Friday, November 13, 2009


Last month, on my birthday, I had the chance to have lunch with the Minister of Youth and Sports, Dato' Shabery Cheek (he even served some of my foods, how cool is that?). Next week, the Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin will be coming, and I will have the chance to escort him playing golf. I look forward to it. I like meeting our country's leaders.

The first time I saw Tun Mahathir in person was when I was 9 years old, at a Disney On Ice Malaysian Premiere. He was still the Prime Minister at that time. Then, just a few years ago I saw him again at Isetan KLCC. He was shopping alone with one of his bodyguard, smiling at me and every other people who caught the sight of him. Very humbling, if you ask me.

Tun Mahathir

Then there's Pak Lah, which I met when I was in Standard 3. He came for Friday prayers at a mosque near my house. He was just a minister at the time, with no one having the slightest idea he'd be the Prime Minister one day. I rushed to him straight after he left the mosque and went 'Pak Cik, nak tanda tangan boleh?'. He smiled, and signed an autograph on my mathematics exercise book. I swear I called him Pak Cik because one of my seniors was there too and called me an idiot afterwards for calling a minister Pak Cik. But well, what do kids know about titles and reputations? For them, as long as u look old, we'll call you Pak Cik. If you look terribly old, then we'll call you Atok. Simple as that. People call him Pak Lah anyway, so what's the difference?

Pak Lah

Then when I was 15, I met our current Prime Minister Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak after tarawikh prayers in Masjid Wilayah. He was a minister at the time. My dad happens to treat his ear problem once, and so after the prayers my dad met him to ask how's his ear now. They talked for awhile and I did had the chance to shake his hands.

Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak

I respect the people who lead our nation. As long as they work for a better future for our country, I don't care what's their party, their ideology, or their type of leadership is. Someone entrusted to be a the leader of the country must have fought a long battle to gain the support of the Malaysian citizens. I may not be a politician or a minister one day, but I do hope I'd be a doctor who treats the most important leaders in our country.

Now, now, I guess I left someone here. There's a leader that I respected the most in my life. Even the Kings and Prime Ministers are low key in comparison towards my respect of him. The first time I met him was 22 years ago. Yup, on the day I was born. A leader of the house, the family, the hospital, the university, the medical faculty: Dato' Dr. Lokman Saim... my dear dad. Once he told me to be a better person than him when I grow up. At that time, I thougt that was the craziest idea, I thought I'll never be as good as him. But I hold on to his words until today, and I'm still working on that idea. As your one and only son, I hope I'll never disappoint you, ayah.

My dad

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Leafy Sea Dragon

The Leafy Sea Dragon

It's holiday, and I'm broke, so I'm not coming back to Malaysia, or going to Bali or anywhere people usually go for holiday. Instead, I go to a place people would run away from on holidays: The bustling city of Jakarta. Yep, can you believe it? But the transport's real cheap, so...Jakarta it is. Anyway, we went to Ancol, one of the funnest place to be in Jakarta. There, we went to Seaworld, where there were a lot of fishes, and saw real sea creatures which I wouldn't know existed if not because of Spongebob Squarepants. (Spongebob himself is actually a sponge and I see it quite often in the kitchen).

Anyway, I'd like to tell you how fascinated I was towards this sea creature called 'The Leafy Sea Dragon'. They are relatives to sea horses, but believe me, these creatures are a lot more cool looking! They look a lot more like a sea plant than an animal at first glance, with the exoskeleton of a white seahorse, sprouting green fins which looked exactly like leaves. I thought only insects looked like plants (I saw a praying mentis which looked exactly like an orchid flower once, and was fascinated as much). I was so mesmerized by this creature that other things I saw in Seaworld like the Piranha eating their prey in just one minute, or the Sharks swimming around in circles are low key in comparison. I think in Pokémon, Horsea should evolve into a Seadra, then into a Kingdra, and ultimately, into a LEAFY SEA DRAGON!

My point is, how mystical the Almighty's creatures are. I think Darwinian evolutionists are stupid enough to think that an animal could evole into something that looked like a plant by mere chance. There must be a Creator, the Great Designer of all things, the Designer of Life. So we, as the so called 'greatest of His creations' should take responsibility in protecting other living creatures. Like seahorses and sea dragons!...okay, sharks and dugongs too. So...I think I'm gonna save the environment! Like the late MJ used to sing: 'Heal the world, make it a better place, for you and for me, and the entire human races...if you care enough for the living, let's make a better place for you and for me'

Happy moments in Jakarta

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Age of Discovery

I woke up today with a smile on my face, knowing everything is okay now. Most of weight on my shoulders were lifted. The big event has ended, the big exam has ended. I'm free as a...a...a neon gas? Anyway, today is the last day for me as a 21 year-old. Sitting, thinking, I remembered how miraculous my year has been. If each of my age has a title, the age of 21 would be: 'The age of discovery'. So many great things happened this year, represented my University to Harvard & United Nations, went to Hong Kong, Macau, learnt to play the guitar, experienced earthquakes, elected as Chairman for the Malaysian Student Organization, etc. In short, my year was helluva adventure! Hectic at times, but all in all, I LOVED it.

