Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Fairest Of 'Em All

JJ came home from school last Friday with a bit of news for Mia and I. She had with her some sort of circular on guidelines for hairstyles—or rather, which hairstyles are allowed and which are not.

JJ used to have very long hair up to her lower back. I liked it that way. I think girls look prettier, and women look sexier with long hair. But when she entered into Primary 1, Mia decided to cut her hair short. And I mean really short—up to slightly above her collar. Gave me quite a shock that I almost fainted when JJ arrived home from the hair salon.

I have since recovered from my shock and actually gotten used to seeing JJ with that hairstyle. However, this lately, we're attempting to grow back her hair a little longer; perhaps at least shoulder-length. Mia, of course, is careful to tie JJ's hair neatly each morning when she goes to school. I thought that should be good enough to escape the teacher's radar.

Well, apparently JJ's hairstyle is a no-no! I'm not too sure what's the problem, but there was a bit of commotion last Friday evening between JJ and mommy. And then a while later Mia came to me to show a piece of paper showing samples of hairstyles, acceptable and unacceptable ones.

Glancing through the unacceptable ones, I think I got the idea. If I'm not much mistaken the school is concerned with kids arriving in school with hairstyles meant for a fancy dinner party. We all know how women would spend half a day at the beauty salon to set up their hair for the sake of spending a few hours at a dinner party, don't we?

Maybe the school is concerned that it would very quickly turn into a "who's-the-fairest-of-'em-all" kinda thing, I don't know. This, I can fully understand. In fact, I support that policy wholeheartedly. But I fail to see why JJ's hair is unacceptable. I mean it's not like she goes to school with the sissy Edward Cullen's hairstyle, if you know what I mean? And don't even get me started on the Porn star again.

I'd really like to visit JJ's school to discuss with her teachers about her hair. Maybe that's the best way to understand the problem. Unfortunately, I just can't find the time to visit her school this week; and next week I think the kids will have their one-week break in conjunction with the Chinese New Year holidays.

I'm thinking maybe they'd be happier if JJ adopts the hairstyle of G.I Jane...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Beyond The Surface

A thief breaks into a house while the occupants are fast asleep; or so he thinks. He is very careful not to make too much noise while he's picking the lock at the front door. Little does he know that the occupant is a very light sleeper. Realising his front door lock is being picked, he rises from the bed and reaches for the baseball bat, and then waits behind the door.

When the door opens and the thief walks in, the occupant is already there to deliver the blow with the baseball bat. He hits the thief on his head, and the latter falls down to the ground, groaning in pain.

The police arrives a short while later and arrests the poor thief. A couple of days later the thief, through his lawyers, files a legal action against the house's occupant for intentionally causing grievous injury on him.

There is, I think, some sort of law which stipulates that when one intentionally commits grievous bodily harm on someone else, he is guilty of a crime and may be punishable with a jail term. But because I am not a lawyer, I am unable to quote the statute and case law on this. I have only heard of some cases through casual conversations with some friends.

At any rate, that is not important here, as I don't intend to discuss the law—not that I'm qualified to discuss it anyway. I'd like to know, however, what are your thoughts about the thief in the story above? Do you think his legal action against the person who injured his head with the baseball bat would succeed? And do you think that action should succeed?

I think sometimes lawyers, after practising for some years, can lose themselves in the profession. Mia, for example, used to say that she's into law because she wanted to pursue and uphold justice. I told her quite honestly that there is no such thing as justice! A big part of the legal system is about procedures and technicalities. Evidence, even if genuine ones, may not be admissible on technical grounds in some courts, and that had in the past resulted in criminals escaping the hangman's noose.

To the non-legal minds like mine, that is something which is hard to fathom. I wonder how many of the lawyers and judges, after practising for some years, have revisited the question of why they wanted to become lawyers and judges when they first set foot in law school.

When strictly looking at the law from the surface, it may be too easy to find all the requirements to arrive at a conclusion in favour of the thief. After all, the occupant of the house did hit him with a baseball bat. And he did it with the intention of causing harm too!

