Tuesday, 1 January 2019

As we usher in the New Year, can the Government fulfils the aspirations of the people?

2018 is a turning point for Malaysia as it is the first time ever the federal government changed hands since independence. Despite a long delay before an official announcement was made, Pakatan Harapan’s win was received with much euphoria. The fact that the transition of power was done peacefully was something to be proud of for a relatively young democracy. 

As much as the change of government has been a historic event, a more challenging role is to manage the expectations of the general public post-GE14, so it seems. As the GE-14’s dust settled, the public is going wary with the hard realities of life and unfulfilled election promises. Perhaps public expectations are too much, fueled nonetheless by the populist manifestos from all sides of the political divide. 

Given that the PH government did not gain two-thirds majority nor did it win the popular votes of the Malay majority, the voice of the significant voters who did not vote for the PH are considerable. There are advantages sitting at this position, so are the disadvantages. To the public, such a composition means that the government of the day cannot just do what it wants according to its own whims and fancies. On the other hand, the government can be seen as weak. 

With newfound freedom, thanks to the new administration, Malaysians are enjoying the opportunity to speak up in a manner never previously imagined. This should be good for the nation - as differing views are allowed in the open, more ideas are generated and healthier public debates can be expected. But as we take a peek into the social media, then only we would realize that this might just be a wishful thinking! Some of the discourses are so toxic you may lose interest in politics altogether.  

More than 6 months after GE-14, if indication from the media is to be used, the government is losing its popularity. It is still struggling with unfulfilled election promises, bad press etc. Take the ICERD issue as an example. The mass rally in December received widespread support among the Malays, and the message of dissatisfaction is very clear. It may be a highly politicized issue, cunningly so by the opportunist political masters. Yet, it shows what kind of message can mobilize the public, the Malays in particular. In terms of numbers, one can draw parallel with the previous rallies by BERSIH, but if we are to examine the racial composition of the protesters for both rallies, the observation can be quite disheartening and eerie. Post GE-14, as Malaysians, are we more united or more divided? If it is the latter, are we more divided across racial lines? 

As it stands, neither the perceived poor performance of the government nor the naive remarks of some ministers, helps. Regardless of whether they are being misquoted by the media or on the learning curve, the present government is in for the rough ride as it readily opens rooms for attacks by the opponents. Never a dull moment, netizens, cyber troopers and the media are having a field day almost every day, ranging from the black shoe announcement to the recent kakanda-adindaletter. The real substances of ministers statements or actions are often overshadowed by trivial matters. It seems that perceptions war are the rules of the day, no matter at what cost. 

Time to take stock  

As we enter the new year, perhaps it is time to revisit a dream that all Malaysians can associate themselves with and foster the much needed unity. We should demand for the government to be focused in dealing with the issues facing the country and prioritize accordingly. For that to happen, there must be less politicking. While government is not expected to know everything, evidence-based policies must be adopted. Any ill-thought-out announcement that could be a subject of ridicule or worst any decision that has to be back-pedaled must be avoided.  In certain circumstances, “silence is golden” should be practiced. More importantly, any signal indicating the practice of rent- seeking must be addressed at once. Malaysia cannot afford further leakages of public funds.  

For the Malays and Bumiputras, our rights as enshrined in the Federal Constitution are here to stay even though some may feel threatened. Stand for our rights but it is time to get out of the comfort zone for the betterment of the society. While politics is part and parcel of the struggle, do not let politics to get in the way of the higher goals of improving the socio-economic status of the society. The much-required reforms within the society must happen, sooner rather than later. Perhaps start with a deep soul searching, go to the root of the problems and resolve those issues. As the globalized world is changing at a rapid pace, what worked in the past may no longer work in the new age. While having entitlement can be a privilege, the reverse can also be true if the values of what make a strong and resilient society are not embraced. Education and equality of opportunities must be set as priorities.   

