Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Friday, 31 October 2008

Coincidence meh?

After returning home as I am sick today, I stopped by the mosque near my home that has a petrol station nearby. Imagine my surprise to see it totally closed, ostensibly due to their computer system going down as shown by the crude notice below. Nonetheless I have my suspicions as I read The Star's headline today that screamed "Govt expected to reduce petrol price by 15 sen a litre Saturday". A little too coincidental for the station to shut down today, don't you think, especially since it is part of the chain of petrol stations that claimed to run of fuel after the last price reduction when all other stations did not have the same problem. Well it is no worry to me as I still have half a tankful left, so if the price is reduced tomorrow I still do not need to rush and fill my tank up anyway.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Making Ipoh A Non-Food Tourist Attraction

Reading this article reminds me that as an Ipohite it really bugs me that other than food attractions, when asked what else is there for tourists visiting Ipoh usually draws a blank response from me.

The Star Online >

Lifeliving Saturday
October 25, 2008

Putting the roar back in Ipoh

With hidden treasures such as food, interesting sites and colourful goings-on, Ipoh promises to be a place you just want to stop at a bit longer. Ipoh seems to have it all. Yet somehow it doesn’t quite make it on everyone’s “must-visit’’ list. There has been talk of revitalising the city for some time now. But until things get up and going, Ipoh is like a race-horse that keeps running but never crosses the finish line.

In synch: Dragon dance is an integral part of the Nine Emperor Gods festival which is celebrated with gusto in Ipoh. – CHING TECK HUAT

The problem can’t be the food. I asked my doctor, who’s from Ipoh, about the town specialty? He drew me a rough map to two exceptional “makan” shops” Lou Wong and Foh San. Taugeh (bean sprouts) chicken is a favourite of Chinese cuisine connoisseurs and Restoran Lou Wong Taugeh Ayam Kuetiau in the town centre serves the real McCoy. Lou, (pronounced “Lo” which means “old”, an affectionate reference to Mr. Wong’s restaurant which has stood the test of time. The outlet which has been around for 51 years and dispatches something like 140 chickens a day is practically an institution in itself. Half a chicken, a heaping plate of succulent bean sprouts (taugeh) drizzled with aromatic black sesame oil and a steaming bowl of soup with fish and pork balls cost only RM17. Just a stone’s throw away is Foh San, a venerable dim sum restaurant set in an old building which also houses the Perak Chinese Amateur Dramatic (sic) Association. People tell us their dim sum is sold out before noon. Then there is the legendary Ipoh White Coffee, which has as many taste variations to it as there are coffee shops who serve it. But there’s no mistaking who’s the king of the coffee bean hill there. Only the grubby-looking Sin Yuan Loong pulls them in like no other. Nevertheless, we still get the impression that Ipoh is more for Ipohites and that taugeh chicken and white coffee may have brought Ipoh to the rest of Malaysia but not the rest of Malaysia to Ipoh.

A must-try: Lou Wong Taugeh chicken.

Shopping isn’t a problem. You have the landmark Ipoh Parade, Greentown Mall, Yik Foong Complex and The Store. Hotels are good, clean and cheap. We stayed at the Regalodge, which has all the trappings of a three-star hotel ” free Wifi access, stocked-up fridge, long bath and get this ” a 37” Sharp LCD TV in every cosy room. A double room set us back by only RM116, with local buffet breakfast thrown in. There are also at least four hospitals, 12 schools, three colleges including a medical college, a library, two museums and a lovely park (Seenivasagam Park). Then there are the cave temples Sam Poh Tong and Kek Lok Tong, which have been tour highlights for decades. Despite it all, there’s definitely something missing. Ipoh, the third largest city in Malaysia (after KL and Penang) falls behind even Johor Baru in terms of dynamism and visitor traffic. So what’s there in Ipoh to keep them coming? Maybe it needs a good shot in the arm. like the parade of the Nine Emperor Gods festival. We arrived just in time to witness it. There were prancing Chinese lions, serpentine mythical dragons slicing through the air, processions of flower and lantern-bedecked floats with participants throwing sweets or handing out “tortoise” buns (red buns shaped like tortoises) to spectators, traditional dances and marching brass bands. There were wildly rocking sedan chairs upon which were seated “deities”. The weight of their spiritual power was said to be so great that the sedan bearers were swinging and swaying as though the chairs themselves had come alive. There were Chingay performers struggling to balance massive flagpoles alternatively on foreheads and open jaws and Indian drummers. There was also a Hindu devotee pulling a chariot with hooks enmeshed in his back. Call it what you will. A parade. A procession. A carnival even. It was spectacular. If it carries on in this scale every year, it could become an international tourist event. The festival culminated in the fire-walk on the night of the ninth day. Only devotees who were spiritually cleansed ” strict vegetarian diet, no smoking, drinking and gambling for nine days ” could undertake the bare-footed walk over the pit of smouldering coal. If your tootsies get burnt, it means you’ve been cheating. (That’s the spiritual explanation of the day.)

