The manhole syndrome

A few months ago, roads in Sea Park area in PJ were resurfaced, to the relief of the residents there, since the last resurfacing was done quite some time ago.. I live in the adjacent SS2, and every morning I pass by Sea Park on my way to work in KL.

One of the main roads, near to the popular Sea Park shell station, had a junk of tar on its surface after the resurfacing was done. This junk of tar , about 6 feet in length, was like an artificial elongated mole on the just nicely resurfaced road. It had probably  been inadvertently dropped from the tarring machines while resurfacing the road. It is irregular, and is not only an eyesore, but actually causes inconvenience to the motorists , as it acts like an bump on the road. Only  it is worse than a bump, since it is irregular. Cars that pass directly on top would feel a thud, and cars that try to avoid the junk of tar face the danger of colliding with on coming traffic.

This illustrates an aspect of Malaysian life. Malaysians frequently do work with a ‘tidak apa’ attitude, and seldom go the extra mile to make sure that the job is well done. Yes, the job is done some how, but there is often a blemish in some part of it.

 We may find a new building completed with expensive materials and looking majestic on the outside. But once inside, we may notice poorly-aligned tiles or uneven flooring. Often new toilets would have such poor workmanship that  water , instead of flowing to the drain holes, collects in the centre of the floor because of lack of gradient.

Another common problem is that whenever old roads are resurfaced,  the manhole covers dotting  the road will  not be raised to the new level, , causing cars to feel a thud when going over such covers. Sometimes, the level may be so low, that a fast car going over it may have its suspension spoilt or  wheel rims dented, causing air leak in the tyres. On the other extreme, some manholes covers are raised so high they become an obstacle in the roads, and often cars will try to swing sideway to avoid it, only to collide with the oncoming cars and causing unnecessary injuries and even deaths.

I never find such unevenness in Singapore roads. Why? Because the people there feel proud of their job and have a sence of responsibility to see that everything is well done; at least everything is done according to the book.

In Malaysia, everything is about cutting corners and people just treat a job as a job and does not have any pride in their jobs.

When we were young,  we were often told that we must go the extra mile…Feel proud to have a job well done, and make sure everyone is happy about it. Even without the extra mile, we can take just one extra step… Like in the case of the Sea Park road, if the workers just took the trouble to go over the roads they surfaced, they would have discovered the patch of tar and could have easily removed it when it was still hot and liquid.

It is really a matter of culture… When you see everyone  has the tidak apa attitude, you will become one too.

It is  part of the greater syndrome of loss of excellence. We have actually gone down so far, that to climb back up will be so tough that we may not even have the will nor the strength to do it.

How to impart the will to these people to go the extra mile or  take the extra step? That is really the million dollar question..


34 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. schildan
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 23:38:32

    Wow, your prose is somehow poetic. This is a very well written essay.


  2. klm
    Jan 08, 2009 @ 23:52:53

    Dr Hsu. I share the same feeling. I have been making this observation for years. And I still don’t understand Malaysians. I have a lot of theories but it will take too long. Long story short, there are many reasons.

    1. Not paid paid properly to do the job. Boss want to pay less. Boss must pay people to get job. Cut corner.

    2. No professional pride in job.

    3. Cheap bangla labour – even better

    4. Parents never teach children to have pride in ones work.

    Last point is cultural.

    I have a lasting image of Japan from an experience. Many many years, I took an early morning train to work outside Tokyo. There was one large station I passed by everyday, where a worker on a bicycle would cycle to every brass rail which he polished with a piece of cloth and a can of polish. For the period I was in Japan, i saw him do this every morning. diligently.
    Now, that is dedication. Sadly, there had never being any experience in Malaysia that gave me this impression.


  3. Richard Loh
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 00:04:24

    Sigh! Total neglect of responsibility from the low level labourer to the top management.

    When I was at the State I saw an accident involving two cars. The cars were smashed and the road was full of broken glasses and other debris.

    Tow truck was call in to remove the broken down cars. What I saw was very fascinating, before towing the cars away, the tow truck driver sweep the road clean of its broken glass and debris and took it away with them. The road was free of all the broken glasses and debris.


  4. Meng
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 00:08:15

    How can we compare the roads here and those in Singapore. Uneven roads,Pot holes etc are normal in Malaysia.

    If our roads are as good as those in Singapore then there must be something wrong with our road builders!! They must have their brain check by a doctor. We must be the opposite of Singapore in every aspect.

    Thats Malaysia Boleh lah.


  5. daffodils
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 06:56:58

    Quote Martin Luther King, Jr.

