Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Have we lost our edge?

LET me tell you a story about the Malaysian service industry. With the Visit Malaysia Year around the corner, and with business more competitive than ever, one would expect the operators of the industry to be more prepared than ever.

Alas, this is not so. At least not at the two outlets I visited recently.

One is a photo studio, quite well known and has been around for many years. It has branches all over the city and one can notice them quite clearly as one zooms past. I went there to ask for my photograph to be taken. I wanted them fast, real fast.

The counter girl said it takes 30 minutes for eight passport size prints, and cost RM15. I wasn't happy because it takes so long. I walked down the block of shops and spotted another photo studio. I asked for the same thing. I got what I wanted - 4 prints within five minutes at RM12.

After five minutes and after taking the prints, I went back to the first studio and told the counter girl that I got better service from the other shop. "Sorry lah, our policy on developing prints is 30 minutes. Our Boss won't allow us to print pictures for less than half an hour."

What kind of crap is that? I argued with her for a while. But it was getting nowhere and I could feel my BP going up. I left and made a mental note of not going back to that shop ever.

I then stopped at a car wash for just that purpose. I left the car and came back after about an hour. It happened again. The car was washed but some parts of the interior weren't properly vacuumed. I asked why and the attendant said: Sorry lah bang, lupa (Sorry Bro, I forgot).."

I murmured something about being unhappy with the service, The young man shot back: "Tak apa bang, kalau you tak suka tak payah bayar. Dan lain kali, tak payah datang sini lagi" Ayoyo, what an attitude! I took his advice and never sent my car to be washed there ever again.

At one international hotel in the city, the waiter have trouble smiling. He must have some personal problems, I thought. No doubt he brings the tea, take away your plates, bring a glass of water - but he left his smile at home.

My point is simple - some people will remain small, not improve and forever stay at the lower end of the food chain. These kind of people are everywhere. They don't care, have no passion for whatever they are doing, and is an embarassment to all of us.

There are exceptions of course. Plenty actually.

You must have come across similar situations, I'm sure. Do share them with me. As we go through everyday life, such unacceptable behaviour and service surface from time to time to provide us with a reality check on how much we're lagging behind other economies in the region.

Are we really losing the edge - that's all I'm asking!!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Real people and real problems

With words of encouragement from seasoned bloggers and friends, I'm quite ready to continue my small mission. I want to thank everyone for their kind words, advice and suggestions.

Pahit Manis will be different from other bloggers. They are well ahead in the game and have amassed considerable following. Some might even point out that they've gained a degree of notoriety in the process!

I'm taking a different route. Pahit Manis is about the small man and woman, who goes through life seeking comforts while trying to make ends meet. It's about everyday life. About everyday struggle. About daily survival.

And about their hopes, that somewhere out there is a silver lining. We all know that many real people have neither the connections nor the power to change their situation at the press of a button or over teh tarik chats. Many of them are so distant from the power centres. Yet they plod on and on...

The Hassans, the Mohamads, the Tonys, the Oois and many others go through their daily routine deep in debts; pursued by their Ah Longs and other creditors. While they insist that their businesses are doing well, they struggle to pay salaries of their staff, maintain their lifestyle. They try to keep a cheery outlook, which is easier said than done.

Recently, over sliced roti bakar at Kluang Station at the Ikano shopping complex in Damansara, one of the strugglers, Bob, took one long sigh and narrated his predicament - no money to pay staff wages, none of his cars are on the road since there's no road tax and insurance, no bank want to extend any loan, and no friend who's prepared to offer a shoulder to lean on.

Another sruggler is ML, who's putting all his energy into agriculture. ML was an aviator who went through some bad times. But he's a survivor. ML sincerely believes that his future is in cattle rearing, fishing and some downstream agro-based ventures. He visited the big agriculture show (MAHA) in Serdang everyday since it opened, drawing inspiration and getting new ideas.

Bob and ML are just two of the supporting casts on the country's business stage. They are resilient chaps. They don't give up. While Bob may have to sell his company soon if no help is forthcoming, ML seems sure that he's going to hit the big time soon. Both pride themselves as being street-wise, but confessed that it takes more than this to survive in today's business environment.

In the coming weeks, I hope to share with you real stories about real people trying to deal with real problems. If we can all rub shoulders with some of these strugglers, I bet you that you'll encounter gems whose hearts are in the right place.

They are your everyday champions - dads who brave the morning rain on their kapcai (two-stroke motorbikes) to go to work; and mums who open their living rooms as day care centres to help dads keep food on the table, pay the house rent and give their children a monthly satay treat from the nearby pasar malam.

Depressing you say? Not meant to be actually. "Nations are born out of travail and suffering," said Gandhi. In the same context, the Bobs, the MLs, the Tonys and every other strugglers will see the light at the end of the tunnel, God willing. Their silver lining can't that be elusive..

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Salam Perkenalan..

Assalamualaikum and Salam Sejahtera! I'm starting my own blog, having seen how others have theirs. Mine won't be as exciting. I just want to record my thoughts, float some ideas and hope to do some learning in the process.

I'm reminded of Nelson Mandela's words when he wrote to his daughter, Zindzi, in September 1977: "Writing is a prestigious profession which puts one right into the centre of the world and, to remain on top, one has to work really hard, the aim being a good and original theme, simplicity in expression and the use of the irreplaeable word."

From Jalaludin Rumi, I found this: "You have a duty to perform. Do anything else, do any number of things, occupy your time fully, and yet, if you do not do this task, all your time will have been wasted."

But it is from our own Usman Awang (may Abang Usman rest in peace - Al-Fatihah) that I decided to return to writing, to add colour to an already vibrant landscape of web journalism. From his speech when receiving the South East Asia Write Award in Bangkok, 1982, Usman said:

"Maka itulah perlu para penulis memihak
kepada golongan serta gerakan yang ingin mengukuhkan
nilai-nilai kemanusiaan,
menegakkan perdamaian yang sejati,
dan memperjuangkan pembebasan serta keadilan
bagi bangsa dan negara yang tertindas..

tanpa visa
kemanusiaan rakyat
seluruh benua."

I pray I have the stamina, creativity, discipline and resourcefulness to maintain my blog! Thank you.

2340 hours
November 22, 2006.