Tuesday, July 22, 2008


For the past couple of months I have been going around teaching local seafarers, generally helping them to get their license. This is critical for them to continue their livelihood. Without the license their boats will not be allowed out on the waters. There are fisherman, tourist guide, mangrove workers, fish farmers and an assortment of people needing this license. It is not so much educating them but at the same time being educated by them. There's a whole lot that I learnt in my interaction with them. Following are some of the interesting snippets.

Port Klang

Mainly participants from Pulau Ketam. Ethnic Chinese speaking their own dialects, most of whom are not fluent in either English or Bahasa Malaysia. Some can't even read or write. What they lacked in communication skills, they made up in enthusiasm to learn. Not exactly learn, as some have been at sea for more than a decade, just putting their local knowledge in the perspective of current rules and regulations. One middle aged guy stands out. He came in on the first day wearing shorts, singlets and slippers. Sat on the chair with a leg up. It was his daily behaviour. Until he was told by department people that he must come in slacks and shirt and that he must adhere to acceptable dressing codes. The next day he came in wearing tight shiny bell bottomed slacks matched with a white see through lacy shirt with big collars and high heeled pointed tip shoes. Remember the disco era ?

I almost fell to the floor laughing till it hit me that these are the only "acceptable" outfit this guy has. I mean, why would he need slacks and dress shirts at his fish farm or out at sea. It was funny nonetheless and he just flashed a toothy grin when we joked about his disco days.

Pulau Ketam is not just about fish farm and boats. It has its share of social problems. I learnt that the population is down to about 6,000 from 20,000 people. The youths are not interested to continue their way of life.

They move about the island on two wheels. They have cars but it has to be left on the mainland. The main culprit however, is the Internet cafe. These outlets entice their children, provide credit and let their kids play at all hour. Some skip school, some build up huge amount of debt (huge to them may seem a pittance to you) and some become unruly. When the bill is high enough they will make the children haul in their gramma or grampa to pay.

Port of Tanjung Pelepas

This is where for the first time ever, I taught a grandfather who has his son and grandson in the same class. To make it more of an experience, the grandfather is a Chinese married to the native (orang asli) and thus you have a grandson whose name goes like Ali Bin Tan Ah Kau. These people are mainly involved in fish farming and mangrove harvesting. Most can't read or write. Their hands are tough and scaly like the bark of the mangrove trees. I kid you not as I have to hold their hands to teach them to use parallel rulers and dividers.

Similar to those from Pulau Ketam, these group are enthusiastic and are willing learners. We stayed in class until past midnight. I learn that they do not fear the snakes and crocodiles in the mangrove but seek them out instead. Why ? A good sized crocodile could easily earn them RM2,000. Now that's motivation.


After numerous classes dealing with people who can't read, write or speak proper English or Malay, it came as a shock when the first question we asked was answered by "search on the Internet". Phew, that's like a culture shock for us. That's human conditioning. What we can surmise is that Melaka is a tourist town thus these people are more savvy.

These are just some of the more memorable scenarios. Oh, we have participants coming in an S Class and huge expensive cars too. Their motivation for the license is slightly different from the rest but still as important I guess.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New Book

A new book on maritime security due to be out in September 2008. I am one of the contributors, check it out at Amazon.com.