Saturday, December 18, 2004


Sweet, sweet, sweet, I am not talking about all the songs with the words sweet in them, I am talking about sugar, the white crystalline stuff, the brown stuff and the sweet honey and treacle stuff. The stuff that makes you grow fat, the stuff with a lot of calories in them.

In some part of Malaysia, if you are a guest at a home, the host serves you drinks (in most cases) so sweet that you cannot even drink them. Imagine serving you Milo or Ovaltine in a cup with half the cup filled with sweetened condensed milk (nowadays they use palm oil derivatives) and the other half filled with hot water with Milo or Ovaltine stirred in. Imagine how sweet that is. If you have not been served such, try it yourself some time. They do that in some part of Malaysia, if not all over the country. Why do they do it? Because they have sweet tooth and because it is the thing to do. If you do not serve such sweet stuff/mixture then you are not being true to your guest. I suppose its a showoff, that you have milk and sugar in your house, which I suppose in those days if you do not have such stuff then you are considered poor and you do not want to tell the whole world that you cannot afford such stuff, or that you do not want to tell others that you have no money. Just pride I suppose.

Ever tasted 'teh tarik'? Those frothy tea mixture they make at Mamak (I should not use the word Mamak now, it is offending to the Malaysian Indian Muslim I am told) stalls or coffee shops or even at small restaurants, see how sweet they are. Its actually made from the same stuff - a lot of sweetened condensed milk with strained hot tea and mixed over by pouring the mixture at certain heights from one container to another. You need skills to do this or you will have the mixture poured over all over the floor. Its an art to make 'teh tarik', and only in Malaysia as far as I know it is served.

Malaysians are sweet loving people. All the Malay cakes (kuih), well almost all, are sweet. And added with eggs as well, they are a source of health hazards. And drinks, not only those made at home (or 'teh tarik'), but also tinned and bottled drinks are very sweet. I can understand why they put a lot of sugar, 20% I think, its because sugar acts as a preservative (true?) and keep the drink stable. And when gasified with CO2, it makes it more satisfying when drunk. Ain't that clever.

Why is it that Malaysia do not produce (or sell) tinned or bottled drinks that are sugar free, like in some other countries in the world? I know that in Japan (at least when I went there) I could buy sugar free tinned or bottled drinks. I suppose they have a market for them, but is there no such market in Malaysia for such sugar free tinned or bottled drinks?

I also know that cakes, or whatever they are called (halua?), made in the Middle East are sweet as well, so are cakes (or whatever they are called) made by Indians are also sweet, but is that necessary? There must be a reason why such cakes are sweet. I do not know why. I know that these are called sweet, you have them as the last dish after your meals. But what is the origin of that last dish before your coffee or tea? Why the sweetness?

Sweet is something that people like, without doubt. For example there are about 1000 songs that has some relationship with sweet, either the name of the songs, the album they are in or the composer. Just look at the list in the Internet and you will be surprised as to the variety of sweet in songs. Sweet girls, sweet state and even sweet Lord. What more can you ask for?

But is sweet meat sweet?

Back to Malaysia, the effect of everything that people like about sweet is that diabetic is a problem to be tackled. In one state where people like their sweet stuff, the incident of people having diabetic is very high. I have no figure to quote but you have to believe me in that; these have been reported in the local press. And also in Malaysia is general, reported incidents of diabetic is high, from the fact that many hospitals in have their own diabetic advisory units.

Somehow I have observed that it is very difficult to wean people out of taking a lot of sugar. In Kelantan for example, people eat their 'roti canai' ( a sort of Malaysian pancake) with sugar whereas in other states they eat theirs with curry or other gravy. And also in Kelantan, their curry and most of their cooking tastes sweet. They purposely put sugar in their cookings, somehow they all seemed to have sweet tooth. And when they migrate to other States in Malaysia, then you can tell where the cook comes from by tasting their cookings. Kelantan cooks always cook them sweet. Cannot really blame them though, Kelantan women are all very sweet. Why not, many of them have either Thai or Chinese blood in them. How come? They are close to the Thai border and many Chinese also then migrated and settled in Kelantan - its a long story, but I am told that anyone with Nik before their names have Chinese ancestry. Someone may debate me on that.

Of course the less serious effect of eating the sweet stuff is tooth decaying. But this has been reduced by putting fluoride in either drinking water or that most tooth pastes have fluoride in them.

Without doubts, we Malaysians are sweet loving people.

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Monday, December 13, 2004

Football Malaysian Style.

If I call it a religion, I would be accused of being blasphemous. But is it not a fact that the game is like religion?.

