Taman Jaya Was Once a Lovely Lakeside Oasis

Now It Is In A Sorry State of Neglect

As many are aware, cities all over the world are slowly but surely becoming concrete jungles. There are just far too many houses, office buildings, roads, highways and other structures in our cities. It seems as though all the lofty principles of good town planning can be sacrificed for a price.

Disappearing Parks

At the same time, what little we have in terms of gardens and parks in the cities are wantonly and carelessly reduced at the altar of greed. Even established green lungs, in the form of a small park or a football field, in housing estates are sometimes taken over by those with vested interests to erect huge condominiums!

Those who bought the houses in these areas for precisely that reason have to suffer this unfortunate fate. In addition, the values of their houses have also fallen quite dramatically.

I have lived, initially in Section 5, and later in Section 6, Petaling Jaya for over fifty-six years. It was once a lovely liveable city with well-kept parks, neat rows of houses and ample parking within the city too. All that orderliness and space seems to have vanished with the never-ending need to fill every available space, nook and corner with buildings, especially condos.

Success Park Was a Haven

In the seventies, many families in Petaling Jaya, especially those living in neighbourhood sections in and around New Town PJ used to take their young children to the park for an evening outing. At that time, Taman Jaya ( Success Park ) was well maintained. The fun structures there for the children to play on were safe and well looked after.

Today, the neglect and indifference shown to Taman Jaya is ‘on show’  for all to see. For a city that likes to boast with all manner of slogans on billboards about how progressive it is, this is a crying shame. Surely, they have adequate manpower in the municipality, especially in the relevant department, to take care of this matter.

Missing in Action

Where are these workers and supervisors? Sitting in their air-conditioned offices, chatting away, instead of going down to the ground and doing their jobs!

I go to the park four times a week in the early mornings for my walks. I usually complete three full rounds in about 45 minutes.  I have noticed only one male worker, probably in his fifties, diligently going about his work, day after day. He cleans the place as best as he can, he trims the hedges from time to time and he carries out other mundane tasks.

Why do we have a park with a lovely lake in it if we are not going to keep it pristine, clean and a sight to behold and marvel? This is shameful neglect.

I have also noticed two women workers occasionally watering the plants.  I used to notice a male worker collecting garbage from the lake from time to time while sitting in a boat. Not anymore. There is so much garbage floating on the lake. This consists of plastic wrappers, tin cans, empty drink bottles, fronds and branches etc.

How can this be a pretty sight or even acceptable by any stretch of imagination for a city that thinks it is progressive and modern?

Why do we have a park with a lovely lake in it if we are not going to keep it pristine, clean and a sight to behold and marvel? This is shameful neglect. It is not the only instance.

Rubbish can be seen discarded all over the park. This is the fault of inconsiderate users who come to the park to chat with their friends and bring along packs of fast food and local favourites, like nasi lemak and fried noodles with them.

Concerned Citizens Spring into Action

After consuming the food, these individuals just discard the food packets, empty drink boxes and plastic wrappers wherever they please. There are, for the record, sufficient garbage bins placed all over the place and yet these individuals behave in such a crass, inconsiderate manner. They have no ounce of civic pride.

On the other hand, on two occasions I have noticed some public-spirited senior citizens, each with a stick in one hand and a plastic bag in the other hand, picking up the garbage and then depositing it in the garbage bins. It is not their job but I suppose they were just concerned citizens who could not stand the park being dirtied in this cavalier manner.

Line Dancers Go Through Their Routine

Despite the poor conditions in the park, a group of about twenty plus women line dancers in their thirties and forties can be seen gracefully going through their stylised motions every single day. They put on lively country and western music and go through their enjoyable routine with joy on their faces. A few brave men occasionally join them in this fun activity.

In yet another part of the park and facing the lake, a bigger group of men and women numbering about forty and dressed in black pants and white t-shirts practise Tai Chi with great seriousness on a daily basis.

As I walk around the park, I am usually overtaken by a series of men and women, some young and some quite senior. Some of them are jogging, a few are walking briskly and others like me are in their own zone and walking at a steady, leisurely pace.

Public Parks in London, Perth and Sydney

I make it a point to visit public parks when I am overseas. In London, when I used to visit that city almost on a yearly basis for my divisional director’s conferences for over eighteen years, I frequently made time to visit a park.

London has, to my knowledge, two maybe more, legendary parks i.e. Hyde Park and Regent’s Park. Both are huge, delightful, sprawling parks with many amenities for the people. The gardens are exceptionally well maintained and the various facilities for the public are top class. There is even a restaurant in one of the parks.

The park that I visited in Perth is on higher ground than the rest of the city. This affords visitors fantastic views of the city from different angles. This park’s unique feature is the regal Black Swans in the lake. This park too is well maintained and has proper facilities for visitors.

Likewise, Centennial Park in Sydney is just as charming and has a range of facilities for visitors and city dwellers. When my wife and I visited it on one of our past trips to the city, we opted to rent bicycles together with the necessary helmets and enjoyed cycling around the park for over 45 minutes. After the ride, we enjoyed some ice cream from the restaurant in the park.

Way Forward to Revitalise the Park

By sharp contrast, Taman Jaya is a very small park. And yet they cannot deliver an enjoyable experience for the visitors on an on-going basis. Not because they cannot do it but because of gross indifference.

The situation at Taman Jaya can be redressed if these officials at the Petaling Jaya Municipality get down to the park and observe, first hand, what is actually the current state of the park. Repair work on some of the walkways, trimming of the hedges and weeding vegetative growth that blocks the drain holes around the park are tasks that can be attended to immediately.

