Can we dispensed with long winded protocol laden honorific ceremonial salutations at functions?

Syed Nadzri’s article “Time to dispense with protocol at functions” in NST on 19 May 2015 really struck a chord with many of us. And I have heard many colleagues and friends grumbling about this. I am sure you have come across functions where you have to endure a good 10 minutes of opening salutations such as Yang Berbahagia Tun, Yang Berbahagia Tan Sri, Yang Berbahagia Puan Sri, Datuk Seri, Datu-datuk, Datin-datin and the list goes on and on until the reader is breathless and the listeners start to whisper to each other, fiddling with their programme books, staring at the ceiling, or even stifling a yawn or two. If you are an emcee, it is even worse because not only you have to make sure the Tan Sri, Datuk Seri, Datin Seri, Datuk or whatever that were on the list is around, you must also get the order correct. Syed Nadri said, the book Malaysian Protocol by Datuk Abdullah Ali, listed down the order of precedence right from the Yang Di Pertuan Agong to all the way down to the ministerial level – all 53 levels!. Worse still, at state level functions, the salutations provided by the host state take precedence and as an emcee you must know it or else that is probably the last of your emceeing job or at government level, you’ll getting the show cause letter or your boss would be reprimanded by the big bosses for not following protocol. It is a real dilemma. Many people moaned about it but so far nobody dares to defy the protocol, more so us government servants. I reckon it is a reflection of our Malay custom that has been woven into our social fabric, where respect to the positioned and elders are of prime importance. I have attended a lot of functions overseas, none so far matches our intricacies and length in addressing the opening salutations.
The Chief Minister of Sarawak recently tried to cut it down when he ordered he should be referred as CM (short for chief minister) without mentioning his full official titles during official events. I wonder if other state chiefs would follow. But you still run the risk of being told off if you get it wrong or miss out mentioning any dignitary in your speech. I believe it is necessary to address the important guest at events but to address all of them complete with their titles and to repeat that every opening paragraph is quite tiresome.
On that note, the reknown ulama, Datuk Abu Hassan Din noted on TV9 recently that Muslim are not obligated to answer a salam given by a speaker if the salam is given after the salutation. As you know, Muslims are obligated to answer a salam and giving the salam should come first. It is very interesting, I noticed that many a time, a speaker would only say the “Assalamualaikum” after addressing the long list of dignitaries present at the event. He said, the speaker should immediately open the speech with “assalamualaikum”, then only address the dignitaries with their ceremonial honorifics. He chided some people who open the speech with salutation and add a lot Arabic salutation with praises to Allah and Rasullullah, excerpt from the Quran and the doa and only finally say the all important “assalamualaikum”. In this case, he said, muslims are not obligated to answer with waalaikumussalam.

Government red tape at its best.

Over the weekend, we were tasked to go to Rompin as a part of the plan to meet the people to explain MoE’s programmes. Rompin is a rural backwater town in Pahang bordering Johor and Negeri Sembilan. The place is the gateway to one of the world most beautiful island, Tioman. It is also famous for its abundance of kingd size prawns, not so much of the lobster type but river prawns.I had the opportunity to taste them that very night in open air by the seaside bbq.. Have not done such thing since my schooling days in Port Dickson beach. Wonderful experience. We took the route from KL to Kuala Pilah, Serting, Felda Keratong, Muadzam Shah and to Rompin – a four-hour journey with two toilet breaks.
The event was the usual meet the students, teachers, parents session. Nothing spectacular really.
The journey back I decided to take the alternative route of Mersing,Kluang and on to the PLUS highway. After another prawnful lunch (pardon the pun), we took off to Mersing around 2.30pm hoping to reach the PLUS highway by 4.00pm. After Mersing, it started to rain and it was pretty heavy by the time we reached Kahang. Most of us were fast asleep when it happenned. After negotiating a rather sharp corner, there was this junction and the lorry in front slowed down to turn right, all the cars in front of us screeched to a halt. We managed to stop just in time but in that split second there was a loud bang at the back. Somebody has banged us in the back. It was raining heavily, we had no umbrella but I knew I was not that bad, because we were not even thrown forward by the impact. We moved aside and used of the plastic bags to cover our head to check on the damages. The lady in the Alza who hit us was still the car, she was frantically calling somebody over the phone. Her car was very badly damaged. At the back was the real culprit, an old Jabatan Pertanian Pajero. The Pajero should not have been on the road at all. It was rusty, creaky and the aircond did not work. The driver was busy wiping his windscreen when it hit the Alza. The front head light was torn off and the car looked like it was going to fall apart. The worst was the Alza, it got hit on both ends, front and back. The front left side was totally crushed immobilising the car. Likewise the rear left portion was ripped off.

