My Anthem

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Darling of the media

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad makes interesting copies for the media, and that's why the members of the Fourth Estate love him very much. I know not of other Malaysians -- I hear feedback it's mostly a case of "either you love him or hate him", there's no in-between.

History will hail his many achievements -- putting Malaysia on the international map with his loud and frequent voice, not often welcomed, but arresting enough notice; progressing our country's status as a trading nation nearing in line with World Trade Organisation criteria, so we rank at the Top10 in world trade and commerce. His Multi-Super Corridor (MSC) initiative was timely and far-sighted, though the project's success was compromised by much red-tape and misplaced resources, both financial and manpower, and, of course, continues to face stiff competition from other rival centres in the United States and India.

Indeed, Dr Mahathir's record spanning 22 years as Prime Minister has its supporters and detractors. But always, he remains a favourite media personality, for his often contrarian views, and even highly controversial off-the-cuff repartees with press-men representing various agendas (both local and foreign, especially the latter).

Even after his retirement about a year and a half ago, Dr Mahathir still catches the media limelight, more often than other political retirees in the region. Yesterday's is a prime example when the good doctor shared his experiences with the International CEOs Conference, in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

Dr Mahathir painted a "gloomy picture" of the US dollar, saying that the greenback will probably never recover its old strength, the NST March 30, 2005 reported. I shall rely substantially on the NST's report in writing this commentary.

The former PM said the US dollar may continue its slide, especially under the Bush presidency which regards deficits as not worth reducing. The dollar is not backed by anything, and given
given America's USD7 trillion debts, the backing is actually negative.

Dr Mahathir said only the fear pf a worldwide economic catastrophe if the dollar is rejected provides the greenback the value it has now.

"But the catastrophe will come one day because even the most powerful country in the world cannot repay loans amounting to USD7 trillion," he said. (The emphasis is desiderata's.)

Fielding a question from the floor, Dr Mahathir said the uncertainties in the exchange rate of the UD dollar against other currencies must be handled.

He also described currency trading as "trading in nothing", adding that the dollar's decline of 50 percent against the euro and quite a lot against the yen shows that the US currrency is not stable after all.

Dr Mahathir argued that when one is paid in US dollar, he is paid less because the currency has been devalued by 50 percent. He said when the world starts rejecting the dollar as a trading currency, it will collapse, adding: "It is certainly on the way to collapse."

"The time will come when you have to move away from the US dollar," he said, referring to his earlier suggestion for the use of gold as the standard currency in place of the greenback.

The media, especially the international ones (I'd reserve my comment of the local ones lest I be ...) love "controversy" -- be it personality- or opinion-generated. And Dr Mahathir has obliged, and continues to do so, which brings a smile back to many a journalist's face, for news by definition, thrives on the out-of-the-ordinary, and a seasoned politician, practising or reitred, knows it. Dr Mahathir definitely knows it.

To recap, many quarters who have longer memories than the silent majority will recall the colourfull exchanges between the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir and George Soros, whom Dr Mahathir blamed in large part for destabilising the region's economies with his "currency specultaive" activities. The 1997/98 financial crisis started off with Thailand's destabilised baht, falling rapidly, followed in quick succession, (like a Tsunamai?) by similar domino effets in Indonesia, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries.

Supporters attribute the country's relatively quick recovery to Dr Mahathir's prompt adoption of "non-conventional" measures to fight off the threat, such as capital controls, and the ringgit-to-Us dollar peg (RM3.8 = USD1), the latter still in place today. Neighbouring countries like Indonesia which followed the International Monetary Fund's remedy package definitely paid a price, but Malaysia's own action also earned it a lot of scorn, including a media label as "pariah" in the international financial community.

However, there are also certain quarters who claimed that if Malaysia had not gone Dr Mahathir's way in meeting the crisis, the financial hurdle would still find its way to a solution, maybe at a greater price and needing a longer recovery period. In fact, I have also heard some quarters say that Dr Mahathir should have made a good candiadte for the Nobel Prize for Economics, but I remind them that such "capital control" initiatives were really not novel, just adapations on what Hong Long and mainland China had been practising all the time! It of course does not diminish the success of a leader's ability to select the "appropriate and most effective" remedy for his country's economic prblems.

History will judge Dr Mahathir not just on his economic policies, but also on his political actions, which is not the subject of my post today. Nevertheless, we are entertained, maybe enlightened by his exquisite use of the English language, calling Soros a "moron", and the American responded with an equally quotable that Dr Mahathir was a "menace" to his own country.

Recalcitrant, anyone?

short takes

Take 1: To date, the Malaysian Government has spent RM65 million on aid for victims of last December 26's Tsunami. The New Straits T imes March 30, 2005 reported Minister in the PM's Department, Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz as informing the Parliament yesterday about RM21 million was given to victims as wang ehsan, RM21 million to offset the costs of new homes, and RM23 million was distributed to restore damaged farming and fishing infrastructure. He added that Malaysian companies and individuals had pledged a total of RM89.7 million to help Tsunami victims.

Take 2: Indonesia has estimated that more than 1,000 people were killed on Nias Island following the 8.7 earthquake which struck off West Sumatra in the wee hours yesterday. Vice-president Jusuf Kalla told a local radio stattion it was predicted the death toll in Nias, initially placed at 300, could rise to 1,000-2,000.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


Take 1: yesterday posted about protests in Tsinghua University/China following the recent restriction by the authorities that non-student visitors, including former alumni, are no longer allowed to take part in the campus' chat room, in the latest move to clamp down on the free exchange of ideas on Internet forums.

Take 2: Mack ( has a post today lamenting that on some occasions, he really felt "ashamed" to be a Malaysian, relating the "couldn't care less" treatment fellow Malaysian Peter Tan encountered when he requested the management at the apartments where he was staying to put in place an "emergency warning system" after last December 26's Tsunami incident so that people in high-rises, espceially those with "disabilities" could have some urgent means to evacuate to protect themselves. A "real-life" rehearsal took place just three months later when Malaysians felt the tremors from the 8.7 Richter-strong early today hit West Sumatra, with some 300 reportedly killed as of first day's count. Incidentally, Peter was the earliest (or among the earliest?) Blogger to break the news from his webblog ( Way to go, Mack and Peter! (borrowing JeffOoi's hallmark cheering ...)

Take 2:

Man's Best Friend


Yesterday at tea-time, an old friend of mine, whom I also consider a counsellor, chatted over our favourite cendol at the height of the early afternoon equatorial heat, and our conversation turned to nine-year-old Muhammad Hazman Seh Zahidi who recently had a nsaty encounter in his neighbourhood of Taman Putra Perdana, with three dogs, including a Rothweiler suspected to have inflicted the serious injuries on the boy.

I believe the victim was highly traumatised, and would for a long time yet, harbour deep-seated fears of dogs and any animals of the ferocious kind, maybe even when properly confined to cages at the zoo. In my schooldays, when going around doing chores to raise funds for scouting "Job Week", I had a terrifying experience when a door opened up to a pounding Alsatian. I turned and yet could not escape entirely and the "miniature-tiger" left a mark on my back with a scratch.

Back to the incident involving the young victim, I believe the neighbour who allowed the dogs out without proper supervision and control had been negligent, and I would say, highly ionconsiderate allowing the dogs to roam freely. Now an innocent child has been "scarred" for life!

My counseller friend, (whose surname rhymes with another animal, hence I logged his reference in my handphone directory as Coww), observed that animals will be animals -- some can be fully domesticated, others not. Humans should not stretch their hobbies too far by keeping potentially dangerous wild animals like tigers, bears and reptiles -- yes, some indeed have done so, as highlighted by the press.

Nevertheless, cats and dogs are common pet animals in Malaysia. However, it is incumbent on the owners to keep their "pets" under proper control, especially if the dogs are known to be of the "ferocious" kind like Rothweiler and Alsatian and the "Black Bulldog". Every time I read or re-read "The Hound of Baskervilles" featuring my favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes, the atmospheric tension with the impending pounce of the Hound gives me the "creeps". Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never fails, again and again, describing the arresting landscape and atmospherics of the dark and sinister moorland.

Malaysians must exercise goodwill and consideration, whether in the neighboorhood or using public amenities, or when we hit the highway -- then the incidence of road rage deaths might be prevented. In the old days, before the handphone emergence, some "inconsiderate" user would hog a public phone for hours -- maybe chatting with the boyfriend or girlfriend? You return at half-hourly intervals, and many frustrated "other users" would still find the same person burning up the line!

