Monday, November 29, 2010

In Rome, do as Romans do

WHEN a foreigner approached Char Boh and asked for her phone number because he wanted to be her friend, sh e was flabbergasted. When she did not give it to him, the man asked if she had a Facebook account so he could keep in touch. That was when she realised that he had not noticed the ring on her finger.
So she told him she was married, had no time for Facebook, and ignored him completely.

The incident happened when Char Boh was waiting for her daughter at a tuition centre in Jalan Ipoh. When she related her experience over dinner recently, her husband Ang laughed.
He said she should take it as a compliment that she was still attractive in her late 40s.
His remark raised the ire of his wife and fearing that Ang’s favourite fish head curry might end up on his head, I intervened.

With news of Malaysian women becoming drug mules to foreigners after being sweet-talked into friendship, I told Ang, one could never be too careful. Char Boh had done the right thing, I said.

A few years ago, a friend living in a medium-cost apartment in Kepong told me of his experience with foreigners who had moved into his neighbourhood. The area was peaceful until local apartment owners began renting out their premises to foreigners.
Before they knew it, outdoor beer drinking sessions, loud banter that bordered on quarrels and frequent fights had became regular features.

The residents decided that they had had enough when the foreigners teased the local womenfolk.
The locals held a demonstration and made it loud and clear that foreign troublemakers were not welcomed in their neighbourhood. Because of a mischievous few, all foreigners there became the target of nasty remarks.

Worried about the increasing tension between the groups, my friend moved out for the sake of his family’s safety. Are foreigners headed here for long stays briefed on our social etiquette or have they taken the trouble to learn about local sensitivities?

Do they attend orientation sessions like the ones held for foreign maids? I recall seeing on TV3 h ow maids had to undergo classe s to familiarise themselves with Malaysian cultures before even leaving their countries.

Some gestures that are acceptable social practices in a foreign land may be considered kurang ajar in ours – especially when some seem to think that Malaysian women are easy targets.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

There are other ways to stay tuned in

MY uncle Seng Chee probably owned the first television set in Kampung Cherong Lanjut in Kuala Terengganu back in the 1960s. Working as a headmaster, he was able to afford the technological luxury that came in the formof a four-legged cabinet with sliding doors that you could lock when not in use. The black-andwhite TV set was a Sharp.

When the TV was brought home, my uncle set it up on the verandah. With his limited technical know-how, he planted the antenna in the garden and I was told to twist it about as he tried tuning in. Our antics drew curious onlookers and word soon spread throughout the village that he had purchased a TV.

A ready audience materialised in the garden soon enough but to their disappointment, and ours, all we had to show was a fuzzy screen and noise. Some smart alecks who had never seen a TV programme speculated on what the fuzz was. Some said it was a snowstorm scene, others said it was a flock of birds taking off.

Only when that was all they had for over an hour did they realise that the TV was not tuned in, and what they were seeing was “snow ”, a technical term used to describe bad reception that I was to be acquainted with in later years.

The following day, a TV man came to mount the antenna on the roof of my uncle’s timber house and we tuned in to our first RTM broadcast — the Roadrunner Show. And before we knew it, the newspaper became more important than ever in the mornings, not only to us but those who had just owned TV sets. Everybody wanted to know what programme was on for the day.

I recall there were lottery “live ” draws, game shows like Ganda Wang Anda, the boring Wrestling from Great Britain, action series like Hawaii-Five-O, and midnight movies.
In the 1980s, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays were much looked forward to when Chinese, Hindi and Malay movies were respectively screened. These were long shows, stretching into midnight and with breaks for news.

For those who had television sets, their living rooms were never short of an audience in the neighbourhood’s children — regardless of race or religion, as I remember. TV ownership became more widespread in later years as the sets got cheaper and larger, and video cassette recorders arrived.

By the time TV programmes were in colour, every home had a TV set or two. If in the past, prosperity was marked by the ownership of a TV set, now it was about how the size and how many sets one owned. Satellite TV came and before long, also took its place as a status symbol.
To have “arrived” was to be able to subscribe to satellite TV. Of course, that was until it got cheaper to own a decoder and subscribe. Nowadays you can’t judge how well-to-do your neighbours are by the satellite dishes peeking out the eaves of their houses.

