A Rose to the Living is Better Than…

need to make time for relatives, friends and colleagues

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

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

Challenge of Living Alone for Senior Individuals

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

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

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

Loneliness for Senior Citizens is a Huge Problem

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

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

Financially Secure but Loneliness still Sucks

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

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

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

Now the Family Have No Time for Him

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

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

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

Cultivating Friendships is a Two-Way Process

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

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

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

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

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

La Sallians Show the Way

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

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

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

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

A Rose to the Living is Better than……

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

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

Don’t they know that:

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

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

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

 

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The Eurasian Community’s Contribution to Malaysia

Enriching the Cosmopolitan Nature and Fabric of the Country

The Eurasian community in Malaysia is tiny by comparison to the other races. A Eurasian is someone of mixed Asian and European ancestry. The Malays form the majority with over 60 percent, the Chinese now make up about 25 percent and the Indians about 8 percent. There are close to 30,000 Eurasians in the country which has a population of about 30 million.

Types of Eurasians

Even though they are a tiny community, there are a number of divisions within this community. Some much prefer to position themselves as Portuguese Eurasians and are proud of their roots. Many of these older Portuguese Eurasians speak Kristang at home and with their relatives. Closer home, my wife’s late mother, a Portuguese Eurasian used to converse with ease in Kristang with her sisters, brothers and children. My wife too still retains that ability to speak this language.

Descriptions over the Ages

Initially, when the Malays first saw the Portuguese soldiers, sailors and administrative officials, they called them, ‘Benggali Puteh’. I will leave it to you to make an educated guess as to how this came about.

Some of these Portuguese officials married local women and their offspring were called Nasrani. This was a clear reference to the people of Nazareth because of their Catholic faith. Much later and still in use is the local Bahasa Malaysia term ‘ Serani’ meaning Eurasian.

Dutch Burghers

Other Eurasians were known as Dutch Burghers and still others were once known as Anglo-Indians. Dutch Burghers are actually of mixed Dutch, Portuguese and Sri Lankan descent.  Some of these Eurasians are trying, to some extent, to maintain links and association with Holland. I do know that some individuals and their families meet for social events with Dutch Embassy officials in Malaysia. This is most understandable because it is an intrinsic human desire to trace and thereafter appreciate your roots, especially as you grow older!

Anglo-Indians

These individuals first came to then Malaya from India during the British colonial period. They were at that time known as Anglo-Indians. Today, most of these people are simply classified as Eurasians. The descriptions Dutch Burgher and Anglo-Indian are not in vogue these days.

500th Anniversary of the Coming of the Portuguese to Malacca

The Portuguese Eurasians celebrated in a grand manner the 500th Anniversary of the coming of the Portuguese to Malacca from 26 to 29 October 2011. The celebrations were held in Malacca and drew many attendees from Singapore, Australia and all over Malaysia.

The Portuguese Eurasian community in Malacca has an elected leader. He is known as the Regedor.  Regedor actually refers to the settlement headman. He has an administrative role as well as a role as a cultural leader.

The Portuguese Eurasians at that time in the settlement were mostly fishermen eking out a living. It was a tough, risky and demanding job but they somehow managed to survive and carry on. This was, in part, due to their strong faith as Catholics.

However, there was much dissatisfaction within the community at a particular period in time not too long ago and many turned to an opposition party for support and assistance.  The Portuguese Eurasians felt that their interests and welfare were being neglected.

Facility to Invest

The Malaysian government recognised this trend. In an effort to make amends, the government belatedly recognised this tiny community as worthy of special attention and granted them the privilege of investing in a fund meant for only bumiputras. Bumiputra means son of the soil.

All Portuguese Eurasians could apply to invest in this fund if he or she could provide proof of ancestry. For this, the individual concerned had to obtain a certain form from the regedor, fill it up and then get the regedor’s confirmation of his / her eligibility. Many Eurasians did take advantage of this facility.

What Has Been the Eurasian Community’s Contribution to Malaysia

Although the Eurasians are a tiny community, they have and continue to make a significant contribution to the nation in a number of fields.

Sports

The Shepherdson brothers, the legendary Mike and his younger brother Christie, both double internationals in hockey and cricket, and Olympians to boot, have had a chequered career in these two sports. Other members of the family were also great sportsmen.

You may also remember Olympians like Lawrence Van Huizen, his son Stephen, Brian Sta Maria and Colin Sta Maria and Kevin Nunis all from that venerable St Paul’s Institution in Seremban.

These are just those individuals that come to mind. There are many other Eurasians who have made a similar contribution.

Culture

1.There is that well known Kristang former teacher and prolific writer from Malacca, Joan Marbeck now living in Singapore. Kristang is a Creole language. Food for thought: more than 90 per cent of Portuguese words come from Greek and Latin. A similar local language also exists in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) Macau where the Portuguese once ruled.

Joan has published many books especially on Kristang. Two of her books are titled: Ungua Adanza ( An Inheritance ) 1995 and Linggu Mai ( Mother Tongue ) 2004. What is amazing is that Portugal only ruled in Malacca for 130 years but left such a rich legacy. I understand that academics from Portugal and Brazil visit Malacca from time to time to research on these matters.

2.Joan’s sister, Celine is also a well known former teacher, hotel manager and now a renowned Kristang chef. Celine has given many cooking demonstrations and classes in Malaysia and Singapore. Celine has also been invited to give cooking demonstrations in Amsterdam, Holland. She has also, to her credit, published two well-received cookbooks.

