid which worked like an eraser for mistakes. It was a wow moment when dot matrix printers made their appearances at work places. Then came the laser printers. These days I mostly print my own worksheets. But most of the time, it's a mix of digital screens and papers. I try to minimise the use of papers whenever possible.

Then the Overhead Projectors came about.... followed by the visualisers and projection panels. Then as computers became more common, projectors made their presence felt. Chalkboards will probably be a thing of the past soon. LED screens, AppleTV,  Chromecast, smart tv and the most recent addition is the 3D printer. It is quite amazing what a 3D printer can do. From chocolates to titanium, these printers are able to print I have read. And they print even complete houses too, cars as well and homemade toys. As a kid, I think I never imagined such changes. Goes to show how small my world is.

My students play with Lego bricks, lego with brains, NXT, EV3... And these are for co-curricular activities. When I was a student, I knew only of one type of band and my school band was already quite special back in the early days in the sense we had a bagpipe section. These days kids in my school are spoilt for choice... 24 Seasons Drums, Chinese Orchestra, Brass Band and even a Symphony Orchestra. 

Lessons used to to teacher dependent within the four walls of a building. These days we have the world wide web to help us. All kinds of gurus reside there, in places like Khan Academy, Crash Course, UdaCity, Coursera and so on. If you want a visual instruction for a hobby, YouTube is available. We are even beginning to have our own homegrown versions. Recently students in Kedah were given access to Kedah ETutor where the video content is based on our very own curriculum.

However I guess too, if we are to ask the generation before us how it was like... I think their tale will probably be in the same tone too, albeit about different things. After all, theirs was a generation of huge leap in transportation and communication too....

But despite all these amazing development, I wonder too whether we have all become wiser and more resilient? Point to ponder. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Second Wind...

... or it could be third. I don't know. These days, I realise that the older I get, the less I actually know about the world I live in. We grow up, thinking that the paths that have been laid before us are known paths. I think they are not. Everything around us is actually more fluid than we know

Today, an earthquake hit Sabah. When we learned Geography in school, one of the things our teachers used to tell us was Malaysia is a country spared of natural disasters like earthquakes. The one natural disaster which we experience regularly is probably just the floods. But things have been changing. We experienced a tsunami when an earthquake hit Acheh back in 2004. And now an earthquake has hit one of our states.

One of the things I sometimes show my students is the computer simulation of earth's transformation in 5 billion years... a ball of nothing, ice ages, emergence of landforms, Pangea and the breaking of the supercontinent into smaller continents.... It is always amazing (and educational for me) to see their faces when they see Earth like nothing they have known. You see, I learned one thing watching these young faces. They are a product of a learning environment which does not teach these young minds that things are never always quite the same... though the behaviour that governs our actions may sometimes have some similarities.

Even the institutions that exist in our society, they have never been there all the time. Like life, they experienced birth, growth and death. But because we have only one lifetime, most of us think that things will remain the same... and so we pass on what we know to our children... Yet nothing actually is what they seem to be. Things will continue to change and evolve.

Recently researchers say gender equality was actually the norm in Paleo cultures. It became unequal when we no longer need to forage for food. Technology actually brought about gender inequality, it was postulated. At the turn of century we began to see the struggle for the emancipation of women.

The role of religions... It is interesting to read how they have kept dynasties in power and lent authority to those who claimed they were anointed mouth pieces. Empires have been built around religions. Wars have been fought over them too.

Feels like I am living in the Matrix....

Ramblings after an earthquake in Sabah....