Monday, May 31, 2010

The Untold story

I have been wanting to say this for a long time but there was no opportunity to do so given the circumstances I was in while still teaching. Now that I have said goodbye to the profession I am free to write about my feelings on this issue.......the tudung (head scarf).

When I first started teaching in 1975, all the Malay female teachers, myself included, were tudungless. There were only a handful of students who wore the tudung. However, the situation was reversed some time in the mid 80's. Suddenly, everybody was donning the tudung and those who went about their lives without one were considered stubborn and not conforming to the standard dress code befitting of a truly abiding Muslimah. The few allies that I had also decided to defect to the other side after having been brainwashed by these "superior Muslims" leaving a mere handful of us hardcores, the "lesser Muslims".
I am seated fourth from right (in skirt and blouse) in 1980

We were often ostracised, especially during religious ceremonies  lest we contaminate the sanctity of the occassions with our sins. All these acts of discrimination and alienation were not verbally expressed but were substantially implied. They never voiced their disapproval outwardly but chose to attack me indirectly via sarcasms and insinuations They adopted a cowardice approach of passing caustic remarks and criticisms to the entire staff room, never pointing their accusing fingers at me for they knew what they were in for, had they decided to be forthright in their crusade. I retaliated by pretending complete ignorance of what they were referring to and went about my work as if it was not intended for my ears, much to their utter disgust and annoyance. Jahil (ignorant) as I am in Islam, in their eyes that is, I know one thing for sure, in that all Muslims should never ever humiliate or belittle another human being, Muslim or otherwise. It is God's absolute prerogative to decide who should ultimately be sent to heaven and hell.
I am seated second from left. This was taken in the late 80's. There are 7 Muslims here without the tudung.

I am standing middle row sixth from left. There are only 2 hardcores here, myself included. The rest without the tudung are non Muslims 

Inspite of their obvious animosity towards me, I mingled with them. There was no choice even though it was just a superficial thing. It was in my non Muslim friends that I found solace and I poured out my misery to them, much to chagrin of the "superior Muslims".

I became a champion of sorts to some of the girl students who sought my help each time they were found guilty of  going against the teachings of Islam like plucking  the eyebrows or keeping long nails or colouring their tresses. Liberal as I am, there are certain things which I don't condone, and, unfortunate for these girls, they include keeping long nails and plucking the eyebrows! I was lenient where colouring the hair was concerned, for I had mine dyed blonde at one time, though my preference was auburn, just to spite my enemies. I have to admit it was not easy for me to explain to these girls how my stand was on certain things without sounding contradictory in the process.
With my students in the mid 90's. .

I am not, repeat NOT against the tudung in any way, but I feel that it should not be forced upon Muslims who are not ready to embrace it. It would be a mockery to Islam if one were  to do it for the sake of just pleasing a certain group of people. I was an obvious sinner those days, as far as covering my head was concerned, but I would rather be that than a bunch of hypocrites who revelled in condemning and insulting others for a supposedly noble cause of upholding Islam, going about it in a very unIslamic fashion.

There were numerous occasions which were nauseating and best forgotten but I think I need to get this  one off my chest. The school decided to raise some funds and the only way to ensure success was to open its doors to the public for one day. Many activities were planned and one obvious crowd puller was to have a stage show. It was deemed appropriate that I be given the task of putting this act  together. It was quite obvious that this was not a job for the superior Muslims. This job should only be given to sinners like me. My assistant was from the other faction and her role was to act as a spy, I think, for she did not contribute anything but  merely sat and watched as I went about putting the show together. Realising that I needed some sort of an "umbrella" to protect me, I invited the whole staff  for the rehearsals but none came, save for the Principal who decided to come, but maintaining a reasonable distance hiding behind some trees  to avoid being seen, I guess. Immediately after the rehearsals I marched straight to her office to get her comments and approval to proceed for the actual day. I was quite thrilled and pleased with myself when she gave the green light to carry on as rehearsed.

The big day came and I got the whole act wrapped up by 12 noon BUT a few minutes before the final curtain, the Penolong Kanan KoKurikulum (Co-curricular Senior Assistant) approached me and told me that there was a band waiting to perform. Sensing my reluctance to compromise, he told me he would be responsible for that segment of the show. I believed him. After all, superior Muslims don't lie!!!!! I didn't know what time the show ended for immediately after my part of the show was over, I packed my stuff and left. I did not realise that hell was about to break loose at the post mortem of the Open Day a few days later.

