Saturday 10 October 2015

Abrahamic Religions and Professional Ethics

I was interviewed yesterday by a PHD student from Palestine on whether the values of Abrahamic Religions should be embedded in the ethical standards of accountants. 

Before we go into some of the issues raised during the interview, I would like to acknowledge my respect and appreciation for the dedication that she has in pursuing knowledge. Given the calamities that are faced by Palestinians due to the behaviours of the Israelis occupiers, her determination to pursued the PHD in Malaysia is something which I could not imagine to be possible. She has to leave her daughters and son under the care of her husband at home while she is here completing her study. She works for the Palestinian Ministry of Finance where salary is not guaranteed due to the challenges they are facing. Yet, her studies if self-funded.

The change in the government in Egypt makes the situation worse. The Israelis are given better treatment by the Egyptians compared to the Palestinians. The Israelis can enter Egypt without visa 24/7 whereas the border between Egypt and Palestine is only opened for few days in two to three months! Palestinians are not allowed to travel by air into Egypt unless the border is open. Hence, she has to keep her travelling stuff on standby all the time in case she has the opportunity to go back and see her family.

Coming back to the interview, her main contention is that more than half of accountants in the world embrace the Abrahamic faiths. Given the common values shared by the religions, embedding those values in the code of ethics should strengthened the application of the code by Christians, Jews and Muslims who are accountants.

I have a different view.

I believe that if one is really faithful to one's belief (including the believers of the Abrahamic faiths) compliance with the code of ethics would be second nature. As the Abrahamic religions are founded in the belief of God as the Superior Being and humans are His servants and would be made accountable for all their acts and behaviours before Him in the Hereafter, such believe should drive people to do the right thing. If, however, the beliefs and actions are disjointed for whatever reasons, embedding the religious values in the code would not make any difference.

Hence, while the values are common and should technically guide those who are faithfuls to the right conducts and behaviours, the belief itself can have a range of tenacity. The stronger it is, the higher the chances that one would be acting properly, and vice versa. 

I shared with her the example that I had been using especially when dealing with Muslim auditors. It is premised on the hadith - Wathila ibn al-Asqa’  narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “Whoever sells defective goods without declaring it remains in the wrath of Allah or [he said)] the angles keep cursing him.” (Sunan Ibn Majah 2873).

When an auditor issues an audit opinion, he makes a statement that the audit complies with approved auditing standards. What is the auditor did not even bother to ensure that such standards are complied with in his or her work? would it not transgresses the line declared in the above hadith?

As a conclusion, I view that beliefs reside in the hearts of the professionals whereas code of ethics are conducts which have been collectively agreed by accountants worldwide, irrespective of their beliefs, values and cultures. I do not see any of these conducts which are against the values of Islam, my belief. 

Hence, if I am good Muslim, it would be natural for me to comply with the expectations of the code since they are technically "Islamic" in the first place. However, if I am a weak Muslim and do not bothered about the Day when I will be judged by Allah for all the things that I have done in this world, adding an additional chapter in the code would be just a waste of time. I will just skip the chapter!

Sunday 20 September 2015

The Evolving Pathways to Professionalism

My friend, Rachel Chee, who is attached to the regional ACCA office posted this piece on news on a Facebook group promoting professional accountancy. It is about one of the Big-4 in the UK ditching degrees as the only point for consideration for new recruits. Not a new phenomena, but a re-affirmation of the changing dynamics in the competition for talents.

I would like to quote some excerpts from the report:

"Ernst & Young, one of the UK's biggest graduate recruiters, has announced it will be removing the degree classification from its entry criteria, saying there is "no evidence" success at university correlates with achievement in later life.
The accountancy firm is scrapping its policy of requiring a 2:1 and the equivalent of three B grades at A-level in order to open opportunities for talented individuals "regardless of their background".
Maggie Stilwell, EY’s managing partner for talent, said the company would use online assessments to judge the potential of applicants.
"Academic qualifications will still be taken into account and indeed remain an important consideration when assessing candidates as a whole, but will no longer act as a barrier to getting a foot in the door," she said. 
"Our own internal research of over 400 graduates found that screening students based on academic performance alone was too blunt an approach to recruitment.
"It found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken."
This reinforces my view that tertiary education and professional accountancy programmes have two different objectives. The former is supposed to nurture young minds into personalities with the intellectual capabilities to contribute to the society through specific knowledge and skills learned at universities. The latter is meant to upscale the intellectual personalities into having deeper knowledge, understanding and skills in industry-related disciplines which are demanded in the market place.

If these two important sectors in the economy would be able to align themselves properly, the society will win. Unfortunately in Malaysia, due to historical and emotional reasons, there seems to be competitions amongst the institutions which results in huge inefficiency the supply chain of accountants.
Sometimes when more that one parties sit around the table to resolve issues, the focus would be on the details and the big picture is always missing. There could also be situations when the truth is clear but ego and emotions take precedence over public benefits. The irony is many of the parties involved are funded by taxpayers! Why are interests of taxpayers not important in these discussions?

Sunday 19 July 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50's: Celebrating 38 years of brotherhood - Part 9 The Final Year

The final year at the college was very memorable indeed. The finale was the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examinations off course. However, there were many events and incidences which made the year very close to our hearts until today.

