Tag Archives: malaysia

VEP :A mountain out of RM20 per entry?

The Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex at Bangunan Sultan Iskandar, Johor Bahru (source : gerbangperdana.com.my)

The Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex at Bangunan Sultan Iskandar, Johor Bahru
(source : gerbangperdana.com.my)

After two years since it’s intended implementation was first announced (please also see meandpolitics.wordpress.com on related posts – ‘VEP : An Act of Sabotage?’ as well as ‘Malaysia, Singapore, Johor and the VEP’), the never-ending saga of the implementation of the VEP (or Vehicle Entry Permit) for all foreign-registered cars entering Malaysia is finally over.

Or is it?

To understand the implementation of the program a lot better, a look at the JPJ website at https://vep.jpj.gov.my states that :-

  • ALL foreign –registered vehicles are to register with Road Transport Department (RTD or more commonly known by its Bahasa Malaysia acronym, JPJ). When registering the vehicles the vehicle owners have to produce the necessary documents eg proof of car ownership, insurance etc etc,
  • once registered with the JPJ, these vehicles will be issued non-transferable RFID tags. These RFID tags contains pertinent information with respect to the registered vehicle, and
  • these RFID tags are valid for 5 YEARS

And all these for a processing fee of RM10 (circa RM2.50 or SGD3.30, take your pick).

Once these vehicles are registered and issued the RFID tags, these cars are then permitted to enter the country at any time during that five (5) years the VEP is valid for.

On entering the country, these VEP-registered vehicles are charged a fee called the ROAD CHARGE (RC).  The RC is ….wait for it, RM20 (Yes, its RM20 only) and is charged PER ENTRY (Yes, its PER ENTRY).

The proceeds from the RC is used to offset road maintenance costs, amongst other things.

JOHOR BAHRU 01 NOVEMBER 2016. ( BH JBH380G / METRO JB141J ) Kenderaan Singapura menggunakan sistem caj jalanraya (RC) dikenakan bayaran RM20 untuk masuk ke Malaysia pada hari pertama perlaksanaan di Kompleks Sultan Abu Bakar, Linkedua, Gelang Patah. NSTP/ZULKARNAIN AHMAD TAJUDDIN

Sourced from NST : JOHOR BAHRU 01 NOVEMBER 2016. ( BH JBH380G / METRO JB141J ) Kenderaan Singapura menggunakan sistem caj jalanraya (RC) dikenakan bayaran RM20 untuk masuk ke Malaysia pada hari pertama perlaksanaan di Kompleks Sultan Abu Bakar, Linkedua, Gelang Patah. NSTP/ZULKARNAIN AHMAD TAJUDDIN

After SO MANY DELAYS since its intended implementation was first announced in July 2014 by the Prime Minister himself, the system was finally and officially implemented on 1 November 2016, at the southern entry points of Johor Bahru (at the Causeway) and Gelang Patah (The Second Link).

And even that, it is not yet the finished article as there are exemptions, for one reason or another, currently in place for motor vehicles, government and diplomatic vehicles, as well as public transportation. It has been announced that some of the exemptions will be lifted while some of them will remain in place.

Now that it’s finally up and running, Malaysians have now to contend with the implied threat of retaliation from the Singapore government IF the system that Malaysia implemented is deemed to be discriminatory against Singapore, as reported by Singapore media.

Judging by the tone of the statement…… well, you know where its leading to. (Knowing which member of the Singapore media reported it will indicate to you that it is very very near and most likely to be an official stance of the government of Singapore.)

Come again? Does that mean that the sovereign government of Malaysia is being threatened with retaliation from Singapore for implementing a system designed to monitor and control traffic entering Malaysia? Like I said earlier, come again!?

It is public knowledge that ALL foreign-registered vehicles entering Singapore has to register with the Land Transport Authority of Singapore (LTA), with supporting documents (but of course).

Upon registering, a plastic card called the AUTOPASS is issued to the owners of these foreign-vehicles. One vehicle, one AUTOPASS.

The AUTOPASS basically controls the entry of your vehicle into Singapore and upon exit, tells you how much you have to fork out for driving on the roads of Singapore, what with the different gantries and charges and the likes.

Upon exiting, it is best to make sure your AUTOPASS has enough credit to pay for all these charges including the VEP (that is if you have used up your free quota of 10 days a year and that it’s not a weekend or a Singapore public holiday or not between the hours of 6pm to 6 am (I think)), otherwise you will be fined an additional sum of money for not having enough credit to begin with, all of which has to be paid PRIOR to exit.

But just how much is the Singapore VEP?

