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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.

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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.

Too Lazy to Really Think

Why Many Choose Instead to React 

I read somewhere recently that the true purpose of thinking is to understand our world as best as is possible. It is a fact that our minds have evolved over the centuries to think… if we care enough to exercise that important activity in earnest. When I say think, I mean really and seriously think about a matter or matters in a mature, careful, considerate and thoughtful manner.

Need To Engage in Thinking Seriously

Why is it necessary for us to indulge in the act of thinking seriously?

This is because we can then better understand and adapt to our environment. By indulging in the serious act of really thinking, rather than mindlessly reacting to issues, individuals or situations, we are better able to make smarter decisions.

In this manner, we are better able to ‘ survive ‘ and live regardless of whether this is a family situation, an office environment, a neighbourhood association or even in a social club setting.

Biased, Distorted and Uninformed

It is a fact that a lot of our so called low level, what I term as Division 3 thinking is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed and / or downright prejudiced. Just listen to the speeches or utterances of hate mongers throughout the world and you will understand what I am trying to convey.

They shamelessly and recklessly peddle their version of ‘ the truth ‘  badly disguised as information. In this manner, they appeal to those low-level Division 3 individuals who are much too lazy or indifferent to think and evaluate the speech or utterances for themselves.

Politicians Appeal to This Segment

In recent general elections held in Australia, a number of countries in Europe and the United States politicians from the far right and the extreme right were quick to seize the opportunities presented by a biased print and electronic media. Some of these media companies have impressive but hollow tag lines like: ‘The Most Trusted Source of News’.

Many news organisations have chosen to conveniently forget or ignore the basic tenets of professional journalism! A quick check to discover who are the owners of these news organisations will reveal why they have opted to adopt this biased  and unprofessional approach.

The fact that these organisations have to broadcast this tag line repeatedly is an indication that many do not trust these bodies to give clear, unbiased news to their viewers / readers. Many of the hate speeches and utterances were repeated with annoying frequency on television as a daily diet for Division 3 thinkers.

And it worked because these individuals voted en masse for such candidates and also on important issues in their respective countries. In addition, because these politicians understood the mentality and the poor thinking skills of Division 3 individuals, they were able to tailor their messages for such lazy thinkers.

Benefits of Critical Thinking

One must understand that the desire by an individual to engage in critical thinking has to be both self–guided and self-disciplined. The onus is thus on the individual to first carry out an honest audit of his current level of thinking skills.

When we engage in critical thinking, we are indulging in reflective and independent thinking. Mobs of lawless individuals running around causing havoc and mayhem are often under the influence of a puppet master.

None of these individuals is able to think for themselves and readily take their cue from the puppet master. When asked the reason why they participated in the protest or demonstration, they appear clueless and stunned.

These then are some of the benefits of critical thinking.

  1. it improves our ability to better understand logical connections between ideas;
  2. it assists us to carefully identify, propose and evaluate arguments;
  3. it assists us to detect inconsistencies in reasoning; and
  4. finally, it helps us to solve or overcome problems with a degree of confidence.

From my experience, it takes humility, patience, courage and maturity to develop the ability to think and that too, to think critically!

It is important to note that most problem-solving efforts will require one to engage in creative thinking as a natural consequence. The same is also the case for proper planning and decision making.

Some Excellent Examples of Lazy Thinkers

A Company Scenario
A manager walks into the office of his chief executive to discuss a relevant problem or issue. He proceeds to inform his boss of the problem and the resulting implications of not being able to overcome the problem. He then very conveniently passes the buck to his boss and requests him to deal with the matter.

What is wrong here? Has he correctly identified the problem? Has he thought through the problem or issue and has he come up with a proposal(s) to deal with it effectively? Is he now wishing to get his boss’s opinion on the best way forward? It is none of the above.

He is simply much too lazy to engage his brain in this manner. It does not seem to matter to him that he seems to be a manager in name only because he is clearly unable to manage. This is essentially because he is unwilling to think and to think seriously!

A Political Scenario
An individual proposes a line of action to deal with a pressing social issue. This is debated within the party and the issue is given a proper airing. After much discussion and debate, a way forward is proposed. This is then announced to the print and electronic media by way of a press conference.

In an immediate reaction, an individual from another party, who does not agree to this proposal, threatens the other party. He also issues veiled warnings, indulges in intimidation and for good measure delivers a personal insult to the other leader. What is wrong here?