As a tradition, those in form 5 will be part of the Parsatuan Pelajar Tingkatan 5 or PPTL in short. While we were already classmates and dorm mates, PPTL enabled us to do a number of activities as the most senior students of the college. We printed t-shirts, organised events and also performed at the Malam PPTL which was the sign off event for every batch.

As it got closer to the end of the year, the preparation for the SPM got more intensified. Extra classes and additional notes were thighs that we were provided with to enhance our chances to perform well. For some, those were also reminders that they had to start studying! I remember Mr. Matthias worked very hard to ensure we all would do well in History, the subject that he taught. Given the diversity of the students that he had in our class, ensuring one-half of the class to pass was certainly very, very challenging. He distributed copies of notes and we were required to answer pass year questions regularly throughout the year.

We were encouraged to start considering our future career. The Career Guidance section which was administered by Cikgu Fatanah was very helpful. It provided us with information regarding options of what we could consider as our career of choice later. I initially wanted to take up aeronautical engineering as I like planes since my younger days. However, I got to know that somebody who I did not fact was going for the same course. I had to consider a different option as I do not want to end up with him in the same course. Then, as fate would have it, I discovered accountancy. I could still remember reading about accountancy information helps in decision making. From then onwards I was determined to study accountancy.

When I was interviewed by MARA officers during the scholarship interview, they indicated to me that I should go to UK to take up law. I was quite talkative during the session and they reckon that would make me a great lawyer. I insisted that I be sent to Australia to study accountancy. I was very grateful to Allah that MARA agreed to sponsor me to pursue the carrier of my choice in Australia and I was sent there even my SPM results were announced.

To be eligible to go to Australia, we had to sit for an English (the Aussies still consider themselves speaking English) proficiency test. Our listening and written skills were tested. We had to listen to statements and information in English (with the Australian accent of course) and answered questions based on what we heard. It was an experience to many of us as some of the topics covered we unheard off before. I managed to convince the Aussies that I deserve a chance tons study in Australia.

The English proficiency test for Australia bound students
This was also the year (if I am not mistaken) when the World Wildlife Funds brought Kamahl, a Malaysian who met his fame in Australia and sang the Elephant Song, to the college. Perhaps that was among the first exposure that we had about the need to us to take care of the environment and its habitants, from ourselves.

When we sat for the SPM exams, the rest of other students were around but they left us half way into the examination season. It was the first of the experience that broke many of our hearts. We were friends (and some did have fellings with each other) and parting ways for the last time was not easy. Many were in tears when they left. We were then left alone to complete the most important mission in our lives, then.

I could recall that this was the year when I studied the most in my entire life. I prefer to go to the class early in the morning when others were still at their dorm. The early morning stint worked very well for me as I could comprehend the subjects without interruption. Even on the weekends, I would do the same thing. When others started to join me, I will go to the dining hall for tea. 

We sat for the SPM exam with the full blessings of our teachers. They certainly gave their best, notwithstanding we were naughty and cunning with our tricks to avoid serious stuff. While many took the examinations seriously it was not that uneventful. I recall Halim Buntal were late for his history paper because he overslept. He studied so hard the night before the exam. We were also eagerly waiting for "spot questions" which were so customary those days. For those who did not have enough preparation, those tips were useful, provided they were true.

After the examination was over, we thought we would be allowed to stay back for a while before returning to the places we came from. However, breaking the tradition again, we were asked to go back immediately. Perhaps, as we were an all-boys batch, leaving us at the college when there was nothing else to do was deemed risky. I know that some of us already went around and did things to the property of the college. That could be one of the reasons that our departure was fast forwarded.

During this final moments, we tried as much as possible to be close to each other. We shared autographs and photos. We took pictures together and some did some planning on what to do next. We did not know whether we would be offered scholarships and where we would be sent to by MARA.

Photo with our librarians
Finally, the end could not be postponed further. It was in the month of December where were left the college for the last time as students. Hugs and cries were the order of the day as those who came from the other states boarded their busses to bring them back home. Even the toughest of us could not pretend that day. Years just came out from our eyes as many acknowledged that the day was going to be the last day that we would be together as a batch. 

I tried to leave the college the latest possible, after most of my friends left. It was an experience that I carry until today. Leaving an institution which folded us from innocent boys to youths who would be given the responsibilities to continue to build the nation was not easy.

We went to the college as strangers, we became brothers. As what is trendy today, we are Best Friends Forever.

Sunday 28 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 8 (Under and overground activities)

We were at the college at the age where we were curious about many things in life, especially when we were not allowed to explore them. Like all schools, smoking was not allowed. I am sure most of the students in our batch did not smoke when we first arrived at the college. However, it did not take a long time before some of us started to pick up the habit, including my dorm mates. To some it was a macho thing to do, amongst other things.

For those who smoke, the most important thing after making sure not to be caught by the wardens was to secure the supply. They would initially get their supply from our seniors who smuggled the cigarettes from outside. The other option was to go out and buy the cigarettes themselves. This was done either during weekends when we were allowed to go to town or by sneaking out through the holes in the fences at the back of our dormitories and procure the supply from nearby shops. After a while, they became suppliers of cigarettes themselves.

The wardens knew about these activities and they did spot checks at the dormitories from time to time. As precautions, the smokers and suppliers hid their stuff at places where they thought would be difficult for the wardens to find the contrabands. The places included the toilets, holes in the mattresses, above the ceilings and other places which I myself could not figured out. Another tactic used was to re-arrange the beds and lockers so that they could have some additional time should they sense spot checks were to be made. Being season wardens, these tricks were not alien to them and in many instances they managed to find the cigarettes. Those who were caught were given warnings or if they were habitual offenders they were canned on the spot and the offences were recorded in their personal files.

