Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Self Help Books - Sign Of Weakness?

Me again :) 

I have been reading a lot of self-help books. I never used to do it as I was always of the belief that I was too good/strong-minded to require self-help. I thought it was a sign of weakness. 

However, after having read so many self-help books in 2011 and counting, my opinion has changed drastically. 

I now realise that self-help books can help me vastly improve myself as a human being. For example, I have learnt many valuable tips on productivity, which has greatly improved my workflow allowing me to have a better work-life balance. If you wish to check out some self-help books, you may consider the popular resource of free ebooks at Project Gutenberg.  

I also realise that I was just too stubborn to explore new ideas and thoughts in the past, which is a shame as I may have missed out on a lot of "could have been brilliant" experiences. These days, I keep an open mind on new ideas and thoughts and am eager to experiment with them. Of course, one of my biggest experiments would be improving myself as a human being by researching on this evergreen topic of "self-help". 

I will keep you updated on my research on self-help and specifically in relation to how it may improve your life (and mine!) working from home. 

Speak soon, 

I-Ping 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Take Action Now!

Hiya all

I am now back in Beijing in the cold. I was struggling to set up my internet and connect to blogger but phew just managed to do it a minute ago. 

Anyway, as you may be aware, I am busy trying to set up an online business. 

I am making up things and structures for the business as I go along. Sometimes, I don't really know where I am headed and I get quite dejected. Once, I have cried in frustration. 

But I never give up. I have never given up in life, mostly anyway. 

This is because I believe that I will become the person I think I will be. Since I think that I will become successful, I am working hard towards that. 

Action + Belief = Success 

I will hold on to this conviction till I succeed. 

If you are dreaming of setting up a home-based business, stop dreaming. Take action now and act on your dream. And believe in yourself. This will lead you to the path of success. 

If you have already taken action and you are in the process of setting up a home-based business, half of the battle is already won! You just need to believe in yourself. And you will be rewarded with the success you so deserve. 

I wish you all the best! 

I-Ping 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Smarter Than Most

“These fellahin (villagers) are stupid! If you want them to do something, you have to tell them over and over again! Even after you show them a million times what to do, they still forget everything. And when they do something wrong, they don’t tell you until it’s too late!”

Dr. Mona pointed at Zaineb as she rattled off her frustrations to me. “Her sister has worked for me for a year and she still makes the stupidest mistakes. I have to scream at her every time she comes!”

Dr, Mona then harshly scolded Zaineb, who stood there timidly with her head down, her two hands folded in front of her. She looked like a frightened cat.

I had just arrived in Mansoura, a town by the Nile Delta in Egypt. Dr. Mona, the director of an organization, was my counterpart and local contact. She was doing her best to help me settle in, including bringing me Zaineb as my maid. For over an hour that day, she gave me a cultural run-down on how to treat maids. She also translated what I wanted Zaineb to do and showed Zaineb how to operate the electrical appliances. Zaineb listened attentively and nodded at everything she said.

When Dr. Mona was satisfied with her instructions to both of us, she warned me before she left, “You have to cut her wages if she doesn’t satisfy you, otherwise she will never learn. Remember, she is a fellahin; she doesn’t think as we do.”

Zaineb had come down from a village near Mansoura. This was the first time she worked as a maid, a low-level, despicable job in Egypt. Her husband had been unemployed and the twenty Egyptian pounds I gave her for two afternoons of work was like a gift to the family. She was about my age but she looked older than I. Her hard life had carved many wrinkles on her face.

Zaineb cocked her eyebrows and nodded in an exaggerated manner whenever I gave her instructions in my broken Arabic. She would say, “Aiwa (yes)! Aiwa!” Assuming a subservient posture, she never looked me in the eyes and always stood five feet from me. Even when I approached her, she would timidly withdraw. No matter how much I tried to be warm towards her, she behaved like a cat trapped in a cage with a lion.

During her first few days in my apartment, she sucked my brand new panty hose and socks into the vacuum cleaner and burned my dress with the iron. Sometimes the vacuum was turned to the highest level and I would hear loud noises of all kinds of things being sucked into it, followed by Zaineb’s frantic retrieval of them with her fingers or a broom stick. Repeated instructions on how to adjust the vacuum cleaner and iron didn’t yield any effective results.

Although Zaineb was supposed to work from one to five, she stayed till way past seven. Dr. Mona told me she had to take a one-hour bus ride back to her village and waiting for buses could take her over an hour. If she stayed late in my apartment, she would arrive home late to prepare dinner for her family. When I pointed at the clock, Zaineb looked at it with a blank expression. Not wanting to take advantage, I said, “Sabah (seven)” or “Sitta (six).” She would then rush off, suddenly jolted into reality.

One day, I found the brown outline of an iron on an expensive silk blouse. “Eh da (what are you doing)?” I demanded.

Zaineb’s hands shivered. She pointed at her head, then shaking it furiously she said softly, “Mefish! Mefish (there is none)!”

Zaineb lifted her face towards me and slapped her cheeks several times. Two tear drops rolled down from the corners of her eyes. She then lowered her head and shoulders, her two hands folded in front of her, as if she were waiting for me to pound on her.

I was stunned by such strong showings of remorse. “Malesh (never mind)!” I shrugged my shoulders and walked away. I didn’t know what else I could do.

Torn between keeping her because she needed the money and asking Dr. Mona to get me another maid, I thought I could give her another chance by having her do my food shopping. I gestured to follow me to an alleyway near my apartment where there were fruit, bread and vegetable vendors. A woman vendor had a table full of breads.

Ithmin (two),” I pointed at the bread. “Bee kam (how much)?”
 
Khamsin pastre (50 piastre).”