The poor Alza front portion.

The poor Alza front portion.

The culprit was this BER Pajero.

The culprit was this BER Pajero.


Fortunately our X Trail was not that badly damaged except for torn rear fender and bent exhaust tailpipe. But then the hassle really begin after that. We had to wait for a couple of hours for the traffic policeman to come. Sargeant Iswadi was efficient and businesslike.By then it was almost seven and we were told to go to the Kluang traffic police station to file a report and now hear this…being a government vehicle, we were told by one Inspector Safian that the car had to be impounded! He had to wait for JKR to come and assess the damage. Since it was already past office ours, JKR need a request memo from the police to its HQ in Johor Baharu and in turn the JB HQ would send the memo to JKR Kluang with instruction to do the job. How is that for efficiency huh.. We had to put up in a hotel in Kluang for the night. We had to inform our HQ to pick us up in the morning and the Police and JKR cannot even guarantee us whether they can the job done by today. Can’t they allow us to let JKR in KL to do the job. No sir you can’t, it has to be done within the jurisdiction of the police district where the incident happened. Can’t we simply mailed the photos of the damaged portion to JKR to do the assessment. No sir, it has to be done in real world. This is Government red tape at its best. I had this helplessness feeling. It was just a scratch to the car, but we need all the necessary report and assessment by the authority to justify the repair claim or else the audit would e breathing on our neck – exactly the words of the good inspector. As for now I must wait for another car to pick us up. Wonderful.

We might as well send our footballers to Bhutan.

Bhutan is well known for being one of the happiest nation in the world but not for its footballing prowess. But now Bhutan plays better football than Malaysia. According to the latest FIFA ranking, Bhutan is placed above Malaysia’s 164th! The latest ranking not only placed Malaysia among the lowest in the Asian countries but also lowest among the senior ASEAN nations. I cannot imagine Malaysia which regularly beat the Philipines with double figures scores in the 80s and 70s is now ranked below them. The same goes for Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam. Apart from Thailand, these countries were constantly beaten by us in the past. I wonder how low can we go. I shudder to compare us with the African nations where the countries torn by wars and draughts with hardly any so called football fields fared a lot better than us. Look at Burkina Faso, Mali, Congo, Ethiopia, Chad, etc.

In the meantime, the New Straits Times reported that many of our footballers are being paid more than RM50,000.00 a month! Nor Sharul Idlan had his contract with the ATM cut short because the Gladiators cannot pay him the RM80K a month as per the contract and he was quickly snapped up by Terengganu which is more than willing to pay that amount. The so called Malaysian Man City, The JDT, really up the ante in terms of paying footballers in this country. They pay Shafiq Rahim RM75K, Figeroa RM175K, Safee Sali RM40K and a host of other household names in Malaysian football, all in the excess of RM40K a month. It was also reported that the FA of Perlis last year had trouble to pay their footballers. They had to go without pay for more than three months. I don’t suppose Perlis players got paid with the amount their JDT counterparts are getting. I heard it was only RM3-5K a month. I wonder how much Bhutan pays their footballers.

