Monday, January 31, 2011

Goodbye to a good year, hello to a new one

SO, we have already chalked up a month to another year. Last year wasn't so bad, was it? I am sure you will agree that we had more to be thankful for last year than we had the previous years.
For one, there were fewer street demonstrations in 2010 and city folk like you and I could go about earning a living without worrying if we would get to work or home in time because of sudden road closures.

The number of street demons aka Mat Rempit has not gone down but let's keep our fingers crossed that those who escape police dragnets will grow up, repent and ride safely for their own sake and their family's.

As for the morning jam, well, just treat it like breakfast, and with less fuss until the traffic or public transport system is improved.

My side of the city feels a little safer with mobile police beat bases set up in areas where youths like to loiter. Since I have not heard about snatch thefts in the past two weeks, I am going to hope that the police presence is enough to deter petty crime. I know my colleague who stays in Puchong sleeps a little easier with policemen on horseback patrolling her neighbourhood.

City Hall officers have done a good job, too, where discouraging illegal parking is concerned. Last year had been the city authority's year of enforcement, and I am encouraged to see that it had done well. From the windows of Balai Berita, I have observed how often the DBKL men and women came around to issue summonses on illegally parked vehicles -- although some errant motorists are still at it.

Perhaps the authority will just have to work a little harder since the tide of reckless parking has shown little signs of ebbing. Higher fines may do the trick where even towing has failed. But, of course, City Hall has to ensure that there are enough parking lots. It is not fine to fine motorists who park illegally while allowing workshop and eatery operators to hog the parking lots in front of their premises.

Under the safe city concept, covered pedestrian walkways connecting some light-rail and monorail stations (LRT) in the city were constructed. These will be a boon to pedestrians. Once completed, more people will be encouraged to use public transport and fewer will drive into the city. This will, in turn, reduce jam and pollution.

The long-awaited transformation of Brickfields and the massive upgrading of Taman Tasik Perdana are two developments we can be proud of, among others, last year.

Let's hope that this year, urban renewal programmes will make the city an even better place to work, live and play in. Can we trust the city planners to have the foresight to retain traditional charms in the pursuit of modernity?

The best news last year was probably for the poor, when 44,146 low-cost flats from the People's Housing Scheme were offered for sale to them. The extra effort taken by the Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing Ministry to set up the Housing Credit Guarantee Corporation to act as bank loans guarantor for those wihtout a fixed income is commendable.

The challenge now is to make sure that the low-cost units go to the deserving and not to those looking to make a quick buck by renting out the flats. And once these properties are handed over, City Hall should ensure that these low-cost housing schemes are well maintained so they do not become urban ghettoes.

So, as we celebrate yet another City Day tomorrow, we have lots to thank for. I am counting my blessings today and possibly over the next few days.

You can join me in appreciating the sparse traffic and improved air quality if you are in no hurry to get out of town like most of the city folk on long weekends.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Motorcycle riders' dance with death

A LADY biker I read about in one of the dailies recently likened riding a bike to dancing the salsa -- you need to twist left and right, she was quoted as saying. Although I did not agree with her, I am happy she has finally explained why some bikers are so fond of weaving in and out of traffic. A silent rhapsody must have triggered the odd behaviour.
You have met some of the notorious ones, have you not? I am not talking about the Mat Rempit, whose status has now been reduced to Gengster Jalanan (or road hoods) to prevent further glorification of the nickname.

I am talking about the regular road bikers you and I meet on our way to work and back daily -- the sensible folk who need a job, money and good health as much as you and I do. Those you meet at the office, the food stalls or the pasar malam, and whom you would not mind being friends with -- until they put on their helmets and throttle up.

You often catch sight of them in your rear view mirror as you wait your turn at the traffic lights or during a jam. They weave in and out of the lanes of cars behind yours. Often, the sight of them make you go weak in the knees as you pray that they will not ram their machines into your car's rear bumper yet again, or smash your side mirror as they shoot past you.

On unlucky days when they do break your side mirror, you pray hard that they will not be caught off-balance by their own folly and injure themselves and blame you for it.