Last I checked, its SGD35 (RM105 or USD25 thereabouts) for private vehicles and SGD40 (RM120 or USD30 thereabouts) for commercial transport vehicles. That was when the then VEP rates were increased from SGD20 and SGD10 in August 2014.

Since then, I have not checked and it has been a long time since I checked.

Sourced from NST : JOHOR BAHRU 01 NOVEMBER 2016. Kenderaan Singapura menggunakan sistem caj jalanraya (RC) dikenakan bayaran RM20 pada hari pertama perlaksanaan di Kompleks Sultan Abu Bakar, Linkedua, Gelang Patah. NSTP/ZULKARNAIN AHMAD TAJUDDIN

Sourced from NST : JOHOR BAHRU 01 NOVEMBER 2016. Kenderaan Singapura menggunakan sistem caj jalanraya (RC) dikenakan bayaran RM20 pada hari pertama perlaksanaan di Kompleks Sultan Abu Bakar, Linkedua, Gelang Patah. NSTP/ZULKARNAIN AHMAD TAJUDDIN

Looking at them Singapore VEP rates, I guess that’s why my Malaysian friends who work in Singapore drive to work in Singapore-registered vehicles. Otherwise, they will be contributing more to Singapore that what they get paid by working in Singapore.

I mean, 10 VEP-free days can only go so far and people do work for more than 10 days in a year and yes, I do believe people work to get paid and not pay to work.

It works out for the betterment of the Singapore economy I guess. Auto traders have a business where people buy and sell cars, both new and second-hand. That plus the 10-year ruling, of course.

Workshops in Singapore too would be gainfully employed, with repair and servicing jobs. Otherwise, there might be one less economic activity in Singapore and lots more people with lots of idle time on their hands.

Now if the Singapore authorities want to ‘retaliate’ and ‘match’ Malaysia’s actions for daring to do what it just did, by all means, IF that ‘retaliation’ means that the Singapore VEP is reduced to the RM-equivalent of RM20 per entry.

But in all honesty, I seriously doubt that the Singapore authorities will ever reduce the VEP rates. Increase, yes. Reduce, hhmmmm. But miracles have been known to happen.

In the same tone, Malaysia can also claim that when Singapore implemented their VEP, it was discriminatory against Malaysia. I mean, is there any other country which has land links to the island? And was Malaysia ever consulted? What are the odds of that ever happening? Be consulted that is. And will it ever happen in the future? Your answer is as good as mine.

But seriously folks, is the Singapore government making a mountain out of RM20 per entry? IT IS PER ENTRY, you know. And the maximum a Singapore-registered vehicle or any foreign-registered vehicle for that matter, can stay in Malaysia is three (3) months. That’s theoretically RM0.22 (USD0.05, SGD0.07) per day for the maximum 90 days. Not even the price of a French fries at the neighbourhood McD, I would suggest.

And three months is definitely far longer than the period a FOREIGN national is permitted to come in and stay in Malaysia. Just have a look at your Singapore passports.

Being kiasu does have its limits you know. It may be the accepted norm in Singapore but when dealing with another country who is no less sovereign and independent than you are (as you would like to impress upon everybody), too much kiasu and it’ll border on being ridiculous, never mind offensive.

Thing is, no one’s laughing.

Anarchy On the Roads

I was on my way to pick up my son, late one night recently, from his part-time job in one of the more popular shopping malls in Johor Bahru when I saw a build up of traffic up ahead. In my mind I can only think of two reasons why there can be a build up of traffic at that time of night.

Parking where there are parking bays available (at night)(@ all rights reserved)

Parking where there are parking bays available (at night)
(@ all rights reserved)

The intermittent flashes of blue light told me that, true enough, one of the two was the cause and unfortunately, as I was approaching the junction where the build up of traffic occurred, the sight of a mangled motorcycle, pieces of plastic and a lifeless but covered body on the road, made me realise that this was one of them fatal ones.

Luckily for me, I was alone in the car. If my wife was with me, I would have told her to look in the other direction. The sight of a body on the road, lifeless and covered with whats available is never a pretty sight, even for a man, what more for a woman, no matter how tough and strong she may be.

The sense of sadness at seeing at what was a live person does overwhelm you, more when you consider the circumstances of his demise. Always, and without fail.

The sight of the lifeless body, a man and middle-aged by the look of it, on the road often made me wonder, has the next-of-kin been told of the accident that befelled him? Or that, does the lifeless body that was him, has a next-of-kin, for that matter? Worse still, do they know how to get in touch his next-of-kin or who they are? Does he have kids and how old are they?