For the general public at large, while the government may owe us the unfulfilled election promises, let’s be realistic and productive! As much as a caring government who care for our welfare is desired, there’s a lot on the plate for the current administration, facing a myriad of challenges. It should not be an excuse, but for things to happen in our favor, a lot of things have to happen, be it an improved economic performance or a better mechanism to channel aids to the needy. In a society as diverse as ours, there must be a give and take whilst no section of the society is being left out from the development of the country. Tolerance is the key. Keep pushing for effective and efficient delivery of public goods and yet allow the present administration the necessary room for a successful turn-around. It may take a bit of time and this is when a certain level of patience is required from all Malaysian. After all, isn’t this patriotism is all about? 

Going forward, Malaysia has no choice but to reform so as to progress and be a force to be reckoned with, regionally and globally. At the same time, we must strive to maintain our peaceful coexistence. The question remains though, as we usher into the New Year, can the Federal Government fulfills the aspirations of the people? 




Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Acknowledgement...

It occured to me in September - in the midst and uncertainty of completing my studies - if there is any part of my thesis I would share in a blog, it must the part I enjoyed most in writing, and that is none other than the Acknowledgment. Writing the Acknowledgment is obviously less strenuous than the main body of a thesis - when you are scratching your head trying to figure out what to write, and what have you done to be able to humbly claim that you have contributed to knowledge, one of the academic requirement that shall be fulfilled - so they say - before the university can award you a research degree. When you start writing the Acknowledgment, it is a sign that you are almost finished with your writing... even though I start thinking of mine at the start of my studies!!! It must be the part in me that was trying to begin with end in mind. In one way or another, I thought I was inspired by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's own tribute in his Singapore Story even though I am careful not to over do it considering that I am only writing for a year's worth of work compared to Mr. Lee's decades of dedicated work to build his country. Otherwise, I might have chosen to write with more style and sophistication!

It turned out that the part of research that is writing was more enjoyable especially after months of intensive laboratory work - working long hours on my own and repeating the same experiment over and over - and laborious data analysis.

While I was quite eager to share that "part" of my thesis, I was careful not to publish it until a condition has been met and now that the condition has been fulfilled, here it goes:

Acknowledgment

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Dr. AAA for supervising me in this project and providing valuable guidance throughout my research. I would also like to thank Prof. BBB for his insight on certain parts of the research and CCC, Dr. DDD and Dr. EEE for all their assistance in my laboratory experiments.

I am grateful to the ZZZ for providing the financial support through YYY Scholarship without which I would not have been able to pursue this research degree. I am also grateful to my manager for his support enabling me to take leave for the purpose of pursuing this degree without losing a job.

Finally I would like to express my sincere appreciation to my family members and friends for their strong support, especially my wife and my mother. This work is dedicated to them and to my first child which is expected to be born in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

One year later...

I have finally bought a flight ticket today to return home; less than 72 hours before the scheduled departure. I have found as though a heavy burden has been taken off me even though in reality, there is still a part of a burden I wish I could have get rid of before my return. To my relief, I now started to see lights at the end of the tunnel, even though the lights may not be as clear and as bright as I would have hoped for. That doesn't matter, at least at this juncture. I shall cross the bridge as and when I get there.

Less than 24 hours ago I have been in a slight state of despair, as the rides seems to get tougher and Murphy's Law seems to be in full force, I pushed a panic button early yesterday morning to seek some help.

I have been praying really hard lately, except that my prayer at times may appears only as a routine and lack of substance, as I loose focus. Today turns out to be a truly good day, as the events unfolds, a new hope has since emerged. I am truly grateful.

A turn of events do not normally conforms to what one would expect, I would say. And this is a fact of life. It is interesting that we would always recognise this fact and yet when we stumble upon a new set of challenges, we are as though taking a new learning journey. It is indeed a learning journey for life can only be meaningful when you learn something new every day. You would die when you stop learning.

Priorities in life change as circumstances change. I love change as it breath new set of challenges to work on, and keeps me going. Career move, physical transfer, career change all are examples of how we could learn new things. More importantly, it makes us realise the temporal nature of our life. It follows that we should all get out of our comfort zone, do something different, work on a new thing and strives hard to trigger a change in the life and the world that we live in.

