Sunday, 5 December 2010

International Volunteers Day

Today is the International Volunteers Day.

Volunteerism in Malaysia is fast catching on, especially now under the stewardship of Prime Minister, with his 1Malaysia concept. As an active volunteer member of the Malaysia Civil Defence Department, or the 'Jabatan Pertahanan Awam Malaysia' or JPAM in short, I guess I have some say on this subject matter. JPAM is a government agency that operates almost entirely on the power of volunteers.  A few years back, it was something like 90% volunteers 10% permanent staff. Now, the ratio is getting smaller, maybe 85% as the current management is expanding its permanent manpower, in line with the expansion of the department.

I always believe that the power of volunteerism has been, and always will be, nature's backup plan to counter the impact of all (not limited to) major disasters, not only in Malaysia, but all over the world. Volunteerism works across borders, and beyond the prejudice of mankind against gender, race, religion etc. Volunteers CHOSE to be there, in the thick of the action out of PASSION. That goes a long way in determining the quality of the services rendered. A volunteer working with passion can be MORE PRODUCTIVE than a few salaried people working on the same task without passion but merely for their paycheck at the end of the month.
However, much needs to be done here in changing the biased perception of the public themselves about volunteers. There are some, even in the government agencies, that do not truly believe that volunteers can be professionals. To these people, I would like to emphasize the following:-
  1. Volunteers are not beggars, and certainly it is not reserved only for the jobless or unwanted.
  2. Volunteers come from all walks of live, with different backgrounds. They might be carrying boxes or driving lorries for you today, but has a Mercedes at home. Heck, they may be playing golf with your Dato KP tomorrow morning.
  3. Volunteers have knowledge ie management skills, training skills, auditing skills or any other skills that they might have mastered in their working life that would add value to your agency/group, so swallow your pride and work as a team.
  4. Volunteers are there to help EVERYONE, so please do not use them as a pawn in achieving your political agendas.

It seems nowadays, everyone wants to be a volunteer, which is good. But in my experience during disaster relief ops around the country, there are those who do not truly understand what disaster relief means. A few examples:
  • A corporate company with a food catering subsidiary cooks and distribute hundreds of fried rice packs to post flood victims everyday, for lunch and dinner. They got offended when they saw traces of polystyrene packs thrown away.
    • Moral: they are flood victims, not beggars. You cant just cook distasteful food (I personally wasn't able to swallow it..too salty) and expect people to eat and show gratitude. Btw, even if they did eat, don't expect them to eat the SAME food for Lunch & Dinner over a few days.
    • My 2 cents: Give your BEST food and your BEST service to victims.
  • A bunch of volunteers, well actually 64 people in a convoy of more than 15 cars wanted to go to deliver post disaster contributions, which was half load of a 1 tonne lorry.
    • Moral: it doesn't take many people to distribute the stuff. Victims are affected not only physically, but emotionally as well. They are victims, not circus. You go with so many people that would only encroach on the victims already limited personal space at relief centres, not to mention cramp up the few toilets already shared by hundreds.
      How would you feel if you are a victim, lost your belongings, staying at a cramped up school hall...and suddenly a few jokers asked their kids to pose with you, all because those jokers wanted to 'instill' the good values in their kids...DUUHHHH
    • My 2 cents: unless you have special skills to assist them e.g. electrician, plumber, brick layer etc, only go when you can add value to their lives.
  • Another big bunch wanted to be 'part' of the happening volunteer crowd. As it was a major disaster, accommodations were limited. They got a local 'powerful guy' to move the victims from one hall in order to make way for them, so that they can do their 'volunteer' work
    • Moral: the first time I heard it, I was so pissed. The first rule is....learn to RESPECT the victims. Like I said, as volunteers, you must be prepared to live, eat even shit in WORST conditions than the victims, or else what's your purpose dude? That's why when me & my JPAM team goes for disaster relief, we bring our own stuff. For us, sleeping is an option but a bed is a bonus.
    • My 2 cents: be self reliant, bring your own stuff, plan your own logistics. If you cant do that, then stay at home and sleep in your own bed.
  • Another company with substantial contributions engaged a group to assist them to get the stuff distributed and in the end also had to PAY for their FUEL, their TOLL, their FOOD and what ever other expenses; and guess what? They enlisted quite a few of their friends to tag along...all paid for by the 'victimized' contributing company.
    • Moral: there are people whom wouldn't think twice about making an extra buck out of other people's miseries. So make sure you get proper people to help you out. As in the example I gave, for their second trip there, I helped them to get assistance from escort, free lorry transport, no fuel or toll fees, direct distribution to victims via JPAM's local unit, no need to provide hotel accommodations.
    • My 2 cents: do some research on how best to contribute. If you have food or basic necessaties contribution to send and you dont know whom to contact, get in touch with government agencies e.g. JPAM.  If you still don't know how, contact me and I'll help you.

