Monday, August 30, 2010

Keep errant park visitors in check

AN expatriate had a nasty experience when he chided a local for riding a motorcycle at Lake Titiwangsa recently. The expatriate must have thought he was going to be beaten up. My wife and I had just arrived at one of the three wooden bridges at the popular park when we witnessed the incident.

The expatriate was enjoying the view of the lake on the bridge with his daughter, who was about 5 years old, when their attention was disrupted by the sound of a motorcycle.

A motorcyclist and his female companion were about to cross the wooden bridge on their motorcycle when the expatriate stopped him and told him that he should not ride in the park.

The local man, in his 50s, stopped his motorcycle and appeared furious.

Fearing that the motorcyclist might not understand English or could have mistaken the advice for an insult, I translated what the expatriate guy had said.

Instead of apologising for riding his motorcycle in an area meant for pedestrian traffic, the motorcyclist gave the expatriate and I a stern look before angrily turning the throttle of his motorcycle and speeding off.

When the motorcyclist was out of earshot, the expatriate told me that the man must have been angry because a “Mat Salleh” had told him off.

I assured him that he did the right thing. It was quite common, I said, for some people not to be remorseful after an act of transgression.

In fact, it takes a lot of guts to criticise a wrongdoing, sometimes even at the risk of life and limb if one’s good intent is not taken too kindly.

Just a day earlier, I told off a group of youths who were lighting up a stove for an open-air barbecue by the lake. For my trouble, I was told to mind my own business and one even retorted that I don’t own the park.

A few weeks ago, an ice-cream seller didn’t look too happy because I told him not to ride his motorcycle on the jogging path.

From his accent, he didn’t even sound Malaysian when he barked that I should not stop him “cari makan".

It beats reason why some people behave as if they own public property by virtue of their birth.

Visit Lake Titiwangsa on Saturday and Sunday evenings and you will get my drift. Motorists park their cars on any vacant strip of tar without regard for the inconvenience caused to others. Motorcyclists and ice-cream sellers whiz down jogging paths or park their vehicles on road shoulders, frequently obstructing the pedestrian’s right of way.

City Hall has spent a good sum of money to beautify and provide Lake Titiwangsa (and other public parks) with various amenities to offer city folk a respite from the city’s hustle and bustle.

Why the costly investment is not matched by vigilance and strict enforcement of park regulations is a question only the local authority can answer.

Park wardens on horsebacks or bicycles or even on foot can do wonders to keep errant park visitors in check. Closed circuit television cameras (CCTVs) can also deter uncivic behaviour.

Tonight, as city folk converge at Lake Titiwangsa and other parks in the city to celebrate the country’s 53rd year of Independence, let’s hope that we can all shout Merdeka with the pride that we have also freed ourselves from the indifference we now have for the right of others and our common property.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

In tune with popular marching songs

ONE of the best marching tunes I love is the one from the movie Bridge Over River Kwai.

The tune was highly popular in the 1970s and was frequently heard over the airwaves. I did not get to watch the movie until much later in my childhood but it was a tune every boy (and girl) who knew how to hum or whistle could repeat with the same tempo and ease.

The tune was also the standard march past music played over and over during sports days and other athletic meets.

Another popular marching song was When The Saints Go Marching In.

The song was adopted by one of my rival schools when their team met mine at soccer, hockey and basketball meets those days.

Their cheerleaders would sing on top of their voices as their players strolled into the courts and even when their team lost to ours, they still held their heads up high, without doubt inspired by the tempo of the song, as they walked out of the courts.

For several years in the 1970s, Radio Malaysia broadcast a 30-minute Lagu-lagu March segment in the morning, right after Negaraku was played at 6am. I switched on my Silver transistor radio as soon as I woke up at 5.30am for school those days.

As I changed into my school uniform and got down to a breakfast of either a few pieces of "biskut askar" (tasteless hard biscuits for soldiers, they say) dipped in Ovaltine or treat myself to a bowl of hot two-minute noodles, the songs never failed to put me in high spirits.

I cannot recall the names of most of the songs, save for the more popular ones, but I remember I never got tired of listening to them.

The marching songs followed me from home to school each morning, moving from my home radio to an orange coloured pocket transistor radio I won from a lucky draw at the Batu Road Supermarket.

The portable radio fitted nicely into my shirt pocket but to listen to the marching tunes while I cycled, I had to use a hands free kit which earpiece looked like a miniature hair dryer attached to a unwieldy cord that was bent on getting entangled.

