June 2010


The school Prom has come and gone; a chance for staff and students to dress up a little and have some fun together after working hard all year getting this graduating class ready the next step in their young lives. It is always a happy time, lots of handsome young men and lovely young ladies enjoying each other’s company and congratulating one another on having survived of the most critical years in their young lives.

The food was great, the music a little loud (is it just me, or did we always have background music so loud that conversation becomes strained and difficult?), and the MC, Victor, very entertaining with an endless string of inane advice to the graduates. I got my picture taken with as many of the students I had taught as I could, and wished them all well as I should. Then once the dancing started I retired to the relative peace of our condo, as watching others dance when my dancing partner was in Canada was just a little too melancholic.

Today we made the final adjustment to the marks in preparation for their report. Friday is the Grad, my last duty before heading home to Canada to see Pam and the rest of the family. This is a time of year when I always get reflective on what has taken place over the past twelve months, the successes as well as the failures, and I will share some of that in a weblog shortly.

I love my weekends in Malaysia. I work hard all week to get here, and I treasure the time to relax, loaf around the apartment, get things sorted out for the coming week, get some marking done if I have to, read a little, watch some telly, go for a swim, play my guitar or cruise some malls with Pam. It is all good. The climate here is 32 degrees every day, so you don’t have to bundle up or think about how to deal with the cold; you can just stroll out in your shirtsleeves pretty much any day of the year.

On Sundays we go to church at the Damansara Utama Methodist Church in Petaling Jaya. Yeah, we debated a bit about the whole Methodist thing ourselves, but having had a long look at a number of churches in KL, it is the best that we have found. Pastor Daniel Ho is a leader in the Malaysia Christian church and the founder of the church he still pastors. About 1,000 attend weekly, more on special occasions. The church has 200 cell groups and a pastoral staff of 16. They support 200 missionaries in SouthEast Asia, with a focus on Nepal, Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia. It is the later connection that drew us to this church.

We don’t have a car, so for a while we attended a church in the local hotel. The people were lovely, but the church was essentially an outreach post, and the messages pretty basic. With regrets we felt we had to move on. Our present church is 15 minutes away by car, which when we came to Malaysia was almost insurmountable. But recently the government has cracked down on the taxi industry, insisting that they use the meter or face a $100 fine if they are caught. What used to cost us $20 to get to church and back – if you could find a cab to do it for that price – has now been reduced to $7 return and no hassling over the price.

This morning the service featured two pastors from Cambodia that the church supports. They spoke of their ministry in a very difficult province of that country, noted for its thieves and alcoholics. Starting at scratch, the work has now expanded to a significant Christian witness. Those who don’t know these pastors by name, simply call them Jesus. There was also a call for the Christians in Malaysia to confront Islam and Buddhism with knowledge and understanding by Pastor Ho, who has served as chairman of the evangelical churches of Malaysia.

After church I walk the few meters to the nearest mall – there is always a nearest mall in this city – and get myself a chai tea latte before catching a cab home again. There is a Jaya grocery store in that mall, so Pam and I will sometimes pick up a few groceries before we head back to the cool of our condo for lunch. I am grateful for the church of Jesus Christ in this country, and admire the faithful Christians who serve Him here and throughout the region. It is a privilege to worship with fellow believers on the other side of the globe and know that the God of heaven hears us in whatever language we choose to praise Him.

Jon, Nic and Tatum got in at 1.30. That would be am, folks. Add an hour’s drive home from the airport put us in bed around 3 am. I was more than a trifle surprised to seem them up at 9, but not unhappy, as is has been a long three years out here without family company. Although we have had the occasional friend visit us in KL, it has been quite a dry spell since that happened as well.

I had bought a good variety of fruit (although I unaccountably ‘lost’ a plate of it for a while, unitil I discovered it had turned turtle and disappeared into the door tray), and with some scrambled eggs and green tea had a decent breakfast. Then it was off to the Batu Caves, as the the Hindu shrine on the north edge of town is called. The drive out was uneventful, although we had to restrain Nicole from stopping off at the Ikea store. The three of them went up the 292 steps while I conserved my strength and plotted out a route back into the city.We do not own a car and rent one only on special occasions. Driving is problematic at best in this convoluted metropolis, and my scant knowledge of city roads and traffic patterns has got us into trouble on more than one occasion. Fortunately, Nic was up to the navigational challenge, and we made it to the Twin Towers parking lot unerringly.

Once there the girls went off to explore while Jon and I sat in the Dome coffee shop that overlooks the park, one of my favourite spots in KL. It was nice to get a little bit caught up on Jon’s life. He has been on quite an adventure over the last few years, to say the least. Then we hoofed it over to the Pavilion and took in the upscale stores and the tacky mall display that you see pictured here.

Having done the local downscale mall BB Plaza, and the high tech mall, Low Yat, we ended up at Berjaya Times Square, with its 1,000 stores and 3.5 million square feet of retail space. Jon and Tatum took a ride on the corkscrew roller coaster inside the mall, while Nic and I opted to take pictures. A cab took us up to Thean Hou (Heavenly Mother) Temple overlooking the city, one of the largest Taoist temples in Southeast Asia. The cabbie waited while we snapped some pictures, and then drove us down into Brickfields, the Indian quarter where we got dosai, butter naan and tandoori chicken for ten bucks for the four of us. I am going to miss Asian cooking when we have to leave Malaysia!

