Tag Archives: thinking allowed

Horrific and Unforgivable: another child dies


By Mariam Mokhtar

On August 15, the mainstream papers reported the death of a four-year-old girl. She had allegedly died after being abused by her mother’s boyfriend. The victim, J. Pavitra, had been brought by her 33-year-old mother to a 1Malaysia Klinik in Bercham, because she was ill. Clinicians confirmed that the child had died and subsequently contacted both the police and the Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital for a post-mortem to be conducted.

Tests confirmed that the cause of death was internal bleeding but her body bore evidence of constant abuse. At the time of her death, she also had fresh injuries on her chest, as well as many older bruises.

Pavitra’s father had died two years ago and she was the youngest of four children. Her older brothers, aged 13 and 15 years, were placed in an orphanage in Taiping whilst her youngest brother aged six, had been adopted by a relative. Pavitra lived with her mother and the mother’s boyfriend, a part-time security guard.

State Criminal Investigation Department chief, Senior Assistant Commissioner Mohd Dzuraidi Ibrahim said that Pavitra’s mother was arrested while waiting to claim her daughter’s body from the hospital morgue whilst the boyfriend was detained at their home in Kampung Tawas, later that day. The case has been classified as murder and both people were remanded in custody, pending investigation. In a plea for witnesses to facilitate with inquiries, Dzuraidi said, “We urge the neighbours, and others with information, to assist us.”

Undetected Abuse

When we read about Pavitra’s death, were we numb with shock, or numbed with indifference because it is yet another case of a child being abused? The beating which Pavitra suffered, at the hands of people who should have cared and protected her, is shocking. Her death is not the first, nor will it be the last, but how did her continual abuse go undetected by family members, neighbours and friends?

There are services which the public can call to highlight their concerns about child abuse. One of them is Talian NUR, telephone 15999. Are people not aware that such hotlines exist? Are people too scared to complain in case they are dragged deeper into something with which they want no connection? Sometimes, the system of reporting causes paranoia in the people who try to report the abuses.

Are people afraid of reprisals from the perpetrators of the crime? Are people so preoccupied with their own lives, that they can ignore a child’s screams? Were they so distressed by the pleas of the child that they shut out her cries for help? Were members of the family ashamed, so did not report the abuse?

A 4-year-old has died. Someone must have heard something or noticed something unusual.

A child who is repeatedly hit will show symptoms of abuse – physically, mentally and behaviourally. Unless she has been hidden away, family members like her grandparents or aunts and uncles, or the neighbours must have suspected something. If there had been early intervention to stop the beatings and the sustained abuse, Pavitra might still be alive today.

We may wonder why the mother did not do more to protect her child. Did she feel anger, frustration and sadness after the death of her husband and so could not cope? After her loss, her family was disbanded. Did this compound her sorrow?

Did she enter into an abusive relationship, with her boyfriend and became stuck in a vicious circle of hopelessness? As the country suffers an economic downturn, it is the women who suffer more, as there are fewer jobs on offer, the cost for child care increases and families have to tighten their belts further.

Public Awareness

Malaysians must show more concern at the rise in cases of child abuse and more should be done to protect children. Public awareness needs to be increased, and people should be empowered and encouraged to become personally involved and support families and parents. Contrary to popular opinion, children suffer the most abuse from people they know, like parents, relatives and babysitters. Not strangers.

Child abuse is an offence in Malaysia and is punishable under the Child Act 2001 and the Penal Code 1997. Offenders may be liable for a maximum fine of RM50k and a prison term of 20 years, or both depending on the offence. Offenders may also be whipped.

Older children fear the threat of more severe ‘punishment’ by their abusers and so very few cases are reported. Younger children do not have the ability to say that they are abused and many cases remain undetected.

The “Talian NUR” hotline (15999) is the 24-hour helpline, which enables the authorities to intervene, for victims of domestic violence and child abuse. Last June, calls to NUR through public telephone booths in schools were made free. Calls are handled by trained people and in four languages; Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin and Tamil.

No one will consider you a busybody or hold you responsible for the break-up of a family should you report a child who is being abused or neglected; but you could end up saving a life.

Nur Suryani: From Lahat to the London Olympics


By Mariam Mokhtar

London Olympics 2012 - shooting
Nur Suryani Mohamad Taibi

Nur Suryani Mohamad Taibi, originally from Manjoi, has come a long way from the shooting range in Lahat, to represent Malaysia at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Away from the shooting range, the image of a serious person, deep in concentration, staring down the sights of a rifle, gives way to a young woman who is affable, accommodating, down-to-earth, with a delightful sense of humour.

When the Ipoh Echo caught up with 29-year-old Nur Suryani, she was up-beat about her debut at the Olympics: “When I first started shooting, all I wanted was to see how far I could progress. But to make it to the Olympics, was a dream come true.”

“A few days after tests confirmed my pregnancy, I found that I had qualified for the Olympic Games. So, there was a double celebration.”

Her first shooting event, on the day after the Olympics opening ceremony, was tough as she concedes: “I was up against the best in the world. To represent my country is a once in a lifetime achievement. Although I did not make it to the finals, I tried my best. I am satisfied with my performance. I hope to inspire other women in Malaysia.”

