Friday, March 23, 2007

Welcome Back From The "War Front", Sakinah

My eldest child Nur Sakinah was drafted in for "national service" for three months beginning January of this year. Yup, I'm referring to the Program Latihan Khidmat Negara (PLKN).

For the uninitiated, PLKN is a form of national service as to be found in a few other countries such as France, and more closely to our shores, Singapore. The aim is to instill national spirit and a sense of discipline in our future generations.

But unlike the ones in those countries, the people who gets conscripted into PLKN are 17-year olds, fresh out of secondary school. They only train for two and a half months. And even then, only 10% of 17-year olds get called up.

This really begs the question of who really benefits from the program? If we are talking about moulding the future generations, then why a great chunk of the them ( 90% ) are left out?

And for those who answer the call for national service, well, we have heard so much news concerning the poor management of the program. Some lives have been lost, accidents have happened, cases of sexual harassment have been reported. It has made many parents wonder if their children - after going through all the hardships of camp life, have really benefited from it at all.

The people in charge of the camp my daughter attended in Tok Bali, Pasir Putih, did not bother to get certificate of fitness for training equipments. As a result, many training exercises were cancelled. The dinning hall was so filthy that it was sealed by the State Health Department.

When Sakinah finished her stint and returned home recently, I was just relieved and thankful that nothing untoward had befallen her.

Parents are taking a big risk when they agree to send their young children away for camp life. It is only because they trust the government with their children's life and limbs that they are willing to cooperate.

The least the authorities could do is not to betray their trust.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Kampong Kirkby, Lancashire, England

Our country gained independence in 1957.

But the road to nation building started way back. Did you know that the Government of the Federation of Malaya established the Malayan Teachers’ Training College at Kirkby, in far-away Lancashire, England in 1951?

The intention was to train talented young Malayans of various racial background to become good educators. In short, they would be the catalyst in the development process of this young nation which shall come into being.

Many stories have been told about the pioneer group of college students. This first group of 148 students were sent to Kirkby in the winter of 1951. They sailed onboard a ship called S.S. Chusan and the journey to London took them 21 days. From London, it was another 4 hour's ride by train to Liverpool. Young and fresh-faced, it must have been a daunting experience for them to have to leave their kampong in sunny Malaya and to have to put up with the cold and windy weather of Lancashire.

But settled in they did. And from the many fond accounts that I've heard of their time in Kirkby, they must have grew on to the love the place. Perhaps partly due to homesickness, I suppose, they even took to calling their new place  'Kampong Kirkby' ! (photos of the campus, below).

During its heyday Kampong Kirkby, I was told,  received many distingushed visitors. This includes Y.A.M. Tunku Abdul Rahman when he was negotiating our independence from the British. In fact, it was in Kampong Kirkby that the Tunku, first announced that the British had agreed to Malaya's independence.

Meanwhile, the young Malayans excelled in training. As noted by a lecturer, 'they went about their training with zest and adventurous spirit'. And what's more, they were excellent ambassadors for the nation, too. Yunus Rais, a former trainee himself, commented: “Creme de la Creme, they did their country proud while they were in the UK, and contributed handsomely to educating the young for nation-building on their return".

In all, about 1,500 young Malayans were sent to Kirkby between 1951 to 1962. And this includes my father Ahmad Termizi Mat Nor, shown in photo below (standing, on the right) in front of the college gates.

The ‘Kirkbyites’, as they like to call themselves, returned home well-equipped and up to the challenge. They had distinguished careers, all of them. They taught in schools in many of our towns and villages. And some were even posted in Brunei. They became headmasters, education officers, and university registrars. In recognition of their excellent service and dedication, many have been ‘datukships’ and other awards.

As a testimony to their camaraderie and resourcefulness, many of them still keep in touch through e-mail groups, annual reunions and newsletters.

One fine gentleman by the name of Zainal Abidin Manaf faithfully produces newsletters on a regular basis and e-mails or send them by post to all parts of the world wherever Kirkbyites are to be found. Madam Low Sau San, now residing in Australia, maintains a website Kirkby Reunion dedicated to the College in Kirkby. Yet another gentleman, Ramli Shaari, has a blog Memories of MTTC with loads of well-taken, interesting photos of college life.

Sept 15, 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Kirkby. Most of the ‘Kirkbyites’ are now already in their early or mid-seventies. And many have passed on. Even the place they fondly call Kampong Kirkby is now no more, as the College site as has since been redeveloped into a sprawling housing estate.

Therefore, it is quite understandable that many Kirkbyites are anxious to keep the memories and traditions alive long into the future.

It would be great if someone could write a book, or perhaps produce a documentary, on this proud and unique group of Malaysians who, half a century ago, left the shores of Malaya in the line of duty, to serve the nation.

Lest we forget, the Malayan Teachers' Training College, in Kirkby, was a Malayan educational institution. It is, therefore, a part of our history. And that makes Kampong Kirkby a part of our national heritage - even if it is located in wind-swept Lancashire, and that the campus blocks are no more in existence.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Things Japanese: The Bamboo

Japan is an economic giant second only to the United States. The Japanese are famous for their advanced technologies and their love of gadgetry. They are, after all, the people who have given us the Nikons, Sonys, Hondas and a long list of other household goods, motor vehicles and so on.
But for all their modern ways, the Japanese always have room for tradition and respect for culture.