Has the individual concerned sought clarification from the other party? Has the individual proposed to have a meeting or discussion with the other party to get more information, in a civil and decent manner? Has he proposed any counter measures? It is none of the above.

Once again, rather than exercise his brain, this so-called leader chooses to react emotionally instead of thinking rationally. This modus operandi is then followed by other rabble rousers who delight in showing the community and the nation, the might of their puny brains! They are like drug addicts, always with an unquenchable craving for publicity, the more the better and it does not matter that this is often mere cheap publicity.

A Nugget of Wisdom
More than thirty-four years ago, I was chosen to attend a six-month course in Applied Research and Educational Developmental Planning at Innotech in Manila, Philippines. Innotech is one of the South East Asian Ministers of Education Organisation ( SEAMEO ) training facility. There are such training facilities in all ASEAN countries. Malaysia has one for Science and Mathematics ( RECSAM ) in Penang and Singapore has one for English Language ( RELC ).

One day, I went in to see the director of Innotech on a matter of some concern. While waiting for her to look up, I noticed a prominent sign behind her chair and on the wall. It read: Are You Here with the Solution to the Problem or Are You Part of the Problem? It was certainly food for thought.

Many years later when I was heading a professional body in Malaysia, I thought it would be good to have that sign on the wall behind my desk. And whenever someone chose not to think about an issue properly, I was sure to ask him or her to read that sign. It had a sobering effect on the reader and he or she often left my office sheepishly.

So are we all ready to be self-guided and self-disciplined? This is because that is precisely what is called for if we are to seriously and deliberately engage in the art of thinking in earnest. It will also liberate us from the shackles of being manipulated by sinister forces. Finally, being able to really think and see issues in their true light will be an eye opening and mind liberating exercise for many of us.

 

What do you think? If you like what you’ve been reading, I hope you will consider following me on either Facebook or LinkedIn

Vilnius, Lithuania reveals her many charms

Civic Pride and Cleanliness Reign

 

Recently my wife and I had another incredible opportunity to spend 12 nights in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. This came about because we had received an invitation from a close relative to come and discover the city. This relative has a smart, up-market two room furnished apartment right in the heart of the city and alongside the main road i.e. Gedimino Avenue.

We accepted the invitation and soon discovered many interesting and unusual facts about the city.

Where is Vilnius, Lithuania?

But first, where exactly is this country called Lithuania? It is a small country in Europe with a population of some three million people. The capital, Vilnius, has a population of 250,000 inhabitants, eighty per cent of whom are ethnic Lithuanians, eight per cent are Russian and another seven percent are Polish.

Lithuania is bordered by the Baltic Sea, another small country called Latvia and also Poland. It also has the unusual Russian enclave of Kaliningrad! It is one of the safest countries to visit in the whole of Europe. We can attest to that because we felt very safe and secure throughout our stay in Vilnius.

Early History and Growth of Vilnius

Vilnius is amazingly attractive and alluring with its labyrinthine Old Town cobblestone lanes and courtyards. It has its very own distinctive ambiance that is both charming as well as endearing. With proper shoes, walking on the well laid cobblestones can be quite a lot of fun.

Its first period of growth took place south of Cathedral Square right in the heart of Old Town. Standing majestically here is the imposing Cathedral – Basilica of St Stanislaus and St. Ladislaus. It remains to this day, the most important Catholic building in Lithuania. It was first built way back in 1251! It was partly destroyed and rebuilt a number of times.

Many people, I believe, visit the city of Vilnius to marvel at the interesting and unusual mix of Baroque, Gothic, Neoclassical and Renaissance architectural styles.

Next to it is Vilnius Cathedral Belfry… and it became a belfry only in the 16th century. Seeing it first hand, I was astounded to learn that the belfry is 57 metres high and quite wide at the bottom. No mere description can do justice to this building.

Dazzling Architectural Styles

Old Town in Vilnius achieved UNESCO world heritage status sometime in the early nineties. After walking through the Old Town on many occasions during my brief stay in the city, I can well understand why it earned this highly coveted status.  Many people, I believe, visit the city of Vilnius to marvel at the interesting and unusual mix of Baroque, Gothic, Neoclassical and Renaissance architectural styles.

It was such a pleasure to walk leisurely to Old Town and to take in the sights, sounds and feel of this wonderful, well preserved place. To me and my wife the whole city is clean but I later revised my opinion when I had a chance conversation with a senior gentleman from the Netherlands. To him, and I must stress here that this was his 5th visit to the city, he said that the city was not just clean but very clean!

