All posts by Ben Morais

About Ben Morais

Benedict Morais was at the helm of the Malaysian office of the world’s largest and leading professional body of management accountants, CIMA for a decade as the Divisional Director, CIMA Malaysia Division from 1990 until 2000. After undertaking a regional role subsequent to this for a period of two years, he then was appointed Special Adviser to ACCA Malaysia and then ACCA Asean for six years. As a leader and mentor to many, across the various organisations he has worked in and partnered with, Benedict knows first-hand what it takes to manage and lead. Consequent to his rich teaching and educational background in the early years of his career, Benedict has always been involved in educating and training people in a number of disciplines. He has lectured, counselled and conducted programmes for corporations, colleges as well as non-profit organisations for the last thirty years. These programmes were focused on his core skills and experience and include business writing, effective public speaking, public relations, effective communications and management. He has conducted guest lectures at the Malaysian Institute of Management, the National Institute of Public Administration (INTAN) and the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (IDFR). Benedict was also one of three trainers who helped to prepare senior government officers to handle their PR and liaison duties during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. Benedict founded BMV Consultancy in 2006 to focus on providing consultancy and training services in the areas he is passionate about - business writing, effective public speaking, public relations, effective communications and management. He has run training programmes both in Malaysia and the South East Asia region for the likes of the Malaysian Institute of Management (MIM), the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA),the Sabah Foundation, Kreston International, Kiwanis International, CIMA UK and CIMA Australia, the Penang Indian Entrepreneurs (PIE), the Nurses Association of Malaysia as well as Hello Cambodia and the Cambodian Institute of Professional Development to name a few. Qualified as a college trained teacher from St Joseph’s Training College in Penang, Benedict also holds a CAM Diploma in Public Relations by the Communications, Advertising & Marketing (CAM) Education Foundation, London and a Certificate in Applied Research and Educational Development Project Planning from INNOTECH, Manila. A Past President of the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia, he was also appointed Adviser to the School of Mass Communications, ITM in 1985 and served in the same capacity to the School of Foundation Studies, University Utara Malaysia in 1989. Benedict was also appointed in 2003 Adjunct Faculty at the Faculty of Accountancy & Management, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) for two 3 year terms. He was previously a training manager with a multinational corporation, a registrar with a group of UK correspondence colleges and a research and evaluation officer with the Ministry of Education, Malaysia.

Troika of Exceptional Educators and Leaders

La Salle School Brickfields was blessed to have such personalities at the helm

Recently, there was a guest blog post by Denis Armstrong on my blog site that had a relatively simple heading: La Salle School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. It was an incredibly nostalgic, interesting and factual sharing of the early days of this school and of that particular era in the days when the country was known as Malaya.

Denis Armstrong also shared some wonderful photographs from that era. These included photos of some of the pioneer teachers at the school as well as some photos of the school when it was first built in the fifties. That this then nondescript, small school could rise above its grim situation and become a school to reckon with is now the stuff of legends.

However, no history of La Salle Brickfields can be complete without some mention being made of the incredible troika of educators and outstanding leaders.

Overwhelming Response to the Blog Post

This blog post had an overwhelming, positive response. To date over 2,711 individuals have read that particular blog post. It is a clear indication of the great interest that many old boys and even residents of Brickfields have on the subject matter.

However, no history of La Salle Brickfields can be complete without some mention being made of the incredible troika of educators and outstanding leaders. These individuals gave so much of themselves in leading La Salle School Brickfields to much success not just in academic matters but also in sports, games, athletics and extra-mural activities.

The Troika

The troika consisted of Rev. Bro. Gaston, headmaster of La Salle Primary School 1, S. Ratnasingam, headmaster of La Salle Primary School 2 and Albert Rozario who succeeded Rev Bro Gaston as headmaster of the school. All three leaders have since passed on but they have collectively left behind, to their credit, a great legacy.

Group photo of teachers from the three schools

Group photo of teachers from the three schools: La Salle Brickfields Primary School 1, La Salle Brickfields Primary School 2 and La Salle  Brickfields Secondary School ( 1976 )

There are two more individuals who also contributed significantly to La Salle School being a success story. They are Denis Armstrong, the extraordinarily talented athletics coach and strict disciplinarian who later became the supervisor of La Salle Secondary School. The next person is L A Fernandez, an able administrator and a confident as well as a humourous public speaker who later succeeded S Ratnasingam as headmaster of the school.

  1. Ratnasingam – A Charismatic Leader

In a troika, all the three individuals are supposed to be of equal status. However, in my opinion, S. Ratnasingam, who always chose to wear a bowtie, was the undisputed leader of the pack. Ratnasingam, a Normal Class trained teacher had the vision, the drive and the will to unite all three schools. In this effort, the troika succeeded brilliantly.

Mr & Mrs S Ratnasingam

Mr & Mrs S Ratnasingam

At that time and even now, it is quite common to see the headmasters of schools sharing the same premises being unnecessarily petty and small minded. Instead of pooling resources and being prudent, these small minded individuals insist on being difficult and are overly bureaucratic.

With the troika firmly in place there was unity in purpose and much was achieved at La Salle Brickfields during that golden era.

To his everlasting credit, Ratnasingam generously made time to undertake other civic and community-related responsibilities willingly. He was no mere pen pusher or a laid back, stodgy bureaucrat. He was mainly responsible for building a new 2 storey block for La Salle Brickfields. By his actions and his approach, he stood head and shoulders over the other headmasters of his time by being a leader who could inspire his team.

Ratnasingam also served a stint as Boy Scout Commissioner for Kuala Lumpur. In addition, he made time to serve as an adviser to the Juvenile Court in Kuala Lumpur for a number of years.

S Ratnasingam as Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur Scouts

S Ratnasingam as Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur Scouts

In retirement, Ratnasingam stayed true to his DNA! He continued to contribute his time and effort behind the scenes to the Kuala Lumpur Befrienders.

Albert Rozario – A Leader with a Human Touch

Like S Ratnasingam, Albert Rozario was also a Normal Class trained teacher. Later on, he attended and successfully completed a year-long course at the Specialist Teachers’ Training Institute (STTI) in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. He achieved a distinction grade in his field of specialisation i.e. Physical Education. Albert Rozario was also a good swimmer and a keen gymnast.

He had an affable personality and was pretty down to earth in his relationships with the teachers and admin staff. He also possessed a keen and sympathetic understanding of human nature and this was put to good use when he had to counsel a few individuals who had committed some malpractice.

Albert Rozario and Rev Bro Gaston

Albert Rozario and Rev Bro Gaston

Albert was also a talented administrator and a headmaster who readily supported his teachers’ efforts. He was also equally quick to recognise good performance. I can vouch for both – his strong support and due recognition during my 15 years of service at La Salle Brickfields.

Sometime in 1965, he successfully underwent a major operation, while at La Salle Brickfields, to remove an ailing kidney. He survived for more than 50 years with just one kidney.

