Friday, 25 March 2011

"Good Health" is not "Wellness"

In January, more than 2 months ago, I wrote "Are U Well?". At that time, I had no idea what "wellness" really meant. Yah, we all know that the USM Clinic used to be called Pusat Kesihatan (or literally, the Health Centre, or just Clinic). Now it has been renamed the Pusat Sejahtera (in English, it's supposed to be Wellness Centre), which got some people confused with Kampus Sejahtera. So they bracketed it with "(Pusat Kesihatan dan Pergigian)" - which kinda defeats the point of the name change because you now sort of tell people that it's still the same thing.

What would you expect when you walk into a Wellness Centre? Gym? Spa? Reflexologists and masseuse lined to crack your bones and relax your muscles? Doctors and nurses? emmmhh ....

I remember the first time I heard about the proposed name change was when VC mentioned it in passing (quite long ago), saying that "apparently there's a difference between health and wellness" (or something like that) ... but he didn't elaborate.

I did some googling recently and started reading. And I am still trying to get it into my bloodstream, so this is really tentative but hopefully instructive.

Firstly, even if you have a debilitating disease, it does not mean you cannot attain a certain state of wellness.

And I hear you go "huh, sick but still well? what kind of concept is this?".

So, imagine a patient who has to go for dialysis a few times a week. It's probably painful (I don't know, really, I'm assuming). It takes hours off your day. And of course, it probably also means you can't be very active the rest of the week. Within these limitations, wellness can still be achieved. Yes, it means that you accept the limitations imposed by your illness but you choose to live you life to the fullest possible.

So, the first idea or concept or principle, is that there are various levels or thresholds to wellness. It varies with your state of health. It varies with age, from childhood to old age. Various developmental stages are identified throughout your life. Within each stage, you should develop certain wellness tasks. For example, during infancy, one minimal wellness task relates to psychomotor skills. As you become aged (like me?) you need to learn to how to deal with your mortality (death), loss of income upon retirement and of course your physical abilities and strengths.

Some people are just lucky. They don't have to do anything and still don't get sick. That essentially means he/she is healthy. That's how we see "health" - the absence of illness. To understand wellness, imagine a sliding horizontal bar. On the left end is "illness" and on the right end is "wellness". Now, if you are ill, you get medical treatment, you work towards recovery and maybe rehabilitation and you will then arrive at somewhere in the middle where you will be considered "healthy", again.

Wellness requires that you continue moving to the right, learning about what it takes to stay healthy (education), then making lifestyle changes with the intention to maximise life satisfaction. Then, you will attain "wellness".

Wellness is a very personal and individual effort (with community and professional support, if necessary). You cannot have a KPI or standard measurement of wellness which applies to everyone. Wellness is not a static point or position. Wellness is a process. You have to keep working on it, to achieve personal growth. And that does not mean just getting rich. Wellness requires effort. You need to work at it.

Obviously, personal ambitions and goals plays a dominant role in determining your wellness. If you are constantly stressed and aggressively pursuing your first million or next big promotion you will neglect your family and friends, make enemies along the way and generally forget to take care of your health. All will not end well.

If you have access, try this article "The Wellness Process" (1977) ... yes, they have been talking about it for more than 30 years! I wonder if the ideas have evolved or change much since.

Quote of the week by Muhammad Salleh, Poet Laurete at the CGSS Dailogue at DPU, USM yesterday : "When I am not having nightmares about KPIs, I am a poet". See a connection to wellness?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Stay Healthy - and yee will be wealthy and wise

See something you like? Mark your calendar.

I think I will go for "Exercise for a glamourous you". I wonder if "glamourous" is only for ladies? Does "glamour" equate with "expensive" and "extravagant" lifestyle? Or is it just the looks? Perhaps its the "inside" which is important?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

persuasive posters

I just happened to have my compact digital camera in hand. I was early for my lecture. So I walked around the Lecture Halls corridor (I think they call it the DK foyer, I call it Upper Penang Road, USM).

There are softboards along both sides of the wall. I was just wasting time, and started clicking on the flyers and posters.

The one on the left says its looking for "potential girls who is proud of their origins and is able to parade Malaysia's culture and tradition in style". Want to participate? Send in 2 photos, one a head shot and the other full body shot. Wait. You must be in a white T-shirt and jeans.