Civic Pride and Cleanliness

He remarked that compared to the streets of Amsterdam which he said were quite dirty, Vilnius was exceptional. I had to agree with him because I have been to some major European cities and generally the streets are quite dirty because, in part, many of these cities have very many tourists on a regular basis. This was not the case with Vilnius. It has, I believe, yet to be discovered by hordes of tourists.

My wife and I did a lot of walking around to get a real feel for the city. We walked all over New Town as well as Old Town. We however liked Old Town better because of its unique charms and buildings.

No Cigarettes Butts on the Streets!

Walking was made that much easier because the pavements for pedestrians are wide enough and not crowded like most busy European capitals. There were thrash bins placed at strategic intervals and people actually used them. And nobody threw cigarette butts on the streets! Amazing self control or is this just a matter of civic pride?

It was also pleasant weather for the most part and the people of Vilnius did stop and help us out when we asked for directions……………….each and every time. Best of all, the people of Vilnius, not just the university students but also the middle aged and the not so young individuals all spoke and understood English. Let me add though that outside the capital of Vilnius, English is neither widely spoken nor understood.

Vilnius City Fiesta

It was just our good fortune that the day after we arrived in Vilnius, the city began three days of celebration. Titled Vilnius City Fiesta – 2 to 4 September, it was held on the avenue for about a mile just below my relative’s apartment building. How convenient for us!

There were properly erected, sturdy stalls set up the day before the event on Gedimino Avenue.  There were stalls selling cooked food – Lithuanian food is mainly hardy fare of meat and potatoes. Nothing was too exciting but solid stuff for the masses. There were also stalls selling grilled sausages of all types, cheese, biscuits, cookies etc. There were also stalls selling jewelleries, furniture, art works and paintings. Some stalls sold clothes, hats, caps etc.

For me, the best part of the City Fiesta was the  element of music …there was enough variety for all ages and groups. Two huge stages were set up at both ends of the avenue. From these stages, rock groups belted out popular numbers and I could see people moving and occasionally dancing to the beat. Families with young children were all over the fiesta grounds having a really good time.

People in Vilnius are more than willing to provide help and assistance when asked. In other major cities, they do not have the time for you. They are not prepared to stop and assist.

It was all good, heady stuff and I enjoyed the shows. Further down the avenue, we heard a jazz quintet playing beautiful music. As we walked along the avenue, we also heard buskers belting out numbers to a vey appreciate crowd. It was simply good clean fun…there was no rowdiness, fights or drunken displays by anyone in the crowd.

On day 4 when we came down from our apartment, we noticed that all the stalls had been dismantled and removed and the place cleaned up and restored to the way it was before the event. Such discipline is to be admired.

Other Strange Facts and Information 

  1. In addition to the city being very clean, I also noticed very little graffiti in the city. Most major cities of the world have the scourge of graffiti plastered all over the city. Vilnius is spared this scourge to some decent degree. Once again, I think it is civic pride that is so ingrained in the people.
  2. People in Vilnius are more than willing to provide help and assistance when asked. In other major cities, they do not have the time for you. They are not prepared to stop and assist.
  3. English is widely spoken and understood. Where this is not the case in a restaurant or department store, they will immediately summon someone who can assist us.
  4. There are no cigarette butts, cigarette packets or plastic wrappers carelessly thrown away and littering the streets!
  5. The country has a very small population of Sunni Muslims, about 7000 who, I have been informed, have integrated well with the rest of the population. These Muslims are very supportive of the government.
  6. Believe it or not. …………the first Lithuanians came to the country thousands of years ago from India!
  7. This information was conveyed to me by our guide who said he is also an amateur historian, during our brief visit to the resort town of Trakai. He said the Lithuanian language and Sanskrit are very similar. In addition, I would like to add that Sanskrit has been very important in the origin and development of comparative Indo-European linguistics.
  8. Cost of living in Vilnius is really low. Three racks of meat on the bone cost 3 Euro. A can of beer ( larger than normal ) 42 cents and I purchased a bottle of fairly good wine ( Merlot ) for about 3 Euro.
  9. There is a wide variety of good restaurants including those that cater for the Asian palate i.e. Thai, Chinese, Indian and Japanese.
  10. All statues of prominent Russian personalities and heroes i.e. Stalin, Lenin etc have been removed from the capital and relocated to a small town 120 kilometres away.
  11. Unfortunately, Vilnius too has its share of rogue taxi drivers. The taxi ride from the airport to our apartment was a whopping 15 Euro by a truly dishonest young taxi driver. However, our trip to the airport for the return journey home by a middle aged taxi driver cost us only 5 Euro. Even the tourist brochures warn us to be careful about this matter.

