Friday, December 31, 2004

The heavens weep

For the second straight morning, I woke up earlier than my missus to prepare breakfast.

She is still coughing rather badly.

I feel quite terrible because it was probably me who passed on the germs to her.

Despite her condition, she could not help but to supervise me on how to toast the bread and spread the cheese.

I shook my head gently, inviting her to relax, and let me do it my way.

It was sleeting on this gray morning as we solemnly munched on our pizza toast.

It seems that the heavens are crying for the victims of the Indonesian earthquake and tsunami.

The Japanese observe the first of January as their new year.

I believe they switched the New Year commemoration from the lunar calendar to the Gregorian calendar during the Meiji era, that is, the late 1800s.

I recall many years ago, most of the shops are closed around this time of the year.

I would be hard pressed to find a restaurant open.

But these days, there is just about one convenience store at every couple of kilometers, and the hamburger joints always seem to be opened.

So there is actually no fear of running short of food.

Even supermarkets open on first of January these days.

My missus sent me to go shopping alone.

I thought there would be few shoppers but I was surprised.

There were so many shoppers in the mall, buying loads of food.

Until last year, I had spent all my Japanese New Year holidays at my in-laws' place in Kanagawa prefecture, which is about 30 minutes by train from Shibuya.

My father-in-law had passed away two years ago and we are still in the mourning phase.

Today, the world slides deeper into sorrow as the death toll creeps to 117,000.

The heavens continue to weep on this final day of two thousand and four...

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A prayer... on a rainy day

It is a quiet day here at the university.

The offices have closed yesterday and there's not a shadow of activity to be seen.

The incessantly distressing news on the earthquake and tsunami disturbs me deeply.

I gaze out the window.

The delicate, soothing rain seems to amplify the sadness I feel.

I am reminded of how fragile life is.

Malaysia is apparently lucky to have Sumatra shielding it from the full tsunami vigor.

And, the Batu Ferringhi beach lifeguards who warned beachgoers to retreat inland upon seeing the rough seas at the horizon.

But the folks in other nations did not have it so lucky.

A leg here, a limp there
Body flung up in a tree, as if crucified...
Flies hovering over the open bluish cuts
Bloated bodies strewn all over the heap of wreckage...

I sit here

As my heart goes to the millions of people,
suffering from this tragic disorder...

Monday, December 27, 2004

Earthquake, thunder, fire, and father

Ooh, that gigantic earthquake and tsunami.

The lastest news say that the fourth-largest earthquake in a century has killed more than 13,340 people and has left millions homeless.

Here in Japan, we were inundated with so much news on the recent Niigata earthquake.

Compared to the 9.0-scaled Indonesian earthquake, this Niigata one is a minnow.

The NHK radio just announced that the Indonesian earthquake packed a destructive force of 300 times more than that of Niigata's.

The most powerful tremble I have ever experienced was a mere 5.0 on the scale.

It was scary enough.

I have been reading the updates by the many Malaysian bloggers.

Penang apparently suffered the most destruction, followed by other states.

In my home state of Kedah, the northern coast and the island of Langkawi were most affected.

My paddy field kampong is probably too far inland for the tsunami to reach.

I wonder how bad Tanjung Dawai is, as this quaint little place is our favorite spot to drive to whenever we are back for a holiday. And, for a bite of the ikan bakar.

In old Japan, they had the four most fearful elements.

These were earthquake, thunder, fire, and father, in that order.

The changing times have thus rearranged the order.

The father is out, irrelevant, and no longer feared as before, while thunder and fire together dropped in order.

In comes typhoon as the second most feared element, while earthquake remains the most terrifying of them all.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Roaring with the Lions

Kayren on stage (C) Lrong Lim

Attended a 'Christmas' party held last night by a local Lions Club.

This club has some arrangement with the Lions Club in Malaysia and each winter, they play host to a young student or two from Malaysia.

On this occasion, a young lady called Kayren Au who hails from Kelantan, is the guest.

I had the opportunity to talk to her and was impressed with her English and the impeccable way she carries herself.

At 16, and away from home in a foreign land in the cold of winter, I would have been just a wide-eyed cuckoo, clueless on what to do.

But here she was, making a speech in Japanese, and exchanging flags and all with the President of the club.

I have been a regular invited guest to this yearend family gathering.

I would not be exaggerating to say that over 90 percent of the folks in the hall were non-Christians.

But, no matter.

Most of the Lions Club members are bosses of their own firms, or dentists, lawyers, or politicians.

Over the years, I have managed to cultivate a really good relationship with them.

Among other things, I had one element working to my favor; that is, academicians are highly respected within the Japanese social fabric, more so if one is a foreigner working in a national university.

As in every year, I was among the 'honored' guests invited to make a speech before the ceremonial toast.

I always come away with a blissful feeling every time I meet up with these folks.

They are so kind, and what more, they always call me 'sensei' (teacher).

I was, and remain humbled to be referred to as such by these folks.

Many of these folks are my father's generation; they are my seniors in the journey of life.

They are past 70 years of age. Almost none of the members are below 40.

Our relationship started a few years ago, when one of them asked me if there was something they could do to help make life easier for foreign students here in Kagawa.

The timing could not be more perfect as I had just founded the Kagawa University Foreign Student Association.

My intention was to provide the foreign students a vehicle to exert their presence within the Japanese community.

I was prepared to go low budget on the operations.

And, here it was, the Lions Club offering to financially assist our activities.

Through the last 8 years, we have conducted many an event for foreign students, with this particular Lions Club as our major sponsor.

The hall suddenly became dark. Then, candles were lit. The party has begun...

And, it was drink, drink, drink... for the Japanese, but not for me.

I 'float' too easily on too little alcohol.

The Japanese folks are sometimes quite persistent in offering me alcohol.

I feign a small sip and use my fail-proof excuse; I have to drive afterward.

The food was always excellent, and the atmosphere, most cordial and certainly warm.

The only bone that I can pick on is the smoking habits by some of them.

(With regards to smoking in restaurants, Japan is bottoms compared to Malaysia.)

There was some karaoke singing and games, followed by a lottery.

As in countless occasions, I was not lucky.

The consolation prize was a box of fine rice crackers, Kyoto-made, and packed by Mitsukoshi.

I recall reading an article that the Japanese sometimes do the silliest of things at get-togethers.

However, the article added: silly they may be, but they serve one powerful purpose.

And I can attest to that.

These 'silly' things establish and/or reconfirm their bonds to each other within the group.

With this, as in every year, we ended the party with everyone forming a large circle and singing an old popular Japanese song 'Till we meet again'... raising and lowering our hands in unison... establishing new bonds and unmistakably, re-enforcing old ones...

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Bicycling on Christmas day

Bicyclist at Yashima Ohashi (C) Lrong Lim

I love riding my mountain bike to work.

Driving is fun too, except for the morning jams and the occasional ill-mannered driver who literally cuts into your face as he (normally, as observed) skids into your lane.

I recall a Philippine friend, gnashing: you never learn how to swear until you learned how to drive.

In bicycling, there is little need for gnashing as I can take my own sweet time to cruise.

I get to 'exercise for free', and I get to enjoy the views along the way. For free, too.

In winter days like now, the sights of the migratory birds feeding at low tide near the river mouth is indeed a pleasure to see.

What more, there are designated lanes for bicycles (and pedestrians as well) in the city, so chances of getting knocked down by a car is pretty slim although one can never be too sure.

I penned a letter yesterday and submitted it to Malaysiakini for consideration of publication.

I have had the honor of seeing about three or four of my letters published by this admirable Internet newspaper of high integrity.

Just as I was about to leave my office, I noticed an email from an unknown sender, Steven, with the caption, Re: Seasons greetings.

Oh no, not another one of those scam emails from some tin-pot African nation, I thought.

But no, it was from Stevan Gan, that... yes, that Malaysiakini Editor.

In verbatim, he said, 'Dear Lrong, Thanks for your message and for your kind words of support. On behalf of the Malaysiakini team, I'd like to wish you Merry X'mas and a very Happy New Year to you and your family. cheers, steven'.

I was so pleasantly floored...

