Sunday 29 September 2013

Our Jordan

Every time we come back to Leicester we would bump into Denise and we would ask about her three boys :  Tony, her  husband and Elliott and Jordan her sons. She would smile and say "They're all fine - just a bunch of lazy gits", she would joke.  Denise and Tony were our neighbours when we were living at Oxford Avenue.  It's a tight little community - two rows of terrace houses facing each other and sharing a large garden in-between. We all knew each other quite well - just well enough to be helpful without being nosey and keeping our privacy despite the layout of the mews-style avenue.

In 1991, we had a street party to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Avenue and we managed to get ourselves into the Leicester Mercury - our local paper.    And here we all are, me, Iain, Denise and Tony, dear old Eva, Philip and Celia, old Doug, and everyone else:

Nineteen years ago in 1994,   this lovely boy - Jordan - was born and he still remains the youngest member of Oxford Avenue's Community.

He was such a joy - a bubbly and happy little boy, with a mop of curly hair and bright, intelligent eyes, who always had a smile and a greeting for the older denizens of the Avenue.  I recalled summer days when we had our front door opened - just like Jordan's, whose house was just opposite ours.  He was about 4 or 5 when he would wander to our door and asked me "Where's your Da?"  (Da is Dad for Jordan). I pointed to our backyard to where the spouse was doing a spot of gardening and Jordan decided to check on my "Da".  Denise of course would be reminding Jordan to behave and not get in the way.

He was such an endearing child and always had some interesting questions to ask. When my nephew Shah came to visit, Jordan would be tailing him - wanting to know what Shah was doing with pieces of wood, and bits of wire and strings.  When the oldest member of the Avenue stepped into her little garden, Jordan would ask,  "What are you growing Eva?"   When he got a little older, we lent him some books because he was interested in planets and the Solar System.

Jordan was a loving and lovely part of the Avenue's life and our life too.  When he was 12 we moved out of Oxford Avenue but we lived near enough to still keep in touch with our former neighbours.

About eighteen months ago, Iain met Jordan at Evington Road.  He had grown into a strong sapling ... and he remained the same gentle and friendly kid that we knew from long ago, and still remembered to ask , "How's Maz?"

About two weeks ago, Iain met up with Denise and she told him Jordan was in jail. We were shocked and upset - what could this gentle lad have done to deserve this?  We were told by our former neighbour that in May 2013, Jordan was imprisoned for four-and-a-half years for trafficking drugs.

He was not the only one.
15 of the 34 dealers above have Muslim names.

"The Child is father of the Man" - a saying attributed to William Wordsworth.  The sort of upbringing one is given as a child will determine the kind of adult one becomes.  However, I think this cannot be applied to Denise's and Tony's son - they brought him up in a very loving family environment to be a caring and courteous person.  Somewhere along his growing up years other agencies like the schooling system, the social environment,  and the mass and consumerist culture took over Jordan.   According to the local newspaper, Jordan "became addicted to cannabis at the age of 12 after being bullied at school".     Yes, Jordan was gentle, Jordan was bright - the perfect object for bullying by the hard and streetwise majority in a city school.

But it gets worse.    After all, mainstream bankers and financial consultants,  corporate international drug dealers, crooked and corrupt businessmen, politicians with blood on their hands all get away from the arms of the law.   Or, like that big global bank that launders Mexican drug money, given a pittance of a fine they can laugh at in board meetings.    A small fry like Jordan (and his loving, hard-working family) pays a far, far higher price.

It's heartbreaking for us and I cannot imagine how Denise and Tony must feel.  It's just one young life.    But Jordan's is such a gentle and sweet life.

Dear Jordan "Golden slumbers fill your eyes.  Smiles awake you when you rise".

Friday 20 September 2013

Not again!!

Is there something wrong with my physical appearance, my hairstyle (what hair??) or my unfashionable clothes that I almost always get picked upon by British Indian Immigration Officers when I enter the portals of the UK Border Agency - this time - for the first time - at Birmingham Airport?  I'm not colour conscious but this is the sixth time or more,  that I have been given an unwarranted strong-arm treatment by a British Indian Immigration Officer.