Last week, a colleague asked me how I managed without subscribing to the satellite TV. I am surprised myself, I said. I think I have my children to thank — they love books more than the idiot box.

I suppose like most people who do not subscribe to satellite TV— or to the need to keep up with their neighbours — I can only say that it’s just mind over matter—if you don’t mind not having satellite TV, it really doesn’t matter.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Liaison efforts can bring police closer to the people

EARLY this year, the papers highlighted the issue of gangsterism in schools.
One of the reports featured a comment by a police spokesperson on crime prevention in schools.
The spokesman said police liaison officers would continue to visit schools regularly to interact with students and teachers to stop students from getting involved in gangsterism and other crimes.
The spokesman also said officers from either the nearest police station or the district headquarters carried out such visits once a month.
I had the opportunity to attend a PTA meeting a few weeks back.
Among the recurrent issues discussed was how to get in touch with a police liaison officer.
The school had not been able to benefit from the attention of a police liaison officer for a little more than a year and the teachers and PTA are at their wits’ end.
Although there had been no major crime in the school, the school authorities were concerned about its students’ safety.
Some time ago, the school’s security guard was threatened by some youths with a parang because they were told not to disturb the students.
Fortunately, nothing serious developed.
The PTA chairman said he had been to the local police station several times to meet with the liaison officer but without success.
He related how he was asked to “come back later” because the officer-in-charge was not around.
The PTA chairman said he went back three times, at different times of the day, but failed to meet with the officer.
Having liaison officers visit schools is a commendable effort that can help nip crime in the bud.
It is also a good way for the police to feel the pulse of the community it is entrusted to protect.
Having regular meetings with teachers and parents can provide vital information on the social health of the neighbourhood, too.
Where manpower shortage is concerned, the extra pairs of eyes do come in handy for the police.
In fact, why stop at having liaison officers for schools? Why not extend it to residents’ associations as well? Not many people I know will casually talk to policemen about their concerns for their neighbourhood although many people would not hesitate to blame the lack of police presence if crime rate soared.
Some even stop talking to the neighbours when they realise that the latter are policemen.
While we cannot help having people who prefer not to “get involved” around, I think the majority of those who love peace and security would welcome police liaison officers in our neighbourhood s.
Liaison efforts also bring the police force closer to the people. Right now, it is something the police could do with, I think.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Urgent need to improve emergency response

MY colleague Kamarudin Ahmad’s teenage son underwent surgery to remove his tonsils recently. While the boy was recuperating at home in Kota Damansara, he suddenly coughed up blood.
Fortunately for the family, Kamarudin, a seasoned photo-journalist who has seen all sorts of emergencies in over 20 years of his career, including a stint in Iraq,was at home that Sunday.
Sensing that the boy needed fast medical attention, Kamarudin dialed 999. When the call got through, he briefed the operator and gave the details including his contact number and address. He requested for an ambulance to be sent immediately. However, much to his chagrin, having taken the details, the operator asked what he had given his son to eat and how did the boy cough up blood — questions only a medical personnel would ask and have use for.
Realising that valuable time was being wasted, Kamarudin pleaded for an ambulance to be sent at once. After what seemed to be a long wait, Kamarudin’s phone rang. The ambulance driver was calling to ask for directions to his house despite the details given to the 999 operator earlier. By that time, the boy had gone into a fit.
In the rising tension, Kamarudin still managed to repeat the details he had given earlier. Kamaruddin then asked if his son could be sent to the nearest medical facility, a private hospital in Damansara, which is only a 15 minutes’ drive from his house.
The response shocked Kamaruddin — the man said it could not be done because it was a government-owned ambulance service and that it could only send patients to Sungai Buloh Hospital, which is a good half-hour ride from Kota Damansara.
Kamarudin cancelled his request and drove his son to the private medical centre in Damansara where the boy was immediately warded.
Relating his nightmare, Kamarudin said he was lucky it was a Sunday when traffic was sparse.
Otherwise, he could not imagine what would have happened.
“I had no idea why the 999 operator asked me more than she needed to know instead of sending an ambulance immediately.
I am also wondering why, after having given the details to her, the ambulance driver still had to ask me for the directions to my house,” he said.
“Aren’t ambulances equipped with maps and global positioning systems so that they waste little time in getting to their destinations?” I said I did not know howprepared or well equipped our medical emergency response units are but I had a similar experience in the 1990s.
A neighbour’s house caught fire in the wee hours of the morning and I dialed 999 to ask for the fire brigade.
Instead, a sleepy-voiced operator put me through a similar drill of questions like how the fire started and how bad was the fire when all he needed to do was relay the call to the fire department.
He only relented after I told him to call me back if he was not convinced that it was a genuine distress call.
Perhaps the rising number of fake calls had prompted the 999 operator to ask more than he needed to know to weed out the crank callers.
But in Kamarudin’s case, did the operator need to know more than the nature of the emergency and location before dispatching medical help? Considering howcritical the emergency was, couldn’t the patient be sent to the nearest hospital instead of the pre-approved government hospital?
In emergencies when split-second decisions have to be made, are our emergency response personnel trained to make judgment calls that can save lives, and in this instance, pick the nearest well-equipped medical facility regardless of whether it is a government or private hospital?

