Sunday, May 10, 2015

Have to take your hand, and feel your breath for fear this someday will be over*

* Sirens, Pearl Jam

Izani is 9 years old, but he still holds my hand when we cross the street or walk across the car park.
One day, I decided to ask, "Why do you hold my hand, Izani?"
"Because I want to, " he answered, "Because you're my mom"
"Does it feel nice, to hold my hand?" I asked.
"uh huh," he nodded, "it makes me feel safe"
We walked in silence for a bit, then he gave my hand a squeeze and rubbed his side against mine.
"I love you, Bonda"

hu hu hu. Never grow up, Izani.
Even if you do grow up, never stop holding my hand. Okay?

Happy Mother's Day, everyone.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

You can't be neutral on a moving train*

*"Down" - Pearl Jam
in case you don't know what i look like

I have always loved train stations.
Perhaps it's due to the promise of a journey, an adventure. Or maybe it's the mystery of what lies ahead (even though the next destination is written clearly there on your ticket).
To me it symbolizes both a beginning and an end. A starting point, and a destination.

anis and izani discovering how train switches work

Nothing delights me more than finding an abandoned train station, like this one in the old part of bandar Gua Musang, Kelantan. Here we can walk and skip safely on the tracks, play with the switches and watch the tracks move, or pretend you're in some remote station in the middle of nowhere where the train only arrives once a week, and there are lions lurking about.
It reminds me of the quiet and lonely stations in Spirited Away where magical creatures await.

The Pulau Tioman

An hour's away we discovered this station in Merapoh, Pahang. This one had a less nostalgic feeling though. I heard that the station is closed due to the devastating flood, but I can't be too sure. We found this train, the Pulau Tioman, dormant on the tracks.

Can you see the conductor?

Anis & I decided to climb inside to have a look see. We were shocked to find everything caked in mud. Could the flood have caused this? I wouldn't be surprised if it did, just as I wouldn't be surprised if suddenly an apparition of a daikon shaped ghost in a conductor's uniform were to pop up and ask me for my ticket.
Before I ran out mencecet, I decided to strike a pose:

"Asia's Last Top Model: Zombie Apocalypse"

tee hee

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Orang Asli of Kampung Landap

During the chinese new year holidays, we were given the opportunity to visit an orang asli (indigenous people) settlement in Kampung Landap, Perak. It was really a mind and soul opening experience for us.

To say that the orang asli are 'uncivilised' would be a misconception. Even though they may appear materially and technologically behind compared to the average citizen living outside of their settlement, socially, they are way more civilized than most of us are.
They survive by living communaly, participating and contributing all that they have and can for the good of the whole community. In the mornings, whoever who has a motorcycle would pick up whichever children that were ready and would send them to the nearest school, about 5kms downriver, through a palm oil plantation, on a bumpy tar road that could fit only one car going either way. They own only one beat up Proton Saga, courtesy of a generous donor who had no use of it longer, and that car is shared by all, not only to send and pick up kids to and from school, but also to send men off to jobs in the plantations, to ferry those who wants to catch the bus to town (and pick them up again when they came home at a promised time), to drive pregnant moms to the nearest health clinic for their check-ups and to run errands that is too far to reach by foot.

In the middle of the settlement is a huge 'balai', a hut without walls. On one side of the hut is a platform where people could gather around and discuss matters with the tok balai or the penghulu (the chief). This was where were greeted by almost the whole community. Bear in mind, we were not dignitaries, we were merely curious folks, but we were welcomed with open arms and several sweet smelling durians and cempedaks. One the other side of the hut were placed 2 low wood burning stoves, and this is where the women work together to prepare lunch for the whole village. I watched women, children and men cutting fish, trimming vegetables, peeling onions, checking on steaming rice, sauteing simple ingredients and stirring curry, just like during the kenduri kawin (wedding parties) of bygone times before the advent of catering services.

We tried to find out as much as we could about their life. Even though language was a slight barrier (they speak the temiar dialect/language, and we don't), fortunately we had the help of a man who calls himself Tuan Speaker, to translate and explain things to us. Tuan Speaker and his team of volunteers have been working with the orang asli, and not just in Kampung Landap, for a long time. They have managed to diplomatically 'teach' the orang asli about the importance of proper hygiene, about pre and post natal check-ups in tackling infant mortality and they have managed to start a fish rearing pond, and a duck rearing pen.

Most importantly though, they have also managed to teach the orang asli about proper nutrition. The orang asli's diet consists mainly of tubers, especially tapioca and sweet potatoes. Lack of protein and essential vitamins and minerals have left most of them malnourished. This was most evident with the children. We met a boy whom we thought were the same age as Izani, who is 7 years old, based on his size, but who turned out to be 12. The effects of malnutrition is also evident in the children's performence in school. It's not a surprise, since if your brain does not get the fuel it needs, how would you expect it to perform. We're not saying these children are stupid, we just feel that they have the potential to be smarter if given what other children normally gets.
At the moment the orang asli are already eating a more balanced meal, but having access to ingredients is not as easy as walking to your neighbourhood grocery store. There is not even a neighbourhood grocery store. Currently there are generous folks that donate weekly groceries, but how long can they (or should they) survive on hand outs? The fish&duck rearing projects will be one source of income (and protein), but they have expressed their desire to be able to do more farming.

