Friday, August 21, 2015

Asian Eyes's Thaipusam - Mardi Gras of Malaysia

Update on Penang Thaipusam celebration in 2016
When - 24 January 2016
Where - Penang from Penang's Little India to Penang Botanical Garden            
              Today I am writing on good places to visit in Malaysia, especially in Penang, where I am based, a tourist island on the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Here is my first post on one of the myriad cultures that can be found in Malaysia - a celebration called Thaipusam or spiritual Mardi Gras of Malaysia.
A huge spear spikes through the cheek with a mini one through the tongue will send the fainted heart squeamish person during Thaipusam. This is a mystic yet intriguing festival.  
          Thaipusam is religious celebration held either during late January or late February, mostly by people of Southern Indian origin, and it is a significant event observed by the Hindu community in Malaysia. People of all races catch the sights of chariot procession, devotees and Kavadi bearers at these official routes and locations in Penang. The procession begins in the wee hours of the morning from Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Penang's Little India to Waterfall Hilltop Temple as a religious undertaking to Lord Muruga that may last 14 hours. Some devotees shaved their hair and paid tribute for prayers answer, others for good life and health. Devotees, who had been fasting or on vegetarian diet since 1 week to earlier, carry containers containing milk as offering to Lord Muruga, either by hand, or in huge decorated carriers on their shoulders called 'Kavadi'. The Kavadi may be just a simple wooden arched semi-circular supports holding a carrier foisted with brass or clay pots of milk, or to the heavy ones which may rise up to two meters, built of bowed metal frames which held long skewers and hooks, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearers torso without a single flinch when it was administered to the bearers by a priest. Priests sprinkle consecrated ash over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees' flesh before they are removed. No blood is shed during the piercing and removal.The bearers were in trance like and does not feels the pain, before, during or after the ordeal. The kavadi is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers imported from India and some kavadi may weigh as much as a hundred kilograms. 
           Along the procession routes, coconuts being are smashed onto the ground to signify the breaking one's ego before the chariot passed through. The best place to catch the coconut smashing spectacle is on Jalan Dato Keramat, in front of Penang Times Square. The chariot stopped on many Hindu temples along the way and final stop of the Thaipusam procession is at Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Temple or Waterfall Hill Temple or Hill Top Lord Murugan Temple at Waterfall road, just before Botanic Garden in Penang. There are some 513 steps leading to this temple, more than the 272-steps in Batu Caves, another Thaipusam celebration site in Kuala Lumpur. Thaipusam is celebrated for 3 days but do standby for the procession from 12 noon onward on the first day. During the 3 days, roads leading to the hil top temple were closed. The atmosphere is festive with India music blaring loudly, coconuts piled up high by the roadside, donated by the community, refreshment stalls are being setup to offer food and drinks to devotees and visitors that throng the street where the chariot will pass through. 
           I attached herewith some pictures of Thaipusam celebration held in Penang in 2015. (Photo credit to Mr. Philip Chong). Everyone, lets join the celebration and yell "Vel, Vel". May your wishes come true! Come visit Penang!.

