Monday, June 25, 2007

Balik Bayan

Pre 1991 eruption photo of Mt. Pinatubo from Wikipedia

Balik Bayan
in Pilipino language means 'return to the country', the nearest thing to balik kampung for the Malays. Well, I am off to Angeles City near Manila early tomorrow morning with my friend Alex and a group of 50-odd Klang MIC division heads for a few days of R&R. I am told this little jaunt is a reward of sorts, compliments of Barisan Nasional, for their combined efforts over and above their normal duties to ensure BN's success in the recent Ijok by-election.

Talk about level playing fields. Sheeeesh. Be back on Friday.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Words - the cause of so much misunderstanding

"Send three and four pence, we're going to a dance!"

This was what happened to the message by the time it had been passed down a line of English soldiers in battle, each of whom had muttered it into the ear of the next. It had begun as "Send reinforcements, we're going to advance!" but it had changed by the time it had got to the end of the line. Nevertheless, simply by taking stock of the actual circumstances and use of common sense, one can easily clear the confusion and rectify the problem before everyone gets killed.

As a mariner, I was trained to say, “Stand by two anchors!” instead of 'both' (port and starboard) anchors. This is because in the heat of the circumstance, the word 'both' can easily be misheard and be mistaken for the word 'port' anchor only, with possible dire consequences all around. Some years ago, two Boeing 747s crammed with passengers collided in thick fog in the Canary Islands due to miscommunication with airport traffic controllers. Many were killed. Nearer home, an American cargo plane crashed while approaching Subang airport about 20 years ago, I believe also due to the same mistake.

Which brings me to what I am trying to say. People misunderstand one another all the time. Produce a stick and someone will get hold of the wrong end of it. Produce a set of trees and someone will end up peeing and barking up the wrong one. And worse, if the spoken or written word is in an ancient language very few can completely grasp and understand and still do not quite comprehend.

Islamic history, especially, is full of conflicts due to various sanctimonious readings and interpretations of the Quran and hadiths. I am no expert, but I do firmly believe that as in the above examples, we have to always consider the circumstances and the prevailing situation in every case as it may be. Whenever in any doubt, I believe common sense should always prevail, lest we think that we are all going dancing instead of advancing ...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Impertinence of Youth

I remember piloting the Kota troopships, a couple of old Dutch built passenger ships* belonging to Singapore's Pacific International Lines (PIL) in and out of Port Klang harbour during the mid 70's. These ships, chartered by the Malaysian army to ferry troops to and from East Malaysia, were usually filled to the brim with whole battalions of soldiers. On one occasion, I recall telling off a very young private who was perched precariously on the ship-side guard rails that he may fall into the sea. Looking at me in the eye, his impudent reply** was most telling, "Tuan, I am not afraid of bullets, so whats a little water?".

Ah, the impertinence of youth. I suppose when you are young you think you are bulletproof and also waterproof. But as a marine pilot who at times were never in full control of difficult situations due to circumstances, I have always believed in Murphy's Law, i.e., if anything can go wrong, it will. An old German former submarine commander once told me that he had no place in his U-boat for any man who did not subscribe to this belief.

So whats with many of today's youngsters? The cocky arrogance, over confidence and unhealthy disregard for convention. They cannot be all doing drugs. Its easy enough to blame parents and parents will in turn conveniently put the blame on Dr Benjamin Spock. Here I believe a bit of love, some discipline and even religion can work wonders, so perhaps there is some hope yet.

Delusions of grandeur, or the mistaken impression that the sun actually shines from your backside, is also a very common malady these days amongst young and old alike. I remember reading in the Ship Captain's Medical Guide years ago that this is actually one of the symptoms of late stage syphilis! So to all those snot nosed kids (and their uppity parents) out there, go see a doctor. Or else get a life. Maybe its not too late.

* M.V. Kota Ratu and Kota Rajah.