I am extremely happy to be able to return home, as the past twelve months have given me a rare chance for a totally new exposure, and set a new standard on my own - I hope in some way, I have raised the bar. I have had a range of wonderful opportunities to make a real difference; these opportunties are those I never had planned for when I decided to start this journey over a year ago - from life-saving mission to rescue a flood victim (the victim is non other than my own beloved mother), to the opportunity to talk about race and race relations in an open and transparent atmosphere, to joining a public dialogue session at the House of Parliament, a trip to the Scottish countryside that has left us stranded over night at an airport, a short drive to Negombo and its idyllic fishing village, to a mini-mission to save a cute little puppy which I found most fulfilling (with a little encouragement from my wife and my mother). It was an amazing year: a mix of adventure and drama. I truly hoped through these experiences I have emerged wiser as a person, for this is the path I have chosen, for there shall be no regret, and there is no turning back.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Memoir of a Father...

Probably the earliest memory I have of my father was when we were in a shop opposite the market in our small hometown. The shop is part of a terrace of small shophouses facing a rather oblong-shaped market and, behind it is a light brown, narrow river. It is the river that we would occasionally cross by a small boat during one or two special trips in a year: the one I remember was when we were going over to the other side to shop for our clothes for the upcoming festive season.

There was a bus "station" separating the shops and the market. Well, it is not really a "station", as the buses would be lining on the one-way road, giving just enough width for a car to pass through. There were not that many cars passing through that road anyway (to start with, there were not that many cars then!) except for the taxis (a taxi "station" was located on the other side of the market).

There was no purpose-built shelter or signage, passengers would normally be standing at the front of the shops waiting for their buses. In any case, there was no more than two buses at any one time. One would be a faster, yellow bus plying through the then new road between the town and the district capital, and another is a blue bus which goes to the same destination but through an older route, and stops more as it passes through many villages along the route. There was a makeshift fruit stall in the corridor opposite one of the convenient shop that sells sweets, biscuits and drinks among other things. The shop we were in was only several feet away from this place.

That was before 1982. I could not remember the year we were in the shop but I was not in school yet (I was quite fortunate to only start formal school at seven. There was no kindergarten in the village when I was five and six, it was only available one or two years later. By then I was old enough to be in primary school).

Mother was also there I remember. We must have gone there by my father's motorbike. As I don't remember the 2-miles journey and for what it was for, I guess I was sitting in front or in the middle during the journey between our home in the village and the town centre.

I was crying very loudly. I guess it wasn't not me at all! Years later, as I was reading The Secret Garden, I could only smile and relate to the behaviour (or rather lack of) of the "crippled" young boy who Mary had to deal with as she moved in from India.

There in a glass cabinet was a yellow, shiny huge Volkswagen Beetle. It must have been love in the first sight! It was such a wonderful piece with particular attention to details, the body must have been made from solid steel applied with paint of high quality. I must have thrown quite a bit of tantrum, but I didn't get the car. Not that car. I remember having a red car with a sturdy steel body but it was a lot smaller than the Beetle. That must have been the replacement my parent bought for me, I can only guess.

One other day, father returned home and brought two "butterfly", one for my sister and the other one, for me. It is not a real butterfly but it could really fly! I remember enjoying every seconds playing with it. There was a mechanism I thought it must be through some mechanical means as it didn't use a battery. It was really clever.

Father was a great fan of animals I must say. Once, he reared rabbits. There was a small wooden den to house those white rabbits in front of our house. There was this particular type of leaf that the rabbits eat and father would search for the leaves in one part of the village until he could grow the plant in our own yard.

Before long, we have a big family of rabbits. The wooden den was no longer sufficient to house all of them. It was then decided to move them to bigger place. It was to be on the ground where there is a small busut with metal wires as fence surrounding it. On the ground, there were holes everywhere. It was only then I knew that rabbits enjoy digging holes on the ground and probably create a cosy room underground. Once in a while there would be missing rabbit as he (or she!) decides to venture to new places in the neigbourhood.