The Birch Memorial Clock Tower built at the turn of the century.

Meanwhile, between now and the next Kow Wong Yeh or Nine Emperor Gods festival, perhaps the town council could place historical attractions under its protection. We visited Birch Memorial Clock Tower at Jalan Datoh Sagor. I read somewhere that Datoh Sagor was among a trio who assassinated Birch in 1875. Birch may have been a nasty fellow and asked for it but I think the memorial tower in his name deserves better. None of the four faces of the clock was working and someone had dumped a broken deckchair on the platform. Unveiled in 1909, the Victorian clock tower, with its captivating murals is history worth preserving. Other colonial buildings fared a little better. The front half of the City Hall building has just been repainted. The Railway Station cum Heritage Hotel could do with a little more work. The grounds on which the war memorial is situated, however, is picturesque and perfectly kept. The city road signs too are uni-directional at T-junctions and crossroads. Guessing or taking a blind shot at what the other road is can be a wearisome game for outsiders. Ipoh has a historical past. It is a shame to let it fade away. The old names of city roads if shown alongside the new ones, would certainly stir interest in Ipoh’s beginnings. Appreciation starts with knowing the city’s roots. I believe Ipoh has the right ingredients for a revival, it just has to work on its formula.
> The article is written in the spirit of Visit Malaysia every year. The writer believes unbiased, constructive comments will only spur Ipoh and its town council to greater heights.
Well to me other than restoring Ipoh's own historic charms that to me used to rival Malacca and Penang's Georgetown, there are other aspects that can be highlighted. First Ipoh should be positioned as THE CERAMIC CITY, as unlike the pretender Air Itam in Johor that actually stocks their ceramic elsewhere and even from Ipoh, Ipoh produces their own ceramics and therefore offers designs that are unique to Ipoh only. Why else do you think I am willing to lug flower pots from Ipoh back to Kuala Lumpur that later become conversation pieces as they are unlike what is generally available. The problem is that unless you know and ask for such pieces that are actually exports over-runs, visitors usually satisfy themselves with cheapo ceramic pieces that can be found anywhere as that is actually what Ipoh ceramics is now currently known for, CHEAP. Thus our ceramic centres in Ipoh should be encouraged to position themselves as Premium Ceramic sellers like what Kuching in Sarawak has done with Sarawak Pottery, where even I buy such pottery as keepsakes even though I come from a rival ceramic and pottery centre.

Secondly we should exploit further Ipoh's reputation as THE POMELO MARKET, and not just be satisfied with having specialist pomelo shopping centres. Look at overseas where a region or village that is known for a specific produce will have their own annual produce festival in addition to year-long produce promotions whereby restaurants and hotels help with the promotion for their own self-interest. For example to date I have yet to find special menus featuring pomelos as their centrepiece, therefore if we can marry pomelo with that other special Ipoh ingreadient Taugey or bean sprouts that has their own special taste, I am sure we can come up with Michelin starred menus. Luckily I find that other regions' pomelos still has not caught up with Ipoh's pomelos in terms of taste and quality, as otherwise this would be another crown jewel to be lost.

