Monday 27 December 2010


The above comment by Stirling Road moved me to do this posting, a detour from my train trip.

I am so pleased that the photo on my side bar touched him/her so deeply. It has done what I hoped it would do - to remind us of a "lonely world only the boy and the cat share".

In reply I would like to post  my encounters  with children  during  my travels in the 1980s and 1990s.

I remember our experience in Malaga (Spain)  sometime in the 1980s.  We were sitting and resting on a bench placed by the side of this big avenue watching a number of Gypsy children aged from 6-12 darting dangerously between and in front of cars  trying to sell some items to the drivers.  At times we flinched because these children were taking great risks in their attempts to sell their goods.

Then one of them, a little boy of about 7 came to us with a packet of tissues to sell.  We were sick and fed up of being bothered by touts on our holiday.  But  this was just a child and we had seen him dicing with death on the avenue.

We felt so sorry and sad.  Yes, Stirling Road we could not  hold back those sentiments.  But pity had no place in our thoughts because  it is patronising and condescending and arrogant.

We paid for the tissues and gave him much more than he expected.  We saw him run to his elder sister to give her the money.   Within a few minutes she approached us with more packets of tissues in her hands.  And we were aghast.  We're being taken for a soft touch - she's going to dump more of her stuff on us.  We should have realised these were Gypsy kids and they are canny and sharp.  Those were our thoughts.

There followed  a series of gestures between this English-speaking couple and the Spanish-speaking Gypsy girl.  We were saying 'no, no' and of course we could not decipher her retorts as these packets of tissue were being shoved between her and us.

Finally in exasperation she left the tissue-packs on our laps and ran off to join the others to carry on doing her 'job'.  It then dawned on us why she did what she did!  She was  giving us the tissues because earlier, we had paid more than we should.  She was not trying to sell us more.  She would only take money for what  had been  sold.  To her it was a straightforward business deal.  She did not want charity.  Or pity????

We felt ashamed of our doubts and our fears of these children .  They had more guts and honour than all the politicians in Spain or Britain or Malaysia  put together!

But  I must also confess to being insensitive and unkind to child-beggars.  I was waiting alone while the spouse had gone off to buy our train tickets  at Bombay's Victoria Railway Station. I soon  found myself encircled by a dozen or so small open hands begging for money.  They were moving their hands from patting their  stomachs  to pointing to their mouths and then to your face.  These were gestures of deprivation and poverty that I was confronted with, day after day after day,  during our trip in India.

I could not cope any more with these 'assaults' on my conscience, on  my sense of guilt and the  unremitting poverty of  the Indian sub-continent.  But more than anything else what angered me was the obscene  gap between the rich and the poor.   I put my hands to my head and yelled  " Go, go to Rajiv Gandhi!!".  He was the Prime Minister of India then.  And they all fled and I stood there in tears.

You see Stirling Road ,  I could not give them feelings of sadness or pity or encouragement.   I was enraged and furious at the INJUSTICE.  Why should these children suffer while others live in the lap of luxury? 

I felt the same for that child from  Pusat Tahfiz Amal.  I have given up on most cries for  "charity and love" for the poor and the oppressed.   Charity only gives the donor a feel-good  experience, like giving themselves a pat on the back.  Giving just love to the destitutes  is an insult to them and at times self-serving.

For as long as injustice prevails, when the rich and powerful amass wealth at the expense of the country and its people, everything else being done is marginal, like sticking a piece of  plaster on  an oozing gangrene.

Thank you  Stirling Road for your insight and compassion.  Your childhood is very much like that of  Jailani Abu Bakar (posting on 8 November)   and you both have turned out to be kinder and sensitive human beings.

Friday 24 December 2010

T O O T !!!!!!!

This is for me the most exciting sound in the world.  The train was just taking a deep slow breath before it puffed on  its way with a  fanfare of  "toot".  This little ditty I learned when I was a Girl Guide served to remind me of the glory of a moving train.