I am sure you have had the daylights scared out of you at the traffic junctions when some of them shot off to a flying start even before the traffic lights on their side had turned green. Not too long ago, a long-haired biker showed me how a two-wheeler can put my four-wheeler to shame on the fast lane. I did not know where to put my face when I finally caught up with the biker at the junction -- only to find that it was a makcik in a leather jacket and jeans riding a kapcai.

I remember that in the old days bikers used to show more courtesy to other road users. They also had greater respect for the law. Today, the road manners of some of them leave very little to be desired. They no longer ride on the left side of the road or keep to speed limits.

Maybe it's advertisement puffery that drives them to think that it is stylish to ride fast and furious. Perhaps we can blame technology for coming up with lighter machines that have more power to do more harm than good, especially if the power-crazy throw caution to the wind.

Some people tell me that it is the perception that, in the event of an accident between a car and a bike, the law will always side the biker. Could this have driven most sane people to do crazy things on a bike then? Really, does it matter who is in the right or wrong when bikers lose a limb, or life in an accident?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rogue drivers bring traffic to a crawl on highway

A FEW weeks ago, I had to visit a a relative who was hospitalised at the Subang Jaya Medical Centre. Since I had to drive to Subang Jaya from the city, I decided to use the North Klang Valley Expressway.
That day being a Friday, I thought the NKVE would be a better choice to avoid the evening rush-hour traffic. The downpour that came an hour earlier also prompted my decision.

I reached the Jalan Duta toll plaza about 6pm and queues were already forming at all lanes, which was not surprising.

However, after the toll gate, the traffic ahead had been reduced to a crawl, made worse by the heavy vehicles that did not keep to the left lanes as they were supposed to as they climbed the slope.

When I reached the fork in the highway that led to Sungai Buloh and Petaling Jaya, I was in for more surprises.

It had started to rain and from there till the Kota Damansara exit, it was a bumper-to-bumper crawl.

Being unacquainted with the traffic situation there, I called Plusline when the vehicles were at a standstill and the operator told me that the bad crawl was precipitated by the usual after-office-hour jam at the Subang exit.

Throughout the journey from the Kota Damansara exit to the Damansara exit, queue jumpers made the slow moving traffic worse.

These impatient motorists switched lanes as and when they wanted, getting ahead when other drivers were not keeping up with the vehicles in front.

And if one motorist denied them their chance to move into their lane, they waited for another.

While the inter-lane queue jumpers wreak havoc on the main traffic stream, another group of inconsiderate drivers use the emergency lanes to swiftly get ahead of the queue.

Vehicles of all sizes formed this rogue convoy. From drivers of Kancil to express buses, 4WDs to trailers, these motorists were using the emergency lanes. These rogues got onto the adjacent lane whenever there was a gap.

One truck driver, was incensed by the driver of a Kancil that he threw an empty plastic bottle at the car when it inched into the space between the truck and an express bus ahead.

Though the highway authorities can do little about the queue jumpers, it can act on those abusing the emergency lanes since the highway is monitored by closed-circuit television cameras.

Fines can even be imposed when they exit at the toll gates since their vehicles can be identified through the CCTVs.

Traffic controllers on bikes could also be dispatched to these areas to set up barricades.

Highway concessionaires have a responsibility towards their road users.

In exchange for the toll fees, road users expect to have a pleasant, safe and, often, faster journey to their destinations.

By taking steps to apprehend rogue drivers on highways, concessionaires not only generate goodwill among their paying customers but are also helping to prevent accidents.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wife's smile truly a sight for sore eyes

I UNDERWENT surgery six days ago to remove a cataract in my right eye. The cataract was discovered during a routine eye examination two years ago.
I ignored it because it was not a hindrance - until I started seeing triple images in the middle of last year.

My optometrist said it was no use trying to correct my increased astigmatism, which was caused by the cataract as tests had ruled out corneal astigmatism. He asked me to consider surgery.

Since my children were sitting for important examinations last year, I decided to delay the surgery unti after Christmas. While waiting, I learnt all I could about cataract, even about how the lens should be inserted into the eye during surgery for best results.

Cataract is the clumping of proteins of the lens, turning it opaque and yellow as we age.

The most popular treatment is surgery -- the faulty lens is removed and an artificial, biologically inert lens is put in its place. Over the past 15 years, I read on a lens manufacturer's website, 30 million eyes have been implanted with such intraoccular lenses.

