Sunday, 30 December 2007
No one and I think, including this uncle of mine knew how he became known as "Uncle Tang". Born almost 80 years ago as Lee Kheng Cheang, I have always known him as "Uncle Tang" or "Ah Tang" to his comtemporaries. He was a couple of years older than my father and they were great buddies; it was not surprising that Uncle Tang featured very much in my younger life. He would have known me since I was born.
I do not know why he gave up a planter's life and went into pig farming but I remember him doing very well in the business initially. I do remember once when we were living in Parit Buntar (1966 to 1968) there was a big commotion at our house when Uncle Tang had a big quarrel with his business partner. They were obviously drinking quite a bit and that was the first time I had seen with my own eyes grown men fighting; I was about 7.
Unfortunately for Uncle Tang, a swine fever epidemic wiped out his business almost overnight. I remember hearing from my father that his pigs were dying at such a rate, he could not bury them fast enough. I believe he would have been financially wiped out too.
During that period, my father who was headmaster of a lower secondary school in Parit Buntar, was posted to Kroh for a year before ending up in Pengkalan Baru (Dindings District, Perak) near Pantai Remis in 1969, where he ultimately served for about a decade. The family moved back to Taiping in 1969 since Pengkalan Paru was only about 45 minutes drive away and my father commuted. It was there that he got to know Raj who was the manager of Huntly Estate. Raj was the son of the well known Kalyana Sundram who had struck it rich during the estates fragmentation era. Raj and my father remained great friends till my father 's death in 1985.
The Gula Perak sugar factory was also in the vicinity and heating must be an important aspect of the whole process of sugar manufacturing. That gave rise to the requirement of lots of fire wood. It appeared that the "stars were aligned", what with Uncle Tang looking for opportunities and having the requisite domain expertise, Raj in the process of re-planting and my father, the brains. The two brothers-in-law got into the business of supplying rubber wood to feed the hungry furnaces of Gula Perak. That was also how Uncle Tang ended up staying with us for the next couple of years. I remember they started with one, then two Ford 5000 tractors. It was also the first time I learnt that the only thing straight about a chinaman is his hair! One ton could become two because the weigh-bridge operator had personal problems that he needed help with. Well, that's one perspective anyway!
Later, when the firewood business tapered off, Uncle Tang came up with the idea of tapioca chips for animal feed or something. That was when they leased a piece of land in Air Kuning, planted acres of tapioca and constructed a tarmac for drying the chips. That somehow turned out to be a hare-brained scheme possibly because Taiping is the wettest region in the country. Uncle Tang moved to Bidor after that to manage a rubber estate; a full circle.
The time when Uncle Tang stayed with us in Taiping coincided with my pre-teen years, from Standard 5 to about Form 1. Those carefree days when school work was a cinch and one was just discovering one's environment.
He made an important impression on my life as he was the one who taught us many boyish outdoor activities. Though my father grew up in the rural surroundings of Selama, at that time he was busy running the school and outdoor physical activity was just not on. Uncle Tang taught us to catch fighting fish in water puddles in the outskirts of town, ikan haruan fishing using bamboo poles and line at mining lakes and bottom fishing using hook, line and sinker, off the coast of Pangkor and Penang. He even took me wild boar hunting and to shoot flying foxes, snipes and wild pidgeons. I was no stranger to using a shotgun even at that age. Uncle Tang also had an air-rifle that fired pellets and I look back with amazement how he trusted us with it. The pellets could not kill humans but certainly they could maim (eg. cause blindness) since we used it for target practice and to kill birds and small animals. My schoolmates who definitely had the same exposure at that age was Paul and Meng Hock.
When I met Uncle Tang today I found that he is now almost totally deaf but otherwise very much the same jovial and carefree person who seems to have endless patience. Being still spritely and mentally alert, he was in the midst of cutting bamboo to make a bubu (fish trap) for Cheng who lives with her 3 boys in her hacienda style home on 16 acres of agricultural land with fish ponds. He says this is the first time he is making the fish trap after 65 years! That must have been when he was about the same age as me back in Taiping those days! Even for me that was more than 35 years ago! Time.