There is a need to look at the law beyond the surface; that it is necessary to fathom the intention of that law. When looking at the law from the surface, one might speculate that the thief's action would succeed. But when looking at the law beyond the surface, i.e. understanding its intention, one might conclude that that action should not succeed.

I think in that sense laws of religions are also very much like man-made laws. If, for example, a woman is required to cover her hair, or face, or even her entire body from top to bottom, there must be a reason for that law—there must have been a special reason or intention for that law to come into being.

In Malaysia, we have many Muslim women who wear the tudungs. I was given to understand that this was a religious requirement on grounds of decency. Apparently, some men may have funny ideas—perhaps even start fantasising—when seeing a woman's beautiful long hair or pretty face. That's why the woman must cover up her hair (and face) to prevent such from happening.

I'm not sure how many men in Malaysia would actually be affected in such a way when seeing a woman's hair or face. However, many of those same women with tudungs would also go around in public in jeans or other tight outfits, thus showing the shapes of their bodies. I'm inclined to believe that that might attract men's attention too—at least some of them. And maybe the kind of attention that they can attract may be even more than if they exposed their hairs and faces? That is why I sometimes find it strange that many women are so concerned about putting on the tudungs while in public, but at the same time wear sexy outfits below those tudungs. So one has to wonder what is the intention of wearing the tudungs?

Likewise, I'm also keen to know that, if it's true that Muslim women are not allowed to shake hands with men, what is(are) the reason(s) or intention of that rule? Or is one not even allowed to ask, but instead expected to accept that rule unconditionally?

Monday, January 17, 2011

But For The Name

We've been without an amah since the end of November last year. Our former amah, Esi, resigned about 3 months into her second one-year employment contract on grounds of having to go back to her hometown because her mother was seriously ill.

Based on my past experience, "sick mother" usually means "getting married" or "better job offer elsewhere". But to be quite honest, it didn't bother me too much what the reason(s) for the resignation was(were). I'm a realistic person—I don't expect these people to work for me until they're old. After all, I can appreciate that they will want to have their own families too someday. So it's just a matter of time. However, I didn't find it very amusing that after paying for the cost of renewal of the work permit, I only received 3 months' worth of that one-year work permit!

That said, obviously there's nothing much I could do to prevent her from resigning. And even if I could force her to remain working for me until the one-year work permit expires, I doubt that that's a good idea anyway.

So instead of grumbling, I wished Esi all the best. I said I hoped her mother would recover soon. Within the next few days, I arranged with the agency to get her work permit cancelled. On the last day, when I sent her off, I paid her salary plus a bit of bonus, and thanked her for working for us for a year plus.

After Esi left, Mia and I had to adjust our routines for a bit. I must admit it wasn't easy without an amah. House chores can be quite a challenge, you know. But these days it's no longer easy to find an amah. It's still relatively easier to get a Filipina amah, of course, but I'd rather suffer with the house chores if I had to hire a Filipina. And so we've been asking around—friends, relatives, anyone who might be able to find us an amah. But for weeks our search has been in vain.

And then suddenly last Friday I received a call from a friend who said that there's this Indonesian girl looking for a job as an amah. That must have been my lucky day. I was told that she had been working as an amah for about 4 years before, but had to go back to her hometown for about one year. Now she's back in Sabah again to look for a job.

Well, I quickly arranged to meet this girl—possibly even on the same day. But it wasn't meant to be. In the end, she arrived at my home after 7pm yesterday. Within a few minutes, we could see that she's an experienced amah. I dare say that her claim of four years' working experience was genuine.

She quickly familiarised herself with the electrical appliances in my home. She was very much at home with the washing machine, electric kettle, and the remote control gate system. She also didn't burn my expensive pants with the iron.

In all this, I'm not forgetting the phrase "New broom sweeps well". That's a favourite saying of my late granduncle, although I didn't like it coming from him, since he frequently used that when referring to his younger wife.