Albert Rozario was married to a teacher, Mary who later became a headmistress at St Theresa’s Primary Convent, conveniently situated next door to La Salle Brickfields. They had eight children.

In view of his physical education qualifications and related abilities, he also served with considerable energy and enthusiasm for about three years as the Organiser for Physical Education at the Selangor Education Department.

One of his unique skills was his uncanny ability to get a teacher to undertake a difficult task. His approach was disarmingly unique: He would not summon you to meet him. Instead, he would casually accost you as you walked along the passageway to your class. As he reached you, he would put a friendly arm on your shoulder and then make the request – it was never an order or a directive. No one could ever turn down such a friendly approach!

Rev Bro Gaston – Good Rapid Writing Promoter

I remember meeting Rev Bro Gaston when I first reported for duty at La Salle Brickfields Secondary School in 1966. We exchanged pleasantries and indulged briefly in some small talk. However, over the years I, unfortunately, did not have much interaction with him.

Many old boys fondly remember this genial gentleman with a ready smile for introducing them to Good Rapid Writing – an activity forever associated with him.

Rev Bro Gaston was not very much involved in the day to day administration of the school, leaving that important task to his able senior assistant ( deputy headmaster ), Albert Rozario. But he was a familiar sight in his smart white robe along the corridors and classrooms of La Salle Brickfields – both the primary schools as well as the secondary school.

Many old boys fondly remember this genial gentleman with a ready smile for introducing them to Good Rapid Writing – an activity forever associated with him.

This was a mission of crucial importance to Rev Bro Gaston because he believed that good rapid writing was a much-needed skill that students needed to master.

He emphasised the formation of each alphabet in a smooth flowing movement. A former student and an education professional himself, Loh Kok Khuan described it as: speed, modernity and poetry in motion! Loh Kok Khuan also mentioned that some alphabets seemed to resemble rockets and racing cars and that those were the heady years when the US was aiming to land a man on the moon.

Rev Bro Gaston was the master trainer in this field and he went around the many classes teaching the skills with a passion that was contagious. To encourage and motivate the boys to take this training seriously, he organised competitions in good rapid writing from time to time.

The prize was a Parker pen – a quality pen in those days that many could not afford. Kok Khuan also revealed that a classmate who excelled in this good rapid writing and in the process won many Parker pens much to the chagrin of his fellow classmates is Chang Hoe Yoon. By some strange coincidence, Hoe Yoon subsequently qualified as an engineer and worked for a reputable regional airline.

Rev Bro Gaston was also responsible for promoting the Ukulele musical instrument.

He encouraged the boys to take up this small, four–stringed guitar-like musical instrument. For the record, the Ukulele was introduced from Portugal into the Hawaiian Islands in about 1879.

After his retirement, he returned to Canada. He was not in the best of health when S Ratnasingam decided to pay him a visit. He was overjoyed by this unexpected visit from an old colleague and dear friend and perked up considerably. Rev Bro Gaston even made a brief visit to Malaysia later.

La Salle Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur was indeed very fortunate to have had such visionary and caring leaders during those formative years before and after Malaya gained its independence. They may have moved on but the teachers and many old boys do have wonderful memories to treasure.

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Amazing Sikhs From Around the World

A Community that Punches above its Weight Class

Sikhs seem to possess an indomitable spirit and a desire to rise above their station in life. This is not just happening in India where most Sikhs live but throughout the world.

Members of the vibrant Sikh community in the United Kingdom, for instance, are taking their noble tradition of religious hospitality to one of the most inhospitable places on the planet.

This is a remarkable and edifying example of real caring, concern and sympathy for the downtrodden and it is manifested in this act of feeding the displaced individuals.

Just a mere five miles from the Syrian border, Sikh volunteers from Langar Aid are feeding about 14,000 refugees fleeing the civil war in that country. This is a remarkable and edifying example of real caring, concern and sympathy for the downtrodden and it is manifested in this act of feeding the displaced individuals.

Religious Hospitality at its Best

Langar Aid is an off-shoot of Khalsa Aid. Khalsa Aid is mainly funded by UK based Sikhs. Khalsa Aid was founded in 1999 in the UK.

In the not too recent past, Khalsa Aid, an international non-profit and relief organisation has also rendered much-needed assistance to displaced Kosovan refugees as well as provided earthquake relief in Turkey.

The answer lies, I believe, in the lofty Sikh principles of selfless service and universal love.

Selfless Service and Universal Love

Just what is it that motivates these Sikh volunteers from the UK to place themselves in harm’s way especially in a danger zone and render much-needed assistance to fellow human beings in distress?

The answer lies, I believe, in the lofty Sikh principles of selfless service and universal love. These are truly noble principles to live up to. It is relatively easy to talk or preach about selfless service and universal love but to actually live it in practice is altogether a different matter.

To carry out this humanitarian service, these committed volunteers have taken time out of work, education, family and other recreational pursuits to travel abroad and render assistance. These volunteers have truly demonstrated in a practical and inspiring way their utmost commitment to their religious principles.

Their selfless service, especially in such dangerous conditions, reminds me of that famous saying: ‘ Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for another ‘.

Golden Temple in Amritsar

The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India –  the holiest shrine for Sikhs throughout the world, provides another telling example of this selfless service and universal love.

How many know, for instance, that nearly 100,000 people are fed on an average day at the Golden Temple? This free meal is not limited to only Sikhs but extended to individuals of every faith, colour and ethnicity who visit the temple.

This simple but nutritious meal, let me reiterate, is free for all who visit, not just Sikhs. Think for a moment about the sheer logistics and costs involved. This goes on day after day. Of course, those entering must observe certain respectful traditions before entering the Golden Temple.

Back here in Malaysia, I have been informed that a number of Western tourists on a shoestring budget have heard about the warm hospitality at Sikh temples in Malaysia. They go with confidence to a Sikh temple for a meal and also occasionally to spend a night there. They have to, of course, adhere to an appropriate code of conduct whilst spending the night within the temple compound.

Four Sikh Cabinet Ministers in Canada

Recently in Canada, the prime minister of that country appointed four Canadian Sikhs as cabinet ministers. These appointments made world headlines because they are serious, high-level positions in the government of Canada. It is also a clear demonstration that this is Canada’s most diverse cabinet. Canada leads the world, I believe, in truly embracing diversity in full measure. There is no lip service or tokenism here.

Harjit Sajjan, a former senior police officer and a veteran of three military deployments to Afghanistan was appointed Defense Minister. This is a senior position in the cabinet. It is no window dressing. Amarjeet Sohi was appointed Infrastructure Minister, Navdeep Bains, a business school professor was appointed Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister and finally, a Sikh lady named Bardish Chaggar was named Small Business and Tourism Minister.

What some may not know is that there are an estimated 500, 000 Sikhs in Canada today. Sikhs first started moving to Canada more than 100 years ago. The appointment of not one but four ministers from this community is a clear sign that the Sikhs have integrated well into Canadian society.