In Malaysia and in Vietnam now the South East Asian (SEA) nations are playing football, competing in for the Tiger Cup. I do not see much skills in Malaysian football nowadays, I see them as being far below standard. But I see other nations in the South East Asia region as progressing well in their football skills. Thailand and Vietnam for example are having very dedicated and skillful footballers, so are Cambodia and Indonesia. But Malaysia, and perhaps Singapore, are just trying to show off. Probably I am prejudiced but watching them on TV I feel like having a second heart attack. Malaysia has a long way to go.

The sad situation about Malaysian football is that they think that they are of certain acceptable standard. In reality they are not. Some months ago they had this Malaysian Cup matches and the Malaysian FA Cup matches. They were big events then, but they were just fighting among the minnows, not much skills but as they are very local they had big followings. I think they were just being patriotic to the State football teams, so the big following. In fact I am told that the team that won the Malaysia Cup was awarded RM 700,000.00 by the State (?) as prize money. Can't blame them as it was the first time that they have ever won the Cup after being in the competition for over 70 years (?). The State was Perlis, a small State up the North of Peninsular Malaysia.

On TV, you see the showings of the English Football League and the European League and Cup matches. I watch these sometimes, to get my mind off the mediocre standard of the Malaysian or even the SEA football. Its a pleasure watching these foreign teams playing, the skills, the commitment, the professionalism, in fact these are the good characteristics of footballers for which these SEA players should look up to and work towards achieving. When at times, these Europeans come to Malaysia to play against our local national team, I feel that it is only out of pity that they do not score dozens of goals against the national team. At times we imagine that our players are as good as these European (or South American) players or even the African players, but in reality we are not. We are too far behind in skills, in fitness and in commitment.

Let us see whether our Malaysian standard of football has gone up or down. We used to be the model nation for football in this part of the world in the early 60s. I suppose at that time the other nations in this part of the world were just starting to play football while we have been playing the game while the British was here. Then the other nations went up in their football skills, and technique and even commitment and we have become what we are today, a mere small nation wanting to look big in foot balling.

Let us examine ourselves as to why we have become what we are in football. Lets put a mirror in front of us and be frank about it. let us even see our pimples and all. I suppose in those days players played football for the love of the game, where as today its a question of what they can earn out of playing football, in terms of money (and facilities). I realise of course in Europe and South America foot balling is a profession but they have the skills and they are committed to their 'trade'. In Malaysia we neither have the skills nor are we committed - anyway that is just my opinion. Maybe a few others will agree with me (or maybe disagree).

Are we organised to play football? Maybe amateur football. But professional football, I have certain doubts in my mind. We all think that we are organised but let us look closely. Firstly the officials never seem to change. They become official, for almost the whole life, either because of their social standing/position or political position. Without being rude, I would say that if these positions are held by 'real' professional, maybe our standard of football will rise. What are these 'real' professionals? Look at the other countries in Europe and South America and we can see where we are. Its too sensitive for me to say more.

We have the money, we have good sponsors. In those days we have the cigarette companies but nowadays we have squeezed the other big companies to sponsor football in this country. So we have the money - and the Government also help. With the money we managed to pay the officials, and coaches who are either local or imported. In those days we had local coaches but to raise the standard we imported foreign coaches. I think it was in late 70s that we began to import foreign coaches. They helped to better the techniques our football playing. But then it was in late 70s that we began the decline in our football records. Was it just coincidental? Or was it because at about the same time, or a few years later maybe, we have professional football in this country where we imported many foreign players to take part in our local leagues and championship. Maybe because of that our local players have lost their skills. Or was it because the local players have lost their skills that we imported foreign players for our league and championship? And when these local players are given the chance to represent the country they have less skills then and now.

We must admit that our physique are not really the physique of footballers as in Europe or South America. But can we really blame on our physique? Some of the better footballers are not really big but they are muscular and skillful. Is it because of our lack of foot balling skills that we are not a good foot balling nation? I have seen how our footballer when playing against others who have better physique get injured, and if not injured they get easily thrown out of balance when trying to control the ball or when trying to get the ball or on physical contact. And how far can we get the ball close enough to the goal mouth to get to score goals? Not that far really, most of the time we have to wait to be right in front of the goal mouth before we can score goals. There are exceptions but the exceptions are few, in Europe the scoring may be more from a physical distance than us the this region. Are other players in this region more better physique than us, so how come? But these others are tougher, they have been living hard lives where as our players had have it 'easy'.

Back to foreign coaches, we have many by now. We have had English, Germans, Polish, South American. These coaches in their heydays may be good either as players or as coaches. But when they arrive in this country they are only half as good physically and their skills have been done for even though they have good track record. I mean they are already 'used'. So what can they really do with our players in this country, all factors considered as I said above.