Anyway, I didn't get to taste her cooking this morning, as I only eat cereal in the morning. This evening, I tasted her cooking for the first time, and although it's not the kind of cooking one would expect in a posh restaurant, I can say that I'm satisfied.

So right now, about 24 hours since her arrival, I'm happy with what I'm seeing. Perhaps the only thing that I'm a bit uneasy with is her name—Lin. It's a short and simple name, of course, and I really shouldn't be complaining, especially since I'm not famous for remembering names, particularly those complicated ones. But "Lin" in Hakka is an obscene word. Even the non-Chinese in KK would know the meaning of that word, since some Chinese folks frequently swear with that word!

Mia suggested—though her suggestions are not always brilliant—that we call her "Lyn" instead. But I reminded her that she's missing the point—whether it's "Lin" or "Lyn", that word still sounds like that ugly obscene word anyway!

This morning, I was in a rush going to the office. So I forgot to ask for her cellphone number. But upon reaching the office, I called home to ask for it. She said she had just bought her phone and hadn't memorised her own number. I said that's OK, she can just text me later.

A short while later, I received an SMS from her:

No Lin, +6012XXXXXXX

Upon receiving that SMS, I said to myself, "Well of course she has no "lin" because she's a woman. I'd be extremely worried if she has one!"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Power of Common Sense

We were at Kah Hiong for breakfast recently during one of the weekends when my long-lost sister, Flora, came for a visit. Present were all six of us siblings, Uncle Tony, Mia and JJ.

JJ is vulnerable to bouts of coughs whenever she consumes too much cold stuff, so that day I ordered inter alia a can of unchilled soya bean drink for her.

A few minutes later, the waitress came back to report apologetically that they did not have any unchilled soya bean; that all of them were already put into the fridge.

I said, "Oh, is that so? OK, let's see... if you had a warm can of soya bean, and I wanted a chilled one, is there any way you could give me what I want?"

All eyes were on me, since my siblings, except for Flora, were all quite well-versed with my weird way of dealing with people in general.

The waitress replied almost instantly, "Well, I can serve the warm soya bean with some ice cubes. That will make it cold."

"Hey, that's a good idea!" I said, and then continued, "but what if you only had cold soya bean drink, whereas I want a warm one. Are you then able to give me what I want?"

Suddenly her face brightened up and I fancy I saw her blushed a bit when she replied, "Well, I guess I could put the chilled can in a container of hot water for a minute or two. That can heat it up a bit?"

I said, "Hey, that's a good idea! Now why don't you try that approach and see if it works?"

So off she went to try out that brilliant idea which she had just thought of all on her own. A few minutes later, she came back with a warm can of soya bean drink for JJ.

The power of common sense!

When people take the trouble to actually use their brains to work out a problem, they can surprise themselves with what they can achieve!

But alas, many people are not trained to use their brains to solve problems—far from it! They are taught how to do things in a particular way and that's the only way how they should do it. It is none of their business to attempt to find a better way in the hope of achieving better results.

When I was teaching for a few years like a hundred years ago, I tried my best to instill the habit of critical thinking in the kids. I discouraged memorization of answers unless absolutely necessary.

Just two days ago, I was helping JJ out with her Bahasa Malaysia homework. And just for the record, I do not do JJ's homework for her—never! That kid is just so poor in the language—she's struggling with it! It was one of those fill-in-the-blanks kinda tasks. There's a mention of the Cameron Highlands, and above those paragraphs, there were some loose words meant for those blanks. Because of habit which arose from our modern education system, JJ was poised with her pencil in her hand, expecting me to just tell her what to write in each blank, and then just simply memorise the answers. But no, I took the trouble to explain the meanings of each of the available choices, and then prompted her mind by asking her what should rightfully be in this blank and that blank. She actually reasoned out the problem and then, using a bit of common sense, filled up, for example, the word "dingin" (cold) in the right blank.

The power of common sense!

At work, we have a fixed scale of fees for our professional services. That scale has been programmed in a spreadsheet. For years and years, whenever we wanted to issue an invoice, the staff would simply fill in the amount in the spreadsheet, and then the amount of the fees would automatically be calculated by the formula in the spreadsheet. Unfortunately, recently service tax had been increased from 5% to 6%.