Since clumping of the proteins causes cataracts, I thought there must be research done on the reversal of the process. As I Googled for scholastic papers on the subject, I found a research done by a Russian scientist and wrote to him. He had perfected the method of introducing a chemical via eye drops that he claimed successfully reversed cataracts in people of various ages in human tests.

Hopeful, I asked a friend's brother to purchase the eye drops for me. I became my own guinea pig, just to see if it worked. My decision was partly inspired by the scientist who replied to my email and explained how it worked. I figured if it worked, the results would be apparent in six months and I would not need surgery. Unfortunately, in my case, it did not.

Finally, when everyone else was celebrating Christmas and New Year, I was feeling anything but happy. I went to see the eye surgeon, fixed an appointment, and scheduled the day for surgery.

On the day of surgery, I got up early, said my prayers and headed for the hospital. A nurse asked me if I was scared. I told her I was not. But I was a little worried, I said, after having read so much about surgery and complications. Afraid? No. In fact, barely an hour before I was wheeled into the operation theatre at 1pm, I even helped troubleshoot a faulty laptop computer belonging to a hospital staff member.

Although general anaesthesia was available for the surgery, I did not ask for it. I was curious and wanted to see what was happening. I did not see much except for two bright lights as the good doctor started working on the eye. My other eye was kept under drape. All I saw were flashes of light as some kind of solution was used to irrigate the eye that was being operated on.

It was over in 10 minutes or less. That was all it took the surgeon to make a 2mm diameter cut on the cornea, insert a tool to break down and suck out the cataract, and clean the lens sac before replacing it with a foldable 6mm diameter lens. When it was over, I was given an eye shell to protect the eye and wheeled into the recovery room.

As the nurses wheeled me from the recovery room into the day care ward, I peeped out from the side of the shell and saw my wife waiting there. Sleepless nights and worry had drawn dark circles around her eyes.

All went well, I said. She broke into a smile. It was the prettiest sight I had seen through the new lens.

And I knew then why I was not afraid when the surgeon took the cataract out.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Never compare children's achievement with their peer's

MY youngest daughter enters Form Four today after passing her Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) with As in all her core subjects, including that which many teachers had described as a very tough Chinese paper.
Since her exam in October, she had been worried whether she could get through the Chinese paper.

Her classmates in the same study group were just as jittery before the results were out. Thankfully, all passed with As. One Parent-Teacher Association committee member, who two years ago thought this batch might not do well, told me he had underestimated them.

One parent asked me for the secret of my daughter's success.

I was not sure, I said, but hard work could be one contributor. I do remember her and her elder sister giving up their Facebook for schoolbooks in the run-up to the trial exam.

But as parents, I admit that my wife and I were of little help to our children's studies. We know very little of the subjects they are studying. They have changed so much.

Even History is no longer called Tawarikh but Sejarah, and the topics are different from what I studied decades ago.

With household chores and work taking up much of our time, we were both guilty of not being able to sit down as often as we should have. I felt guilty the most when work kept me away on Sundays. My only offer of compensation for my absence was by getting them the revision books they needed.

When my youngest daughter entered Form Two, many of her classmates had already joined tuition centres to prepare for the PMR. I wanted to enrol her in one although she did not ask for it.

However, my wife and I later decided against it since tuition would take away what's left of her free time. We figured that if she was already doing her homework well and had never missed the extra classes in school, she should be all right.

I think her success came largely from the efforts of her dedicated teachers. They were never tired of giving notes and past-year questions to her and her classmates.

And on our part, we made sure she completed the assignments, paid attention in class, and that she was never afraid to ask questions if she was not satisfied with the answers.

If there is any secret worth sharing, I think it is simply this: never to compare a child's achievement with their siblings or their friends'. It belittles their efforts if the results are not what you expected.

Whenever our girls brought home their report cards when they were in primary school, we often reminded them never to compare their positions in class or their exam scores with their schoolmates' to avoid being overconfident or too disappointed.

Instead, they were told to use the results of their last exams as a benchmark for their progress. We often told them that if they could keep improving themselves, then it doesn't matter who or what they faced. We were not sure if they understood what we meant then. Now I think they do.