October 2011

The pace at which I live is about to get crazy again and I hope I am not getting too old to keep it up. I took a very quick trip to Singapore this past week, leaving at 5:45 on Thursday morning and returning at 7:00 p.m. on Friday. I went directly to the office from the airport. Fortunately I have the art of packing lightly down to a science: one small flight bag. I had a wonderful time catching up on the work of the team there who a doing a marvelous job with few resources. I had a chance to renew some familiar acquaintances, meet some of the new staff and do some planning for the future, including a trip to Batu in Indonesia.

After work I made a quick trip to check into my hotel, which turned out to be quite modest, but in a very convenient part of town, and then took a pleasant walk to Clarke’s Quay to meet up with my friends and co-workers Dr Su Min and Dr Sing Yu. You cannot tell from their names, as is usual in Chinese culture, but they are a married couple; both retired doctors. They treated me to a wonderful dinner at a Chinese restaurant, authentic, and extemely complex, not at all like the ones in Canada. I had Peking Duck for the first time which was definitely an eating experience.  



First, the entire duck was presented to us for viewing and approval and then whisked away. Shortly thereafter, the skin was served, sliced very thinly, wrapped in steamed pancakes accompanied by spring onions and a sweet bean sauce. Yummy! Then the waiter asked how we would like the remainder prepared, as there are several choices at this point. We then chose to have the remainder chopped and served as a spicy, garlic-y stir fry. With accompanying vegetables it really was surprisingly lovely, not to mention, costly! Thankfully my hosts insisted on treating me to the meal.

Friday, I was back at the office for a meeting with our Canadian friend and co-worker, McDaniel, and got caught up on their news and plans. The happy circumstance of it being another friend Eddie’s birthday provided a good opportunity to fellowship over lunch at a local Japanese restaurant. More food! So much for that diet! It was a great surprise to see my dear friend Mel – whose wedding to a Mexican-American pastor  was one of those happy/sad occassions where you think that you are losing a friend – walk in and announce that she will be returning to Singapore for a year and take up her previous position with Media Resource Group! I have missed working with her since she married and went off to the States two years ago.

I hopped the incredibly efficient Singapore transit to the airport with plans in place to join the SE Asia team for two days of planning meetings in early November. By the time I boarded the plane I was rejoicing in the privilege of serving in this work but also burdened by a number of areas of concern for others. Bill and Sharon – who are our key facilitators for the Cambodia training scheduled in November – are dealing with the fact that Sharon’s dad is gravely ill in Canada so will probably need to head home, depriving the teaching team of their most valuable facilitators. We are also concerned with the fact that while the news has been focused on Thailand’s problems, Cambodia is still struggling with severe flooding resulting in a loss of much of the rice crop and the livelihood of many of our listeners there. We have also heard some of the details of the severe consequences some of our friends in Malaysia are dealing with as a result of their faith commitment. I cannot go into more detail on a public forum like this, but I would ask for you prayers for them, as they are facing life-changing persecution.

This is a time of major transition for the Asia team headquartered in Singapore who face many decisions as they seek to establish a new leadership structure. We would appreciate your prayer for these situations, knowing full well that God is in control and that His work will go forward and it is our privilege to be a part of it. I will be very busy during the entire month of November in travel to both Cambodia and Indonesia, and ask also for your prayers for Steve and I as we manage our marriage commitments in the light of all that the Lord calls us to do for Him.

When we want to get away for a weekend there are dozens of choices in this part of the world; from Bali to Bangkok, Langkawi to Koh Samui, Phuket to Redang. All of them are beautiful, and all of them are reasonably priced if you know where to stay and can get there in an hour on Air Asia. But where do you go for an overnight getaway? Obviously there is downtown KL, but that is pretty pricy when we live in the suburbs and can go there anytime we want. Besides, it doesn’t seem like a getaway to us unless there is water in the picture.