Nur Suryani who is 47th in the world ranking for the 10-metre air rifle event, is also a Commonwealth Games gold medallist. She has a dizzying array of medals from various international shooting events, like the Guangzhou Asian Games and the World Cup in Sydney.

In November 2011, she won two gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games in the 10-metre air rifle and 50-metre three position rifle. She qualified in both these disciplines, for the 2012 Olympics, at the Asian Championships in Doha, Qatar two months later. Although her preferred event is the 50m rifle, the growth of her belly as her pregnancy advanced, made it difficult to shoot in the prone position.

Nur Suryani’s road to success was not without controversy. Two months after qualifying, she was strongly urged to reconsider her Olympic participation. Some believed that her pregnancy would affect her performance. Others said she was selfish and that she was only endangering the health of her baby and herself.

Her detractors were silenced when doctors certified that she was fit to travel and to participate in the games. “I have to ignore the critics as I must be focused in what I do. I have worked hard to get where I am. On the whole, people have been most supportive.”

Her dedication to the sport is endorsed by her manager, Muzli Mustakim. “Nur Suryani is very disciplined. She is a level-headed person and in spite of her condition, I am extremely pleased with her performance,” said Muzli, who is also the honorary executive assistant secretary of the National Shooting Association of Malaysia.

Nur Suryani’s husband accompanied her to London but she was disappointed that her father could not come. “I was fifteen when, with the encouragement of my father, I took up shooting. He said, “Kalau nak bergaya, buat rifle; kalau nak relax dan senang, tembak guna pistol”. (If you want to be stylish, choose the rifle; if you want something more relaxing and easy, choose the pistol.) “I was only a youngster and I wanted to ‘bergaya’ – so I took up the rifle.”

Her participation has caused a stir in the Olympics village with an unprecedented number of requests for interview, from the foreign media. “I am surprised by the publicity. I think I might have made history as the most pregnant woman to compete in the history of the Games”.

Nur Suryani is the older of two girls, and attended the primary school Sekolah Manjoi-1. Her secondary school was the Sekolah Dr Megat Khas, the former Labrooy school. “I learnt at the Perak Shooting Association, near Bradken, in Lahat. I now train at the shooting range in Subang.”

Nur Suryani is aware that she is a role model for women. “If you have confidence and the belief in yourself, you can do anything”, she said. Her advice to school children with an interest in shooting, was to join the Police Cadets.

She portrays herself as a simple and easy person who can get along with most people: “But I choose my friends carefully.”

Most of her Olympic gear (rifle, shooting jacket, spotting scope, pellets) was funded by the Malaysian government. Her shooting jacket, which was sourced overseas, cost a whopping RM2,800.

Swimming forms part of her exercise regime. “Most people’s hearts beat at 80 beats per minute. Athletes aim for 50-60 beats per minute. I shoot in between the beats. So it is important I keep fit. “I love food. If I go to the gym, I may burn 2,000 calories but then consume 5,000 calories of food afterwards. That is why I prefer swimming to the gym.

She also mentioned the downside of swimming. “I used to swim daily until my bump got bigger. Now I garden. Although the water makes it easier to float, I feel like a Telly Tubby when I put on a swimsuit!” She maintains that she would resume shooting after childbirth.

“Definitely, I will carry on. I want to do my best to qualify for the next Olympics.”

Now that the Olympics is over, Nur Suryani’s next challenge, is that of naming her baby.

Ipoh Echo would like to congratulate Nur Suryani on her Olympic participation and wish her well with her first baby, a girl.

Changing Our Attitude


By Mariam Mokhtar

The good news is that Malaysians have attitude. The bad news is that most of them do not realise that most of it is bad.

Take the incident which was detailed in the Ipoh Echo recently. On June 17, Priya Vivek and her family went to the Barossa Restaurant of the Royal Perak Golf Club in Ipoh to celebrate Father’s Day.

What should have been a happy occasion turned into a nightmare when her family was trapped in the club lift for an hour. It was an horrendous experience for the two elderly people and two-year-old toddler in the family group of five.

No one responded to their plight. Was the alarm in the lift broken? Undeterred, they telephoned the Barossa Restaurant to summon help, only to have problems with communication.

Ms Vivek said: “I called and the person who answered the call seemed not to understand the situation or simply could not understand basic English”.

Many people would have thought that Ms Vivek should have spoken Bahasa Malaysia, unless of course, Ms Vivek is not Malaysian. Perhaps, the staff were foreign workers who spoke neither Malay nor English.

It transpired that the employee who took Ms Vivek’s call was the restaurant manager, who told her that they “…..did not have the receptionist’s number and would try to pass the message as they were busy attending to their customers in the restaurant”.

This is shocking. Can someone’s safety be less important than the pursuit of profit? Is the restaurant manager so callous and uncompassionate? The trapped people had to ring the restaurant manager a number of times, before finally asking for the telephone number of the maintenance staff.

The maintenance person who took their call said he would come to their aid, but he never turned up. Finally, after much banging on the lift doors, the security guard heard their cries and forced the lift doors open.

We are told that the maintenance officer did not show concern for the family or the failure of the lift. We are also told that the management of the club have not apologised for their poor customer service.

The Barossa Restaurant subsequently wrote a long letter published by the Ipoh Echo, which was littered with excuses. Although the Restaurant cannot be blamed for the equipment failure in the Club, their attitude in responding to emergency situations is appalling.