Azman Ujang, the former Bernama Chief also wrote in the Sun that if you look at the team sheet of any of the Malaysian Super League or Premier League teams, you hardly see any chinese names anymore. Whatever happen to the likes of Soh Chin Aun, Wong Kam Fook, Wong Choon Wah, Tang Siew Seng, Lim Teong Kim, James Wong? If I remember correctly Perak had Chan Wing Hoong a few years ago and that was the last of the few. Even Penang, Sarawak, Malacca, and KL, the states that normally have a number of chinese players do not have them anymore. Where have all they gone ? Azman blamed the school system. In the old days, talents came from the schools and the national schools football fields were the fertile grooming ground for multi ethnic talents. According to Azman, these days, chinese parents preferred to send their charges to chinese schools where basketball courts easily outnumbered football fields. Hence, the boys had little chance to play football and less and less chinese boys get selected to play at a higher level. While we still have the likes of Chanturu, Gunalan, and Kunanlan we do not see any more Chan Wing Hoong, Yap Wai Loon, Chin Hong Aik, and Chow Chee Keong. I wonder whether the point put forward by Azman is valid, as Singapore, which has no issue with the schooling system, is facing the same problem. They had trouble finding players to fill the boots of Lee Man Hon, Steven Tan and the great Quah Kim Song. Maybe we all should go to Bhutan, not only they are happy, their football standards are better.

On turning 55

Last month I turned 55. Suddenly it dawned upon me I should have retired if it was 10 years ago. The Friday before that Monday would have been my clock out day.Rightly or wrongly I have to wait for another four years plus before I hang my professional chalk and blackboard. Looking at the average age of Prophet Muhammad’s ummah, I have another seven or eight years to go before I die. These are the hard cold facts I have to face. Even if I pray day and night for the next seven or eight years, I feel I still could not balance out the sins that I have done for the past 40 years or so. I am really praying for the grace of Allah to save me. Allah is the most Merciful.
Anyway, our birthday dinner (me and the wife incidentally almost shared the same birthday, hers is on the 14th mine on the 16th) was really unique. By twist of fate, my daughter’s friend from Canada was on a visit on that day and she managed to join us. She was on crutches after crashing her rented bike in Thailand. It was really amazing this young woman can travel half way around the globe in crutches, all alone.



The late JJ said we did not realised that we aged that far until we see our friends who grew up with us and we almost did not recognised them anymore. Greying or thinning hair, freckles turning into liver spots, bulging tummy, wrinkling hands and fading memory. Well, Alhamdulillah, Allah blessed me with wonderful family, relatively great health, secure job, super duper wife, comfortable home, considerable debts,..etc … what more can I ask. Hopefully I can still write on my next birthday.

1Bestarinet: re-re-visited

On Sept 13, 2011 I wrote about government’s plan to wire up all the schools in the country to the internet. The plan that has been in the doldrums since the sputtering Smart School project was more or less forgotten. Fast forward four years, the 1BestariNet contract was concluded last June and it was extended to December 2014 on interim basis. The Auditor General made a study of the project and it was tabled in parliament. We had a few sleepless nights preparing our answers to the findings of the Audit.
The main bone of contention is the user experience in accessing the internet. Schools expect the system to enable them to access the net from anywhere in the school compound at anytime. On the ground, users are complaining that they are not getting the connectivity that they thought they are supposed to get. The lines are either down, erratic, or too slow especially to the schools that are connected with Very Small Aperture Techonology (VSAT). The schools are supposed to get 4G connectivity with minimum 2Mbps, except for VSAT schools.
We must remember connectivity and accesibility is as good as the money you are willing to pay. Meaning, everything is tied to the Service Level Agreement (SLA) that you subscribed. You want a fast and efficient service you must pay for it. The Government can only pay as much especially when the number of users involved are humongous. Something like 10,000 schools, 450,000 teachers, 5 milion students, and 4.5 million parents are the potential users. As it is the Ministry is paying to the tunes of millions ringgit to pay for the connectivity, despite getting the cheapest rate available. So, the best solution is to manage the the bandwidth usage in an orderly manner so that everybody in the schools had to chance to access the internet for teaching learning purposes. The onus is on the school managers to schedule the access to the internet so that all users have equal opportunity. It is akin to traffic rushing home during peak hours where five rows of cars all trying to squeeze into a-two lane route. All would be jammed up. If a traffic policemen is available to regulate the entry into the two-lane route in an orderly manner, traffic would be smooth and everyone would be able to get home, albeit in a smaller number at one time. Of course we had the option of building a bigger highway with more lanes which definitely costs us more money. Likewise, we had the option of buying bigger bandwidth for faster speed and pay through our nose. That aside there is the issue of size of the application being accessed. You may be able to get internet connection but as you key in the address of your choice site you had to wait for ages for it to load. That maybe due to the size of the application is big and not properly optimized.

