26 November 2009

Christmas feelings

Christmas may be commercialised these days, but it sure is lovely to walk into the shopping mall and be greeted by Christmas music and decorations. It just brings on a lovely, merry and peaceful feeling.

After all, may good tidings come to all this Christmas season and always!

I am going Christmas tree hunting for our new house. We gave our old tree to my parents when we moved to Ipoh, so it would be really special putting up a new tree in our house in Ipoh this year.

Malaysia can help make a better world

Our PM said this, "Malaysia, with its background of multiculturalism and tolerance, can play an effective part in promoting deeper understanding between the Muslim world and the West."

Can it?

Once upon a time, I believe Malaysia could have been a true model of multicultural and multiracial success. But today, even under PM Najib's leadership, Malaysia is fast regressing and sliding backwards and in great risk of becoming an extreme, paranoid nation led by leaders who use religion shamelessly to keep things in check.

Where is the tolearance and understanding that Najib is talking about? Was it the cow head incident where a group of protestors against the relocation of a Hindu temple to a section of their housing area paraded a cow head through the streets, stepping and spitting on it? (the cow is a sacred animal to the Hindus)

Where is the tolerance? During the holy fasting month, the non-Muslims in Malaysia are careful not to eat or drink in front of their Muslim colleagues. All meetings are conducted without the usual serving of water or other refreshments. Is this reciprocal? An Indian colleague of mine once remarked, how about Muslims eating beef in front of a Hindu? The Indians don't complain about this. In fact, the other races (we are tolerant, you see) don't complain much. But we all walk on egg shells to ensure that our fellow Muslim Malaysians are not offended in whatsoever, tiny, miniscule manner. Oh no, that is a big NO NO.

So, honourable PM Najib, where is the tolerance and understanding you speak about, without even a flinch of guilt or regret, since it is the leadership that has systematically led Malaysia down the path of intolerance, fear, race politics, Ketuanan concept? An adept politician with showmanship and manufactured conviction, speaking of things he doesn't believe in and that don't exist, or at least, that will soon cease to exist.

22 November 2009

Hoi Seng Restaurant, Ipoh Garden

Hubby suggested that we invite his brother and wife out to dinner tonight. We decided to try the relatively new Hoi Seng restaurant in Ipoh Garden, just next to the post office.

I had seen the place come up next to the post office on my trips sending out packages and also when the kids and I have roti canai for breakfast. Seemed like a pretty big building for a restaurant. Fellow blogger Motormouth had already tried out the place and posted his review on his blog. So tonight I took some pointers from his blog and ordered 3 of the dishes he had tried - the Shanghai Pork Ribs, Deep-Fried Lotus Roots with Salted Egg and the Hoi Seng Bean Curd.

We got to Hoi Seng pretty early as the restaurant said we couldn't reserve a table for 6 as they had run out of tables that size and only had large tables. We were told to "walk in" preferably before 7pm. Actually, we needn't have worried. There were plenty of tables available. True, there weren't many small tables but no matter, we had our pick of any of the tables for 8. But the place filled up quite quickly after 7.15pm.

The Shanghai Ribs were tender, meaty with plenty of sauce to dunk the plain buns in. Funny thing was, the waitress called it "Wuxi Pork Ribs" in Cantonese. Now, we had been to Wuxi in China last year, where they serve their famed Wuxi Pork Ribs, and Hoi Seng's ribs is nothing like that. Well....maybe the restaurant just wanted it to be mysterious. The deep fried lotus roots were quite nice, but tonight, not as crispy as it could have been. The bean curd was good, and managed to actually suit my fussy 4-year old's palate.

We ordered bean sprouts (good) and black pepper fish slices (not peppery enough). Overall, the food was above average, and we would return to sample the other dishes on the menu. My kids had no problem with the ambience too, which is a plus point.

21 November 2009

1 Malaysia - at the market

It was wet and dreary this morning, but the marketing had to be done. I had already postponed it by 2 days, stretching the creativity limits of both my maid and myself, as we whip up meals for the family from my dwindling supplies at home.