    “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. ”

    It gives me a sense of joy, a good lasting feeling if I have accomplished a job to the best of my ability and the satisfaction of my clients.

    A little note or message of thanks of appreciation is enough to warm my heart. God bless those who go the extra mile.


  6. klm
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 09:02:35

    Richard Loh. You are quite right . Even if there is s supervision system in place, work is still shoddy as due care and diligence is not there. A little extra that was suggested by Dr. Hsu.

    I illustrate this with one of my Starbucks story. I have some colleagues from France and Germany. We adjoin to Starbucks for expesso after lunch to swap stories

    This story is from my German friend. he is a German and a project manager. That is two counts against him. That mean he is extra picky and a son of bitch to deal with. I told him that i
    will never rent an apartment to him. You know what I mean.

    At one time he rented an apartment in Darby Park, next to KLCC. A high end place. He complained to management that there were dust in the hanging lamp over the dining table.

    So management sent the cleaner over. Still he had the same complain. This went on for 4-5 days. So, finally frustrated, he told Darby Park management, he would personally supervise the work.

    So the cleaner came with a supervisor. The cleaner dutifully clean the lamp an the shade. And the supervisor told him “see it is clean. there is absolutely no dust”.

    Not satisfied, he told the cleaner and supervisor. No the dust was still there. He wiped his hand on the upper part of the lamp shade, the side facing h ceiling. There were dust there.

    I rest my case.


  7. rashidjailani
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 11:05:27

    what a well written piece.and yes i do agree with you.each time when i go back and forth from home to office i always stumble on loops and manholes covers.if i go through that loops and manhole covers then sooner or later my motorcyle suspension or my tyre gonna go flat (coincidently my rear tyre got flat 2 days ago).if i choose to avoid it then it might gonna endanger myself and other road users because of collission with other vehicle.

    all in all,we must change the attitude of “tak apa” to the extent where we must put our best foot forwards in our job.i must admit that there are times for “tak apa” but when our work involves another person credibility or even more important other peoples live then “tak apa” is a really really bad move.


  8. Dr Hsu
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 11:54:31


    yes. I once( a few years ago) had a leaking tyre going through one of the very deep manhole in a just surfaced road.

    It did not happen immediately, but the next morning. When I sent my car to check after changing to the spare tyre, it was found that the wheel rim has been dented. That was an old Merc 240 (124 series), and I had to change 4 rims just to match each other since the tyre shop did not carry my old type of rims.


  9. ordell
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 12:57:54

    thanks for that wonderful and sad essay about the work attitude in malaysia. in addition probably it has to be said, that this working attitude is not only true for labor work but for the service industry as well.

    @kim: with your story about the complaining and supervising german guy, you showed exemplary one of the reasons why jobs are done in poorly manner: people here usually don’t care and don’t complain – or if they complain, they give up after the first attempt and just accept the poor work!

    to give another example: recently my fixed phone line was not working and i complained and reported the issue a couple of times. after nothing happened for 3 days i asked my neighbors if their phone is working, and they told me that they also have no line since 3 days. so i asked if they complained. both my neighbors said “no.. just wait lah.. it will work again”

    well, how can one be proud of his job and go the extra mile, when nobody cares or shows the tiniest bit of appreciation or interest?


  10. Dr Hsu
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 13:29:48

    I have seen a few old patients with fall injuries, falling from buses when they are either boarding or alighting. The common reason they gave is the bus driver will drive off even before thay have climbed up or come down the steps .

    I saw with my old eyes, how bus drivers in the west function. They even go out of their way to help handicapped people up their buses, folding thier wheel chairs and so on.

    My daughter when she returned her apartment room in Auckland before leaving there had to scrub everything clean , even the window sills, and the top part of the hanging lights , just like what klm mentioned above. Without doing that, she wont not be able to get back her full deposits. The apartment mangement would call in a cleaner to clean if the room is deemed not so clean, and fees deducted from the deposits before the rest can be returned to her. So she learned to be meticulously clean …

    What a great difference between us and them… To be developed, to me, is not just a matter of reaching the required GDP per capita… It is more on the mentality. We are indeed still living in third world mentality, and how we are going to change that really baffles me. Education may be the key, but education at school alone would not change one’s bad habits….


  11. klm
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 13:37:53

    Hi ordell.

    My German friend had the same problem with Telekom Malaysia and its Streamyx service. He went after them with the same German precision and project manager finickiness as he did with the lamp.

    BTW. In Germany, he would do it the same way. Seems in German, they can refuse to pay for service or city tax if people are not satisfied with the work.

