How should we judge a government?

In Malaysia, if you don't watch television or read newspapers, you are uninformed; but if you do, you are misinformed!

"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." - Malcolm X

Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience - Mark Twain

Why we should be against censorship in a court of law: Publicity is the very soul of justice … it keeps the judge himself, while trying, under trial. - Jeremy Bentham

"Our government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no
responsibility at the other. " - Ronald Reagan

Government fed by the people

Government fed by the people

Career options

Career options
I suggest government... because nobody has ever been caught.

Corruption so prevalent it affects English language?

Corruption so prevalent it affects English language?
Corruption is so prevalent it affects English language?

When there's too much dirt...

When there's too much dirt...
We need better tools... to cover up mega corruptions.

Prevent bullying now!

Prevent bullying now!
If you're not going to speak up, how is the world supposed to know you exist? “Orang boleh pandai setinggi langit, tapi selama ia tidak menulis, ia akan hilang di dalam masyarakat dan dari sejarah.” - Ananta Prameodya Toer (Your intellect may soar to the sky but if you do not write, you will be lost from society and to history.)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

To Malaysia Boleh planners...

something to emulate?

If you think you had a bad day...

think of this poor lass who is probably taking the dog for a walk the first time.

Towards understanding the other half...

This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.

If she is getting dressed, this is half an hour.
Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given 5 more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.

This is the calm before the storm. This means "something," and you should be on your
toes. Arguments that begin with 'Nothing' usually end in "Fine"

This is a dare, not permission. Don't do it.

This is not actually a word, but is a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A "Loud Sigh" means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you over "Nothing".

This is one of the most dangerous statements that a woman can make to a man. "That's Okay" means that she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.

A woman is thanking you. Do not question it. Just say you're welcome.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ways to avoid tolls?

We are lucky the scenes are not from Malaysia!

Second week in Leuven, Belgium

Orientation week was hectic, in a nice way. We were introduced to the "kot culture" ("kot" meaning a student room in Vlaams, the Flemish dialect of Dutch) at Leuven - from where to eat and drink to how to sort your rubbish (imagine having five different coloured rubbish bags for plastic, paper, glass, organic, and others!). There was a nice tour of Leuven last Tuesday. The university is very much a central part of town, if not *the town*, as our Programme Secretary commented, "there are no *normal* people in Leuven". Likewise, the town centre is dead quiet over weekends when Belgian students are back at home doing their laundry and stuffing themselves with home-cooked meals.

The Catholic University of Leuven is the oldest university in the Low Countries since its establishment in 1425 (just to give you an idea, the old Oxbridge colleges were established in the 12th and early 13th century). Interestingly, the university used to be bilingual (French and Dutch) before the revival of Dutch language and Flemish culture in the 1950s and 1960s that forced the French half of the university to found their own university in Louvain-La-Neuve, 45 minutes away in the French-speaking lower part of Belgium (note that Louvain is simply the French name for Leuven). Belgian politics is utterly complicated but at least the aim to please as many groups as possible - fancy having seven governments (one federal, three regional, and three cultural) for a country of 10 million people!

We also visited Leuven's famous Groot Begijnhof (Large Beguinage) an isolated community dwelling built for religious women (mainly the wives of men who went to war during the Crusades) in the 13th century. The university has bought over the Begijnhof in order to preserve it and it is now mainly used for housing temporary visitors, students and professors. It's a nice fifteen minutes walk from where I live and I walk pass it on my way to the sports centre. Another interesting feature of Leuven is of course, beer. The world's largest brewery, InBev is based in Leuven and has since come along its Stella Artois years, expanding through mergers and by devouring hundreds of smaller breweries. Not a beer drinker, I quite like their flavoured beer variety, e.g. Kriek, or cherry-flavoured beer, which is commonly known as a girls' beer.

Then on Wednesday, we went for a very interesting guided tour of Brussels. Like a smaller but equally metropolitan London or Paris, Brussels is thick in history. At the main square (Grote Markt), the tour guide could point out where Victor Hugo or Karl Marx used to stay when they were seeking refuge in Brussels. Further back in history, Belgium as part of the Low Countries were at the heart of European royal politics. One of the churches that we visited had interesting dynastic stained glass featuring the reign of Charles V (who was Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, among his long list of illustrious titles) and his sisters who were married to powerful kings of Europe at that time. Now, instead of European princes and dukes, Brussels is packed with 'Eurocrats' working at the myriad of EU institutions. It is said that Brussels has the highest density of diplomatic officers (i.e. most European countries will assign three different diplomatic services: national, EU, and NATO) and media correspondents (to cover the hive of policymaking activities).

Study-wise, trying to maintain focus is the biggest challenge. I have met my supervisor (who is a professor and researcher at Leuven's labour studies institute) twice to discuss about my dissertation while classes have been really enjoyable so far. One of my lecturers this term is actually a minister with the Flemish government and has actual insights in Belgian policymaking and European-level diplomatic bargaining. After all that statistics last term, it is nice to talk about *social policies* once again.