 As a Malaysian who believes in the power of volunteerism, I wish all volunteers, irregardless from which organization or country, or even if you don't belong to an organization but do good in your personal capacity..... happy International Volunteers Day.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Car Plunge Into Ravine.. KM35.4 Karak-KL Hiway

The wreckage - Pic courtesy of Shamsul KLM1
The site of the Wreckage
On 18th November 2010, while I was having a teh tarik session with friends, I received an SMS about a car plunging into a ravine at 35.4KM Karak-Kuala Lumpur Highway. Initial reports of it plunging into a river at the bottom of the ravine requires the water rescue team on-site. Hitching a ride with an officer, we proceeded to the location.
Suspected 'entry' point
Abseiling down to look for clues

The rescue team faced difficulty to get any clues as to whom the car belonged to as the car was upside down in knee deep mud. Thus, getting the engine or chassis number was out of the question. Looking at the gradient, surroundings of the location where the wreckage was found, its mind boggling to figure out how this car could have ended up at the bottom this bridge. From past experience 'rescuing' in this area, me and a small team went through the old Gombak-Bentong road, which runs parallel to the highway, to look for clues. Without any reference to the wreckage location, we came upon an area that we suspected could be the 'entry' point of the car.
Coordinates taken from my GPS
Due to the darkness of the night, in order to confirm our theory, I had used my personal GPS to mark the coordinates, upload the data into my netbook and locate on the map. True enough, what I see on the map more or less increases the accuracy of our theory. Traces of landslide at this area also confirms the scene that the team scouting the ravine below came upon...a landslide. Also from the data, it clearly shows the gradient was a difference of 80m+ between the suspected point of entry and the wreckage location. At 0130hrs, we received instruction to Stand Down for the day.

Day 2

The K9 Units

At 0900hrs, my JPAM team comprising of 20 members met up with the police's K9 (Crime) team. The Bomba guys would not be joining the operations today. Under the command of Tuan Sam, the traffic police officer from Bukit Aman, we headed off to the location. The K9 team comprised of 4 dogs, German Shepherds. These K9s from the crime unit looks, barks and even acts more ferociously than those rescue dogs that we are used the one in this story.  I won't want to be on the receiving end of those fangs. Funnily, they bark with much enthusiasm everytime Jai, one of my team members walks by. I jokingly told him, "Jauh sikit Jai, uniform hang tu busuk macam bau mayat kot' (Stand further away, maybe your uniform stinks like a corpse) ...hahaha.

JPAM and PDRM Vehicles On-Site
The dizzying depth of the ravine seen from the Highway on top. Can you spot the car?
JPAM & PDRM's K9 scouring the area for evidence
We re-visited the wreckage location. During the day, the actual scene differs entirely. The depth of the ravine is of dizzying height. We assisted the police personnel to get down on-site together with their K9s. Our team securely setup anchors for the rope, enabling team members a safe abseiling access down below. In the meantime, the MTD was called in to extricate the wreckage, or at least raise it high enough for us to get to the engine or chassis number. The MTD brought in their 'Kembalik' team. Due to the depth of the ravine, they had to improvise to add some extra length to the cable.
The wreckage on the way up
Anyone wants a used Kia Optima?
The JPAM team below helped to secure the cables to the wreck, and also used their static rope as a guideline (so that the wreck doesn't twist or turn). As the wreckage was almost to the top, disaster struck. A few hoisting cable either snapped or slipped...until at last it was dangling precariously from one of the cables. Upon talking to the MTD guys, a decision was made to lower back the wreckage and reposition the cables. After all, safety first.