Indeed I was... as I bicycled home to my nest...

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Cool as Ice

The Japan Times reports, 'Iceland tells U.S. to butt out; Fischer still welcome'.

I like that 'butt out' statement... yes, the sound of it. It is so macho. Icelanders got guts, man.

Many a nation can learn from Icelanders in this swap to the 'big brother'; don't tell us how to run our business.

While I am clueless in the game of chess, I cannot understand the fuss being kicked up on the former US chess champion Bobby Fischer.

To me, all he did 'wrong' was to violate the U.N. sanctions against Yugoslavia when he played a chess match there in 1992.

He is currently enjoying his sushi and sukiyaki here in Japan, but is a wanted 'hamburger' in the United States.

The US could do more good by going after the butts of people who committed more serious crimes against mankind.

Like that Hermit Crab of the Last Bastion of Communism.

Anatomy of a cold

(C) Lrong Lim

Whenever I see this picture, I want to return to Mabul Island.

That tiny island in the Celebes Sea is a jewel, a paradise, at least for divers.

My missus and I stayed at the Sipadan Water Resort at Mabul Island last September.

We had the time of our lives, diving the pelagic waters of Sipadan as well as the macro world of Mabul and Kapalai islands.

This picture was taken on the night of the full moon of the eighth Chinese Lunar month.

Quite amazingly, we did not make any conscious plans to spend that particular night there at the resort.

It just happened. And what a beautiful night it turned out to be...

Tried extremely hard to fall asleep last night. I started to meditate at about 11.15 pm.

I usually end up dozing off in about 5 or 10 minutes, leaving the transistor radio with no listener for the rest of the sleep-mode hour.

Not this time.

The throat was itching constantly and each time I thought I could sleep it off, I would spring up like jack-in-the-box to deliver a couple of powerful coughs.

The body ricochets. Now, I am wide-awake.

I repeated the process. Spasms of coughing, body ricocheting.

It must have been an ungodly 3.00 am when I finally get to knocked off in my futon.

This cold of mine is getting on my nerves. It is screwing up my activities.

I just had to cancel again, a session of orange picking with some students.

I did not get to attend five yearend parties because of the unrelenting cough.

I did not get to go to Osaka to attend a conference.

Nor to Matsuyama to deepen our relationships with the Korean students.

On 13th December, Monday, I was just finishing off a 90 minute Japanese class that I am teaching to three foreign students.

At that moment, bang!

I knew I had it when my throat felt a sudden sharp pain.

The next day, my body laid horizontally on the office sofa from 10.00 am to 3.00 pm, struck motionless.

My missus was prodding me to see the doctor the next day, but I procrastinated.

That night, my body oscillated from cold to hot to cold to hot and back again.

I sweated endlessly. The coughing intensified. The pain in the throat, worsened.

On Thursday, 16th December, I finally went to see the doctor.

I felt better on Friday, Saturday, and even on Sunday.

The cough has almost stopped. Or so I thought.

But I was to return to the jack-in-the-box, spasm-and-ricochet routine again two nights ago.

I saw the doctor for a second time. He said, you catch cold frequently, don't you?

Is this what they call, rubbing salt into the wound?

I put my thoughts to Mabul.

And to the majestic bumphead wrasses. My favorite fish, not for eating, mind you, but for company underwater.

The bumphead is also aptly called the buffalo fish, the 'karibaus' of the oceans... named for their distinctive yet graceful, grazing habits for food at the coral heads...

I long to be there... underwater... gazing at the graceful, gentle, grazing karibaus....

They don't catch cold, do they?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Daffodils from the garden

Copyright by Lrong Lim

Daffodils presumably originate from Spain and the surrounding area.

It belongs to a group of hardy spring-flowering bulbs, with the botanic name of the genus being called Narcissus.

This greek mythodology character, Narcissus, was renowned for his great beauty.

One version of the mythodology tells us of a nymph, called Echo, who loved him, but could never get his devotion.

Narcissus was riveted to the water's edge, entranced by the beautiful boy he thought he glimpsed within, and she eventually pined away longing for him...

...until nothing was left of Echo but her sad, pleading voice. (source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

I just received a Christmas card from an 'old' friend that I have never met in my life.

We corresponded as pen-pals in the 70s when email and the internet was still in the wind.

Back then, young Malaysians like myself were very much involved with making friends from the world over.

I had pen-pals from UK, Sweden, Ghana, on top of the few from other parts of Malaysia.

It was an excellent way to improve the English, I must say.

I am so lousy in sending cards. I must apologize to Lucie. Profusely.

Somehow we stopped writing, I think in the late 70s. I was a struggling young man, directionless and more or less, lost as to what to do.

Then, two years ago, I think, I wrote a card to her at the same address.

To my surprise, she responded and we are back in the swing. More or less, that is.

She is now married to a handsome man, and has two good looking kids.

Seychelles is a long way from Japan.

But, I dream some day, my missus and I shall be there to visit her and her family.

Will this just remain a dream?

here is a pair of daffodils...
beautiful, and fragrant as they are,
trumpeting for you, my dear friend...
Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Traffic lights and tolls

Arrived at a cross junction this morning as I cycled to work.

The traffic lights were out and three or four men were working on gas pipes by the side of the road.

I was surprised to see that six men were controlling the rather sparse traffic at the junction.

One stood right in the center of the junction, swinging both his hands like a traffic policeman.

The other five stood at the crossings, heralding the few pedestrians and bicyclists.

This, in a Japan where factories are automated and robotized to the hilt in the name of combating dwindling manpower due to the aging population.

In Vietnam the other day, I saw very few traffic lights at the junctions.

The traffic was, immense.

There were some junctions where instead of lights for the traffic, there were lights for pedestrian crossing the roads.

Quite amazingly, the traffic stopped each time for the pedestrians to cross, thereby simultaneously allowing the traffic running on the perpendicular road, to proceed.

Talking of traffic, the Malaysian government is under heavy criticism for increasing the toll charge by 10% for the North-South Expressway starting from Jan 1st 2005.

The toll operator, supposedly an independent company but largely controlled by government linked interests, points to the agreement that allows it to raise rates by 10 per cent every three years for the next 25 years to 2029.

Wow, a fat cat they got there.

Citizens can’t help but to feel duped by this 'agreement' between the toll operator and the government.

They are organizing a peaceful protest to this daylight robbery.

I am thinking. How many times can the citizens tolerate the increase in toll charges?

Assuming that the raise goes through this time, can it do so again and again and again once every three years, until the year 2029?

I say, fat cat they got there...

Monday, December 20, 2004

Kagawa University rises in stature

The Japan Times report, reproduced in verbatim...

TAKAMATSU, Kagawa Pref. (Kyodo) An international conference on electrical engineering hosted by Kagawa University has gained recognition from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the world authority.

University officials said Sunday its Faculty of Engineering, which has been concentrating on medical engineering in a bid to boost its presence, has set up the conference to exchange research related to this field.

"It is rare that the IEEE formally recognizes a conference held by a university other than those like the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University," said associate professor Guo Shuxiang, who set up the event.

"Regional universities face the need to display unique characteristics to survive, and their quality of research is likely to improve" with the creation of the conference, he said.

Kagawa University held the first conference this year and all 190 articles presented were included in an international database, the school said.

The Japan Times: Dec. 20, 2004
(C) All rights reserved

When I saw the headline, I suspected that it was on the two cases of power abuse at Kagawa University. Thank god, no.

Anyway, it is great to see the engineering faculty doing well.

Kagawa University used to boast of its economics faculty, relying on the fact that the famed Takamatsu College of Commerce was its predecessor.

There was a time when graduates of the economics faculty headed many major Japanese companies.

Not anymore. The level of reputation of the economics faculty has slumped tremendously and there seems to be no concerted effort to put a stop to that.

Meanwhile, the relatively new engineering faculty along with the agriculture faculty, and to a lesser extent, the medical faculty, is surely on the road for more recognition.

The key is, collaborations with and exposure to the international arena.

Many staff members in the social science faculties (economics, law, education) are living in their own world.

They know not what happens outside, and no one outside knows what they do.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Sunday at the office

My situation deteriorated. Was coughing so badly last night that I feared, with the next gigantic swoosh, out comes my liver.

