Farewell Nik

One of the three persons in my department leaving is Nik. He's one of the regular "lunch gang". For the last lunch in Bangi we wanted to go somewhere different so some bright person suggested steamboat at Alamanda Putrajaya. "Yay!" =S... I'm not actually a big fan of steamboat but it wasn't about me today so majority wins. It was rather an expensive lunch by our standards but it was ok value I guess. The whole thing was quite filling though the problem I have with steamboat is there is no real taste to it. I'm more of a full on flavour and the whole food texture experience.. hahaha... not too good at explaining it am I? Anyways, we will miss the one missing guy during our lunches from now on.On second thought, that's one less person cracking "bachelor" jokes at me during lunch! hehehe... See ya around Nik & good luck at the new place!

Yes, I'm not too keen on steamboat.

Goodbye March, Hello April

Good morning everyone. It's a sombre start to the day as with the departure of march, the end of the Petronas financial year means that who ever applied for transfer and got it will be gone tomorrow. My lunch group member is one of those people. Sad to see him go but i guess he needs to move on to do better things. I think i need to too. The air of uncertainly and pessimism lingers in every conversation and every joke we crack at the office. Indeed my friends, these are trying times. Oh well, life goes on regardless...

Happy birthday to all March and Aries babies. Just imagine that you can open the card and like the best wishes of your liking are written in that card =P
 
I've failed to sleep before 1am again. I'm so sleepy right now it's not funny. Anyhow, I've made a card for all March and April babies. Cos my birthday is April jugak so kira sekali lah. To those who were lucky enough to get a personalised card, count yourself very lucky cos I really didn't have much free time lately. March is the busiest month for me. I was planning to go jogging at lake gardens after work but now think i'm just gonna go straight home after work. I'm gonna get my house hold chores done early so that I can sleep early. I need that more than my jogging! Anyways hope you guys like the card. Happy birthday to my Aries friends out there!

What are you?

I bet those who've studied abroad have at some point been asked this question. Well, I've been mistaken for a Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian and even on one occasion an English boy in Sheffield thought that I was Pakistani!? Damn! That I did not expect! Must be the tanned skin tone.
 This is the result of all that mixing. Eid 2008. Guys. meet my family and please ignore the mustache. It was a phase ok.
Like most "Malays" I am a mix of all sorts. Both my grandparents from my father's side originated from Pattani, what is now modern day southern Thailand. They are Kelantanese of mixed Pattani and Arab descent. According to my grandfather our ancestors came down from Pattani to Kota Bharu with the royal entourage as missionaries or religious teachers. As history tells us, Kelantanese and Pattani governments are related and were only really seperated by the Golok river post Bangkok treaty between the British Empire and the Kingdom of Siam. Ever wondered why alot of Kelantanese women are fair? Well, centuries of mixing with the local Chinese (Cino kito) and Arabs took care of that. I pure Malay is NEVER fair. The fair complexion comes through mixing with another race. So I am half a mix of that though i got my grandad's dark genes. I can't speak Kelantanese so i do not consider myself Kelantanese, nor do I adhere to any Kelantanese customs or traditions.

Meet my grandparents from Kelantan.
Mum's side is rather complex. Her father was from Teraci, Negeri Sembilan and her mother was Singaporean (now Malaysian). Negeri Sembilan is well known as a Minangkabau state with the people originating from west Sumatra. Ironicly, my relatives say that they were of Jambi lineage i.e the peoples of East Sumatra. Well, at least we can be certain that they were from Sumatra. Grandma's side was Singaporean, even that they weren't originally from Singapore. Back in those days Singapore was the place to be if you were looking for a better life and to settle down. It was the hight of the British colonial era in the orient. My great grandfather whom I managed to meet once was Chinese. He married my great grandmother who was Javanese from central Java. My grandmother was brought up as a Javanese and retained little of her Chinese ancestry save maybe for the TeoChew language she and her siblings can still speak. My mother was brought up with a mix of cultures, Negeri sembilan and Javenese cultures and eventually i guess adopting the popular culture which we now call Malay culture.


The Singapore clan. Us boys and dad with Uncles and 2nd cousins
Which brings me to my next point. What is a Malay? is the Malay race homogeneous? Well, wikipedia has and entry on it which you can read here. No, Malays are not a Homogeneous race. Though there is an actual ethnic group called "Melayu", originally from Sumatra, to me in modern times it is more of an umbrella term used to define people that adhere to the popular culture of the government of the day (in a Malaysian context). Even the Malaysian constitution defines a Malay as: a person who professes Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom and who has at least one ancestor from the Malay Peninsula or Singapore. Therefore you can have peoples with all sorts of ethnic backgrounds with their race written as "Melayu" on their Identification Cards (IC). Even my officemate that has a Chinese surname, habitually speaks Chinese with his parents, speaks Malay with a Chinese accent is a "Melayu" on his IC by virtue of having an Arabic first name and being Muslim. Fair enough his family has been muslims for 5 generations and has probably been in Malaysia longer than some of my relatives but it's just plain silly to call him a Malay. But in Malaysia, being Malay has it's benefits so takper lah, in public he's Malay at home he goes Tamlaaaaaa....Taumaaaaaa...(sorry, just quoting a few lines from Russel Peters hehehe). And do you think that certain things like the "Standard" baju Melayu is the traditional dress of all malays in Malaysia? if you think so then you have been misled. Each state or region in the peninsular had their own style of clothing. I do not believe the baju Melayu is native to Kelantan, well maybe not in the current "Standardised" form. Javanese have different traditional dresses altogether. So, in short Malays are a mixed race of mixed cultures but adhere to a certain popular culture as practiced in the region at that particular period of time.
My mum and sister with my grandma and her eldest sister on the right who married a Chinese man and left Islam. She was disowned by the family for many, many years. We only see her at official functions like this wedding.
Similar to Malays, Turkic and Arab peoples are not homogeneous. Turkic peoples occupy central asia from the XingJiang province jn China to Kazakhstan, Turkmenstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbijan, Iraq, all the way to modern day Turkey. They are a mix of tribes from the steppes of central asia mixed with the Mongols and other peoples they inter married with along the expansion of turkic empires westward. Ancient Anatolia which is now modern day Turkey was actually greek. In fact, the greek city of Troy is now in modern day Turkey. What binds these people together is their turkic language. Same with the Arabs. There can be no real genetic classification of an Arab. The arabs of peninsular arabia are different in customs from say the arabs of Sham (the region of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan) and in turn different from the Arabs of Africa (Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco). Even in peninsular Arabia, the arabs of the Hijjaz (Saudi Arabia) have slightly different cultures to Arabs of Hadhramout and Oman. The Arabic language also varies from region to region, a fact made known to me at University when my Iraqi friend could not understand a few words from my Omani friend and my Omani friend unable to understand the Algerian music I was listening to.
The next generation. My brother's merisik. He is marrying a Javanese Malaysian. We welcome another culture into our family.
So, as a wrap up to my lengthy rambling on race. The take away is, there is no real homogeneous race anymore. Maybe Japanese people are still homogeneous and probably some Africans and Australian aboriginals. Your race depends on what language you choose to speak as your mother tongue and what culture you choose to follow. Unfortunately, these things you cannot choose but by adopting the popular culture i.e in our context the Malaysian culture we can all be Malaysian. Ceh, macam iklan satu Malaysia lah pulak! for this to happen, we must not be so defensive with our norms and must be aware of other people's cultures. And ofcourse there's the issue of one binding language - Bahasa Malaysia. When everyone can speak the same language and practice the same culture or at least are well versed in the popular culture of the day, only then will we have a nation. In a world of peoples struggling to retain their identity one must remember that at some point in time more likely than not, our ancestors did not share the same customs and languages as you do now. The adopted the popular culture of the place they settled down in. It is a must for people to enjoy "normal" life. cultural over zealousness and pride has no room in modern society. This goes out to everyone, Malays included. Segregation can only last so long.... So, what are you?        