3. Music Ambassadors: Here the Eurasians have certainly made a huge contribution. They seem to be musically gifted and there are numerous singers, musicians and bands that come to mind.

From the unforgettable, late Jimmy Boyle, Rudy and George Baum, James Rozells, Katherine Rodrigues, Coleen Read, Bonnie and Homer Jeremiah of Penang to the current sensations, the Zarsardias Brothers, country and western band Os Pombos, Yellow Jackets from Klang and Tres Amigos from Malacca have all made a significant contribution. I am sure that there are many other Eurasians who have left their mark in the music world.

Malacca Portuguese Eurasian Cuisine

There are many of these dishes. They vary from family to family. The main idea here was to make bland European food more delicious and palatable with the infusion of spices. The Malacca Portuguese Eurasians have over the years perfected this to a great degree. One can find a few Malacca Portuguese restaurants both here in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya as well as in Malacca.

These are some of the dishes that come to mind: Easily the most famous and much loved is Curry Debal (Devil Curry). The others, in no fixed order of preference, are: Ambiler, Abarjaw, Pongteh, Prawn and Pineapple Curry, Fish and Mango Curry and Eurasian Chicken Stew.

The Eurasians have also garnered well-earned praise for their expertise in the baking of Sugee cakes. This is usually baked for special occasions like Christmas, weddings, baptisms and even funerals. During the Annual Penang Eurasian Festival, for instance, there is even a Sugee Cake Making Contest. 

Teachers and Administrators

The early Eurasians, during British colonial rule, naturally gravitated towards the teaching profession. They also entered the civil service as administrators. Their fluency and command of the English language and their understanding of English customs and traditions made this a good fit.

Much later, and after Malaya gained independence, the Eurasians were also attracted to the armed forces. Quite a number rose to senior military positions i.e. colonel, brigadier general, first admiral etc.

In addition, there are also a few Eurasians who have made it to the big time, business-wise. These individuals have chosen, quite prudently, to operate under the radar and have remained low key by choice. A few have also left their mark as academics in local and foreign universities.

A Matter Bedevilling the Community

I have attended a few events hosted by Eurasians both here in Kuala Lumpur and even in Penang. What struck me as quite poignant and sad was the way a senior Eurasian leader, in his late seventies, spoke about the recurring lack of unity within the community in Penang a few years ago.

He wondered why this was so and commented that this lack of unity was really holding the community back from achieving its lofty goals. I subsequently spoke to a few Eurasian friends in Penang and inquired if this was really the case. Both of them confirmed the matter. This was re-confirmed by another Eurasian friend in Petaling Jaya.

The Eurasian male and female in Malaysia is generally perceived to be someone who is comfortable in social situations. Eurasians love to sing, enjoy good music and are musically inclined, love to go clubbing, delight in having a drink or two and are generally quite adept on the dance floor. In short, the Eurasian is seen as someone who yearns for a slice of la dolce vita. Isn’t that what we all want?

Santorini is Stunningly Splendid in Every Way

Towering Cliffs, White Washed Buildings and Turquoise Blue Waters

My wife and I embarked on our fifth cruise recently. We chose a Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship, the Norwegian Star for the seven-night cruise to the exotic Greek Islands.

How many of us know that Greece has actually 1200 to 6000 islands depending on the minimum size one takes into account? Of this huge number, only about 160 plus islands are inhabited.

We also went on a shore excursion in Kotor, Montenegro at the start of the cruise and another shore excursion in Dubrovnik, Croatia on the last leg of the cruise. ‘Kotor’ in Bahasa Malaysia means dirty. I was, as such, intrigued by the name.

Montenegro is one of the six republics that made up the former Yugoslavia under one of the Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM) strongman named Tito.

Montenegro Was a Disappointment

Kotor was not dirty but it was drab looking. It was a real waste of time because it took about an hour’s drive to get to our first destination through a bleak and dreary countryside with no redeeming or outstanding features. The ancient city of Budva was a little better and it is kissed by the open Adriatic Sea. It had some interesting buildings.

However, the people of Montenegro did not seem friendly to the throngs of people visiting the area. In addition and this is a big point, whilst they desperately want the tourists, they have yet to provide proper and easily accessible clean toilets. This is a major drawback. Many in our group found this absence of proper and accessible toilets a real turn off.

Dubrovnik Is a Beautiful City

A day before we returned to Venice, Italy we made a stopover in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

We had heard rave reviews about Dubrovnik and many commented that it is a beautiful city.  In fact, we know of a couple, friends of ours from Canberra, Australia, who spent four weeks on vacation in Dubrovnik two years ago. They liked the city a lot. And so it was a great relief that all these reviews and commentaries were actually spot on.

Dubrovnik is certainly a beautiful and well laid out city with a charm of its own. We chose to go on the Croatian Riviera and Dubrovnik tour. It turned out to be a great choice. The drive through the picturesque villages was most enjoyable and we got to see cattle and goats grazing in the fields against the backdrop of the beautiful mountains.

Cascading Waters of Ljuta River

The highlight of the tour through the fertile Konavle Valley for us was the stop for a light snack at a restaurant located in an old mill next to the cascading waters of the Ljuta River. The setting was simply ideal and one could see and hear the rush of crystal clean water from the nearby mountain as one contemplated the unbelievably scenic and peaceful surroundings.

