Children of a Lesser God

It was the afternoon before the eve of Chinese New Year and I had barely recovered from my overseas trip two days before. The drab sky had turned dark, with pale sunlight seeping through in patches of light blue. We arrived at the Pusat Penjagaan Kanak-Kanak Cacat Taman Megah (PPKKCTM) just as the rain pelted on the windscreen.
We were there simply because it is family tradition to visit a home before Chinese New Year.
Below: Baskar, manager of PPKKCTM
The people
According to Baskar the manager of the home, PPKKCTM is housed with 132 people, mostly children, mostly physically and mentally challenged. The majority of the children are abandoned by their parents upon birth.
There were about 10-15 visitors; physio-therapy for the children was in full swing. Baskar was a busy guy and we were in the main area where the clinic, kindergarten, physio-therapy and other activities were carried out. I flicked out my C902 and asked for permission to snap photographs.
"Now, why would anyone abandoned their children?", I quizzed Baskar.
"Well, not all are abandoned by their parents, but mostly are. Most of the children here- besides being handicapped, are in multiple situations- broken home, odd-job parents and so on." My eyes gazed outside the house, the busy courtyard, where the rest of children were.
Below: 'Their parents just can't face the pain...'
Baskar continued, "Some parents continue to visit their children after sending them here, but many loose strength and stop coming altogether as time goes by. They just can't face the pain. Some (parents) also tell us not to bother them even if their kid passes away."
He pointed to Patrick, a four-year old left in a box by his parents under the scorching afternoon sun at the longkang outside the PPKKCTM premises. Under the care of the centre Patrick underwent brain surgery to remove fluids from this head. As as result of this surgery he lost most of his sight. During our visit he was strapped to contraption, undergoing occupational therapy. According to Baskar, Patrick is also suffering from cerebal palsy and muscular dystrophy.
Below: Patrick, 4, abandoned by parents under
the scorching sun about a year ago. He is not
asleep but blind, currently undergoing therapy.
Above: Sri, 3 months old, suffering from multple conditions.
She breaths through a tube because there is no other way to do so.
The home
The PPKKCTM has been given a year from December 2008 to move out of its premises at Taman Megah- because of neighbours and the authorities. Firstly, the residents there do not welcome the added noise and activities going on; secondly, there's no permit to convert that part of the area from residential house to care centre. The PPKKCTM has acquired a parcel of land which they need RM4.1 million more to develop the centre before they can move in. According to Cheah Siong Nyin, PPKKCTM 's Trustee, they are running of time. They have sought MP Tony Phua's assistance but was adivsed to raise funds quickly.
The chidlren are from all races, out of the 132, only about 100 are disabled- the rest are normal children.
Quran classes, speech therapy (whistle blowing, straw-sucking, tongue folding, etc), special studies, physio and occupational therapy (walking, standing, sitting, etc).
The expenses
The centre has a burn-rate of RM60K per month. This cost does not include capital expenditure for special therapy equipment. Most of it go to medical care, food and staff wages. The source of income remains mainly from donations- it has stopped selling souvenirs (which it previously does) because of of the lack of a license.
I doubt I can describe the hardship here in its true sense. Go visit this place to feel this place yourself.
Charity begins at home- before we look to help others abroad, let's fix up our backyard first. God Bless, and have a Happy Chinese New Year.
Donations can be addressed to: "Pusat Penjagaan Kanak-kanak Cacat Taman Megah"
Bank Account: RHB Bank BHD TMN Megah Branch Account No: 26220500000121
Tax exempt ref: LHDN.01/35/42.51/179-6.4935

Saigon, pre-Chinese New Year

Great family ties
"Why on earth is is always so crowded here?", I said above my breath we hurried our way through the airport crowd to the where the hotel car was parked. The weather was a good 32 degrees Celcius and heat from the beaming afternoon sun had crept onto the porte-corche.
Above: The welcome crowd eagerly awaits arrivals at the brand new
Tan Son Nhat International Airport
Nguyen, the hotel concierge guy replied with a smirk, "I dunno you call it good or bad, sir... but in Vietnam airport, one arrival, ten family waiting...traffic jam!". He was right, really. Family members eagerly await the flight of their loved ones at the arrival hall, but the so-called arrival hall is right outside the airport and they are not allowed in. Thus the crowd spill over to the taxi driveway.