And what has happened to Buntong Kachang Putih that is as well known internationally as Bombay Mix. Why do I now find it difficult to purchase my favourite kacang putih fresh from street vendors and have to satisfy myself with pre-packed versions that just do not have the same kick, especially since you cannot mix your own favourites that is an Ipoh trademark. Will it come to a stage where I can find a kacang putih vendor in KLCC Suria food court selling his wares at inflated prices but none can be seen on the streets of Ipoh. We have already lost to the sands of time such streetside pasembor and chendol sellers that bested Penang's own that continue to thrive and attract tourists including overseas food documentaries, so let not our legendary Kacang Putih become just a footnote in history.

As you can see despite the title it is quite difficult to run away from food-related attractions when you talk about Ipoh so we might as well embrace this topic if we want to revive Ipoh as a tourist attraction. Why not as there are many cosmopolitan cities in the world that are known for their food as well as their other attractions but in this case why only promote Chinese specialties. Ipoh Malay food has their own uniqueness like popiah and Malaynised Yong Tow Foo that can beat Ampang Yong Tow Foo anytime. Ramli Mee Rebus is another White Coffee chain waiting to happen if nudged properly down the road. Meanwhile Ipoh Indian food like apam, puris and banana leave meals are able to hold on their own, and as far as I remember Moghul food movement started in Ipoh far earlier when Pakeeza Restaurant opened shop in the eighties and popularised the food. So identify these eating places and promote them so that people will come to Ipoh not only for chinese food on day trips, as they now have other choices for other meal times when they visit the local attractions.

Now it is the task of Ipoh City Hall and Perak Tourism to identify what will additional tourist locations these will be. Ipoh used to have a thriving arts scene and my alma matter ACS with its own theatre used to hold theatre productions that rivals Kuala Lumpurs that has produced many local stars like Mano Maniam and Afdlin Shauki amongst others. Revive this and the horse racing punting towkays will have something socially to do when they come to town when the race is run. Nearby waterfall attractions like Hulu Kinta and Kuang should be rejuvenated as tourist attractions like what happened to Tambun Hot Springs that todate remains a lonely tourist resort. We have world-class Clear Water Sacnctuary Resort but is this clearly identified as an Ipoh attraction. Have a comprehensive and inclusive and integrated strategy to promote these attractions as Ipoh's own and I am sure I will no longer be tongue-tied when asked about Ipoh's attractions. Meanwhile I will stop here so that the really responsible persons to promote Ipoh as a tourist destination will do their job properly, but you can this as a starting point to start the ball rolling.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Ops Fajar Continues!

It is with a sense of pride when I read in the Malay newspapers that the Armed Forces Ops Fajar operations in the Gulf of Aden continues with the stationing of the KD Mahawangsa. The Fleet Operations Commander of the Lumut RMN Base, Vice Admiral Datuk Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin who was also Ops Fajar task force commander announced that to date KD Mahawangsa has escorted 16 national owned merchant vessels including tankers and container ships through the piracy filled waters. KD Mahawangsa remains stationed at the gulf to escort Malaysian merchant ships plying the pirate-infested waters and to monitor the situation under Ops Fajar and will remain for an undetermined period until the situation is alleviated. This proves that Ops Fajar is no waste of money as it has secured safe passage for our vessels through such troubled waters. Nonetheless Shipping companies should invest in security measures and not depend on the country’s security vessels, including the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN), for their safety as the RMN could not be accompanying commercial vessels especially those which pass through the Gulf of Aden as the operational cost was high, said , Vice Admiral Datuk Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin. Thus when I read this comment "The presense of KD Mahawangsa tasked in escorting Malaysian commercial vessels convoys through the water is understood not only to give a sense of security to our ships but other nation's ships in the are" got me thinking, shouldn't we start charging for these ships if they come under our navy's security umbrella.

Why Are You Still Harping On The Price?

