Friday, March 25, 2011

Car Crazy

We Malaysians are simply crazy about vehicles. The statistics quoted in The shows that we are ranked third overall; behind just the United States and Luxembourg with 641 vehicles per 100 people. So that roughly translates to 180 million vehicles on the road! OK maybe it's not like that but it simply shows our obsession with motor vehicles (which means cars, I believe nobody goes gaga over trucks and construction vehicles).

We still manage to get to such a 'coveted' spot despite the everyday grumbles (and which politicians try to exploit) that car prices in Malaysia is among the highest (if not THE highest) in the world, that the price of fuel is too high and that many of the highways are tolled. Any of those factors are actually enough to deter potential car owners, but no, not us! We like to say that we need to own cars because of the unreliable public transport. To a degree yes, it's true. But being a former public transportation commuter myself, part of the 'unreliability' has it roots in ourselves - there are simply too many cars on the road, choking up the roads hence slowing down the public transportation! It gets worse when a most households own more than one vehicle and everybody wants to use their vehicles at the same time. Not only these vehicles choke up the roads but they also gobble up parking spaces especially at apartments/condos!

Perhaps another measure of our obsession with cars can be measured by the number of car accessory and modification shops. Not content with having a car, a sizeable number of car owners spend a further hundreds and even thousands of Ringgit to modify their vehicles. These range from simple cosmetic additions to near total transformation of their car. Many a Proton Wira and Waja owners transform their rides to resemble Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution - sometimes subtly, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous. Even beat up, rusty old buckets were given enhancements such as new engines and bloody noisy exhausts. Whatever they do, the modified vehicles can be classified to two - eye candy or eye sore! Oh there are also those who transform their cars into boombox on wheels.

Despite the high prices we still manage to choke our roads...I wonder how terrible the jams would be should car prices drop, oil prices fall and the tolls terminated......

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wild Bukit Pasir

My family moved into our current home in 1978. When we moved in, there were only a few neighbours, as most of the land is covered with rather thick vegetation and a small patch of swampy grounds - in fact some of her friends wondered why did we moved into a relatively forsaken location even though it was fairly close to Batu Pahat town centre (roughly 5 kilometers). Even so, I like the location - rather rustic  despite being close to the town. I remember that just at the edge of the plot was a small ditch with plenty of fish. Sure they are just small examples of ikan sepat (guorami) and puyu (climbing perch) but were a source of wonder for us town-dwelling kids. The ditch opposite our plot of land had more fish stocks such as the aforementioned puyu and sepat but also larger fishes such as ikan keli (catfish) and haruan (striped snakehead). There was even the odd tortoise.When it rains the ditch sometimes overflows, bringing the fishes across to our land where we usually picked them up and put them in the aquarium. Sometimes my late father let us accompany him (and later on our own) into the bushes behind our plot of land where we discovered another ditch, this time with ikan laga (betta) in them. The swampy plot of land to the right of our house is the home for a small number of burung ruak-ruak (white-breasted waterhen) with their loud croaks and pigeon-like coos.There was even burung but-but (Coucal) plus the usual suburban species like burung pipit and tiung (mynah) and other small birds. The bushes to the left of the house consists mainly of long grass and small plants the dominant of which was kemunting from which the housing area got its name.

Even though our home is only some 5km from town centre, it has that kampung feel, in fact the area where the house is located was considered a relative backwater then. The area from where the current Tunku Ibrahim Building now stands down to the village of Bukit Pasir consisted mainly of shrubbery, swamp and rubber plantation. There were also some farming (probably squatter) colonies with their smelly pig pens and duck ponds. Traffic on the trunk road consisted mainly of commuters heading towards Parit Sulong, Sri Medan, Yong Peng and beyond,  or Tasek Merdeka, a local lake garden. Traffic flow was really light that I sometimes can lark around on the road! 

But that was some 20 to 30 years ago.....