Trakai: Picture Postcard Perfect

Towards the end of our stay in Vilnius we decided to visit the resort town of Trakai. It is just a 45 minute drive to the town in a comfortable, medium sized Mercedes Benz bus. Trakai only has a population of about 7,500 residents. It has all the other facilities of a modern town, complete with hotels, restaurants, post offices, hospitals, pharmacies etc. However, the one drawback is the lack of sufficient and decent toilet facilities for the crowds of tourists.

My first impression of Trakai is of a picture perfect postcard setting. I marvelled at how tranquil the place seemed. Trakai boasts thirteen beautiful and charming lakes within and around the town! We stopped at the regular rest area which happened to be directly opposite the only remaining castle. Even this castle was only partly ancient, the bottom part and partly modern….which made it look rather incongruous!

There were two other castles there in the past but these were destroyed during the occupation.

The rest area was dotted with a succession of souvenir shops, bars and restaurants and we stopped at a restaurant for a local meal. We had a local version of curry puff but there was no curry in it…… it was just meat, potatoes and cheese. It was more like a pasty… a convenience food. A pasty is actually a baked pastry.

I noticed many sturdy wooden houses here. Some seemed old and weather beaten while others looked fairly new and impressive. It gave the town a different feel and seemed to fit in well with the town’s image as a tourist draw.

Go For the Path Less Travelled

If you are tired of the packaged tours and the usual countries to visit in Europe, then do give a thought to visiting Vilnius. It has much to offer and you do not need to book any tours or need a guide. Cost wise, it can be a dream vacation and from a safety angle, it is a place that is relatively free of crime. Here you can choose to be a real traveller rather than a tourist.

Some of my friends just came back from a holiday to Italy and another to France. Both said these countries had very interesting sights to see and marvel at. However, they felt unsafe, especially from pickpockets in some places. One friend also grumbled about racist shopkeepers, the huge crowd of tourists and unfriendly sections of the population. This is the price one has to pay to visit the popular countries. In that sense, Vilnius will be a complete change and it will also be easier on the pocket.

Connecting the Lights

Facts, Mysteries and Eurasians

Two weeks ago, I received an email notification of a very interesting and fascinating Sunday afternoon programme at a leading hotel in Penang. After carefully perusing the attached flyer, I decided to make a trip up north and to attend the programme which incidentally featured a distinguished panel of speakers.

What does the average Malaysian know about Francis Light and Colonel William Light?

Now what was this programme, ‘ Connecting The Lights “ all about? It was about Sir Captain Francis Light, the founder of Penang, his son Colonel William Light and his wife and William’s mother, Lady Martina Rozzels.

What does the average Malaysian know about Francis Light and Colonel William Light? Who was that elusive and highly attractive Eurasian Lady, Martina Rozzels? So little is written or captured about her in the various historical documents.

Penang Continues to Fascinate

I must confess that I have always been fascinated with the island. Part of the reason could be that I spent a good two years on that island during my younger days at the small teacher training college, St Joseph’s Training College, meant to prepare La Salle Brothers to be teachers.

The La Salle Brothers also took in a few lay students, like me, who after training taught alongside the La Salle Brothers in the many mission schools throughout Malaysia. My college hostel was in Burmah Road and right in the heart of Pulau Tikus and next to the Eurasian Village ( Kampong Serani ).

Cultural Melting Pot

In addition, the whole island was and still is a cultural melting pot. I could see on a daily basis a procession of young Thai girls, dressed stylishly in jeans of all hues walking past our hostel. They were on their way to the local commercial institute in the area to be trained in typewriting, shorthand and secretarial skills.

In addition, when we attended local parties on some weekends, there was always a good mix of guests: Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians and even Australians. The Royal Australian Air Force had a base in Penang and its personnel mixed very well with the locals.

Even then, Penang was an established culinary paradise. It had such an array of local dishes and one only needed to know where to go for a particular dish. For me then, it was Gurney Drive for char kueh teow and Dato Keramat for Leng Chee Kiang and / or Lobak! There were other places to go to for Nasi Kandar,  Assam Laksa and Cendol.