My fellow forumer Tin in Cari forum highlighted a good point about the on-going debate on the price of the EC725 Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopters paid, especially when compared with a similar timed purchase by Brazil. As we in the business industry well knows, you should compare something apple to apple, that is, something must be compared on a similar platform, in this case CSAR platform and todate nobody has been able to provide information on the Brazilian helicopters' specification. Nonetheless Tin has managed to unearth the details of a similar EC725 CSAR helicopter deal by Eurocopter's home nation France that I append below. I hope you can spot what I want to say before I comment on it after the post.

Eurocopter Receives Notification of a Contract for 10 EC 725 Helicopters for the French Special Forces

In late November 2002, the SPAĆ© (French Aeronautical Production Agency), acting on behalf of the French General Delegation for Armaments (DGA), notified Eurocopter of a contract for the supply of 10 medium-sized EC 725 helicopters to the French Special Forces. The contract, which is worth 271 million euros, covers the helicopters, general customization costs, and support services.

Delivery of the first EC 725 is set for late 2004, with the follow-on deliveries spread out over 2005 and 2006. With this contract notification, the EC 725/225 order book now totals 18 machines. The latest newcomer to the Cougar range benefits not only from the operating experience of its predecessors, but also from major technical upgrades. The French Air Force - the EC 725 launch customer - has announced a current need for 14 of these helicopters to fly Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) missions for the French Armed Forces. This new medium-sized twin is in the 11-ton class, and exists in a military (EC 725) and a civil (EC 225) version. It first flew in November 2000 and offers much higher performance, with a military payload and a radius of action substantially higher than on the Cougar Mk 2. Compared to the Cougar MK2, the EC 725 has a brand new, 5-bladed Spheriflex main rotor, a strengthened main gearbox, a new Turbomeca Makila 1A2 based powerplant, and a new integrated piloting and display system. The powerplant has an emergency rating of 1,800 kW (2,448 hp, 2,413 shp), 14% higher than the previous engine version. Eurocopter retained the Cougar Mk2 airframe for the EC 725 because of its proven in-service record, and the high-performance equipment and optional items that are available.

To date, a total of 652 helicopters from the Super Puma/EC 225-Cougar/EC 725 family have been ordered by 85 customers in 47 countries.
Looking at the value of this order of Euro271 million for 10 helicopters against Eurocopter's bid price of Euro233.3 million for 10-12 units shows that we are paying less per unit of CSAR helicopters. The fact is that in 2002 Euros the value for each CSAR helicopter is Euro27.1 per unit. So the whole contract value in Ringgit Malaysia(RM) at today's exhange rate of Euro4.528 per RM is at RM1.227 Billion and when comparing it with Eurocopter disclose price of Euro233.234 million = RM1.056 billion shows that France's purchase even in 2002 values costs more than our purchase. And this is for a contract for their home nation with no countertrade. So this piece of comparative purchase news serves to confirm that the Malaysian Government has obtained a good offer for this tender. In fact you can also compare the difference between a normal military specified EC725 against the CSAR specified version from this article. So get your monetary facts right. You do not need a bipartisan parliamentary committee to investigate a purchase that has disclosed the correct figures showing it is above board just in order to justify some cooked-up figures as demanded by the opposition while suspending the deal. We need these helicopters now! The facts has been laid down on your feet. It is now up to your common sense to make a sound judgement.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Welcoming Home The Ops Fajar Men

After almost a month since our kidnapped MISC sailors has returned home, it is now the turn of their rescuers to arrive home with KD Lekiu and KD Sri Inderapura arriving at Lumut Port while the airmen detachment were flown via helicopter to Sungei Besi for their welcome. Welcomed with a thanksgiving prayer for their safe return, the men were then allowed to meet their awaiting families who they have not met since August. Bravo Two Zero men!

Below is a video of their return taken from last night's TV3 Buletin Utama :

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Salute To Malaysian Artistes For Unity

From today you will find on my blog a music video done by a non-partisan group calling themselves "Malaysian Artistes For Unity" being posted on my blog page. I hope it gets regular play as its message is something that I want to get across to Malaysians in particular and to the world in general. Well it has been a while since I heard their song being played so it was fortuitous that I saw a video of their song on cable TV today and found out about their website. To be honest I was wondering whose project this was though I could identify some of the singers involved, so this website finally revealed the kind souls who contributed to the project, in their words, "getting together to make an anti-racism national unity song and music video" that is so appropriate in today's situation. Well I want to do my own bit and get their message across so do visit their website and download or embed the video in your own website, as sadly I must say that they are really not getting that much of exposure so every little bit should help. Bravo to you people! YOU ARE RIGHT! HERE IN MY HOME IS MY HOMELAH!

