Yoga, Yoga, Yoga

Has the NAtional Fatwa Council been misinformed about yoga being Banned in Singapore?

A friend emailed this to me. Apparently this is taken from SIngapore Straits Times dated 9th Novemebr 2008:

A MUSLIM cleric in Malaysia has called on Muslims to stop doing yoga exercises, but some religious experts in Singapore do not share that sentiment.

They are largely of the opinion that yoga is harmless as long as its spiritual aspects are not practised.

Professor Zakaria Stapa, a lecturer at University Kebangsaan Malaysia’s faculty of Islamic studies, said recently that yoga is based on Hindu elements and could affect the faith of Muslims practising it.

That sparked a nationwide debate and the Malaysian National Fatwa Council may issue a fatwa, or decree, on yoga soon.

The country seems to be alone in its concern.

Yoga centres are flourishing in more orthodox Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In Iran, yoga is so popular that there are classes for children.

In Singapore, Mr Mohammad Yusri Yubhi Md Yusoff, 33, executive imam of Al-Falah mosque, said: ‘Yoga may have its roots in Hinduism. But if you take away the meditation and other spiritual aspects, it becomes just another form of exercise.’

Veteran religious expert Pasuni Maulan, 64, agreed. The former registrar of Muslim marriages said spiritual elements in exercises are not exclusive to yoga. Silat, which has its roots in Malay culture, can sometimes involve hailing spirits, a practice not allowed in Islam.

‘Those who are not sure about what is allowed may want to do other exercises,’ he suggested.

As a rule of thumb, avoid the spiritual forms of exercises and embrace only the physical aspects, said religious teacher and counsellor Abdul Manaf Rahmat, 50.

Teacher Hafiza Yahya, 26, who studied yoga through books five years ago, has been doing just that.

‘In classes, instructors may ask you to say Hindu incantations. I simply did the exercises without all that,’ said the mother of two, who shed more than 30kg through yoga after each pregnancy. She now weighs a trim 46kg.

 

 

 

 

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“couldn’t care less” syndrome

Social activist Irene Fernandez, who was my wife’s childhood teacher while schooling in Sg Petani, was acquitted by the High court after one of the longest trials in Malaysian History.

This acquittal should be welcomed by all in the civil society, as her case has been viewed as a case of persecution rather than anything else.

The worrying thing about this acquittal is however the ground on which she was acquitted. It was not by facts but rather by trial materials being “incomprehensible” as a result of ‘systemic errors”.
Malaysiakini reported this:

On Aug 5, the case was brought to a standstill when Fernandez was told a computer virus had wiped out a portion of a specific volume of notes required for the trial.

Two months later, Fernandez’s lawyer M Puravalen said that the 8,988 pages of handwritten and typed notes amounting to a total of eight volumes of documents were “incomprehensible”.

Judge Mohamad Apandi had subsequently set today to hear arguments on the issue.

Fernandez’s 13-year ordeal began in 1995 when she exposed the poor conditions at immigration detention centres in a memorandum entitled ‘Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centres’.

She alleged incidences of torture as well as deaths of illegal immigrants who were detained in the camps.

Fernandez was arrested and charged a year later under Section 8A (1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984

I doubt her case is an isolated one. If her case notes are incomprehensible, it is logical to assume that there are many other cases wit the same problems.

What happens if the accused in another case is, unlike this iron lady,  really guilty? What happens if a real criminal is acquitted because a clerical mistake making trial notes ‘incomprehensible”? What happens if a serial killer is let off because of this technical point and starts killing again?

How low has our judiciary sunk?

This, in my opinion, is part of the bigger syndrome of loss of excellence. Because of this syndrome, people tend to have “tidak apa” ( “couldn’t care less” type of) attitude.

I suspect many in the service has this type of routine: Come in at 8am.  Punch his or her card, then goes out for breakfast or a cup of coffee. Then moves about making small talks and gossips,  with frequent tea breaks thrown in;  take a leisurely lunch break, and maybe ask for time off to go to banks or attend to personal business. 

with so much of distraction , there is little wonders that they are mistakes and errors in his or her work. When an error occurs, there would be no shame of not doing a job well. Afterall, everyone else does it. 