I'll end this goodwill sermon on a more heart-warming note.

Coww retold the story of a dog in the Second World War in a Japanese town who escorted his master to the station as he left to serve in the war. The dog just parked itself at the railway station, checking out with each arriving train to see if Master was returning. The patient pet survived on the morsels thrown his way by passersby and their children.

The station master admired the dog's devotion to his enduring virgil, ears always alert to each ariving train, with hopes perennially lighting up its heart, that the Master would alight from the train one day.The days stretched into weeks, the weeks into months, and the months into years. And the winter cold finally took its toll, and one morning the station master found the dog lying on the track's kerbside, motionless and cold.

The neighbourhood and local authorities erected a copper statue of the dog as a monument to one faithful servant who patiently awaits the return of his master -- for six long years. Yes, indeed,to many of us, the Dog is still Man's Best Friend.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Of faith and friendship


I seldom write on faith and religion, especially on a particular religion, for I believe if you are a "small man", do not venture into territory where angels fear to tread. I will only take part in discourses in general relating to faith, which has been always a "personal" matter of each individual's heart.

Two news-related items prompted me to make it an exception, and today's piece may rufffle some feathers, but writers must necessary ruffle some feathers, if not some hides, so here goes.

Mackzulkifli, my new friend whom I have not met but he has addressed me as among his brethren, and I have responded calling him "brudder", so I guess calling him my "friend" is a natural progression in goodwill.

Mack in his post today titled The scarlett letter and Inter Faith Commission (Visit him at recalls some of my sentiments which I expressed in one Conversation hotly discussed at Screenshots following the Government's announcement of its decision to "postpone" the formation of the IFC. Mack had listed some features of what faith is about. Among others, Mack said said: "We really need to make friends, otherwise, we will have too many commissions to take care of our animosities, which is the fundamental reason to have a Commission in the first place."

I concur also with Pak Lah's reiteration on March 24, 2005, as reported by theSun last Friday, that the government's decision to postpone the formation of the IFC should not be seen as a setback to enhancing and promoting inter-religious understanding among the various religious groups. He added that the government had taken into account the views of all parties, including those who supported as well as those who were against the formation.

In the Conversation I referred to earlier, I here recap some of my viewpoints: that all religious groups could carry on their dialogues in any forums or channels, whatever name they wish to call it, IF RoundTable, Initiative, Forum or Commission, I really don't care. What I am afraid of is that when a group tries to involve the top national leaders into any initiative, often it raises the endeavour to a political baby, hence "attracting" questionable band-wagoners. I had posed the question: do you really need the Prime Minister or his deputy to be involved, do you want to see a Tun,Tan Sri, Datuk Seri, or their spouses to feature prominently among the IFC, or are these initiators aspiring to join the ranks of those with honorifics preceding their names beyond the normal Encil or Dr.? All too often, the common man already feels so small attending functions featuring too many of these titled personages, would we want to add one more?

Hey, remember, faith is a highly personal "matter of the heart", don't institutionalise it too much. We already have the temple, the church, the masjid -- let's not add more legislation to our already much "legislated" life! We just have too many such bodies, I won't name them lest I ruffle more feathers and hides -- they include many half dead ones too, mainly associated with just one or two dominating figures who treat it as their personal domain instead of promoting the organisation's expressed cause.

I wish to join Mack's expressed wish to see the formation of a Friendship Commission, at a personal level in our daily living.

A group of media friends and I have been meeting once a month at dinner to chat, yak, pick brains, whatever. It's just meeting up away from the work environment, and although most were involved in media-related, we sometimes "coopt" a friend or two from outside the media, like a banker,a scientist or a diplomat, as our guests. I have even brought a Malay consultant, though he could not join the "main meal", he lingered for some two hours at after-dinner drinks.

To these mates, I had once composed a poem to mark the occasion, done in a jiffy of ten minutes, yes, that quick when a writer has his inspiration, which follows:

Just Friends

A generous spread on a round table

Juicy lamb, roasted to a golden sheen

Oyster-sauced kailan, teased with Chinese wine

Healthily washed dwon with vintage Le Cordon Bleu

But what's all these food and drinks worth?

If not for the boisterous crowd

Of back-slapping mates dating back a decade

And new friends welcomed as our guests

Growing richer and wiser with passing years

Like good old wine, Chinese or French

So cheers to hearty and sincere company

The meal might just as well be mere entree

Or one main course

Or just desserts

It matters not really the dish

What's really cooking, whetting

Is your presence, old chap,


Among just


I write this "With malice towards none, and charity towards all for the common good."

Monday, March 28, 2005

Read Some Poetry


This writer is glad to observe that in the past few years, our Government has re-emphasised the importance of English in the schools and at university studies, and this indeed augurs well for the nurture and advance of a rich heritage bequeathed us by the British. It is heartening to note that English litearature has once again been incorporated into secondary school syllabuses again, after some two decades of absence. From now on, I hope that when I quote from any poems of Shakespeare or Dickinson, the students of my tuition class do not stare at me with blank faces (the present generation would say: appearing blur ...). Yes, I once tutored some Form 6 students preparing for MUET, and when I quoted the opening stanza from "Leisure" (What is this life if, full of care/ We have no time to stand and stare...), there was no response in the form of recognition from the class of some forty 18-, 19-year-olds!

I would now recommend that people should regularly Read Some Poetry, for I assure you it will enrich your life. English proficiency, which will definitely be improved with the constant reading and appreciation of Poetry written in English, will not only make Malaysians more competitive internationally, but also enrich our journey in life, reminding us that in the daily hustle and bustle of the materialistic living, "A poor life this is if, full of care/ We have no time to stand and stare," (closing lines from Leisure, by W. H. Davies).

Our country aims to become a fully developed, i.e. First World, nation by the year 2020, a short 15 years away. In materialistic terms, the objective implied by developed nation status can be defined using economic criteria, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), per capita income, purchasing power parity, expressible in figures. But in the social and civic sense and other intangibles --the character, the soul and the spirit and mindset of the people -- that's where the difficulty lies, in terms of definition and quantification!

We are far from having attained a mature, civil society. Recently, many quarters, including our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, have lamented that while the country can boast of infrastructure that rivals the best in First World countries like the US, Britain or Japan, like our oft-quoted Petronas Twin Towers, the people's mindset and social behaviour leave much to be desired. This is evidenced by the citizenry's general lack of civic consciousness, with daily media reports of common littering, unkempt public toilets, and inconsiderate behaviour on the highway, with the frightening prospects of one meeting the road bully, even resulting in death.

Malaysians may do well to heed this wise observation from "Thoughts on Virtue" by one of history's great thinkers, Charles Darwin (who propounded the "Theory of Evolution" in his opus, "Origin of Species"):

If I had my life

to live over again,

I would have made a rule

to read some poetry

and listen to some music

at least once a week ...

The loss of these tastes

is a loss of happiness,

and may be injurious

to the intellect,

and more probably

to the moral character.

Poetry indeed has a significant role to play in the "civilization" process of Homo sapiens. May the day dawn quickly when Malaysians, while trumpeting that we have the tallest twin buildings in the world, we also can stand proud in terms of our grace, culture and heritage, displaying First World civic behaviour and tastes.

Joyous Reading on A Happy Sunday. Thou shalt find time from labour to earn the daily bread to indulge in some labour of love! See you, my esteemed Conversationists, next Sunday for more on Poetry.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


Take 1: Chanced on two interesting blogs when I visited MackZulkifli, referred to and Happy to share a common interest with both -- love of poetry; Peter featured an uplifting "Magnolia Dreams", while I learn more about friendship via bkworm's "Turning lemons to lemonade". Thanks for the sharing.

Take 2: As a new Blogger, this piece from is worrying. Headlined How AFP Killed an Online News Site by Suing Google, today's update referred to a previous report on March 21, 2005 that AFP had filed a suit against Google to stop the latter from using links to its news site, for "copyright infringement, alleging that the internet searchengine included AFP headlines, summaries and photographs published without permission." Google complied, but now AFP's customers complain about a decline of visitors to their webpage.
desiderata.civil society

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insiduous encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.

***American Justice Louis D. Brandeis

malacca - there goes one myth

Hey, was I glad to see the NST report on Page 2 (March 26, 2005) that puts to dust the myth created by potential national leaders that they are contributing to the betterment of society having their members going around spying on courting couples and then reporting to the religious authorities after enjoting their voyeuristic sojourns.