Around 15 years ago, a number of food stalls sprang up nearby. Their waste water enters the drainage ditch reducing the quality of the water. Some time earlier than that a petrol station (complete with a small workshop and car wash facilities) was bulit (now there are two) further degrading the ditch. The water is now oily and most of the time, black. There are no signs of life in it anymore. The squatters and their livestock are long gone. In their place is a massive commercial and residential area, centred around the Square One / Carrefour shopping complex. In fact the entire secondary forest / rubber plantation/swamp have been replaced with housing estates. The are now massive number of vehicles on the road especially when factories sprang up in Tongkang Pechah a few kilometers down the road. Even the road in front of the house has become busier since many commuters use it as a short cut between Jalan Kluang and Jalan Bukit Pasir. Sure, the muddy / dusty dirt road has been replaced with a fully tarmaced one. Such is the price of progress huh?

I am also unable to find traces of burung ruak-ruak nowadays. All is not lost however as the the area around the house is still covered with shrubs and thickets (even though I can no longer find the kemunting plants) and that the trees are larger. The area is still a haven for birds and there are now a couple of squirrels too! But I keep long will it last?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rain Of Death

During the last couple of days, I have received the following text messages and e-mails:

Japan government confirms radiation leak at Fukushima nuclear plants. Asia countries should take necessary precautions. If rain comes, remain indoors first 24hrs. Close doors & windows. Swab neclskin (sic) with betadine (povidone-iodin) where thyroid area is, radiation hits thyroid first. Take extra precautions. Radiation may hit Malaysia at starting 4pm today. Pls send to your loved ones."

"A Nuclear Power Plant in Fakumi Japan exploded at 4.30 a.m today. If it rain tomorrow or later,dont do outside.If you are outside, be sure that have rain protector. It’s acid rain. Dont let it touch you.You may burn your skin, lose your hair or have cancer. This applies all asian country.Please pass, stay safe and remind everyone you know”
Scary huh? Makes you want to stay indoors and makes great excuse to skip work! Ok lets assume that Fukushima is 2011's Chernobyl, scattering radioactive material into the atmosphere and starts to poison the atmosphere a la the On The Beach scenario. When that radioactive clouds arrives over Malaysia, it won't matter whether it rains or not - the radiation / fallout WILL get you. It is just a matter of whether the fallout is wet or dry. Apply betadine to protect the thyroid? Betadine is an antiseptic, designed to kill germs not stopping radiation, so it's totally useless. And what's the point of protecting yor throat when the rest of your body is exposed to radiation? Might as well cover yourself head-to-toe with old-style toothpaste tubes or MOPP / NBC suits!

But that could only happen if there really is a Chernobyl-type nuclear accident in Japan. An the way I see it, even if that do happen, the country most likely to suffer fallout would be....the United States. Oh by the way, the first message is not even original - it originally started in the Philippines...someone just substituted 'Philippines' with 'Malaysia'

As for the second text message/email, it sounds scarier than the first one, only it's not. Acid rain and nuke fallout are different things altogether. Besides the real acid rain does affect humans directly - no burns from acid rain people! The concentration of acid in the rain is too low to cause direct harm (indirectly is a different matter of course) Besides, if there is another Chernobyl here, large areas of Japan would be affected first (and  the worst). We still haven't seen that right?

OK for the time being it is just a hoax. The situation in Japan is still critical but even if all hell breaks loose, I believe we are still safe.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Pale Blue Dot"

See anything of interest in that photo? No? Perhaps you wonder why do I put a grainy, mainly dark nothingness with brown streaks here? Look can you find a bluish dot halfway down the brightest brown streak on the right? Yes? 

That 'pale blue dot' is actually Earth, our home. The photo was taken by the Voyager 1 space probe in 1990 from a distance of 6.1 billion kilometers away - basically at the edge of the Solar System. I have seen computer graphics showing how insignificant our home is as compared with the Universe. However this photo actually gives more meaning to me as this is a real photo. At the distance of just 0.06 light-years away, the sphere with  40,000km circumference is reduced to an insignificant dot. 

