Thursday, May 31, 2007

Blue Moon

Old timers may remember the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's song Blue Moon made famous by Nat King Cole and Frank (Ol' Blue Eyes) Sinatra. There is also Ray Charles' hit song Blue Moon of Kentucky and Elvis Presley's When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again.

Remember the expression "once in a blue moon"?. Well, its going to happen tonight, actually, depending on which time zone you live in. But will the moon indeed be blue? Read here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Behind Every Successful Woman ...

Fellow blogger Nora a.k.a Anon fm Miri recently wrote "Behind every successful man, there is a woman. And behind every unsuccessful man, there are two." Read here.

My old friend and Dufferin batchmate Raj a.k.a Capt T. Rajkumar in Chennai emailed me this interesting news item yesterday:

Visakhapatnam, May 24:

The wife of a poor pani puri vendor has become a software engineer in Infosys, thanks to her husband’s support. Sheik Salar, 26, a street hawker, used every rupee he earned to help his wife Fatima Bibi Sheik, 21, achieve her academic ambitions. And it was not in vain. Fatima completed her course at Gayatri Vidya Parishad College of Engineering with high marks and was given a plum posting by the software giant in a campus selection.

In fact, she is the first student from the college to get into Infosys. Fatima and Salar stay in a slum at Rajendranagar. While Fatima went to college, Salar roamed around the city with a pushcart selling puffed rice, corn, chilli bhajjis and pani puri, earning Rs 150 per day. When she was married off to her distant relation Salar by her parents in 2001, Fatima was just 15 and felt that she would never achieve her dream of being a software engineer.

“I did not want to marry since I wanted to study further and achieve something,” she said. She was crestfallen since Salar merely nodded when she told him about her dreams. But his nod meant a lot and he started saving money to help her study. By living frugally, Salar somehow got together Rs 60,000 to pay Fatima’s fee for the first and second year of her engineering course.

The Andhra Pradesh State Minorities Finance Corporation helped the couple pay the rest of the fee. “At the time of our marriage I was not sure how serious Fatima was about her studies,” said Salar. “But when I realised that she got 536 marks in her SSC exams and stood first in her school, I decided to help her study.” The pani puri vendor was adamant that her future should not get spoilt because she married him.

A junior college in the city provided her free intermediate education. She secured a decent rank in the Emcet exam and opted to join the electronics and electrical engineering branch in college. “We decided not to have kids till she got a good job,” said Salar. “For this, I took much criticism from my parents.” Fatima’s eyes moisten when she talks about her husband. “You can’t imagine the hardships he suffered to help me,” she said. “In the last six years, he was my strength. He sacrificed all his joys for me.”

“Fatima was always first in our class,” said Asha Kanthi, her classmate. “We did not know her story then. Now she is our inspiration.” Though happy at the turn of events, the couple is a bit sad when thinking about their being apart for three months, when Fatima would go to the Infosys campus in Mysore for training. Have they ever quarreled? “When we have issues, we sit together and discuss and sort it out,” said Fatima. She plans to take her husband along with her when she gets her posting. Salar too is proud, for he has proved that behind every successful woman there is a man ...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Battling Corruption

Graft, like sex, is a two-way thingy. The fight against corruption in this country is made doubly difficult with the current emphasis more on nabbing the receiver and not the giver. There is also a crying need to protect whistle-blowers.

On Tuesday 22nd May 2007, former High Court judge Dato Syed Ahmad Idid gave a talk on "Addressing Corruption in Malaysia" at the University of Malaya. This man had to quit his job some years ago after his letter exposing corruption and abuse of power in the judiciary was dismissed by his superiors. (Read Rocky Bru's take on the talk, here. I couldn't make it due to a prior engagement).

I had the good fortune of making the learned ex-judge's acquaintance a couple of years ago when he was the Director of the Kuala Lumpur Regional Center of Arbitration (KLRCA)* and I was a senior council member of Institut Kelautan Malaysia (IKMAL). We were then engaged in developing and promoting maritime arbitration in this country. He had struck me as an incorruptible and principled gentleman of the old school who had to suffer in silence for many years for something that he truly believed in.

It takes balls to rat on your colleagues but I suppose a guy has gotta do what a guy has gotta do, especially when it involves the very integrity of the country's judicial system. Dato Syed Ahmad Idid (I had joked that he resembles Kentucky Fried Chicken's Colonel Sanders !) has been quoted by the press that he has no regrets and given the chance, he would do it all over again.

Way to go, judge.

*Above photo taken at KLRCA circa 2005, (from left) Dato Syed Ahmad Idid, yours truly,
KLRCA's Ms Yeo and current director Dato Noorashikin.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


(Source: Wikipedia)

During my seafaring days, every mariner worth his salt whose ship was docked in one of London's former famous Royal Docks (now closed to shipping from 1981), will somehow find time to visit Greenwich. The town, located on the south bank of the River Thames is best known for its maritime history and as the location of Greenwich Mean Time or G.M.T., which was at one time based on observations made at the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

The Cutty Sark, a famous tall 'clipper' sailing ship, was in a dry dock by the river in Greenwich until it was almost destroyed by fire, believed to be by arson, a few days ago. Only her steel frames saved her from becoming a total loss and plans are already afoot to rebuild her back to her former glory. (Read my friend and fellow blogger Shanghai Fish's take on this, here).

