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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Caast From The Herd: Excerpt #44: Exposure to Scientific Research Literature

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #44:  Exposure To Scientific Research Literature

My father had found a Chinese laborer and his family to tap the rubber on his new land. The man was desperate and took the job despite the earlier bus burning incident. My father was meticulous with his record keeping and made frequent unannounced visits. Soon he became familiar with the seasonal variations in production, as with low output during the dry season. By now he had also trusted his foreman such that the visits became infrequent, relying only on his report. 

One year my father noted that the decline in production did not recover with the improvement in the weather. So he went to check. Instead of visiting his land, he went straight to the dealer, also a Chinese, to whom my father had sold his rubber sheets. The dealer was surprised to see him as he thought that my father had sold the land. The tapper had earlier told the dealer that my father had had some financial difficulties and that he (the tapper) had bought the land. The dealer believed the worker as that also fitted the stereotype the Chinese had of Malays. 

My father later confronted his worker. He at first denied it, saying that the falling production was due to the weather. When he was shown the figures of previous years, together with what the rubber dealer had earlier related to my father, he confessed. My father fired the man right away and ordered him and his family off the property. 

A few days later he and his entire family visited us at our village. They all came in a chartered taxi bringing generous offerings to beg for forgiveness. He promised my father never to cheat again and to make good on the loss. My mother was livid both at the tapper and my father as she had not been apprised of the problem. On seeing the man, his wife, and children sobbing with their palms clasped together at their foreheads, a la sembah, and repeatedly prostrating before my father as if he was Lord Buddha, my father relented. True to his word, the man remained honest. 

I learned much from my father through that incident. One is the importance of meticulous record keeping. You could spot trends and thus uncover possible frauds much earlier. The other is that people can change for the better, given a chance. 

Earlier my father had embarked on replanting his ageing rubber plantation on another piece of land he had bought. This replanting scheme was encouraged by the government and supported by generous grants. The idea was to replace those old rubber trees with the new hybrid high-yielding shoots. 

Immediately when he signed up on the program, a representative from the extension department of the government’s Rubber Research Institute (RRI) came over to explain the details. I was impressed how well he could explain biological terms in Malay to my father. He was in turn a diligent learner, taking down copious notes. 

As the rubber trees would take about five years to mature, the agent recommended planting cash crops in between the young trees to supplement my father’s income even though he did not need it. My father was a stickler in following the agent’s recommendations. And that was how we ended up with a glut of fruits and vegetables. One could indeed live quite well on those temporary cash crops while waiting for the rubber tress to yield their precious latex. 

My father (and I) learned much from that extension officer. For example, he suggested that when cutting down the old trees, to spare a few in between so as to provide shade, and only when the ground work was all completed would you cut down the few remaining trees. We also learned how to terrace the hillside when planting, to reduce soil erosion from the torrential tropical rains. Then we learned about spacing those trees, with the rows facing east and west wide apart so the sun would have maximal penetration. 

I learned much about cash crops as well as cover crops to prevent soil erosion. In fact I learned much more from that extension officer than from my biology teacher. Noting my interest, the officer put me on the Institute’s mailing list. Thus I was able to obtain original published scientific articles, my first introduction to research. I was so proud to know that our own research institute was making a contribution to world scientific literature. 

My father’s diligence in record keeping again proved useful. In fact the extension agent used my father as an example to impress the other smallholders of the wisdom in following the extension department’s recommendations and keeping meticulous records. My father even recorded how much I earned from selling those bananas and pineapples, as well as the amount (value-wise) we gave away to friends, family, and neighbors!

Next:  Excerpt #45:  Caught In An Ambush


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