Friday, July 21, 2006

Visit to University Technology PETRONAS Mosque

A first glance at the picture, without reading the caption, one would imagine a ship or a large seagoing vessel. It is a unique picture of the University Technology PETRONAS mosque that was officially opened a week ago. A ceremony officiated by Royalty with the presence of 'top guns' of PETRONAS, retirees included, local officials, residents and the local community. The actual view showed the mosque as standing over water with the water cascading in a fall into the pond below. The site where the university was built was actually an abandoned tin mine with large ponds or small lakes. It was good aesthetic sense to design the mosque such and giving the impact of running water under the building. Water is actually pumped up to the level of the mosque from the pond and circulated. The view at night I was told, with lights reflecting in the cascading water, gives the mosque a fairyland impression.

Another External View of the Mosque

Viewing the mosque from a distance one cannot miss noticing the imposing main dome with its unique pattern over the main prayer hall and the smaller white domes, 80 of them to be exact, spread over the outer sheltered prayer area. These, coupled with a multitude of pillars at the sides of the sheltered prayer area, all identical in design, white and bright, impress and pleases the senses. On approaching the main entrance one will notice the clearly thought out zones and division of areas. Provision of facilities for cleansing oneself with proper storage and washing cubicles and modules give one the feel of relaxation and attune one's mind to the job at hand, that is preparing oneself for submission to the Almighty. Having done with cleansing and ablution, on entering the main prayer hall, one will be captivated with the unique design on the fascia made of carved shiny stones, icy light green and interspersed with tinges of brown, the protruding pulpit, the half bowl shaped front portion where the Imam leads the congregation in prayer. Verses from the Holy Quran, carved all around the inner rim of the main dome and at certain selected parts of the fascia, were selected to impress upon the readers the virtues of knowledge befitting the role of the mosque providing innerself tranquility to enable the seeking of knowledge in a university campus. The guide book says, quote "The verses that adorn the interior are Quranic verses exalting the virtues of "ilmu" or knowledge and of knowledge being the light that illuminates darkness" unquote.

An interesting feature provided at the mosque is the immediate English translation of the text of the sermon given by the Imam projected onto a screen infront for the benefit of the international members of the congregation.

A view of the Main Prayer Hall, the Fascia, and the Projection Screen

Note: The above pictures were taken from the UTP guide book.

MKI Ramblings Unlimited,
Petaling Jaya

Friday, July 14, 2006

Home Alone?????

Today was the first time, in a couple of years, Ram was alone at home the whole day. I have not left her alone for more than a couple of hours at a time, and during the day hours only, this same period but today I did. I was invited to attend the opening ceremony of the new mosque of University Technology Petronas by the Sultan of Perak. Together with other committee members of our retirees fraternity (we were invited in our capacity as the fraternity's committee members) we left KL at about 8.00am and arrived back in KL at 6.15pm. I left home at about 7.00 am and arrived home at just after 7.00pm.

I was initially quite apprehensive having to leave her alone for an extended period, with her vision and personal health condition not up to par, but she assured me that she will be ok. "Afterall it will only be the day hours" she said. For meals she said bread will do. So I baked a loaf of bread last night, a part of which we had for dinner and she said she can have the rest for lunch today (we love eating bread and instead of buying bread we make them according to our liking ingredient-wise). Ram also said that she planned to visit the wife of our Imam who is not well together with a neighbour who lives not far away from our house and on the same street. So I left her alone at home.

That was a mistake!!!!!!!! The visit to see the Imam's wife did not happen for some reason or other. So, she instead mopped the floors and did other household chores (these we normally do together). Then she decided to cook...... She had bread for lunch though. We have a variety of fish in the freezer, some of which already cut into small pieces. She chose to cook one that was still whole, and she used the chopper to cut it into small pieces. She could have cooked, and it would be easier for her if she had, the ones that were already cut into small pieces. But no no no!!, she wanted to cook the whole fish, and to do that she had to cut the fish into small pieces first. Yessss... you guessed it... she hurt herself doing it. She cut her right forefinger!!!

When I arrived home at dusk, I noticed that all were closed. No lights in the hall but the bedroom light was on. I came in and found her sleeping. She heard me moving about and woke up. She had apparently slept soon after her mid afternoon prayers. She must have tired herself doing all the household cleaning and other chores alone I thought. Then I noticed the bandage on her finger. Only then she told me what happened. There was alot of blood she said.... I don't know what happened she said.... My hand slipped when trying to cut the fish she said.... I just nodded and nodded and nodded. I did not say anything then and just put a straight face. When she's done talking I asked whether the finger still hurts. She said it does not, and I left it at that.

