Monday, April 30, 2012

Bersih 3.0... What I Saw and Felt

My generation is a generation brought up on the ghosts of 513 (May 13, 1969). My parents come from the generation who witnessed the horrors of 513. The ghosts of 513 somehow were never laid to rest because the atrocities of the actions were never condemned outrightly. In fact 513 was used by politicians to justify the need to correct an economic imbalance in the society, an act which had we done in the right way, would have allowed that imbalance to be corrected too. We could have helped each other grow together. But we pitted one against the other... The largesse of today is in part a legacy from that event. And it has divided us since...

So walking among the crowds at Pasar Seni on the morning of April 28 touched me in a way I can't quite describe. I saw pakciks, makciks, aunties, uncles, sitting along the corridors waiting for the Duduk Bantah to begin. Some of them had stayed overnight in the city area. And all of them had this same goal... Bersih for their children and grandchildren.

I never imagined that I would witness Bersih. Other Half and I had a dinner to attend that night. The thought of not going for the dinner crossed my mind many times in the weeks leading to Bersih because I, like most post 513 gen will steer clear of trouble even if it came at an expense to us. But a series of small events and missed encounters brought us there. And seeing the senior citizens, I realized that these people overcame a greater hurdle to be there and I was humbled. They belong to the generation who lived through 513, and I am sure many must have been traumatised by it. So to be there must have taken great courage.

We had initially just wanted to go into KL, have a quick look and then get out. We parked our car at Amcorp Mall and walked to the LRT station. There were police stationed at the station but they looked bored. The station was quite empty. I thought the rally might not be getting such a big crowd. It was around 9.30 a.m. then. We waited for our train and when the first train passed, both of us were shocked that it was jam packed with people in yellow and green. We decided to wait for the next train. It was quite full also but we managed to squeeze in. Upon arrival at Pasar Seni, we were greeted by a sea of people. As we walked out, we saw some people crowding around a white haired man. I had walked past him when I realized it was Pak Samad. There was a row of police behind him. It was as if he was being held by them. Many stopped to take photos with him and he obliged. I shook his hand and mouthed a word of thank you. And again, I was humbled. There, before me, a thin sprightly old man and he was there. And many of us younger ones were afraid. It must have been a tiring time for him.

As we exited the station, we saw people crowding around someone. It was Nizar, the former MB of Perak. Other Half managed to shake hands with him. I heard him saying.. what we were seeing around us was 1Malaysia... referring to all of us of different races who had turned out. I couldn't agree more. It was like nothing I have seen before. Anyway, Nizar is well liked back where i come from.

We followed the crowd and headed towards Pasar Seni. There was a huge crowd and a carnival like atmosphere. Not long after, we saw Ambiga walking into Pasar Seni... surrounded by people in purple T-shirts (Badan Amal) who formed a protective semi circle around her. It was around 10 plus or 11 in the morning. People were nodding to each other and offering smiles. At no time did I feel that they were out to cause mischief. And we felt safe. We walked along Pasar Seni. Drinks and ice-cream sellers were doing a roaring business. The makan shops must have had a field day. But shutters were down for other shops. And guess what, I was able to buy mineral water for just RM1! Some ice-cream sellers even gave discounts because they said Bersih is also for them.

Every where, Malays, Chinese, Indians and others were friendlier than I've ever experienced. If you want to see 1Malaysia at work, I tell you, it was there in that crowd. I find it hard to believe that these people were out to cause violence. The had their iPads, Galaxy Tabs, iPhones and were happily snapping away. You would not bring such expensive gadgets if your intent was to riot!

I noticed one thing though, when I took out my phone to use Google Map... KL has become unfamiliar territory, I found out that I could not load it. At that time, I thought it must have been due to congestion. So many people were there and I thought it was only normal. It was only later that I read that there might have been attempts to jam the mobile phones.

We met some friends and we hung out together, sitting along the corridor down the road from Pasar Seni and watching everything that was happening around us. Some youths planked themselves momentarily on the road for a photo shoot. You can never hope to do that in KL in broad daylight on any other day, I supposed. Some brought drums, carried posters. A group passed us chanting anti-Lynas slogans but basically they were harmless. There was one placard which contained a vulgarity which I felt wasn't quite appropriate. But on the whole everyone was well behaved. After a while of hanging around, we decided to just walk around. It was already almost 12 noon. We even saw a family of Mat Salleh with 3 kids ambling past. I guess they must have felt it safe enough. Maybe they came from a country where dissent is allowed and freedom to protest is accepted. By then we had stayed longer than I had in mind. And everywhere there was a carnival like atmosphere...

We walked back to the LRT Station. I stood by the stairs trying to count how many people were filing into the streets from the LRT station. I guess about 50 people or more were going down the stairs per minute. And it had been like that since morning. The flow only tapered off a bit at around 1.30 p.m. An Indian foreigner asked me why so many people had gathered. He told me he's from Delhi and was working in KL. He spoke quite good BM if I might add. We also saw Ngeh Koo Ham and spoke briefly to him. He had just come in on the LRT.

And I saw Pak Samad still there, cutting a forlorn figure sitting on a mat and reading. He was by then sitting behind the row of policemen. I overhead one young policeman telling a passerby that he needed to rest for the afternoon. I stood there by the rail watching him for about 20 minutes. Many thoughts went through my mind and admiration too. Later I read that he was being held.... I don't know whether it's because they fear untoward incident happening to him. He is after all our national laureate, a living treasure. Could it be that someone knew that violence was going to happen?
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To be there.... it must have been hard on him, as for the many senior citizens I saw, for the day was hot and humid. I saw this pakcik sitting along the corridor along the shops facing Pasar Seni soon after this long procession stopped there. How not to feel for this cause when you see seniors like him braving the heat of the day..... and with a cool headband to decorate his kopiah too! The sun was beating down on us. And yet people stayed, not because they were forced but because they wanted to. People were there on their own accord. I bet even the National Day celebration cannot get this many people. I walked around the station and this is what I saw from above on one of the roads...
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Right after I took this picture, a guard came and politely told me that they were closing that section. Apparently they didn't want people to crowd the already crowded station. From another vantage point I could see scores of policemen. But they were just standing around. And I thought that augured well. Little was I to know that the scene would turn ugly later.We left soon after the walk towards Dataran started. We did not want to be late for our dinner appointment. By the time we got to PJ a friend SMSed us and told us that they had dispersed and were also back in PJ. And so we thought everything had gone well until we opened up our FB.

There was violence... and even during dinner, some of our friends had accounts of what had happened in KL filtering in.... from friends who were still trapped in KL. They had to look for means and ways to get out because the LRT stations were closed. Many had accounts of being tear gassed. Some of our friends' kids had gone for the rally and had been tear gassed as well. You know something, parents of my generation are allowing their children to stand up for their rights. Something is changing. Our parents would have gone to the ends of the earth to stop us from going.

Watching the videos in the aftermath, I asked myself whether the violence had been necessary. And as more details started to filter through, it's hard not to feel for those who were tear-gassed, or were violently and brutally handled by the people in uniform who seemed to show no restraint. If before this I felt that Ubah was still possible from within the establishment, increasingly I am being convinced that a total Ubah is necesary. We must Ubah! We need to! When demands for something that is morally sound and right are met with tear gas, sprayed with chemically laced water and handled with brutal violence, it's also an indication that we have lost our souls. We have traded our souls for the material and power. Increasingly the PM's transformation drive is beginning to sound like mere rhetorics.