Sometimes, when I look back, I couldn't believe I did all that. Going to training every single week for the Harvard conference, staying up late night for exams, going to meetings and conferences, and organizing events at the same time. Honestly it wasn't easy. Nope, not at all. Somewhere along the road I thought of just giving up. Obstacles sometimes let me down. Like getting not enough sponsorship to realize my events, last minute faculty schedule changes, missing my first connecting flight to US because of some (stupid) documents & regulations, losing some money at (another stupid) ATM machine in Boston, almost getting arrested by the police for trespassing (can you believe it? All I wanted was to take a shortcut!)...and much more. But, no matter how much hard times I went to, nothing beats the sweet taste of success in the end. Plus, I'm surrounded by people who are always there to help: My family, my friends, my colleagues. Without them, I get nowhere. But most of all, I'm grateful to God. If u have faith in the Almighty, there is no problem that can't be solved.

The Harvard moment

If I can do my year all over again, I won't change a thing. Because it made me who I am today. So, tomorrow I'm turning 22. I don't know what 22 brings...I know there will be hard times, but I do hope that it the end, it will be another great year for me. I may not know it, but these may be the moments in my life that I will remember most.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Life is too short to be miserable

I read about an interesting research where they do a cohort study of 2 groups of people: One group of people won major lotteries of 1 million dollars. Another group of people got themselves walking disabilities, be it through road accidents or paralysis. They were asked "How do you feel" on the first day they won the lottery / got the walking disabilties. The answer? Yup, you guessed it: The lottery group responded with much happiness, gladness, almost manic euphoria. The disabled group responded with much sorrow, regret, almost major depressive.

A million dollars!

After 6 months, they were asked the same questions again. The answers were surprising, since more than 80% of them answerd more or less the same: "I feel fine". That's it? Fine? What happened to the manic euphoria and major depression? You won 1 million dollars and end up feeling the same as someone who lost their leg? So people, I think after a while, we adapt to EVERYTHING. Be it a million dollars or a disability. So in the long term, circumstances don't really determine your feeling. So, why not ditch that sorrow and be happy with what you have for a change? Of course, we do need to go for the best. What kinda idiot would refuse a million dollars because he'd feel the same in 6 months anyway? What I'm trying to say is: Strive for the best, but if you didn't get it after your hard efforts...he happy with what you have =)

Take time to unwind

Back to Bandung after only a week of holiday. But no matter how short my time spent home, it always gets me kick-started again upon returning to student life. Last night I sat alone at a café in KLCC to think. Just thinking. I thought back about all the difficulties I faced before the holidays and thought "well, that wasn't too hard". But if there's time machine of some sort where I can go back to meet myself before the holidays and tell myself "Hey Opie, I think what you're facing ain't such a big deal". Then the past me will definitely punch the present me right in the nose, with no regards that my nose will be swollen in the future as if it wasn't swollen as it is.

Starbucks, KLCC

Our state of mind determines our actions. When we're happy, at peace, we tend to think clearly, looking at problems as opportunity instead of burdens. The answer to the problems will also come easily, and sometimes from unexpected sources. That's why we all need breaks once in a while. When we're constantly bombarded by challenges and difficulties, we'd get too stressed up to open ourselves to opportunities, which, could be the problem solver. How many times have you heard people remembering where they misplaced a lost key, or finding the answer to a complicated question, right after calming down their minds? I've heard it many times before. It's not the key is stolen, or the question is really's our mind that gets too complicated to think!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I am a Crayon

This is not a story about fishes or grasshoppers. Nor is it about kings or pirates. This is a story about a crayon. Yes, the ones we use in kindergarten to add color to our lives (In primary school we used to write autobiographic essays, like: I am a pencil or I am a basket. This is my attempt to re-write those kinds of essays):


I am a crayon. I am short, I am blunt. When you use me, my smell will stick on your fingers. Your hands can get messy. You won’t probably like me, but my owner do. Well…at least he used to.

My owner used to go to kindergarten, and he would bring me along each day. He used me to draw pictures and add colors to it. He has a very good imagination, and he has such strong passion that he could draw and color all day long. It’s hard for him to contain all his imaginations inside his 6-year old head, but with my help, he could pour it all out on paper. He would draw pictures of his whole family, show it to his mom and dad and it made them smile. It made him smile. It made me smile. That’s when I feel most purposeful. Those were the times of my life

One day, he learned to write, and used me to write down the words he learned. Day by day, his writing improved, he learned more and more words. I was happier than ever for being able to help. I was very proud of him. But one day, as I sat in the drawer where I was kept, a newcomer came in. Wrapped in a neat box reading ‘2B Pencils’, I wonder where this newcomer came from.

“Those are Pencils” Paper told me. “They’re used to write too, you know?

“Wait, why does he need Pencils when he can just use me?”

“Well…You’ll see soon enough”

I wasn’t too worried at first. We have spent so much time together. No newcomer can shake that. But little I know that I was soon to be replaced. As days passed by, I was taken out less and less frequently. He didn’t bring me to kindergarten anymore.

“Kindergarten? No, he goes to school now”, Pencil told me one day.

“He used me to write down notes, you know, and during art class, he would sketch with me. It was really fun!”

“Wow! What’s a sketch?” I asked.

“It’s hard to explain, he said. Here, look for yourself”

Paper showed me the sketches. It was very beautiful. My owner used to draw houses, trees or cars with me, but this sketch was a whole different thing. ‘Now I know why I haven’t been taken out lately, maybe if I could draw like pencil, he would take me out to school too!’ I thought. I hear Pencil brag about his time with my owner. He tells stories about exams, arts, about mathematics. I grew jealous of him each day. So I practiced sketching everyday, but it proved fruitless. Then I turned to writing. I tried to write like pencil: sharp and crisp, but still I couldn’t. My writings were messy.

