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 http://anaksihamid.blogspot.com/2008/12/my-lovely-island-kids-shame-about.html
Also Read http://anaksihamid.blogspot.com/2008/11/how-we-laughed-away-hours.html

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 http://anaksihamid.blogspot.com/2010/08/heavy-on-my-mind.html  AND http://anaksihamid.blogspot.com/2010/08/heavy-on-my-mind-part-2.html

to grow into a man like Jai.

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

Tuesday 2 November 2010

Mohd Amin - Gone too Soon

They say the greatest pain for  parents is when they survive their child.

Teachers feel the same when they have to say a final farewell to their younger former charges.

Din informed me that Amin passed away this Tuesday morning.  He was only 49.

I can see him in his seat, 4th from the front I think , in the  row by the windows when he was in Sec. 3F (1976), Jurong Secondary School.

I can visualize him standing up to the Disciplinary Teacher, Mr Johnny Lau, to ask that the boys should be allowed to wear trousers instead of shorts.  When he was asked for the reason why, he stood up and pointed to his legs which were abundantly covered with hair!

Dear Amin - may Allah bless your soul and I pray that you will find peace in Allah's presence.  May your parents find peace too.

We shall never forget you - our unpredictably cheeky Amin.