The 'kembalik' leaked its hydraulic fluid at the most crucial time...bummer
Apart from my nice car in the foreground...I wanted to show the sawdust that was used to absorb the hydraulic fluid

As the wreckage was being lowered, again...another disaster. Suddenly there was a gush of hydraulic fluids from the 'Kembalik'. There goes all hope of hoisting the wreckage back up for today. My concern was the safety of the other motorist, especially the motorcyclists. Hydraulic fluid is very slippery, and the impending rain judging from the dark cloud formation would only quicken and expand the rate of its flow. The MTD was quick to bring in sawdust to absorb the fluid. The operation was again halted to wait for repair works on the hydraulics and also for MTD to send fresh hydraulic fluid to the scene.

After some repairs, the 'lowering' activity continued. About a few metres from the ground, disaster #3. The MTD had, in its earlier efforts to secure the snapped cables, relieved some of the chains used by them to improvise (as mentioned earlier), thus causing the length of the cable to shorten by a few metres. As they were using 2 winches, a decision was made to let the cable of one winch (the shorten side) go. But guess what...they didn't have the right more waiting for someone to send the spanner.
Massive traffic jam

At last, the whole operation ended at 1700hrs....more than 24 hours after it was first reported. This operation had forced MTD to close 1 or 2 lanes of the highway. Traffic jam stretched for a few kilometres. It was made worst by cars slowing down to look. I was wondering why some cars were like driving so slow....until I saw the drivers holding mobile phones discreetly under their arm, obviously video taping the scene. CRAZY!!!

Highway concessionaire should ensure that their equipments, especially safety/rescue related are well equipped and maintained, with trained personnel to handle them. Preparation for emergencies should cover the if you have ravines, make sure you have sufficient cable length for the deepest ravine you have. As how I had submitted a proposal to one Highway Concessionary, I had suggested to them to train their 'Response Team' not ONLY in Traffic Management, but to expand their scope as a trained First Responder. Most of the time, they are the first team to arrive at any accident scene on the highways. (They were interested until they came to the training costs...after that quiet, no response) Come on guys, you already have the personnel and the vehicles. All you need to do is spend a bit more for training and rescue equipments.

Oh ya, we managed to get the number plate. After all that effort, it was actually reported stolen a few weeks back. time any of you want to dispose of a vehicle you had stolen, please, please, please...put up a sign on the dashboard that says ' Maaf, ini kereta curi. Tiada orang atau binatang tercedera atau terbunuh semasa kereta ini dibuang ' (Sorry, this car was stolen. No human or animal was hurt or killed during the disposal of this car)

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Jalan-Jalan Cari Sungai - Ulu Tamu

A few weeks ago, me and a bunch of close friends came up with the idea for a family weekend trip, preferably over the weekend. I had originally mooted the idea, because that was one of the reason why I bought a have a bonding time with my kids. Well, to tell you the truth, we didn't quite got around to that. So I was looking forward to this trip.

Last minute cancellations includes my significant other because she has to have Internet access to complete her work, my daughter because she's helping out her auntie who's appearing on TV3 for cake decoration thingy and my eldest son whom had to study for his exams. Well that left me with just my youngest son. That will do...for now.

We departed quite late from KL, around 4pm. In a convoy of 4WDs (4 wheel drive), we headed towards Batang Kali. We arrived at the resort aka base camp at 1830hrs. Abg Hamzah was waiting, smiling as always. After some brief introductions, we headed for our chalets to freshen up. At 2000hrs, the BBQ was ready comprising of prawns, chicken, sausages, nuggets, rice (special fried nasi goreng ulam) etc.

After eating, some of us wanted to stretch their vocal cords, thus a few rounds of karaoke was in order. The resort had quite a decent karaoke system, and what started as a stretching exercise soon developed into a marathon.

At midnight, we decided to have a dip at the local hot spring. All of us went, including the kids. There were 3 pools, with different temperatures. I classify it as half boiled eggs, hard boiled eggs and frying eggs. We first tried the coolest...the half boiled egg....great for the kids, but kind of wimpy for us 'men'. Thus, we moved on to the next hottest...the hard boiled egg. A quick dip of the leg and I could have sworn some hair got burnt.