I was so disappointed, but I still waited for my owner to take me out again, but he never did. It has been months since I’ve seen the daylight. Until one day, I finally gave up and went into seclusion. I spent my time in a dark corner, reminiscing my good old days. Each time I remember my owner’s smile, the smile of his mom and dad when he showed his drawing of the family, I feel happy again. Suddenly it occur to me: I don’t really want to write sharp and crisp letters, I don’t really want to sketch beautiful portraits; all I wanted is to make people happy. Trying to be a pencil ceased to make sense anymore.

One fateful day, I was taken out again. But it wasn’t my owner. I had a feeling that I was going to be thrown out. But my worries were futile...I wasn’t thrown out. It was a little girl who took me. I never knew that my owner had a baby sister! She took me, and started drawing on a piece of paper. It has been awhile since I’ve done this, but I can say I did well for my age. What’s important is that I was taken out into the world again, and make people smile, I will.

I am a crayon. I am short, I am blunt. When you use me, my smell will stick on your fingers. Your hands can get messy. You won’t probably like me, but I make little children happy, that’s what I’m good at and I’m proud of it. I used to regret being myself; I wished I was a pencil or a pen. But I am who I am. Whoever you are out there, you may have used me some point during your childhood, you may not remember me, but I am proud to make you happy back then.

Sometimes we are intimidated by other people. We’re impressed by their abilities. Like Crayon impressed over Pencil’s ability to draw and write sharp and crisp. But the heart of life is good. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses.
Be yourself, and discover yourself. Put your strengths to good use, and never fret about your weaknesses. Some people feel that their life lacks meaning because they’re trying too hard on the wrong things, or they're simply trying too many things at once. I'm sure you've heard this before:

If you chase two rabbits, both will escape

So identify what you’re good at, focus on it, and you will be able to contribute more. With God's will, success will follow. Spend more time focusing what you do well than rather what you do wrong. When you focus on doing what you love, once you've lighten up that passion, your blood will have that particular thing in it, and it's very hard for people to stop you.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

There's Something Fishy Goin' On Here

Have you ever wished life is as simple as fishes swimming around in a pond?

Let me tell you about a fish. Let’s call him Fishy, because there’s always something fishy about this fish. Fishy lives in a pond full of other fishes. But they don’t eat each another. Because it’s a small pond, and all the fishes are of the same species that feed on algae. One day, Fishy decides to swim around in circles. So, he swam around in circles. Around and around he went, chasing his own tail, until one moment, another fish saw what he was doing and asks:

“Hey, Fishy, you’re not a dog are you?”

“No”, said Fishy. “What’s a dog?”

“It’s a type of mammal that likes to run around in circles chasing its own tail, exactly like what you’re doing right now”

“Wow. I’ve never seen a dog before, but I’d love to see one someday!”

“I’m sure you will, said the other fish”

So one day, a dog fell into the pond.
Just before the dog splashed in, a bone dropped in. This dog must be one of those greedy ones which carry bones in their mouth and came across the pond and saw their own reflection in the water and fell in it to get the other bone, which turns out to be only a reflection. The other fish saw the dog drowning, and quickly came for Fishy. Fishy quickly swam towards the dog, and asked the dog:

“Mister, are you a dog?”

The dog didn’t reply to Fishy’s question. Instead, he yelped for help. He couldn’t swim! Fishy didn’t understand why a dog couldn’t swim, because he has been swimming since the day he was born, and he couldn’t imagine a creature that couldn’t swim. Soon, the dog drowned and died. Poor dog. Fishy was saddened by this unfortunate event, but he was thankful that he gets to see a dog and went along with his day swimming around in circles because he has nothing else to do.

“Mister, are you a dog?”

Life can be as simple as Fishy. Swim around in circles and never get thirsty because water’s all over you. Never worrying about being eaten alive, and there’s always plenty of food. You can be happy, swimming around in circles, but that’s it. Nothing more. The only chance you’ll see a dog is when one falls into your pond, which wouldn’t happen if not for the Malay saying: ‘bagai anjing dengan baying-bayang’.

Life can be hard, you run the risk of getting eaten alive (not literally, of course), but that’s life. Never give up because you will grow through each pain. If you give up along the way, your suffering would be nothing but a waste. That’s when you decide to be like Fishy, live in your own pond (own world), watch TV because it’s nice to see people more messed up than you. Slowly, you become a victim of your own fear and insecurities.

A common misconception about people who succeed in life is that they are fearless. It’s simply wrong. Fear is a necessary part of growth. FEEL IT and HURDLE TOWARDS IT ANYWAY. In the words of Susan Jeffers, a world-renowned psychologist:

Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness

So get into this world. It’s wide, and it’s never too late to try

Note to animal activists: I am in not any way saying that life as a fish sucks. It’s just an analogy to get to my point. Don’t get me wrong, I love fishes. They’re tasty

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Lucid Dream

Have you ever experienced a lucid dream? A dream where you’re actually aware that you’re dreaming? A few weeks ago, I had a dream where I was pretty sure I was dreaming. So damn sure. Because I dreamed I was a dinosaur (no, not Zahira Tarmizi’s little dinosaur, the big, mean one). Specifically, a Tyrannosaurus rex. You know, the flesh-eating-king-of-the-Jurassic-age. I looked something like this:

Groar! (Heya, how’s it goin’ pal?)