Coffee, coffee, coffee, ( say this slowly)
Cheese and biscuits, cheese and biscuits, cheese and biscuits(you say this bit a little faster)
Beef and carrots, beef and carrots, beef and carrots,   (and even faster like a train picking up speed)
Fish and chips, fish and chips, fish and chips,  (and with a huffing motion)
Soouupp!  ( and off she goes on the track into the horizon)

(And thank you Mr Bojangles for correcting my toot to soup)

I  taught this 'activity'  in my English Language classes and it  never failed to revive the sleepyheads.
My sister's grandchildren loved this too although the poor parents were driven cuckoo by the loud echoes of "soouupp"  in their cars.

And here is my ticket - the last one - of my journey from Singapura to Kuala Lumpur. 

The Glorious Engine  6561

The Beginning of the End

The man holding the job I yearned for

Lots more to tell - later.

Thursday 16 December 2010


How I love the scent of  steam from the engine of a coal-fired train.  The clickety clack of the train's wheels have always been a part of my psyche and fired the journeys of my life, both  real and imaginary. 

A long, long time ago  my only ambition was to be a train driver!   I  mentioned this to my Abah and he just nodded and said  "wait and see".

At 66 I still haven't got over my craze and love for trains  and - later when I could afford it - for train journeys.   My one big dream is to travel the train across the Rockies or the fabulous train across Peru.

The last time I departed from Tanjong Pagar
But the train journey closest to my heart is the Kretapi Tanah Melayu  (KTM) from Singapore to anywhere in the Malay Peninsula.  And the name of the station at the end of the line - Tanjong Pagar - always evoked such lovely memories  of the magic of departure and arrival. 

Next year this magnificient station will be cut off from KTM forever and ever.  Decades of train history will be  wiped off and now   the soul and spirit of train travel  will end at Woodlands, that fearful-looking fortress which welcomes your entry into  Singapore from the north .

What will Singapore do to this majestic monument of  Malaya's transport history?  Behind me is a giant-sized  wall painting of padi farming.  It is just one of several  depictions - at Tanjong Pagar Station - of  old Malaya's economic activities.  I shudder to think that these might be replaced or laced with huge, crass banners advertising MacDonalds, Gucci and Estee Lauder!

Tomorrow we will take this train trip from Kuala Lumpur  to Singapore.  We shall arrive at and depart ( on  Wednesday)  from Tanjong Pagar for the last time.

Kretapi Tanah Melayu and Kerajaan Malaysia - I hope you know what you have done.  I hope future generations will not regret what you have terminated.

It's such a shame.

Sunday 12 December 2010


My sister Maznah had two autograph books covering 1953 and 1954.  It was beholden on every red-blooded pupil of Pasir Panjang English School to tote up as many signatures as possible in that precious book - like collecting notches in your pistol.  Who else could she recruit as 'volunteers' but the family?  Abah was always willing to oblige, bless his cotton socks.

The other three siblings would not do it for love or money!  We tried to escape but it was to no avail because she was the eldest - the 'she-who-must-be-obeyed'.

My pathetic attempt was ignominously pasted over as  seen below.  You can just see the 'Dear Sister' at the top left hand corner,  'Maznor' at the bottom right hand corner and my creative hearts can be found
at the bottom left. (With age the glue dried up and and my dreadful deed was exposed)  Oh the shame!

As a result of this boo-boo she dared not recruit the other younger two.  It would be an invitation to disaster.  She would never live down the scorn of her schoolmates.  Yippee ! yelled the two boys.

We found ourselves in demand for her second book.  This was a big risk but she had aces up her sleeve.

My oh-so-clever quote .....
was selected from Abah's big fat  Book of Quotations.

I was given top billing, to be given the coveted page next to her introduction.

 I did a superb job for my sister.  I took the trouble to draw lines in pencil to keep my writing straight.  I even underlined little red curves under each sentence .

But I drew the line at schmucky words like 'dearest sister' and 'your loving sister'.  You see, I was 10 years old then and I was already a tough cookie.

