Thursday, November 25, 2010

Change is Overrated


Barrack Obama won the presidency by promising  that change would come to America. Come 2012, Americans will decide how much of that change really worked for them. Change is a powerful word, it excites, incites, and depending on the scale on which it is initiated, would garner some kind of reaction or another.

Change can prove to be positive or negative, create waves, give birth to a revolution ( on a macro scale), alter the way people think, encourage innovation, and a whole load of other things. But sometimes change is unnecessary, and that's what my rant is about.

I have a particular dislike for people who want to change something merely for the sake of change itself. If something is good, why change it? But don't tell a change monger that, they will not see your point of view, or pretend not to.

One thing about change mongers though, they don't give much thought about how workable their idea is, all they want to do is implement it and have their name on the plaque! Once the winds of change have a sour air about it, they will be out of the door in no time.

I believe change should only be implemented when it will prove of benefit, and not irritate and confuse everyone involved. New bosses are prime candidates for implementing unnecessary change. I once worked at a publication where my colleagues and I had the misfortune of having to contend with a new editor who was a change monger.

This person wanted to change our editorial process, the way we worked, the way we thought, in short she wanted to change EVERYTHING. The fact that we worked well as a team despite being severely short-staffed and still managed to meet our editorial deadlines was not taken into consideration.

Interestingly she could not provide a good reason for changing systems and processes that had worked so well for the team up to that point. All she wanted to do was to change it. Yet for all her prating, she failed to inspire confidence in her agenda. Why? because all she had was a couple of abstract ideas that did not seem workable. In the end the only thing she ended up changing, was that all of us started actively job hunting!

Leaving a legacy?

Some people want to change things in the interest of progress, they are visionaries, these are people who will be lauded long after they are gone. Then there are those who want to initiate change to carve out a legacy for themselves. These are egomaniacs, we will be wagging our finger at them long after the weeds have made a permanent home around their tombstone.

Hmm for some reason Anwar Ibrahim comes to mind. I don't care who he sodomised or did not sodomise. My ire against him is solely reserved for what he did during his tenure as Education Minister. We have him to thank for KBSR and KBSM ( lame ass education system that does not encourage students to think), and for screwing up our term holidays. One moment our end of the term holidays were in December, then he changed it to November and then back again to December. Boy were we guinea pigs in his hands!

One wonders what massive changes he would have brought upon us, if he had become the 5th Prime Minister. Well there's room yet for that I imagine......Erm for now Anwar can be rest assured that thanks to him Malaysians will never see sodomy or a black eye in the same light again.

Another person who tried to create a legacy and failed is the man we dearly call Pak Lah. He started of as "Mr Clean" and ended up as "Bapa Batik" as he was seen officiating at one too many batik functions.

All in all Pak Lah will definitely be remembered for doing things no other Prime Minister has done in office to date. Dozing off at official functions, losing a wife to cancer and marrying another in record time and handing over five states to the opposition on a platter. Who says you need to be a genius to be remembered?

For some reason this post has turned political considering I am an apolitical person.Well I suppose that's because change mongers always have some sort of political agenda or another up their sleeves.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Horror Hospitals

Does any real healing take place in a Malaysian government hospital? does it? really? if you are one of the lucky few who has had the good fortune of being well taken care of in one of these hospitals - you rank in the minority and should consider yourself darn lucky.

The following cases of negligence at public hospitals which was splashed across the press, generated tonnes of negative publicity for the hospitals concerned and resulted in civil suits.
  • The case of baby Lai Yok Shan who lost her left forearm because of negligence by doctors at the Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital in Klang. Her parents have since filed an RM2 million suit against the government.

  • Fourty nine days after undergoing a hysterectomy surgery, private hospital nurse Kalaiyarasi Perumal discovered that a pair of forceps had been left in her stomach by the surgical team at the Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru.

  • Former Quran teacher Bashah Mustaffa sued the government over the HIV-contaminated blood she received during a transfusion at the Jitra Hospital.

  • Rozita Haron@ Choo Kim Koon claimed RM250,000 against the Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru for negligence after its staff left a needle in her vagina during delivery in 1995.