By contrast, India has only two Sikh ministers. But then again, one must realise that Sikhs in India only constitute two percent of the population.

Sikhs in the Indian Army

Sikhs are by nature respectful, courageous, hardworking and enterprising. Does one realise that nowhere in the world can you find a Sikh beggar? This speaks volumes about the cohesion within the community.

There are no official statistics for the number of Sikhs in the Indian Army for obvious reasons. However, it is generally regarded to be in excess of twenty percent! There are also many senior Sikh officers from the ranks of colonel to general.

A Sikh, Manmohan Singh, a graduate from Oxford University has also served with distinction for a number of years as the prime minister of India.

Sikhs in Malaysia

The Sikhs constitute one of the many Indian groups in Malaysia. The biggest group of Indians in Malaysia come from the Tamil community. In the early days of Malaya, these Sikhs served in the Police force as well as in the Home Guard. The Home Guard was an earlier version of the Territorial Army.

The Sikhs were recruited to serve in these bodies because of their impressive size and build, towering figures and burly outlook, complete with moustache and beard that made them look fierce. However, they are also big, strong and friendly people if you take the trouble to get to know them. In the Army and Police force too, Sikhs have made great contributions.

Significant Contribution to the Professions

In the fifties and sixties, it was common to see a number of burly Sikh gentlemen serving as guards ( or jagas ) for banks and companies. These guards would sleep on charpoys beds in front of the buildings that they were protecting. The charpoy is basically four wooden legs supporting an open, rectangular structure that is filled with intricately woven network of ropes or chords.

Other economically and socially disadvantaged Sikhs took to goat herding or rearing cows for their milk. The Sikh would then peddle a bicycle with a milk tank on the back and sell the milk to a regular list of homes in the area. Some of these Sikhs also got into the informal but lucrative money lending business.

Lion of Jelutong

Through sheer dint of hard work, discipline and a desire to improve their lot, many of these families provided a disproportionately high number of well known medical doctors/specialists, engineers, lawyers, academics and other professionals.

Easily one of the more well known, highly regarded and respected Sikhs in Malaysia is the late Karpal Singh.  He was regarded as a brilliant and fearless criminal lawyer and many did seek out his services. He was also a committed Member of Parliament, a lawmaker of repute, and a righteous fighter for the underdog.

You can now probably understand why I stated that the Sikhs certainly do punch above their weight class and they do so with style and flair.

Red Rose of Petra Truly Rocks!

A Magnificent Jewel among Jordan’s Tourist Sites

I visited this amazing site during my two day trip to Amman, the capital of Jordan recently. It was a long, tedious four-hour drive from Amman in a not so comfortable tourist bus which had seen better days. But it was well worth the visit.

Petra city is the capital of the Nabataeans. The city was built more than two thousand years ago in the heart of the Shara Mountains! It thrived in the first centuries BC and AD and was a vital link of a major trading area connecting ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

It is no wonder that Petra has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as a result.

Trade then was mainly in frankincense, myrrh and spices. It was later annexed by the Roman Empire. Much of the city was destroyed in a major earthquake in 363 AD. It appears to have been largely deserted and abandoned partly because of a change in trade routes too.

Rediscovered by a Swiss Explorer

Thanks to the persistence, skill and cunning of a Swiss explorer named Johannes Burckhardt this wonderful place was rediscovered in 1812. Johannes dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city.

As a result of this rediscovery, Petra became increasingly known in the West as a fascinating city. It also began attracting visitors in large numbers.

Gains UNESCO World Heritage Site Status

It is no wonder that Petra has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as a result.Like the famous Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia and the equally famous Borobudur Temple Compound and Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the Red Rose of Petra is a most worthy recipient of this prestigious award.

No mere description, photographs or even a video recording of this site can do justice to the wonder and glory of the Red Rose of Petra. In Petra, you actually get to see and marvel at great natural, cultural, archaeological and geological features that truly merge in an awesome display of nature and human habitation at its best.

Why is it called the Red Rose?

It gets this name from the wonderful colour of the rock. I was informed that the many impressive sandstone mountains in that area contain iron and that also partly explains the colour.

Many of the city’s structures were carved from these impressive sandstone mountains. The same mountains also contained intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountainsides. The Nabataeans buried their nobility in these tombs.

Discovering Petra

After a four-hour journey, I finally arrived at the site. I saw a large, well-planned visitor centre with all the modern conveniences that are needed to make this walking tour a reality.

There are fast food outlets, restaurants, shops selling souvenirs, and more than adequate, clean toilet facilities. For those not so inclined to walking all the way through the various trails, they had the option of taking a horse ride ( part of the way only ) or a horse-drawn carriage all the way to the main attraction i.e. the Treasury.

Petra_TheTreasury
The Treasury

The Treasury, Petra’s most magnificent facade soars almost 40 metres high and is intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figures and more. The Treasury is crowned by a funerary urn, which according to local legend conceals a pharaoh’s treasure. No such treasure, however, was ever found.

Leisurely Walk Along the Trails

I was with a group of fifteen other Malaysian men and women and all of us chose to walk down the gently sloping trails to the Treasury. It was a cool afternoon when we began the 2 km walk and as we walked we were gently cooled and caressed by breezes that kept us comfortable.

We were advised by our experienced tour guide not to choose the horse-drawn carriage because it could turn out to be quite an uncomfortable and bumpy ride. Those with back problems especially had to be very careful.

Amazing Sights to Behold

The sights along the way were mesmerising, to say the least. The beauty, majesty and grandeur of those glorious sandstone mountains were a sight to behold. Over time, mother nature ( wind, rain, snow and earthquakes ) had taken turns to wear down portions of the rock.

In one particular place, as we passed, we could make out the side profile of a fish! As we passed that rock and turned back to look at it again, we could clearly make out an elephant with its trunk! At other areas, we could make out shepherds and even camels but nature had exacted its toll.

The Incredible Siq

Petra_TheSiq
The Siq

This is a narrow gorge that leads visitors into Petra. The Siq actually resulted from a natural splitting of the mountain. A triumphal arch once spanned the entrance to it.

Two water channels run along both rock sides. What an amazing piece of imagination to have constructed such a water conduit those many, many years ago. It also presents a dramatic entryway into Petra.

Good Workout and Great Time

The walk back was a lot different.

Most of it was pretty easy going except for the few hilly portions. I could feel the perspiration on the back of my neck. But all of us in our group, including a senior lady who had knee surgery on both knees and who had the use of a hiking stick to ease the walking process, made it back with relative ease.

A seasoned traveller in my group informed me later that evening that the apps on his smartphone showed that he had taken a total of 11660 steps in all. Not bad for a pleasant and enjoyable afternoon workout.

Some Other Relevant Matters

Part of the trail we took was paved with limestone slabs from the time of the Roman annexation. These were meant to enable the Romans to drive their horse-drawn carriages over them. Over time, these limestone slabs had turned quite smooth.

