Father Sez

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Archive for September, 2008

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri

Monday, September 29th, 2008

This Tuesday, the 30th of September corresponds with the last day of the month of Ramadhan of the Islamic calendar. Marking the last day of the fasting month. And on Wednesday dawns the 1st day of Shawal of the Islamic calendar, or Aidil Fitri. 

(In Malaysia, this day (as well as the beginning of Ramdahan) is decided by the sighting of the new moon. The Islamic Department Authorities have about 29 sites at various points all around the country at which the sighting is done. The sighting is then announced over the TV and radio stations by the Keeper of the Royal Seal. Hence the above dates are subject to the confirmation of the sighting.) 

 

Picture Credit: Google ImagesOn Aidil Fitri, Muslims take extra effort to renew ties with friends and family by visiting them. In fact many Muslims households have a tradition of an “open house” where everyone is free to drop in and visit. This is especially so for the leaders of the country where it is not uncommon to see almost 10,000 people lining up to drop by the house of the Prime Minister. 

Children have a particularly grand time. Food is aplenty and gifts in the form of small sums of money can be expected from almost every household they visit.  

I take this opportunity to wish all Muslims: 

SELAMAT HARI RAYA AIDIL FITRI, MA’AF ZAHIR & BATIN. 

Getting a grip on sunk costs when doing a personal finance makeover

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

One of my favourite personal finance blogs, Get Rich Slowly, had a great piece on the sunk cost fallacy. It’s truly good stuff and should be recommended reading for anyone of us intent on changing our personal financial positions. 

One common factor that should be present in almost anyone with a “not so good” personal finance situation would be some of the investments and purchases made in the past. Expenses that we thought (at that time) would be useful and pay for themselves   many times over. And many of these come with recurring costs. 

When we set out on changing our pf habits, these recurring costs are sometimes quite difficult to eliminate. The thinking that we have is…”Oh! We have already spent so much, how do we throw this away?”. So trapped in this thinking, we continue throwing away more good money after bad. 

Examples of these would be subscriptions to various clubs or societies for which we had earlier paid hefty joining fees, Timeshare purchases, purchase of a car with a high monthly instalment etc. 

GRS quotes from the book, Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes (and How to Correct Them). 

Once your money is spent, it’s gone. It has no relevance. To the extent you can incorporate that notion into your financial decisions, you’ll be that much better off for trying. If you’re debating the sale of an investment (or a home), for example, remember that your goal is to maximize your wealth and your enjoyment. The goal is not to justify your decision to buy the investment at whatever price you originally paid for it. Who cares? What counts, in terms of getting where you want to be tomorrow, is what that investment is worth today.

This is also a rule in management accounting, when financial evaluations are done to decide on issues like producing ourselves or subcontracting etc. Expenditure made and done with are ignored. The only things that matter are the future outflows. 

This was the rule that I used when we cancelled our club memberships (two of them) and our cable TV subscriptions. Now we have done the same with our Timeshare. Just cancelled the bloody thing and save the annual subscriptions that came with it. (Man, it did hurt! But time should heal all things). 

Sunk costs are just that. Costs spent and gone. Nothing that we do now will change that. What matters is what we would be spending in the future. Is it an expenditure that we  would make, now that we have a new mindset? Just ask yourself this. If the answer is no, then just cancel and be done with it.

I have.

The last 10 days of Ramadhan

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

Last Saturday night was the 21st night of Ramadhan, signalling the start of the last 10 days.  

The last 10 days are ultra special days of what is regarded as the holiest month of the Islamic calendar. Our holy Quran was first sent down during these 10 days. And the Quran tells us about a particularly special night known as “Lailatul Qadar” or the Night of Power. 

In the name of God, the Benevolent, the Merciful.
1 Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Predestination.
2 Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Night of Power is!
3 The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
4 The angels and the Spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees.
5 (The night is) Peace until the rising of the dawn.

All Muslims strive to maximise their prayers and good deeds on this night, which the Hadith explain would fall during one of the odd nights of the last 10 days of Ramadhan. We believe that our requests to the All Mighty on this night, which is better than a 1000 months, would be granted. 

This belief may seem strange to non Muslims, but then this is what “faith” is all about.  Complete acceptance and belief.  

Talking about faith, something I read in Readers Digest many years ago comes to mind.  

A mother asked her 6 year old son after he came back from Bible classes on what he had learnt that day. The boy told her that the teacher told them the story of Moses and his followers being chased by the soldiers of the Pharaoh until Moses was stuck at a sea shore. So Moses called up the Air Force General who sent fighter jets and bombers to fight the Pharaoh and his soldiers. The general also sent some boats to Moses to take him and his followers across the sea. 

The mother said, “I am sure this is not what the teacher said”. 

To which the boy replied, “Mom, if I told you what she told us, you’ll never believe it!” 

I am sure that once the boy becomes a little older and understands faith, he’ll truly understand and accept the story of Moses, which is also explained in the Quran.   

There is quite a bit of literature on how to look for and identify the Night of Power. As for me, the Hadith is good enough. It should fall on one of the odd nights of the last 10 days of Ramadhan. And Insya’Allah the angels will find me praying or doing other good deeds on every night of these last ten days, and may my prayers be answered. 

A visit to Kundasang, the foothills of South East Asia’s highest mountain

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Now that I am “retired”, I am trying to see as much as possible of my country. So last week, whilst in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, we decided to take a drive to Kundasang, a smallish village at the foothills of Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in South East Asia. 

The drive to Kundasang from Kota Kinabalu (about 90 odd kms) is a really scenic mountain one. The road is good and is one of the main arterial road to other major towns. It offers spectacular views of hills and valleys including one big waterfall that we saw from a distance.  

Along the way, we stopped by a roadside mushroom farm, a project by the local village development board.   

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A close up shot of the mushrooms

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The mushrooms in various stages of growth

Kundasang is known for its vegetable market, where fresh vegetables are sold 7 days a week. Now even people from Brunei drive all the way up to buy vegetables. So for the people of KK this is THE PLACE for fresh and very reasonably priced vegetables. 

Kundasang is also known for its spectacular views of Mount Kinabalu. I was not lucky. Actually to be honest, I was not well prepared, I should have come much earlier in the day. So by the time we arrived, dense fog had clouded the peak, so we only managed to get a fleeting glimpse of the peak.

Still the view of the mountain is breathtaking.   

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A view of Mount Kinabalu by me, a not too accomplished photographer. The little dot that you see on top of the clouds is the peak.

It’s a distant dream for me to climb this mountain one day. My brother in law, (who was with me) has climbed it before when he was stationed in Sabah with the Royal Malaysian Air Force. He told me that whilst the fitter people make it up within a few hours, the lesser fit ones, including some elderly people make their way up quite regularly.  

You can read here about a fellow Malaysian’s climb up the hill in 1990

I used to love trekking and hiking whilst in school. This activity sort of faded out as I started University and working life. I tried to get back into it again by joining the Malaysian Nature Society which organised jungle treks for its members once in a while. I remember participating in one (which the MNS described as a walk in the park), and believe me, it was no walk in the park. Not for me at least. And that ended my short relationship with the MNS. Maybe I should restart the relationship. 

Anyway, now that I have a lot more time on my hands, getting a lot fitter is high on the list of priorities. And hopefully a climb up Mount Kinabalu may not be that far fetched.     

Health Insurance – a fundamental piece of the retirement jigsaw. At least, I have got that correct!

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

CNN Money wrote about the need to have our health insurance needs well taken care off to ensure a less stressful retirement.

This makes a lot of sense, as healthcare costs can wipe off large chunks of our retirement savings.  

Two years ago a friend of mine went in for heart surgery in a private hospital and the costs were exorbitant, to say the least. He is still paying off the debt. A month ago, my brother went in, also for heart surgery at a Government Hospital and it did not cost him a cent! It helped that his son and daughter in law are both Government doctors. 

Getting our own health insurance was more by chance rather than adroit retirement planning. I have changed jobs a number of times and each time lost the health insurance benefits as I moved. Though the “next employer” provided equivalent health benefits, the window when I was working in Ghana exposed my family and me to the risks of not having health insurance. I can only thank God that I was not forced to find out the hard way. 

We have a family plan with one of the local insurers. Apparently the fine print dictated that children over 18 were disqualified. I did not realise this until it was pointed out by a personal finance planner friend I met through blogging, KC Lau. (Thanks again, KC!) 

Of course, the silly insurance company with all its banks of computers did not have the sense to write to me and remind me of this fine print and suggest if I would be interested in separate packages for my two elder girls (Which I would most certainly have taken).

The two girls now have their own health policies.  I acknowledge that with the rising costs of healthcare, and despite my insurance I might still face a major drain, should anything untoward happen.  These healthcare costs and the strain upon the other family members is why I believe that it’s one of God’s greatest gifts when someone “goes” in a clean manner. Say, leading a reasonably healthy life and just not getting up after going to sleep or something like that. 

And I pray that when the time comes, God will give me this gift, Insya’Allah.

“African Leaf” – Is this the elixir for everlasting youthfulness?

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Last week I spent 4 days in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the State of Sabah, more commonly known as “the land below the wind”. 

The principal purpose was business, but there are still too many loose ends to be settled. So I can’t write about this yet. 

I visited my wife’s younger brother, Zaini, and his family. They have settled down in a town called Papar, about 30 kms from Kota Kinabalu (KK). He married a Sabahan lady when he was posted to Sabah whilst serving the Royal Malaysian Air Force. They have 4 young lovely kids, all of whom are attending Chinese schools. 

I had last seen Zaini about 9 months earlier. And I must admit that when I saw him at the airport last week, he looked radiant. A poster good picture of good health. I wondered about this but kept my thoughts to myself.  

Later when I asked him about it, he showed me a plant he referred to as the “African Leaf plant.”  Apparently the plant was just growing in his rented house compound, when he moved in. One day, one of his neighbours, a Chinese gentleman who was an avid practitioner of Feng Shui came to his house and saw the plant. He pointed out that the leaves of this plant could be soaked in hot water (either green or dried) and the resultant tea could be drunk as an excellent health beverage. 

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The leaf is slightly smaller than an adult’s palm.

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The tree can grow to twice our height. It is recommeded that we prune them once they are taller than us. The cuttings can be planted or given to friends for planting.

And this was what Zaini had been taking, about 3 – 4 glasses a day for the past 6 – 7 months. And, believe me, the results are nothing short of spectacular!

The tree can be grown from cuttings and I brought some back for planting in my house. I also brought some of the dried leaves back and have started drinking the tea. 

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We have planted 5 cuttings in our garden. Let’s hope the tree blossoms as well as it is doing in Zaini’s garden.

I have not done any research on the scientific name of this plant. A google of the name only talks about the African Leaf fish. 

Apparently the tree grows quite easily, so if all goes well, I should have my own stock in the next couple of weeks or so.

Buildings and structures that have really moved me – Masjidil Haram, Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Friday, September 12th, 2008

It is in 1988, when a friend, Jamal suggested that I should perform the Umrah or minor pilgrimage. At that time, I was not exactly a religious person. I remember wondering about whether I could continue doing my, shall we just say, non Islamic activities should I perform the Umrah. 

Jamal made it very easy for me. I handed him my passport, paid the relevant amounts and he made all the arrangements for us to perform the Umrah, arranged by the Malaysian Pilgrimage Fund, or Lembaga Urusan dan Tabung Haji (LUTH).  

I kept my thoughts to myself, but I was a little concerned when I boarded the flight to Jeddah that fateful day in 1988. I mean, I was on my way to visit the holiest place in Islam, as a guest of the All Mighty. I had heard stories of people who never made it despite all their efforts. They might have fallen terribly sick etc., and stuff like that. I wondered if such a calamity would befall me. 

Anyway, the flight was uneventful and we landed in Jeddah on time. I feel that I got my first sign when we were being herded into a mini bus by the LUTH representatives to a nearby hotel for freshening up. The bus was full and there were still two of us left. The LUTH representative made some calls and told us a car would be coming to pick us up and a car did come. 

Boy, what a car! It was a stretch limo, the type that we see pop or movie stars use. My first time in such a car!  

From Jeddah, we flew to Medina first and spent a few days there, praying at the Prophet’s pbuh mosque (the 2nd most holiest place in Islam). We then flew back to Jeddah (dressed in ihram and having taken the niat or intention to perform the Umrah) and were then taken in a bus to Mecca. We unloaded our bags at our hotel and were taken by our guide to the Grand Mosque.  

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 Some pilgrims in Ihram

I remember walking into the Mosque, following our guide and silently reading the various prayers that we were recommended to read.  Masjidil Haram or the Grand Mosque in Mecca is the holiest mosque for all Muslims, where a prayer done is equivalent to 100,000 prayers done in any other mosque.

This mosque is built around the Ka’abah, towards which the entire Muslim population faces whilst performing prayers.  We reached the sunken part of the Grand Mosque which has the Ka’abah at its centre.

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A pic of the Masjidil Haram. The Ka’abah is the black cube that we see in the centre. Credit: Google

It was slightly after midday, and for the first time in my life, I say the Ka’abah in all its splendour. I suppose I must have stared at it for a while perhaps with my mouth open!Hundreds of people were performing the tawaf, an Islamic ritual where we walk 7 times around the Ka’abah. 

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The Ka’abah.  

I broke down and cried. Not sobbing or anything like that, but just cried. I don’t know why. It just happened. Tears flowed down my cheeks and I remember not being bothered about whether others were looking at me.  

Insya’Allah, the Umrah that I performed that day, was accepted.  

As part of the trip, we were taken for a guided tour around Mecca and our guide explained to us the various events that had taken place in Islamic history at each of the places that we stopped.

Other than this, we spent most of our time in Mecca in the Grand Mosque.  Each and every time, I entered the Mosque and saw the Ka’abah for the first time that particular time, I felt moved.  

Since that fateful day, my wife and I have performed the Haj and I have been back a number of times to perform the Umrah. Each and everytime, I have been moved. I don’t know if the Ka’abah is called a building, but no structure or building has ever moved me as much as this building has done.    

Buildings and structures that have really moved me – The Pyramids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

I missed an opportunity in 2002, when we flew back from Accra to Malaysia via Cairo and our plan was to spend a couple of nights in Cairo and visit the famous Egyptian National Museum and the pyramids. Unfortunately I had to fly back early as my boss wanted me back in Kuala Lumpur. 

I had another opportunity in 2006, when I had some business in Cairo and the trip straddled an Egyptian weekend.  

Giza is not too far from Cairo. I can’t remember how long the taxi ride took, but the whole excursion was over in about 3 – 4 hours. We had to buy some tickets to explore the site and it was hot and dusty.            

I have, of course, read about the pyramids, seen plenty of pictures, seen documentaries, and am also an avid fan of the Mummy series.  But nothing of what I had read, seen or heard about this wonder of the world had prepared me for what I was about to see.  

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Man! The pyramids are huge! Huge may not exactly do justice. I mean, they were really huge! Wikipedia mentions that the present height is 138.8 metres, after erosion had taken away some of its original 146.6 metres. Assuming a normal floor height of about 10 feet or 3 metres, this would make it a building of about 46 stories or so. No wonder, it is one of the wonders of the world and the tallest structure on the earth for over 3,800 years! 

Not only that, these gigantic structures were built to a precision that present day nano technologists would be proud of. Looking at it from a distance, seeing other visitors swarming around the base like ants, the size feels really magnified. 