Friday, 28 December 2007
The photos below say it all. My good friend and business partner, HM is the personification of a dejobbed individual. The perfect example of not needing a job when all one needs is work.
He began his career in the brick and mortar world of the last century; rising to the pinnacle of the local insurance industry. In this century, HM is still one of the most recognisable faces in the industry yet he does not represent any insurance company exclusively. His versatility enables him to work on projects in a variety of areas other than insurance and with various teams.
This business man, employer, employee, risk manager, author, lecturer, leader, follower, is equally comfortable with a pen or a keyboard and in a boardroom or a Mamak stall; a T-shirt or a full suit; meeting a Minister or a peon; discussing insurance treaties at Lloyds or books delivery logistics at Port Klang; taking instructions on the most minor or making decisions on the most major.
Being a man a with an inherent multi-tasking mindset helps HM to thrive in a world where time is what you make of it and self-actualization depends on YOU.....even when you sometimes need to work from the boot of your car! The photos show HM in the car park about to attend a meeting and coordinating two other projects with his Nokia Communicator.
Tuesday, 25 December 2007
Most of our close friends know the significance of number 27 to us. Browsing through the Net this morning, I discovered that to Raja Petra Kamarudin of Malaysia Today fame, 27 also holds great significance. I have heard of people differentiating their lives into change-stages of say, 5 year, 10 year periods etc. but never 27 years!
It appears RPK is only just about to embark on a journey similar to that which I am on, but the difference is mine started about 27 years ago. May he find peace along the way; even if he does not live to 81!
To RPK, this is what 27 means:
Fruit from a poisonous tree will be poisonous
They say only Islam is good, all other religions are bad. And those with no religion whatsoever or atheists are even worse. But these people from the good religion want the government to do bad things. That is what troubles me to no end. How can a good religion make people want to be bad?
Malaysia can pride itself in knowing that regardless of what religious celebration it may be, its ethnic groups will come together as one to honour the event, the mainstream newspapers reported Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as saying. Abdullah said religious festivals celebrated in Malaysia serve to bridge gaps and foster better ties among the multi-religious and multi-racial makeup of the country.
Malaysia, he said, was blessed, as the people not only had great respect for each other's religion, but also for the religious occasions that the different segments of society celebrated. Abdullah also said Malaysians never failed to display respect towards each other and it was customary for most to offer help and lend a hand during religious festivities, even to those outside their own race.
“A religious occasion, including Hari Raya, is a day when we seize the opportunity to visit our friends and strengthen our ties as true Malaysians. In our everyday lives, we prioritise aspects of goodwill and understanding towards each other, including on religious matters, which are deemed sensitive,” Abdullah said.
Have you noticed how politicians and religious people -- especially if they are politicians masquerading as religious people -- always say one thing to the non-Muslims and another to the Muslims? When the Indians and Chinese start showing signs of restlessness, they will talk about multi-racial, multi-cultural tolerance and all such crap. But to an all-Malay or all-Muslim audience, when they think that the non-Malays or non-Muslims are not within earshot, they will talk about the ‘enemies’ of the Malays and warn us that the kafir can’t be trusted and can’t be taken as our friend because they are the millennium-old enemies of Islam.
These public displays of keris-waving are small potatoes. The non-Malays were meant to see that. They knew the TV cameras were on and that what they said and did was being beamed live, straight into the living rooms of Malaysians. But what they talk behind closed doors would make even our First Prime Minister and Bapa Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who in his days was accused of being a Chinese running dog who sold out the Malays, turn in his grave. Yes, the Tunku was ousted because he ‘gave in’ too much to the Chinese. But it was in the Tunku’s days that Malaysia was most peaceful, until someone came out with the ‘bright’ idea of how to unite the Malays under a common cause.