Normally at Heathrow,  I would join the queue for British and EC Passports.  Some years ago, I was told I could take this channel as  I had a "Settled with Spouse" Visa  ( a Permanent Resident status).  That was a relief as the queue at the "Other Passports" was usually interminably long.  It's similar to Immigration at KLIA where PRs and Malaysian Nationals are accorded the same status.

But not this time.  As soon as we approached the queue, the British Indian "Immigration Officer" made a bee line for me ( and the spouse too) and smartly directed the both of us to the line for "Other Passports".  We protested (very, very mildly) in English - that Iain was a British Passport holder, a Bumiputera so to speak.  He was not an imported Brit!- that of course was not articulated or else accusations of racism would have hit the roof!

He also added that his wife ( the wife bit was strongly stressed) had a "Settled with Spouse" Visa. But no - she pointed us to the same channel.  We were exhausted after an almost 24 hour journey from KL and zombie-like we did what we were told.  We were not that groggy to remember that one must not question anyone in a Uniform - even a Security Guard at a Shopping Centre.

In the queue, a young Chinese lass next to us asked why we were in that particular channel - that we, especially the spouse who was certainly not an "Other" should go to the other shorter queue?  This young lass knocked some sense into our woozy heads and we approached the "Immigration Officer" again.  But no - she was adamant that we stay in the channel she had decided for us.

We reluctantly proceeded as directed but by this time the fuggy clouds in the head were beginning to clear and we sought this Immigration Lady again and explained our situation again.  In exasperation, she retorted that as she was not an immigration officer(????) - we should ask the Immigration officer at the Desk at the end of the queue.   Well, the lady (in impressive uniform) had certainly been taking Immigration matters into her own hands, at a strategic entry point.     And with great authority and forcefulness too!

So why didn't she tell us that earlier?  Why were other "Asians" or rather British Indians not re-directed or challenged when they funneled into the line for "British Passports"?   And even more puzzling, the spouse who looked as native English as 'steak and kidney pie'  was even instructed to not go to his country's channel!!  Where I'm concerned,  that's to be expected - an alien like me??!!!     But an elderly man who was clearly a Bumiputera??

So we took up the 'queue' that we deserved.  But that was not the end of the story.

This time, the 'as English as bacon butty' Officer began to grill me.  But he was not as bolshie and bad-tempered as the Lady British Indian "Immigration" Officer.  Rather, he had the panache of a culture that was used to regarding natives as non-persons.  My Abah described it as a culture that would "cut off the ground from under your feet and make you thank them for it" - he was describing what the British did to his Tanah Air - the Malay Peninsula.

My SWS (Settled with Spouse) visa was located in an old Passport together with other earlier Student Visas which had of course expired.  He flicked through the pages of the Passport several times - took a good look at my visage (what a thankless task) - and to soothe my nerves I try to imagine what he looked like when he's on the loo - in his Uniform.

He mentioned that my visa had 'expired' so I had to ask him to refer (ever so nicely - 'think of him on the loo'- I told myself) to my very official-looking  SWS Visa which granted me indefinite stay. But no, he wanted other evidence.     "There's nothing here,"he said, "that mentions √≠ndefinite stay."     Well, that was odd - there was, and the visa had worked for me for nearly thirty years already!   I flashed out another old passport which indicated the same SWS Visa - but not quite as attractive as the original visa which was given to me at the British High Commission in Singapore after we got hitched.  Another diligent perusal  and another vision (for me) of a uniformed man on a loo.

The spouse was by my side to provide significant (?) details like how long we've been married, how I've resided in this country for 30 years and that every few months we leave for Malaysia for medical treatment.
"So when was the last time you left?"  I was then asked.  After my answer, he added another query.  "Did you leave on your own?"

I reckoned I had had enough and sternly asserted,  "My husband has cancer. I never travel without him."