Saya suka makan

 Mmmm.....Nasi Dagang! Yummy!
"I like to eat" oh yes i do! My good old friend Nasrul and wife threw a little gathering on Sunday afternoon and as with all Malaysian gatherings, there's always food! Yes, we are a nation of food, ala.. like the food court at Pavilion - Food Republic! hehehe.. The wife cooked Nasi Dagang (the wife is Kelantanese), Nasi lemak and the most exotic dish: Okonomiyaki. The food was excellent. company good so it was an all in all great experience. As expected, I tried out all the dishes and I must say the Nasi Dagang was pretty good! As were the other dishes. Thanks Nas for the invite. Nanti when I'm married we do a makan2 k. Then I pulak cook =) If you can't wait then tunggu I move out of the parent's house then I'll have my own kitchen to mess up! hehehe.. Check out the food.
 Pretty good Okonomiyaki...

17 day report...

Well, my blog has only been up for 17 days and I already have 50 posts including this one. Hmmmm.. I thought I'd be addicted to blogging though not all posts were of my own writings. Since I registered with Nuffnang, I haven't earned any money yet but I found really interesting tools the have like the total visits to my blog below. Not many people frequent my blog but it's ok. It's kind of a personal blog so hopefully just friends an family drop in here though others a more than welcome to drop by and have a look. 


And also from where my visitors came from:
I can guess who's reading from Malaysia, well I wouldn't know specifically who. Australia I can guess who, UK I'm not too sure but I can guess who, Norway I know who cos I only know 1 Norwegian, the States hmm... only two people would read my blog from the states and I can guess who. UAE, I definitely know who's tuning in from there and also Singapore, I can guess who's tuning in from there. Hahaha... this is fun. But check out today's views and where they came from:
There's a Kiwi tuning in to my blog! I wonder who? I don't know any New Zealanders... oh... come to think of it, maybe I do... Anyways, it's getting late. Enough goofing around for one day. Good night everyone!

ISLAM AGAINST RACISM AND PREJUDICE

Gosh, i'm so lazy to write tonight. I wanna try to aim for an early night tonight. I'll leave you guys with a cut and paste article from the soundvision website. the article is below and if you want to read further please click here for more articles related to Islam and racism.

Islam's manifesto of Universal brotherhood of human beings
by Abdul Malik Mujahid

From the Quran
"O Mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you" (Quran 49:13).
Explanation: There are several principles, which this verse presents:
  1. This message is not just for Muslims only because God is addressing all of humanity. While Muslims are one brotherhood, this is part of a larger brotherhood of humanity.
  2. God is telling us that He has created us. Therefore He knows the best about us.
  3. He says that He created us from one man and one woman meaning then that we are all the same.
  4. It also means that all human beings are created through the same process, not in a manner in which some are created with a better mechanism than others.
  5. God is the One who made human beings into different groups and people.
  6. These differences are not wrong, rather a sign from God ("And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors. Verily, in that are indeed signs for those who know" [Quran 30:22]).
  7. Note that no word equivalent to race is used in this ayah or any other verse of the Quran.
  8. Islam, however, limits the purpose of these distinctions to differentiation and knowing each other. This is not meant to be a source of beating each other down with an attitude of ‘my group is better than your group' or false pride as is the case with tribalism, nationalism, colonialism, and racism.
  9. The only source of preference or greatness among human beings is not on a national or group level, but it is at the individual level.
  10. One individual who is (higher in Taqwa), more conscious of his Creator and is staying away from the bad and doing the good is better, no matter what nation, country or caste he is part of. Individual piety is the only thing that makes a person better and greater than the other one.
  11. However, the only criterion of preference, Taqwa, is not measurable by human beings. Indeed God is the One Who knows and is aware of everything so we should leave even this criterion to God to decide instead of human beings judging each other.
These are the deeply embedded ideals of Islam which still bring people to this way of life even though Muslims are not on the best level of Iman today. This is what changed the heart of a racist Malcolm X when he performed Hajj in Makkah. This is the power that brought Muhammad Ali to Islam. This is what still attracts the Untouchables of India towards Islam. This is the theory which convinced noted historian Professor A.J. Toynbee in 1948 to say that: "The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue."
Let's ask ourselves if the Muslim Ummah today, in its individual and collective behavior is striving to adopt and promote these Islamic ideals?

From the Sunnah
1. Prophet's response to racist comments:
A man once visited the Prophet's mosque in Madinah. There he saw a group of people sitting and discussing their faith together. Among them were Salman (who came from Persia), Suhayb who grew up in the Eastern Roman empire and was regarded as a Greek, and Bilal who was an African. The man then said:
"If the (Madinan) tribes of Aws and Khazraj support Muhammad, they are his people (that is, Arabs like him). But what are these people doing here?"
The Prophet became very angry when this was reported to him. Straightaway, he went to the mosque and summoned people to a Salat. He then addressed them saying:
"O people, know that the Lord and Sustainer is One. Your ancestor is one, your faith is one. The Arabism of anyone of you is not from your mother or father. It is no more than a tongue (language). Whoever speaks Arabic is an Arab." (As quoted in Islam The Natural Way by Abdul Wahid Hamid p. 125)

2. Statement of the universal brotherhood in the last Sermon:
O people, Remember that your Lord is One. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a black has no superiority over white, nor a white has any superiority over black, except by piety and good action (Taqwa). Indeed the best among you is the one with the best character (Taqwa). Listen to me. Did I convey this to you properly? People responded, Yes. O messenger of God, The Prophet then said, then each one of you who is there must convey this to everyone not present. (Excerpt from the Prophet's Last Sermon as in Baihiqi)

3. Don't take pride in ancestry:
The Prophet said: Let people stop boasting about their ancestors. One is only a pious believer or a miserable sinner. All men are sons of Adam, and Adam came from dust (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).

4. Looking down upon other people will stop you from entering the Jannah:
The Prophet said: Whoever has pride in his heart equal to the weight of an atom shall not enter Paradise. A man inquired about a person who likes to wear beautiful clothes and fine shoes, and he answered: God is beautiful and likes beauty. Then he explained pride means rejecting the truth because of self-esteem and looking down on other people (Muslim).

5. The Prophet condemnation of Arab racial pride:
There are many hadith, which repeatedly strike on the Arab pride of jahiliyyah. Arabs before Islam used to look down upon others specially blacks. The Prophet repeatedly contrasted the believing Africans versus non-believing Arab nobles.
The Prophet said: You should listen to and obey your ruler even if he was an Ethiopian slave whose head looked like a raisin (Bukhari).

The thing that should not be

That is that title of a Metallica song that describes my feelings while writing this. Angry. Well, anyone who knows me will tell you that I can only be so angry, so by other's standard this would described as "annoyed". And what thing could annoy me so much today? Well, it is the word "Race". No, it's not the type of race where people try to reach the finish line the first, it's the type that compartmentalises people into groups based on skin colour, language, facial features, culture and religion.

My very first baju melayu made by my mother
This is very annoying to me because I was brought up very non-racial. I was brought up with strong Islamic values and was always told that I was a Muslim. I didn't know that I was Malay until I came back to Malaysia. I was already 9 years old by then. I was born in Wales when my parents were still studying at University. Due to that fact, and the fact my father was very active in FOSIS I was always left with my Pakistani Nanny who was also my neighbour when we were living in Cardiff. I have never met her until I brought my parents back to Cardiff before my graduation. My parents reconnected with their old friends in Cardiff. The first time I met her I was surprised that she hugged me. My mum was equally surprised. Mum said it was probably because she had already thought of me as her own son. I don't know. I also attended Sunday school at the mosque in Cardiff as a young boy. I mixed around with Arabs, Pakistani/Indians and Africans alike. Back then we were all just Muslims. I went to comprehensive school in Cardiff, Kitchener Primary. There I went to school with people from all races, black, Asian, Welsh, English... Back then they were all just friends. Things were simple when you were young. I remember a time when a teacher asked me what the Malay word was for Thank you. Back then I did not know the word as I was taught to use "Jazaakallah hu Khair". After asking my mum only could I tell my teacher what the word was. I had never used terima kasih before that.
My primary school class very multi racial   
When I came to Malaysia in July 1990 my father worked at UTM in Jalan Semarak, i.e in KL. We settled in a Malay majority neighbourhood of Lembah Keramat. As I discovered later in life through one of my geography projects, Lembah Keramat was formed to urbanise the Malays who in Malaysia are the majority ethnic group but were not very urbanised at the time. That explained why at school I never encountered any students that were not Malay. At secondary school we had one or two Chinese seniors, but my year they were all Malay. Moving to KUSESS later it was the same story. We had one Indian guy in my year and the other years had negligible non-Malay population. In chemistry terms we'd call that "trace levels". The whole period of schooling in Malaysia was the time I was introduced to these racist attitude that was alien to me at that time. I think the story is similar to any other people brought up in an almost mono-ethnic area in suburban Kuala Lumpur. 

After SPM I got into KMYS to do my A-Levels. This place was NOT government run. This means that the non-Malay population was more than what I was used to at school. This was very refreshing. I always enjoy mindsets that are different, different point of views on subject matters and I think KMYS was the place where my current world view first developed into what it is now. My closest friends were non Malays. Despite this I did not lose my religion or "fall into a life of sin" as some hardliners would make you think. Religion is a choice and one must be confident with one's beliefs. If one is, then nothing can touch your beliefs. In fact through explaining my religion to other of other faiths, I think my faith is indeed stronger.
My A-Level gang was multi racial
At university, a new side to racism was introduced to me. The first friends I made on my first day was a Yorkshireman called David Wilks and a Scotish-Iraqi guy called Hayder Al-Khairulla. I then realised that even among Englishmen there were differences in them. And through Hayder I connected with more Arabs. My class has a few of them, all Al-somethings... They were mainly Omani and Iraqi. The funny thing is that these Arabs would one day say "Yeah, we're arabs! we're one" and the next day when a certain issue is raised they'd suddenly say, but I'm Iraqi, I'm Omani... =S. Even my Irish landlord said that he'd take good care of me as he knows what it was like to be "different". Apparently Irishmen had a very hard time in the 50's and 60's. At university I never lived with Malaysians. My flatmates were always non-Malaysians. The first year I was living with 2 guys from the Maldives, a UK-Bangladeshi - Shueb who lived with me throughout my University life and briefly a Palastinian guy. 2nd and third year I lived with the same persons, Nick and Shueb. We got along fine like normal. I still pay Nick and Shueb a visit everytime I am in the UK. Despite having limited contact with Malaysians in Leeds, I was still elected the president for the Malaysian Students society twice (i think mainly cos no one really wanted to do all the work) and I was also Vice captain of the University Taekwondo club which was the largest sports society in the university. I doubt I'd been elected if I were prejudice towards any group of people let alone had I'd been not open with people of other races or had I only stuck to my community exclusively. You see, to strive anywhere one must be inclusive in that society or social setting. 

Wearing my baju melayu to lectures after Eid prayers was no problem for me. the maths behind still scare me till today! how on earth did I get through university!?

Taekwondo introduced me to all sorts of people too.

Fast forward to the present. Racism has raised it's ugly head to me again but as it is already past mid night, I shall continue tomorrow. It has been a long day for me today both physically and emotionally. Goodnight everyone and hello last week of March! :s Oh how time flies!

Sufi's Wedding

Some photos from yesterday's wedding. Sufi and Naufal tied the knot after a year plus knowing each other at WMAC. Who says you can't meet someone nice at the gym?




Paparazzi all at work!

You came to me

I'm late for Mentari.. hehehe.. was busy hand washing my clothes. The washing machine's broken and is off for repairs. Anyways, a quick post before i go. The inspiration for my Khat piece "Sacrifice" - Sami Yusuf's you came to me. Enjoy.



The inspired art:


Blog some more after class. I have a makan2 invitation for lunch. Makan2 ni I must oblige... hehehe... Have a great Sunday morning guys!

LoyarBurok Interview - Mentari volunteers

For some reason after graduating I've made friends with a lot of people in the legal fraternity. A nice change from the typical engineer/doctor most of us scholars are acquainted to. One of these friends now edits for the website LoyarBurok. She was planning to do an editorial or something on the Mentari project. So we discussed a few interview questions that readers might find interesting. She compiled them and sent out the questions to us, the volunteers. Here's my response. I bit lengthy but this is a subject I feel strongly for. Make sure you check out the loyarburok website later to see if the full interview has been posted. Till then, happy reading. hope you've made yourself a nice cuppa while reading this! hehehe...

 

The LoyarBurok Interview with Project Mentari Volunteers/Facilitators


1. When and what was your first involvement in charity or stint as a volunteer?

Like most Malaysians, as a young boy charity meant giving people money. I have participated in a few visits to spastic homes, orphanages and the random gotong royong. Those were one off things where you do and forget. Project is the first long term charity I have participated in and I consider my real first volunteering stint.

 

2. Share with us how did the idea of starting up and running a volunteer project together came about?

 

Mentari was really the brainchild of Nik Nazmi. We went to the same A-Levels college. He wanted to do something for the children of Desa Mentari. At that time he was not a yet a state representative and I didn't even know where Desa Mentari was and if it at all even existed. I believed in the cause and trusted my friends. The events preceding our first meeting at restoran Pelita Jalan Ampang are still abit fuzzy to me but I do remember that he first bounced the idea to a group of us – all very young graduates at that time and most of us were very receptive of the idea. We met a few times after and later we were introduced to Pn Mawarni and family and the rest is history.


3. What were the barriers in starting a charity/volunteer program such as Project Mentari?

 

The main hurdle was to get people to volunteer and three years down the road, it still is. I think this is a common problem in Malaysia and other developing countries. The spirit of volunteerism is not yet commonplace in society. That said, I know a lot of people from the generation Y group that are keen on volunteering but do not have an outlet to do so. I personally think that to appeal to the masses, volunteering must be seen as cool and most importantly, fun. I think this is one of the things we are trying to achieve here at Mentari Project. To create an atmosphere that is fun for both children and volunteers so that learning is fun and to also inculcate the spirit of volunteerism to the children so that maybe one day, they will come back to Mentari to volunteer and help make this project more sustainable a self reliant. On the volunteer side we relied on mainly personal friends and contacts at first but we quickly got support from some corporations in terms of volunteers and also random persons who contacted us from our Facebook page and also via our individual volunteer personal facebook pages.

 

Other hurdles were financial, venue and also local support. This is where social activists and politicians come in. Initially we didn't have much funding and sometimes we had to buy the teaching supplies ourselves. Alhamdulillah as time went by and with lots of hard work we managed to attract generous donors to our cause. For this to happen we leveraged on the network of Nik Nazmi and we also officially registered the Mentari Project as a full ledged charity with the registrar of companies. The venue was arranged for us by Nik Nazmi. His good relationship with the local community helped us a lot.

 

4. Anyone that helped paved the way or offered support?

 

There is no doubt that this must go out to the volunteers. The very first volunteers worked very hard to help build a strong foundation for this project and also help shape the first modules for our classes. Without the volunteers we wouldn't be speaking here today about this topic. We also received a lot of support from the general public in terms of book donations, stationary and also cash donations. There are too many to mention individually but we are in deep gratitude to those who help made the Mentari Project what it is today.  

 

5. Why Mentari flats?

 

Well, Mentari fit the description of the target demographics for this project – The urban poor. These are the families with a very low household income having to live with the "big city" living costs. It is also the community the Nik Nazmi had the best links with. Without the all important relationship with the local community this project would have never seen the light of day(i.e Mentari, *laughs*).

 

6. Who are the other volunteers?

 

The early volunteers were mainly friends and acquaintances of Nik Nazmi. We were typically young professionals, university graduates. Later on, some ex-teachers and University students joined us. Until today, the core of the Mentari project is still the young professionals and graduates and we see this as a very good indication of the attitude the younger generation has towards volunteerism.

 

7. Since it is a tuition programme, is it a problem that some volunteers pop in only occasionally? How do you encourage once-in-a-while volunteers? I'm sure other volunteer program facilitators would like to hear!

 

This is not a major problem considering we have a team of core volunteers that come regularly. We always welcome new volunteers and encourage them to come regularly. After all, this is a voluntary tuition so we cannot expect people to come everytime. We do not have anything specific we do to encourage once in a while volunteers but I personally post a message on my facebook profile to say that I'm going and who ever reads it and feels like they want to come, can come. Some people are once in a while volunteers just because they forgot about the times of the classes and require only reminders. Volunteering is not for everyone but it should be made clear to everyone that every little bit of help counts and their efforts however little in their eyes means a lot to the children.


8. Why is this rewarding to you? If it is rewarding, why do you think aren't more people volunteering or getting involved in some form of giving-back to society?

 

To me putting a smile on someone's is reward enough. Giving less fortunate children a better chance in life and seeing the change in them makes my weekend, every time. Most of these children do not have the exposure to certain things in life we take for granted. I am aware that not every child at Mentari are academically inclined and to say that we can make everyone get all A's in their exams is a being untruthful to oneself. This is where Mentari differs from other "tuition centres". We seek to try to provide them with the life skills, the values that will help them make it in life regardless of their eventual academic qualifications. This is what gives me the greatest satisfaction.

 

As to why everyone isn't going on a stampede to our centres to volunteer is not rocket science. As with everything else, there is no one thing that appeals to everyone. Football is fun but why isn't everyone playing football? That fact aside, my belief is that 1) Volunteer programs are seldom very fun or the volunteers. It's analogous to an employee saying that he has "served" the company as opposed to contributed for the company. The former clearly sees his tenure at the company as a service, him being the servant. Volunteer programs must be fun and beneficial to the volunteers too, may it be enabling the person to expand is social network, erm… maybe by providing the opportunity for discourse of like minded people on common mutual issues etc…

 

2) I believe the exposure the average Malaysian gets towards volunteer programs is very limited. Volunteer programs must work harder at reaching out to people. I strongly believe that there are any people out there that are rearing to help but do not have a channel to do so.      

 

3) To a lesser extent I believe that the amount of social mileage one gets by volunteering is not that great. I think this is more apparent in the male section of society. Volunteering doesn't get you more brownie points with the other boys and it is perceived that it is not "macho" to spend your weekends with children. That is just one example I can think of. I'm sure there are many more social related factors becoming barriers to volunteerism.


9. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I tend to see that volunteers at Mentari lack racial diversity. Are you at all concerned about this?

You can bring a camel to the water hole but you cannot force it to drink. We are open to all and we have never turned away anybody. We do have a good mix of Chinese and Malay volunteers though we have yet to have Indian volunteers. I don't know why.

 

10. How has the reception been so far? From the:
     - kids

The kids thoroughly enjoy the classes we hold.  And now with our dedicated centre they can also come on week days after school to do their homework and project assignments. Most of these children have very cramped living conditions in the flats and do not have a conducive place to do their academic work. Plus our library is getting bigger every week! The children have more opportunity to sit down and read.
     - parents

We hold occasional "parent-teacher" days. This is when we get to gauge what the parents see have improved with their children at home, something we cannot gauge ourselves. Generally speaking the parents are very pleased with the improvements they see. The most common comment we get is that they see that their children are more confident and not as shy as before. Some see the grades improve at school. Overall, the parents are very pleased.
     - your peers?

When the parents are happy and the children happy too, it makes us volunteers happy =)


11. Nik Nazmi is listed as an administrator in your Facebook page. What is his role in the organisation and what do you think is the role of politicians in volunteerism?

Politicians are a very important part of any social activism. There is only so much you can do before you need to deal with politicians. In this respect, why not have one onboard?! It makes life so much easier for us. Politicians are the ones that engage the community, bridge the gap between stake holders and the authorities, connects us with the new opportunities, introduces us to potential fund sources and much more. Politicians can play a very big role and I would like to see more politicians do similar projects as there is no better investment than investing in our future generation. 

12. What would you do differently, should you have the opportunity to set up another volunteer or charitable organisation on your own?

 

I wouldn't do it any different. I'd probably document things more diligently so that other people can replicate what we do here in other places. But I think what we have done is very commendable and has proven effective – we are in our third year running.

 

13. How has Project Mentari has affected the community there? And what

sort of change do you plan to affect further?

 

I am not resident in this part of town so I wouldn't really know for sure how our project has affected the community here. What I can say is that parents now have a place where they can be sure that their children are NOT doing anything counter productive and are better occupied than playing football along the flat corridors. I'm not sure we've planned for any changes of sorts. I guess for me it's just keep on doing what we do and hope that we can influence a generation of children that can contribute to society and to prevent these children from turning to vice if life does not go their way.


14. Anything exciting for the year ahead planned for Project Mentari?

 

We plan to organise a few educational trips to different places that can offer the children different perspective to life. Maybe visit somewhere that gives insight to the arts scene, maybe traditional crafts, or visit a factory to see how things are made. We plan to organise a language camp among other special activities. Many plans but nothing concrete yet. We usually come up with things as we go along. With the volunteers with their own careers planning an event of this sort is abit tricky but we've been successful in the past.

My office

The title is a deliberate spoof of the sitcom "The office" and this aptly describes my office. Well, at least the guys I hang out with at the office. The amount of joking around that happens at work is alarming! And I'm supposed to be working at a Research Centre where we're all supposed to be super geeks with inch thick glasses hanging from the very edge of our noses. Well, as the previous post discusses... not everyone here is the best they are and some just plainly don't really belong in research and would probably flourish in other places. Anyways, that is not my story today.... Afif, focus! I tend to go in tangents when I write. Too many ideas but no storyline... bare with me yeah.

Right, for me two things defined this week - The PRSB Tracking Survey and The 5S campaign. These two things have been the butt of jokes this past week. The tracking survey is basically aa annual survey to gauge if the management's been performing ok and the staff is all happy and the sun is shining brightly, birds chirping, butterflies flying around etc...  Normally it's done on-line but the strangley enough, the did it on hardcopy as shown below. So much for saving paper.
  The funny thing is that the sentiment on the ground is overwhelmingly negetive. Some of the questions were so blatantly begging for the answer NO (or 1 on the scale for strongly disagree and 5 for strongly disagree). I wonder why they even bothered putting the 5. Maybe some people are not as negetive as the people in my department. The survey turned into who could come out with the most creative comments - both in terms of points and also language and who could leave the least amount of visible paper. Hehehe.. but i think most people were very very honest and careful with their words and not acting/writing with emotions. Well, i know I did. Well, I don't think i won the least amount of visible paper left but i think I was honest and sincere in my comment.
I hope you can't see what i wrote! hehehe well, i think my bad handwriting took care of that! like we use pens to write more than meeting notes these days!