The greatest problem is the management of the Royal Perak Golf Club. Their indifference and attitude towards this incident is outrageous. Perhaps, they would have shown a more professional attitude if a datuk were trapped in the lift. Perhaps, Ms Vivek should have phoned the bomba – that would have got the management running.

In Issue 142 of the Ipoh Echo, the article “Mayor’s Concerns” gave an interesting insight into the attitude of public servants and their sycophants. The article generated a lot of criticism but there were some members of society who failed to see the bigger picture.

They did not see the problems in Ipoh society but just wittered on about the way that the mayor should be addressed. They failed to understand that respect has to be earned, especially by a public figure.

The article said that the Mayor was late. This is inexcusable. It shows arrogance and a lack of respect for other people and their time. The media representative, Rosli Dahamin did not appear. So, are we to be proud of wasting other people’s time?

This is a community paper and some residents have used this vehicle to express their beliefs that new blood should be injected into Ipoh. Many Ipohites suffer from the stagnation that comes when people remain in their jobs for too long. These people lack perspective and motivation. Some are simply warming their seats till their retirement.

The Town Planning Division Chief’s response to the public transport system was a mind-boggling “…time is not an issue”! This sort of mentality is one reason why Ipoh lags behind.

Before they know it, 2020 will be upon them. Do we need reminding that Visit Perak Year 2012 suffered from poor planning and a late start because of this laid-back mentality?

The article also exposed the lack of engagement by our city officials. How does one expect things to move forward with this attitude and mind-set? When will our public servants reach out from their ivory towers?

The dry humour and irony of the writer is evident when the mayor says, “It’s an attitude problem” to which the writer responds, “I couldn’t have agreed more”.

So how do you explain to the Malays what irony means, when there isn’t a word, for ‘irony’, in the Kamus? A dull, uninspiring leader only demotivates his team. A good policy that serves Ipohites well, will outlive anyone’s term in office. If a leader has a positive attitude and is committed, the team members will also be enlivened.


The House That Ken Built


By Mariam Mokhtar

Kenneth-Yeh-Carolina-MarraAn Ipohite, Kenneth Yeh, has done Malaysia proud. Last month, the husband and wife team of Kenneth and his Argentinian wife Carolina Marra, founders of their architectural firm ‘Marra + Yeh’, won an award from the Architectural Review (AR), a leading London publication and critic of global architecture.

Their winning entry was the ‘Shelter @ Rainforest’ project, a building deep in the forests of Sabah which provides accommodation for the manager of a forestry company, his family and their visitors.

Both Yeh and Marra, are based in Sydney but Yeh divides his time between Australia and Asia, including Malaysia, where he has various commissions. They travelled to London to receive the award, at a ceremony on June 26, which was attended by architects from all over the world.

Two-hundred entries for 2012 were judged by a distinguished international jury consisting of Brian Mackay-Lyons (Canada), Sofia Von Ellrichshausen (Chile) and Peter Salter (UK), and chaired by Catherine Slessor. Slessor who is also the editor of the AR said, “[Marra + Yeh]’s project clearly stood out and the jury found it both impressive and convincing.”

Yeh told the Ipoh Echo that he never intended to be an architect. He had harboured designs to be a Naval Architect but his parents objected to that choice of study. “My parents said that there is ‘no future in designing belly buttons’. Today, I take revenge on my parents by designing my buildings to look like boats or ships.”

He studied at the University of Texas at Austin, and trained under the Architect, Peter Bohlin, but is disappointed that the School of Architecture which he attended is not recognised in Malaysia, despite being ranked #2 in the US.

His first job was the design of a Palm Oil refinery, for a company in Ipoh. Now, from his Australian base, he travels extensively around Asia. Every 2-3 months, finds himself in Ipoh, to visit his mother and for work: “I have a couple of houses in Meru Valley Golf Course.”

The talented designer lives in an old converted biscuit factory, with a courtyard garden containing mature trees of avocado, magnolia and Australian hardwood. He described his home, as “a nice juxtaposition of old and new.”

News about the award had taken both Yeh and Marra by surprise. “The house (for the project) we designed is a very humble dwelling. Of course there’s also a satisfaction in being acknowledged for such work and for all the effort in the three years that it took to make it happen,” said Yeh.

A delighted Marra said, “The AR has held architects to a pretty high standard for a long time, they had top notch judges and the competition is tough, so to be given an award is quite an honour.”

When asked about the working relationship of a husband and wife team, Yeh said, “Two heads are better than one!” but declared, “Sometimes all we talk about is architecture. That can be both good and bad.”

The hands-on approach during construction is part of Yeh’s work philosophy. He also does research to understand what is unique about the place and the people involved in a particular project. “We then design a building that responds to the situation, it is not preconceived,” he said.

For their Sabah project, they used a four-wheel drive to visit small villages in Sabah to learn and understand the traditional buildings of the Rungus and the Muruts, and see how they had evolved over time and how they are used within the traditions of the local communities.

The Shelter @ Rainforest project is made from timber to create a low-cost house which uses solar electricity, biogas and rainwater. A feature of the design is that indoor temperatures may peak at twenty-six degrees celsius at noon, which is around eight to ten degrees lower than the outdoor temperature.

