Monday, October 31, 2011

Speaking other lingos will help cultivate friendships

WHENEVER I meet a stranger, I often choose to speak in the language in which I think they are conversant.
The reason I try to speak to them in their own lingo is because I discovered that when you do that, people warm up to you faster.

Some goodwill is generated and your listener tends to be more receptive to you.

I found out about this years ago when ordering roti canai at Indian stalls.

Instead of saying I would like to have kari ikan (fish curry) to go with the leavened bread, I get a better deal when I say, "Meen curry, please".

Someone had taught me that "meen" meant "fish" in Tamil. So, whenever I utter the magic words, not only does my order not get messed up and I end up with a dhall curry instead of fish gravy, I also get a mean curry with bits of fish thrown in as well.

I now try to acquire more understanding of the lingo and not stop at just saying "sapederiya" or "vanakkam" because the habit has made me friends among the Indian nationals working at the places I go to.

Even when I am visiting Chinese-dominant areas, I find that it is easier to deal with people when I use the dominant dialect of the area.

For instance, when visiting Klang, Sasaran, Kuala Selangor, or Sungai Besar, the majority of the Chinese there become more approachable when I speak Hokkien -- unlike in KL or PJ where most Chinese speak Cantonese or Mandarin.

Even when conversing in Hokkien, I have learned to speak like a Penangite when I am in Butterworth, or switch to the Teochew-influenced version when I visit my friends in Tangkak.

As for Malay, my "Minang" is a bit rusty now because of lack of use, but I still try to speak in the Negri slang whenever I call on my friend in Rembau -- with "eden" and "waang" thrown in for good measure.

I do the same when I visit Kelantan or speak to a Kelantanese in the city, although I have yet to be able to master their slang as much as I like to.

You may laugh at this if you know that I come from Terengganu, but let me inform you that although Kelantan and Terengganu share the same border, their versions of Malay is surprisingly different.

For example, an "ikang" (fish) in Terengganu-Malay is referred to as "ikeh" in Kelantan-speak.

A friend from Pennsylvania recently asked me how many languages a Malaysian speaks.

I told her at least three -- the national language Bahasa Malaysia, English, and the speaker's mother tongue. If dialects are counted, even more.

She said we are very lucky because where she came from, most people only understand English.

These days it is not difficult to find a Chinese or Indian who speaks Malay very well, or a non-Chinese who converses fluently in Mandarin.

I am sure you know of some non-Malay leaders who speak almost perfect Bahasa Malaysia, or even Bahasa Melayu, complete with the "loghat" and nuances only a Malay can appreciate.

And If you have been watching Chinese soap operas, you will have seen that many of the subtitlers today are non-Chinese.

TV8's Baki Zainal, who used to anchor the station's Step Forward, for example, has fans in my family.

We are fortunate to live in a cultural melting pot such as KL, where there is always an opportunity to pick up a lingo or two, if we make the effort.

To be able to understand and speak in another's lingo not only adds more colour to our cultural diversity, it also results in fewer misunderstandings and suspicion.

The speakers, too, will also think twice before opening their mouths.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Humanity losing out to apathy

BY now, many would have seen the video footage of a little girl who was run over by a van and left to die in the streets of Foshan, Guangdong, in China.

The closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage showed how Wang Yue, aged two, was toddling along the street when she was struck by an oncoming van.

The driver stopped briefly when he realised he had hit the toddler but resumed driving, and the vehicle's back wheels went over the girl again.

As the toddler lay in a pool of blood, 18 people walked by without stopping to help, until another van ran over the girl again.

Finally, a scrap picker saw the toddler, pulled her to the side of the road, and cried for help, which attracted the attention of the toddler's mother.

According to news reports, Yue's father was working in his shop and her mother was hanging the laundry when the toddler wandered off into the street.

Last Friday, Yue, who was admitted to the Guangzhou military hospital, died of organ and brain failure.

A doctor described her injury as being too severe and that she could not be saved.

The tragedy sparked an outcry over China's declining morality amid the nation's rising affluence.

The subject was also hotly discussed in social media networks as links to the footage on Youtube were shared through emails and messaging systems.

On one of the Youtube videos, hundreds of viewers criticised those who witnessed the tragedy and did nothing to save the toddler.

