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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, January 28, 2024

Cast From The Herd Excerpt #114 A Tour Of Ottawa

 Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt # 114:  A Tour Of Ottawa

That morning, my first full day in Canada, I walked around Parliament Hill, awed by its imposing buildings, and along Rideau Canal. Again I was amazed how helpful and friendly Canadians were, and how proud they were of their capital city. People were so helpful that I began to wonder whether I looked like a lost soul to elicit so much assistance from them. They told me how the canal came about, the oldest such system in North America, built after the War of 1812 so Canadians could avoid the St. Lawrence River which was then infested with snipers from the other side to the south, the continent’s first terrorists, the Americans. 

            The history lessons I was getting were instructive as well as enjoyable. Why was it that in high school I hated the subject so much that I jumped with joy when I no longer had to take it? The difference was obvious. Here in Canada, history is part of daily life and in the immediate surroundings, as with the Rideau Canal. 

            I was also told that the entire canal would freeze in winter, and the place was packed with people of all ages skating, ice fishing, and or otherwise enjoying the ice. The thought of an entire canal freezing boggled my imagination. In my native land ice was premium, sold by the pound. What about the fish? Again I was told that they survived in the deeper waters which remained unfrozen. 

            Then I remembered in my high school physics the peculiar density/temperature curve of water. Normally as temperature rises the density decreases, and vice versa, except that with water at about four degrees Centigrade, there is a reversal. Further cooling would result not in an increase of density but a decrease. The result is that as water becomes ice at zero degrees, it becomes less dense than water and thus floats. Ice is also an excellent insulator. The colder the weather, the thicker would be the ice, and greater the insulation. How wonderful and ingenious of nature to have such a positive-loop reinforcement! 

            Up till then the peculiar density/temperature curve and other concepts in physics like acceleration were merely interesting intellectual curiosities to me. I had to know them for my school tests, but I could never figure out their relevance in everyday life as my physical environment did not afford me the opportunities to experience those phenomena. 

            That after all is the essence of the study of science, to enable us to understand and thus appreciate our environment. Looked at from that perspective, learning becomes a command of Allah, as per the Qur’an, as well as fun, as it should be. It is only when learning is degraded and reduced to the memorization of facts and formulas to be regurgitated at test times does it dulls one’s sense of curiosity and takes the joy out of learning. 

            The next day I took a Greyhound bus city tour. The maid had recommended that to me. The bus was clean; the seats were like those on the airplanes – plush, comfortable, and reclining. Even the driver looked like a pilot, with his crisp light-blue shirt, bowtie, and cap. The ride was smooth, with no jerky braking or gear-changing. That was the first time I experienced the wonders of automatic transmission and its sparing of jerkiness as well as ear drum assaults!

            We toured a suburb; the houses had well-manicured lawns with still-blooming flowers. There was something strange about the scene but I could not figure out what it was. Then it became obvious; there were no fences or gates on the front. There were also sidewalks! More remarkably, I did not see ugly overhead utility lines or open roadside drains. We came upon a house where a young lady was standing on the front well-manicured lush lawn with her two young children. They waved at us as the driver honked and slowed down. 

            “Folks!” he beamed, “that’s my wife Jeannie and our children Jimmy and Holly. Wave at them!” 

            We all did as we cheered. Wow! A bus driver’s home! Back home bus drivers lived in shacks. How could a bus driver in Canada afford such a lovely house? He went on to tell us that his neighbor was a mailman and across the street, a policeman. In Malaysia, policemen lived in barracks isolated from the community they were supposed to serve and protect. 

            As I reflected, in Canada there was only the driver, no conductor. There was also no tour guide giving running commentaries. Instead it was the driver who was doing all that. If Malaysian bus companies were to dispense with conductors, and their drivers were educated enough to be also tour guides, they could triple the salaries and those drivers could then live well. I began to appreciate the concept of productivity that Mr. Pritam was trying to tell us when he was bored teaching us physics. At that time those economic terms were useful to me only as a way to impress my audience at Introduction Night at Malay College. Now I saw a clear and dramatic demonstration of the concept, and its relevance in real life. 

Next:  Excerpt #115:  Let The Expanding Universe Be Your Teacher


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