Saturday, July 23, 2005

Its a 'beruk' business.

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What you see here is a modern tamed monkey (‘beruk’ they call them in Malaysia - short tail monkey - Marga Macaca) drinking coconut water from a young coconut using a straw. But don’t be mistaken, these ‘beruk’ though trained can still be dangerous. Go near it and it will grab you, your hand or your clothings. It may even bite you. For girls/women/female it just likes to grab your hair.

I remember years ago my late uncle used to walk about in the village with similar ‘beruk’, tamed and used to climb coconut trees to plug old/ripe coconuts. These are specially trained monkey (‘beruk’) which can even distinguish green young/unripe coconut from the brownish old and ripe coconut, and they only plug the old ripe coconuts by twisting the stalk and letting the coconut falls to the ground. I think you can only find these tamed ‘beruk’ now in East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia, South Thailand and probably part of Indonesia (correct me if I am wrong). My late uncle then did not train the ‘beruk’, he bought one already trained. The ‘beruk’ was very useful then as there were many coconut trees in the village, and people in the village kept asking him to use the ‘beruk’ to climb their coconut trees to plug old/ripe coconuts. Coconut then (and still is in some part of the country) was very useful, extract coconut oil, and the fresh coconut milk (called ‘santan’ in Malay) used in cooking curry and all sorts of Malay dishes and sweets. He used to earn quite a bit of money from the services of this ‘beruk’. Sometimes he got only a few ripe coconuts as payment but he did not mind, as then he could sell those at the nearest town market and got some money. But in reality I think it was not so much the money he yearned for, the ‘beruk’ was his pet, sort of, and he was very proud to take it for a walk or even walking with the ‘beruk’ on his shoulders when walking around in the village. He was childless, so I think he yearned for a child, and the ‘beruk’ was more a less a ‘replacement child’ sort of.

Whether the ‘beruk’ was a ‘replacement child' or not he kept it tied to a tree near his house when he did not walk around with it. He had a small tree house made for it. He tied it to a dog chain with a loop around the tree so that the ‘beruk’ could maneuver itself when coming up or going down the tree. Actually the ‘beruk’ was very clever, it never got strangled by the dog chain, and it always knew what to do if the dog chain got stuck. And dogs (which we used to have) never got near the ‘beruk’; and of course we children also never got within reach of the ‘beruk’ for fear of being bitten by it. The ‘beruk’ though friendly to my late uncle but was never friendly to other people (even his late wife). Worse if my late uncle was not around, it was a wild ‘beruk’ in a sense.

Eventually the ‘beruk’ died of old age ( I think and I never found out really) and my late uncle got himself a small ‘beruk’ from the Orang Asli (Malaysian aborigines who live in the jungle or on the fringes of the jungle, sometime doing shifting cultivation, planting hill 'padi' or tapioca or local sweet potatoes and hunt wild games) somehow some where. A sort of replacement ‘child’ I suppose. He looked after the baby ‘beruk’, fed it with diluted condensed milk, mashed bananas and sometimes mashed cooked rice. Eventually it grew to be quite big. When it was time for it to be trained, my late uncle himself trained the ‘beruk’ on how to plug ripe and old coconut from those tall coconut trees we had near our house. I suppose my late uncle himself learned the trick of the trade from the ‘beruk’ he had earlier. He managed to train the ‘beruk’ well, as far as I could see, but I have no comparison really. At least soon the ‘beruk’ was able to plug the right coconuts and soon my late uncle was once again proudly walking about in the village with his new ‘beruk’. In fact the ‘beruk’ died (I think) just before my late uncle died.

I saw a film once on National Geographic TV channel on how they train these ‘beruk’, in South Thailand, I think. Fascinating really. But over there they have proper school for training these ‘beruk’ with proper experienced teachers. And on graduation, I remember, they even give some token credential. Bear in mind though only ‘beruk’ can be trained and accept the lessons, not the long tailed monkeys or monkeys from other species.

Its a monkey business really.

Talking about ‘beruk’, the Raja of Sarawak years ago was called Raja Brooke. Many Sarawak natives would like their sons to be called Brooke, in honour of the Raja. But many people then over there did not know how to spell Brooke, so the native son ended up with ‘Beruk’ as their names. Not a laughing matter.

To Shout Back

Monday, July 18, 2005

Antidote to a dull week

Last fortnight I complaint in my blog that life was getting boring and routine. But the day just after that something more interesting happened. At least it was interesting to me.