250,000 people showed up on the streets on 428. I am greatly touched and humbled by the seniors who showed up. I even saw one wheelchair bound person in yellow! And that was only for KL, the only place which imposed such harsh and restrictive measures, and the only place where punitive violence happened. What has become of our nation? Instead of sitting down to address these demands, we encircle the meeting place with razor wires, fired tear gas cannisters, sprayed water laced with chemicals, order the uniforms to bear down on our own, unleashed brutality and violence... We should weep for Malaysia because some politicians, even those from the Opposition too did not stand firm. I cannot agree with Anwar's statement that he would defend the youths desire to move in too. The Bersih Movement Steering Committee had already decided not to breach the cordoned area..... He should have indicated a firm no breaching. As the outcome has shown, you cannot negotiate with a government made up of leaders who have sold their souls. There are many questions and I wonder if they will remain unanswered. The government is awfully good at selective amnesia.

Despite the violence, let not the real reason for the gathering get pushed to the sidelines because of the drama and opportunistic politicians trying to score points for themselves... sometimes our vision gets blurred by them. 250,000 stood up to be counted. It's an incredible figure. For Malaysians to rise up like this, I guess this might also be an indication that many of us are approaching the final straw. If each one represents another 10 eligible voters, that's quite a lot of people. They are demanding for a clean governance... Is that too much?

Create in us a new heart, and renew a right spirit within us.......

1st May 2012
I think I shall just link up to other posts of people who were at Bersih that day as I stumble onto them.
  1. Bersih, The Perfect Assembly, Almost
  2. Bersih 3.0, My Experience
  3. My Bersih 3.0 Experience: Behind the Barbed Wires
  4. Bersih 3.0: The Good, Bad and Ugly Malaysians
  5. A Tale of 2 Sit-ins: JB vs KL
  6. Bersih 3.0: Detained for 11 Hours
  7. They Were All Yellow: My Bersih 3.0 Story
  8. Many People Failed Malaysia On Saturday: A Malaysian
  9. Analysing Bersih 3.0
  10. Good, Bad and Ugly of Bersih 3.0

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bersih, Occupy.... Random Thoughts

And they get all muddled up....

On 19th April, 8 laws were passed in one day at the Parliament! I think most of us were not even aware of that or its implications. Some of the laws deal with how votes are counted, they will loosen the accountability factors. Many of us probably won't think much about it cos many of us are still swimming in our sea of apathy or have this attitude that it doesn't concern us. As long we have our own little comfy zone, It doesn't matter what goes on out there.
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Occupy Dataran... when the students started camping there, it wasn't so much about Bersih. What they wanted was free education. Can we afford it? I don't quite know. But I feel they have a valid claim, for one simple reason. There are too many allegations of corruption and the perpetrators seem impervious to the law. And if I were a student I'd be thinking why not use all these money for our education.

Bersih 3.0. When our Home Minister said Bersih is no threat, I found myself thinking that version 3.0 will not be getting that much attention. The authorities are going to let it go.... give the freedom to oppose. Little did I expect things to change so rapidly in the past few days. Two hours of sit down, to protest what they believe are things which should be cleaned up. Anyone with a little intelligence can see the validity of their demands. Why not just assist? Provide the support. Let the people protest.... and reform if necessary.

And this is where the reactions of the authorities defy logic. Dataran lockdown! Public space is now the Mayor's. The PDRM is now asked to treat the sit in within the security context. These people just want some acts cleaned up. And that is why I think many people are beginning to rethink or perhaps even more convinced now that there is a lot of truth in the corruption allegations flying around. You can't a lie too long when too many people are involved because everyone involved will begin to think they deserve more too.... for their loyalty. Take a cue from an alleged involvement of one Minister and an actress.

I had an interesting conversation just recently about church life. In many places beyond the cities, the churches are aging. One is due to the migration of young people to the city in search of better job prospects. Another is the church doesn't seem to be drawing in new people too. They've not been successful in engaging the young. And one of the reasons for this is the style of leadership in many churches have gotten stuck in the rut. Having the same people occupying the roles of leadership, some for decades does not help too as people become entrenched for various reasons. We talk plenty about God but we cannot rise above ourselves to answer God's calling. When we stay too long, very often our view to that calling becomes blurred. Hyperopia sets in. Obfuscation happens. Clear lines become gray. Real issues and needs get drowned in noises and excuses. And finally we tell ourselves that all these excuses are okay because we are only human. And expect that these excuses be accepted.....

I remember when I was schooling, our pastors and youth cousellors would often challenge us to make it a commitment to go to church every Sunday, to make that commitment even if we have exams the next day. Even with that, many of us struggled to keep our commitment. These days, I see Christian parents making excuses for their children not to attend church because they have tuitions or are in the afternoon classes. And we make excuses for them. We teach over the pulpit about making commitments, honouring God, yet we fail to encourage our children to honour that commitment. We become stuck in the rut because we cannot rise above ourselves. We feel that rushing our kids for church will be too much hassle, or missing the tuition will cost them their future. So much about trusting God....

It just came to light that the top two Election Commission heads are member of a political party. Even in churches (and probably temples, mosques), you hear murmurs of favouritism - family members, close friends, close friends' friends... the list is unending. Not too many years ago, I remember a group of church members sitting down and highlighting their perceived favouritism of children of church leaders. The point is if one is affliated by blood or membership, you can count on favouritism to rear its ugly head. Nepotism, cronyism - these are the offsprings of such a relationship. Rising above self, laying down self at the Cross.... often they often sound like rhetorics. There're after all many pathways to legitimization....

Getting stuck in the rut would have been prevented if a two-way engagement had been made possible, accepting the challenges and rising above our selfish desires, basically doing what is universally right. Evaluation, reflection and action are necessary if the processes of rejuvenation and renewal are to take place; and if we live our lives, not constrained by our wanting to leave legacy for selfish reasons. But sometimes, that very human nature; call it selfishness, insecurity, greed, relevance or any other suitable names; prevent us from taking that step. By not engaging, we hang on a little longer. We insulate our minds for whatever reasons closest to our hearts. And in extreme times, we try to hang on by wielding power and bulldozing those around into submission. That happens a lot when all reason is lost.

And that is how I see Bersih... the government is missing a great opportunity to engage the rakyat, to reform where necessary and to begin anew too where possible. It's an opportunity to prune and throw away the deadwood, clean up and begin all over again on the right footing. Cos the power of working together can only be good for everyone. Where is the humility that is supposed to come with leadership.... unless leadership is no longer about servitude but self serving. That probably explains why we have so many allegations of corruption and so many perceived cover ups.

And oh yes! What happened on the night of 19th April at the Parliament, where 8 laws were passed is reason enough for Bersih.... Our lawmakers don't seem to be able to rise above themselves too. It's scary how our rights can be pushed through the corridors of power so quickly, and even scarier that many of us are so oblivious to it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Our Education Is Up To Par

According to this report from The Star, 55% of Malaysians think our education system is comparable to developed countries. Well, 55% is a believable percentage, not too grand or too outlandish. But wait, it gets better, another 35% says it's better than developed nations! Hence, this survey will substantiate the claims by our Minister if Education about our world class education system.

