Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An Itch That Got Scratched Too Long

The so-called Kajang Move is over and instead of Kak Wan Azizah as MB intended by certain quarters within PKR, it's instead Anwar's protege Azmin Ali who was finally chosen as the MB after His Highness the Sultan has gone through the shortlist of candidates. At first I thought that Iskandar Samad may have a shot on it, but when he's allegedly brought up the health problem issue during the interview process, it might have saved in two-fold further bickering from PAS and the further ramifications from their other two partners PKR and DAP.

I didn't want to say anything about this Kajang mess from the beginning because I didn't stay in Selangor for that long enough to be qualified as "anak jati Selangor", despite working in the Klang Valley for some years to give a proper assessment of Selangor. Many people that I know of are indeed very angry, in summary of their rantings, that they have been taken for a ride out of nothing. Obviously, this is what most people would say if they are not playing the political games that the rats from both sides of the divide would do.

Today's current generation of rulers are no pushovers, as what is shown now, unlike their predecessors, while the old guard still remaining (Pahang and Kedah). They are mostly much more educated, and clearly understood that they will have to adjust themselves as we are now in the 21st century and they are things that may fit decades ago but not at the present time. The only time that one ruler who showed that he was a no pushover was during the Perak MB imbroglio in the mid-1970s when he famously declared that he would not shave until Ghazali Jawi vacated his post as agreed upon initially (it was his second stint as MB).

Note that I'm confident enough that these rulers are able to handle themselves that it is not required for those screaming men from NGOs to jump and make a lot of ruckus to portray themselves as sacrificial lambs for the rulers.

Ideally, to be more sure, I would have thought His Highness could have call all the 30 assemblymen who allegedly say they support Azizah and ask them one-by-one. There will be a few who would say that they signed the SD (statutory declarations) just to go along with the idea compared to their actual answer of saying "why do I need to sign that piece of paper?" Aha! He would certainly know that not all in the 30 has the confidence of Kak Wan. Fortunately for this round, His Highness played his cards well, to make sure that things are in according to his terms.

The only thing I was amused in this episode was about was how PKR and DAP gave one name to the palace instead of the explicitly stated "more than two names", meaning three or more. This is one thing that even schoolchildren who learn Bahasa and English can even understand, whereas both parties can't even understand a simple sentence of Bahasa Malaysia. My god, they can even understand Malay grammar? Keeping an open mind, it can be seen that DAP, had to play along with the ringleaders that is Anwar and Rafizi, considering that there are some, like in the respective parties didn't agree with the idea in their own heart.

As to go back to the very beginning why this Kajang Move happened in this place, base on my information set, it is possible to have it summarized in three possible reasons:

1. U.G - This problem happened way back since 2008 after GE-12 where UMNO wanted to band together with PAS to form the state government. There are some who wanted the idea while many didn't agree to the idea. According to some sources, the trigger point occurred when Anwar received intel that there are some PAS assemblymen who have been tempted to at least jump ship and band together with UMNO - a certain former PAS assemblymen as the moderator.

2. Khalid Ibrahim refused to play ball with Anwar despite the former was told from the beginning that he'd be put on the seat as a warm-up before he moves in. Khalid didn't have much of the politicking maneuverability unlike Anwar who uses the ends to justify the means.

3. Considering a mass reserve of RM 3 billion in the state coffers, you would definitely want to use it again to jump start his mini projects again in mind (you can name a few).

This takes into account that the bible confiscation and the Kidex thing didn't happen right from the beginning where they took over the state - but only at the beginning of 2014.

Anwar and Rafizi thought this time can go through without much of a hitch but this same problem they encountered was identical to the #KL112 incident where PKR did not anticipate the possibility of the other scenario that he would be acquitted (that was before the overturning of the appeal later). Anyone who clearly understands Murphy's law would mean that not all what was planned can work properly and it can go awry as this.

Anwar is not Dr. Mahathir. He doesn't have the sufficient means and tools to bulldoze through like he, Ghafar and Dr. Mahathir did during the two constitutional crisis 20-30 years ago. The ball game is not the same as it was then. As expected by other analysts, Rafizi says that Kajang move was a success, but not really at the threshold that these two men would expect. If you are one who is not from a state that has a Malay ruler, there will be a handicap of not able to understand how the rulers operate.

PAS too has a share of fault to be responsible. They come up straight that they do not want Khalid to continue before the 13th GE, but his performance in his duties was something that they could not shake it away lest people will ask why throwing someone who has done a very good job in the space of 5 years? Also according to a few friends, another bone of contention by PAS is that they keep harping the argument that because while Wan Azizah is a female, there is a "muhrim" factor, meaning that she can only go up to a certain time a day unlike their male counterparts who can sit longer and talk through with their colleagues on. It is this factor that they have an issue on while PKR and DAP do not have.  