The questions don’t stop rushing in, I must admit. What happened to him, to make him the latest addition to the statistics of Malaysian roads? Was he riding his motorbike fast? Why was he in the extreme right lane? And so on and so on and so on.

So many questions. And they have all remained unanswered. But that doesn’t matter. It has all become academic as the fact remains that the person lying on the road is dead. The how and the why we may never know for sure but what is certain is that the morgue will be busy tonight.

What can you say? Cool? I think not, Stupid  more like it.(source : wikipedia.org)

What can you say? Cool? I think not, Stupid more like it.
(source : wikipedia.org)

The sight of a body on the road is not new to me, I am sad to say, for I have seen quite a few. More so in the last few years, actually. I had often wondered whether it’s the price that has to be paid for the rapid development happening in Johor Bahru the last few years, with people rushing, for whatever reason under the sun and the moon and the stars, from points A to B to C and so on, day and night, driving their big or souped-up and expensively modified cars and more often than not, without a care for their own safety, what more for the safety of others, weaving in and out of traffic as if they were just images on those racing machines lining the amusement arcades.

Is it the price that has to be paid for revving their motorbikes up and down the coastal road, weaving in and out of traffic as if they were in the Malaysian leg of MotorGP or just riding in a large group, purposely forcing traffic to build up behind them? And all that with mischievous smiles on their faces.

I must admit, after witnessing the antics of these irresponsible drivers and motorcyclists, it is hard to feel sorry for them when they get involved in accidents. Most often than not, they are not the ones who gets the sharp end of these accidents. Rather, it happens that other road users bear the brunt of these accidents and it is grossly unfair and a shame that these ‘collateral damages’ are the road users who abide by the law.

Admittedly, you do feel a semblance of pity for all involved, regardless whether they were or not the cause of it all. But the feeling of pity doesn’t stay long before it gets replaced by a feeling of anger, fast, once the facts of the accident comes out. In most of these cases, the expression ‘serves you right’ would be most apt although it may not in good taste at all, to the ire of those responsible for these accidents.

Illegal Parking behind CIQ Complex Johor Bahru(@ all rights reserved)

Illegal Parking behind CIQ Complex Johor Bahru
(@ all rights reserved)

It used to be the thing for a Saturday night, the shenanigans and antics of these irresponsible road users, be they car drivers or motorcyclists. But nowadays, its fast turning out to be a daily (or is it nightly?) thing, as can be seen by the spectators lining the streets of JB (especially the coastal road leading to and passing by the Bukit Serene Palace).

Talking to some, you could almost sense the patience and restraint of most road users are practically wearing thin. Resigned but very thin, as a matter of fact.

To make matters worse, the latest craze has seen groups of bicyclists getting onto the same roads, some riding bicycles proportion to their build whilst some chose to ride bicycles that they owned since they were 5-year olds. It used to be amusing to watch, like adults riding ponies except that in these case, the ‘ponies’ don’t leave poo on the roads. But over time, they too are fast becoming potential road hazards themselves especially when they don’t put on any protective gear especially at night. And that is definitely not good news.

If that wasn’t bad enough, these irresponsible road users are now being joined by their brethren from across the Causeway, who take to speeding on Malaysian roads like a bird just released from its cage by its owner.

Personally, I hope the police and the authorities get a grip on things before they get totally out of control, and before anarchy rule the streets of Johor Bahru. I mean, those patrol cars do look pretty and all but can they actually chase and stop a speeding car, weaving in and out of traffic BEFORE we have to pick up their bits and pieces from the tarmac and the walls lining the roads?

I mean, the police do have back-ups and surely they do have more than one patrol car on the roads at any one time, don’t they? Surely they can coordinate amongst themselves, can’t they, like they did in those movies of Dato’ Yusof Haslam and Co.?

And as far as I know, the public parking bays on the roads of Johor Bahru are owned and maintained by the JB City Council (MBJB). And they do not get transferred to unlicensed parking attendants after official hours. Or do they?

illegal parking at night (see right hand side)(@all rights reserved)

illegal parking at night (see right hand side)
(@all rights reserved)

And if I am right, you are only allowed to park your cars (and motorbikes) at parking bays designated by MBJB. Or has it changed to ‘anywhere you please’?

A double yellow line does still mean ‘no parking’? Or has the traffic code changed overnight without most of us knowing about it?

Since we are at it, when the traffic light is red, it still does mean ‘stop’, right? Regardless, if I am not mistaken, whether you are top of the line Range Rover or that simplest of simplest 2-stroke 2-wheeler ‘kapcai’. Or am I again mistaken?

Whatever it is, please, for God’s sake, please get a grip on things before it gets totally out of control with anarchy reigning, and the law of the jungle prevailing above all else.