As I stood there looking at my staff at work, she suddenly reached for a calculator when she got to the service tax part to calculate that amount. I asked her why the need for a calculator? She said because service tax rate has been changed from 5% to 6%. Yes, but why couldn't she simply change the 5% to 6% in the spreadsheet formula once and for all, and then there is no need to use the calculator for the rest of the years to come? She said she didn't know how to do it.

And I said, "So, if you don't know how to do it, how do you deal with the problem then?"

Well, to cut the long story short, all it took was a few minutes to change that forsaken 5% to 6% in the spreadsheet, and now there is no need for her to reach for the calculator each time she has to issue invoices.

A classic example of the untrained mind that failed to use the power of common sense... sigh.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Endurance Sports

For a while now I've been trying to recall why I hated sports so much when I was in school all those years ago. Each year when school reopened, I dreaded the times when all of us had to go through the selection process to represent our respective sport clubs. I think it had something to do with the fact that I just wasn't good enough for competitive sports, but I wasn't even keen to attend the selection process to start with. So I never really knew how I'd fare against the other kids in school.

I had more fun playing badminton, but I didn't get very far in the sport as I simply couldn't afford the expensive shuttle cocks. I'd like to think that if only I had the chance to train, I'd probably be at least a strong badminton player, though maybe not the best around.

After I left school, I have always been active in badminton for some years. Then I tried weight-lifting for a while. Then swimming and more recently long-distance running. I think endurance sports did not come to me naturally—I had to work very hard to build up my stamina. In fact, I'm still doing that right now!

Last Wednesday afternoon, JJ had to stay back in school after her lessons for the sports selection process. I wasn't there to watch her in action, but later that evening I found out from JJ what happened that afternoon.

Apparently the kids in her class were made to race around the field. The top performers were then selected to represent their respective clubs. I saw the field in question, and I'd reckoned that it's perhaps about 100 metres per lap, give and take. I'm not sure how many times they had to run around that field, but I'd imagine that they had at least a few races—maybe the first one to sift out the weakest; then the second one to select the top half performers; and perhaps the final one to select the best of the best etc.

When I arrived at her school to fetch her home after 5pm, JJ was exhausted. She climbed into the back seat and I could see the relief on her face in the mirror. It wasn't long before I extracted from her the story of the day.

She said she ran one full lap around the field and felt dead tired when she finally completed it. Bear in mind we're only talking about 100 metres here (it could be less than that!). And to add insult to injury, she came in last in her class too, having been overtaken during the last few seconds by a competitor!

I don't know why, but I found it rather amusing that JJ got last, though I was careful enough not to laugh out loud.

I looked at her in the mirror and saw her eyebrows coming together when she asked, "Why is it that I can't last very long when I run, dad? I felt so tired even before halfway. How come my friends could run so fast to the finish line?"

I wasn't sure if I should go into the long and technical explanation about endurance sports and confuse the kid even more. But in the end, I decided to keep the explanation simple, and said, "Well, Jay, that is quite normal—some people can run faster, and longer, but not others. Some people are good in their studies while others are not. Some people are fat while others are skinny. No one is good in everything, so don't worry about getting last in the race. Maybe you can come in first in another competition?"

And while JJ was nodding her head doubtfully, my mind started to wander to Ahmad Md Isa who has an amazing endurance in living. It made me wonder how much longer he can endure life, but apparently an 82-year-old woman thinks he is still worth it. I have always said, there is always someone for everyone! But what's even more interesting is that there is now a second woman who's keen to marry Ahmad, and she's only 70 years old!

Ahmad has been married 5 times before, so I'm sure he knows very well what marriage is all about. I hope he can live up to the responsibility—although I can't help thinking, can he stand up as a man? And I'm not even talking about the strength of his legs...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

X'mas Party at Andrew's

I can't remember the last time I had such good time at a Christmas party. If I did, it must have been years ago. I'm not a famous social animal, specifically a Christmas party. So I can honestly say that I did not quite expect the success of such a party at Andrew's on the 27th Dec 2010. Oh what a party!