Goodbye my friend.

Saturday morning brought another shock. The phone was set to silent for the Friday afternoon meeting,I went to the mosque soon after and forgot to switch back to normal mode when I went to bed that night. When I woke up for the Fajr prayer and had a peek at the phone, there were numerous missed calls and messages – all pertaining to the passing of my officer. Just last week I met him to discuss our visit to Sabah to check on school ICT maintenance.
He was a sprightly guy with a ramrod demeanor. A no nonsense officer feared by many especially non performing contractors. I really appreciated his services as we need man like this to straighten out wayward school heads, school activity centres’ officers and he understood technical specification like the back of his hands. I can still remember him explaining things in his Sarawakian accent. With his passing, I lost a technical officer steep in the knowledge of ICT in schools. We had our arguments, all professionally done, him with his Sarawakian accent and me with my fake Sarawakian twang!
The sight of his son tugging the deceased foot underneath the blanket that covered the body, with tears streaming as if trying to revive him, was really heart wrenching. I managed to peek at his face. Rigor mortis has yet to set in. He looked so peaceful as if he was asleep. Goodbye Tajuddin, it was good to know you. May Allah bless you and put you amongst the solihin.

Casablanca, the town with the floating mosque

Casablanca, an Atlantic Ocean port City made famous by the movie. Even the taxi driver had a CD ready with exceprts from the movie to be played in their vehicle. The main attraction of Casablanca is the King Hassan Mosque. The frpnt portion of the mosque projected into the sea givng the impression that it is floating on the water.

It was a wet and blustery afternoon when we reached Casablanca. The mosque is very imposing but I was so disappointed that we have to pay 120 dirham to enter the mosque outside the five prayer times. It was about an hour to Asar when we reached there. I had to pray outside near the ablution area. I am not willing to pay 120 dirham to pray inside the mosque. I found it preposterous that we have to pay to pray. from windows phone-dec14 822

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The Moroccan musings (Part 10)

Somehow our journey back from Guelmim to Rabat was a wet one. The nine-hour coach journey was interspersed with rain spells along the way. Due to the unfavourable weather we had to abandon our plan to stop at Casablanca. Somehow the journey back was a lot quieter and a few stops as compared to the incoming journey the previous two days. It was still back breaking all the same. One observation that I make, the rural areas of Morocco still retain the old style of fencing their properties with high solid walls with huge ornate gates. The walls are normally painted brick red, a colour pervasive throughout the buildings of Morocco, especially Marakesh. Even the Governor of Guelmim residence is surrounded by brick red high walls with guard post at the entrance. I reckon this hark back to the fiefdom days of yore. As we nears Marakesh, Casablanca and Rabat, the old fort style enclosure is slowly being replaced by normal chainlink fence or some other transparent fence.
By the time we reached Rabat it was pouring and we had to move straight back to the hotel to deposit our luggage, despite earlier instructions that we were supposed to stop for dinner with the Ambassador. We had to take a taxi to the restaurant where the dinner held. We must thank the Ambassador for taking the trouble to entertain us. The team from the Energy group who did not have to travel to Guelmim or Tan Tan were already there when we arrived. It was past normal dinner time. Still we were grateful. At least I had the chance to share tales of our journey with the professors from the Energy group.
The Education Group proposed that further collaboration with Morocco on two fronts, i.e collaboration between schools and collaboration on teacher training. We have to finalise the actual plan within 90 days. I hope I can mobilise our Bestari showcase schools to start engaging with their Moroccan counterparts immediately. Be ready SMK Sungai Pusu, SM Abd Rahman Talib, and SK Bukit Jelutong. Technology wise, I think we are quite ahead of them. I reckon we can get some sort of collaboration of environmental projects. At least some form of virtual connection must be established immediately.