So off to the market I trudged. To be honest, I hate marketing. I dislike the crowd, the narrow paths between the stalls, the wet floor, the myriad smells, having to haul the week's worth of fresh ingredients to my car. Despite the weight of my purchases, I'd rather buy for the whole week, than have to make multiple trips to the market. That's why I have 2 fridges. (I can't imagine why my SIL goes to the market daily - she must find it therapeutic, or, is it possible, pleasureable??)

Still, the market plays a vital role in supplying fresh ingredients. On days that I just don't want to go to the market, I buy my fresh produce from Tesco or Jusco, but it's not the same. The veges are definitely not as fresh; the fish are touch and go; the chicken, well they're all broiler right?

Anyway, I digress. I usually zoom through the market, having established a pattern after being in Ipoh for 10 months now. First I place my usual order with the chicken stall; buy the dry stuff like potatoes, onions and the like; then I buy my pork; followed by the bean sprouts and bean curds. By this time, my basket is laden and I have to return to my car to deposit my load. When I return I head to my usual vege stall; then I buy my fishy stuff which is just next to the chicken stall; and last, I pick up my chicken which would be all chopped and cut. I'm out of there!

But today, when I went to my last stop, the chicken stall, alas my order was not ready. The vendor was inundated and she asked me to go walk about and come back a few minutes later. Groan!

So I shuffled around miserably and came to an elderly gentleman selling Malay breakfast favourites - nasi lemak (rice steamed with coconut milk and accompanied by anchovies, chillies, peanuts and cucumber) and lemang (glutinous rice mixed with coconut milk and salt, wrapped up in leaf and stuffed into a stick of bamboo, and cooked over a fire). For some reason, I assumed he was Chinese (as this is a Chinese market and I have not seen Malay customers shopping here) so I told him, in Chinese, that I would buy up the last of his lemang. He replied "Seringgit setengah"(RM1.50). Still it didn't occur to me that he was Malay, and I asked if I could have it for a lower price. He replied, "Sudah murah" (it's cheap). Only then did I realize my mistake. I quickly said, "Maaf Pak Cik, saya ingat Pak Cik orang Cina". (I'm sorry Uncle, I thought you were Chinese). He smiled and said "Tak apa, Melayu Cina semua sama. Kita 1Malaysia" (That's alright. Malay or Chinese, it doesn't matter. We are 1 Malaysia).

I continued the rest of my conversation with the Pak Cik in Malay and ended up buying the rest of his nasi lemak too. He said he's in the market every Satuday. I'll remember that.

If all Malaysians think like the Pak Cik, and we take the time to truly be fellow Malaysians, be courteous and respectful to one another, there might be hope for 1Malaysia.

No plastic bags - what's the alternative?

Penang's "Go Green" campaign is to be commended. The state has a "No Plastic Monday" campaign running, which it plans to make permanent next year. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said “According to the data provided by 45 supermarkets, hypermarkets and other retailers, it is estimated that Penangites had saved over one million plastic bags in four months".

Sounds good.

But I've always been pondering this point. What do people really do with all the plastic bags they get from their grocery-shopping trips to the supermarkets? Do they just discard and throw them out? I don't think so, really.

I always reuse the plastic bags, mainly as garbage bags.

Now, shopping bags can be made of recyclable material like paper or cloth, but what would be the alternative to plastic garbage bags? Is it really true that 1 million plastic bags were saved in the Penang no-plastic campaign? Or did people just have to go out and buy 1 million new plastic bags to use as their garbage bags instead of the ones given out by the supermarkets?

Did it really make a difference?

20 November 2009

School's out!

The cool and rainy weather did not dampen my son's or my gleeful mood as today is the last day of school for the year. Hooray!

No more worrying about homework or exams until next year. Now for the next 6 weeks, I think all school-going children in Malaysia deserve a relaxing, unstructured and fun break after the academic year filled with school days, tuition days, exams and the like.