I took out some notes and sorted them slowly. Having arrived in the country not long ago, the Arabic numbers were confusing and I still had difficulty figuring out the money. Zaineb beckoned me to hand her the money. She took out a note swiftly and showed me. It was a 50 piastre note. She paid for the bread, and as the vendor wrapped it in a piece of local Arabic paper, Zaineb stopped her.

She spoke rapidly to the vendor and signaled me to wait. She went into the pharmacy beside the walkway. Pointing at me, she talked animatedly with the proprietor. He went to the back of the shop and brought out several pieces of newspaper. He showed the front and the back pages to her. She took the newspaper and came back with it happily. For the first time, she looked at me as an equal.

“Ingeelishi.” Zaineb’s eyes were radiant with warmth as she pointed at the newspaper. It was the Egyptian Gazette, a local English daily. Then, she wrapped the two loaves of bread in the paper and handed them to me.
 
She carried the rest of the Egyptian Gazette with her and told all the vendors to wrap my purchases with it. She also sorted out my money for me with ease.

When we came back to my apartment, I felt very touched by her thoughtfulness. Zaineb was more clever than I had thought, and there was a cheerful side to her as well. I wanted to ask her more about herself, but my Arabic was too limited for a meaningful conversation.

Thinking that she could write, I gestured her to put her name down using my pen on a piece of paper.
 
Zaineb shook her head and shrugged her shoulders, “Musha’arif (I don’t know).”

It finally dawned on me that Zaineb couldn’t read or write. She went home late because the sun went down by four o’clock in the winter and she couldn’t tell the time when the clock reached five o’clock. She didn’t know how to use the appliances because she couldn’t figure out the words that indicated the power and the level of voltage.
 
One day, I brought Zaineb to the pharmacy where she got the English newspaper and asked the proprietor to translate my questions for her.

I learned that Zaineb had never gone to school because her family was very poor. She spent her childhood helping her mother in the house. She married when she was thirteen and became a homemaker, just like other fellahin women in her village.

Zaineb recognized the notes and coins from their colours, shapes and sizes. She could only count up to twenty because she had never bought anything for more than twenty English pounds in her life.

When I told her she could still learn to read and write, she pointed at her head and shook it sadly, “Mefish!

Zaineb refused my offer of money to pay a teacher to teach her. She insisted that such expensive activity be given to her sons and her husband. “What does the mother of Mahmood (her eldest son’s name) do with things like this? She can’t cook or wash the clothes with them!” The pharmacist translated Zaineb’s refusal.

He shook his head and said to me, “Madam, you are wasting your time. These women are not born to learn things like this. They can’t think!”

Not satisfied with what I was told, I devised a way to prove that Zaineb was not stupid. I marked the suction-control on the vacuum cleaner with different coloured markers—red for “high”, green for “medium” and blue for “low”. I showed her the power of the suction according to each colour.

Then I cut squares from clothes made of nylon, linen, wool, cotton and silk. After pasting each piece of cloth on a piece of paper, I marked them with different coloured markers. I stuck a piece of masking tape on the temperature-control of the iron and marked the signs with different coloured markers that matched those pasted on the paper. Satisfied, I pasted the paper on the wall right near the ironing board.

From then on, Zaineb didn’t have any problems with the appliances.

I went to see Dr. Mona in her office one day. She was buried behind the stacks of books she was supposed to have authored. After the usual greetings, I handed her a pile of US dollar notes that the office gave to our project for equipment purchase.

“So much money confuses me! These notes look the same!” She fidgeted in her seat and tried counting it, but messed up every time.

“Ahmad, sit here and count this for me!” Dr. Mona yelled at her clerk. “Don’t you make any mistakes!”
 
Then, turning to me, she asked, “Is Zaineb doing what she’s supposed to do? I told her if she makes many stupid mistakes in a foreigner’s apartment, she should be ashamed of herself.”
 
“She is doing fine. She is smarter than many people I know!”

-by Chong Sheau Ching

Sacrilegious Behaviour

“ALL that glitters is not gold. All that is white is not milk. All those who wear saffron clothes are not necessarily sanyasi (a sanyasi is a Hindu monk who guides his followers to the right path).”

This ancient Indian saying came to mind when a friend said in anger, “I am so sick of these ultra-religious people!”

She had been reading news about religious teachers raping girls and molesting boys in the name of religion.

I am reminded of the movie And Never Let Her Go, based on a true story. The protagonist is a rich, prominent lawyer, who is married with four kids. He is religious, confident and arrogant. He manipulates women who love him by getting them to do what he wants, including buying a gun for him, and lying about his whereabouts.


He uses everyone, including the governor.

He stalks his lover, Alice, when she wanted to break up with him. When his wife is murdered, Alice becomes the prime suspect because of the physical evidence he plants on her. The plot thickens when the murderer (the protagonist) taunts the police to catch him. Since he knows all the politicians, he thinks he is beyond the reach of the law.

When he uses the name of religion to get what he wants, it gives me the shivers.

I have seen and heard people like him! I once believed that anyone who is religious can be trusted completely. I have since learnt a lesson about trust and religion.

I have seen people swearing in front of a picture of their God and proclaiming their innocence even though I know they have severely wronged someone. Aren’t they afraid of their God who can see and hear them?

I am exposed to religious people like these. I have seen how religious business people donate money to projects for the poor organised by their places of worship but they exploit their staff, use disadvantaged people for free publicity in the name of corporate social r
esponsibility, back stab and manipulate people or small businesses with no patronage so that they can get business contracts from certain parties.

I have seen religious people refusing to touch disabled persons or screaming at the top of their lungs when a Down syndrome person accidentally sits on their chair or uses their cups. I have heard religious people talking bad about other religions for hours, and comparing their God with others’.

And these are the very people who try to convert me.