  • The parents of V.Monishaa, 15, alleged that the negligent attitude of two medical officers at the Sultan Abdul Halim Hospital resulted in the death of their daughter from meningitis sepsis.

That which I have listed above is a mere five, but there are more, lots more. If I had taken the trouble to Google it all up, this post would have to be written as part one and two!

Various excuses have been given on the part of hospital authorities and the government - doctors make mistakes too, the hospitals are overcrowded and the staff overworked and so on and so forth. We have also been constantly reassured via stories in the media that the government is building more hospitals, getting more equipment, recruiting more staff, hiring foreign doctors etc.

But has anyone read stories in the press that the Health Minister or the government has vowed to kick someone's ass or let heads roll the next time they hear of a negligence of gargantuan proportions at  public hospitals? instead of forming lame ass committees to investigate what happened each time something goes terribly wrong? obviously NO. If they did, perhaps the staff at these hospitals, at whatever level they function, would take their jobs more seriously.

Being overworked is not a good excuse. People in other professions are overworked too, can they use that as a reason to deliver substandard work? well if you work in the private sector, you would be slapped with a memo, demoted, suspended or worse still  fired for not performing up to par.

Yup I know it's the norm that not much can be expected from government departments and agencies. But when it comes to the health care sector its high time the powers that be, brandished the whip.

When you're dealing with people's lives there is no room for being lax. In my opinion the cases of negligence mentioned above, plus the ones that have gone unreported is all a result of the ATTITUDE of the staff at these hospitals. If they were good at what they did, and if they CARED, the poor patients under their care, would have fared better.

Our government can build top-notch hospitals with impressive new facilities, but if the medical personnel at these hospitals work like robots, don't think outside the box and don't give two hoots about doing a good job, more people will stand to lose their limbs, be wrongly diagnosed, find foreign objects in their internal organs and die - as has happened a fair bit.

A case in point is the Sultan Ismail Hospital in Johor Baru. Spanking new premises, supposedly has top-notch equipment etc. However based on general feedback and a rather sour experience of my brother's, it's worse than the Sultanah Aminah Hospital which itself has garnered quite a reputation in the sphere of medical negligence.

In the case of my brother and his friend who were involved in a car accident, they were made to wait for over an hour, despite groaning in pain ( my brother fractured two fingers while his friend had a shoulder injury). People who had come in with tummy aches and such were ushered in to see the doctor first. Considering it was the Accident & Emergency Department, should accident patients not be given priority?

When my mum asked if the boys could see the doctor soon considering their state of pain, she was told that as they could still walk they were obviously not badly hurt and could afford to wait. Do they not know that there have been people out there who have gotten up and walked after being involved in an accident, only to die a few days later because of internal bleeding?

Another thing that riled my mum was the red tape involved. My brother had a ring on one of his fractured fingers which had swelled up. He wanted the ring removed as it was painful. But guess what the medical officer said? She said they did not have the equipment to remove the ring, and thus on Monday ( my brother was at the hospital on Saturday night) they would write to the operating theater to borrow the equipment, and if permission was granted, then the ring could be removed. So brand new government specialist hospital does not have a set of pliers to remove a ring??

After an hour of extreme irritation, and after being told that his friend was fine enough to go home despite the sharp pain in his shoulder, my brother decided that seeing the doctor there would serve no purpose and decided to go to the Johor Specialist Centre. Upon arrival there, his ring was immediately removed, and after prompt treatment, they were warded.

The following day, they underwent surgery (my brother for his finger fractures, and his friend for his dislocated shoulder). The bill was certainly not cheap, but they are on the mend. They are the lucky ones who don't have to put up with poor treatment at public hospitals. But not everyone has options, it's those who are not financially able who usually become the victims of negligence at government hospitals.

Free service does not = poor service. All because it's cheap and free does not mean the rakyat has to put up with whatever government hospital staff choose to dish out. Call me cynical, but I doubt the current malaise that plagues our public health care system will be solved in the near future. The government can announce and announce of this measure and that measure. But in the end it will still not improve.

So what do we do? invest in insurance, get a medical card at the very least. Invest in your health and safety, because our government is not going to do that for you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Profile of a Miser

We have all met them at one time or another, they could be a relative, a friend, a co-worker and god forbid a parent or a spouse! Yup the title says it all, I'm talking about misers. Those human beings who are a perennial pain in the ass. You can mock them, yell at them, put em in a freezer, but misers don't change their stripes.

Their goal is to live frugally and die rich, so other people will benefit from their hoarded wealth. Hmm maybe in that case they are martyrs then....? living below their means for the benefit of future generations.....? Well they might prove to be posthumous saints for the beneficiaries of their wealth, but for the people who actually have to put up with them, live with them, stomach them, it's a different story all together.

Considering that I have had the privilege of encountering a few of these gem like beings, I was inspired to write the following. It's the almost complete list of traits that most misers possess. Mind you this is not something that I came up with overnight, it's the result of years of study and careful observation. The psychologists of the future are going to thank me for this someday........I'm certain.

Well here's my list, move over Scrooge McDuck!!

[ Note: Men are not the only ones who are misers, but for the purpose of this post, I shall use the term 'he'.]

1. Lives in a small house, spartan like living, but probably has five double-storey bungalows rented out.

2. Almost never eats out unless it costs less than ten bucks.

3. He drives the same beaten up car for years. In some cases he will entirely depend on public transport to get around ( the costs of fuel is ever rising).

4. Hates it when he gets ill. Medical costs these days is so.....expensive, even if all it takes is a visit to the neighbourhood GP.

5. He wants a discount on everything and he's not kidding!

6. Will always worm his way out of chipping in for anything. At his most generous, he makes a small contribution. Which in normal terms means a measly amount.

7. The way he sees it, people are always out to cheat him of his money. Once he has gotten this notion into his head, no amount of logic will convince him otherwise.

8.  He sees only one truth, if he has to fork out money for something he does not want to, he is being swindled. The miser will come up with the most ridiculous of explanations to justify this, for example he might even blame the malfunctioning toilet flush for conspiring against him. Ignoring the fact that there is little the toilet flush can do with a wad of cash!

9. He will invest his precious cash, but even when his investments are yielding profit, he will constantly whine about imaginary losses.

10. Never takes holidays, but with the advent of AirAsia, he will book his tickets a year in advance and harbour secrets hopes of seeing the world on a shoestring budget.

I am not done yet, this is a growing list......!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The landlord's Bible says....

1. Structural damage is your responsibility, even if it happens during the occupancy of the tenant.

2.  On a random visit, if you walk in and see a well maintained home ( note that I say home and not house), be grateful. Because this shows that your tenants' are treating your property as if it were their own. Take into consideration that there are a fair number of tenants out there who get a kick out of thrashing up a place during their stay and literally leave the property in shambles when they leave.

3. You're lucky if you have tenants who pay their rent within the stipulated time period (by the 7th in tenancy agreements). You are even more LUCKY if you have a tenant like me who pays you by the 3rd of the month. I say this because I have heard my fair share of horror stories of landlords who have to chase their tenants for rent.

4. When it comes to fixing something that needs to be fixed in the said property, do it! don't go on a long rant about how you have financial problems and are not making money out of the rented property blah..blah... That's not your tenant's fault and they won't be interested in hearing your lame excuses. A tenant pays you rent monthly for a property that should be in good working order, so if there's a leaking pipe, tap etc, it's your duty to get it fixed!

5. Oh and lastly, if you want to come over to check something or get plumbing or construction work done, it has to be at the convenience and leisure of your tenant. You have absolutely no right to turn up at their doorstep at any time and expect to be entertained. There's no law on this, but it's pure common sense and oh yes, basic courtesy.

Why am I ranting away about things that  are so um....taken for granted with regards to property rental? It's because I have the misfortune of having a landlord who struggles cerebrally to grasp these basic facts. I am half tempted to email him this rant, but I fear and have long suspected that he struggles with language too.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Not on a Diet!!

I am tired of being asked if I am on a diet! I am not on a diet nor have I ever been on one.

Why would someone who is as skinny as me go on a diet? If I was on one, I must be either anorexic or bulimic which I am not.

I am thin because I have a high metabolic rate. I have always been a skinny girl, even as a child. I am neither ill nor on a diet, I just happen to be rather thin.

And newsflash, I am not the only one of my kind out there. Believe it or not, some of those ultra skinny people walking around probably have a very good appetite and eat all their meals. I know a few myself.

Just as there are people who eat and remain scrawny, there are those who eat sparingly and are still overweight. So not all large people are gorging themselves out, and not all the skinny ones are eating like birds. Sometimes people just can't help the way they look.

I was brought up to eat healthy and at the same time not to deny myself the good stuff.  As much as I love my oats and green tea, I am a sucker for desserts and calorie rich north indian cuisine.

As my body shows no sign of piling on the kilos despite my current sedentary lifestyle, I am bracing myself for more of: "Why so thin? are you on a diet?"  Sigh....

Monday, September 27, 2010

Beauty & the Witch

Pretty girls should behave pretty. If a good looking woman displays a flash of temper, or did something nasty, people would say she has a dark side. Point being good looking and bad behaviour don't go together. However, if a cosmetically challenged woman did the same, her attitude would not be deemed all that surprising. In fact a lot of people would say - she looked like a bitch to start with!

Fairy Tale Syndrome

I think whether we realise it or not,  a lot of us judge people, especially women, in a superficial manner. A beautiful woman must have a beautiful personality just like the heroines in most fairy tales, and the not so hot looking woman who acts difficult is probably like the Wicked Witch of the West, cos she kinda looks it with that big fat wart on the tip of her nose.

As most of us have been brought up on a diet of myths and legends of long suffering beautiful heroines who triumph in the end or die a martyr, all the way refusing to show their claws if any, we kinda expect that of beauties, if a woman looks graceful and feminine, she must ooze that from her very pores as well.

What most people fail to realise is that, the age when women walked about in flowing graceful gowns, their feet shod in impractical satin slippers, were dependent on men for their well-being and had the leisure of dabbling in embroidery, music and poetry has passed. In fact in those days physical beauty aside, a woman was also judged attractive by how well versed she was in the finer arts, especially among the upper classes.

Beauty or not, women these days....let me correct myself. Not these days, but for a very long time now, the role of women in society is no longer about being show pieces, we do a hell of a lot more than that, we have to do a hell of a lot more than that to survive.  The world has changed tremendously since then and so have we.

Yet despite all this change which on a superficial level has been accepted. People generally (especially in the society which I live in) still expect women, especially the pretty ones, to display all the tender feminine qualities of fairy tale heroines. We can climb mountains, perform a bypass surgery, direct a movie, pilot a plane. However while doing all these, we must still possess all those genteel feminine qualities that the poets of old waxed lyrical about.

Even animals evolve to suit changing climates, but women are supposed to stay the same....? In today's world, or even the world of a few decades ago, the virtues of folk and fairy tale heroines would not cut it. Cinderella would be labeled a wuss for not standing up for herself, and the Little Mermaid's sacrifice for the sake of true love would be labeled an absolute waste of such good singing talent for a man who did not care about her. In fact there is already some amount of debate on what kind of examples fairy tale heroines are setting for little girls these days.

Bad Witch or Smart Witch

Well those fairy tales are definitely fanciful yarn by today's standards. But whether the writers of such tales were aware of it or not, they did perhaps unconsciously, give us a glimpse of what modern women ( the ones who have a backbone) would be like.

In those ancient tales, they are almost always garbed in black, pointed hat, nose and shoes, lived alone, with a cat or minions for companions, were disliked for their um social behaviour, had tonnes of books and scientific looking apparatus which they used to good advantage until they were defeated by the hero of the tale.

As good must always triumph over evil, prince charming always defeats the witch to gain or rescue his true love - the soft, simpering beauty who might have perished at the hands of the witch if not for the brawn and might of the man who fancies her for her good looks and feminine ways.

Well so the witch always dies, but in such tales, she is the only one who fights with the man/prince/king as an equal. The witch takes on institutions, the village, community or kingdom in which she lives. People fear her, they are at once in awe and afraid of her powers of sorcery. Not many want to mess with her, until the hero in the shining armour comes along and sets about doing what all heroes must do to be worth their salt - kill the witch.

Barring the Salem witch trials and the infamous witch hunts of 16th century England, witches that turn princes into frogs and imprison lovely maidens in towers don't exist. Well there must have certainly been some women in towns and villages who lived alone, kept away from people, had cats for pets and perhaps made their own herbal remedies for ailments. I figure they must have been inspiration for the writers of such tales.

Beauty Mutates

The modern-day beauty has a bit of the princess and bad witch in her. She has none of the warts, or none that she cares to show, but a fair bit of the lone witch's independent nature, intelligence and the courage to take on the establishment if she must.

She has plenty of charm too, and is usually always beautifully dressed, though like the witch she might have a penchant for the colour black and pointy shoes.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Does White = Beauty?

Somethings don't change, and that's the perennial quest for fairer skin. Yup the history of cosmetic whiteners goes a long way back. The  ancient Greeks  and Romans applied lead paint to whiten their skin in the face of dangerous health hazards, and many women and even men today continue to lust after this beauty ideal, especially in Asia.

Here in Malaysia the quest for fairness is well and alive. Walk into any pharmacy or Watsons outlet, and it would be difficult not to find some amount of whitening substance in most of the beauty care products. From facial foams to moisturizers, the promise of fairer skin screams out from the product labels.

Like honestly, do these products really result in naturally fairer skin? call me a cynic, but I think white is just an overrated fad which for some reason is not dying out the way it should. As far as I am concerned, moisturizer and sunblock will save the day for me. Plain and simple.

Whitening a Devil of a Culture

Not surprisingly whitening products were born in India. The first of such products was Unilever's Fair and Lovely which continues to dominate the country's fairness market to this day. The idea for the product came about after consumer research by the company revealed that most Indians want fairer skin.

In fact Fair and Lovely is quite sought after among Malaysians too.  It has pride of place on the vanity table of many an Indian girl here who sees it as her answer to fairer skin? did all these girls turn fairer and more beauti......fullll? well why not buy a bottle and try it out for yourself?

Beauty Ideal?

A male colleague once raved about the beauty of Pakistani and middle eastern women. "They have pale marble smooth skin," he said. And that seems to be the ideal among many women - pale  translucent skin. The fact however is that our skin type is very much determined by how much melanin we have in our skin and which part of the world our ancestors hailed from.

Considering the part of the world we live in, it's the beauty of tan skin that we should be raving about. We are located near the equator line, it's hot all year round, most of us are brown in varying shades, yet a lot of darker toned women find it difficult to get the right shade of foundation or powder.

It's about time we embraced our skin tone for what it is and started using/buying products that will enhance and maintain the health of our skin. Not turn it into something that it is not. Better to have glowing healthy brown skin than chalky pale skin.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Stick Straight

Does being beautiful mean having a long glossy mane? I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of seeing shampoo advertisements where the models sashay about with sleek long hair.

It's already the 2000's, get with it Shampoo manufacturers, such hair is no longer the Asian beauty ideal.  And realistically, not all of us can have hair like that, no matter how many bottles of said shampoo we pour on our heads!

Well I digress, this post is not a rant against shampoo manufacturers, but about hair straightening or better known as rebonding in this part of the world. Rebonding is an interesting breakthrough in the hair care industry that enables those with wavy, curly or frizzy hair to have straight hair.

I say interesting because it gives us options. With rebonding, those with frizzy manes can actually experiment with the straight look. However too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. And that seems to be the case with rebonding.

The advent of this method of hair straightening has given rise to rebonding junkies - People who religiously run to the saloon to iron out their hair when it starts to grow out. What baffles is when even people with naturally straight hair keep running to the saloon to er......iron out their straight hair?

The thing with rebonding is that it only looks good with hair that is fairly thick. Those with limp/thin hair should as far as possible try not to subject their hair to this intense hair make-over because the end result is that their hair screams: "I have been rebonded!" They end up with limp, stick like looking hair. Now how sexy is that?

Hair Damage

The harsh chemicals used in the rebonding process will serve to damage hair in the long run. For someone who jumped on the rebonding bandwagon many years ago, I should know.

Constant rebonding makes your hair strands very rough, especially the ends. Hair starts to fall out constantly too. Loosing hair for those who have thick manes is not so bad. But what about those who don't?