Hmmm, since when has white T-shirt and jeans been part of Malaysian culture and tradition? Ooops, sorry, am I living in the Dark Ages? I guess the organisers just want to "size up" the candidates.

The poster on the right? Something about a competition to promote domestic tourism using mobile technology. As graphic design goes, I would say the one on the left wins hands down.

 This one is obviously done by professionals. What jumps at you? The brand of course. And then? The ladies in silhouette as the four fingers. But I done get it - what does the hand say? Now, it stops you, make you read and you find out its a campaign to get students to recycle their deodorant plastic bottles.

Now pause a second. I get this idea that it's targetted at ladies. And suddenly, I a sense that female students in our local universities must be using lots and lots and lots of deodorant. Correct?

Well, at least they have the decency (or magnimity) to say any brand of deodorant is accepted. You stick a label with your name and stand to win a prize. I'm suspicious. I think it's a "scam" to collect data about brand preferences amongst students in the universities. Sorry, I seem to be in  sceptic-mode. I guess it's my bipolar character.

This one is a photo competition. Now if you look at it from far, what would be your first reaction about the theme? One of those catwalk or models show on reality TV, right? No, no, no. The theme is "Life in Penang". One thing I can say, good photographers do not a good graphic artist make.

Like this? A far as posters goes, right on the dot. Good use of white space. Unclattered. And the most important message jumps at you. "EXHIBITION". and then "Final Year Project". You can even continue walking without having to stop and still get the message. In terms of artistic design though - so so.

I would say this a reasonably good effort. You read the big letters and if you are interested, walk nearer to read the fine print. Doesn't cost a bomb to do or reproduce.

Put two posters next to each other and you double the attention-grabbing ability. One look and you can guess its related to something Chinese. Of course! But wait, I can't read Mandarin.

 The poster above and the one below are from the same campaign but obviously done by two very different designer. There isn't a "united front" here. I chatted with two of the organisers and essentially gave them a hard time but wanted to support their Charity Walk, if they could change some of the way they were going about it. Like giving a free t-shirt to every participant and I think water in plastic bottles, and so on. They promised to come back to talk to me. They didn't. I am guessing their advisor said "tell him to mind his own business".  Na, I think it was too late for them to make changes. So, anyway, good luck.

 This one is done by a designer who doesn't understand the concept of poster and graphic design. OK, ok, maybe it's just old school.

People who don't care where they put their banners or posters or flyers. Preferably "in your face". Irritates you like hell, don't they?

But there is hope ...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

"Am I being cold storaged?"

Firstly, don't worry about ME. I know I have been cold storaged.  That's old news. This is not about me.

I debated whether this post should be on my personal blog or on this semi-official blog. I decided that whoever reads it may learn a thing or two. BTW, in case you haven't noticed, the counter is approaching 100,000 page views - after almost fours years of sweat. Bring out the champagne! I wonder how I can convert page views into impact factor?

Let me first point you to my post on March 4 - yes, it's related.

It started with an email, time stamped at 20:08 on friday last (11th March). It said RSVP. I ignored it.

And then the SMSs started coming about 9 pm until passed 10 pm. One. Two. Three. Four. I "ignored" them - meaning I didn't press "reply" but I said to me wife, "OK, I will tell them yes, I will come with my girl friend". And we went to sleep.

Next morning (yesterday), Saturday, we went to the market. About 9 something, my phone buzzed, my wife happened to be near the phone, picked it up and gave it to me. The conversation was something like this "hey, you didn't reply to the invitation .... blah, blah, blah". I said, "ok, ok, I will respond now" and shot off an SMS.

As usual, I leave my phone in the room and let it be. Later yesterday evening, I checked and ooops, 3 or 4 missed calls. I guessed where it was coming from (phone no. not on my list) but ignored them - didn't call back lah, already at night. Then this morning, I saw another SMS, saying, amongst others,  "... awaiting yr presence 2mrw ..." - timestamped 11:15 pm, last nite.

So, what's all the excitement (some may call it "fuss") all about? Am I really that important? Nahhh, I'm just a minor player in all this. They are all just good friends and comrades in urban conservation.

