Thursday, June 29, 2006

My birthday

This year i had a great birthday. It started off with cooked breakfast in bed - scrambled eggs and sausages and freshly hand squeezed orange juice.. and a newspaper! What more could i ask for.

My birthday also happened to fall on the same day as the Oxbridge 4th Wednesday events so I decided to celebrate at the same time with my friends and invited them along to the event.

We had a fabulous dinner at my favorite restaurant, Cafe Cafe, which was only 10 minutes away from Bangsar, traffic permitting. The ambience is lovely - with crystal droplets floating from the ceiling, rich velvet drapes and European posters. I always feel like i'm no longer in KL whenever i step through the doors.

It was so lovely to see Faery again - who had been missing in action as she went on her Dharma mission to Italy and England. We also hadn't had Cookie's company for centuries - or it seemed like it. She looked so fab - she had lost so much weight, i was so envious! Wills even made it by the skin of his teeth - coming straight from the airport! GL and Kim also made the trek across town - i really appreciated having my friends with me... Andrew Lee, an old friend - i've known him since i was about 6 - also came, and Tze Meng, who was at Cambridge with me.. Pooi Lam and Sian.. Elizabeth..

Sean came too but he wasn't feeling well - GL was my heroine for the night as she took him home half way through dinner. Really appreciate it, GL.. Susan couldn't do it because she wouldn't be able to (a) find her way back to Bangsar and (b) find her way back to Cafe Cafe.

Anyway, the food, as always, was superb. I had foie gras - if i was going to die tomorrow, at least i would die happy. I tried Kim's risotto which was really very good - especially as i'm not a risotto fan. Elizabeth brought a delicious chocolate mud cake..

At the end of the evening, Wills was my hero for the night as he bought dinner for our table! Such a sweetheart!

A slight hiccup to the day was when Sean locked the bathroom doors and we couldn't find the spare keys... after searching fruitlessly until around 11.45pm, i decided to call it a night and find a locksmith the next day.

i spent the rest of my birthday in blue and yellow lights... the best part of the entire day, i'd say ;)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Last Thursday, GL had asked me to join her as part of the Soroptimist delegation at the Perdana Peace Conference, at PWTC. I had a thousand and one things to do (and more) but what the heck. It sounded interesting, so off i went without any preconception of what it was about. I didn't know anything about it at all except that Tun Dr. Mahathir was giving a keynote address and that would be interesting at the least.

We arrived on time and the hall was already filling up. Luckily we managed to get a couple of seats - though i did politely ask a sour looking gentleman, i mean, man, whether the two seats were taken and he looked at me as if i had asked if i could take his wallet. GL and i sat down and commented loudly about how could we expect peace on earth if people can't even smile at each other. Anyway, in a few minutes there was standing room only. When Puan Sri Gnanalingam, our SIROM President, arrived, there were no more seats. Except for one, next to the unsmiling man. She asked him if it was taken and he said yes so she retreated to the back of the hall. Forty minutes later, she came over and asked if she could sit there until the person arrived. He suddenly got up, grabbed his bag and stormed out of the hall.

Very bizzare.

Well, at least Puan Sri got her seat!

But i digress.

Tun Dr. Mahathir delivered his speech interspersed with a very strong video on the war in Iraq. There were dead women and children, crying children etc. Yes, many in the audience shed a tear or two. I didn't. I don't know why i didn't. I can cry over the smallest act of kindness but i wasn't moved by the atrocities. I felt that the video was overly biased against the Americans, although their actions were obviously very, very, very wrong - the massacres, the killing of innocent civilians etc. My CNN lobotomised brain automatically thought - what about the innocent people who died in 9/11? What about Iraq invading Kuwait? War kills. Simple. Kills Americans, kills Iraqis and anyone else at the wrong place at the wrong time. Tun Dr. Mahathir was advocating 'Criminalising War' and that by the US and UK invading Iraq illegally - because it wasn't sanctioned by the United Nations, effectively Bush and Blair (hmm i hadn't noticed the alliteration before) should be war criminals.

Dr Denis Halliday and Mr Hans-Christof Von Sponeck then followed with their speeches - they were both former UN Humanitarian Coordinators in Iraq at the Assistant Secretary-General level, and both argued strongly against the US hegemony over the UN. Dr Halliday stated the obvious - Killing is unjust. There can be no just war. I did learn a few things - that the US contributes 22% of the annual budget for the UN, which is less than USD400 million. And that it costs the US over USD5 BILLION per month to keep troops in Iraq. I left the conference with some extra knowledge but being a staunch 'make love not war' person anyway, I didn't feel particularly outraged.

Then coincidentally, on Sunday, i received an email about a documentary on 9/11. I was directed to a website called, where there is a video documentary about the whole 9/11 incident which proves beyond a doubt that there are questions which need to be answered. The details would take too long to list here. See the video yourself and see what you think.

It has changed my view of 9/11 forever.