On that pale blue dot is my home; our home.On it we are born. On it are everything we know - everything we love and hate. We walk the surface of the dot with pride, we poison its waters and skies. On it we spill blood all in the name of becoming masters of that small dot; sometimes merely for a fraction of it. In the darkness of space, there are no other dots we can migrate to, a place we can call a new home. So remember, that single dot is our ONLY home....that is all we have got....

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Idiot Of Idiots"

During wartime, certain fighting men, specifically fighter pilots were given the title 'Ace Of Aces', that is, the highest scoring pilots. However recently a friend told me a story, it could be a true story or it may even be apocryphal. After hearing it, I decided to call the character in the story as 'Idiot of Idiots'!

During New Year the organisation where this character works conducted a get-together cum New Year address by the big boss. Attendance is basically compulsory although some leeway were given to those who have to attend more pressing business. In order to help boost attendance and also as a way to reward the staff for sacrificing their weekend, the management agreed to give those who attend a one day leave (that, despite the event only took HALF a day) plus a few other non-monetary incentives. So the event came and went smoothly.

However two months after that, the organisation received a letter from the Labour Department demanding answers on why the staff were required to work on a public holiday without receiving even a cent of the triple overtime rates they are entitled to. The Labour Department enclosed a copy of the complaint letter from Mr Idiot alleging that the staff were forced to attend, basically going to work on a public holiday and did not receive overtime rates for their trouble. While the Labour Department do have to take every complaints seriously and require that the employers give their explanation, perhaps they should've simply thrown this particular complaint into the waste bin.

The employers have pointed out that attendance was not exactly mandatory and that they have granted replacement leave to those who did attend. But the best explanation was reserved for the last and perhaps completely justify the tag 'Idiot of Idiots' I bestowed upon the complainant - 1 January is NOT a public holiday in the state where the IOI works! Sure, 1 January 2011 was a Saturday but the best the idiot could actually expect was double rates. Even then it might not apply to him as his complaint letter sounds like one written by a managerial-level employee in the organisation where they are ineligible for overtime payment!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Han Solo He Ain't

I have read about them in print and electronic media but I have never met them 'in person' until yesterday afternoon. I 'm talking about smugglers who bring contrabands out of our country such as fuel, cooking oil, sugar and to a lesser extent, flour. Sure, I have met citizens (mostly elderly)of our neighbouring country buying packets of sugar and cooking oil at the local departmental store.  At least they look like they are going to use the items for their own need - even though that means that we are subsidying the wrong group of people.
But what really rankled me happened yesterday. I was at one of the local fuel station, waiting for my turn to fill my car as there was quite a lot of cars. What caught my attention was a blue Proton Iswara filling its tank on the pump next to mine whose driver looks well, suspicious. OK the average car in Malaysia has a 50 liter tank and at the current rate of RM1.90 per liter for RON95 petrol, the absolute maximum he could fill is 50 liters (of course) and roughly costing RM95. But this guy is filling up to RM150 which translates to 79 liters of RON95! Realising that cars are starting to queueing up behind him, he stopped and moved off the station...or was he? After I finished filling my car up, I spotted the same car returning to another pump, the same guy came out and after giving a thumbs-up signal to the worker at the counter, start to fill again! Sure, if we average Joes want to fill our vehicles up, we need to place a 'deposit' first but this guy simply gave a thumbs-up! Something's really smell of ikan pekasam here!

I have no doubt that that guy is a smuggler - a local rather than one from the neighbouring country.  Everything about his car smells of it. The car is rather nondescript plus it has a longer rear suspension system. According to a friend, smugglers have vehicles like that - when the car is full of contraband, the spring compresses and the car is having a more or less neutral 'sit', reducing suspicion from authorities. An average can also fill only up to 50 liters but this guy definately have at least a 100 liter capacity tank. I have a very dim view of smugglers and I actually view them as traitors...and traitors deserve DEATH!