Sexy city
Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the Communist party took over Vietnam in 1975. It is the largest city in Vietnam with an official population of about 10 million people. Unofficial count of population- according to Saigon residents: 12 million. This city is bursting at its seams, with public infrastructure and amenities in dire need of expansion. The unofficial count difference in population is mainly due to mass migration of country folk to the city seeking better jobs.
Above: Saigon Square, heart of the city
Below: Saigon Square by night, under round-the-clock preparation
for the Chinese New Year. Shot from the 15th floor of the Sheraton Saigon

Below: The Caravalle Hotel and Sheraton Saigon looks majestically
over the heart of Saigon's business and entertainment district
Don't get me wrong, despite the high population, Saigon is still a very well-preserved city, architecture -rich in its colonial-French past. Majority of buildings in the city centre are 2 to 3 stories, except for a few corporate sky-scrappers and low-rise apartments. This city has a resortie feel to it, unlike Kuala Lumpur, which has very little trace of its British-colonial era in terms of building facade. The Vietnam people and its Communist Party, unlike the Federal Government of Malaysia, are proud of their French connection, despite the tough painful Indochina Wars and a few other wars to rid the country of French occupation. The mentality of the DBKL (the Kuala Lumpur City Council) and the Federal Government of Malaysia are worse than Third World. DBKL has always been demolition-pro, destroying buildings without historical regard; and lately, its street-renaming project is drawing more flak than ever from KL-folk.
Below: The Saigon River, shot from 12th floor of The Renaisance
Riverside Hotel
Below: The Municipal Theatre
Above: Right in the middle of Saigon Square. This place was
off-limits. Barred from access because of Chinese New Year
decoration works, I managed to sneak through to snap a pic
before being ordered to go away.
Watch your bag
My spare mobile was always tucked into a pouch attached to my laptop bag. Once, while I was in a cab, the phone rang, but the ring came from the cab driver's breast-pocket and not my bag. The cab driver had flicked open my pouch and slip my mobile phone into his pocket without me realising. He did this while on the pretext of helping me with my bag.

City of bikes
Saigon roads are chaotic, seemingly lack of traffic lights and traffic police; the main highway out of the city is riddled with potholes. The traffic is crazy- it takes 45 to 60 minutes to get through a 7-km ride from airport to city centre. It's a bike city- with about 4-5 million of motorbikes thronging its roads everyday. Car-drivers horn every 5 seconds, motorbikes are king. Its riders seem unbothered, unperturbed by sudden loud horning which would shock the average Malaysian motorcyclist out of his seat.
Above: Masked-riders throng the city roads
Below: A basement parking lot
Below: Weaving through cars and buses
I had limited time and did not go to any tourist attractions because of a tight work schedule. The shots posted here are all quick point and shoot pics with my durable Sony Ericsson Cybershot C902. Daytime pics were taken while on the way to meetings. The night pics were accomplished by a quick one-hour walk through the city centre.
Above: A street-peddlar persuading me to part with my money
Below: Saigon is a haven for shoppers- it is cheaper than Bangkok.
One can find original premium brands (not knock-offs) sold cheap
in the streets of Saigon. The is due to increasing foreign investment
in Vietnam.
Market liberalization
Over the last 15 years Vietnam has seen incredible market changes to woo foreign investors. For instance its revised Insurance Law (2001) allows foreign joint venture insurance firms and subsidiary branches wholly owned by foreign insurance companies to operate in Vietnam. Its revamped banking system also changed how business is run and made exceptional gains in the progress of its payment system. After gaining entry into AFTA, Vietnam had, in a hurry, committed to reducing tariffs and trade barriers for a 10-year period from 1995 to 2006.
The crunch from its wars have rendered Vietnam least of the developed countries in ASEAN. After going through 3 generations of war, Vietnam, has shed its battle-scars, but is again on the warpath. This time on the road to economic progress and modernization.
Below: Hong Leong Bank's Group Managing Director
Yvonne Chia announcing operations startup of the
bank's maiden branch in Vietnam

Feedback required on HK 2009-10 Budget

The ads above have been running full time on HK TV. Ads are in Cantonese though. It's part of the HK government's campaign in formulating its 2009-10 budget. A comic book is also being launched to educate the HK public on the importance of feedback for this budget.
The misai-guy appearing in the ad is John Tsang, Financial Secretary (FS) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, whoose job oversees policy formulation and implementation in financial, monetary, economic, trade and employment matters in HK.

