Monday, August 24, 2015

Statistics

I was invited to deliver a talk on the property market recently, and during that talk, we had inter alia a brief look at the trend for the income of the population per capita in recent years. Although I have included that topic in my talk, I mentioned to the audience that I'm not a big fan of this sort of statistics. To me, taking the total income of the population, and then dividing that with the size of the population can give a general view, but not necessarily an accurate impression of what's really happening in reality. We may have say 100 people earning RM10,000 per annum, and just one person earning RM1,000,000 per annum. But when the average of those is calculated, we will arrive at RM19,801.98 per annum.

I suppose statistics can be a useful guide to formulate some national policies, but sometimes there is the tendency to dwell too much on the figures on paper while missing the mark by a mile in reality. That is why I'm not such a big fan of statistics. But even so if we're dealing with human lives.

I think in some cases, such as when talking about human lives lost in a plane crash; or space craft failures during the launch resulting in the loss of astronauts shouldn't be compared by statistics. Every single life is precious, and no amount of statistics, no matter how good they look on paper, can justify the severity of the loss of lives. I don't care if the statistics show that there is a very small percentage of lives lost from air travel, because even if that is true, the bottom line is that lives have been lost. 

When human lives are at stake, there is just no room for mistakes. But after all we are just  humans, and we can't escape from the curse of making mistakes no matter how careful we are. The only thing to do is to admit those mistakes and then find ways not to repeat them in future.

That is why I am a little disgusted when I read the article on the "very small" number of deaths in police custody cases, as explained by Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed. He said, "...we have to work on statistics."

One of these days, if ever Nur Jazlan is arrested on accusation of something that he did not commit, and then is beaten to the brink of death while in police custody, I bet no amount of statistics can convince him that he is just one of the "very small" number of cases of police brutality, as if his predicament is of no consequence. I dare say he would then be demanding for his right to be given the opportunity to defend himself in the court of law, instead of being subject to harsh treatment in prison.

That is always the problem with people, you see. It is too easy to say, for example, that being a gay is sinful unless if they are themselves born gays; that it is easy to say being obese is disgusting, unless if they are themselves obese and can't seem to lose weight no matter how hard they try to fight their cravings; that it is easy to say it's just 200 lives lost in police custody against 120,000 police personnel, unless if they themselves are those whose lives are at stake.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Financial Obligations

I read with interest the article in The Star on why PTPTN defaulters are not paying up. There are several reasons quoted in the said article, but two of them stand out from the rest:

"Everything is so pricey nowadays. To add to that, I am a parent and trying to provide a comfortable life for my child."

"I earn so little and my duty is to my daughter and parents first."

Looking at what's happening in Malaysia today, I'm convinced that those are not lame excuses; I dare say these people are working hard to make ends meet. Leaving aside those people who're jobless, I believe the majority of the working population in Malaysia are not earning well enough to satisfy most of their basic needs, let alone luxuries such as expensive cars or huge houses. I think what we have here is a question of priority.

I happen to know some people—even some of my family members—whom are apparently perpetually "tight up" when it comes to money, regardless of how much they're earning. When speaking to family members, I'm known for my favourite line:

"Kalau periuk nasi semakin besar, maka kerak nasi pun semakin besar juga!"

For those who don't know it yet, I consider myself very good in Malay—both written and spoken.

The Malay phrase above says that when the rice pot gets bigger, then the rice crust will also become bigger too, thus reflecting that when one earns more, his appetite tends to grow. Or his obligations will grow too.

I have on several occasions said to my brother that there is nothing wrong to spend on luxury items. By all means, buy an expensive car if you want to. Heck, buy a few if it makes you happy. Shower your children with modern digital gadgets, and let them live like their parents are rich folks. The only proviso is that just make sure you can really afford those luxuries. And of course if you can't afford all those, then don't spend! It's a very simple policy, really.