The lights at our dormitories were supposed to be off by 11 pm and we were supposed to sleep. However, life did not necessarily stopped. There were many activities that happened beyond the lights off period.

Those who were hungry would proceeded to cook maggie. One of the reasons to do this after hours was because they will be "taxed" less by other dorm mates. Otherwise, the bowl had to be passed around and the actual amount that was left for the owner could be little. One of the tricks that I used was to pass the bowl of maggie around when it was boiling hot. It most instances, the rest would not take it as they could not stand the temperature.

There were students who were more adventurous when they felt hungry at night. One spot to find food was the dining hall. Sometimes, there could be biscuits left in their containers unattended. These boys would bring the containers back to the dormitories and we could happily have our supper. The supply could last for days.

One of the facilities provided to us was our TV room. Lights off meant that the TV has to be switched off and people has to go back to their dorms. This was not strictly followed all the time. Pok Ju could recall that he continued to watch the TV well beyond the lights off time. He and few other friend were comfortable as their rooms were not that far away. Suddenly the wardens appeared and started to cane whoever that were there. The students panicked and went out through the windows. The room was vacated in 5 seconds! Rafi, who was in the room as well ran towards his room by passing through the cloth drying area. Suddenly he realised that his vision was blurred, he dropped his spectacles when his face bumped on the lines. Luckily it was found and he went to his room feeling relieved.

The girls' dormitories were just adjacent to our block. Although fenced, some of the boys thought that slipping into the girls dormitories was exciting and fun. They did not cause any harm to any of the girls but they sneaked into their block to collect souvenirs such as panties, under garments and sleepers which were not that really useful for the boys. I knew a few who wore those staff and were brave enough to show off their collections by wearing the sleepers into the dining hall.

Some took the opportunity to go out and have meal outside the college after lights went off. In fact going out illegally through the most of the time broken fences was not really a big deal. Some even went out to watch movie in Kota Bharu. The warden and security staff tried to stop this by closing the holes whenever they appeared. It became a sort of cat and mouse game until one day one of us got upset and removed one who section of the fence. The gap so big that it could accommodate a car! The wardens gave up for a while and the gap was left unattended for few weeks. Eventually it was closed off and the cat and mouse game continued.

To prevent these sort of activities a number of wardens were required to live at our block. I remember that we had Cikgu Mahmud, our geography teacher, staying in his room adjacent to our dormitory B-6 or more popularly known as Bentoel-6 at that time. By the way Bentoel came from a brand of a cigarette from Indonesia. Some of us smoke that brand, hence that was how our dorm got our name. One memorable incidence was one of us peed on Cikgu Mahmud shoes. He was very upset, rightfully, and shouted madly. We kept quiet and pretended not to know who the culprit was. I am sure I know who did that and the person eventually became a professional. I am not sure whether he has apologised to Cikgu Mahmud or not. 

There were not internet in those days but it did not prevent many of us from doing what many growing up boys would do, to understand more about birds and the bees. One of the popular novel at that time was "Mona Gersang" a sexual explicit Malay novel which was published in the 80's (apparently when I googled this novel, there is an updated version). I was told that this novel was passed around and read by many people. Until today when the name of the novel is mentioned, it would trigger smiles amongst the adult Wattopers.

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 7 (The search for water)

Many of us took the supply of piped water for granted until the past few years where those who are living in Klang Valley started to experience water shortages. While generally we had adequate water supply at the college, there were occasions where we experienced severe water shortages due to low water pressure that occurred over some extended periods.

One way of overcoming the problem was to wake up and get ourselves freshened up very early in the morning when other are still asleep. This will only work if the water tanks supplying water to the dormitories were themselves got replenished overnight. There were instances when only selected bathrooms had running water in the morning. If one were late, one had to queue or had to rush to class without bathing.

When the toilets at the dormitories were totally without water supply, we had to go around the college to bath and clean ourselves. There were a number of options. Some would go to the academic building and do their business in the toilets. Some went to the dining hall. After a while even the water supply to these places became dry.

Under desperation, the next target would be the fire hydrants around the college. It was not a weird thing to see boys bathing using water from these hydrants only with their shorts on. The girls had to carry the water back to their dormitories using pails. Given that their dormitories were closer to the dining hall and sure, it was more convenient for the girls to source water from these places.

The girls hostel, then known as Block A
After a while some of us became selfish and decided to keep the valve openers to themselves. Those who were in possession of the openers became like kings as people would have to get the openers to get water. Looking back, such practice could lead to hazard should there be a need to use the hydrants under emergency circumstances.

Our survival instinct did not limit our efforts to search for water within the college parameters only. Another option was to sneak out through the holes in the parameter fences at the back of the dormitories and wine to the teacher training college nearby to bath and clean ourselves. For security purposes the holes were quickly patched to avoid outsiders from intruding into the college area. Somehow, other holes would reappeared and they were instantly used to search for water and other purposes which I will share later.

Towards the later part of my life at the college, hostel blocks for the teachers training college was constructed in-between MRSM KB and the teacher training college's old buildings. Mahzan recalled that the block adjacent to Block B were women's hostel because they were operating without curtains for a month and caused a lot of excitements especially for the boys who had binoculars. 

