Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hungry Ghosts vs the "Devils" during Ramadan

I was recently invited to be one of the speakers at a conference party called "The gathering of Great Minds'" which was held at the Kuala Lumpur Securities Commission. (I enjoyed it actually, because the environment was creative and the audience was engaging).  My topic was "Creativity from Diversity".

To demonstrate how diversity is able to create new perspectives and open up new "windows of looking",  I shared with them an experience I had with an 8 year old dear friend of mine.

This 8 year old boy is a product of mixed parentage - Malay, Chinese and Burmese. (And adults who claim they believe in God will force him to choose an ethnic class or make him conscious of one! Makes you wonder "what god" they worship)

He told me that he was scared this month. I asked him, "why?"  He was told by his Chinese cousin that this is the hungry ghost month and that these ghosts will possess boys. 

I sat him him down and told him what the hungry ghost belief was and then reminded him that there is also another belief that Malays have. This is also the month of Ramadan.

I told him that while Chinese believe that the gates of hell are open and all the ghosts have rushed out to roam the earth, the Malays believe otherwise. The Malays believe that in the month of Ramadan, the gates of hell are closed and no ghosts or spirits can roam the earth! They are all chained!

He looked at me amused and said, "Yes. That's what I was taught in the agama class too".

"So, are the gates of hell open or closed you think? Got ghosts roaming around or not?", I asked.

"I dont know. It sounds so funny now. Two different story about the same thing. Both from adults".

I reminded him that while adults may have good motives, they need not necessarily have clever ways of handling situations. Sometimes they cause great harm with good intentions. Most of them grow up never thinking about what they hear.  "That is why you must always use your brain and think about what they are saying".

 "Remember how you were frightened to sleep with stories that the monster is looking for boys with eyes not closed at night? I told you there are no monsters in the house?. That if you do not sleep, you will make me the monster if I hear you falling asleep in school?"

He laughed and laughed.

"The next time your cousin scares you with stories of hungry ghosts, tell him that you had lunch with one and the ghost wants to meet up with him".

He laughed again heartily and said "Coool. That should shut him up!"

Peace !

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Happy Feasting to some

Happy Fasting to some

Happy Bersaum to the Muslims!

Peace !

Middle Class Children don’t matter? – The Quest for the Playground !!!

Will you believe it if I tell you that a housing area that has 500 over houses still does not have a playground or a community field?  Is it not amazing that that local authorities or the relevant Government body can give cf to the developer without ensuring that the field is also completed?
This is exactly the malady of the residents of BU4, Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya. They have raised this issue since 1998 and nobody seems to have moved to ensure that the field is build.  The developers obviously felt that the children of BU4 do not matter.  Probably building a playground is a waste of “valuable land” for the developers.
The MBPJ clearly had told the developers that the field MUST be build and handed over to MBPJ BEFORE they started development of more houses and condominiums on an adjacent land. The development on the adjacent land has gone full steam but the field is still incomplete…after more than 12 years!!!

 Letters, petitions and pleas from the residents of BU4 failed.One resident, Shahkander Singh has taken this quest as a personal crusade for years.
This is a lesson to ordinary middle income citizens of this country that when it comes to matters of their life – they have to take it into their own hands. Hence, on 8th August 2010, the residents and the children of BU4 made their pleas public at a press conference next to the field that should have been theirs long ago.

I had invited YB Elizabeth Wong, the Adun of Bukit Lanjan to attend the press conference. She was in full support of the quest for the field. She suggested that MBPJ should issue a stop work order on the development of the adjacent development until the field is completed according to the specifications of the layout.  Puan Zuraidah, the pengarah of Landscape MBPJ also attended the press conference.  The President of BURA, Datuk Manpal Singh was also kind to attend and lend support to the BU4 residents.

The residents spoke. While mighty developer's may think only of profits, the residents want to send across this message - our families matter too!
Resulting from the press conference, it is anticipated that several meetings between BU4 residents and MBPJ will take place. Bottomline – the BU4 children and senior citizens hope that they will get their rightful field and playground by this year. Not another 15 year wait!