Don't owe money from other people when you're a little short, but then when you do get a windfall eventually, instead of paying up your debts, you spend to satisfy your other needs first. If it's your intention that the priority is to provide a comfortable life for your child first; or satisfy your other needs, or to your children, or to your parents first, instead of paying your debts, then bloody hell, don't go looking for PTPTN or friends to get a loan when you're in trouble. When you need help, you want the priority to be given that help. But when it's time to pay up, you don't give the priority that your creditors deserve. What the hell?! 

The money that should have been paid back to PTPTN could be used to help others in desperate need for a loan. If you're not paying your debts, that is like depriving others from getting help from PTPTN.

Don't blame others if they refuse to help you, because you don't deserve their help. The  next time you're in trouble and need help again, don't grumble if you are not given the priority for help. In other words, don't be an asshole!



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Few Good Men & Some Not-So-Good Ones

If one is not in the military service, it may be difficult to understand the system of chain of command adopted in the military. The lowest-ranked foot soldiers are subjected to harsh treatments from their superiors. They are given orders and made to do chores that are seemingly ridiculous to the extreme. These may range from cleaning the toilets with toothbrushes to trimming the lawn with a nail clipper etc. At least these are the examples shown in the movies. 

The folks in the military are divided into groups that are categorized according to ranks, and in most cases the higher-ranked officers have almost absolute power over those below them. Perhaps some of the examples in the movies are just exaggerations to make the movies more interesting or dramatic, but I'm convinced that there must be some truth in it.

A famous movie that comes to mind is A Few Good Men—the story of how unconditional obedience can go awfully wrong in the military context. Soldiers—good, obedient ones—whom took orders from their superior without question, but with serious repercussions. These are good men in the military context, but not necessarily good for mankind. Sometimes it becomes difficult to draw the boundary between good and bad when logic and common sense are thrown into the equation.

The thing that is hard to fathom is that many of those ridiculous commands, such as cleaning the toilets with toothbrushes, seem to have no tangible value in terms of winning wars. However, I can appreciate the significance of unconditional obedience in the military. For in the event of a war, we can't afford to have our soldiers to disagree with each other; people refusing to obey orders. The effectiveness of the military will very quickly be reduced to nothing. When we have people disagreeing with each other, nothing gets done; and the whole military can crumble. There is therefore a delicate balance to be had, but always for the good of the majority.

The trouble with the military system is that a great deal hinges on the decision makers at the top of the hierarchy. If the wrong person is at the top, everybody below him may suffer serious consequences when and if he makes poor decisions. Wrong decisions may result in the unnecessary loss of many lives in the battlefield, for example. Wars may be lost. Yet all those at the bottom are expected to obey orders. In such a system, it is imperative that the person at the top must be genuinely competent for the job—he is at the top because he is really qualified to be there; not because of his family background or any other reason.

I can't help thinking that the military approach that is adopted in our government is hurting the majority like never before. I can live with the system if I can see progress; if I can experience improvement in the country; if the ordinary man in the street is happier today than before. But no, it seems a lot like we are going downhill. We are economically worse off today and the value of our currency has declined, and is still declining, even though the "expert analysts" would like to paint a rosy picture. I'm seeing racial and religious tension among the people and apparently the trend is getting worse. The cost of living is rising; and the ordinary man in the street is finding it increasingly harder to cope. My view is that those who think otherwise are either in denial or have too much money to feel the pinch.

The lower-ranking officers whom have raised questions instead of blindly obeying instructions have been removed, so that others of more obliging temperament could take over their positions. The justification for such move was as follows:

"It is to ensure that the administration under me remains committed, always focused on efforts to develop the country as has been promised by the Barisan Nasional Government to the people during the 13th general election."

I can accept a government that operates based on the principle of "Cabinet must move as a team", because otherwise there is no point to have a team if everybody is going his own direction. But I want to know in which direction that team is moving to. If we are going downhill—and right now it seems like we are heading there, although admittedly I may be wrong—then I must respectfully beg to differ. If a different idea can help to change the direction, then that idea should be seriously considered. The whole team should still move as a team, but to a different direction—hopefully uphill.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Overseas Education

I read with interest the article "Most Malaysian parents are for overseas education" which reveals that "A whopping 88% of Malaysian parents would consider sending their child overseas to pursue tertiary education."