Tan Tan – the Atlantic town (part 9)

There is this little town called Tan Tan facing the Atlantic ocean. To me the name itself conjure up the remoteness of the place. It is about three hours away from Guelmim, southwestwards. The journey through the desert was quiet except we have to stop three times for security checks. We were told,the guards stopped us to ensure our safety as the areas are bordering Mauritania, a supposedly unstable areas.
We arrived in Tan Tan well past lunch time and treated to another wonderful Moroccan lunch. This time we had a huge barbecued fish as the main dish.

Tan tan beach. The Atlantic Ocean waves looks formidable

Tan tan beach. The Atlantic Ocean waves looks formidable

Huge fish and squid for lunch. The fish is called dorna or something to that effect

Huge fish and squid for lunch. The fish is called dorna or something to that effect

The town is rather quiet at this time of the year. Maybe because it is winter time. I can’t write write much about the town as we did not really spend that much time except at the hotel where we had our lunch.
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Our next destination is a school, Mansour Ehdhabi, really remind me of Maktab Mansor Adabi in kota Bharu. The welcoming ceremony compelled us to drink camel milk from a bowl – the same bowl. The milk so tasty, I could have gulped everything myself. Control man. Others still waiting in the queue.
Just a sip maam.

Just a sip maam.

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I am quite amazed that the school still enthusiastically received us even it was 6.30pm on saturday evening. They have put up all sorts of scientific exhibits for us to see. Again I am amazed at how confident their kids are explaining their projects, in English/Arabic/ French. But the best is spared for the last. The welcome party was conducted in a camel hide tent erected in the school compound. A real Samra tradition. And again we have to wear the jilabab, only this the jilabab were white and two sizes bigger. We left Tan Tan around 9pm, tired but quite happy.

Ummm..this thing can do...

Ummm..this thing can do…

the welcoming tent

the welcoming tent

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Tea in the sahara

Tea in the sahara

Guelmim – the genial host (Moroccan musings part 7)

We were invited to have a dialog with the staff, lecturers, teachers and parents in Guelmim and Samra region at the Guelmim Academy. The session was chaired by the Academy Director, Abdullah Bouarfa.I have never seen such many people willing to listen to us in an oversea visit. It was quite an intimidating scene. They were about 50 of them, sitting around the huge meeting hall. I believe most of them can understand English but cannot express themselves in English. Funny they called teachers here “ustaz” as oppose to “professor” in Rabat and Marakesh. Fancy that I was addressed as Ustaz Shamsuddin!. So I switched from a professor to an ustaz within two days.
Since the focus of the visit is STEM, I presented some slides on how Malaysia is handling co-curricular activities to infuse science and technology in education. The slide, of course were prepared by someone else, I had the honour to present them. Quite a painstaking experience. Unlike in Rabat or Marakesh where we had simultaneous translator to do the translation, you just had to listen carefully through the headphone. Here we had to do it in the good old way. You speak a few sentences and you stop for the translator to translate them to Arabic. Then you continue and stop again. The start stop situation took a lot longer than the 15 minutes time slated for the session. In the Q&A sessions, we had to field 10 questions. Quite a lot for a Q&A session. A new record for me. The session lasted well into its fourth hour by the time we wrapped it up. Another record for me.
Guelmim suffered from major floods a few months back and you can still see the after effects everywhere. Even the lodging house where we were taken for dinner was not spared. As it was in the whole of Morocco, the use of electricity is as minimal as possible. The place was dark, even in the darkness, I can see the pathway to the restaurant was still spattered with debris and mud. The dinner was spectacular in a way were made to wear the traditional Saharan garb before we dinner was served – complete with the blue turban. And the jilabab and the turban were ours for keep. It was a really tiring day (and night). It was almost 11pm when we reached our hotel. I dozed off as soon as I put my head on the pillow, in jilabab and all.
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A section of the participants in the briefing session

A section of the participants in the briefing session

The men had to wear the jilabab.

The men had to wear the jilabab.

And the ladies beautifully garbed in Saharan dress

And the ladies beautifully garbed in Saharan dress

I can pass as an African delegate for the south-south cooperation summit!

I can pass as an African delegate for the south-south cooperation summit!