Maritime Greenwich, which was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 1997, is also the home of the Old Royal Naval College and National Maritime Museum.

There is also the University of Greenwich, where my daughter Nurasyikin graduated from 10 years ago.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Gathering (not the movie)

I was late for the gathering of bloggers at the Subang Lake Club last night but managed to catch the last couple of speakers, MarinaM and Citizen-Nades. The dinner meet was organised by Bloggers United Malaysia and was well received by socio-political and non-sopo bloggers alike. A few friendly non-bloggers were also amongst the guests.

It was great to be able to put faces to names and was an honour and privilege indeed for me to meet Pok Ku, Sang Kelembai , Gundohing et al. Perhaps we should have more of these in the future.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Around this time exactly 38 years ago, the National Operations Council (N.O.C.) was set up in the aftermath of the infamous May 13th riots and killings. It was headed by the then DPM Tun Abdul Razak. Our present PM, who was then a senior civil servant, was a member of this council. This Council also gave birth to the New Economic Policy (NEP) which after 38 years is no longer new.

I remember the joke going around then was that what NOC meant was very different to the various races in the country, i.e.,

Malays : Now's Our Chance !
Chinese : No Other Choice
Indians : Not Our Country

Sadly, the words still ring true after all these years. So I guess the joke is on us.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Classmate

On Friday afternoon, Zorro gave me a ride to a meeting of bloggers with a former MCKK classmate of mine, a fellow who has led a chequered life and now in the midst of making a political come back. We were a bit late after getting caught in the late lunch and after Friday prayers traffic. The All-Blogs kakis were all there in Anwar Ibrahim's PJ office namely Rocky, Jeff Ooi, Nuraina, Tony Yew, A Voice, Big Dog, Stephen and a few others I have not met before.

The last time I met Anwar was a couple of years ago at a class reunion of sorts, hosted by another former classmate of ours Tengku Azman (former CEO of MIMOS), at the latter's dusun or fruit orchard in Sg. Buloh. The first thing that struck me on seeing him again was that his hair, like mine, was still 'All-Black' ! (so I suppose like moi, there was some 'cheating' involved here, old bean).

The consummate politician, (40 years ago, we, his classmates never thot he would be who he is today) Anwar answered all the questions posed to him by the so-po journo bloggers amongst us although there were moments I could detect that his mind wandered off elsewhere. Perhaps it can get pretty tiresome having to answer the same questions over and over again. But then these young fellows needed to hear the words again straight from the horse's mouth.

Perhaps after some years in solitary confinement and plenty of soul searching, a man can and do change. Unlike his former boss and jailer, at least he has shown the capacity to let bygones be bygones, and not become very bitter, vengeful and unforgiving - traits which are downright bloody unIslamic, if you ask me. He is now faced with the rather daunting task of trying to introduce big changes in the country's political arena and will need all the help he can get. So at the risk of being accused of being biased, I say boys and girls, lets give the guy a break.

It is the system, baby, and it sucks.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ship Life

Friends often ask me what life aboard ship was like. Since I left the profession to work ashore in Port Klang many years ago, there have been many changes. I append below an excerpt from a very interesting email about life at sea for a sea captain these days. It was sent to my old training ship alumni website some time ago by my old buddy Capt. Jimmy Shroff (photo), who is still at sea and a master of a third generation container ship:

My morning on board generally starts in the afternoon with the awesome decisions facing a ship-master... to get up from bed or not, to shave today or postpone it for another week..... When (if) I do get up in time for breakfast, the issues get more weighty: should I skip the fried eggs and settle for half-boiled...

'Eggs to order' is not a small matter as Oscar Patrao would vouch for. When we were cadets on Scindia ships, discharging Calcutta coal at Tuticorin anchorage, Oscar once ordered a Spanish Omelet.. when the Chief Steward was summoned by the mess-boy, Oscar explained it was a five egg omelet stuffed with ham and cheese and topped with mushroom rings. “Mushroom rings?” spluttered the Chief Steward. Oscar got the normal 2 egg masala omelet, burnt more than usual and a reprimand from the Chief Officer.

Yusof, you may recall the wondrous feat of the 12 year old chintu kids on the lighters at Tuticorin anchorage, who would dive into the clear waters and bring up the odd piece of coal fallen over side while discharging. Well, the next day after the omelet incident, these young boys were having a gala time fishing out dozens of Jaffa oranges bobbing in the water. Simultaneously the Chief Steward was heard screaming: an entire case of oranges just removed from the fridge room had dizzappeared! Of course Oscar was like the cat that swallowed the canary... deny, deny till the end. Next morning, he got a five egg omelet at breakfast stuffed with ham and cheese... no mushroom rings tho'.