The delightful light snack consisted of local specialities such as Croatian smoked ham, cheese, homemade bread and a glass of local wine. The charming waitresses dressed in their colourful national costumes offered us a choice of red or white wine.

Corfu Captivates the Visitor

During our cruise, we had a chance to make three other shore excursions to the following Greek islands: Mykonos, Corfu and Santorini. Of these, Santorini really impressed me a lot.

In Corfu, we chose to go on the Achilleion Palace and Corfu Town tour. We drove through the lovely countryside dotted with lemon and olive trees to reach the charming village of Gastouri where the majestic Achilleion Palace stands. While driving throughout Greece we noticed that the roads are in good condition and well maintained. The palace has beautiful gardens full of exotic flowers surrounding the building.

We also enjoyed our walk from the tree-lined main square to the Old Town. Here we saw historical sites such as the Venetian quarters, the Town Hall and the Church of St. Spyridon, patron saint of Corfu. The shops and sights of the Old Town were quite interesting and my wife did some shopping here. We also had time for a light snack in one of the many breezy cafes.

Santorini: Breathtaking in its Beauty

As we got into the tender from our cruise ship which had anchored some distance from the port and headed out to the island of Santorini, I was struck by its imposing sight. The island has an incredible majesty about it as one approaches.

The island formed as a result of a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago is a sight to behold with its rugged and craggy face. According to experts that volcanic eruption was ten times more powerful than the one from Krakatova, Indonesia in 1883!

The city of 15,000 inhabitants is situated on an island in the Southern Aegean Sea. It certainly has highly acclaimed and dramatic views and stunning sunsets. And to make matters really dramatic, Santorini is perched on the rim of a massive active volcano.

White Washed Buildings & Towering Cliffs

White washed buildings are a regular and most pleasant feature in Greece. If your building/house faces the sea, then you are only allowed to paint your wooden window frames in the colour blue. If your house faces the hillside, then you can paint the window frames in brown. All houses must be white-washed. This decree by a dictator many years ago still remains in force.

Dancing to Zorba the Greek

We had our lunch in a modern, well-built Greek restaurant named Pyrgos Tavern situated in one of the oldest settlements and the highest village on the island. We enjoyed traditional Greek food, music, wine and dances. The food was very good but I thought they should have included lamb, octopus and squid in the buffet menu.

The fun part was the Greek style celebration – OPA! A couple of dances were performed by four Greek lasses in traditional costumes and this was followed by a livelier version of dancing much like in the movie, Zorba the Greek starring Anthony Quinn. This time, a male dancer joined in and he was equal to the task and gave a spirited display of his prowess in this field. Then the lasses and the male dancer approached the diners and invited them on to the dance floor. Soon the place was throbbing to the sounds of good music and lively dancing.

Finally, all present had a smashing time breaking plates with much joy and gusto. I must mention here that throughout our trip to the Greek islands, there was easy availability of clean and well-maintained toilets. For some of them, one has to pay a small fee to use.

Some Interesting Facts about Santorini

Here are some interesting facts about Santorini.

  1. The seas around Santorini are a shimmering turquoise blue. Really beautiful to behold. The only other place where I have seen the seas so beautiful is in the Caribbean island of Barbados.
  2. There are more churches on the island than homes. These small churches were built by grateful sailors in honour of the saints who saved them from a watery grave while at sea.
  3. The export of pumice stones is a big business on the island.
  4. There are more than 100 varieties of grapes on Santorini. The island produces good quality wine and more than 89% is white wine.
  5. There are more donkeys than men on the islands. Donkeys are used to carry goods and the luggage of tourists up the steep, winding slopes and steps all around the islands.

How Did We Get to the Top of the Island?

We travelled up to the mountain top in a comfortable bus driven by a very experienced and capable driver. He needed to be experienced to be able to drive with some degree of sure-footedness up the very narrow winding road. At some points, it was quite scary to look out at the scenes below us but it was not a white-knuckle drive all the way. We enjoyed the breathtaking scenery as the bus slowly snaked its way up the narrow mountain roads.

We had three options for descending from the mountain. One was by slowly trekking down the 500 plus steps to the bottom. The other was to hitch a bumpy and smelly donkey ride down. We all opted for the third option and that was to take the cable car down in just a few minutes. Incidentally, the cable car system was built and donated by a rich and well-established family on the island as its community service contribution.

One Final Thought

If I have the opportunity and the time, I would certainly like to re-visit both Santorini and Dubrovnik. There is so much more to know, experience and enjoy about these two amazing places. One needs to spend at least a week in each place to soak in the atmosphere and explore the hidden nooks and corners of these exotic places. And this time around, I will certainly be a traveller and not a tourist.

#travel #Dubrovnik #Santorini #Corfu #Montenegro

Celebrating Thaipusam in Malaysia

An Exotic Mix of Preparation, Sacrifice and Devotion

Malaysia is a country of over 30 million people. In peninsula Malaysia, there are three main races: Malays ( over 60% ), Chinese ( about 25 % ) and Indians ( about 8 % ).

In the East Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo, the races comprise Kadazandusuns with their own paramount leader and the Chinese, Bajau, Malay, Bugis and Murut. In Sarawak, the other East Malaysian state, the major races are Iban, Bidayuh, Melanau, Chinese, Malay, Tagal, Orang Ulu, and Penan.