I love my room which overlooks a church beside a school (like my BG room, I also get the afternoon sun). In fact, there is another church on this square, "Damiaanplein" is named after Father Damien, a Flemish Catholic priest beatified by Pope John Paul II. The square gets quite busy in the early mornings and late afternoons because of the school and I adore the fact that I am living close to the town centre with many fellow students bustling about (watch out for those nippy cyclists!). If I take the opposite direction of the town centre, I will head towards the quiet Begijnhof and sports centre. In another direction, our Social Sciences faculty, student cafeteria and library is just over a steep cobblestoned hill. The only possible drawback in terms of location, is that the train station is a good 25-minute walk away.

I reckon that Ah Nee and friends will enjoy Leuven and Brussels this weekend! ;)


Gong Xi Fa Cai

To all my relatives and friends celebrating Chinese New Year.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Old text brings back old memories

Virus, or more likely, worm, attack had taken its toll on my old faithful. Had been tolerating with constraints of no Outlook Express, no forwarding of page from website and so on, my computer finally could not even start at times or hang immediately after.

So while others were enjoying broadband or Wifi, skyppe or video-conferencing, I was in a world of my own, making do with 3.9mb of space to receive emails as provided by generous Tmnet. Many have complained their emails were bounced back because my mailbox was full with just a couple of attachments. I am only slightly better than those who would not even go near a computer.

The offer of a free HP desktop if you sign up for 2-year streamyx @ Rm99pm came and gone. I was and am still hoping that an offer of a free notebook is coming soon! Anyway, the cheapest notebook so far is a Toshiba at Rm1,799 and this will be my standard for comparison purposes. The other reason was that the technology is advancing so fast that I felt I might regret signing up for 2 years during which time, wifi or similar technology might be able to offer a practical option without the present limitations.

In the meantime, I am using my son’s old desktop and carry on with my stone age technology. Was glad for a while that I could transfer the internal modem and got it working. Found some old emails and texts which I still find interesting. Deleted most to clear space because of the small memory. Recently, I mentioned about Cheng’s exchange experience and I reproduce the text of my speech before I delete:-

Distinguished Rotarians, ladies and gentlemen. I am honoured to be invited to share my experience as a parent of an exchange student in Japan.

When my daughter, Cheng, first asked me whether I would allow her to go on an international exchange programme, I was really concerned and worried. She was only 17 then and it was only natural that I was feeling uneasy having to face this problem so soon.

Having thought about it that night, I decided that the best option was to leave it to fate. I told her that if she managed to get the offer, then I would allow her to go. This was meant to be a delay tactic on my part yet a chance for her to prove herself in front of a panel of interviewers comprising senior Rotarians.

Well, she managed to convince them that she was most suitable as the Ipoh Rotary Club was sending only one in year 2001.

To those parents who are having misgivings about sending their children for this purpose - in my opinion, if the child is seriously interested, has the determination to go through it, has an out-going personality, and can be selected by a panel of independent persons, he or she has already passed the test. It is a chance of a lifetime as at that age, the world is just opening up and it will be an invaluable experience which money cannot buy.

Besides learning Japanese language, culture, history and so on, she will be learning how to live with different families which will make her learn how to be adaptable, kind and considerate. The Japanese are known for being polite and kind to their guests. Cheng was treated very well by her 4 main host families. Honestly, from her account of her stay with her host families, I really had peace of mind, knowing that she was in really good hands.

The fact that 2 couples actually took the trouble to visit her in Malaysia showed that she had won their hearts as well. One of them, Mr. Fujioka was an Executive Director of Proton, representing Mitsubishi Corporation during the period 1988 to 1992. To show their hospitality, during their visit recently, at the Smokehouse in Cameron Highlands, they booked another room for their daughter, so that Cheng could sleep in the extra room (originally meant for their daughter) within their large suite! To make sure she would not forget her Japanese, he even introduced her to Dato Kato, who is a permanent resident here and was founder of Nippon Denso.

The main concern of parents is the loss of 1 academic year. After secondary school, 1 year can easily be lost by not doing well in Form 6, “A” levels, Matriculation or Foundation courses. Only those who are very particular about their children sticking to their expectations of straight As and scholarships and nothing else, will feel that the loss of 1 academic year will derail their hopes. They will not consider this exceptional experience as worthwhile or worth the risk.

Yes, I must agree that the student will change, but in my opinion, for the better. At this age, everyone will change, and most parents have problems accepting this!

Yes, after having missed one full year of rote learning will make the student lose her previous momentum of study but at the age of 18 which is also legally the age of maturity, it is about time, she is given the chance to decide for herself what she wants in her life.

As parents, sometimes we are put in a dilemma. When my daughter decides on something against my wish, I have to consider whether I am being selfish if I disagree. So long as it is morally right and legal, I let her decide. I rather have a happy daughter who is close to me and can communicate with me, than a hostile one who rather run away from home and hate me for the rest of her life. Sometimes, to think of it, we don’t really have a choice!