    It is all about the public attitude.

    Of course we had a good Starbucks story after that.


  12. Justin Choo
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 13:41:53

    This “culture” or lack of it is typical Malaysian; cut across race and religion. ” Monkey see monkey do”. “Live and let live”. “Follow the leaders”.

    This is causing “mental sickness” for the average Malaysian due to constant “complaining”. At least for me it is.

    I came across a German who turned into a “cursing” machine in Penang, because he was trying to impose his German standards on the Malaysian standards (or lack of them). On every little incident, he would curse. Poor soul!

    Back to “root cause” where you would fine the “root solution”.
    We need Leaders with charisma, intellect; and integrity!! Then others down the line will follow.


  13. Fi-sha
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 13:45:24

    Dear Dr Hsu,
    i thought that kind of bad workmanship only happen at places like Kuala Selangor and Sungai Buloh. I can conclude JKR ‘makan gaji buta’ paying their contractors for doing such horrible works. Shouldnt they check upon completion of the job before paying the rest? Shouldn’t they get the contractors to clear debris/rubbish after completion of the project? It is so sad… I believe that how we maintain our house reflects what kind of person we are…guess it shows how shoddy our Gomen is.. BTW Dr Hsu, i love reading your articles as they never failed to make me think deeply…merci be coupe!


  14. Dr Hsu
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 13:48:02

    Fi-sha, thank you.

    Please share your thoughts more often, this is an open forum and everyone can voice out their opinion.


  15. petestop
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 14:06:43

    This is the “Cult of Mediocrity”, as mentioned by one great writer, M Bakri Musa, and this is this cult that he has been fighting (with his writing) all this while.

    What one can do is to sue the City Council,
    and my relatives have done so, after they fell
    off a motorbike after hitting shoddy roadwork.


  16. Trackback: Fire in LCCT - another manhole syndrome? « Dr Hsu’s Forum
  17. A true Malaysian
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 15:07:53

    I am not sure whether fellow readers here share the same experience as mine when one entering Singapore through the causeway. All these while, we all sing praises of Singapore. How good, clean and ‘changgih’ the system there as compared to Malaysia, who was once their ‘big brother’.

    It is kind of funny feeling when I enter Singapore custom and immigration. My adrenalin surged to the maximum, my heart beat faster than normal. This kind of reaction is very weird to me that I have to keep reminding myself not to breach any law of Singapore, as the enforcer of law there only look at law and not other consideration. Once you break it, you got it as what we read about MCA leader jailed for breaking traffic rules and bribing the police officer.

    This whole ‘weird feeling’ has resulted in me not so keen to visit Singapore especially by driving there through the causeway as I feel like becoming a ‘robot’ once entered Singapore where one need to re-programme one’s brain as and when we enter Singapore.

    Having said the above, I am not saying I agree with the Malaysian authority ‘tidak apa’ attitude. To a certain extent, this attitude instill good human value of forgive and forget. But too oftenly, such value are being abused by an ‘obnoxious’ character as we can see in this forum and the other friendly blogs.

    We need to inculcate such noble human value of ‘forgive and forget’ amongst our children as man made laws and rules had their flaws. But human being human, they have this tendency of ‘abusing’, but again, this is not an excuse for inculcating good noble values to our society.


  18. Peter Yew
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 15:30:01

    Dr Hsu,

    This from your post is nice:
    “It is part of the greater syndrome of loss of excellence. We have actually gone down so far, that to climb back up will be so tough that we may not even have the will nor the strength to do it.”

    You are rather cynical here. Climbing back up? In the Malaysian Manhole Culture, there is no climbing up because we love staying down there!

    No problem! Everything OK!

    BTW, what I notice is vistims fail to take legal actions against the authorities. We should teach them a lesson to take better care of public properties or else they will just keep working the same old way.


  19. Peter Yew
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 15:35:03

    Dr Hsu,

    After posting a comment here I became lost, like under a manhole without any light!

    Seriously, you need to provide a link(s) somewhere for your visitors to get back to the home page. If you have it please tell me where because I cannot find it!


  20. Dr Hsu
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 15:49:45

    Peter Yew

    The problem with this particular blog format from worpress is that you have to click the main title ” Dr Hsu’s Forum” at the masthead to get back to the main page.

    But I choose this format because I thought it is easier for readers to read..

    Sorry for causing the inconvenience.



  21. AY
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 15:57:27

    As long as there are parts of Malaysia deprived of the most basic necessities eg. electricity and tap water, how can we move on ? We are reminded we have a lot to be grateful for. Yes, like a tarred road riddled with pot holes and dirty tap water .