When that happens, what then?

Destinasi Malaysia : Tanjung Balau / Desaru

My wife was pretty stressed up recently. So tired and stressed up was she that we decided to make a drive up to the east coast of Johor that very weekend. To Tanjung Balau and Desaru, to be precise, where the white sandy beaches and swaying pine trees awaits you. Or so I have been told.

Desaru map

Map of the Southern East Coast of Johor (Desaru / Tanjung Balau)
(source : malaysiasite.nl)

We drove up on a Saturday, from our home in Johor Bahru (JB), leaving it to the mercy of our four sons, much to their delight. Leaving the house with a little prayer that it remains intact when we get back, we took off and decided that since it was going to be an easy drive, we were going to take the Kota Tinggi route instead of the new Senai Desaru Highway.

We stopped over for brunch at Kota Tinggi, noting that it didn’t take us that long to get to Kota Tinggi as we thought. Maybe the new highway from Senai to Desaru got something to do with it, taking on traffic that would otherwise be on the roads heading in and out of Kota Tinggi.

Brunch was briyani and nasi lemak. For a layman like me, a briyani is a briyani is a briyani. The only difference between the briyanis of the world, for me, is whether its chicken briyani, mutton briyani or beef briyani and whether it taste good, or not at all or something in-between. Either way, whats left of the briyani on my plate will be dependent on whether I was hungry or otherwise.

Briyani – Take your pick
Indian / Arabic / Malay?
Lamb / Beef / Vegetable / Chicken?
(source : xcitefun.net)

But for food connoisseurs, like my wife for instance, a briyani is not just a briyani. The rice, the texture, the method of cooking, whether it is Indian briyani or Malay briyani or Arabic briyani etc etc etc. Many a time, she would take just a taste and she could tell the herbs and spices used, how it was cooked, what went in the pot first etc etc etc.

Nasi Lemak – A Meal for Any Occassion (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner or even Late Night Supper)
(source : wikepedia.org)

The same goes for the nasi lemak. The way the rice was cooked, how much coconut milk was used (and whether they actually used coconut milk), the taste of the sambal (cili sauce) and its ingredients etc etc etc. Well, since the verdict was a thumbs up for both the dishes, so I guess the restaurant has a pretty good cook in their kitchen. After brunch, we continued with our journey, with Tanjung Balau planned as the first port of call, and Desaru thereafter.

We reached Tanjung Balau in pretty good time, and I did not know that I too was in need of a break as well until we reached Tanjung Balau and saw the open sea. The sight of the open sea that is the South China, does give you the feeling of expansiveness and you could almost feel the weariness of life’s daily rigours slowly leaving your body. Something about the salt in the air, I think. That and the sway of the palm trees and the sea breeze and the heat. Oh My God, the heat. But then again, it was about noon time when we got there, so it comes with the package.

Fishermen’s Museum Tanjung Balau
(source : thestar.com.my)

There is a museum at Tanjung Balau, little known until and unless you been to the place. The museum is part of the chain of museums under the management of Jabatan Muzium Malaysia (The Museum Department of Malaysia) and is called Muzium Nelayan Tanjung Balau (Tanjung Balau Fishermen’s Museum). Even though I have been to Tanjung Balau once before, there never was any urge or interest on my part, to actually walk into the museum and check out what the museum has to offer.

After paying the RM2 entrance fee, the first thing that hits you as you enter the first of the museum’s four halls of exhibits was the air-conditioning. My word, the RM2 was well worth it, even it was just for the air-con. A respite  from the prickly heat outside, indeed.

The museum is a small museum and focussed mainly on the lives of the local community who, in the days of old, were mainly made up of fisherfolk. Plenty of old photos adorning the walls re-inforced that fact. The main attraction at the museum had to be the artifacts found on a wreckage nicknamed ‘The Desaru Ship’, for want of a better name, discovered in nearby waters. Name unknown and Chinese in origin, it sank in the 1840s with Chinese ceramics and jars amongst its cargo.

ceramic artifacts salvaged from the wreckage of the ‘Desaru Ship’ (@ all rights reserved)

It suddenly dawned on me that Chinese ceramics and jars must have been big business back then, judging from the many discoveries of the same from most of the sunken ships salvaged in the region.

However today, the once-upon-a-time mainstay of the local economy ie the fishing industry, has given way to tourism as its main revenue generating activity, what with chalets and homestay accommodations readily available and widely advertised judging from all the signboards that we see in Tanjung Balau.