My throat was itchy to the edge, and the cough was a reflex of that uncontrollable irritant. And, I thought I was on the road to recovery.

I should be on the road today, actually, heading towards to Matsuyama city, to meet up with the Korean student delegation.

Anyway, under such a pitiable situation, you cannot stay in the house either, not even on a Sunday, because the mistress of the house does not want you to spread the germs to her.

So, out you go. And where else to go to, in this cold weather, besides your own office.

Vacuumed the office immediately after I entered the room. God, I wonder who brought all these dust, these dirt, into my office.

My supervisor-professor for the masters program, a very kind man, was terribly tardy in keeping his room clean.

Whenever I asked to borrow a book, he had to step on and trip over heaps of papers on the floor, squeeze himself through behind the chairs and other equipment, so as to be able to dig into the books perennially piled on the table.

Once he served us some green tea. A female student brought the cups to wash at the basin. The next moment, she was screaming her head off.

Ah, a cockroach. I recall thinking to myself, head shaking from left to right and back; girls will always be girls, and cockroaches, cockroaches.

My supervisor said, mundanely: oh, that cockroach must have sneaked in here by itself from outside.

Yeah, like the dust that found its own way into my office.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Malaysian prime minister pontificates

The prime minister spoke to the over 1000-strong Malaysian community in Dubai.

He said, 'Adherence to hard work, good governance, pride in the services, efficiency, quality - this should be the Malaysian characteristic'.

'In whatever you do, think of the country and people and make us proud'.

'Do not do anything that could cause us shame'.

'You must be able to compete, otherwise you cannot succeed'.

To me, it looks more like pretty good 'advice' that should be given to everyone back in Malaysia.

Particularly to the civil servants, who are infamous for their sloppy services.

To the police, who should be protecting rather than harassing the people.

To the variously inefficient government-sponsored companies.

And to the educational institutions, the universities, which are undergoing declining standards.

Excellent words. But really, anything new in that?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Bribery and sexual harassment in the university

Couldn't decide if it was influenza or a mild case of food poisoning.

I conked out from 10.00 am to about 3.00 pm yesterday, snoring away, covered up by a blanket.

My body ached, and my stomach felt loose.

I drank cups after cups of powdered green Japanese tea, believing as the Japanese do, that the tea will kill the germs in my body.

I also gulped in a few cups of bitter gourd tea, which I made from the dried leaves of bitter gourd I planted last summer.

Luckily, I managed to recover, albeit very gradually, and attended the first of the series of parties.

This was a university party hosted by the president of the university.

The president started off with an apology of two unfortunate events that just hit the university.

One was the bribery case involving an official from the medical faculty and a medical equipment manufacturer while the other was a sexual harassment case committed by a well-known professor from the education faculty.

Not unique cases at all, as it happen quite commonly elsewhere, but equally regretful, no doubt.

Makes me marvel why screw up a reputation that one has spend almost a lifetime nurturing.

Pocketing some bribery money (in this case, a mere 800,000 yen, or about 8,000 US dollars) will obviously not enrich oneself.

Sexually harassing someone may bring about good feelings for a minute.

But if caught, it is hell all the way.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Feeling a little giddy today. A most boring television drama drove me to sleep at 9:30 pm last night.

Woke up at about 2:30 am, and never got back to snoring again. I found myself rolling to the left, and then to the right, and back again.

Body a little aching here and there. Could this be influenza?

Before leaving for Vietnam, I went for an influenza jab in mid November, so I hope the jab works for me.

The yearend period in Japan is full of parties such as the Bonenkai (literally, forget-the-year party), Christmas party, sayonara party, social exchange party, send-off party, and what have you.

Each year, I find it quite comical to see the Japanese celebrate Christmas in their parties.

This week, starting from today and continuing till Saturday, I have five parties to attend. Every evening.

Wonder whether my body, in its current flaccid state, can take the beatings.

Petty big events

Bernama News Agency made two recent reports on the deputy prime minister Najib.

The first was his attendance of the wedding of an Umno division member's son.

The second was his golf game with members of the media at a golf club.

Bernama is a statutory body set up by an Act of Parliament in 1967. Its top people are appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the king of Malaysia.

The homepage description boasts of 'Bernama's role as a source of reliable and latest news, which is well known among local & international media including government agencies, corporations, universities and individuals nationwide'.

But, wedding attendances and golf games of a mere politician?

May I ask, are there no other more worthy reports to spend the citizens' money on?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Korean students come to town

Been very busy with work these days.

Yesterday, a group of Korean students came to my university as part of a study tour of Shikoku. Will be here for three days.

I was requested to play a relatively large role in guiding these folks around.

All of them major in the Japanese language, and are pretty good in the language.

I personally enjoy attending to these young folks. Will be chairing a discussion session between them and a bunch of Japanese students.

With the historical love-hate relationship between these two countries, I wonder what a Malaysian can do to spice up the situation.

Luckily, the ongoing 'Korean craze' for the heartthrob 'Yong-sama' is helping to cool things for now.

Hence, the catchphrase for the moment: 'love'.

I am looking forward to an enjoyable talk session with the young people of Korea and Japan in an hour's time.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Spanking Haneda

Just got back from a short trip to Tokyo. That place is forever full of people.

On one train ride towards the city center at about 9:00 am in the morning, which was way past the morning rush hour, the train was packed.

As more and more passengers flooded in, I occasionally found my body firmly compressed against that of a young lady.

Fearing that she would scream 'chikan!' (molester!), I made sure that my two hands were up in the air, holding the bars for all to see.

Believe it or not, she appeared to be blissfully dozing off in the crammed train.

The weather was really pleasant. A very warm 25 degrees in the afternoon. Weird weather right in December. As they say, global warming in the works?

Haneda Airport had just opened its spanking new Terminal Two on 1st December.

All Nippon Airways, my favorite Japanese airline (there is not much to choose from, anyway) is the primary tenant, along with the minnow, Air Do.

Japan Airlines gets to occupy Terminal One by itself.

The airport has three runways while a fourth runway is in the planning stage.

It serves mostly domestic flights. So, there is quite a bit of inconveniences for passengers with international connecting flights.

Due to the distance of Narita from the city center, some top guns believe that there is no reason why Haneda should not revert to serving the international flight segment.

Terminal Two boasts about 90 shops, covering a variety of restaurants, souvenir shops, cafes, and bookshops.

The crowd was unbelievable. I happened to fly in on the first weekend after the opening (Saturday, 4th December 2004).

The observatory deck was like an amusement park. There were so many couples, hugging lovingly of course, and families with little kids running around.

I was with my missus on the return leg. Though the crowd was slightly thinner, the lines at the restaurants were just as long.

We managed to slide into a tempura restaurant. My eyeballs almost popped out of their sockets upon seeing the set menu my missus ordered.

It was one paltry piece of mixed vegetable and seafood tempura, spherical like a hamburger patty.

Along with this, a tiny bowl of miso soup, and some skimpy Japanese pickles. The most delicious part of the meal, she said, was the hot roasted tea, served with compliments.

All this, at the equivalent price of a full buffet dinner (fresh seafood, all kinds of mouth-watering cheese, a range of sweets and desserts to fill you up for days, sushi, deliciously steamed giant grouper, beef steak, Chinese barbeque duck, etc. etc...) at a top five star hotel at Saigon.

The cost of living in Japan, once again, baffles me to no end.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Pulsating Vietnam

I managed to return to my office, physically okay but mentally, groggy.

Yes, I got in and out of Vietnam in one piece but I cannot recall any other place besides Hanoi where I had to wait for more than one hour just to get past the immigration counter.

And yes too, I managed to slurp the famous 'pho' noodles (a couple of bowls actually), as well as to see the very unique water puppet show.

I once went to see a Japanese Bunraku puppet show. It was interesting for the first ten minutes or so, after which I doze off.

However, the Vietnamese water puppet show captivated me throughout the one-hour show. I yearned to see more as the curtains fell.

And, I didn't get pick-pocketed (yeah!) but was shortchanged by a street moneychanger by about 1000 yen in Hanoi (that wretched woman!).

