Friday, January 26, 2007

Disappointment in Johor Baru

My wife says I am too sentimental. I am now retired and having lived in a foreign land for the last 40 years I have returned to Singapore/Malaysia, well at least to live here 50% of my time. Now that I am back, I have decided to seek out my old school friends for renewing old friendship and maybe remember a little of the old days. My trip to Kuala Lumpur before Christmas was a fruitful and enjoyable experience. On that trip I managed to meet up with four school friends including a very good pal and his charming wife. It was quite an experience. Good food and fine company certainly go a long way to making it a happy night out. That night the group parted with promises to stay in touch. Life during retirement would be better and happier when old friends can get together from time to time to chat and exchange life experiences.

However, my attempts to establish contact with old friends in Johor Baru have so far been unsuccessful. I have twice traveled to Johor Baru hoping to meet up with old school friends there, but twice I have been disappointed. Maybe my wife Dianne is right. I must not expect others to have my enthusiasm to reconnect with old acquaintances. Others may look at life differently and may have other priorities. I shall let the old friends of Johor Baru take the initiative for our reunion, if there ever was going to be one. If not, then I shall have to be satisfied that at least I have succeeded in Kuala Lumpur.

I am looking forward to my next trip to Kuala Lumpur next month. Another dinner with fine friends and renewal of old friendship.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Guess the Country

What is it that makes me feel so trapped each time I come to this country? Why do I feel unfulfilled and lonely? I often feel that I am wasting away my life here in this tightly controlled state. Is it because apart from family I have virtually no friends here? Maybe it is because I am not used to the special way of life here. Or could it be that the local population have a totally different emphasis on what is important in life.

After much careful deliberation, I think I have come to the best explanation. It is not just one reason or another. It is in fact a combination of all. It is all the little things that make this country unique. However, although all the local quirks and kiasu-ness combine to give me this feeling that I should get out fast if I value my sanity, the one thing that is so unnerving is the fact that the people of this country place so much importance on money and material possession. It is almost a religion that one should amass as much as possible in the shortest possible time. The race for ownership in everything large or trivial is so important to the population of this tiny country that it has become an obsession. In this race for wealth and materialistic possession, there are many casualties, most evidently those at the bottom of the social ladder. They either get trampled upon or worse they are totally ignored. Of course from time to time, in the main stream media, one hear or read about government effort to reach out to the under privileged with financial or other form of assistance. In my opinion these are usually few and far between and very often too little too late. It has also been widely accepted that the income divide in this country is getting larger. There are the few percent of the population who are extremely rich and powerful. Then there are the middle class who are by Asian standard quite comfortable. Lastly there exist at the lowest rung of the social ladder a section of the population who are very poor, again by Asian standard. The number of people that makes up this portion of the population varies, depending on who you ask or who is providing the figures. The magnitude of this section of the population also depends on the criteria one uses to measure wealth. By whatever means one uses to determine the number of the poor, there is no denying that such deprivation exist.

Over the last few years I have been traveling to this country. I have noticed a steady increase in the number of beggars, tissue paper vendors, vagrants and also people sleeping rough. This country is ranked as one of the richest in this region. For such a small population of true blue locals I am amazed to find so many desperate people.

As in any society there will always be crimes. I just have this feeling that this is also on the increase. The daily newspapers can vouch for that. You read about a whole string of reported crimes each day in the newspapers. Littering is another problem on the increase. This country has always pride itself on cleanliness of the streets and thoroughfares. They employ lowly paid foreign workers just to sweep away leaves fallen from trees and other rubbish from the streets. Each morning on my way to Seven Eleven for my papers I have noticed an increase in litter along the roads from the night before.

Increase in crime and litter has largely been attributed to the imported labourers who are here to perform menial tasks of labouring and cleaning. Whether it is true that there imported foreigners are fully responsible for this increase is arguable. I am sure the local are also partly responsible. The street where we live here in this country is used by pupils from a local school. We frequently find litters along this road used by the pupils to and from the school. Are they responsible for the rubbish along our road?

An incident I witness a few days ago. After purchasing the newspaper from Seven Eleven I often settle down to a cup of coffee at the coffee shop nearby to read my papers. On this particular morning I was joined by a couple in their 60s two tables away. They were there for their morning beverages. The man was smoking and he had a bad cough. He was coughing almost non-stop and each time he coughed he brought up a mouthful of phlegm which he spat on the floor of this coffee shop. Within a period of about 5 minutes he must have repeated the process half a dozen times. I could not imagine he did not realise how disgusting his action was. I hastily gulped down my coffee and made a quick exit from that place.

There is an uneasy quiet here in this country. The mumbles and grumbles of discontent are mainly in blogs under the cloak of anonymity. Nobody here would voice their opinion, why, you might ask. Well, I have learnt that here in this country you must always keep your opinion to yourself and if you hear an opinion being given, believe not a single word of it.