Here, I was struck by a moral dillema. (I now say 'I', because it won't be right for me to assume the others in my party share my prejudices, presumptions and ignorance).
I see the orang asli as happy, contented people. They have lived this way of life for generations. They have lived as one with nature, taking care of it just as it takes care of them. They have absolutely no concept, dependence or value of money and therefore they have a sense of freedom that some of us dream of. So why do we need to introduce them to our expectations of civilization? Would it bring them any good, or would it just put them into harms way?
On the other hand, no matter how hard they try, our brand of 'civilization' will and has crept into their lives. More of the orang asli children are exposed and want to move outside of their village, and more of the parents are encouraging their children to do so. More 'civilised' people are also reaching their village, and not all of them are good (for example, the guy who bought a truck-full of durians from the orang asli and paid a mere RM30 for it). They need the knowledge to protect their rights.
The more romantic side of me also reminded me of all the feelgood movies I have watched throughout my life, where the weak dare to reach for the stars and eventually triumph over circumstances and fulfill their dream. I look into the eyes of the orang asli children and think, what if one of them wants to be a doctor, a scientist, an astronaut? Or maybe even a mechanic, or a tech-savvy farmer? Why shouldn't we give them, at least, a fighting chance?

So here's what we've been thinking (yes, it's back to 'we'):
The children needs proper nutrition so that they have equal opportunity as anyone else in this country to excell in school (and eventually reach their dreams). To be able to provide this to the children, the parents need to have the ability and access to nutritious food, either by growing/rearing their own, or having a steady income to be able to afford them.
Therefore, we propose to:
1. To donate a chainsaw and a weed-whacker, to be used to clear plots of land for farming and to be used to provide income generating services to the nearby plantations. Estimated cost RM3000.
2. To teach how to make tapioca, sweet potato and/or banana chips, which they can package and sell. (We have been blessed with a volunteer instructor for this, alhamdulillah!)
3. To teach how to make banana&cempedak fritters and to donate necessary equipments, for some of them to start up a stall by the amazingly clear and cooling riverside that is frequented by nearby villagers to swim in. Estimated cost RM500.

If any of you would like to help us out, or if you have any other ideas to add to this, please do contact me via the comment box below, or via

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Conversation with Izani 04 march 2013

Scene: Me ironing while Izani is doing his Lughatul Arabiyah homework.

Izani: Why can't we say "Wa-alaikumsalam" then "Assalamu-alaikum"?
Me: Because "Assalamu-alaikum" means "Peace upon you" and "Wa-alaikumsalam" means "AND, peace upon you too". The "Wa" means "And". It'd be weird if you say "and peace upon you" first. It's like saying "You're welcome" before someone says "Thankyou" to you. Wouldn't that sound weird? "I am fine", "How are you?"
Izani: Ha ha ha you 're right, that *is*weird!!
Me: Izani, you know how you say "Assalamu-'alaikum" after you solat?
Izani: yeah, I say "assalamu-'alaikum" 2 times.
Me: Who do you say it to?
Izani: To Allah!
Me: no...
Izani: To ... Prophet Muhammad!
Me: Nope... you're giving salam to the two angels on your right and your left. Do you know who they are?
Izani: Oh, I know I know! One of them is an angel , all white, and the other is a devil, all red, with a pointy tail.
Me: eh no lah... That's only in cartoons lah! Actually, both of them are angels. The one on the right writes down all your good deeds, and the one on the left ...
Izani: tells you to do bad things!!
Me: No. He (?)  doesn't tell you anything. He just writes down your bad deeds. But you know what?
Izani: what?
Me: The one on the right, writes it down when you do good deeds, and also even when you're just thinking of doing good deeds. If you really do the good deed, he writes it down AGAIN.
The one on the left, writes it down when you do bad deeds, but doesn't write anything when you're just thinking of doing bad deeds. He will only write bad deeds down when you really do it.
And get this - If you thought of doing bad deeds, and then decide NOT to do it, guess who writes it down?
Ilham shouts from the other room: The good one!
Izani: the good one?
Me: Yup. If you thought of doing something bad, but you fight it and decide not to it, it's considered as a good deed!
Izani: *Phew* I wanted to get a star wars tattoo when I grow up, but now I decide not too. I will get pahala!! But Oh no! Arif's going to hell!
Me: hah? Why?
Izani: Because during the carnival he got a butterfly tattoo.. you know the one they rub with soap and water?
Me: Aiyahhhhh... those tattoos are okay lah.. coz they come off.
Izani: But tattoos are haram, bonda.
Me:  The permanent ones, the ones where you get poked by a needle and it wont come off. Those are haram.
Izani: Oh cool!! Coz I have been saving my Star Wars Tattoo! (he got from a cereal box). And I'm not going to hell!!
Me: You can't say who's going to heaven or hell. Only Allah can decide who goes to heaven or to hell. That's why you need to always make du'a and ask Allah to place you in heaven. That's why you have to behave and do good deeds all the time.
Izani: Okay Bonda, I will behave, so that I can go to heaven and get a tattoo and play PS3!!!! yippeeeee!!
Me: PS3???? itu je?