Distinguished Panel of Speakers

The organisers of the event, George Town Festival, had invited the following individuals: Marcus Langdon, a Penang-based author; Datuk Wira Mohd Shariff, a Kedah historian and a former district officer in Kedah; Kelly Henderson, a social activist and Parklands advocate from Adelaide; and Dato Dr. Anthony Sibert, Eurasian historian.

One of the collaborators in the event was The Royale Bintang Penang, a 4-star hotel which is housed in a heritage building built in the 1890s which belonged to Boustead & Company. This event was also to mark and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Penang Heritage Trust.

Marcus Langdon’s Contribution

Marcus Langdon was given the honour of making the first presentation.

Marcus has extensive knowledge of Penang’s early history because he has spent many years and much time researching the matter. He himself has a connection to Penang because one of his great, great grandfathers was the principal of Penang Free School!

In addition, Marcus has published two major books: Penang – The Fourth Presidency of India 1803 to 1830 Volume 1 ( Ships, Men and Mansions ) and Volume 2 ( Fire, Spice and Edifice ).

Some Facts about Francis Light

We were informed by Marcus that Francis Light enlisted in the Royal Navy at the tender age of thirteen! We were also told that he was a linguist. Francis Light could speak Bahasa Malaysia / Indonesia very well. He was also conversant with the local customs and traditions and was able to get along well with both the Sultan of Kedah as well as the Thai King. He also served for a brief period in Aceh, Indonesia. Believe or not, he was able to even read and write Jawi.

He could not only speak the Thai language quite well but he had taken the trouble to master the refined form of the Thai language used in the Royal Court. This must have surely impressed the royal families in both Kedah and Thailand.

What this indicates quite clearly is that Francis Light was a self-made man who believed in the concept of life-long education.

In addition, we were informed that Francis Light was a man of impressive diplomatic skills. Furthermore, he was equally adept in negotiations and was considered a superb negotiator.

Keep in mind that this was a man who had enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of thirteen. What this indicates quite clearly is that Francis Light was a self-made man who believed in the concept of life-long education. All these remarkable qualities and abilities of his must have impressed his ultimate bosses in the East India Company ( EIC ) in Calcutta, India.

Enigmatic Lady Martina Rozzels

Lady Martina Rozzels remains to this day an enigma! What we do know is that she somehow managed to capture the heart of Francis Light. She had two children with Francis Light… a son, Colonel William Light and a daughter.

William Light, like his illustrious father, also joined the Royal Navy initially but later on, he became an army officer rising to the exalted rank of colonel. Part of the reason for his rapid rise in the military may have been due to his birthplace being given as Suffolk, England. He was thus seen and accepted as an Englishman. Was this for strategic and career reasons?  In actual fact, he was born in Penang and is a bona fide Eurasian.

One of the speakers at the event, Datuk Wira Mohd Shariff made a fairly startling claim. According to him, a Kedah princess named Siti Zubaidah had taken on the identity of Martina Rozzels in order to marry Francis Light. She had used this Portuguese name to assume that identity. This revelation, for what it is worth, only deepens the mystery of who actually is Lady Martina Rozzels.

There are other accounts that state Lady Martina Rozzels moved from Phuket to Penang with a number of other Eurasian family members because of war and unrest in the Thai island at that time. She is to be credited, in part, for opening the doors for the La Salle Brothers coming to Penang. St Xavier’s Institution was the first La Salle school to be established in Malaysia.

Contributions from the Other Speakers

The other speakers, Datuk Wira Mohd Shariff and Kelly Henderson also gave brief presentations. Datuk Wira touched on the Kedah connections in general while Kelly Henderson talked about William Light’s role in the founding of Adelaide.

William Light admired his father’s role in the founding of Penang and wanted to leave a similar mark. As such, just as Francis Light has a statue in his honour in Penang, William Light too has a statue in his honour in Adelaide. Like father, like son!

Like his father, William Light too was a noted linguist. His plans for the city of Adelaide are considered priceless, especially his efforts at surveying for the ideal spot to locate the city. It is readily acknowledged that his decision to locate the city in that particular part was simply brilliant.

Dato Dr. Anthony Sibert however, did not turn up due to unavoidable circumstances. His contribution was nevertheless presented very briefly by one of the organisers.

Kudos to Joe Sidek

Credit should be given to a remarkable person i.e. Joe Sidek for the success of the event. As festival director for the George Town Festival for many years, he has managed to make it a successful annual happening.