** Of course I screamed bloody murder. I stopped engines and told his CO that the ship wasnt going anywhere unless every soldier (there were others) gets his sorry ass off the guard rails ...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Unkindest Cut

I was a 10 year old schoolboy on 31st August 1957 when I first heard the voice of our beloved first prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra on the radio, shouting "Merdeka!" several times with fist raised and echoed by thousands of jubilant citizens of the proud new nation at the Merdeka Stadium. The recording of his familiar voice has reverberated the airwaves on radio and TV for the past 49 years each time we celebrate the country's Independence Day.

Therefore it was with profound horror and disgust for me when I heard on the car radio the Tunku's familiar voice being replaced by the voice of a much younger persona, DPM Dato Najib Tun Razak during the run up to the Ijok by election recently. I believe Najib was only 4 years old when the country achieved independence and the joke is probably he is unaware of this rather juvenile attempt to distort history and fool the younger voters. Maybe it was just the work of some mindless ball carriers in RTM.

Now that the country is approaching its 50th year of merdeka, I am rather disturbed that lately there have been attempts by misguided youngsters to glorify the then DPM Tun Razak instead. If this is just to belittle or even negate the late Tunku's achievements then it is in very bad taste. Some of our younger leaders should realize that they are in their present exalted positions more because of their fathers' or even fathers-in law's names so they should perhaps cease and desist, for their shameful acts are indeed the unkindest cut of all.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Another Waypoint

I am 60 today but I dont quite feel 60. With the law of averages or whatever and God willing, I reckon I probably and hopefully will have a couple of more decades to go before I reach my final port of call. So while the PM and his new bride celebrated their wedding with a low-key dinner in Putrajaya last night, my family and I had our own quiet family affair at the Telawi Street Bistro in Bangsar. We dined on 'fusion' food: wild mushrooms, goat cheese, tapas, fresh halibut and sea bass with pasta and what have you. There was even a wickedly sinful 'volcano' birthday cake combo with stracciatella ice cream dripping with chocolate lava and the solitary lighted candle for this budding sexagenarian.

Nuraisyah and Dad at 60

We seamen have never been much for celebrating any occasion big or small, especially while at sea. I remember when my eldest boy Imran was born more than thirty years ago, I was away aboard an eastward bound vessel in heavy seas, weathering gale force winds off the Cape of Good Hope. The Suez Canal was still closed to shipping then. There was of course the usual congratulatory back slapping and the obligatory after-dinner cigars and port on the violently rolling and pitching ship. But after all that, it was back to the grind for everybody.

The occasion was after all, like today, just another waypoint in life's journey, and life, as they say, must go on.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

What's going on?

Have been a bit busy and there is no denying that a heck of a lot has been happening these past few days. First the Lina Joy's case, followed closely by the Altantuya's case, the Alleycats' Loga's passing and now Pak Lah's rumoured (so he said) wedding has finally come true. The whole country is in the news perhaps for the wrong reasons.

It has also struck me that I have not gone on a holiday for quite a long while. My umrah trip scheduled for this month has been postponed at the last minute to God knows when, so I am now making plans to go on a biznes cum R&R trip to the Philippines with some people for a few days at the end of the month. I need this break so lets hope there wont be any surprises there, either.

Friday, June 01, 2007

You Cannot Fight City Hall

I was rather amused with all the hoo-ha over the highly politicised Lina Joy's case and the very emotional Islam bashing that followed. The operative word here was that it was a majority decision by a panel of judges. The realpolitik is such that you dont need a double first from Oxford to figure out that even if the panel had consisted of only one Malay/Muslim judge out of three, the outcome may not have been very different indeed.

So like the Yanks would say, you just cannot fight City Hall.

But at this stage of my life, I am also no longer interested in issues big or small. An issue in this country can easily become a non issue after being swept under the carpet or everybody going into a permanent denial mode. Therefore it will remain a perennial problem which will resurface later and will not go away.

Lets not then miss the wood for the trees.

Anyhow, this particular issue was really getting a bit tiresome and out of hand, so like I tell everyone, dont give me issues and problems, give me solutions ...