The dream came, I assume, after I saw in Discovery Channel that dinosaurs roam the earth for over 160 million years. 160 million years! Can you believe that? What were they doing on earth for so long? I gave it a lengthy thought, but perhaps my thoughts were too lengthened that I brought it into my dream that night. But that dream holds the answer to the questions I have been scouring over all day, so…yeah whatever

How did I know I was a T-rex? Well, I was tall, taller than Yao Ming, I stand on 2 feet, I have long legs, but my hands are so short, they are practically useless. So useless I can just let them catch gangrene and rot, and it wouldn’t make any difference to my quality of life. Anyway, in that dream, I was hanging around, minding my own business, watching volcanoes blast or asteroids coming down from the sky, having a nice chat with brontosaurus and triceratops, when suddenly, I started eating leaves. That’s when I felt something’s not right. It was like I’m on autopilot, you know. Like I still have a mind of my own, but I’m stuck inside this idiotic T-rex who eats leaves, and all I can do is watch. It was very frustrating. I wish I could shout: “Hey, what are you doing, man? What’s with the leaves, man? You’re a flesh-eating carnivore, darn it! Why are you even friends with brontosaurus and triceratops? Geez, why am I even having this dream?!”

I was so disappointed of myself that when I was eating those plants, tears rolled down my eyes. When I woke up, I realized that my cheeks were wet and my eyes were watery. That’s how real the dream seemed to me. That’s my lucid dream. Have you ever experienced one?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Of PPSMI and the whole language mix-up

Just a catchy topic to attract you. Gotcha! What actually I'd like to write today is about how confused kids can be when you mix up Malay and English at once.

Story 1:

Do you know why I wanted to become a doctor? The story goes like this. When I was a kid (before I even went to school) my family thought I wanted to be a fireman, or ‘ahli bomba’ in Malay. What I really wanted to be was a ‘bomber’. Yep, bomber as in suicide bomber (except for the suicide part). All because I love this video game called 'bomberman' (it was a classic riff! Phenomenal back then…old school gamers like Ismayudin Ismail would know). So I told my parents: “Dah besar nanti Opie nak jadi bomber!” They must have misinterpreted bomber as ‘ahli bomba’ because every time a fire engine passed by, my parents will say “Opie, tgk tu…bomba! nampak tak?”…and little me would believe that somewhere inside that long, red vehicle, people armed with dynamites are ready to blow up some bad-arses. My parents must be proud thinking that their one and only son aspire to save some lives, courageously putting off fires, sacrificing himself for the sake of strangers. But little did they know, deep inside the little mind of mine, I was secretly planning to blast off bad-arses into smithereens. Just like Mr.Bomberman! But sometime later, my parents (still thinking I'm interested in becoming a fireman) showed me a fireman cartoon show on TV. I was so excited! Seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into hours, I waited and waited, but there’s still not a single explosion in sight! Nothing can compare to my disappointment at that time. So, the moment the cartoon show ended, I swore I wouldn’t want to be a bomberman anymore, and become a doctor instead!

Thank you cartoon show, you saved my life!
Owh, I miss this classic riff. 1987? The year I was born!
Story 2:

When I was a kid, I thought that Kenny Rogers was a 'singa'. Yep, ‘singa’ as in Lion King? (Singa means lion in Malay). While we were having dinner at Kenny Rogers, I overheard my parents saying 'Kenny Rogers ni dulu 'singer' tau. Popular zaman mak ayah dulu'. So, since then, I thought Kenny Rogers was formerly a lion, and somehow transformed into a human being. Miracles happen, I thought...just like in Disney movies (beast turns into a prince, frog turns into a prince...owh, it happens all the time, but lion turns into Kenny Rogers?)

Owh, come on...even you cannot tell their difference!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Opie's Mom

“There’s a story behind everything.
How a picture got on a wall.
How a scar got on your face.
Sometimes stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking.
But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story,
because hers is where yours begins”

- Mitch Albom

I’ve always believed that memories are never completely faded from our minds. I believe that they are suppressed; lie dormant inside our head, waiting for the moment for an event to trigger it out again into consciousness. My belief was justified. In early 2009, I went for a student’s conference in Boston. Between sessions, I went for coffee. I saw a signboard across the street that reads a very familiar name: Commonwealth Avenue. I had time. I wandered around, and without my realization, I already wandered far.

Walking through the blistering winter cold, I found this familiar place. As I walk closer, flashes of memories came into my mind. This is where I used to live, I thought. So many things in life have changed, but as if frozen in the winter cold, this place stays the same. I know I would return here someday. But I’ve never thought it would be this soon. I went closer, and stood still at the entrance. For a moment, it was 1994 again…

“Bye mak, I love you” I used to say, almost every morning of every weekday, right there where I stood. My mother would kiss me in both cheeks, hand me my lunchbox, and finally slip in my pocket a tissue paper, neatly folded to fit the small pocket of a six year old. “Bye Opie, jangan nakal-nakal, okay? I love you too”. I would nod and head towards the school bus, and when I look back she would wave at me, with my baby sister in her arms, and she would head back into the apartment the same moment I got on the bus. Having picked a seat (most often at the back), I would unfold the tissue paper my mother gave me. It wasn’t just any tissue. On it, written using the black ink ball pen my mother carry in her handbag most of the time, is a note. So, instead of wiping my nose with it (as I guess most people would do), I start memorizing the words written.

This whole tissue-note-memorizing began on my first day of kindergarten. It was mid-year, and there I was, a foreign child who suddenly stepped into the class with his mother. The kids had already gathered around the teacher. They just stared at me in wonder. I must have started crying when my mother introduced me to the teacher. There were not many Asian families around at that time. Not quite Chinese, definitely not Indian, people would never stop wondering where I’m from. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t speak much, but I was devastated for not being able to write, because the teacher had asked me to write a journal. The first day, I handed a blank journal. As soon as I got home, I cried to my mother about it. The second day, my mother wrote a note on a tissue paper. “For you to copy onto your journal” she said. It may seem like cheating, but I didn’t know how to write. What was she supposed to do?

