Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Postcript: Déjà vu at MU’s Speaker’s Corner

Quoting the Star of Jan 27, 2010, ‘The reintroduction of the corner has a sense of déjà vu for UM, as the university housed Malaysia’s first corner for students in the 1970s.’

I had in my previous posting related on the day that I witnessed the launch of the original Speaker’s Corner of MU in the 65/66? session. (the acronym of University of Malaya is invariably written as ‘UM’ but students then fondly referred to it as ‘MU’. I’m not sure now, has it changed? )

The Speaker’s Corner at MU was reintroduced/relaunched/reestablished/reinstated, what-have-you, yesterday Jan 26, 2010. How you state it is not important. The point is, it is back and not anywhere too soon!

It was officiated through the gracious presence of the Dy Minister of Higher Education YB Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (who lamented the fact that he did not get a chance to participate before as it was then under wraps, with compliments of the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971).

Interestingly enough, Ms Shah Rizul Ayuni Zulkiply 23, took to the mike so to speak (mega-phone in this instance) minutes after when it was ‘open to the floor’ expounding ‘women’s power’ – 'on the role of female student leaders and the need to acknowledge their leadership qualities’

A former secretary of the MU’s Students’ Union, she said ‘the Speakers’ Corner was a good avenue for her to explain how female student leaders could complement their male counterparts.’ – good for her! Certainly this would not be the last we hear of her.

This a far cry from before when lady students were largely spectators to be ogled at and not heard! Times have changed, certainly for the better.

P.P.S (submitted Feb 02,2010) The Sunday Star of Jan 31, featured a news item and picture of Tan Sri Dr. Adam Kadir (ex-Senate President) leafing through past issues of Mingguan Malaysia where he had written in his column about the launching which was confirmed as June 15, 1966.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In The Nick of Time

The Star of Jan 22, 2010 carried a news item captioned ‘Heroes recount how they saved 9’ It told of the heroic exploits of two rescuers, Saiful Azhar and fisherman Yeoh Lai Pin relating to the Dragon Boat tragedy on Jan 17 in Penang.

In the said incident, 5 students and their teacher were drowned during training for a boat race. It was a sad outcome to what was intended to be just a sporting event. We feel for the concerned families in their hour of bereavement.

I am reminded of an incident many years ago, not quite similar, but also revolved around a water activity - a white water rafting downstream. I had mentioned about wanting to narrate about this episode in a previous posting.

This happened during the Kelantan River Expedition. We were (Putras of RMC) on our Hari Raya Break (crazy) from Feb 23 till Mar 03, 1963. There were altogether about 20 of us, averaging 18 years of age and a teacher-in-charge (‘ call me Gopala M.K.’)

On the way after leaving Gemas in the wee hours of the morning (Gemas was a hub of train change-over to the East Coast leaving @ 0200hrs?) excitement was in the air. Even though we were in the berth section of the 2nd class coach most were wide awake. Some were engrossed in empty talk listening to OP Aziz expounding his theories of a social-democrat in readiness of him going into politics (to the sceptical comments of Mr Gopala, who must be thinking ‘why politics?’ when we should be bothered with maths, geography, history etc).

It was much to the awe of those young minds around (who must be thinking OP Aziz was way ahead of his time) and to the consternation of the ticket checkers (who kept coming to our section), insisting the booked berth coaches were out-of-bounds to the 3 s.y.ts from MWTC/ Tun Fatimah? who were without seats (being pre-Hari Raya rush) but invited in for a yarn by you-know-who!)

We were slated to go downstream from Manek Urai, in the upper reaches of the Kelantan river to Kota Bharu a distance of about 80km. It would take about 1 hr by road presently. We covered it in 3 days then, an enjoyable 3 days with all the excitement and drama thrown in.

When we arrived at Manek Urai there were 2 rafts all ready, waiting for us, made up of bamboos all nicely lashed up together. OP Wan Ghani had arranged for everything. (That we were told. When we later arrived in Pasir Pekan at the end of the journey, he had the whole group for lunch at his house. Great guy!).

We only had to further improvise the rafts by having our ‘ponchos’ set up tent-like, to provide cover.Otherwise they were perfect.

(Unlike on the Perak River Expedition later in the year, we had to spend 2 days to build our own rafts out of light wood and bamboo. The bamboos were already felled arranged through Kemunting Camp in Taiping.These were stacked ready in Sauk (of the weapons snatching notoriety, remember?) We loaded them up into the 3-tonners (lorry) and off to Chenderoh Dam to start lashing them and later off downstream when ready – but that’s another story!)