During dinner I told her of my trip to the University, how the ceremony was, who was there and who I met. (Tessa was also there, as she was in the ceremony organising team and I suspect she had a hand at arranging our "better" seats at the ceremony and also our table at lunch). Ram told me then of what she had been doing the whole day. She was cooking in the afternoon and that was when she hurt herself. She must have tired herself in the morning and thus when she was cooking she was not concentrating!!

Previously she had inadvertently scooped stuff and missed the intended containers, like scooping milo or sugar from its container but missing the cup and spreading the stuff on the table. Once she had missed pouring hot water from a hot water flask into a mug and poured it onto her leg instead. Now this.... I will now think twice before leaving her 'home alone' for long periods......

MKI Ramblings Unlimited
Petaling Jaya

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

More Reflections

On day two in Bintulu, way back in May 1982, my colleague who had been in Bintulu for a while supervising the earthwork at the project site, took me to a food stall serving local food. Almost all the houses in the village were then on stilts for various reasons. This food stall was underneath one of these houses and operated by the house owner. Food was prepared and cooked on order in their regular home kitchen. My friend suggested we drive around the village while the food was being prepared. On returning to the stall about half an hour later the food was still being cooked and it was another half an hour later that we got to eat. It was a worthwhile wait though as the food was very tasty. Much later I found out that the ingredients they used were always fresh and they had a secret. They use homemade prawn-paste known as ‘blacan’ made out of fresh tiny shrimps that were plentiful in Bintulu. Note that it took us only half an hour to go around the village including the town located around the airport (that was how big it was) and longer to get our food prepared and cooked!!

The art of making prawn-paste is common amongst Bintulu residents from the early days until now. Bintulu blacan is popular and many who have tried it in their cooking will try to get more. Visitors to Bintulu will almost always leave with a small packet or two of the local ingredient, and most will only look for the homemade ones not the ones sold in the market!! This is because almost all local residents, including even some of those from outside but now residing in Bintulu, make their own blacan. Thus it is reassuring to visitors in terms of cleanliness in preparation and so on. We have been using Bintulu blacan in our cookings since.

There was only one main mosque in Bintulu town then. It was a wooden building at ground level. There were two more prayer houses or surau at some location away from the main mosque to serve residents in the locality. Hence when plans were made to build the projects and the related housing complexes, mosques were included. As Bintulu town developed, residents increased, housing estates developed more mosques were built. Bintulu main mosque was moved to a new mosque built sometime late 80s on a hillside and at an intersection on one of the main roads. I think it was in 1987 when the new mosque was commissioned. It was imposing and the locals came in droves to see the building inside-out when it was opened, the Muslims to pray and the non-Muslim to see and admire its unique architecture, quite different from other mosques they have seen. (see pictures below)

The area around the new mosque has now developed into a satellite town with banks, shops, restaurants and a shopping complex. A private hospital, a bowling alley and other facilities are coming up close by. Give it another ten years and this area will be a bustling township. As it is there is a daily traffic jam at the main intersection and some roadworks to ease the jam is ongoing.

Bintulu has really grown from the days of only 12 kilometers of road to a township. I am not surprised if in years to come, and not too far away, Bintulu can claim city status. I hope the authorities will stick to their proper development plans, learn and avoid mistakes made by other cities around the country.

MKI Ramblings Unlimited,

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


We have been in Bintulu for almost a week now, staying at home most of the days, very relaxed and too much rest!! It was eat, sleep, tv, read, playing with the kids, tidbits and more sleep. I feel the 'bulges' in the mid section beginning to form!! The kids kept us entertained most of the time, especially Haadieya, the little one, who controls her elder brothers and insists on our attention every time the two boys are with us. She has not develop her vocabulary yet, and the only words that come out of her mouth are 'there', 'thedy', 'bah' and other single syllable baby sounds. But she appears as though she is growing up to be a talkative person, besides being hyperactive and cheeky too. She gets annoyed when she babbles her monotonic syllables but is ignored by us. Sometime she will come and tap our mouths for not responding to her! Quite a demanding little one!!

Having a lot of time to relax left me to reflect on many things, especially of the past, and being in Bintulu my mind kept flashing back to the days when I was working in Bintulu some 24 years ago. So much development has taken place in Bintulu since then.