 When the peer group is like that, the whole service would have no more drive for excellence. The head will try to cover the mistake of his or her staffs. You scratch my back, i will scratch yours. In the end, it does not matter whether a job is well done, as long as one gets a fat checque at the end of the month.

This is the whole syndrome that is affectig many of the civil servants, police , schools/universities  and judicairy. Productivity is low. Mistakes are common. A culture of “couldn’t-care-less-ness” slowly evolves.

To counter this culture is an uphill task. Perhaps a start must be made at the education system. Adopt meritocracy and slowly introduce meritocratic principles into police, civil service and judiciary, as well as fair competition in business fields.

There must also be more accountability of civil servants to their mistakes. Rules must be changed so that perpetual error-makers must be sacked.  Others must be retrained and mindsets changed. There must also be a system where promotion and salary increment is tied to performance, and not to how many times a person goes for his tea break.

Tough times need tough measures. Are we game enough for this change to bring back excellence?

Economic woes will be our biggest headache

US economy has probably gone into deflation. The latest Consumer Price Index is -1% , marking perhaps the beginning of deflation. Please do not think that deflation is good, even though deflation has been defined as a persistent reduction in the level of prices of goods.

Deflation may lead to economic depression. Since the prices of goods are persistently becoming lower, people will defer any purchase, and that reduces demand for goods. The whole economic activity will therefore slow down. With slowly down of economy, prices of goods tend to go down further , thus forming a spiral in which recovery can be difficult and end result is a prolonged depression.

Worse, since many companies and factories will go bust, unemployment will increase. Even those companies that are able to continue to do business may have to resort to downsizing, and retrenching their workers. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, unemployment rate went up to 25%, which means that 0one in 4 of the workforce has no job…And when people are hungry, all sorts of social problems will erupt.

With economic activities slowing down in the United States, Europe and Japan, demand for goods manufactured in Asia as well as demand for services will be reduced, and Asian countries which depend on exports to these countries will suffer greatly. These will include SIngapore and unfortunately, Malaysia as well.

In Malaysia, economic woes will be our biggest headache in 2009.  

A friend was complaining to me that life is getting tougher and tougher and he is finding difficulties in making ends meet. He lamented that when the petrol prices went up 40 %, his petrol bill went up by almost a hundred dollars but he was still able to ‘tahan’, and now that petrol prices have come down, he is finding it even more difficult to make ends meet even though he is now footing less for his petrol compared to 3 months ago. I told him that when the petrol pump prices were hiked up 40 % from 1.92 to 2.70, the whole economy has adjusted within a short time to 2.70 level, with prices of goods and services shot up. Inflation was officially 8 % but I suspect it is even more than that.

NOw even though petrol may come down to 1.85- cheaper than before- do not hope for goods to return to 1.92 level, unless of course deflation sets in, and that will be a real worry for Malaysia.  I told him that when economy contracts, companies will become insolvent, and that will lead to banks becoming insolvent. Asset prices will drop and everyone with property will become poorer as a result. Money supply will shrink. People will think twice to save money in banks , fearing that banks may go bust and they would seek alternatives such as gold. With less deposits, there will be less funds to lend,and economic activities will come down further.

To counter that, government may need to spend to stimulate economy. The problem in our country is that with commodity prices dropping (palm oil from 4500 to 1450 recently), the govenrment will be hard pressed to find funds to spend. By cutting EPF contibution in the hope of stimulate people to spend more to counter recession is not enough.

It is perhaps imperative now for the government to reduce taxes to stimulate private consumption and hope that this will prevent economy to go into a recession.  Cutting taxes however will reduce government revenue, and with operationg expenditure so highas a proportion of our total budget, a meaningful cut may not even be feasible. The operating expenditure must be trimmed if we want to cut taxes to stimulate private consumption.

At the same time, perhaps it is now time to do away with NEP, since allowing market forces to act without any distortion will be more efficient and will lead to more private investments by those who are still holding plenty of cash.