Maybe it didn’t occur to her, that it was just my second day of school. Not only I didn’t know how to write, I also didn’t know how to read! But well, that’s my loving mother. It’s the thought that counts. I copied letter by letter from the tissue paper to my journal, without ever knowing what I’ve written down. This goes on until the last day of kindergarten, well after I’m able to read and even write on my own. I never understood this, but I’ve always been told what to do by my mother. Any day she forgot to write me a note, I would invent my own words and write in hilarious entries (such as the eating of Fruit Loops along with my sister). So basically, I need my mother.

After my sister and I graduated from kindergarten

That was 15 years ago. Today, I still need my mother, and I guess I always will. She has recently turned 50 (although she doesn’t look like it, and she loved it when people tell her this). I’ve went through primary and high school, boarding school and college. Each and every time my mother drops me off to these places for the first time, she would shed tears. I wasn’t sure if it was tears of joy for seeing me furthering education or tears of sadness for me moving further away from home. Maybe both. The first time I went away from home, how old was I, nine? I was in primary school and went for a camp for the first time. Being a boy scout, I had this false impression that boy scouts should be tough and wholly independent, surviving on their own, without ever needing their mother. “Scouts must play it rough”, I thought, and for that, I purposely left my blanket at home. "Who needs a blanket? I'm tough, night cold and mosquitoes won't shake me!".

It was just the first night, an announcement came. My mother came, along with my sisters to see how I’m doing and brought me my blanket and some biscuits. When I got back to my group, with blankets and biscuits in hand, I can see some of them giggling, once in a while looking at me, and then turn to whisper at each other. Maybe I was paranoid, but later they start teasing me for being such a baby and called me ‘anak manja’. Out of my embarrassment, I became angry at my mother. I was never proud of what I felt. But well, I was just a kid back then. I would laugh every time I remember this. As I grow up, I realize there’s no use of acting tough. My mother’s loving thoughts brought me a blanket, and I stayed warm out in the night cold. What does acting tough get me?

For everything I’ve told, you must have thought that my mother was easy on me. Don’t get me wrong. She smacked, scolded and punished me. I got smacked for picking on my sister, losing my homework, and even for not memorizing multiplication tables (in fact, I got smacked the worst for that!). I remembered one day I couldn’t answer a mathematics question she asked. She was furious and I got a terrible smack. But well, she still loved me. The next day, she bought me a whole lot of shirts! She loves me through my childhood, through my teenage years, and even through the early adulthood I am in. She loves all of her children despite our different personalities, and we all love her as much!

Mom and us!

Before (with my older sister, Farah)
After (spot the difference!)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Grandfather

My grandfather is a teacher (note the tense). Formally, he was a teacher, but up till now, he never gave up what he had been doing all his life: teaching. My grandfather, or Tok Ayah, as we call him, used to teach Bahasa Melayu at schools during the post-World War II era. Today, Tok Ayah teaches the Holy Koran, at homes to his children and grandchildren on a monthly basis, and to his neighbors at a mosque near his house.

Once, on a long holiday after graduating from high school, I spent a week at my grandparents’ and got the chance to experience his daily routine. My grandparents live in Batu Pahat, Johor, about 4 hours drive away from Kuala Lumpur. Before Maghrib, he would get himself ready, with his favorite white jubah and neatly wrapped serban around his head. His articles would be ready on his table, several copies of it lay there, “Ikhlas” it reads. As I drove him to the mosque where he teaches, he told me about his life as a young teacher, how he got married real early, became a teacher to students only a few years younger than him, and how he made it to be the principal.

I’ve heard the story many times before, but it never bored me. I assume he’d forgotten he told me the story. As he is getting older, he keeps forgetting things. Sometimes he would forget things such as his glasses, or brought the wrong article, or even forgot the way back home. I remembered one time when we went to dinner at a nearby Thai warong. When the food arrived, my grandfather already had a fork in his hand. Just as he was reaching for the food, he stopped. “Atok kenyanglah, Opie makan la dulu. Atok nak bungkus je”.

My grandmother gave a puzzled look and tried to persuade him to eat. For after awhile of trying, he still insists on not eating. We thought that he had a stomachache or lost his appetite, so we let him be. After finishing our dinner, we decided to take the leftovers home, and so we called for the waiter. Realizing the food untouched in front of my grandfather, the waiter asked: “Atok, kenapa atok tak makan?” He didn’t say anything for a few seconds, but then he turned to the waiter, grimaced and said “Atok terlupa bawak gigi” as he pointed his fingers towards where his teeth were supposed to be. We all laughed. My grandfather smiled and his face grew red. This is not the first time Tok ayah left his teeth at home, my grandmother told me. Poor Tok ayah…

Tok ayah may be old, and keeps on being more forgetful. But one thing I am sure is that his passion for teaching will never be erased from his mind

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rossa Gave Me a Kiss!

Most International Baccalaureate (IB) graduates would agree that one of the most stressful times of their life was during their 2-years of IB. Stressful IB students, as I am back then, would do strange things just to take some load off our minds. For us, the IB boys of MARA College Seremban, we had an odd way of releasing stress: dancing! We would secretly download video clips with a dancing scene, and we would just dance to it. Most dancers enjoy the dancing itself, but for us, we just enjoy laughing at each other's hilarious move. Totally works on releasing stress!