The lake needs to be cleaned on a regular, weekly basis. Rubbish needs to be collected on a daily basis. And if people cannot be civic minded as well as responsible and choose to deliberately litter the park with drink boxes, plastic wrappers, food packets etc. then we should seriously consider banning food and drinks in the park.

Wardens should be employed to enforce this ruling for the greater good of all. Alternatively, charge individuals a fee, say RM 10.00 ( refundable ) for bringing food and drinks into the park. They can collect the refund when they deposit the rubbish before the eyes of a warden into the garbage bins. This seems a drastic move but we need drastic measures for stubborn and inconsiderate individuals.

I look forward to the day when Taman Jaya once again lives up to its name.

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Gandhi’s Tryst with Destiny

and His Immense Contribution to Mankind

One hundred and forty-eight years ago, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 at Porbandar in the present day Indian state of Gujarat. Gandhi was often referred to and better known as Mahatma, meaning ‘ Great Soul ‘ in Sanskrit.

This term of endearment and high respect was first applied to him by that equally famous Nobel Prize winner and the first Asian to be awarded that prize in Literature, Rabindranath Tagore.

Gandhi was destined for success in the conventional sense.  But his tryst with destiny delivered a huge success of another kind. Gandhi is not only an iconic figure in India, he is also highly respected all over the world. His father was chief minister of Porbandar and other states in Western India. At age 19, Gandhi was sent to London to read law. He was subsequently called to the English Bar in June 1891 at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.

Sent To South Africa

He returned to India to set up a law practice in Bombay but met with little success. That led him to accept a position with an Indian firm that sent him to its office in South Africa. He was to stay in South Africa for nearly 20 years.

Gandhi used to dress well and carried out his work and struggles with dignity and decorum. He was, however, appalled by the discrimination he experienced as an Indian immigrant in South Africa. In one instance, although he had a valid ticket for a journey in a train in South Africa, he was rudely and unceremoniously thrown out of the train.

Unjust Measures and Policies

After witnessing racism, prejudice and injustice to Indians and other coloured people, Gandhi was determined to fight apartheid through passive resistance. When he returned to India, he was highly critical of the unjust measures and policies of the colonial authorities. His passive resistance involved non – violent protests, civil disobedience and symbolic acts to register the displeasure of Indians.

His bold and unusual actions against the British galvanised the Indian masses and he attained a revered status. He deliberately discarded his western attire i.e. suits and took to wearing khadi –homespun and home-woven cotton clothing all the time. The image of Gandhi clothed simply in a loincloth and plying a spinning wheel is all too familiar around the world. Even on a visit to London, that was his choice of clothing!

Churchill and Gandhi

Winston Churchill, a former British prime minister well known for his war-time role in marshalling the citizens against their enemies, however, did not like Gandhi and made that crystal clear.

This is one of his infamous quotes: ‘ It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple (he got that wrong) lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organising and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor’.

For Gandhi, simplicity was a way of life! Symbolism also mattered.

Passive Resistance and Civil Disobedience

Gandhi was involved in protesting Britain’s Salt Acts. Gandhi planned a new campaign that entailed a 240 mile march to the Arabian Sea where he could collect salt in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly. This march sparked similar protests and mass civil disobedience all over India. Over 60,000 Indians including Gandhi were jailed.

In 1942, Gandhi launched the ‘ Quit India ‘ movement that called for the immediate British withdrawal from the country. India gained its independence five years later in 1947.

Inspired Movements for Civil Rights and Freedom

Gandhi’s selfless actions and steadfastness in following through on the struggle was truly inspiring. In that manner, he was to inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

The great Nelson Mandela was a true admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. He was particularly impressed by Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha and non –violent civil disobedience. Satyagraha actually means ‘ insistence on truth ‘ or if you like ‘ loyalty to truth ‘ as part and parcel of his effective passive resistance movement.

As president of the newly emerging rainbow nation, Mandela chose to forgive the past misdeeds of the oppressors. Mandela also chose to actively seek reconciliation in moving forward as a united nation. Such was this iconic figure’s magnanimity!

Another notable figure from history who strictly adhered to Gandhi’s philosophy of non – violence is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1955, he began his struggle to persuade the US government to declare the policy of racial discrimination in the southern states unlawful. The racists responded with violence to the black people’s non-violent initiatives. The police in these states wielded batons ruthlessly and even used fierce dogs to frighten the protestors. Some in his group wanted to retaliate but Rev. Dr. King stood firm. The bus boycott, for instance, lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956 the Supreme Court of the United States declared, as unconstitutional, the laws requiring segregation on buses.

A third influential figure is Diasaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International.  Daisaku Ikeda is a peace builder, a Buddhist philosopher, educator, author and poet. He is the third president of Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organisation in Japan and founder of several institutions promoting peace, culture and education. He has dedicated himself to bolstering the foundations of a lasting culture of peace. He is a strong proponent of dialogue as the foundation of peace. A core focus of Ikeda’s peace activities has been the goal of nuclear disarmament.

Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Daisaku Ikeda are four men from different cultures and continents who have followed a common path. They chose the path of profound dedication and achievement in improving the lives of all people.

Some Profound Quotes

Here are some telling quotes that reveal the thinking and philosophy of these great men. Do take a moment to ponder and reflect on these quotes because they reveal the humanity that guided them even during a troubled and difficult period.