I got a call to go outstation immediately, to investigate the root cause of an electrical accident in a chemical plant. Yes, I am an Electrical Engineer and have all the credentials, I am now semi-retired after working for nearly 3 decades in the industry.

Anyway, it was quite late at night and the place of the accident was over 400 km away. I did not really want to go there immediately and I still have other jobs to do locally. I could not just pack up and go to the scene of accident to do the investigation. I tried to find excuses but I could not find any. So I said I will send someone to the scene but the caller still wanted me. I felt proud. So I told him that I will drive tomorrow and then pick him up and travel on with him. He suggested that I go by air. I did not think about that.

I immediately called someone I knew at the accident scene. But the person who relayed to me about the accident was still too panicky, he was directly involved in the accident. Anyway I got some info about the accident from him. And I called a person in Kuala Lumpur seeking advice on the rules on such investigation. Actually I wanted a second opinion. From the story I related to him he was very clear as to what happened at the scene. He said surely when the men were asked to work on the electrical equipment it must be dead, so what is the problem?. He said to tell them that if they had issued the permit to work on the equipment then the person issuing the permit is fully responsible.

I got to think about it further, and having slept that night I decided the next morning to go by air to the scene of the accident. I called the local airline, booked my ticket and got the 10.40 am flight that morning. Having collected the flight tickets at their local ticketing office, I asked my wife to send me to the airport. I checked in and waited. And the plane was late by about 3 hours and I got very restless. Luckily though the airline company gave us the delayed passengers a meal voucher each. I was supposed to be fasting that day but because of the waiting and the delays I got emotionally upset and I became very hungry so I broke my fast. I presented the meal voucher at the canteen in the airport and had my meal. It was not really a good meal, just fried mee (egg noodles) and iced tea.

3 hours later the plane arrived and I flew to Kuala Lumpur, arriving there 40 minutes later. In Kuala Lumpur I tried to find the earliest flight to my destination. No seat available until 7.40 pm that evening. So another 5 hours wait. And I had to change my plane ticket as I had booked earlier to a place closer to the scene of the accident, and there was no more earlier than 8.00 pm flight to that original place then. And waiting to change the ticket was about another hour, it seems that day was a very day for the airline. Many planes got delayed and most of their bookings for domestic flights have been fully booked and the waiting list may be as long as another plane load in most flights. And I do not think the airline has got the double number of planes currently for domestic flights.

Luckily I have already confirm booked earlier for the 7.40 pm flight, and so I had no problem getting a seat by that flight.

Looking around at the airport I realised how lucky I was even at getting into the 7.40 pm flight. Many may not even have seats yet. Was it because there were too many Middle Eastern tourists around booking all the local flights seats. There were actually many Middle Eastern tourist, and they all seemed to carry large number of big pieces of luggage, as if they were on job transfer to Malaysia. The whole family and their servants were with them. No wonder so may pieces of large luggage. I cannot complain really, they bring in a lot of foreign exchange to Malaysia. And I must comment the airport authority of even announcing all announcements in English, Bahasa Malaysia and Arabic. It used to be in Japanese as well but that day I noticed that Japanese was not used.

I had my MacDonald meal at the airport, went into the departure lounge of the airport and waited. I got into the plane all right, many Middle East tourists included and we arrived safely at the next airport about 40 minutes later. Just imagine, it took me about 12 hours to travel over the distance when I was actually on the plane for just about 80 minutes. Do you then call plane travel efficient? But I suppose I cannot complain, had I traveled by car I would have to traveled for over 400 km on highways and paying road tolls as well. It would have been a very tiring journey, not to mention the drive for which I may have to contribute my energy to driving the vehicle, not over the whole distance by at least part of the distance. I may not just let my friend drive, he would have been tired as well.

Arriving at that airport, I got a taxi. I must comment that the taxi was a new vehicle, Ford Lynx 2.0 and it was a smooth 1/2 hour drive. And the taxi driver was quite chatty and I thank him for being so. If he had been a quiet type, it would have been really a boring taxi ride, and after the 12 hours torture of waiting for flights I felt a needed to talk to someone. At least with someone I could relate my flight delay torture, he was the listener I needed. I suppose I was the listener he needed as well, to tell his life story. It seemed that he had many relatives in the State of Pahang, the place where I started the journey this morning and he is very familiar with the State. In fact he could straight away tell me where I came from by listening to my Malay slang. At least we had a common interest.