That was when I saw Rossa for the first time in my life. She was on the screen of my friend’s PC, dancing to her chart-topping song back then: ‘Pudar’. “She’s drop-dead gorgeous!” my friend would say, and I would definitely agree. We were so obsessed with her dance that we completely memorized the dancing steps! Once, while we did a motivation program for high-school students, we even did the dance in front of the students. Crazy as we were, we survived the 2 years of IB.
Soon after graduating, I made a decision to go separate way from my friends and study medicine in Indonesia. I made the decision based on many reasons, but none of them include meeting Rossa (Indonesia is her homeland). By that time, I forgot all about Rossa.

That was till 2 years later, when Rossa came back into my mind. I was having lunch with a friend at the time. “Guess what, I have a date tonight!” said my friend. “Wow…With whom?” I asked. “Ehem…a celebrity”. “What? Cool…which celebrity?!”. To tell the truth, I was expecting a name that I didn't recognize, because in Indonesia, they have lots and lots of talented celebrities that I can’t even catch up with their names! But I was wrong when she answered:


It took me awhile to digest it, and the first vision that came into my mind was a dancing scene from Pudar video, and us, the boys of IB, dancing along with her. ‘How in the world could my friend here get to date with Rossa?’ I thought. I was soon told that she entered a magazine contest, and as a grand prize, she won a date with Rossa! I thought this would be the chance for me to see her in real life, so I decided to tag along with her to the restaurant where she was supposed 'date' Rossa. I didn’t mind waiting outside, my plan was just to see her in real life, probably while she was walking out the door, escorted by the bodyguards to her car.

So I was waiting outside when the main door opens. I was half-expecting Rossa to come out, but it was actually my friend. “Come on in, the photo shoot is getting started” she shouted.“Come in? Am I allowed to?”. “It’s okay, I even told Rossa about you memorizing the Pudar dance”. “Whaaat? How did she responded?” I asked. “Well, she was not quite surprised at first. But when I told her you are a guy, she was like: Yang bener?! (are you kidding?!)”.

Excited, I went inside to meet Rossa in person for the first time in my life. She was smaller than I expected. Maybe because most of the celebrities I met in real life are tall. Rossa is just a cute and tiny, but she’s beautiful the way she is. She may be small, but when she starts to sing, she’s larger than the world.
So as a prize for memorizing the steps of ‘Pudar’, I got myself a kiss from Rossa. Okay, not a real kiss, but a kiss on a paper:

Dear Lutfi, love, Rossa

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Look at others as human beings

The world is not in need of more guns and generals, but of more hospitals and doctors

In the World Health Organization (WHO) committee of HNMUN, being a medical student puts you among the privileged few. I was asked by an Armenian delegate sitting next to me: “What in the world is MDR-TB?” Before, a delegate (no doubt a medical student), have been using the acronym which stands for ‘multiple drug resistant tuberculosis’ and other technical terms such as prophylaxis, palliative, DOTS, etc, which sounds unfamiliar to the students of law, government, economics and politics (which made up the majority of the committee).

Other than being able to understand the technical terms, and being a walking dictionary to others, being a medical student gave us an advantage to look at problems substantively. Politicians and economists like to talk about the legislative stuff, and they talked a lot too. But they don't quite have the correct idea on the real situation we’re facing. “Developed countries must supply more AIDS-curing medicine to developing nations!” one said. Well, if there is a cure for HIV/AIDS, we would have eradicated it from this world long time ago.

Realizing the flaws, once in awhile, they would say “Let’s hear the medical point of view”, signaling the need of someone with medical knowledge to speak up front. Throughout the conference, I was invited to speak a few times, and I’ve never felt more purposeful in my life. When the world asked for your opinion, why shouldn’t you feel so? I guess one of the best things about being a doctor is that people believe whatever you say. I am lucky I did my research before. At other times, I would most probably take an ‘intellectual guess’ =P

However, one can’t possibly deny the strong correlation between politics, economy, social systems and disease. So, like it or not, we all have to work together. One time I raised an issue on economics, about how the policy in the IMF and World Bank affects the healthcare system in many developing countries, and the next day, they brought a representative from the World Bank into the committee, in case people like me who lacked knowledge on economics asks the same dim-witted question again. I didn’t talk about economics again that day. Leave it to the economists, I did =PIn the end, despite our academic differences, doctors, politicians and economists worked together to find single resolution. The best thing about health committees such as the WHO is that we couldn’t disagree upon each other concerning the main goals. Of course, no sane person would disagree on eradicating infectious diseases from the world, yes? In other committees, such as the Security Council, they had about a dozen of resolutions to be voted. We had only one resolution, and the voting is just for formality. It was inspiring to see each and every country, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, raising their placard, agreeing on single resolution.

HNMUN was a grand, once in a lifetime experience for me. It was a wide-eye opener. Where else would I get a world-scale experience if not attending the real United Nations General Assembly? But then again, it wouldn’t be the same, because in HNMUN, they send students instead of real diplomats to a United Nations conference. What you’ll get are scenarios impossible in the real world. The United States in alliance with Venezuela, Iraq having dinner with Iran, India working together with Pakistan and suddenly obscured countries such as Saint Kitts and Comoros’ opinions is taken into account. I’ve never knew there’s a country which starts with ‘saint’!

As students, we realize the politics and international affair of our countries, but despite that, we looked upon each other not based on race, religion or political views. That’s the best thing about Harvard National Model United Nations: we look at each other as humans. We believe that the only real nation is humanity. We're all humans, aren’t we?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

If You Are Waiting For Tomorrow, Why Not Do It Today?