Happy holidays to all school-going kids in Malaysia, and have a good break too, Moms!

17 November 2009

Penang...still charming

We just came home from a 3days-2 nights family trip to Penang. The kids have been to Penang before, but then, my little girl was only 1. So her memory of that trip is hazy. But they will remember this trip much better.

It was quite fun. We stayed at the Park Royal Hotel, situated along the Batu Feringgi stretch of beach. Our family room was sizeable and comfortable. Room service was prompt, tasty and surprisingly reasonable in terms of pricing. This time around, I set aside my fear of the sun and accompanied the kids to the pool and beach each day of our 3 days stay. They loved it, especially my little girl.

The only thing that scared her was her ride down the water slide at the pool. She took her maiden attempt on the water slide with her father, held securely in his arms, or so it seemed. My husband, however, went down the slide too fast which resulted in both of them going under water for probably about 2 seconds, as he did not hold her above water. But that short time was sufficient to cause her to have ingested some water, and she was sputtering and tearful when they emerged from the water. Nope, she didn't want to go on the waterslide again.

Until the next day, when I persuaded her to try it again, and this time Mommy would hold her and no going under water, I promised. She bravely agreed, and as promised, I went slow and held her high when we went into the water. Still, that was all she wanted of the water slide.

We didn't have much time to sample Penang hawker fare. For lunch on the first day, we ate at Joo Hooi Cafe, which my husband remembered was quite good. We were disappointed with the assam laksa - Kong Heng in Ipoh does a far better assam laksa! The char kway teow, so famed in Penang, also came in as average.

We bumped into cousins who were also staying at the Park Royal. They too have a little girl, who is the same age as ours. The 2 little girls had a ball of a time playing together, and seemed fascinated with the fact that they too, are cousins. Well, our cousins suggested we eat in Ferringi Cafe, a mere 5 minute walk from the hotel, for dinner one night. The food served, Asian-fusion, was rather creative and everyone enjoyed their orders. Except for me, unfortunately - my Nasi Briyani was not too well done; perhaps that was not their forte. For lunch, our cousins took us to Sweet Cherry, a Thai restaurant. The food there was excellent and reasonably priced. We would go back there next time we are in Penang.

We managed to squeeze in Penang Hill (once is enough, for me) and the Toy Museum (in need of maintenance and upgrading). All in all, it was a very enjoyable trip and Penang still has its charm.....indeed, the Pearl of the Orient.
(picture from Park Royal hotel website)

13 November 2009

Not wrong to go on a sponsored Haj pilgrimage?

Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nikmat had said that it was not wrong, not corrupted of him, to accept an RM65,000 sponsorship to perform the Haj in Mecca from Nov 18. His son-in-law supported him in this matter and attempted to explain the issue: "It's like this, he (Nik Abdul Aziz) is like other Tok Gurus and many people want to go to the Holy Land with people like him because his knowledge of Islam is inspiring. Naturally many would want to perform Haj with him."

Herein lies the glaring and sad, sad fact that Malaysian politicians are ill-informed, misinformed, uneducated perhaps, ill-advised, unsophisticated .....(the list goes on).

Yes, yes, we understand what the son-in-law - Abdul Ariffahmi Abdul Rahman and also CEO of Kelantan Mentri Besar Incorporated (PMBK) - is trying to say. In fact, it would be alright and acceptable if the Kelantan Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz were any ordinary Tok Guru, Ulama, religious teacher - but he is not.

He happens to be the Kelantan Mentri Besar and the spiritual adviser of the political party PAS. This whole thing of accepting paid/ sponsored trips/ items/ gifts/ whatever raises CONFLICT OF INTEREST issues, and naturally questions of impropriety. Datuk Nik Aziz has since decided to cancel his Haj pilgrimage.

Please hire better legal advisors.

You think swearing is normal?