Apparently the survey had been carried out by this company called Introspek Asia on a total of 1800 respondents. This is an age of Google and so I googled up Introspek Asia. There isn't much to read about this company. Perhaps my search is not exhaustive enough but I think we should really question the credibility of this study. There is no breakdown of the types of respondents. For all we know, the company might have just gone to some rural areas and picked up 1800 people to interview. We know what the most likely outcome of such kinds of interviews will be. The result could have been very different had the sampling been more varied.
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Anyway, like I said, I googled the research company. The information on their website is hardly impressive. The web design is clean enough but after reading their site, I was left with a feeling that their offering isn't all that great. In fact, when I clicked on 'About Us', the page just didn't seem to move after I clicked on 'Principle (note the spelling) Consultant'. The website claims Toyota as among their clients, with the rest mostly government related agencies.

Just how credible is this research our DPM and Minister of Education is using to prop his earlier claim? I don't know. But I do know this, I have serious doubts after going through Introspek Asia's website. The language used to 'sell' themselves seems muted, as if it was a direct translation from BM.... of course, one that is way better than the 'poke eye' one. Never mind too that the Minister did not give the details of the survey or try to explain why there are so many middle class Malaysian parents who send their children to private schools today. World class education system that is almost free! Parents must be really dumb to send their children to a paying institution!

I think, today, if we were to just randomly ask the educated parents about the state of our education system, many will probably say that it is in the doldrums. This morning, I talked to a parent who isn't so educated and she agreed that our education system isn't in all that great of a shape. Lol! A suburban parent, some more! Well she must belong to the remaining 10% of the survey!

Websites are easy to build. Information can be cooked, boiled, stewed with all kinds of flavourings. Even drug companies have been known to publish 'doctored' studies to sell their drugs. This is an age of easy information... and easy manipulation. And that is one reason why we need to have an education system that can enable our children to be thinking people, problem solvers.... not the buka mulut, tunggu disuap kind of students which seem to be the norm now. And oh, might I add, this claim doesn't seem to jive with the reality of unemployed graduates. Our graduates should be so laku, by right. But that isn't happening. Last I read we have many trained nurses (trained by our better than developed nations' education systems) looking for jobs. Shouldn't they be grabbed by other countries by now?

And this Introspek Asia survey (which was claimed to have ended on Jan 15) comes so handy to support the Minister's claim. Something smells fishy!!!! .... the fishy smell has always been there. Our noses have been stuffed so much that we can't smell well. That's why Duduk Bantah is bad..... For the 'nose stuffers'.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Everything Matters

I sat down and went on a tirade about the class which I've just finished. These are kids in the last year of the secondary school. "Why do those kids come to school and not want to do anything for themselves? Two whole periods! If I did not bug and breathe down their necks with veiled threats, nothing!" And this would go on for a while... cos these days, for some reasons, many students, especially boys are simply giving up. They cannot cope. Finally, after all the rantings, in exasperation I would utter this final phrase to myself, "It doesn't matter!"

Does it? These are 17-year-olds. They're so 'damaged' that they shut off almost all the time. The only reason they don't sleep or give other problems in my class is I am their form teacher; and I have a say in the outcome of their school leaving certificates.... they know I can be rather mean. In other classes, they sleep, create a furore, talk back, disrupt, etc. But copying down work is as far as I can get them to do. For these kids, work is done once the copying is completed. Trying to think of solutions and answers are not in their vocabulary. So why should they matter to me? They should not. They don't seem to want to help themselves. Yet I react to this scenario again and again, often times with a degree of frustration as well as resignation.

And today it hit me that it matters to me... in an explicable way it matters to me. The irony is if I choose to do the opposite, it still matters, to me... though in a rather quirky way. Cos by still going in to teach and just do it, it matters to me cos it's a job. It matters in a selfish way.

Most of us care only about the things in our very own little world. Some of us care a little further. There are those who care beyond their little worlds into the big world. But in every situation, everything within our boundary matters to us. When and how we react, shows the way it matters; selfish or magnanimous.

That is why we have people like Mother Theresa. Every poor would matter to her. Or Mandela, every bit of freedom for the colored mattered. And so he languished in the jail for decades. Or Su Kyi, her people mattered. And so she stayed on in Myanmar all those years, at a great cost. And at the other end, we have Hitler, every Jew he can kill mattered to him, every inch of Europe he could conquer mattered to him, every bit of power he gained mattered.

In a church, everything matters to every church goer too. Everything matters, to the church leader and the members. How we act or react reflects how it matters to us. Both shows the christian d unchristian.

At home the same applies. Things at home matter differently to different members of the family. It may matter to the wife that the laundry is done everyday. It may matter to the husband that it not be done everyday. It matters in a weird way.

Bersih 3.0... I can't help in wanting to take a swipe at it. It matters to the government. One minute not a threat, next minute no permission. It matters... and for known and unknown reasons, I guess it's plain for all to see. Kinda funny, this everything matters thingy. It matters whether we like it or not, whether we care to admit or not, in different ways, different directions. Of course it matters to us the citizens too, this Bersih 3.0 thingy. How it matters.... well, it depends on which side of the fence you sit.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Occupy Dataran Merdeka

This morning I woke up to the news that the students and sympathizers of Occupy Dataran Merdeka had been attacked. Unlike previous other thuggish attacks, this one seems to have less videos of it going viral cos the perpetrators have wizened up. They went round smashing any gadgets they could lay their hands on. And we say Malaysians are peace loving people... When power is slipping away, people turn desperate and they become thugs.... here it's no different

These are students. And they have stated their intent to be peaceful. So far they've just protested peacefully. We should just leave them be to protest for what they believe in. That's how a democracy should work. They have been well-behaved. The authorities should be engaging them. But engagement becomes difficult because there are too many other issues - Cowgate, the Scorpene and other Defense deals, PKFZ, Tajuddin Ramli's MAS bailout... issues which lend a credibility problem to this engagement. Everyone is trying to dangle something to fish for support. And everyone wants something from the government for their support. Stuck in the middle are those who could do with some breaks..... hence the PTPN loan quagmire now. This is Malaysia, a country where freebies have been doled out in huge amount for certain races and supporters.

Occupy Dataran Merdeka... their demand is that PTPN be abolished and university education be made free. When PTPN first came out, many people hailed it as a relief provider cos students could borrow money to finance their studies. Years down the road, PTPN is a failure. It enriches the private education sector without looking into the welfare of the borrowers cos if a course is profitable, there'll be a mushrooming of colleges offering those courses. When retired senior government servants began to occupy positions of importance in the private institutions after retirement, you know for sure that the field has become really lucrative. This is Malaysia, where a retired head honcho of the judges of the land can turn into a road builder overnight and by the way his company was able to secure huge tenders. Must be quite a builder!

The recent news about trained nurses without jobs.... well, that's in part PTPN at work. Conducting nursing courses is very lucrative. So colleges offer all kinds of incentives, take in all kinds of students. Signing up for nursing courses sometimes come with other perks like free handphones and even $$$. But suddenly, there were too many nurses for too few nursing positions, might I add nursing graduates with questionable skills. The same will be happening to our medical courses too. Lucrativeness has a way of resurrecting greed which turns a blind eye to falling standards. So PTPN instead of becoming a catalyst to better quality has become the pit where less than mediocrity is cultured. So why not free tertiary education? Many PTPN loan holders can't even land jobs that commensurate with their qualification. Graduates with business degrees pitching sales in supermarkets. Microbiologists filling in for sales clerks. Who knows? Medical graduates might be opening a charkwayteow business.... that after investing close to half a million ringgit for a medical degree!