Can I be so bold as to say that in the Tunku’s days, the Malays were less religious? Not a single Malay senior government officer’s home did not have a bar, well-stocked with beer, brandy, whisky and wine that would make any pub turn green with envy. That was during the Merdeka era when you could admire the lovely legs of Malay women and when bare-back knee-length skirts were the ‘in’ thing. Miss Malaysia would be a sweet, young, Malay, lass in a bikini who would give the Chinese and Indian girls a run for their money -- until Pan-Asian girls appeared on the scene of course. Then we mixed-breed Eurasians beat the panties off the thoroughbreds. Hidup Pan-Asian!
Fifty years on and we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary of Merdeka. By now the Malays have become more religious. No longer will you find any bar in Malay homes. The army no longer toasts with wine but with syrup. And even then toasting, a western custom, is frowned upon. No longer can you get drunk with NAFI beer at fifty cents a can. You have to pay RM15 a glass at a pub and a crate of two dozen cans would be unaffordable for most Malaysians today.
But that is good. Malays have discarded their jahiliyah days or era of ignorance. Malays are now more Islamic. And Malays are told that we must not celebrate Christmas or wish the Chinese or Indians Kong Hee Fatt Choy or Happy Deepavali as this goes against Islamic teachings. Why, therefore, is Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi saying what he said, as reported by the mainstream media? Does he not know what he is saying goes against what Islam stands for, at least according to what the religious people tell us? Or is this a case of saying one thing to the non-Muslims and another to the Muslims? I suppose this is what politics is all about. You have to tailor your statements to suit the audience. And what Abdullah said was meant for the non-Malay ears, not for the Malays.
They say everyone goes through various stages of changes in their life and I suppose I am no exception. If I was asked to sum up my different stages of change, I would probably divide my life into three parts. The first part, the first 27 years of my life, would be what Malays (and Muslims as well) would call the jahil (ignorant) stage. That was when I did not pray, never for one minute stopped to think about God, drank beer, played Gin Rummy, and indulged in all form and manner of ‘sin’ that you can think of. Somehow, the consumption of pork was never one of those ‘sins’ though, for whatever reason I still can’t figure out until today.
When I touched 27 or 28, I suddenly ‘saw the light’ and became a ‘born-again’ Muslim. I used to jokingly tell my friends I was never born a Muslim but masuk Islam (converted to Islam) at the age of 27. From then on, I ‘fast-forward’ to catch up on all that I had missed the first 27 years of my life. I went to Mekah ten times or so, twice for the Haj and the rest for my Umrah (small Haj). I sat down and started reading the Quran and within a few weeks was able to rattle away like one who had learnt to read the Quran at the age of five. Even my Tok Guru was surprised. He said it normally take months or maybe even years for ‘old’ people whose brain had already beku (frozen) to read the Quran. I was able to do it in a matter of weeks. I bought the entire nine volumes of Hamka’s Quran translation and nine volumes of Hadith Bukhari plus Imam Ghazali’s kitab which I read over and over again until I was able to quote from memory.
That was all just before the Iranian Islamic Revolution and I was smitten. During my first trip to Mekah to perform the Haj, I joined an Iranian anti-Saudi demonstration and proudly carried a giant poster of Imam Khomeni high above my head. I wanted the Saudi government to be toppled and the two Holy cities of Mekah and Medina to be governed by an international Islamic coalition a la the Vatican City. I was slightly over 30 then and an Islamic revolutionary to the core.
I became the Chairman of our local mosque and set about ‘freeing’ all the mosques from government control. I helped raise funds to develop as many independent mosques as possible so that we could keep the Religious Department out of these mosques. Some of you probably remember the dua imam (two imams) episodes rampant in the State of Terengganu in those days. Datuk Yusof, the Terengganu head of the Special Branch (KCK), picked me up and brought me to meet the Terengganu Menteri Besar so that they could ‘rehabilitate’ me. They actually wanted to detain me under the Internal Security Act but there was this small complication concerning my father’s cousin (Emak Sepupu) who was the then Tengku Ampuan Terengganu. The Tengku Ampuan Terengganu was sister to the late Agong, the Sultan of Selangor, so they had to handle me with kid gloves.