There is an Australian, a former soldier, who has been detained in Dubai awaiting trial on charges of insulting and using inappropriate language to a police officer at the Dubai International Airport (the Age, Nov 13, 2009). Mr. Sun McKay said that he was grabbed on the wrist and yanked by a stranger at Dubai International Airport, and instinctively said: "What the f---?". The stranger turned out to be a plain clothes airport policeman.

Ok, perhaps it was the shock and surprise at the unexpected encounter with the police officer that caused Mr. McKay to say what he said. But it is troubling to note the reporting which says that McKay "instinctively" swore.

Has the usage of swear words become so common, to the point it is instinctive? Is it to be recognised as acceptable behaviour? Perhaps to a large number of Australians, Americans etc. etc. (I may be generalising here) it is accepted behaviour, but for a large part of Asia and definitely the Middle East, as Mr. McKay has painfully learned, it is not regarded as acceptable behaviour. It is rude, crude, barbaric, demeaning and just plain awful behaviour.

It made, and still makes, me cringe during the days when I was in university in Australia and exposed to daily colourful language by my peers. We would be cuffed if we spoke like that back home.

Mr. McKay says he is "astounded by the situation". Well, I am equally astounded at how liberal swearing has become. He further believes he has been treated unfairly, and wants the Australian Government to formally complain to the United Arab Emirates about his treatment. Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs however, has rightly said it is limited in what it can do to help Mr McKay, as travellers were bound by the laws of the countries they visited.

And Mr. McKay is chanting the usual mantra, "They don't have the best record of human rights here". ....predictable.

11 November 2009

Anti-terrorism and ISA

At today's round table discussion organised by the Foreign Ministry’s South-East Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT) in collaboration with the Australian High Commission in Malaysia, the Australian Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism, William Paterson, said , “Malaysia chooses to use the preventive detention approach under the ISA ... has it been effective? Without doubt, yes, it’s been very effective".

This is a very dangerous statement for Ambassador Paterson to have made, for even though he said every country had to come out with its own initiatives in dealing with terrorism, I am certain that some ignorant or twisted Malaysian politician will seize upon this endorsement to unravel whatever positive progress has been made to recognise that the ISA is an archaic, outdated, abused piece of legislation that stifles democracy in Malaysia.

Even the wording of the article by the Star, Aussie anti-terrorist expert backs ISA, may give the impression that the ISA was praised in its entirety, which it was not. It also smacks of hypocrisy for an Australian Ambassador to praise the ISA when Australia is so big on human rights, something the ISA completely violates. (Incidentally, Ambassador Paterson was awarded the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal in 2005) Or perhaps when the ends justify the means; when the threat of international terrorism is reduced for Australia; Australia would support whatever measures that were taken to achieve that measure of security, despite the collateral costs those measures may have incurred.

Certainaly no legislation like the ISA would ever be adopted in Australia.

It must have stung Australia when Indonesia used "human rights" as their basis for refusing to use force to make the Sri Lankan asylum seekers disembark.

08 November 2009

Have you heard, "Penatlah saya"

For readers not schooled in Bahasa Malaysia, "penatlah saya" means "that would make me so tired".

Where did I hear this?

At the post office, Pos Malaysia Berhad. The story behind this goes like this.....I use Pos Laju, Pos Malaysia's express courier service quite a bit. And to be honest, Pos Laju is reliable and more cost efficient than the other private courier services. I send out between 3 to 8 packages each time.

Is that too much to handle for the Pos Malaysia counter servers? Well, apparently so. Because each time I approach the post office counter with my transaction, the attending counter officer's demeanour sours (it's not a very big post office and they recognise me by now). That already puts me off. Hey, I'm giving Pos Malaysia business am I not? Once, the post office counter staff insisted on weighing all my packages, tallying the cost and getting my payment first. Then after I had gone, she said she would stick the respective Pos Laju forms onto the packages later at her leisure (the packages have been separately labelled, so she would only have to match the names on the packages with the correct Pos Laju form). I was uneasy with this method as it leaves a big error for margin. True enough, for that batch of packages, the post office mismatched the forms to the packages, resulting in people receiving someone else's stuff.