The report, headlined State morality squad disbanded, led off with "It is official. Malacca's controversial morality police squad is out of business."

This follows a Cabinet directive asking that the unit, commonly known as Mat Skodeng, set up by the Malacca 4B Youth movement, be disbanded. For the past month, 60 youths have been going around the city peeping on couples, presumably to put the brakes on immoral activities.
Mat Skodeng adviserHassan Rahman was quoted by the NST as saying: "I am quite disappointed that we have been directed to disband," adding that the unit was instrumental in getting religious officers to act against four couples who were committing khalwat (close proximity, an offence under Syariah law).

Hassan, who is also the state 4B permanent deputy president, said he was toying with the idea of getting the former snoops to be employed as enforcement officers with the state religious department. He also reported that about RM7,000 had been spent on the snoop squad.

Yesterday in my post, Malacca chief minister, Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, who had launched the snoop force, was reported by the NST as saying that he understood the directive by the Cabinet.

"It may lead to other parties following suit with their own squads," he said. "That would pose a major problem then. Hence, I will tell 4B Youth to disband the squad."

To Hassan's expressed view of recommending that his snoop members be employed as enforcement officers with the state religious department, the question arises: Is the 4B Youth saying they are an appropriate and good recruitment channel for such a purpose? Would they then move on to recommend their members to represent other state authorities to recruit members as state employees, ad infinitum?

And to State CEO Ali, just admit you have made a mistake instead of compounding it. The Cabinet ordered the Mat Sodeng to "stop" because its stated objective by itself was wrong. Period. It's not because "other parties might follow suiit with their own squads". In fact, I recall the Malacca 4B had earlier said it intended to rope in other groups, including non-Malay, to perform similar duties.

The RM7,000 could have raised some joy and smiles on some other human faces at a few orphanages or old folks homes in Malacca, if a youth movement just knows where its priorities lie.

To Ali, Hassan and their 4B followers, the adage "Look before you leap" applies here, more than once.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Syabas, syabas!


I say "Syabas" to all those involved in initiating the "Malaysians Against Moral Policing" movement (see yesterday's Post) as well as all those who responded to the campaign by some 50 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and individuals ; and "Syabas" too to the promptest response ever by the Government under Pak Lah.

Both The Star and theSun higlighted on Page 1, and the NST on Page 5, the initial success of the campaign, reporting that the "Cabinet has directed that all raids by religious departments must now be approved by district polic chiefs and accompanied by senior police officers," according to theSun (March 25, 2005).

Minister in the PM's Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz yesterday said after receiving a memorandum from NGOs at Parliament House: "So since we haven't edcided whether it (the law) should be reviewed or not, I've been informed that cabinet wants it (the raids) to be done with the approval of the police."

"This is a very serious matter; we do not want to see Malaysia turning into Afghanistan during the Taliban (rule). If this is not stopped, it may happen."

The Cabinet also ordered an immediate "stop" to the Mat Skodeng squad set up by the 4B Youth movement, who had been "spying" on couples and tasked with reporting on others involved in "immoral" activities. Malacca's Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, who launched the "snoop squad" some weeks back, had to eat humble pie.

The NST quoted Ali as saying he understood the directive by the Cabinet. "It may lead to other parties following suit with their own snoop squads.

"That would pose a major problem then. Hence, I will tell 4B Youth to disband the squad."

This initial -- and partial -- success demonstrates the power of "Unity of Common Purpose" by all groups and individual Malaysians in fighting for their civil rights. I harbour hopes for more such demonstration of power by the people for the common good.


There is no true
So spare me thousand sweet words,
I only wish to see one
from the heart.

***Especially Dedicated to Conversationists in All Blogs. G'Day to All on a Good Friday.***

Friday, March 25, 2005

malacca -- full of history then, myth now

MALACCA is full of the old world charm dating from historical times of the 1400s and 1500s, with its famed A Famosa, outstanding red-bricked Dutch building landmark, its proud Portuguese colony, and its delightful, delicious chin-ca-lok, did I get the spell(ing) right?

Now it is also originating a lot of myth, (no) thanks to its CEO, who often gets a lot of media spotlight, for mostly the wrong reasons. Ah, with politicians, the thing is to get that 15 minutes of publicity, the name sticks in the public mind, and the votes will come flooding in?

I dedicate this poem to Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam (the modern Robin?) ,and his Skondeng squad of snoops (the Hoods?)

If Truth Be Told

In a land not far, far away
So near you hear its heartbeat every day
Once the minister of televisiondeclared
"We'll manufacture a local series to outclass Dallas!"

After decades and much murky water
Had flowed under the Bridge of Scandals
Leaders continue to exhort of the populace:
"Don't watch blue movies or VCDs, it's a social evil."

Meanwhile, they yamseng till the break of dawn
And under the cover of darkness chieftains plundered
Yet others plucked the flowers
Off under-aged virgin girls.

Politicians and court jesters are so creative
This land needs no fiction writer writers
'Stead of soap operas, TV offers wayang and sandiwara
Their juiciness surpassing the Collins' wildest imagination.

There's the saga of one with millions headed Down Under
Apparently he'd not heard of cheques or Amex
Poor chap -- onetime a graduate teacher -- he landed up in court
He hardly understood "that darned bastard immigration" form in Inggeris.

Then another made a girl full of body
Claimed the fruit was donated by a best friend
Well, in typical Asian cheer, the reluctant host must not decline
The guest's bosomy generosity in any kind.

Live episodes entertain the people more than Hollywood's Dynasty
Proving true blue that "Fact is stranger than fiction"
When naked Truth is revealed, sometimes ingenuously concealed
Of under-cover trails and trysts in KL's penthouses.

When lesser sould are caught in similar bind with their pants down
In cheap lodging houses, or even just holding hands in public parks
They charge the poor blighters with khalwat (close proximity)
While upper classes continue to frolick with impunity and immunity.

(Composed by Y.L. Chong mid-2003)

I was glad to read in yesterday's papers (March 23, 2005) that some 280 non-governmental organisations and individuals have launched a campaign against moral policing by the State and they want certain laws to be repealed.

They insist that morality is a matter best dealt with by individuals and their families and any attempt to regulate a person's conscience, faith or private life, has grave implications for all citizens.

They referred to the recent events involving the "discrimination against women during a raid by FT Islamic Religious Department at a nightclub in January", and the setting up of a spy squad by Malacca 4B Youth (incidentally, launched by Malacca CEO Ali Rustam).

Among the NGOs listed are the Sisters in Islam, Malaysian Aids Council (MAC), Women's Aid Organisation, and Suara Rakyat Malaysia. I also applaud the presence of Kota Baru MP from Barisan Nasional, Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, at the press conference in KL on March 22 to launch the campaign, calling for, among others:

* The repeal of provisions in religious and municipal laws that deny their fundamental rights; and
* The strengthening of pluralism through community dialogue on morals in society.

I also put on record the bold attendance of Puteri UMNO representative Haezrena Begum Abdul Hamid, who, according to theSun report yesterday, said the movement cannot give its its full endorsement as it does not agree with the call to repeal the laws. She added that the laws are still relevant as they are meant to curb social ills, among others, but the way the enforcement is done should be corrected or reviewed.

Marina Mahathir, of MAC, disagreed with Haezrena's argument, saying it does not make sense.

I did not record here the names of individuals present but I stress that their role is not any less important in this progressive initiative, which I fully endorse.

I mentioned Zaid and Haezrena for standing up to be counted, and they represent a new generation of leaders coming from the ruling government who dare venture with NGOs and opposition leaders to take part in endeavours that surely must cross party lines. It's good to see this joint effort in raising Malaysia to developed nation's mentality and cultural mindset, in tandem with its superb physical infrastructure. And we await a corresponding First World response from the Federal Legislature members. We have hope yet for meaningful dialogue, where Malaysians can be agreeable in their disgreements.

Syabas to the initiators of the anti-moral policing movement, and I hope all concerned citizens -- across all ethnic origins and religious backgrounds -- will lend a helping hand.

A longtime friend and experienced Blogger, MGG Pillai, in a recent post lamented that Malaysians have become increasingly repressed in speaking their mind, as evidenced by less, and more subdued, vocal participation in a Chatroom forum he runs with his son, BeritaMalaysia. In Pillai's words, an "eerie silence" rules. Is the Malaysian society becoming one of the cowed species as depicted by animals other than the Pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm, because dear Malaysians are becoming more and more paranoid due our regression backwards to 1984?