Yes, I was a problem for Umno Terengganu and they would have liked to lock me away but my palace ‘immunity’ made this impossible. Anyway, eventually I left Terengganu and that sort of solved the whole thing. Five years later, Terengganu fell to the PAS-led opposition, so it really did not matter anymore, anyway.
That, in a nutshell, would be how I would describe the second 27 years of my life, phase two, and now I am in phase three, the third 27 years of my life. Of course, I really do not think I will live another 27 years or else I will live to a ripe old age of 81. No doubt Tun Dr Mahathir is still very much alive and kicking way past 81. But then Tun does not smoke, does not sleep at 3.00am, does not survive with a mere five hours sleep every night, is very careful with his diet, and much more. In short, I do everything opposite of what Tun does, so I do not hold the fallacy that I can live as long as he has thus far.
But that is not the issue. Whether phase three will be another 27 years like phases one and two is not what I want to talk about. What I do want to discuss is what I am going through in this phase three.
As I said, my first 27 years of phase one was the jahil period, and the second 27 years of what I call phase two, the Iranian Islamic Revolution period, my ‘enlightenment’ period. Phase three, however, appears to be my questioning and doubting period, which is giving rise to my disillusionment period.
I accept that I was like one of those lost sheep during phase one. Then I thought I had discovered the truth and saw the light in phase two. But now, in phase three, I am beginning to question this co-called truth. I am beginning to doubt that this was really the truth as I originally thought it was. I am beginning to become disillusioned with what I originally perceived as the truth.
Religion is supposed to be good, not only Islam, but any religion for that matter. And that is what I went through during phase two, discovering religion. But if religion is good, then why are religious people bad? Why is it when I meet unreligious people or atheists, I see good people? And why when I meet orthodox religious people, I see bad people? Yes, that is what has been nagging me in this phase three of my life. If religion is good, then religious people should be good and unreligious people or atheists should be bad. But why is it the other way around? And this does not apply to only Muslims.
I gave a talk to a group of pro-Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Umno people a few weeks ago. In that crowd was one whom I would classify as an ultra-religious person. When I pointed out that corruption is bad and that we must oppose it, he replied that corruption is okay. I then argued that Islam says that corruption is Riba’ (usury) and that there are 80 levels of Riba’ and that the sin for the lowest level is equivalent to the sin of sexual intercourse with one’s own parent. He agreed and said that this is actually one of the sayings (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad.
I was flabbergasted. There I had before me a religious man. He was preaching to me and saying that the present secular system of government has to be rejected in favour of an Islamic system. He blames the ills facing this nation on the fact that we have turned our backs on Islam and chose instead a western secular system over the Islamic system as prescribed by the Prophet Muhammad. But corruption is okay, he argued.
If even just one Muslim were to leave Islam and become a Hindu, Christian or Buddhist, then it is the duty of all Muslims to violently oppose this. Apostasy is forbidden and the prescribed punishment is death. And Muslims must run riot on the streets and burn buildings and kill people if anyone tries to leave Islam. No Muslim worth his salt will disagree with this. This is not violence, this is not extremism, this is not a threat to national security; this is defending the dignity of Islam. But if you march peacefully to the Agong’s palace or to Parliament to hand over a Memorandum, this is not allowed. The police must arrest you, beat you up, and the leaders or organisers must be detained without trial under the Internal Security Act. This is what Islam asks us to do and is mandatory.
Ask any Malay-Muslim leader. Ask any imam in the mosque. Ask any Mufti. Ask any Religious Department official. Ask anyone from Pusat Islam. None will disagree that the peaceful marchers need to be dealt with harshly and detained without trial under the Internal Security Act. And none of these same people will disagree that apostates need to be dealt with harshly and rioting, and burning buildings, and killing people are necessary in defending the dignity of Islam.