As part of the construction, a huge swimming-pool like hole was dug. When it rained, the hole retained water and appeared like a swimming pool. The boys were excited and went to swim there happily. I am sure by now we realised that swimming pools must be maintained and the water must be cleaned up on a daily basis. Then, nobody bothered about the quality of the water even when the colour started to turn dark. I never tried the "swimming pool" myself.

The other consequence of not having regular water supply was the condition of our toilets. As life had to go on and people have to relief themselves, some used the toilet even when there was no water. Surely, whatever that was left could not be flushed away. After few days, the smell became unbearable but the need to go in remained. I could remember covering my head and face with towel when I was forced to use the toilet and it was not an experience you wish to have again.

We had to wash our cloths and it was normal to soak them in water with detergent overnight before they were washed. However, a night can be very long when there was no water. Some cloth were left for weeks in the pails and the smell turned from pleasant into something very bad. When the water supply resumed, proceeding with washing were very testing indeed. When the laundry service was introduced it provide huge relief as at least our uniforms and other clothing could be cleaned when we had water problems.

It was really tough then for us to endure the periods when the water supply was disrupted. However, it also to a certain extent hardened our spirit of survival and was an indirect lesson of overcoming challenges of life. I will not ask for my children to experience the same but I would certainly appreciate the experience and the lesson that came together with that part of life in MRSM Kota Bharu.

Saturday 27 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 6 (Politics and Representation)

One of the experiences which provided me with the confidence in my later life was the student representation system or Badan Wakil Pelajar (BWP). This system replaced an earlier version known as Majlis Perwakilan Pelajar or student representative council. I can only recall that the BWP system has less number of representatives compared to its predecessor. There was no prefect system when I was at the college, interesting.

The representative systems were based on the view that students should be allowed to stand based on what they belief were right, free from any influence or intervention of our teachers. This liberal approach towards truth was certainly different from our main stream culture nowadays where truth tends to be forced by the dominant groups who have power to do so.

My dorm leader when I was in form one, Abang Amin, was one of the pioneer members of BWP. One has to offer oneself as a candidate and the rest of the students community would be voting for those who they felt suitable to represent them. Some form groupings or parties and the campaign period would very interesting. Not only posters were allowed to be hanged but there would be a session where each candidate would be allowed to address the public with his or her manifesto. As there was no direct election for the presidency, we did not have presidential debate. It would have been allowed if there were one since those who want to be leaders cannot have the hearts of chicken, always finding excuses from taking on questions and be publicly accountable.

The BWP was headed by a President and assisted by the Vice-President. There were number of portfolios such as sports, welfare, publication, culture and religious affairs, more or less reflecting areas which were important to the students those days.

I was brought up by my grandparents (the sister of my grandmother and her husband) who were fairly involved in politics in the 60s. As Kelantanese took their politics seriously, they were living in a house in Pasir Mas with few other family members who had differing political ideologies. Somehow, their stories and conversations had provided me with political consciousness. In 1977, when the Asri led PAS state government was toppled, I went to observe few gatherings including the one which led to the emergency be declared in Kelantan. Playing hide and seek with the Federal Reserve Unit who were patrolling Kota Bharu to enforce the curfew was fun and cool back then.

My first attempt for a BWP seat was when I was in form two. A number of my friends decided to participate in the election and we formed the "Saint" party. One of the tradition those days was a private session with the seniors who will ask you questions of what would you do if elected. They will then decide amongst themselves who to support. 

Reflecting on what we experienced, the BWP elections those days were more free than the student elections at our universities nowadays. Maybe there was no stake to anybody, therefore nobody bothered to interfere. 

There was no money politics and we need not worry about have millions to finance our campaign. Our party workers were our classmates and dorm mates who assisted on the basis of friendship. One of the campaign speeches that I still remember until today for the one made by Jeff. He started by saying "I am here to tell you not to elect me, if I am not good enough. However, if you feel I can be your good representative, throw me your support".

Candidates for the Saint. From left to right: Kamarudin, Yeoh, Jeff, Mazni, Hasni and me.
I did not win the election as the number of votes that I got was just below the cut off point. Kamarudin, Jeff and Mazni managed to be elected. I did not feel disappointed at all.

At the end of our Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SPR) examinations, we were expecting to be sent home as what the tradition had been before. However, the teachers had a different idea. We were asked to stay back and participated in a number of activities. Many were furious and some, including me, went to the teachers to protest against their plan. I remember in one meeting chaired by Cikgu Zin, our principle, where I stood and asked for the programme to be scrapped. The answer by one of them was "You will not understand why we do what we are proposing until you have grown up".

So we had no choice but to stay and endured the activities that was arranged. One of them was a competition to build landscapes using sawdust. Under protest, my team built something beautiful, applying knowledge we attained through our geography lessons. However, a few days before the results was to be announced, somebody destroyed all our work which were left unguarded at the academic building. Interestingly, our efforts were noticed by our teachers and my team was judged to win the first prize in our category. So, we were not rebel without cause after all.

I participated in the BWP election again when I was in form four and got the second highest votes after Mazlan Musa who was elected as the President. Other members from my batch was Fikri, Sam, Mat Zin, Mohamed Ismail and Suhairi. The only representative from my junior batch was Haslan, who was a sportsperson and a player for the college hockey team. It was an all-male cabinet.