Ok, the 5s is an initiative to improve the working conditions at the office which is a good thing. The 5s's are Japanese words that I don't really remember. This week saw the launch of the first S - Seiri or "Tidiness". In other words we're supposed to get rid of our junk. Fair enough. But why do they have to 'launch' it like every year? Anyways, to add some sort of intelectual content to this post I've found a table on the internet explaining what the 5S means:
Japanese Term
English Equivalent
Meaning in Japanese Context
Seiri
Tidiness
Throw away all rubbish and unrelated materials in the workplace
Seiton
Orderliness
Set everything in proper place for quick retrieval and storage
Seiso
Cleanliness
Clean the workplace; everyone should be a janitor
Seiketsu
Standardization
Standardize the way of maintaining cleanliness
Shitsuke
Discipline
Practice 'Five S' daily - make it a way of life; this also means 'commitment'

There you go, you always learn something new with Afif. hehehe... Anyways, personally I admit that my workstation isn't the tidiest. Hehehe.. i bet you guys didn't think so too.That is why the photo of the laptop is all that you guys are gonna get until i clear the desk that is. Then I'll post a photo of it and everyone will think that i'm the tidiest person in the world.... at least for a week or so... hehehe.. Anyways, to reflect the sacarsm and frustration in the air, a few collegues have been rather "creative" with their Seiri campaign. I've put together a sample of the good ones. As always, click on the photos for bigger versions of the photos.
I don't know if you can read the captions on the pieces of paper but it's funny...
Here's a stack of scrap paper...
And a good example of seiri - why do you need 3 callendars? In the bin young man...
Thankfully, someone was generous enough to supply with the most ginormous curry puff i've ever seen this side of a puff pastry! check out the guy's label to prevent other people from using his mug! The tall one's mine.
So there you have it. A week of crazy pranks, jokes and shocking news (sorry the news bit is abit of confidential Petronas matters). Anyways, it's getting late. A full day ahead of me tomorrow. A wedding to attend and tenant related issues to sort out. And oh, my car's getting a sub woofer! hehehe, well... due to my unexpected spending to overhaul my Piaggio I can only afford a 2nd hand one =(. After getting used to the sound coming from my iPod, the stereo in the car sounds rather bass deprived. So i'm getting a sub woofer for the little blue Jazz. Ok then, lets not talk about gadgets here. Well, this post is not supposed to be about gadgets. Have a great weekend guys! (I'm asuming more than one person reads this)

Career

I wonder how many people, Malaysians especially are doing what they really want? I am a firm believer that everybody can be very good at something. The key is finding that something. Dare i say that is where Malaysia's education has failed - ensuring that everyone can be the best they can. As I have emphasised before, not everyone is academically inclined. Those who fall into this group, are they given a way to be the best they can?

Ok, that group aside, what about us graduates. Are we given the opportunity to be the best we can? Being the best you can involves alot of self awareness, exposure and guidance. Knowing what you are good at and what makes you tick is key. How we know ourselves is by exposure, trying out new things, television, school trips, stories from friends, relatives, parents in short the environment. That's why i think that people from better off and successful family background stand a better chance of being the best they can. They're exposure is much greater than say, a kampung boy who the furthest he's been was probably to school. I'm not saying that kampung boys cannot go far in life - far from it. My father was a kampung boy too. But he was lucky that my grandfather was a teacher. In those days schools in rural areas were few and a standard 6 education was more than most people got. My father used to follow my grandad to his classes eventhough he was not at schooling age yet. He would sit at the back of the class and listen. He got a headstart in life. I doubt he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up, but he went on to good schools, MCKK and eventually to University in the UK where he got married and had me and my brothers - but that's another story.

What i'm trying to say is the more exposure one gets, the better chances one has in finding one's way in life. One must meet people, see things, experience things, try new things, know what it's like to fail, get burned once in a while.

Why am I talking about this? Well, I just sent my CV to apply for a position that is totally new to me in a place totally alien to me. Am I sure I will be able to perform in that new position? Ofcourse I am not sure but hey, I've been at my current position for the past 5 years, what can be worse? right? Though i like the relaxed work culture, the lovely people there, the friends I hold dear but if one starts questioning one's own performance - "Is this the best I can do?" then you know it's time to move on, try something new. You see, ever since i was a wee lad, I've been into many things. After SPM I wanted to do a degree in Industrial design. My dad asked if I really wanted to do something that's not so sciencey? Plus I think my artistic side was underdeveloped since I started schooling in Malaysia. So I did a degree in something I was facinated in ever since i could draw on walls - much to may parent's grief. I applied for a degree in Automotive Engineering. First at UTM but after i got the Petronas scholarship I pursued the degree at the University of Leeds which happened to have the best Formula SAE team so I managed to get some very valuable hands on experience, made really good friends and hold many a good memories.

Was this what i wanted to do for the rest of my life? Even after graduating I wasn't sure. After not getting a spot on the Sauber Petronas F1 team I gave up. My current job though potentially something I would like, I don't think Petronas is a company to be if I wanted to be in this field. So here I am, still searching. Some friends say that I should try something non-technical. You see, I'm not the super geek guy that knows things to the most minute of details. I'm more the generalist. Knows enough about things to have a conversation about it, but ask me more and I'm just i'll just give you my "standard smile" as my officemates so "lovingly" put it. They say i should meet more people since they say that my networking is very good and I am able to talk and warm up to anyone. Fact of the matter is that I am terrible with people and keep to myself most of the time. Everyone probably sees me with my game face on which lasts a few hours after which I go back to me and myself. That's why i'm reading this book called " How to talk to anyone" though I've stopped reading it like ages ago. I just can't stick to a book for long. Heck i can't even remember where i put the books i just bought at the book fair last weekend! hehehe.... hopeless...

