Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Philippines

Has anyone been to the Philippines? I haven't. When Frank Williams (Xlibris) called me yesterday, he asked whether I have been to the Philippines. I said no and never will. He was probably startled and asked why. I replied I was intimidated.

I remember as a child, we used to get Sunday Times and inside was a magazine. I used to read the magazines because I couldn't read the big newspaper - I couldn't connect with news. One fine Sunday, this magazine featured a Filipino delicacy called manoq (or some other spelling). The photograph that I saw was manoq being sold at a marketplace, and people squatted to eat manoq. A close-up showed the nature of manoq. What is manoq? Manoq is a fertilzed hen's egg when the growing chicken had reached full term or almost that. That eggs are actually rotten but they are eaten as a delicacy, right there at the marketplace. I couldn't accept people eating manoq and I went to ask my mother who was cooking in the kitchen. I don't remember what I asked her. But manoq stirred me alot, so much so that it angered me (as a child).

Many years after that manoq incidence, I read about jai alai, a Filipino bat-and-ball game that I had never tried. The glove is made of rattan and fitted over the hand as a long extension, much like an elephant's trunk. It made me wonder why people needed to extend their hands while they can just catch the fast ball with their hands. That question was never answered.

My Malacca friend Mohaini's brother got married to a Filipino lady and I had the chance to meet her after the wedding, at a birthday party. She was great and asked us to make animal sounds - I had to make an elephant sound. When I studied at the University of California, Riverside, I met 2 Filipinos. They were fine as friends. Rizal was in business studies, and Rufina was in another study. Maria was another Filipino lady who came to work at USM as a lecturer and was my colleague. We shared our research on brain trauma. The Filipinos I met were fine. They resembled the Malay people in appearance but they spoke English with a thick Filipino accent. I also met some Filipino singers at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur/Penang and they sang fine. My late mother said Filipinos are great as singers. I have no doubt about that after listening to Soliano and also Lea Salonga.

The 3rd DG Tan Sri Dr Raja Ahmad Noordin had served in the United Nations office in Manila after he retired. He wrote about the community transformation that happened when he was there and he had brought back those concepts to have them repeated at Kuala Langat, and that worked out fine. My impression then was the Philippines was more advanced than Malaysia on community and health matters.

Volcanic eruptions, presidential turmoils, and rising poverty are recurring events in the Philippines. It is these that held me back from visiting the Philippines. I looked through some YouTube videos of the state of poverty of the Filipino people where children waited for leftover food from fast food chains - as dinner. That was the last straw I could take. I'm not going to the Philippines if the Filipino children have to eat from waste bins.

I was talking to some people about the plight and poverty of the Filipino children at the slums and graves, and consuming such "food" from waste bins. Nobody can tell me what we can do to help. We are the same race but divided by culture, traditions, beliefs, faith, and by distance. Did the colonials robbed the Filipinos? Now the US uses the Philippines for air base. We all know the USA is a first world nation (very rich). Why aren't anyone helping to get rid of the slums and feed the poor children and the homeless?

What is wrong with today's uncaring society? Don't they have eyes and hearts? Don't they have feelings for other people, not even for kids? I still cannot understand extreme poverty in southeast Asia. We are free nations but we cannot live without poverty. I don't understand why we want to keep poverty. I still think the rich nations must help the poor kids and not just rob their parents and their nations. It will be lovely to see happy kids smiling in their own homelands and not have to go abroad to find a means of survival. It will be a dream if all kids can be happy. I want to see happy kids.

Western Australia January 2013

I plan to return to Western Australia to visit a few friends and relatives, and my alma mater, the University of Western Australia (UWA). From my knowledge when I was a postgraduate student there, I was the only Malaysian Muslim female student doing research at PhD level from October 1986 to August 1989. I was probably the first Malaysian Malay to complete a PhD there too. Because I was the first PhD student for the Muslim community in Perth, it got everyone excited. The excitement didn't reach me then because I was up in the laboratories working long hours, both at the Nedlands campus in Crawley and at the biochemistry lab at Royal Perth Hospital. I was oblivious to the excitement in the Muslim community who knew of my status as the first PhD student at this prestigious university. Much later after I joined UWA, UWA was roped in under the "Circle of Eight", a group of Australia's elite universities where not everyone who applies gets to enter. The dropout rate was higher than acceptance rate. I didn't apply because I knew my application would not pass through the first sieve. But a miracle happened and I was invited to join UWA at PhD level by a professor who had just returned from Boston, USA. So that was how I got there - by chance and miracle, Alhamdulillah. I was there for less than 3 years and obtained my PhD in 1990, after I returned to Malaysia. I only needed to correct one page in my PhD thesis - a figure legend had to go beneath the diagram instead of hanging above the diagram; that was all. It scored the best PhD thesis in Physiology, Faculty of Medicine at UWA. I was informed by my PhD Supervisor that it was also the best PhD thesis in a long long time in the history of Physiology at UWA. I still think what made it a good thesis was I enjoyed doing my experiments and I also enjoyed working with the photographer to get good photographs for my thesis. I also enjoyed writing my PhD thesis - I used the first generation Macintosh that came to Western Australia, a great improvement over the Wang computers I was used to. I remember I wrote my PhD thesis in winter, in between breastfeeding my newborn second son! Well, you can really laugh at this. LOL

UWA is very special. It feels like the Tower of London plunged into a Mediterranean setting. If you have been to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, then UWA is like that too, except on a smaller scale, of course. The campus is by Matilda Bay. It is rare that university campuses are set by the lake or sea. So being by the bay makes UWA a romantic and scenic campus. You don't have to travel to Alhambra in Granada, Spain to get that lovely feeling. On Sundays, there are weddings everywhere on UWA campus. Malaysian campuses don't give sufficient attention to landscapes and gardens and therefore we cannot make our campuses into "enterprising gardens". I think even Carcosa Sri Negara in Kuala Lumpur is more beautiful than Malaysian campuses. Everywhere you walk in UWA campus, you will be amazed at the facades of the old and new buildings, the pavements, the rose gardens, the sunken garden, the bushes, etc. The campus is picturesque. When my parents visited UWA towards the end of my research at UWA, they were amazed I was studying at such a lovely place.

Twenty-two years on after graduation, my family still thinks UWA is a lovely place. My husband wants me to bring my books to UWA because it is one place that I love. We plan to visit UWA some time in February 2013, after my first lecture for 2013, insyaAllah.

UWA is also a sponsor of the Australian Book Review (ABR). I had written an earlier post on ABR.

UWA also produces its own magazine, the UniView.

Winthrop Hall, pond and rose garden, UWA October 2012
Department of Physiology and sundial, UWA October 2012


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