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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.

 

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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.

Need for Greater Compassion, Understanding and Kindness : These Will Engender A More Caring Society

I would like to touch on this topic because it is both timely and appropriate.

We have all seen on television and read reports in the print and online media about the devastating effects of the recent floods that affected a number of states in Peninsula Malaysia.

In natural disasters such as these, the floods affect everyone in its path. No one and no building, bridge or structure is spared from its terrible effects. If the buildings are not well built or in low lying areas, then it is almost certain that there will be massive devastation. Various reports in the print media highlight this fact.

Malaysians Show That They Care

The vast majority of Malaysians in times of crisis or disasters show that they do care.

They show this in a variety of ways that make us proud to say that we are all indeed Malaysians, regardless of our race, religion or colour! But does it have to be this way only in times of disasters and tragedies? I leave you to cogitate on that matter and come to your own conclusions!

An impressive number of organisations, to their great credit, have readily sprung into action. They have organised collection of foodstuffs, clothing, bedding, tents, medicine etc and have even raised funds. They have also seen to it that these are then speedily transported to the affected areas and then distributed to the needy in a fair and orderly manner.

Lend a Helping Hand

The organisations have ranged from the National Red Crescent Society to community service clubs, social clubs, residents associations, MNCs, established national companies, political parties and a host of other interested and committed associations. All they have in common is their collective desire to offer a helping hand to those most in need and to do so without too much fanfare or cheap publicity.

This is not the first time these patriotic Malaysians have shown their true colours. As far as I can recall, every time something of this terrible nature occurs, Malaysians without hesitation step forward and do something positive about it. It is in our DNA so to speak. If our revered and popular Bapa ( Father ) Malaysia, YTM Tengku Abdul Rahman was around, I am sure that he would be most pleased to see us united in this noble and worthy cause.

Spontaneous Desire to Alleviate Suffering

Collins English Dictionary defines compassion as a feeling of distress and pity for the sufferer or misfortune of another. Compassion also often includes the desire to alleviate the suffering. In that respect, Malaysians have demonstrated in an admirable manner, time and time again, that when the chips are down, they are quick to rise to the occasion and show that they are Malaysians, first and last!

They have also not been mean spirited to assist only a certain community because of race, religion or colour but have instead rendered assistance to all those who are most in need. This is in stark contrast to the petty, on-going focus by some misguided individuals on such divisive issues on a fairly regular basis. Their inflammatory comments often receive wide media coverage. How then can we ever be a united nation when there are efforts to build walls between the communities rather than to build bridges to understanding?

There was, in fact, one very good example of true blue Malaysian consciousness. This was when the imam of a mosque and the principal of a Chinese medium school, both immediate neighbours, joined hands in a show of unity and solidarity to serve the larger interests of those who had taken refuge in their premises. This is the true spirit of Malaysians…. generous, compassionate and kind hearted. Their efforts should be applauded and thereafter emulated.

A More Caring Society

Such acts of kindness and generosity in times of natural disasters will certainly lead to a more caring society in the long run. It will not manifest itself overnight but it goes to show that there is this once of goodness within all of us… if only we are prepared to do the right thing on a regular basis and for the right reasons too.

Much too often, it is the Ugly Malaysian who grabs the spotlight and gains media attention with his / her threatening and provocative statements. These ugly Malaysians ( there are quite a few of them ) modus operandi is somewhat similar to a former US Defence Secretary’s infamous, boastful statement about ‘ Shock and Awe “ on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. We all now know how that shock and awe is still reverberating years later not only in Iraq but also in the Middle East as well as in other parts of the world!

Random Acts of Kindness

When we consciously choose to engage in acts of kindness, sometimes random acts of kindness, on a regular basis, then over time we will help to bring about or give rise to a more caring, just and happy society. A friend I know occasionally stops by to offer a packet of ‘ nasi lemak ‘ to the security guard at his office. Another friend sometimes gives the receptionist at his gym a piece of cheese cake. Yet another acquaintance of mine, rather than take home some left over snacks from a meeting, offers these to the staff on duty. These acts of kindness are meant to show appreciation for individuals that we sometimes take for granted.

On yet another level, how often have we graciously allowed a driver to cut in after he has signalled his intention to do so? How often have we actually waited patiently at the lift entrance and allowed the passengers to get out before we entered the lift? And how often have we forgotten to express a warm ‘ thank you ‘ and show appreciation when that was called for? In today’s highly impatient Malaysian society, often the basic courtesies are simply overlooked!

At the end of the day, it is not how much wealth we can accumulate over time that matters. Rather it is a matter of how we have chosen to live our lives, the values that we have embraced during our lifetime and the legacy we leave behind.

Young Malaysian Motorcyclists : Displaying Idiocy of A Mind Boggling Nature

Recently my wife and I decided to drive down to the seaside resort town of Port Dickson. We wanted to spend the day by the beach and to enjoy the sea breeze, some drinks and a light meal.