I had picked a hard-hitting caution about erring.

 This was also because I knew I needed a lot of forgiving for my many misdeeds.  There was the time when I sewed holes into my sister's leaflet from Crescent Girls 'School regarding the pattern for her school uniform.  That left her in tears .  And so did I from the whacking my mother gave me.

As for that eight year old rascal Mus,  his pome was a scream!  It left me with tears ...... of laughter.

I reckoned he was told what to write, how to write and he even succumbed to the salutation of  "Your Loving Brother".  But  one can easily tell that this was a last-minute instruction because the writing went wonky.

Also he did not complete the last 'e' for coffee.  It must be because of the call from his mates to sneak away for a swim at Pasir Panjang seaside .  Oh yes!  He thought he could hide that from our mother.  But she discovered sand in the pockets of his trousers and he was left with nowhere to hide.

She threatened to tie him - naked - to the coconut tree  in front of  our house.  We were all subjected to the same intimidation.  But that coconut tree never had that joy!!

Our late Akim was just five in 1954.  When we were all away at school, he spent most of his lonely time carrying and cuddling  our  family cat.
Akim also loved inspecting the crevices in the walls and on the cement floor -  near our water tank- for creepy crawlies like ants, beetles and other tiny insects .  He did not touch or hurt them.  He simply followed their movement with his little fingers.

I remembered this because I was his 'baby' sitter and minder from that age till the day he passed away in 1982.

As for this contribution, did Akim actually write this mushy tosh?
Was there a phantom writer?  After all this snotty kid was just five.  How could his handwriting be better than Mus's and mine?  His command of the English language was limited to repeating the last word  in sentences that Mus read from his 'Old Lob ' book.  Whenever Mus read "This is Old Lob', you can hear the echo of 'Lob' from Akim.  Also words like Mr Grumps, Miss Tibs, Mr. Dan and Percy the Chick reverberated about our dining-study table whenever Mus was told to read  his book.

Akim's favourite song then was "Amapola"

I shall never forget his sweet rendition of the one-word lyric 'poppy' from the line  "Amapola, my pretty little poppy'.

HERE THEY ARE - looking  like butter won't melt in their mouths..........
From the left:  a cussed-looking Mus,  sweet shy Akim,  pretty Maznah and nerdy me.

Thank you and bless you 'Nah for looking after these two precious books all these years and for allowing me  to publicise the contents for my blog.

Sometimes we need to be prodded to remember with gratitude our happy childhood and our wonderful parents.  This is not just sentimental nostalgia.  This is all about what we are now - warts and all.


This was created for Maznah by Pa'cik Agus.  And the message can also be applied to all for all time.

This is our father's  colleague and good friend from Sumatra who's also a poet and artist.  Thank you Pa'cik Agus for the reflection of the light from your mirror.

Friday 10 December 2010


It is  the equivalent of a Facebook.  Near the end of each school term, especially during the final year of Primary School  we would be given a present of an Autograph Book for the purpose of collecting quips and quotes  from friends, relatives and especially our teachers. 

It became quite a challenge to fill up your book and I do feel for the teachers who were chased by 30 to 40 pupils for their wise thoughts and signatures.  The seeds of the paparazzi  scramble were sown then.  Secretly, I think the teachers felt quite honoured to be asked.  And they would feel quite insecure if no pupil went up to them for 'contributions'.

Oh how I envied my sister for her TWO autograph books from 1953 to 1954.  I've been leafing through those pages again and again .  I knew almost all of her friends in her books.  Her teachers were mine as well and of course we 'shared' the same relatives!

I am sure she would like to share her treasured collection with my readers.  It is almost a historical document of the social life and relationships,  of language and communication  from 60 years ago.  And mind you, children then could write complete sentences and spell exact words instead of  LOL,  gr8 and mwah mwah!!

There were messages of friendship like:


There's also a dose of good advice like

I especially love these cheeky recommendations.


And of course the ultimate dream and ambition for all young lasses!