Let us consider other factors that may be for or against us. The food that our players eat may not be advantageous to them. Their staple food is rice, is rice good for football players? Too much carbohydrate. Long term energy but to my mind not good for shot term energy burst required during a 90 minute football match. Someone may contest me on this, but I believe in what I say. What do football players in other countries eat? Of course someone may say what do football players in this region eat? Maybe just like in Malaysia, I do not know but for sure they eat something else with rice better that what we Malaysian eat. Or they add to what they eat by more physical tests to enhance their stamina to be ready for the 90 minute match.

Our players are disciplined to a certain degree, but their discipline at times are much to be desired. But of course at time to discipline them can be very difficult as well, they have their godfather or sometimes they seemed to be 'indispensable'. Many have got away with that in those conditions. Can we condone indiscipline?

I have said enough. I have been involved in football, not as a player but in management. I have looked after Club football teams, and I have also managed a State team. Have not been very successful in both areas but I have involved myself in football to see enough.

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Friday, December 10, 2004


Years ago when I was a small boy living in the kampong, we did not have so many Haji, very few and far between, and they were respected not for their religious knowledge but for their having been to Mecca. These are Muslim in Malaysia who have made a trip or two to Mecca to perform their Haj, the 5th pillar of Islam. Its not a must but its an obligation if you can afford it. And there were not many people in the kampong then who can afford to go to Mecca. Most sold their land just to afford the trip. In those days they had to go by ship, a 2-month journey I am told. Someone may correct me on that. My maternal great grandfather went but he did not reach Mecca, he died whilst in the Red Sea, I am told. My grandmother went and she came back alive. My grandfather died before he could go. My father and my mother never went, my father was too sickly and my mother could not afford it, they divorced when I was small. I suppose even if my father was not that sickly he could not have afforded it as well, he had to support a new wife and a couple of boys in school.

This December is the time of the year when most people are preparing to go to Mecca to perform their Haj pilgrimage. The period is about 2 ½ month after the Fasting Month of Ramadan (not necessarily in December as this year is). The month of Zulhejah in the Muslim calendar. And this year my mother-in-law, my wife’s sister and her husband are going. The process of going to the Haj is not that difficult if you have the money, say about RM 15,000.00 per person, its the getting there is the problem. In Malaysia all Haj trips are controlled by the Malaysia Pilgrimage Board, a Malaysian Government body. You have to register with them first. And on top of that the Saudi Government allot only limited places to Malaysians to perform the Haj. I suppose they also allot limited places to other countries, but I have no knowledge of that. I also must suppose that Mecca can only accommodate a limited no. of pilgrims per year, say about 2 millions. Other wise the whole place will overflow with people and the Saudi may loose control. Its just my supposition and I have no official answer to my supposition.

For Malaysians, once they register themselves the process starts. They must have the money in the first place, the Pilgrim Board saving scheme seen to that. Then they must be health checked for suitability of going to the pilgrimage. I suppose these health checks are mere formalities. Then the process of teaching these intended pilgrims on what to expect and how to perform the Haj begins. In fact these are big events for these intended pilgrims, they actually have to attend classes at centres, normally at mosques with accredited ustaz (teachers) teaching them. These ustaz are Pilgrim Board approved persons, and they have these classes usually once a week at weekends. And not only do they learn the theory but they also do the practical. Imagine if you are in Mecca and you do not know the theory and the practical, you are really lost. They are taught how to dress and what to dress in for the Haj performance. With so many people trying to perform in Mecca what they have to perform, one can get rather confused if not properly trained. In fact what these pilgrims will need to know how to perform basically what Prophet Abraham AS performed and what Prophet Muhammad PBUH performed, in addition to that as performed by Prophet Abraham AS. Of course these pilgrims have to know what these Prophets performed before they can perform them. This is where the Pilgrim Board teaches these intending going for the Haj how to perform and to say (their prayers) during the performance. Why the saying (prayers)? These are special prayers, Muslim believe that in Mecca and Medina all your prayers are answered. True? If you believe in them you will say that its true. For me? I have no answer before I get accused.....................