There is saying that if you scratch too much, you injure yourself. In this case, it was an itch that got scratched for too long hoping it will go away but in the end, it was someone else that takes the next turn of the silver platter. Now that Azmin has the silver platter, there is a fallout that has to be handled, but how long will the fallout be? A few friends have even said that from the get go when Azmin starts day 1 in the office, they would be keen to get his answer about PJ Sentral or the 9 million thing that it is  hoped that he'd better start answering.

In the end, what was Rafizi and Anwar actually thinking about? Certainly when they planned the move, they have taken into account of what will happen if they decided to leave it as is. It is an open question that there can invite many answers and theories to that.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Recollections of New Hollywood Canning Garden

On 10 September 2014, The Rakyat Post published an interesting article on the subject of New Hollywood coffee shop located at a corner along Jalan Lee Kwee Foh in Canning Garden. The coffee shop is reputedly to be one of the rare Chinese-eating places in Ipoh where there’s a lot of patronization by Malays. It was born out of an experiment and request from Malay college students who enjoyed eating but asked if they can serve something else besides pork.

Anyone who grew up in Ipoh in from the 70s would definitely know of this place and well, can be said love the variety of delicacies offered, even if it is halal.

It is interesting to note that according to history, the late Sultan Idris Iskandar, one day in 1978 decided to have a meal there following a morning walk and became a frequent customer, subsequently members of the royal family too patronized this area there. : (see Excerpt)

In 1978, the late Sultan Idris Iskandar Shah II patronised the coffee shop after one of his frequent walks in the area and became a regular customer, said Chan.

“Later on, other members of the royal families and former Perak Menteri Besar Tan Sri Ramli Ngah Talib also became regular patrons.

“Their patronage gave the public strong confidence and, in turn, trust that the food served is indeed pork-free,” he said.

Of course with modern technology, comes social media and it helps to expand the word of mouth which makes this place a popular eating place in Ipoh. 

However, there is an interesting story on my family's side on that place.

My late grandparents were close to His Highness on a strict private capacity, having known him and a select few of his siblings since the 1950s until his death. Unfortunately, my gran was only Chinese-literate, could not speak the proper Malay language, but the market-style language. Understandably, His Highness, aware of her shortfalls and just to get along with the common people rather of making it hard for people to approach him was acceptable and open to speaking with the normal Malay style language with her as long as both understood what the other is saying.

Asides from the infamous beef noodles, the place there also serves fried koay teow, wantan noodles with chicken, lobak, rojak, chee cheong fun, while prawn mee is served in the aftenoons. On Sundays, there will be a mobile stall selling fish ball hor hee. We were also quite well acquainted with a few of the hawkers including the current coffee shop owners (the Chans).

Behind the shop is the Canning Garden wet market

The infamous beef brisket noodles, served with soup and dry.

The lobak from Mr. Khoo, my classmate's dad.

The uncle who served the beef noodles retired about two years ago. Before he and his wife moved to the coffee shop, he used to sell those noodles at a hawker stall in front of Maybank (in front of Jalan Lau Pak Khuan roundabout – the stalls were demolished down in the late 80s). He knew my gran and Annie, the 4th wife of His Highness since that time and both women would enjoy having his food.

In fact, yes, there were a few occasions within those final six years up to 1984 where both of them would join Annie and occasionally His Highness (they remained good friends for the rest of their lives) for food. Even her children would also at times tag along with her.  However, I could not recall exactly if the four of them were at that place on that fateful occasion in 1978.

This was one of our favorite breakfast places that my grandparents would visit to for the rest of their lives. On college breaks, I would go with them on one of the mornings every week, considering that it is one of the nearest coffee shops near home.

Disclaimer: pics are based on Google searches, with thanks to original pixmen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Uber's Ruffling of Feathers

Uber arrived in Malaysia not that long ago at the end of last year and has gained popularity in the space of a few short months. It's popularity has rattled the balls of many Klang Valley taxi associations and drivers by cutting through the competition by offering much more better services than these associations. It has delighted many users in particular because of the opportunity for them to choose the car of choosing, better fare, booking and pay by mobile technology and most important of all, a complete guarantee that there will be at least one vehicle that will come to the pick up point where you will be.

Some of us have recalled that Kuala Lumpur was ranked by TripAdvisor the third in the world with the worst-taxi drivers based on observations by tourists who visit the city there. Aside from them, even locals are not even spared from the problems that ranges from:

a) Price haggling, with the cab driver would throw a huge figure to reach one place, more for tourists, especially in towns and other cities outside Klang Valley that don't use meters. From my understanding, how they count is based on the estimate distance and mentally calculated with either the rate (not sure is the latest or the one five years back) + small margin of profit. In the end, you, as the customer still overpay.

b) Some of the taxis can smell smoky (if the cab driver is a smoker) and sometimes cabs that you go in, especially the older ones are quite dirty at times.

c) Picky drivers - the bane of passengers. Some will say, I don't know where it is, or outright, no I am not going there, etc. 

d) Even there are crime-cases involved taxi drivers, especially rape and rob cases where passengers were taken for a ride and then either raped (especially females) or robbed.