And here's one of my favourite poems .  It seemed that our teacher Mr Thakurta also liked it a lot.
This very mature advice  came from the brightest girl in my sister's class.  She became a dentist and she had the 'privilege'  of tending to my teeth several times.

But these home-made  poems are the real gems.  Today it would be a difficult job to discover such innocent DIY pomes.

I shall end on my cousin Rohani's note.  More treasures later.



Friday 3 December 2010

Happy Birthday Mus

Missed your birthday by nearly an hour.  So here's a big , crazy  greeting - better late than never.

Hope you had a fabulous  MELEPAK  day. 

And may there be more days like this.  Thanks to Pickled Herring for this disgusting photograph.

Many happy returns for your 39th (?)  birthday from the Dynamic Duo (?).

THE 11th COMMANDMENT - Thou shalt not criticise Israel

From The Star - 25 November 2010.

"Revised definition of anti-Semitism could shield Israel from criticism and silence emerging Palestinian voices.

The second summit of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (ICCA)  concluded  in Ottawa, Canada, earlier this month.

The summit, which was attended by parliamentarians from some 50 countries, discussed ways to combat what was described as "a dramatic increase in recorded anti-Semitic hate crimes....."   (what about the increase in the savage state-sponsored   murders  committed by  Israel  in Palestine and Gaza, aided by their cronies in the West, especially the USA?  My comment) 

The key outcome of the summit, however, proved to be controversial - a widening of the definition of anti-Semitism to encompass criticism of the state of Israel.

By arguing that the state of Israel  is  "the collective Jew,"   (doesn't that make Israel a racist state,  that practices apartheid on the native Palestinians?  My comment.)  criticism of the state of Israel could become de facto, an anti-Semitic act punishable by law. "

So, before this demand becomes sanctified by the West and other Friends of Israel  I had better  publicise these gems tonight in my blog.

These I got from the Muslim Association of Britain's  (MAB)  pamphlet  "Zionism - The Truth".    It had been in my keeping since before the 2003  War on Iraq.You can locate MAB at

A few months ago,  we were attending a Seminar in Penang.  Among other things discussed, the panellists who were mainly from the Indian sub-continent  were waxing  lyrical about  non-violence and    the Gandhian  mode of opposing  aggression and assault  on the world stage.  I cannot see how  this 'turning of the other cheek'  mantra can  be applicable to  the Palestinians.  It smacks of crass ignorance and a blind disregard for the sufferings of the Palestinians for over 60 years at the hands of Israel and the USA.

I wished that these  'renowned'  academics  had also  considered  this statement by Malik El-Shabazz.

"Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks."

But then El-Shabazz is not as revered as Gandhi or the Dalai Lama.

You see, he is black,  an American who challenged  the WASP establishment and he's a Muslim to boot!

He was also known as Malcolm X.

Tuesday 30 November 2010


We were told in 2005 that Iain's prostate cancer was still a "pussycat" - not yet a "tiger" - because the PSA  (Prostate Specific Antigen)  count was only an 8, and the tumour was small.

Two weeks ago, a blood test revealed a whopping PSA of 47.8.  This of course pushed the  crisis button for a series of diagnostic tests at Tung Shin.

The ultra-sound scan was followed by a biopsy and then a bone scan at the Malaysian Cancer Society's  Nuclear Medicine Centre.  We've been on this scary road twice before but repetition and familiarity does not make the spouse's journey any less painful or easy.

The biopsy could not locate any tumours despite the high PSA. That left the Consultant quite nonplussed. The bone scan indicated no spread of the cancer to other parts of the body - no evidence of metastasis - only a severe degenerative osteo-arthritis of the hip joint,  normal wear and tear for someone of that age.

We're not completely out of the woods because of the high PSA.  Regular monitoring and check-ups would be our routine for the future.

But this is the best news we could ever get for what has been an annus horribilis. A terrible weight has been lifted from our shoulders.  We can stop  living a life in low gear - now it's possible to move on to third or fourth gear, albeit slowly.