It wasn't really a big crowd—merely some of us mostly runners who call ourselves The Nascar Runners. For a short while, we separated our groups into the F1 and Nascar Runners, referring to the varying speeds. But somehow, the reference to F1 died off soon after!

Among those present that night were Andrew and his family, Diong and his wife, Mia, JJ and her friend, and I, Dr Helen and Reed, Teo and his wife and daughter, Dr Liaw, wife and son, Judy, Dr Peter, Felice and her two kids. But the noises we made that night were amazing—and here, I think I contributed quite a lot from my loud laughters!

Some of us arrived earlier for some pre-dinner drinks; which was quite a piece of luck as we were still well-behaved to take this group photo in full Nascar uniform! Unfortunately, Helen and Reed, and Felice and her kids were late and missed this group photo session.

If there was anything lacking that night, food was certainly not it! This thing about potluck dinner can be quite a challenge in that there's that temptation to try every single dish. But alas, there is only so much space in the stomach! And talk about the unhealthy food! Thankfully, however, there were doctors around, all of whom approved the variety of dishes. According to Dr Liaw, it's his professional opinion that it's OK to consume all the high-cholesterol food because we're all runners. Dr Peter had a slightly different opinion—he encouraged us all to eat all those stuff so that he will continue to have business! Some doctors are not quite right up there, I swear!

We were all waiting for Felice, but as she was running a bit late, we decided to start without her. But not before the highlight of the night—the lobster-serving ritual between me and Peter. We have almost a kind of contractual obligation to entertain the rest in our group, you see. The last time the same ritual took place, Peter was on one of his knees when serving the prized lobster to me. So now that it's my turn to return the favour, I went down on both knees.

At this juncture, however, Andrew asked me a brutal question.

He said, "Where do you normally buy your lobster?"

That question was more painful than a bullet wound. It absolutely devastated my pride!

I said, "What do you mean, 'normally'? This is the first time I lost to Peter! And I have no intention to make it a 'normal' thing!"

But serving the lobster alone didn't quite cut it. I had to actually feed a piece of the dish to Peter too. After all, it was a hard-earned prize. Prior to the marathon, Peter ran at least a month's worth of 35km long runs every Sunday without fail. And the month before that he did 30km every Sunday. The rest of us who were also training for the Penang Marathon then could only watch Peter in horror.

Immediately after the lobster serving and feeding ritual, all of us helped ourselves to dinner. And here it was something akin to going shopping in a huge mall. There were too many choices and I found myself having a bit of trouble choosing which one to eat! A bit of lamb, a bit of turkey, mixed vegetables, salad, sausages, potatoes. Oh there were so many choices, I tell you! I was kinda worried if this would derail my plan to shed a few kgs before the Hong Kong Marathon. But I took comfort knowing that Andrew, who's also going to Hong Kong, had been indulging in carbo-loading sessions since a few weeks before. Perhaps Andrew would care to enlighten us all which training schedule he's adopting?

While we were all busy munching away, Felice and her kids arrived and then joined us at the dinner table. As soon as dinner was over, some of us gathered around Felice to listen to her account of what happened in Miri. Teo, Andrew and Felice cheated death in the 12ft waves that day in the Miri Sprint Triathlon, you see.

I don't know if the swimming style mattered at all then, but Teo actually made it all the way to the buoy and came back to shore without drowning himself. Andrew, I think, turned back just a little distance before the buoy. But Felice couldn't even overcome the waves. In the end, the marshals on jetski had to come for the rescue. Unfortunately, as they were nearing Felice, there was a strong push of the wave, resulting in the jetski hitting Felice on her head.

A traumatised Felice called it quits and reduced herself to the role of the Nascar photographer. Teo and Andrew, however, went on to finish the race, each ending up with top 10 positions in their respective categories. Of the number of participants, don't ask me how many. That is not really important!