Nowadays, pilgrims from Malaysia do not go to Mecca by ship anymore, they all go by planes. From their local places, they all gather in Kuala Lumpur, at a special location belonging to and organised by the Pilgrim Board, where they are made ready then they all board the planes at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Those going with the Pilgrim Board teams usually board specially fitted MAS planes, or planes hired by the Pilgrim Board (usually through MAS) whilst some others who go with "private" tour group may probably board planes from the Saudi Airlines, or planes from other airlines chartered by these "private" tour groups, with the approval of the Pilgrim Board. All planes from Malaysia will land in Jeddah where the pilgrims will then either be taken by bus to Mecca or by planes (some by bus) to Medina Depending on the itinanery. But for the Haj session, everyone has to be in Mecca where they need to spend the special Wukuf night at Arafah and do various ceremonies as required. In fact these ceremonies are just ceremonies, the requirement for the Haj is really that simple; you only need to be in Arafah for the special night and after that you are a Haji (as I understand it). Not a very good Haji but a Haji. But of course the organiser wants you to perform all the ceremonies just to be sure that you get the Haj as you have paid, after all you need not come every year. But of course some people come every year to Mecca to perform the Haj, some can afford it. Whether such trip is required or not is another story. But some people go to Mecca every year during the Haj period for business purposes, they make a lot of money selling some products to these pilgrims.

The ceremonies are really that simple really, but very time consuming and can be very tiring, especially if you are in Mecca during the summer period. I suppose if you ere there during the winter period, its not that tiring and Medina can be quite cold during the winter period. You must be quite fit to do all the ceremonies, the going around the Kaabah, the Sa’i, the prayers in the mosque at every prayer times; and the mosque is always packed and you have to be there hours ahead of the prayer time, the crowded prayer places where you can hardly stand to pray if you are the weak type, nobody gives away such places, the various people from all over the world, the experience and the way of their civilisation which can be quite different from yours, quite daunting, the trips to Arafah the stoning of the ‘devils’ at Mina with small pebbles you collected along the way and all that. With strange food, the rush to go to places, the bus trips, the prayers which you try to learn by heart, (mind you these are mostly in Arabic), and the all that, it will be very much of a strain to a weak body and a weak mind. Its a big challenge, and some people fail, they quarrel and some even die due to the heat and the pressure.

The most happy moments are of course after the Haj proper, the shopping and the waiting to go home. But bear in mind, Saudi is no manufacturing country so what you buy are mostly imported products. Quite a no. of products are from China and some may even be from Malaysia. And you might get cheated as well, they may raise the price as these traders make money for a 1 year living mostly during the 3 months Haj period. They do not steal from you but they raise the price. Nobody steals in Mecca or Medina. If you steal you may get your hands cut off, so people fear that. You will see money being hung on strings at Money Changers booth/places, and when they go for prayer at prayer times they just cover the money with canvas so that it is not so revealing. In fact products are left quite open during prayer times and they do not get stolen/lost. But some people still take precautions by leaving some trusted children looking after their goods while they go for prayers. And everyone must go for prayers during the prayer times.

Going back time is a happy time. To some though its a sad time, some may by then have lost a wife or a husband, died in Mecca or Medina. But to them that is fate, and those who die in these places are "assured" of a place in heaven, so we believe. So, sad as it seems, such assurance make them quite willing to accept such fate. And after such shoppings and even after such tragedy, they will look forward to meeting their kins, friends and children back home in Malaysia. And all will carry souvenirs for everyone, even though the skull cap be made in China. And without fail everyone will have a small tankard full of the zam zam water to give to their loved ones back home, a sort of blessing. So if you were to visit anyone just coming back from Mecca you will be given a small cup of zam zam water to taste.
In those days these Haj returnees will get insulted if you do not call then Haji so and so. But nowadays there is so many Haji in Malaysia, you do not really know who is the Haji and who is not. So such insult is no more felt. But be careful, in some remote places you still have got to be sensitive to such names, or you will be snubbed by the Haji concerned. What if you do not know? You might just be forgiven, but to be on the safe side just call the person a Haji, if he seems oldish, and if he is not then he will normally admit it.

For an ordinary Muslim in Malaysia, savings are usually for the purpose of going for the Haj, just like for a normal non-Muslim where savings are usually for an overseas holiday trip. Each has a purpose in life. Once the Haj is done, then a Muslim believes that he has done his duty to God and he may like to do something else. He might now decide to go for a holiday, bearing in mind that his sins have all been cleansed when he went for his pilgrimage, so he will be very careful where he will choose his holiday places,. Each to his belief.

Going to Haj is a big thing for a Muslim in Malaysia, and most Muslim in Malaysia look forward to such trips. Its a religious obligation which has now become a face saving trip to some people, sad to say. Its just my evil suspicion though, but I am sure that there is some truth in that. Anyway, I do not want to insult anyone with my remarks, something dear in the heart of most Muslims in Malaysia.

I will leave the thought of Haj in the mind of those with deep enough conviction to do what and to go when.

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