In Manek Urai we broke up into the 2 groups of 10 each to a raft. In my group were OPs Rahman, Mansor ( later Datuk, Dr. who at one time helmed the ITM), Aziz ( later Datuk, Deputy Mentri Besar, Pahang and a 2 term Senator) Mohd Sham (later Datuk , Dr.) Muhamad (later Maj-Gen, Datuk) Syed Mustffa and Ismail ( both joined the Army) yours truly Hank, plus two others I don’t quite remember now.

OP Rahman made himself out to be the skipper and was fortunately accepted readily by everyone. He christened the raft the 'Kon Tiki’ complete with the name written and stuck on a pole atop the ‘poncho’. OP Rahman is a very talented artist ( you still draw and sketch? ) who speaks impeccable Queen's English that you never would realise speaking to a guy from Kelantan (Trengganu?) when he sounds every bit a polished English gentleman!

Kon-Tiki was the raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. It was named after the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom 'Kon-Tiki' was said to be an old name. Kon-Tiki is also the name of the popular book that Heyerdahl wrote about his adventures. (see Wikipedia)

It was truly a new experience for me, in fact for all of us. The raft had 2 rudders of long bamboo of about 4m one at each end. Both must be manned by one person each all the time. Both must react immediately at their ends to maneuver out of obstacles, such as floating logs or rocks along the way.

We cooked on the raft. The army-supplied fuel, made up of 2”x 2” pieces of hard candle-like material were used extensively ( 2 of those can cook a mess-tin of rice to be shared by 2 persons) We continued travelling at night keeping away from the banks lest overhanging branches hit us again. It did the first night. The raft shook, the makeshift clothes line was swept away. A PD Green uniform, some T-shirts and undies were lost. It was a frightful moment. It gave us a jolt as what to expect when rafting in the night. Visibility was poor. We could not relate to the river banks so we were not able to see that we were moving even. We only felt that we were moving. We were more careful after that. We kept to the centre and away from the banks. We were lucky it was no more serious than that.

On the next day it happened. It was mid-day. Some were cooking for lunch, while 2 were manning the rudder. We were in the centre of the free flowing waters. The other raft was about 25m downstream, more to our right. Not that far but near enough. It was hot and sunny so it must have been tempting for OP Mohd Sham.

At first he just dipped in and out by the side of the raft. All of a sudden he jumped into the water and swam towards the other raft. I think he did reach it. After exchanging some pleasantries with those on the other raft he jumped back towards us. I only realized it when he was cheered on. It was not going to be easy as he was now going against the current and water flow.

'This is going to be a disaster', I thought to myself. The others didn’t notice that I pulled a life-jacket from the pile next to me and held it in my hands. I made myself ready. I took off my wallet and handed it to someone just in case if I need to jump in.

Sure enough. One minute OP Mohd Sham was smiling happily swimming towards us but the next minute he shouted out loud, ‘help!, help!’ and waving frantically. He was about 15m away. He was exhausted. He was not going to make it.

I got up threw the life-jacket to him. It didn’t reach him. I jumped, swam towards the life-jacket and pulled it as quickly as I could to him. It was in the nick of time! OP Mohd Sham quickly grabbed the life-jacket. If I had been a split second late, it could have been a different story. It was close! We both held on to the life-jacket and inched our way back slowly towards our raft.

Under normal circumstances, when we approach a drowning/struggling person in the water it would be fatal to try and catch hold of him. The person would grab even a floating straw so they say. In a panic state he would grab you even before you reach him and would bring down both together.He would not be in the mood to be nice to you!

The technique is to approach him with both hands bent at 90 degrees at the elbows (with the clenched fists pointing skywards) That was fundamental in the Bronze medallion life-saving training. It could be a life and death thing. The moment the person grabs your wrists, you bring both wrists down into the water with a quick pull. His hold would be broken and he would automatically let go as his head would be bobbing in the water. You then twist him around and catch him under both armpits. It would be easy as he would be disoriented and facing the other way. That’s no way he could grab you. You then softly calm him and pull/swim backwards to safety.

In the case with OP Mohd. Sham I did away with this as I had pushed the life-jacket for him to grab. He didn’t need to grab me. I just had to calm him down after that.