We began the drive at about 10.00 am and drove on to the city of Seremban in a leisurely manner. We then chose to take the tolled highway to Port Dickson and this was when we were quite unexpectedly treated to a spectacle of sheer recklessness by a group of about nine, young, helmetless motorcyclists. This group suddenly overtook us at speed almost from nowhere in a show of foolish bravado and complete disregard for other road users.

Taking Leave of their Senses

A while later they began zigzagging about on the highway in some sort of organised manner. The group then started to tailgate a car in front of us. We slowed down and began to prepare for some evasive action if need be. There was not much traffic on the highway at that time and this may have emboldened the group who then put on a show of downright stupidity.

About three young men in the group then rode their bikes at some speed, spread eagled over their machines with their heads over the petrol tanks and their legs shod with slippers hanging out over the rear of their seats. They also delighted in looking sideways to see the reaction of their fellow mates and other road users. The others in the group increased their speed and began weaving in and out of their lane without first checking to see if it was safe to do so.

Not an Isolated Incident

At the first available opportunity, we took another longer route to Port Dickson via the town of Lukut and in the process lost this group of crazy dare devils. This was not our first experience.

We have seen such reckless behaviour on at least four other occasions. Our only explanation for this show of madness on the road is that they were probably high on drugs!

Stopping when the Traffic Lights turn Red is Optional!

Another very common habit that I have noticed with concern is the fact that the majority of young motorcyclists seem to think that they have the option to disregard the traffic lights when the lights turn red! The immature, young motor cyclists do not seem to stop these days when the lights turn red and seem to believe that this is only meant for those who drive cars, trucks and buses. Or maybe they think that because they have been exempted from paying any road tax, they also enjoy exemption from observing traffic rules!

As far as these motorcyclists are concerned when the lights turn red, green and orange they can choose to observe or disregard! They conveniently forget that traffic lights are installed at intersections for valid reasons. They are meant to regulate the flow of traffic in an orderly, fair and safe manner.

Overtaking on the Left and Right at Will

Another worrying habit is that unlike in the past few decades when motor cyclists always kept to the left lane, these days they seem to think that they are kings of the road. They will overtake you from the left and the right at will and then cut right in front of you disregarding the fact that they are creating dangerous conditions for other motorists.

And if they knock into you or your wing mirror, they just ride off without a care in the world. They know you cannot do a thing because often as is the case, you are stuck in a traffic jam.

Ignoring Motor Cycle Lanes

In instances where there is a provision of specific motor cycle lanes, here too these motor cyclists do not always use them. Quite a number still choose to use the highway disregarding the lanes specially provided for motorcyclists!

Here is yet another instance when they choose convenience over safety. This reflects a typically Malaysian tidak apa ( could not care less ) attitude.

Riding in the Opposite Direction

Another dangerous habit is the unexpected behaviour of a few motorcyclists to ride in the opposite direction especially on highways. This is a clear case of stupidity but they choose to do it for mere convenience. You can observe this behaviour in the cities and even on the highways. I once had a narrow escape on the Federal Highway near the Subang National Golf Club because as I came round a blind corner I saw a motorcyclist riding towards me! My quick thinking averted a tragedy but I was badly shaken by this incident.

I could probably go on with instances of such stupidity or recklessness. What I cannot fathom is why they continue to persist in these death defying acts throughout the country. I have travelled to Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam many times where there is widespread use of the motorcycle as a humble means of transport. In all these countries, I have observed that the motor cyclists, as a whole, ride in a responsible manner. In Vietnam, in particular, where crossing the road is quite a task, the motor cyclists take great care in ensuring your safety.

Big Bikers are a Breed Apart

The big bikers in Malaysia, however, are another story and a good one at that. Many are senior level corporate executives, professionals or successful businessmen who have the means to indulge in this pastime. These bikes are expensive, some very expensive. Only those who are well heeled are able to buy and maintain these bikes.

On the roads and highways, I have noticed that the big bikers, mostly in the late thirties or forties, in their shiny Harley Davidson, BMW or Honda usually ride in single file, with dignity and with due consideration for other road users. They are all properly attired in black leather pants and jackets, with proper knee and elbow guards, with their helmets properly strapped into place and they all invariably wear boots.

In contrast, many of the young motor cyclists can be seen to be riding with their helmets unstrapped and with Japanese slippers or sandals! Some even carry three or four passengers on the small bikes. In many cases, these are young children, sitting precariously on the petrol tank and sandwiched between the father and the mother!

If such wild behaviour continues unchecked in the years to come, I fear where this will ultimately all lead to. There has to be ingrained respect for traffic rules, for the welfare and consideration of other road users and for basic good manners among these young motorcyclists. Dare we hope for a change for the better?