Petra_TheCollannadedStreet
The Collannaded Street

We also had to put up with the smell of fresh horse dung which was liberally excreted all along the way. But the good thing is that there were workers around at certain sections to sweep these droppings. So we had to be careful and watch where we put our foot all along the way.

The other matter that annoyed me was that the horse-drawn carriages were using the same trial as the walkers. There was no separate trail for us. From a safety angle, this was bad because the drivers of the carriages were all out for the dollars and so they drove the carriages at speed.

Sometimes, they rudely shouted out warnings for us to keep out of their way.  In such circumstances, accidents are just waiting to happen. I do hope the Jordanian tourism authorities will look into the matter and make it safe for the walkers.

Interesting Observations

Petra_BenJordanMorais
Ben Jordan Morais

Throughout our bus journey to Petra and also while cruising around in the city of Amman, I did not see a single motorbike. I checked with our guide Talal and he informed me that the government had some five years ago allowed for the importation of motorbikes but somehow it did not seem to have taken off.

There were no signs of the usual Honda, Yamaha or Suzuki small bikes nor of any big Harley Davidsons! Coming from S. E. Asia and especially in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, this was a pleasant surprise for me.

I would also like to commend the motorcar, bus and truck drivers of Jordan who seem to be very level-headed and responsible. Throughout the four hour journey to Petra and even in Amman itself, everyone seemed to drive in a responsible and careful manner.

There was absolutely no speeding on the highway and likewise, there was none of the recklessness you see on Malaysian roads and highways. I did not expect to witness such self-discipline by vehicle drivers in Jordan. But there were, however, some instances of double parking in the city.

Luxembourg Knows How to Value and Treat Teachers

Many other countries are great at paying lip service only

As we approach Teachers Day next month, I feel it is time we get real about teaching and teachers.

This is especially true in the Malaysian context. For far too long, teachers have had to cope with frequent changes in policies and approaches.

Many feel overburdened with a host of additional administrative duties that take up too much of their time.

Time to be spent in the classroom is oftentimes sacrificed because these teachers have to attend meetings and briefings conducted by school principals / senior assistants or education department personnel.

Teaching is a Noble Profession?

There is still that widely held perception by some that teaching is a noble profession.

But do these people, society in general and governments that regard teaching as a noble profession back up that perception by instituting clear policies and programmes that actually translate into that commitment? No, they do not.

Much too often this convenient saying is trotted out on Teachers’ Day in an insincere attempt to flatter the serving teachers. It is merely meant to create a ‘feel good’ atmosphere for the day. It is also an example of lip service of the worst kind.

If we continue to believe in teaching being a noble profession, then surely our policies and programmes to ensure this does happen, must ring true.

Best of Us Would be Teachers

Lee Iacocca, the famous former chairman and chief executive officer of Chrysler Corporation in the United States once remarked candidly:
“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less”.

He and Chrysler Corporation believed that education needs to attract and retain the best of us. But that won’t happen as long as teaching ranks near the bottom of all our professions in pay and prestige. Real, concrete efforts and solutions are needed to elevate the status of teachers.

If we continue to believe in teaching being a noble profession, then surely our policies and programmes to ensure this does happen, must ring true.

Great Countries for Teachers

Is there a country in this world where teachers are truly treated with respect, have high status and earn good salaries? Or is this just a pipe dream?

Yes, there is such a country. No, it is not Shangri La in some distant corner of the universe.

Luxembourg is a great country for teachers.

It is the second richest, land-locked country in the world. It is in Western Europe. With a population of almost 600,000 inhabitants, most of whom are typically tri-lingual, this Grand Duchy is also one of the safest countries in the world.

In terms of physical size, it is slightly smaller than Rhode Island in the US.

According to data released by OECD, the starting salary for a high school teacher in Luxembourg is US$ 79,000. The peak salary for a senior teacher is US$ 137,000.

Opinion polls in that country have shown that teaching is Finland’s most admired profession!

By stark comparison, the average American teacher makes US$ 44,000 and peaks at US$ 67,000.

Most Admired Profession

Another country that knows how to value and treat teachers well is Finland.

In Finland, high-quality teachers are the hallmark of Finland’s education system.

Opinion polls in that country have shown that teaching is Finland’s most admired profession!

Factors that Contribute to that High Reputation

Believe it or not – primary school teaching is the most sought-after career in Finland.

The attractiveness of teaching has much to do with four factors:
i. the rigorous selection process;
ii. the work itself;
iii. the working conditions; and
iv. simply, respect for teachers.

Teachers are required to hold a master’s degree.

Where Teachers are Well Paid

Here is a list of the ten countries where teachers enjoy the best salaries:

  • Luxembourg,
  • Switzerland,
  • Germany,
  • Korea,
  • United States,
  • Austria,
  • Netherlands,
  • Canada,
  • Ireland and
  • Japan.

Here’s wishing all teachers everywhere a truly Happy Teachers Day.

La Salle School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

A guest post is a piece of writing that is published on someone else’s website or blog. This post today is a guest post by Denis Armstrong, one of nine pioneer teachers of La Salle Brickfields when the school was established in 1954

Beginnings
I was present at the creation. No, not THAT big one but a more modest one: the creation of La Salle Brickfields (LSB), K.L.

I was born and grew up in the fifth house in the first block of houses in Rozario Street (“Hundred Quarters”), a stone’s throw from LSB. Directly in front of my house was the Vivekananda Ashram. To the left, about 50 metres away was the Gajjan Singh petrol station along then Brickfields Road. To the right at the end of Rozario Street and the beginning of then Temple Road was the Lutheran Church.

Adjoining the church was the Buddhist Temple and a bit further on the opposite side of the road was a rice mill just next to the iconic toddy shop. Continuing along Temple Road, and where now are Brickfields Primary School and the Methodist Primary Girls’ School, used to be the town dump site for waste and discarded material. As children growing up in Brickfields in the late forties, we used to scavenge the dump site for old bicycle and motorbike rims. We removed the spokes and ran around and raced each other with these “wheelies”, controlling them with a stick.

Other landmarks at that time which now no longer exist were the original YMCA building which was demolished to accommodate the petrol station; and the Lido Cinema Theatre, also once known as the Cathay Cinema and earlier still as the Princess Cinema. Just behind the Lido cinema was the Kishan Dial Secondary School, possibly the first private school in the country to prepare students for the Overseas Senior Cambridge School Certificate.

The Anthonian Book Store started as a tiny business selling religious items like Catholic bibles, prayer books, rosaries, crosses and medals. It occupied a half shop lot in the block of shops just next to the Holy Rosary Church. Other landmarks in the vicinity of Brickfields at that period were the Royal Selangor Museum on the site of the current National Museum and a public swimming pool at the spot now occupied by the Police Station along Travers Road. These two landmarks received direct hits during the Allied bombing of the railway marshalling yards in Brickfields and Sentul in 1945 towards the end of the Japanese occupation of Malaya.