I was viciously attacked, Quranic verses and hadiths were quoted and used as weapons against me. I was caught off guard and could only look across helplessly at the Senior Assistant hoping that he would come to my rescue. But, alas, he was not about to offer any form of assistance, certainly not in front of his wife who was also a teacher there. I felt so cheated and exploited. Apparently, the band was very rowdy and continued playing even when the azan was heard from across a nearby surau. I was made the scape goat. I was hopelessly defeated due to my own carelessness. That was the last straw. I did not hesitate like I used to when my husband suggested that we move to Jitra, he, to avoid the congestion in K.L. and I, to escape the torments of the superior Muslims.

My colleagues in Jitra were more tolerant and accomodating, but then I decided to don the tudung before making my entrance there. So, I did not have the opportunity to really test the ground, so to speak. Just for the record, I did the Haj in 1983 when I was just 31. I don't really care what others think of me so long as God is on my side, Insya Allah. .
The new me in Jitra
I am second from the right with my Jitra colleagues. At the extreme left is my best friend Ooi Gaik Hoe.

My latest photo. Well, not quite the perfect Muslim with my neck still exposed.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

No. 1 Jalan Pegawai, Alor Setar, Kedah

According to my mother, the house above is as old as I am. The foundation to the house was laid on the same day I was born. The house still stands to this day but  no one has been living there since the 90's. I have a lot of fond childhood memories associated with the house. The last occupants of the house were the girls from Maktab Mahmud Kolej, about a kilometer away. The college rented the house and turned it into a hostel for their girl students. I did not grow up in the house but every school holidays and Hari Raya would see my parents heading back to that house, with me in tow, of course. The house belonged to my late grandfather, my mother's father. The house was the biggest along that stretch of road those days and it boasted of an impressive address as well ......No. 1, Jalan Pegawai, Alor Setar, Kedah.
No. 1 at 30 years old
Being an only child, I was more shy and timid than spoilt, I think. I would follow mum everywhere like a shadow. Mum was an active W.I.(Women's Institute) member those days and I would tag along and sat at all the meetings she attended with her fellow members. I was the only child member albeit a passive one. I would sit prim and proper throughout the entire meeting. Any misbehaviour would spell disaster  when I got home. Mum was a tough disciplinarian. The cane was her tool in shaping me into what I am today.....I guess. Being extremely shy and timid, I had very few friends. I preferred staying home playing with my dolls than running around outside with the other girls and boys my age. A bit of a weirdo, may be.

Mum and me

Mum (centre, with glasses) at one of her W.I. meetings
However, my true colours were unveiled the moment I set foot in the big house. Besides my grandparents and a few uncles and aunties who were not married yet at the time, my cousin Fushia and her mother were also staying there. Fushia was my best friend, still is now. Fushia was the direct opposite of me, she was an outdoor girl in every sense of the word. She was the one who taught me how to climb trees, fly kites, fish, paddle a mini sampan among other things. 
Fushia (left) and I perched on top of a jambu tree

We would run around barefooted in the vast compound under the hot sun, much to the horror of my mother. My aunty, Fushia's mother, was apparently quite used to her daughter's antics. Our adventures were not restricted within the compound of the house only. Fushia would take me out on a cross country across padi fields without our mothers' knowledge and stopped at a dilapidated nyonya shop to buy ais kepal.(shaved ice shaped into a ball and sweetened with red and brown syrup). We would then slowly trace our way back home slurping the ais kepal as we trod along. Fushia was an adept slurper, but I encountered problems the moment the ais was put into my  hands. My palms felt numb with cold, 
(Fushia was not the slightest bit bothered by this) and the ice melted and trickled down my elbows soiling my dress. I remember crying out to Fushia for help and she came to my rescue like a good samaritan. To solve the problem, she handed her "dry" ice ball to me and took mine(which was still red and sugar-laden as compared to her almost white, already sugar-free) to dry it off!!!!!! I think she was quite genuine in her gesture. There were no ulterior motives of any kind, not between 5 year olds of yesteryear. I remember asking her why her ice ball was tasteless to which she murmured something incoherent being engrossed in slurping dry the melting ice ball. Anyway, by the time we reached the big house, the ice balls were gone. There was no clue left as to where we had disappeared for almost an hour save for my soiled dress.  