What Is The Controversy?

If my memory serves me right, our national defence purchases can be magnets for controversy and the earliest incident that I can remember is the allegations of wrong-doing in the awarding of local construction of fast attack craft to local shipbuilder Hong-Leong Lurssen in the early 1970’s was brought up in the Parliament. Now the controversies centre on the purchase of our Sukhoi fighters and Scorpene submarines and the latest is on the award of the Letter of Intent to Eurocopter for the purchase of Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) helicopters for the Royal Malaysian Air Force. Nonetheless the Kedah class controversy should not be included in this list as that issue’s problem was in the implementation of the contract, not actually on the award.

Well let us then look at what controversy usually surrounds the award. This is usually on the price of award whereby it is usually alleged that the lowest priced bid was not selected and thus it was implied that the selection was made with elements of favouritism, commercial or otherwise. Like a broken recorder such allegations has been repeated and repeated, usually as a means for character assassination for politic purposes. Due to the seriousness of the latest allegation as it impacts persons at the highest level of government, this has prompted the Ministry of Defence to take the unprecedented step to disclose details of the CSAR award to the press including the prices of the competing tenders in the Bernama Report dated 17 October 2008, the extract as follows :

Abu Bakar said a total of seven offers were received with the bidding pricing including delivery charges. The pricing offered by Eurocopter (Code tender: T521/07/A/006) was Euro 233,345,390.Other tenders included T521/07/A/001 with the price in Pound Sterling amounting to 341,888,123; T521/07/A/002 (RM663,189,500), T521/07/A/003 (Euro 104,632,729); T521/07/A/004 (US$220,496,700); T521/07/A/005 (US$708,305,497) and T521/07/A/007 (US$348,178,365).

This listing clearly shows that even though Eurocopter was not the lowest priced bid, their tender was also not the highest as alleged. In addition, the report goes on to detail the importance of any acquisition of defence equipment worth more than Euro 10 million or more, there should be an offer for countertrade/offset. In this sense it was reported that an offset deal for RM250 million was offered by Eurocopter so we are getting something out of this deal. For those familiar with the nation’s international tender process, it should be noted that there is usually a clause that says the lowest bid may not necessarily be selected, so to me this controversy is actually a non-issue as I am sure the Ministry’s team has done their job professionally. In fact if I recall correctly, this particular tender objective has always been a procurement tender for CSAR helicopters and somehow it was re-branded as a Nuri replacement or utility helicopter tender in the course of the tender process as our Nuri’s kept crashing and there was a public demand for its replacement, so I take my hat off to the team as they managed to keep on course and not be dissuaded into buying a mere utility helicopter as demanded by certain quarters.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Have we upgraded our Otomats?

Browsing through MBDA's press release on our recent test-firing of their Otomat SSM, provides a clear explanation of what was involved in the Over The Horizon targeting capabilities owned by our navy.

8th October 2008


On 23rd September 2008, a live firing of a TG2 (guide mode 2) OTOMAT missile was successfully carried out from the Royal Malaysian Navy’s (RMN) Laksamana class corvetteNadim. The firing satisfied a contractual obligation requiring MBDA to validate the OTOMAT TG2 system (over the horizon re-vectoring system) installed on board the Super Lynx helicopters supplied to the RMN by AgustaWestland. The firing, carried out in an open sea scenario, was planned against a target beyond the launch ship’s radar horizon with the missile flight comprising two phases.