We got onto the raft. The others got to OP Mohd Sham. He was ok. I got my wallet back, went to one corner to change into a dry T-shirt and only then that I realized. I forgot about my pocket diary. It was in my T-shirt pocket when I jumped in. It was still there but all wet. I had jotted some notes about the trip but they were not readily readable anymore. It was ok, that was ok, that was not the problem.

What saddened me most was that I had 2 passport-sized photos plus another slightly bigger one also in the diary and all were damaged. That was what I was sad about, but I didn’t tell anyone of them. One was of mine but the other two were of someone so dear to me then (not a photo of my loving wife, I met my wife years later) The damaged photos were for a long time with me. I dared not tell that someone they were damaged. Anyway they are not with me now. I was very sad then but I have long forgotten about them. We did not keep contact. She is definitely a grandmother by now. I just wonder!

For the next few minutes upon getting up on the raft, I reflected quietly. What if there had been some submerged rocks or floating logs or a crocodile. It frightened me suddenly. What if I had not pulled the life-jacket and held it in my hands minutes before that. What if I had hesitated and not jumped even with the life-jacket in my hands. I dread to think about it.

I only had the personal satisfaction of doing justice to my life saving knowledge, acquired 3 years earlier (which gave me the confidence) I may not have jumped in otherwise.

I was at the Victoria Institution (VI) before RMC. VI is the only school (I stand corrected) with a swimming-pool. Our swimming teacher then was Lim Heng Chek, an Olympian, rare in those days.

I joined a life savings group when I arrived at the RMC in Port Dickson (there was none since then after we moved to Sungei Besi) The beach then was just across the road from us, so training was convenient.

The life-saving test was done in mid-1960 at the Specialist Teacher's Training College pool at Cheras Road, K.L. I remember that. There were just a handful of us, less than 10. One was for an instructor's certificate while the rest were for the Bronze medallion. All got through, yes!

The Kon-Tiki made it on the morning of Feb 26. We berthed at Pasir Pekan across the river from Kota Bharu. We later pitched tent at Pantai Cinta Berahi (now Pantai Cahaya Bulan) for a few days before making our way back to our College on Mar 01.

OP Datuk Dr. Mohd Sham went on for medical studies in Canada? and became a very successful pediatrician while in the govt. He was also very involved in SCAN for many years after that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Speakers’ Corner is back!

On Nov 01, 2009, it was reported that the Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin was in favour of reviving the Speakers’ Corner in the various universities.

“It would train the students to think and be creative. They can say anything on any topic but they must be responsible for them when they speak,” he said.

On Jan 15, 2010, Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled did one better. He kept to his word and even found the time to graciously officiate at the launch of the first Speakers’ Corner this time around, at the UKM. It is located behind the Tun Sri Lanang Library at the main Bangi campus.

This is certainly a progressive gesture from the govt. Earlier on, the Speakers’ Corner at the University of Malaya (MU) was a casualty prompted by restrictive provisions imposed under the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA)1971.

I can recollect the launch of that first ever Speakers’ Corner at the MU in the mid-sixties. I was there to witness it. I don’t quite remember when. It was sometime during the 66/67 session I think! ( I stand corrected)

It was a fine day. It was at the patch of greenery just across the road from the Arts Concourse next to the Library. There were a few long benches and students would take a breather or a quick puff at that place before continuing the dreary ‘pastime’ of sitting in the library again.

Suddenly Thili and Ravi appeared. I was n’t sure how they came. It was something not expected. They could have alighted from a car which I didn’t really notice. Thili was covered from head to toe (obviously to create a mysterious entry) and slowly led by Ravi. No fanfare, no trappings of a formal launch,no dignitary invited,no ribbon-cutting,nothing! Nothing to indicate a historic event in the making.

The only thing different was the way Thili was dressed. He was loosely wrapped around in white akin to a Roman toga (made up of dhoti and bedsheets it seemed) Ravi led Thili to one of the benches after which Thili quickly pulled off the cloak covering him and proceeded to speak.

He came as ‘Prometheus? a character in Greek mythology who was bound with an iron chain to a mountain in Scythia named Caucasus for thirty thousand years’ who was now unchained and free to speak' (see Wikipedia)

That was how the Speakers’ Corner was launched through the initiatives of Thili and Ravi (theirs were the faces seen) but there could have been others .

It was a tame affair when it happened which caught many by surprise. Some even thought it was a joke initially. It picked up momentum through the years and became an institution until it was caught under the stringent measures of the UUCA that finally signalled its demise.