As long as there are people who are above the law - unanswerable to anyone, the world will never be at peace. If Bush, the loudest proponent of war, remains in power - he is there because of the votes of the American people. America - wake up! I personally believe that Bush is there because he sold the soul of America. In order to get the significant Christian vote to stay in power, he agreed to the 'constitutional amendment to protect marriage'.

Maybe to the Christians in America, it's ok to go kill non-Christians. Maybe to the Christians in America, it's even a good thing to kill the 'heathens'. So in exchange for the right to kill, Bush agreed to kill gay marriages. How do gay marriages threaten the institution of marriage? What IS marriage? While celebrities can go around pro-creating at the drop of a hat without getting married, and people like Britney Spears could get married overnight in Vegas and regret the decision the next day, a man who loves another man can never get married because it is viewed as being against the law. What law? Something coming from love is seen as sick and illegal while something else coming causing death and torture is considered acceptable regardless of the cost. What kind of sick world is this?

Sorry - just needed to rant.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Visiting the Rainbow Home

Shirley came over at 10am to fetch Susan, Sean and i to the Rainbow Home. Even though i have been there twice, i still cannot figure out how to get there - unfortunately, Cheras is indeed an alien planet to me.

Rainbow Home is the home chosen by the SIPJ (Soroptimist International Petaling Jaya) as a project to impart good and moral values to underpriviledged kids. This isn't considered as an orphanage as there are only two orphans there. The rest of the kids come from single mothers or parents who can't cope because of various problems including drug abuse. Ages range from six to eighteen, and a few of the kids are slow in development and go to special schools.

The kids greeted us from inside the house when we were just outside the gate – calling out ‘teacher’! ‘Hello teacher’! It was quite heartening to have such a warm welcome!

When we entered the home, we found a bit more than we bargained for. Sheila (the lady in charge of the Home, who is a pastor's wife) had told Shirley that there would be 12 kids but when we arrived, there were 20 or thereabouts! i think Shirley looked quite panic stricken at first! But the kids settled down quickly without much ado and sat on the floor in front of Shirley who was doing the reading this time.

Jas Bir, IPP (immediate past president) of SIPJ, had conducted the first reading/story telling a couple of weeks ago and did a great job of it so it would be a tough act to follow. But follow Shirley did and excelled in her own way.

Shirley started off by telling the kids ‘no, we’re not teachers, we’re aunties’ and introduced herself and the rest of us – Carol, Kim, Susan, myself and even Sean, who came along too. She got all the kids’ names down and then proceeded with the recall session as we discussed last Weds. I had brought along a couple of fluffy toys to add some interest to the "Ali and the tiger" story (the Malaysian version of the shepherd boy and the 'cry wolf' story)- an old dusty sheep and a leopard. Yes I know it’s supposed to be a tiger, but I didn’t have one. Aside from the spots vs stripes issue, they do look alike, right?

Anyway, since a lot of the kids weren’t there at the first session when Jas Bir told the 'cry wolf' story, Shirley went through it again and added another dimension to the story – what friends are for, which is to care for each other. After that, we had a brief ‘get to know you’ session – where Shirley asked the kids what their favorite subjects were at school and their interests. That was quite fun – the boys were especially excited when she asked if anyone liked football! The kids also shared that they tended to like the school subjects which were in each kid's native language, or language they understood best. The chinese educated kids liked chinese and some others liked English. It was great to get to know what they liked and why. Some of the kids are so bright it breaks my heart that they don't have the opportunities other kids take for granted.

The last half an hour was spent telling the story of Rapunzel – using the pictures from Anna's book to illustrate it. Anna is a fourteen year old girl who seems slightly challenged, but from the first session, she continues to show such a love for hearing English being read that is so touching.

The kids seemed to be enthralled by the story and inched closer and closer to Shirley and ended up practically crowding round her at the end! They really enjoyed the ‘story telling’ part. Later, Kim said that she observed that the kids were actually quiet and seemed mesmerized by Shirley’s spoken English, and that may be what the kids find most fascinating. We also realized that the kids really liked the pictures and Shirley said she had some books with big pictures in which she can bring at the next session.

All in all, I thought it was a great job done by Shirley, so kudos for that. when Shirley first brought up this reading project to me several months ago, i was very clear and adamant to her that i did not share her passion to read to the kids and that i did NOT wish to take part in the actual reading. I would be very happy to help brain storm, plan lessons and do whatever preparatory activities etc. but definitely NOT do the reading because i’m simply not very kid oriented! However, saying that (and i still feel the same i.e. I am not keen to do the readings), i have told the team that i WILL of course do so if the team is short handed and if i am available at that time.

I do think this is a really great project and hope that it will benefit the kids in more ways than we anticipate. Shirley will do a good job leading it as this is her brainchild and her passion – I remember her saying she couldn’t wait to get started and she was so excited about it! So now it’s started – i look forward to helping in whatever small ways i can.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Oxbridge English Language Event

10ish on Saturday morning, i toddled off to Sunway University College to help out at the annual Oxbridge English Language Event. This is organised in the name of The Oxford & Cambridge Society of Malaysia, where society members who are alumni of the respective universities give talks to around 1000 Form 4 and Form 5 students from top Malaysian schools, from Melaka, Seremban and as far as Johore (though not this year).