It should be borne in mind that the George Town Festival started out as a celebration of George Town’s heritage status. The fact that it has since evolved into an international showcase of arts, culture and music is a great tribute to Joe Sidek, his team and the enthusiastic volunteers who lend valuable support for its various activities.

Kiwanis Clubs in Malaysia : The Humble and Somewhat Gratifying Early Days

Credit must be readily given to the late, great Kiwanian Tan Sri Khir Johari who was instrumental in introducing the Kiwanis International community service club to Malaysia way back in 1976. Tan Sri Khir Johari was a cabinet minister in the first cabinet of independent Malaya in 1957. He served for many years in the cabinet and held a number of important posts, including that as Minister of Education.

Towards the end of his political career, he was rewarded with a plum diplomatic posting. He was appointed Malaysia’s ambassador to the United States of America.

Key Role Played By Tan Sri Khir Johari

The top two diplomatic postings were and still are Washington and London. In Tan Sri Khir’s case, his posting came with full ministerial rank. Tan Sri Khir was a man very much in the mould of our beloved Father of Malaysia ( Bapa Malaysia ) Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra. He was a humble, honest to goodness, straightforward individual with moderate views and a keen sense of humanity. He also had an infectious sense of humour. He mixed well with all the races in Malaysia and was no hypocrite. He also loved life and enjoyed having a good time with family, friends and especially Kiwanians.

Thus when his tour of duty was over and he returned to Malaysia, he was principally responsible for establishing the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur. Tan Sri Khir was the charter president of the club when it was set up in Kuala Lumpur in 1976 in a blaze of print media publicity and also with sufficient pomp and ceremony! More than fifty professionals and business leaders signed up as charter members at that time.

Great Start but Poor Follow Through

However, this great start was not matched by its subsequent struggles to stay afloat! The club sort of lost direction and enthusiasm began to fade. Soon, in a little over a year, it was in a comatose state. The directors of the newly established club it seemed took things for granted and failed to set the proper direction for the club. This was a clear failure of leadership and of individuals signing up for membership without fully realising what they were committing to.

Success in Reviving the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur

Efforts were then made to revive the club. I was invited by Mr Yusof Ahmad, a lawyer to help with the revival of the club. There were then only a few brave and committed individuals who responded to this appeal. More than eighty per cent of the original charter members had left the club.

The following were the members during the valiant eighteen month effort to revive the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur:

  • Mr. Michael Wong ( real estate ),
  • Mr. Bernard Lam ( management consulting ),
  • Mr. Yusof Ahmad ( later served as president of the Industrial Court ),
  • Mr. S. Sivagnanam ( chartered engineer ),
  • the late Mr.M. Ramalingam ( senior police officer ),
  • Mr. N.T. Moorthy ( general management ),
  • Mr. Adil Naidu ( life insurance ) and
  • Dr. Guru Ratnavelu ( specialist doctor ).

Formal and Well Organised Dinner Meetings

It was decided by the members that we should attempt our efforts at this revival by having our formal, monthly dinner meetings at the iconic and impressive Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. The hotel is located almost directly opposite another famous landmark, the Moorish styled Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. Sometimes at these meetings, we had only about ten members in attendance! We invited excellent individuals known to the members to address us on topics of the day. We did not dare invite well known speakers because we were unsure of the response from our members and their invited guests.

Slowly but surely we managed to increase the number of members. We then decided to move the dinner meetings to the smart, newly opened Plaza Hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Incidentally, Kiwanian Aaron Looi was the general manager at that time. We had many productive and enjoyable Kiwanis dinner meetings here. We then began inviting well known speakers to address us at the monthly dinner meetings.

Our meetings then had all the formality of such occasions, including the pomp and ceremony associated with a formal dinner meeting. It was quite a sight to see the Kiwanis Flags of Nations and the beautiful, big Kiwanis Bell and gong placed strategically on the main table of a U table seating arrangement. The Welcome Remarks, the Reading of the Objects of Kiwanis and the Vote of Thanks were all carried out with the solemnity and dignity required of such an occasion. Lest it be forgotten, these events were also enjoyable and we had great pride of association with an international community service club.

Many older members may also remember that quite a few Kiwanians actually chose to host their celebratory wedding dinners at the Plaza Hotel! Such was its popularity, reputation for good food and level of excellent service.