Dato Dr R.Thillainathan (aka Thili) is a friendly guy always with a smile reserved for you. He went on to become an acclaimed Economist (First Class Hons. in MU and a Ph.D from LSE )and later carved out a brilliant career in banking and in Genting Berhad where he is currently on the Genting Berhad board as a Non- Independent Non-Executive Director.

Ravi read History, and according to unsubstantiated reports went to the US where he met up again with Prof Silverstine (who was an American Visiting Professor in History in 65/66) Ravi was a karate exponent who coached students at the campus. One day he came with his forearm in cast, and a little finger broken, (kicked by accident during karate practice - such dedication! ) Apparently his karate prowess proved good enough for him to be made an instructor in the US Army (with the help of Prof Silverstine) If these reports were true he should have easily been given a Green Card and should be a US citizen by now.

So much for the digression. Let’s look at the Speakers’ Corner again.

‘A Speakers' Corner is an area where public speaking is allowed. The original and most noted is in the north-east corner of Hyde Park in London, England. Contrary to popular belief, there is no immunity from the law, nor are any subjects proscribed, but in practice the police tend to be tolerant…’(see Wikipedia)

The ‘resurrection’ of the Speakers’ Corner in campus here is like a breathe of fresh air, but it has to happen. It was timely that it did. More so things are different now with the advent of the internet and cyber-space. In fact it is better! I would expect speeches at the Speakers’ Corner to be more responsible and more matured than what we get in blogosphere.

Blogosphere has its inherent drawbacks. In our pursuit of transparency, freedom to speak and non-interference we had unnecessarily opened a Pandora’s box of base writings and comments. Articles and comments have such leeway that they are often abused most dastardly. It is the law of the jungle again so to speak. It is a free for all, no holds barred, anything goes.

The comments especially are often blasphemous, crude, encroaching on lese-majeste, with elements of slander and libel freely thrown around, rumours stated as facts, with a distinct anti-establishment approach, finger pointing and profanity. Talking of profanity, I just don't see how the inclusion of the F-word for instance,in an article or comment, can make them any better to read.

It is more indicative of not just anger but maybe a deprived childhood and injustice experienced for those who are smart. And for those few who are just unfortunate not to have a good command of English, they try hard to participate with crude language and swear words to cover up their weakness. All these negative traits and experiences they unwittingly reveal to the whole world to see and make judgement of their person from their writings - which is not that smart a thing to do!

How is it possible. Why this is so? Anonymity that’s why. It gives a false sense of courage to those who are otherwise timid.Being anonymous in blogosphere apparently is like being given a licence to make irresponsible comments, racial slurs and to tell blatant lies.It gives a sense of power not available before.

The abuse of the the privilege of free speech is just unbearable. Many seem to forget their ISP particulars can easily be traced. Maybe if a few can be made as an example of ( as in the case of the 3 school boys and Mr Brown in S’pore years ago who were brought to book within 3 days), I’m sure these irresponsible elements will turn around and can exercise self-regulation and self-restraint on their own after that without any form of punishment nor any monitoring necessary from the authorities.

That is why I have high hopes and expectations in the Speakers’ Corner. The speakers are bodily seen standing right in front of you. He couldn’t hide under anonymity to cover his cowardice like what we get in blogosphere.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Malacca and the ‘Eye on Malaysia’

                                                                           Attribution: Capt (RMN) Tajudin Yahya
Image: Hank's autograph diligently kept by Tajudin
(Thadj) all these years alluding to the sojourn in Singapore

There were some ‘hiccups’ relating to the ‘Eye on Malaysia’ in Malacca. The 60m Ferris wheel (located at the estuary of the Malacca River at Taman Kota Laksamana) was brought to Malacca to help boost tourism in the state. It had dominated the local skyline and was very popular with the crowd. However, only a few days ago, on Jan 07, its services had been stopped, owing to some disputes on its running.

What a shame. We were in Malacca barely 3 weeks ago during the school holidays. It was a long vacation period and Malacca offered a variety of ancient and modern, old and new, a balance uniquely absent in the other states. The kids (read: grandchildren) had an enjoyable time, but what a shame and we felt bad about it.

They could not get to go on the Eye on Malaysia, that’s why. They were beaten to it. A bus-load of ‘local’ tourists made it before us and there was a crowd building up.

I had a hard time persuading them with a ‘we’ll ride on it the next time’. I reasoned with a ‘it would not go anywhere and we are here in K.L. barely a few hours away’ kind of answer. I’m really not so sure now.