This lately, I've been thinking about education too, especially since my running buddy is now in the United Kingdom to attend his daughter's graduation. My daughter, JJ, is 13 years old now, and in a couple of years' time I, too, will have to decide between local and foreign education for her.

I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog that we have job applicants from both local and foreign universities' graduates, and what I have discovered was that as far as the quality of the knowledge acquired from the university is concerned, there is hardly any difference between local and foreign universities. Of course this is speaking from the general point of view. We haven't had applicants from Harvard, for example, so I can't tell what more, if any, that they can do when compared to the rest of the universities.

I have come to the conclusion that it is much easier to pass in the university than in high school. One has to attend lectures, do assignments (which usually means cut-and-paste from Google or some other sources); perhaps take up some sort of sporting activities to fill in the quota, and then of course sit for the written exams. I dare say it would take a stupid kid to actually fail the degree; any average kid sent to the university will earn the degree somehow!

No—if I decide for a foreign university for my JJ—and it's very likely that I would, eventually—it won't be because I'm convinced that the quality of that foreign education is superior than our local education. As far as knowledge is concerned, it's more or less the same. And even if indeed the foreign universities can provide more knowledge or abilities, that difference is negligible.

A more significant reason why I would choose a foreign university for JJ is for the exposure to the foreign people and culture. It is a matter of great concern to me that the mentality of Malaysians in general does not produce good, honest and hardworking people. In the long run this kind of mentality will become a huge stumbling block for our children to progress in life. We are bound to have a minority productive portion of the population supporting the majority of unproductive population. Human resource is a very important asset to a nation, but only if we're talking about productive people.

Another reason is that I want JJ to see a different world out there where the leaders view seriously the problems of racism and extreme religious inclinations. In Malaysia, our leaders do too little, and in some cases seemingly encourage racism and religious boundaries to divide the people. There are better things out there in the world, and I hope not to deprive JJ of that knowledge.

So, yes, I will try my best to give overseas education to JJ for as long as I can afford it. Which means making plans from the day she was born, i.e. setting up of an education fund, as well as other means of savings. To achieve bigger things, sacrifices are necessary for some of us, because hoping for help from others is a long shot, to say the least.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Perspectives

It seems like just a couple of years ago when I started running long distance, but actually it's been quite a long time since 2008. I can still remember the great achievement that I felt whenever I finished running 3km; and on a good day, I could even run up to 5km. I was like, wow!—it made me feel invincible!

Then the Borneo International Marathon was organised that year, and that was the first time I found out that the full marathon was for a distance for 42.2 freakin' kilometres. I mean, who the hell would be crazy enough to actually run that distance? Dumb! 

Yet, a friend convinced me to register for the half marathon (21.1km). I trained diligently for about 3 months. When I finally crossed the finish line on race day, I was on cloud 9. I felt like I had a long red cape on my back, and a huge letter S on my chest that day. And then suddenly the 42.2km didn't seem to be that ridiculous after all. In less than a year, I was already running the full marathon.

Over the years, I have gone on to run many more marathons, and I have also run a couple of ultra trail and road marathons of up to 100km long. As one would expect, the training for the ultra is very demanding. I was logging an approximate 200km per month, and for a period of about 2 months prior to the race day, I was logging significantly more mileage for training. Apart from a minimum 3 times of at least 10km each during the weekdays, I had to do several back-to-back long slow distance runs on Saturdays and Sundays too. The weekly total could be anything in the region of 60km-70km.

Looking back to the good old days in early 2008, I realise that I've come a long, long way. These days running 3km to 5km is just a short workout on a lazy day for me. On my supposed rest days, I sometimes bring JJ for a jog at the Likas jogging track. She would be panting heavily after only 3km, while I hardly break a sweat because of the slow pace.

