Wednesday, November 26, 2014

UPSR—The First Hurdle

Elsewhere in this blog, I've posted a number of articles about the Malaysian education system. It's been about 37 years ago since the time when I sat for my Primary 6 national exams. I have long forgotten what it was like in my day. I was for the most part a lazy kid who hardly ever did my homeworks; and I was famous for being the black sheep of the class. I have no idea how I passed my exams, but somehow I just did.

Almost 4 decades later, there have been several changes in the system, and I have lost track of what the exams are all about. These days the Primary 6 exams is known as the Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah (UPSR). This morning, JJ went to her school to collect her results for the UPSR, and those of you who're not keen to read all the way to the end of this post, let me just tell you that, contrary to popular prediction, JJ did not get straight "A"s. 

But I'm sure many of you can guess that I'm not in the least worried or disappointed about it! If JJ can pass her exams with decent results and progress to the next level, I'm OK with that; and if she can achieve anything better, well then that's a bonus! I've seen that in many, many cases, paper qualifications don't really mean much in the job market. Out there in the real world, one needs a different kind of survival skill to do well, and no amount of paper qualifications can help. I just need the paper qualifications to help JJ to open doors; and once she steps through those doors, all those paper qualifications mean very little!

But this post is not really about JJ and the UPSR; rather it's about Mia. You see, Mia has been somewhat obsessed with JJ's performance in her studies since the first day she set foot in school. If JJ did badly in a school test, Mia would suffer the torment akin to a bullet wound. Seeing Mia has in fact been my frequent source of entertainment. If only the school would allow Mia to sit beside JJ during the exams, I'm sure Mia would be there! But alas, our education system hasn't reached that level of ridiculousness yet.

Over the last few days leading up to the UPSR results, Mia tried so very hard to act cool. But oh how she failed miserably! After over 20 years of marriage, I can read her like reading the dictionary, although admittedly I still can't fully understand the thought process sometimes. Then again, women are not meant to be understood, if you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, today Mia had an urgent legal matter she had to deal with at the office, and there was absolutely no way she could escape. She was therefore unable to go personally with JJ to her school to collect the UPSR results. So she sent her sister to do it for her instead. Only god knows how Mia was able to focus on her work in the office while all the time dealing with the suspense of wanting to know JJ's results. I caught myself smiling to myself just thinking of what Mia must be going through. I felt like calling my sister-in-law to tell her to take her time, please.

Nevertheless, like all fun stuff, the suspense had to end—Jackie duly brought JJ to her school. To be honest, I don't quite understand the present format of the UPSR. All I know is that everybody is obsessed with counting how many "A"s the students can get. I'm a little confused with the number of subjects and which are the ones that really matter. 

Well, as I said earlier, JJ did not achieve straight "A"s for her UPSR; she scored a "C" for "BAHASA CINA - PEMAHAMAN", and a "B" for "BAHASA CINA - PENULISAN"; and "A" each for all the other subjects. Oh yes, there is also something under the heading of "PENTAKSIRAN KERJA AMALI" for which JJ scored a "1". I have no clue what that "1" is all about. Although not a straight "A"s, I want to say that I'm a happy daddy anyway. All I want from JJ is for her to try her best.

So now that JJ has passed her first hurdle, she progresses to Form 1 in Lok Yuk next year. The plan is to drop Chinese so that she has a bit more time for the other subjects, and perhaps start to indulge in some sports. Still a long way to go and many hurdles ahead—Mia still has many, many years of sleepless nights to come, worrying about JJ's school exams. I guess some things will never change...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Harmful Curiosity

There was once a man in Miri, Sarawak, whose curiosity got the better of him—he wondered if it was possible to fit his wedding ring onto his penis. Where and how he got the idea to do that, only God knows; and why the penis of all the organs in the body? It’s mind-boggling when you think of it even though that news article must have been over 20 years ago. Sometimes, you just can never forget the things that are outrageously stupid, if you know what I mean. 

Well, what d’you know, he was able to slip the ring onto his penis somehow. I must admit that that was quite a major achievement in itself. I can only think of 2 obvious possibilities; it’s either because he had an extremely thin penis or because it was an unusually huge wedding ring. But still, why the penis, for crying out loud? 

Anyway, the tip of his penis immediately swelled up, thus making it impossible to retrieve the ring. Soon after that, the pain was becoming unbearable. He was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, the ring cut and his penis was saved from permanent damage; and his story made the headlines in the Borneo Bulletin for all the wrong reasons. 

Such is the story of human nature—they often fall victims to curiosity, and the lust of wanting to know if something is possible, which in turn frequently ends up with disastrous outcome. 

I read with interest the recent discovery of the preserved body of a 40,000-year-old woolly mammoth from Siberia, and the ambitious plan of cloning it. The thing is, I have faith in human abilities. I’m convinced that it’s just a matter of time; sooner or later, we would be able to bring back the woolly mammoth from extinction. After all, we have successfully cloned living animals. It seems not too far-fetched that we’re gonna be able to do the same for dead animals too. Granted, it may not happen during my lifetime, but I’m sure it will happen eventually. 

But why bring back the mammoth from extinction? Are we bringing it back just because we can, or has it got other benefits for the human race? I mean benefits other than having something unique and exotic in our zoos? 

Because of its size, I can imagine that the mammoth must have been one of the dominant species that roamed the earth eons ago. It may have been driven to extinction due to over-hunting by humans; or perhaps because of the change in the world climate. Whatever it was that caused its extinction, I think the mammoth has had its time in this world. If our scientists are so obsessed with wanting to clone animals, then maybe it’s much better to start cloning recently extinct species; or even species that are currently at the brink of extinction. We have plenty of those, especially when considering how quickly we’re destroying the jungles wherein these animals are living. 