Reception wasn't clear most of the times but I had heard some of the songs so many times that it was enough for me to hum the missing parts as I left for school at 6.20am.

The last 10 minutes of Lagu-Lagu March was my companion as I pedalled my way through the dimly-lit main road from Gombak to the Setapak High School in Air Panas.

On those cold mornings, I remember, the foreign marching tunes were sometimes spaced with our local patriotic songs and one I especially loved was Malaysia Berjaya.

In August, if I am not mistaken, you could hear Malaysia Berjaya more than once a day over the radio. There was something about that song that never failed to keep me in high spirits each time I hear it.

I wonder how many of today's generation share the same enthusiasm about marching songs or Malaysia Berjaya.

I don't frequently hear them on the radio when I send my children to school these days - I could be tuning into the wrong stations.

I recently heard Muhibbah being played aloud at a supermarket.

Curious, I asked a local teenager beside me if he knew what song it was.

Confidently he nodded and declared that it was an oldie.

I didn't know whether to feel amused or embarrassed for asking. I said it was Muhibbah and added that when he goes home, he should ask his parents about other patriotic songs that used to rule the airwaves.

When they do tell him, I hope they will also tell him what those lyrics meant in eight days when we celebrate Merdeka.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hell hath no taste for sexy singers

SOMEONE asked me why the Chinese burn so many paper effigies for the netherworld.

No one knows, I said. But my elders say it's one way of keeping the inhabitants there happy so that they will leave mortals in peace and only come around once a year on the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, during the Hungry Ghosts Festival.

On the fifteenth day, when the festival is at its grandest, tribute is made to the King of Hades with even more offerings.

This year, said a friend from Penang, the King of Hades (known to the Hokkiens as Phor Tor Kong or the Tai Su Yeah deity) has decreed that no scantily clad singers be allowed as part of the celebration, at least not in George Town.

The Phor Tor organising committees in Klang Valley had better pay heed to the warning if they want to invoke the deity's blessings before the festival ends on Sept 7.

Songs and performances at Chinese religious festivals held at temples are not new.

They were introduced in the '70s to arrest the waning interest in temple celebrations among the younger generation.

Back then, a couple of nights of Chinese opera were usually part of the celebration.

Even at its most modest level, there would be at least three nights of operas or puppet theatres. Sometimes the shows are extended another night or two, courtesy of those who had benefited financially from the resident deity's patronage.

Showtime started at sunset and choice places were taken on a first-come, first-served basis.

You had to bring your own chairs and stools, of course. Folk tales that featured special effects such as acrobatics and fire-stunts often left little standing space even before the curtains were raised.

Although the crowd comprised mostly the elderly, all-time favourites like Madam White Snake, Journey To The West, and the Tale Of Mu-lien The Filial Monk also attracted the young.

The premiere show was reserved for the deities, and in Phor Tor celebrations, for wandering spirits known to the Hokkiens as Hoh Hnia Tee (or "good brothers").

To insist on watching the premiere during a Phor Tor celebration was to invite trouble. Tales were told aplenty of those who were possessed or had fallen sick after they offended the spirits.

The second day of the opera was for humans. An hour of songs usually preceded the show. In Hokkien villages, singers engaged from bars and nightclubs would belt out Mandarin oldies like Mei Lan Mei Lan Wo Ai Ni (Mei Lan I Love You) and the Hokkien evergreen Siau Lian Siau Chua Boh (The Young Are Dying To Get Married). Back then, the singers rarely performed in sexy costumes.

Those days, it was considered disrespectful to the deities if one came to a temple improperly attired. For women devotees, the limbs had to be properly covered. To wear a mini skirt would invite stares and possibly the scorn of temple elders.

Today, when people are no longer ashame of their lack of respect for places of worship, anything goes -- including performances by singers who make up for their lack in vocal talent by entertaining the crowd in their skimpy costumes.

It is not difficult to understand why even the King of Hades is not amused, for each time such mischief gets into the limelight, it must be one hell of an embarrassment for him.

Monday, August 9, 2010

No place is safe, actually

LAST week, two boys on a motorcycle tried to snatch my wife's gold chain. We were jogging through a residential area near Danau Kota - a route which we considered to be safe. The wide pedestrian walk provided safety for joggers from passing vehicles but we did not expect to meet snatch thieves.

I wanted to go on a run that day but my wife said she would rather walk because of the evening heat.

She asked me to run and wait for her at a designated spot ahead. We had done this many times. Since there was still daylight and good pedestrian traffic, I was not worried.