Melting Pot of Races

As befitting a melting pot of many races, cultures and traditions, Malaysians celebrate a wide range of pretty diverse festivals. These range from the Gawai Festival in Sarawak, the Kaamatan Festival of Sabah, Hari Raya and Hari Raya Haji, Chinese New Year, Hungry Ghosts Festival, Moon Cake Festival, Wesak Day,  Deepavali, Ponggal, Thaipusam and Christmas to name a few.

Most of these are actually harvest festivals. Moon Cake Festival, for instance, is the 2nd most important festival for the Chinese. During the Hungry Ghosts Festival, the belief is that dead souls ( hungry ghosts ) return to briefly visit living relatives!

The above list is not all inclusive but it does give one an idea of the range of festivals that are celebrated in cosmopolitan Malaysia. One of these festivals is the subject of this blog posting. It is a truly splendid display of religious piety in an otherwise materialistic, hedonistic and imperfect world.

Thaipusam Leaves One Spellbound

Thaipusam is a grand and enthralling Hindu festival in the Tamil diaspora.  It is celebrated with much preparation, sacrifice and devotion not just in Malaysia but also in Mauritius, Singapore, Seychelles, Fiji, South Africa, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.

Malaysia’s celebration is, however, among the largest in the world drawing over a million and a half devotees to the imposing Batu Caves on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. There are also similar celebrations in other major Malaysian cities like Georgetown in Penang and in Ipoh, Perak.

Thaipusam has, however, become less a strictly Hindu affair and more a distinctly Malaysian one. There are also a number of Malaysian Chinese devotees who participate in this festival, especially in Penang. Many foreigners and tourists alike gather along the route of the slow moving chariot procession from the main temple in Kuala Lumpur to Batu Caves to watch this amazing spectacle of deep rooted faith.

The Rituals that are Followed

Kavadi is a ceremonial sacrifice practised by devotees during the worship of Lord Murugan. There are a few types of kavadis from simple ones to more elaborate kavadis.

The simple kavadi is basically a short wooden pole surmounted by a wooden arch. Pictures or statues of Lord Murugan or other deities are fixed onto the arch. A small pot of milk is attached to each end of the pole.

The more elaborate alagu and ratha kavadis are carried by devotees during Thaipusam. Kavadis are affixed on a bearer’s body by long sharpened rods or by chains and small hooks.

Observing Physical and Mental Discipline

Devotees who wish to carry kavadis are required to strictly observe physical and mental discipline. Purification of the body is a must. This includes consuming just simple vegetarian meals and observing celibacy over a 48 day period prior to carrying the kavadi on Thaipusam day.

Piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common. This prevents the devotees from speaking and grants them great powers of endurance.

Body Should Not Be Harmed

There is some confusion over whether Thaipusam is banned in India. Some individuals think it is only the practice of piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks that is banned. Hinduism advocates that the body should not be harmed as the body is like a temple where the soul resides.

This extreme Hindu religious ritual lives on as a recognised holiday in some Malaysian states! An individual and a non-Indian who was truly captivated by this festival and Hinduism, in general, is Dr.Carl Vadivella  Belle.

Honorary Hindu Chaplin

Dr Belle, a career diplomat, had served in the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur from 1976 to 1979. ( High Commission is the term used to describe an embassy from a Commonwealth country. The ambassador is referred to as a High Commissioner ) Dr Belle has maintained a long-term interest in Malaysian social, political and religious issues.

His doctoral dissertation, ‘ Thaipusam in Malaysia: A Hindu Festival Misunderstood?’ was accepted by Deakin University in 2004. Dr Belle was appointed Inaugural Hindu Chaplin at Flinders University in South Australia in 2005. During Thaipusam 2017, he provided expert advice to a BBC television team.

Tracing the Layers of Meaning

In his second book,’ Thaipusam in Malaysia: A Hindu Festival in the Tamil Diaspora’  Dr Belle closely examines the popular festival from the ‘ inside ‘ and attempts to trace the layers of meaning and the recondite vocabularies of this multifaceted and complex celebration in terms of its continuing relevance to Malaysian Hindus.

Dr Belle concludes that far from being a cultural aberration, Thaipusam is a product of time, place and the peculiar circumstances of Hindus in Malaysia.

He believes that constructed from deep-rooted elements of South Indian culture, Thaipusam can be fully comprehended by locating it within Tamil history, philosophies and belief structures, in particular, those associated with Lord Murugan.

Dr Belle gave a talk recently on this interesting subject matter in Penang. Those who are keen on obtaining a copy of the book can write to Areca Books at info@arecabooks.com for more details.  Alternatively, you can purchase a copy from the heritage bookseller at its book shop at 15 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town, Penang 10200, Malaysia.

RAAF Base at Butterworth’s Historic and Supportive Role

Lest we easily forget

Many young Malaysians may be unaware of the important and defining role played by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and its gallant airmen in Malaya, and later, Malaysia. When we progress as a nation and a people, it is always ever so crucial to know who were there to support and defend us when danger loomed on the horizon. In that respect, Malaysians should never forget the valuable services and sacrifices of the RAAF and its brave airmen.

What is the background to the involvement of the RAAF in this part of the world?

Only One Permanent Base Overseas

It is most interesting to know that the RAAF had an association stretching back to 1941! The RAAF Base in Butterworth was then used for care and maintenance purposes. The RAAF at some point during that period was the fourth largest air force in the world. Although the RAAF had some units based overseas, it had only one permanent base outside of Australia.