At the back of our house about five minutes walk away, there is a huge man-made pond originally designed to rear fresh water fish. There is a rectangular well next to it for our water supply in a few dry years when the well next to the kitchen dried up and could not pump water for the household. The pond was one of his dreams I think but it didn't take off too well. We still have the pond today except that it is now probably grown with all sorts of wild plants and the water level must have gone down considerably. I remember enjoying a ride in a small wooden sampan in the pond with my siblings.

One of his more successful ventures is the cocoa plantation on the vast piece of land we have behind our house. He lived to see the fruits of his labour except that the yield wasn't probably the best, but I think it is not too bad considering that cocoa was only introduced then in the country to help farmers in the rural areas. It was a small scale project to make use of the land that we have. I was quite excited when I first knew about having cocoa on our own backyard, thinking of delicious chocolate only to be dissappointed to see cocoa bean does not have the slightest look and smell of chocolate!

A few years earlier, father grew a variety of vegetables. The yield was so good I remember we could put up the vegetables at various shops in the village.

In addition to cocoa, father grew considerable varieties of fruit trees in the piece of land that we have, mostly behind the house but we also have a number by the sides. I am not sure whether the mix of plants we have on the land could have contributed to the yield of any particular fruit tree. The best reward must be the huge yearly produce of one of the fruit, dokong that exceeds the "demand" of our big family unfortunately this reward comes only after father is no longer around. In a good year, we can also sell the fruit to generate some income. Not that we need that extra income now as much as we need twenty, thirty or forty years ago.

Father didn't watch much tv however he was a fan of world news. During those years, there was only one tv channel offering dedicated programme for world news and that was aired quite late at night. Occassionaly he would also watch American movie. I remember watching movie with him once in a while.

I stayed at home for the first twelve years of my life however there was only six years or less that can bring my memory of him while we lived together. At twelve I left home for boarding school therefore there was less opportunity to get to know each other.

The last time I saw him was on one hot afternoon in 1996, possibly in September as he was sitting on the wooden bench in front of the house. I was leaving after a few months of holiday break. I was waving to him from inside a car as we leave the front yard.

There is one gift I treasured most from my father, and that was for giving me my name, even though it might not be at all intentional. It may sounds strange, but that is probably the best gift of all.

Monday, 28 July 2008

The work-life balance: Where are we?

In the first post, the author describes the dilemma of working Malaysian women and suggests that the work-life predicament is related to ideology. In this part, the author argues why materialism has got to do with it.

The author does not suggest that all working women quit their job and be a full-time housewife. Such suggestion is hugely impractical and can be disastrous to many families in Malaysia, at least at this point in time. It may also have a significant negative impact to the socio-economic situation in the country.

Much of the issues related to the work-life balance can be pointed to the ideology embraced by many Malaysians today, irrespect of their religion. Ideology may be a big word here, however the author believes that the main root cause of the problem is due to the fact that many have embraced materialism, consciously or not. Obviously, this is not unique to Malaysia.

So what does it mean to embrace materialism*?

(Without going through any textbook definition on materialism) Material posession seems to be at the centre of everyone's attention - be it a good house or a new car. Over time, many are entangled in such situation as their financial commitments increase, for example, upgrade to a better house, or purchase of a new car. There are also additional costs associated with increased family members, healthcare and medical costs and increased expenditure for their child's education**. In the city, a typical tenure for housing loan is between 20 to 30 years. And this unfortunately takes significant part of their working life***. The cost of a new car in Malaysia is among the highest in Southeast Asia (reference required) and the loan tenure mostly lasts between five to nine years .

Many tend to follow this trend albeit unconciously, and therefore their life is centred towards maintaining this lifestyle. To some this means that a double-income is required and therefore both the husband and wife have to work for a long time through their life. Therefore, most people in the capital, men or women are caught in the rat race.

Rapid development and technological advances provide some explanation to the situation too. Rapid development translate to increased wealth while technological advances - through consumerism that brings mass advertising through the mainstream media - encourage many people to own such things as mobile phone, computer, satellite tv etc. Many now own a credit card, and a significant number have more than one. This certainly doesn't help especially those who are less wise in their spending.