A quick ride on the LRT got us back to the park at KLCC where we had a strawberry smoothie and a couple of Shirley Temples at the Trader’s Skybar overlooking the Twin Towers as the lights came on. Those of you who have been to this spot know how magical that is. We found Jalan Tun Razak without any trouble, and caught the Smart Tunnel out of the core (an underground route that serves as an expressway and doubles as a storm drainage system in the monsoon season). We were home in time for Jon and Nic to do some planning for Cambodia and get themselves packed, including a suitcase full of vitamin supplements for a health clinic in Phnom Penh.

We were all up at 3 the next morning to drive to the airport to catch the 7 am plane to Siem Reap. They got themselves checked through in time for one last chai tea latte, this time at the Coffee Bean at the airport. I don’t know how the three of them are managing, but it is only 6 pm as I blog this, and I am ready for bed already; and they’ve got jetlag and strange new food and water to contend with. But for all the driving and walking we did, it was a wonderful day, one that I will treasure for a long time to come. Thank you Lord for a family visit to cheer my lonesome heart.

                                                                                                      

Not sure how the whole idea of engagement rings got started. But they are an obvious and unavoidable announcement of intentions, very much ‘in your face’ and out there. It comes at the price of much good-natured ribbing all around, and we are sure that Greg and Liz have been the happy recipients of much of that recently.

So now that they have released the news to their friends, it is safe for us to comment. We’d just like to say great choice Greg, both in the ring and in your future wife. We are so happy for both of you and Pam can hardly wait to see you in just a few weeks and to start doing some wedding planning.

We were delighted to meet Greg and his family on our last trip home and found them all to be very lovely and hospitable people who all seemed to have developed a real affection for our daughter. That Greg and Liz have made this commitment to each other makes us very happy indeed. What delightfully good news!

Take 350 teenagers and pack them into dense rows in tiny desks and what do you get? In Malaysia you get dead silence. In fact when I took this sepia-toned picture on my phone, a digital shutter noise went off, and half the students looked my way (much to my embarassment), because it was the only sound in the room.

The concentration and devotion to the task at hand that you see in this picture characterize these kids. Quite simply their future success is on the line. They know it, and behave as if it matters every day. If they are successful, the Malaysian government will fund not only this year, but four year’s worth of education at a university of their own choosing anywhere in Canada. If they fail to qualify – and qualification means a graduating average of 80-85% depending on the funding program they are under – they not only do not get to go to Canada, but their families will have to pay back the $5,000 from this year as well.

In return the students must agree to return to Malaysia and serve their country in some capacity – as engineers, technicians, pharmacists, etc – for five years. It is a good deal for the kids, and an expensive commitment from the Malaysian government to the success of the youth and the future wealth of the country.The armed forces in Canada have a similar program, but not nearly so broad in its scope.

Not all the students do return. Some take jobs in Canada and settle down there, which greatly enriches our country. Contrary to the widely misunderstood notion of immigration, foreigners do not steal our jobs, they create them, but that is a post for another day. Let me just say that I am pleased to be part of the effort that this country is making to raise the educational standards of its youth, and greatly admire the dedication to excellence of my students. I also wish them well on a very tough English exam! I will post your marks on BB7 early next week.

After a totally sleepless weekend and many doses of a major tranquillizer to help settle him, the doctors finally agreed on Monday morning that perhaps it was the drug that was causing the agitation. With the first dose of the new medication, Dad promptly went to sleep and has essentially stayed that way since.

It is such a relief to see him at rest finally. When he is awake, he is fairly well orientated and is able to be up and walk in the hall and you see glimpses of my sweet little dad. Unfortunately, with the heavy sedation he becomes quite confused especially when first waking up, often resulting in his pulling out his various tubes. The major concern right now is that he has not yet regained his ability to swallow, even though the surgeons are quite certain that there should be no impact from the operation and follow-up CT scan on Monday shows no evidence of a stroke.

Yesterday, we began the battle of now trying to convince the doctors that he is over sedated and they did finally agree to a very small decrease in his morning dose in the hopes that he will be awake more during the day. He was actually too sedated to participate in the swallow test or to walk any distance so the therapists requested a medication decrease and they have some pull.

We would appreciate your prayers specifically for his swallowing as this just keeps him in a constant cycle of instability. He can’t regulate his own fluids so he gets it IV or via nasogastric tube until he is over hydrated and his lungs fill up, they give him IV Lasix until he is so dry that his blood pressure drops so low that he is drowsy and confused, he pulls out the tubes so they tie him down which really agitates him and they have to bolus him with fluids and the cycle starts again. We are well aware that at the tender age of 85 any recovery will be slow and unpredictable but there are some very encouraging moments, especially when he starts teasing the nurses. Then you know that his real self is still alive and well.

God is faithful, who will not try us beyond what we can bear. It is hard to be here in Malaysia when Pam and her family are going through so much back in Canada. At such times we just want to be beside those we love and offer what comfort we can. Skype is great, but it doesn’t add up to a hug when you are feeling overwhelmed, and I’m sorry I can’t be there to give one.

Fortunately for me, I teach for a living. That means I get to be surrounded with young people who are full of smiles and good wishes. Especially now that the long semester is over and my students can look forward to the very real possibility that with another week of effort during exams, they can earn a flight to Canada and the chance for a world class education for the next four years.

It is a great honour and an undeserved privilege to be a part of that earnest ambition. To urge and encourage (and yes, sometimes scold) the best out of the fine young men and women in my classes. To require of them the best they can produce, and to see them exceed themselves and delight in what they have accomplished is unadulterated joy.

These students have earned something that will change their lives. They stand on the brink of that change with a mix of excitement and fear. So much will be different four years from now, and I had an opportunity to help bring that about. That makes me a very fortunate man.

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