Furthermore, a taxi man at Ho Chin Min city or rather, Saigon, took me for ride. Duh! (more on these episodes when I have time to pen...)

Vietnam, in one word, was exhilarating.

The few days spent there have been a feet-aching (due to too much walking in too short a time period), titillating (the sights, smells, and sounds coming from everywhere at the same time) as well as an eye-opening (the decades-old, huge trees that line the roads, the buildings and churches from the French era) experience.

Vietnam is replete with vigor radiating from her people, the riotous roads, and the thousands upon thousands of motorbikes.

My trip purpose was to operate the university booth at the two Japan Education Fairs in Hanoi and Saigon.

Interacting with the students there, I was left with a strong and positive impression of the Vietnamese youth.

They struggled with their English and their Japanese. But give them a few years and I am quite sure that they will be at the forefront, leading Vietnam to great heights.

For, there was little doubt that inside, they have this fire... this look of hunger to make it...

I say, watch these folks...

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Vietnam bound

I am due to leave for Hanoi and Ho Chin Min city today. Never been to Vietnam, so I am quite excited about it.

Not much time to goof around town as I shall be occupied with work.

But, I hope to try out the famous noodles, the water puppet show, the cruise along the Mekong and some other touristy stuff.

And hopefully, avoid getting pick-pocketed or conned by the taxi man.

Groping and Japanese war crimes

A friend suggested that I blog on the report that 64% of young Japanese women are regularly groped on the trains in the major urban areas.

I live in a small city serviced by an old cranky rail system. It is so excruciatingly slow that I christened it, 'roba-den' (literally, Donkey Train). No groping here, I suppose.

Meanwhile, I am more attached to why Koizumi seems to be so adamant to continue going to the Yasukuni Shrine.

Japan screwed up bad during the Pacific War. And she has not been forthcoming on it.

Yasukuni Shrine, to victims of the war, is the premier symbol of Japanese imperialism.

The shrine houses the spirits of all Japanese soldiers killed in conflict, as well as approximately 50,000 civilians; women and children.


The point of contention is, it houses the remains of 1,068 convicted war criminals, among them were 13 notorious Class A war criminals.

The most notorious war criminal was General Hideki Tojo, who was considered responsible for killing almost four million Chinese. (

I am reminded of to my visit to the Hiroshima Peace Park when I first came to Japan as a student. I recall I was drawn to tears upon seeing the gory exhibits.

Upon reflection, the Peace Park focuses on the horrors of the nuclear bomb and the 'crime' committed by the US in dropping the bomb on innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Again, Japan is not forthcoming on this.

Why, exhibits on only the anguish wrought by the nuclear bomb? Why not on war as a whole?

Why not exhibits on the miseries forced upon the innocent war victims in other parts of Asia as well?

I hope Koizumi will take a break and choose to go to Meiji Shrine instead.

It is quite a lovely place, actually, if you can avoid getting groped in the trains while on the way there.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

On unity and losers

On Unity... the Star reports: Najib says N.S. needed because schools failed in integration.

'The current education system has failed to integrate young people, thus the need for the national service (NS) programme, said Najib.

Students were not comfortable mixing with other races and kept to themselves. So we saw the need for the NS to integrate the various races'.

So, after so much talk of unity over the decades, we come to naught?

Fair enough. Now citizens of Malaysia should be looking forward to a full report in the near future on how successful the 'national service' is.

But, somehow one gets the feeling that it is a little difficult to believe that a 'national service' set up hastily, calling for a few months of service by the youths, can solve the unity problem when years of education cannot.

On Losers... the Sun reports: Singapore's GIC invests in Proton.

'The Government of Singapore Investment Corp. bought about 5% of Proton Holdings, signaling rising investor confidence in Malaysia's largest carmaker after it announced an alliance with Volkswagen AG'.

Wooah, do we not know something that Singaporeans do?

I think they have too much cash idling around, so why not bet on a dark horse and have some chuckles along the way.

There is a racehorse in Kochi prefecture, near (not really, actually) to where I live. Haru-Urara has not won a single race in 112 continuous appearances.

During her 100th race, the Japanese came from all over the country, expecting to see a miracle. But win she did, although not the race.

The Kochi Race Course had been bleeding red ink for years. That race alone brought in profits enough to cover years of loses.

Since then, Haru-Urara has become a star of sorts. She became the mascot of safe driving. Now, the Japanese are making a movie about her.

Haru-Urara. Beautiful Spring. A loser, turned winner.

Can that dark horse of Malaysia strike a miracle?

Monday, November 22, 2004

Jittery Japan

Three pieces of news illustrate a nervous Japan.

The first news concerns a 19-year-old Tottori University student was arrested for posting terror threats on the Net under the name of bin Laden, threatening to blow up Tokyo Tower on September 11.

This chap must be bored with attending classes. But then again, I think the Japanese are really wary of the possibility of being attacked, albeit not by this guy.

While I do not wish it, I cannot imagine the mayhem if Shibuya subway is being bombed out during the early morning rush hour.

Next, the Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told U.S. President George Bush on Saturday that Japan will continue to support Iraq's reconstruction efforts, indicating Tokyo's readiness to extend the deployment of the Self-Defense Forces in the country beyond the Dec 14 deadline.

Was there any other option for Koizumi or Japan, when the choice was (a) Yes or (b) Yes?

Since Japan lost that war, she has been depending on the US to 'protect' her from external threats, terrorism included.

It will be interesting to observe how the imminent rise of China will affect this US-Japan arrangement in the near and far future.

And thirdly, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe expressed caution on Saturday over imposing economic sanctions against North Korea, saying the North might attack Japan with nuclear weapons.

Families of the Japanese people who were kidnapped by N. Korea decades ago are demanding the sanctions. By doing so, the families hope to force N. Korea to expedite the return of the victims.

I assume this man is contemplating on the overly 'bright' side for North Korea. I don't think North Korea has any capability of launching the N. bomb.

However, in the event that North Korea does have that capability and is foolish enough to hit Japan with it, she is as good as committing harakiri.

First and foremost, the US will certainly have no problems organizing a 'friendly coalition' to crush N. Korea to shreds.

And by doing so, she might even be able to regain some friendships lost in the current Iraq quagmire.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Sipadan operators must vacate by year-end

The New Straits Times reports that the Malaysian government has turned down a request from diving resort operators to be allowed to stay on Sipadan island for another year.

The five operators on the island are Borneo Divers, Sipadan Dive Centre, Pulau Sipadan Resort, Abdillah Sipadan Paradise and Sipadan Lodge.

It was learnt that the five dive operators had, through their lawyers, asked for the extension in September, citing the need for more time to relocate.

For the uninitiated, Sipadan Island is listed among the world's top 10 diving destinations. It is also a nesting spot for turtles and a transit point for migratory birds.

Sipadan was thrust into the limelight when members of the notorious Abu Sayyaf group kidnapped 21 people, including 10 foreign tourists, from the island in April 2000.

The island was also a subject of dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia until the International Court of Justice ruled on Dec 17, 2002 that the island belonged to Malaysia.

The Dec 31 deadline remains for the five operators to vacate the popular diving destination. The Government will allow only day trips from Jan 1 next year and only 80 visitors at a time.

The decision is expected to strengthen the Government's application for the island to be listed as a world heritage site by Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

But eighty divers at a time? Hmmm, how do they calculate this? Is it, eighty divers at any one time?

To the extent of my knowledge, besides the five operators in Sipadan, there are two in Mabul (not counting Borneo Divers twice), one each at Kapalai, Lankayan, and Roach Reef, making a total of ten operators.

This does not include other operators such as in Mataking. And how about the many liveaboards that come plying around the waters of Sipadan?

Now, imagine the quota of eighty divers at one time. How will the rangers (I believe Sabah Parks, the relevant authority, will put some at Sipadan) monitor the numbers? How will the operators 'share' these numbers among themselves?

The recent tragedy of the two Japanese dive instructors in Cebu has prompted the Philippine government to launch a team of "scuba cops" to watch the protected marine areas in the Philippines.