‘ In the moment of our trial and our triumph, let me declare my faith. I believe in loving my enemies ‘ – Mahatma Gandhi

‘ On the one hand I must attempt to change the soul of individuals so that societies may be changed. On the other, I must attempt to change the societies so that the individual soul will have a chance ‘ – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

‘ A great human revolution in just a single individual will help to achieve a change in the destiny of a society, and further, will enable a change in the destiny of humankind ‘ – Daisaku Ikeda

‘ When I walked out of prison, that was my mission – to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both ‘ – Nelson Mandela

Gandhi Identifies with Uncanny Accuracy 7 Deadly Social Sins

In concluding, let me share with you the great Mahatma’s uncanny ability to identify 7 deadly sins plaguing our societies today. These are worth pondering over and deserve deep reflection and then, action on our part.

The havoc and mayhem caused by these deadly sins are taking a heavy toll in countries all over the world. Let me be clear: not just in the developing countries but also in the developed countries.

Deadly Sins

Wealth without Work

Pleasure without Conscience

Knowledge without Character

Commerce without Morality

Science without Humanity

Worship without Sacrifice

and

Politics without Principle

 

I acknowledge with gratitude that some of this information was obtained from the souvenir programme provided by the Gandhi Memorial Trust Malaysia on 2 October, 2017 at the Royal Lake Club in Kuala Lumpur.

 

Choosing to Raise the Bar

Reflections on Continuous Self Development

On Sunday, 17 September 2017, the active La Salle Secondary School Brickfields ( Kuala Lumpur ) Alumni body hosted a dignified book launch at the Royal Lake Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The title of the book that was launched is ‘ Choosing to Raise the Bar – Reflections on Continuous Self Development.

Education Should be a Life-Long Process

The book is based on about 25 of my relevant blog postings that have appeared in https://benmorais.wordpress.com as well as in my LinkedIn Pulse. The blog postings touch on issues of personal development which I firmly believe should be a life-long process. After all, isn’t there a well known saying that goes like this: ‘From the womb to the tomb ‘ or if you prefer ‘From the cradle to the grave’?

About 80 individuals attended the lively event. Half of them were old boys of La Salle Brickfields Secondary School. Many of them were in their late fifties to mid-sixties but nevertheless, the fire, the joy and the thrill of being true blue La Sallians still burned strongly in these amazing men.

The others came from the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia (IPRM), Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur, CIMA, ACCA, Malaysian Association of Social Workers (MASW), Befrienders Kuala Lumpur, Project Management Institute (PMI) Malaysia Chapter etc.

Panel of Distinguished Speakers

The following individuals spoke briefly before the launch:

  • Mr JD Lovrenciear, executive director, Business Ethics Institute Malaysia and an accredited PR practitioner;
  • Mr Jeffrey Cheah, former chairman, Education & Training Committee, CIMA Malaysia and a chartered management accountant;
  • Mr Ngau Wing Fatt, president, Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur and a chartered certified accountant; and
  • Mr Jaya Sarathy, an eloquent and humourous retired senior manager from the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur. Mr Jaya Sarathy, an old boy also served as the emcee for the event.

The guest of honour is an academic and an old boy, Professor Dr Bernie Renaldo Wong, a chartered physicist from the University of Malaya.

Excerpts from the Foreword

The foreword was written by Mr Denis Armstrong, a former supervisor at La Salle Brickfields Secondary School and later, company quality manager, for the Ericsson group of companies in Malaysia. Mr Armstrong is best remembered by the many athletes he trained as a truly legendary and successful athletics coach. He has also earned an enviable reputation as a no-nonsense disciplinarian.

This is what Mr Denis Armstrong had to say in his foreword:

‘This compilation shines the spotlight on the subject of personal development and its various elements. The range of topics is comprehensive and impressive. This is not another collection of tiresome, gimmicky clichés and taglines written by some armchair consultant that we come across so often. Each theme in this compilation is anchored to first-hand observations and insights honed over more than three decades of experience in Ben’s many-faceted career’.

What Some Others Have To Say

Raymund Jagan: Here is an excerpt:

‘With the rise of technology-driven societies and relationships profoundly influenced by the compulsion to connect mindlessly rather than communicate meaningfully, there is a need to remind us of the rich values, skills and knowledge base of what makes us human. Benedict’s musings do just that – a reservoir of insights on ethical conduct, purposeful communication and living a value based life’.

Raymund is a seasoned counsellor, trainer and council member, Malaysian Association of Social Workers.

JD Lovrenciear had this to say: 

‘Having walked through life with him as my first master in public relations, my long years of association with Benedict assures me that this book is not only timely but indeed will be a blessing that readers can count on’.

JD, as he is popularly known, is an accredited PR practitioner and a prolific writer on a wide range of issues that matter. He is, currently, executive director of the Business Ethics Institute Malaysia.

Brenda Lee Tang (all the way from Trinidad and Tobago) had this to say :

‘I have been a colleague of Benedict Morais and can say with absolute certainty that he has been the perfect coach, friend, guide and mentor to many, including me. He has an extensive and enviable background as a high school teacher, lecturer and also as an educator. This background enables him to speak on a wide range of topics due to his professional competence and wide range of soft skills’.

Brenda is a chartered certified accountant and a former head of ACCA Caribbean.

Range of Topics

The range of topics is both wide and comprehensive. They are divided into five sections in the book:

  • Values, Beliefs, Ethics;
  • Communication;
  • Self Leadership;
  • Work and Life; and
  • A Lasting Legacy.