The above story is a small reminder that things have not changed much regarding the basic aspect of life at sea on merchant ships. We still do not have police or courts or doctors, things taken for granted ashore. It is still very easy for anyone to commit sabotage and get away with it. We still maintain discipline by the time honoured bluff and tradition and make a tolerable job with these two dubious tools.

The present day temper of the various authorities connected with shipping is also stretched to breaking point. But on the plus side, on safety of navigation, the Geographical Position-finding System, owned by the U.S. Navy but used by everybody, ships, planes, cars, service-men, trekkers, hand-phones, they have made a mariner's dream come true: The ship's position is known to a high degree of accuracy at any and all the time, anywhere in 3-dimensional space. The sextant has become an heirloom. Star recognition means Shah Rukh Khan, Mars is just another candy bar. I will not talk about safety anymore as a superstitious master who is still sailing... why tempt the devil.

I will end this on some brief observations on management in general, ship-master in particular. An effective manager finally has to manage through his own inner resources... the hollowness of bluff and tradition will eventually disclose itself. So if you are the authoritative, quick tempered master, do not try a facade of coolness, it’s not necessary. If you are the kindly, father-figure type, you may long to pose as a powerful disciplinarian.. again no need, the persons around you will forgive all short comings except posturing. Between these two extremes there are of course hundreds of shades of personality ...let the genuineness show forth, warts and all. Of course that doesnt mean you should be indiscrete. Just trust yourself, know you have the same potential as anyone else.

As regards electronics and automation, I never forget to use the most user-friendly remote controls supplied on the navigating bridge of a ship: they are called 'second mate' and 'third mate'. They know the location and use of more buttons than you know exist, and they love to be used. So give them a break and use them. Don't just use them to do all your distasteful work like filling up forms and check-lists. Let them con the ship through the Singapore Straits under your watchful eye.

Aha, Check-lists! When Percy Master emeritus first suggested using check-lists on board ships, an idea borrowed belatedly from the aircraft industry (as most of our ideas is... the dual wrap-around cockpit cluster on a bridge is just too good to be true. Had it on one new German built container ship), little did he know his article in the Oceanite magazine will be picked up and made the focal point of ISM and safety committees around the world. Alas we have overdone it: if I need to visit the rest-room I will have to complete a questionnaire containing such questions as:

Is the vessel safely aground
are all four anchors in use
is IMO informed
has the coast-guard been alerted
and, for good measure,
Has President Reagan (Who?) approved of the trip to the loo.

That reminds me, as the famous Balu Rao once said: I gotta go now... (you
know where...) I have not filled up the check-list.... but poor Reagan doesn't remember much these days.

Come to think of it, neither do I.

Best regards,

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Sight to Behold

Someone pointed out to me that we mariners are indeed a lucky lot that we are able and get to see enchanting sights, vistas and panoramas even the most frequent air travellers will never get to see in their lifetimes. I didnt quite catch his drift until he explained that some scenes can only be viewed at sea level where only mariners are privileged to enjoy.

As a first year cadet on board a ship at sea, I remember clearly the first time we sailed into busy New York harbour in mid winter en route to the port of Newark, New Jersey. Passing Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty ( of "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"), the sight of all those tall and majestic skyscrapers in Manhattan against a backdrop of clear icy blue sky, is something I will never forget, ever.

On my maiden voyage to Hong Kong, for instance, first impressions on making port at dusk with ships anchored and moored to buoys in the harbour; brightly lit men-o-war dressed to the nines; ferries, junks and bum boats bobbing in ships' wakes and planes landing and taking off from the old Kai Tak Airport are still firmly etched in my mind after all these years.

For me especially, and I am sure for many Malaysian seamen, Muka Head on the northwestern cape of Penang Island bring special memories. The sight of the old lighthouse flashing in the distance against the dull glow of sunrise is pure magic. It never failed to bring a tear in my eye, the same way I suppose that the white cliffs of Dover will produce a lump in the throat of many an English Jack Tar, especially after many months at sea. Or on entering Tokyo Bay, the view of snow capped Mount Fuji gleaming in the distance even to the most travelled Japanese seaman.

Indeed, Muka Head for many of us simply means 'home'- the promise of nasi kandar breakfasts, a visit to the barber for a much needed hair cut, and phone calls to loved ones from the Mariners' Club in Light Street ...

Oh ! dream of joy ! is this indeed
The light-house top I see ?
Is this the hill ? is this the kirk ?
Is this mine own countree ?
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Home is the sailor, home from the sea:
Her far-borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
the plunder of the world.
- A.E. Housman

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day

Today is 1st of May, also known as May Day or Labour Day, a holiday in this country and in many parts of the world. A day to celebrate the working class.

For us mariners, mayday is also an emergency code word used internationally as a distress signal in voice procedure radio communications, an anglicized version of the French word m'aider, meaning "help me". A mayday situation is one in which a vessel is in grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance , e.g. sinking and the possible loss of lives on board. It is a word we do not take lightly, not even in jest.

But here's a hilarious dramatisation of a mayday scenario from You Tube: