Father Sez

From and to parents - parental advice to our children on personal financial management and life.
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Archive for August, 2008

Buildings and structures that have really moved me – Elmina Castle, Cape Coast, Ghana

Friday, August 29th, 2008

You might know the feeling.

You turn a corner and there it is. The building or structure or natural wonder that everyone has talked about. And you see it for the first time. In all it’s splendour.  

Maybe a gasp comes out. Maybe a small lump forms in your throat. You feel your heart beating a little faster. The sight has left an indelible mark on you. And you never ever forget this feeling.  

I have had this feeling the first time I saw six particular buildings. (I am only referring to buildings or structures here.) 

The first time I visited Elmina Castle which is in the city of Cape Coast, Ghana was in 1998. It was during my second trip to Ghana. By then we already had some staff in Ghana who had started survey works, and had hence become fairly knowledgeable about local travel.    

Not being a history buff, I did not know much about the infamous slave trade. Though my friends told me a little about this, I thought the trip would be just a normal sightseeing one. And being my first trip outside Accra, the capital, I looked forward to enjoying the ride.

 A little about the Castle.  


The Portuguese built the castle in 1482, originally established as a trading post for goods bartered for local gold and valuable gem. However, as the demand for slaves increased in the Americas and Caribbean, the castle became strategic in the perpetuation of this abhorrent human cargo trade. The storerooms of the castle were converted into dungeons, and the ownership of the castle changed hands several times, eventually ending up being seized by the British in 1872. By this time, slavery had been abolished. The British didn’t use Elmina to house slaves; they used Cape Coast Castle for that.                                                                                                                                                       

Unquote: From the Ontario Black History Society’s website

The view of the Castle from the outside was not too impressive, at least not in the sense of the title of this post. But I was not in the least prepared for what I saw and felt inside.  


This picture is also from the Ontario Black History Society website.

The feeling hit me like a ton of bricks when I entered one of the dungeons. The dungeons used to house the slaves before they were moved through the “Door of No Return” and shipped off to those far off countries. It was a dark gloomy dungeon. Devoid of any windows expect for one slit like opening high up.  


Female Dungeon 

Photo Credit: flickr.com/photos/bdinphoenix

I felt as if I was transported back into time. Standing there and seeing the slaves who were chained to the floor, in rows. Much like the way supermarkets stack their goods. Stripped of their honour and dignity, having no idea where they would end up, having no idea if they would ever see their loved ones again. Eyes haggard, spirits broken.   

I remember standing there for a while, feeling a sense of immense sorrow passing through me, on the unspeakable misery and cruelty inflicted upon humans by fellow humans in the name of commerce.  Not in the name of war or strife, but just pure commerce. Profit and loss! 

As a Malaysian and having never had any views, much less feelings about the slave trade, I was surprised at the intensity of the feeling that I had.  

Later the guide told me that such feelings were common. They often had to keep some of the tour groups separated as feelings often spilled over into perhaps exchanges of words etc.  

Some time later I visited the Ghanaian National Museum and got to learn a little more about those miserable times. There were even some copies of old sales posters on slave auctions and stuff like that. 

I thank God that this period is now history. And I pray that mankind had learnt and progressed enough to never ever repeat these kind of deeds. 

Now as I write this piece, I feel again the same sense of sorrow pass through me.  Not of that same intensity, but still “feelable”.

I collected the RM625 fuel subsidy today. And it took me all of about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

In early June 08, the Malaysian pump fuel prices were raised by 41%.  This increase immediately created a tsunami of increases in the prices of almost everything you could think of.

The pain inflicted on the man in the street by these increases is still being felt and will be felt for quite a long while.  At the same time (to alleviate the sufferings of us poor Malaysians!!!) the Government also announced a rebate of RM625 per individual car of 2,000 cc or less. People with cars registered in the name of companies, permanent residents and expatriates all got the short end of the stick.  

The Postal Services (which was privatised some time ago) was appointed as the sole payout agent. 

And true to form, Malaysians turned up by the busloads to collect the rebate. The Post Offices were jam packed with people with queues reminiscent of pictures of people lining up for rock concerts.  


Image credit: The Star Publications via the Danesh Project. (Thanks, Danny) 

Today, about 2 months after the announcement, I went to collect the rebate on our car at the Post Office at a shopping mall about 2 minutes from our house.  Collecting the form, filling it up, taking a number, submitting and collecting the princely sum of RM625 took me a sum total of about 15 minutes.  

A well spent fifteen minutes.

I wonder if I would have ever spent time lining up in the sun, like some of the people in the picture above to collect this or any other rebate. I also wonder if this “attitude” is needed in someone’s profile to attract and retain wealth.

Is it Malaria again, or Dengue or just a viral fever?

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

On Monday the 11 August, I spent a night at the Thai border town of Betong. The three Malaysian towns closest to Betong are Pengkalen Hulu, Baling and Gerik. I did not feel anything unusual after the visit and life went just fine.

Then on Tuesday the 19th, I started feeling slightly feverish and slept it off. On Thursday morning the fever persisted and I went to see our local GP. I told her I did not think it was malaria as I did not get the alternating chills that makes us shiver and the fever that makes us sweat. She gave me some pills and antibiotics and I went home. 

Then the chills truck on Thursday night and I went to the nearby medical centre, where I was last treated for malaria. They took a blood test, said that it did not seem to be malaria and sent me home. Asking me to come back on Monday the 25th. My first encounters with malaria was when I was working in Ghana. My colleagues would, (quite nonchalantly) tell me they needed a couple of days off due to malaria which was always given. (If I am not mistaken, the Ghanaian Labour Office suggests that all investors in Ghana should provide for about a week off every year for each staff due to malaria. This made me treat this disease quite lightly when I had a full scale attack when I landed in Djibouti from Mali in February 07. That attack left quite a deep scare in my mind.

My doctors have told me before that there was no trace of malaria (in the blood tests) during my afflictions in 2007. So I am not taking the current results lightly, as Gerik is known as a hotspot for malaria.  


Credit: http://www.fallingrain.com/world/TH/70/Betong.html 

Naturally some of my plans now have to be cancelled. 

a)    I made a sort of vow that (since my “retirement) I’ll try my best to do my Friday prayers with my son. Today I could not join him. 

b)    My second girl’s convocation is tomorrow morning. Looks like her Mama has to attend the ceremony with one of the kids.  Luckily she collected the gown last Sunday  and the serious family photography has already been done.

c)     This afternoon I was supposed to make a visit to another goat farm not far from where our farm is. This has been cancelled and a date will be fixed later. 

d)    On Sunday, I was supposed to go to Jakarta for a week to attend some meetings relating to the telecommunication towers. 

These are the appointments I cancelled. The next few days, I am just going to laze at home and drink lots and lots of water. 

Man, I assure you that this fever is a miserable one. It looks like once you are afflicted, the treatment just makes the viruses take a rest and continue to multiply. My last clear attack was in May or June 07, I think. Almost the 2 most miserable months of my life.  


We just launched our farm’s website

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Yesterday, our farm’s website went live. 

It’s going to be a simple website, in fact more along the lines of a blog.  

There are a number of blogs put up by goat farmers all over Malaysia. Some of these blogs seem a little overloaded with advertisements and some others have music clips. 

Our blog will just focus on the activities of our farm. No ads, no music, no distractions.  

I must see a lot more of Malaysia. It’s the only country I have.

Monday, August 18th, 2008

I have been “unemployed” since the 31st of July. Maybe not unemployed, but doing my own thing. This sounds a lot better. For the first time in my life, I do not have to dress up, face the traffic and turn up at some office at a particular time every working day. 

So in theory, I should have lots of time on my hands. (It doesn’t seem so, but that is another story). And I should be doing lots of travelling. Isn’t this what people out of the rat race do? 

And I do want to travel. I just love the country side. Streams, lakes, mountains, the sea, islands, new places, the list can go on and on. And of course, now more than ever, I have to be frugal in my travelling. So I have struck Paris and Monte Carlo and Venice from my list.  

My plan is to see as much of my country as I can, after all, Malaysia is truly blessed and well varied in its offerings to anyone who is interested.

A good friend of mine, who also got out of the rat race a while ago, does his sight seeing / travelling through his love of cycling. ARZ (aka Rambo) was once a biker, but an accident put paid to those plans. It’s now pedal power all the way. He has cycled almost all over Malaysia and is now extending his reach to Thailand and Indonesia. And practicing frugality all the way.  

Over lunch lately, I told him about my recent trip to the Malaysia -   Thailand border town of Betong. (Rambo, of course, had already been there and not only that, had cycled all the way deep into Thailand. He reeled off names of southern Thai towns like some geography expert).   

I am not a cycling enthusiast like Rambo, so I am going to make do with driving trips. After all I am now in the enviable position of being able to plan my trips when the prices are cheapest.  

For starters, I’ll cover my State of Negeri Sembilan. It looks like the Government website does quite do justice to the many places that are well worth seeing

Though not in my State, Betong was the first of the outings since the 31st July. I am looking forward to the many more trips that are in store.   


The entrance to the tunnels dug by the Communist insurgents. The tunnels have a number of exits and even rooms for working and sleeping.  I was told that the tunnels end up on the Malaysian side, though the route we took went round and brought us back to almost the same spot.


The “front office and lobby” of the hotel I stayed in Betong. The owner (a Malaysian by the way), told me that the building was probably more than a 100 years old. They had some lovely chalets nested against the forest, but they were full that night. So I had to make do with the normal rooms.


These two chairs had some seriously intricate carvings. The previous owner of the hotel was an antique collector and these chairs were part of his collection.

We just bought 5, yes 5 houses!

Friday, August 15th, 2008

I better qualify this statement before someone applies to be my apprentice thinking that I have just become the Donald. 

Yes, we did buy 5 houses, but not to rent out or to flip or to live in. Rather we bought these houses to cannibalize them.

The principal material of our goat shed is wood. For our first shed we bought wood from the timber guys and paid a fortune. Now, with petrol prices up 41%, cement and steel prices up and fertilizer prices up, the timber guys have also upped their prices. (I am not sure of the connection, but it’s a take it or leave it situation).

So we had to look for alternatives.  


An inside view of one of the houses.  


 A view from the outside.


Another view

There are thousands of wooden houses in Malaysia, some really magnificent, others run down. Some of these houses have been abandoned for years and are in states of complete disrepair. But they do have solid wooded planks and beams which can be salvaged. 

The trick is identifying the houses, finding and then getting the owner to agree to sell. And, of course, we don’t get the deeds to the house. Just the rights to all the material we can dismantle and cart away.  

We have now found 5 such houses. Whilst they look quite inhabitable, the wood can be put to good use. The 2nd goat shed is going to be almost twice the 1st shed’s size, so we can do with all the savings we can make. 

We have also found the team to dismantle the houses. The work should start next week and hopefully the wood can be safely transported to our farm within ten days after work starts.  

Let’s see how this project goes.       

Our deeply discounted bonds are dy/dx closer to maturity

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

In June, I wrote about adding some deeply discounted bonds to our investment portfolio. 

They were seedlings of the gaharu tree, which we bought from the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM).  It’s been about two and a half months since we got the seedlings.

We have been keeping them in a small makeshift nursery at our goat farm before transplanting them at our rubber smallholding. So far they are looking good.  We intend to transplant them only when they have reached a good height (about my chest height). Otherwise the local goats that somehow manage to get into our rubber smallholding might make a meal of our “bonds”.


The seedlings seem to be outgrowing their present tiny polybags. So now, we are going to transplant them into much bigger polybags. I also have to check with the people of FRIM from whom we bought the seedlings.

Perhaps I can just point them to my blog and see if the picture is good enough for them to do an overall health assessment. 

I’ll keep you posted.    

Psst…..any of you know Christopher Nolan? I need to get in touch with him.

Friday, August 8th, 2008

The Dark Knight, a Batman movie directed by Mr. Nolan has broken all box office records, it seems. (Except for one still taken by the Titanic) 

Well, I have a story plot that should make Mr. Nolan drool. Hear some of the chapter headings: 

-         the riches of King Solomon at stake, 

-         a former Deputy Prime Minister is now accused and charged with sodomy, 

-         The present Deputy Prime Minister is alleged to be involved in a sensational murder of a Mongolian model. She was blown up with C4 explosives and had previously worked as a translator in a deal with this DPM’s Ministry of Defence worth more than a billion Ringgit.  

-         the present Prime Minister is often accused of sleeping through many meetings, hence allowing the various Ministers and local District officials to run their respective fiefdoms as, well, their respective fiefdoms, 

-         The alleged victim of the sodomy case was declared a total stranger by the present DPM. Then the DPM admitted that he had met the victim in his (DPM’s) house and earlier at his office, 

-         and this victim had met the DPM “before” he was sodomised, 

-         a doctor who examined the victim and wrote a medical report that he found no evidence of sodomy has released a Statutory Declaration to this effect and has left the country fearing for his life, 

-         A private investigator who once worked for the late Mongolian model issued a SD claiming the present DPM’s involvement with the lady. Two days later, he issued another SD (after meeting with the police) that his first SD was in error. This PI has also left the country, 

-         in the last General Elections of March 08, the ruling party received their worst ever blow from the people. 

Those of you who need a blow by blow account of this intense thriller as it develops can read some of the primary Malaysian political blogs. The ones that I read are Rocky’s Bru, written by a veteran former journalist, and Malaysia Today written by, I think, a really courageous and well informed Malaysian.

I never write about politics in my blog. This blog is dedicated to imparting the life lessons I have learnt to my children and to any others who may be interested. So please do not take this post as a political post.  Rather it is an offer to Mr. Nolan to get in touch with me, so that together we can put up a movie script that promises to have all the ingredients of a best seller. Of course, the late Mr. Ludlum would also have been most welcome (wonder who is his worthy successor).  

And to let my children know that I think we have very poor leaders who seem to think that there is little need for any accountability for the posts they hold. 

My beloved country is being buffeted by very strong winds. The people we have entrusted to hold the rudder steady seem to be distracted. I pray and hope that good sense and morality will prevail and that we will not be put into the depths of countries like Zimbabwe.  

It looks like I am not the only concerned person here. Some Malaysians are so upset by the unfolding events that they have declared our country to be in extreme distress and are flying our national flag upside down. A campaign to promote this sign of protest has been launched 

Applying 5 S Methodology, the cornerstone of Japanese lean manufacturing strength in our daily lives – The Final Part

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008


A 5S poster hanging in our goat farm. (We have 6 of these all over the farm). We got the posters from the Malaysian National Productivity Corporation, a Malaysian Government body first set up with the help of the UN and which lists amongst its objectives ”the promotion and dissemination of productivity related information and issues”.

Note that the poster is in Bahasa Malaysia, and the MPC has also used suitable words to maintain the 5S acronym.  

Continuing our series on 5 “S”….. as consistent practice and application of the Japanese “5 S” Methodology helps to form a strong foundation for our journey into continuous incremental improvements in our workplace, homes and lives.   Seiri – the first “S” 

Seiton – the second “S” 

Seiso – the third “S” and the fourth “S”, i.e. Seiketsu. 

The fifth and final “S” in the chain is:


“Shitsuke, means ‘Discipline.’ It denotes commitment to maintain orderliness and to practice the first 4 S as a way of life.  The emphasis of shitsuke is elimination of bad habits and constant practice of good ones.  Once true shitsuke is achieved, personnel voluntarily observe cleanliness and orderliness at all times, without having to be reminded by management.”

Once the 4 S are ingrained in us, the 5th “S” calls for us to make a commitment, implement the rules and make the practice of 5 S an ingrained habit.

Probably many of us are actually practicing the tenets of 5 S, based on what we have seen elsewhere, without actually realising. Some simple examples of 5 S in daily life are given by Dr. Chao-Hsien Chu of  Pennsylvania State University, USA. 

We have instituted the practice of 5 S in our goat farm. I am confident that consistent application and practice of these simple words of wisdom can only be of benefit to us.


A place for every broom and a broom for every place. 

Photo Credits: Zai, my partner at the goat farm

Our square foot garden……not quite there yet

Monday, August 4th, 2008


Our very own chilly plant. Come on! Bloom, Bloom!


One of the papaya plants. Soon they’ll be bearing is a bountiful harvest of fruits, God Willing.


The present state of our square foot garden 

I first read about the concept of square foot gardening after reading Lynnae’s post on this subject. She gave credit to Frugal Dad, whose post included detailed instructions and even what the building profession would refer as a costed bill of quantities. 

Lynnae’s built her square foot garden with the help of her able assistant, her son Sam. The whole project seemed like fun and besides growing our own vegetables made a lot of sense. So with our second daughter as project manager / worker, and my wife and I as advisors and funders, the project was launched in May 08. (Yes, our family can be a little top heavy in our projects.) 

Malaysia is an equatorial country. We don’t have winter and have plenty of rain all year round. We are also blessed with fertile soil and we just pretty much have to toss some seeds and forget about them and they should germinate.  

Theoretically, at least. 

Late last month, Lynnae announced to the world that her square foot garden overfloweth. And overfloweth it sure seems to have. She posted a picture of the vegetables she had harvested and boy, it sure looks like she has a green thumb.  

Alas, I cannot say the same about our efforts. Our project manager/worker, has left home and now stays on her own, not too far from the accounting firm where she has now started work.  

The Fathersez’s family’s square foot garden has not bloomed nearly as well as Lynnae’s.  (You may note that we are using pots, unlike Frugal Dad and Lynnae. We thought we would be the only ones, but it looks like at least Jim of BFP (another blogger I follow and admire) is also doing the same).

On a positive note, the venture into farming also resulted in the sprouting of our first fruit tree. An embarrassment really, since any Malaysian worth his or her salt and with a square foot of land would have planted this tree immediately.  It’s papaya. And there are 3 of them.

The jury may be still out on our gardening achievements. We are not discouraged. In fact we have gotten a lot bolder, and have started a project that should about almost eliminate our family’s monthly vegetable costs.  I hope to report on this project in about a month or so.  

Picture Credit: Our project manager/worker, my second daughter, Azah.

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