We can now look ahead to growing old (-er)  together for longer.

We can look at each new morning with greater hope and joy.

We can look forward to making optimum use of this extended time for each other and for others.


However this posting is meant as a paean for Tung Shin Hospital, both the Western Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Centres.
After  the 2005 diagnosis the spouse made a decision to opt for Alternative Treatment - for Herbal Medicine.  From 2008 he put himself in the hands of the TCM oncologist, Professor Zhao Tian Yong.  We believe that Professor Zhao's  treatment made all the difference.

We had gone through the NHS in Leicester, Specialist Centres at two well-known University Hospitals in Kuala Lumpur but we had no faith or rather, lost faith in them.   We owe Tung Shin especially the TCM Centre  our deepest gratitude. There are no frills, no vases of flowers, no fancy decor and furnishing in this Hospital - just simple, efficient and caring service.

Without exception, all of Tung Shin's personnel - from the ladies at the Reception, the Nurses, the Technicians and up to the Consultants at both the Western Medicine and TCM Centres - were meticulous, competent, courteous and helpful, very, very professional men and women.  We cannot praise them enough.

I can confidently say that the 1 Malaysia  ethos is alive and kicking at Tung Shin.  I somehow think that this has been in Tung Shin even before the branding was set in motion.

It's so heartening to observe this committed community of Malaysians - Chinese, Indians and Malays  - almost in equal proportion - working conscientiously as one family to provide medical care for those in need of their professional skills.

As an elderly Malay who has makan banyak garam  in Singapore, Brunei, UK and Malaysia I think I have the right to make this observation.  I've often been told about how the work ethics of  Malays leave a lot to be desired.  And I have seen and experienced some of the negative aspects of their habits. 

But the Malays working at Tung Shin Hospital, both men and women showed such dedication and diligence that they can wipe the floor of any of the more qualified and senior Malays in the other Hospitals I have been to.  Why?  I leave that to the younger and well qualified  socio-political punters  to analyze.

And so, thank you Tung Shin for your skills. Thank you dear friends and relatives for your moral support and prayers. Thank you Allah for the gift of hope.

Prostate cancer is getting more and more common.  But  if it can be detected early enough there is room for optimism.

Sunday 21 November 2010

Talking a Walk

We went to our favourite watering hole at Taman Tasik Titiwangsa  this morning for a long cool morning walk,  tosai and teh tarik.

We got there before 8 o'clock and already all the car parks were full.  We drove past rows and rows of parked cars along the road, almost all the way round the Park.    We felt quite mystified.  Then we found the reason why.

These were some of the walkers.

They've been given breakfast, put on their kemeja-T and they're on their way.

But I sit and I wonder.  This is World Walking Day.  Here are all the walkers.  And all of their cars are holding Taman Tasik Titiwangsa in a tight clinch.  When it's time to go home, think of the revving engines and the carbon monoxide.

Then there's also Earth Day.  Shouldn't we be consciously conserving energy and switching off unnecessary lights every day?

But then I'm a party-pooper,  a grumpy old woman.

Perhaps it's because the coconut chutney, the dalcha and the sambar at the tosai stall are getting more and more diluted by the week and the aftertaste of MSG is becoming too biting.

Furthermore, this is the last of the good tosai stalls for us in Kuala Lumpur.

At least these four legs and the two feet are at ease.

Friday 19 November 2010

Some Good People

Talking to Stewart during  breaks at CPI was almost always interesting and instructive. Stewart is one I would describe as a broad minded liberal in his relationship with people different from him.

One day he confided in me his misgivings about the rising number of  immigrants in Leicester.  Already  it had been estimated that by 2010 English whites would be in the minority in Leicester.  The growing number of foreigners from Somalia, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Poland, Hungary and Romania made him feel more and more insecure,  like an alien in his mother-city.