When I first arrived in Bintulu that many years ago, only Fokker aircrafts, or those smaller, could land at the airport. Bintulu was then a very small fishing village with some six or seven thousand residents. The airport was right smack in the middle of the town. I believe the airport started off with just an air strip to cater for smaller aircrafts, like the twin otter, and slowly developed or expanded to accommodate the Fokker. The town meanwhile grew around the airport. As it grew there was limited space for further development of the landing strip to allow bigger aircrafts to land. The sea was at one end of the airstrip and a river was at the other end. Hence a new location had to be found for a bigger airport and a longer landing strip or runway.

It was one Monday morning in May of 1982 when I touched down in Bintulu on board an MAS Fokker flight from Kuching. That trip was a sort of familiarization trip to acquaint myself with the place on my assignment to a project involving the building of an Ammonia / Urea Plant and its related complex there. I was sitting on the window side of the aircraft. While in the air, all I could see on the ground were vast jungle land with rivers meandering along its way. Dots of shacks with zinc roofs could be seen here and there and these I believed were the longhouses, mostly built close to the river.

This first trip into Bintulu was not without some fun. On approaching the town, nay, it was just a village then, I could see from the air only three roads and several blocks of buildings close to the airstrip, which later turned out to be double storied shop houses, most of them wooden buildings. Off the roads and by the river banks were wooden houses of all shapes and sizes, close to each other, most of them on stilts and stretched out over the river. The plane was aligned for landing and the passengers prepared for it but the landing was aborted. Passengers looked at each other wondering. The plane circled the area and made a second attempt and was again aborted. As the plane gathered height I thought to myself, “is this aircraft piloted by a rookie?”. The weather was fine and clear, there was only one aircraft to land, and the aircraft engines appeared ok, hence what’s the problem?. A short while later the pilot came on the pa system apologizing for having to abort the landing as there were stray dogs on the runway!! Ha ha ha. Phewwh! That was a relief. Looking out the window at the airstrip I spotted several people, presumably security personnel, chasing a number of dogs on the runway!! I can bet that this was not the first time they were chasing dogs.

There were no proper hotels in Bintulu at that time, except for a few lodging houses amongst the shop houses, which appeared rather ‘shady’ then. There was one reasonably sized ‘hotel’ though that was built hurriedly to cater for the ‘onslaught’ of the project personnel and other visitors to Bintulu. This hotel was built by the beach some five kilometers from the town using temporary materials mostly. The lobby, lounges and restaurants have no ceilings and one can see the air-conditioning ducting cris-crossing the top of the lobby and the roof was of metal sheets. The rooms were actually metal-clad ‘porta-cabins’ maybe 8ft. by 12ft. with only a small window on the door to the rooms. So, the room was only for sleeping unless one enjoys torturing oneself by staying in the room or more aptly ‘cubicle’ looking at empty walls.

I was taken to visit the project site located some twelve kilometers away at the other end of the bay that Bintulu was located in. I learnt then that the twelve kilometers of road was the only decent road out of Bintulu town then!! People used the river to commute from Bintulu and the hinterland in those days. That explained the small number of vehicles, mostly four-wheeled drive vehicles, on the roads. One can lie down in the middle of the road without any chance of being run over!! Earthworks had started on the project site while next to our project site, separated by a hill, was another project to build an LNG plant, the largest in the world at that time. This plant was then in the pre-construction phase. Hence there were quite a lot of project activities going on at this end of the bay.

In the next two years, Bintulu developed very fast to cope with the influx of people attending to the two projects and also the development of the port facilities (being built for the government) to cater for the two projects and those involved in businesses that were spin-offs from the projects.

I made several more trips to Bintulu in 1982 before being assigned to the Contractors office in Tokyo for the engineering design of the plant. From Bintulu to Tokyo…. what a contrast…… I will try to write more on my reflections later……..

MKI Ramblings Unlimited

Thursday, July 06, 2006

To the East

We flew to Bintulu by Air Asia yesterday, having made flight reservations about three weeks ago for the discounted tickets. The flight was delayed by about 45 minutes. I was made to understand that they had pre-flight documentations mix up, whatever that means, requiring the Captain to leave the aircraft to sort them out!! When he returned, he came on the pa system and apologised for the delay and he sounded as though he was panting, perhaps after running back to the aircraft?? Our flight was pushed back seventh in the queue for take off, delaying us further. Anyway this incident tells on the efficiency of the guys responsible for the execution and management of the flight control system and procedures. My immediate neighbour commented to me recently that Air Asia is well known for delays. I guess when he reads this he will probably say "There... I told you so!!". Ah well, a delay of 45 minutes against an airfare less than a quarter of the normal fare should not be cause for grouses. But that is no excuse for accepting ineffeciencies though. Air Asia should not just rest on the laurels of being the cheapest air fare flight provider but also pay equal, if not more, attention to improving their procedural systems and increase efficiencies. Their tagline "Now everyone can fly" can be supported by sub tags like "we are not only cheap, we are also efficient".