Yet despite knowing all this, people still persist in constantly straightening their hair out. Many women out there cannot imagine life without sleek straight hair, So they brave trip after trip to the saloon just to have umm.....pretty hair?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Must Because?

I dislike it when people say:

  1. "You have to"

  2. "You must"

If anybody is going to tell me either of the above, it must be accompanied by a valid reason. Plus the said reason must make sense. And in my opinion, anyone who complies with (1) and (2) without asking questions is a pushover who does not know their rights. Especially if it's not their normal practice to do whatever it is that is required of them.

"If you don't there will be repercussions"

If said "repercussions consist of displeasing some people because I did not conform to what they expected of me, too bad. If someone is unhappy that I did not do something or behave in a certain way, they better have a good reason for their said displeasure. Saying: "I expect you to just because I do" does not cut it.

Herd Mentality

I absolutely detest it when I am expected to do something or behave in a certain way just because everyone else is dancing to the general tune. As far as I am concerned, there were many instances when I refused to conform and news flash: I have yet to be struck down by lightning! I have encountered a few sour faces yes, but I am not inclined to bother myself with what these sour faces think.

In my opinion, nobody should be forced or pressured to:

  • Do what they don't want to.

  • Go where they don't want to.

  • Be nice to people they don't like.

  • Not to say what they think or express an opinion because people might not like it.

Even if the people doing the pressuring are say family.....relatives, the powers that be at work, or simply people who think they are important enough to tell other people what to do or how to act.

Family should respect you for who you are, employers hire you to perform a task for which you are paid for. It's a fair exchange and not a master-slave relationship. Hence they have no business trying to mould your personality to suit their tastes or dictate what you do after office hours. As for people who think they are so....... superior that they can push others around, sooner or later they will meet their match. It always happens somewhere down the road.


Of course there is no discounting the fact that when a person refuses to conform, they won't be popular and will attract resentment. At work there might be no pay rise or promotion, within the family circle they might not be the favourite daughter, son, niece, nephew etc. Well it takes guts, a certain amount of steel and courage to take the path untrodden.

Being original has always been a lonely business. A path usually taken only by loners and the unconventional. Every society is gifted with a sprinkling of such individuals and the masses that make up the numbers and live their lives by rules God ONLY knows who wrote and set down as the Bible!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lunch Time

I detest lunch hour. Why? because that's when the mass of humanity swarm out of their offices and descend upon the food courts, restaurants, cafes etc.

For me venturing out during lunch hour means:

  • Having to contend with noise pollution.

  • Having to wait in long queues to buy food or wait forever for my order to arrive.

  • The waiter is more likely to get  my order mixed up during peak hours such as lunch.

  • I would be more likely to encounter people who might irritate the hell out of me.

Another lunch hour hazard for me is having to make boring polite talk with people whom I have little in common with.

My idea of a perfect lunch hour is from 1.45pm to a little over 2.30pm. I would rather work through lunch and venture out later for a quick meal. The benefits of which are:

  • Food arrives faster.

  • I can have a relaxing and quiet meal.

  • I can browse the newspaper or a read a book in peace.

After a little quiet solitude and good food, I am ready to return to the office invigorated and refreshed.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Writer, writer

If you want to be a writer or a journalist, at the very basic, you should be able to WRITE. Understandably not everyone will be able to churn out beautiful prose in the beginning. However, at the very least, you should be able to string a decent sentence together, and it should make sense. If you can't even do that, better consider another career option.

I can cope with a certain amount of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, however if I am going to have to rewrite your entire story because you can't write for nuts, its time for you to do some serious soul-searching on why you decided to be a writer in the first place.

No doubt some subject matters can be somewhat technical to put across, but that is what your job as a writer and communicator is all about. To take something complex and simplify it for your reader.

What I cannot stand is lazy writers. These are people who make no effort to understand what they are planning to write about, and just load a couple of words together and expect the editor/copy editor to rewrite their poor copy.

Writers should love language and enjoy tinkering with words. Unfortunately too often these days, the people who become writers/reporters, have none of these qualities.


By that I mean your facts, writers and reporters are required to do a fair amount of research as part of their jobs, this includes verifying facts provided by other people. Don't just lump all the information in your article and expect the editor or copy editor to do the checking for you.