The post office did not apologise for this error, nor did they offer to reroute the packages to the correct recipients for free. We had to pay again for the second delivery.

When I went to the post office to make another delivery following that erroneous transaction, I specifically told the counter staff at the post office to individually weigh, and to individually label the form onto, the packages. This is when the counter server said "Penatlah saya!" I was truly taken aback - this is the post office's service and her job, in particular. Well, I told her to weigh the packages and I would stick the forms onto them myself - she was only too pleased to allow me to do that!

If possible, I try not to use Pos Malaysia Ipoh Garden.

This led me to search for other better staffed post offices in Ipoh. Do you know that there are Pos Mini (mini post offices) - these are actually privately owned agents of Pos Malaysia i.e. the operator of the Pos Mini would be the proprietor and business owner. With a business ownership mentality, the service level is definitely many notches better than the normal Pos Malaysia post offices. Fortunately I found an excellent Pos Mini in Taman Cempaka. The counter server (only 1 person) is efficient, courteous, patient, diligent and professional. And no matter how busy she is, she never utters a complaint and does not scowl at customers.

One day in Jaya Jusco (One U or Mid Valley), I happened to walk past their comments board. Pasted onto the board were all the customer feedback, the good and the bad. One particularly struck me. The complainant said that she had asked the Jusco salesperson to unlock a chained handbag for her to try out. While waiting for the slow-moving salesperson to do so, she had walked a few steps away to browse at other merchandise. When she returned to the handbag, she found it still chained and locked. She summoned the same salesperson who said that since the customer had walked away, she had assumed she was no longer interested. Well, the customer asked her to unlock the bag for her to inspect, to which the salesperson whined "Penatlah saya!"

Now, where have I heard that before?

'Friendly visits' to check on maids' welfare

Human Resources Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam announced that from Dec. 1, 2009, the Manpower Department and Home Ministry will launch a program to conduct random visits on homes to check on the maids’ welfare and working conditions as well as get feedback from the employers on the maids’ well-being. The HR Minister said that the visits would be friendly in nature, “a public relations exercise”, with no specific questions asked.

Several concerns arise, immediately.

First and foremost, security and the right to enter. The HR Minister already accedes that the officers would have no power to conduct the random visits at the employers’ premises if they are denied entry. And given Malaysia's stellar record of crime and creative imposters as well as robbers in disguise, you can be sure that many homes will refuse entry to the officers. How can the public be certain that the officers are genuine and not criminals in disguise? And dropping in unannounced - that would be extremely rude, invasive and unwelcome.

What is the exercise expected to achieve? A PR exercise? Usually PR exercises are to improve and entrench businesss relationships with customers, so using this jargon for such an exercise is inappropriate. What relationship do we have with the Manpower Department and Home Ministry - other than the fact we pay a heck of a lot of money to maid agencies; we pay an annual levy to the govt for employing our maids; we get fined when the maids decide to run away and live as an illegal in Malaysia with their new-found boyfriends (a practice the govt has done little to curb). What service do we employers receive from these govt agencies? Now, you want to enter my home to "look around" - I don't think so.

Would there be enough manpower from the departments to deploy? Would the officers involved be adequately trained in "PR"? Will they be polite and professional? Will they, err, expect "something"? Malaysians already put up with a lot of "attitude" from govt officers whose job it is to serve the public, but instead of doing so professionally and expeditiously, they make the public wait, grovel, beg and worse.

Is this whole farce an attempt to placate the Indonesian government? Please. Show some strength, some backbone, some pride. Otherwise, our government will be very busy launching "PR programs" each time another country complains about their nationals' welfare, whether they are here for work or leisure.

05 November 2009

Of valid tickets and faulty machines

I read with the feeling "it happens everywhere" an article describing the outrage of the Melbourne public over a case, one of many, where a commuter's valid multiple-trip ticket failed to work on a tram despite his repeated attempts to validate it on the tram's ticket machine.