There is a little beach resort called Port Dickson just south of the city that always looked promising, but we had never been able to find a hotel along that strip that was both nice and affordable; that is until we got a car and could do some serious investigating. Last month our investigations turned up a place called Avillion, and last night we stayed there and had a fabulous time.

There are no rooms at this resort, only chalets. You can get a garden chalet, or a beach chalet, or a premium beach chalet. If you book through Agoda, the most expensive room is only $100 U.S. For that you get complete privacy, with your own deck and lounge chairs, a canopy bed, another daybed in a bay window with an unrestricted view of the ocean, a soaker tub with Jacuzzi jets, a fabulous shower that is open to the stars, two swimming pools, one for adults only, several bars overlooking the ocean, several restaurants with views as well, and an all you can eat breakfast buffet. All of this will cost you a hundred bucks. We spent a little more and got lunch at the spa restaurant overlooking the ocean and a candlelight dinner of stuffed chicken and grilled trout with tiramisu and chocolate for dessert. The dinner music – double bass, guitar, two excellent female singers who knew Patsy Cline, Bread, Abba and Anne Murray – was free.

Everything was spotless; the amenities, from the huge towels at the pool to the 54 inch television in the room, were first class. The staff were invariably helpful and polite, which is not unusual in Asia, but sweet all the same. The grounds, with their luxuriant gardens artfully lit in the evening along cobbled walkways, were refreshing and relaxing. However, the real bonus for us was that this place is only an hour’s drive from where we live. We are already planning our next visit.

In his 2012 Budget Speech, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib designated next year as National Innovation Year and allocated RM100 million for several strategic initiatives. This announcement raises one underlying issue – does Malaysia offer a nurturing environment for innovators? An examination of Steve Job’s life highlights several factors that contributed to his innovative successes but militate against nurturing a Malaysian wannabe.

First are laidback parents. Obsessed with ensuring their children’s education, many Malaysian parents are unlikely to allow their offspring to drop out of university or to study arcane subjects. In 1972, Jobs enrolled in Reed College in Portland, Oregon but left after one semester because he didn’t see the value of depleting the savings of his adoptive working-class parents on tuition fees. However, the biological son of a Syrian father and an American mother continued attending classes that interested him, including one in calligraphy. “If I had never dropped in on that single [calligraphy] course in college, the [Macintosh] would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionately spaced fonts,” Jobs told an interviewer.

Second is Malaysia’s corporate set-up. Would a college dropout habitually garbed in faded blue jeans and sneakers like Jobs be considered a “fit and proper” person to become a CEO of a public listed company? Even in the US, Jobs’ unconventional behaviour contributed to setbacks in his career. Partly because new computer models like Lisa failed and early Macintosh sales were disappointing, Apple directors stripped Jobs of his operational role. Jobs offered another reason for his ouster. “I don’t wear the right kind of pants to run this company,” Jobs told some Apple employees before leaving in 1985 the company he had co-founded with Steven Wozniak. Eleven years later, failure to develop the next-generation operating systems prompted Apple’s then CEO Gilbert Amelio to acquire Job’s NeXT for US$430 million (RM1.36 billion) and to invite the latter to return as an adviser. In July 1997, Jobs organised a board coup that ousted Amelio. He was later named Apple’s interim CEO, prompting jokes that Jobs was the iCEO. Could such a sequence of events happen in Malaysia?

Third is Malaysian society which venerates both success and conformism. Getting fired from Apple, however, inspired Jobs’ subsequent burst of innovation. “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life,” Jobs said in his commencement speech to Stanford University in 2005. In 1986, Jobs bought Pixar, a computer graphics studio, for US$10 million (RM31.7 million). Successful computer-animated films like Toy Story and A Bug’s Life enabled Pixar to be sold to Disney for US$7.4 billion (RM23.5 billion) in stock in a deal that made Jobs a billionaire. On his return to Apple, Jobs rolled out a string of innovative products – iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad – that were mega successes as well as game changers in the personal computers, music and mobile telecommunications industries.