I remember many years ago when we were at the Circus World in Tampa, Florida the Ferris wheel was a much bigger one. It was early December and sunny Florida was pleasant. We were early and there was no crowd. The kids (read: children) made a bee-line for it.

It was a great ride. We had the added privilege of being right at the top when it stopped. Apparently it was made to stop for a few minutes for us to take the view, - what a breath-taking view it was!

Shadah, my wife sitting beside me, just shut her eyes. It was pretty cold up there. We were seated but we were just dangling. Adura and Hafidz in the seat in front were waving happily to us both when it stopped. Shadah kept shouting ‘look in front, look in front, stop waving!' She was concerned, their seat was swinging. I could only murmur ‘brr….brr…’ in the cold even though it was sunny ( Shadah had opened her eyes eventually). The skyline up there was just fantastic and she had to see it. The panorama, all around was as far as the eye could see, bluish in the distance and glaringly bright in front.

Malacca had changed very much though. The old road from Seremban winding through Alor Gajah to Malacca Town (now a city) is now not recognizable anymore. Instead, it is now a smooth highway (two-lanes on each side) smooth, if not for the 17? traffic light junctions we have to go through before we reach the city.

I remembered it well because I had to go to Paya Rumput along that old Alor Gajah road. It was way back in December ’62. We had just sat for our OSC/FMC exam (equivalent to the present SPM). I had to look for OP Tajudin (aka Thadj) in Malacca. A chance meeting with OP Hamdan just before I boarded the bus at the Kuala Pilah bus station saved the day. OP Hamdan told me ‘you go to Paya Rumput, that’s where he stays’

(OP Hamdan currently has a restaurant in Taman Tun Dr Ismail - it is the
Nutri Saji Caterer Enterprise at No. 25, Lorong Dato Sulaiman 7, TTDI 60000, KL. Check 

it out Hamdan 014-338 4331)

Before leaving the College (RMC) back to our hometown for the school holidays, we both had broached the idea about hitch-hiking to S’pore but there were no details discussed. We agreed on the date for one thing but could not meet before we left for home (we were left with no phone numbers nor our addresses) I had to look for Thadj and see whether it was still on. Those were the care-free days of teen-agers, brash and rash without any thoughts of danger and pain.

I told my late Dad before I left for Malacca that ‘if I don’t go I’ll be back tonight otherwise I’ll be in Spore’. I took the bus, told the conductor to press the bell when we reach Paya Rumput, got down, knocked on the door of the nearest house and was told Thadj’s house was barely 50 yards up the road.

I was very, very lucky indeed. Thadj could have been anywhere in Jasin or Merlimau or Durian Daun or whatever. And there was no mobile phone to talk of ! We took so much risks when we were young. I just wonder how my late Dad took it.

In any case, his worries were cushioned by the fact that we RMC ‘budak boys’ were not anywhere at home most of the time during our ‘term breaks’. We normally partake in many ‘expeditions’ all independently organized by certain groups of like-minded boys. There may be a few at one time. One may be in a group up ‘climbing Gunung Tahan’, another ‘white water rafting’ down river (I was in both the Perak River ( here) and Kelantan River (here) expeditions) or at Annual Camps somewhere or a cultural visit to the East Coast or just trudging along with Thadj to S’pore, anywhere else but home. (the following year in '63 I was hiking with Jamaludin to Penang)

We had a few advantages other school boys didn’t have. Training and logistics. Thrown anywhere in the Malaysian jungle, we could survive through military warfare and map-reading skills for which we were trained.

The logistics in terms of transport and equipment were all there for the asking. Military 3-tonners (lorries) transported us to Chenderoh Dam for the start of the Perak River expedition. OP Zubir through his father's efforts, picked us up with a chartered bus at Teluk Anson (Teluk Intan now) 7 days after and dropped us at the railway station. We were issued warrant tickets (train tickets to and fro) to Manek Urai, somewhere in the ulu, for the start of the Kelantan River expedition and picked up at Kota Bahru at the end of it, 8 days after.)

In all instances before proceeding on any expeditions, we were issued through the Quartermaster, (the Q), the packed rations. These were the same military rations of rice, tinned food, biscuits etc, a ‘poncho’ each,which doubles as a tent and rain-coat, a dhurry ( a thick and colourful 2.5 ftx7 ft sleep-ons, haversacks, water bottles and pills ( one, an anti malarial ‘paludrine’ to be taken every day and the other, to neutralize river water to make it palatable in taste and safe to drink) Sure enough, our Dads were not unduly worried. We were prepared and well equipped.