Some of the topics in the book (in no fixed order) are:

  • Practising Common Courtesies;
  • Repugnant Habit of Making Rude, Personal Remarks;
  • The Alluring Grace of Social Intelligence;
  • Implications of Devaluing Your Words;
  • Aggressive Language in Speech and Writing;
  • The Art of Engaging in Conversation;
  • Expressing Gratitude;
  • Too Lazy to Really Think;
  • Hold High the Torch of Responsibility;
  • Seamstress on A Laudable Mission;
  • The Many Joys of Serving in a Voluntary Capacity;
  • Importance of Striking the Right Work–Life Balance; and
  • Leave with Dignity and Decorum.

Quotes at the Start of Each Section

There are relevant quotes placed at the start of each section to prepare the readers for what lies ahead. For instance, at the start of the first section, the quote is: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

At the start of the second section, the quote is: “The art of communication is the language of leadership” – James Hughes.

For the third section, the quote is: “The lion who breaks the enemy’s ranks is a minor hero compared to the lion who overcomes himself” – Rumi.

In the fourth section, the quote is: “If I had to embrace a definition of success, it would be that success is making the best choices we can………….and accepting them” – Sheryl Sandberg.

And finally, in the last section, which gives us the inspiring stories of three remarkable men, the quote is: “Some people arrive and make such a beautiful impact on your life, you can barely remember what life was like without them” – Anna Taylor.

All these quotes are meant to make the readers think deeply before proceeding to read the articles in the section.

Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just Fade Away

There is a well known saying about old soldiers. I cannot remember who said it but the following quote is quite meaningful: ‘ Old Soldiers Never Die, They Just Fade Away ‘.

I recall the dashing actor, Gregory Peck, playing General Douglas MacArthur in a movie about the great general giving a farewell speech at his alma mater West Point, the famous US military academy. He used this saying in his closing remarks with telling effect.

Likewise, when I was asked by a guest at the book launch why I had decided to write and publish the book at this stage in my life, I calmly responded, in a measured manner, by saying: I would like to think that Old Teachers Never Die, They Just Re-invent Themselves!

 

 

 

Note: The book is available for sale at MYR$30 + shipping/handling.  For more info on this book (as well as the other books I’ve written) and for placing orders, please visit the Books page.

Penang at the Climate Crossroads

Blissfully Unconcerned or Just Plain Naïve?

My wife and I recently drove up to George Town, all the way from Petaling Jaya, to attend a forum titled, ‘Penang At The Climate Crossroads’. It was a timely, informative and interesting event co-hosted by Areca Books, a leading niche publisher in Malaysia and the Penang Institute.

The Penang Institute was founded in 1997 and it was initially known by another name. After a rebranding exercise, it is now known to key stakeholders and others as the Penang Institute. It has established itself as one of the country’s leading think tanks. It is funded by the Penang State Government.

Serving as an Intellectual Hub

Its principal aim is to secure Penang’s reputation as an intellectual hub. Another equally important aim is to serve as the cultural capital of Malaysia. As many are already aware, George Town’s attractive street food has already rocketed the city, state and country to worldwide fame and acclaim.

Relatively Indifferent to Global Warming

Incidents of climate change related disasters and issues connected with global warming have been reported with increasing frequency for a number of years. In addition, Malaysia is a signatory to the Paris Agreement.

But what in reality is happening here on the ground at the individual level, at the city level, at the state level and also nationwide?

According to a Merdeka Centre Survey carried out in December 2016, 81% of the respondents seemed unconcerned! Now that is something to be really concerned about.

Lip Service as Opposed to Real Action

Governments throughout the world are often seemingly ready to act on this matter on paper only, often give the right sort of speeches but are much too slow and tied to vested commercial interests to take immediate and concrete steps to address this worrying phenomenon.

Even one leading superpower, in a show of petulance and total disregard for the facts associated with climate change, recently opted out of the Paris Accord!

Are we too, here in Malaysia, going to fiddle around and act in a nonchalant manner while Rome burns? Failure to act sensibly and in a timely manner as well as with great resolve brings with it dire consequences for our children, grandchildren and mankind in general.

Asia and the World at Climate Crossroads

As Gurmit Singh, the author of ‘Memoirs of a Malaysian Eco-Activist‘ stated quite vehemently at the forum, it is not just Penang that is at the Climate Crossroads  – Malaysia, Asia and the world are also at the Climate Crossroads. Gurmit is a pioneering Malaysian environmentalist and human rights activist.

Gurmit founded two NGOs – EPSM and CETDEM – and represented Malaysia at various international environmental seminars, conferences and forums for many years. He was conferred the Langkawi Environmental Award in 1993.

Sombre Scenarios Presented

Another speaker at the forum, Dr Kam Suan Pheng, who holds a doctorate from Cornell University, has been an academic at Universiti Sains Malaysia as well as a scientist at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and the WorldFish Centre.

In her presentation, she outlined three sombre scenarios.  There is a general consensus that these are as follows: Virtually Certain to Happen; Very Likely to Happen; and Likely to Happen.

She touched in passing on diminishing snow, ice and permafrost. As far as Coastal and Ocean events are concerned, she mentioned the rise in sea levels; storms and tidal surges and ocean acidification.

Two Pathways Await Us

A third panellist, Clare Westwood, holds an MBA. Clare has extensive experience in the areas of food, agriculture, biosafety, food sovereignty and climate change resilience mainly through working with NGOs serving poor rural communities across Asia. She too shared her thoughts on this topic.

We could choose to adopt a Life and Hope approach and in that sensible spirit act with a greater sense of purpose and immediacy.

In her presentation, Clare gave actual examples of the feedback she received from these rural respondents all over Asia to this important matter. While they may not have had much schooling in life, they understand the grim realities of living through these regular climatic disasters.