This was my third year participating. The first year, i had foolishly agreed to give a talk on 'Effective Writing Skills'. As a writer and not a speaker, i should have declined, but fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Anyway, needless to say, the following year and this year, i opted NOT to give a talk but to simply contribute as a judge in the essay competition.

i was a little perturbed when i heard that one of my fellow alumni had declined to participate as judge because he felt that there was a conflict of interest, i.e. because it was held at Sunway University College, and our current President is also the Executive Director of Sunway UC.

The reason why i was perturbed was because i felt that while the Society enjoyed various great events, such as the Boat Race Ball and lectures and talks by prominent and prestigious experts in their fields, the English Language event was one event where the Society actually gave back to society. Fair enough that community work is NOT in our charter. But this event costs the O&C Society less than RM1000 (for prizes for the winners of the essay competition), and the only other cost is the time from those members who volunteer to participate.

On the other hand, the event costs Sunway some RM15-18,000 as they provide all the logistics for the event, from bussing the students and teachers in from their various schools, lunch for all of them, a team to meet the Oxbridge speakers and judges and make sure we know where to go, a Sunway teaching team to shortlist the essays for the Oxbridge judges, our tea and lunch too etc. In addition, they provide the venue - even our parking is paid for! They also organised the trophies for the winners of the essay competition which have the Oxford & Cambridge crests engraved onto them.

In my humble opinion, Oxbridge and Sunway together did a great job. When i heard the kids cheering in the hall as the various Oxbridge speakers went up to get their token of appreciation (also thoughtfully organised by Sunway), i really felt so glad i could be part of it.

Conflict of interest? Who loses? As i see it, the Society wins - Oxbridge gets kudos (and those great speakers do deserve it too), Sunway wins - yes, it benefits from being linked to Oxbridge, and raises its profile with the schools but best of all, the kids win.

Yes, the winners of the essay competition received some cash prizes and trophies. But the real benefit for the students was from having the opportunity to listen to good speakers talk about writing and speaking skills - and i trust that each of those students would have gone home with at least some iota of knowledge which was generously shared by our speakers.

So maybe it's not of direct benefit to the Society members, and maybe that's why some may see it as 'controversial' and a 'conflict of interest'. Or maybe it's the fact that Sunway gets some benefit from it and that can be considered a conflict of interest.

There was a suggestion that Oxbridge hold the event at a 'neutral' venue. Which is a constructive suggestion, but unfortunately, the Society does not have the manpower to organise this huge event and i am not sure that the members would think it worthwhile to spend RM15-18000 to sponsor this event.

i am sure that if the majority of members decided that the event should NOT proceed - for the simple reason that a minority number of members may think it beneath the Society to lend it's name to an event such as this - i would personally feel a most compelling need to resign from the Society. I'm sure it wouldn't be a great loss to the Society.

They probably won't even notice.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Master Cheng Yen

TR had told us a while back to watch a programme on Discovery Channel on Dharma Master, Cheng Yen. I had tried to catch it a few times but never seemed to be able to. I woke up late today and remembered it was on at 10a.m. so I quickly snapped on the TV.

I was enthralled.

Master Cheng Yen is a Buddhist nun based in Taiwan. She started the Tzu Chi movement in 1966, together with a core team of 30, consisting of mainly housewives, who supported the movement by saving NT0.50 (USD0.13) of their grocery money per day. From such humble beginings, Master Cheng Yen has built hospitals in remote areas of Taiwan and whole communities around them. Tzu Chi literally means "compassion relief" - it's a multi million dollar organisation today which is purely dedicated to give practical aid to the poor and provide spiritual encouragement to the rich. I was particularly moved by how she is so hands on in her approach - everyday, she only sleeps five hours and takes her meals in five minutes. The rest of the time is spent walking through her hospitals and talking to patients and doctors to see how to improve things.

I had often heard that Buddhists, unlike Christians, never go and provide relief in disaster stricken areas. I didn't know anything about it so just kept quiet. This TV documentary highlighted that Tzu Chi actually has 10 million members, of which 1 million members are trained volunteers all over the world. Training takes two years and is not to be taken lightly. At any time, these volunteers can be called into action.

Throughout the years, Tzu Chi has consistently helped the communities in disaster struck areas. First in Taiwan and then also overseas. In the Tsunami stricken Sri Lanka, Tzu Chi was one of the first teams to arrive. Six months later, when most of the relief organisations had gone, Tzu Chi was still there and was involved in the building of 675 houses. Even when the hurricane hit US, Tzu Chi sent its teams there to provide financial aid when it was sorely needed.

Tzu Chi is really Buddhist compassion in action, with the help of western medicine.

If a humble nun and 30 housewives can achieve so much, how can we say "I can't"?