14 October 2014

Mission Impossible

 Could  Rome be built in one day?
To-date, the largest orphanage centre in the state, Perkaya., which have its own school, have started sending pupils to Almanar on a weekly basis ,a very unsatisfactory frequency. Two groups are ferried in in their own bus every Saturday morning . I am hoping the new programme for next year will increase the frequency. I have, thus far, concentrated on teaching English, leaving other subjects to begin in January.

 I was greatly surprised last week when their representative requested Pakcik’s assistance to spend one Saturday morning with their Form 3 children who would begin their PT3 ( to replace the PMR) examination , which began yesterday with half a million candidates. The children were in need of help in mathematics. Preparing children of unknown level of knowledge in half a day for an important examination was a tall order; a mission impossible. But I knew better than to decline. I would, at least, have an opportunity to assess the children’s competency in that subject before they turn up to be tutored as Form 4 pupils early next year.

Bus from PERKAYA
As planned a busload of children arrived at Almanar before nine last Saturday. Buses from Perkaya have always been very punctual despite their one-hour journey to to Almanar. So, by nine last Saturday morning,  27 children ( 6 girls and 21 boys) were seated quietly in four rows in my class. I was conscious that all the 27 pairs of eyes watching me belonged to children without fathers. It was a sobering thought and I felt grateful to be in that unusual and enviable position.

After the initial few words of welcome, making sure that they would only address me as a simple Pakcik or Pakcik Hassan, we began with Al Fatihah for their fathers and the rest.

The ensuing three hours was tiring, selecting appropriate parts ans examples.  At least I know now the level of their competency; which is low in my estimation. They would not make an A grade today, but, Isha Allah, a few would in two years’ time. Rome was not built in one day.



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08 October 2014

End of the Tunnel ( Pt. 26 ) - Ooh, Pakcik!?

Had it not been for you


I parked my car and walked into the shop holding an old novel to be photo-stated . A young lady sporting a light blue Malay dress and a matching scarf was looking at a photostat copy which had just been handed to her by a shop assistant.  It looked to me like a form, perhaps a completed application form.


Conscious of my standing beside her she looked up only to find Pakcik’s face looking straight at her. Instead of shifting her eyes away a surprise look of recognition broke in her face. Almost instantaneously she opened her mouth to give a soft cry;  “ Ooh, Pakcik Hassan … !?” , then followed with “ Lamanya tak jumpa ! ( I’ve not seen you for so long !).

Her feature began to look familiar, and that word “Pakcik” told me who she should be, one of ex Almanar children. I was quick to change my surprise to a gentle rebuke , “ I am not surprised if you do not recognise me. You have not bothered to contact me after all this while.”    

That was a good line which prompted her to be defensive, “ Tak kan lupa Pakcik! Kalau tidak kerana Pakcik ajar saya Bahasa Inggeris mana saya dapat masuk UIA ! “. ( It isn’t possible to forget Pakcik! Without Pakcik helping to teach me English how could I join UIA ?”

So this girl, Aishah, had graduated from UIA and she went on to tell Pakcik that she was having some document prepared to take with her to UK. In about one week’s time she will be starting her Master’s degree at Hull University.

I am sure, she could never appreciate, nor could anyone else, how her impromptu declaration (of my help in teaching her English) meant to me at that moment. I am not ashamed to admit this. Aishah rewarded me enough with those few involuntary declaration.


Now I am able to reflect on this girl, Siti Nor Aishah, a young orphan, who, together with a few others, joined Almanar Form One tuition class in 2003. She completed SPM at the end of 2007. It was a credit to me and to her continued effort to finally earn the elusive ‘A’ grade in English. That, with her good SPM results in other subjects, earned her a place at UIA. And now she is proceeding to Hull.  

Siti Nur Aishah 

Reminiscing the time she was studying at Almanar, she said, “Mother used to scold me whenever I failed to attend one Pakcik’s class. ”  Aishah realised how much  her mother, a single parent, had wished her success in education. That is what has inspired her to come this far and to go further. 




On the second day of Hari Raya Qurban Aishah’s mother had a small party. Pakcik and Makcik were too happy to be there – to bid her farewell.  Insya Allah, we will, before long, be seeing more of her, a lady with high education.





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28 September 2014

Books over the Years ( Part 1 ) -  Pearl S Buck


The Good Earth

It was around 1954, my second year in an English School, when I began to make myself enjoy reading English books. Until then it was all Malay periodicals and novels. The need to catch up with English language became important when I realised how poor I was, having joined the English school a year earlier fresh from  a religious school where I hardly had a proper English lesson.

To begin yet another new seires (Books over the Years) for this blog I have a choice of old books which have left deep impressions in my memory. For a start I have to weigh seriously between a school text book, Charles Dicken's David Copperfield, and Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth. I have decided on the latter, for its more worn out appearance. I am lucky for having this copy in my possession over the years since I purchased it on 13th March 1954 - for RM 1.80! That makes it 60 years ago and it is likely to outlast its beloved owner.