In Malaysia, whenever an individual espouses an unconventional view of an historical event, expresses a different opinion on the role of the monarchy or composes a song that adopts a satirical attitude towards the national anthem, many are quick to suggest the individual should be charged for criminal defamation, prosecuted for sedition or stripped of his citizenship. But innovators like Steve Jobs are rebels, not conformists. In an interview, Jobs singled out taking a drug like LSD as one of the most important things he had done in his life. When Jobs assembled a group of young, talented engineers in his Macintosh team, he called them “pirates” while the rest of the company was nicknamed “the Navy”. Jobs realised only those who dare to defy societal norms and break perceptions of what is do-able will be truly innovative.

In his Stanford commencement address, Jobs said a 1960s counterculture book titled The Whole Earth Catalog which deeply influenced him as a young man ends with this phrase “Stay hungry, stay foolish”. “I have always wished that for myself,” he added. Would parents, corporate chieftains and political leaders in this country allow such individuals to flourish? An environment that cherishes its non-conformists – rather than government support and the millions of dollars in funding – is the key to ensuring Malaysia will one day produce its own Steven Jobs.

Posted in the Malaysian daily The Sun 17 October 2011  by Tan Siok Choo

The late sixties and early seventies were a heady and exciting time for Canadian artists. In music Guess Who’s “American Woman” outsold The Beatles. Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young were blazing a song writing trail across American music and Canadian performers featured prominently in bands such as Blood, Sweat and Tears, Steppenwolf and The Band. In art Alex Colville and Ken Danby were gaining international attention for their explorations in high realism, and in film Allan King’s Warrendale in 1967 and Don Shebib’s Going Down the Road in 1970 demonstrated that there was a market for quality Canadian film. In 1971 Shebib followed his early success with Rip-Off, a largely forgettable film that was notable only for launching the film review career of my brother, Wyndham Wise.

Forty years ago, on Oct 21, 1971, Wyn published his first film review of this film. Other reviews followed, principally on Canadian film, and Wyn began to gain something of a reputation as an expert on Canadian film. He continued to develop that expertise as Toronto reporter for Cinema Canada, and had the distinction of being its last writer, as the magazine folded in 1989. He then parlayed his experience into the launch of his own magazine, Take One in 1992, which during its fourteen year tenure, was widely regarded as the leading magazine on Canadian cinema1. At the beginning of the new century Wyn wrote and published through U. Of T. Press2 Take One’s Essential Guide to Canadian Film, still considered the gold standard reference for Canadian film. CBC books in its review wrote of Wyn’s book that it was “impressive for its breadth of coverage, refreshing in its opinionated informality,” and went on to note that it was a “comprehensive and lively look at Canadian film culture at the start of the twenty-first century”3. In 1997 Wyn founded the Toronto Film Critics Association, and launched Canadian Screenwriter for the Writers Guild of Canada in 1998. From 2008–11 he was the editor of Canadian Cinematographer. He is credited with the genesis of Hot Docs, a yearly celebration of documentary film that takes place in Toronto. He is a contributing editor to Northern Stars4, and continues to write about and promote Canadian film.

Canadian artists have had a notoriously difficult time making inroads into a largely American market. Some Canadian film makers, like Norman Jewison, Ivan Reitman, David Cronenberg and James Cameron have become tremendously successful, but often at the expense of ignoring Canadian themes, rather than in celebration of them. Those who write about Canadian film have an even harder time getting the public attention in this Hollywood dominated industry. I salute my brother for his tenacity and integrity in continuing to promote and critique this important artistic exploration of our national psyche for the last forty years. Congratulations, bro!





There is no doubt in my mind that the older I get, the less adaptable I become. As wonderful as the time at home was, with so many wonderful times, it did mean there was a huge re-adjustment that had to take place to get back into our life here. After six weeks, I am finally beginning to feel caught up once again. While Steve scrambled to ensure his students were not negatively impacted by his absence, I spent the first week getting the apartment cleaned and restocked and following up on life issues here. That freed me up for a whirlwind trip to Cambodia for a week to get planning underway for the next round of training in early November.