Will Sabah Parks install a similar team of "scuba cops" to check the diver quota as well as to patrol the vicinity for foul play?

Also, imagine the operators relocating to other islands like Mabul. (Borneo Divers have already done so).

Then, visualize the morning rush hour from these islands to Sipadan to catch the bumpheads cruising, and the reverse afternoon rush hour back to the islands.

Plus, as commented by one veteran diver I talked to, the effect on the water table of Mabul Island for example, if and when the operators come ashore.

It is good news that Sipadan gets cleared up.

High time, I must say.

But at the same time, I hope that the other islands, especially beautiful Mabul, will not become over-burdened with accommodating too many operators.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Japanese people overwork, ILO points out

Just received an update on the above topic from the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training.

The update says, 'According to the results of a recent ILO survey, more than one out of four Japanese people work more than 50 hours per week. As of 2000, 28.1% of the Japanese workforce worked 50 hours or more per week--the highest among countries surveyed--followed by New Zealand at 21.3%, the US at 20.0%, Australia at 20.0%, and the UK at 15.5%. They were followed by countries with rates under 10%, such as Ireland and Greece at 6.2%, Spain at 5.8%, and France at 5.7%. Sweden and the Netherlands had a rate of only between 1 and 2%. Although Japanese workers are infamous for working excessively long hours, these results provide stunning evidence especially when compared to the low levels posted by countries in Europe.'

Personally, I have observed that my supervisor-professor always was in his office everyday, even on Saturdays and Sundays. I have a Japanese friend who worked in the bank. His day started from 7:30 in the morning, and ended at about midnight. Very little of the excess time spent was recorded as overtime work. He could not take it anymore. He quit to take up Japanese classical flute music. A friend working for a major manufacturer of plastics and synthetic clothing ends his working days at past 11:00 pm everyday.

But looking at the ILO survey data, the difference between Japan on the one hand and New Zealand, US, and Australia on the other hand is only about 7 to 8 %. Not a whole lot, unless we compare Japan with countries such as Spain, France, or the Netherlands, which have rates below 10%.

But beneath these ILO figures, lies a (Japanese) man on the run...

The small Japanese house forces the husband to find his own space... outside the house, that is. So, he hangs in the office even when there is nothing much to do. The 'standard story' is that the husband goes off to work early every morning, only to return home late at night just to sleep. The wife gets to be the sole occupant of the house, children withstanding. There is no 'space' for the husband in the house.

A well used Japanese saying goes 'teishu ha genki de rusu ga ii', meaning, it is good to have a healthy husband who does not loiter around in the house.

'Healthy', so as to be able to work hard and bring the bread home. 'Not loitering around the house', so that the wife can go about doing her own household things like, washing clothes, vacuuming, and engaging in small talk with friends, et cetera.

In the event that the husband is forced to stay indoors, he rolls around the tatami mat, reading girlie magazines, and watching gossipy television programs. The likelihood of this happening is during the New Year in January (O-shogatsu), the 'Golden Week' between late April and early May, and the O-bon holidays in August when families visit the graveyards of their ancestors to pay respects. During these times, the offices and factories are closed; the highways are jammed up, the airports so crowded.

The housewives have a word or two for this behavior: 'Nure ochiba' (wet fallen leaf) and 'Ogata gomi' (oversized rubbish).

The wife vacuums the tatami mat. She encounters the husband rolling on the mat and refusing to vacate. Just like a wet fallen leaf, she finds it hard to peel him off, hence 'Nure ochiba'.

Japan has a very strict order in garbage disposal. Where I live, Mondays and Fridays are for kitchen scraps, Thursdays for plastics, Wednesdays are only for recyclable bottles and metals. People wishing to get rid of the oversized rubbish such as wardrobes and tables need to call a special truck to come by. As for the housewife, she finds it quite a task to remove the husband from the tatami mats. He lies there, rolling to the left and then to the right, like a stubborn piece 'ogata gomi'.

'Not loitering around the house' has another harsh aspect to it. My Japanese research partner currently lives about five minutes by foot from the university. He used to work for IBM in Tokyo and spent four hours commuting to and fro the office. When he first came here, he happily strolled home during one lunch break, expecting lunch on the table, only to be told off by his wife. 'I am already cooking two meals, breakfast and dinner for you. I cannot and will not cook a third meal for you. So, please eat your lunch at the university cafeteria.' He told me he had a shock.

Finally, as if this is not enough for our man on the run...

I know of an elderly Japanese lady at Nagoya who had a lot of headaches on what to do with her husband who just retired from work. He stays in the house all day, practically doing nothing. She was getting tired of seeing him all day and night. She tried to encourage him to take classes on pottery, drawing, or gardening. Nothing seems to interest him. For him, all his life, it had been work, work, and work.

A few years ago, the phrase 'taishoku rikon' (retirement divorce) was a hot topic.

The typical line went... on the last day of work, the wife welcomes the husband with the usual welcome home greeting, 'o kaeri nasai', followed by 'nagai aida, go kuro sama deshita' (you have suffered a long time). And just as our man sits down for his habitual evening beer, this time to celebrate his final release from decades of work, his wife drops the bombshell.

The children have long grown up. And she does not plan to waste her winter days cooking three meals a day for her husband. She yearns to be free, to go for a sip of coffee at the neighborhood cafe, to do her own thingy.

Maybe my next post will be on why the (Japanese) men tend to kick the bucket earlier than their women...

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Air travel and bodily gases...

Sperm: I'm thinking of trying the New York -SIN non-stop next year.

Dee: Talked to someone who took the flight from Sin-NY and she liked it. Movies galore. Not like NW which only has 10 movies. SQ has over 100! I don't quite like these direct flights though. My personal preference is to stop over at narita and have a bowl of Udon soup, have a little break before going onto the next leg. The new NW reclining seats aren't bad. Have lumbar massages on the chair. But still doesn't recline 180. You would think that if they got it down to 175, what's the extra 5 degrees?

Sperm: Ah yes, the Udon break at Narita is always looked forward to. Alas, NW has always managed to screw up its arrival and departure times, and without fail, the times when I was looking forward to a bowl of Udon is usually the times when my arriving flight is running way late. Unlike D the P, the Merm gets to travel in the back where the seat pitches 2 inches at most, where you have to use your knee to prop up the tray table when you eat, and somewhere over the Pacific, your knee and the seat in front become one, and the only massage you will get is when the son of a bitch in the seat behind you starts kicking you because you can't stop farting.

Above is an authentic email exchange between two pals from Singapore Airlines days. 'Dee the Pee' is a senior manager in a Fortune 500 firm and is now based in Bangkok. 'Sperm Face' hails from Ipoh even though his Cantonese is hopeless and definitely worse than mine. He is an engineer based in Florida.

I am blessed with the fortune of having made these lifelong friends during the airline days. To me, these friendships are equally if not stronger than those I made during school days. I consider these old farts, my treasures.

A check with the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary has this to say of the verb, 'fart'. Etymology: Middle English ferten, farten; akin to Old High German ferzan to break wind, Old Norse freta, Greek perdesthai, Sanskrit pardate he breaks wind; often vulgar: to expel intestinal gas from the anus.

A friend once commented that as age creeps in, the rectum muscles become more lax. So, each time he goes to pee, the intestinal gas always seems to find a way to escape from his behind. Quite embarrassing, he says, especially when he is at the public loo.

A mother of another friend wanted her kids to believe that ladies do not fart. None of his siblings believed it because his sister was farting every once so often.

Yet another friend, after a few years of blissful wedlock, found out to his disgust that, good gracious... his lovely wife was farting. He could not endure his wife farting in his presence and announced that he would have none of it, whatsoever. In his own words, 'limp c**k, man!'

Uh, me? In the presence of my own self and quite often my missus', I not only fart with passion, but I belch, burp, grunt, sneeze, snore, and snort too. I particularly enjoy farting and burping, and for that matter, peeing as well, while underwater.

Pity those marine creatures down there, though...

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

More teeth to the Anti-Corruption Agency necessary

Bernama reports that the Umno Supreme Council has not ruled out the possibility of referring to the police and Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) those members found guilty of practicing money politics.