They believe that converting more people will earn them points to get to the after-life places they covet. If I say “no” to the invitations, some will get angry and lecture me even more.

When I am caught in the eye of the storm, witnessing what their God manifests through them, many questions come to mind.

How do they tell their God what they have done? Do they say things like: “I have taken this thing from this person but I know you still love me because I am your follower and I can do no wrong.”


Nowadays, I have stopped asking questions and seeking answers. I have stayed away from places of worship no matter how many people try to convince me that their places of worship are the best and that others misrepresent their God.

I haven’t told them that I have discovered the truth on my own – that God lives within me, and God alone will judge me.


By Chong Sheau Ching


 

Nothing But A Scam?

Many companies are offering lucrative home-based jobs, but are they for real?
SEVERAL readers have asked me how reliable the home-based jobs advertised in the newspapers are.

One of them related her experience: “I responded to an ad which offered a home-based data entry job with an attractive salary. I could earn RM300-RM500 per week! So I went for the interview and was ‘selected’.

“Later the company asked me for registration and documentation fees, which amounted to RM110. They promised to give me the assignment after a week.

“After the week passed, I called and was told the job was not available, and that I had to wait another week. I called every week after that, but they kept giving me the same reason. I knew I had been cheated.

“I went for another interview with a forex trading company for a data entry job at home. I sat for the ‘training’ to test my mathematical skills. They later tried to convince me to invest in forex trading through their company.

“When I asked about the job, they said I would be notified about it later. But nothing came after that interview. After a few more calls to them, I realised they were only interested in my ‘investment’ in the company. The data entry job did not exist.”

Another reader claimed that she had applied for several home-based jobs in the Internet, and paid for registration and manuals, but after one year, she still did not have a job.

“Is working at home a farce?” she asked in frustration.

I have heard and read of similar complaints over the years. There is a growing racket of scammers who prey on homemakers, the unemployed, young graduates and mothers of young children, who dream of working at home.

After being cheated, most people kept quiet because they thought they had lost only a few hundred ringgit. They did not realise that if 100 people lost
RM200 a day, the company would get RM20,000, without doing anything, except doping homemakers.

Many have been duped by so-called international companies offering cushy home-based jobs, like typing and data entry. They did not earn the amount touted by the companies, as some of them were told they had not done the work properly.

Worse, the computers of those involved are now controlled by spammers, and are being used to spam others.

Last year, a retired teacher sent me an e-mail expressing her excitement about getting a home-based job. She was told to click onto a website, a job for which she would be paid. A month later, I received
porn advertisements from her e-mail address. Luckily, I found her telephone number in the e-mail. At that time, she was still awaiting payment from the company.

Working-at-home scams seem to be everywhere. Recently, as I was walking though the street bazaar between the monorail station and KL Sentral in Kuala Lumpur, someone handed me a flyer that read: “Working at home – good pay and easy work”. I threw the flyer away but could not help noticing that many pedestrians had stopped to read the flyers.

The Chinese dailies, especially, have quite a few of such job ads weekly. Even my mother was thinking about applying for one that asked retired people to work at home. When I saw how much my mother was going to earn – RM1,000 a week – for doing very little, I stopped her.

Every day, I receive e-mail offers of lottery wins, business partnerships and all kinds of home-based job offers that would make me a millionaire without having to work hard. Just the other day I received an e-mail from an overseas company which was looking for people who want to earn more money in their free time.


The work involves using the Internet for administrative and clerical work. I can even tell them what I want to do and they will give me the work! They pay at least US$300 (RM1,440) per week for doing very little.

Another e-mail asked if I wanted to earn US$200 (RM700) every day for just 45 minutes’ work! The company claimed that it was not a get-rich-quick scheme, and they would return my deposit if I am not satisfied. Then they asked me to click onto a link and register my details.

If I had I done this, a spyware would have been embedded in my computer and all my e-mail addresses would be harvested for more spamming, and some key words from the contents in my computer would be incorporated into spam mail to be sent in my name!

Scammers are getting smarter. They even fake genuine e-mail addresses and use these to send offers to the e-mail addresses they manage to harvest.

There are several ways to determine if a scheme is a scam. Any job that requires any payment, for registration, and the buying of manuals and goods before one earns any money, is a scam. Any job that promises quick, easy, good money is also a scam.

Any e-mail sent by an unknown party that asks me to click onto a link to fill in my personal details, such as banking information and password to my online accounts will be deleted.

All I know is that earning an income from working at home requires earnest, diligent work.

By Chong Sheau Ching

 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lost Treasure


Chong Sheau Ching rediscovers an ancient lesson through food and legend.

 
Photo by Tzer Haw

“Kuo Whai fell deeply in love with a beautiful girl in his village. Unfortunately, she was taken into the Emperor’s Palace as one of his 3000 consorts. Once she entered the Palace, not even her own family could ever see her again. The only way Kuo Whai could see her was to become a Palace eunuch. He did, and he toiled for years from a low-level eunuch to one of high position.

Eventually,
he became the personal eunuch of the girl, who had become the Emperor’s First Consort. Even though he could not have her as his wife, he was content just serving her and watching her enjoying her life. For 20 years, he was her confidante. He lived for her and strove to fulfill her dream of becoming the Empress. He wove webs of deceit and eliminated all her enemies.

Justice Bao eventually found him guilty of murder. Before Kuo Whai was beheaded for his crime, he told the new Empress how long he had silently loved her, and he died with happiness knowing that she was happy.”

I gave a summary of a TV episode on Justice Bao, the famed Judge of ancient China, to my friend, Lena, from Azerbaijan -- a country in Central Asia by the Caspian Sea. Matronly Lena is in her mid-fifties and has been married for over 34 years.   