Anyways, makin mengarut... always a sign to shut up. So I will leave you all with a question: Are you the best you can be? If you are, good. If you aren't, what are you doing about it? Or are you happy with the status quo? Questions that only living life will enable you to answer. Sleep well everyone.

Economic stagnation in a broken political system

*Sigh*. I have a swollen heel now from yesterday's accident at the gym. Why do always I end up in silly accidents like this? I remember injuring my hamstring during the first TKD training of the year doing a complicated kick but it still feels like a silly mistake. Anyways, i hope the swelling subsides before the next class tomorrow! =) Ok, after two posts on Islam, today's post is much more relevant to society in general. Tengku Razaligh speaks about the economy and Malaysia's political system and how they are intertwined. Still quite busy so it's another cut and paste post today. Very interesting speech. Enjoy....


The following is the speech given by the former finance minister at the launch of the second edition of 'No Cowardly Past' by James Puthucheary.

James Puthucheary lived what is by any measure an extraordinary and eventful life. He was, among other things, a scholar, anti-colonial activist, poet, political economist and lawyer.
NONEThe thread running through these roles was his struggle for progressive politics in a multiracial society. His actions were informed by an acute sense of history and by a commitment to a more equitable and just Malaysia.
James was concerned about economic development in a way that was Malaysian in the best sense. His thinking was motivated by a concerned for socio-economic equity and for the banishment of communalism and ethnic chauvinism from our politics.

The launch of the second edition of this collection of James Puthucheary's writings, 'No Cowardly Past', invites us to think and speak about our country with intellectual honesty and courage.

Let me put down some propositions, as plainly as I can, about where I think we stand.

1. Our political system has broken down in a way that cannot be salvaged by piecemeal reform.

2. Our public institutions are compromised by politics (most disturbingly by racial politics) and by money. This is to say they have become biased, inefficient and corrupt.

3. Our economy has stagnated. Our growth is based on the export of natural resources. Productivity remains low. We now lag our regional competitors in the quality of our people, when we were once leaders in the developing world.

4. Points 1 to 3, regardless of official denials and mainstream media spin, is common knowledge. As a result, confidence is at an all-time low. We are suffering debilitating levels of brain and capital drain.

Today I wanted to share some suggestions on how we might move the economy forward, but our economic stagnation is clearly not something we can tackle or even discuss in isolation from the problem of a broken political system and a compromised set of public institutions.

This country is enormously blessed with talent and natural resources. We are shielded from natural calamities and enjoy warm weather all year round. We are blessed to be located at the crossroads of India and China and the Indonesian archipelago. We are blessed to have cultural kinship with China, India, the Middle East and Indonesia.

We attained independence with an enviable institutional framework. We were a federation with a constitution that is the supreme law of the land, a parliamentary democracy, an independent judiciary, a common law system and an independent civil service. We had political parties with a strong base of support that produced talented political leadership.

NONEWe have no excuse for our present state of economic and social stagnation. It is because we have allowed that last set of features, our institutional and political framework, to be eroded, that all our advantages are not better realised.

So it makes little sense to talk glibly about selecting growth drivers, fine-tuning our industrial or trade policy, and so on, without acknowledging that our economy is in bad shape because our political system is in bad shape.

A case in point is the so-called New Economic Model. The government promised the world it would be announced by the end of last year. It was put off to the end of this month. Now we are told we will be getting just the first part of it, and that we will be getting merely a proposal for the New Economic Model from the NEAC (National Economic Advisory Council).

Clearly, politics has intruded. The NEM has been opposed by groups that are concerned that the NEM might replace the NEP. The New Economic Model might not turn out to be so new after all.

NEP never meant to be permanent

The irony in all this is that there is nothing to replace. The NEP is the opposite of 'new'. It is defunct and is no longer an official government policy because it was replaced by the New Development Policy (another old 'new' policy) in 1991. The NEP was brought back in its afterlife as a slogan by the leadership of Umno Youth in 2004. It was and remains the most low-cost way to portray oneself as a Malay champion.

Thus, at a time when we are genuinely in need of bold new economic measures, we are hamstrung by the ghost of dead policies with the word 'new' in them. What happens when good policy outlives its time and survives as a slogan?

The NEP was a 20-year programme. It has become, in the imaginations of some, the centre of a permanently racialised socio-economic framework.

Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and Abdul Razak, in the age of the fixed telephone (you even needed to go through an operator), thought 20 years would be enough. Its champions in the 'age of instant messaging' talk about 100 or 450 years of Malay dependency.

It had a national agenda to eradicate poverty and address structural inequalities between the races for the sake of equity and unity. The Malays were unfairly concentrated in low-income sectors such as agriculture. The aim was to remove colonial era silos of economic roles in our economy. It has been trivialised into a concern with obtaining equity and contracts by racial quotas.

The NEP was to diversify the Malay economy beyond certain stereotyped occupations. It is now about feeding a class of party-linked people whose main economic function is to obtain and re-sell government contracts and concessions.

The NEP saw poverty as a national, Malaysian problem that engaged the interest and idealism of all Malaysians. People like James Puthucheary were at the forefront of articulating this concern. Its present-day proponents portray poverty as a communal problem.

The NEP was a unity policy. Nowhere in its terms was any race specified. It has been reinvented as an inalienable platform of a Malay Agenda that at one and the same time asserts Malay supremacy and perpetuates the myth of Malay dependency.

It was meant to unite our citizens by making economic arrangements fairer, and de-racialising our economy. In its implementation, it became a project to enrich a selection of Malay capitalists.

James Puthucheary had warned, back in 1959, that this was bound to fail. "The presence of Chinese capitalists has not noticeably helped solve the poverty of Chinese households... Those who think that the economic position of the Malays can be improved by creating a few Malay capitalists, thus making a few Malays well-to-do, will have to think again. "

The NEP's aim to restructure society and to ensure a more equitable distribution of economic growth was justified on principles of social justice, not claims of racial privilege. This is an important point. The NEP was acceptable to all Malaysians because its justification was universal rather than racial, ethical rather than opportunistic. It appealed to Malaysians' sense of social justice and not to any notion of racial supremacy.