Butterworth in North Seberang Perai ( formerly known as Province Wellesley ) and within the state of Penang was chosen as the site for the RAAF Base. Although it was initially under the British, it was handed over to the Australians who managed the base. Later on, after we gained independence as a nation in 1957, it was technically jointly managed by both the RAAF and the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).

Butterworth had a population of some 11,000 residents in 1910, and a century later, its population swelled to some 800,000 plus residents.

Commonwealth Strategic Reserve

In the mid-1950s, Britain, Australia and New Zealand agreed to set up a Commonwealth Strategic Reserve in Malaya. The primary purpose of this Strategic Reserve was for countering a growing and menacing Communist threat in South East Asia. The prevailing theory pedalled at that time was the Domino Effect.  It was the assumption, for instance, that if Thailand fell, then soon Malaysia and Singapore too would fall to the Communists.

Initially, the RAAF Base in Butterworth had two squadrons of Sabre jet fighters, a squadron of Canberra tactical bombers and reconnaissance aircraft and a flight of Dakota transport aircraft. The RAAF Base commenced operations in June 1958.

At its peak strength during the 1970s, it had 1200 Australian personnel together with their families living on the island of Penang as well as in Butterworth. The RAAF Base, in addition, also employed another 1000 local Malay, Chinese and Indian support staff.

Extended Support during the Vietnam War

Unknown to most Malaysians at that time, the RAAF Base in Butterworth played a behind the scenes role in supporting a squadron that was deployed to Ubon, Thailand. The squadron played a pivotal role there along with medical and transport facilities during the Vietnam War.

Some senior citizens may well remember Harold Holt, the Australian prime minister at that time. Harold Holt gave tremendous, unstinting support to Lyndon Baines Johnson during the Vietnam War. Lyndon Johnson was then president of the United States.  What was Harold Holt’s infamous quote: ‘ All the way with LBJ ‘. Harold Holt later disappeared mysteriously when he went for a routine swim at a beach. His body was never found.

Crucial Role in Defending Malaysia

When Malaysia was formed with the merger of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, the then fiery Indonesian president, made his displeasure and opposition to the idea publicly known. President Sukarno announced a Crush Malaysia campaign and proclaimed a period of Confrontation.

It was certainly a tense period for the new nation and things got much worse when over 100 plus Indonesian paratroopers were dropped into the state of Johor at the southern tip of peninsula Malaya. Thankfully, they were quickly rounded up.

The base, as such, was especially crucial between 1963 and 1966 during the period of Confrontation. The RAAF Base in Butterworth became the headquarters of the Integrated Air Defence System under the Five Power Defence Agreement. Its main role was to provide air defence for Singapore and Malaysia.

Australia’s Single Biggest Engagement with Asia

The RAAF Base in Butterworth was, without doubt, Australia’s single biggest engagement with Asia. Most young Malaysians may not know about this chapter in our infancy as a nation. But they should know and appreciate it because it is easy to gloss over, pretend otherwise and forget such matters.

The RAAF Base in Butterworth existed from 1955 to 1988. During that thirty-three year period over 50,000 Australians were based there together with their families.

It was Australia’s single biggest engagement with Asia.

Integrated Well with the Local Population

To their credit, the Australian airmen and their families integrated very well with Malaysians of all walks of life. I remember meeting a few of them in the mid-sixties mainly at social gatherings in Penang while I was training to be a certified teacher at St Joseph’s Training College ( STJC ), a La Salle institution in Pulau Tikus, Penang.

They were humble, friendly, socially adept and helpful. In that process, these Australians contributed to the rich, local social fabric of Penang society at that time.  To add to that unique cultural melting pot, we also had a steady infusion of lovely, young and fashionable Thai lasses from Bangkok and Phuket who trooped to Penang for classes in typewriting, stenography and secretarial studies.

George Town, Penang and Adelaide, South Australia: Sister Cities

Australia became increasingly connected to Asia and particularly to Penang and Malaysia I believe, to a great measure, because of their presence and contribution through the RAAF for over those thirty-three years.

It is still quite common to see many Australian families holidaying in Penang. For some, it is like a yearly pilgrimage to Shangri La, both literally and otherwise. For good measure, there are three well-known high-class Shangri-La hotel properties in Penang, two in Batu Feringgi and one in George Town.

In February 1973, the city of Adelaide, on the advice of the charismatic and forward thinking Don Dunstan (then premier of South Australia) proposed the establishment of a sister city (or twin cities) relationship with George Town, Penang.  Don Dunstan, you may be interested to know, actually married a Malaysian journalist named Adele Koh who hailed from Penang.

In December the same year, Dr Lim Chong Eu, a long-serving chief minister of Penang signed a sealed scroll attesting to this sister city arrangement. The sister city relationship has resulted in many enjoyable yearly programmes being hosted in both cities much to the satisfaction of the citizens.

Social History of RAAF Butterworth Base

KampongAustraliaBookDr. Mathew Radcliffe recently completed a fascinating social history of the RAAF Butterworth Base.

I am no historian but if what little I have shared has whetted your appetite for more on this unique history and contribution, do get his book, ‘Kampong Australia‘ which was published recently. (Read the Sydney Morning Herald review of the book).

Mathew was incidentally born at the RAAF Base in Butterworth and served in the RAAF for seven years.