Lena is visiting her daughter in Kuala Lumpur. She finds our multi-cultural TV programs fascinating. She loves inviting me for Azerbaijani foods, and listening to my translations of local shows. Through our many discussions, I have learned things from her that I hadn’t thought of before. 

“In Mandarin, people with such undying love are considered to be "ji sin". They love totally and are willing to sacrifice everything for their loved ones. Their love is noble and chaste,” I explained. 


Lena was excited. “Kuo Whai’s self-sacrifice and unselfishness is so touching! I love this kind of ancient legend! We have Azerbaijan legends about such noble love too. We call such love “bouyik mehebet”. It means ‘great love.”  

 She handed me a plate of Azerbaijan dried injil (figs). “Please take as much as you want.”
“I’ll just take one, thanks. I just had my dinner.”

 “You must eat something here. We are talking about love and food means love!”

She went into the kitchen and brought out several kinds of food. She sliced a piece of pashted (A chilled bean loaf made of minced, cooked kidney beans, garlic, onions and hazel nuts rolled with butter into a loaf) and put it on my plate. 

Lena then told me, “In Baku, our capital, the symbol of “bouyik mehebet” is Gusgalasir (Maiden Towers) situated right next to the Caspian Sea. They were built in the 11th century. Attached together on one side, they look like an open book.

Legend has it that the Shah’s daughter, the Princess, fell in love with a shepherd. The Shah was so upset that he ordered the towers to be built to house the princess so she couldn’t go meet him. The Gusgalasir is very dark inside, as there are only small windows at the top. It was difficult for the Princess to escape, for the spiral staircase that connected the floors was steep.

One day, when the khazri (gale force wind) swept through Baku, the Princess leapt from Gusgalasir into the Caspian Sea. When the shepherd heard that the Princess died for him, he climbed up the Gusgalasir with a rope and jumped into the sea to meet the Princess.

Although the Gusgalasir is a museum now, its legend still moves us deeply.”

Lena placed a skewer of lamb kebab (roasted meat) on my plate and covered it with dark pargsimon (a kind of fruit) sauce. “You can’t leave here without tasting my kebab today.”

She continued, “Another famous “bouyik mehebet” story is that of Leili and Majonon. The story is actually based on a gazelle (a poem) written by a 16th century poet, Mohammed Fisuli.

You see, Leili, the young woman, was from a very rich family; but Majonan, the young man, was from an average family. They fell in love. Majonan’s love for Leili was so great that he behaved abnormally if he didn’t see Leili for a day. The people dubbed him “Mad Majonan”.

Leili’s parents refused to let her marry Majonan. They forced her to marry another rich man’s son. Majonan was so sad that he went to live in the forest. His friend, a local hero, came to see him. The hero told Majonan his plan to take Leili by force from her parents’ house so that Majonan could marry her.

But Majonon wouldn’t allow the hero to do it, “I love Leili very much. Although I want her more than anything else in the world, I don’t want to hurt her parents because they love her very much too.”

So he continued to live in the forest. Another friend came to tell Majonan that a nice girl was so touched by Majonan’s love for Leili that she offered to marry him. Majonan refused, “ I only love one woman. Her name is Leili.”

On Leili’s wedding night, she told her new husband that she was sick and she couldn’t bed him. He knew about her love for Majonon. So he said, “I don’t mind. We will live as brother and sister until the day you love me.”

Leili was so lovesick for Majonon that she died. When Majonon heard the news, he rushed to her grave and died there too. Her husband’s love for Leili was so great that he never married again.”

A tear rolled from Lena’s eye. “Leili and Majonan’s love was so great that Allah helped them to die together! Songs about their love are still widely sung in Azerbaijan.”

She wiped her tear and smiled. “It’s so touching!” She took a “too-shookhiyar” (cucumber pickled with parsley) from a big jar and sliced it on my plate. “You must eat some too-shookhiyar for health. We can’t talk so much about love and not take care of your health!”

When Lena sat down to watch me eat, another tear rolled down her cheek. “During every wedding anniversary, my husband and I think about Leili and Majonon’s story.

We are so grateful that our parents allowed us to marry, even though my husband is from a much richer family and we were of different religions. The story makes us appreciate and treasure our marriage.”
“I miss him so much even though I am just here for a short time.”

I was just about to finish the cucumber when Lena plopped my favorite dolmah (cabbage roll with rice and minced meat) on the plate. “Today’s dolmah is made from my grandmother’s recipe. She learned it from my great-grandmother.”  

She sat thoughtfully on her chair for several moments before she said, “I read a lot of translations of ancient literature written by writers in many cultures. I have the impression that the people in ancient times were simpler, more innocent and more sincere than we are.

They valued true and long lasting relationships.

They gave more than they took from others. We, the modern people, are more pragmatic and we think about ourselves more than our loved ones.

In my country, the older people are more committed to marriage than the younger people, who value their own personal needs. Divorce is increasing among them. It saddens old people like me who still recite Mohammed Fusili’s poems on “bouyik mehebet”. Younger people think such love is silly and self-sacrifice is nonsense.

But I still believe that the world can only be happy with “bouyik mehebet”. Don’t you think life would be so much more worthwhile if we loved like those in the ancient times? Don’t you think life would be so much more meaningful if we gave more and took less?”


By Chong Sheau Ching
 
 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wishes For All

Photo by Tzer Haw
“The earthquake-tsunami of December 26, 2004 will certainly shock humanity into remembrance of our beloved Mother Earth’s own agenda, of which our petty human ones are at best merely a fractal - and generate up swellings of compassion, humility, and awe….. 

Mother Earth never ceases to awe and astound me with her beauty, her primordial POWER, her absolute compassion and mercy.