This is a positive sign.

The deputy Prime Minister Najib said that 'currently, we do not invite the ACA and the police to undertake investigations and prosecution because we consider the matter a domestic affair... Nevertheless, if the party investigations reveal that the country's laws had been violated at the time of the offence, we do not rule out the possibility of referring the matter to the police and ACA.'

I hope they will go the ACA way.

At the same time, for ACA to be effective, there is a need to put the ACA under the purview of the Parliament.

If ACA remains answerable to only the prime minister as it is now, the exercise of referring the culprits to the ACA is meaningless, to say the least.

Hey! Give me back my brain or I will charge you for it!

The Kansai region in Japan is famous for its standup 'Manzai' jokes delivered by a pair of comedians. One partner talks 'common sense' while the other partner deliberately dabbles in saying and doing the most outrageous of things. Together, the Manzai performers make the audiences roar and weep with laughter.

Some time ago, Malaysian officials planned to review the incentive scheme to attract 30,000 Malaysian scientists working abroad to return home. Among the options were a review of salary and the assurance that research and development facilities in Malaysia are of world standards.

Additionally, they tried to set up an agency to help foreign spouses find jobs. They also asked universities to lease R&D facilities to foreign-based Malaysian researchers, hoping that they can return home for at least two or three months a year to conduct research.

Did the plan succeed?

According to figures released by Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang, between 1995 and 2000, the scheme attracted 94 scientists, including 24 Malaysians in the fields of pharmacology, medicine, semi-conductor technology and engineering, but by today, all but one has left Malaysia.

Then in March 2000, the then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced a new 'brain gain' policy to target an annual infusion of 5,000 extraordinary world talents, which include both Malaysians currently abroad as well as foreigners.

What happened?

Again, my 'clansman' Kit Siang... as of October 2003, only 587 professionals had applied to serve in Malaysia in the past four years. Out of this figure, 218 approvals had been given, but only 126 professionals have returned. This number does not even constitute one per cent of the target of 20,000 in the past four years.

The officials, instead of beating around the bush and kicking the wrong cuckoo, may benefit from this hint by a Malaysiakini letter writer on the whys of moving out. From the several ex-Malaysians he talked to in his travels to Australia and Canada, this is what he said.

'Practically everyone gave almost the same answer - fair treatment by the government of their adopted country. No discrimination in education intake. No special colleges for any race. All their children sit for the same exam. No such thing as one race monopolizing the government jobs.'

Now the Cabinet has sprang into action once again.

As just reported by Sin Chew Daily, the officials have decided to set a special 'simplified' Bahasa Malaysia examination paper for Malaysian professionals abroad with the aim of encouraging them to work in the country.

Huh? Special... Simplified... Bahasa Malaysia examination?

Any takers, goondoos?

While all this is going on, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi was reported to say that the government would increase efforts to attract Malaysian professionals abroad. He said more would be done to make sure that Malaysia's best and other countries did not poach brightest in foreign universities.

And, Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister, reportedly said that developed countries should not be allowed to poach Malaysian talent for free. He said those wanting the services of Malaysian overseas graduates should be made to pay for them. He said graduates should be categorized as intellectual property as the government had spent a huge sum of money providing them with education.

Audiences are more likely to weep rather than howl with gusto at this wry brand of Manzai.

Meantime, I have a bunch of buddies who have established roots in many a developed country. Among these 'no-good-runaways' are IT experts, senior managers, and engineers...

I'm all ready to see how Malaysia goes about charging those sly developed countries for stealing her brains.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Mitsubishi's insincerity, Proton's dishonesty

Heard the first 'jingle bell jingle bell' melody for the first time this year at the pedestrian mall last week. Rather late, if compared to the Philippines where an old buddy once told me that the Christmas songs kick off in first of the 'ber' months.

Saw the headline the other day, 'Toyota and Mitsubishi setting up shop in Thailand' and wondered what effect this has on the minds of the so-called automakers in Malaysia. Maybe, zero effect.

Anyway, it is the continuous outpouring of headaches and heartaches by Malaysian consumers on the 'national car maker' that prompted me to think about one code that is sorely missing in Malaysian public affairs; that is, 'honesty'. With this endless trail of customer uproars ever since the coinage of that word 'Proton', it is getting to be quite a marvel just how in the world Proton can pretend that everything is all goody-goody.

Her initial partner, Mitsubishi Motors these days is a pale shadow of its former glory. Sales are plummeting as the Japanese customers stay away in hordes. How can they not, when tires get dislodged, transmission shafts get overheated and catch fire, and brakes suddenly becoming ineffective while on the road?

Mitusbishi was not sincere. The company concealed the fact that numerous defects occurred in their models so as not to initiate any recalls for free repairs or replacements of parts. Praise should go to the Japanese government for forcing Mitsubishi to return to its roots. Recently, Mitsubitshi was finally compelled to recall all their models for inspection, repairs, and/or replacement of parts.

Insincerity occurs in Japan and everywhere. Rather, the challenge is; can the relevant authorities coerce Proton to be honest and to commence a recall such as that of Mitsubishi?

In 1998, I visited a Mitsubishi Motors factory at Kyoto. The Section Chief who guided me relayed that the company was very disappointed with Proton's decision to scale back on their collaboration. That was the time when former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad criticized the Japanese company for not transferring enough technology to Proton. As if to spike Mitsubishi, Proton subsequently went French, and British later, but that's another story.

The Section Chief then offered his thoughts on the Proton and Hyundai staff that came to the factory for training. Proton trainees purposely 'forgot' to bring back the training documents given to them by Mitsubishi. They left the documents at their hotel rooms when departing Japan.

Hyundai trainees on the other hand, were not just satisfied with the training documents received. When told that they could not enter a certain room, they went outside and started to jump up and down the window, hoping to catch a glimpse into the 'secrets'. Very aggressive, he added.

A result of those deeds? Well, how about, 'Hyundai flying, Proton still clueless...'

And now, this mushy-mushy love affair with the German maker, Volkswagon. I gawked upon reading that Bernama report 'Little Notebook Did The Trick In VW-Proton Tie-up'. It said, 'All it took was a little notebook measuring about 4 by 3 inches (7.6 x 10.1 cm) to convince the top management of Volkswagen Aktiengesellaschaft (VW AG) that a deal with Proton Holdings Bhd will be in their best interest after four months of tough negotiations.'

It seems Bernama would want to have readers believe that Proton is doing VW a big favor.

Let's see how long this fickle infatuation with the Germans will last.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Gangsters to the rescue

Perlis, a tiny state in northern Malaysia, has decided to employ former gangsters and village bullies to assist the municipal enforcement unit. They have short listed 20 potential candidates and shall be interviewing them shortly.

The proposal to employ ex-gangsters has raised a public outcry. To this, the state chief minister said it was 'a matter of interpretation.'

But the mind-boggler is this; 'He assured the public that the authorities would check with the police to ensure that successful applicants did not have criminal records.'

Perhaps I went to the wrong English class.

For, how can an ex-gangster be called an ex-gangster if he (can't be a she, can it?) does not have a criminal record?

Thursday, November 11, 2004

U.S. continues to rape Okinawa under watchful Japanese eyes

My missus and I love to scuba dive in Okinawa. It is without doubt the most popular dive destination in all Japan. Each time I dive there, I am always struck by the clear, crisp visibility. Summer water temperatures are in the low 20s, which is still rather cold for me. More often than not, divers go there for the macro stuff.

Okinawa has had a tragic history. It was the battleground in the Pacific War whereby the death toll amounted to 200,000 Okinawa civilians. Compare this to the military toll of 23,000 Americans and 91,000 Japanese. This loss of civilian lives amounted to more than the losses of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. military took it upon itself to seize land as it pleased. Seethed the locals, "The war burned down everything -- human lives and land ownership... When the U.S. military came and said it was going to rent our land, we had no choice but to sign the contract... What we are worried about is our getting back the land without any compensation. We just want due compensation."

At the moment, 75% of all US military bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa. Seen in another way, more than 20 percent of total land area of Okinawa is occupied by the U.S. military.