Middle class children do matter too!!!

Monday, August 9, 2010


This book is by Dr Chandra Muzafar, the President of JUST International, professor of Global Studies at USM, and a well known social scientist.

Let me say this at the very outset – this book is a must read for all Malaysians who are serious about understanding inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in our country.  All political leaders worth their salt should make this book compulsory reading.

The minute I got the book, I could not put it down until I finished reading it.  The writing style is typically Chandra – logical, factual, direct and yet, pleading. Obviously a lot of thought and passion has gone into analyzing the issues that he discusses in the book.

He interestingly discusses the idea of “national culture” and points out the difference between culture that is artificially imposed with that which is characterized by their multi-ethnic acceptability and certain common underlying values. He observes that “the upper class in business and politics in Malaysia has more negative than positive qualities”. “In fact, the lifestyles of these elites are imitated by the masses”.  Chandra correctly points out among the upper classes, “Greed and corruption have gained some respectability in their circles”. He makes the plea for Malaysians to allow the substance of culture to evolve rather than be engrossed with superficialities.

The book also discusses the causes of ethnic polarization and examines whether it has worsened over the years.  It  not only covers Dr Chandra’s thoughts on ethnic relations from 1974 to 2008, but one can feel that it is written with intellectual honesty and from the heart.  Chandra covers the issues clearly such that every Malaysian irrespective of their social construct can readily identify with it.

There are many other areas related to Malaysian unity such as “acceptance and accommodation of non-Muslim communities”, “the ethicizing of the economy” and “ seeking solutions to inter religious challenges in a multi-religious society” discussed.

To me, the greatest strength of the book is that it invites us to think about Malaysian unity in a way that many other books do not. You have to read it to know what I mean.

This book certainly makes a plea for empathy so that real Malaysian unity can be part of the Malaysian culture and psyche.

Publisher:  Zubedy Ideahouse Sdn BHd.
Year of first Publication : 2010
Price      :  RM39.20

Happy reading.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

The So-called "Education Policy" - Have we been systematically reduced to an imbecile? Part 3

3. Let us briefly look at the so-called education policy in this country. We have to do this because there is a  mass delusion in this country encouraged by the politicians that the type of education in this country is making us “better all round”. I admit that it is difficult to try to discern any clear policy objective of our education policy for several reasons, primarily because it changes with changes of the Minister. The following characteristics, however, may be observed:

(a)                the policies appears to be largely political than educational;
(b)               after 52 years of Merdeka, we are still grappling with the basic issue of the medium of instruction and learning in the educational system (emotions rather than clear thinking rule this issue) eg Maths & Science in English or Bahasa Malaysia;
(c)                there does not seem to be a coherent, wholesome and long term educational policy that is equally flexible to keep pace with developments in knowledge and needs;
(d)               too many ad hoc, abrupt changes in policies that disrupts continuity and confuses the teachers;
(e)                we have adopted the Prussian education system without much thought
(f)                other than the science syllabuses, the arts syllabuses tend to be strongly influenced by mainstream political and religious biasness rather than objectivity, facts and “truth”.
(g)               Strong emphasis on examinations and memorization rather than reflection, and creative thinking. (If you do not like words, you can never do well because your mind may be picture tuned!)
(h)               For years, there has been little priority given to the quality of schools, teachers, teaching and learning materials relative to the other sectors which have received bigger budgets and greater attention.
(i)                 There is very little emphasis on the culture of research;
(j)                 A visit to any school library leaves the visitor worried;

Once upon a time, due to the then Government’s overemphasis on science subjects, even students who were not interested in science we forced into the Science stream or could not apply into the Arts stream.  I was one of them who was placed in the science stream and with immense difficulty, I had to study the Arts subjects myself and finally got into the Arts stream only in Upper Six!

Further, I could never understand the kind of so-called “science subjects” being taught in the universities without corresponding opportunities for application in the real world once they graduate.