When my wife showed me that video last week, I lost my appetite for dinner. Reading the comments there, many of which were from Malaysians, I was tempted to join in and give my two-sen's worth but resisted as I wondered, as a society, are we any different?

We have had our share of situations when our values have been questioned, have we not?

We often hear or read about snatch theft victims being dragged on the roads without anyone stopping to help. I hope the victims would have the heart to forgive the so-called innocent bystanders who, for reasons known best to them, did not come to their aid.

And the stories of babies who were dumped and left to die, God only knows for each one who was found alive, how many more did not survive.

And what about children who were lost in supermarkets as their parents were too engrossed in their shopping? How many times have you come across a distraught child lost in a sea of shoppers and reached out to help the child find his or her parents?

How many times have you faced situations where your personal integrity, social responsibility and sense of kindness were tested and you looked the other way because you are afraid to or did not want to get involved?

It is easy to blame others who looked the other way, and quite easy, too, to forget that by pointing a finger at them, three of our own are pointing back at us.

But whatever the circumstances, apathy is inexcusable regardless of whether it leads to tragedy or not.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Make it safe for the blind to move about independently

THE plight of the visually-impaired in Brickfields over the past 12 months is best described by the Malay proverb Sudah jatuh ditimpa tangga, which loosely translated means to be continuously hit by woes, akin to have fallen from a ladder, and be crushed by it.

Late last year, the change in traffic system implemented to accommodate the Little India development brought chaos to road users and the blind.

During that period of massive transformation to organise Brickfields into a visually pleasant cultural enclave, not only did construction debris stand in the way of the blind, missing tact tile pathways also made moving around difficult for them.

Finally, when all the dust had settled, yet another problem came up.

Early this month, the woe that caught the blind off guard was when stalls were set up in Jalan Tun Sambanthan, some straddling the length of tact tile pavements the blind depend on to move around.

Unknown to many, the strip of brownish tiles with linear markings built into the city's pavements (not just in Brickfields) are not laid for their visual aesthetics.

These tiles allow the blind to navigate the maze of the city's streets and if the pavements are not blocked, the visually-impaired can move about quite easily unaided.

When some traders set up their stalls on the tact tile pathways, the routine of getting from one side of Brickfields to the other became an obstacle course for the blind. Some were forced to walk on the road and risked being knocked down.

Why did City Hall give out festive licences to trade in Brickfields without checking if the location of the stalls would be in the way of the blind? And for the traders who were given licence to set up stalls, did anyone not notice that their structures were blocking the tact tact tile pathway for the blind?

It is easy to blame City Hall for its lack of foresight when issuing trading licences. But the heated exchanges between City Hall officers and traders could have been avoided if the traders had taken a proactive role to inform the local authority instead of waiting to see who was at fault here.

City Hall deserved to be rapped but traders who knowingly blocked the tact tile pathways were as morally guilty. Hopefully, City Hall will be wiser on hindsight from this experience.

In areas where the local authority claims to be blind-friendly, it must make an effort to inspect and make sure that the facilities for the blind are not hampered by any obstacle, at all times.

For example, drains near tact tile pavements should be securely covered. Iron grille covers, which are frequently stolen, should be replaced with concrete slabs.

For a person who is visually impaired, an open drain near a tact tile path is just as dangerous as a stall on tact tile paving.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dog-park dilemma for pooches and owners

TWO Saturdays ago, Streets ran a story on complaints by dog owners in the Klang Valley about the lack of a dog park for them to take their pets to for exercise.

They had proposed that local authorities set up dog parks. A dog lover who had read the article asked me what the chances were of dog parks seeing light of day.

I told the reader it would be good if local authorities bought into the idea, especially when society is trying to be kinder to animals, not just to dogs.

Keeping man's best friend all cooped up, even in a castle, let alone in a 930 sq m condominium, is bad for a dog, regardless of size.

The lack of space to roam makes the animal moody and could turn man's best friend into his worst enemy.

Cut them off from social interaction, you risk your canine wreaking havoc with your shoes, doormats and sofas, and the damage will be something for you to chew about for neglecting their needs.

However, setting up a dog-friendly park is not as easy as building a futsal court. You can't turf a piece of land, fence it, and put up a sign that says "Dog Park". You need to come up with a facility that is not only friendly to man's best friends, but also to man as well.