Monday, November 1, 2010

To be fair, cats also cause a lot of problems

F the Selayang Municipal Council is not amused with the increasing number of the stray dogs in the municipality because of the apathy of pet lovers there, the authorities should try living in some condominiums and see whether stray cats are less of a nuisance. Surely the stray problem that dogs the authority is no less worse compared with what my friend Khoo Ching is experiencing at his condominium.

The stray cat population at Khoo’s condominium is making him miserable. While some of the stray cats are adorable, their habit of easing themselves wherever they like is driving Khoo and his neighbours up the wall. There is cat poo in the corridors daily.

Fortunately, the sweeper isat the condominium had been very kind to both residents and cats. The Indonesian woman cleans up removes the mess without complaint. She also uses heavy-duty cleaning fluid onto the more stubborn mess to get rid of the stains.

But, on her off-daysthe days when she is not working, residents using the corridors have to tread carefully through a ad to tread through a minefield of cat poo. When the lights are out because of, many end up with smelly soles.

No one knows where the strays come from but Khoo suspects that they are from neighbouring condominiums. He has tried various means to deter the cats from easing themselves at his doorsteps. He uses heavy-duty floor cleaners to get rid of the mess and then sprays insect repellent onto the spot where the misdeed occurred.

“Cats, like dogs, leave a scent to mark their territory,” Khoo explained. “If you get rid of its scent, the cat will not return.”

Well, it didn’t work. His neighbour Ah Gong burns the cat poo with old newspaper before getting rid of it. He believes that burning the excrement leaves a scent that frightens the bravest of cats. That didn’t work either.

Khoo’s neighbour Meor throws mothballs all over the corridor where the cats like to ease themselves. The cats appear to be deterred by the smell and stayed away.

But, when the mothballs disintegrated, the cats returned and eased themselves with a vengeance.

At one time, says Khoo, when Indochinese immigrants were living at the condo, the cat population was almost decimated.

“No one knew what happened. Those who seemed to know kept the knowledge to themselves lest they hurt the feelings of animal lovers.”

Khoo asked if I had any ideas for getting rid of the cats. I said I had none because there are also quite a few strays that hang out in my condominium.

One cat lover has been very kind to the strays and feeds them. So the stray cat population here is also going up. Thankfully, the population of similar cat lovers is not.

Khoo asked me if cats could be toilet trained. I told him that cats are born toilet-trained. In the kampung, cats immediately cover up their poo with sand or soil after they are done answering the call of nature. However, the hard condo floor does not afford it similar privileges to urban cats.

I told Khoo that the answer to his problem probably lies in the garbage chutes at his condominium. Perhaps, instead of getting angry at the cats, he and his neighbours should be monitoring how other condominium dwellers dispose of their kitchen waste. The hygiene-challenged are often the culprits behind problems with strays.