Thaipusam procession starts from Penang downtown where the passing of a Kavadi bearer pulling the chariot with the statue of Lord Muruga is considered a blessing to everyone who witnessed it. Many join in and follow the procession on foot. 
A gory picture of the suffering of these devotees who make a vow for some request make the previous year. Fret not for they do not feel the pain and no blood oozed out when the hooks pierced through the skin or when they were removed. 
Priest sprinkled holy ash before administered spikes and hooks onto Kavadi-bearers.  No blood was in sight and Kavadi-bearers does not bore any scars during or after the ordeal. Some cannot even remember the ordeal! 
A devotee in trance, pulling the chariot of Lord Muruga. The mini spear that pierce this devotee was shaped like the Vel, a spear like weapon favored by the Lord Muruga. Friends and family members surrounding him will yell "Vel!, Vel!" to urge him on.
A Kavadi-bearer deep in trance, making his way to the 513 steps Hill Top Waterfall Temple
Women do not carry Kavadi, but pot of milk, balanced on their head, for the offering to Lord Muruga, for a vow answered. 
This devotee had make vow to Lord Muruga to cure of his parent's sickness, and now fulfilling his vow during Thaipusam celebration for his request answered. 
All races in Penang came out in droves to witness or took part in Thaipusam celebration. They lined the street where the chariot will pass through.
The Kavadi-bearer will dance to the beat of Indian trumpet and tabla, and continuously being taken care off by family members and friends to prevent any untoward incident. 
Some devotee shaved their head bald before carried the Kavadi or had their cheeks or tongue pierced with Vel spike.
Another devotee carries nearly a hundred tiny pots containing milk attached onto his body with tiny hooks. 
This guy has been on strict vegetarian diet for at least 1 week to 4 weeks before he can achieve a pure mental state to endure the pain of hooks and spikes to his cheeks, tongue or body.
The gaze on this lady devotee seem out of this world. The white powder on her forehead was put on by a priest to aid her in walking all the way from downtown Penang to Hill Top Waterfall Temple without stop or feeling tired. 
A close up on the Kavadi. The cushion pad was for protection against abrasion from the weight on his shoulder. The Kavadi may weigh up to as much as 100 kilogram and to carry it up 513 flight of stairs was not easy feat.
This Kavadi gave an illusion that iron rods spiked through this guy body, but in actual fact it was not. Having said that , any one want to try body piercing?
Older man may not be able to carry the Kavadi, but that does not stop one from carrying pot of milk to repay the vow he made to Lord Muruga. Some continue to repay vow year after year and they would be some of the familiar faces around each Thaipusam celebration.
Huge Kavadi with elaborate structures and markings during the Thaipusam procession added to the festivities and should not be missed by any tourists to Penang in late January or early February.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Asian Eyes' Malaysia - Tourist Guide Professionalism

            Today I am going to write about the tourist guide professionalism. Every professional profession had their own code of conduct and tourist guide in Malaysia is no exception. Tourist guide in Malaysia is governs by the Tourism Industry (Licensing and Control of Tourist Guides) Regulations 1992. Here I listed down some of the important things that a tourist guide must take notes off.

        One a student passes the tourist guide course, upon payment of the license fee (RM50.00 in money order or MO), submissions of Form 2 of the First Schedule for license and Form 3 of the First Schedule for authorization card, the Tourism Commissioner will issue to the approved tourist guide the license and authorization card. The authorization card issued shall contain the language code which indicated the language the tourist guide is proficient in and must wear/display it prominently. A tourist guide shall not act as tourist guide in any language other than the one stated in the authorization code. Validity of the license will be for a period not exceeding 3 years.

         Upon expiry, a renewal can be done using Form 4 of the First Schedule with a RM5.00 (MO) processing fee. Once approved, the applicant pays another RM50.00 (MO) for the license. Both license and authorization card are the property of the Commissioner. If there is no intention to carry on the guiding activity, the tourist guide shall return the authorization card to the Commissioner. In the case of loss or destruction of license or authorization card, the tourist guide shall immediately submit a letter to the Commissioner informing of the loss and submit an application for a replacement with documents that contain a police report, a declaration of oath in respect of the loss or destruction, three copies of photo and appropriate fee payable as provided in the Third Schedule.  

        Every tourist guide shall comply with the code of ethics provided in the Fifth Schedule Regulation 11 where the Commissioner shall exercise disciplinary control over all licensed tourist guides. The code of ethics are as follows:
01. Shall be well-groomed, courteous, honest, trustworthy 
      and dedicated.
02. Shall not use abusive language or involved in any fights or 
03. Shall not bad-mouth or criticize his colleagues, any establishment 
      or organization, the Government or its policies and campaigns or 
      any other person.
04. Shall not involved in conducts that will prejudiced the professional 
      image of tourism industry or country.
05. Shall safeguard reputation and professional image
06. Shall have good public relationship value, maintain friendly 
      relations and co-operation with other tourist guides.
07. Shall try to understand the character and needs of the tourists.
08. Shall exercise duty with care, with no untoward danger or 
      unnecessary risks to tourist.
09. Shall not leave tourist at any time.
10. Shall have updated information and materials on history and 
      culture of our country and government policies.

