Father Sez

From and to parents - parental advice to our children on personal financial management and life.
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Fathersez.com featured in Malay Mail Cyberspot

Monday, April 13th, 2009

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The online version can be read here.

My sincere thanks to Sheila Rahman and Gabey Goh for featuring Fathersez in today’s Cyberspot section of the Malay Mail 

This is the first time this blog has been mentioned in the mainstream media and I must say it feels good. 

I welcome first time visitors who are coming from the Malay Mail to look around and feel at home. Your visit is deeply appreciated.    

The Ashoka Tree, my curiosity satisfied after 11 years

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Picture Credit: The Hindu 

I first saw or rather noticed the Ashoka Tree whilst working in Ghana. This tree looks like a folded umbrella with the branches leaning downwards. I had never seen the trees flowering and neither had I seen any fruits on the trees. I did ask the locals why people grew these trees, since they did not seem to provide much shade and neither were they pretty. I did not get any logical answer.  

During a trip to Mauritius, a couple of years later, I noticed that visiting Indian dignitaries like the late Madam Indira Ghandi as well as her son, the late Rajiv Ghandi (both previous Prime Ministers of India) had planted this tree in the Pamplemousses Garden.

The trees, had markers showing the date and the name of the person who had planted the tree. And this was how and when I got to know that they were known as Ashoka trees. I also realised that there must be some history or significance attached, as they had been the tree of choice for two former Indian Prime Ministers. But I did not do anything to find out more. 

A couple of weeks ago, during my trip to the northern tip of Borneo, I saw these trees again. Some of them had been planted by the roadside and also in several of the village houses around Kota Belud. This time I just had to find out more.   

We stopped over at a roadside tea stall and talked to a couple of locals who were also having tea. It took a little while for them to warm up and then they told us what they knew about the tree. 

They had never ever heard the term, Ashoka. To them the tree was called “Pokok Penunduk”, or “Taming Tree” or “Tree that makes you submit”.  If we planted the tree in front of our house, any visitor would accord us respect and dignity. If we wanted to go into some negotiations then we should have some leaves in our pocket and be assured that the negotiations would go our way.  

This was the first time I had heard this story and I thought that I should write a post on this tree.

Whilst doing some additional research, I was amazed at the seeming “richness” of his tree that I once thought useless.  

Wikipedia says that the tree is considered sacred throughout India and Sri Lanka. Lord Buddha is believed to have been born under this tree. And surprise, the tree does bear beautiful flowers. In fact, the tree is prized for its flowers! 

Dr. Rupa Shah, a trained practioner in allopathy and homeopathy has nothing but high praise for this tree. She ranks it as one of the most sacred and fascinating of the millions of species that are probably available in India.

I quote below from her write up.

Ashoka is a Sanskrit word meaning without grief or that which gives no grief.

In India, drinking the water in which the flowers have been washed is widely considered a protection against grief. It is a healer for deep seated sorrow, sadness, grief, and disharmony in one’s inner being due to events such as bereavement, failure, suffering, disease, and isolation. On using this essence, a profound inner state of joy, harmony and well being is produced. It works very gently, in that it changes one’s perception of the sorrow.

Ashoka is also seen as a remedy for women, allowing them to be feminine. The tree is regarded as a guardian of female chastity. The Vrikshadevatas–the gods of trees who represent fertility–are known to dance around the tree, and are worshipped by childless women.

Herbally, the bark of this tree is a household remedy for uterine disorders. The essence also helps women to be fertile. It is said that ‘weeping woman, weeping womb,’ in that the woman’s emotional state affects her reproductive organs. Therefore, the essence, like the herb, helps in the uterine problems like excessive bleeding, irregular menstrual periods and infertility.

I must say that I was quite fascinated by what I found out from my little research into this tree. Though 11 years late and despite the fact that this research has no commercial value, it sure looks to me like something that the Ririan Project describes as things in the world that make me pause, think, and end in a good ole hmmmm…”

But somehow it feels worthwhile.  And I am sure that during my next trip to Kota Belud, I’ll be able to tell the villagers a completely different view about this tree.

My hopes for Mr. Barack Obama

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Hope usually surrounds the election to office of any new President or Prime Minister. Hopes for something better, a better life, a better economy and a better country. However these hopes and hopefuls are usually localized. Perhaps the only exception would be when it is the election to office of the President of the United States of America. 

The inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America has touched the hearts and minds of billions of people the world over. The reason is clear. The United States with its undisputed economic and military might can make the whole world come tumbling down or the reverse should it so decide. So everyone notices and hopes.  

I grew up on the diet of American movies and TV programmes. Those days the Americans were inevitably the heroes. In almost every war movie, the Germans, Russians and Japanese were bad. In almost every cowboy movie, the Indians were the bad guys etc. One can just imagine the admiration for all things American I had whilst growing up. 

As I grew older and learnt to understand that there were good and bad people from every country, my prevailing feelings for Americans were that they were good people. People who stood for principles of civil rights, freedom, justice for all etc.   

And I am sure I am not alone in this view. (Hollywood has made sure of this.) And I am also sure that I am not alone in declaring that this view has been sorely tested over the last 8 years.  

Now with the inauguration of the new President, I have deep personal hopes. 

Mr. Obama is taking office at a time when outstanding leadership is needed in almost every country around the world. A time when the traditional “1st 100 days of honeymoon” has been replaced by crisis control at every turn.  

I long for the time when citizens of countries whose leaders did not practice good governance, could look to the US as an example to tout as how things should be done.  

I long for a time when war was the absolute very last thing a US President would put his seal of approval on.  

I long for a time when there is not only a choice between “with us” or “against us”. 

I long for a time when our local children all knew that the best library in our town was that of the USIS. 

I long for a time when there were more news about the great stuff done by the US Peace Corps than stories some armed skirmish somewhere involving US troops.

I hope and pray that Mr. Obama will steer back the US back to the path which resulted in the open admiration of the people of the world. A path that as FDR stated in 1933 would result in a “restoration” of American ethics. 

God bless you, Mr. Obama. May you be rightly guided as you set out to carry out your onerous duties. 

A security system that Fort Knox would die for

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I am sure that I am not alone in being concerned that a slowing economy would see increases in crimes like burglaries, snatch thefts and the like. In this present environment of widespread economic gloom and doom, people take extra protection to safeguard their properties.  Some keep guard dogs, others install alarm systems and yet others rely on some serious outside help. 

Last week, The Star, a Malaysian paper carried an almost unbelievable story. Titled “Burglar who picked the wrong house”, the story is about a burglar who broke into an unoccupied home cum grocery store (the owners had gone off on holiday) and found himself trapped and unable to get out.  

When the owners (a husband and wife team) returned, they found the burglar fatigued and dehydrated after spending 72 hours without food or water. To quote the burglar,

“I was blinded once I was inside and felt like I was in a cave. Each time I wanted to flee, I felt a ‘supernatural figure’ shoving me to the ground,’’

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I got this picture from a story in the Clare Herald on three cavers being trapped. Fortunately the cavers were not in any danger.

This story is more likely than not to be believed and I am sure that the reporter and / or the paper will be receiving tons of calls and letters to find out the identity of the store owner and his mysterious and very effective security system.  

A fair number of Malaysians believe in the supernatural. After all, Muslims, who make up the majority of Malaysians, believe in supernatural beings or Jinns as stated in the Quran. I have heard many stories about people who have somehow managed to learn to control some of these Jinns, some for good use, perhaps like being a stern security guard, and others for not so good uses. 

The people in charge of Fort Knox’s security systems might do themselves some good by taking to the grocery store owners! 

The Fathersez family also has some unorthodox support in our home security system. We live in a gated community and there are security guards who patrol the area fairly frequently.  In addition we follow a tip that I read in one of Lillian Too’s books on Feng Shui. At night when we lock the doors, we place a broom against the front door. I haven’t the faintest idea what this means or what it is supposed to do.  

Surprisingly this “tip” had also been told to my wife by her grandmother. Of course, grandma did not learn this from Lillian, rather she must have followed her mother who in turn most probably learnt it from her mother.  

Also I have always loved those well kept aquariums with all the colourful fishes. Our attempts at rearing fishes have been miserable. Rather than giving up altogether, we opted for the climbing perch which is quite hardy and needs negligible maintenance. Apparently this ikan puyu or climbing perch, is also supposed to have some special powers in keeping “unwanted beings” away from our home. 

All I can say is that, by the Grace of the All Mighty, our house’s security system has worked, so far, at least!

A taste of cold turkey treatment …… a little at least

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Quite a bit has been written about internet addiction (a Google search turned up 4.9 million pages). Internet addiction seems to be ranked up there with other more punitive forms of addiction like gambling etc. 

To quote Louise Nadeau, a professor at Montreal University’s Department of Psychology:

“The problem isn’t widespread but we know of serious cases in which teenagers don’t leave the house, don’t have interpersonal relationships, and have been isolated in front of their computer screen for the past two or three years, and only speak in the language of the characters they play with in network video games,”   

 

And whilst I am not a teenager nor play any video games, it looks like I may be one of the characters the good professor is talking about.  Checking my mail, looking up the political blogs, reading the online news portals, and checking my blog stats 3 – 4 times a day sure seem sufficient criteria to put me in this classification of an internet junkie.  

To make us want to check the Net is a pull that is difficult to define. Certainly it is not important, much less urgent, yet there is this craving. I am a late starter. I think it was only in the late 90’s that I started using email etc. We were then in Ghana and not having phone lines in our house we had to use cyber cafes. So the use was not that prevalent.

When I returned to Malaysia in 2001, by then all office computers were hooked up and we were online all the time we were in the office.  Now we also have Internet at home. 

The following study by Kimberly S. Young of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford on the same issue was published in 1996. So perhaps now the malaise is even more widespread and deeper rooted.

There have been times when I have gone without looking at the Net for a day or two. This is usually when I am traveling and the transit airports did not have facilities that were cheap. Perhaps the longest was the one week I spent in India when my mother passed away. Somehow I feel that week should not count. 

Now I want to purposely try a week without any connection with the online world.  I’ll be in Jakarta for the rest of this week. I’ll be coming back late on Friday night and on the Saturday we have a full day planned for visits to family and friends. I am going to Jakarta without my laptop (just swinging my arms like a tourist (as my old geology professor told a bunch of us after returning from a 3 day field trip)). So it will be about 6 days without accessing the Net.  I want to see how strong the pull would be.

I am confident that no important messages such as those requiring my services to resolve the world’s financial crisis or to settle the repatriation of the Nigerian princes untold millions in an African Bank will be missed as I’ll still have my cell phone with me.  

The only negative may be that my Reader Inbox will be overflowing and I may not respond to comments as soon as I should. 

Let’s see how this “semi medical” exercise goes.   

Note: 

No, my son and I are not at the above depicted stages yet. And we are sure we’ll never be. The pictures are from Google Images.

Tip to maintain our sanity in traffic jams

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

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Picture Credit: The Star, Malaysia 

You know the feeling. You are in your car, merrily driving along to wherever you want to go. Then you get caught in a traffic jam, right smack in the middle of something like that shown in the picture above.

You sit patiently, as the cars move slowly, almost inch by inch. Then you see some drivers using the emergency lanes, overtaking a stretch of cars and then cutting back well ahead of you. Doesn’t this make your blood boil? These characters contribute to the jam, as cars have to slow down when this people cut back into the main lines. 

This is a very frequent sight on Malaysian roads and especially marked during the mass exodus from the main cities that happen at every major Malaysian festival. 

I used to get really upset with these guys. Do these emergency lane users really think that the rest of us are blind and do not see the emergency lanes? Do they think that the rest of us are stupid and do not know how to use the empty emergency lanes and then cut back in like they do? 

Last week as my family and I were doing our Hari Raya rounds this happened. We were trapped in a long stretch of snail like traffic and then these “heroes” started using the emergency lanes and then cut in well ahead of us. As I watched these fellows, I could feel my blood pressure rise. I wished I had a magic wand that I could just wave and puncture all four of their tires and get them stuck for hours.  

Then a thought suddenly struck me. Perhaps these guys had a very sick child on board whom they were rushing to a clinic or hospital. Or maybe some other sick relative. Maybe it was because of this that they were forced to drive the way they were doing. I know I would if I were to be driving my very sick child to a clinic and I faced something like that kind of traffic. 

Immediately my feelings of disgust and anger at these people dropped. And I felt a lot calmer. And a far lot better. This is what I do now. If I cannot avoid it, I just sit through a traffic jam, and calmly watch these guys merrily cut in and tell myself that they are doing this because of some emergency.

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