Most of the police are Muslims, but they act violently towards peaceful marchers. Most of the government leaders are Muslims, but they act harshly towards peaceful marchers. And they say that they do this to preserve the peace, which is required by Islam. But if you ‘insult’ Islam or try to become an apostate, then you must accept the violent punishment. And this is not violence or harsh or a threat to national security. This is defending the dignity of Islam. And corruption is okay. Cheating in the elections is okay. Abuse of power and authority is okay. Wastage of public funds is okay. Denying you your fundamental rights is okay. Using the mainstream media to lie is okay. Threatening the non-Malays is okay. Persecution is okay. Detention without trial is okay. Assaulting detainees under police custody is okay. Just do not insult Islam or try to leave Islam. That is not okay and the use of violence to oppose this is also okay.
I see religious people and I see bad people. I see unreligious people and atheists and I see good people. How can religion be good if religious people are bad? How can religion be from God if the product of religion is bad people? Yes, that is what troubles me this third phase of the 27 years of my life.
The more people pray, the worse they become. People who never pray are wonderful people. How can this be? Police officers pray. Government leaders pray. But they are terrible people. There must be something terribly wrong with praying. Is religion merely a scam? How can religion be right when those who profess religion are so wrong?
Sure, I have heard the old argument time and time again. There is nothing wrong with religion. It is the people who are wrong for not following what the religion really teaches us. But why? That still does not explain it. Why is it people who are religious become so bad? Is religion not supposed to guide us to become good? If religion has failed to turn us into good people then surely religion and not people is what is wrong. There is another old saying: there is no such thing as bad students, only bad teachers. If students turn out bad then the teacher has to be blamed. In that case, would not this same argument apply? If religion has failed to educate us then the teacher and not the student has to be blamed.
Sigh….the third phase of my life, the third 27 years, is going to be very traumatic indeed. The first 27 years were easy. I just enjoyed my life. I lived for today and to hell with tomorrow. The second 27 years were also very satisfying. I lived for my religion. Everything I did I did for Islam. But this third 27 years is going to be an endless journey for me. And I may never reach my destination because I am not confident I will live another 27 years. I need to find out whether religions really exist or whether they are mere human inventions and old wives tales. Fruit from a poisonous tree will always be poisonous. It can never be any other way. And the fruit from a good religion must certainly be goodness. It can never be any other way. But that does not seem to be what is happening here.
Today, we are told that Muslims support detention without trial. Today, we are told that 1.5 million Malays from 395 Malay NGOs support the government in its use of the Internal Security Act against peaceful marchers. Many are angry that those 31 from HINDRAF are not going to be tried for attempted murder after all. They want blood. They want the blood of the BERSIH and HINDRAF marchers. They want the blood of those who merely exercised their God-given right of free expression. These 1.5 million Malays are followers of a good religion. They say only Islam is good, all other religions are bad. And those with no religion whatsoever or atheists are even worse. But these people from the good religion want the government to do bad things. That is what troubles me to no end. How can a good religion make people want to be bad?
Saturday, 22 December 2007
“Pre Xmas drinks this Friday at pub of ur choice? Get e gang together”
It may appear like an ordinary message to most but to me, it meant the world....the world of the Taiping Tigers! Here was a Tiger, halfway around the globe sending a message to a fellow Tiger (who is not a Christian), suggesting the latter organize a pre-Christmas session at a pub. What also makes this remarkable is that CA was back in town by the 20th and he celebrated Hari Raya Haji with his god and family in full tradition of the occasion.
Tiger KC Heah suggested Sid's Pub in TTDI and since I knew those most likely to attend are PJwallahs, I confirmed the venue and time.
Sid's Pub turned out to be an excellent choice. Set up as a traditional English pub with the Tudor interior, the chalk board displays, and pub fare, it was replete with a Henry the VIII caricature logo. The place also had Guinness on tap but most delectable of all, it served sausages from Jarrod & Rawlins! Well done KC!