There was a group of teenagers there, dipping and showing off their high level of tolerance to the heat. So us, being men (which simply means a slightly older version of the boys), decided to stay and show off our prowess as well. After much hair loss (chest, arms, thighs etc), just as we were leaving, the last car in our group from KL arrived. Perfect timing.

Wow, a dip in hot water certainly is one of the most relaxing thing. It kept me wide awake. I went on chatting with the guys until 0530hrs, when my 'screen saver' mode was activated.

At 0800hrs, we had breakfast, followed by more karaoke (can you believe it?). At around 1030hrs, the jockeys brought the horses out and the kids has a whale of a time riding them around the corral.

At 1230hrs, we headed of by 4WDs to the next camp, having to cross 2 rivers to get there. This camp could only be reached by 4WDs, unless you can drive a sedan through the rivers. Mind you, if the rain is heavy upstream, the rivers get swollen that even us 4WDs wouldn't be able to cross them. After setting up camp at our usual spot, the resort personnel came on 4WD to set up lunch by the river. Everyone had fun bathing in the river, especially the kids. Of course us dads had to accompany them...not that we want to (La La La). Then we came up for food, then went down to bath, then came up for food...and the vicious cycle continues...haha.

Around 1530hrs, we started preparing the 4WDs for the journey over slightly 'rougher' terrain. Tyres were deflated to almost half, wheels were locked and the 4WD engaged. Through hill climbing, mud and uneven tracks, we drove on. My jalopy being at the front, had to act as backup recovery vehicle for those at the back. Some of the vehicles were standard ie no modification, AT (All Terrain) tyres, standard height. We had planned this very 'light & easy' trail to let the 'newbies' get some thrill under controlled conditions.

After all that, we went down to the river and much like the Mahouts with their elephants in Thailand, that's how us 4 wheelers with our jalopies. We parked them dead smack in the river, and wash and bathe them. Hmm...maybe that's why the wives get upset ... like the wives of the Mahouts.

As we said our goodbyes, plans were underway to plan another slightly farther trip...maybe over 3 days. That one involves river tubing, slightly longer 4WD trail...and this time, I hope to have the whole family there.  There's already inquiries from friends whom are interested to try it hey, maybe I would just package these weekend family outings for them. Interested? Come on.... get off that sofa, the air conditioned room and head into the outdoors. Enjoy the greenery while we still can. Don't have a 4WD? Don't worry, I know a few Mahouts...oppss...4 Wheelers whom would be glad to take you on board.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A Makeover

I had 2 days more of Raya leave. The kids were not around and there was just me and CaTz. Everyone that we know were either at their kampungs or holidaying somewhere. So we decided to make a trip to the shopping mall. This was the best time to do shopping, coz the sale was still on, minus the long queues, kids running, babies crying, aggressive mothers, foul mood husbands, smelly armpit smell....simply bliss.

The tranquility of the mall induced me into a buying mood. To cut the story short, we bought new curtains for the living room. The 2 amoi manning the counter commented "Waaa, lepas raya baru shopping ka?". Well, the purchase was not related to Raya, its was just time for a change.

As CaTz was trying out the curtains, I commented how a bit dated the walls were. Having a wallpaper border running across the wall irritates my eye. CaTz suggested we remove it as she had some left over paint. I was possessed with the spirit of a makeover interior the fact that she asked me this question "you tau buat ke?" To all the women folks....if you want your husbands to do something's a tip....that's the question to ask them. I started to peel off that wallpaper border BEFORE she finished that question. I'll show her....

After peeling off, I proceeded to paint over the affected area. The color was the same....BUT off a different shade. In my haste to prove my manly skills, I forgot the fact that wall was painted a few years back. The environment had changed its shade. Now it looks uglier than before. Oh I was in trouble. Then the spirit of the makeover ID took over, and looking around I saw that the furniture including the new sofa was 'earth' colour, but the walls were pinkish, which was 'the' colour back then, but a bit dated now.

We then went out to buy the paint. I knew what colour I wanted. I would not mention who actually decide on the colors, for fear of 'perang saraf' at home...hahaha....let's just say it was a mutual agreement. My years of experience in the construction line slowly took over my soul. What started as a simple 1 wall project, suddenly exploded into a bigger project...I was determined to paint the whole house. It was a total makeover.