And hence the pearly gates opened!!

Not quite broken, we went to pick up our luggage.  We looked for a trolley - found some huddled in a row.  But sorry matey - you have to pay GBP1 for the privilege.    Typically, the system didn't work: one African lady made an official complaint about losing her change, and the spouse managed  to extract two trolleys for a quid.  How very, very British: they can't even do stinginess with style!

The weather was bright and sunny.  The air was cool and bracing.   The trees, full of autumn colour, were beginning to lose their leaves. I love this part of my husband's tanah air. 

 But this country is still  Yah, Boo, (and)  Sucks!!!

Sunday 15 September 2013

A Special, Special Posting for Lely

Five more hours before we leave our house.  Just 30 minutes ago I received an e-mail from Lely, asking me to go to her Photoblog.

And this was what this wonderful, courageous young lady gave to us before our long journey.

( The spouse is known as George Rollmop to Lely.   "Rollmop" means pickled herring in some European language or other.)

If you can find the time look at Lely's photo postings before January 2012.  She's a very talented amateur photographer, and she produced some really stunning photo collections before she suffered a stroke which almost took her life two years ago.

She was supposed to start her full recovery a year ago when the surgeon was expected to cover the 2 to 3 inch square hole in her skull.  She was quite devastated when they could not do so because the clot in the brain had not cleared.

It was back to square one for this plucky lass but such is her desire to move on with her life that she has pushed herself for more therapy, acupuncture and massage treatment .  Everyday she gets herself off her wheelchair to exercise and walk for 45 minutes !!

And such is her sense of humour that she has given herself a new name - Wobbly.

Today she gave us the best gift for this year and next year and all our next years because she made her first attempt at photo blogging since her stroke - using just her one good hand - her right hand.

I cannot bear to write more - I'm writing this with tears in my eyes because her courage and her love is just so overwhelming.  She was just 14 and I was a 'strapping' 31 when I started teaching her in Jurong Secondary School.  I'm now touching 70 and we three - Lely, me, and the spouse who has happily adopted her as  his troublemaker niece - have gone a long way since, with much shared happiness, and many wonderful experiences.

Syukur Alhamdulillah. 

I pray that this November's appointment with the Consultant will bear good news.  But whatever turns up - Lely will still be the same - loving and brave and cheerful.  

Remember Lely, we will always be there for you.

Other postings I've done for Lely :

You will  get there Lely - to Leicester, to New Zealand and even to Setiawangsa - InsyaAllah.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Our Winter Migration

If we were a pair of birds we would be bird-brained.  Any bird with a jot of  grey matter would fly south in winter to look for food and to escape the cold.

On Sept 16, at 2 am Monday morning  AsH and fellow-idiot/spouse  will depart for their winter ground in Leicester.  They hope there will be a repeat of last year's winter with loads of  thalji.

The above is an extract from  ...

Published by Donald Moore, Eastern Universities Press Ltd, Singapore 1960.

...........  note what is written on the cover -  untuk Sekolah2 Rendah Persekutuan Tanah Melayu.  I'm just throwing in a bit of history lesson here - to kill two birds with one stone ha ha!

We do feel our age and at times during the last five months it had been quite an uphill climb.

My suitcase will carry an extra weight, other than blacan, cili padi, bua keras and daun kesum.  During this period of stay I had to begin a fix of high blood pressure pills and beta blockers.  I am now a  bona fide  member  of  the OAP Beat(en) Generation.

So it looks like our nasi lemak -

and dancing days -

are over!

We may be more wonky but certainly we shall maintain our flexibility in more ways than one - and not end up like the betel palm.

To all dear loved ones in Singapore, Johor and Kuala Lumpur, our warmest salam and doa for your health and well-being.

I'll miss my tanah-air......

Tanah Semenanjung from the air  - April 2012

..........  but I can't wait to be back home either.

The Board Room in Leicester.