I encountered this scenario very often at the last place I worked at as a copy editor. Perhaps as an acknowledgment that their writers were not very good at what they do, the bosses would constantly be at the necks of the copy editors about fact checking. In my opinion, if the copy editor had to constantly call up people the writers had already interviewed to ensure the authenticity of the information provided, it would make the writers look bad for the poor quality of their reporting and ultimately the organisation itself would lose credibility.

The copy editor's job is to make written work look better, add the final polish, cut out unnecessary fluff, make long paragraphs and sentences shorter, write catchy headlines, stuff like that.

So writers, we copy editors are not here to pick up your slack. Your job is to write and get your facts right. Ours is to package your piece for production.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My sojourn in the land of $$$

Money makes the world go around, and nowhere is that saying truer than in India. From the moment I arrived at my hotel in Chennai, right up to the time I checked in at the airport to fly home, I found myself constantly having to dole out money for things that I would not have to pay for here in Malaysia.

Tipping is not just the norm in India, it's the culture. As a foreigner, especially one from a country with a higher currency rate, you are expected to tip your way through your trip. If you fail to tip somewhere along the line, expect to be treated in an uncooperative manner and worse still be insulted.

For instance if you forget to tip the guy at the shoe counter at some tourist area, be prepared to hear audible grumbling about stingy foreigners. This despite the fact that you had already paid to deposit your shoes there. In short you will be expected to dish out extra money for whatever service you request.

That aside, there will always be helpful wannabes tagging behind unsuspecting tourists and expecting to be tipped for their apparent helpfulness. For instance when my family and I were strolling in the gardens of the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial, one of the security guards kept tagging behind us and droned on like a tour guide. At first we were a bit puzzled as to his behaviour, it took us awhile to realise that he expected to be tipped. We gave him 20 rupees and he ambled off. When we told our driver about it, he said 20 rupees was actually too little. He chuckled and said it was likely that the guy was not too happy with his tip.

To an extent that sort of behaviour is to be expected when it comes to porters, waiters, guards etc. But what of priests? Though I have heard horror stories from friends and relatives alike about the way temples in India are run, it was nothing like experiencing it in person.

The avaricious attitude displayed by the majority of the temple priests I encountered, literally puts that of 3rd world politicians and bureaucrats to shame. More so that such vulgarity was blatantly practiced before the inner sanctum of some of the most holiest and revered shrines in Hinduism.

For anybody planning to go on a temple tour of India, start saving now! you have been warned. My mum and I spent more in the six or more temples that we visited than we did shopping for gifts!

What you have to pay for when visiting a temple:

1. Entrance fee. ( For the smaller temples it's a standard fee, while for the bigger temples there are different fees for different entrances. The special entrance fee is the most expensive - priced at about 100 rupees at an average, it will enable you to go right before the inner sanctum of the deity for about five minutes.

2. You might also have to pay for depositing your footwear outside the temple.

3. Camera ticket if the temple allows cameras in.

4. Fees for the various prayers you might want the priests to perform. The most basic being the "Archanai" fee.

5. Fees for bringing special items for the deities like a sari for instance.

6. Guide fees for the larger temples which are of historical interest.

Now that's just the standard stuff you have to pay for. The real rip-off starts when you reach the area of the inner sanctum. To recount what happened at all the temples we visited would be too many. For the purpose of this post, I shall describe what happened at the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai as an example.

After paying a host of fees for my brother's camera, 100 rupees each for the special entrance tickets etc, we made our way to the special entrance gate, after queuing for about 20 minutes, we reached the gate leading to the inner sanctum of Goddess Meenakshi, and were ushered in by the security personnel (All major temples in India employ a high level of security thanks to bomb threats).

Two things struck me when I entered the gated area of the inner sanctum, one was the beauty of the Goddess herself, a tall life-size black statue of a woman clad in an emerald green sari, with her gold ornaments glinting by the light of the lamps lit in her sanctum. The other was that the place was a veritable marketplace! the din was unbearable, certainly not an atmosphere for quiet contemplation.