Although he was nostalgic about Ipoh as a place, he confessed, “I am worried about it as an Architect”. He was full of praise for another of Ipoh’s famous architects: “B.M. Iversen is the only famous Architect from Ipoh. I admire his work as it has an evolution about it. It evolved over time to accommodate the extreme tropical climate and the growth the buildings had to accommodate.”

“His buildings gave Ipoh a distinctive character, different from Penang and Malacca. There was a Tropical Modernism coupled with sophistication. He was ahead of his time and still is. His buildings are destroyed because the developers and owners of these buildings often do not know how to appreciate them. This is a tragedy.”

Yeh said that Ipoh had an ownership problem created initially, by the excesses of the ‘80s and the ‘90s which helped create many uncompleted housing estates, especially in the outer suburbs.

“Secondly, rent seeking coupled with the unjustified conservative banking culture produced a small class of landlords and a rapidly growing class of renters. This does not bode well for Ipoh as the bulk of the citizenry are not invested in Ipoh through property and are in fact getting forced out of the property ladder,” he said.

“This is a recipe for inequality and at some point this inequality will produce social explosions. We are already seeing this in the very high density, low cost and not well thought of developments in KL.”

He stressed the importance of preserving Ipoh’s old heritage buildings and laments the loss of much of our roots and history through indiscriminate demolition. “The quick answer is good regulation, enforced properly. The long-term answer is reviving the economic health of Ipoh and educating the public on what good architecture is. If people are proud of their town or city they will not stand idly by and watch it being destroyed.”

His advice for anyone pursuing a career in architecture was sobering: “It is not a career but a way of being. If you are not passionate about it, do not enter it as a default choice of hedging one’s bet between the arts and the sciences.”

Yeh said, “I would like to thank the staff and writers of Ipoh Echo for their work in fostering community through this paper. It is important work that rarely gets acknowledged.”

Ipoh Echo would like to congratulate Kenneth and Carolina, and thank them for sharing their views on architecture.

A dog is not just for Christmas


By Mariam Mokhtar

thinking allowed - mariam mokhtarStray dogs are a nuisance but catching them will not solve the problem. The authorities have limited resources but more important, it is also the responsibility of dog owners and dog breeders. To resolve the stray dog issue, we should find out why there are stray dogs.

Has a stray dog survey ever been done? How do present results compare with older records? Who takes cares of the strays? How qualified are the staff in the pounds? What percentage of the total (of stray dogs), is put down if they are unable to be found a home?

The inhumane killing of dogs has sparked public outcries in Ipoh, but with the ban on shooting, the number of stray dogs has increased to worrying levels. If a solution is not found soon, the conflict between dog lovers, animal welfare groups and the authorities, who are acting in the interests of the public, may escalate again.

The story of Spunk, the companion and therapy dog to a 77-year-old lady from Ipoh, is still fresh in our minds. Spunk was killed in late 2010 by council dog-catchers who shot him dead when his owner left him unattended, at their house gate, for a few minutes. Ipoh City Council (MBI) enforcement officers “mistook” Spunk for a stray.

The cruel death of this licensed dog, forced the authorities to review their stray animals policy. After meetings with animal welfare and animal rights groups, the MBI secretary Abdul Rahim Mohd Ariff announced an immediate ban on the shooting of dogs in Ipoh.

At the time, many pet lovers wondered how long this “amnesty” would last.  Recently, a new stray dog problem has been highlighted in the mainstream papers.

Last month, traders and ordinary residents reported an increase in stray dogs in areas around markets, hawker centres and residential areas. Many children and adults were afraid to walk in the vicinity of their homes, because of marauding packs of dogs roaming freely in their neighbourhood. Others feared for their children’s safety. Issues of health and hygiene have also been highlighted.

The Perak Malay Hawkers and Small Traders Association president Omar Ahmad claimed that the problem had worsened over the years. He has demanded immediate action from the authorities, namely the MBI and the health ministry.

Omar said, “Previously, we used to see them only near the food courts and markets. Now, they’re everywhere, including residential areas. Something should be done fast by MBI to resolve the matter before untoward incidents occur.”

In one incident in Gunung Rapat, a teenage boy fell off his motorbike, when he was pursued by a stray dog, He panicked and hit a parked car. He sustained bruises and needed stitches for a head injury.

People in various residential areas such as Ampang Baru and Taman Cempaka, are increasingly worried about these stray dogs. No human has been attacked but these residents would like the MBI to do something about the dogs before serious problems arise.

They refer to the health hazards caused by dogs rummaging through litter bins scavenging for food and the unsightly scenes of litter strewn around dustbin sites.Afraid of their children being attacked, parents have, as a precaution, stopped their children from playing outside their homes.

The council has issued a statement claiming that catching the dogs was not as effective as shooting them. They claim that the dogs run away, to evade capture, whenever there were attempts to round them up.

On June 5, the MBI announced that they have sought professional help to resolve the stray dog problem. Mayor Roshidi Hashim announced that a tender had been awarded the previous month, to a company which would be paid RM45 for every stray caught unharmed.