Sunday 8 September 2013

The Yusof Ishak Years - A Preamble

Remembering one's first place of employment  ......

Sekolah Menengah Yusos Ishak / Yusof Ishak Secondary School. 1970s.

........ is somewhat like recalling one's first love.  It's a touching experience - but sometimes it's one you prefer to forget or suppress.

My launch into Singapore's Education Service and into Sekolah Menengah Yusof Ishak - today known as Yusof Ishak Secondary School - was not an inspiring encounter.

As a recipient of the Special Malay Bursary for University, a career as a teacher would be my destiny.  And so it was a requirement for the Bursary that you  take up teaching subjects like History, Geography and English.

In the first year of Singapore University an undergrad had to choose three subjects.  You then specialised in your choice of your Degree during the Second Year.  You could decide on either a One-Subject or Two-Subject Degree.  Of course you needed good results in your First Year before you could qualify for a One-Subject Degree.

My subjects in my First Year were English, Geography and Political Science.  I loved the challenge of Political Science (PS) - it widened my interest in what was going on in the political maelstrom of Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.  This was the time of the bloody Vietnam War, of Singapore in and out of Malaysia, of Confrontation with Indonesia, of racial riots and the rising serpent's head of racism and racist politics in and out of the Campus.

I desperately wanted to do PS One-Subject.  I was eligible for it and it would be so satisfying for me to study a subject I loved.  But, because of the conditions of the Bursary I had to twin PS with Geography, a teaching subject.

I had been keen on Geography since my days in Primary School.  Even today, I am still fascinated by maps and atlases and analysing the connection between climate, landscape, demography and economic activities. But then, as an undergraduate, I was to be sorely disappointed.  The Professors and Lecturers in the Geography Department were quite soulless and unimaginative.  The members of Staff - some of them, not all - ranged from the self-centred and smug to the opportunistic.  To be fair, I suppose you could find the same atmosphere in most of the Departments in Singapore University in the 1960s.

However the Geography Department had a culture of snobbery - of pursuing a kind of favouritism for the One-Subject students while the Two-Subject undergrads were regarded like second-class school-goers. Even the Administration and Technical staff practised this discrimination.  The Department even had a rest room exclusively for the One-Subject students in the Department Building.

The entrance to the Geography Department in the old Bukit Timah Campus.  Photo taken in 2011.

As for the PS Department, they were not partial to any particular category of students - we were all undergrads who needed to learn and to be taught.  Also there was a very mixed assortment of Staff members from different parts of the world. As far as I can recall, there were hardly any local dons.  I supposed that mixture encouraged a more liberal and open relationship between the academics and the students. For me, that made learning a very fulfilling and enjoyable experience.

My choice of subjects was an odd one -  I think I was the only one in my year combining Geography and Political Science. For the Final and Third Year Examination (which also determined whether you got a General or Honours Degree), my Time-Table was so ridiculously tight.  I reckoned it was scheduled for a candidate in a pressure cooker.  I clearly remembered completing  half of my 8 papers on two consecutive days.  I just didn't have time to breathe or to stagger my revision like most of my peers.  We all know how the scheduling of an Examination Time Table can make or break a candidate.  But that was the luck of the draw and it had to be taken in its stride - a good lesson that served me well for the rest of my working life.

When you are young, you harbour such idealism about life and learning in the hallowed halls of a University.
You imagine your lecturers to be dedicated scholars purveying their knowledge with much pride  and interest.  But the scales fell from my eyes. Most of them were condescending and treated us like school children, like a kind of low life.  Some were blatantly lazy like the American lecturer who took up half of the lecture period on British politics regaling us about how the English hold their teacups. Then there were those who were pathetically 'hamsab'  (lecherous in Cantonese) and who spouted cliches like  "Singapore has the highest density of pretty girls in the world".  Still, these we could handle.  It was the arrogance and  the patronising attitudes of some of the Academics that were harder to absorb.   