Creation
In those days the future home of LSB was a low-lying expanse of swampland. As the land was a foot or so above the canal running alongside it, the land had to be raised before the school could be built. And the cheapest solution for the landfill was garbage and discarded material from the town. Hundreds of lorry loads of this waste were dumped on the future site for the school building.

Layers upon layers of rubbish were sandwiched between layers of sand until the required level was achieved. Bulldozers were used in the operations. Almost immediately after the landfill was accomplished in early 1953, the freshly-laid landfill was promptly dug up, the foundations laid and the erection of the school commenced. Everything was completed sometime towards the end of 1953.

I saw it all happen. I was in my final year in school (St. John’s Institution) preparing to sit for the Overseas Senior Cambridge School Certificate at the end of year 1953.

Growth
In January 1954 La Salle School, Brickfields, opened its doors to welcome its first intake of students who had been housed in St. John’s Primary School the previous two years while awaiting LSB to be built. Together with the new admissions for the year 1954, there were in total eight classes. There were nine teachers. I was one of those nine pioneers.

I joined LSB in January as a temporary teacher while awaiting my exam results. After receiving my exam results in May 1954, I was accepted as a trainee teacher and began my three-year Normal School* teacher training. Thus began my teaching career.

What were those times like when LSB first opened its doors in January 1954? It was a mere eight and a half years after the end of the Second World War.

LSB then had no field for its sports activities. The land in front of the school was still a swamp. Once again, sometime in 1957, the lorries rolled in with their loads of rubbish and the bulldozers set to work to convert the swamp into a playing field. The field was ready for use in 1958. Engineers from the government’s Survey Department measured the field and succeeded in fitting an eight-lane 400-metre running track on it, thus making LSB the only school in KL other than Victoria Institution to possess such a facility. Prior to LSB having its own field, all sports activities were conducted in nearby “Chan Ah Tong Stadium”, a small playground adjoining Chan Ah Tong Street and a Brickfields landmark.

Reminiscences
What were those times like when LSB first opened its doors in January 1954? It was a mere eight and a half years after the end of the Second World War. The country was still recovering from the turmoil, destruction and ravages of the Japanese occupation. Times were still hard.

The country was in the midst of a guerrilla war, the so-called emergency, with the Communist Party of Malaya (MCP). The British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney, had been assassinated by the MCP in 1951 while travelling in his car to his holiday retreat in Fraser’s Hill.

Life was simple. There were no computers or Internet, no TV or mobile phones – just fixed land phone lines and these were few and far between. There was radio but no FM, just AM broadcasts; and there was Rediffusion, a cable radio broadcast with continuous service from 6.00am to 12.00 midnight for a monthly fee of six Malayan dollars.

Fast food outlets were non-existent. The popular meeting places were the coffee shops where you could get a cup of tea or coffee with Milkmaid condensed milk (genuine milk!) for less than 20 cents. Ovaltine was then the popular health drink. Ice balls made from shaved ice, and ice cream potong were available to quench your thirst.

The most popular pastime was going to the cinema. There were cheap matinees and midnight shows in addition to the regular screenings. The first four or five front rows of the cinema hall, directly in front of the screen, were fondly referred to as “parliament seats” and tickets for these seats initially cost only 45 cents. Ticket inspectors with torchlights made spot checks to discourage “parliamentarians” from sneaking into the more expensive sections of the hall when the shows started and it was dark.

A vendor with a tray filled with tidbits and drinks and cigarettes (yes, cigarettes) made a couple of excursions along the aisles of the cinema hall during the show and you could buy things from him. The pickings “downstairs” were rather slim for the vendor. His main takings were from the patrons “upstairs” occupying the expensive balcony seats, the majority of whom were our colonial masters.

Another big attraction was the Bukit Bintang Amusement Park (BB Park) in the area now occupied by Sungei Wang Plaza. It was a brightly lit place with a carnival-like atmosphere. There was something for everyone. It had restaurants and a cinema hall (Rialto) which played second-run films. There were gaming stalls and shooting galleries where you could try your luck and win prizes. There was a cabaret and a joget stage with live music where you could dance with professional dancers for around 30 cents per dance.

Boxing and wrestling rings were erected to stage fights. Small halls offered various performances like Chinese opera and magic shows while those who fancied it could pop into Bali Hall and catch Rose Chan strutting her stuff. To keep the younger crowd and children happy there were Dodgem/Bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, a Carousel, a Roller Coaster and even a Ghost Train to scare the wits out of you.

On the roads, trishaws had replaced rickshaws. Few could afford cars; motorbikes and bicycles were predominant. Aircond was a rarity. Men carried handkerchiefs and wore sleeveless cotton singlets (Pagoda brand) under their shirts, presumably to absorb sweat. The first “skyscraper” was the Loke Yew building, all seven storeys of it, in downtown KL. “Hundred Quarters” and most houses still had the bucket sanitation system (gasp!!). These buckets, made of solid rubber, were emptied daily during the early hours of the morning by workers in their lorries (“honey wagons”).

Children still flew kites and played with marbles and spun tops and climbed trees and caught fighting spiders. An outing to Port Dickson was a treat. Visiting Singapore and shopping at Change Alley and the Arcade was a big deal. Anyone earning a so-called “four-figure-salary” was looked upon with awe.

There was hardly any pollution and the air was clean and the skies were clear. On a cloudless night you could look up and witness a sky strewn with literally hundreds of brilliant stars and you could even identify the various constellations. Today, count yourself lucky if you can spot a dozen stars.

There were fighting spiders, huge atlas moths, lots of different types of butterflies and dragonflies, bumble bees and even the occasional fireflies. The clearing of trees and greenery, all in the name of progress and development and plus all that fogging, took care of them.

Pupils and Parents
The pupils of LSB came mainly from Brickfields proper and the surrounding Bangsar and Old Klang Road areas.

Catholic families from the rubber estates and tin mines in Puchong who wanted their children to attend a Catholic school sent them to LSB. The Catholic families in newly developing PJ did likewise. Federal Highway had not been built and Old Klang Road was the only link to PJ. The land now occupied by La Salle PJ and Assunta Secondary School was then a rubber estate and tin was still being mined in Taman Jaya Lake and its surroundings (A&W Drive-In Restaurant and Amcorp) when I moved to live in PJ in 1956.

The parents were all for their children to do well in their studies so as to get decent jobs and escape the grim cycle of hardship and poverty. It was just a few years after the end of the Second World War and the Japanese surrender in1945.

The majority of the pupils’ families were from the low and lower income groups, many of them with household incomes less than 200 dollars a month. With their meagre incomes, they had to house, clothe, feed and educate their children.

In those days large families of five, six or more were the norm. At that time too, monthly school fees at the rate of two dollars and fifty cents were payable. This was a large financial expenditure, especially when multiplied by the number of school-going children in a family.

The parents were all for their children to do well in their studies so as to get decent jobs and escape the grim cycle of hardship and poverty. It was just a few years after the end of the Second World War and the Japanese surrender in1945. The dark memories and scars of the physical, mental and emotional trauma of the brutal Japanese occupation were still raw. And the parents brooked no nonsense from their children when it came to conduct and application to studies. They supported the efforts of the teachers one hundred percent.