BWP 1981-1982. From left to right: Sam, Haslan, myself, Mazlan, Cikgu Zin, Fikri, Mat Zin, Mohamad Ismail and Suhairi.
The college certainly empowered us, the students, to stand on our own feet. This provided us with the confidence in leading ourselves and others as well as exposing us to the risks of our decisions. We were accountable to the community and were expected to deliver all the promises made during the campaign period. I believe we did not disappoint our constituency. The sense of being able to be truth to yourselves was really liberating and fulfilling.

Friday 26 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 5 (The Urban Legend)

The college is located in Pengkalan Chepa, near the Sultan Ismail airport. There are a number of school around this area including Sekolah Menengah Sains, Sekolah Menengah Vokasional and Sekolah Menengah Pengkalan Chepa. Maktab Perguruan Kota Bharu, a teachers training college, was also located adjacent to the college. Eventually, MRSM Kota Bharu was renamed MRSM Pengkalan Chepa, to reflect the town in which it is located. This was to cater for many more MRSMs which were established by MARA. When MRSM Pasir Tumbuh came into being MRSM Kota Bharu had to give way and assumed the PC initials. MRSM Kuala Berang eventually assumed the name of MRSM KB.

During the Second World War, Malaya was invaded by the Japanese army in 1941. They first landed in Pantai Sabak (also known as Pantai Dasar) Pengkalan Chepa. The British had built their defence line near the shore and we could fine cement bunkers around Pantai Sabak, then. Therefore, it would not be difficult to imagine that the British and the Japanese fought each other in Pengkalan Chepa areas at the early stages of the war.

A World War 2 bunker at the Kelantan War Museum
When the college was opened in 1973, most of the buildings, including students dormitories were constructed out of wood. Only later, more permanent structures were constructed. During our first few years at the college, these old blocks were still there in their original state and were used as classes. Later they were refurbished into more modern buildings and some were later replaced with concrete classrooms and laboratories.

Amongst the stories passed down by our seniors were about some scary episodes that they experienced in the early days of the college. We were told that the dorms, which were located at the old blocks, were open and long with beds on both sides. Sometimes, at the middle of the night, some of the students saw headless Japanese troops marching in the middle. Some of them also saw Japanese troops around the college field, which they claimed where prisoners of war were executed.

The other legend at the college was about Nenek Roslin. Many of the seniors claimed that an old lady could be seen to wonder around the college, especially at the old blocks. There were many versions of how she came into existence. One was about a lady who lost her child and she went wondering to find the child. I wonder how could this nenek have a very modern name if she came from the older generation.

Honestly, I never meet any of these urban legends of MRSM Kota Bharu myself. One of the explanations given was that they were around before the Surau was constructed. With the construction of the surau, all these beings seemed to have disappeared, perhaps they could not stand the azan or the call for prayers. However, it did not stop us from talking about them especially when there were blackouts or when we had to attend the preparatory classes in the evenings, especially for those whose classes were located at the old blocks.

Pok Ju could recall a night when one of the boys saw a white figure in the middle of the dark field. They felt scared but then they became curious and wanted to know what it was. A few of them went to investigate and were ready to pick a fight with whatever it was. As they were approaching the figure suddenly the heard a loud voice. The white figure spoke to them. It was Cikgu Mahmud, our warden. Realising that, all of them ran back to their dorm and pretended to sleep. The warden turned up and pointed his flash light. Everybody  shut their eyes although the warden could see they were sweating.

There were cases of hysteria especially amongst the girls. Like any other similar cases in other schools, such incidences could not be properly explained. Not sure whether the Japanese troops or Nenek Roslin did make some special appearance from time to time and whether they knew the girls were their avid fans!

Until today the legend is passed from one batch to another. Whenever I met alumni from the later batches, I would asked them about Nenek Roslin and most of them would know some stories about her.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 4 (Character building)

Students selected to study at MRSMs were selected based on their academic performance and intelligence (I suppose). Academic excellence was certainly very important and given that the students were supposed to be from the higher quartile from the academic perspective, high passing rates at the SPM stage should not be a surprise.

As far as I am concern, being forced to be independent at the early stage of life forced all of us to mature quickly and had to learn to take care of ourselves and relied on the support of friends and teachers. The MRSM system also encouraged students to be involved in many extra-curricula activities to ensure students have broad human skills which would prepare them for the future.

Naturally most of us took up sports and the popular games during my time was football, hockey and softball. All these games were played on the field which was quite rocky and hard. However, for many of us, that was not an issue at all. I played soccer and tried very hard to join the college team. The furthest that I got was to be selected into the RSM category - Reserve Sampai Mapus. 

The college team however won the Under 15 Inter-school championship by beating Sekolah Menengah Sultan Ismail, a record of sort. The game was played at the Stadium Sultan Mohamed IV, where the Piala Malaysia and other high level games were played. Pok Ya Golok and Jemi Mezah were among the stars that we had, both imported from Thailand. P/S - They have Malaysian identity cards.

We are the champions
Whenever we had any match with our neighbour, Sekolah Menengah Sains, the temperature on and off the field will be boiling. I remember a match when it had to be played on a neutral ground, at the Police Field Force field across the road. This was also to enable the supporters to be supervised by the police to prevent untoward incidence. I knew that some supporters from both team had 'extended matches' at seclude places behind the college to settle the 'final score'.