The initial phase (TG1 Phase – guide mode 1) involved the missile being directed from the launch ship towards the TG2 helicopter. The subsequent phase (TG2 Phase) saw the missile directed towards the real target position by the TG2 helicopter. This involved a 30° turn after in-flight re-vectoring of the missile with the new navigation and attack data provided by the helicopter. OTOMAT’s flight exceeded 60 Km, with the missile following the planned trajectory and approaching the target with exceptional accuracy. Target impact occurred at the planned altitude and with the correct detonation of the warhead. The firing activities were carried out by the RMN supported by an MBDA team. Top level RMN representatives were present on board a helicopter hovering above the target area to witness the operation.

Fabrizio Giulianini, Executive Group Director Sales and Business Development of MBDA, said: “This latest success for OTOMAT confirms its role as a leading anti-ship missile system within the modern naval operational scenario. This missile’s already excellent performance has been further improved with the addition of a new land attack capability. With this new configuration, OTOMAT will offer one of the best solutions for navies up to 2020 and beyond”. With sales exceeding 1,000 missiles worldwide, the OTOMAT anti-ship missile system has been updated to a new, fully digital Mk II Block IV standard. In this new configuration the missile has been updated and upgraded to face future naval threats, typically brown water scenarios and land attack requirements thanks to its new on-board navigation system and its operational range of 180 Km. The updating programme was launched thanks to the support and funding of the Italian Navy. For the Italian Navy, the programme covers the updating to the new standard of the missiles that will be installed on board its Durand de La Penne class Horizon destroyers and on its future FREMM frigates. Qualification firings for the Italian Navy were completed at the end 2007.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

The Induction of Scorpene Submarine Tun Razak

YANG di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin and Raja Permaisuri Agong, Tuanku Nur Zahirah
posing in front of the Scorpene II name as 'Tun Razak', at the official launching and naming at Navantia Shipyard at Cartagena, Spain.
Malaysia's second Scorpene Submarine has been launched by the Queen on the 8th October 2008 in Navantia Shipyards in Cartagena Spain. The name was chosen in honour of Malaysia's second prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, a statesman remembered for his great contributions to the country's independence, modernisation, administration and development.

‘Tun Razak’, Malaysia second submarine, moored at the Navantia Naval shipyard in Spain
after being launched by Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Nur Zahirah yesterday.

Malaysia's first submarine, named "Tunku Abdul Rahman", after Malaysia's first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj, was launched at the DCNS shipyard in Cherbourg, France, in October last year.It is expected to be commissioned in January 2009, assume the name "KD Tunku Abdul Rahman" and travel back to Malaysia in May, arriving by late July 2009.The vessel launched today will be known as "KD Tun Razak" once it is commissioned in October 2009. It is expected to set sail for Malaysia in January 2010, arriving home two months later.

In a statement, the RMN said the first Scorpene submarine had completed combat system tests and validation of submarine performance tests in France."The submarine is currently undergoing sea trials involving RMN's Submarine Force trainees. It is expected to be in Malaysia by the middle of next year, adding sparkle to RMN's Diamond Jubilee celebration," the statement said. It is also said that she will also be displayed at the LIMA 2009 Maritime show. Malaysia's two submarines are expected to be based at the soon-to-be-completed RM690 million naval base in Sepanggar Bay, Sabah.A total of 142 RMN personnel are currently undergoing training in Brest, France, to prepare them for Scorpene duties.

Below is a video clip commemerating the event taken from Buletin Utama TV3.

Are Only People Of My Generation Worried?

I don't know but it seems that only people of my generation and above that has had a colour-blind childhood are voicing out their frustrations that our scoiety are being polarised. But then who are the parents of the people who are segregating themselves along racial lines, are we not them so does this mean that we are failing in our own responsiblities in cultivating national unity. This story reflects my own childhood, but I must say I myself find it hard to keep up with my old friend as they have done. Thus I guess it is time we relook at ourselves and ask whether it is so bad to say that we are all Malaysians.

Sunday October 5, 2008
‘We are from Malaysia’

At a time when unity among Malaysians from various races and religions is being questioned, five friends just get on with it, together.