I sympathized with Stewart  but  I also reminded him that  his countrymen, the British did the same to my part of the world.   They flooded Singapore and Malaya with Chinese and Indian workers at the turn of the (20th) century and since then we had no choice but to accept the fact that our land had to be shared with others different from us. For the British,  it's like the sins of the fathers visiting upon the child!  Good ole Stewart agreed!

Stewart Knight was one of the many good friends I had when I was an Agency worker  during the latter part of the 1990s.  How did this ex-teacher land up working in an industrial estate in Leicester?  That will be a separate story but today my mates at CPI take priority.

CPI (Centre for Process Innovation),  located at Beaumont Leys, specialised in designing and making products for advertising display.  The nature of each job was never the same. One week you could be making display mounts for Rimmel's cosmetic products.  Another week it would be sticking posters on smallish and huge (about as tall as myself) display mounts for Nokia.  Sometimes you got to handle power drills to attach screws to metal modules.  The best job was packing, sorting and putting together multi-coloured beads and baubles and ribbons.

About 90% of the workforce on the shop floor were white working class - a group  much maligned as drunken , lazy louts.  Their women were supposedly loud and aggressive.  Furthermore they were a hotbed of  racists!

Yes, they do go to the pubs on Friday afternoons after a week of hard work, not unlike Malaysians and Singaporeans who would spend their time to relax at food centres and kopi tiams and karaoke lounges.
Yes, some of them do drink too much depending on what kind of week they had at home and at work.  But there was always someone to see that they got home safely.

Of course, some of the women  joined the men for a drink but they hardly went over the top because over their weekends  they had to do the family shopping for the week, get the house cleaning and laundry done, prepare the Sunday dinner and see to the children and /or their parents.

Racists?  I have been at the receiving end of racist taunts from  whites,  British-born Indians and those of mixed black-and-white race!  In fact a British-born second or third generation Indian working at the Job Centre  told my young French friend that she had to speak better English if she wanted to get a job in Leicester.  Caroline speaks English as good as any second generation immigrant - with a charming Gallic lilt.

I could go at lengths  describing their kindness and consideration for a 'senior' Muslim woman.  In my late 50s, I was the second eldest,  after Maurice who was in his mid-60s.  Very, very often they would buy me coffee from the machine using their Company Token Card .  As an Agency worker I would have had to pay my own, at 15p a cup.  Sometimes I would get cheeky comments like - "Coffee's bad for you, especially at your age".  Then they made a quick run for it before I got 'violent'.

Someone, male or female, was always around to help when I had to lift and carry boxes from the pallet to the work-table.   They always minded their language when I was about - limiting and hushing  their 4-letter words and expletives.  I had to tell them that I also have a vocabulary  (in 4 languages) that would shock a sailor - and I would resort to it when the situation required!  Hence, in their book I was a 'star'!

During Ramadan - which at that time was during winter - I asked Mark, my Supervisor, if I could forego my 10-minute tea break for later so I could break my fast.  Well, from then on, he took it upon himself to remind me of my break-fast by tapping his watch and pointing to the break room.  Sometimes he would whisper, "Go on Maizie, take a little longer".

 And so on Eid, on a cold winter's day, the spouse and I would deliver to my work mates at CPI a  Malay meal  for their dinner.  By the way, the mid-day meal for  the English working class  is called dinner, which is also their main meal for the day.  As for the toffs and the gaffers, they have lunch instead.  My mates at CPI have tea at 6 o'clock - their evening meal.  For the middle and upper classes tea-time is just tea and cakes and sandwiches at 4 o'clock!  That's British class distinction for you.

The dinner went down very quickly.  I was left with empty food containers and received in return loads of kisses and pecks on the cheek  that smelled of spice, sambal kacang and pachri nenas.  One of them even asked me if I could find him a Malay wife.  Cheeky sod!

As an Agency worker, I have worked in all sorts of jobs, from a Plant Nursery worker, a packer of  soft surgical  material in the Royal Infirmary's Operating Theatre's Unit and  packing gateaux, cakes and  confectionery  for P & O Ocean Liners.  But CPI was the best.  There were no politics, no knives in your back, no explicit and implicit discrimination, no hypocrisy and no over-ambitious colleagues and  superiors.  We worked as a team.  In fact this was the happiest of all the jobs I have ever held since I started working life in 1967.