We were also active with cultural activities where many of us formed their own bands. My dorm mates Fiezal and Lani are among few of them. Fiezar has a natural talent for music and he played his guitar very well. There would be band competitions and show from time to time those days.

Many tried to master the guitar and we could hear people streaming guitars in most of the dorms during free hours. Most will start with "Biarkan Bunga Berkembang" as it was an easy song to play, only few keys required. The more advanced guitarists will start to venture songs like Hotel California, Kamalai and other songs of popular music groups such as Eagles, Air Supply, Alleycats, Sweet Charity and Carefree. This was also the era of the disco where we could hear songs from Bee Gees and Bonny M being played everywhere. There we students who venture into Dikir Barat and the most popular song was "Jahane habih kerano mung".

Performance at the Malam PPTL
At the same time, the Tabligh missionary movement were also taking roots amongst the students. This is more visible on Friday when many groups of people will move from one dorm to another to encourage students to attend religious lectures at the surau. Mazlan Musa, Shahrol and Man Malik were the Tabligh activists then. From time to time they would join other Tabligh members at their centre in Kota Bharu.

Some of us joined the Islamic society which tend to compete with those who are more inclined to participate in cultural activities. There were numerous occasions when a competing event at the sure will be organised whenever there was cultural event at the college hall! Different from the present when such situation would normally raise emotions, we were rather cool and were able to respect each other preferences without much fuss. 

One of our traditions was to organise Merdeka Night where normally certain historical scenes would be re-enacted. I remember participating in creating the scene where the Malays were fighting against the Malayan Union which was championed by by Harold MacMichael in 1945.

Down with MacMichael!
Our cooperative was also an avenue for the students to learn financial management. The coop shop was very popular especially after the preparatory classes in the evening. Maggie would be the most sought after commodity together with drinks. My uncle, Nik Yahya, ran the food corner and his popular menu was fried chicken. For a student at that time, having free fried chicken was a big deal.

I was one of the officers who ran the cooperative bank. This was a set up to facilitate students to save money and they were able to withdraw whenever they need. We normally worked in pair and Yeoh was one of my fellow bank officer. That was the time where I had to balance the book, something which later became my profession.

Balancing the book at the Cooperative Bank
The kind of opportunities offered to us at the college helped us to enhance our human and managerial skills. To me, these opportunities were the major influencers which shaped my characters. Being forced to stand own your own, make your own choices and decisions and learning the consequences of the choices and decisions provided me with the foundation to face the greater challenges of live later.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 3 (Puasa)

I have more memories about life at MRSM KB but given that we are now celebrating Ramadan, I will try to recall moments which were interesting and meaningful when fasting at the college.

Ramadan certainly meant different things to each of us. Some saw this as an opportunity to be closer to God while some felt it was the time that they could not eat, in public, again.

Like many other people, fasting started with Sahur, or the early breakfast. For us this meant waking up around 4 o'clock in the morning and headed to the dining hall. Waking up was not easy and many did not look forward to the food that were served, especially at such early hours. However, we had no choice but to queue for food and eat whatever that were served which being half-asleep. I know that some took this opportunity to look at the girls when they were without their makeup.

While most of us did observe fasting strictly, there were some who could not resist having Maggie during the day. I could not recall them but I know some did that quietly in the dorms. I wonder whether they have replaced all the fasting days which they missed by now.

The dining hall could not accommodate all of us at the same time during the breaking of fast. We took turn to break fast at the dining hall or at our respective dorms. I don't think we were served different food during Ramadan but certainly we were provided with dates, something which is customary for breaking the fast. There were guys who decided to be different, by puffing their cigarettes instead!

The dining hall was not decorated like this those days
Because of the big number of students, the Tarawikh prayers were performed at the main hall. I remember the hall was full of students where the boys took the front section and the girls were at the back. Without air-conditioning, it was quite stuffy but many persevered as Tarawikh was something which they looked forward to during Ramadan. Off course there were "moreh" or supper after the prayers although they could be just biscuits and coffee. Many would also head to the cooperative shop for something different.

Whenever I had the opportunity, I went back home during the weekends. This provided me with some relief as I was able to have more "normal" food and enjoy the company of my parents and siblings. Normally, we will bring some food back to college to share with our dorm-mates, especially with those who came from afar. Sometimes we went to buy local food sold at small stalls outside the college. The food supplemented the ones provided by the college. 

The pace of life was certainly slower. The preparatory classes were moved to the afternoon, instead of in the evening and there were less people playing games in late afternoon. Many spent their time in the dorms when they were free, mostly sleeping or did nothing.

As we approached Hari Raya, things will get more exciting around the college. Those who were from other states would be making arrangements to go back to celebrate with their parents and families. Some students took the initiatives to charter buses. The some took the train, not many took the flight like what we do nowadays. 

The sound of Hari Raya songs could be heard from the dormitories. Then the fun really started when people started to play with fireworks including those which flew and exploded. There were inter-dormitory "war" and people from different dorms will be firing at each other. The other popular target was the girls dormitories. I could not recall whether the girls returned fire or not.

Sekolah Menengah Vocational (SMV) was our neighbour. While I could not recall any other serious interactions between the students of the two schools, we certainly had 'small wars' amongst ourselves. Students from SMV would quietly sneaked close to our college and launched firecrackers at our dorms. The responses from our side were certainly as enthusiastic. We would fire back until both sides ran out of supplies or when our teachers intervened. Nobody bothered about the risks of fire or injury those days.