On its part, the school did its best to assist needy pupils. Money was collected through various fundraising initiatives including cinema shows held on Saturdays. The money collected was used to clear unpaid school fees and to purchase textbooks and stationery for deserving students. Food, especially powdered milk, was obtained from charitable organisations and made into milk treats for the pupils.

Teachers
I have taught in only one school: LSB.

I witnessed the landfill on the future site of the school. I saw the school come up brick by brick in 1953. I started as a temporary teacher in January 1954. I was accepted as a trainee teacher in May 1954. I qualified as a trained teacher in 1957. I left LSB and the teaching profession in May 1974, twenty years to the very month when I began my teaching career.

I look back with fond memories of my two decades teaching in LSB. Out of humble beginnings during the final years of British colonial rule in Malaya, there rose a school second to none in its professionalism, dedication and focus on the holistic education of its students. Academic excellence is important but stellar academic results are no guarantee of success in life. Character, values, discipline and living skills are equally important in facing life’s challenges and “the arrows and slings of outrageous fortune”. In LSB there was zero tolerance for indiscipline, disrespect, vandalism, bullying, gangsterism and suchlike anti-social behaviour.

The school provided a wide range of extracurricular activities for the pupils’ participation. In addition to a robust sports and games programme, pupils were encouraged to join one of the uniformed groups such as the Boy Scouts and the Red Cross Society. The successful implementation of these initiatives would not have been possible without the fullest support and active participation of the teachers.

Fine buildings do not make a great school. It is the teachers and especially their leaders who make a school great.

All these extracurricular activities helped develop beyond-the-classroom skills: living skills which are almost impossible to impart with chalk and talk in a classroom setting. Participation in these practical activities instilled in the pupils the concepts and values of team building and co-operation, obligations and responsibilities, courage and true grit and a never-say-die mindset. This holistic approach to an all-round education was a hallmark of LSB.

Fine buildings do not make a great school. It is the teachers and especially their leaders who make a school great. LSB was very fortunate to have dedicated teachers and exceptional leaders. I was asked to highlight the contributions made by some of the teachers but I refrained except for the three stalwarts mentioned.

On my scorecard every teacher contributed, every teacher co-operated and everyone played his/her part, the only difference being that some contributions were highly visible while others ran below the radar. Therefore, to highlight one will be to highlight everyone.

For the record, every teacher was involved in at least one, if not two or more, of the following activities :
 Athletics, Football, Hockey, Rugby, Badminton, Table Tennis, Sepak Takraw. (Note: The scope of work involved all competitions viz. intramural, inter-La Salle; MSSS district, inter-district and finals).
 Boy Scouts, Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance, School concerts, Saturday cinema shows to raise funds for needy students.
 Women teachers who home-cooked delicious food for school functions.

Yes, loads of work, loads of contributions – lots of unsung heroes/heroines.

It was a privilege to be a part of this pool of dedicated professionals drawn from the various ethnic groups of our country. They viewed their pupils with 20/20 vision: each and every one was treated fairly with no bias towards race or colour or whatever. I was fortunate to share my journey with this band of professionals.

I learned so much from all my colleagues, particularly Brother Gaston, S. Ratnasingam and Albert Rozario. They were visionaries and led where others followed, and were largely responsible for the excellence, the unity and the unique esprit de corps that prevailed in LSB. All of them have passed away but their legacy still lives on.
Denis Armstrong
11th November 2017
Revised
4th April 2018

*Normal School
Educational institution to train teachers
A normal school was a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers by educating them in the norms of pedagogy and curriculum.

In 1685, St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, founded what is generally considered the first normal school, the Ecole Normale, in Reims, Champagne, France. The term “normal” herein refers to the goal of these institutions to instil and reinforce particular norms within pupils. Norms included historically specific behavioural norms of the time, as well as norms that reinforced targeted societal values, ideologies and dominant narratives in the form of curriculum. From this beginning in France, the concept of normal school teacher training spread all over the world.
(Source : Wikipedia – Normal School)

DA01

LSB in the mid-fifties. Note that the canal has no embankments. The embankments to contain the water were built later. If you look carefully, you will notice a signboard to the left as you cross the bridge to enter the school. The signboard reads “Catholic High School” (in English and Chinese), indicating the temporary occupation of some of the classrooms by CHS students prior to their school building in PJ being built.

The canal running alongside the school is actually a little stream (Sungei La Salle?!). If you follow it upstream, you will eventually arrive at its source: it starts as a spillover from then Lake Sydney in Lake Gardens. As a small boy growing up in Brickfields, I used to catch fish in the canal. The water was much cleaner then and there were many different types of fish : rainbow fish (guppies), striped tigerfish, arrowan, small prawns and plentiful mira meen.

DA02

LSB sports meet in the mid-fifties held in “Chan Ah Tong Stadium”. Our sports meets were held there before the present field was ready. The prize giving ceremonies for the sports events were conducted in the school hall after the end of the meet.

DA03

That’s me with my pioneer batch of Standard Two students. The class photo was taken in early December 1954. LSB started as a single session primary school. The secondary classes were introduced later.

Note the rather simple, plain “home clothes” worn by nearly everyone. No fancy haircuts (some even sporting “homecuts” done inhouse so as to save money), no neckties, no socks, no school badges and not a single fatty in the group, reflecting the economic realities of those years.

Fourth row :
Third student on my left is Jerry Koh Sek Lee. He now runs a successful private tuition centre (Jerry’s Tutorials) in PJ.
Sixth student in the same row (face partly hidden) is the late George Jansen, brother of Julian Jansen who is also an LSB old boy.
Front row kneeling :
Third from left, shielding his eyes from the sun, is insurance agent extraordinaire George Devan. (His memorable tagline: When you see me don’t think of insurance, but when you think of insurance see me).
All of them in this group should now be in their early seventies.

DA04

An informal group photo of the pioneer teachers taken in front of the school main entrance in 1954.

Standing left to right :
Vivian Sequerah, Francis Fernando, Denis Armstrong, S. Ratnasingam, Kok Yew Weng.
Front row left to right :
V. Thangarajah, Clifford Sequerah.
(Not in picture : Victor Santhanam (photographer) and M. Rokk)

Francis Fernando migrated to Australia. Victor Santhanam left teaching in 1955 and went to Singapore where he started VICSAN, a successful magazine distribution company.
All the pioneer teachers who taught in LSB in 1954 have passed away except for Vivian Sequerah and me.

DA05

Band of brothers…
Another informal group photo taken in front of the school in 1959

From left to right :
Noel Cheow, Victor Nesadurai, Albert Rozario, Mohd. Idris Basri, Denis Armstrong.
I am the last one standing. Sadly, all the others have passed on…

I am seen wearing my Ray-Ban sunglasses (genuine!). I was already a qualified teacher (qualified in 1957) so I could afford those Ray-Bans!
The monthly gross pay for a Normal Class trainee teacher was Malayan $175. Upon qualification, the gross salary was Malayan $375.