The beach front at Tanjung Balau. Needs sprucing up? (@all rights reserved)

However, if that is to be the case, then there is an urgent and vital need to take the situation up a notch in Tanjung Balau. From what little I have seen, Tanjung Balau needs serious sprucing up to attract more local tourists. It needs more public facilities and amenities, and what is currently available needs upgrading and serious upkeeping. That is, if the authorities that be (KEJORA? The Federal Ministry of Tourism? The Johor State Government?) are serious about developing Tanjung Balau and its surrounding areas as a worthwhile and affordable tourist destination, to complement the nearby resorts at Desaru.

view of the Lifeguard Tower from the Fishermen’s Museum Tanjung Balau (@all rights reserved)

But affordable doesn’t necessarily mean that it cannot be well maintained and clean, does it?

From Tanjung Balau, we then made our way to Desaru. Being fairly new to this part of the state, we took the ‘long’ way to Desaru, taking us first to Bandar Penawar and then to Desaru. If we had been a regular visitor to this part of the state, we would have taken the short cut to Desaru by turning left at the first roundabaout as you leave Tanjung Balau.

But as fate would have it, we found ourselves heading towards Bandar Penawar, with its famed school of excellence for sports. Formerly known as the Bandar Penawar Sports School (BPSS), it has been re-named the Tunku Mahkota Ismail Sports School (TMISS), after the current Crown Prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail ibni Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.

TMISS has done the state proud and has developed quite a good CV with regards to the development of athletes, challenging the more established Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS).

Upon reaching Desaru, we had trouble finding the beach. Having grown up hearing of the famed sandy white beaches and pine trees of Desaru, it was rather perplexing until we realised that the only way for us to get to the famed sandy white beaches was to go through one of the hotels lining the beach front. The Pulai Desaru Beach Resort and Spa to be exact. (Nope, they did not pay us to mention them cos they didn’t even know who we are.) And thats exactly what we did. (Well, we did actually planned to have coffee or tea at one of the hotels, and so giving us a very good reason to walk into one.)

The Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa. (@ all rights reserved)

And so, in we went into the lobby and after admiring the view of the hotel from the inside, we made our way to the beach. Passing by the swimming pools, and the gym and the garden, we finally reached the beach and it was all it was made up to be, with one or two exceptions.

Desaru is a fine tourist destination with a long stretch of white fine sandy beach to stroll to your hearts’ content. It still has lots of potential to be developed into a premier holiday destination. Just ask the hordes of Singaporeans and Malaysians who make their way there to spend a weekend away from city life, as it were. It’s a joy to be able to stroll along a long stretch of white fine sandy beach, with the waves of the South China Sea crashing onto the beach and pulling at your feet as it flows back to the sea.

But in so saying, something has really got to be done about the rubbish on the beach BEFORE it really spoil things up for tourists, both domestic and foreign (and that goes for Tanjung Balau as well), IF that has not happened yet. I am not so sure as whose responsibility it is to ensure the beaches are kept free from rubbish.

Admittedly, you can’t do much about rubbish washed ashore from passing ships on the horizon but surely, the hotels lining the beach must bear some, if not all, of the responsibility in ensuring the beaches stay clean. After all, the beaches do form part of the attraction of these hotels and surely they have benefitted from that very fact.

one for the ladies……
(source : wikepedia.org)

Despite the many people swimming and fooling around among the waves, for the life of us, we could not see any lifeguards. Well, we don’t expect them to sport red shorts or a red bikini, or a David Hasselhoff (for the ladies) or a Carmen Elektra (for the guys), but I do think lifeguards are essential in this case. Afterall, those in the water are the hotels’ guests and their well-being is of importance. Surely that must count for something.

We promised ourselves coffee at the hotel’s coffee-house but since we were also hungry instead of just thirsty, it turned out to be early dinner instead. As the buffet spread was not ready yet, Ala carte it was then.

After finishing the food that we had ordered, and enjoying the last rays of the evening sun, we made our back to good ole JB. This time, via the Senai Desaru Highway. God bless the Senai Desaru Highway. It makes driving home so much easier and makes the eastern parts of  Johor so much accessible.

It was a well worth trip. Enjoyable, fun, and one to be repeated. And guess what? The house was still standing when we got back.

Sonst noch was? Part 2

In March 1987, I was selected to attend a course in the then Bundesrepublik Deutschland (or Federal Republic of  Germany), more popularly known as West Germany.

The course itself would last for about one and a half years, until August 1988 and was part of a program by West Germany to channel its contribution to the continued development of developing countries, and for us who got selected, the course was fully funded by one of Germany’s well-known foundations, the Carl-Duisberg Gesellschaft (CDG).