This post is dedicated to my sister, Fatin, and is inspired by her post titled Memories That Remain. Yup, Fatin is the one I wanted to eat along with fruit loops back when she was 1 =P

If you’re waiting for tomorrow, why not do it today?
For if tomorrow never comes, you’ll surely regret the day
That you didn’t take that extra time for
a smile, a hug, or a kiss,
And you were too busy to grant someone, what
turned out to be their one last wish

- Norma Cornett Marek

No friend can promise you that they can still be here tomorrow. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. We keep on thinking that everything will be the same tomorrow as it is today. But the fact of life is that everybody has their own path in life, and most probably, sooner or later, you won’t be going the same way. Yet, there’s still many of us who don’t realize what a blessing it is to have your best friends around. Until suddenly, one fateful day, you realize that you have one last day to spend with them. When that day comes, everything else seems irrelevant. It doesn’t matter anymore how many arguments you won on who’s right and who’s wrong. It doesn’t matter anymore how much they owe you for buying nasi lemak when they forgot to bring their wallet. It doesn’t matter anymore who got the most ‘first place’ in class. It doesn’t matter anymore if they cheated when the teachers asked to mark their own homework.

When you know you get to spend one last day with your best friend, the only thing that remains is of the good times together. When you know it’s the last day, you can spend the time taking photos, hoping to capture your memory together one last time. But nothing compares to the memories of just eating together, coming over to each other’s house, go on camping, or riding bicycles together. Suddenly each and every moment spent with your friends, even small things, feels much more meaningful. When you’ve shared years of your life with someone, it’s not easy to let go. There’s so much for you to say, but there’s so little time, and you don’t even know where to start.

Nobody can promise you that they can still be here tomorrow. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. If today is all you get, would you still hesitate to carve a smile, to lend a hug, or to tell your friends how much they mean to you? Live each day as if it is the last chance for you to spend time with them. Spend less time frustrating the little arguments and spend more time saying ‘thank you’, ‘forgive me’ and ‘I appreciate you’ s. You’ll never know when somebody has to go. Cherish each and every moment with them, and life will seem so much more meaningful. So If you’re waiting for tomorrow, why not do it today? Because today may be all you get

p/s: Sabar ye Tin, sume bende berlaku mesti la ade sebabnye. Memang la rase sakit hati skrg, tapi nanti lame2 baru tin akan tau hikmaknye. Anyway, ingat bopie selalu pesan, 'yang penting konfiden!'. Bopie yakin tin dapat masuk MRSM gak. Yakin, tapi if tak dapat jugak jangan hampa, coz I believe wherever you are, you'll shine on for everyone!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blend in but Stand out

I was going through old photo albums when I found this:
Six-year-old me, reading to an audience a story I wrote myself

Sigmund Freud theorized that our childhood experiences define our life as an adult. If that is the case, the picture explains why I’m addicted to the microphone today =P. The picture was taken on a Christmas concert, right before my class performed. This is a story of how a Malaysian kindergartener ends up reading a story he wrote himself to a whole American audience.

It all started with journal writing. Back in 1994, my family and I had to move to the United States. My father had an offer to do his Masters at Harvard Medical School, and for me, I had the chance of a lifetime to have my first schooling experience overseas. Robert Fulghum, a world-known author once said: “All I really need to know in life were learned at kindergarten”. I agree. Well, maybe not EVERYTHING is learned in kindergarten, but at least I learned journal writing there. In my school, kindergarteners are required to write in a journal entry every single day. I was still getting used to English at that time, and every night my parents would teach me new words using flashcards. With my limited vocabulary and inadequate grasp of grammar, I wrote some hilarious entries. I remember writing:

“I like to eat Fruit Loops AND my sister too”!

What I really meant was that my sister and I like to eat Fruit Loops (the breakfast cereal). Because of my language limitations, I made myself sound like a cannibal for wanting to eat my own sister!

Journal writing is the start of my passion towards reading and writing. From flash card, I turn to storybooks, and after a while, I started writing my own stories. I made a short storybook of my own; complete with illustrations I drew myself, on a folded A4 paper. Sometime later, we had a “show and tell” session where we were to stand in front of the class and share anything we want to. Eager to share the book I wrote, I didn’t think twice before raising my hand. So I went in front, read my story to the class, and showed them the pictures I drew. The next thing I knew, I was made 'Student of the Month'!

Soon, Christmas came, and as a tradition, our school organized a Christmas concert where parents are invited to watch their children perform on stage. Each class has to perform, including mine. So my teacher had this ‘great’ idea. As an introduction, before my class perform, she wanted me to read my storybook to the audience! And so I did... My parents came over to the concert and took a picture while I was reading on stage. It was a merry Christmas indeed

Sometimes we are intimidated when thrown into a whole new culture. But we have to face it. We have no choice, because nobody likes an ugly duckling, or a black sheep, or a wolf that runs in a different direction from the pack. We must blend in. Blend in, but stand out as someone. Stand out as someone competent. Show that you are just as good, but never stand out as an outsider or an outcast. Blending in doesn’t mean that we must lose our identity. It's like being a chameleon instead of a clone. You still retain your identity (as a Malaysian, as a Muslim for example), but you are readily adaptable to changes depending on what is required of you. So get your name known, but never as an outsider =)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Have a Checklist!

Today, a fellow delegate gave me booklet titled ‘Travelling to the United States’. It includes a checklist of what to bring and what not to bring. When someone gives you that kinda stuff, it means: “You better pack your bags ASAP, or you’re gonna regret it!”