Okinawa is currently embroiled with the central Japanese government on the issue of relocating the US bases from Futenma to Henoko.

As reported by Japan Times, “The relocation plan dates back to strong local protests triggered by the 1995 rape of a schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen. In 1996, Tokyo and Washington set up the Special Action Committee on Okinawa, which agreed on the return of 21 percent of the U.S. base properties on Okinawa Island.

The promised return of Futenma, which over the years became encircled by populous areas of Ginowan, came as a surprise. But what initially appeared to be a historic agreement soon brought disappointment when it was realized that seven of the 11 U.S. facilities cited in the SACO accord, including Futenma, would be returned only after replacement facilities were built in the prefecture.”

A survey jointly conducted on 901 Okinawa residents by the Okinawa Times and the Asahi Shimbun in September found that 81 percent of those questioned said they are against the government plan to relocate the Futenma base to Henoko.

Only 10 percent said they support the plan. This is despite the fact that Okinawa is the poorest prefecture in terms of per capita pretax income at 70 percent of the national average. US bases bring in jobs, yet they prefer to have none of it.

As a scuba diver, I am also concerned about the destruction that may result from constructing the new base.

Henoko is home to thriving coral reefs, rare animals and plants, of which the endangered dugong comes to mind. As in Malaysia’s Pulau Tioman where plans are still in midair as to whether to build a yacht marina, the residents of Henoko ask, "Why do they have to fill in this beautiful sea and build an airport?"

Personally, it was nauseating to hear the ear-piercing reverberations of the military jets each time I am in Okinawa.

It is time for the US military to move out.

They have way overstayed their welcome in Okinawa.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Japanese dive instructors’ tragedy at Cebu

One Japanese scuba instructor was found dead while another was still missing after they failed to return from a night dive.

A comment by a diver in the Japanese chat space mentioned about the ‘shame’ of scuba instructors dying in the sea. He (or she?) asked, how could dive instructors die at sea?

Well, why not? There is a saying; even monkeys fall off from trees...

I was more struck by the fact that the missing instructor was a mere 20 year old. Paper-qualified as an instructor, yes, but would I want to learn scuba diving from a 20 year old? Of course, it will be too simplistic to draw a linear association between scuba teaching skills and instructor age.

In ritualistic Japan, there is a ceremony held every January to explicitly mark the coming of adulthood. That magical threshold is twenty-one. A twenty year old in Japan is considered a ‘han-nin-mae’ (half-person).

Anyway, teaching scuba, or learning scuba, is not simply about mechanical ‘skills’. There’s probably more to that. ‘Stuff’ not mentioned in the manuals, maybe.

Or, perhaps I am semi-consciously comparing this case to own 20-year-old days. I was without doubt a green horn, aimless, clueless, and skill-less.

But then again, I should perhaps give more respect to the younger generation.

A couple of years of ago, I visited a dear friend of mine at Johor Baru. She is a teacher in Singapore, commuting every morning across the causeway. I found her kids highly intelligent. And I must add, this is not a unique case. The kids of my other friends were equally intelligent, too.

Her youngest son was a mere two-year toddler. Still sucking on the pacifier. But was I impressed with his English! At one point, he said, ‘Mummy, I want to go to school’. Perfectly. I was thrown off my chair.

Back to the calamity. According to the Philippine Sun.Star report, the dead instructor’s air tank was empty. And his equipment, intact. Thus, leading to the suspicion that they may have gone way, way beyond recommended depths. Which would not be difficult to confirm, as the dive computer tells no lies.

On a personal note, my missus and I have been hooked on scuba diving since we were licensed in March 2001. We are currently advanced divers and we absolutely love the colors of the shallows, the dartings of the little gobies, and the charm of the tiny nudibranches...

The deeps? No, no, not for us. Yet...

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

US model... Thai model...

Personally, I would have preferred a regime change in the US not because I love Kerry or hate Bush, but because I believe a change at the top echelon once every couple of years is refreshing.

Perhaps it's because I come from Malaysia where ‘leaders’ get to stay on perennially. It becomes rather sickening to see the same old faces, playing god, thinking that the country will collapse if they are not around to save it.

I yearn to see a new political system set up in Malaysia... call it the US model, or the UK model, or whatever. A two party affair, that is, cutting across ethnic lines, and focusing on national issues based on universal principles rather than on narrow tribal interests.

Many, including yours truly, hope that Anwar Ibrahim will open the doors to such a system. Let’s see.

Nearer to home, 144 academicians from 18 Thai universities issued an open letter to Thaksin Shinawatra, demanding his apology for the deaths of 78 Muslim protesters piled on army trucks by security forces in South Thailand. At this point of time, he flatly rejects their demands.

Meanwhile, can we ever envisage a similar scenario in Malaysia, whereby academicians or other interest groups come together to freely and rightfully exert their opinions on national issues, without any fear of being harassed by the ‘authorities’?

Now, that... is one pretty glaring difference between our northern neighbor and us.

Monday, November 08, 2004

A ‘want’, a ‘hope’, an ‘advice’, and a ‘blame’ all in a single day...

Can’t help noticing this series of Malaysian-styled prime ministerial pontifications as reported by Bernama on November 6th 2004, in the North Regional News section.

In four separate reports, the prime minister delivers a ‘want’, a ‘hope’, an ‘advice’, and a ‘blame’ all in a single day...

First, he ‘wants’ the children’s homes to be managed with tender care. He reasons that an environment with tender care will lead to children growing up filled with affection.

Next, he ‘hopes’ to see more successful businessmen and corporate firms adopt a caring attitude towards the needy.

He then ‘advises’ members of the Jelutong Umno division, several of whose leaders have been disciplined for involvement in money politics, not to repeat acts that can embarrass the party and the division in future.

The sermon for the day must be when he places ‘blame’ on certain acts of the citizens that contribute to restriction in free flow of water in drains and rivers, thereby causing flash floods every time it rains heavily.

Pooh, a lot of desires... and finger pointing...

While all these talk are being dispensed, Malaysian citizens are expecting more teeth in the treatment given to ‘leaders’ tainted with money politics. Not mere 'advice'.

Why is it that the ‘people’ gets the honor to be blamed for flash floods?

Is the government completely guiltless?

And in the first place, why is there a need to blame someone when flash floods happen?

Friday, November 05, 2004

Elton John and those kinky fishes...

Elton John is set to marry a 'man' soon. Meanwhile, a Malaysian court rejects a woman’s application to change her official sex to a man. In Japan, the law was recently amended to officially allow changes in sex if certain conditions are met.

In the aquatic realm, the issue of sex change and recognition is a non-issue. For these creatures along with some snails and worms, it is a matter of survival and reproduction. While freshwater fishes rarely do so, marine fishes exhibit four different patterns in the business of sex change.

The first pattern is most common. Most coral fishes start life as females, and change their sex to males depending on the ratio of males to females in their colony. Examples of such fishes include wrasses and parrotfish. When the male dies, the largest female will transform herself into the dominant male.

Clownfishes display the second type of sex change. They start off as sexless creatures. The female is supreme in the world of clownfishes, with the male being her right hand man. If the female dies, the male changes his sex into female and takes the lead. The largest among the sexless juveniles will become the male.

The third way is exemplified by some gobies the size of human fingers. They change to the opposite sex and re-change back to the original depending on the proportion of males and females in the community.

The fourth manner is illustrated by dwarf sea basses, which function as males and females at the same time. They sometimes become long term monogamous couples, taking turns to lay their own eggs, and fertilize their partner’s eggs alternatively.

Finally, while not having anything to do with changing sex, nature has decided that the male seahorse, not the female, gets the privilege to become pregnant.

Hmmm... now, which pattern is our good old friend Elton looking at...

Thursday, November 04, 2004

South Thailand... and my friend...

The current turmoil in South Thailand steers my mind to a Thai Muslim whom I befriended while at Nagoya University.

Chedi could not really blend into the Thai student community at Nagoya. The main reason was probably religion and food preferences. He was conversant neither in English nor Japanese. He was alone, and lonely.