She could have easily terminated 30 million human lives instead of tens of thousands.” Antares (Kit Leee), the guru of new age thinking in the Klang Valley, wrote in a recent poem.  

He has summarized the feelings many of us have experienced since the outbreak of the Asian tsunami tragedy. We are overwhelmed by our sense of helplessness.

A friend said it all, “When it is time to go, you just go like this, often, with no warning. We are all part of nature’s cycle of life and death. So remember, do something meaningful for breath you take, love your family and friends and nurture your spiritual grow!”
 
The last sentence that she uttered is the New Year resolution of many of my friends. I am reading it in email and hearing it on the phone. My friends want to live and enjoy the present till whenever they can. Hearing their calm soothing voices and reading their inspirational writings remind me of the blessings around me as I embark on my own journey to my destination in this life.

I wish everyone I know, including the angry, vengeful and unhappy people who have shared their stories with me, is making similar New Year resolution. And most of all to members of my extended family. Several members of  my extended family passed away this December.

The unresolved issues they left behind have sent shock waves throughout the rest of the family. Instead of spending time together to renew family strength, some old wounds and hurts were dugged up among some members who have not spoken or seen each other for decades, sending stressful titanic waves onto the shores of family members who were merely observers of the decades-long wound-making process.

The wound was like the hidden earthquake in the plates of Mother Earth. Tremors occurred whenever there were some movements of the unstable plates. And when a major plate moved, some forms of disaster occurred. The undercurrent was so strong that those nearest (who still refuse to change ) to the deceased might not feel the strength of the negative impact, but those further away received the titanic waves of the negative consequences.

All these were caused by someone saying something wrong in anger and the receivers reacting with more anger and keeping the hurt, nurturing it into a wound that grew in size over the years, carrying to the next generations. If only they could let go and make peace. Like the famous Chinese saying, “Every family has a very difficult book to read,” my extended family’s book is full of twists and turns of human dramas.   

I said to one of the hurt family members, “Go to the cemetery, stand in front of the tomb stone and tell the deceased that you have forgiven the hurt inflicted and that you treasure the good time you had had with the deceased. What is the point of carrying the hurt forever and hate the deceased for what had happened? We should all learn from the whole history, about responsibility and how to nurture family, and what not to do to avoid inflicting hurt onto others.”
 
I was met with complete silence though I was bracing for a big scolding for making such an outrageous suggestion.
 
Nothing of what I suggested has happened but I have thrown a little stone onto a lake, causing some small ripples to spread -- the thoughts of forgiveness and the whys of living.
I have urged several other people I now to let go of deep hurt, heal chasms of misunderstandings, and reinvent themselves by building something positive from the wounds.

One of them has been doing some reading and he wrote to me recently about what he gleaned from his reading, “In his recent book co-authored with VICTOR CHAN titled " The Wisdom of  FORGIVENESS ", His Holiness THE DALAI LAMA says that " when you BOMB your neighbours, you BOMB your own self ". Whatever suffering our enemies and adversaries inflict on us, they inflict on themselves.
 
Jesus said: "FATHER, Forgive them because they do not know what they are doing! "

His message is the same as the Dalai Lama's. Jesus is really saying, when you poke a spear into my body, you are actually poking a spear into yourself, BECAUSE IN OUR UNIVERSE WE ARE ALL CONNECTED. WE LIVE IN A REAL LIFE WORLD OF interdependence or connectedness whether we like it or not!
 
“It does not matter whether we believe in Allah, God, Buddha, or whatever, we still are entitled to a life overflowing with BLESSINGS if we only take the trouble to hunt for them.”


 
 
And thus he has written my New Year resolution – hunt for blessings by sending out positive energy from me to my surroundings.


By Chong Sheau Ching


Aziza

"Good morning, Madame!  Aziza here now."  She smiled and her plump cheeks buldged upwards, pushing her old-fashioned, black-rimmed glasses up to her eye­brows.  All covered in a black caftan and long veil, Aziza stood at the door clutching her usual plastic shopping bag containing her work clothes.  

She followed me, a sign of respect to her employer, as we climbed the twenty steps to my apart­ment.  When I reached the top, Aziza was still only half-way up.  Panting heavily, she hauled her heavy body up each step with great difficulty.  Her right hand pressed her right thigh as her right leg moved up one step to the next; her left leg moved the same way.  Every time she exerted force with her legs, her fleshy feet squeezed into her little shoes, seeming to want to burst out of them.

Sweat seeped through her veil near her temples when she reached the top of the stairs.  Her thick lenses were so foggy that I could not see her eyes.  She removed her glasses, which bridged her nose with a Band-aid holding the two sides together.  As she wiped the lenses with her dress, she heaved a big sigh as if she was just relieved of a burden.

Aziza had been recommended to me by a colleague.  Having worked for Indian expats for the last eight years, she had a skill that many housemaids lacked -- she spoke English.

She cleaned my apartment and ironed clothes two days per week.  I could not ask her to do many things, such as clean the constantly dusty windows or vacuum the carpets, because she could not bend or stand on a stool without fainting.  I took her in because she was the only wage earner for her family of ten -- two children, aged four and seven, her in-laws, a widow sister with three small children, and a husband who had been in prison for several years.

She lived in a poor neighbourhood near Agami, a resort town on the Mediteran­ean Sea, which was two hours by bus from where I lived in Alexan­dria, Egypt.  Since unemploy­ment was high, she was one of the lucky women who found jobs as a house­maid.  Her 350 pound (RM266) monthly salary was just enough to buy food for the entire family.  She was well-off com­pared to many people in her area.