As we stood looking a bit dazed, several priests called out to us to come closer, when we approached them, a priest put a tray with the holy ash and "arati" (holy fire) before us and said: " Please put 500 rupees or 1000 rupees on the tray". When we appeared reluctant, he rattled off like a tour guide, telling us how much the gold ornaments on the Goddess weighed, how tall was her statue etc, and then looked at us expectantly again, we put down 100 rupees, he looked at the money, gave a satisfactory nod and left. The thing is he was not the only one doing that, all around us we could hear priests saying: "500 rupees, 1000 rupees".

We then proceeded to the inner sanctum of Lord Shiva to have a repeat performance of what happened earlier. This time my brother put about 50 rupees on the tray, the priest walked into the inner sanctum, picked up the rolled-up note from the tray, saw that it was only 50 rupees, came out again, approached us as we were praying and said: " Can you please put more money on the tray? we will use it to feed the poor Brahmans." My brother put down another 10 rupees, and he walked off, waiting to milk another more generous tourist I suppose.

My mum and I had a similar experience at the Kanyakumari Temple. A priest who guided us to the special entrance gate, actually requested a tip for his 'apparent helpfulness'.

When we told our driver about this, he said that despite being paid regular salaries, the majority of temple priests in India, especially those in the bigger temples, are out to make a quick buck from tourists. He said the way they see it, tourists like us come from countries with higher currency rates, so there's no harm in us parting with say 1000 rupees for the good of temple folk like them.

He also said that on the whole the priests would try to encourage people who want to donate money, to put the cash on the tray instead of the huge donation boxes that are a fixture at almost all temples. This is because the money put in the iron boxes comes under the purview of the government and will be used for the upkeep of the temple, while money put on the tray goes into the pockets of the avaricious priests.

We were also told that the priests were particularly upset that the government made a ruling forbidding non-Hindus from entering the area of the inner sanctum itself. Why? because this means they would not be able to seek donations from Western tourists ( apparently deemed to be more generous). We were naturally quite shocked, in any religion as we know it, only devotees and those of the faith are allowed before the sacred shrines to worship. And to think that these priests who are supposed to be the guardians of the sacred sanctuaries so to speak, would not mine having gaping tourists with cameras access into such hallowed ground just for $$$$.


Throughout my 10 day stay in India, one thing was glaringly apparent, the lack of cleanliness. Sadly this also extended to the temples. So many priests hanging around to make a quick buck from tourists, but no time to clean the shrines properly? walking around the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore, Chennai, I was quite shocked to see grime and dirt on the walls of some of the shrines.

At the Madupuram Kali Temple on the outskirts of Madurai, the huge statue of the great Goddess herself looked like it needed a good scrub, even the red sari draped about her torso had smudges of dirt on it.

Of all the temples I visited, the Vaitheeswaran Temple near the famed temple town of Chidambaram was in a most appalling state of neglect. Only the front portion of the temple had some form of lighting, everywhere else was pitch dark. We literally had to grope our way through the passages of this ancient temple, to make it worse, the floor was slippery and muddy to boot!

We Hindus have this thing about brightness, especially with regards to altars and places of worship. Bright means auspicious, that being the case, it was quite sad to see some of the shrines looking dark and dingy with only one small flickering oil lamp. In fact at some of the shrines, we did not even know which god we were praying to. It was that dark.

Millions of tourists flock to India each year to visit her ancient temples. In short the temples are a huge draw. Yet so little is done to keep these buildings in good order. Lack of money is not an issue, the temples receive huge amounts of donations from tourists and devotees alike.

While in Madurai, our driver showed us a newspaper article about the donations received by a famous temple to Lord Vishnu somewhere in Karnataka, there was an accompanying picture to the article which showed stacks and stacks of rupees which government workers were taking out of the donation box. So where is all the money going to? No doubt the government does allocate a certain amount of money for the upkeep of the temples. But more should be done.

Taking all this into account, will I visit India again to see her ancient temples in the not so glorious state that it is in today? Indeed I will, corrupt priests not withstanding. Why? despite all the rupees that I have to dole out and all the silly tickets I have to purchase, and the dirt and neglect, there is a certain something about these ancient monuments that's special.......centuries of worship does add character to a place. I am sure all those people who flock to India year after year without fail, will agree with me.