Maimunah on the left is an old friend, with my girlfriend next to her. Alex Koenig on the right - he attended our wedding dinner ages ago (oops did I say wedding?). He was one of the key players who had a frustrating time in the 1980s trying to get the conservation agenda on the policy-makers' plate.

Ah, here are the important people. Right in front of the picture is the Press Table. The VVIPs are at the other end of the room. This is the ground floor of the George Town World Heritage Inc. (GTWHI) office at Acheh Street.

Now here's the VVIP, the Honorable Chief Minister of Penang with Maimunah, the outgoing General Manager of GTWHI and soon-to-be President of the Municipal Council of Seberang Perai. All those crushing forward are members of the Press - they seems very interested in this news, for obvious reasons (?)

Don't worry, what I'm telling you is not official secret because the Chief Minister himself talked about it in front of the Press and the guests. Yes, the CM was full of praise for Maimunah. He identified three qualities in Maimunah. She has the knowledge and skills in her area of expertise. She is able to communicate (hey, students, are you getting this?). And most important, she has the passion for what she does.

Ah, but then the CM told a little secret. He said that when he picked Maimunah for the job of GM at GTWHI, she asked him "am I being cold storaged?". (You gotta give Maimunah due credit for asking the boss that. Spunky lady, don't you think?)

What? Really? Yes, Maimunah confirmed the story. Remember this was the year 2009. At that time Maimunah was the Director of Town Planning at the Municipal Council of Penang Island. From managing 300 staff, she started out with 3 staff to create a brand new company called GTWHI.

But why did she ask that of the Chief Minister? Those of you familiar with the infant years of George Town World Heritage Listing would know that we almost had the carpet pulled from under our feet. The four controversial hotels in the heritage area was approved with heights exceeding the 18 metres stated in the dossier submitted to UNESCO. And guess who was the director of planning then?

And those of you who followed the blogosphere may remember a guy named Jeff Ooi, who was then the Chief of Staff of the CM writing in his blog, blaming and naming the two ladies (Maimunah and Patahiyah) for the debacle.  (I tried to google the article but have not been successful yet. As a personal note, I am not suggesting either ladies were responsible. Knowing how the politics worked back then, I am sure there is more than meets the eye.)

Guess what, both ladies are now heading the two local councils in Penang. What did they say about politics? "The art of the impossible." "There are no permanent enemies"

Well, for the record, CM denied he was cold storing Maimunah. In fact, CM told her that he could see her potential and capability (he said that this morning). Of course, which idiot would appoint a person to an important job and hopes that he or she fails? Hey, we are talking World Heritage here.

I will full-stop this post here ... and leave you to ponder your own paths in life.

In the meantime, here are more pictures.

Some of the guests. On the left is the current Chairman of MIP Northern Branch and the first lady, who is also the Branch Secretary (Michael Ong and Hui Lin)

Tourists all like to take this shot.
The lady in cheongsam is Lim Chooi Ping who takes over from Maimunah. There's also Amelia Neoh on the left, a town planner with the State. And lady who introduced herself as Teh, an engineer, who likes sweet things.

 This was after the GTWHI Committee meeting last thursday, 10 March 2011. The reason we are all holding the pieces of paper is because we were all "excited" about getting our letters of appointment to the Committee - one year and three months after we started serving! Talk about volunteerism and perserverance. Yes, none of us get paid for being on the Committee. Well, some do get projects related to GTWHI. Oooo, my pro-bono work on the Integrated Heritage Database merited a mention by the outgoing GM in her appreciation speech this morning.

 All passionate about protecting George Town.
From the left (each head in sequenc): myself, Hijas, Gaik Siang, Yoke Mui, Tengku Idaura, Gywnn, Maimunah, Koay (web developer), Neil (Thinkcity), Bok Kim, Khoo Salma, Yeow Wai

(A few of the photos in this post are courtesy of Hijas)

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Walk with me

Yesterday, Friday 11 March 2011 was a momentous day for the people of Japan as they  reeled from a 8.9 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sendai, generating 10-metre (or was it 20?)  tsunami with ripple effect all the way to the California coast.

Yesterday morning, I had a meeting at the Wellness Centre (Pusat Sejahtera) to pursue a "State of Health" project. The meeting was at 11 am, but I left my office about 15 minutes earlier, taking a slow walk, digital Nikon in hand. Do you ever observe what goes on around you? This is what I saw. Some I like. Some I don't.