I was fond of traveling alone. The views of rural Japan, especially the paddy fields, captivated me to no end. I was about to embark on another solo train ride across Kii Peninsula to take pleasure in the views of the ocean. A Japanese student, Kenji, asked if he and Chedi could join me. Tanya, a student from Russia also wanted to come along.

Chedi was an excellent guitar player. At one lunch stop, there was a guitar lying around. He picked it up and gave us an impromptu rendition of Moon River.

The train snaked along the rugged coast. We gasped collectively at the first glimpse of the beautiful blue ocean. Kii Peninsula was in the middle of the orange season. Everywhere we looked, it was oranges, oranges, and oranges.

At Shionomisaki, a pointed cape where typhoons frequently come ashore, we dashed to the seafront to catch the setting sun. We were not disappointed. There, in front of our eyes was a stunning sunset just about touching the horizon, almost shaped like a glowing, inverted brandy goblet.

Chedi was then staying in an apartment quite close by to where I lived. When I transferred to Takamatsu the following March, he came to assist me to load my stuff into the truck. Just before saying farewell, he offered me a bottle of Thai fish sauce as a token of our friendship.

Back at Nagoya University, on top of not being able to mingle with the Thai students, he was having a lot of trouble trying to communicate with his professor. He, like other research students on the Japanese government scholarship, aimed to pass the entrance exam to enroll in the business graduate school. The loneliness, the miscommunications with his professor, and the pressure of the entrance examination must have got the better of him.

One night, he spiraled into a terrible lapse. A Belgian student who stayed next door related that Chedi was screaming his head off in the early hours of the night. And, intermittently, laughing out aloud. I imagine it must have been quite eerie listening to the howlings in the deep of the night.

There was apparently no way to save him. Nagoya University decided to send him back to Thailand to recuperate with his family.

Poor guy, I wonder how he is doing now...

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Tale of two noodles...

Each time I return home for a vacation, I always head for Mee Abu. I had time after time preferred the mee goreng to the mee rebus but for the last two years or so, I purposely switched to mee rebus.

Here in the city of Takamatsu, Japan, where I live, the locals take immense pride in their ‘sanuki udon’. The claim is, sanuki udon is the best udon in all Japan, and rightly so, I must add. Sanuki is the feudal name for Kagawa prefecture, which houses Takamatsu.

Udon is a thick noodle made from wheat. Originally only wheat from the Sanuki plains were used to make udon, but for many years, Australian wheat has become inseparable from Sanuki udon. Kagawa prefecture has recently embarked on a drive to increase local production but I don’t see much hope in achieving self-sufficiency in that.

The udon soup base is made from kelp, bonito, or some small fish, although a combination is normally the case. A little soy sauce plus a dash of Japanese cooking wine completes the concoction.

Three years ago, I ‘discovered’ a small udon shop near my university. It is run by a ‘ganko oyaji’, meaning a stubborn old man. In the world of Japanese culinary, ganko oyaji is taken to mean a compliment. The stubborn old man does not compromise on his beliefs. His sole preoccupation is to make noodles as excellent as can be.

The Sanuki folks love their udon to be elastic and rubbery. This quaint little shop serves udon as good as any other I have ever tasted. But what brought me back again and again was its tempura. The little ladies there fry the tempura so skillfully such that it is crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside.

Shrimps, conger eel, mackerel, eggplants, potatoes, green beans, peppers, burdocks... I was spoilt for choice. So each time I went, I would grab about three or four pieces. And went I did, as in three or four times a week.

I was to be shocked later by my greed. During my annual medical check, the physician told me I had a fatty liver. Have you been eating lots of oily stuff? Oh oh... I put an immediate curfew on the intake of oily foods.

That’s why, the mee rebus instead of the goreng although the prawn crackers probably had quite a bit of oil in them too.

One of my closest pals migrated to Perth a few years back. I had the good fortune of visiting his family last year. His missus mentioned that she had once visited Alor Star many, many years ago. Her friends raved to her about Mee Abu. She apparently tasted it, and politely hinted, ‘hmm... hmmm... but...’

Jeff Ooi of Screenshots once talked about Mee Abu. I sent in a short comment. Just as I was about to forget what I mumbled then, I received an email from a son of the owner of Mee Abu. To say the least, I was pleasantly surprised as well as honored.

Hence, this post as a tribute.

I have tried eating mee goreng and mee rebus in other parts of Malaysia. Still, for a Kedahan like me, Mee Abu is tops...

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

What honeymoon?

The one hot issue in Malaysia these days is none other than corruption and how to combat it. While the Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has made some further pledges (in marking the end of his first year 'honeymoon' in office) to fight the disease, several political commentators such as Stevan Gan and MGG Pillai have correctly pointed to his failure to do so over the last few months.

Malaysians are understandably disappointed.

Abdullah has based his election platform on fighting corruption and Malaysians have almost fully supported him. What is holding him back? Is it that difficult to put the wrong doers behind bars? Those so-called big fishes? The “warlords”?

I recall a commentary by Bakri Musa, who suggested that Abdullah could do wonders if he sets his mind to serve only one term. Forget about hoping to be reelected. This would give him a free rein to push for reforms worthy of an emerging first world nation.

Once he has his mind on track, the only thing left to do is to kick the butts of those contaminated fishes in his pond. Imagine what history he could make in just one short and swift term... Impossible thing to do, you’d say?

Friday, October 29, 2004

Wow, he burps just like you do!

The Star has just come up with an exercise that can only be perceived as folly at best. It asks readers to guess what the Malaysian prime minister’s favorite breakfast or movie, etc, is.

Like an excited child upon receiving some presents, it exclaims “WHAT a tremendous response to our Pak Lah's Top 10 favourites!” This exercise is supposedly part of a special supplement to reflect on the prime minister’s first year in office.

On my side of things, all I could muster was a limp “my god…”

While it is fine and dandy to know that the prime minister is just like anyone of us, enjoying a glass of "teh tarik" in the mornings or a plate of "nasi kandar" in the evenings, Malaysians are much more concerned about how the Star reflects on the progress or the absence of it with regards to significant issues such as corruption under his tutelage.

I hope the Star will not try to deflect attention by channeling too much resource on such mundane and inconsequential matters.

To confront or not to confront...

Oooh… what’s happening to Southern Thailand? In the three times my missus and I visited the area, we always came away feeling quite peaceful and relaxed. That place is (or was) so serene and beautiful. What more, on a trip to Pak Bara on the western shores, I communicated with the local people in my Kedah Malay dialect. There was a certain amount of affinity that I felt with the locals there.

But really, I wonder what can or should the Thai government do in such a volatile situation. One thing for sure is to expect more fireworks. Southern Thailand or Thailand so to say, will probably never be the same “Land of the Thousand Smiles” again. As they say, it is so difficult to build a good reputation but it takes just as much as a spark to mess it all up.

On another front, it is quiet heartening to read about two Americans who chose not to fight it out. Kevin Rice and his wife Jeanine Pfeiffer are victims of that fateful Singapore Airlines Taipei crash on October 31, 2000. Singapore’s Straits Times reported that four years after that disaster, about 90 lawsuits were filed. Lloyd's estimated that the total insurance payout so far is about $290 million.

Apparently, the couple decided not to assign blame to any one individual, company or agency. Engaging legal action would also prolong the trauma and that would “not be the healthiest path” for them to take.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Seeking death...

Living in Japan, I have come to enjoy and take the safety level here for granted. I can walk the streets not having to think about being mugged or something. However, as in elsewhere, you can get robbed or killed if you walk into the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is common knowledge that Iraq is in a rather anarchic state that one must be quite crazy to go there for a visit. When two Japanese men and a woman were captured by some splinter group a while back, the Japanese people were caught flatfooted.

Some top officials commented that it was self-responsibility. You got in there on your own accord, you find your own way out. Anyway, the government managed to bring them out unharmed. A second case followed shortly with two men being captured.

Now, we have a case of a 24-year-old Japanese man who wondered into Baghdad alone. I wonder what in the world does he want to do or see there. He now asks the Japanese prime minister to help him. And ended his plea with “sumimasen deshita”.

I pray his captors would release him immediately as they are going nowhere with their current cruel methods. However, as in Japan, if you are not careful, you are walking into your own graveyard.