Sunday, October 25, 2009

Diwali 2009

One distinctive about Malaysia is that the festivals of four major religions are celebrated and respected in a national attempt to promote and live in harmony.
On 10 October, Diwali (Deepavali in Malay) was celebrated by Malaysian Hindus (mostly Indian) and some students at my college were given permission to lay out a Kolam, or Rangoli, in the entrance foyer of the college's main building. The difference between the two, I guess, is that a kolam is made using coloured rice, while a rangoli uses coloured powders. Unlike past years, our college did not take time off (since it was on a Saturday) but normally at least one day of vacation is given.

The Indians make up a very small percentage of Malaysia's population (less than 10%), but they are disproportionately represented in the numbers of lawyers, doctors, teachers, and book-sellers. Most Indians in Malaysia are Tamil, either from Tamil Nadu in India or from Sri Lanka. They serve the best food -better than Chinese, Malay, or Thai- and are typically quite adept at languages, most being fairly fluent in Tamil, English and Malay.

With a couple of Tamil colleagues assisting, I have learned exactly five words in Tamil. The Tamil students are always impressed when I greet them in their native language, but of course I should learn more words. At this time, however, I am still working on my Malay.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Malaysia Makes Forbes Magazine Top Ten Retirement Spots

Forbes magazine just released their annual Top Ten Foreign Retirement Destinations. Here is the list:

1. Austria
2. Thailand
3. Italy
4. Panama
5. Ireland
6. Australia
7. France
8. Malaysia
9. Spain
10. Canada

Here is what they had to say about Malaysia:

Exotic mix of Chinese and Islamic culture, welcoming to retirees, low costs and spectacular coastline make Malaysia a strong contender for the budget-conscious seeking a retreat, but also increasingly for the wealthy wanting an Asian tax haven. Kuala Lumpur is not the easiest place to live in, but, for health care reasons, avoid straying too far into the beautifully remote islands.

Downside: racial tensions and emerging-nation infrastruct

I am puzzled by the "emerging-nation infrastructure" dig. I don't know what is missing that would give Malaysia a developed-nation infrastructure.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Student Day at De Rhu Beach Resort

Once a semester, the lecturers in my engineering group (civil) organise a day of activities for our students. This month we went out to the beautiful grounds at De Rhu Resort, just 15 minutes north of Kuantan. De Rhu easily has the largest and most beautifully landscaped pool of the beach resorts in the Kuantan area. It is designed like a large snake, with water ranging in depth from 1.5m to 0.5m in sections for children. I used to go swimming 2-3 times each week and loved to loll about in the water listening to the morning bird choir.

(Left: Female students WITH tudong)

A typical student day really only lasts for half a day, but consists of (1) activities; (2) food; and (3) funny photos. Young adults (girls) like the two-finger V sign, especially beside the eyes. Also, for some unknown reason, the tudong-wearing girls posed separately from the non-tudong-wearing girls. Mysterious, women are they.

(Right: Female students WITHOUT tudong)

Activities this time consisted of forming into eight groups of 9-10 students each. Groups competed against each other in a gunny sack race, pulling on a sled race, three-legged race, and etc. One race that I had never seen before consisted of them throwing a large die (singular form of dice) and taking 1, 3, or 5 small steps backwards if an odd number were thrown; and 2, 4, or 6 large steps forward if an even number were thrown. Despite having shorter legs, a group of girls won this one (their two male team-mates lazily refused to participate) because they threw the number 6 three times in a row.

(Left: Ski board race)

The winners of each activity won a hamper, a typical door-prize or award here in Malaysia. A hamper consists of a stack of goodies (packages of cookies, snack items, drinks) wrapped in plastic. With the potential of nearly one hamper per team member (8 hampers, 9-10 members), the motivation was strong to win in each event. At the end, one group won three hampers, and the other five were split amongst three other groups. Of course, to even things out, my female colleagues had prepared hampers for The Most Cooperative Group, The Most Creative Group, and The Most Attractive Group. These went to groups that won NOTHING in the competition. Yes, political-correctness has made it to these shores also.

Other than having a fun time interacting with my students OUTSIDE the classroom (important for building rapport for WITHIN the classroom), I also came away with a very bright-red sunburn on my neck and lower arms. Ouch! Forgot the sun lotion again.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

No earthquakes, no tsunamis, just BIG clouds...

October 1, and China is celebrating their 60th National Day. This week there have been earthquakes in American Samoa and Sumatra, tsunamis in Samoa, and a tropical cyclone over Vietnam. But I am safe, since I am none of those places. I am in Malaysia, where we are only getting BIG clouds on these searingly-hot afternoons.

(Left: Cumulus building over South China Sea)

Walking home this afternoon, I enjoyed watching a very large cumulus cloud building up over the South China Sea. These two photos do not do the cloud justice since the photo is only a two-dimensional medium. One has to be on the street looking up into the awesome three-dimensional object to appreciate truly its scale of grandeur and beauty.

I could bore my readers with technical details about cumulus clouds, but basically the term means "heap" or "pile" in Latin, and it looks like puffs of cotton heaped up into a massive pile. Cumulus form on hot afternoons, and is a way for heat to be dissipated and moved around in the atmosphere. Much of the heat goes into evaporating water from the ocean surface, which then rises and cools, becoming visible water vapour. As it rises and cools further, droplets of ice water form on things called aerosols: tiny bits of sand, salt, dust, etc., that provide the nucleus around which the water vapor can condense. The tropics are ideal for the formation of cumulus clouds for there is ample supply of heat, water (ocean surface), and aerosols (airborne salt particles).

If a cumulus cloud picks up enough moisture, it can build up to great heights and transform into a cumulo-nimbus cloud, that brings lightning, thunder, and heavy rains.