Clare reminded the audience that there are actually two stark Future Pathways awaiting us. The world is in a climatic crisis and we had better believe it.

We could choose to adopt a Life and Hope approach and in that sensible spirit act with a greater sense of purpose and immediacy. Alternatively, we could choose to disregard the reality and the seriousness of the situation and act with the sense that there is only Death and Destruction that awaits us from our folly and foolishness.

Book Launch by Dato Dr. Anwar Fazal

Prior to the forum, the audience heard Dato Dr. Anwar Fazal introduce Gurmit Singh in glowing terms. He also lauded Gurmit’s vast contribution, as a concerned citizen, to the growing environmental awareness issues in Malaysia. The guest speaker also mentioned that for all his efforts Gurmit was often referred to as a ‘thorn in the flesh’ of the government.

Dato Dr. Anwar Fazal himself has been an outstanding consumer awareness advocate and he once headed the International Organisation of Consumer Unions ( IOCU ) which has its world headquarters in Penang. Dato Dr. Anwar is also the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award.

Dato Dr. Anwar then took the opportunity to launch Gurmit’s book, ‘Memoirs of a Malaysian Eco-Activist’ and remarked that he hoped many would buy and read the book. The book is published by Areca Books of Penang.

You Can Depend On The Brand

On a different note, I cannot end this sharing without giving my faithful steed a well- deserved plug. At the start of this article, I mentioned that we drove up to Penang and then back again to Petaling Jaya. This was a round trip that covered about 1000 km in all, including driving about town in both Ipoh and George Town.

I enjoyed the drive in my reliable, well built and sturdy 16-year old Toyota Camry 2.2. It is an exceptionally well-maintained vehicle that has attractive alloy wheels shod with low profile radial tyres. It gave us a wonderfully safe and comfortable drive. It is also the car we use for our out-station driving adventures from time to time. Only when you can depend on the brand, does one undertake these driving expeditions.

There are also three other options that we could have chosen. We could have made the journey to Penang by bus, by KTM’s Electric Train Service ( ETS) or by air.

We have heard many good reports about the ETS. The journey by bus, however, is fraught with danger because many of the drivers are sometimes not as professional as they should be. I have witnessed many bus drivers driving erratically and speeding recklessly. Since we did not have any time constraints, we chose to drive at a leisurely pace and made sure we stopped for comfort breaks along the way. We look forward to yet another driving adventure in the not too distant future.

Phuket Continues to Pulsate

excitement, entertainment and leisure activities

My wife and I recently returned after a refreshing four day break in good old Phuket, Thailand. This was, for the record, our seventh visit to that tropical isle. Why do we keep returning to this gem of an island?

The reasons are many and varied. For one, it is just over an hour’s flight time from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. If you book early, the air fares are very reasonable compared to flying to Kuching ( over two hours flying time ) or to Kota Kinabalu ( about three hours flying time).

There is a wide variety of hotel accommodation to cater for every budget in this island. There is an equally wide choice of food available throughout the island and that too at reasonable rates.

Types of Accommodation

These range from five-star hotel or luxury resorts to four-star, three-star, two-star hotels and even hostel accommodations. The hostel accommodations too, believe it or not, have their own category depending on your budget. So this is a big draw for the tourists, especially those on a shoe string budget.

Quite a number of the five-star luxury hotels and resorts are at well-known beaches like Patong, Kamala, Karon, Bang Tao, Khao Lak and Kata to name a few. These are truly lovely white sandy beaches that seem to stretch for miles on end.

The Thai front desk personnel at hotels are fully aware that they are often the first contact for most visitors. They together with a few other nationalities, mainly from the Philippines, do an amazing job and are good ambassadors for Thailand.

For the sake of variety on this trip to Phuket, we chose to spend two nights at a three and half star hotel (Holiday Inn Express) and then another two nights at a five-star hotel (Swissotel Resort). Both are located within the Patong Beach neighbourhood.

Restaurants and Bars on the Island

There is a wide range of good restaurants, bars and eateries on the island. The average ones are the restaurants near the popular tourist spots on the island. These are the ones catering mainly to tourists on a budget and they seem to have a member of staff whose sole job is to ‘ guide ‘ tourists to their restaurants.

These places are usually non-air conditioned and they rely on fans to cool the patrons. The menus at these places have coloured photographs on what is on offer, dishes wise. So there is no communication problem as such. The prices here are also quite reasonable.

A Range of Quality Restaurants

Then again, for those more discerning and who are prepared to pay a little more, there is a wide range of decent, up market restaurants. We discovered a few of these. One had a pretty misleading name – The Coffee Club with about four outlets all over Phuket.

This chain of restaurants was able to offer a combination of Thai as well as western dishes. The quality of the food, the presentation and the attention to service was pretty impressive. You could also get different types of coffee beverages here. We dined at three of these outlets during the four days on the island.

Another almost fine dining style of restaurant is Le Siam at the upmarket JungCeylon Shopping Centre within the Patong Beach neighbourhood. The food and dining experience at Le Siam was wonderful and we also enjoyed the attention to service.

For those seeking more exciting, lively, albeit noisy outlets, there is a Hooters place near the Swissotel Resort in Patong. Quite close by to this place and almost next door is Phuket’s own Hard Rock Café. Both these establishments seemed to enjoy brisk business whenever we passed by on our way to other places.

Microbrewery and Restaurant

The impressive JungCeylon Shopping Centre also boasts a microbrewery cum restaurant nearby as well as inviting open air café style pubs and a Japanese Sushi outlet, all close by. There is also a really good spa in the shopping centre with a range of massage options, facials, manicure and pedicure treatments.