I am on the extreme right with Fushia next to me and all the other cousins 20 years ago.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

More Durian Stories

I developed this habit of weighing myself first thing I wake up every morning since I was in my thirties, I think. It used to be vanity more than anything else those days but now it's more for health. I have read many times that the proper way to manage your weight is to weigh yourself once a week, not everyday but somehow I feel that one week is too long a time to bring you back to your ideal weight should you pile on those kilos within that span of time. I disagree  that the most  a person could put on within one week is just half or at the most, 1kg. I say it's all rubbish. One can easily put on 2 kilos or my be even more within that short period and trust me, losing those extras, is more often than not,. a losing battle.

It is always easier to correct the situation on a daily basis because the fluctuations are small and thus can be easily rectified. Well, so much of my theory for now. Let's get back to reality........

This morning when I weighed myself.........SHOCK! HORROR! DISGUST! .........the scale tilted at 0.5kg more than yesterday morning. I don't need experts to carry out a post mortem on this sudden increase. The culprit is none other than the durians that I bought yesterday!!!!  Well........may be not entirely the durians per se.

My mum, being a typical Kedahan that she is, decided to cook some pulut (glutinous rice) to complement the durians. Kedahans are  diehard fans of pulut...... pulut and durians, pulut and mangoes, pulut and cempedak (jackfruit family) , pulut and cendol (a dessert) and believe it or not, pulut and salted fish for breakfast!!!!!! I'm a Kedahan, too, but I think somewhere along the line, I got diluted for I don't fancy any of the above mentioned except for pulut and durians.  So, I dug into both the durians and the pulut which my mum cooked with a generous amount of very thick santan, (coconut milk) like there's no tomorrow. But, tomorrow came and it came with this warning......Go slow on the pulut and durians!!!!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Durians........A Continuation

The durians that I bought this morning were good. The flesh was soft, sweet, smooth and creamy. Well, I've tasted better ones before but these did not disappoint me. I have a strong feeling that I would be seeing more of the honest pakcik who sold me the durians.


The durian season is back. Although to some people, the durian is no longer considered a seasonal fruit because you can get them at Pasar Malam any time of the year but I am talking about the local Jitran kampung variety. Once a year around this time, these fruits are aplenty here in Jitra.

I am crazy over durians and so when I saw this pakcik at the Jitra market this morning, bringing a basketful of these fruits freshly gathered from his dusun (orchard), I asked him to choose two for me. He willingly obliged and started taking out the fruits one by one from the basket. All the fruits looked fresh and good to me so when I politely enquired why he had not chosen those at the top, he told me the good ones were at the bottom. Bless him! He finally got two of the best ones, according to him,  for me,  though they didn't really look good from the outside. But then, who was I to dispute his choice for these fruits were from his very own orchard. As at the time of this writing, I have yet to find out whether I had been cheated of my RM16 for 2 medium-sized durians. I had been conned numerous times over durians that I can't help feeling a bit sceptical this time, every time.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Teachers Day Greetings


On this special day,I would like to share this beautiful song with all teachers throughout  Malaysia.

Friday, May 14, 2010

H1N1 Vaccination

Ever since H1N1 reared its ugly head some time last year, I was constantly plagued with the fear of getting infected by it. At the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, I shunned all crowded places like. Pasar Malam and Pasar Ramadhan. My weekly supply of groceries and perishable items were hurriedly purchased without the usual fuss of a thorough and detailed inspection, much to the relief of the shop assistants and my husband. Of course, all these compulsory outings were never done on weekends or public holidays. Even on weekdays, I made sure that everything was done before or after lunch break. The mask was never forgotten everytime I had to go out. I took great pains to ensure that it fitted snugly onto my face. I did everything I could to protect myself from the virus and I also made sure that both my husband and mother were equally protected, driving them mad with exasperation!

It was a dream come true when the Ministry Of Health decided to offer these vaccines to the general public, even if it was only on a first come first serve basis, due to its limited supply. I wasted no time in alerrting my husband on the urgency to act fast but what I got was just a lukewarm response.  It was quite obvious that he was not really interested. He was of the notion that these shots were strictly for the high risk group and that he was not willing to "contaminate" his body with chemicals (referring to the vaccine). I tried to convince him, with the minimum knowledge that I possess of vaccines, that they are quite free of chemicals, but no amount of persuasion could convince him. This stubborn streak of his had me in doubts, too. I was now torn between wanting to carry on with my initial plan (of getting vaccinated) or just abandon the whole idea and let nature take its course until.........