To put that salary in perspective, consider its purchasing power in those times :
 Cars (Morris Minor) – Around Malayan $5,000 (approximately 13 months salary)
 Houses (A single-storey bungalow, land area approximately 6,000 sq. ft. in Section 6, in newly developing Petaling Jaya) – Around Malayan $15,000 (approximately 40 months salary)

DA06

An ad in the Pan-Malayan Telecommunications Magazine “MERCURY”. Vol 2 No. 5 September 1955
FAIRWINDS HOTEL was a top class establishment famous for its Hainanese Western/Local cuisine. The building is now a private residence. It is just next to the Avillion Hotel. Food inclusive means Breakfast, Lunch (Tiffin!), Afternoon Tea and Dinner!
Yes, those were the days!

DA07

Another ad in MERCURY.
SI-RUSA INN was managed by Chelliah, an Indian Malayan and his Japanese wife. Japanese food was a rarity in those days.

DA08

An end of the year picnic at the Lake Gardens in 1959 for Std. 6A (Albert Rozario class teacher) and Std. 6B (Denis Armstrong class teacher).
Albert Rozario is in the front row, centre and I am on the left.
The boys were the pioneer batch of Std 1 pupils when LSB first opened its doors in January 1954. They would be 71-year-old senior citizens now.

 

DenisArmstrong170x200px

This is a guest post by Denis Armstrong, one of nine pioneer teachers of La Salle Brickfields when the school was established in 1954.

Discovering the Delights of Tanjong Jara in Dungun, Terengganu, Malaysia

Ensconced in Lush Greenery, Tranquil Surroundings and the Zen-like atmosphere of a Semi Rustic, Rural Landscape

Sometime last year, my wife Patricia purchased a 2 night 3-day promotional package from our friendly travel and tour agency, AF Travel. We had intended to go to the YTL luxury resort sometime in early November last year.

However the weather conditions then and the almost daily rains forced us to postpone the drive to Dungun. This state lies on the east coast of peninsula Malaysia and almost 95 percent of its inhabitants are Malays.

We decided to make the leisurely drive to Dungun a two-part journey. Part One was the drive to Kuantan, in Pahang state. Part Two was the drive to Dungun after we had a good night’s sleep at the Vistana Hotel in Kuantan.

Prior to this drive to Kuantan, I had driven to that city on a couple of occasions. It was always a tedious and tiring journey with many trucks and buses clogging the two-lane old highway. This, in turn, slowed traffic considerably as we had to contend with a number of winding trails and uphill climbs. One had to be alert at all times.

Super East Coast Highway

On this occasion, I was somewhat surprised to see a relatively brand new East Coast Highway all the way to Kuantan and even if we so wished to Dungun. We stuck to our plan and made the pleasant drive to Kuantan in my comfortable, sturdy, eighteen-year old, well maintained Toyota Camry. The drive took about three hours in all, including making two brief pit stops for comfort along the way.

The East Coast Highway seems well constructed and we also noticed that the rest stop areas were much better looking, clean and well maintained compared to the ones on the North-South Highway. The other noticeable fact was that there was much less traffic on the way to Dungun from Kuantan and also from Dungun to Karak.

From Kuantan to Dungun there were just a few cars and almost no trucks on the road. From Dungun to Karak too, there was exceptionally light traffic. In short, you could be forgiven for thinking, even if momentarily, that you were the ‘ king of the road ‘.

Kuantan was a Revelation

While in Kuantan, we decided to check out the town in order to get a feel for the place. Kudos to the town’s civic authorities because Kuantan seems a well-planned town, spaced out and it has some excellent directional signs all over the town. This made it easier for us to move around the town with confidence.

Some interesting observations from a city dweller: shops close around 6 pm and there seem to be ample parking spaces. What a surprise. How refreshingly convenient!

People are friendly, kind and helpful. Someone recommended we try a well known western restaurant called La Casa. We found the place easily but were disappointed that the place seemed deserted. This was on a Saturday evening! So much for it being a happening place.

Tanjong Jara Resort

This luxury resort started life as a Terengganu Development Corporation resort. Over time, it changed hands and is today one of the jewels in the YTL luxury collection of top resorts.

The resort is situated a short distance from the estuary of the lovely, clean, beautiful, free-flowing green Dungun River ( aka Sungai Dungun ). This is in stark contrast to that muddy, dirty Klang River in Kuala Lumpur.

Aga Khan Award Winner

The sprawling resort occupies a 17-hectare site of undulating semi-rustic landscape facing the South China Sea. I understand that the basic design motif of the building was replicated from the grand and beautiful 17th-century palaces ( istanas ). These were elegantly crafted wooden palaces of the Malay sultans.

For the courage, the determination and the foresight to discover, successfully adapt and develop an otherwise rapidly disappearing form of traditional architecture and craft, the Tanjong Jara Resort was deservingly recognised internationally and applauded by the jurors of the prestigious Aga Khan Award.

One of the Best Beaches in Malaysia

The resort is blessed with a truly wonderful beach with shimmering light brown sands glistening in the hot noonday sun. This scene was contrasted against a dazzling blue-green South China Sea.

I have only noticed such a truly lovely sight once outside my Accra Hotel room by the beach in Barbados.

The only difference with the famed beaches of Phuket and Bali is that while those beaches are lined for miles by deck chairs and people relaxing on them, this beach was practically deserted!

I guess the visitors were being cautious because swimming in those open waters may be too much of a risk. This is because weather, wind and water conditions can change rapidly.

Nice Mix of Trees and Shrubs

I believe that some serious thinking must have taken place to determine the type of trees and shrubs chosen for the resort. I liked the way the various trees and shrubs were planted all over the resort. It was as though an inspired artist had planned this in minute detail.

I was suitably impressed to see the following trees on the grounds: Angsana, Flame of the Forest, smaller varieties of coconut trees, red palms, royal palms and the majestic Ketapang tree.

Thrown in between all these trees were a variety of interesting shrubs including the mighty Mengkuang. There are also many Bougainvillea plants adding much colour and variety to the landscape. I detected examples of the colourful plant with flowers in pink, magenta, red, purple and orange.

Facilities at the Resort

  1. Restaurants

The place boasts three restaurants i.e. Di Atas ( for breakfast and dinner only ) and The Nelayan ( for lunch ). There is also another place which we decided to skip.

The dishes prepared here are basically Malay, mainly Terengganu cuisine. On arrival for breakfast, you can choose to sit anywhere unless a group has made a booking for its members. For dinner, you are given time to look at a food list – no, not menu but food list to look at the choices and then decide.

You are later approached by one of two resident, friendly and knowledgeable ladies. They are known as the Walking and Talking Chefs – one is called Chef Ann and the other is Chef Maz. Their job is to meet you, discover what catches your fancy in terms of food choices and then make recommendations on styles of Malay cooking.