Like I said, I’m sure we have the brains and means to clone the woolly mammoth sooner or later, but let’s not do it just because we can; or because we’re curious to learn more about the animal. Maybe it’s not meant to be; we’re trying to be too smart for our own good. Let’s just let it go; let’s put to good use the lesson that we’ve learnt from the man in Miri.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Challenge of the Shoe Seller

A shoe seller bought shoes from his supplier at a cost of RM21 per pair. He then put a price tag on them at RM29 per pair, intending to make a profit of RM8 per pair (ignoring other costs). A customer walked into his shop and bought a pair, and paid him with a RM50 note. However, the shoe seller had no small change. He therefore instructed his employee to go to the neighbouring shop to break the RM50 note. After breaking the RM50 into smaller notes, he wrapped up the pair of shoes and included the change of RM21 to his customer.

A few hours later, the neighbouring shop keeper came to inform the shoe seller that the RM50 note he exchanged earlier was actually fake money. In the end, the shoe seller had to pay RM50 back to his neighbour. Obviously, instead of making a profit from the transaction, the shoe seller actually suffered a loss. But how much did he lose?

Such was the question raised by my running buddy, Dr Peter Ong, during one of our long runs over a weekend sometime ago. We talk a great deal when we run together. Or rather, I talk a great deal, while he listens. The question isn't an impossibly tough one, but it provokes the mind to think. Now I have always said that these days our education system no longer teaches our children to think; it teaches the kids how to score straight "A"s, of course, but that doesn't really require them to think.

This morning, I chaired another one of our Monday meetings at the office. I was sharing my view that an approximate two thirds of the students in our universities are female and if it's not already the case right now, I'm expecting that similar proportions between the two genders can be seen in the job market too. 

However—and this is the point I'm trying to make—in the end, the top positions will almost always be dominated by men. I'm fully aware, of course, that the world has seen a number of female leaders such as Margeret Thatcher and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the likes. But when seen as a whole, the top positions are overwhelmingly male. Why is that so?

Women are extremely good when deliberating detailed matters, especially from the theoretical point of view. They are sharp and meticulous and willing to swim in the abstract, turning every single issue down to the micro and atomic levels. Their solutions are very often impeccable and deserve an "A" for the university exams. However, these solutions are not always practical, and may not always reflect what's going on around us. Many ordinary problems in this world require simple solutions derived from common sense approach; not complicated mind boggling calculations based on bombastic formulas. It is in that sense that, in my opinion, men can quite naturally outdo women. This is speaking from general observation of course.

I meant to prove my point in the meeting this morning, and I threw out the above question to the audience. They ranged from high school to university education. There were 5 males and 6 females in the audience; so it was about balance. I told them to write down their answers on a piece of paper, and then those were to be submitted to me. I had expected that not all of them would be able to find the answer (maths is almost everybody's weakness), but I reckoned that the guys would certainly do better than the gals.

Well, what d'you know, all of them failed to get the answer—even after several tries! Not only have I failed to prove my point through this little experiment, but I have also discovered that none of my staff had what it takes to be in the shoe business!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Visit To A Bicycle Shop For A Spare Tube

I was out cycling with Mia last Saturday morning for an intended 70km ride. It was a hot and dry morning; and I was already sweating profusely as early as 20 minutes into the ride even though we started at about 6:15am. Thankfully, however, we weren't cycling very fast, so it was quite a pleasant ride. 

Unfortunately, shortly before reaching the halfway point, I had a puncture in my rear wheel. I changed the tube and used up the CO2 that I had with me to inflate the tyre. Having no more CO2 and spare tube, I decided not to proceed any further beyond that point, because I wasn't sure if Mia had brought along the hand pump with her. Accordingly, I crossed to the other side of the road and waited for Mia on her return leg. A few minutes later, Mia came along, and then we rode together all the way back.

I've been busy on Monday and Tuesday. Today, I finally had the opportunity to make a visit to the bicycle shop in Kampung Air. I had intended to buy a spare tube which costs about RM12 retail price, but because I'm a regular customer, I usually get it at RM10 each. I reckoned that there's no harm to buy more, so in the end I decided to buy 3 tubes. While I was at it, I might as well buy 3 canisters of CO2 too lah.

Then I received a text message from Mia. She said she wanted 2 pairs of white arm sleeves so that she can use alternately with the only one pair that she's been using all this while. Since she's also going to attempt the Putrajaya Half Ironman next year, she's expecting more regular rides in the coming months, you see. So OK, 2 pairs of arm sleeves.

Then, as if struck by an after thought, she said might as well buy a pair of calves sleeves too lah. She's vulnerable to getting cramps in her calves, you see, so maybe the calves sleeves can help to solve the problem.

And oh!...the floor pump that we have is just not very good for women. Mia is just about 55kg-56kg, and she'd need a Herculean push on the handle whenever she needs to pump her tyres. Usually, I would be the one who'd pump her tyres for her. But she'd like to pump her own tyres too, so it would be good to buy a better pump! I checked out the numerous choices of floor pumps at the bike shop and then found one that's a bit more expensive, but softer. Perhaps it's good enough for Mia; so I bought that pump too.

The original plan was to go to the bicycle shop to buy a spare tube at a cost of RM10 a piece. About 15 minutes later I walked out of the shop with a bunch of bike stuff, and a receipt showing the figure RM498, net of "discounts".

When the price of fuel in Malaysia was raised by 20 sen per litre a few weeks ago, too many people have sarcastically said that they will sell their cars soon, and then buy bicycles so that they could save money that way. I was like, "Yeah right!...If you think riding a bicycle is a cheaper means of transport, think again, folks!"