I started right after returning home, starting with the ceiling first. The more I paint, the more determined I was.. clearly possessed. Suddenly, I realised...painting was a good stress reliever. No wonder some people paint in their free time as a hobby...not my type of painting. My previous attempts at painting art stopped dead in its track when my kids (when they were smaller) laughed at it. when I saw their painting, I knew why they laughed...they paint better than me.

The 2 days was maximized with painting...usually the best time was from midnight onwards. The quietness, the tranquility....precious. When it was a working day, I started after dinner...and goes on until the wee hours of morning. The 1st phase - painting the living/dining area including ceiling, doors and door frames was completed before the weekend after the long holidays, good timing too as we had friends and family members that came over for Raya to the house.

Our guests were amazed when we told them that the paint job was done by myself, especially my sister, whom had never seen me doing any such 'heavy' work at home. Only then did they scrutinized the finished project. I waited in anticipation...nervous to hear their comments...but pretending not to bother. Alas..."dia paint tu lurus je ek"..."nice color combination"..."lepas ni you pulak can paint our house" were some of the comments overheard...not that i was straining myself to hear them :)  hahaha.

My 2nd phase project is to convert the storeroom into a study cum prayer room. I wanted a room so that I can pray together with my was a dream and I am determine to make it come through. I had partially started on that, it is a slow process as weekdays I am occupied with work. That leaves the weekends. we had disposed almost 70% of that storeroom contents. Even the still good computer table including the 17" CRT monitor had to go. I had installed the new blinds, and gave it a fresh white paint. But the room looks 'too white', so it needs some colors on the walls.

The project was not so much on monetary issues, although I spent just a few hundred ringgit for the paint. It was the satisfaction of doing it yourself...which was priceless. Malays used to be well known for their craftsmanship...who knows maybe my ancestors were craftsmen. After a long hierarchy of descendants, maybe that craftsman blood is still there, but somehow diluted. 

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Hari Raya

Some of those whom attended 'buka puasa'
 The mood sets in when we had a buka puasa with close friends. Saliha, was back from Bahrain to spend Eid here, and thus was the guest of honor of the day. Huge portions of 'Lamb Mandi' and ' Chicken Mandi' were ordered. Hours were spent catching up on old times and updating ourselves with the latest info...aka gossip haha. One thing that is common between us all were our enjoyment for good food.

My playful twin nephews
The hamsters were the center of attraction
This year is the first year I am celebrating Eid as a husband...again...after so many years. CaTz, my significant other, has a kampung somewhere in Melaka. Thus, also a first in my whole life, I had a kampung to go back to (my original kampung is Kampung Baru right smack in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, thus does not really qualify as a kampung). This year, my 2 sons would only come over after the 3rd Raya (its alternate year cycle).

I never would have thought the 'balik kampung' affair would be quite tedious. CaTz had way, way earlier asked me to decide where we will be spending 1st Hari Raya...KL or Melaka. Over the duration of Ramadan, my mum showed indications that this year, she is not celebrating Raya. Thus, I made the biggest mistake of assuming that its OK to not to inform her earlier that I shall be in Melaka for 1st day of Raya.

My favorite picture
Tauke of SK Homebake
Thus, on Raya eve, I went over to her house, surprise, surprise...she was really upset that I would not be around on 1st Raya. What ensued was real I was distraught that my mum was upset with me. That evening I had no choice but to go back to Melaka. CaTz's father lives alone, and her siblings would only be back on the 1st day Raya after Friday prayers. So, she had to go back to clean the house and prepare meals for Eid.

I cannot tell them apart

No matter how hard I try to hide my sadness, somehow, my wife knew how upset I was. The next morning, after Hari Raya prayers, she suggested we go back to KL and celebrate Raya with my mum. We did just that, after Friday prayers. To cut the story short, I was much happier after that coz I got to kiss my mum's hands and asked for forgiveness.

Girls and boys...different styles
The highlight of my kampung trip is getting to meet 2 sets of identical twins, my 2 nephews, and 2 other relative's daughters. How often would I get to see that? My mood to take photographs were affected by everything that has happened between me and my mum. However, my twin nephews were too cute to resist... so here are their pictures...

I take this opportunity to wish all muslims 'Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, Maaf Zahir & Batin'. It was an interesting experience celebrating Eid this year.
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