I also feel that there seems to be no efforts to motivate or create a motivating atmosphere for teachers in the National Schools. I understand from some teachers I have been speaking to in the last few months that they now being burdened with further paperwork in the name of KPIs ! This is troublesome and distractive as the main focus of the teachers should be to cultivate the learning culture in the pupils and students.

I also find it disheartening that proper thought has not been given to the security of pupils in primary school once the school is over. You can find them loitering outside the school waiting for their school buses or their respective caretakers to take them home. In town, some of these schools are located along busy roads and can be dangerous for the primary school students. It is matters such as this and more that makes me wish that Ministers should be responsible and focus on their tasks rather than making political speeches which is increasingly becoming a bore.

At the University level, the students of today seem to have become more docile than their predecessors – national responsibility awareness and knowledge of general affairs in the country seems lacking. It appears that even University students have become examination orientated with no interest in the acquisition of knowledge. What went wrong?

The vernacular school system is yet another facet of our education system that has to be reviewed to determine its purpose in the light of the multi-racial nature of our society. I am not disputing that there are constitutional guarantees for this but I think we have to try to understand its utility in the larger scheme of things.

Any educational institution that deliberately caters only for one particular ethnic or religious group is not conducive for nation building since it deters the experience of and lessons from interaction between the differing ethnic or religious groupings.

As for agama schools, I do not think that it should be funded from the tax-payers’ money as I do not consider it conducive for nation-building as it only caters for one particular social construct. It creates an exclusive and insular attitude among the students which is anti-thesis to the reality of the Nation.
I can go on but I hope you get the picture – the schools, whether national, vernacular or agama are just floating along with no coherent and united direction.  Hence, these schools are producing citizens who will be inclined to move in opposite directions without even understanding why!

Next, God willing: Have we been systematically reduced to an imbecile? Part 4: Industrial revolution and Prussian style classrooms – our education system and classroom style of education is based largely on the Prussian education system and philosophy.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Two recent developments in East Asia --- one in Northeast Asia and the other in Southeast Asia--- have brought to the fore some of the latent tensions in the region.

It was the sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine in late March this year that escalated tensions in North East Asia. The dastardly North Korean attack, verified by a multi-national investigation in May, killed 46 sailors. The recently concluded US-South Korean military exercise that included a massive nuclear powered US supercarrier, was a potent show of force, in retaliation for the destruction of the Cheonan and the massacre of its crew.

The Cheonan episode has made it more difficult for the two Koreas and their neighbours and allies to hold negotiations on the question of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and other related matters. Nonetheless, once the political temperature decreases, it is important to resume talks in the larger interest of peace in the Korean Peninsula and in Asia and the world.

The second incident which occurred in Hanoi in the course of an ASEAN meeting in July 2010, revolves around the remarks made by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, about China and the Spratly and Paracel Islands. Her oblique criticism of China’s approach to territorial disputes over the chain of Islands has irked the Chinese government which sees her comment as an attempt to internationalise the issue. For the Chinese, the disputes, essentially competing sovereignty claims that pit their country against Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, should be resolved through bilateral negotiations. Because Hillary Clinton has now stated that the US has a “ national interest” in resolving the disputes, Beijing is suspicious that Washington is setting the stage for a more intrusive role in the South China Sea. To stop this from happening--- it will not be in the interest of the region—China should be more committed to resolving the disputes as soon as possible.

Underlying the Cheonan episode and the Hanoi incident, it is obvious, is a power play of immense significance between the US and China. The US, in pursuit of global hegemony, seeks to contain China. This is why it is determined to curb China’s growing economic and political clout. Taming North Korea is a way of sending a clear signal to its protector, namely, China. Similarly, by projecting itself into the territorial disputes of the South China Sea, the US is challenging China in its neighbourhood.

How this power play unfolds in the coming years is of vital concern to ASEAN.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar,
International Movement for a Just World (JUST).


3rd August 2010.