Makes one really ponder about how on earth a structure like this could ever have been built in an era without tower cranes, hydraulic lifts, those gigantic Transformer like trucks and the like.  Yeah, it may be easy to just say that it took 20 years and God knows how many tens of thousands of workers. Still, a structure of 46 stories, made up of those huge stone blocks found miles and miles away from the site! 

Maybe there is some truth in Erick von Daniken’s theory of these structures having been built by beings from other planets.  

This Grand Pyramid of Giza left in indelible mark in my mind. The verse in the Quran about how the people of our past were far stronger and greater than the present generations came to my mind again. 

It also made me wonder why these once mighty Pharaohs chose the shape of a pyramid. Why not a block, a spiral or even a pentagon or something else? And the pyramid shape must be special. Similar shaped ancient buildings have been found in many other parts of the world, including, it seems, a submerged Japanese city.  

I’ll never ever forget my first sight of the Grand Pyramid. 

Buildings and structures that have really moved me – The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Monday, September 8th, 2008

As one of the seven wonders of the world, almost everyone has heard of the Taj Mahal. And I, too, had heard about it and read about it as part of our history lessons whilst in school.

It was in October 2005 or so that I finally got to see the Taj Mahal. My contract in India was coming to an end and together with a friend we drove up to Agra from Delhi.  The drive was quite uneventful. I remember that we had to park the car some distance away and use either horse carts or an electric shuttle to be taken to the Taj’s grounds.  

  

I can never ever forget the feelings I had when I saw the Taj for the first time. Quite simply, it was about the most beautiful and exquisite building I had ever seen.     

I shall not talk about the history or the intricate designs of the Taj here. There are far better write ups done including one by Wikipedia.

It’s also said that the Taj shows different views depending on the time of day and day of the year. We were unlucky not to have gotten either the rising or the setting sun view.  

Still as I sat and gazed at the Taj Mahal, the building that took so many years to complete, many thoughts swirled through my mind. The ultimate symbol of love ever built. Unfortunately Mumtaz Mahal, the object of this love never got to see it. 

In a cruel twist of fate, Emperor Shah Jahan was deposed by one of his sons, Aurangzeb and kept under house imprisonment in a room in the Agra Fort. The room had a view of the Taj Mahal and many believe that the once mighty king finally died of a broken heart. 

Well, Shah Jahan, Mumtaz, Aurangzeb, the architects, designers, craftsmen and workers are all now long gone. And perhaps no one will ever be able to truly understand and appreciate the enormity of the task of building the Taj Mahal. 

But the exquisite building still stands. Still mesmerising as many with its beauty now as then.      

Note:

A Boy from India has written about the Taj and a “duplicate copy” built by the grandson of Shah Jahan in memory of his mother. I did not know about this. The picture of the Taj is also from this blog.

The 2 types of people to look out for at traffic lights

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Traffic lights are there for a reason. Principally because human beings cannot be trusted to do the right thing, our forefathers have thought up of traffic lights to coordinate traffic flows. And for those hard core humans who try to flout the traffic light rules, there are laws and regulations to deal with them.  

We are supposed to stop when the lights are red, go when green and get ready to stop when they are amber.  

Still, when we are at traffic lights, it is useful to remember to look out for the two types of people who may give us serious cause for worry. 

The Anticipators 

These guys floor the gas pedal not when their lights are green, but when the opposite lights turn red. They try to travel a couple of miles in the few split seconds it takes before their own lights turn green.  These guys are particularly potent when they are at the front of the queue. If stuck behind some cars, they become generally harmless. So if you are a pedestrian trying to cross a road at a junction (where there are no pedestrian lights), be especially careful and keep a sharp eye for these anticipators. 

The Stragglers who suddenly turn into F1 Drivers 

These guys can be seen from the way they react when they are still some distance away from the junction and the light has turned amber. A furious flooring of the gas pedal takes place and these guys try to speed their way through.  

Of course the worse is when Anticipators run into Stragglers, and together they can cause royal pile ups and screw up the daily lives of thousands. 

Let us be forewarned.    

Picture Credit: Wordcutter.com

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