And when the ticket inspector came a-checking, the commuter was fined for not having a validated ticket for his tram ride. Despite his explanation that the machine simply refused to validate his ticket. The official response was "he should have either got off the tram or bought a new ticket". The commuter in question intends to fight the fine in court.

And so he should. Because ticket inspectors should really apply some common sense. It is daylight robbery to require a commuter to buy another ticket because of a faulty (or selectively faulty) machine.

Back home in Malaysia, we get fined for not having valid parking tickets displayed on our dashboards. Several times in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL, after they replaced the parking meters (now why did they have to do that? The existing parking meters were working fine...ohhhh, silly me, of course it is to create a "job" for "someone"), I simply could not get a ticket out of them. I was not alone.

One morning, I followed the instructions on the dastardly machine and it simply refused to work. A gentleman came along and offered to try. I said, sure thing, go ahead. He too, failed. A second gentleman came along, thinking we were idiots for not being able to work the machine. Hah, he was equally foiled by the wicked machine. I can't remember how many people ultimately milled around us waiting to get their tickets, but I do remember having to ditch the idea of getting a parking ticket and just dash off to do my marketing. If a council officer had come around, I am positive I would return to find a compound notice on my windscreen, and would the local council entertain my explanation that their ticket machine didn't work?

It happens everywhere.....lack of common sense by council enforcers, dodgy ticket machines installed by dodgy means for dodgy purposes.

02 November 2009

Malaysia has lost its way, says Ku Li

And Tengku Razaliegh is so right, frank and honest about it.

How many of our corrupt politicians and leaders would admit this?

The veteran Umno man told the British Graduates Association at a dinner in KL on Nov. 1 that it was a fact that those Malaysians who “can stay away and settle overseas do so with the encouragement of their parents. Their parents tell them to remain where they are, there is nothing for them here. The illusion of nostalgia does not explain why parents fight to send their children to private and international schools rather than the national schools they themselves went to." (Malaysian Insider)

Tengku Razaleigh said that the very same politicians who recite nationalist slogans about our national schools and turn the curriculum into an ideological hammer send their own children to international schools here or in Australia and Britain.

Indeed, I have Malay friends - highly educated, from connected familes, affluent - who send their children to international schools. And these same Malay friends hold PRs in other countries, namely Australia and Britain. Why? Do they not feel secure in Malaysia, where their position and priveleges are protected, and where they are accorded so many "goodies"? Do these Malays feel, too, that the BN leadership and stranglehold on the country would only lead to the enrichment of BN politicians and the ultimate ruin of Malaysia and its people?

So these Malays are "preparing" their children for ultimate flight out of Malaysia with well laid paths of foreign education and PRs in a number of countries. Well then, at least, if and when their children leave Malaysia, they will live in the "real world" where they will compete on merits with others.

The esteemed Tengku also said that Malaysians felt a sense of loss not because they did not love the country, or were ungrateful. “It is because they feel the erosion of the institutional infrastructure of our society. Institutional intangibles such as the rule of law, accountability and transparency are the basis of a people’s confidence in their society."

Tengku is right again. Our government has gone down a windy, slippery, dangerous road that has seen the judiciary, police force and other government agencies lose their independence, professionalism, accountability and therefore, the trust of the people. How can one trust a public institution where a citizen died there under unexplainable circumstances? How do we not lose faith when selective corruption raids are mounted, yet at the same time it is plain for all to see the blatant corruption of (former) Menteri Besars etc living in palaces in prime locations, but with not a twitter of rebuke let alone punitive action from the government.

Our schools are in a mess. Why else would ministers be sending their children to international schools? The "crude nationalism" as Tengku calls it, blindly sidelines English, stupidly denying its value and importance to all Malaysians, and the country. Always the same old "Bahasa Malaysia is the country's language and the key to our unity". Really??

Our leaders are not connected to the realities of the challenges of the world today, only to their disgusting priority of getting rich through their station as politicians, leaders and high ranking government officials.