Having arrived at the hotel I contacted my friend who was already there,. After a shower we had meals together and we call the people involved for a briefing session that night as we have to go to the scene of the accident early the next morning. I did not get to go to bed until after well past midnight.

The next morning we went to visit the victim of the accident at the local hospital. He got burnt in the face, first skin layer turning black of burnt marks due to the electrical flash over, burnt on his right hand and two fingers on his left hand. In my opinion he was very lucky to get away with such light injury due to an electrical flash over at 11 kV. He was recovering fast and he seemed none the worst for his injuries. Anyway he already had his wife and children in town; he was about 31 years old.

We went to the scene of the accident after that and saw the electrical circuit concerned. I thought again that the victim was lucky, he had followed most of the rules of electrical safety. His superior mentioned that the superior had tested the circuit before allowing the victim to work on it. And the victim somehow was also cautious, he already earthed one end of his cable before attempting to connect to the part of the circuit where he was supposed to work on. There was a flash over though, and the victim somehow was suitably clothed in protective coverall but he did not wear rubber gloves nor face shield. He got injured on his face and his hands but the protective coverall protested him; the coverall was burnt in some part but did not penetrate to his skin.

Asking more questions, we got the answers that the circuit where the victim was supposed to work on was still alive. This was admitted by the owners Technician concerned and it was also admitted that the 11 kV switch gear for that incoming cable was not ‘off’ nor was it racked out. And the owners Technician with the working team was different from that who did the electrical isolation switching and the person signing the permits were different from those doing the switching. An unfortunate procedure I thought. In addition it was also unfortunate that the head Technician of the working team did not detect the live cables even after testing it. All these info however we obtained the next morning after the visit to the scene of the accident, when interviewing all people involved.

An unfortunate accident, luckily not fatal. A procedure of switching electrical circuit not fully controlled. And my bad experience of having to take delayed airplane flights.

To Shout Back

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Chartering a weak week.

It’s a funny feeling that you have when you realise that you have spent one whole week without any result or changes in your life, no added experience but just routine. A sort of a day to day routine. This happens to me this week.

Coming back to Kuantan from Kuala Lumpur (KL) on Thursday last week, and then having to do routine work on Friday followed by going back to the kampong on Saturday for my wife’s male cousion wedding; more of a homecoming ceremony really as he had already been married in KL last weekend. Actually about 3 months ago his sister got married and now its his turn, same family same house similar occasion except of course a different couple. That is why sometime I wonder about the economics of a Malay wedding. But again if the family is rich why not, just spend when you have a lot of money to spend. Have a big party.

In reality a Malay wedding in a kampong does not cost so much money, as most work are done by the kampong folks on a voluntary basis, so of you scratch my back and I scratch yours. You only have to be good to them, respect them, have proper meetings with them, use the kampong headman as the leader, give them things to eat when they come for meetings, provide them meals when they work, and you volunteer when others have weddings for their children (or even themselves), then you are all set to have a big feast for least cost.

Where do you hire the equipment such as tents, tables and chairs? And cooking utensils, spoons and forks?. In most kampong they have the mosque committee (it’s a common kampong assets really) who have these equipment for hire. So you hire from them, and they do everything for you. The kampong folks not just the mosque committee.

On that Thursday on the way back to Kuantan, watching them working to erect tents for the feast, I observe that most of the folks who came were old men, mostly above 50 years old. Where have all the young men gone? Don’t the young men in the village help? And on the Saturday evening when they were cooking for the feast I observed that there were a lot of women, not young women really, most are middle aged. Again where have all the young girls gone? I mean don’t they all want to learn how to manage a wedding feast in the kampong when all the old folks have died? I suppose when the old folks die then the next generation will just say, “Lets take catering for all our weddings and gatherings feasts”. It will be very costly really really; I understand that in KL its costs about RM 15.00 per head (USD 1.00 = RM 3.80) to cater for a wedding feast. Of course the caterer will provide food, tents and all. Imagine if you are expecting 1500 guest you will be paying about RM22,500.00 whereas by the old kampong folks volunteer method you will probably just have to spend about RM 10,000.00 for all the gatherings food etc etc. I suppose the young may consider the expensive cost as money well spent, people just come to eat and go away. In reality this is not to my mind the best way, people get together from the beginning of the preparation to the cooking, eating and washing and the dismantling of equipment make people get more close together. A kampong comradeship. I don’t suppose the young will agree with me, the worlds has become so commercialised now and people are distancing themselves from each other and everybody wants everything ‘instant’.

