Monday, October 26, 2009

Diner got no stomach for rats roaming near eateries

A FRIEND I took to a popular hawker haunt in Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur, for dinner recently almost choked on the Teochew porridge he had been dying to try.

Brought up overseas, he had been fascinated by the variety of food available in KL and I decided that the best place for him to try the street fare, which he had read so much about in blogs and travel brochures, would be where the working class ate.

As he feasted on the side dishes and slurped up the plain porridge, he suddenly stopped, his face turned pale and gasped: “Did you see that?” He pointed to a grey furball which scuttled across the pavement and disappeared into a gap in the drain.

“Oh, it was just a rat,” I said, but from the pallor on my friend’s face, I knew he wasn’t amused.

The sight that we city folk have become all too familiar with killed his appetite — and his interest in KL’s street food.

“How did the authorities allow this to happen?” he asked after regaining his composure.

“Isn’t there some kind of pest control that you guys undertake?” Yes, I answered, we had probably tried every known rodent eradication exercise, including sporadic cleanups and fumigation.

At one time, members of the public were even recruited as rat bounty hunter s.

They were paid for each rat delivered at redemption centres —RM2 each, dead or alive.

In fact,we had carried out so many campaigns that I had lost count of the many wars that had been waged on the rodents but with little success.

What we have not tried is to have a hotline to report a rat sighting and dispatch rat exterminators to the scene immediately to get rid of the pest — and then fine the owners of the premises if theywere found guilty of harbouring or causing rats to breed.

Maybe, we can have surprise checks like those carried out for the Aedes mosquito larvae in our anti-dengue campaigns.

My friendwanted to know why city folk were indifferent about dining with rats scampering around our feet.

I told him that most of us were concerned but sometimes hunger and convenience made us take chances — which could explain why some dirty hawker centres still attract hordes of diners.

I, for one, am concerned about the rodents because I know someone who have been bitten by rat tick and contracted typhus fever as a result.

I have also met those who survived leptospirosis, a bacterial poisoning caused by eating food contaminated by rat urine.

Yes, the presence of rats does worry me.

In fact, I try not to return to places where rats are a common sight.

I think the rats thrive because there is simply too much food lying around in the city.

Carelessly thrown leftovers are not only feeding the rats but have also fattened the city’s stray cats to the extent that they no longer catch a rat to sur vive.

The only ones eating rat carrion are the crows.

Perhaps, the answer to the city’s rodent problem would be to cut off the rats’ food supply.

After listening to my explanation, my friend suggested that we continue dinner at a fast food chain hewas familiar with where hygiene would at least be better.

I was tempted to tell him about my experiences with cockroaches at one such place, but decided not to spoil what was left of his gastronomic trip that evening.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dangers of talking on cell phones when driving

DID you know that talking on a mobile phone while driving is more dangerous than driving when slightly tipsy after a drink?

A three-month study conducted by a British car insurer, Direct Line, a couple of years ago tested drivers in Britain in three driving situations — driving when slightly over the legal blood-alcohol limit, talking over a handheld mobile phone, and talking on a handsfree phone.

The results revealed that drivers’ reaction times were one-third slower when talking on the mobile phone than when they were borderline drunk.

Compared to normal driving conditions, drivers who talked on mobile phoneswere unable to keep a constant speed or a safe distance from the motorists ahead.

Those talking on their phones also missed more road signs than the borderline intoxicated and even took half a second longer to react than drivers under normal conditions or those mildly drunk.

Similar tests conducted in the United States and other countries also revealed the same findings and they are not confined to any age g roup.

While the results of the study was not meant to imply that people should drink and drive, it does highlight the danger of driving while using the mobile phone.

To use a mobile phone — whether it is for making and replying calls or even texting messages—the driver needs to take his or her eyes off the road.

And that brief loss of attention is often enough to jeopardise his own safety as well as put others in d a n g e r.

You can sense drivers using a mobile phone while driving from yards away — the vehicle will be abnormally slow, sometimes veering from side to side, so much so that you think the driver is drunk.

When you overtake the vehicle, you will see the driver happily chatting away.

Flashing your headlamps from the rear or honking at them is futile.

At best, your concern will be reciprocated with angry stares or unkind gestures.

Some won’t even notice because they were so deeply engaged in their conversation.

But if you think talking or texting on mobile phones when driving is dangerous, wait until you see what happens as Internet connections become more accessible on all mobile devices and when anyone can go online with just the tap of a button.

You can expect the Internet-savvy and socially connected drivers to Twitter or update their Facebook status while driving, if some have not already done so.

Already, I have spotted some who drive in starts and stops as they switch their attention between the traffic ahead and the movie shown on the miniature LCD screens mounted on their dashboards.

I wonder if the city traffic police have any statistics on accidents caused by those who drive while talking on their phones or the number of summonses that had been issued to those caught using their mobile phones while driving.

It should be interesting to see if the trend is rising in keeping with increasing mobile phone use.

The figures will tell us what we should do to drive home the message that driving and talking, or texting on mobile phones should no go hand in hand.

We see cigarette boxes carrying warnings on the dangers of smoking and there are also frequent advertisements telling us how dangerous it is to drink and drive.

Maybe we need a similar campaign to deter people from using their mobile phones while driving.

Mobile phone makers can sponsor such campaigns as part of their corporate social responsibility.

Monday, October 12, 2009

When cameras real or fake do the trick

WHEN I suggested that we move to Cyberjaya, my wife was worried.