My late Dad was confident and I was also, especially in the river expeditions as I was a Bronze medallion life-saver (there was a life threatening episode which I’ll relate in a later posting)

So much for the digression. Now back to Thadj.

I walked up the road, knocked on the door, and Thadj was there, smiling widely. ‘It is on, right? I asked. A very decisive ‘yes!’ was the reply.

A little bit of rest, a little bit of snacks and off we went. ‘ Don’t forget to visit your sister, in S’pore,’ his mother reminded us, ‘and send our regards!’ That was good advice. We had no where else to stay otherwise, anyway.

With haversacks on our backs, with a little bit of cash ( I don’t remember how much) and an address in Clementi Estate, Pasir Panjang, S’pore, we walked out from Thadj’s house. It was mid-morning and pretty hot as we happily trudged along.

We had covered quite a fair distance and sweating. We were on the road towards Muar. I did not verbalise to Thaj but my thoughts then were, ‘would any one pick us up? Not in this heat. And we, teen-agers, fit and healthy would sweat like nobody’s business.’

While lost in thoughts we just leisurely plod on. Suddenly a red open-top sports-car screeched to a halt nearly hitting us.(was it a Triumph Spitfire?) Driven by a young Caucasian/European, it was just God-sent - he offered us a lift. I squeezed into the narrow backseat. It was so narrow that I had to face only one direction ,to the right, without much free movements. Thadj was ok. He was in the front passenger seat.

We were just plain lucky. A sports car. A million to one chance. The wind just swept over us and we were sweaty no more, plainly not offensive to the driver. I later asked Thadj ‘how come the European knew we wanted a lift’. Thadj said, ‘I don’t know. I just raised my right hand to cool off my armpit and he stopped.’ He said something to that effect in not so many words. I didn’t want to argue with that, it was too good for us, anyway.

The European took us right through to S’pore. There was no passport necessary then, no immigration, it was a breeze. ( I wonder if anyone would stop for hitch-hikers these days)

We arrived in S’pore sometime late in the evening. I remember we stayed at Thadj’s sister’s house. I’m a bit hazy now on what we did in S’pore. I remember for a fact though that we went to Abdullah’s house for lunch one day.

I met Abdullah when we attended the Outward Bound School (OBS) in Lumut the previous year. We both obtained 'Merit Awards' as all others (Incidentally OP Ling Leong Sik is the only budak boy to have obtained an 'Honours Award' in the history of the OBS)

Abdullah was one of 2 cadets from S’pore. His pretty elder sister was such wonderful company then, and she suggested many places for us to visit. Her husband, Ungku, a talented footballer, (who kept goal for the state of Johore team?) was also there.

Abdullah was initially in the S'pore Armed forces but later switched and joined our Malaysian army and rose to the rank of a Major-General that came with a Datukship. OP Tajudin became a naval officer and rose to the rank of an RMN Captain.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Burj Khalifa

The Burj Dubai is renamed or has been officially named as the Burj Khalifa at its inauguration on Jan 04, 2010. It is in honour of the present ruler of Abu Dhabi, a neighbouring sheikhdom. Abu Dhabi and Dubai are 2 of the six sheikhdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Dubai was indebted to Abu Dhabi for coming to its rescue with the much needed 10 billion dollars to bail out its troubled property developer Nakheel, (a subsidiary of Dubai World, a government outfit)late last year.

What better way to show its appreciation than to have the Burj named after the Abu Dhabi’s ruler, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (who is also the President of the UAE)

At the inauguration, the closely guarded secret of the height of the Burj Khalifa was also revealed. It is now officially at 828m high, the highest free-standing structure in the world.

Let’s have it again in comparison with others:

1. The Burj Khalifa - Dubai 828m

2. Taipei 101 - Taiwan 508m (world’s tallest since 2004)

3. Shanghai World Financial Centre - China 492m

4. Petronas Twin Towers - Malaysia 452m (world’s highest Twin Towers)

5. Willis Tower - Chicago 442m (the previous Sears Tower)

6. World Trade Centre - N.York 415m (before the 9/11 2001, attack)
(The Freedom Tower being planned for the 9/11 ground zero site will rise 541m when completed possibly in 2013)

While the Petronas Twin Towers is the 4th highest free-standing structure, it is still the highest Twin Towers in the world.