Like other poor families, Aziza's family meals consisted mostly of "aish" (a coarse, flat bread that cost just 5 piasters, or 6 Malaysian sen, each) eaten with "tah­ini" (a dip made of ground sesame seeds, garlic and cumin) and tea laden with sugar.  Sweets made of ghee were eaten whenever Aziza recieved her daily wage.  Vegeta­bles were eaten only as supplement when there was no money to buy sweets.  They had never developed a taste for fruits; they were too expen­sive to buy.

Meat, a high status food, was also too expen­sive for the poor. Since Aziza did not get a chance to eat much meat when she worked with the Indian families, who were all vegetarian, she could not help but eat as much meat as possible whenever I made Malaysian dinners for friends.  After she ate all the meat she wanted, she was usually sick the next day. 
  
The high level of fat, starch and sugar in her foods took a toll on Aziza's health.  She tired easily and often took rest for days because of diabetes and high blood pressure.  Her face often grew crimson and puffy after she finished a cleaning task.  Physical activity seemed to take a lot out of her.  I often found her laying on the floor overcome by dizzi­ness when she had her period.

When she first started to work for me, I did not know that she had serious health problem.  "These people, they are low class and they are lazy.  They don't want to work but they want your money.  If you pay them, they get even lazier!"  said the Egyptian neighbour who lived in the apartment downstairs as we sipped after­noon tea in her satin-walled lounge.  Having just arrived in the country, I took her advice and I did not pay Aziza for the days she did not come. 

Despite her sickness, Aziza came to work whenever she felt better.  It was not until months later that I found out her problems.  "Don't come to work if you are sick!" I advised.

"Aziza no work, no money, no eat, baby cry," she insisted, deter­mina­tion in her eyes.

Ashamed of myself for being so uncaring, I offered to pay her wages if she took a rest for a month.  "No, Madam.  If Aziza not come, other lady come, Madam forget Aziza."  She was afraid to lose her job because there were so many other women in the neighbourhood who would jump at the chance of a job.  

One time, I could not bear the thought of her food habits any more and I tried to explain the benefits of eating a variety of foods to her.  As I described a balance diet for her, she looked down humbly and listened quietly.

Then, she showed me her swollen hands.  An indentation was left when I pressed my finger on one of the palms.  Her hands retained water because of her weak heart. 

She looked at me sadly and said softly, "Aziza sick because Aziza no money.  Aziza eat "aish", Aziza work, Aziza happy.  One day, baby big, Aziza no sick."

Just before I left Egypt, I heard from my colleague that Aziza was in the hospital, seriously ill.  Her mother had died and her seven year old had broken his legs from falling into a manhole in the streets. 
  
I know I will miss her smiles.


(This blog is about the inter-relationship between poverty and nutrition and health status.  Poverty determines the nutrition and health status because it affects the kinds of food that a household eats.  Poor nutrition and health status, in turn, affects the income level of the household by making individuals less productive. Often, women are the most affected by poor diets.) 


By Chong Sheau Ching


 

Too much tuition

Why do middle-class parents who did not go to tuition during their own school years now overload their children with tuitions, giving them undue pressures?  Chong Sheau Ching wonders where  do the pressures come from -- our increasingly competitive society, our kiasu attitude, the education system, materialism or teachers?

Too much pressure?


On the fourth day of PMR this year, a friend called me, “Do you know there are already 60 cases of suicide among PMR students by today?  Don’t pressure your daughter to study too much for her SPM!”

The number was shocking, and the information was passed quietly among the parents who have children who will be sitting for SPM in December. Even if this is a rumor, we all know that the truth is not far behind. In the past few months, two top students I know committed suicide, one passed away.  Everyone who knew them was shocked over the incidences. They couldn’t deal with parental pressures to achieve “A’ in all exams, and they were told that they would have no future if they didn’t get scholarship to universities. So when school exams came, one panicked and did very badly while the other one was so worried about the government exams that he preferred to ‘finish’ his life before exams came.

There were also a few whom I knew over the last two years, who broke down crying in school, shivering in front of their classmates because they were so worried about facing their parents with their school results. And these were children who were bright and hardworking. All of them have to go to daily tuitions! One tuition class for one subject in the KL area for one month is about Rm200.  If one goes to five tuitions for 5 subjects, it is already Rm1000! No wonder parents complain that they need to work harder to earn more for their children’s future and they have no time to talk to their children! 

I remember at my daughter’s Standard One PTA ( Parents Teachers Association) meeting in a Chinese primary school, I was surprised to find that only a handful of parents did not want more homework for their children while majority of the parents wanted the teachers to give more homework. “This school has low standard cos’ there is not enough homework, “a mother dismissed the principal’s suggestion of giving ‘moderate amount’ of homework.

I was even more surprised to find that my child was one of very few who did not have  tuition! The other children had been working on private tutors’ writing assignments and rote memorizing vocabulary daily. Only then I realized why the unofficial passing mark in my daughter’s class was ‘75’ instead of ‘50’!  I was advised to send my daughter for tuition because she did not pass the ‘75’ mark, she ‘failed’ all her subjects.   I argued that a child must be given time to grow at her own pace, not force into a mould.  This is what I learnt at the end of the meeting, “Conform to the system or you are a loser.”

A small talk with some of the parents after the PTA revealed that they themselves did not do well during their own school days. They pressure their children to do well because they believe that high academic performance is the only way to get good–paying jobs, and a good life. “My children know that if they want money when they grow up, they better study very hard,’ declared a mother.
I went home feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

Many parents have spoken to me over the past few weeks about the increasing pressure to send children for tuition. They felt that the academic pressure in our educational system is not working out as it is not able to build good characters, instead it churns out children who are followers. “I send my children for tuition so that they are not the last ones in class” was the most cited reason.  

Florence T, like most parents, didn't go for any tuition until she was in Form 3, and that was only for BM subject.  She believes that art and music tuitions are alright because schools do not provide enough classes on these subjects.  “When parents send their children for tuition in almost every subject, the children have no life. They should be playing in the park and running around like what I used to do for fun!” 