There were students who celebrated Hari Raya at the college, mostly those come came from afar such as Sabah and Sarawak. The college would arrange special food so they would not miss the special occasion. Some also joined their local friends to celebrate Hari Raya in Kelantan.

Sunday 21 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 2 (Homeroom and classes)

One of the student support systems implemented at that time was the Homeroom system. The idea was to group students into small family cells with teachers acting as advisors. My homeroom was Homeroom E and the advisor was Cikgu Nik Roseney Hayati, a graduate from the UK and my mathematics teacher as well. We were lucky to have Nik Roseney as our advisor as she was very passionate in helping us to adjust to our new live at the college. 

Homeroom E, 1978
Then, Cikgu Normaliah took over as our homeroom advisor. She invited us to her house for afternoon tea. I thought it was a normal invitation from a teacher. Only few year ago I was told by another former teacher that that was the first time Cikgu Normaliah cook for that many people and she was quite traumatic as she had to ask other teachers how to cater for her many homeroom students. While we could now laugh over it, this was an example of the closeness between us and our teachers.

Those days the world was different. The muslim community was not afraid of being influenced like what they are today. Our classes were named after various scientists such as Curie, Darwin, Mendeleev, Newton and Pasteur. I was in Darwin until form three. When I was in from four, I decided to take up history instead of geography, the only option that we had at that time. So we were group into Mendeleev. The class consisted the good, the bad and the ugly where we had the best such as Yeoh who had all A's including Pengajian Islam and the not so good students like Buntal in one group. 

The stars of Mendeleev Five
At present, the classes are named after Muslim scientists, which is not totally a bad idea. However, I would like to believe that I am now as committed to Islam as to those who went to religious schools. We had different exposures in knowledge and life but it did not mean that we were easily influenced by Western values just because our classes were named after Western scientists. What more when I was technically then a Darwinian!

In the first year at MRSM KB, there was no fixed classroom. We moved around from one room to another just like in universities. I am not sure whether there was any monitor for our classes (I need help here) and the teachers somehow would know whether any of us were absent as they were fairly regular in missing classes. From form four until form five our classroom was fixed at the new academic building. 

We love our lab sessions as we get to experiment and play with stuffs. When we were in form three, most get excited when the teacher covered the last part of the syllabus, about human reproductive science. Cikgu Fadzilah had to move on without showing her anxiety discussing about Helaian 6 Bahagian 9 with her all boys students.

When we were in form four the college introduced Quranic recitation lessons. The idea was to help us in improving our ability to read Quran. I could still remember one of the students who were serious about attending this classes was Yeoh. While he was reading in front of the teacher, many of the Malay boys went out from the class through the back window.

English was certainly a challenge to many of us especially for those who came from Kelantan. Our teacher tried many approaches in forcing us to master the language. Cikgu Nik Faridah will not speak to us other than in English, even after classes. When Cikgu Afzan joined the college to teach English, the interest in the subject when up the sky as the students were attracted to her pleasant look.

From left to right: Cikgu Norbibi, Cikgu Wan Nasihah, Cikgu Nik Faridah
I guess it was never easy to deal with this all boys batch but our teachers took that as their challenge. As mentioned earlier, they treated us like their own flesh and blood although they have to deal with our boyish and at times naughty behaviours as we learnt and grew. If we are judged by how successful we are now, the contribution by our teachers in nurturing these boys into individuals who are capable to be given high responsibilities could never be denied. 

Take Cikgu Zaki for example. He was our science teacher and the unique about him was he will always turned up with his turban and long shirt. Not withstanding that, he was loved by the students as he was very approachable and creative. Once he arranged for us to visit the airpot and we went into the plane that was on transit. He was active in sports and able to connect with us. I was told he died in the Philippines when he was there to preach the greatness of Islam.

Cikgu Matias tried very hard to get to be ready for the history subject in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia examinations. He provided us with notes and sample questions and answers and we went though them vigorously. One of his favourite student was Sele, who liked to tease his teacher with interesting questions. 

Our teachers remained close to our hearts until today. I never miss visiting Cikgu Wan Nasihah on every second day of Hari Raya when I went back to Kota Bharu. Cikgu Norbibi was just like a mother to me. We met whenever we could until her passing away few years ago due to cancer. She was also a friend on Facebook.

It will be very difficult to us to recall all the stories with our teachers but certainly we would not be who we are today if not due to their commitments, love and affection towards us, the Wattopers.

Saturday 20 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 1

It all started on 21 January 1978 when this all boys batch of students enrolled themselves at the Maktab Rendah Sains Mara Kota Bharu (now known as MRSM Pengkalan Chepa). They were the second generation of students of the science college, replacing the all boys pioneers which started their studies at the college in 1973. MRSM Kota Bharu is the second science college set up by the Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) in helping the Bumiputeras to pursue science-based disciplines at the secondary level.

I was earlier offered a place at Sekolah Menengah Sains Pengkalan Chepa, a neighbouring fully residential school. However, I was more keen to take up the offer from MARA. MRSM was a kind of special school those days. We were not required to wear a specific uniform. Any smart attire was sufficient! I suppose that was the reason which accepted the offer. One has to undergo some sort of aptitude test before being considered.