For example, the good old bamboo plant which we find in abundance and left unnoticed in Malaysia, plays a very important part in the life of every Japanese. Bamboo, or take as it is called in Japanese, is used to make all sorts of things imaginable. Some of the more common uses are for making chopsticks and as foodstuff, i.e. the bamboo shoots. Others include baskets, fences, garden and street furniture, place mats, brooms, fans and vases. In the arts, bamboo features a lot as subjects in paintings.

Perhaps it is time that those people entrusted with promoting the development of our handicrafts take a long, hard look at our bamboos. Our tropical climate is a boon for bamboo cultivation and related industries.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Adab Dalam Agama

Saya telah berpeluang membaca sebuah buku kecil bertajuk "Adab Dalam Agama" terbitan Pustaka Muda, Ipoh baru-baru ini. Tajuk asalnya dalam Bahasa Arab ialah Adab Fiddin dan ia adalah hasil tulisan hujjatul Islam Imam Al-Ghazali.

Kepada Al-Ghazali, kemuncak kesempurnaan akhlak dan sebaik-baik amalan utama ialah adab dalam agama.

Dalam Kata Pengantarnya penerbit mengingatkan kita bahawa "adablah yang telah menyatukan umat yang terpecah belah, yang menjadikan kebengisan, kekerasan dan kezaliman menjadi puncak kearifan, kehalusan dan keadilan".

Kandungan buku ini ditulis mengikut susunan beberapa adab. Antara yang menarik ialah "Adab Anak Kepada Orang Tua".

Menurut Al-Ghazali ada beberapa adab utama terhadap orang tua yang boleh diringkaskan seperti berikut:
  • Dengarkanlah perkataan orang tua dengan baik-baik
  • Jalankan dan taati perintah mereka selagi ia sesuai dengan syariat Allah
  • Datanglah lekas jika mereka memanggil
  • Rendahkanlah diri di hadapan mereka
  • Jangan merasa bosan berbakti dan menjalankan perintah mereka
  • Jangan memandang mereka dengan pandangan sebelah mata, dan
  • Jangan meninggikan suara di hadapan mereka.

Semoga Allah membersihkan hati kita, dan diberikannya kekuatan untuk menjaga adab di hadapan orang tua kita. Amin...

Monday, March 05, 2007

Tsukuba University

Recently I received an e-mail from Akira Hosomi, a friend during my masters program study days at the University of Tsukuba.

Hosomi-san is now working in Vietnam and the e-mail was just to say hello. But the mail did sufficient enough to take me back through time to the days when I was at "Tsukuba-dai" as the university is popularly called in Japanese. Tsukuba-dai is a relatively new university, being brought into existence as part of an effort to create a new town outside of Tokyo for relocation of research organisations and institutions for higher learning.

Being a new town, Tsukuba City is a nice place to study and bring up a young family. It has parks and open space in abundance, it is clean and offers a peaceful living environment.

I was joined during my "three years sojourn" in Japan by my wife and three kids. I think they thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Coastal planning: The role of town planners

It is a real sign of the serious potential impact of climate change that, at the recent Academy Awards, Al Gore the Former Vice President of the United States, won an Oscar for best documentary for his film titled “An Inconvenient Truth”.

One of the long-term effects of global warming is rise in sea level which may wreak havoc onto coastal communities. The human population residing within coastal areas currently makes up 40% to 50% of the total world population. This is set to increase further. Currently, eight of the top ten largest cities in the world are located by the coast.

So what does this mean for town planners? What are the challenges in store? And how do we address them?

It is high time that town planners - or city planners, or urban planners as they are sometimes called -  kick-in their land use management role into play. Too much has been spent on costly 'curative engineering measures'. The key is to plan for coastal human settlements in a more comprehensive and holistic manner in the  face of climate change. The integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) approach is the way forward.

This gives emphasis to control over land use and development, incorporating the systematic management of activities and various coastal systems and natural resources.

In Malaysia, land use planners are blessed with various tools - as enshrined in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1976 (Act 172) - which would allow them to stake their claim in contributing towards the sustainable development of coastal areas. The requirement for submission of Development Proposal Report during planning approval, and the preparation of development plans - i.e. State Structure Plans and Local Plans - are two basic means to start with.

With the rampant loss of natural coastal areas through inconsiderate development and land reclamation, planners have got to act fast. But first, there is a dire need for us to broaden our views beyond the utilization of traditional physical land use planning tools and mechanisms. For coastal management is a complex task in itself. Throw in human settlement management and you would have a onerous challenge. It is for this reason that I would also urge the authorities to start scrutinizing the Act 172 for what else it can offer in the area of coastal planning and management.

If a Former Vice President of the United States can stake his claim as an environmentalist, surely can town planners.

Forget the Oscar though.