Thursday, March 24, 2005


Mack Zulkifli must be at a high this morning on being greeted by The Star's page 1 lead flagging off his! Could this be one of the reasons why Bukit Aman officers paid him a courtesy call recently, to buy off his branded blog? Today the brand's market value must have rocketed, Congrats on your far-sight! Well done, brudder!

THE STAR led off page 1 today with Brand Malaysia, followed by sub-head PM: Let's promote our country as corporate nation with best practices.

Speaking as the CEO of Malaysia, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi vowed that "Malaysia wants to brand itself internationally as a corporate nation that emphasises quality, security, service and efficiency."

Although there was a good story to tell about Malaysia, it was unfortunate that the country was consistently plagued by a perception problem, particularly among foreign investors, he said yesterday when opening the Invest Malaysia 2005 Conference organised by Bursa Malaysia, CIMB and Credit Suisse First Boston.

He lamented that "We are perceived to be still clinging on to capital controls when all major controls have been lifted.

"We are perceived to lack corporate governance when our standards are equal to, if not higher than, many other jurisdictions." (All three emphases are desiderata's)

He also called on the private sector and corporations in the country to go forth to publicise the BrandMalaysia, as Malaysia is truly "a secret that needs to be discovered".

I fully support dear Pak Lah's appeal, some of his opinions on the subject of branding, especially his laments on "mis-perceptions" that put Malaysia at a disadvantage. But I also think there is validity for some of the "unfair" perceptions held by foreigners.

Like the issue of corruption, Transparency International ranks countries by the criterion of PERCEPTIONS as it is impossible to gain empirical evidence of the level of corruption, a prevasive problem with all countries, developed, developing or under-developed. It might be unfair and "wrong" with Transparency International's annual survey findings, but all surveyed countries,including Malaysia, have to learn to live with it.

Publlic relations and advertising personnel willl always strive to promote the "best selling proposition" for their clients, individual, corporate or national.

So if other conutries still think Malaysia is still practising capital controls because of the ringgit peg (RM3.80 to the USD1), introduced in the tumultuous times of the Asian financial crisis in 1997/98, who is to rebut their perception? The ringgit peg remains today, despite calls by various quarters, including Malaysian corporates, to lift or amend the peg over tha past two years.

Who is to rebut potential investors' perception that "hands need to be greased" to overcome bureaucratic red-tape, and that's why you need to employ a local who knows the local machinery and can also do as "In Malaysia, do what the Malaysians do", in line with "When in Rome, ....." I fcat, the lecturers at some Masters programmes I know "preach" this maxim when teaching a class on Ethics in Business or Corporate Governance.

International business confidence needs to be eraned, and a thousand appeals won't make much progress when the officials down the hierarchy don't walk in tandem as the Number One's "Walk the Talk" leadership by example.

Malaysia's pronounced public policies in trade and commerce are quite in tune with a modern nation, hence the country ranks near the top 10 among the world's top trading nations, quite an achievement by any measure!

But there is a lot to be done before we get any near our goalpost of developed nation status come 2020 -- it's just a short 15 years away. Our leaders including Pak Lah have lamented that we have First World infrastructure but the people practise tThird World mentality and behaviour -- witness motorists' performances befitting circus actors on our highways.

Yes, we have come a long away in many areas too. There's no longer long and winding queues at the banks, hospitals and most government departments since the former PM introduced the "number system". Our people are quite known for going out of their way to "help the foreign tourists" (Remember MAS used to win international accolades for Friendly Service, and its Girls with the Golden Smile?) , but when it comes to treating fellow Malaysians, often the smile turns into a scowl.

And try making a police report for an accident or a crime, or even seek redress at any private or even listed company's customer service counter. Often only the educated and aggressive complainants get prompt service, but the less educated and illiterate -- hence milder ones -- get shunted from counter to counter.

Do this testing: Ring or Email any corporate or government hotline or Helpline, I bet in 9 out of 10 cases, you get a taped reply that asks you to press key #1, followed by 3, followed by *, and after a few precious minutes, you get back to square #1. They call it a Merry-Go-Round, I call it the Wild-Goose-Chase, but the end result is the same -- a frustrated Malaysian, or worse, a frustrated, potential foreign investor! I'm speaking from experience here, as a journalist with 30 years experience and as an ordinary Malaysian customer without an honorific in front.

Just to relate a recent experience -- RTM asked home audience to Email or telephone any questions to be addressed to PM Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at its "Fast Forward" programme recently. I sent my Email question to the listed address, as well as one other address that Jeff Ooi of Screenshots was kind enough to forward me, but several attempts that day yielded a bounced back advice as "Message undeliverable". Phone calls at the fixed line listed, continually for 45 minutes during the hour-long programme, met with a "Busy line" response, via both fixed line and handphone attempts.

I don't envy Pak Lah's position. I admire his honourable intentions and well publicised national goals to bring the nation forward. I think he means what he says. I think he's determined. I perceive him as a man of his word. I'll support him in his noble endeavours 100 percent.

But are our government servants, and Cabinet members, and State MBs and CMs, giving of their 100 percent? Hello, fellow Malaysians, I need your views and feedback.

It's just adieu

I miss you so, my friend
A daily diet of AM
now is denied me

I miss the invigoration
The quality words
the beautiful lines

I hope AMigo
I'll see your face again
Smiling to greet me at early morn

I drank of your wine, made of
Grapes of soothing rhyme
Songs of knowledge sublime

But you said it's time
To ring down the curtain
As the money has run dry

I wish I could write out
A cheque for a million
To make you AM stay

I pray it's just adieu
And not goodbye.

I reprise here a poem I composed in the first weekend of 2001 to mark a milestone of a fellow traveller's journey which I then wished had not happened. But life's reality can be cruel.

I had logged on to AgendaMalaysia (AM) the previous week daily, hoping it might yet earn some new lease of life despite its editor's posting mid-December 2000 it's calling it a day. Alas, it's not meant to be.

The sentiment of the above poem is similarly dedicated to Aiseh-man and Buaya69, whom I "know" for only a short while, unlike the friendship with AM lasting exactly 365 days. I bid you "Adieu, Adieu"-- to you, and you, and you; reminds you of a song from the Sound of Music, doesn't it? The musical is in town (not Julie Andrews though), go catch it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

education - every parent's primary concern

In Malaysia, education has always been a hot issue, and one primary concern for every parent. Rightfully so, for a "wrong" decision in selecting the right school from age 6 or 7 can doom the child's future, and a "right" decision can lead to a good career and consequently a brighter future. The "kiasu" parents send their children to expensive kindergartens for two or three years, and these "kids" never were given a chance to learn the joys of childhood playing in the green fields. How many of today's young ones can recall laughing in abandon with their neighbourhood friends playing gasing or marbles, and "hide-and-seek", or even reading comics and Enid Blyton at leisure?

Even for the adults, do spend time on guiding the young ones on their educational path, don't leave it to the school, teachers and education officers, for many of them are just as good as one-eyed Jacks ...

I'm sure many parents (English-speaking at home) will be able to narrate some experiences of their children tell theming they had to "correct" the English teacher's language in class, both oral and written. No, this is not baseless poking fun, it's serious business of inadequately trained teachers who land up as round-pegs-in-square-holes!

So this question of the MCA's memorandom to the Government, including a request for more SJKC schools, has deservedly been discussed in the local papers the past week, especially vocally in the Chinese dailies. There will always come a time for crucial decision making at the primary, secondary and finally tertiary levels of education. For those aspiring towards post-graduate studies, it's none of my concern, for they have already arrived, yet I see the government generously extending financial assistance to them and the recipients expect such help as a "birthright". Scholars of any worth for post-graduate studies should be earning scholarships on their own merit. The last point might seem a digression, but there is relevance when the education Budget is not properly prioritised!

The MCA's request is definitely an "education" issue, despite the former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's posturing that is is NOT. I won't delve more into this, but advise readers to read more on at Jeffooi's blog,, categorised under the "Utusan's Sure Heboh" series.

I am all for democratic discourse, allowing for a chance to address the many ills caused by extensive and pervasive experimentation and politicisation of the Education policy and programmes in Malaysia for the last three decades or more, beginning 1970. Very often Malaysian citizens in general are law-abiding and can take part in well-moderated discussions and debates. Often, it is the politicians (or the media who are proxies to certain political parties) who step in to "muddy" the issue and hijack the topic into something else to serve their narrow, vested interests. The youth wings of certain political parties are particularly inclined to committing such breaches or corruption of issues, and they span both the government and opposition spectrums.