         The Standard Dress Form for Licensed Tourist Guides is covered under the Fourth Schedule (Regulation 10) as follows:
1. Dress code for male tourist guides are:
    a) Long or short-sleeved-Made-in-Malaysia Batik shirt worn with 
        plain long pant.
    b) Long or short-sleeved shirt worn with a tie and plain long pant.
    c) Collared T-shirt worn with plain long pants for adventure-type 
        tours only
    d) Uniforms that meet the above guideline supplied by any tour 
Trainee tourist guides are expected to don Batik or long sleeve shirt
with or approved attires in field trip or even during classroom lecture
2. Dress code for female tourist guides are:
    a) Long or short-sleeved-Made-in-Malaysia Batik (covering knee) / 
         Baju Kebaya. 
    b) Blouse and skirt (covering knee).
    c) Collared T-shirt worn with plain long pants for adventure-type 
         tours only.
    d) Uniforms that meet the above guideline supplied by any tour 
3. Shoes
    a) Shoes that covers the toes and heel
    b) No slippers or sneakers for City Tour Guides 
    c) Sport shoes for adventure tours only
    d) Dark colored socks for Males Tourist guides

         The Tourism Commissioner has the power to request a licensed tourist guide to produce his/her license and authorization card for inspection. If a person acts as a tourist license but does not have the license, on conviction, be liable to a fine not more that RM7,000.00 or imprison form a term not more that 2 years, or both. In case of continuing offence, in addition to the above, be liable to a daily fine not exceeding RM500.00 per day the offence continues to be committed. 

        A tourist guide's training does not ends upon getting his/her license. He/She shall attend further training and pass further tests of proficiency as required, for example to attend "We are the Host" course and to attend 3 Continuing Tourism Related Education(CTRE) in a year. A good tourist guide will do their homework before conducting any tour, and get the latest updated information, not only on Malaysia but preferable the world news too.

         The reason why I put these code of conducts and the requirements of a tourist guide is to ensure aspiring tourist guide understands what it takes to become a good tourist guide, as well as, to help tourists understand the criteria and the guiding principle of a tourist guide. I do hope tourists will hire more tourist guides after understand that tourist guide's course does contains the aspect of code of conduct, apart from the information of our country's history, geography, economy, traditions, culture and industry. After all tourist guides are the forefront ambassadors of our country.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Asian Eyes' Malaysia - Tour Guiding

PC Chin (left) with Datin Chen
from Selangor Pewter

         Today is my first blog entry in 2015. This year, I decided to go back to school for a change. I am currently pursuing my life long ambition i.e. to be a trained tourist guide. I registered for a tourist guide Level 3 course at Excelpolitan International College in Bukit Dumbar, Penang, Malaysia. What attracts me to this college is the principal who is Penang's re-known tourist guide, Ms PC Chin. This course is a city guide course but I will have to learn everything including those in nature guide course. I will write on the lessons that I sat through, friends that I make along the way, places that I visited during field trips, research and presentation that I conducted in front of my class. This course has a lot of assignments, so I am treating this blog page as my assignment platform. I hope this entry and all future entries will give a glimpse to anyone interested to be a tourist guide what is this course all about, what to learn, and above all, also to give visitors from abroad a feel of what Malaysia has to offer.  