This is the time to act and act decisively.

Some thoughts on coming home part 2

Please read : Some thoughts on coming home  before reading this

One of the things that strike me was the relatively jam-free roads in Auckland, even in the CBD. This could be partly because of the cool weather there-people can walk longer distance in cool weather than the hot and humid weather here-  but it is also because of the efficient public transport system.

Like many cities in developed countries, there is a free looping bus in the Central BUsiness District in Auckland. I have taken some photographs of this free bus and I myself have tried this free bus. The bus is very clean, seats are comfortable, the driver was very helpful and knowledgable.

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imag0034 The round circle seen on tha back and side of the bus represents the loop of CBD that the bus passes through.

Since University of AUckland is right in the CBD , university students and  tourists alike can use this looping free bus to travel around the campus and the CBD.

In 2003, I submitted a detailed proposal on Kuala Lumpur 2020 Structural plan (the whole paper can be found in one of the pages under the masthead of this blog under the title of Kuala Lumpur towards a world class city)). In the proposal, I wrote about transport and this was what i wrote about transport:   

               2.4 Public Transport & City Traffic

         A world-class city must have a good and efficient public transport system. To achieve this, we recommend that:

            • City Hall gives figures on “average travel time” from suburban locations to city center at fixed interval e.g. yearly basis. This indicator will help the planners and city folks to gauge the efficiency of our traffic system and public transport.

            • There must be a good integration of the public transport and feeder services

            • There must be ample parking spaces at certain strategically located mass transit stations to enable the people to park and ride

            • There should be a free looping bus system in the inner core city

                       • For certain areas with congested space and small access roads, a feeder system using smaller should   be encouraged      

            • Licensing of public transport should not be monopolized. Monopoly begets inefficiency.

            • Efforts be made to encourage people to use public transport

 

  I mentioned then about the need of having a free looping bus service in the CBD of Kuala Lumpur. In Auckland, a free bus will depart every 10  minutes, and the same can be applied to Kuala Lumpur . Another city which would benefit from a free looping bus service in CBD is Penang, where the transport system really needs to be improved, especially now that the monorail project for Penang has been cancelled.  The budget for a free bus looping service can be easily raised through better planning and cutting down on wastages.

 

Many cities have this type of free bus services, one of which is Toronto, where my eldest son graduated. The city has a rapid transit system (like the MRT of Singapore) which is very efficient and goes underground in the city centre . There is  a feeder bus service , which is free, right from the undergorund station in the city centre and goes up above ground to loop round the CBD including part of the China town.

 

Malaysia has plenty of resources. If we can cut dwon on our operating expenditure- budget 2009 has a record operating expenditure of 154.2 billion RM, about double what it was just 4 years ago-  we could have easily funded this type of services. It would have save millions of dollars on fuel cost for residents and reduce pollution in the city centre. It is also much cheaper than building a LRT system.

 

Another aspect which we can copy is of course the clean and well maintained toilets. The public toilets off Queenstreet was clean and pleasant to use. The signage is big and cannot be missed.

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A digression from socio-political blogging. 

 

A blogger mate , Justin , mentioned about the beautiful roses in NZ. In fact, roses in most temperate countries are big and beautiful during spring time. I was lucky that my visit coincided with the annual 2-day Parnel Rose Festival, which I read about in a tourist booklet I obtained at the Airport. Being a nature lover who likes plants , flowers and animals, I took a Link bus to go there . Wow, the roses are really beautiful and some as big as my face.

 

I will post some of the beautiful pictures of roses to share with those who love roses. I will also put soem of the other picures of beautiful flowers in my Flickr folder for readers to view.

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Some thoughts on coming home

Was back after an almost 2 weeks break in North Island , New Zealand. I arrived on Tuesday , reached home almost midnight. Since when it is midnight here, the time in NZ would be 5am, I was really feeling the jet lag the whole of yesterday (perhaps age is catching up). Slept at 8pm last night, which was 1 am in NZ and woke up at 4am, which was 9am in NZ. But was feeling much better after the fairly good sleep.