One big challenge the authorities will face then is that space has to be acquired, and god knows how difficult that is, even for existing public parks.

It would be easier if developers included such parks in their projects, especially those who build high-end gated communes that I get to visit once a year during festive open house events. These developers could even consider dog parks as a unique selling point for their projects.

If you want to set up a dog park, how do you deal with people who love dogs but not the environment?

I am talking about the sneaky fellow who loiters in your neighbourhood on the pretext of walking his dog, but when you take your eyes off them, he allows the animal to defecate in front of your house.

Do you recall the number of times you cursed at the dog when you unknowingly stepped its the poo and brought it into your home?

There are many dog lovers who scoop up their dogs' poo, but still many who do not.

Allow these people into a dog park, and you can imagine the stink they will raise.

Another point to consider is whether the dog park should be open to all dogs or should it be kept exclusively to well-trained and well-socialised pooches?

If it is open to all and the animals are let off-the-leash, dogs which have not been properly trained and socialised may misbehave and cause havoc and ill-will among the owners.

Even if the dogs do not fight with each other, who can guarantee that the friendly mingling of canines will result in better relations among the owners? All it takes is an amorous mutt and a purebred on heat to send the sparks flying.

Then, will the owner of the mutt be held liable for contaminating a pedigree?

Maybe a sign saying "Use Park At Own Risk" should be put up at dog parks.

Car park operators in the city do it all the time as a disclaimer against accidents, vandalism, theft or calamity.

Should someone get hurt from being chased by a dog at the park, the animal cannot be held responsible for the injury, so who is legally responsible -- the dog's owner, the park manager, the local authority, or all of them?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Scary moments while trapped in a lift

LAST week, a woman fractured her right leg when a lift at a mall reportedly plunged two levels to the lower ground floor. Fortunately, the seven-month pregnant 25-year-old was not critically injured, and her unborn, at the time of writing, is safe.

To be trapped in a lift is scary enough, let alone be involved in a plunge. Consider yourself lucky if you have gone through the last 10 years of using lifts and have never been trapped. I have been caught several times and I know how it feels.

The first incident was in the 1980s. The lift I used daily to get to the third floor where my office was located had a history of breakdowns.

Usually, I would wait for help and often it came within minutes.

That day, at 7.45am, the lift broke down as I was on the way up to the office. The security guard who was usually stationed at the lift lobby had gone for his teh tarik.

There were no CCTVs.

The lift car came to a halt after the digital screen flashed second floor. After waiting for close to 20 minutes and having pressed the emergency button to no avail, I concluded that it was better to get out since I had no way of knowing if help was coming or anyone was even aware that I was trapped.

A few weeks prior to the incident, I had seen two lift servicemen working on one of the lifts at the same office block. I asked them what they would do if they were trapped in a lift and they showed me how to get out. That knowledge came in handy that fateful day.

Not only was I fortunate enough to be able to open the lift's inner and outer door, the lift was stuck nearer to the lower floor than the floor above. I only needed to jump out quickly.

On hindsight, I realised that it was a stupid thing to do but that day, the folly of youth must have got the better of me. I have vowed, however, never to ever try it again because the thought of getting caught should the lift move was even scarier than being trapped in one.

Another unforgettable incident happened at the Putra World Trade Centre in the early 1990s. As soon as the lift I stepped in left the 25th floor, on the way down, the cabin shuddered and stopped. The emergency lights kicked in but when it did not move for about five minutes, a woman passenger panicked and started pounding the alarm button but knocked out the emergency lights instead. Then she started screaming.

In what appeared to be an eternal 15 minutes or so, the lift car moved again. When we got out on the ground floor, a security guard explained that a major blackout had hit the city and the lift's emergency response took longer than usual to kick in. Usually, during a malfunction, he explained, such lift cars would be automatically lowered safely to ground level.

Say what you want but passenger lifts have changed little since they were invented in the 1800s. They are still little boxes attached to cables, designed to work 24-hours a day, rain or shine, or until the doors jam or cables snap.

They are usually safe unless they are continuously abused -- especially by those who use them as garbage chutes or toilets, or to transport motorcycles to their homes in the upper floors.

Even the innocent ones who persistently punch the buttons are guilty of abuse because they know very well that their damaging action would not get the lift to move any faster.