Meanwhile, back in KL other transitions were underway. We have made it part of our ministry to welcome the new folks and do what we can to smooth their transition to Malaysia and I have felt very badly that I was away for their first two months. Steve did what he could in July and August, but it is hard to be hospitable at the end of a working day. The addition of a vehicle has helped immensely on on our return and we had a great afternoon doing some sightseeing with Peter and Joan at Putra Jaya, shopping in Bangsar Village with Shelley and taking her to church.

A Saturday pool party in Mont Kiara to celebrate Sandra H’s birthday was a great opportunity to meet some of the new people and to have some good conversations with old friends. The opening of yet another new mall very close to the school provided a great excuse to try out a new restaurant and celebrate Sid’s birthday. We have had two different groups over for dinner at our place to get to know Damon, Shannon, Leah, Dennis and Arlene. The fajitas have been a real hit.

We had a fun day-trip to a book fair with my Malaysian Bible Study friends to reconnect with their lives. Tea with Karen and Sharon now has planning underway for the staff Christmas dinner and a feeling that we are back under control. We even had a quick visit with TWR friends from Canada, Jason and Lindy and were able to show them a bit of KL. This is all good because as of next week I will be fully involved with my work with TWR and travelling extensively once again. Next week is Deepavali, the major Hindu festival of the year, and we are planning to take Sandra P. to the local Tamil area of town to take in some local Indian food. Later in the week we will steal a night away at the beach in Port Dickson before I head off to Singapore to meet with some new and reassigned staff.

None of this makes much sense to those of you who have steady jobs and a steady income, I know. I have neither and yet for all the uncertainty regarding what comes next in my life I have incredible peace. I know that for some the thought that Another is in control of all things is a scary thought. But I delight in the knowledge that there is a God in Heaven who designs my way. And although it doesn’t make much sense to me at times, I know with all my heart that He is guiding and directing me in what He wants me to do for Him. With this peace comes a great gratitude and joy for the extraordinary privilege of serving a loving God and doing what I can to help some of the hurting people of the world that He loves.

Pam and I are privileged to work and live among some really exceptional people. The staff at Taylor’s that I teach with have to be some of the most educated and talented people I have ever worked with. Most of them have Master’s degrees in education, or are working on getting one, have loads of teachable subjects like drama and music, political science and law, and personal interests that include kayaking, photography, diving and wilderness trekking. Most of them have taught internationally as well, in Dubai and England, China, Korea and Thailand. They are young, personable, friendly and adventurous and have talent up the wazoo. The kids I teach are a pretty talented lot as well!

Some of that talent was on display last night at the Canadian Program’s Talent Show. There were singers and dancers, comedians and magicians, bands and solo acts. The energy level in the lecture theatre was through the roof, and near impossible to contain; every act was greeted with wild cheers of appreciation. The organizers, Randy and Eileen, had wisely allowed the kids to largely run the show themselves, and it was a low budget, no frills affair with the minimum of sound equipment, lighting and stage props; probably the least amount of preparation in that area of anything we have done since I’ve been here. But rather that diminish the effectiveness, it really let the talent of the kids shine thorough in all its raw enthusiasm and ability. The singers were sweet; the band was amazingly talented; the MCs were funny; and the stand-up comedian, Ern, got in some good licks about the teachers, myself included.

But the highlight of the show had to be the faux ‘rap battle.’ Three of the young English teachers put this together. There was a DJ/moderator, Dan Layng who introduced the ‘battle’ and laid down the beat with an awesome self-voiced rhythm/sound track into the microphone. Then he introduced the ‘east coast’ sound of another colleague, Colin Boucher who did a very clever interpretation of an Eminem rap with local references and colour. The kids just went wild! He was then ‘confronted’ by another English teacher, ‘Drey,’ who did a gangsta-style rap also filled with local references and personal ‘attacks’ on his rival. With his raucous style and aggressive attitude the kids were just squealing with delight. This went on for several bouts with very inventive lyrics and complicated rhythms, before they ‘reconciled’ their differences. It was seriously impressive stuff and established these guys reputation around this place for years to come!