         The medium of tourist guide course is mostly done in English, both on the slides as well as the lectures. The lecturer would use English infused with a smattering of Bahasa Malaysia or Mandarin, where appropriate, especially when it comes to local names. The education qualification condition set by Malaysian Ministry of Tourism is 6 passes in SPM (equivalent to high school diploma or O level), including a pass in Bahasa Malaysia. However, if you have the passion, but did not have the required qualification, the tourism board will conduct an interview to gauge your ability to follow the course. The class is mostly in the evening from 7-10 pm (about 2 - 3 times a week) and will have field trips in the weekend (about 1 - 2 times in the entire 6 months course). Students are encouraged to participate in optional field trips overland (to Kuala Lumpur/Malacca), attend talks by historian or join in celebration conducted by Penang state tourism board. Most students in my class had day job and they study this course on a part time basis. They ranges from those in the tourism industry (tour bus/van drivers, tour agents/bosses, tour lead), manufacturing industry (engineer, IT specialist, operation supervisor), teacher, retirees and also the unemployed. The reasons they attend this course ranges from getting a second source of income, to legalizing tourist guiding activities they have been doing (illegally) and to pass time or to visit places for free. For the unemployed they are encourage to seek part time job in tourist line or tourist attraction sites which Ms Chin will be able to help. As for me, I am dong it for the passion and something to keep me active and on the go. In my class, we have 18 students with ages ranging from 20s to 60s. The wide age range make the class more interesting because we shared a lots of experience, both personal as well as working experiences, laughter and encouragements from every student. The students deliver their presentation in English, Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin, depending on which language they are well verse in, or the language they are going to attempt the final examination in.

          The duration of city tour guide level 3 course is 6 months. An examination that constitute of written, slide presentation and coach 
presentation awaits the wannabe tourist guide at the end of the training before a tourist guide license can be granted. There are a total of 11 modules in this year city tour guide level 3 course, but they may not be taught in the sequence below. The modules are as follows:
C01 - Tour Job Assignment Acceptance
C02 - Tour Arrangement Reconfirmation
C03 - Tour Arrival Execution
C04 - Tour Commentary Delivery
C05 - Tour Itinerary Execution
C06 - Tourist Health, Safety, Security & Emergency Handling
C07 - Tourist Departure Execution
C08 - Customized Tourist Services Execution
C09 - Tour Payment Arrangement
C010 - Optional Tours Execution
C011 - Post Tour Reporting
         This city tour guide level 3 course is a living skills course. Students are expected to be self reliance, meaning they have to look up more information in internet, books, brochures, go on field trip, on top of the lectures and notes handout. Of the 11 modules above, majority of time will be spend on module C04 - Tour Commentary Delivery. 
The sequence of Tour Commentary Deliver also will not follow the sequence stated below, but will be taught depending on lecturer's schedule who also hold day jobs elsewhere. By the way, there are also additional materials that will be added in from time to time. In this CO4 module, we will learn:-
01 - Geography and Nature of Malaysia
02 - History of Malaysia
03 - Cultures of Malaysia
04 - Government Systems of Malaysia
05 - Industries of Malaysia
06 - Agro-based of Industries of Malaysia
07 - Cottage Industries of Malaysia
08 - Transportation and Communication of Malaysia
09 - Destinations Knowledge of Malaysia
10 - Tourism Products
11 - Events, Festivals and Entertainment of Malaysia.
           I have been attending this course for nearly a month now, and it seem like going back to school days and recollect back all the facts and figures in geography, history, economy and the like. As I am passionate about this course and tourism as a whole, this course is starting to be interesting to me. I hope by sharing this experience on the course and tourism in Malaysia, there will be more learned tourist guides in Malaysia and tourists visiting Malaysia. More on the course in next posting. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Asian Eyes' Flight Tale - Burgundy and Chardonay

        Sitting in the first row of coach class during a lengthy flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, my wife and I were able to hear a flight attendant as she pushed a wine cart down the aisle in the business class section. "Would you care for the chardonay or burgundy?" she asked the high-paying passengers.

        A few minutes later the attendant opened the curtain between the two sections, offered wine to one final business class patron, then wheeled the same cart forward to our aisle. "Excuse me," she said, looking down at us, "would you care for a glass of wine? We have white and red"

Monday, April 21, 2014

Asian Eyes' USA Tale - Return Policy

          In USA, return policy is widely acceptable practice. Once I was in Walmart in Round Rock, Texas during one of my numerous trip there and overheard a heated conversation. At the refund counter, a salesclerk had listened patiently to the complaints of a disgruntled customer for quite some time. Finally, as she went on and on about her dissatisfaction with a purchase she had made, he politely interrupted her.

