Wednesday, September 10, 2008


She came when we were in Form One, in 1963. The school was Government English School Tumpat (GEST). She became our class teacher. We were a bunch of about 40 kids, a mix of boys and girls, roughly forming the composition of the racial mix of the country. But we are one, till today. Some have moved on to the next life.

Ms Mary is seated fourth from left. Guess where am I in this pic?

It was about 4 years ago when this little heart of mine was called to locate past teachers of ours, teachers who helped mould us to be what we are today. On my search list was this teacher from Batu Gajah. Armed with only her name and her place of origin, I "pasang kaki". My contact person was an x-classmate from another school after I left Tumpat. This kaki of mine, Fadzil, lived in Ipoh, near enough to Batu Gajah. In less than 2 weeks, I got my first break. Fadzil gave me the phone number of the teacher's niece. She was not ready to divulge information until she was satisfied why someone was looking for her aunt.

No problem with that. I spoke to this lady. I told her that I was on a mission to locate my ex-teachers. "Your aunty was on my search list, infact the first one on my list". She gave me the address. Lo and behold, this Batu Gajah teacher lived in my neighborhood. What a wonderful world! Locate her I did. The rest, as they said, is history.

Fast forwarding to the present, just like me, there were other students keen to meet her. We arranged a visit, timely arranged with the visit of Amnoi Dawson. Now, who is this lady AD? AD was a classmate of ours in Form 1, and only in Form 1. Thereafter she left Tumpat, never to return there. Yet, contact had never been lost. AD now lives in Songkhla, Thailand.

So there we were, 3 of us visiting our teacher on 14th August 2008. Ms Mary Cheah Mee Mee. That's her name. "Mimi" also happens to be what I called my youngest daughter. (Mimi is as bubbly as Mee Mee was when Mee Mee was a teacher in Tumpat!)

For Amnoi, this was the first time she would meet Miss Mary since 1963. That's a cool 45 years ago! For Razak, it was not so long ago, 4 years ago. For me, it was a week ago! I dropped in earlier to re-locate her to arrange for this visit.

The couple had 2 sons, both married. One lives in Melbourne, another in Kuala Lumpur. No grand-children yet. Mark, the husband retired from Tenaga Nasional Berhad. His last posting was in the generation plant in Kapar, Klang. Ms Mary's last posting was a school in Jeram, in Kapar, Klang. I used to ply that route when I was working in Maybank Tg Karang. If only I knew then, the couple would be guaranteed occasional fresh fish from Tg Karang, compliment from a grateful student.

Grateful student? Indeed I was. I received a RM15.00 a month scholarship as a student then. This form teacher recommended me for the scholarship. Terima Kasih Ms Mary. Sorry we find it difficult to call you Mrs Mark. I'm sure Mark would not mind.

Stories of the past was replayed over and over again, like an aged tape recording. But they were all pleasant memories, just like the ageless music of P.Ramli, my namesake.

When Amnoi Dawson (now known as Rita Kwanchu) returned to Songkhla, she e-mailed this picture of the girl-guides with Ms Mary. Amnoi is seated extreme left. Some of our classmates are in this shot too - Lian, Siti Esah, Saodah, Mek Keting, Linda Wee and Baby Lim (yes, we have a baby in our class)

Thank you Ms Mary for everything. We shall meet again.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

31HB OGOS 2008

Tanggal tiga-puluh satuuuu
Bulan lapaaaan, lima puluh tujuuuuh
So sang the late Sudirman Hj Arshad

All eyes were on the grey sky. 5 helicopters flew past, carrying the Malaysian flags. Against the tallest flagpole in Malaysia, and the largest Malaysian flag, these helicopters looked like miniature crafts. The thousand eyes were Malaysians, joined by a splatter of foreigners. All were celebrating Malaysia's 51st independence. More accurately, it was Persekutuan Tanah Melayu's (Malaya) 51st independence day. I was amongst the thousands.
A reporter noticed this gentleman, the only one on a bicycle, amongst the sea of walkers. She approached with her camerawoman. She requested to take my pictures cycling in between the powerful motorcycles of the 999 Rescue Squad. Just like the helicopters above, my bicycle was a midget between these machines. I was happy to oblige.
"What is MERDEKA to you?". The question came unexpectedly. She was ready with her notebook. I was not ready with the answer. No one had ever asked me this question for the last 51 years!