For years the government has been sending our students overseas to study. And that involved huge amount of money. I don't know about now but back in those days when I attended university, most of my Bumiputera coursemates had some form of financial aid. It wasn't so for the nons. In school today, many of my Malay students get some form of aid too, regardless of their academic achievements. It'd be interesting to make a comparison with schools with a more mixed racial composition. Point is, free money has been flowing rather freely all these years. On hindsight, some of us can also see how much of a crutch has become and how how competitiveness as a nation has also been compromised as a result. So why not free tertiary education for all? Taxpayers might be screaming murder but there has been so much being given out all these years.

Everyone feels they deserve something these days. And we use race, merit, connections as excuses because we feel we deserve it. The yardstick hasn't quite been based on sound principles but based on what we think we think and feel is deserved by us. Take the recent bursary programme for post SPM achievers for example. Even those who can afford it feel they deserve it because they have merited it. For what's its worth, I still believe in some form of affirmative action for those less fortunate ones. As with PTPN, those who graduate with first class and second upper get breaks from their loans while the lesser ones pay in full. Ironic isn't it? The former are more likely to occupy the glittering corporate world. And they get breaks! While those who might not be quite ready for the field of academia are 'duped' into thinking that their future lies in those glittering towers.

The Occupiers won my admiration today; for being so young yet full ideals and for standing up against what is beginning to look more and more like a tyranny each day.... we have politicians who do not come outright and condemn thuggish behaviour, a police force capable of coming out with riot gears and water canons yet helpless against 50-60 bullies. As for the Occupiers they just want what everyone wants too.... perhaps someone should explain to them why that is wrong. Somebody said the taxpayers will have to pay more... I wonder who have been paying for all the Cowgate, PKFZ what have you not? Aren't they the same taxpayers?

We are indeed screwed up.... cos we have a Home Minister who asked us to be wary of allegations by the Occupiers that they had been attacked! Aiyo! All he needed to do was just condemn the thuggish act.... What do thugs and PERKASA have in common? They all get away with atrocious behaviour without hardly a slap on their hand. Don't know whether the Minister has squeaked anything about them though. PTPN, there's actually more than meets the eye. Falling quality, less than employable graduates, lacking skills... how to expect them to be able to pay back. They've been trained on crutches, let out into the real world burdened with a debt... and the other side, Cowgate, RM9 billion navy vessels, countless leakages....

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Noodle House

The menu says the name of the shop is Noodle House. It occupies 2 shop lots. In one of the lots, a banner with the words Ho Chiak Restaurant hangs. I think at night this restaurant takes over. This makan place is located at the Pusat Perdagangan Tuanku Hamimah.
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If you come from Lencongan Barat, it faces Tesco Mergong diagonally, located right at the junction to Taman Rakyat. Noodle House faces the housing estate. It's located beside a hair salon, with a lane separating them.
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This is their claypot yam and fish noodles. The noodles and claypot of fish, yam and other stuff come separately. On the far end is the noodles minus the gravy. For a yam fan like me, I find this quite nice.
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Mee suah in sharks fin.. I should think it's pseudo sharksfin. What makes this nice is the texture of the soup and not so much of the sharksfin. I think they should just do away with the sharksfin so that those who are steering clear of sharksfin can enjoy it without any pangs of guilt. Sharksfin is actually overhyped. On its own, it's tasteless really. I actually like mee suah a lot.
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Steamed seafood tua-pan kwayteow. It is steamed with pickled vegetables and lots of ginger and some green chilli. It's light and nice. And oh yes! There's an egg somewhere under the soup too. The pickled vegetables give this a very appetizing taste.
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The big fat mee, fried in black sauce. This kind of me is quite common in KL but not so up here.

Going by the number of chairs and tables which were arranged outside the shop, I think the place is quite popular. Friend said that they used to operate from Lot 7 near PMC in the mornings before moving here. I am told that their other noodle choices are nice too. I shall probably be going back there again since I liked what I tried today.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bravo Restaurant

Went for HOMEDEC at PISA which is currently undergoing renovation for it sPICE project, a subterranean exhibition centre. Well, HOMEDEC 2012 was okay. It didn't wow us like our first one we attended last year. But I guess the first exposure always tends to do that to a person. Still, an outing like that was still very educational. New types of doors, glass, wallpapers, paint stuff, electrical appliances...

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We had lunch at this place which was tucked away in the row of shophouses in Bayan Lepas; at iAvenue. I found out that this place opened some time in 2008.
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Yup! It's a little Italian restaurant. Only one table was occupied when we stepped in, which was actually quite early for lunch.

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We started off with the soup of the day, which was a vegetable soup and bruschetta. The bruschetta was light, with herbs, tomatoes and cheese on it. It was nice taken hot. Tomatoes and cheese always go well together.
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We also tried their baked oysters - Baked Oyster Vesuvio, topped with fresh tomatoes, sweet pepper and melted cheese. There were mushrooms in it too. It was nice enough for Other Half who is not much a raw oyster fan. I think I still like oysters raw. But these were okay and they tasted far better than the fried ones.
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We took the liberty of trying their pizza. Took the Hawaian Pizza. I would have like to try something else but Daughter wanted this. It was good, not oily and more importantly we had real chicken meat instead of the processed meats that one usually gets with the big chain pizza franchises. Taste wise? Well, one can taste the fresh stuff on it. Pizzas from restaurants like Pizza Hut are way too oily. They leave your hand greasy and glistening. You don't get it with the pizza here. It's light enough on the stomach.
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I ordered their pie for dessert but have forgotten whether it's mango or lime. Anyway, it's not overly sweet. There is a sourish taste at each bite which makes it quite appetizing. I could finish it without feeling queasy.

I read somewhere the owner spent some time in Italy. Would I go back there again? Most probably yes, for the pizza! And the baked scallops and mussels! 8)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

NKRA - What Does It Actually Measure?

One of the developments that I've been observing with great alarm is the deterioration of focus in class, especially in schools. And it's not getting any better, especially among the boys. I teach in a school that is somewhere in the 50th percentile; national ranking based on the NKRA. One area of focus in the NKRA is education. It's easy to see why.

A NKRA list was supposed to have been uploaded in 2010 but I'm not sure whether it's for public consumption as I've not been able to find the comprehensive list. In recent years we've been trying to quantify everything. To able to quantify I think is good. The aims behind it are noble but I am not sure if what I am seeing how we get to the figures are anything but noble.

Under the NKRA reward system the one who stands to benefit most is the Principal of the school should his school shows the most improvement. A Principal gets a cash reward of RM7500. Then the top 5% teachers get RM1800, while 90% gets RM900 and the bottom 5% gets nothing! The reward system is obviously skewed. Teaching is a profession where individual efforts matter a lot; more than the administrators I would say. And to have them say that they are indeed teachers of different calibres speaks volume aboutntheir changing goalposts. For years we teachers have been constantly reminded that every teacher is the same. And now NKRA goes round and does a U-turn. All teachers do not have the same calibre! LOL! Management of expediency?