Despite these issues being highlighted to the tourism industry and to the worldwide travel media, well, many of those there still couldn't take it well and may have screamed "you are bias at us" or other sorts of expletives. Then again, how the usual taxi driver attitudes act to their potential passengers was what caused the negative perception and ranking there, even if they spot a proper uniform or a proper taxi car. 

Before Uber reached our shores late last year, MyTeksi was one of the taxi apps that will allow you to book from the place you are to the place to go. It was no doubt the best avenue to go as it adheres to the meter system, during my one week of work without a car. In December 2013, I had to leave my car at a workshop for about 5-8 days for a repaint job. Knowing of how usual taxi drivers would respond when you flag them from the shoulder of the road, I decided to use that app to have a taxi sending me to my client's office or to my home or other places for that weekend itself.

It's about 80% useful. The only issue with them is that sometimes there are no responses from any potential cab drivers who are within the vicinity of the place. At one time, after work it took me about 8-10 attempts before a response was made. On one occasion, a potential taxi driver aborted the agreement when he admitted that he was unable to turn into the road leading to my office due to a bumper-to-bumper crawl in front of G Tower.

I had two friends who loved Uber so much. One even told me that by getting pick the car he wants to ride on, he gets to show off to other of his friends that he can come to some nice social event (e.g clubbing, event hosted at a hotel) in a very nice big car like a celebrity.

Another one felt that Uber was better because it will come to pick him at his working place no matter how bad is the traffic heading there, as he has to shuttle back and forth to a few branches he has to supervise when necessary like in Bangsar, TTDI, and Bukit Damansara.

Looking at the rate of Uber X and Uber Black, the cost of 0.55 per kilometer, with a base fare of RM 1.50 definitely makes people think that taking this service saves the cost by a certain margin. The diagram here (by shows the comparison:

The launch of Uber X has got a lot of people excited and in admission, because of it's cheaper rate, resulted in overwhelming response, Uber told its drivers in the Black-car-class category to pick up X-class customers, something that a few parties are a bit dismayed off. Note that Miami is one of the cities in the States that does not allow Uber.

According to some driver forums, UberX trips tend to be shorter and thus the per-ride fairs are lower. Further, the rates, minimum fares, and Uber commissions are different for each of these tiers. Even if the result is more trips per hour, and thus more total income, this change looks to many like a bait and switch that forces drivers to do significantly more work for the same (or marginally more) pay. 

There’s also the problem that UberX and Uber XL attract a different customer demographic than do Uber Black and Uber SUV. So for a some who chose to drive for Uber expecting a high-end experience, this new program often means something far different. However, Uber's requirement with these drivers is that the passenger acceptance rate has to be at least 80 percent or more, with the highest performers rate is at 97 percent at most.

Ah, the threshold acceptance rate could something that was missing from either SPAD or the taxi companies. In Ireland, the transport regulator had no objections to its use as long it sticks to their rule of thumb, which is that their rates cannot be more than what is permitted there. SPAD has a legit reason to be concerned with because of the past episode of "taxi sapu". In the years prior to the launch of MyTeksi, this case has been prominently spotted not just in KL but in Georgetown as well. More than ten years ago, these cabs ply their trade around Komtar, asking for passengers but without spotting taxi paint and meter that a passenger might not be aware of. Such memory like that is what regulars of taxi may be worried about.

It is also taken into account that some taxi drivers had to do it considering that they do not, at this point of time have the ability to own individual licenses to operate their own taxis. Bear in mind that they out of the total fares collected per day, a large portion has to be paid off for the daily rental of vehicles from their cab cartels. Some will have to go along with the cartel lines despite disagreeing to that on the individual capacity lest deemed insubordination by their organization. 

Uber is no doubt a double-edge sword in Malaysia. Uber should continue to have more sessions of talking and shouting with SPAD. SPAD to my opinion is more of the moderator, but the real party that Uber has to faced here is the taxi cartels.

But to scream that Uber cuts away a slice of a pie shows two things in a nutshell:

a) Our taxi cartel and service is not confident of giving a solid competition with a new kid on the block
b) There isn't any willingness to provide another option of the taxi transportation especially during desperate times.

You may want to picture yourself in the worst-case scenario when there is no taxi or bus coming in the area due to extraordinary circumstances while your mouth foams about Uber.

See also SPAD's press release statement on Uber here (29 August 2014)


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