The typical bar scene in Phuket is not my cup of tea, so to speak, and so I did not venture into any of these pubs. From the outside, they did not appeal to me. Some appeared a bit grubby. Some others were much too noisy and crowded. Others seemed to have bored, young girls in short skirts or tiny shorts and t shirts that promoted a brand of Thai beer, cajoling those walking past to come in for a drink.

What was noteworthy, however, was the attractive price of a cold beer (Singha or Chang) at 80 Bhat during Happy Hours! In a tourist type restaurant, the beer costs 130 Bhat!

Leisure Activities Galore

There are a whole range of leisure activities on offer if one is so inclined. These include the very popular elephant trekking, a visit to a crocodile farm, zip lining, water sports of all types, day long boat trips to nearby islands like Phi Phi and James Bond islands etc.

Do note, however, that recently a few of these activities have been on the receiving end of some valid criticism. For instance, there have been comments about the torture inflicted on elephants by their mahouts to carry out these daily activities.

In addition, for some of these sea-going activities, there are safety concerns. Many boat operators do not supply life jackets to the passengers! Activities like zip lining need to be properly and professionally managed for obvious reasons.

There have been casualties in the recent past. Tourists and travellers need to be fully aware of these risks.

Simon Cabaret Show 

This is an impressive and enjoyable one hour show put on in a typical Las Vegas style concert venue by the organisers. The venue is comfortable, modern and air conditioned and the parties concerned have gone to great lengths to ensure that the whole event is handled in a truly appropriate manner.

Whole families could be seen enjoying the spectacular show. Great credit is to be given to the attractive ‘ lady boys ‘ of Thailand for including aspects reflective of the region in their spellbinding show. The costumes too are really fabulous and the music was really lovely. This is one classy show suitable for all ages because it is performed with taste and style.

Other Interesting Aspects

In no fixed order, these are some interesting aspects that I noticed in Phuket during this visit.

  1. Alcoholic drinks are very reasonably priced in Phuket and in the rest of Thailand.
  2. There is, however, a very sensible ruling in place in Phuket. In an effort to curb rowdy, obnoxious, anti social behaviour and brawls, no establishment is allowed to serve alcoholic drinks before 11 am. The outlets observe this ruling.  I salute the Thai authorities on this wise move.
  3. All taxi fares within the Patong Beach region are at a fixed rate of 200 Bhat. This is regardless of whether you hail a regular taxi or a tuk tuk which also has a sign proclaiming it to be a taxi! Most of the taxi drivers observe this ruling but there are a few rascals around.
  4. One needs to use the seat belts in taxis or the individual concerned will be fined 1000 Bhat for the offence by the local traffic police. We were reminded about this by the taxi drivers on each occasion. Good move too.
  5. In the past Australians, Germans, Brits and Russians used to be the major visitors. On this visit, people from the PRC seem to be around in huge numbers. They are all over the island and you know of their presence when they begin to converse, often quite loudly!
  6. Motor cyclists here ride their bikes sensibly. They use the bikes as a means of affordable transport. They do not race around the streets of Patong recklessly endangering the lives and limbs of pedestrians.
  7. Phuket does not seem to have a ‘ snatch theft ‘ problem in the city. The traders and workers in this area are ever so mindful of the negative impact this will surely have on the tourist trade. So visitors, on the whole, do feel fairly safe while holidaying on the island.

Benign and Gracious Attitude of Thai Society

The Thais, as a society, are to be commended for exhibiting a benign, understanding and gracious attitude towards their fellow countrymen and women who are working in the hospitality, entertainment and tourism industries.

They do not adopt a sanctimonious, judgemental attitude towards those who are forced by circumstance and socio- economic difficulties to work in lowly, poor paying jobs.

These jobs include the following: doormen, cleaners, waiters, security guards, massage therapists, manicurists and even those in the oldest profession in the world. They treat these individuals with dignity, courtesy and kindness. How very refreshing to note.

 

Drive and Discover Kuala Kubu Bahru

An Idyllic and Picturesque Small Town in Malaysia 

There is on Malaysian TV a popular travel programme titled, Ride and Seek, featuring a young, slim, vivacious American female motorcyclist and her thrills, occasional spills and adventures in a few South East Asian countries. It is quite an interesting and fun programme, especially for armchair travellers.

I would like to think and actually suggest that one can have almost as much fun and excitement if one were to make the effort to take a leisurely drive and discover the many, sometimes quaint, small towns in Malaysia. My wife and I have been doing so on an almost monthly basis for over four years now. It has been real fun and often times an eye opener of sorts.

Others Control Your Free Time

After completing high school or college/university, an individual usually enters the job market. He joins a local company or a multinational in the private sector, enters government or quasi – government service or alternatively gets a job with an NGO.

In all these cases, the company or government in many respects, ‘controls‘ your available time. You have the usual nine to five job or so you think. This is because it is never nine to five these days! Terrible traffic jams getting to work and back home again is the new normal in big cities.

On top of that because of the mobile phone, impatient bosses are prone to call you at all hours of the day. This again is another new normal because you are on the company’s payroll and you are considered the company’s man. And finally, if you are lucky you get about a fortnight’s leave on an annual basis, plus the usual public holidays.

In Retirement, You Make Your Own Plans

In retirement, however, some individuals who do not seriously plan for that phase in their lives are left rudderless and lost! These individuals while away their time with too much TV watching or occasionally meeting old friends and colleagues at a coffee shop to chat and recall the past.