Countries like Finland realizes that and great autonomy and trust are placed on teachers. In a system like ours which is still being pummelled with years of skewed values, the likelihood of the bottom 5% teachers being placed in the top 5% is a real possibility. And the one who overees gets the greatest reward. Such kind of reward system also seems to corelate with the fact that our country scores high on the Power Distance Index (PDI). Marina Mahathir reviewed a book on PDI here which is quite an interesting read. And the book that I have just read, Outliers discusses the PDI quite a bit too.

There is great emphasis on public exams in the NKRA. The weightage is 70%. Of all the public exams, STPM makes up only 5% (of the 70%), because the number of candidates are small. For too long, many quarters have pointed out the double standards in STPM and Matriculation. Both are pathways to university but with apparent difference in the level of difficulties. It's obvious that Matriculation is a much easier pathway. We should just have one pathway, in the spirit of 1Malaysia. Our Matriculation results are not recognized by top universities in the world but our STPM is. STPM is still considered one of the most difficult pre-university exams in the world. It's not the preferred choice for those who take it, they take it because of economic constraints.

Now what's interesting is how schools go to great lengths to ensure the scores of the remaining 30% of the score for NKRA, made up of other components such as co-curriculum. I am not all that clear about the whole process but audit is via documentations and data submitted. These days much of it has gone online. There are also visits from the auditors, who park themselves in the respective schools but usually only for a short while. The longest I can remember is probably around a week. So as you can see, there are many loopholes to be exploited, and a lot of window dressing.

I have seen how schools go on a mad scramble to organize and collect data. What seems to be more important is the documentation. There is this endless chase for paperwork once we know that auditors are coming. During such times, many meetings will be held in order to fill up the files with letters and minutes. Teachers become frazzled and run out of focus too, because of the the need to fill those files. Bosses will be breathing down our necks for this to be done as this reflects on them. Documentations will take precedence over everything else during this mad season. There are countless reports to be filed up and data to be keyed in. Anyway, the reports remain in their files making up meaningless bulk once the hoo-hah dies down. No one ever hardly reads them. They are just there mainly for show, as objects of display. And they are often recycled to make up the bulk for the next year too.

And this where NKRA unfortunately has become a bureaucracy sandpit. What NKRA seems to be trying to do is to mould us towards excellence. That I believe is good. But while it is good to know where a school stands in the national ranking, I think it makes administrators focus on the wrong things often times. I know there has been a report on how a school in the interior managed to do really well in one of the public exams but I think sometimes the statistics do not tell the whole story. Statistics also does not tell us how some headmasters go to great lengths to ensure that their percentage looks good by barring academically weak students from taking their exams or have others take their exams. And we seem to have also forgotten that we have a political system that practices not one common yardstick but one which divides first and foremost along racial lines.

So what's next after the statistics are tabulated. What do we do with the data? Do we take it a step further by doing a study how many of the post SPM students make it to the university? Cos if we do that, we are going to find that for 2 sets of students with the same results, one will have a higher percentage in the public universities and it's obvious that group will be the Matriculation group. We could do a more detailed study further on and I suspect the results might indicate that one group suffers more prejudices in the selection process too. I don't know as I don't have the data but it might be an interesting study, I feel.

And this brings me back to the amount of unnecessary paper and digital work that NKRA has brought upon the teachers. It burdens the teachers. It turns us into mules for our bosses. Cos in the end, after everything is tabulated and if we're fortunate enough to be in a school that improves, guess who gets the most reward? The mules get pittance while the boss gets enough for a downpayment of a new car! You see over the years, I've also observed that schools can function too, and sometimes quite well, even when the heads are sleeping or pretending to be hard at work! A good boss is important but I don't think we should measure them up to the likes of Steve Jobs, Tim Cook and the Apple guys by rewarding them so excessively. It's just like the SPBA attempt to reward the senior civil servants up to 50% more of their pay which runs into thousands in increement in salary while the poor driver of a civil servant got less than RM5 increement in his salary. Something is amiss! And it smells feudalistic.

Our education standards are declining. The stakeholders agree with that... except for the government. The funny thing is the government is an appointee of the stakeholders. And in the last 50 odd years, we got overtaken by so many of our neighbours. One does not know whether to laugh or cry about this. We reward those people who brought about this slide....

 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Outliers: The Story of Success ...by Malcom Gladwell

This is one of those books that I just picked up by chance for the simple reason that I just wanted something to read. I was intrigued by the word 'outlier' and since I didn't know what it meant, I looked it up. Basically it means something that lies outside the normal experience. For example, if you have a high IQ you are expected to do well in life because that is supposed to be a normal expected progression in today's world. But sometimes it doesn't happen. Then you become an outlier when you don't succeed.

But this is a book about success, or rather the stories about success - what contributes to success. So often, we read the romanticised versions of how our industry shakers and movers attain success like how Bill Gates quite college and then he made it big. Often, those stories don't give us the details that involve the long and ardous climb up, the hours of work put in before success is achieved. And basically, I think most if us are suckers for fairy tale endings. That's why the omission of those hard work, etc. that makes a story lose its magic.

Anyway, this book tells the stuff that goes beyond what meets our eyes, like the all those long hours of hard work that take place for years before success, those stuff that we never get to see and seldom read about. Mosf of us know success involves hard work - but I think most people don't realize how much hard work it involves. Reading the romanticised version makes success seems like a piece of cake, which it's not.

Success (Failure) is actually an accumulation of many factors. And I like how the writer puts it. The when and where you are born, your social and economic background and guess what, the traditions and attitudes we inherit from our forebears too! If you were born between 1910-20, that's a bad time. You'll go through 2 major upheavals in your life - Depression of the 30s and WW2. You'll spend most of your life picking up pieces cos the world is in pieces a food part of your life.

Cultural legacies apparently play an important role too! Just go read Tiger Mom by Amy Chua to get a feel of how cultural legacies play a role in how she brought up her children. Yet sometimes even when all those fall right into place, if we do not seize the opportunity through hardwork and discipline, success remains elusive.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The writer brought me all over the world.... to Roseto in Pennsylvania where he wrote about the community which seemed to be immune to heart disease. And to Korea where I learned how one's culture can hold success back and even cause harm. I learned too that many ice hockey stars in Canada are mostly born in the early months of the year and how paddy cultivation in China drilled into the Chinese peasants this resilience to keep trying. Thorughout the book too, I learned too how we are the products of our upbringing; an example of a genius supposedly having a higher IQ than Einstein yet never able to be quite as smart as him because he was in a way incapacitated by his upbringing. I read about how timing of birth played a role in shaping the destinies of Bill Gates, Bill Joy (Sun Microsystem), Paul Allen, Ballmer, etc. I understand better too why Steve Jobs was able to get where he ended. He was in the right place and the right time with the right opportunities and attitude.

I learned a bit too about the garment industries and how different immigrants made it there at the turn of the 20th century in New York which today is a fashion capital of the world, and of the Jews in America and the practice of law which was shun by the well-known firms. In each case, those who achieved success worked very hard... Opportunities must be accompanied by meaningful work... which often entails a lot of long hours of hard work too. And you have to have the right amount of skills to make it work. Genius alone is never enough to get you there. Time, place, upbringing, your parents, your cultural legacy.... they each make the pieces which complete the picture. I think this makes a very good read for those about to embark on their college life. Coming in at Book 9.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Earthquake

For someone who has stayed in Malaysia all her life and learned in Geography that we don't (it should be didn't) experience earthquakes and twisters, I certainly did not ever imagine that I would ever feel the earth shaking under my feet. And for over 30 years that was exactly how it was like.... till the big quake of 2004 which killed almost a quarter of a million people. It was back then that I first experienced the shaking of the earth... And how did I feel the first time? There was a little fear. But I am aware too this is nothing like the frequent rumbling and shaking in earthquake zones or having the thought of the Big One coming soon.