While an awesome Burj Khalifa stands tall, we have to be mindful of the ‘Skyscrapers’s Index’ which had also been unflatteringly referred to as the ‘Skyscraper’s Curse’ by some quarters. The observation conceived by Andrew Lawrence, suggested that the completion of skyscrapers may herald in an economic crisis as what Dubai is facing now.

High rise buildings would result in an era of economic slow-down as evidenced with the Empire State Building to the 30’s Great Depression, the Sears Tower and World Trade Centre to the Oil Crisis of '74, Petronas Twin Towers to the '97 Asian Financial Crisis and the Burj Khalifa to the current Dubai economic meltdown.

If this is so, then brace ourselves for we have not seen the worst as yet. In the pipeline are a number due for completion, i.e. Saudi Arabia's Abraj Al-Bait tower in 2011, the Freedom Tower at ground zero in 2013, China's Shanghai Tower in 2014, Korea'a Incheon Tower in 2015 and a few others in Russia and other parts of China.

Are we going to see a slew of economic downturns of countries in the not too distant future. Is it in the offing. Can we take it when it comes?

So be it!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Burj Dubai

The Burj Dubai, at 818m (or 824m? ) the tallest free-standing structure in the world by Emaar Properties of Dubai will be inaugurated tomorrow, Jan 04, 2010 (construction had begun on Sept 21, 2004)

The date Jan 04, 2010 is specifically chosen to mark the fourth anniversary of the accession to the throne of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum as the Ruler of Dubai.

The exact height of the Burj Dubai is still subject to speculation as it is being kept confidential only to be made known by Emaar after the inauguration. However, it surpassed the two previously held records of:

1) a TV mast (held by the KVLY-TV mast in Blanchard, North Dakota),at 629m and
2) the tallest free-standing structure, (previously held by the Toronto’s CN Tower) at 553m

Other high-rise buildings are not anywhere near it.

Two local dailies carried a news item on the Burj Dubai, one yesterday and the other this morning (there may be others that I may have missed, though). It is therefore superfluous to repeat all of the record breaking numbers associated with the Burj Dubai, which are many and are very intriguing to say the least.

Among them which make for quick reference are the:

Highest number of storeys in the world
Highest occupied floor in the world
Highest outdoor observation deck in the world
Elevator with the longest travel distance in the world
Tallest service elevator in the world and many others.

This is apart from other superlatives heard before on Dubai, i.e. the biggest building, the biggest Mall, the largest airport, the tallest hotel, (the Burj Al Arab, the only 7-star hotel in the world) and the richest horse race (leave it to the Arabs).

There is however one significant item (though mentioned elsewhere before) that needs mentioning again. It is the Malaysian connection, which should be a shining example of our rallying call of ‘Malaysia Boleh’. It is the direct involvement of Eversendai, a Malaysian company associated with steel structure construction.

Eversendai Corporation, had its beginnings in the high-rise building construction of the then Dayabumi in K.Lumpur. This was followed with strings of jobs through the years locally and in Singapore until they landed the ‘biggie’, the steel works for the Petronas Twin Towers. When the Koreans through the primary builder the South Korean Samsung Engineering & Construction, (who also built the Taipei 101 and the Petronas Twin Towers) were awarded the Burj Dubai, they naturally brought in Eversendai and renewed the relationship again.

According to Datuk A.K. Nathan, the Group MD as quoted by Bernama last year, “ the final 260m of the soaring tower was an all-steel structure, and Eversendai had the privilege of putting it up successfully. In fact, we're the first company in the world to have worked above 700m. No one in the world has worked above this height,"

Can you beat that?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Serina – The Darling Daughter of Chef Wan

Image:1 Mdm Christine O’Luanaigh, the mum-in-law
who was about to place the ring on Serina's finger.

Image:2 Serina, the ever so beautiful,
elegant and charming bride

Image:3 Serina and her beau,
now husband and wife


Postcript: The 3 photos below were inserted on Sept 17th, 2010 to announce the birth of Serina's baby. It’s a boy! Actress Serina gave birth to a baby boy on Monday, Sept 13th 2010 at the Prince Court Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur. Baby is named Tristan Tareef O'Luanaigh ( ‘Tareef’ means ‘out of the ordinary’ ) Baby at 51cm and weighing 2.85kg arrived at 1813hrs ( 6.13pm )
Datuk Chef Wan confirmed both mum and baby were fine, and in the best of health!