Some parents believed that they are successful in their careers despite the fact that they did not have tuitions during their school days. Reader Pauline wrote, “I did not go to any tuition until Form 5 as my parents thought that it would help me to get the paper qualification.  I was not an A student.  I graduated from university in a field I love (initially with much objection from my parents) and not the one chosen by my parents.”

Another parent proudly declared, “I did not go to university but I am doing very well!  I never had a tuition class until my STPM years and even then, I had basketball games during my SPM exams. But I got 5A's in my Form 5 exams.” 

MC’s parents emphasized the importance of good education to their children but they did not pressure them to excel.  Nevertheless, MC had performed well academically, fuelled by her ambition to be famous someday. “I now realise that it is abnormal to have a string of As in my report card or examination certificates, nor does it make me a better person.  Even though I am a qualified professional, I do not consider myself as successful as entrepeneurs who have made it through sweat and tears without university degrees or professional qualification. 

“These are the people who should be admired for their perseverance, discipline and hard work.  These are qualities in a person that parents should inculcate first and foremost in their children instead of sending them for more academic tuitions.

“Perhaps our "educated" peers should take a second look at the standards they have set for their children. Does a doctor warrant a higher social status and more respect than a hawker even if the doctor is not competent?

“Wouldn't time spend at the tuition centres be better spent at home where parents  cultivate social values and character in their children?  Is it right for parents to pass on parental responsibilities to teachers in school?  We can’t expect tuition teachers to teach values and build characters.”

Desmond from Kedah believes that parental kiasu attitude contributes to tuition pressures. He sees children getting back from afternoon school at 7.15, then rushing for dinner and bathing before they are packed off to tuition at 7.45. He doesn’t think that such exhausted mind will learn any thing.

“What about exercise and health?  Perhaps parents hope that by the time their children become doctors or rocket scientists, the world would have invented a way to keep the brain working without the need of cumbersome exercises. 

“My wife has been conducting martial arts classes in our neighborhood community center for over 10 years. She gets more and more frustrated with ‘crazy’ parents. Recently, a parent drew a timetable for her son to get a black-belt as he must excel in everything. Even the martial art classes were to be cramped between tuition classes.  The Standard 3 student had slacked slightly in his results so he is given more tuitions. When the child couldn’t cope, the parent asked for a few months off from the martial art classes in order to get his 
A's back!”

Lum knew many friends who set gruelling schedules for their children that include endless tuitions, piano lessons, ballet classes, drawing classes, mental arithmatic, computer lessons and martial art.  These children do not have a break during weekends. “Whether the child is genuinely keen on learning so much is a different matter as most parents send their children to these classes so they are not seen as ‘out-dated’ and they don’t want to lose face. Pathetic it may seem, but a lot of parents use their children's academic performance as a conversation topic. They actually hide behind their children's back - pushing them hard for their own fulfillment.”
Is this tuition mania the fault of parents? 

Several parents who wrote in also complained that tuition classes are gimmicks for teachers to earn extra money. Children who do not go to some teachers’ private tuitions do badly in exams because the exam content are not in the textbooks, instead the teachers teach the content only in their tuitions.  And these content are harder than those in the textbook!

I am reminded of young family members did not do well in their primary school exams until the parents sent them to teachers’ private tuitions to ‘learn the exam questions.’  Children whose parents complained about the tuitions were punished or purposely neglected in class until all the parents learnt this hard fact -- Don’t you dare to complain. 

My parents who are retired teachers feel that some young teachers are different from those in the old days. Making more money is more important to them than enjoying the satisfaction of seeing children learning and growing with values.

A story from the Internet goes like this, “Children are like kites. You spend years trying to get them off the ground….. Finally, they are airborne. They need more string and you keep letting it out…..The kite becomes more distant, and you know it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together and will soar as meant to soar…free and alone.
Only then do you know that you have done your job.”


Have we- parents and teachers - done our best when we burden children with tuitions instead of grooming them to fly like kites?

By Chong Sheau Ching


The Peanut Butter Woman



Photo by Tzer Haw
I was visiting a poor village near Manila in the Philippines with Mrs Amelia and Gina.  The village was inhabited by several hundred families, all cramped into small, dilapidated, wooden houses.  The local men were mostly labourers and petty traders while the women took care of household chores or helped their hus­bands in odd jobs.
           


Mrs Amelia was the head of an organization called Giving Hope, which had com­munity projects in the area, and Gina was one of the social workers.  Giving Hope was conducting health and sanitary education for the people.  After a few years, however, they realized that improving the health and sanitary conditions meant helping people out of poverty first.  To do this, Giving Hope Board of Management started income-generation projects.  They decided to help the poorest of the poor women first.

The decision was received well by all the staff in the organization, but they could not decide on how to go about it.  Mrs Amelia wanted to travel to a Western country to ask several international donor agencies for a large amount of money so that Giving Hope could set up a chicken farm that employed local women and sold the chick­ens in the markets.  But the social workers, like Gina, proposed conducting trainings in small business management so that the women could become self-reliant.  

Mrs Amelia's theory was simple: "These women're poor because they don't have jobs.  All they need is jobs which will provide them with enough money to buy food, clothes and other essentials.  They should be paid slightly more than other farm labourers to give them incentive to work hard in the farm.  We don't want to exploit them, you know."  She explained her plan to me excitedly as we walked around.  Her red high heels thudded against the hard ground, affirming what she said.     

"Ha, we should also give them subsidies to make their lives easier.  When they buy chickens and eggs for their families' meals, they should get a big discount for working in the farm."  Then she tugged at her well-tailored red suit and straightened her back.  She was proud of herself for the idea.     
           