Dimsum afternoon

"All Malaysians are proud of their country... are you?". Smiles were directed at me, and so was the question. I was in the company of four charming friends.
It was strange this question should pop-up during lunch time. We were in a bustling restaurant at Wanchai, waiting to be served dimsum. I wanted to say that I'm outright proud of Malaysia, being in the company of foreign friends, but really, I'm proud of it in a different manner.
"Yes, I'm proud of Malaysia- not the Malaysia now, but the future Malaysia...rid of corruption and racism." I went on to explain in a nutshell how Malaysia is. "The future is bright. Many people want change and they are not afraid to strive for it. We will move forward once we solve matters of freedom and justice."
It's ok to be ideal;  at this juncture, I  noticed a couple of my HK friends became moist in the eyes (?). They connected to my statement, probably because I said it in full conviction. I learn that, HK people are nationalists- proud of their country and how their jobs contribute to nation-building and their economy. Due to the Malaysian socio-political blogs which are picked up by the HK mainstream newspapers, the well-read HK person knows what's roughly happening in Malaysia. That question was just being asked to pick my brain on my political orientation.
Thanks to the work of the Malaysian bloggers (political bloggers inclusive) whose work goes beyond the call of duty of a 'regular' citizen, fighting many battles on the behalf of the Malaysian people. Good night Malaysia.

Are you kidding me

The bright neon lights of Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.
Cold weather made took me on shopping trip tonight. It's 11 degrees- getting a sweater/ jumper/ scarf is a necessity. I kick myself for not preparing for this cold weather- I knew about the cold from the weather forecast (I keep the forecasts of countries I travel to in iGoogle) but yet I let the precendence of travelling light take over necessity. Yes, I travel light- I use a 14" wide bag for one-night stays, and a 16" bag for stays exceeding one night. The other only bag I carry is my laptop bag. 
Looking quickly through a few department stores- I could not believe the price of winter clothes. 'Dirt' cheap that is- compared to Malaysia, and HK itself a month ago. My last trip here was in December, the average daytime temperature was 20 degrees being the start of winter. It was also the time of the HK mega-year end sale. However, the jackets and shoes that I liked cost above HKD1,000 (RM1 ~ HKD2.4). I thought stuff was overpriced being sale time, morever I thought it was cheaper in Malaysia. I ended up not buying anything.
Today, somewhere the peak of HK winter, winter clothes being the necessity, prices are like, slashed 50%-80%- somewhat cheaper than the year-end sales??!! What the?!
How to beat the cold in HK:
- walk faster that the HK people; body warms up hence not cold anymore
-drink more hot soup; have more hot soup noodles
-a friend advises- cut-up the hotel blanket and use it as a scarf, but I don't think this is advisable.

Cold Hong Kong

A month ago I had the chance to look through a few departmental stores in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. It was the start of the winter, however, I thought the clothing sold was unnecessarily thick. The average temperature then was 20 degrees.

Now, the average is about 16-18 degrees during the day and drops sbout 7-8 degrees during the night. I find my jacket (which I would struggle about in Malaysian weather) hopeless against the cold in the street. I am contemplating beefing up my luggage with some winter clothing here.


Meanwhile, two house breakins occurred over the last 2 days in Taman Bunga Raya, Wangsa Maju. According to witnesses, the robbers escaped on foot.

US unemployment reaches 2.6 million

When I read a forecast on US unemployment a year ago, I though a million unemployed was on the high side. But now, unemployment is the US is 2.6 million year-to-date 2008. From the graph, unemployment started to rise sharply after August reaching the peak of 588K in November 2008. It's the historical-worst for 16 years.

No one boycotts oneself

Tun Mahathir, Association of Muslim Restaurant Operators of Malaysia (Presma), Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) should have seeked my advice before going ahead with that US products boycott. 
I've got a feeling Mahathir forgot that he created Malaysia Incorporated during his tenure as PM- prior to 1998 foreign companies setting up shop in Malaysia were required to have local partners and a limited 30% foreign shareholding only. In 1998 admist the economic crisis rules were relaxed for the manufacturing sector and to those companies which did not have direct competition with local companies' products and services. Up to this day many foreign companies retain significant local shareholding if not a 100% local shareholding.

In fact many of these foreign companies have at least 30% Bumiputra shareholding. Companies like F&NCC Beverages S/B owns 90% of F&N Coca-Cola (M) S/B; F&NCC Beverages S/B in turn is over 41% locally-owned mostly by Permodalan Nasional Bhd (the guys behind Amanah Saham). KFC Malaysia is fully local; while Starbucks Malaysia is owned by Berjaya and McDonald's owned by Golden Arches Restaurants S/B. Permodalan Nasional Bhd also owns a can coating company which supplies chemical coatings for Coke cans. Local manufacturers Kian Joo are big time players in the can and packaging industry involving US brands. The spread in the supply chain is deeper and wider than one thinks.

Direct impact on the local industry
In reality, Malaysia is a small market to these US-products and a boycott will impact the local boys more. These companies are major employers of local people- for instance companies such as Dell Penang is the single biggest employer in Prai.
I don't think a boycott is a good idea at all; nor will it affect the US in any way,because to the US guys, Malaysia is small market. This boycott came about because we can't get hold of anything Jewish, that's all. Even if intended to be symbolic, I would expect these Muslim groups think of something better.