But my focus has changed since last year. I'm gradually shifting my focus to the sport of triathlon. Which means instead of training for running, I now have to train for cycling and swimming too. Eventually, my running mileage dropped since I had to allocate time for the other two sports.

Then about two months ago, a friend invited me to join a facebook group where runners were challenged to run a total of 100km per month. It happened that I was cutting down my training sessions to allow my body to recover from exhaustion due to months of big volume training, and my running total came up to just around 70km-80km per month. This was also because I've been maintaining a minimal amount of time for swimming and cycling. I found that 70km-80km per month was too little and I was a bit shy to announce in that facebook page. I was for the most part just observing in silence.

This month, however, I am gradually increasing my mileage again for running, and I feel like 100km should be quite easily achievable. I have therefore started to post my running distances in the facebook page. Others are also posting their respective total running distances too. According to the Admin of that group, that's intended to inspire others to try to achieve that distance too. I thought that's a good idea.

It is amusing to note, however, that instead of getting inspired, there is now mention of people who're posting their running mileage are doing it to show off. It is amusing to me because I was actually hesitating whether to post or not since from my perspective 100km per month is not really an outrageous distance to achieve. In fact, in a strange way, I feel that that is rather too little.

Sometimes there is the tendency to forget that a running distance of 100km per month may appear differently when seen from different perspectives. To the untrained runners, that may be an impossible distance to run in a month; but to a regular runner, 100km per month is nothing to shout about, really.

But people have the tendency to see things negatively. Instead of getting inspired, they are seeing people as showing off. Instead of getting encouragement, they feel belittled. Instead of being happy to see others' achievements, they try to find ways to interpret those achievements in a negative way somehow. 

I guess that is human nature. I shall not allow myself to be influenced by all these negative forces. I choose to strive for better; I choose to improve; I choose to realise my full potential. And in the end if I failed, then at least I know that I have given my best shot. My perspective is one that is always willing to take the challenge.


Friday, June 19, 2015

The Ambitious Goal

Ages ago, shortly after the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM), I applied for numerous scholarships to pursue my studies. At the same time, I also applied to both local and foreign universities. Replies from the universities were mostly positive, but unfortunately, I couldn't even afford to study in a local university. Without a scholarship or at least a study loan, it was just impossible. Many people with a Chinese surname will tell you that university education isn't something that we can take for granted in Malaysia.

A few years later, I got a job in a property consultancy company performing simple tasks, akin to just an office clerk. I then started saving diligently for about 2 years to finance a self-study distance learning course leading to a degree in Estate Management. It took me about 4 years to finally earn that degree. When you come to think of it, sometimes it's quite amazing what one can achieve if one puts his heart and soul into taking steps to realise his ambition. Something that seems impossible may turn out to be possible after all.

A young man replies to a job advertisement for the position of "Office Boy" in a company specializing in the civil engineering field. The young man is not highly educated; he passed his Form 5 with an average score. He is called for an interview, and at the end of the interview, he is given the opportunity to raise any question regarding the company. Instead, he asks about his prospects of how long would it take for him to eventually become one of the bosses in that company. You see, that is not something that is impossible to happen. May I repeat what I said in the preceding paragraph: 

Something that seems impossible may turn out to be possible after all.

But sometimes, it is much better to keep such ambition to oneself, because it is just human nature to be ridiculed when one utters something that is too far-fetched; or at least too far-fetched for the foreseeable future. It makes more sense to be discreet about one's out-of-this-world's ambition, and to put in the time and effort into achieving that ambition, and perhaps when one is very close to achieving it, then and only then is it time to discuss his future prospects in the light of his forthcoming achievement.

Although I'm not a fan of football, it's hard to miss the glaring headlines of Malaysia losing horribly by a margin of 6 goals recently. As I'm not a fan, I have no clue on strategies or whatever formula that might be helpful to improve the strength of our team. I just know that losing by a margin of 6 goals is very one-sided in football.