Roshidi said, “The council received an increasing number of reports on stray dogs requiring immediate action. Since we can’t shoot the dogs, we have awarded a tender that will carry out the humane way of dogcatching.” Reassuring the the public, he said, “In cases involving public safety, I will take the blame,” and said that the council would act should any dog be injured or pose a public threat.

Perhaps, one of the ways to resolve the stray dog problem would be for the MBI to conduct a “Stray Dog Survey”, for each of the districts served by the council. That might show us the true extent and severity of the stray dog problem.

Most of all, dog owners must act responsibly if the problem of stray dogs is to be effectively managed and dogs spared from being killed. Malaysians are well aware of irresponsible people who own pedigree dogs just to show off.

As responsible dog owners know, one of the most effective ways of reducing the number of strays is to neuter their dogs to prevent unwanted and unplanned litters. Having their dogs microchipped and tagged are also essential so that dog and owner can be reunited easily in case they are separated.

Resources, the availability of dedicated and trained staff at aninal welfare groups and NGOs are limited and the MBI can only do so much. Capturing the dogs should not be seen as the best or only way of preventing the stray dog menace. The most effective way is by a concerted campaign of education, public awareness and a responsible attitude to dog ownership and breeding.

We Need Cabbies, Not Ambassadors


By Mariam Mokhtar

ipoh echo issue 142, Mariam Mokhtar, thinking allowed, ipoh's taxisNot all of us own a car or motor-bike, and as Ipoh’s public transport system is abysmal, many of us have little choice but to use taxis. Some depend on taxi-drivers to ferry them around whilst others swear that they will never set foot in one again. What do Ipohites generally think of their taxi-drivers? Is the service efficient, the charges reasonable and the cabbies’ attitude bearable?

It was reported by Tourism Minister Dr Ng Yen Yen last March that around 4,000 taxi-drivers in the Klang Valley would become “tourism ambassadors”. She would corroborate with taxi associations, and choose non-smoking taxi-drivers with adequate communication skills, whose vehicles were clean and in good condition.

She said, “Taxi drivers, as the front line staff (front liner), often interact directly with the tourists, must provide correct information and keep the country’s image. This is very important due to an increase in tourist arrivals.”

Her ministry had received numerous complaints from the general public and tourists, mainly about the drivers’ attitude and the taxi-meters.

A few months earlier, in September 2011, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohamed Nazri Aziz said that his government would tackle corruption by working with the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and engage taxi-drivers to be their “spies”. Taxi-drivers would be rewarded for information which could help secure arrests and convictions.

Nazri said, “The involvement of people from all walks of life is important in fighting corruption…Taxi drivers are those who frequently interact with the public, they can get a lot of information from their passengers.”

He told taxi-drivers who suspected their passengers of wrongdoing to “immediately take the passengers to any MACC office and lodge a report”.

In April, the Information, Communication and Culture Minister Rais Yatim also urged taxi-drivers to “act as the government’s ambassadors.”

Rais told taxi-drivers to spread government propaganda and spread the ‘1Malaysia’ concept to passengers who were especially “critical and accused the government of all sorts”. He reminded them that the government had “safeguarded their welfare”, and given them aid so they should be “grateful for the government’s mindfulness”.

The government ministers however, failed to mention the customers and their expectations. Few of us claim to be satisfied with the service given by taxi-drivers, be it in Ipoh, Perak or Malaysia.

One Malaysian who returned to Ipoh from Australia said, “When I landed at KLIA I took the bus to Ipoh. The coach was clean, the driving good and my baggage was well taken care of. On arrival at Medan Gopeng, I had to haggle with the taxi-drivers. Was there a conspiracy amongst them? No one wanted to use the meter. When I suggested a price, the other drivers would egg the driver to charge more.”

“I know how much the fare should be. It was obvious from my luggage tags that I had returned from overseas. I ended up paying an inflated price which was a few ringgit short of the whole bus trip from KLIA.”

“The boot had no lock and the lid wouldn’t close. My suitcases were at risk of falling out. When I protested, the driver assured me that he would drive slowly, and look into his back mirror, every so often, to see if my luggage had fallen out.”

Another taxi-user said, “In many countries, taxi-drivers use the meter. In Ipoh, you are at the mercy of the taxi-driver. The drivers get angry when you ask to use the meter. The more arrogant ones tell you off. Either walk or get into their taxi.

“What happened to monitoring and enforcement? What are the authorities doing about improving the services of taxis?”

An elderly lady from Taman Meru said that since her husband died, she has had to rely on taxis to ferry her to the clinic for her monthly check-up and medication. “I am lucky because my neighbour’s friend, a taxi-driver, provides me with a regular service. Prior to that, all the taxi-drivers refused to take my wheelchair in the boot.”

Tourists, too, are at the mercy of Ipoh’s taxis. One Swiss girl said, “The lack of meters is nothing compared with the knowledge that your safety is compromised. Ipoh taxis are poorly maintained bone-shakers. Seat-belts rarely function. When I told the taxi-driver, he said to drape the belt over my shoulder so that the police would not fine me. Trying to pretend I am strapped in, is the least of my problems!”

Her companion echoed her sentiments and said, “Taxis here are heavily perfumed. If it’s not the crazy driving, whizzing round corners, and sudden braking, then the sweet sickly scent is enough to make you throw up. Perhaps, the car-freshener is to mask the vomit of previous passengers.”