On the other hand, I am glad that some issues that had been hidden in the closet in the past are now being brought out into the open for discussion. All Malaysian citizens, especially parents, are encouraged to take part in such debate and discourse in a rational, and not emotional, manner. We all have an equal stake in this country.

An unemployed graduate -- whether Chinese, Indian or Malay, Iban or Dayak -- creates a burden for the Malaysian society, and any remedies proposed and implemented must apply equally to the unemployed or even, "underemployed" (defined to mean he's holding a job less befitting his qualifications and ability ...) graduate, regardless of ethnic origins.

I am heartened to read a NST, 22 March 2005, report headlined None will be left out in education agenda, says Hisham, in which our Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein has assured that "The Government's efforts to strengthen the national schools does not mean that schools using other media, will be ignored."

"It is time to think of our children regardless of their race and background." (The emphasis is desiderata's.)

"We have to realise that the competition is no longer confined among ourselves in a borderless world. we are competing with other nations as well," he said.

Well said, Mr Minister, I still harbour optimism there's hope yet for the education world in Malaysia, if all Malaysians think about their children's, and grandchildren's future first, above their politicking.

A friend of mine who had been making guitars in his Seremban factory employing six workers from Sabah for some five years had to cease the guitar-making operations two years ago because similar-quality guitars made in China can be imported at half my friend's cost price.

To all the unemployed, or worse yet, un-unemployable, graduates, I recommend you read Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree. After having digested it, you'd definitely stand a better chance of success at your next job interview. Meanwhile, to improve your English, just read, read and read English literature or newspapers or magazines like the Time or Newsweek, the Asian Wall Street Journal, or maybe even the Straits Times Singapore, all available online. I'm not recommending some local papers because .... (I'd censor myself here because it's not flattering!)

Better still, steal time to visit my humble blog, and I'll try to meet up with your expectations, especially at desiderata.english on Sunday. Chow, meaning "see you again", or "have a hearty meal", oh so Malaysian!

Take 1: Jeffooi in today continues with his "Utusan's Sure Heboh" series. Quoting a Bernama report, former PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday (March 21, 2005) the MCA's request to the government to build more Chinese schools is not related to getting good education. "You can get good education in an English school, a national school or a Japanese school, but the request is for Chinese schools, that in itself does not mean Chinese schools give you more knowledge than an English school," he said. The retired doctor's penchant for controversy continues, pre-, incumbent- and post-premiership.

Take 2: Just learnt that Buaya69 has bade his fans farewell, joining Aiseh-man just a few days earlier in ringing the curtains down. I had not engaged with you in Conversations, but I had enjoyed your blogs. To both, I say: Adieu, Adiieu!

words - simple or big

Simple words to say
Simple words to receive
Like "I love you"
Or "Go fly a kite"

Big words, difficult words
Like "misleading", "expectations"
Or deep thoughts prefacing with
"I beg to differ"
Sometimes they cause misunderstanding

But if given in sincerity
With no ill intent
Friends can live with some misunderstanding
Exchanging simple or difficult words

But beware sweet, rambling words
Coated with honey and wine outside
Loaded with arsenic and bile inside. ***

Yan of yesterday posted about why she enjoyed the writings of Andre Norton, the Grand Dame of science fiction and fantasy, who died on March 17, 2005 aged 93. She said "... (Andre's) people are real -- maybe because her words are simple".

I fully endorse her views that "Simplicity" is indeed a virtue in writing. It's for the same reason why my favourite poet is Max Ehrmann -- yes, my Blogname was inspired by his desiderata of happiness. ("Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence."...)

Ehrmann used very simple words, and yet the message makes a strong connection with the reader, touching the heart, the soul, and exercising the mind, as exemplified by the following:

Love Some One

Love some one -- in God's name

love some one -- for this is

the bread of the inner life, without

which a part of you will

starve and die; and though you

feel you must be stern,

even hard, in your life of affairs,

make for yourself at least

a little corner, somewhere in the

great world, where you may

unbosom and be kind. *****

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

a date with SEPET

The movie is a love story between two young people of different religions.

A theme that could really challenge the creative juices of writers, poets, and cinematographers in a multi-racial, multi-religious society like ours.

I say "kudos" to director Yasmin Ahmad for winning the highest award at the International Festival of Women's Films in Creteil, France, last Friday.

The NST today (21 March 2005), quoting a sister paper BH, reported that Sepet received the jury's major prize and took home RM20,000 and a certificate.

The film, which features new actors Ng Choo Seong and Sharifah Amani Syed Zainal Rashid, beat other contenders such as All Hell Let Loose, a Brazil/France film, Almost Brothers, (Brazil/France), Butterfly, (China/Hong Kong), Brother (Denmark), Los Nombres de Alicia (Spain), Frozen (Britain), Harvest Time (Russia), and Waiting for the Clouds (Turkey/Germany/Greece/France).

The news report added that "The jury panel unanimously chose Sepet for being 'unconventional', whose theme was Differences."

Unconventional, walking the path less travelled, thinking "out of the box" -- that distinguishes the brave and the bold, from the prediccable and mundane, from the loud babel of unthinking voices and ear-piercing unmeaning babble of half-empty vessels. May our leaders, in whatever sector or sphere of human activity, please take note.

I listed in my profile when I signed onto to start this Blog last week that my favourite movies included High Noon, acknowledged as the Western classic, and the more recent films The Village, Chocolat and the not so recent Tuesdays with ....whose last name in the title I could not remember now, as I spied it over Astro a few years ago. It is the name of a friend of the protagonist, a broadcaster-always-on-the-run, who found time in engaging conversations with his "dying" mentor, every Tuesday.

I do not know Yasmin personally, only from what I had gleaned from media write-ups -- I know she is an oustanding ad person who has also contributed to creating several award-winning commercials on local TV. But ad creatives don't count for me, for you just produce a story-board for that message that sells, finally edited down to a 15-second,or 30-second, or maybe even the luxury 60-second, spot, anchored on a relatively huge budget, thanks to some biggie listed vehicles.

Producing Sepet on just shoestring RM1million budegt and beating international rivals, that's something Malaysians can stand up for. Maybe Yasmin has not attained the "towering" heights that our Pak Lah recently espoused as our national goal, but some Malaysians are starting to getting there!

I had the privilege of knowing at closer touch other creative Malaysians like Amir Muhammad, "Dot Mai" Hishammuddin Rais, and one you have not heard much of, Glen the Poet-filmmaker aspirant. Go to if you are curious and want a peek.

I wish I could join their field of activity one day, and maybe produce a film like Splendour in the Grass? Anyone remember this one? Starring Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood, it featured part of a poem -- was it from Wordsworth? -- the verses which I wish to grab hold of, and my penultimate para in this posting is to request knowing Readers to Email me at regarding the poem.

Discerning readers must wonder by now why I did not go into discussing Sepet the movie further. I tread extremely carefully on any subject associated with Religion, for if I get started, it will go on a long, very l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng ride, and you don't want that here, do you? Furthermore, I have not seen Yazmin's outing yet, so I have a date at the cinematheque. *****

From Other Blogs


Take 1: Malaysia's strict censors managed to find numerous scenes in Sepet they deemed as unacceptable for inclusion, leading the film to be released domestically with eights cuts. Yasmin Ahmad grudgingly accepted that this may be the price to be paid to allow her to make further films. *** from

Take 2: A discussion about the dearth of women to be found among the prominent pages of political opinion, inlcuding prominent political blogs, has been taking place across the Internet in places such as Slate, Political Animal, and the Los Angeles Times. *** from

Take 3: American author Andre Norton, who died on March 17, 2005 at the age of 93 in Mufreesboro, Tenn, requested that she be cremated with copies of her first and last books. Yan says Andre's "people are real -- maybe her words are simple". It was reported that Andre's mother began reciting poetry to her when she was aged two. *** from

Monday, March 21, 2005

Never on Sunday?


I AM SURE many drivers are switched on to Light and Easy listening to songs that are soothing and calming, so essential to keep a cool and level head caught in traffic jams, especially in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of a country with First World infrastructure, but hardly a civic culture and character in tandem with developed nation status yet. The recent road rage incidents resulting in death surely testify to that.