I had a fairly busy but relaxing 12 days, travelling through the central and northern part of North Island. It was not as scenic as South Island, where I went last year; nevertheless, the scenery is still breath taking and the beaches and the bays were beautiful . We saw dolphines and of course plenty of sheep and cattles. It is a great place to drive around yourself. The signages are excellent , the maps accurate and most drivers observe motoring rules strictly.

One of the comments in the previous post by Klm about Austin, USA ( I had been there in the eighties,  a most beautiful city and capital of Texas) can be applied to New Zealand as well.

My daughter stayed in an apartment in Wakeful Street of Auckland, which is just off Queen Street ( the equivalent of Orchard Road in Singapore) in the central business district  – where the University of Auckland campus is. Everywhere we went around the CBD, we saw and heard different types of people and languages. One in four persons in Auckland now is an Asian. The whole streets were full of Koreans, Hongkongese, Taiwanese, Mainland Chinese, Indians, Middle Eastern people and so on. We heard different languages being spoken  while at the same time, we were able to converse with them in English.

One third of my daughter’s  graduating class is non-White, most of them NewZealanders of Asian origin. This shows how cosmopolitan NZ has become.

The laws there are the same for all races. I would be wrong to say that there is no discrimination. It is human nature that makes people of the same stock gather together, and when they are together, there is bound to be small talk about other races. But on the surface, I did not detect any obvious form of discrimination. Under the law, any discrimination can be reported to the authority and action can be taken against those who discriminate against others.

The important thing that I would like to stress is that the same law and same conditions apply to all ethnic groups as long as they are their citizens. There are no 2 classes of citizens. In the university, whether one passes or fails depend on how good the person is.

The same thing is happening in the States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.. They are becoming more and more cosmopolitan. By being so, they are serving as a magnet to attract the best brains in the world to their countries. Human resources are the most important asset. A country which is able to continuously attract talents to that country will always stay in the fore front of innovation and invention.

Malaysia has all the ingredients to make it as great , if not greater, than these countries. If only we have leaders who have more fore-sights and who are less self-centred. We, in the early eighties, were much more advance than most Asians countries that are now way ahead of us. In the sixties and seventies, our students overseas used to be the best and frequently topped their classes overseas.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Singapore would not be what it is today if not for the hundred of thousands of Malaysians who have chosen to stay there and become their citizens. Most of my classmates – I graduated from the medical school there- from Malaysia chose to stay back there and now are professors and consultants in their hospitals and universities, helping train thousands of Singaporeans to be useful and contributing citizens. My own sister, who is an actuarist, worked almost her whole life there despite retaining her Malaysian citizenship. She is now retired there and all her children are Singapore citizens. Many Malaysians  have migrated to Canada, Australia, US and so on.

Alas, we miss the boat. Instead we are now struggling to keep abreast with those coming from far behind us , countries like China, Vietnam, Thailand.

It is really time for those leaders who claim they love Malaysia to stop and ponder. What has gone wrong?

To me, the whole NEP culture-  which has bred corruption, abuse of power, personal glorification and lack of meritocratic principles- is the culprit.

We need to have a bold leader who can make a clean break with the past, takes bold action to change our culture from a race based one to a meritocratic and needs-based one.

Otherwise, we would be losing even more talents and brains to these foreign countries, which are great partly because of the ability to attract and accommodate different cultures and ethnicity without having a separate law for the new comers.

How to make a difference ?

Be an Innovative Society

Whenever I am overseas, in the so-called developed countries, one thing that strike me is that life in Malaysia is so much cheaper. Things are so much more expensive, even a fried Hor Fun in Auckland can cost around 15 NZ $ , more than RM 30, compared to about 4-5 bucks in Malaysia.

What strikes me is that hourly wages are so much higher in the West than in Asians countries like our own. Because of the much higher pay, the workers have a very laid back lifestyle, unlike their Malaysian counterpsrts who often work themselves so hard but still find difficulty in making ends meet.