“Your olfactory nerves aren’t the only ones affected. Taxi-drivers here must play loud music from a radio station that is completely alien.”

With Visit Perak Year 2012, the authorities should look into the taxi problem. Ipohites only want safe driving from taxi-drivers who take good care of their vehicles and whose aim is not to fleece the public.

Perakians are not concerned whether taxi-drivers make good tourism ambassadors or spies for the MACC. All they want is good, efficient service and an enforcement body that regulates and monitors the taxis efficiently.

Cleanliness Is a Matter of Attitude


By Mariam Mokhtar

RubbishWe will never be rid of the twin terrors of trash and toilets if our attitude to filth remains. Just read the mainstream papers. Littered streets, blocked drains, fly-tipping and dirty amenities, are regularly reported, but very little improvement is made.

Despite claims by the Ipoh Mayor, Roshidi Hashim, that he will not tolerate piles of garbage and indiscriminate dumping, the problem persists. At one time, Ipoh was dubbed the Garden City and envied by other Malaysian cities. Today, the deterioration is evident. How can Ipoh return to its former glory? Can we ever regain the pride we once had in Ipoh?

Last Chinese New Year, Mrs Choo’s celebration was marred by the stench from an illegal rubbish dump nearby. No-one should have to put up with the foul smell, the mess and the health hazards caused by rats and stray dogs foraging for food. “Last year during house-cleaning, someone threw over 30 bags full of waste over there. A few days ago, someone threw a sofa, wooden planks and eight bags.”

Began 10 Years Ago

Mrs Choo, a resident of Taman Ipoh for the past two decades, claims that the impromptu dump-site began 10 years ago. “It’s even worse during Chinese New Year, as people clean their houses and generate more rubbish. Some even have the nerve to throw junk directly into my drain.”

In another part of town, visitors to Jalan Spooner in Buntong are confronted with what looks like a landfill site. There are piles of putrefying organic matter, discarded furniture, construction rubble, food-waste and assorted plastic items.

Residents here claim that the dump appeared in the past decade. When a complaint was made via someone with influence, city council workers equipped with a bulldozer pushed the rubbish from the road into the nearby bushes. The newly created space just attracted more fly-tippers.

In Fair Park, Mrs Kua has lost count of the number of times she has contacted the Ipoh City Council (MBI) to clear the rubbish dump behind her house. Her problem is worse during wet weather because the rubbish clogs the drains. She is not alone in witnessing other residents throwing rubbish onto the dump.

Ipoh’s growing mountain of rubbish is a problem that is also experienced in more affluent parts of the city. Residents close to the Ipoh Turf Club and the Perak Golf Club are angry with uncollected garbage and blocked drains.

One resident, Cik Poniah said: “There are weeds and small trees, around four feet high, growing in the drains. Council workers have avoided the area and have not been seen for months.

“The vegetation clogs up the drains, and when it rains, the roads flood. Monitor lizards and snakes thrive in these drains. Plant roots damage the drains. Don’t the authorities realise that it will cost more to mend the broken drains?”

Her neighbour, Puan Rose, agreed: “The decline in the services happened about 10 years ago when MBI appointed contractors with a lackadaisical attitude to work. If they felt like it, they would turn up to collect the rubbish. Previous to that, the council had a supervisor to check on their work. Nowadays, we’d be lucky if the dumpster appears.”

The litter situation has declined further and Ipohites believe that MBI will accept complaints about rubbish but will do nothing, because they know that the people will eventually tire of complaining and then stop contacting MBI.

Residents have requested that more enforcement officers patrol the streets to fine errant offenders. One resident was furious when told that MBI “had no idea when their officers would turn up”.

Taking Matters into Own Hands

One irate resident who was frustrated with MBI’s failure to look after the interests of Ipoh’s ratepayers, decided to take matters into his own hands. In early March, three lorry loads of coconut husks were dumped beside the highway, near Ampang, in Ipoh, whilst another lorry-load was dumped close to mayor Roshidi’s home.

Roshidi responded by demanding that his enforcement officers locate the culprit and punish him. “I don’t care who is responsible for throwing the coconut husks. There will be no compromise when it comes to illegal rubbish dumping. They are traitors to our cause to keep the city clean.”

He warned that his officers would monitor illegal dumpsites and announced that unsightly garbage piles would deter tourists, especially during VPY 2012.

Public Mind-sets Change

Various people and organisations have been trying to get to grips with the filth, but unless our mind-set changes and until we educate the public and the workers, by going back to basics, hygiene and rubbish issues will remain unresolved.

Tourists have already begun complaining. In late March two Swedes reported to the regional papers about having to pay to use filthy toilets at the bus terminal in Medan Gopeng, but their horrifying experience is worthy of another article.

Priorities must be made. It was reported that the mayor and the Tourism Perak CEO Ahmad Fathil Abd Ghani will spend RM1 million to “beautify” Ipoh, by illuminating the limestone hills around the city.

Roshidi said, “When lit up at night, they will be really beautiful and I believe this will be an added tourist attraction for Ipoh.

This money would be better spent on a more efficient rubbish collection service, more regular rubbish collection and more enforcement officers. Rather than illuminate the limestone hills which do not require more “beautifying”, the money could be spent on street lighting to reduce crime and drug addicts. In times of austerity, money should be spent wisely.