That is why I couldn't help but smile when reading the news with the earth-shattering headline: "We can be a football nation"

I'm not suggesting that it's impossible to achieve. But maybe not so soon lah, I don't know. Perhaps it's a good idea for the minister to wait till we can actually win a few regional tournaments first—never mind world stage football for the moment—before mooting the idea of becoming a "football nation"? I'm sure it won't be very funny then.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

JJ's Report Card

It's been some years since the last time I went to JJ's school to collect her report card. She was still in primary school then. Well, JJ is in Form 1 now and the time has once again come for parents to appear in school to collect their children's report cards.

Usually, I'm just the back-up parent as far as collecting the report card is concerned. Mia has always been the one who's obsessed with seeing "A"s on JJ's report card. But yesterday, she was too tight up at the office. So daddy received a call from JJ, saying that unless one of the parents appear in person to collect the report card, the pupil shall not be allowed to enter the class!

I saw myself at Lok Yuk at about 3pm. In fact that's the first time I went to Lok Yuk; I reckon that is a record in itself because it's been about half a year before I finally made my very first visit to JJ's school! I had to wait for a bit before I was able to see the teacher. 

The first thing I asked her was about the strange policy of not allowing the pupils to enter class until the parents come to collect the report cards. Apparently, the majority of parents "don't have the time to collect the report cards", leaving the school with no choice but to come up with such a drastic policy!

Then we moved on to the main agenda, which was of course JJ's report card. Let me just say that she had an A only for English, but the rest of the subjects ranging from B, C and D; and even F for Chinese and Kemahiran Hidup. If these were the results during Primary 6, Mia would have fainted. But we have decided that this year and next year are the "honeymoon" years for JJ. I'm a little concerned that her maths got C, since I consider the subject as the easiest among all. I will need to look into that!

JJ, like most other girls, is not very keen to use her brain to think; she is not generally a problem solver. The modern education system trains the kids to memorize rather than understand. And if there is an easier way to arrive at the answer, even without understanding why or how, JJ would be satisfied anyway. 

I was spinning on my bike in the living room a couple of days ago, and was watching Man, Cheetah, the Wild on Astro. JJ was also watching grudgingly while waiting for daddy to finish, because she wanted to see her comedy shows. The documentary followed the life of a cheetah and her five cubs; and it said that in the wild, only 20% of the cubs will survive to reach adulthood. I turned to JJ and asked her, out of the 5 cubs, how many will become adult cheetah? She looked up to the ceiling and seemed to calculate in her head, but then failed to come up with an answer. Then she used the calculator on her phone and told me the correct answer. It is scary to think that JJ is developing into a typical Malaysian kid—how is she gonna survive out there in the job market? It's not too late yet, but it seems like Mia and I will have to intervene soon.

Last night, I left Mia alone with the report card so that she could digest whatever information therein. And then this morning I thought we should discuss what to do about JJ. Accordingly, I raised some key issues through WhatsApp. As  you already know, these days, spouses and family members can have discussions only through facebook or WhatsApp. But anyway, the consensus is that we will stick to the plan of Form 1 and 2 as the "honeymoon" years, with the exception of beefing up her maths. As for her Chinese which she was only able to score 18% (I thought the teacher wrote that figure with the report card turned upside-down by mistake), we will leave her be.

Another thing of interest is the so-called "merit system". Students are continuously assessed and points awarded or deducted on account of wide-ranging headings such as behaving well in school, able to submit assignments on time, interaction with other students etc. Well, right now JJ has a negative score, and it's mainly because she has difficulties in doing well in her Chinese subject. I'm not planning to intervene for the moment.

I don't think it's necessary to send JJ for maths tuition. I haven't been doing school maths for some 30 years now, but I should still be able to handle basic algebra. Looks like I will have to discuss further with Mia how to draw up a timetable for daddy and JJ to do maths together. So I guess it's time for WhatsApp again...