There seems to be a lack of clear purpose in their lives and they are still expecting others to plan for them. Dream on! They forget that their children have their own lives to lead, demanding jobs to deal with, families to bring up and all the other activities that go with that process.

Some get unnecessarily and unfairly tied down being guardians ( or some sort of maids ) for their grandchildren the whole day. This is a needless imposition when it should be time for them to be free to pursue their own interests because they have earned that right.

Drive and Discover Small Towns in Malaysia

Over the last four years or so, we have visited a number of small towns in peninsular Malaysia. From Banting, Morib and Kuala Selangor in Selangor to Gopeng, Lumut, Pangkor and Taiping in Perak to Alor Star and Kulim in Kedah and to Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam in Penang there is so much to see and discover. There are still so many towns to drive to, see, marvel and discover.

Kuala Kubu Bahru (KKB) is Most Interesting

Recently, we went on a day long driving expedition to KKB as the locals refer to their town. Where exactly is KKB? It is the town that you have to pass if you wish to go up to Fraser’s Hill. It is about an hour and half drive from Kuala Lumpur if you take the North South Expressway. You make the turn off after noticing the Tanjong Malim and KKB sign post on the expressway.

It was, I understand, the first properly designed town in Malaysia by an English town planner named Charles Read.

As you drive into KKB, you will marvel at the lush greenery on both sides of the federal road. The traffic is pretty light and soon you will enter the town of KKB. It was, I understand, the first properly designed town in Malaysia by an English town planner named Charles Read.

Gazetted a Garden City

In 1883, as a result of vast tin mining activities in the surrounding areas and coupled with a heavy downpour, the existing dam in the area burst and flooded the town. In the ensuing tragedy, 35 people died and over 1500 residents were affected.

The British rebuilt the town but this time around sited it on a hillock a few kilometres away. Charles Read, the government town planner was given the task to design a modern, liveable city.

Charles had the idea to turn this into a garden city and went about it with enthusiasm. Much later, there was justice when his dream was realised as the government in the 1980s formally gazetted KKB as a Garden City… the first of its kind in Malaysia.

Neat, Compact and Well Ordered Place

The town which is situated between two tributaries of the Selangor River gives the first-timer an impression of being neat, clean, compact and well ordered. The town appears well maintained with adequate parking lots ( no parking charges ), and well kept stately trees add a touch of class to this charming town.

On a clear day, we could see the lovely, surrounding mountain range from the town centre. We could see four hills in the background, each of a different blue/green hue silhouetted against the blue/grey sky. Sometimes, one needs to stop for a while and gaze at this phenomenon to appreciate nature’s unspoiled splendour.

Other Interesting Sights to Behold

1.Sun Sun Nam Cheong Eatery

Many of the shop houses in the town centre were built nearly 100 years ago. We entered a pretty famous shop house named Sun Sun Nam Cheong Eatery, ( quite a mouth full ) for a light lunch.  Before ordering our drinks and lunch, we looked over the place.

The shop house appeared to be well built, properly maintained and clean. It has a very high ceiling of solid timber beams and there is a fairly steep staircase at the back leading to the second floor. It is the living quarters for the family that runs that establishment.

The speciality here is Hailam noodles. The late accomplished, award winning writer and journalist, Rehman Rashid, who had retired to KKB for its peace and quiet and also to write, used to frequent this place for both his breakfast and lunch on a daily basis.

He also used to order scrambled eggs with butter and kaya toast together with Hainanese coffee. His regular lunch order without fail was for nasi goreng ( fried rice ). Rehman’s books are also on sale here. The owners’ have a fondness for the writer and remember him well. This place is in Jalan Mat Kilau.

2.Teng Wun Bakery & Confectionery

This place, also in the town centre, and a street in front of Sun Sun Cheong Nam is quite famous for its kaya puffs, butter cakes and cup cakes. On first impression, it seems quite cramped and cluttered.

But it does offer good value for its limited range of products and is well supported by the town’s inhabitants. This place is in Jalan Dato Muda Jaafar. The owners have been in business for close to forty years.

3.Sungai Selangor Dam

This dam is certainly worth a visit and if possible bring along a well-stocked picnic basket and some drinks. There are park benches nearby and a shaded rest area too.

The first impression on entering the area where the dam is sited is one of peace, serenity and tranquillity. It is quite a beautiful sight to take in. On looking closer, we noticed the huge dam which incidentally has a storage capacity of 235 million cubic metres.

It is situated a mere 6 km from KKB.

4.St Paul’s Catholic Church

There is also a small Catholic church here named St Paul’s Church. This church was consecrated by the late Archbishop Dominic Vendargon in the fifties. It is a thriving community with close knit parishioners. One of my old friends is the chairman of the Parish Council.

Some Other Activities in KKB

For those individuals keen on a round of golf, there is the Kuala Kubu Bahru Golf and Country Club nearby.

For those into extreme sports, KKB is the place to go for White Water Rafting. Please check out those companies that will be prepared to take you on these expeditions. One needs to be careful and go with an experienced guide/instructor.

Final thoughts

I can now better appreciate why some individuals and expats like to relocate to charming towns like KKB, Port Dickson and even Taiping when they retire. One needs to change gears, slow down and smell the roses occasionally. This is the ideal time to do all that.

I understand that a Canadian couple of Indian ethnic origin is building a retirement home in KKB. This place catering for vegetarians will be an ideal location for such a community of seniors.