Son Shaffik was in a meeting and could not fetch us from Bintulu airport (he came home after sundown) and he had requested a very close friend of mine, who was free then, to fetch us. The kids were all waiting for us at home. They were excited as usual. Babang even asked, "Why Tok Bah took a long time to come to our house again?".
"Tok Bah was very busy", was all I could reply. "Oh yeahhhh!" he said. I guess he has heard that reply once too often from other elders!!

Babang was very composed and behaved himself when we arrived. He chatted with us and replied our questions in proper decorum. I noticed though that he kept eyeing our bags every so often but not saying anything about it. He even chided Dedek for playing with our bags.

Dedek on the other hand was impatient but try not to show it. He played with our bags and asked, "Why is Tok Bah's bags so heavy?". I replied that I have my clothes inside. He asked, "Tok Bah got only clothes inside? Tok Bah's clothes are heavy? Nothing else inside the bag?" Ha ha ha, the waiting was getting on him!! When I finally opened the bag he peered inside and exclaimed, "Haaaa, I can see so many toys inside".

The children kept us busy throughout the evening, including baby Haadieya who insisted in getting our attention everytime. At the same time she annoys her brothers by playing with their toys instead of her own.... I guess she found the bigger boys' toys more interesting than the musical toy she got......

MKI Ramblings Unlimited

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Being Courteous and Being Rude

We were at the Hospital yesterday to collect Ram's supply of repeat medicines for the month. We went early to try and avoid the crowd of patients collecting their medicines after seeing their doctors for the day. We were at the counter at about 8.15 am and there was already a small crowd, I presume waiting for repeat medicines as well . The TV was on with a morning talk show. The topic of discussion was the Readers Digest (RD) report on politeness and where each country they surveyed stands. Kuala Lumpur was ranked third from the bottom with Mumbai and Bucharest at the bottom. Interestingly, a majority of the people that the TV station interviewed live in the streets in Kuala Lumpur agreed with the report.

Although the RD survey covers only three areas i.e helping someone who dropped papers; opening of doors and holding it for others; sales persons saying 'thank you' after one makes purchases; it does provide an indication of how people generally act or react with other people, fellow human beings that is!!

To be at the bottom or almost to it means that people in Kuala Lumpur are a rude lot. Manners and courtesies are something alien? The general public interviewd live by the TV station seems to agree. Some of them even quoted incidences of rudeness and unmannered behaviours of some. Quite recently there was a TV clip showing rudeness of a young man who refused to offer his seat to the needy on a crowded LRT (a commuter train service) and this clip generated alot of discussions in the various media thereafter. That TV clip was meant to educate. What happened next? Life goes onnnnn.... The same behaviour goes onnnnn..... I commute by the LRT quite often and I see very few incidences of someone offering the needy a seat. Some, on seeing a needy standing closeby just pretend not to see, and worse still, pretend to sleep!!

In busy malls and walkways, everyone goes about unconcerned of others nearby. Many just push their way and 'bulldoze' through. On the other hand, those in the way refuse to give way. So who is to blame?

When I was growing up I was always taught and reminded to be courteous, to help others in need, to respect elders, and all other 'refined' behaviours. All these are not seen in the young nowadays. What has gone wrong? Notice the words 'taught and reminded' I used in the previous sentence. Perhaps thats the root cause. If so why? Is it due to the education system employed, parents not guiding their children correctly, or the time spent by parents on their growing up children are insufficient leaving them all the time with maids and/ or nurseries, or are there other underlying reasons. There cannot be just one reason. It is a result of a myriad of reasons. It goes to show that our values in life have changed. I see it as one that has evolved from a life of community to a life of self survival. It is now I this, I that, rather than We this, We that.... Manners, courtesy, helpfulness has slipped through our system in our daily pursuits of that 'what I can get for myself' objectives.

The media used to project, to tourists, images that we are friendly, always ready with a smile and so on. The above report says otherwise!! The media projection may be true say 10 or 15 years ago. Not now I think. We are no more like that. Generally everyone is so engrossed in one's own thing that the other person closeby is just another 'object' one have to contend with, not another person or human being.....!!

MKI Ramblings Unlimited'
Petaling Jaya