"Freedom" I answered, almost automatically. She hesitated to write. Isn't that obvious? A kindergarten kid with a Malay-English dictionary can answer that. I heard 'myself telling myself' to continue.

"Well, it is kebebasan" I added. "Bebas to do whatever you want to do". Well, that's better but still inadequate. "Like me" I continued, "I'm retired and I am free to do what I like. I travelled on my bicycle, to explore, to visit places and to write about my travel. That's freedom to me" Ah, finally I am quite satisfied with my impromptu answer.

Recalling back, I should have added "Freedom of the mind. Kebebasan dari kongkongan minda yang negatif, yang merupakan satu gejala masyarakat kita." Wah, that's very academic sounding, and more like a prepared text.

So there I was, on the Sunday morning of 31st August as I have done in the past. I parked the car in the Lake Garden, with my trusty bike secured on the bike rack.

Cycling down towards Masjid Negara, I came across an army of greens. They were very eco-friendly but rather fierce looking. These were soldiers taking part in the celebration, camouflaged right to the teeth. In the jungle, they would easily blend with the green environment.

Moving on, I came to a friendlier crowd. In contrast with the military, some groups were in hot and loud colors. They were eager to be photographed. A happy lot indeed.

But when they marched, they became a serious lot

There was also the group from SKALI. And I took only one shot - skali

But what do you do when a SKALI wants to tumpang "skaki" with the Perodua group? Biarkan lah!

Cycling on, I came across the dog unit of PDRM. These dogs played vital roles in the safeguard of the nation. However, I do keep my distance taking the shot. I would not want to agitate them.

Later, I came across the veteran groups - both from the military and police. Retirement life must have been good.

In parades they used to stand rock still. In retirement, they are allowed to relax.

And medals were the honor they duly deserved and proudly wore on occassions like this.

And when we talked about bangsa majmuk, we have great examples here.

Our future generations were also given the opportunity to share in the excitement of the Independence day. They marched in the orders that only childrens would - carefree, holding hands, talking, laughing, waving, posing, etc. There are lessons in our childrens' behaviors that adults like us should emulate.

I had problem taking shots of these 2 children of the future because one adult lady kept coming into my viewfinder. Tired of posing and not getting their shots taken, this young "engineer" told the adult to move away. She moved away and I captured this shot.

These 2 young graduates were on board "Seri Bijaksana", piloted by a young "Captain". Pray that kapal Seri Bijaksana will not stray into Somalia waters.

On shore, we had this two lovely kids from the Sime Darby float.

And there's also batik galore. What would the parade be without the colors of batik. One team had a very strong brown/black theme.

while another had softer tones. But wearing gloves with baju kurung? A new fashion statement?

And I do have a soft spot for anything TM. These marchers included. I was panning for some familiar faces, but none came to view. Very futuristic. Must be very hot too inside.

In the excitement of the parade, I can't help noticing a gentleman having a feel of the saddle on my bike. He was scrutinizing it up and down and back to front. Aha, a Brooks fan I suspect. He is Encik Ghani from Sabak Bernam. He had an old Raleigh with an old broken Brooks. He "knew" mine was original and enquired where I bought it. He was a bit disappointed that it is not available locally, but showed a sign of relief when he knew what could be the damage. In his heart, he knew it would be wiser to use his damaged Brooks!

I also bumped into an old friend from my former employment. Sdr Latif and his family were amongst the thousands who came by. Syabas Latif! Bersiar-siar dengan keluarga tu satu amalan yang baik.

I won't do justice if I did not feature some of the shots that add additional color to the parade. This is where the telephoto lens came in handy.

Towards the end of the parade, I met 4 other cyclists. They were a group from the Keramat/Gombak/Pandan area. Orang KL la while I was orang PJ. Out of common love for cycling, we became instant friends. We decided to cycle to the famous Nasi Lemak Tanglin stall in the Lake Garden for a drink. I exchanged my contact number with one of them, Zul. His friends said Zul "lives" on his bicycle 24 hours a day. Great. We promised to hook up after Ramadzan and plan some cycling together. Why not. I always loved to be amongst the young ones. Make me feeel young too.

So young men. The drinks were on me.