What I have written here is just my personal opinion based on personal observation. I do not mean to cause any hurt to anyone or any organization.

Can you guess the country I have been referring to? No prize for the correct answer !!!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Hometown Segamat Flooded

The unusual heavy rain in the southern part of Malaysia has resulted in flooding in many low areas of Johor. Many towns and villages have been isolated and in many cases reachable only by boats or helicopters.

My hometown of Segamat in north Johor saw unprecedented heavy floods during the end of December 2006. Some homes in the region were completely submerged and many had to be evacuated to temporary relief centers. Many homes were left without electricity and water supply for many days. Many residents of Segamat and the surrounding villages lost practically all their possessions. It was a sad time for Segamatians.

The first week in January 2007 saw the easing of the rain and the flood in Segamat subsided. Many moved back to their homes, only to find devastation and destruction. Many home furniture had to be discarded and those who were insured replaced them with new ones. For those who were not insured had to pay for replacements or had to make do without. Items such as refrigerators, washing machines and all other heavier furniture that were not easily moved to higher grounds were the main casualties. Those who moved back home after the flood started the tedious and heartbreaking task of cleaning and disposal of damaged belongings.

Just as things began to return to normality, came the next blow for Segamat. The second week of January brought more heavy downpours. Many towns and villages affected by the December disaster began to flood again. Segamat was not spared. Villagers from surrounding areas around Segamat had to be moved to relief centers again. The water level of the Segamat River rose to a dangerous level. Further rainfall would undoubtedly bring more distress to all in Segamat. Some trunk roads to Segamat were also under water making it impossible for travelers in and out of Segamat.

It is a worrying time for residents of Segamat and for all those who live away and are worried about their family and friends back home.

Let’s hope the next weeks bring drier weather and things can return to normal again.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

JB in the rain

We went to JB on January 12 to renew my Singapore visa. The journey to JB was slow as it was raining very heavily in Singapore when we left. When we got to JB the rain had increased in ferocity making driving very difficult. The journey to Senai took twice as long. Our usual breakfast place was deserted because of the rain. We had our usual breakfast and after purchasing breakfast for our neighbour's handicap boy we proceeded to our Saleng house. The rain continued with great intensity.

After visiting our Saleng house we proceeded to shop at Giant. The supermarket, usually full of shoppers was almost deserted and it was quite an experience shopping in the almost vacant store. Lunch was at the foodcourt at Giant. Had KFC.

Our next destination was Jusco at Terbau City. The journey to Jusco was tricky as by then the road was already under 6 inches of water. On arrival we found the whole shopping complex in total darkness. Electricity cables to the complex had been damaged by the heavy rain and the ensuing flood. Only Jusco was in operation as they are on a different electrical supply. We did a little shopping and decided to leave for JB town and City Square. Easier said than done as by then the rain had further increased in intensity and even the trunk roads were under about a foot of water. There was so much rain water on the roads that all vehicles had to move at a very slow pace. After much wet and hazardous driving we finally got to City Square. Relaxed here with a Starbucks while Dianne went shopping. The rain had not let up but people inside the shopping mall went about their business of shopping and eating ignoring the bad weather outside. We decided to have dinner at Hamid's before returning to Singapore.

On the homeword journey back to Singapore the rain continued albeit with lesser ferocity. I worry about Segamat being flooded again. With so much rain in Johor I am afraid that more floods for my hometown is a distinct possibility.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Old Friends

I left Malaysia for the United Kingdom in the year 1966, the year England won the World Cup. After primary and secondary school, a total of eleven years, our batch graduated in 1962. A farewell party was held and there were promises of staying in touch. Most of those promises either faded away or never got started. Most of us from year 1962 left our hometown Segamat either for tertiary education or took up employment in larger cities in other parts of Malaysia or Singapore. Staying in touch was quite difficult in those days. Telephone calls were expensive and the internet had not been invented. I guess after a short time there was very little contact between any of us. Those with families in Segamat our hometown, only returned during special occasions like Christmases and Lunar New Years.

I left for UK in August 1966. In those days travel was expensive and there was no way one could return home for annual visits. In 1969 after completion of studies I started work and only managed to save up enough for a visit to Malaysia in 1970. Further visits to Malaysia became less frequent owing to work commitments and the thirst for travel and to visit other countries. Memories of childhood friends faded and stayed in the background of my memory for many years. The only childhood friend that was constantly in my mind over the years was Onn. I had always wondered what had become of Onn. It had always been my hope that we would meet up again.