Extraordinary Malaysian Standard Bearers for Kiwanis

Today everyone readily agrees that Kiwanian Hwang Chia Sing and to a lesser degree Kiwanian Lee Kuan Yong are the internationally recognised and respected standard bearers for the Kiwanis Clubs in Malaysia. Both these outstanding individuals have been duly elected to high office as International Trustees of Kiwanis International and had served in that capacity with uncommon passion, effectiveness and great dignity. I understand that evergreen Kiwanian Hwang is slated to move to an equally high position, this time at the Kiwanis International Foundation.

What many may not know nor appreciate is that there is yet another individual who deserves to be recognised for being the internationally recognised standard bearer for a number of years during an earlier period when we were not a Kiwanis district.

That individual is Kiwanian Michael Wong Sek Peng, a past president of the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur. He is a giant of a man in more ways than one! He made a point of introducing many members to the clubs; he was firm and steadfast in his resolve to revive the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur; he made time to meet up with visiting Kiwanis International staffers and presidents when they were in the city; he was also the only representative at all the yearly regional Kiwanis meetings; and finally it was Michael’s bold and brazen proposal, after we had moved the dinner meetings to the Plaza Hotel, that we bid to host the 8th Asia Pacific Kiwanis International Conference in Genting Highlands, Malaysia in 1982. We needed something big to raise our spirits and galvanise our members into action. Do keep in mind that at that time there was just one club in Malaysia! We won the bid and the rest is history.

Growth and Development of Kiwanis Clubs in Malaysia

A four man team was responsible for the growth and development of the first eight Kiwanis Clubs in Malaysia. The team was headed by the late Kiwanian Lim Eng Seng and included Michael Wong, Kiwanian Tony Leow and Benedict Morais. Tony is a past president of the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur and a past Area Coordinator for Malaysia. He is medically out of action now but often remains in our thoughts.

The team went on club building missions to Malacca, Ipoh, Seremban, Klang, and Johore Bharu and then much closer home to areas like Ampang, Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Subang and Bukit Bintang. Lim Eng Seng would brief the target audience on the specifics of Kiwanis, Michael would regale them with his exploits at Kiwanis International meetings in the Asia Pacific and Tony would relate how he was introduced to Kiwanis and the reasons that persuaded him to join the club. I would then have the task of ‘selling ‘ the benefits of Kiwanis membership. Incidentally, I was the one who introduced Tony to the Kiwanis movement. He was my classmate at St John’s Institution, Kuala Lumpur.

We would travel to these meetings in Michael’s fawn coloured, sturdy Peugeot 504 or in Lim Eng Seng’s comfortable, cool blue Mercedes Benz 200. Along the way, we would enjoy good food, great camaraderie and on the way back we would conduct a post mortem on our efforts. In outstation locations when it was not possible to return home the same night, we pooled resources and shared hotel rooms to keep the costs down. All these trips were incidentally, self funded. That was a measure of our commitment to Kiwanis and we did so with contagious enthusiasm!

The Mother of All Motoring Treasure Hunts

The first major Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur fund raising project was the Kiwanis Motoring Treasure Hunt held in 1984. Many young Malaysians chose to participate in this inaugural event. They had the satisfaction of knowing that the funds raised by this major project would go towards our community service projects. In addition, they would enjoy themselves together with their fellow passengers by participating actively in the hunt. It was all good, clean fun and was usually a family affair.

We had positive and ready support from the very start. Among our early corporate supporters and sponsors were the following organisations: Star Publications, Tan Chong & Sons Motor Company Sdn Bhd, Malayan Banking and Cheq Point, a local credit card company. The inaugural event more than doubled its target and the lucky recipient was the Selangor Chesire Home which received RM 50,000. The Kiwanis Motoring Treasure Hunt has been faithfully organised on a yearly basis ever since and with increasing success.

This unique Kiwanis event really fired up the imagination of the Malaysian motoring public and became so famous that many other organisations and bodies decided to jump on the bandwagon. However, the gold standard for excellence and the mother of all treasure hunts is still the Kiwanis Motoring Treasure Hunt. Kiwanians take pride in the fact that they have consistently promoted motor treasure hunting to such an extent that many others also want to organise such fun events.