An Afternoon with Ruth Iversen Rollitt


By Mariam Mokhtar

Lido Cinema, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia - Building designed by Berthel Michael Iversen“I love Ipoh very much – that is really where my heart is and I am in despair when I see what is being done to it,” says Ruth, the daughter of one of Ipoh’s prominent architects, Berthel Michael Iversen.

Ruth’s father was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1906 and was the youngest of seven children. His talent for drawing saw him in good stead for studying architecture at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen, so when his older brother Werner, a planter invited him to go to the Far East, Berthel took up his offer and arrived in Malaya in 1928.

For eight years, he polished his skills in two architectural firms, before starting his own firm in Ipoh in 1936. His first company was called Iversen, van Smitteren & Partners with branches in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Over lunch in a Chinese restaurant in London’s Chinatown, Ruth talked about her father, who was responsible for several famous buildings in Malaya and Singapore including several cinemas by Shaw Brothers and Cathay. He was also renowned for scores of government buildings, schools, radio stations, churches, hospitals and according to Ken Yeang in the ‘Architecture of Malaysia’, it was a symbol status among the Ipoh elite, to own a house designed by Iversen.

Many Ipohites will recall some of Iversen’s great works, such as the grandstand at the Ipoh race course, the Lido cinema, the Ipoh Swimming Club, Jubilee Park and the Lam Looking Bazaar.

Heritage is one thing, but development is another. For many decades, the historical buildings of Ipoh have been demolished, in the name of progress and development.

When priceless buildings are turned into rubble, our social past and our identity are erased. Ipoh does not appear to be proud of its history. Iversen’s buildings helped give us an identity. The gleaming towers of concrete, steel and glass structures which are popping up all over Ipoh now, are indistinct and characterless.

In between mouthfuls of dim sum, Ruth told Ipoh Echo that she had been born in the Batu Gajah maternity hospital in 1938 and her early childhood was spent at No. 1 Tambun Road.

She said, “When I was small, the land where the current fountain at the roundabout in front of the Menteri Besar’s house is sited, used to be part of our garden.”

During WWII, the whole family escaped to Australia but returned to Malaya after the war and settled into 110 Tambun Road, which her father built after their return to Ipoh.

She declares that she is “…always very happy to meet my country fellow men/women in London. There are many of them and I am lucky to have got to know them.”

She talks about her trips to Ipoh and of her visits to God’s Little Acre (Batu Gajah), where her first husband, the planter Donald Baxter was buried. Donald and his driver were killed in a payroll robbery at the Riverside Rubber Estate, where they lived.

Building designed by Berthel Michael IversenShe describes the idyllic years before tragedy struck; of a life full of adventure with her pets, including chickens and her son being born, at the same hospital as she.

During her visits to Ipoh, she is horrified at the destruction of the buildings in the area.

“Why destroy such a lot of heritage buildings that made Ipoh such a very special town?”

“It breaks my heart to see the modern monstrosities without any merit replace the beautiful houses my father built. I realise that these houses are not ‘grand’ enough for the wealthy people of today – but we were satisfied with them.”

“I realise that the value of the land is so high and that these houses in large gardens have to make way for many, many ghastly little shacks. Sadly there is no taste.”

She talks about Fair Park and the houses her father built there. She says her Chinese tailor lived in Fair Park and how the mention of the place brought back many pleasant memories.

As a subscriber to the Ipoh Echo, news on Ipoh is easy to keep track of. But she wonders why Ipoh is turning into a concrete jungle with none of the charm it once had.

“My father had been in Malaya for almost 40 years and contributed a lot to both government and private buildings. I want his name to be known, his buildings to be admired (before they are all demolished) – I want to do it for the sake of his memory and in admiration of a wonderful father and a great man!

“When I tried to look up in the National Archives in KL – I was horrified to see that the name Iversen came up as: unknown!”

To preserve the memory of her father and his works, she says that she is working on a book about him and hopes to publish it this year.

She asks, “Does the Ipoh Echo have any influence in government offices? We need to be able to get into the town planner’s office and see if we can find old plans that confirm which buildings are by BMI.”

If anyone can help, they can contact Ruth Iversen Rollitt via the Ipoh Echo.

Stand Out To Get That Job


By Mariam Mokhtar

In some professions, qualifications do not count for much; it is the personality behind the achievements that counts. A friend who has just spent a harrowing week interviewing new graduates confided in me the qualities of the graduates who had been selected for first interviews with his firm.

“The graduates think that showing me the piece of paper with their grades is good enough. It’s not.”

“Perhaps, in the past, grades or qualifications were sufficient. In those days, it also helped if you could speak well as it proved you had good communication skills.

“And it was a bonus if you had good looks.”

He explained that nowadays, with so many graduates in the job market, potential employers are on the look-out for that ‘something extra’ to differentiate one person from the scores of others they screen at interviews.

“We want rounded personalities and it does not just apply to graduates. Many people forget that with the sheer numbers of people seeking employment, it is important that the person being interviewed stands out.”

Describing some of the people whom he had interviewed, he singled out those who had confided something about themselves.