The Lecture Halls ABC, just right in front of my window. Freshly painted, again. I recall it painted maybe a year ago. It just got painted again a few weeks ago. This was the first lecture hall built in the 1970s. I hope someone understands and appreciates its significance.

I took a left turn and saw this banner proclaiming the MyBrian15 project. It's one of the critical projects by the Ministry of Higher Education to produce more brians, of course. I think this was a workshop to teach the students how not to screw up their applications to the Ministry (I believe its for scholarhip to pursue masters and PhD).
This corridor is iconic and distinctive because of its slanting roof.

See? No polystyrene!

The future of the country rest with these young prospects.

I went down the stairs from the lecture hall and was greeted by this scene. These are old barracks from the British Military days, also freshly painted. It's a pity they threw away all the clay tiles and replaced it with metal roofing. See the beautiful red?

And then I bummed into this .... and I turned around ....
And saw four cars all with wheels "clamped". All without stickers. Presumably all students. What happens if it is a visitor?

As I walked, I turned again to look at the Flame of Forest. Even the ugly building behind it is softened by the beauty of nature.

This is intended to slow down the traffic but doubles as a pedestrian crossing. Most motorists don't give way to walkers. Do you?

To tackle the proliferation of banners everywhere, we have banner farms at strategic corners.
People who insist on banners swear that it's effective.

The new extension to the Hamzah Sendut Library. CGSS is on the roof - that's supposed to be my new office. Architecturally quite up-to-date. But really out-of-place in the area. No sympathy with the current library to which it is attached.

"I need to breathe, please", say the roots.

Who cares about banner farms. This is right in your face as you walk.

Sigh ....

The first cut is the deepest. Yes, there is a proper way to trim branches. In this case it's neatly done. Except the tree is now unbalanced.

See the heap of brown leaves on the right? Where do you think it goes? The landfill. Where do you think it should go? Compost heap. Or mulch.

See those plants in the foreground? Parasites (epiphytes) which grows on the rain tree in the background. They look lovely in the tree but will eventually choke the host. So, they have to be removed periodically. Lot's of hard work, taking care of trees.

Cahaya no more. They have added railings to this heritage building. I am guessing they want to screen off the air-con blowers. What is the right way to protect and conserve heritage buildings?

The new student centre in the background. I just don't like the design.

This is Pusat Sejahtera. Many years ago, I was invited to the site with a bunch of people from the Development Office and the architect. One of the things we talked about was how to avoid building too near the majestic rain trees. And yes, they complied.

We are not all law-breakers, afterall. Even though parking is limited, and even though the cars you see on the left are "illegally parked", no one "dared" to use the handicap parking space, on the front right.

Inside the Wellness Centre ... indoor plants can't survive the air-conditioned environment. See the stumb? That's not art.

About one and half hours later, I walked by the Lecture Hall ABC again. 
Some one got it right. Spit (or spick) and span. Well done!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Is there any point in the Earth Hour?


Berita Kampus asked me a whole series of questions about Earth Hour but I chose to answer just one : "From your opinion, is there really any point to Earth Hour?"

This is what I said in reply :
My response is that Earth Hour by itself, in the long run, is not going to get us to resolve the issues of climate change.

What it has done effectively is to capture the imagination of the people across the world to pay some attention to the issue of climate change. But I am sure many who participate do it just to be part of the "gang"; they are probably not focussed on intentions of the campaign.
I have never, personally, taken part in Earth Hour. For some reason, I was out burning carbon, somewhere else on Earth. It is not that I don't support the effort to get people to symbolically turn of the lights for one hour (a year!). I do, I do. But, to put it sarcastically, or perhaps rudely, Earth Hour is "kids stuff". I know, 2009 more than 4,000 cities in 88 countries switched off their lights. In 2010, 128 countries joined the band wagon. That's amazing persuasive advertising.

Millions of people took part, but the Earth is still in deep shit! If we don't cut the carbon emissions by 80%, we're going to get fried (well sort of, 'cos the Earth will get hotter but the end result is Ice Age!). We need to see results within the next 3 or 4 years, or else is too late ... we would have tipped over to the point of no return.

Do you think anybody is feeling anxious about it? Some people do, like at the top of this post ...