A few days ago, after his round of golf, he told me that he had made an appointment to get vaccinated.!!!
I was overjoyed by this sudden change of heart and on investigating discovered that two of his golf buddies that morning were doctors who already got themselves vaccinated. He must have enquired about the "chemicals" and the side effects but I refrained from interrogating further for fear that he might change his mind. I also decided not to brood or sulk or wallow in self pity over the fact that he chose to believe his golf buddies instead of me. Time was ruuning out and there was no point in bickering over such matters, though I told myself that I would not give in so easily in future, come what may.

At last, we got ourselves vaccinated.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Facts Of Life

I studied Biology and Chemistry at Universiti Pertanian Malaysia and upon completing my studies, I was posted to Sekolah Menengah Abdul Rahman Talib Kuantan (SMART). I requested to be transferred to Kuantan because my husband was based at RMAF Kuantan at that time. However, the Ministry decided to post me to Sekolah Menengah Clifford, Kuala Lipis. I remember crying my eyes out upon receiving the directive. My geography was bad and still is. Datuk Siti Nurhaliza wasn't even born yet, so how was I to know where Kuala Lipis was. Fortunately, my husband managed to convince the top guns at the Ministry to squeeze me into SMART. So, I began my career as a Science teacher.

With all this fuss on whether or not to introduce sex education  in schools, I found myself being transported back to the time when I had to teach human reproduction for the first time. I can't exactly recall whether the class was a Form 3 or Form 5, most probably Form 5 because way back in the 70's, human reproduction was incorporated in the Form 5 Science syllabus. I think it was only in the 80's that they brought it down to Form 3.

My first lesson on this particular topic was a complete disaster. I was in my twenties and recently married and my students were only 6 years my junior. I remember introducing the topic cautiously and haltingly to a class of about 40. Of course, attendance was 100% on that day because they knew I had to move on to this chapter whether I liked it or not. I know they were all eagerly waiting for this lesson not because they were completely ignorant (though some pretended complete innocence), but they were waiting to see how I was going to handle this very "sensitive" topic. Everything went on reasonably smooth the first 10 minutes until I started hanging the chart depicting the male reproductive organ. Suddenly, all hell broke loose. There were oohs and aahs all round from my male students amidst giggles from the girls. Of course, they had the same diagram in their textbooks and many a time I caught them ogling at it while I was busy teaching something else, but this was different. This was a huge "replica" openly exhibited for all to see.

I was so embarassed that I stood transfixed facing the chart, giving my back to them. I didn't know how to continue. I longed for the bell to ring but this was a double period and I had  about one solid hour more to go. I regretted dabbing the blusher onto my cheeks before leaving the house that morning. I was all red from head to toe. I was  still trying to regain my composure when I heard "Cikgu, cepat Cikgu, masa dah nak habis!". I had no choice. There was no way I could wriggle myself out of this so I turned slowly to face them. Forty faces, all with huge grins on them, stared back at me, challenging me to continue. I faltered and flinched as I decided my next course of action.

I decided that I needed a "weapon" to proceed with my explanation of the various parts of the male reproductive system so I took a metre rule to start pointing at the parts. The ruler provided a sort of a buffer between the chart and me. At least that way, I avoided being in "close proximity", I reasoned out. As I traced my way, the oohs and the aahs started all over again, from the boys, of course. I noticed these guys stealing glances at the girls to see how the girls reacted to their male anatomy.

After covering all the parts, I had to explain the functions of these parts. This was even more gruelling for me but the kids seemed to be having a whale of a time. Despite my poor delivery, I was able to hold their attention throughout the entire 80 minutes. By the time the bell rang, I was soaked to the skin with my own perspiration, not because I was exhausted but my sheer inexperience on how to tackle such a delicate topic had me in jitters throughout the entire double period. At an age when I, myself, was still fumbling with these intimate facts of life, I had this formidable task of passing on the facts to others. It was  horrifying, terrifying and petrifying all rolled into one but I pulled through, blunders and all.

Subsequently, I was able to cruise through the chapter quite admirably, albeit numerous interruptions in the form of excited laughter, spontaneous exclamations and a continuous barrage of questions. As the years rolled on, I became more and more thick-skinned and the topic was just another topic but to the kids, it was still  their favourite topic. I evolved from being a shy and inexperienced young teacher into a bold, no-nonsense Cikgu who was not the slightest bit affected by their cheeky oohs and aahs any more.

Frankly, I think the kids have seen it all but as teachers, our role is to formalise the learning of this interesting facet of the human life, to lay bare all the facts and to dispel all the fallacies.