He later went to university and completed a BA majoring in history before earning a Ph.D from Macquarie University.

Lest We Easily Forget

#malaysiahistory #malaysia #RAAF

Enduring Legacy of Tony Leow Sun Hock

Living a Life that Mattered

Sometime last year I was requested to write an article on Tony Leow Sun Hock by the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur. They had wanted to include a tribute to Tony Leow in the souvenir programme that was being published to mark the 40th anniversary of the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I readily obliged the club leaders. I used that article later as a blog posting under the heading: Remembering an Unusual Friend – Tony Leow Sun Hock.

In mid-February 2017, Tony Leow who had gallantly fought to stay alive, after being in a coma for nine and half years, finally relented and passed gracefully into eternity.  He was 72 years old. While in this comatose state, Tony was provided with excellent round the clock care by two nurses/care givers who took turns to look into his needs. His wife, Anna and their four sons were also there for him. Tony’s extended family of brothers and sisters also visited him from time to time as did his fellow Kiwanians.

Tony was that incredible shining light, dynamo and trailblazer. He lived his life, writ large and bold, on his own terms.

A Light Has Been Extinguished

The family decided that three individuals should be invited to give eulogies at his funeral service in the church. His eldest son Kevin, the eldest granddaughter Felecia and yours truly were the ones who delivered eulogies. This is what I shared inter alia during the eulogy.

As a friend and a former classmate of his, I can say quite confidently, that a light has been extinguished and we are all that much poorer for it. Tony was that incredible shining light, dynamo and trailblazer. He lived his life, writ large and bold, on his own terms. He was also never afraid to take on challenges. Likewise, he also sought opportunities to grow his business.

In that exhausting process, Tony achieved a large measure of success. Lesser individuals would have thrown in the towel when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles but not Tony. He literally thrived on overcoming challenges. This was truly commendable because Tony ‘graduated’  from the well known and widely respected ‘University of Hard Knocks’ summa cum laude.

Snapshots of That Individual

I would now like to share with you some interesting snippets of information that throw greater light on this strong minded and driven individual. Hopefully, these snapshots will give you a better idea of the many faceted personality of Tony Leow.

Champion Motor Rallying Enthusiast

Tony was an outstanding motor rallying exponent. He was one-half of a winning combination that roared to repeated victories in numerous motor rally competitions in Malaysia. Motor rallying in Malaysia is especially thrilling, exciting and dangerous to the uninitiated because of the challenges facing the newcomer. Drivers have to cope with slimy, thick mud, narrow rubber and oil palm estate dirt tracks, pock marked, abandoned tin mines trails and often a ‘ missing wooden bridge or two ‘ as well as night driving and the occasional heavy showers are all par for the course!

The driver of the Team Nissan rally car was someone with the surname Lim and Tony was the ace, daredevil navigator. Why do I say daredevil? You have to have supreme confidence in the driver to sit calmly in a racing car with your crash helmet on and in often hot and humid conditions here in the tropics.

In addition, the rally car is spartanly equipped with uncomfortable seats and the driver and navigator are secured in place by full harness seat belts. From the inside, one can see that there is a steel roll cage for safety reasons. The team are subject to being bounced about repeatedly because of the rough and uneven terrain and screeching round corners, ever so often in a thunderous, continuous roar. Under these horrible conditions, Tony still somehow managed to do a bloody good job navigating the route. Certainly, not my cup of tea!

Bravery Was His Middle Name

In his teens and during a picnic at a waterfall location or a mining pool (not sure which) somewhere in the Klang Valley, Tony without hesitation or a care for his own safety jumped into the water to save a friend. The friend and classmate, unfortunately, could not swim and he was clearly in distress and in the process of drowning. Failure to act decisively and promptly would have surely resulted in the loss of a young life.

How do I know about this incident? It was simply because that good friend who was saved told me about this on at least two different occasions. That friend who later became a doctor remains to this day, ever grateful for that courageous act. Tony’s instinctive and spontaneous action that day was an act of true heroism.

Committed Community Service Club Builder

I take pleasure in recalling that I had introduced Tony to the Kiwanis community service movement. Tony was a truly committed builder of Kiwanis Clubs in Malaysia. Do remember that this was a period when we had only a mother club i.e. Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur with a membership of about twenty-five individuals. Of these, only a handful was truly active and totally committed to growing the membership as well as in building new clubs.

Together with three other stalwarts, namely the late Lim Eng Seng, Michael Wong Sek Peng and yours truly, these Kiwanians are credited with building eight clubs during a two-year building spree. It is important to keep in mind that Kiwanis International did not reimburse these individuals for their effort, their time or even for the expenses incurred.

Tony is credited with introducing the concept of a motor treasure hunt as a fund raising vehicle for the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur.

The club building exercise was undertaken and driven by a sense of mission, a deep commitment and a real desire to build more clubs. It was also to spread the joys and satisfaction of altruistic community service. In that high pursuit, the bonds of fellowship were also strengthened. All the expenses thus incurred in club building came out of the pockets of these individuals! Today there are more than 50 clubs in Malaysia. Tony went on to become president of the Kuala Lumpur club and later Area Coordinator for Kiwanis Malaysia.

Talented Organiser of Motor Treasure Hunts

Tony is credited with introducing the concept of a motor treasure hunt as a fund raising vehicle for the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur. He was a very detailed and precise in planning the treasure hunt route. He was equally adept at posing tricky and puzzling questions for the competitors.