Aiyoh penat lah layan budak ni.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Malaysian Education: Need for Change?

I've recently become a part of the Parent Support Group of my children's school. Parent Support Group is another name for the PTA or the PIBG, the group of parents who work with the school on behalf of all the other parents.
We are having the kick-off meeting on Saturday and one of the items on the agenda is "Delivery of School Lessons", so I took this opportunity to ask my own kids what they thought about the lesson delivery in their current school compared to what they have experienced in Saudi and Dubai.

"Over here, only the teachers are allowed to talk. They never ask your opinion. In Dubai, we were the ones doing most of the talking. There were more discussions".
"Homework was fun! I was so excited to do my homework when I was in school in Saudi/Dubai. Homework here feels like a chore.. it's all writing and more writing"
"You know that's not really true ... you did get a few assignments to make movies and diagrams"
"yeah, that's true ... but for subjects like Math, they gave us assignments like 'Build your own Amusement Park' and you were taught how to keep track of cost and revenue and how to calculate your profit and loss, how to estimate how many workers, rides, and food stalls you need. That was FUN. Over here it's all exercises."
"Yeah and there was that enterprise week where I got to create my own island resort and wore a suit and I gave a presentation"
"And remember that Rainforest concert? We got to sing or act out what we learnt about the rainforest in class, to the whole school! And we made an aboriginal masks during art. That was fun."
"Why can't they do these things over here?"

Having experienced 'Malaysian Schooling' for roughly 6 months now, I think I now know why.
This has probably been said before, but our education system is too exam oriented. Worse, it is geared to reward students who can answer questions in a fixed format. Interprate the question differently or answer it a little differently, or perhaps use different or the wrong or unfamiliar word, and you lose points. So students have no choice but to learn how to interprate the question and how to answer the questions in a specific way, to maximize the points you receive.
Compound that with a public that sizes up schools based on exam results alone, you get schools that are forced to spend more time training students on how to answer questions to maximize points, instead of teaching them how to learn and apply the knowledge. Teachers have no time to make learning fun, because they are too restricted by this system.
Our children are being taught how to swallow facts and figures whole and spew it out in neat little packages that conform to the examiners format. They are being judged on how well they do that. The judges are the local 'good schools', the colleges, the universities, the employers.

In my opinion, our students need to learn more about how to GAIN AND APPLY knowledge than how to RETAIN knowledge.

In this day an age, what you are learning today is probably obsolete yesterday. The advent of technology has made it easy for you to extract information. There is really no need for us to test our students on how much they know and can remember, because that skill is no longer required. What is more important is to test them on their skill in getting information, on mining data, on deducting facts and figures and how logically and creatively they can apply that knowledge.

Want to know when the Portugese invaded Melaka? Just google it. Want to know why? Wiki. Want to know what the Melakans could've done to prevent the invasion? Now, *that* is something worth spending time pondering, discussing and concluding about.

You think questions like that is waaay to advanced for our young students? Think again.
At 11 years old, the students in Ilham's Year 7 class in Jumeirah College Dubai were talking about the Battle of Hastings (go wiki it). They were asked, why do you think the Normans won, taking into account not only the size of the battling forces, but also the demographic of the forces, the tools and weapons they had, the geography of the area and other extenuating circumstances. They were also asked, what could the Engish have done to win it?
With this one question (eh, two), they were not only able to apply their power of deduction and assumption, they also applied their skill in clear and persuasive writing.
Budak darjah lima hokay.
Now, don't you dare say Mat Salleh kids are better than Malaysian kids. I think Malaysian kids were just never given the opportunity.

And that's only the subject of Sejarah (History). I am sure there are many other ways where we could encourage our students to be creative in applying the knowledge that they have learnt in all the other subjects.

Unfortunately, the local 'good schools', universities, colleges and employers do not look at or for these skills when they are evaluating applicants. The first thing they look at are the results on paper. That is such a shame. Perhaps that is why you find that most successful people in the world nowadays are those that did not do so well in school or go to the best schools. Perhaps these organizations need to stop looking at only the exam results and look deeper into the applicants' skills instead, if they want truly the best people in their institution.

I know changing the school system would be an arduous long-winded process that will probably take years of writing and presenting working papers, cabinet debates, minister slanderings, illicit videos, handbag purchases and what not. So, I am not hoping much.
I do hope that we, as parents, could do little-little things within our own school, or even within our own household, to make not just learning, but the the application of knowledge, more fun and exciting for our children.