Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Is work a way of life?

Is work a way of life? That was the question my mind posed to me this morning, as I saw the vehicles on the roads, bumper to bumper, with clear intentions of reaching the respective offices in time. It looks like it. Working is a life. It is not strange, it is not different, it is life. Almost everyone works. It is not only about making a living, but it is about living a life in work. And when the life of work is done, there is the life of retirement. And when that is done too, there is the life of no life.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lesson in humility or lesson in humiliation?

I do not know what prompted me to remember the incident that happened in 1983 this morning. It is something that still bothers me. It was my first job, in a cable manufacturing company. I reported to the CFO, a Chinese, Foo was his name, I think and he was all what you may imagine to be for an Accountant - bespectacled, thin and pale, hair parted by the side of the head. On that particular day, my first day of work as an Accounts Executive, I sat by my desk. He asked to see me and I stepped into his office. "I can see that you are quite artistic", he said, although he could not possibly see that as I had not done anything tangible that could lead to a person thinking that I was artistic. I presumed he was being sarcastic.

"Here is what I want you to do", he said. "You see those brass plates out there on the desks of the senior officers? I will ask my secretary to bring those plates for you to polish", he said.

So, on the very first day of my work, in an office where clerical staff reported to me, I sat on the chair with a polishing cloth and a Brasso, to polish the brass name plates of the senior officers. The question here is, was the CFO trying to give me a lesson in humility? Or was he trying to give me a lesson in humiliation? I am more skewed towards the latter. The spectacle of me cleaning the brass plates, obviously affected the clerical staff, so that I could feel I lost their respect. Having two professional degrees did not seem to jive with the janitor's work of polishing brass plates. I took the task without complaints, without being vocal about it. Perhaps, the CFO wanted to break my ego, whatever that was that he noticed. I do not remember I have an ego. But being awarded the best student in Accounting in the Commonwealth certainly would have provided the platform for such. Since that fateful day, I could not manage my staff well. They could not get that polishing out of their minds.

I worked for a month before tendering my resignation. My resignation attracted the attention of the CEO, a British engineer. He was respectful and called me into his office for a discussion. He wanted to know why a person like me would want to resign. So I told him of what the CFO had asked me to do on my first day of work and his recurring sarcasms from day to day. The CEO openly acknowledged the fact that the CFO was a racist. There had been complaints of him from other Malay employees.  

It was not a lesson in humility after all. The CEO asked me to reconsider but I gently refused, citing all other reasons like difficulties in travelling to work and all. Such is the Malay way of turning down an offer. In a way, my decision to leave was pretty good. I made the right choice despite losing the potential income in the company. It was a small company. The CFO found it exhilarating when the company made the first million. That was how small it was. I got a better job as Group Budget Accountant in a listed company and a better income. Still, I could not forget that Foo, the racist CFO. I still harbour that bitterness, a bitterness that could only be quelled if I can only pee on his grave. Further down the road, I have met a few more of those like Foo. I took these things in stride, going beyond the skin to the individual. There will always be people like Foo. But then there will always be other people who are not racists. Like my old friend who died recently, the late CK Loh. CK Loh shared his experience with me one day. He lost a maintenance contract with a Chinese customer because the customer insisted that he remove the Malay employees from his IT company. Loh stood by his principles but lost the contract. That was a significant thing to do. 

My brother Sam told me one day. If we do not know a person, we are likely to judge the person according to our influenced perception of him as a person of another race. And he or she is likely to do the same to you. However, if we get to know each other and become friends, we are likely to forget the bigotry.

Whatever it was, my life is certainly better than Foo. For I do not have what his small mind has. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cause of Teoh’s death unknown - The Star

The Star reported "The lengthy Teoh Beng Hock inquest ended with coroner Azmil Muntapha Abas ruling that the political aide did not commit suicide. Azmil Muntapha, however, also said there was insufficient evidence to prove that Teoh’s death was homicide".

At most times, I think in terms of binary rationality, that if a parameter does not fit, then it must be the other. One or Zero. Yes or No. The coroner's statement above is perplexing, suicide was not committed by Teoh. And so, to my mind, his death must have been brought about by an external party. If you don't die from your own actions, then you must have died from other people's actions, in that context. So, it is perplexing indeed. Perhaps, I have been watching too many CSI shows, if there had been a murder, there should be a murderer. That is how I tend to see things.

But then, I cannot manage to grasp a conclusion. Teoh's death did not reach the classification of murder. It is somewhere in the space between the words suicide and murder. Death was the certainty but its cause is not. I am confounded by the apparent ambiguity in the equation. It scares me as it is not just about the case, but about the ambiguity in determining the murder. It tells me that it can happen to just about any Malaysian. Yes, I am afraid. If science cannot explain it, then it will normally categorise it as paranormal until such time, that it can be explained by science. So, is Teoh's death paranormal? I dare to stand firm by my opinion, until such time that the coroner classifies Teoh's death as murder. And I have sufficient cause to worry.

One can die from paranormal activity here. I can be in a building in one minute and in the next minute, I will be falling out through the window, meeting death on the pavement. Paranormal indeed. I have a firm reason to be afraid. Of what can become of future deaths. Not suicide but not murder. It can happen to you.  

At least 60 people plan suicide every day

Today's Star mentioned that Counselling centres in the country receive more than 60 calls each day from people contemplating suicide, according to China Press. In a front-page special report, the paper said the number reveals that many people are being subjected to problems related to finance, marriage and family.

It is understandable, given that the banking environment in Malaysia is more prudent and risk averse and will not provide the financial assistance to just about anybody. In this country, if a person is in high debt or without a job, he or she will not be able to obtain the financial assistance from banks. Once a person defaults on a credit card or a personal loan, no matter how small, it will be registered amongst the banking community and here is where the problem commences.

This is not a welfare-state, almost everything here has a price. Even to go to work has a price. There is the toll to pay to use the road and there is always the exorbitant parking rates. If a person does not have medical insurance, provided by his employer or through his own means, there is money to pay for sickness and maternity. Nothing is free here. The only thing that is free is probably a smile.

So, what is a person with financial constraints to do? Can a counsellor really talk a person out of suicide over money-matters when there is possibly nothing that can be done to arrest the financial situation? One can only talk so much over the phone to someone whose situation is real, not imaginary. Depression is in the mind, but money matters is real. Often times, a person cannot see the road; the alternative route. It would be easier if the banking institutions and the Government can collaborate to not only reduce non-performing loans and suicide but at the same time provide a higher margin of tolerance for people who are in need of finance. There has got to be a way, nothing is impossible in this world, save for bringing someone back from the dead.

More often than not, marriages are also risk averse, being part of the equation of having adequate finance. Without finance, marriages can fail. Wifes can also be like banks. Risk averse. No money, no wife. Everything has a connection. The report is right that money, marriage and family are the problems.

I am not an advocate of suicide, far from it, but a person, being a member of the community and the Government and the banks being members of the community, efforts should go beyond mere counselling to establish a new machinery which addresses the real and material issues affecting the suicidal person.