We were a policy with a 20-year horizon, in pursuit of a set of measurable outcomes. We were not devising a doctrine for a permanent socio-economic arrangement. We did not make the damaging assumption of the permanently dependent Malay.

Today we are in a foundational crisis both of our politics and of our economy. Politically and economically, we have come to the end of the road for an old way of managing things. It is said you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all the time. Well, these days the time you have in which to fool people is measured in minutes, not years.

The world is greatly changed. The next move we must make is not a step but a leap that changes the very ground we play on.

The NEP is over. I ask the government to have the courage to face up to this. The people already know. The real issue is not whether the NEP is to be continued or not, but whether we have the imagination and courage to come up with something which better addresses the real challenges of growth, equity and unity of our time.

At its working best, the NEP secured national unity and provided a stable foundation for economic growth. Taken out of its policy context (a context that James helped frame) and turned into a political programme for the extension of special privilege, it has been distorted into something that its formulators, people such as the late Tun Razak and Tun Ismail, would have absolutely abhorred: it is now the primary justification and cover for corruption, crony capitalism and money politics, and it is corruption, cronyism and money politics that rob us and destroy our future.

No one who really cares about our country can approve of the role the NEP now plays in distorting the way we think about the economy, of our people, of our future, and retarded our ability to formulate forward-looking economic strategy.

The need for a holistic approach to development based on the restoration and building of confidence.

We need a wholistic approach to development that takes account of the full potential of our society and of our people as individuals. We need an approach to development that begins with the nurturing and empowerment of the human spirit. Both personally and as a society, this means we look for the restoration of confidence in ourselves, who we are, what we are capable of, and the future before us.

Caught in the middle-income trap

I return to the question of the middle-income trap that I alluded to some time ago. I am glad that notion has since been taken up by the government.

The middle-income trap is a condition determined by the quality of our people and of the institutions that bind them. It is not something overcome simply by growing more oil palm or extracting more oil and gas. Our economic challenge is to improve the quality of our people and institutions.

Making the break from the middle-income trap is in the first place a social, cultural, educational and institutional challenge. Let me just list what needs to be done. Before we can pursue meaningful economic strategy we need to get our house in order. We need to:

1. Undertake bold reforms to restore the independence of the police, the anti-corruption commission and the judiciary. Confidence in the rule of law is a basic condition of economic growth.

2. Reform the civil service

3. Wage all-out war on corruption

4. Thoroughly revamp our education system

5. Repeal the Printing Presses Act, the Universities and Colleges Act, the ISA and the OSA. These repressive laws only serve to create a climate of timidity and fear which is the opposite of the flourishing of talent and ideas that we say we want.

6. Replace the NEP with an equity and unity policy (a kind of 'New Deal') to bring everyone, regardless of race, gender, or what state they live in and who they voted for, into the economic mainstream.

These reforms are the necessary foundation for any particular economic strategies. Many of these reforms will take time. Educational reform is the work of many years. But that is no excuse not to start, confidence will return immediately if that start is bold. As for particular economic strategies, there are many we can pursue:
  • We need to tap our advantage in having a high savings rate. Thanks to a lot of forced savings, our savings rate is about 38 percent. We need more productive uses for the massive funds held in EPF (Employees Provident Fund), LTH (Lembaga Tabung Haji), LTAT (Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera Malaysia) and PNB (Permodalan Nasional Berhad) than investment in an already over-capitalised stock market.

    One suggestion is to make strategic investments internationally in broad growth sectors such as minerals. Another is that we should use these funds to enable every Malaysian to own their own home. This would stimulate the construction sector with its large multiplier of activities and bring about a stakeholder society. A fine example of how this is done is Singapore's use of savings in CPF to fund property purchases.
  • The government could make sure that the the land office and local government, developers and house-buyers are coordinated through a one-stop agency under the Ministry of Housing and and Local Government. This would get everyone active, right down to the level of local authorities. The keys to unleashing this activity are financing and a radical streamlining of local government approvals.
  • We have been living off a drip of oil and cheap foreign labour. Dependence on these easy sources of revenue has dulled our competitiveness and prevented the growth of high-income jobs. We need a moratorium on the hiring of low-skilled foreign labour that is paired with a very aggressive effort to increase the productivity and wages of Malaysian labour. Higher wages would mean we could retain more of our skilled labour and other talent.
  • Five years ago, I called for a project to make Malaysia an oil and gas services and trading hub for East Asia. Oil and gas activities will bring jobs to some of our poorest states. We should not discriminate against those states on the basis of their political affiliations. No one is better placed by natural advantage to develop this hub. Meanwhile Singapore, with not a drop of oil, has moved ahead on this front.
  • We should ready ourselves to tap the wealth of the emerging middle-class of China, India and Indonesia in providing services such as tourism, medical care and education. That readiness can come in the form of streamlined procedures, language preparation, and targeted infrastructure development.
These are just some ideas for some of the many things we could do to ensure our prosperity. Others may have better ideas.

We are in a foundational crisis of our political system. People can no longer see what lies ahead of us, and all around us they see signs of decaying institutions. Wealth and talent will continue to leave the country in droves.

To reverse that exodus, we need to restore confidence in the country. We do not get confidence back with piecemeal economic measures but with bold reforms to restore transparency, accountability and legitimacy to our institutions. Confidence will return if people see decisive leadership motivated by a sincere for the welfare of the country.
The opposite occurs if they see decisions motivated by short-term politics. Never mind FDI (foreign direct investment), if Malaysians started investing in Malaysia, and stopped leaving, or started coming back, we would see a surge in growth.

In the same measure we also need to break the stranglehold of communal politics and racial policy if we want to be a place where an economy driven by ideas and skills can flourish. This must be done, and it must be done now. We have a small window of time left before we fall into a spiral of political, social and economic decline from which we will not emerge for decades.

This is the leap we need to make, but to make that leap we need a government capable of promoting radical reform. That is not going to happen without political change. We should not underestimate the ability of our citizens to transcend lies, distortions and myths and get behind the best interest of the country. In this they are far ahead of our present leadership, and our leadership should listen to them.