We were lucky to get Chef Maz who is a genuine ambassador for the resort. Maz was friendly, patient and accommodating. We enjoyed the Malay cuisine especially their famous Nasi Dagang for breakfast.

  1. Mini Istana

The chalet – no, not chalet but mini istana  – that was allocated to us was an impressive structure. It has loads of solid wood on the outside as well as polished timber flooring and even our ceiling was surrounded by lovely wooden panels.

The front section of the mini istana contained twin beds ( very narrow ones ), two writing desks for him and her and even a day bed! The housekeeping staff did put on a mosquito coil each night just as a precaution.

The back section of the mini istana contained twin sinks and facing the sinks a decent sized gleaming bathtub. On both sides of the bathtub, in properly enclosed areas, are a toilet bowl and a shower cubicle. It was a truly majestic experience.

Range of Activities

For guests who need to engage in some activity, there is a range of activities to choose from. There is guided jungle trekking, two tennis courts, two swimming pools, a gym and a spa that focuses on traditional Malay massages.

For those into eco-adventures and day trips, these can be arranged. Diving and other water-related activities are also available. There is, after all, another fascinating world beneath the waves. There are opportunities for outdoor games like Top Spinning, Volleyball and Sepak Takraw.

There are also opportunities to accompany the chef for a visit to the wet market and also a chance to catch a cooking demonstration.  You cannot, however, partake in only one activity – you need to register for both as a package deal! And the cost: RM 270 per person and it is on if there are a minimum of two participants. My wife was only interested in the visit to the wet market. So she opted out of this activity.

She was not disappointed however because I quickly and gallantly volunteered to drive her to the market. We spent about half an hour there and ended up buying some lovely keropok lekor and salt fish. The wet market was a mere ten-minute drive over the scenic bridge that spans the Dungun River.

Quick Facts on Dungun

We also decided to have a quick look around the town. The town has a population of 156,000 inhabitants and there is extremely light traffic in town. It was easy to drive around.

Some parts of the old town near the jetty still retain the old shop houses featuring half brick and half wooden buildings.

And unlike many nut cases in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya who like to zoom around recklessly on their motorbikes, the residents here are more sensible.  Their motorbikes are used as a means of transport.

There are also opportunities to go bicycling around the place with a guide but there must be a minimum of two participants. And the cost is RM 55 per person. There are even trips organised to see elephants near Lake Kenyir which is a good two-hour drive away. The cost of most activities is unexpectedly quite high.

Ideal Resort for Targeted Travellers

We did not see the need to engage in any organised activity throughout our brief stay. Walking to and from the beach or a restaurant was activity which led to some effort. This activated the sweat glands in our bodies and soon we were drenched. The walks were long and on paved walkways which were not always flat and easy to walk on. One has to be alert and wear the right kind of shoes.

Moreover, I also understand that for more than a month before our arrival, the whole place had not received any rainfall – one of the effects of climate change. None of the restaurants had an air-conditioned section. Dining at the Nelayan Restaurant however was an enjoyable experience because of the constant cool breezes from the South China Sea. This is truly resort living at its best.

Even at Di Atas Restaurant, although we had ceiling fans, I had to request for a stand fan to cool me down. I also noticed a few others making such requests. One of the attractions ( or curses if you like ) of Di Atas Restaurant is that there are four resident peacocks presiding over the place. At odd times these proud birds make loud, irritating sounds which, after a while, can be quite unnerving.

Active and sports-minded Malaysians who do not mind the heat and humidity and others from cold climes will find this resort a unique and unforgettable experience. In addition, the employees at this resort do actually make a huge effort to please.

Social Ills Need To Be Tackled On A Community Based Approach

 With sensitivity, compassion and empathy

Regular reports and news items in the print media highlight a troubling range of social ills affecting our society.

These social ills seem to rise in frequency and are a disturbing, nationwide phenomenon that apparently keeps pace with rapid urban development taking place all over the country.

Baby dumping, promiscuity, extreme forms of violence against third parties i.e. wives, girlfriends and motorists, bullying / ragging in schools, colleges, universities and military establishments, as well as unbridled rage, uncouth, crude and aggressive language on social media, are just a few of the social ills bedevilling our nation.

In the case of the baby dumping phenomenon, for instance, it is very important to remember that the unfortunate young woman involved isn’t the only party to be blamed. Little attention, if any, has been focused on the man involved. This approach is patently unfair and unjust. If it wants this baby dumping problem to be reduced or solved, our society has to adjust its attitude to the reality.

Suspend Judgement in These Matters

For a start, I would like to appeal to all the parties concerned that can play a positive and helpful role, to first suspend judgement in these matters.

If the parties concerned would like to be effective and in turn be welcomed by the aggrieved individuals, they should get off their high horses and stop issuing silly, sanctimonious statements. It is no wonder therefore that these young women resort to this desperate measure.

In trying to resolve these issues plaguing our society, we should guard against our approaches taking on political or religious overtones!

Local politicians, village heads, school principals and religious leaders, for instance, should focus on playing a caring, positive and enabling role in these matters. They can do this by first being sensitive, kind, compassionate and sincere in their efforts. Deal with the issue in an even-handed manner. Do not focus on apportioning blame because it is much too late in the day for that.

Try A Community-Based Approach

To expect social workers, however professional they may be, to solve these problems in isolation is a stretch too far.  Neither is it possible for well-intentioned officials from residents’ associations, rukun tetangga ( community policing ) sectors or even community service clubs to solve these problems on their own.

As these are a community-related issue(s), these should, therefore, be addressed and resolved via a community-based approach. In trying to resolve these issues plaguing our society, we should guard against our approaches taking on political or religious overtones!  These would be, I dare say, counter-productive.

Diploma in Social Work

I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised and encouraged to recently learn that the Malaysian Association of Social Workers will be launching its 2nd intake for the Diploma in Social Work at a leading college in KL sometime soon.

This practice-based programme is meant for working adults who aspire to obtain entry into professional social work practice at diploma level. I understand that successful completion of this diploma can then lead on to a degree level qualification if the candidate so wishes.

However, being a bona fide professional social worker who takes pride in his/her work will appeal to those who care to make a huge difference to the community.

Young eager school leavers too can also sign up.  Malaysia, I understand, needs more professional social workers.

Essential Qualities of a Professional Social Work

Being a professional social worker, operating at best practice level, is a demanding career. It does not have the prestige, glamour or rewards of high paying and in-demand jobs.

However, being a bona fide professional social worker who takes pride in his/her work will appeal to those who care to make a huge difference to the community. The job calls for certain qualities i.e. intelligence, problem-solving abilities,  dual or triple language communication skills, patience, understanding, empathy and a real desire to contribute to society’s well being.

It is, therefore, in my opinion not just a job but a serious calling.

Let us, therefore, collectively, extend a community based helping hand to these unheralded, professional social workers as they grapple with the problems facing our nation.

We can do no less.