After the paperwork was completed, we were assigned our respective dormitories. Mine was F-7 where Abang Amin and Abang Adib were the dorm-captains. They were form 4 students who were selected to look after us, the freshies. The dorm has two sections, separated by an attached bathroom. That was the first time when I slept on a double-decker iron bed. In fact that was the first time when I spent a night away from my home in Kota Bharu. I am sure that was the case for many of us who were at the tender age of 13 at that time.

There was where I meet Lani, Bobok, Mat Zin, Ah Chai, Zairy, Jamie, Bulu, amongst othes, for the first time. Our batch consisted of boys from many parts of Malaysia, including Datu and Edward from Sabah. I suppose those days 1 Malaysia need not required any promotion, we were living the values. Somehow, along the way, we have turned into a society which is very conscious about race and religion. I wonder who was responsible in leading us into this kind of thinking? 

After my parents left me at the end of day, these boys in F-7 literally became my brothers. We enjoyed  and suffered student lives together for the next 5 years. Our brotherhood remains until today. When we meet each other, especially as a group, we will suddenly behave like teenagers again. Positions or titles do not separate us as the bonding that we built was based on when we were ordinary persons, not convoluted with other motives such as business, political or other interests.

Life in MRSM was very interesting. In addition to studies (which was not necessarily the first priority of many of us those days) we were involved in many other sporting and cultural activities. Apart from nurturing academic excellence, they MRSM system those days gave special attention to character building, nurturing leaders. While our teachers taught us the academic stuff, they also were our adopted parents. They let us explore our potentials, help us up when we fell and provided counsel when our conducts went out of line. I will be ever grateful to all my teachers who had provided me with all their loves and guidance. May Allah bless them all with guidance and eternal happiness.

Against this backdrop, many of us tried to attract attention of others in many ways. When someone did something out of ordinary such as making fun of himself infront of the rest, we will term that behaviour as "Buat Top". After a while "Buat Top" turned into Wattop, the name which our batch was known for until today.

This year these students are celebrating their 50th birthdays. Yes, we are crossing the half-century mark. This may mean different things to each of us but  one thing for sure, our brotherhood had survived the test of time. In conjunction with this milestone, I am attempting to pen the memories when we were there as well as some other stories after we left the college. 

I hope my other Wattopers would chip in their bits as well so that the final outcome, a book with the same title, could be published.

Thursday 4 June 2015

Letting Go

My father passed away around 5 years ago, 2 years after my mum. As the saying goes, "You will not appreciate what you have until you lose them". I feel the same nowadays everytime I go back to Kota Bharu. I feel more like a visitor now rather than a boy who was brought up in the town.

We finally sold off the family house in Taman Guru. While naturally we would like to keep it, circumstances made it difficult for us to keep it further. Some of us went back to clear stuff which are meaningful and useful, before the new owner takes over. Going over the many things that were still there brought back the memories of my late parents, the times when we were together and the many things that happened there. They had lived their lives the fullest, making whatever differences that they could to the world had done their best to ensure we, their children, would be able to live our own lives and continue to give back to the society.

We took the opportunity to visit Machang, where my parents lived in the early 60's until the end of 70's. Things had certainly changed. The quarters which was allocated to my mother when she served as a dental staff nurse had been turned into an office facility. When she was transferred to Pasir Puteh, we moved to the quarters belonging to my father who was the headmaster of Sekolah Kebangsaan Hamzah. That quarters had been replaced by a building housing the pre-school facility of that school. The little stream near the quarters is still there though.

I suppose letting go what we love is never easy. What more when what we have placed us in the position of power, make us respected by the society and provided us with the worldly comforts which many others don't have. I suppose these are the challenge people in leadership positions have when their times are up, because of circumstances or even when they do not longer have the credentials to remain in those positions.

A wise man once told me before I accepted my present responsibilities, "Remember what comes with the chair and what goes with it. As long as you can live without them, you should be alright". This reminder is very important especially when the right things that we are suppose to do are not necessarily popular with many people who we are serving. We must be prepared to let go, the position and power, when the alternative requires us to compromise on what is right.

We may not be able to adopt such stance unless we were brought up by people who have such principles as well. While the houses and memories may no longer be around, the principles and values which I inherit from my parents would certainly continue to live within me and provided me with the foundations and strengths to do what is right for the society.

May Allah accords my parents with His forgiveness and Blessings and places them together with those who He is pleased.

Friday 1 May 2015

Please Make Mobile Blogging Easy

Everything is moving into mobile devices nowadays. Blogging, naturally, should be on such platforms as well. Yes, we do have many apps, for example, which allow us to blog while we are on the move.

However, so far, I am finding blogging using my smartphone rather challenging. Perhaps, it is due to style I write and how I normally combine words and photos, to send my message across. The other issue is about formating, where the experience on my mobile device is different from when I am using my Mac at home.

Can't blogging be made easier on all these mobile devices? Perhaps, this is already 'old school' from the perspective of the apps developers. Given that people can express themselves through many social network platforms, blogging which leverages on the more traditional 'website' approach seems to be very old concept indeed.

I am using different platforms to reach different audiences with different messages. That's why blogging to me is still an important avenue to express my views. There is no limitation in terms of access although I tend to use social media to promote the articles I wrote.

Having the ability to blog from mobile devices is important given ideas can come when you are travelling or outside you home.

Well, I am just trying to blog while my family is enjoying their dinner, just to test whether the experience has changed.

Happy blogging.