I stopped my Agency work in 2005.  They gave me a surprise farewell gift of a box of Thorntons Chocolate (my favourite), a bunch of red roses and a 'collection' for my retirement.  How else could I show my appreciation of their warmth and kindness?   I asked the spouse, and he happily obliged, to draw them this picture.

All the small stickers are their names which Iain had cut out from their farewell card.  Note the Black and Decker power drill in my possession.  Also look for the Map of Difficult and Foreign Places in my coat pocket - that could be Jalan Pudu. I hope you notice the difference between the two MOGS.  The one at the rear is the Miserable Old Git and leading the trooper is the Magnificient Ole Gal.  Yeah!

There is no happy ending to this story.  Hard times were coming.  CPI was shut down.  I hoped against hope that  my dear friends have been able to find alternative employment.  But my heart feels heavy for these youngsters.  The economic collapse caused by greed on the high street is being paid for by the loss of livelihood and  dignity of the working class.  Young men and women, young couples with families are thrown on the scrap heap to sustain and protect the privileges of the elite in this class-ridden society.


P.S.  To get a better 'view' of the drawing, click it once and then click it again.

Wednesday 17 November 2010


It has been -  for most of the time - a difficult two weeks.

Three days ago, our Peranakan friend Mary  finally received the letter from the HDB (Singapore's Housing and Development Board) informing her that she had to remove all her cats from her flat in 10 days' time.  Before I continue please refrain from any thoughts like "She should have known better especially with the HDB's regulations about pets."  or  "Why so many?"

Mary is not just keeping 39 pets.  She has been running a private sanctuary for cats in her own home in an HDB flat for nearly 10 years.  She picked them up from the market and hawker centres and  bus stands, in the drains and rubbish bins.  Some of the kittens were found next to a mother that had been run over by a car.  Some were abandoned on the void decks crying with hunger.  Several were just left at Mary's front door!  For every cat there is a sad story and dear Mary gave them a safe happy home.

 She  gets no support from anyone or any charity.  Her son Jeff and daughter Lely provided all the financial backing.  Jeff works in Hong Kong and he gives his mother a hefty chunk of his salary each month.  Lely is no high-flyer earner and parts with about one-third of her wages to support Mary and the cats.

 And by the way, when Mary was a young single mother looking after Lely in the 1960s, she  worked washing clothes in several private  houses.  Which explains why she suffers from very painful arthritis in her feet - year after year, they had been soaked in water for hours every day while she worked.  Today they call that an occupational hazard. But that definition had no significance for Mary in those days.  She had to feed, clothe, and shelter herself, her aunt and her daughter all on her own.  Also her little tyke needed to go to school.  Lely can still recall how she could watch TV only through her neighbour's window.

Those cats are much loved and cared for.  Mary's fridge is full of medicine and vitamins for the cats and her vets' bills are quite astronomical for she doesn't  stint on their welfare and health. Because of  Mary's health and the number of cats, Mary has a maid to help her out.  As a result  the flat and the cats are kept absolutely clean. No cat smell permeates  the flat.   In fact, if you pass by her windows you won't be able to tell that there are such quiet, lovely, happy creatures  in this cat sanctuary.  Everytime we go to Singapore we never miss a visit to Mary and her cats.

All this began when  an HDB officer descended on Mary's flat two weeks ago to check on a complaint made by  a  heartless two-legged creature about Mary's Cat Sanctuary. And from then on the heartbreaking decisions had to be made.

There are 4 to 5 of these cats who are critically ill and need constant care.  One suffers from Aids and Mary lovingly keeps it healthy in a separate cage.  For Mary and Lely, the thought of putting them all to sleep is just too cruel.  They searched high and low for cat shelters but most of them were chocka-block full.  Sweet Ruqxana was happy to adopt  two of them although she already had five of her own - all unwanted cats.