An airplane conversation

Last flight out
It was the last flight out from KLIA to Singapore on a Sunday night, as I intended to have a late check-in at the hotel. A hectic week ahead, packed with conferences and meetings. I glanced at the book cover of the  page book which I had just purchased before the flight wondering how much I could sink in on a 55-minute flight. The day was drawing to an end, and I was lethargic. My mind would not be on the book. I decided to strike a conversation with a fellow passenger on my left instead.

"Are you on work, or holidays...?"
Barely in her thirties. A doctor, Malaysia-born, now residing in Singapore. Our conversation went into politics; proceeded to healthcare in Malaysia and Singapore.
Healthcare in Malaysia 
"You know, public healthcare is a big difference between Singapore and Malaysia. In Singapore, quality of public healthcare is higher than Malaysia's general hospitals....but the cost is much more expensive in Singapore." She went on to explain that Singaporeans have to pay thousands, even in public hospitals.
"It is not easy, especially for the aged... the aunties and uncles. They can get social welfare, but the application procedures aren't that simple... not to mention the waiting period. Even though Malaysian public hospitals are not five-star, healthcare is still available cheaply for everyone in Malaysia. That is most important."
The A330 touched down on the wet runway of Changi Airport. We gathered our hand-luggage and proceeded to immigration check-out. Waving and parting ways, I walked out into the warm Singapore night to catch a cab to Trader's Hotel. My cab taxied out of the tarmac and into the street, as the rain drizzled softly on the window panes , I could not help pondering on my dad's thirty ringgit bill for a week's stay at the KLGH.

New blog

Blogger of this blog, Kelly, starts a new blog here. A new year resolution, this will be a blog on a more personalized level, says Kelly. Meanwhile she will continue to post articles at the existing site here.
Me? I will still be blogging under the hood of anonymity.

2008- a year of change

Badawi: 'Headache doing last minute jobs, you know.'

Regional economy

Year 2008 has come and gone....just like that. It was a year of major ups and downs where paradoxically 'up' did not necessarily mean a good thing. Inflation was up at its record highest (8.5%) ever in the span of 26 years; the last time it ever hit  the level of  8.5% was somewhere back in 1981. Raised electricity tariffs and transport costs as a result of a Cabinet decision to increase the retail petrol price in May 2008 drove consumer prices to its peak in August 2008. Yes. it's true that global oil prices affected everyone, especially ASEAN countries. Vietnam reached peak inflation at 29%; Indonesia 12+%; Thailand 6+%; Singapore 6+%. Malaysia hit that high simply because the Cabinet decided to increase the petrol price at a single go. Malaysia could have planned better, done better.

The General Elections
2008 was also the year where BN was beaten to the pulp in the March general elections. This 'correction' is direct result the Malaysian citizens' pent-up frustration of the BN-government's racist practices, display of corruption and ill-management of the country.

Great show, Bank Negara
With Bank Negara's steady hand at the wheel, a housing loan crisis was avoided by simply, erm, doing nothing, to increase the Overnight Policy Rate; which otherwise would increase interest rates. If Bank Negara had followed the conventional way of controlling inflation by increasing interest rates  (the OPR, in this case) like its ASEAN neighbors, home-owners with home loans would have been done for. The highest ever Malaysia had for BLR was 12.27% (1998) and 12.25% (1985).
Banks in Malaysia maintained a steady BLR plus minus 6.5% throughout 2008. Thank goodness Zeti ran her outfit better than the reckless Abdullah Badawi. Ok, for 2009, can we drop that tiered pricing structure for credit card users in order to stimulate some consumer spending.

Unfair politics
2008 was the year of human rights abuse. Anwar Ibrahim's arrest in July over the Saiful-sodomy case drew international condemnation; strong press statements particularly from US Secretary of State Rice Condelezza,  former Canadian PM Paul Martin, ex-World Bank chief James Wolfensohn, and Michel Camdessus, the former head of the International Monetary Fund. A few months later in September, Raja Petra, Teresa Kok and Tan Hoon Cheng was arrested under ISA, an act originally formulated to curb communist insurgents in the 1950's.

What's in store for 2009
More job losses. A receeding economy. Higher crime rates. More time-wasting internal PR bickering while BN strengthens at the helm. Probably the implementation of Goods Services Tax.
On a personal level, 2008 was a turning point for me- for the first time in my life blogging socio-politically; witnessing the GE2008 'first-hand', and thankfully going through the high-inflation unscathed. I'm also glad for making new blogger friends- they helped me a lot in my informal socio-political education. Also thanks for my family members standing thick and thin with me.

Now on with 2009...

Mahathir: 'You just need two jokers to spoil the show...'