No traffic jams, adequate parking in town, better weather ( cooler with so much greenery all over ) all make for ideal living conditions. Throw in better mannered, helpful, courteous and friendly residents and you will have your own shangri la  here in Malaysia. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Rose to the Living is Better Than…

need to make time for relatives, friends and colleagues

One of the saddest things that occurs when individuals grow old is the loneliness that engulfs them much of the time. This loneliness can be attributed, in part, to some or all of their children and grandchildren living overseas or in other cities far from home.

There is an 82-year-old widow living all alone in Petaling Jaya and her three adult children have chosen to live in the United Kingdom. She struggles with the chores and issues of daily living. For instance, she has to drive to the nearby market which is fairly congested on most days, twice a week, go up the steep ramp to park her car in a parking bay, and then walk down the steps to the wet market.

Challenge of Living Alone for Senior Individuals

What makes it all the more difficult for her is that once the marketing is over, she finds it difficult to get help to carry the goods up two flights of steps.  At one time, she was able to get a foreign worker ( a stall assistant ) to assist her. This is not always possible these days.

Are the adult children of this widow unaware of her predicament? This is not likely the case. They have grown up to be selfish and indifferent. Filial piety has been unceremoniously jettisoned.

Another cause of such loneliness is that relatives, former colleagues and friends do not seem to have time for these senior citizens. They are far too busy leading hectic lives and are often saddled with multiple responsibilities that drain their energy and focus.

Loneliness for Senior Citizens is a Huge Problem

One senior citizen, George now in his 87th year, confided to me recently that most of his good friends and former colleagues have passed on. He feels their absence profoundly. He is in relatively good health although he has some breathing difficulties from time to time because he used to be a heavy smoker for years.

He is also careful with his food intake because he suffers from some recurring problems with his digestive system. He was, however, pleased to inform me that he has enjoyed getting his regular pension payments for more years than he had actually served the government. Well, that is thanks in part to advances in modern medicine.

Financially Secure but Loneliness still Sucks

There are also some senior citizens who are deeply regretting the choices they made whilst they were young, healthy and in an exciting career pathway or business situation. They chose to focus far too much on their jobs or businesses to the extent that they had literally no time for the family. They were enjoying their career progression, their business successes and their golf outings far too much to bother about their family.

And as a result, the family grew apart from that individual. To his credit, James did support the family financially. He gave his wife, a golf widow, a generous monthly allowance and he paid for his children’s education up to university level. He also provided them with many creature comforts and holidays.

But he did not bother or care to cultivate their love and affection. The wife who was ignored and forgotten then developed her own circle of friends and took to gambling in a serious way.

Now the Family Have No Time for Him

Now in his mid-seventies, with few sincere friends and not in the best of health, he has tried belatedly to get close to his wife but has met with little success. He has also tried to reach out to his children, all grown up and successful. They have remained courteous and respectful but distant in terms of any emotional bonding.

In a not so strange twist of fate, they now do not seem to have time for him.

He has sadly confessed to some close friends how he wished he could turn the clock back and make amends.

Cultivating Friendships is a Two-Way Process

Some individuals who pretend to be friends with you easily forget that cultivating friendship is a two-way process. Both parties must want that friendship and both parties must be prepared to invest in that relationship for it to grow, prosper and bloom.

If only one party is making all the effort and the other is only reaping the benefits of that friendship, then that so called friendship will not last long.

I know of one so-called friend who consistently invites me to visit him at his home but never makes the effort to reciprocate. He always trots out the same, silly excuse for not visiting me………….he has no car!

This person is financially well off, assets and cash wise, and can easily afford a car but chooses to sponge on others for lifts and transport all the time. He pretends to be a pauper because he does not want to spend money on a bus, LRT or taxi. He is, however, prepared to burden someone else with the chore of providing him with a lift.

He only telephones me when he needs something done or to give me some news. I certainly do not consider him a friend but a mere acquaintance.

La Sallians Show the Way

Old boys of La Salle schools throughout Malaysia show the way in this regard. These venerable institutions like St Xavier’s in Penang, St Francis in Malacca, St Michael’s in Ipoh, St George’s in Taiping, St John’s in KL and St Paul’s in Seremban have very active old boys’ associations. Even smaller La Salle schools like La Salle Brickfields Secondary School in Kuala Lumpur, for instance, are no laggards in this matter.

Increasingly, these old boys make strenuous and regular efforts to stay in touch with their classmates and schoolmates. What is even more remarkable is that often they invite their former teachers to join in the dinner meetings and gatherings.

These old boys, now in their sixties and La Sallians to the core, cherish their carefree, school going days and the camaraderie that they used to enjoy in that halcyon period. What is the secret to this phenomenon?

It must surely be the unique ethos, traditions and culture of these La Sallian institutions. Many have ‘ graduated ‘ from being mere classmates and schoolmates to being firm friends by choice. These old boys meet at least three or four times each year to renew, sustain and nourish their friendship. That alone speaks volumes about what it means to be a true friend. Staying in regular touch is one sure way to show that you care.

A Rose to the Living is Better than……

I would like to share with you a nugget of distilled wisdom from Nixon Waterman. A senior citizen I know very well used to often mention this meaningful quote when she was talking about relatives and friends who have forgotten about visiting her.

She used to lament: What is the point of coming for my funeral or sending a beautiful wreath when I am gone?

Don’t they know that:

‘A Rose to the Living is more
than sumptuous wreaths to the dead
A Rose to the Living is more
if graciously given before
the hungry spirit is fled’

That brief quote says it all and that too quite poignantly.

Let us all, collectively and with determination, make an effort to invest in relationships, visit friends especially senior citizens and others living alone. Let us strive to bring comfort, joy and solace to these individuals who are going through a difficult journey.