As she was fond of Kuala Lumpur, she said she would prefer to stay put and stated that she would not entertain such flights of fancy any further.

I told her I was only kidding and promptly explained myself.

The reason why I had toyed with the idea of moving to Cyberjaya was because I had read that Cyberjaya was being monitored by 100 closed-circuit television cameras (CCTVs) manned by a team of police officers round the clock.

Iwas salivating at the prospect of a neighbourhood kept safer by technology.

According to the report, roads to shopping areas, intersections and pedestrian walkways had been installed with CCTVs.

Now, how much safer can one’s neighbourhood get than that? Years ago, the business community in downtown Malacca did the same thing when petty crime soared.

The CCTVs were installed and their locations loudly announced by sign a g e s.

I later spoke to some of the shopkeepers there and they admitted that petty crime had dropped a bit following the installation of the cameras.

The CCTVs had done their job and the tourists had returned.

When I was in Singapore some time back, I was amazed at the road courtesy shown by the bus drivers.

They kept to the speed limit and drove in an orderly manner without any sign of impatience.

When I arrived at Queen’s Street, I praised the driver of the yellow bus I took for his good driving habit.

I told him I wished I could say the same about the bus drivers in Kuala Lump u r.

He turned around and whispered to me that if not for the electronic eyes mounted on the gantries, few would have been that obedient.

The fear of having their driving licences suspended and the subsequent loss of job had much to do in instilling road courtesy in the bus drivers across the Causeway.

One chap I know who lived in a notorious neighbourhood in Kepong decided to use CCTV technology following numerous break-ins at his apartment complex.

He went down to Petaling Street and got himself a couple of dome-shaped devices which had flickering red lights and promptly installed them in front of his doorway and on the eaves of his balcony.

While his neighbours were losing sleep over how to keep watch on their property when they went to work, this chap went on long holidays without any worries.

Whenhe returned, not even a slipper was missing from his doorstep.

When he related his experience to me, I asked him what brand of surveillance system he had used so that I could get one installed at my condominium unit.

He said I could get them at novelty shops for less than RM20 each.

In fact, they weren’t even real cameras but they certainly looked menacing enough with their flashing LEDs to deter any criminal.

If fakes could be effective in deterring crime, I am amazed at why the real cameras mounted at certain stretches in the city rarely had any effect on some city drivers.

Each day while on the way to work, I would amuse myself counting the cars and motorcycles which sped through amber and red lights.

Sometimes, the same vehicle would beat the red lights several times a week.

Along the Jalan Bangsar-Jalan Travers stretch, near the junction to Brickfields, for instance, I see cars parked by the road sides on weekday evenings, choking the already jammed roads while their drivers enjoyed teh tarik along the five-footw ay.

Buses too can be seen switching lanes without regard for other motor ists’ right of way.

I sawa CCTV camera not far down the road but I wonder if it has served its purpose judging from the daily crowd of errant motorists flouting the law right under its electronic eye.

Maybe it’s one of those novelty stuff you get at Petaling Street.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Teaching our children to be filial

WHILE driving through the outskirts of Malacca town, the sight of so many retirement homes reminded me of an advertisement which appeared around Chinese New Year a couple of years back.

In the advertisement, four elderly women were talking while having lunch when the topic turned to their families.

Three of them were trying to outdo each other with tales of their children’s successes and when they got tired of bragging, they turned to the fourth woman who was silently listening.

They asked her about her son.

She replied that he was also doing well and that he would be coming to fetch her soon.

Moments later, a young man and his family turned up in a Proton Saga at the drivew ay.

“T h at ’s my son,” the fourth woman said.

“He’s here to take me out with his family.

He always takes me everywhere.

” She then leaves her friends at the courtyard of a retirement home.

It was one of the best advertisements I had ever seen.

I interpreted it as the reality of life in modern times where filial piety is becoming almost unheard of.

I wonder if how we bring up our children had something to do with it.

Ask any working parent in the city and chances are that by the time the child is 4 years old, he would be more familiar with the nursery or daycare centre than his home.

Some start sending the baby to the babysitter immediately after the confinement period is over as the mother needs to get back to work.

Some would take their babies home after work each evening but there are also others who only take their babies home during the weekends.

The baby stays with the babysitter and her family five days of the week.

For those who can afford home care, the maid usually takes care of the child’s basic needs.

Next time you go out for dinner, pay close attention to families who take along their maids.

Watch who cradles and feeds the children most of the time.

Lately, tuition centres and training schools have also become a child’s second home.

By the time parents are in their twilight years and realise that they only see their children during anniversaries, the gap would have widened so much that it could be too late to close the divide.

The children would probably have spent so much time away that they have lost their sense of attachment to their family, let alone filial piety towards their parents.

Is it any wonder then that parents who are no longer able to care for themselves are sent to retirement homes in an unconscious reversal of roles? I remember growing up listening to tales such as Si-Tanggang Anak Durhaka in the Malay classics which told of the ungrateful son who was cast into stone after rejecting his mother.

Another story in Chinese was about a boy whose family was so poor to buy mosquito nets that he took off his shirt nightly so that insects could feed on his blood and leave his sleeping parents alone.

Such tales would appear irrelevant, maybe even ridiculous, in modern times but back then theywere a lesson in filial piety.

I wonder if parents today ever read such tales to their children.

Of course, we can blame modern influences, but if we make no efforts to right the wrongs, then we are equally guilty.

Only time will tell if the lessons we had taught our children had been in vain.