The first five months was dedicated to the learning of the German language, comprising of Hochdeutsch (official German) and Fachsprache (Technical language). And we were to be given our introduction to the German language at one of CDG’s centers, located at Saarbruecken.

Saarbruecken is the capital of the state of Saarland, and is located not far from the German-French border as well as from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (see map below).

It’s also not far from the town called Trier, which is the birthplace of the founder of Socialism, Karl Marx (1818-1883). The house where he was born is now a museum and a very popular one at that, especially with tourists from China.

Karl Marx House, Trier (Source : Wikepedia)

File:Karl Marx 001.jpg

Karl Marx (Source : Wikepedia)

Despite it all, I have never been to Trier and have never visited the museum, which over the years, a decision I came to regret, for historical reasons. If ever I were to be again in the area, I would definitely make a beeline for Trier. For historical purposes, more than anything else.

Saarbruecken is a typical German town, but with strong French influences. This is not surprising as it is near the French border and after WWII, was under the administration of the French. The main attractions that I can remember are the Rathaus (which is loosely translated as the City Hall), the Flea Market (held on Saturdays), and the many pubs in the city known as ‘kneipe’. And as like many modern cities, they have their fair share of supermarkets eg Kaufhalle etc.

All these were a part of our introduction to Germany, its language, its culture and its heritage and its way of life. One of the things that is the pride of Germany is its beer. Apparently, every state and/or region in Germany has its own trademark beer and the German state of Saarland is no different. And the Germans love their beer, they do.

My group, comprising of 2 Malaysians, 3 Thais, 5 Indonesians and 3 Filipinos, were based for two months in Saarbruecken before we were moved to Dortmund for the next phase of our German adventure.

Located in the Ruhr Valley in the state of NordRhein-Westfalen, Dortmund was deep in the industrial area called the Ruhrgebiet. The Ruhrgebiet played a very important role in the German Industrial Revolution and still is the heart of the German industrial scene. Coal is still being mined albeit not as much as before.

And looking back, that was what it was, an adventure. A new country, a new language, a new culture, a new way of life and a new experience. And the adventure continued when we moved to Dortmund. But that’s another story.

Bis Naechtes Mal, Tschuess!!!!!

Sweet Sounds of Music

When the passing of Whitney Houston was announced recently, I was quite taken aback. It was a Sunday and I was having drinks at a coffee shop in Singapore whilst my better half was running some errands in the vicinity of Pasir Panjang. I was reading the ticker on TV and as my order arrived, it was announced that Whitney was found dead in a hotel in Beverly Hills. My immediate reaction was a stunned silence.

It was not much different when Michael Jackson’s death was announced. I can’t remember what I was doing when they announced it but my reaction then was disbelief and sorrow.

These two musically gifted giants died when they were no more at the height of their popularity. Michael died when he was about to embark on a tour to resurrect his flagging career with a world tour.

The man who brought us countless unforgettable musical moments, the man who revolutionised the making of music videos, the man who introduced the Moonwalk, the man whose dance moves were much anticipated as was the release of his new musical masterpieces, died before he could even sing the first note of his new world tour.

If his intention was to revive his musical fortunes, then his death achieved what his world tour may not have done for him – resurrect interest in his music. It may sound cynical, but the world has not changed in this respect. It takes a death for someone to get noticed, and in Michael’s case, to get noticed again.

Today, Michael is once again recognized as the genius that he is. Or rather, he was. And like in ‘The Girl is Mine’, ‘there will be no other’.

As for Whitney, what more can be said about her that millions more have not. At her prime, she had THE VOICE and THE STYLE that was unmistakably Whitney’s. She was that special. There was a remark, I believe, made by Simon Cowell during one of the American Idol series, as an advice for female singers wanting to go far – Don’t do a Mariah, don’t do a Celine and for goodness sake, don’t do a Whitney.

The remark was apt. If you don’t have it, don’t try it, cos if you do, you’ll most probably suck. Totally. And for Whitney, that was one of the highest compliments that any one can possibly give.

True, she had her problems, some well documented and some widely publicised. Some unwanted, some unwarranted, some downright nasty. But then again, she is, after all, Whitney and hell, the whole world knows who Whitney is.

And now that she has passed, true to form, her music is suddenly back in vogue with demands for copies of her recordings far exceeding supply. Hopefully, as they lay her body to rest, all the negatives that has followed her in her life shall be buried with her and whats left to remember her by are just the positives.

The ways of the world dictates that whoever is born and lives shall wither and die some day. High born, low born, gifted or otherwise, it makes no difference. We are all, at the end of the day, just human after all and mere mortals whom death can make its acquaintance at any time.