My wife Dianne and I took early retirement in 2000 and since then we had been traveling far and wide. Lately through a posting at, a few of us managed to re-establish contact. On my last trip to Kuala Lumpur five of us, including Onn and his charming wife, managed to meet up for a seafood dinner. The food was good, the company excellent, making it a wonderful night indeed. We parted with promises to keep in touch. Now with the internet and email I hope we will keep contact with one another.

Abdul Malik from Kluang, Balbir Singh, Wee Meng and Tong Lim from Johor Baru are childhood classmates whom I would very much like to meet up again. A get together will be organized soon and I am looking forward to seeing them again.

After so many years away from Malaysia I have finally made my way back home. I believe I have completed a full circle. Now with time on my hand, no more responsibilities towards work or children, I have decided that it would be good to make contacts with old friends again. Memories of school days, friends from childhood are precious and I hope that I would be able rekindle these old friendship again.

Satellite Navigation - Singapore

Today we tested a satellite navigation system in Singapore. The unit is named Tipo. Having spent an hour figuring how to work it, we spent the day putting it to a road test. We drove from west to east of the island and then back again. All in all we found the unit very useful and easy to use. When a mistake in the driving direction was made, the system recalculated a new route and we were able very quickly to get back on track again. The unit is small and compact and easily fixed to the front just on the inside of the windscreen.

The only drawbacks that we found were,

1. The voice for the direction instructions spoke with an American accent and the pronunciation for some road names were unclear.

2. The touch screen is a little sensitive and the alphabet and number panels are too small. Operation on these while the car was moving proved a little problematic.

These are the only down points of the system. I enjoyed using the system and look forward to purchasing it for our use in Singapore.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Buying a car in Singapore

Car buying in Singapore is a total minefield to a non-Singaporean. Here you have to take into account the value of the Certificate of Entitlement ( COE ), the Preferential Additional Registration Fee ( PARF ), the Open Market Value ( OMV ), Scrap Value etc etc. Then you have the Off Peak cars ( those with red number plates ) which can only be driven at certain period of the day.

The COE is a certificate that entitles one to own a car. This certificate is valid for ten years, at the end of which one must either scrap the car and get back the OMV which goes towards the purchase of a new car and a new COE. If one chooses, one can keep the old car and purchase a new COE for it and continue with the old car.

It is a total mystery to a non Singaporean why sometimes it actually is financially beneficial to scrap a perfectly good 3 or 4 year old car and trade in for a new one. Of course to an outsider it will seem wasteful, but Sngaporeans do it on a regular basis. I am told that this is due to the fluctuation of the value of the COE.

It is a very complicated system and one must understand fully all the mind boggling rules and regulations before a car purchase.

In Singapore, owning a car is a luxury and it is very expensive to keep and run a car. Public transport is excellent and many Singaporens have chosen to do without it. Eleswhere in the world we take it for granted that a vehicle is an essential possession and a necessity but not here in Singapore.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Phuket Cancellation

Read in the papers today that they are predicting more violence in Thailand. Different factions are jostling for power and influence. The current Thai premier has told the country to brace themselves for more trouble to come. The situation in Thailand I gather is very volatile and anything could happen. They still have no idea who carried out the bombings on new years eve. There are numerous speculations but nobody can tell what might happen from day to day.

In view of the uncertainty and the volatile situation in Thailand at the moment, we have decided to postpone our visit to Phuket. Cancellation of hotel will cost us but Tiger Airways will refund in full because they have cancelled our return flight.

Phuket will always be there and we will visit under calmer circumstances.

Goodbye 2006 - Welcome 2007

2006 is behind us and we have crossed over into a new year 2007. As I looked back over the year that has just gone by, I asked myself,

Was I a better person than I was in 2005?

Have I, without knowing caused pain and sadness to someone?

Have I been compassionate and understanding?

Have I been too arrogant?

Have I spent enough time with my family and friends?

What have I achieved during the last twelve months?

Have I learnt anything new?

I would like to think that as I get older I have become wiser. I hope that with age I have also become a better person. I hope that in 2007 I would be able to bring happiness to all I come in contact with. I will try to be more compassionate and where needed I will always be willing to lend a helping hand. If I manage all these, then it will be a very good year for me.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Phuket - Thailand

We are scheduled to visit Phuket on January 9, 10 anf 11. In view of the New Year Eve bombings in Bangkok, we are wondering if we should proceed with the journey.

The second wave of bombing at the stroke of midnight into 2007, was aimed at tourists. I am wondering if Phuket will be safe during our trip. Just have to keep an eye on how situation develops in Thailand over the next week.

Thailand aka the Land of Smiles has started 2007 on a bad note. lets hope things do not deteriorates further.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to one and all. Let us hope and pray that 2007 will bring with it Peace and Harmony between nations, Love and Compassion all over the world and let us all contribute towards the peotection of our environment.