You also imagine your fellow students would be keen to discuss, debate and share their knowledge and interests with you and others.  Instead they stashed and hid the required reference books in nooks and crannies of the Library only for the eyes of themselves and their cronies.  As for the Red-Spot books, really crucial reference books which could be borrowed for only an hour - you would  find your name as fifth or sixth on the waiting list and yet you'd notice the same person consulting the Red-Spot book for more than two hours.  I soon discovered their technique - you got your boyfriend/girlfriend or cronies (that word again) to sign after you!  As I had no boyfriend, I reined in the help of my sarabat stall undergrad mates to sign after me.  As they say, 'when in Rome, do as the Romans do".

There also existed an unwritten Social Cycle - that female undergrads should start scouting for a boyfriend during the Second Year so that by the Third Year they would have a "steady" - to be followed by a wedding after Graduation.  There you are - you've made it - two pieces of paper!  A Paper Degree and a Wedding Certificate!

Crikey, was this what University was all about? 

I felt so disillusioned that I would ponteng lectures and make a getaway to the nearby Botanical Gardens at Cluny Road to enjoy the company of the trees, the lake and the resident monkeys. I very nearly made a decision to leave University during my Second Year and apply for a scholarship in Physiotherapy in New Zealand.  But the head had to rule the heart because I could not renege on the Bursary - my family did not have the resources to fund my discontent.  Furthermore I had to remain where I was and eventually get a "good job" after my Degree.  That was the only way we could persuade our Abah - who had a heart problem - to retire.

After three years - in 1967 - my parents and I finally saw the day that we had been struggling for - my Convocation.

But this was not the end of my education.  There was more to come when I was appointed as a teacher in Sekolah Menengah Yusof Ishak in February 1967.  However, it was only in May 1968 that I was appointed as a Trained Graduate Teacher.

The real world was banging on my door.  University days were beginning to feel like a big sleep-walk.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Food for Thoughts

However it turned out, today's lunch evoked a lot of  wistful thinking, of times past, of the present and the future.  I suppose that is what we - the spouse and I - are often reminded of in the autumn of our days.

At the invitation of my niece Maria,  we met these four highly educated  young Malaysians - middle class professionals, very urbane, perceptive and articulate - and we were so glad we did.     We met young people who hold a lot of promise for this Malaysia, this Bumi Bertuah.  If such conscientious young people are given an opportunity by the wiley old foxes -  in the political and non-political establishment - to contribute effectively in the running of this country, then there will be hope for the future - for  both the old and the very young.

They are all lawyers but unlike the earlier generations of lawyers they have branched out into diverse fields of finance, IT and renewable energy, Islamic Banking and Islamic Estate Planning.  They are indeed indicators of some very worthwhile NEP investments.

With two of them, our connections began many years ago when they were just striplings.

Anis came with Maria to visit us in the Boon Lay flat in 1987 when they were both Form V students at Sekolah Tun Fatimah in JB.    What a joy it was to see her again after 26 years!

From Left to Right :  Maria, Anis and the Gorgeous Geriatrics.

As for Julie .........

.......... her parents were not able to attend her Convocation in 1993 at Liverpool University and as Maria's parents were present for her, we made ourselves available to Julie as her "rent-a- parents".  We did the same for the two of them when they were called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1994 and up to the present day  the two of them have not settled the rental payment!

Somehow we could not locate an image of the Fourth Person  Zahid - the Man of the Moment - who paid the bill for the great lunch.  But this photo is a demonstration of our appreciation.  This yummilicious Cendol is for you, Zahid .....

..........  even though Anis and Maria scoffed most of it down.

During the meal, I referred to them as "middle-aged".   This naturally met with a yell of disapproval!   By the end of the lunch I had changed it to  'youngsters' and that pleased Julie no end.

Then, by the time Maria had left our house (on dropping us home) I  asked her to thank the 'kids' - the juveniles!

From Uncle Iain and ma'ngah, thank you youngsters/kids/juveniles  for the lunch and the time you gave us.

Here's a big hurray for the 1980s Generation!