Yesterday, we had a couple more big quakes of the Sumateran coast. I thought the shaking was more pronounced than the last one in 2004. My windows and doors rattled. Things on the table made sounds. And the water in my aquarium almost sloshed out. I could hear my neighbour's gate rattling away too. To cap it, the shaking seemed to last longer. My neighbours rushed out. And guess what? Many of us were logging in via our smartphones, iPads to check things out. Before the shaking ended, i had already seen a post about it. And within the next hour or so, FB was abuzz with posts on earthquake. Firsthand experiences travelled fast and furious. From friends' posts, I could also read firsthand, news from those in Indonesia as well. Back in 2004, we turned to the Internet for news and information. Google was the preferred choice. FB was just in its nascent years then.

By evening, with some new apps at hand, it was easy to check out the number of aftershocks... This morning, the map was so dotted with red and yellow dots; with each red dot representing a big quake and yellow ones for smaller quakes. The Penang CM office also posted updates on FB. Then we got to know that the CM decided to give the Agong's Installation Dinner in KL a miss in order to fly back to Penang. I think he knows that will score points for him with the people but his action is also so typical of him, always hands-on and practical. That's so unlike another leader who was away during a major flood not too long ago. Anyway, it's hard to find leaders who really put the interest of the people first these days...

Leaders today served to be served.... that's what I see. They get so much benefits. They become so rich... and it's not just the political leaders I am referring too. You see the same in religious institutions too. In churches I see the same... trips, privileges to 'serve' etc, etc. Blessings via service, not that sort that is God channelle but man. The shoe-throwing Imam episode; that too points to such practices. In days of old, kings would lead the charge in a battle. They often suffer mortal wounds or even die leading their men. They fight alongside their men, bear the discomfort of the battle grounds.... These days, leaders delegate and have it more comfy. The concept of leadership has changed....

Am just glad that there was no tsunami... It would be devastating for the people in Sumatera to have their lives turned topsy turvy so soon after the last big one...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Eighth Confession ...by James Patterson

A Women's Murder Club series by Patterson and Paetro. After a hiatus from intense reading, this one was quickie read. Did in a day cos I was impatient to get to the end.

Appearance can be deceiving.... that's what almost everything in the novel is about. Rich people who are nice on the outside but mean or have a certain peculiarity. Poor or rich, I think we are like that too. Anyway, they get killed by the use of krait, a venomous and lethal snake. Cool, huh? A live snake as a murder weapon. Its venom is quickly metabolized by the body and no post mortem can find traces of foul play. The psychopathic murderess keeps score of the people who had been mean to her. Those who died had crossed her path.

A preacher gets killed. On the surface it seems that an injustice had been committed. But his same 'preacher' runs his own meth lab and enslaves young girls. He turns them into dope dealers and prostitutes. The whole neighbourhood stands together when the truth comes out when the police thinks they have arrested the murderer. Turns out everyone wants him dead. Justice is served in a quirky way.

One of the women in the Murder Club, Yuki, the prosecutor falls in love with a doc she meets at the hospital. By all accounts she likes him. They fall in love with each other. Things went on fine until he told her he was born with ambiguous genitalia. Appearance can be deceiving but in this twist, the doc came out truthful....

Generally, like most of Patterson's books, this was an interesting enough novel to keep me glued to it like a action-junkie waiting for the next act.... It's like a love-hate relationship thingy. Love it cos it's filled with enough suspense to keep me glued. Hate it cos I can't put it down. When that happens, things get procrastinated. Book 8. I am still on schedule with my at least 2 books a month target this year. 8)

Monday, April 9, 2012

World Class

We have our own world class athletes... Lee Chong Wei, Nicol David... I'm sure they don't mind me not putting their Datuk title in front of their names. It' hard to magine Nicol training in Amsterdam and insisting that her coach, friends, trainers call her Datuk Nicol. LOL! .....Datuk Nicol.... Pumping 50 times!!!!

Apparently too, we have our world class education system, better than many first world countries, according to our Minister of Education. I don't know whether the businessmen who came to that conclusion based it on educated guesses or they were just trying to polish our own ego. World class education facilities, I think I'll agree somewhat, but I think if they really want to make it truly world class, the Ministry has got to start thinking about air-conditioning all schools. They should start building schools like office blocks instead of housing classes in different blocks. The heat is horrendous these days and bear in mind too that in this world class education system of ours, extra classes are a must. School starts at 7.30 a.m. and ends anywhere from 3.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. And after all these extra classes, many urban kids go for their own extra classes, aka tuitions. It's a crazy existence, I know but this chase for A(s) has gripped us all and got us fixated on academic prowess.

Anyway, world class we're definitely not... at least not our system. We do have world class materials, though. However, they're ini danger of being dumbed down by our schools.... and the root of it stems from the NEP. Birthed with good intentions to balance the sosio-economic imbalance, it went senget...

Any system built on unfair practice will eventually reap whatever it sows. We've gone so many decades on NEP, a system that skews up our value system. In NEP, we award and reward based on race. NEP got replaced by NDP which also feels like a chip off the old block cos it carries out the same practices. If one wants an instant yardstick to measure, just take a look our education system. It's far easier for Bumiputera students to gain admission into public universities or be given scholarship after their SPM. Just check out any school with Form 6. You hardly ever find Bumiputera students with really good results studying there. You'll find plenty of non-Malays though. I had a Chinese student who scored 7A(s) in her SPM who was left behind after her SPM. She was our best student and she was offered nothing while the rest of her classmates who did not do as well as her were offered places in Matriculation Colleges, UiTM, Polytechnics, etc, etc. She is sitting for her STPM this year, which everyone knows is way harder than Matriculation. In many ways, I feel for her.

My Malay classmates left after Standard 6, SRP and SPM even though their results were not spectacular. By the time I got to Form 6, those who were left behind were really weak but there was only a handful of them. When I got to university, I discoved how 'easy' it was for them to get a place. Had I been one of them, I could have ended up doing any course my combination allowed. But my race became my stumbling block. It's not hard to see why our History syllabus is so myopic. It would be hard to reconcile what we practise with, let's say... what happened in South Africa under the apartheid system. Like it or not, even though we call our practice here Affirmative Action, there were many instances when some form of apartheid practices took place.

When I went to work in the public sector, I met many capable people, of different races. Yet, it was always one race who will get promoted. I was brought up to believe that faith is supposed to make us rise above our selfish and greedy self. But I have also learned that faith is more often than never just a tool.... a means to achieve an end. Then I thought that perhaps the type of faith might have something to do with that skewed behaviour that I see. But it wasn't so either. Faith, regardless of types (i.e. Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, etc...) are used by many as means to ends too. Over the years, I've seen and experienced too, how in churches even how those who show themselves to be the most faithful behave in the same manner too because they cannot see beyong their own desires and wants. Faith becomes a means to an end.... I guess it's not what religion you prescribe to that turns us all into this selfish creatures... It's the failure of our world class education to inculcate into each one of us this sense of justice and fairness....