Tony would go over the treasure hunt route twice… just think for a moment the man hours involved. That was no sweat for Tony – he always did it his way and his way was superb. Today, I am pleased to inform you that KCKL still organises yearly treasure hunts… more than 30 thus far. What a tribute to a far-sighted man.

Recollections from Family and Friends

Eddie Low Kah Hin

Classmate, Childhood Friend and Loss Adjuster from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

I recall with pleasure our carefree childhood days where we spent some afternoons swimming in disused mining pools in Kuchai Lama, off Old Klang Road, Kuala Lumpur. This is where we learnt to swim. On hindsight much later, we realised it was a very dangerous place to learn that skill!

When we finished high school, both of us entered the job market in related fields. Tony landed a job with Wall’s Ice Cream and I joined Cold Storage Supermarkets.

He next got a job with Mobil Oil as a sales rep and I joined Esso. Even at that stage, Tony was very enterprising and very determined to be an entrepreneur.

His first car was a cute, mini Fiat 600. Later, he bought a VW Beetle. He drove over to my place to show me the car. In early 2002, when I returned to Malaysia for a visit, he came to meet me in an impressive Mercedes Benz 450 S Class.

I shall forever cherish our friendship.

Ngau Wing Fatt –

Chartered Certified Accountant, Kiwanian and Treasure Hunt Collaborator from Kuala Lumpur

I volunteered to drive for Tony when he had to plan the routes for the 2nd and 3 rd treasure hunts. The distance for the third treasure hunt was over 300 km! These driving missions were usually carried out on Sundays and while I drove, Tony was busy planning the route and coming up with the tricky and sometimes difficult questions.

We got along well and I must confess that I learnt a lot about competent and safe driving from Tony.

From my association with Tony, I discovered that he was witty, hilarious, knowledgeable and a street smart guy. He was sharp-sighted in spotting funny sign boards, structures and buildings. He would coin/pose questions that tested your wits and knowledge. He once famously referred to road bumps to slow traffic as ‘sleeping policemen’.

Tony was a great leader who provided sound advice, proper direction and unselfish support to the Kiwanis Clubs of Malaysia.

Lau Se Hian –

Chartered Management Accountant, Kiwanian and Fellow Bon Vivant originally from Muar, Johore

I remember Tony with gratitude for his support in organising the yearly treasure hunts. This activity was a major source of financing for the Kiwanis Down’s Syndrome Centre in Petaling Jaya, especially in the early days.

Tony was a great leader who provided sound advice, proper direction and unselfish support to the Kiwanis Clubs of Malaysia. Kiwanians in Malaysia owe him a debt of gratitude.

Kevin Leow

Eldest of four sons and the one who gave the eulogy at the funeral service

It was a moving eulogy. Kevin shared the following information:

Most of you present may not know nor can you imagine that it was an easy task being a child of Tony Leow. Dad set very high standards for his children in many areas. ( It was Tony’s way of showing tough love ) He had accomplished many wonderful feats and had achieved great things in his life.

Dad was also a serial entrepreneur. Probably his greatest business achievement was in the public listing of his company, Hirotako Holdings Berhad.  Hirotako manufactures seat belts, air bags and many other car related products.

Dad was also a three-time Malaysian Motor Rallying Champion.

Richard Leow

Brother, Entrepreneur and Past President of the Kiwanis Downs’ Syndrome Foundation in Malaysia.

We come from a large family. Our parents had 11 of us… eight sons and three daughters. Tony was the sixth in the family and I was the ninth. Tony was three years my senior. Our dad was a wage earner. He was very strict, a man of principles and with a no-nonsense attitude. But he was also extremely kind and with a generous disposition. Our dad’s golden rule was: Go and help the poor. They need us. And God will bless us.’

Tony took dad’s advice to the hilt. We got along very well………not just as brothers but also as friends and colleagues in business and in community service. He was one of my partners in advertising and also in a trading company. Tony also approached me to be one of his partners in a decorative glass manufacturing company. He was also the one who introduced me to the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur.

We had our occasional differences and there was once when Tony came to our factory for a discussion on a certain matter. The discussion grew heated, and in the process, Tony lost his cool! To his ever lasting credit, Tony was big enough to telephone me later to apologise and he then invited me to join him for lunch. This is our Leow trait ……..having a short fuse!

Tony surprised me in August 2007 while he was in and out of the Damansara Specialist Hospital by saying: I would like to be baptised and be a Catholic and I want you to be my godfather!  I was honoured. His wife, Anna, is a born Catholic and their four sons are also Catholic. I have great admiration for my brother.

Footprints on the Sands of Time

There is a very well known saying that is most appropriate in this instance and I would like to share it.

Lives of outstanding men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime
   And departing, leave behind us,
  Footprints on the sands of time

Rally on in the heavens above Tony and many thanks for those wonderful memories.

Like a Thief in the Stillness of the Night

When the truly unexpected occurs

On 27 December 2016, I received a telephone call at about 11.30am from an old friend who I have known for more than fifty years. David ( not his real name ) seemed to be very emotional and had some difficulty speaking coherently on the phone and I had trouble understanding him. Sensing his difficulty, his wife, Rosemary (not her real name ) took over the phone and informed me in a matter of fact manner that their eldest son, aged 38, had unexpectedly passed away that morning! It took a while for the devastating news to register.