Addressing the issue of ideology and belief should therefore be at the core of any solutions to be proposed and education seems to be the most viable way. This may take a long time, as the ideology is deeply embedded in the society. It is not surprising if it takes a generation or two to fix the problem.

In the mean time, men and women should increase their awareness about priority-setting, and husband and wife should carefully discuss what is really important to them in their life. There should be a concerted and guided effort to increase this awareness, as many may not realised that they could well be on the wrong track, even though the family income may suggest that they are highly successful men and women.

While a permanent solution is found, there should be more agressive move to lobby for a more conducive working environment for working women; such as option for prolonged leave to take care of her baby (without losing the job!), longer maternity leave, proper regulations for childcare provider with sufficient enforcement in place, increased opportunity for women to work from home for some sectors of the economy, increased opportunity for part-time job etc. And such proposals should be implemented sooner rather than later for the benefit of each citizen, and for the continued peace and prosperity of the nation. Without swift actions, the nation may be falling apart in the future, as the family institution, the building blocks of the society, is fast failing.


*It is interesting to note that Madonna was a role model for the Western women as far as work-life balance is concerned (refer previous post). The author can't help but remember that the pop star also sang "Material Girl", a popular song in the 80s. In the lyrics, it was mentioned somewhere that she is a "material girl in a material world". This, to a certain extent, provides a supporting proof that materialsm is indeed the most widespread ideology in the modern world and Madonna or whoever she represents, once a role model for work-life balance for Western women indeed promotes materialism. Consumerism, globalisation and free-trade provide a good vehicle for materialism to conquer the world. It should be noted that materialism is a result of secularism (reference required).

** It is unfortunate that healthcare and medical services and tertiary education are becoming more like a commodity in Malaysia. There are many private clinics and hospitals in Malaysia, and many Malaysians opt for their services for quick and better service at additional cost. Education fees have increased over the years, and many university students have to resort to education loan that comes with interest rate.

***In Malaysia, employees in the goverment work until they are 55 or 56 years old whereas those in the private sector may work until they are approximately 60 or slightly older.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The work-life balance...

An article appearing in the Style, a supplement to The Sunday Times (July 20, 2008) provides an interesting perspective about a topic of interest to many, the work-life balance. Aptly titled "The Work-Wife Balance", the article provides a good flavour about some of the current thinking in the West about the subject.

Relating to Madonna's alleged marital problems, the article went on to state that she was a role model to modern Western women on work-life balance. Pointing to the emergence of feminism decades ago and its fight for women's power, it is not hard to see how the Western society has evolved, particularly in relations to women's role and what constitute women's success.

Back home (Malaysia), working women, mostly in the capital are finding it increasingly difficult to manage career and family lives. While Madonna is not the role model, and cultural and religious values are vastly different, there are signs to show that there are similar trends. Modern Malaysia is quick to embrace materialism in the name of development. Life style of Malaysians have changed tremendously over the past decades. As the standard of living improves, so does the cost of living. While direct comparison between the West and Malaysia is obviously inappropriate, possibly unnecessary, it is important to gauge the progress in the country with respect to those of developed ones, as Malaysia aims to be a fully developed nation by 2020. After all, the world is dominated by liberal capitalism, and Malaysia is no stranger to it.

Malaysian women benefit from an education system originating from the colonial days. Contrary to some conservative nations, there is nothing to limit any woman in Malaysia to pursue her education to the highest level. Malaysian society also encourages education irrespect of gender. Many Malaysian women attain tertiary qualification, and considerable numbers are educated overseas - many in the West. In recent years, it has been reported that the number of women in Malaysia's public universities has considerably outnumbered those of men. In short, the opportunities are vast for women in the country.

Having gotten a university degree, it is a natural progression to enter the employment market. At this stage, women also contibutes income to their families: single women send money to their ageing parents on regular basis - this is part of the values which is quite different from the West - while married women serve the parents as well as their new family. Many will also have to serve the loan that was used to support their education while studying at the university or college.