As the good doctor Miller recommends "doses of laughter" for good health on top of the apple a day, I recommend to the high-strung Malaysian motorist music and songs (which emcompass poetry really -- more on this later). You may have occasionally enjoyed Connie Francis' springy Never on Sunday (You can kiss me on a Monday, a Tuesday, a Wednesday ... but Never, Never on a Sunday ....) and moved to hum along so you can ignore the guy flashing his/her lights at you from behind? Ladies, don't nod your head 'cos your age will show, for this number was a high from the roaring sixties, and deejays like Vicky Skelchy ruled the waves. To the younger set, if the name sounds Greek to you, Vicky was the equivalent of your present Paula Abdul or Sarimah maybe?

I don't subscribe to resting on Sundays, but I do believe in R & R ('Rite and Recreation), so here is my posting which I am dedicating to the promotion of the English language -- and the appreciation of exquisite English on par with Dr Doolittle's! In this effort, Conversationists (you, my esteemed readers) are encouraged to 'rite in to me (Email with nuggets of excellent English -- short passages that strike you like lightning bolt of awakening, poems that connect with thy heart, anecdotes that make you laugh, or make you weep ... the possibilities are endless, if you'd only spare some time ....

I will exercise the highest standard of "editing" desiderata.english postings plus conversations so that by year-end, the Ministry of Education will come to this Blog as the Reference of Impeccable English! Pulling your leg here, but Thinking Aloud -- You Are Allowed to, you know! as an afterthought, why not, as sincere, dedicated human endeavours may just turn up surprising outcomes.

Remember the advice dished out by an education expert recently that Malaysian school children should watch more TV to improve their English? I hope people in authority act with caution and responsibility before opening their mouths. Many parents worldwide are already lamenting that falling education standards could be due to too much time spent by kids in front of the idiot box!

A whodunit

If the advice was more specific like "Watch a particular programme like Sesame Street and Little House on the Prairie" for primary pupils, and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet or Julius Caesar or even The West Wing or Kopitiam for secondary/tertiary students, the advice may be acceptable and heeded. Proper enunciation and refined language and excellent content and casting are the desiderata.english criteria I'm advocating here for the Ministry official to ponder, and adding my counsel he not speak off-the-cuff on such serious matters involving our children's education.

I shall end my Sunday's rumination with a Short Story here.

A college professor was lecturing his students on writing a good, short story. He stressed that four features must be present. First, one ingredient is Sex -- for without it, there would be no human race, so there is no academic pursuit, so there is no need for desiderata.english either.

Second, one must have Religion, for this differentiates Homo sapiens from animals, as religion governs humankind's way of daily living and leads to his/her civilization process. Otherwise, there is no hi-story.

Third, there must be Mystery, for this challenges the reader to read on to test his imagination and detection power if he could transcend the writer's creative prowess and guess the ending.

Lastly, by definition, a short story must have Brevity; otherwise, ..... it's not wise to underestimate your reader's intelligence.

So the class of Nobel laureate-aspirants set to work, and except for the rustle of pens on paper, there was pin-drop silence.

From where he sat on the front table, the professor spied a restless youth watching the courtyard outside through the window, obviously comtemplating the old banyan trees, the chirping birds, both the feathered and human kind (with lads in tow, holding hands, and picnic baskets, what else). And the young man's thoughts strayed.

The professor tapped the young-man-deep-in-reflection on his shoulder, enquiring if he had problem with his assignment.

"No, professor, I have accomplished my mission," the bespectacled lad proudly replied, handing over a page of paper. All eyes of his coursemates were now focused on the potential winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

On the piece of paper was written the following:

The Duchess of Winsor is pregnant,
O' God, I wonder who did it!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Malaysia, charity begins at home!

Both the two leading English dailies, the NST and THE STAR, today (19 March 2005) highlighted last night's glamour event, Force of Nature Concert for Tsunami Aid at the Bukit Jalil Stadium, which raised RM10million for last December's Tsunami victims. Both papers led off on Page 1 with 2 more pages full of colour pictures on pages 6 and 8 in the NST featuring international singer and actor celebrities while The Star ran the colour pictorial story on page 9.
The latter's report in the last para recorded that "Among dignitaries who attended the concert were Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Information Minister Datuk Seri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, education Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman and Force of Nature Foundation special ambassador Tan Sri Razali Ismail."

On page 2 of The Star, headlined Fishermen still can't work, is the report datelined PENANG leading off with "Nearly three months after the tsunami hit Malaysia and other countries in the region on Dec 26, more than 1,000 fishermen in the state are still not going out to sea. The reason is they cannot get the parts needed to repair their damaged boats and fishing equipment."

Deputy Chief Miister Datuk Abdul Rashid Abdullah said some of them had also been forced to order nets and other fishing gear from Thailand, and many others have to wait a few months for their new custom-made boats to be built.

The DCM said that the state government would soon give the affected fishermen RM800 per family from the TYT Tsunami Disaster Relief Fund, and that State Agriculture and Agro-based Committee chairman Datuk Azhar Ibrahim "is finalising the list of those who are eligible to receive the RM800 in aid. He added that in January the Federal Government had given out RM2,000 in aid to the fishermen with big boatsand RM1,000 to those with small boats.

I am concerned when reading about the plight of the Penang Tsunami victims -- the question arises why after almost three months the state authorities still have not finalised the list of eligible aid recipients!

We see concerted efforts by various delegations such as the UMNO Youth led by its deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin rushing off to Aceh, Sumatra , months ago with large financial aid and other food items. Do all those politicians and other groups do such charity acts when they know they would get their 15 minutes of media fame, or that they are accopmpanied by VVIPs, like a federal minister?

Can't these leaders ensure that bureaucratic red tape could be minimised so that the local fishermen could "speedily be aided" to get back on their feet again. All they are asking for is just to get back to work for a living -- and there is "dignity" in work, as a close friend of mine notes often, for few would want to fall back on charity once too often.

So Malaysia,

I do not begrudge the Ministers, government officials mixing with international celebrities at a star-studded event of the year to raise funds for Tsunami victims in the regional arena. But what about the Tsunami victims on the home front?

In April/ May 2003 at the height of the US-led war, my thoughts went back to the 1960s, when the Vietnam War took a heavy toll on both Americans and Vietnamese, and I penned the following poem:

Warfront Faraway

The United States and allies have been
Raining missiles on Iraq for eight days now
Targeting a tyrant called Saddam Hussein

Soldiers, civilians have fallen dead
Iraqi more than American or British
But the blood that oozed was commonly red

Peoples across the nations protest
They clamour for a ceasefire
They do not understand, they ask:
'Mr President Bush, Why war?"

I too do not understand
Why they see the warfront faraway
At home the destitute, the downtrodden,
Women and childrenare crying, dying
The citizens face daily war
Against hunger, discrimination, injustice

Who'd pause for these unprotesting victims?
Born of leaders who only see
The war on the far horizon

When the Vietnamese refugees came by the boatloads off Malaysian shores (mainly off Terengganu and Kelantan), to escape the war in their homeland, some reports, later denied, stated that the Malaysian authorities even wanted "to shoot" the refugees ... later, weakly amended to "shoo them away ..."! I emphasised here it's unlikely to be "shoo" as this word automatically has to be accompanied by the word "away", so it's just diplomatic doublespeak by the then Foreign Minister for an initial thoughtless remark made off the cuff!

It's hypocrisy of the highest order that human beings often ignored the sufferings of fellow humans in the neighbourhood, but wanted to practise "charity" on war victims like widows and orphans on the warfront faraway. Yes, there was an instance (yes, again in Penang) when a homeless woman had to depend on using a shop's facilities to have her daily baths, and shared in the food thrown her way by the shop's patrons, but when the Welfare Department knew of her case, the "generous" charity handed out was a monthly allowance of RM100 a month! But they threw away millions for a fund just for one war victim from far, far away because the latter case enjoyed much fanfare and received VIP treatment.

Oh Malaysia, let's remind ourselves once in a while, Charity Begins at Home. Quite often it is the 15 minutes of press publicity that provided the motivation for donors of charity. I don't doubt also they are genuine caring Malaysians who extend a helping hand, even anonymously -- to them, I say: May God's Blessing Be With You, Always.

It's all too easy to observe the war and strife in the Middle East, lamenting the daeth and carnage wrought on civilians and women and children, but don't forget also on the homefront, it's daily warfare too -- on the streets littered with drug addicts and sex workers, runaway children and homeless old folks. Let's remember the less fortunate Malaysians first and foremost when extending our hands of friendship and charity, then we turn our sights to the lands on the far horizon.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

education -prime and precious commodity


I weave together some recent events on a subject close to every parent's heart - education. This is a prime and precious commodity, rightfully so, especially in Asian societies. More so in Malaysia, where three of the oldest and greatest civilizations -- Indian, Chhinese and Islamic -- still proudly reside and continue to flourish.