  22. Peter Yew
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 16:05:59

    Got it. Maybe a silly idea but add (click here to Main Page) or something like that after Dr Hsu Forum ?


  23. Observer
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 16:16:55

    Today, you sound happy!

    All smiling after probing the correct hole?

    Dig, dig and dig! The deeper the hole, more worms will come out. Maybe can find the roots causes to this wHole problem, hahaha!


  24. Dr Hsu
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 16:23:22

    I am a optimistic person generally…. Maybe too much of Malaysia Boleh culture instilled in me , too.. An optimist is mostly happy… hahaha

    But even an optimist like me is asking the million dollar question of how to change our mindset… perhaps as you say, we should find the root cause and change it … We must have change.. that is a foregone conclusion.


  25. Dr Hsu
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 16:37:55

    Peter Yew,
    I have put a link at the side for clicking to homepage..

    Thanks for your input..

    That is why I always welcome ideas and input.. Sometimes, we may just overlook things that may be so obvious..



  26. Observer
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 16:51:14

    Nice to note that….Optimism to ride over the rough storm and come out even stronger…..

    Changing our mindset and mentality will be difficult….but not impossible. When that’s a will , that’s a way!

    Continue to be optimist and contaminate us with your optimism and clear thinking….


  27. Observer
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 16:55:23

    Sorry for using “contaminate” , should be “spread”


  28. klm
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 19:14:16

    Changing mindset is about community culture. Malaysians have been in this tidak apa, cari makan, do disturb my rice bowl mindset for last 50-years or more. It is already in our gene. How to change?

    Long ago, I was once scolded by a little old lady in Germany for crossing a street while the traffic light was still red, on a Sunday and no car on the street. I never dare cross the red light, while I was there. Where can you find this here. In Malaysia, the little old lady will rush across.

    (Sorry Dr. Hsu. My little life story I collected over a life time)


  29. petestop
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 19:17:09

    We can be forgiving with others – that is charity.

    However, we have to hold ourselves to a high standard – that is quality.

    tidakapaism is the other way around, plain and simple selfishness.


  30. Peter Yew
    Jan 09, 2009 @ 20:44:25

    Dr Hsu,

    Neat. The Homepage link at the top of the page surely makes navigating your blog a lot easier. Good job.


  31. Dalbinder Singh Gill
    Jan 10, 2009 @ 16:48:04



  32. klm
    Jan 10, 2009 @ 20:49:53

    A friend of my was telling me that his son has bs in school everyday. No – BS is not bull shit. It is baca sendiri.

    Seem the teacher cannot teach maths and science in english. (And this is in Subang- oh my god!)

    Another kind of manhole syndrome.?


  33. Monk
    Jan 11, 2009 @ 15:31:14

    Dr Hsu,

    I congratulate you for bringing this issue. It has been in my head but I thought perhaps to many people (motorists), this is regarded a trivial matter. Afterall I don’t see complains in the mainstream papers. But “small matters” to you are important as you have said, the “tidak apa” attitude.

    Our generation (include you) do notice the “big” difference, the quality of roads nowadays. Uneven potholes and surface, badly done patched roads, badly jointed surface on roads of bridges, erosion or damaged roads by building contractors (projects) and include culprits from JKR, TNB and whatever reasons they need to re-dig a new paved road (for cables, pipes etc).

    It is happening everywhere in the Klang valley and neglected now perhaps because the BN lost heavily in the 308 elections.

    The greatest culprits are the local and municipal councils in charge of state roads and the deferal government on so-called expressway and highways (not privatized under any concessionaires).

    The standard or quality of “road-paving/repair” has “crashed” (not dropped) over the years. There is a technical system in road-paving but obviously not followed for many reasons. One obvious reason is “cost-cutting” (leakages or some amount landing into someone’s pockets). What is allocated and the actual costs in making the road often mean differently in reality (you know what I mean).

    Simple, have you ever been approached by some people to tar a small patch outside your main gate entrance for some RM 150 (which should be happening soon before and during the Chinese new year. A small unidentified lorry with gravels and stones (where this come from??) and all the ingredients for a tar road. Where do these people got these from??

    Something is every wrong here (compare to Singaporean roads). Some higher up idiots described KL city as a great city!!! Just examine the roads…..sometimes somewhere the moon crater is smoother compared to some of our “Malaysia Boleh” roads!!



  34. Trackback: A bridge too Far « Dr. Hsu's forum

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