As Felice was just about to finish her story, suddenly Andrew emerged from nowhere holding a huge square object in gift wrappings. He gave it to Teo who acted the surprised recipient just a tad too well. He tore open the wrappings and then all of us crowded around to see a proud Teo with the Miri Sprint Triathlon's certificate, medal, photos, and even the RM100 prize money he won! Believe it, folks, sometimes kiasu-ness can be very rewarding!

As a side issue, one of the photos in that frame was that of Teo at the transition area. I think it was the transition from the biking leg to the running leg of the race. We all agreed that that was a priceless shot—one that is convincing for the transition in an ironman race! Apparently, Teo was so pumped up when he arrived at the transition area, changed his shoes, grabbed his bottled water and very quickly rushed out for the running leg. Only that he forgot all about his cap and fuel belt in the process. And then of course after he was a few metres beyond the big crowd, he slowed down to a realistic pace. We have quite a number of comedians in our Nascar group, you know.

And then Andrew, too, had his own wrapped up present from under the Christmas tree. And yet another framed up Miri memorabilia similar to Teo's. As Andrew was posing for the photograpers, Diong asked a question which could have made me faint with laughter.

He asked with bright eyes, "Did they present you with those framed up prizes?"

He said if they did, he would want to join the Miri Sprint Triathlon too next year.

Well, no, Diong, get real, they most certainly won't frame it all up for you like that!

There was yet another present under the Christmas tree, but this one was substantially smaller in size. This Andrew gave to Felice. And immediately after unwrapping the present, Felice threw her head back in a roar of laughter. It was a nicely framed up photos of her during the event. Although she did not actually conquer her first ever Sprint Triathlon, it's obvious that she had a swell time there. Come on Felice, I know you're itching to make a second attempt—admit it, admit it!

And here's Felice again when she's more sober after her uncontrollable laughter.

Judy, too, unveiled her Kiulu 4M Challenge certificate. She got 4th in her category, but again, don't ask me how many participants in her category!

Well, there isn't much more to tell. It was just about 10:30pm when I left the party. I couldn't stay too late as I had to send JJ's friend home. The rest, however, stayed on a little while longer. And Reed decided perhaps no need to bother with the fancy wine glasses.

Truly, it was an awesome Christmas party which surpassed my expectation beyond words! Thank you to Andrew and Carol for organising the party. And thanks to all the rest for making this such a successful party!

Now let's hope that if there is another one, it will be Peter's turn to serve me the lobster!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Avalanche of Wishes for Datuk

I think the phone companies make much more money in the month of December every year because of what I reckon a substantial increase in the number of text messages sent over Christmas and New Year days.

Perhaps an average minimum of, say, 100 text messages per person over each of those 2 occasions isn't really an exaggerated estimate? In fact, I won't be surprised if some people are sending out and receiving many, many more greetings via text messages. Going through the contacts on my phonebook, and carefully selecting only the "most important names", I still ended up sending out over 100 text messages over Christmas and New Year!

The funny thing about sending holiday greetings via text messages is that it's almost impossible not to use a standard format, i.e. something that one could use over and over again for everyone. So perhaps one can set up, say two or three styles, and then just send off those few styles alternately to all the friends. I have seen quite a number of very long-winded greetings which I'd imagine must have taken ages to compose! And if one were in the mood to be a bit more hardworking, one might want to add the names of the recipients at the beginnings of that standard format messages. I suppose that could give an impression to those recipients that the messages were not in fact recycled materials—personalized messages if you like.

But, to repeat, there are just too many text messages to send out; and sometimes one is bound to blunder by forgetting to change some parts of the messages which were originally meant for someone else!

And so I was fairly amused when I received the following from a friend:

Hello Cornelius, before I start dancing, drop on the floor and lose my phone, I wish Datuk and family a great year ahead with abundance of good health and happiness.

I doubt that I will ever be bestowed with a Datukship in this lifetime; and I see no good reason to pursue it anyway. But I guess this is the closest I will ever get to be a Datuk—via a mistaken holiday greeting!