THE STAR, 18 March 2005 under a headline Education fund seeks more money from EPF reported that the National Higher Education Fund Corp (NHEFC) has applied for a loan from the Employees Provident Fund(EPF) to provide students financial help in the current academic session. Every year since 2003, the EPF had loaned the corporation RM2billion and it hoped to receive an "appropriate amount" this time, said its chairman Datuk Razali Ismail.

What raises my concern here is that the EPF has become "a lender of desperate resort"! No doubt helping young Malaysians to achieve their educational goals is a noble mission. But why the EPF? This savings fund is to take care of contributing members so that their "old age" can be taken care of by their accumulated savings, plus dividends which can only be derived from prudent investments. The EPF, I can recall as a journalist, has been used in the past to invest in several public listed companies that had gone into "dire straits". Now it is used to fund an eduaction loans body but at whose expense?

EPF money should be invested into unit trusts, blue chip stocks, local or foreign, to maximise the rate of "return on investment". It should not be used as a bailer of desperate resort -- the EPF board owes it to the members not to stray from the fund's primary mission of safeguarding and promoting the members' interests.

So what options does the NHEFC have?

To me, as a taxpayer, other corporations must do their civic and corporate duties. A body that comes to mind immediately is the national oil corporation, Petronas. Petroleum is the nation's prime and premium resource, and its benefits should flow to EVERY CITIZEN, not just Petronas employees, board of directors and shareholders.

I used to tell my friends and foreign visitors that Malaysia is indeed a lucky country. Just as it appears we are nearing the depletion of oil, Petronas announces that new oil fields are discovered off Malaysian shores, to buy us another decade or so to enjoy the good life from the black gold. Petronas enjoys revenues running into billions every year, so is it too much to ask that it donate, or extend as a friendly loan of RM2billion annually to the NHEFC?

Other profitable listed companies such as Genting, Sports Toto, Magnum and Usaha Tegas should be called upon to do their part -- as good corporate citizens. Yes, I know that many of them are already offering scholarships. But I also know that many recipients of such scholarships had less than outstanding scholarly results to show -- it's the political and family connections that mattered!

I always believe that every young Malaysian should be given assistance to realise her/his potential to the highest level; educationally, to the first degree level. Yes, it's also timely to remind such youths who benefit from the NHEFC to do their civic duties by serving their loans promptly. The NHEFC needs the money to be RE-CYCLED to benefit future young fellow Malaysians.

It's appaling to read of recent cases in the press that some beneficiaries of NHEFC loans gave as "reasons" they could not re-pay because of other commitments like servicing a car-loan, maybe even a housing loan. These are lame excuses, and from young, they better know their civic duties and their priorities. A comfortable home or car, or an expensive girlfriend or boyfriend, can come later. Don't ever use that much-touted youngest billionaire at age 27 in 1997/98 as a role model!

Here I recall with some sadness last year's case involving some 128 students with outstanding STPM results who qualified for medical studies but could not gain places in local public universities. Some smart-aleck politicians offered "help" to enable them to obtain loans from banks to pursue their studies at private medical schools. After some calculations, most of the parents and students opted out of pursuing their field of first choice academic pursuit. The reason? By the end of the six-year medical course, they potentially face a bill of RM750,000! Only 10 percent (i.e. about 10 to 12 of 128 students) finally accepted the bank loans (I'm sure, reluctantly, for there is that great burden to repay ...)

Which student would want to impose such a heavy burden on the parent? Starting off a career owing the bank a cool three-quarter million, an irony indeed as the local media trumpeted instead the role of the politicians in helping these young Malaysians. I wonder what happened to the youngest billionaire-entrepreneur, also son of a then-minister, six years later?

The press also recently spotlighted outstanding performers at the SPM (10 to 17 A1s) and STPM public examinations (4 to 5 As). A few were assured of scholarships; one received two within a week. Here I would urge our Government to offer EVERY ONE of these young achievers at least a state scholarship to a local university, if not a sponsorship to study overseas. Enough of the present system of scholarships open to application, because we know what the crony system does to such young minds thinking they can thrive on their academic merit, but then later they hit a hard wall, feeling let down and depressed.

It's no use the ministries of Science and Technology going overseas to reverse the brain-drain. It is an exercise in futility. It's no use the Minister of Health lamenting we aren't getting enough doctors in government service. Had the Ministry of Education responded to have last year's batch of 128 outstanding students aided financially to study medicine, we could have prevented some 100 bright Malaysians being lost to other disciplines, and later likely to be lost to other countries who appreciate their talents more. Will we see a repeat of this sad situation a few weeks from now when university applications close and successful ones are announced?

I'm afraid Datuk Chua Soi Lek will continue to face an increasingly uphill task of attracting doctors to government service, I don't envy his position. Our government leaders have better learn the wisdom in the saying: Don't bolt the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Friday, March 18, 2005

laughter is the best medicine

YAN, fellow blogger at, was the delightful "maiden" visitor to my new cyberhome, and I returned a courtesy visit and found her blog informative and current. Today's posting was partly inspired by her entry "A Merry Heart" in which she quoted a Washington Post report reaffirming what we all already know by expereience. Yes, that Laughter Is the Best Medicine! "We believe laughing is good for your health. And we think we have evidence to show why that's the case," Michael Miller of the University of MarylandSchool of Medicine in Baltimore says in the news report.

Of course, the Reader's Digest has been running a same titled column for the past five decades which must surely reinforce the good doctor Miller's decision to prescribe to his patients that doses of 15-20 minutes of laughter a day is just as important for good health as thirty minutes of exercise. I certainly grew up with a constant diet of RD's other humour sections for some 15-20 years, and I believe (a little self praise here!) I acquired some sense of wit and satire along the way.

We all enjoy jokes in our growing up years, and there are mainly delivered in prose. but when adulthood sets in, joviality often flies out of the window and solemnity takes its place. But in poetry, there are many works that can also bring out laughter or a quiet smile in both the young, youth or elderly reader or listener. Charles B. Wang, in his advice to readers of his book, Techno Vision II: Every Executive's Guide to Understanding and Mastering Technology and the Internet (1994), said: "I am a life-long collector of jokes about IT (information technology) and business. Among my most important discoveries in running my company was the impact of humour -- and the danger of telling jokes. What can I say? I like to live dangerously. If readers prefer to avoid all risk of offence, let them overlook these items."

Also, Andrew Scotland in Poems of Yesterday and Today said: "Too often, poetry is regarded by some children as a serious , even a solemn subject. But the verbal felicities and fun of humourous poems appeal to children, and our literature is rich in them." So if you the reader should guffaw with unrestrained laughter on reading this post, then it's proof that the medium of poetry is working its magic. So not much elaboration would accompany the poems cited here, as the saying goes: The proof of the pudding is in the eating!

This is a special type of poems called Limericks, consisting of five lines always, and where authorship is known, it is duly recorded; otherwsie, the source is anonymous, it could have been one of you!

There was a young man from Niger

Who smiled as she road (sic) on a tiger;

They returned from the ride

With the lady inside

And the smile on the face of the tiger.

There was a young fellow named Hall

Who fell in the spring in the fall;

'Twould have been a sad thing

Had he died in the spring,

But he didn't, he died in the fall.

There once was a runner so fit,

During practice he merely would sit.

So the day of the race,

He retired in disgrace,

After finishing penultimate.

A goat on a stroll near a brook

Found an old movie film and partook.

"Was it good?" asked his mate.

Said the goat: "Second rate!

Not nearly as good as the book!" by Martin Bristow Smith (b. 1916)

A man said to the universe:

"Sir, I exist!"

"However," replied the universe,

"The fact has not created in me

A sense of obligation." by Stephen Crane

The limerick's never averse

To expressing itself in a terse

Economical style

And yet, all the while,

The limerick's always a verse. by Laurence Perrine (1915-1995)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Words, Words, Words

THERE is much fuzzy writing in prose. Indeed, such writing can be a weapon of deception, leading to betrayal of the unfortunate readers, when language is abused by the miscreants. I'd rather that the mouth be silent and the pen be quiet if the outcome of writing belies the true motives and feelings of the issuer.

While orators like the late British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, or even former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamd, could boast of well-crafted and inspiring speeches and writings (especially useful in wartime to psyche up the soldiers on the battle front), there are also many speakers and writers who are often guilty of "fuzzy" prose, whether deliberate or unintentional. And it is not just among Malaysians. William Zinsser, in an essay titled "Simplicity" in The Short Prose Reader, stated that "Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unneccesary words, circular construction, pompous frill and meaningless jargon."