Following the show the kids hung around for hours, just chatting happily to themselves and hugging the performers and the stage crew and everyone else involved. Events such as this are what binds a school cohort together and gives the students happy memories of their education that empower their studies. Everyone’s morale gets boosted and students learn to see their teachers in a whole new light; as fellow travellers on the road to betterment, rather than the antagonistic master/slave relationship they have endured for so many years in the Asian school system. It is a revelation to them, and a turning point in their understanding of what education can do for them. We are so happy to be a part of that.

For most people Christmas is the the most significant holiday of the year but we have always been particularily partial to Thanksgiving. It doesn’t have the pressure and hype of Christmas, is accompanied by the beautiful fall colours that we so love and the harvest which is such a powerful reminder of God’s love and provision, not to mention the fact that we were engaged on Thanksgiving. It has been five years since we had the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving which is just a regular day here and not even recognized in church, and we miss it.

This year we discovered that there is a Malaysian Canadian Organization that puts on a fabulous Thanksgiving Ball each year with turkey and all the trimmings. It is not a cheap event as most of the expats in that group are here with businesses, mostly oil, so live a somewhat different life style than educators, but we were longing to celebrate this uniquely Canadian weekend with fellow Canadians so we sprung for it.

It was very well organized with lovely decorations, an individual turkey and carver for each table, large screens playing video of helicopter flights over Canadian scenery and an excellent band that allowed for great dancing. Steve volunteered to do the carving for our table and had fun revisiting a role he enjoyed for so many years. We opted to spend the night at the host hotel so we would not have to deal with the issue of finding our way home late at night.

In all of this we remain amazed at how God has blessed us and our family, what a privilege it is to be living here at this point in our lives and healthy enough to be involved in the work that we both love.

Kuala Lumpur is a city of malls. They are plentiful, huge and really quite amazing with indoor skating rinks, rollerblading venues, theme and water parks and karioke studios. There is even one with a seven story rollercoaster. Empire Shopping Gallery is the newest one in our little suburb, celebrating the one year anniversary this month.  Along with five levels of shopping and eating venues, it houses a hotel, business tower and residential unit, gymnasium and pool and is marketed as the place to live, work, play, shop, dine and wine all under one roof. Some of our staff live there.

Two days ago the entire region felt the effects of a massive gas explosion that occurred on the ground floor of this mall at about 3 in the morning.  The effects of the explosion reached both ends ofthe mall, and all five levels recorded  some degree of damage. As well, it  tore into the adjoining office block and studio apartments with windows as high up as the eighth floor of the 12-storey office tower  shattered. Friends in their apartment two kilometers away were awoken by the noise of the explosion.

About 300 people were rescued and evacuated; including some 170 hotel guests who were relocated to nearby hotels, but amazingly only four people were injured and none seriously. The entire structure is now closed and all operations have been halted pending the results of the forensic investigations and structural assessments in the interest of public safety.

There is much speculation about the level of workmanship in the construction of this complex but no official report has yet been released and the news this morning reports that the mall will reopen in thirty days. For the small business owners of the 180 outlets there and the hundreds of people employed many at a wage of about 8 ringgit an hour (less than $3.00) this is a huge loss of income.

It was very fortunate that this happened at 3 a.m. instead of mid evening when the stores and restaurants would have been packed with hundreds of people.  However, it will be a long time before staff and customers have any confidence about the safety of the building.  On the plus side, I parked the following day in the underground parking of the mall across the street and watched inspectors carefully examining the gas lines running in the ceilings of the adjacent buildings.  Maintenance and inspection are ongoing issues in Asian countries that often suffer from semi-official corruption on several levels. Perhaps this explosion may spark some changes so that maybe one day, maintenance will become a reality here in Malaysia.