The pork sausages presented an interesting scenario that makes the Taiping Tigers special. Even when we were among Muslim friends we had no qualms about ordering pork. At one point there was a plate of pork sausages and another of chicken sausages. The Muslims did not deprive the non-Muslims of their pork and did not mind having the pork sausages near the plate of chicken ones. The non-Muslims automatically used forks to eat the chicken and used fingers for the pork; no "contamination"! That is how we respect each other; that is how we grew up.
To top it off as a truly Bangsa Malaysia occassion, Tiger Mike Naser brought two bottles of his special homemade sambal belacan which we ate with toasted bread. That must have been a sight (and smell) for the other patrons there!
Tigers present last night were CA, Mike Naser, KC Heah, Suet Fun, Fabian Lai and classmate whose name I do not recall, Mariappan, Patmanathan, Elizabeth, Harjit and Susan; Bangsa Malaysia everyone.Photo quality low because of phone cam.
Saturday, 15 December 2007
My business partner, SA was in generous mood after we managed to secure a long term contract that we were pursuing the last one and a half years. He had just bought the Sony Ericcson P1i and found it real handy and reliable so he got two more for me and another partner. Though much cheaper than the other P-series phones we both were using, the P1i actually has more functions and capacity.
Since it will be a very busy implementation period at least for the next 6 months, being able to blog from the mobile phone will allow me to explore a whole new dimension in blogging.
Saturday, 8 December 2007
I finally met Dato' David Kong Hon Kong yesterday. He is an amiable guy and obviously a man on top of his game. He promised to do the necessary changes to spare other grieving families the type of embarassment caused by Jeffrey Chee. He also said he would be removing sales agents from the columbarium. I have no reason to doubt he would do exactly as he said.
As for My Darling Jeannie, yet again more good has resulted from something bad. Rest in Peace My Love.
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
As for me I had hoped for a son but only because with Jeannie's medical condition, we had expected to have only one child. The Chinese in Jeannie too wanted a son but I knew a daughter would be the perfect complement to her.
The Chinese in Jeannie also insisted that we try again for a son and we had JJ in 1990. I make this sound all so easy but reality was something else. That is another story for another time.
One thing's for sure; if I were to do it all over again I will want a girl as the first born!
Jeannie and Krystyn; if I am not the husband and father, I may have been envious of the special relationship the two girls in my life shared. Krystyn is special in the way that Jeannie was special, yet Krystyn though so much like Mummy, is Krystyn in her own right. Jeannie concertedly brought Krystyn up this way. Mother and daughter shared a special bond that will exist in Krystyn forever. I understood what Jeannie wanted for Krystyn and more importantly, Jeannie knew what she did not want for Krystyn.
We were looking forward to celebrating Krystyn's 21st birthday this year and as life would have it, Jeannie's physical presence was not to be at Maeshima-san's place on the 27th of November 2007. I must thank my friend Wong for making dinner arrangements and Maeshima-san for the very good spread and allowing Prince Cheah into his restaurant.
Though Jeannie IS always with us, that day was the first pertinent landmark occasion after her demise and I did not dare to wonder how Krystyn felt in her heart of hearts. Jeannie would have been the same if it had been me and we now know she WAS there. Look at the bill and notice the total amount and the "trademark" number 27! The total bill was RM1,127 and that coincided with the date that day; Krystyn's birthday, 27th November. Coincidence? Probably but........we'd like to think Mummy was there too.
Krystyn & Prince Cheah
Fresh Osaka Oysters
Sashimi Peanut Butter & Cheese Cake
Monday, 3 December 2007
"Darling, this is such a special occasion ... I want to make a confession. Before we were married I was a hooker for eight years."
The husband ponders this bombshell for a moment, then looks adoringly into his wife's eyes.
"My love, it's been a perfect ten years with you - I can't hold your past against you " He nuzzles up to her. "...Maybe you should show me a few tricks of the trade, and spice up our sex life!"
"I don't think you understand," she replies awkwardly. "My name was Douglas and I played for the All Blacks."