So is there hope? I'd like to think so. I think just as in we can be skewed, there is always this hope of getting it right again too. It means letting go, getting the right footing again... Doing right requires more courage than doing wrong, I feel. That's why it's always more difficult to do the right thing. But it's still possible.

World class education... Who are we trying to kid? Our graduates don't seem to meet market requirements. Talk to most teachers and many will tell you that there is a deterioration of quality. Talk to the employers and many will tell you that the employees they take in these days seem more docile, passive and unimaginative... Oh yes! Poor problem solvers too.

World class education? I think it's just a matter of time before some of the private institutions like Monash Malaysia University, Nottingham Malaysia University, Southampton Malaysia and some other foreign universities lead our charge to be world class... One simple reason would be the entry requirements in such instituitons which are set at a certain standard. Our local institutions have always practised 2 standards of admissions. For everything that is executed without honour... the offsprings of that labour can only be Cheat, Rot, Deceit, Lie, Lazy, Greed.... In the long run, nothing good really comes out from all these skewed values.....

Oh ya! I think this is perhaps true also! Each one of us is a certifed world-class cheat, quite easily, without a doubt. No training required. Training and discipline however, are required not to be a world-class cheat.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Through My Eyes ...by Tim Tebow

This is the season of hope. Easter... the reminder of the resurrection and the hope that comes with it. Happy Easter.

Book 7 for 2012. This is a book about football, not the type that we are more familiar with here in Malaysia but the American version. In Malaysia we call soccer football. And this is also a book about how a young man chooses to honour God through his football talent.

Been more than a month since my last book, in part because this is usually the time of the year when there are more things to do. Plus also, my temporary home help, my boy, has gone to work full time. 8( For a while it was nice to have the laundry nicely folded when I come back from work....and someone to go get tidbits for me during teatime.

Anyway, back to the book. If you do a search for Timothy Tebow, you'll realize that he's actually quite famous. Currently playing for New York Jets, he shot to stardom from his Florida Gators playing days. He would etch Bible verses on his face in the games that he played and in 2009 one of the verses was John 3:16. This verse was searched over 90 million times after his game.... and it was a game that was won in style; stuff that made a good story.

Born of missionary parents (they were in the Phillipines), Tim's mother was told to abort him as the pregnancy would endanger her. But she believed God would see her through. And God did! They dedicated him to God. The youngest of 5, he and his siblings were homeschooled. A lot of his athletic prowess had roots in the hard work that he had to put in on his parents' farm in his growing up years.
The book describes in detail his playing days with the Florida Gators; University of Florida football team. I learned a lot about American football from this book, I should say. 8) Reading about Tim Tebow brings to mind another budding basketballer, Jeremy Lin, a basketball player who recently had a meteoric rise too. These are extremely talented young men who choose to acknowledge the gift that their Creator has given them. They choose also to live a life that is honourable to God.
However the journey into fame is just starting. I hope they stay faithful. I'm not football crazy and I think because of that, there wasn't this push to get me going. But this is still a nice read.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why English Can Be So Fun....

Bonsified.... I had a good laugh when I read how Hishamuddin Rais coined the word. And that's why I've always found English fun. It's dynamic, adaptable and moves with time. When Google did what it did to information search, it was only a matter of time before it was made a verb. Same goes for Xerox and countless other words such as ululate... It's fun to see how new terms are coined. Proper nouns turned verbs...

Bonsai are plants which continue to grow but remain small. Bonsai is about controlled growth. How the plant turns out and grows are dictated by the grower... and I guess one can also coin up words such as bonsifist or bonsifier.

To some bonsais are pretty. But to me, to turn a plant into a bonsai is to restrict its ability to reach majestic proportions. I think we can turn any tree (or shrub) into a bonsai. All we need to do is to exert control, i.e. control the amount of nutrients and space for growth by placing it into a pot. The next step is to trim. You trim it down to whatever size and shape. And in the process sometimes restrict or direct growth by applying pressure, tie or bend certain parts....

And that's how our education system has bonsified most of our brains. The curriculum has been bonsified to the point that we no longer can stand tall among the best education systems in the world. International assessments have been pointing to a downward trend of our students' abilities. Our local graduates cannot meet the requirements of even our local labour market.

Our executors are also products of the bonsification. One of the byproducts of intended bonsification is the lowering of standards in the quality of people recruited into the teaching profession. A bonsai needs care because they are potted. They cannot draw nutrients from the ground because they are not rooted to other sources of food. Food has to be administered by the bonsifier. A bonsai depends on the bonsifier. Without its master (or caregiver), it will die.

But then again bonsais are pretty. However, a big majestic tree provides shade. It provides oxygen. I am sure the amount is definitely way more than that of a bonsai. It helps to cool the environment. It keeps the top soil from being eroded. It becomes the homes of squirrels, birds, insects.... an oasis of life. The biggest plus point? Its roots are long enough to find its own nutrients! And of course, it it ever is sacrificed, it can keep a fire going, provide enough wood to build a small house, be made into furniture, turned into paper.... Now try asking the bonsai to be all that!!!!!

Unfortunately our current education system is like the bonsai. It has been bonsified because the bonsifiers want to be in control. Control benefits the one who exerts it. You can help yourself to everything and dictate everything, and no one to answer to in the case of total control. Our schools are a pale shadow of their former glorious past. Bonsified minds think small. Bonsified minds can be rather myopic. Keeping a bonsai is more about appearance more than anything..... And that, unfortunately is what's happening in our schools.

I have seen teachers being forced to hold extra classes. School ends at 2.10 p.m. Extra class begins at 2.30 p.m. Teacher goes into class at 2.30 p.m. and comes out at 2.40 p.m. to pray. She performs her prayers till 3.00 p.m. and then goes back into the class. Class ends at 3.30 p.m. I think Zohor prayers is between 1.15 p.m. to about 4.15 p.m. (approximation). Teacher does not want to rush after her last class. Neither does teacher wants to stay back at after class to pray. So teacher steals time from extra class hours. In the first place this teacher probably has most days where her classes have to end at 2.10 p.m. cos of the possibility that last periods may have been blocked for some people.... So tell me, isn't the bonsaification of the mind taking place? Appearance over doing it right... but curi-curi the time and then make excuses. And if you were to pass a remark, you'd get an indignant look as if a sanctified ground has been tresspassed... bonsification a success!

You see bonsais are pretty... looks nice to behold. But apart from providing that pleasure, they don't contribute much else. And sometimes if we take a closer look at the bonsai, we'd also find all these unsightly bumps or 'benjol' potruding here and there.... again some may argue that that gives it a natural look. You don't get much of those unnatural bumps on tall trees which grow into awesome beauties in most places....

But then again, all of us become bonsais every now and then too....
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Walk down a road lined with bonsai, pretty as they are, you get no shade. And you go only a short distance before the heat gets to you. With bigger trees, you might last longer. And if you have no food for yourself, those big majestic trees, perhaps among them, under the boughs and branches, you might find some water or food, that might sustain you a little longer....

English is memang fun... don't you think?

4th May, 2012
Interesting developments from the Scorpene submarine scandal. Due to the bonsification of our minds all these years, the bonsifists have been helping themselves silly.... It's now labelled The Great Malaysian Robbery.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

So What Do You Want For A Career?