A key reason why the Kiwanis Motoring Treasure Hunt got off to such a great start was the fact that we had an effective organising committee under the dynamic chairmanship of Lim Eng Seng. Tony Leow was roped in to serve as technical adviser / committee member. Tony is a well known navigator in motor rallying circles. He was also one half of the team that won the inaugural Kuala Lumpur to Vientianne ASEAN Rally way back in the seventies. Other individuals who served in the large organising committee included Chooi Tat Wai, Michael Wong, Fred Tan, Samuel Goh and Benedict Morais.

(Benedict Morais served as president of the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur in 1982.)

Debt of Gratitude to the De La Salle Brothers

The Superior General of the Institute of the De La Salle Christian Brothers made a brief but meaningful visit to three cities in Malaysia towards the end of March 2015. Rev. Bro. Dr. Robert Schieler who was elected the superior general last May was on his first visit to Malaysia as the head of this international body of De La Salle Brothers.

Rev. Bro Dr. Schieler in addition to having an undergraduate degree has also earned two post graduate degrees: one in Modern European History from the University of Notre Dame and another in Asian Studies from the University of the Philippines. His Ph.D in Educational Administration is from the University of Pennsylvania.

Ability to Harness the Networks within the Family

Shortly after being elected the superior general of the De La Salle Brothers, he made a perceptive and telling observation: ‘ I know that anything that can be accomplished will be done only because of the great Lasallian Family that we are all part of‘.

In Kuala Lumpur and at a dinner in his honour at St John’s Institution, he further elaborated that what the De La Salle Brothers achieved over the many years was only possible because of the La Sallian Family’s ability to effectively harness the many networks within the family.

Solid & Ready Support from Old Boys

He went on to state that the loyalty, goodwill and solid support extended to the De La Salle Brothers from old boys of their schools, colleges and universities was second to none! He also paid tribute to the many lay teachers who shared the same teaching philosophy and taught alongside the De La Salle Brothers over the years. Furthermore, he also mentioned the role played by Parent Teacher Associations and a host of similar minded groups.

The La Salle Family in Malaysia had every reason to give him a warm welcome. Those who have studied at a La Salle school in Malaysia owe an immense debt of gratitude to the De La Salle Brothers who first came to this country more than one hundred and sixty years ago.

Unique La Sallian Characteristics

La Sallian schools in Malaysia have, over the years, earned an enviable reputation for excellence in academic, sporting and extra-curricula activities. They achieved this eminence and status through their unique La Sallian characteristics.

These include the following: respect for each student. La Salle teachers chose to be called brothers rather than masters as was the case in France at that time. They were seen as older brothers and role models by their students. Another characteristic is quality, all round education. The young student really learns and develops a thirst for truth and knowledge. They are also helped to think clearly.

Focus on the Last, the Lost and the Least

A third characteristic is openness to all: the poor, the rich, the neglected… these La Sallian schools opened their doors to all irrespective of race, status and religion. A fourth characteristic is La Sallian schools have dedicated teachers who would work with strong faith and ardent zeal for the good of their community.

De La Salle Brothers and their fellow lay teachers gave special attention to the Last, the Lost and the Least in society. This unrelenting focus on the socio economically disadvantaged remains to this day.

A Force for Good in the Community

Today the La Salle Family in Malaysia consisting of loyal alumni and students, teachers and principals both past and present, board of managers, board of governors and parent teacher associations are a force for good in their respective communities in the country.

A case in point to consider is the dinner in honour of the superior general was organised by the De La Salle Brothers in collaboration with the Malaysian Federation of La Sallian Alumni Associations. This was a big undertaking, given the time constraints. It also involved attracting and inviting attendees from the La Salle Family in Melaka, Muar, Johore, Seremban, Negri Sembilan, Klang, Petaling Jaya, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. As it turned out, about two hundred and fifty guests were present for the dinner to welcome and meet the superior general.

Malaysian Federation of La Sallian Alumni Associations

The biennial La Sallian Educators Conference, the last one in Taiping, Perak in September 2014, is another example of this fine collaboration. The federation is an active and forward looking umbrella body for all La Sallian associations in Malaysia. However, no one should underestimate the many challenges facing La Salle schools in Malaysia.

I am sure that the superior general would have gained a first hand appreciation of the fine La Sallian heritage and traditions in Malaysia. Rev. Bro Dr. Robert Schieler will also take back with him the ever lasting gratitude of thousands of individuals who have benefitted from the selfless sacrifice of the De La Salle Brothers. The herculean challenge ahead of us here in Malaysia is to do our very best in reviving the La Sallian ethos towards integrity, unity and spirituality.