There are other musically gifted artists that I have come to admire over the years, who have passed on. Luther Vandross, for one. His soothing soulful renditions, what can I say? ‘Dancing with my father’ still affects me the way that it did when I first heard it back then. And I sincerely believe Richard Marx never thought that his song could have been that beautiful.

Barry White is another. He has this unique voice that when you hear it, you know its him. For me, Barry White always reminds me of Ally McBeal and her gang of quirky lawyers. They were good for each other, Barry White and Ally McBeal. Each reminded me of the other and I believe, each made the other more famous than before.

For Malaysians, we still remember P Ramlee. For non-Malaysians, they may wonder just who is P Ramlee? Multi talented, he too received his recognition for his works in films and music after his passing. Posthumously decorated and honoured many times over, he passed away in 1974. That was more than 25 years ago and today he is still remembered for his works.

But prior to his passing, he was humiliated by so-called intellectuals, who branded his films and music as being outdated and of no intellectual content. Hounded and disgraced, he died penniless. Today, Malaysians of all ages remember him but none remember the so-called intellectuals who pronounced him the village dunce.

Over the years, there have been many of these musically gifted artists who have come and gone, regardless of where they come from. Lets just hope that they received recognition when they were still amongst us, and not only after they have gone. And that people also accept that they are also just human beings, mere mortals who are prone to making mistakes, like the rest of us. Then maybe the world would be a better, kinder and a more enriching place for all of us.

Sonst noch was? Part 1

Everyone of us, I believe, has travelled at one point or another in our lives, be it for business or for leisure. For overseas travel, one of the most often asked questions, when planning or preparing for the trip, would be “do they speak english over there?’.

I grew up with English as my second language, and got to be quite proficient at it, if I may say so. Knowing that you are fluent in English does give you the confidence whenever and wherever you travel, as rightly or wrongly, English is accepted as a universal language spoken widely all over the world, many thanks to Hollywood and Rock n Roll.

When I was offered, in late 1986, to undertake a course in Germany sponsored by the Carl-Duisberg-Gesellschaft (CDG), my natural reaction was to say yes. It did not dawn on me until a few days later that the course was for one and a half years, and the language of instruction was German. Being young (I was 25 then), I did not worry too much about it. At least, think of the experience I would have gained, I thought. A new country and a new culture. A new language, if I’m lucky.

After much preparation, the day came when I finally boarded the plane to Germany. The Lufthansa flight was from Kuala Lumpur to Frankfurt-am-Main and from there, another flight to Saarbruecken, where I would be based for the first few months, near the French border. And if I had any misconceptions of what was in store for me, it was cleared up when the cabin crew delivered the safety instructions in German.

It hit me then, and I asked myself the age old question whenever you realized that you may have made a big bad boo-boo, what did I let myself in for. One and a half years of living in a country whose lingua franca was German and not English, a language that I was comfortable with. One and a half years of trying to learn something technical, in German. Could I cope? Would I survive? Would I ever be the same?

Luckily the flight was long, long enough for me to calm down and prepare myself to face the next one and a half years. By the time we landed at Frankfurt-am-Main, I was ready. But first, we had to deal with the case of a flight cancelled, due to engine trouble (not always a good sign of things to come, if you are supersitious and why must it always be engine trouble?) and of a long and unplanned coach ride to Saarbruecken (introduction to seeing people drive on the wrong side of the road).

Upon arrival in Saarbruecken, we were delivered to our designated boarding house. It was more like an apartment block and apparently, it was sort of a clearing house for all CDG sponsored newcomers to Germany. We had different nationalities there ; Asians, South Americans and Africans. Conversations in English, Spanish and French filled the air as we get ourselves familiarised with the new environment. Nothing German about it, or so I thought.

The first few months was dedicated to getting us familiarised with the German way of life, its culture, its politics and of course, its language. We had a very friendly language instructor who taught us the fundamentals of learning the German language. We were given the priviledge to ask questions in either English, Spanish and French on that very first day and that first day would also be our last, with respect to our usage of the English, Spanish and French languages for we will not be entertained thereafter.

Sounds harsh? Well, if ever you want to learn a new language, it is a very good idea to be totally immersed in the language, from TV programs, to shopping and even to converse. It is already an advantage that the environment is very conducive to learning the new language.

Admittedly, it was quite an experience getting on the bus heading  to downtown Saarbruecken, hearing the language being spoken in its natural environment, deciphering all the signboards at the supermarkets and malls, paying for the foofstuff in deutschmarks (then), and one of the the biggest test of them all, ordering food or drinks, from the menu, at the local restaurant and that when the food is finally on the table, it was what you actually wanted and not something else entirely.