The problem is , in most of the so-called developing countries, we are unable to raise our wages much higher without losing our competitive edge. If Malaysians are paid the pay of the Americans, for example, we will probably priced ourselves out of the market and killing our economy. This is because what we are producing are also being produced by other countries , and if our goods are dearer than other countries , we would lose our competitive edge and no one would buy our goods, killing our economy and in turn , our workers would lose even their low paying jobs.

So the way for us to go is we must lift our technological level and create, not just manufacture, new things that will become a world trend. Like what IBM did wit the personal computer , and microsoft did with all its softwares.

If we can create certain ideas and translate these into things that can will of demand all over the world, we could charge a higher price than , say just a ton of palm oil or a proton car. The latter , if the prices are raised too much, people will always turn to alternative sources.We must be able to produce things that are in demand but not readily produced in other low wage countires, in order to raise the wages of our workers and raise the liviing standard of our people.

To be able to do that, we need to not only revamp our whole education system,  but the ways our worfkorce think and functions. We must create an innovative society. We need to change the whole concept of learning, the whole concept of education. It is no longer enough just producing graduates for the sake of producing graduates, especialy the types that are not easily marketable.

The whole concept of education must be changed. For the first step, creativity and not spoon feeding must be encouraged. Basics like Maths and Science (how things function as they are) must be emphasised, but apart from that, students must be taught to be more creative and teaching should channel towards producing thinkers.

I am unfortunately not an educationist ( i always have the utmost respect for those in the education field, because they are the architects for the future of the country), so I would welcome any ideas that can make our chiidren and our workforce more creative. For one thing, I always believe that a person who is too overworked and have no time left to think for himself  cannot produce new ideas. So a child must not be overloaded with too much of spoonfeeding. A lot of things are now readily available in the internet and it will be more important to teach a person how to look for those info rather than just spponfeed certain facts to the students.

It is another form of teaching a person where to look for fish, in addition to teach him how to fish, rather than just give fish to the person.

For another thing, I think the ability to master the English language is very important, especially because new knowledge and ideas are being produced so fast that any ‘people’ that need translation of new knowledge into their own languages would find that when the translation is done, the new knowledge would be old thinking already and these people will always be behind time in knowledge. There are a few exception like the Japanese, the germans and now the Chinese, because these people have already a vast base of knowledge and hence new ideas can easily be reported in these languages. But basicaly, for a people to move forward, a good command of the English language, which is the internet as well as the world language, is necessary.

It is a pity that Malaysia, which had such high standard of English language even as late as the 60s, has lost a generation of good English teachers. To retrain a new breed of good English teachers wil probably take one or 2 generations, Maybe the idea of bringing back the English school is good and maybe now is the time to bring back the English school. Do not let the so-called narrow nationalist thinking retard our way to move forward, if we really want to have a better life for our people in future. ANyway, the younger Malaysians all have a very good grasp of the national language and the time is ripe to bring back the English school perhaps.

I would welcome your views on how to make our education system produce thinkers rather than just plain graduates with no marketable skills.

Court orders RPK be released immediately !

Good news just before i leave. malaysiakini reported that RPK was ordered by the Shah Alam High Court  to be released as his detention is illegal. To quote Malaysikini:

The Shah Alam High Court this morning ruled that the detention of well-known blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin under the ISA was illegal and ordered his immediate release.

Judge Syed Ahmad Helmy Syed Ahmad said that Raja Petra’s detention was unconstitutional.

He said that the Home Minister had not followed the proper procedure under Section 8 of the ISA to issue the detention order against Raja Petra.

The judge also ordered that Raja Petra, editor of the popular ‘Malaysia Today’ website, be produced in court by 4pm today after which he should be immediately released.

Raja Petra is presently being held at the Kamunting detention centre in Perak.

raja petra to police station on burma doctor sd 040908 03The ruling by the court followed a habeas corpus application by Raja Petra’s counsel seeking his release from detention under the security law. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope the police will not make another blunder by re-arresting him again , like in some cases before. They can appeal the judgement but please let RPK out immediately.

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