WHY don’t we do something extra special together this year?” Rodney wondered over his usual teh tarik during one of our regular after-squash supper sessions. “After all, we meet often enough each Wednesday for squash, why don’t we take up something else together?” For us “ five lifelong friends“ Wednesday evenings after work is the time for our usual weekly get-together at the Jalan Duta Squash Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Five Malaysians celebrate the 51st Merdeka atop Mt Kinabalu. We normally end by 8.30pm and then proceed to restaurants in nearby Taman Tun Dr Ismail, to catch up on everyday stuff as well as reminisce over the good old school days before calling it a night. We had been bouncing around ideas of picking up another hobby or two together. After all, we’ve kept in touch over the years mainly through squash and occasional old boys get-togethers.

What about scuba diving? Or even cycling? Whatever “it” was, it had to be something that would be physically challenging. After all, we considered ourselves pretty fit, thanks to our weekly quash sessions. Such a feat would have to be something that would boost the mid-life ego, too. We finally decided on going together on an expedition to scale Mount Kinabalu. To us, we are just fellow Malaysians who have been good friends for many years but, to the rest of society in this nation today, we’d have to elaborate that we comprise two Malays, an Indian, a Chinese and a Eurasian. We belong to the Johannians, Class of 1981. For the uninitiated, Johannians are the old boys of St John’s Institution Kuala Lumpur. The five of us, Rodney, Fitri, Andrew, Ronald and the writer completed our Form Five in 1981 before heading our separate ways in pursuit of education and careers.We kept in touch over the years and, like many others, find good reasons to meet up every now and then. Today, Rodney Michael is a leading voice talent in the entertainment industry who’s regularly heard over most Astro commercials and corporate advertisements. Mohamed Fitri Abdullah is vice president and head of Enterprise Business of Maxis Communications. Andrew Chan is an entrepreneur, having previously made his name with CSA Technologies. Ronald Pickering is regional head of CSR Australia, now based in Hong Kong, and the writer is the CEO of Mavtrac, a member of the UEM Group. All of us turned 44 this year, have growing families and lead reasonably comfortable lives. Nothing out of the ordinary, and much like many other middle-class professionals.

What’s possibly different is that, in today’s social landscape, we look different €“ two Malays, an Indian, a Chinese and a “lain-lain” (Eurasian) €“ hanging out together. We joke, we rib each other, and we share stories, laugh and argue, just as we always have. During our school days at St John’s during the late 70s and early 80s, we were among many other such mixed groups who grew up together into young men. Sadly, today, such colour-blind social interactions appear to be few and far between.Our greatest concern today is that our children are growing up in an environment which is continuing to harp on racial and religious differences, whereas we thought we had overcome that social concern last century. Most importantly, we have respect for each other. Yes, our table talk does sometimes extend to particular differences among our religion and race, but more from the viewpoint of common respect and appreciation of similarities that bring us together. We often enough do rib each other, jokingly making references to “macha”, Chinaman”, “Malay fella” and “lain-lain” but it’s all in jest and fun.

Now getting back to our Mt Kinabalu expedition, as expected, whilst the idea was tossed up among the many, when it came down to the organising, they left it to me to decide on travel arrangements. With ample lead time, we were able to pick an expedition date close to the 51st Merdeka celebrations. We couldn’t find a good enough excuse to tell our wives why we suddenly wanted to go climb a faraway mountain until we learned that 1964, the year we were born, was also the year that Sabah’s capital, Jesselton, was renamed Kota Kinabalu to commemorate Mt Kinabalu’s recognition as a World Heritage Site. Hence, the chosen name of our expedition, Jesselton 1964. In the three months leading up to our expedition, we spent many weekends in training, tackling nearby Lake Gardens, Kemensah Heights/Genting Ridge, Gunung Nuang and Genting Highlands. Fortunately we also had sound advice from experienced mountaineers; one to make special mention of is, Thomas Simon, on the preparations necessary for such an expedition. As the departure date approached, as a team, we also prudently purchased the appropriate equipment, from haversacks to walking poles to clothing, wet weather gear, always comparing prices to ensure we secured good value for money (or, in other words, as kedekut as possible!).