Image:4 . The Cute Little One,
Tristan Tareef O'Luanaigh

Image:5 . The Proud Gramps,
a Beaming Datuk Chef Wan

Image:6 . The Family Sharing
The Happy Moment


It’s been in the news in recent days. Serina the talented and ever beautiful actress is tying the knot. This is further confirmed in a local daily this morning. There was a write-up with an accompanying snap-shot outlining the various related ceremonies tonight and tomorrow morning right up to the bersanding slated for the evening of Jan 02, 2010.

The picture ( please see above) captured a beaming Serina, resplendent in a daring pure white bridal fashioned dress, with an equally proud father, Chef Wan, next to her and a happy Mdm Christine O’Luanaigh, the mum-in-law, who was about to place the ring on her finger.

I only know about Serina from what I see in the press and from what I hear from the news from time to time. What I want to relate about is more of her father, the internationally acclaimed celebrity chef, Chef Wan. It is a leaf from the pages of history, a moment in time, not too long ago.

I first met Redzuawan Ismail a.k.a. Chef Wan sometime in the late ‘70s. He was then a teenager just out of school. I happened to visit Lokman his uncle in Taman Tun Dr Ismail. Lokman was my house-mate during our student days at the University of Malaya. Later, Lokman was sent overseas and came back with an M.Sc. in Economics and was attached to the Forestry Dept.

It was normal then that those who were successful were held in high esteem and in awe by close relatives as role models. It was no exception for Lokman. He in turn was always there to give a helping hand even financially, I was told later. He would have his relatives and nephews at odd times in his house.

That night, Lokman and his wife persuaded us to stay on for dinner. It was quite normal and acceptable in our society, to be persuaded to stay on and we were equally expected to accept graciously. Nowadays, however,with a more hectic pace of modern living, it is more practical and to be fair to the host that one gets to take dinner only after having made and agreed through with prior arrangements. We, my loving wife Shadah and our little darling daughter Azlin Adura, stayed on for dinner.

After dinner, while having coffee in the lounge, I had commented to Lokman that it was such a wonderful dinner.It was the best home-cooked dinner I've had in a long, long time. I complimented Lokman’s wife for having whipped up that one very good dinner in a jiffy, only to be told it was not her.

Only then did Lokman tell us, and he called out for Wan from the kitchen. ‘Wan’ in the Negri lingo is how one would address a grandma or an old lady. I had expected an old lady when a fresh-faced and innocent-looking young man walked in, the ‘great and lovable Chef Wan’ then, just a teenager came over to us.

He straight away went into a chatty discourse of what he did in the kitchen, of the various dishes that we had and how he helped out with his mum at home in Pahang - just as his chatty self on TV in later years. Even at that tender age he was already at it, his great cooking and his happy self.

Would you have imagined it? We, my wife and I and my darling daughter had savoured Chef Wan's culinary expertise even before the whole world had an even chance of knowing about it. Let alone tasting it. Isn't that something!

We later got into talking about job opportunities in the bank where I was. I was then heading the Human Resource Dept and the bank was expanding and we needed personnel at all levels.

I talked to Wan, Lokman also talked to Wan. Wan agreed to give it a shot. Later, Wan went through the various formalities and joined our bank as one of our staff members. Whenever I occasionally bumped into him at the bank then, he would call out ‘uncle, uncle’ and he would chatter away with something or other. He was always his merry self.

I do not remember how long Wan was with us. I only knew later that he went for further studies in Australia and the rest as they said, is history.

Some few years ago when his interview was featured in one of our local dailies (or tabloid?) Chef Wan who was already well known then, alluded to the episode when narrating his life story. He said that ‘after school, he left Pahang and stayed with his uncle Lokman in K.L. Through his uncle’s friend he got a job in a bank or something to that effect. When I read it, it really made my day. It showed his sincerity in acknowledging it when it may be just a moot point easily forgotten.

Chef Wan, you did extremely well for yourself. I am so proud of you. All the very best for the future from Uncle Hank.

You must also be so proud of your daughter. Wishing them also the best, Serina Redzuawan and Salahudin Ghafar O'Luanaigh ‘Selamat Pengantin Baru’ and may all your dreams come true!


On 1st Feb 2010, Chef Wan was conferred with the
Panglima Mahkota Wilayah by the DYMM Yang Di
Pertuan Agong which carries the title Datuk.

Chef Wan is to be officially addressed henceforth as
Datuk Redzuawan Ismail

August 14, 2010 at 10:57 PM