                                                         Pocket Book - 1953 edition


Noted in long hand: 1.80  
Hassan Abdul Karim 
S S S K Trengganu
13th March, 1954

I was fortunate to have two qualified English ladies teaching us in Form 4 and 5.   They were in K Terengganu following their husbands holding certain seniors government posts like heads of JKR, Education Department, etc. Those were the years before Independence when certain schools benefitted from expatriates’ wives who were qualified.  I remember it well that one of them was qualified with MA in English. Perhaps she was the one who introduced The Good Earth to us. To get the book I had to place order by post from a book store in K Lumpur. There was no bookshop selling English book in town.

 Author of The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck

The author, Pearl S Buck, born in 1892, followed her American parents  to China on their missionary work. Sshe earned her master’s degree in English Literature from Cornell University,  and later married an American in China where they spent  the best part of their life, as university lecturers and voluntary workers.  Pearl had special love for the local Chinese peasants, about whom she wrote in a number of her books.

Pearl had her hall of residence in Nanking named in her honour. President Bush paid his respect there on his visit to Nanking.

For her work, Pearl S Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 1938 , cited "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".

Pearl was honoured in 1983 with a 5¢ Great Americans series postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service. 

 “Wang Lang, rising from humble landowner, glorified in the soil he worked. Had it above his family The back page of the book in Pakcik’s possession, carries the following tribute to this book ‘The Good Earth ;

“Wang Lang, rising from humble Chinese farmer to wealthy landowner, glorified in the soil he worked. But soon, between Wang Lang and the kindly soil that sustained him, came flood and drought, pestilence and revolution ….

Through this one Chinese peasant and his children, Nobel Prize winner Pearl S Buck traces the whole cycle of life, its terrors, its passions, its persistent ambition and its rewards. Her brilliant nover – beloved by millions of readers throughout the world – is a universal tale of the destiny of men.”

I am never tired of going through this book. It is all about simple and innocent human and humanity, an environment not dissimilar to that I have been associated with the last twenty years.

Perhaps school children of todays, those in Form 4 would breeze through this wonderful book and enjoy what Pakcik had to struggle through – with my prized copy of Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary and all!



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20 September 2014

With a Sigh ( Part 22 ) – Kertas Bocor!! Leak in exam papers.

Now it leaks ! What's next?


It saddens me that I have not in this blog written an entry crediting on our country’s system of education. I moan and sigh whenever the ‘gods’ of education speak with high praise for their endless plans and blueprints, to make our universities more of ‘taraf antara bangsa’(world class) than those in other countries. They talk about importing Indian English teachers, American peace corps etc. etc. to help in teaching of English. This reminds me of a conversation I had with then the director of a state education department. When I casually asked him why there had hardly been one scholarship given to  an outstanding student in the state to study English  at a university in England, he went to a great length to convince Pakcik that England was no longer the best country to study English language! Fortunately India was not his best choice either. I found no reason to waste my breath in arguing with that self-proclaimed expert. He must have been convinced by the ‘gods’ up there, those who found him deserving to be promoted to run the state education.


I have never heard of a suggestion from our wizards in education that, perhaps, it is of immediate advantage to the country to invite experienced teachers, those trained in Kirkby, Brinsford and locally. Many of them would be too happy to come out of retirement to help our failing system. In the local dailies several readers did voice suggestions to this effect without being given any notice by those in authority who were bent on listening to the expensive consultants from overseas. 


And now we hear about the leak (bocor) in certain UPSR question papers.


In my part of the world I have, over the last ten years, been hearing rumours of leaked examination papers just about UPSR examination time.  Many teachers are convinced of that and I am inclined to believe them, too. Deep in my heart I know there is some truth in the rumours. Coincidentally, over the years my state is proud of holding a record of sort in achieving the highest percentage of children obtaining all A-grades in UPSR examinations.  


I thought the current unfortunate situation (of leaked UPSR papers) would hasten the replacement of UPSR examination with the new system publicised  not long ago. On the other hand, the minister categorically stated that UPSR would stay.

What does an A grade in UPSR mean?


The three girls pictured above are from a small group of Form 1 children attending tuition at Almanar. Two of them achieved 5A’s and the third 3A’s in their UPSR examination last year.  They decided to join Almanar a week ago. All the three girls excelled with A-grade in Mathematics and two with A-grade in English. It is not easy for them to come to Almanar , about ten kilometers away from their homes. But they do with their elders’ support.


Nine months into Form 1 these children claimed to have completed their Form 1 Mathematics for the year. That is encouraging. But I cannot take it for granted. They are at a disadvantage learning Mathematics in Malay as Pakcik would want children at Almanar to learn technical terms in English.  


The first chapter of Form 1 Mathematics is all about numbers, the odd, even and prime numbers, factors and multiples, etc.  It is enlightening to these children to learn to say; Ali is an odd boy; he is at odd with so and so; the top of a billiard table must be perfectly even; Their score at half time were even; He did not even open the envelop, etc. When asked what they guessed a ‘prime number’ would mean they looked totally puzzled. When asked what ‘prime minister’ meant, their faces sparked with delight – perdana menteri! I do not wonder why people like our Dr Mahathir feels strongly for English to be used in science and technical subjects.    