Hands folded in front of her cotton skirt, Gina walked humbly along side her boss and asked timidly, "Do you think the farm'll make any profit so that it can operate on its own in the future without any outside funding?"  

"Profit?  Of course not.  We're a non-profit organization and we need money for every project we do!  The farm's not a business; it's a means to give employment to these poor people so that they can escape poverty!  We'll need donor's money every year!"  Mrs Amelia laughed.

"The donors may not give money to us for such a large project.  And it takes a long time to get a farm going.  These women could be waiting for a long time."  Avoiding eye contact, Gina spoke haltingly to her boss.  "If we give them some simple training in... how to do a small business, they could start right away... to make a living... we wouldn't have to depend on donors for support."


"They've been poor all this while!  There's no reason why they can't wait till everything's ready!  They can't tell us what to do!  They should be grateful that we're helping them."  Mrs Amelia reprimanded her.  "They don't need the kind of training you say.  This kind of training is for people who have a lot of time.  You should know better than to suggest this, Gina! 

Photo by Tzer Haw
"See, they are busy women."  She pointed at a group of women washing their clothes by the public tap.  "They don't have time for things that can't give them money, food, and clothes!"

"They would make time if we gave them the training they needed!"  Gina said as she turned her face away, avoiding Mrs Amelia's dirty look.  


"How can you say this?  This kind of training will be a waste of project money and staff time.  What they need is just jobs."  Mrs Amelia looked straight into Gina's face and continued, "I have been the head of Giving Hope for ten years and I've gone to university to study social science, do you think I don't know what these people need?"

            Pointing at Gina with her long painted nails, she snorted, "Let me tell you something -- When my husband first started his job with a construction com­pany 20 years ago, he didn't have any money.  Over the years, he got promoted and he has been receiving better and better salaries.  Now, we have a house, a car and we go on holidays overseas.  Do you tell me that the same principles do not apply to these people?"


Gina did not reply.  She pursed her thin lips as if she was trying to choke back something she wanted to say.  Mrs Amelia looked at her and smiled trium­phantly.

We entered a community hall where a group of women were gathered for a health talk for conducted by Giving Hope.  Gina introduced Mrs Amelia and I to all the women who were present and told us about their backgrounds.

One of them was Alise.  Her husband was an odd-job worker and they had eight children, aged one to ten.  Since Alise's husband could not earn enough for the family, Alise sold jars of home-made peanut butter to a grocery shop in a nearby middle-class residential area.

"I think we can teach her how to market her peanut butter better so that she can make more money.  That won't take too much of our time and it doesn't cost the project any money."  Gina said cautiously.

"How?"  Mrs Amelia was clearly annoyed at Gina's insistence.

"She told me that the shopkeeper gives her 12 pesos for each jar of peanut butter that he sells for 25 pesos.  She thinks that she's making a profit of a few pesos per jar.  I think the shopkeeper is paying her too little for her peanut butter.  If we teach her some simple profit-and-loss calculation and how to sell her peanut butter directly to her customers, she can make more money than what she's getting now."

Mrs Amelia stared at Gina for a long time.  She then turned to ask Alise if she would like to sell her peanut butter herself instead of selling them to the shop.

"Naheheyah (shy)!  Not me!  I can't do things like that!"  With one hand covering her mouth, Alise giggled.  She was uneasy about the suggestion.

Mrs Amelia turned to face Gina with a broad smile.  She was amused.  "If you think you can teach her how to sell peanut butter, you can do so after your working hours."

When Gina heard that, her face broke into a happy smile.  "Thank you, Mrs Amelia."  She said as she looked warmly at Alise.

I didn't hear anything from Mrs Amelia about her farm project after that.  Several months later, she invited me to attend a thank you party given by the village to Giving Hope.

The village head and several other villagers gave thank you speeches, bouquets of flowers, and sweet cakes to Mrs Amelia, who represented Giving Hope­.  Alise was one of the villagers who spoke. 

Her speech was fascinating when it was translated to me.  "Last time, I thought I was poor because I was stupid and I didn't have any ability to make money like the rich people.  One day, the staff from Giving Hope told me, "Alise, you must start seeing yourself as a strong and smart woman, then your life'll change.  Do something about your peanut butter and you can make your life dif­ferent."  I didn't really believe them but I followed their suggestions.  After that, they taught me how to cal­culate things, like the cost of the peanuts and jars that I bought.  They showed me how much money I could make if I sold at different prices.  One day, they said, "Now, you must go and sell the peanut butter to the people.  No more selling to the shop."

"I was afraid.  They told me to look at the mirror every day and say, "My peanut butter is the best.  Buy a jar for your family and you won't regret it!"

I said it everyday.  One day, I went to those houses over there.  I saw a woman and I said, "My peanut butter is the best.  Buy a jar for your family and you won't regret it!"   She bought a jar.  After that, many people bought my peanut butter.

"Now they call me Ne-gla-lakoh Nang Peanut Butter (the Peanut Butter Woman)!  My husband has quit his labourer's job and he is helping me in my peanut butter business!  I am very happy and I want to thank Giving Hope for helping me."

The audience broke into applause led by Gina, who sat next to me in the front row.  She beamed at Alise like a proud mother on graduation day.  Alise returned her smile with a reverent nod.  She then turned to Mrs Ameila and presented her with a jar of her peanut butter wrapped beautifully with a red ribbon.  The audience applauded again ad Mrs Amelia stepped up to the podium.

"This is very special", she said, "that one woman has been successful through Giving Hope.  We promise you that we will continue to help all of you prosper like Alise has.  Soon we will have a large chicken farm where all of you can receive jobs..."

I heard Gina release a long, frustrated sigh. 




By Chong Sheau Ching