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Caveat Emptor

An extraordinarily handsome man decided he had the responsibility to marry the perfect woman so they could produce beautiful children beyond compare. With that as his mission he began searching for the perfect woman.

Shortly thereafter he met a farmer who had three stunning, gorgeous daughters that positively took his breath away. So he explained his mission to the farmer, asking for permission to marry one of them.

The farmer simply replied, "They're lookin' to get married, so you came to the right place. Look 'em over and pick the one you want."

The man dated the first daughter. The next day the farmer asked for the man's opinion.

"Well," said the man, "she's just a weeeeee bit, not that you can hardly notice...pigeon-toed."

The farmer nodded and suggested the man date one of the other girls; so the man went out with the second daughter.

The next day, the farmer again asked how things went. "Well," the man replied, "she's just a weeeee bit, not that you can hardly tell...cross-eyed."

The farmer nodded and suggested he date the third girl to see if things might be better. So he did.

The next morning the man rushed in exclaiming, "She's perfect, just perfect. She's the one I want to marry." So they were wed right away.

Months later the baby was born. When the man visited her, he was horrified: the baby was most ugly.

He rushed to his father-in-law asking how such a thing could happen considering the beauty of the parents.

"Well," explained the farmer, "She was just a weeeee bit, not that you could hardly tell...pregnant when you met her."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Panel vs Cross-sectional Data and lesson on bonding

It's been a warmer week in Luxembourg and all of us are busy wrapping up our last deadlines here while packing whatever possible before Friday. Yes, the 'big day' for the 17 of us moving to Leuven takes place on Friday.

Does dealing with data detach oneself from the 'real' world? I was ruminating on this while wasting away another sleepless night. I figure not. Like many and even the most mundane things in life, we can often draw from them various analogies to life.

Here at the research institute, we basically deal with two types of data. Panel/Longitudinal data and cross-sectional data. The first involves surveying the same individuals or collecting country-level data over time (a good example is census data). The latter is made up of one-time data collection, which means you get 'snapshots' of what is going on (whether it is the socio-economic conditions, level of democracy, and so on) at that point in time.

Travelling and living abroad give me many 'snapshots' cross-sectional information. However, I sorely miss out on valuable information that requires spending more time at one place.
In Prague, I was struck by a comment in former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright's biography. It was about her girlish accent in Czech, frozen in time when her family fled former Czechoslovakia to the US in the late 1940s. I was reminded of Fujioka-san's advice for me to pick up proper Japanese (which I never did) instead of indulging in the vocabulary of a Japanese high school girl in 2001. My 'snapshot' view of Japan and everything Japanese is frozen in time and particular to having been in a Japanese high school while living with upper-middle class Japanese families in Tokyo.

Closer to home, I have yet to experience having a full-time job in Malaysia. Embarrassingly, my knowledge on Malaysian taxation, employment policies, etc is as good as any other who has read a book/website pertaining to that. My relationship with many good friends back home is stunted by the fact that I am physically not there with them when they experience university life, graduation, their first job, long-term relationships, and so forth.

Judging from your experiences, I reckon that the 'panel' bit will come naturally when I finally settle down and find my 'base' (social network). Meantime, it's about those little 'snapshots' of different places and people. Perhaps even, if I am lucky, salvaging the few lasting friendships that are meant to survive the distance and time apart.
Surely, this is when family (especially the parents!) comes in. I don't believe that human beings are meant to survive purely on 'cross-sectional' relationships.

Thank you for those weekly phone calls, Pa and Ma!!! =.)

lots of love,

The mention of her student days in Japan reminds me of my agonizing hours in trying to decide whether to allow her to study there for 1 year under the Rotary International Student Exchange programme, after finishing Form 5. Besides the usual ‘kiasu’ worry over her skipping 1 year of study here, I was least prepared to make such a decision when she was only 17. Anyway, I felt if it was fated then I should leave it to the panel to decide who should be the only one to go for that year! I also mentioned in my speech at another Rotary Club meeting in KL (as a parent with a child under the exchange programme) that I did not really have a choice as I did not want her to hate me for the rest of my life! There is a saying:

If you love someone...let her go.
If she comes back to you she is yours.
If she doesn't, then she never was.

Though this is more appropriate for a boy-girl relationship, it comes to mind, and I think it is suitable in the bonding sense between parent and child. Physically, she might be away, it is the natural and sincere love (not under compulsion nor obligation), and longing to communicate that we most value these days.

My mum used to say to us in Hokien, "lai tong siu, khe put liu" which meant "I will accept you when you come but I will not stop you if you go" and I think she was wise then.

Incidentally, Fujioka was formerly a director of Proton, representing Mitsubishi Corp. from 1988 to 1992. They visited us after Cheng finished her year in Japan.