No one ever prepares you to receive such unexpected, shocking and distressing news.

It is my belief, and that of many others too I am sure, that no parent anywhere in the world, should suffer the cruel and heartbreaking fate of having to bury a child. It is not in the natural order of things.

A Loving and Successful Family

This is a loving and successful family in every sense of the word. The father is a Malaysian Indian and was a prominent trade union official. He used to work for a well-known British plantation company in Kuala Lumpur and rose over the years to a senior administrative position.

He was also a respected union official both within the union as well as by the company itself. He had travelled to many countries on union business during his active years. He was also a responsible family man and a truly filial son to his parents. One of his uncles served as a parish priest in Penang for over 60 years and a nephew of his is a priest in Tamil Nadu, India.

The mother, a Malaysian Chinese originally from Malacca, was a secretary with a Malaysian bank for many years. Even after retirement, she continued to work for a law firm and is still very active in voluntary work.

She is a convert to Catholicism and today serves on a number of church committees.

Rosemary takes her faith seriously and regularly attends retreats locally as well as in India and the Philippines. She too comes from a big and close family.

Three Professionals Emerged

They have three children, two sons and a daughter. They provided a loving, conducive and nurturing environment and encouraged their children to excel. In the process, they made many personal sacrifices so that their children could succeed in school and university.

To their great credit, all three children rose to the occasion and became fully fledged professionals. The eldest son became an engineer, the second child, the daughter became a doctor and the youngest also graduated as an engineer. Both sons worked abroad… one in Newcastle, England and the eldest one ( the individual who passed away suddenly ) was based in Dubai. The daughter works in Kuala Lumpur.

What Actually Happened

The eldest son had gone out with a few friends to catch up on old times and to have a jolly good session at a restaurant in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. He returned home in the wee hours of the morning, at roughly 2.00 am, informed his French wife that he was tired and that he was going to hit the sack. Those were his last words.

The next morning, the family understandingly let him sleep for some time. At about 10.00 am, his wife went to wake him up. She tried her best but he did not respond. She thought his body felt cold and then immediately gave him CPR. At the same time, she shouted out for her mother in law. When the mother in law arrived, the wife simply said: He is gone! The mother in law retorted: What do you mean, he is gone?  It then dawned on them that sometime during the night, her son / her husband had tragically passed away.

It is not how long we get to live but more importantly how we choose to live that matters in the end.

They then went about calling for assistance. A number of the son’s close friends responded promptly and stepped forward to render assistance to the grieving family. First, the doctor daughter/sister had to come and ascertain the nature of the problem and to confirm the matter. Next, someone had to make a police report on the sudden demise of this relatively young man. Once the police officers came, they took the body away to the hospital for a post mortem. This is a standard procedure in such cases. It was all happening much too fast and the family was still in a state of disbelief and shock.

Some Incredible & Intriguing Facts

  1. The eldest son had not been back to his parents’ home for Christmas for four years. I believe he had some sort of premonition, desire or urge to return to his roots. He had initially worked in the United Kingdom before being posted to the Dubai office of an MNC. He chose to return last Christmas to be with his family. That surely is a blessing.
  2. He passed away in the family home where he grew up, was nurtured and was given the right values in life. He was back in familiar surroundings and when he did pass away, it was in the family home. He did not pass away alone in some foreign, distant land.
  3. His two close friends and his Scottish boss who flew down to Kuala Lumpur for the funeral service gave heart-warming eulogies extolling his fine qualities as an individual, as a friend and as a professional. His younger brother gave a eulogy describing him as a brother who truly cared. These eulogies spoke volumes about the man and the son/brother he was.
  4. The church service was packed with relatives, friends and colleagues. More than four hundred people were present. That, in itself, says a lot about the young man and the family.
  5. The funeral service was con-celebrated by five religious personalities: three priests, an archbishop emeritus and Malaysia’s recently ordained cardinal. That was indeed a high honour.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It is never easy to bear such a heavy cross! It is doubly hard for aged parents to have to deal with the loss of a child, especially a brilliant one with a most promising career. We have, however, been repeatedly told that death sometimes comes like ‘a thief in the stillness of the night’. And it was decidedly so in this case.

I believe we have to live our lives with this admonition always in mind. It is not how long we get to live but more importantly how we choose to live that matters in the end.

Have we kept the faith?  Have we been true to family and friends? Have we set aside time for our families? Not just immediate families but also extended families.

Whilst during our careers we naturally strive for success, let us remember that once we have passed that stage, it is time for us to move on to the next and better stage… the stage of significance.

Have we willingly and regularly shared some of our blessings with the less fortunate? Have we been big enough to forgive those who have hurt us, intentionally or otherwise?  These are some questions that we have to wrestle with honestly and in all sincerity.

Be a Blessing to Others

If we do answer these questions, then when the time comes for us to leave this world, we will not have any misgivings. We can go quietly and peacefully in the stillness of the night, knowing that we had tried to do our very best.

Whilst during our careers we naturally strive for success, let us remember that once we have passed that stage, it is time for us to move on to the next and better stage… the stage of significance.

This is that golden time and that phase in our lives to use our experience, knowledge, skills and expertise if any, to help others. We should carry out this assistance in a quiet manner, without fanfare and in all sincerity. In doing so, like best-selling author Bob Buford says, we become a blessing to others. This is the real source of that elusive significance.