However, after running several hundred metres, I felt uneasy and doubled back. At a bend, I saw her walking towards me.

I felt relieved but when I came within hearing distance, my wife told me that two youths on a motorcycle had just tried to snatch the gold chain I gave her 15 years ago.

She said she was about to cross a junction between a side road and the main road when the snatch thieves rode up to her from the side road.

The pillion rider grabbed my wife's chain but she held onto it. The chain snapped and the thieves fled empty handed.

Although my wife screamed to alert those around her, no one from the nearby houses or burger stall came to her aid. I said I was not surprised. In fact, I would be amazed if any of the people who heard her came to her rescue. These days, Good Samaritans are rare.

This was the second time my wife had encountered snatch thieves. The first was 12 years ago.

I had been delayed returning home from work one evening and she had to take our daughters, then aged 7 and 10, for a haircut. As she and the children were walking to the hairdresser, two snatch thieves came from behind her on a motorcycle and grabbed her handbag.

My wife refused to let go of the bag. The pillion rider tried to kick my youngest daughter. Fearing for my daughter's safety, my wife let go of the handbag and the snatch thieves rode off. Shopkeepers who saw the incident did not lend a hand, nor did the passersby.

When my wife told me about it, I said she should have thought of her safety first. Give the thieves what they want but stay calm and note down details such as their motorcycle model and registration plate number. Although the plates are often fakes, the information could be useful to the police.

In last week's incident, my wife failed to note down the motorcycle's number. I don't blame her. Who could remain calm when taken by surprise? Although we notified the police at a station which was just a five-minute walk from where the incident occurred, I doubt they can do much.

I was relieved that my wife was not hurt but I am angry because the snatch theft occurred in a neighbourhood that I thought was safe. The thieves got away but can their luck last forever? I hope they get what they deserve one day.

When people tell me crime is on the rise in the city, I used to tell them to move to the suburbs. Now, I am not so sure anymore.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mystified by high-end coffee joints

RAIN sidetracked my wife and I from our regular jogging track and led us to a row of boutique eateries at a block of condominiums which opened for occupancy about a year ago in our neighbourhood. Each time we passed by the area on our way home, we wondered what attracted the crowd to the eateries there. That evening, the weather gave us the excuse to find out.

We picked the outlet that was most crowded — a high-end coffee shop. There were hardly any seats left when we arrived, save for a table at a far corner of the common five-foot way that had been claimed by the kopitiam. As soon as we were seated, a waitress brought us the menu.

Since we had already cooked dinner, I ordered two cups of black coffee and a couple of toasts and passed the order form back to the waitress.

Just as we were about to enjoy the old world charm of the kopitiam, the waitress arrived with our food. I was about to heap praises on her fast service when she passed me the bill. Two cups of coffee and two small slices of toasts came up to RM14.95, inclusive of tax.

I complained about the bill to my wife. She said the prices were more or less the same at most modern kopitiam. I had to consider the cost of the free Wi-Fi, fine furniture, courteous staff and other overheads, she added. I was lucky I did not order other food as well. Otherwise we would have had to cut back on our expenses for the following week to make up for our indulgence.

When we were done and I paid the bill, I dared not ask the cashier to keep the change after giving him RM15 - I did not want him to think I was insulting him, so I took the five sen change.

I left the shop no wiser as to why, despite the pricey food, the crowd continues to throng the kopitiam and several others like it each evening. If their food was not much different from the many that I had seen, then it must be the free Wi-Fi and decor that did the trick, I told my wife.

But these are the places where young people hang out these days, said my wife, except for the poorer ones who hang out at the stairways of shopping complexes. Another interesting point was that the foreign coffee chains, which used to monopolise the cafe business, are now being given a run for their money by hyped-up local coffee shops — an old business which everyone thought would not survive past the millennium.

In the old days, only retirees and the jobless hang out at the coffeeshops to engage in idle chat or a game of mahjong. You could order a cup of coffee for much less and would not look out of place if you stayed till sun down. The owner might even allow you to catch forty winks while you were there if you did not drool and dirty his marble tabletops.

Today, the younger crowd has taken over the seats at modern coffeeshops. They are not just watching the world go by on their laptops but doing so over cups of brew that could, in regular doses, not only hurt their health but also their pockets as well.

Judging by the prices at these designer eateries and their increasing popularity in the city, one can only guess that many of their younger customers are from the high-income bracket or were born with silver spoons in their mouths. Otherwise, it will be quite scary to think where these big spenders will end up a decade from now if they are not earning enough to meet their daily needs today.