Its was also an experience watching German TV. You know you have gotten somewhere when you somehow understood what they were saying on TV.

In Malaysia, we do not see the need to have TV programs translated into Bahasa Malaysia, which is the national language. Instead we rely on subtitles to help us understand and so, Malaysian TV have a combination of movies and TV series in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Hindi, Tamil, Arabic and whatever language that comes under the sun.

It is, however, not the case in Germany then. Ever tried watching the American TV series “Dallas’ in German? The most memorable line that I could ever remember from that series was Sue Ellen telling JR Ewing, ‘JR, du bist schwein’. Yes, JR was a scoundrel but somehow, telling JR that he was a pig in German sounded so much better and somehow, hilarious at the same time.

Another word would be ‘Idiot’. In English, it sounds demeaning but for me, it sounded both insulting and funny at the same time whenever I hear it pronounced the German way. Try asking anybody who can speak German to pronounce the word and maybe, you’ll understand why.

One of the most often used phrases that we picked up was ‘Sonst noch was?’. If you go to a restaurant or a cornershop, you’ll be posed this question and if you are done with your order, your reply would be ‘Nein, danke’. For the uninitiated, it means “Will there be anything else?’ and “No, thank you’ respectively.

And I must say, the German language can ever be so polite with “Bitte schoen” and “Danke schoen” always part of the conversation.

Learning a new language can be fun even if you are at an age when learning another language can be quite tedious and downright boring. But if you ever get stuck in Germany or Austria or Switzerland, it may prove handy especially if you are asking for directions to the nearest toilet and you are out of dance moves.

Bis naechtes Mal, Auf Wiedersehen.

 

Whats in a Name?

English is not the native language of my country, Malaysia but it is a language which is spoken widely, both in social and business circles. Whether the language is spoken correctly or otherwise is another issue altogether.

I would like to think that I am quite proficient at conversing and writing in the English language. When I compare myself to the younger generation in Malaysia nowadays, I must admit to being quite lucky to have started my English language education at a very young age, at home and at school.

At home, my late father was an old-school English teacher trained in the use of Queen’s English. He subscribed to two daily newspapers to be delivered to the family household, one in Bahasa Malaysia, our national language, and the other, a newspaper known for its impeccable use of the English language, the New Straits Times (NST).

In addition, we would also sit in front of the TV and watched childhood stories, narrated of course in English, to learn the subtle points in the use of the language. Of course, these TV programs soon made way for American-made-for-TV series and films, with their fast paced action and penchants for ad libbing.

School was initially a primary school founded by Jesuits in my hometown of Johor Bahru, and school later was a boarding school dubbed ‘Eton of the East’. As the primary school was a missionary school, the language of instruction was naturally English. It was also the same, except for a few subjects like History and Geography, at boarding school, despite the majority of  teachers being local.

By the time I was selected to pursue my A Levels in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s, I was already well exposed to the English language, with its different accents and subtleties that I did not regard language as a barrier or a potential stumbling block, to furthering my academic education in a English speaking country.

Being in the UK itself was an education, what more if you are willing to expose yourself to the different stimuli that comes your way. Amongst many things that I came to realise about myself was that I was actually into chat shows, especially those of Michael Parkinson and Terry Wogan, could actually understand and laugh at the weird sense of humour courtesy of the late Kenny Everett, the Two Ronnies, Only Fools and Horses, Not The Nine o’Clock News and many others whose humour was based on the use of language instead of slapstick.

I also discovered that I also had a penchant for documentaries and debates. Panorama was a good one, what with the Cold War still raging back then, the Pandora’s Box that is the Middle East as well as the battle of wills between the Iron Lady, Dame Margaret Thatcher, and the Trade Unions being one of the regularly covered topics of discussion. This interest still lives on in me, the documentaries I mean although its now more about wildlife than anything else.

All these precious knowledge was made available to me via a firm grounding on the understanding and the use of a foreign language that is English. And no less important,  I also learnt the importance of pronouncing foreign names correctly, even if its not English.

It may sound trivial but notable newsreaders back then (late 70s and early 80s) eg Angela Rippon, Anna Ford, Selina Scott, Trevor McDonald and many others that I can’t remember would confirm that to be the case.

So much so, what struck me the most was the disclosure by Angela Rippon of the BBC of a special unit in BBC whose function was to assist newsreaders in pronouncing names of foreign personalities correctly. At the very least, its about respect in at least getting ones name pronounced correctly. Not the massacre you hear so often nowadays.

But then again, whats in a name?