The work-life conflict likely develops when a woman starts a family; and this happen when she is in her 20s or 30s. They will also start to have children at this stage. For professionals, this is a stage of primary importance as this is the time to develop their career if they aspire to be somebody. Regardless whether a woman decides to be a career woman or not, an 8-to-5 working hours is still the norm and this in all likelihood will be at the expense of the family*. The hectic environment in the city does not help, and so is the high cost of living.

While many in the country continue to believe that families are the fundamental building blocks of the society, and women continue to play a pivotal role in developing a successful family, there are signs to suggest that these "blocks" are falling apart. Crime rate is on the rise, social ills are getting worse and values that were once the strenghts of the society are fast depleting.

People are working harder each day, many women included, and that is the way it goes. It is interesting to note what was said by journalist and author Rosie Boycott, mentioned in the same article "What is wrong with the society we live in is that success is all about money....." and this statement unfortunately is becoming more and more relevant to the Malaysian society today.

There are reasons to believe that this predicament is not unintentional; it is very much a result of a system based on underlying ideologies - name it whatever you like: globalisation, free market, equality, rights - they are all the same, and that is materialism based on liberal capitalism.

* Childcare is a major concern in Malaysia. As many women opt to work to support the family, many have to hire maids to take care of the small children. There have been many cases to suggest that maids are generally unreliable. Many children spend most of the time with the maid with little background known about her, albeit the fact that she was provided with some mandatory training before being hired. Nursery is an alternative for parents unfortunately the service provided by most is a far-cry from the basic standards required for a childcare provider.

Monday, 21 July 2008

One day in 1990...

1990. As the wind was blowing, the grey afternoon sky was getting darker. It wasn't the type of weather we would usually expect there. I remember standing on the road, many students were walking on the same towards their own houses. After lunch and a short rest, we would normally had our prep between 2 and 4; we had this from Sunday to Thursday. It must have been after the afternoon tea in the dining hall when I met her. The meeting was very brief, I remember we were standing all the time right in the middle of the road. It wasn't a busy road as it is one of those located in the residential area. I don't remember seeing cars plying that road throughout my one-year stay there except for the occasional few that were owned by parents who came to visit their children.

Students were housed in single storey terrace houses rented by the school. It was a boarding school like no other! I enjoyed it very much though. The classrooms, the library, the dining hall and the assembly hall were all terrace shoplots. They didn't have the conventional doors...there were those metal sheet that goes up and down which covers the entire width of the classroom. There was no playing field except for the one (with overgrown grass!) facing the row of houses where students lived. This must have been provided by the property developer for the residents.

It was a very small school by any standard, there were less than 140 students in 1990 all of whom were of the same age. Despite the lack of proper facilities, the environment was very good . The principal was a very nice lady, a motherly figure for every students. There were around 20 teachers and they were all very likable; in fact many were popular with students. There were no major rival groups probably because there's no seniors or juniors - everyone was very much on the same level. There were small factions here and there but in general they didn't cause much troubles. The food was excellent too, a drastic departure from what I was used to 2 years earlier. Despite its humble beginning and the fact that it was relatively unknown in the national education scene, it was not a big surprise that the school successfully produce many straight As students that year, the highest in the country*.

During the meeting I don't remember each of us talking very much. She seems to be in a rush. I don't quite remember how she got there, and how was she going to get home. I thought she said she was coming from somewhere with some friends, was it a school-organised trip? Before leaving, she gave me a fountain pen. And off she went. It was a very brief meeting. I then walked to my room. It didn't rain the way the colour of the sky would have suggested although there was probably some drizzle. I must have then taken the pleasure to examine the pen in the room which was located at the farthest end of the house, next to the kitchen which was never used. It was a gift, one of which I probably didn't full understand the intent and purposes then, but it certainly is one of those treasures that inspired me...one that I will always remember. By then, it was quite clear that she would be leaving, for a better future.

* In 1990, the school produced 14 straight As students in the national exams known as "SRP" for the 15-year olds. Typically students take 8 subjects for the exams. 1990 was the last year SRP was offered before it was replaced by PMR in 1991 which was based on a new curriculum. Recently there has been suggestion to eliminate PMR altogether.