And the beauty about such a gathering is that all the relatives far and near get invited and they all came. A sort of family get together as well. And when they have the same ceremony and feast later at their places then all the relatives and friends get invited again, renewing relationships and friendships.

It so happens that during this time there is the fruit season in the kampong so we had a lot of durians, rambutans and mangosteen being served, or just go to the orchard and you can have your fill. And children also enjoyed themselves by climbing these fruit trees, picking up fruits and also fishing (under supervision) in the fish ponds nearby. A happy occasion really. In the end everybody was exhausted, but it was worth it.

In that kampong even though we had had a good time at the wedding feast but unfortunately 2 of the neighbouring houses have very sick people in them. One had had a heart bypass surgery about 2 year ago but is now suffering in addition from kidney failure ailment. So he is on a dialysis machine. Another is suffering from advance cancer of the stomach,. He underwent a surgery about 1 year ago, but have failed to follow up his regular chemo sessions. Now I think the cancer is quite advanced. I felt a bit awkward really when there we were making merry at the wedding but 2 neighbouring houses have very sick old people in them. But I suppose life has to go on.

The one thing about the kampong, its weather had been quite pleasant when we were having the feast. Its cool and misty in the morning, felt the chill sometime. There are a lot of trees in the kampong unlike in KL where there are fewer trees and more concrete buildings, and where the temperature is always about the 90s (F that is) in the morning and may reach 100 in the day time. In the kampong the temperature may go as low as the 70s in the morning and where in the afternoon it may be as high as 90s. And the temperature in Kuantan (where I am now) at this time of the year is between low 70s in the morning and low 90s in the afternoon. Not bad really, but bear in mind that Kuantan is a coastal town.

The week of 1st July 2005 also brings in something new. Effectively, Malaysian Government servants start to work on a 5 day week. The working hours is from 8.00 am to 4.30 pm. (It was earlier reported in a local press as 7.30 am to 4.30 pm). I suppose many Government servants will be late for office, traffic jam, sending children to school (spouses to other offices) and whatever excuse they have. But who cares, the public will not be seeing them until about 9.00 am at the earliest. In reality the Government servants will spend more time in the office on a working day but least time for real effective work. But Government servants being Government servants, who cares. But doesn’t the Government care?

I must say that this week also bring its excitement. Before the week, an MP (in the Malaysian Parliament) brought into the debate the case of kas-kas or poppy seed used in Indian curry. Some says its addictive, while others say its not. But for me now I know why I find Indian curry very tasty, they must have used a lot of kas-kas or poppy seeds in them. So be aware. What is kas-kas? Its scientific name is papaver somniferum.

The other subject that makes the news is AP or Approved Permits. These are permits issued by the Malaysian Ministry of International Trade for people to import cars assembled overseas for sales in Malaysia. Who do the Government give these APs to? Not many people really know who, and the Minister herself won’t speak. She only mention about Tabib M son getting an AP to import a very expensive car. And as for the rest, we Malaysian still do not know. We have an idea though (Malaysians are not stupid, though some people think that we are stupid and still keep us all in the dark over things like this AP business). Why is AP so much in demand? Its because you can make a lot of money!. You can make as much as a 600% profit by selling a foreign assembled car in this country. People might argue about the profit margin though but according to some reliable(?) some sources you can never make less than 100 % profit, deducting all expenses. So if you get some APs you can be rest assured that you will be living a very comfortable life until you leave this earth. Probably continue on to your children and your grand children.

And Malaysia moral value is another area if interest, and spoke about quite often. Many Muslims are caught being in close proximity (in houses, rooms or even unlighted public areas – day or night - ) with their lovers, or the opposite sex who may not even be lovers, probably casual friends. The Muslim Religious Department goes all out to maintain the moral of Muslim Malaysians. But the funny part is that they maintain good sexual moral on close proximity but many Muslims still gamble at Magnum shops and 4D shops. What is 4D? Well its just a forecast of some numbers that comes periodically after a horse race or something. I do not know much really for I do not play the Magnum or the 4D.

I suppose this dull week (or a weak week) or similar will go on and on until I do not know when. Sometime the period can be exciting, especially when you have to face some unexpected challenges in life, for example when people pay you late for your services and you have to juggle you cash flow.

Only God knows of the future.

To Shout Back