Zinsser asked: "Who knows what the average businessman is trying to say in the average business letter? What member of an insurance or medical plan can decipher the brochure that tells him what his costs and benefits are? What father or mother can put together a child's toy -- on Christmas Eve or any other eve -- from the instructions on the box?"

He added that the national tendency was "to inflate and thereby sound important".

All these views sound familiar, fourteen years ago in America or now -- just as true in Malaysia a decade ago and at present. Things don't vary much from country to country through the decades -- people indulge in "fuzzy" prose to obscure and mislead, unwittingly or with ill intent, to deceive or profiteer, or put the reader at a disadvantage.

Indeed, all of us adults at one time or another would have dealt with the documents drafted by lawyers or insurance specialists, and half the time the "real substance" would have been buried in mountainous jargon and verbosity!

In his message to writers to "simplify, simplify", Zinsser noted of (Henry David) Thoreau, famed for his philosophical On Walden Pond.

"Open Walden to any page and you will find a man saying in a plain and orderly way what is on his mind.

'I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. We are for the most part more lonely when we go abroad among men than when we stay in our chambers. A man thinking or working is always alone, let him be where he will. Solitude is not measured by the miles of space that intervene between a man and his fellows. The really diligent student in one of the crowded hives of Cambridge College is as solitary as a dervish in the desert.'

This is poetry prose as close to any standard of excellence as can be -- by its simplicity of expression, yet showing great clarity and exactness of thoughts.

I shall now contrast the above with some local performances.

From "To do or die ... of short memories and word spinning" by this writer first published in (Feb 19, 2001), an extract, viz:

"Wordsmiths are a plenty in Malaysia. However, another commodity -- people with constant memories -- is in short supply. Many wordsmiths here churn out words they don't mean, or they later qualify with mind-boggling caveats, or most wonderful of all, give a word the opposite meaning!

"A now famous example: for more than two decades the federal government had been paying royalties amounting to five percent of oil output revenues from Terengganu to the state government. It was a happy state of affairs. Until 2000, when the state government changed hands from Barisan Nasional to federal opposition party PAS.

With a lightning strike of memory recall, BN leaders said all along the payments to Terengganu, including a partial payment of RM432 million in 2000, were wang ehsan (goodwill payments).(The gifts were deemed 'discretionary' and the BN stopped the payments from henceforth.)

"Remember the great one about 'My decision to resign (from a minister's post) is final and irrevocable'?

When something is irrevocable, there is no turning back, even when one is facing the muzzle of a gun.

But of course, some ingenious puppet-master with a sleigh of hand turns the 'irrevocable' decision to resign to merely 'an expression of wish to resign'. A few weeks later, following an orchestration of appeals by supporters, party members and community leaders and plain citizens, the 'decision to resign' is reversed, and lucky Malaysians are stuck with a fine performer of a minister who continues to take us on joy rides."

I have reproduced a substantial portion of the said article to show the linguistic gymnastics some people, especially politicians, make use of prose communication to to mislead their audience. That's an abuse of a medium of communication, and the receivers would be justified in feeling a deep sense of regret and betrayal.

We move on to a more recent happening. Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohd Khir Toyo had to rush back from an interrupted trade mission to the United States early March following highly publicised media reports of the Bukit Cahaya Seri Alam Agriculture Park environs being denuded of its forests and greenery as a result of wanton land clearing and tree felling by some of the thirty-five developers undertaking works for housing and other development. After a few hours of inspection, he declared without the batting of an eyelid: "Everything is okay!" He insisted that no park land had been encroached into by the developers.

The following day Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi accompanied by Khir Toyo and the minister in charge of agriculture, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, flew over the park site for a bird's eye view from a helicopter. Clearly Pak Lah was shocked and angry over the devastated green lands surrounding the Agriculture Park, when he could not see a single tree standing or even a single blade of grass. Things were clearly not okay from the big boss' point of view, and the menteri besar was ordered to take swift action against the developers for damaging the park's environs.

Two perspectives of one issue here demonstrate that Khir Toyo had been evading the issue so clear for all other eyes who care to see -- yet he dared to mouth the definitive words "Everything is okay" twenty-hours prior to the helicopter ride.

To Pak Lah, his words given so often over the one year-plus at the leadership helm of this nation -- "Let's walk the talk" -- would be put to the test, again and again, but will his Cabinet miniters and other subordinates walk the same path with him? That's the more than RM64 million question. The rakyat wait with bated breath.

desiderata -- the ORIGINAL!

The poem by Max Ehrmann was written in 1927, but often unsuspecting readers have come across an attribution that the poem was "found in St. Paul's Church in 1692"!

I first became acquianted with this poem that opens with "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence," in my secondary schooldays, and I became besotted with Max Ehrmann (. School children might have been introduced to poets like Robert Frost (The Road Not Taken), Emily Dickinson (Hope Is the Thing with Feathers), and of course, the compulsory reading for students of English literature, William Shakespeare; but Max who? would by on the lips of many, what more correctly guess the meaning of Desiderata. But to many of the activists demonstrating against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, this poem was adopted as some sort of their anthem, especially with the hippie generation generally referred to as the flower children.

In "The Desiderata of Happiness", editor Robert L. Bell rote that Max Ehrmann was 'surely one of the greatest spokesmen of the twentieth century'. Deeply concerned with social problems, he was a friend of Eugene Debs, the pioneer union founder in America, whose championing of the underdog struck a responsive chord in Ehrmann who deplored the exploitation of labour in his early twentieth century life. His poem America -- 1910 reflects this period, and Complacent Women, written in 1918, is as relevant today as it was then. (Is there within your soul no pride of life/ No whispered music, and no star of hope/ That you have no desire for human rights?)

Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, and graduated from De Pauw University, and going on to postgraduate studies in law and philiosophy at Harvard University, Ehrmann first practised law, and then joined the family business of meat-packing. He gave the family business up to devote his life to writing. Contemporaries told of him lying in the grass contemplating the sky -- an early "flower child", Bell wrote.

To me, the central attraction in Ehrmann's poetry is that he used very simple words, and yet the message makes a strong connection with the reader, touching the heart, the soul, and exercises the mind, as best exemplified by now-famous Desiderata, which follows:

GO placidly amid the noise and the haste, and
remember what peace there may be in silence. *
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good
terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and
clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull
and ignorant; they too have their story. * Avoid loud
aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the
spirit. * If you compare yourself with others, you
may become vain or bitter, for always there will be
greater and lesser persons than yourself. * Enjoy
your achievements as well as your plans. Keep
interested in your own career, however humble; it is
a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. *
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the
world is full of trikcery. But let tis not blind you to
what virtue there is; many persons strive for high
ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. * Be
yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither
be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity
and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the
grass. * Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture
strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. *
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with
yourself. * You are a child of the universe no less
than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be
here. * And whether or not it is clear to you, no
doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you
you conceive Him to be. * And whatever your labours
and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep
peace in your soul. * With all its sham, drudgery
and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be
cheerful. Strive to be happy. *****

the objectives of starting this blog

I have been a journalist for some 30 years, using mainly my acronym Y.L.CHONG, having worked with a news agency, mainstream media, diplomatic mission, just a year as a News Editor with an online newspaper, and now as a freelance writer. My career has of course exposed me to various types of written and oral communication, and the official medium would mostly be writing in prose, with an occasional does of poetic form. I would be promoting through this blog the usage of Poetry as a special means of communication to augment my writings in prose.

I shall be touching on subjects broadly categorised as desiderata.english; desiderata.civilsociety; desiderata.truth -- generally with the ultimate objective of promoting the love and appreciation of outstanding writings in English; the cultivation and promotion of human traits and endeavours to build a civil Malaysian society, and finally, if possible, embark with fellow travellers in this journey called Life in the pursuit of Truth, that undefinable yet essential and desiderable, in my opinion, ingredient in the civilization process so that the human race continues to uplift itself beyond and above the banal, the demeaning and the destructive actvities that now pervade, and in some societies, even dominate human activities worldwide.

In this quest broadly defined, I humbly welcome Conversationists to take part in this liberal democratic dialogue. discourse or maybe add your three sen's worth (I top up your two sen with my one sen!) of contribution. Always, please help me practise this underlying guide when writing with responsibility -- with malice towards none, charity for all for the common good.