This is the time of the year when a few hundred thousand students will begin to ponder about their future. For 500 000 SPM holders, it's either to enter the job market which a sizeable does, or to continue their studies. For the latter, there're many paths - Foundation, SAM, STPM, Matriculation, A-Levels, Diploma, ADTP and countless other avenues. These days as long as you have the money and meet the requirements, you'll get to continue your studies.

My own boy is in the latter group... the ones at the threshold of university studies. And picking his career path has been difficult, mainly because he has choices. Plus like most young people his age, they don't really know what they want. This is something which I feel is a failure of our education system. Kids don't get a feel of different jobs. They're detached from the real job world cos their education is very academic.

In Malaysia, many parents whose kids get good results will push for their children to do medicine. Can't blame them because many attach prestige and a stable income to the job. A great number of our best and brightest end up here. But the proliferation of medical schools because it's such a lucrative business has seen the number of medical schools ballooning to 36, at last count. And if this writer is to be believed, it looks like we're facing several problems which might jeopardize the career path of aspiring doctors.

In the early 80s, because of a severe economic downturn, engineering graduates were known to drive taxis or sell char-kway-teow to tie over the hard times. Back then, engineering lost its lustre somehow. Who is to anticipate that engineers are much sought after today. Or that computer related graduates would be in great demand too. Computer Science for example were mainly taken by those who could not qualify for the more 'prestigious' courses back then. But today, many of those who studied Computer Science are doing very well. None of us would have imagined today's world as being so integrated by computers? The study of science involves new terms coined in the last decade or so such as nano technology, biomedical sciences, material science, etc, etc... and it's still evolving. Psychology graduates are more in demand today too...

For our boy, he's more fortunate than us. Prudent planning on our part means private education is possible for him. That means more options for him, and that he 'escapes' the quota system. Having so many of our friends in various fields also means that we roughly know what different career paths entail. But still, choosing is tough and he is still yo-yoing in choosing, like many of his friends. I did not have such luxury because my parents could afford anything beyond public universities. I had to take whatever that was offered by the UPU. But still, I was lucky to get into a public uni, though when I got there, I realised there was a big difference in terms of entry requirements for the Bumi and non-Bumi. It was at university that I had my first hand experience of preferential treatment for the Bumi(s) at work. The difference in points with some of my coursemates was something like 20 points or 2 grades lower for each of the 5 subjects I took in STPM. And of course, Like many of my friends, I felt cheated. And our parents had to work very hard to put us through those years. Today, nothing much as changed. Rather sad that there hasn't been much progress cos the group that has been and is still being helped still seems mired in mediocrity generally. Our leaders prefer to be leaders for those who need crutches....

Anyway, I've been doing so much reading about different career pathways recently. In a couple of years, I would probably be doing the same again when my girl's turn comes. I wonder too whether there would be any meaningful changes in the admission system. Only time will tell...
As for career choice, I think one must like what one does. Practical reasons such as prospects, aptitude for the course also must take precedence but it's always a double bonus to have a passion for one's vocation. To be stuck doing something that feels like a chore, while might be bearable because most of us are adaptble, can sometimes prevent us from maximizing our potentials too.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mental Block

It's been a tiring last few weeks. Too many things occupy this little space that houses my gray matter; personal, work... I guess just about most things.. Work is not much fun this year. Of late, and as the years pile up, I begin to feel more the ugly racism at work place, not only because it involves me but because I see not merit at work even for those with the 'same' skin colour. For most of us Non-Malays who work in schools like mine, we're hardly ever considered.... But even for my Malay colleagues, I feel sorry for those who are overlooked... Seriously, a few of them actually have the right attitude in place. But in a system which does not value ability, even 'their own' suffer. One thing for sure though, those with minds of their own will less likely ever be acknowledged. Patronage at work because integrity and all those nilai-nilai murni supposedly practised are but lip service.

Then there were the STPM and SPM results. This is supposed fo be the year when scholarships for SPM are supposed to be cancelled. But apparently not; somewhere a U-turn got executed again, in typical Bolehland way. Like many, I can't see why scholarships be awarded for this level... which means they get 1-2 years of scholarship for Foundation, A-Levels and what have you not. Just makes no sense, except that this is Malaysia, where pre-university education goes along racial lines too; the easier Matriculation for the Bumiputera and the more difficult STPM for the non-Bumis. Funding for them and pittance for us kinda thing. And another funny thing, it seems that the 'us' pay most of the income tax. It's more sensible for scholarships be awarded at tertiary education. Yet, we don't act sensibly.

SPM 2011 - The best SPM in 5 years. A record number of 559 students scored straight A+(s). This I think doubled from 2-3 years ago. BTW, there are 3 types of A; A+, A and A-. And so will all 559 get scholarships? What about the other 10803 straight A(s)? Even if it's 11A-(s), it still counts as straight A(s). So now we have 11632 students who should be given scholarships... I wonder how many will continue to score straight A(s) in the next level.... of if at all the A(s) count for everything. Again, what about the STPM people? That's why 1Malaysia sounds hollow. And our Minister of Education claims our education system is better than countries like the UK and US. Yet, employers still complain that many of our graduates lack the necessary skills? Baffling cos I don't see people from the world coming in droves to clamour for places in our UM or USM.

I was looking at Daughter's breakdown of subjects taken school recently. And we just realized that of the 700 possible marks for her exam, 500 marks come from language - BM Penulisan, BM Pemahaman, Chinese (Writing), Chinese (Comprehension) and English. The remaining 200 marks come from Math and Science. In Kebangsaan school, the weightage is 300 marks for language and 200 marks form Math and Science. Going by that, I guess it's okay to assume that we're a nation bent of producing linguists... Studying one language is difficult enough. Studying 2 is tough. Doing 3 languages is crazy. From my own kids, I see how the 'agony' of learning the languages turned them (and the teachers) into harried people. Many become casualties of their inability to cope with the differet languages they need to master.

For some other reason, the planners of our curriculum don't seem to remember what they've learned about the different types of intelligence. Looks like our education system is a graveyard for non-linguist kids. Face it, some kids struggle with language. I know mine did! In a system like ours, many kids get buried by language learning... But nah! In the name of race preservation, the community leaders are trying to show their own that they are championing their rights, heritage, culture... call it what you want, kononnya to protect them from threats.... it feels like here in 1Malaysia, races feel threatened all the time, mostly from imaginary or concocted fears. And guess what, personally I think mastering 2 of the languages actually don't mean much except to satisfy some ego built along racial lines. And English becomes the casualty... the language of science of technology, international relations, commerce and trade, blah, blah, blah.... A BM expert; beyond our shores, it's of not much use. It used to be the same for Mandarin too, except that these days it's good to know it because China is too big of a market to ignore. Still, a working knowledge of the knowledge is sufficient to get by if you want to be able to do business in (with) China.

So while the rest of the world has stepped up their learning of English because they understand the need to, we bury our children under so many language papers because we're ethno centric, and because we want to be seen as champions and defenders or our race.... The joke of course, is on us, the little people cos while we get worked out whenever somebody touches on this issue, our leaders aka politicians are busy lining their pockets with cow money, and directing godzillion amount of money to some other lands.... Of course that money comes in handy in sending these people's kids to the best boarding schools.... where they learn English in the most conducive environment.
In the mean time, we continue to mistrust our fellow citizens because the skin colour or name is different...... small fries' battles. Letih..