This is not my first time travelling to the United States. I went and stayed there for more than a year. But I was only 6 back then, and no one gave me any checklists before departing. Without a checklist, all I wanted to bring along to at that time was my video game and a Malaysian flag. Unfortunately, my mother wouldn’t let me bring the video game. So I just brought along a Malaysian flag and spent the time along the way to the airport worrying about how to spend my time without my video game. That’s about all I could recall, but thanks to the miracle of cameras (although not digital), I get a snapshot of the departing experience:

I have no idea why I’m bringing along a Malaysian flag. I guess I was a proud, patriotic boy. Or maybe I thought that the Malaysian flag and the American flag look similar so I brought it along hoping that the Americans wouldn’t notice. The tie and tucked-in shirt suggests that I’m a neat person since young =P

15 years passed by, and I can't believe I will be heading to Boston once again. I did plan to visit the place again someday, but I didn’t expect it to be this soon. As a 21 year old, I am supposed to settle everything myself. So I got myself a US visa, bought conference attires, winter coats, boots, and I didn’t even intend to bring along my video game (how much I have changed, I bet Boston has changed a lot either).

As life gets more hectic and demands more and more of your time each day, it's wise for us to have a checklist. Unlike elephants, we tend to forget, and as humans, we are privileged with the ability to write. Sometimes we are overwhelmed with the things that we need to do for the day, and we don’t know where to start! Checklists give us a whole perspective of our daily obligations, and allow us to prioritize which are the ones to be settled first, and which can be settled for later. Simple, yet useful

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Experience is the Best Teacher

Yesterday I waited impatiently for today’s Annual General Meeting, where my term as the Head of Public Relations will end. I longed for a good rest from all those student activities. I deserve it. As the Head of Public Relations, I was constantly running from one place to another, answering calls most of the daytime, and checking off 'to-do' list items (which I never run out of). I need to slow down a bit. Slow down to the speed of life. So this morning, I finally got the break I deserve. Yay, freedom is in the air!

But unfortunately, by noon, I was cut off from the air of freedom again. A short election was held, and everyone in the hall (well, most of them. Some others are just ignorant and came over only to have free breakfast and lunch) voted to elect their new leaders. Long story made short, I was elected as the new PKPMI Chairperson. As if I am not traumatized enough by the result, they made me go straight to work! Soon after announcing the results, the former Chairperson said: “Congratulations Lutfi, you're the new Chairperson for PKPMI, now I leave this meeting for you to handle.” I was like: "Whaaaat???"

Me, maintaining my cool as best as I can =P

I didn’t say it out loud, of course. Maintaining my cool as I always do, I went on to chair the meeting. So there I was, handling the meeting to elect other members of the ‘parliament’. So I got myself a Vice Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. How come they don’t get to work instantly? Anyway, I was glad to be elected as the Chairperson intead of another Head of Bureau, because the work of a Chairperson is not as hell. As the name suggest, all a Chairperson does is sit on a chair and order people around all day long. Hehe

So I got my rest for only 30 minutes. It's okay, people say that:

Experience is the best teacher

I know that it won’t be easy. There are expectations to meet. Those people voted for me because they believed in me. Moreover, I may secure 60% of the vote, but I am still left with 40% of the student population that wishes someone else is the Chairperson. I need to convince those people too. I am not trying to satisfy each and every student, because that’s just impossible. Realistic goals, I must set. I don’t have many plans in mind right now. That’s because my mind is currently focusing on the exams next week and my trip to the United States next month. But I do know that there's a whole new experience ahead of me, and I hope it will make me a better person in the future =)

Friday, January 16, 2009

All You Have To Do Is Ask

Tomorrow, my term as Head of Public Relations, PKPMI will end (PKPMI: Persatuan Kebangsaan Pelajar-pelajar Malaysia di Indonesia. Such a long name, huh?). Serving under the organization for the last one year has been quite tiring, but there’s absolutely no regret. Valuable lessons were learned; lessons that I won’t get in classes or tutorials. I guess after the term ends, I can say that I have equipped myself better for my future life! One of the most valuable lessons I learned is:

“All you have to do is ask”

No man is an island, and whatever obstacles lie ahead, there is always someone out there willing to help. All you have to do is ask! I used to get the wires in my head tangled up after being assigned to a task I’m unfamiliar with. Early last year I was assigned to design, produce, promote and sell PKPMI’s merchandise products…from scratch! The organization never had merchandise products before, and it is up to my bureau to do the designs, create a prototype, produce them, promote, and sell them. Let me remind you that I never ever had experience doing business before, and I had no idea on how to design products! So I started asking around.

It’s like playing the Final Fantasy. You wanna make weapons, you go to the Blacksmith. You got poisoned, you go to the White Mage. You wanna practice magic; you go to the Wizard’s Lair. Well of course there’s not much wizards lying around these days, and no such magic that can create merchandise products exist. So I went to a friend who knows one of the modern day’s magic instead: Adobe Photoshop. So I learned a bit of designing using the software, and after a few days, I was able to make a few designs!

It gets downhill afterwards, asked around for shops that produce merchandises, got them to help with the prototype, and extended the line of products. Not long after, the first ever PKPMI-CB merchandise product were launched! We got great responses, and we made good profit out of it. Well I admit that it wasn’t all smooth-sailing, we had some trouble distributing the products, but all in all, it was a very good experience.

We are all getting used to hear that people nowadays have this 'Mind your own business' mentality. That the modern life creates problem for everyone that they couldn't afford to care about other people's problem. However, you'd be surprised at how many people actually care and are willing to help you. All you have to do is ask!

This is one of the T-shirts that I designed. Interested, anyone?

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