“Some people think that what they do in their spare time is not important. They are wrong. The person who tells me he does a bit of social work with elderly people shows that he cares for others. That he has a compassionate nature. The one who says that he recycles paper or glass or boxes, or helps clear up litter in some gotong-royong project shows that he cares for the environment. These snippets of information give the interviewer an insight into the character of the person asking for the job.”

“I’m not saying that studies are not important. They are. But these extras are a useful indication of the type of person sitting before us.”  He went on to explain that volunteering or joining an NGO whilst at university were useful attributes to put on the curriculum vitae.

“Who knows? One day a week volunteering to help in a soup kitchen for the homeless, may mean all the difference between getting a job or not.”

Alarmed at the lack of questions which interviewees had asked him, he then explained that he was receptive and more open to those people who were inquisitive.

“Some people say they have no questions to ask. That is worrying. Some say they have forgotten the questions they wanted to ask me. I tell them that this is not an examination and that they are allowed to bring in their pieces of paper with questions on them. If they did, it tells me that person has done some preparatory work,” he said.

“Some people are shy. That is understandable. But they must feel free to talk about themselves. If they have had work experience when at university, they should try and relate it. What was it they learnt at their work experience, or internship? What did they like best? What did they dislike doing?

“If they did a short stint working in a supermarket, stacking shelves, it shows they can do routine, physical work. And if they handled customer queries, it showed they could deal with people.”

“The people who come prepared, with notes about their previous work experience, or their questions, are the ones I warm to.

“Many forget that during work experience or internship, important stuff is being learnt. The basics of the job they are doing, like learning how to take telephone calls in a telesales job, or handling money as in a cashier’s role is the first set of skills being acquired.

“The second skill gained is self-discipline. For example, it could just be the simple act of getting up to go to work.”

He  described one session a few years ago when he interviewed a girl who was well groomed, whose grades were alright but not too fantastic, who had some work experience tucked under her belt and who helped her mother collect old clothes for recycling.

“She asked me one question. “What is the most worrying thing about your work?”

At first I was taken aback. She had guts to ask me that question. I don’t think I gave her a complete answer or one at all. But she is now my human resources manager.”

Be Street-Smart To Stay Safe


By Mariam Mokhtar

We have all done it at some point or other in our lives: We leave home to go to work or to the shops, but before driving onto the road, leave our car unattended for a few seconds, with the engine running, to lock or close the gate.

Not all of us can afford to have electrically operated gates or are privileged enough to afford a maid who comes running to the gate to close and lock it, when alerted by the sound of the horn.

Recently, a woman who left her car for a few seconds with the engine running, turned around only to find that as she was fumbling with the lock, a man had seized the opportunity to drive off in her car.

There was little she could do except watch, stupefied. After seconds of stunned disbelief, her cries for help alerted her neighbours but by the time they came to her assistance, the opportunist carjacker was miles away.

She had not only lost her car, but her mobile phone, her handbag and her laptop which was on the front seat. A police report followed but the policeman said that her misfortune was a common occurrence.  People are unaware they are being watched and unaware suspicious characters are lurking about.

Some people consider her lucky. Usually her five year-old daughter would have been strapped in the child seat, in the rear of the car, to be driven to nursery school. That day, her little girl was unwell. The simple carjacking could easily have ended up with her child being abducted.

Do we know who is watching?

We may think we know our neighbourhood well, but do we really know who is watching the inhabitants of the area? Are we fully aware only when we visit an unfamiliar and rough looking neighbourhood? We should also be vigilant in areas which we consider safe and familiar territory. Most of us know of at least one person, who has had a gold chain, handbag or purse, snatched, in supposedly smart areas of town.

One close colleague, a business man, had his workers’ monthly wages, secreted in his briefcase. On the way to the office, he decided to go on a site visit and left the briefcase in the boot of his car. He thought this would be safe. It was something he had done several times in the past.

When he returned, the boot had been forced open, the briefcase was open and the money was missing. He was unaware that he had been trailed from the time he left the bank to collect his workers’ wages. To this day, he does not know if it was an inside job or not. Sometimes, we let ourselves down with our routine.

Beware of tell-tale signs

How many times have we parked our car in a car park or by the roadside and omitted to remove items from the seat or the dashboard? Leaving the satellite navigation system in the car is stupid. Even an innocuous looking packet or plastic bag, is tempting enough for an opportunistic thief. A map would indicate that the car owner is not familiar with the area. Even a circular mark on the windscreen will tell a would-be thief that there is a SatNav in the car.

We’ve heard of drug addicts who remove taps to sell them for scrap. Some people have reported that shoes are removed from the front porches of their homes. Why invite trouble by leaving items in our car, in full view of others?

Simple Measures

Despite previous warnings by the police and the media, many women are still careless about how they hold their handbags or display their jewellery. Just a few simple precautions may mean all the difference between being safe or being a victim.

Women can prevent having their handbags being snatched or their gold chains being ripped off if they adopt a few simple measures.

A handbag kept close to the body may deter the would-be bag snatcher. But some women fail to secure the catch or zipper and in a melee, it would be so simple for someone to quietly slide a purse, from the open handbag. Necklaces should be hidden from view.

It is best to keep money and valuables in an inside pocket of your clothing and use your handbag for other things.

Most of all, prevention is better than cure, and being street-smart is just the application of common-sense. It is something which everyone can do.