        "Ma'am, suppose we refund your money, send you another one for free, close the store, and have the manager shot. Would that be satisfactory?"

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Asian Eyes' USA Tale - Weird Traffic

          I am an inquisitive and a context person by nature. I like to know why certain thing is done the way it is and how does it comes about. Here I compiled a list of the traffic difference between America and my home country.  I traveled to America quite often, so this list still stands correct to this day. For this blog I will write about driving in America. It s not a comprehensive list, and I am sure some learned reader would able to add more. A word of advise, if it is your first time visiting and only for a short period like 1 or 2 weeks, better do not drive. Get someone familiar with the America traffic system to drive or take LRT/MRT/Subway/bus/taxi. The jet lag and confusion of an opposite system compared to yours will likely make you prone to error. If for longer term, hire a driving instructor to give you the basic driving skills in America. It will cost some money but at least it will reduce the risk of you loosing a limb if not your life:

1. Driving - In America the driver seat is on the left of the car and one drive on the right side of the road. In Malaysia it is the opposite where the driver seat is on the right side of the car, and one drive on the left side of the road. When I have American guest who came over to Malaysia, most often they will go to the driver seat, thinking they were actually goes to the passenger seat. When that happens, I always asked "you wanna drive?" which the answer is mostly a no. I also noted that they are most worried about motorcycles that zoomed in and out in between cars' spaces.

2. Roundabout - This always confused me. In America, one enter the roundabout anti-clockwise while in Malaysia it is always clockwise. Same as you stopped at traffic light junction, you will take to the right side of a road when the light turns green. Occasionally there will be signboard that stated "wrong side" that helps lost traveller.

3. Pedestrian - In America, since the car was driven on the right side of the road, the adage of look left first in  'Left, Right. Left' had to be changed to 'Right, Left, Right' when crossing the road. Most drivers in America are courteous. They will stopped their car to let pedestrian cross the road. So, when in Rome, do as the Roman do. This courteous thing comes automatically.

4. Motorcycle - In America, a motorcycle occupy a parking spot or lane to itself, just like a car. The motorcycle is expected to queue up when waiting at the traffic light or caught in a jam, just like a car. In Malaysia, the motorcycle is expected to squeeze in between cars, and not expected to occupy a parking spot for cars. 

5. Traffic Light - In America, it is OK to turn right on a red light when there is no oncoming traffic, unless there is a sign stated "No Turn on Red'. However this is an offence in Malaysia where there is no left turn if the traffic light is red, irrespective whether there is or no oncoming traffic.

6. Entering Freeway - In America, a freeway is what we called highway in Malaysia. In America one would speed up his vehicle when entering a freeway rather than slowing down. This is to match the speed with the parallel traffic so that you can merge into the freeway lane. I failed this question when I sat for my learner's license at the start of my studies in USA.

7. Speed - In America, there is an upper limit and lower if speed in freeway. One may get caught if you drive too slow, which I was once stopped on this offence as written in one of my previous blog.

8. Signal Dial - In America, the position of signal and wiper dials are the exact opposite from ours. Get yourself familiarize with the dials before you drove off. Occasionally you will set the wrong dial, -switch on wiper instead of left signal. That is very common and hilarious when it happens, but after certain time you will get use to it. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Asian Eyes' France Tale - Paris adventure

Paris Welcome
        When I arrived in Paris, it was dark and rainy, and at the height of the tourist season. I didn't have a hotel reservation and I didn't speak French. To make matters worse, Paris' subway system, the Metro, was on strike, and getting a taxi was nearly impossible. The train station was swarming with people who shared my predicament, and many were settling down on their luggage for the night. 

        Nearby a little boy seemed to be on the verge of tears. As I walked past, his mother said to him in a distinctly British accent, "But, dear, this is what adult called an adventure."

       I'm not sure what effect those words had on the boy's visit to Paris, but it did wonders on mine.