Finally a lady who ran a cat shelter in Pasir Ris felt so sorry for Mary and gave her two rooms  for the cats at a rent of SGD750 per month.  Also she very much appreciated Mary's and Lely's  help and support for her animal shelter in the past.

This coming weekend Mary and Lely will carry out the distressing task of moving Mary's beloved cats.

This has been a very painful posting for me to write - about heartache and KORBAN on Hari Raya Aidil Adha. 

Monday 8 November 2010

Jailani Abu Bakar

This being Dhul-Hijjah, the month of Hajj,  I would like to narrate the story of a man who went on the Hajj last year.

Jailani was introduced to us by Yuwrajh (posting of 21 March 2010) some time around  1990.  Whenever we came back to Singapore Jai would visit us in the Boon Lay flat.  From after Isyak to 1am we would spend  all that time talking and discussing local and world politics, the Malays in Singapore,  the Palestinians and Salman Rushdie too!  It took some time before we three could find a way to negotiate our differences about most issues.  Jai was young, bright, idealistic and hopeful.  We were just two jaded and cynical ex-academics.  But we managed to find a common ground and developed a deep respect and affection for one another.

Jai read a lot and read widely.  His sharp and analytical mind and his flair for writing impressed us very much.  He worked himself to the bone  because he believed in the tenets of his profession.  For a young man, he  practised what is now a forgotten principle, a  work ethic - that one should give of  one's best  so as to deserve a  blessed  rezeki .  We would go as far as to describe him as a perfectionist who could not tolerate mediocrity in his work and his endeavours.  But he had the utmost patience in dealing with his students.

We knew how stifling and depressing a teaching institution can be for someone like Jai.  After much persuasion he enrolled in Glasgow University School of Media Studies in 1994.  In Singapore, if you want to go overseas to further your studies you have to pay your own way and beg and borrow  if necessary to secure your own funding.  Despite that obstacle, with the help of his mother who was a firm believer in the power of education,  Jai completed his Masters degree in 1995.

Jai was not born with a silver or even a plastic spoon in his mouth.  From his early schooldays  he helped his mother to supplement the family income  by selling  Malay kuih  which she had made, to workers at the  building sites of  Jurong Industrial Estate which - in the late 60s and 70s - were  just starting to be developed.  At night he often studied under the street lamps in Boon Lay Housing Estate and when the library at the Community Centre was opened he found a more congenial  place to study for his 'O' and 'A' Levels.

He is a Singapore Malay through and through, belonging to Singapore's First People - perhaps even from the line of the inhabitants of   "Pu Luo-Chung"  or Pulau Ujung.  Jai cannot claim any relatives from Malacca or Johor or Java or Bawean or Sumatra.

His maternal and paternal grandparents and their predecessors were from the Southern Islands of Singapore.  Today all these islanders or Orang Pulau  have been moved or evicted(?) into high-rise flats on the mainland.  Perhaps an example of the Little Diaspora?  When I started teaching in 1967, most of my students were from these islands. Read
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In the years after Glasgow, Jai  kept faith with himself and his causes.  He remains the pillar of his family and they could not have asked for a better son, brother and uncle.  His generosity  stretches beyond his kin to the needy - humans or birds and animals wherever he sees them - in Singapore or Malaysia or Indonesia,

Last year Jai went on his pilgrimage to Mecca..  Because of what he saw during his Umrah  three years ago, he took a risk and decided  to include a bag of dried cat food in his luggage when he went on  the Hajj.

Seen above are the recipients of  his kindness.

To  ignorant mortals like us,  Jai's pilgrimage is so complete.  He had woven together his practice of Islam  with  his compassion for Allah's creatures - for the stray cats in Mecca.

I hope and pray that one day, a society like ours can enable a child like this  (posting of 17 & 20 August 2010)   Read  AND

to grow into a man like Jai.

Bless you Jai for being you and revitalising our hope in human nature.