Come the date of travel, Ronald joined us from Hong Kong as we made our way out to Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur. We spent the first night at Kinabalu Park before commencing the climb through the Mesilau Gate at 9.30am the following morning. What was thought to be the more scenic and pleasurable route, turned out to be 3km longer and it took us nine hours to reach Laban Rata, long after dark. What made the trek more concerning was that I suffered severe cramps (sometimes termed “frozen muscle”) halfway up and, at one point, a decision was made to abort the climb at Layang-Layang. However, with perseverance, all of us made it safely to Laban Rata that night to put up at the Gunting Lagadan resthouse. It had been raining the few days before but, as our luck would have it, the dark skies were brightened with glittering stars the following morning of our final summit ascent. We made the remaining 2.5km trek under torchlight to the peak, starting at 5am. By 5.45am, the dawning sun had cast its early light on Low’s Peak as we enjoyed the majestic view from the top of Mt Kinabalu. A sense of common fulfilment and togetherness prevailed as we realised all the sacrifice and pain had been thoroughly worthwhile. We are also the beneficiaries of two certificates, one of which also recognises our ascent up Mt Kinabalu along the more challenging Mesilau Summit Trail.

Five Malaysians celebrate the 51st Merdeka atop Mt Kinabalu.

What we believe is most unique about this particular experience and the story that we wish to share is that, whilst there appears to be a current scrutiny of growing differences between the various ethnic groups and religions among Malaysians, unity still prevails. Our little band of friends is such an example. We recognise that our story is ironic not from the view point of the expedition itself, but from the viewpoint that we really are a bunch of old buddies, who happen to be of differing race origins, religion and professional interests, yet never take notice of such differences in our day to day interactions. We also trust that such commonalities are prevalent among the Malaysian community in general and will continue to be the uniqueness and strength of the majority of Malaysians in the generations to come. On a final note, as we descended down from Mt Kinabalu that day, we crossed paths with a young Japanese boy who was on his own, trekking up the mountain. After exchanging greetings, he noticed that we each looked different, and naturally in turn, asked the five of us where we were from. We replied, as one: “We are from Malaysia.”

Monday, 6 October 2008

Alhamdulillah Our Men Are Released

The best piece of news I got over the long Eid Holidays was the news that our men in Melati 2 and 5 has been released and have in fact reached our shores the day before. The fact that ransom was paid was secondary, that our men were released without harm and our vessels secured was a victory for our country in handling this crisis in what can be considered as a very short period, as some other hijacked vessels has gone for months without being released.

Thus it disheartened me that some people are reacting to this by belittling the role our armed forces has played in the rescue of our sailors. Some has gone on to say that our men are gutless and are just ransom delivery men for not going in with guns blazing. I quote from a supposedly respectable blog that says "The story from Bernama (below) to Malaysian Defence seemed redundant. Since money was paid for the release of the hijacked sailors and tankers, the involvement of the armed forces, will always be looked upon as trivial despite the sacrifices of the individual soldiers and sailors." To this I reply that there are still many that do not consider this that way, and the proper response is to highlight the role that our armed forces has played to secure the safe passage and return of our vessels despite the ransom being paid, and that their involvement are no way trivial nor redundant.

KD Lekiu Escorting Our Vessels Home (NST PIX)

Thus I hereby quote the main role that our armed forces has played to secure the safe return of our MISC sailors from the same report, let no one then consider their roles as trivial nor redundant.

"The armed forces assisted the MISC in executing the release plan and protocol. This was to ensure that the crew members were released as there have been reports that crew members of other ships were not released after ransoms had been paid."The special and secret operation entailed the use of frigates and aircraft, and swift action to control and take over the tankers before they could be seized by other pirate groups," she said.

It should also be highlighted that such a role was successfully carried out in trying circumstance as again quoted herewith.

“This is the first time the armed forces were involved in a rescue operation in the open sea, 7,000km from home. It posed a logistic challenge to the armed forces for a lengthy duration and the need to execute a military operation other than war.“Bad weather and choppy waters had made the operation difficult with the naval ships not being able to berth for almost one month,” she said.