Like in many cases, it is most disappointing to see what a calculator has done to these children. Pakcik cannot help recalling the years I was in standard 2 and standard 3 seventy years ago. We had to commit to memory the multiplication tables up to 12. We would get a cane for not being spontaneous in giving an answer to say, 7x6.  These children are good at using the gadget but failed to divide 69 by 3 without one.


Hopefully our standard of education will remain at ‘taraf antarabangsa,’ and I say it with a sigh.



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06 September 2014

Just a Reflection ( Part 13 )-Who am I?




What a creation that is -
The SAND , the SEA and the SKY.
In perfect harmony


And the boats are idling, peacefully on the beach.


Because their owners know


Soon, a STORM is coming, and their boats are no match to face the wrath of nature.


  I see this often.  And I reflect -
                                            Who am I ?



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25 August 2014

Pakcik Reminisces ( Pt 37 ) – My Hijrah

August, now and fifty years ago

It is August, possibly the month which carries memories of notable events in Pakcik’s family life.

If one sees Makcik busy about this time, year after year, fixing Malaysian jalur gemilang at the back and front of Nuri, on the tree house and at Almanar, one would admire her patriotic spirit. I would let people at large think so, why not?

At Nuri

At the tree house as well

And at Almanar, no doubt

On 30th August of each year we ‘celebrate’ ( with songs and dance?) my great lady’s very own birthday. To her the 31st August celebration is meant for her in the first instance. To Pakcik the 31st August celebration is in honour of Pakcik’s own birthday which comes at the turn of that month.      

If that is not enough, August brings Pakcik's family  back 20 years ago when  our only princess was married on 25th August, followed a day later, on 26th, by our elder prince’s wedding. If twenty years is not far back enough we move FIFTY years ago when it all started, as recorded in my last entry ( click here ). Indeed, in the shade of a large durian tree two young persons sat united – 50 years ago this August.

I am fortunate to have a WH Smith Diary of 1994 which carries records of certain events in my family.

WH Smith 1994 diary

Clearly, two pages dated 25th and 26th carry some records of the two weddings in our new home, Nuri. where we had barely settled down.

Page 25th August & page 26th August 

Those two weddings at Nuri have been blessed with one girl and five boys which give us the right to 'datukship' ( grandparents' status). And now two of these grandchildren have completed their secondary education. Their grandmother has started to dream of seeing more weddings at Nuri, and the beginning of yet another generation of great-grand …..

Flipping through the 1994 diary I found on page for 22nd April (equivalent to 11th Dzul Ke’dah 1414) an entry which began with “My Hijrah to KT” . 

My 'Al Hijrah' on 22nd April 1994

Reading what I wrote then of a simple event, I congratulate myself  today for having chosen to make simple entries on what happened.  That I chose to own and enter a dairy at 58 is not a common practice. 

For whatever degree of relevance to my life I chose to record as follows the event of that day, 22nd April 1994 :

“At 8am the two of us left KL for KT in our Proton which was packed with assorted essentials, crockery, pots and pans, suit-cases, my books of reference on tafsir and Arabic, laptop, Black-and-Decker tool box, mats, a piece of carpet. It was for all intents and purposes, my ‘Hijrah’ to KT. I stopped for Jumaat prayers about 50 km from Jerangau …………. etc.”

“Our house was by no means ready – but we were determined to move in – So we had our first  night in NURI……. Etc”

I am glad today to go back in time and read my thoughts. It has been twenty years since we moved (hijrah) our home from the busy KL city to a very quiet locality – semi jungle, fronting the South China Sea. There are still wild boars and pythons  today living in the neighbouring bushes.

It is hard to believe that some years ago we were forced to erect a low brick wall to fence our area (about two acres of land) after our tapioca and banana plants were mercilessly attacked by those dangerous brutes. It was only a week ago, one dark evening on our way home, I had to stamp hard on my foot brake of our Alza to avoid running into two black animals I assumed to be two black cats on the road. Instead  they were two young boars running across my path.


And soon, after having settled down at Nuri, we started Almanar, hoping the work I planned for needy children would keep me occupied and happy during my autumn days.  To HIM we owe all these twenty years and a very  pleasant life.

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15 August 2014

All in the family (Part 13 )

This day 15th August 2014


We thank YOU

That we’re still here
To see today’s sunrise
To have been given children 
And friends

That YOU never cease
To provide us
Everything we need
To have made us care
For others
As YOU care for us


We need no candles
No flowers
No cakes
No gold medals


We have YOU
Yesterday today and tomorrow


And in our silent prayers

Nasykuruka wa-nahmaduka
wa-IYYAKA naa'budu
Wa-IYYAKa nasta’iin



The beginning
 Just the two 

Under a large durian tree they chose to unite

Plus Three

It becomes Two plus Three

And now - the two + three ++ twenty +++? 
Wallahu aa’lam

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