Who's she? A famous Aussie with a secret (Google her yourself)
What I do like is the list of things she says we should do everyday ...she "recommends" them, she didn't say whether she practices them (I don't mean to insult her) ....
  • Buy local produce from markets thereby reducing food miles
  • Walking or riding the bike wherever possible as opposed to driving
  • Ensure the car tyres are always inflated to the correct level as they use less fuel
  • Use fuel with Ethanol
  • Turn off the lights and use organic or beeswax candles a lot of the time
  • Unplug appliances when they are not in use
  • Use heating and cooling when absolutely necessary
  • Wash in mostly cold water
  • Use chemical-free dish washing, washing powder and cleaning products
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle
  • Buy products with the highest recyclability
  • Purchase clothes that are ethically made, not mass produced
  • Dress in Organic clothing
  • Install water-saving nozzles on all taps including showers
  • Compost scraps whenever possible
  • Prepare food plans so as to avoid food wastage
  • Grow herbs and spices
  • Have timed showers to use less water
  • Water the plants of an evening
  • Bury food scraps in the garden bed to feed the earth worms or compost
  • Collecting grey water from bath and use it to water plants
  • Using Certified Organic personal care products (avoid using chemicals)
  • Wash the car on the grass with environmentally friendly car wash
  • Buy Certified Organic or Farmers markets produce. I understand that certified organics can be expensive, but local farmers markets for the most part are usually reasonable. On my blog ( I include a list of Farmers Markets from around the world so that people will have ready access to the same.
 Quite doable, right?

Hhmmm, I would say that I am in "compliance" with maybe 75% of those items. At least in spirit if not the letter.

So, do remember Earth every day. Switch off the lights when you don't need them.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Five Minds are better than Two

I bought this book about 2 years ago at Changi Airport. 
I read it, of course, but found it hard to read. You get the ideas but you (I) don't feel moved. 
Then I searched the web this morning and found a paper by the same author with the same title, but edited from a talk he gave in 2008. You don't need to buy or read the book, just read the 18-page paper ... 'cause it makes much more sense and is easier to read.

What are the five minds for the future? 
  • The Disciplined Mind
  • The Synthesising Mind
  • The Creative Mind
  • The Respectful Mind, and
  • The Ethical Mind
I would tell to just go read the paper, 'cause Howard Gardner does a better job at it then I would. I just want to touch on the last one. BTW, Howard is the famous guy who told the World that intelligence is not merely about being able to score in the exams (sort of). I think even he has lost count, but there's 8 or 9 types of intelligences around.

Have you been following what's going on around the World?
  • The German defence minister had to resign - because, 10 years or so after the fact, they discovered that a quarter of his PhD thesis was plagiarised.
  • Beyonce, Mariah Carey and other celebrities now think money from the Gaddafi regime is dirty and want to give back the millions they got paid for performing in Libya. (Actually, it was not in Libya, and they didn't know it was finance by Gaddafi's family)
  • And the famous London School of Economics has now become infamous because they also took money from Gaddafi's family - and the University and the professor involved now say they are ashamed of their poor judgment
  • Closer to home, on facebook no less, a candidate for the recent campus elections has apologised for unethnical use of facebook pages/groups for campaigning. The pages were created for charitable purposes and public service. He has also offered to step down from the charitable cause which he founded.
Several weeks ago, I was at a university workshop and we were discussing giving browny points to lectuers who can draw in funding to the university for things like CSR work. I asked whether there should be a policy on which company or individual we should or should not take money from. Specifically, I said perhaps there should a policy to ban funding from tobacco companies. But one professor declared he has no problems if the tobacco companies wanted to give him funding.

A few years back, I was asked by a lecturer from engineering whether they should accept funding from the Malaysian Plastic Manufacturers - they wanted to give a huge sum (like RM30,000) to fund rcycling activities. Oh, and the money was to go to the school teaching polymer. At that time, I was all gung-ho about "say no to plastic bags" and getting rid of polystyrene on campus. I remember saying if the money is to educate people about recycling, I had no problems. (So, perhaps in the same vein, I should have no problems if the Malayan Tobacco Company wanted to give, say Green Lung, money to tell people that "smoking kills"! What a dilemma. Imagine MTC giving money to help the Cancer Society?)

What about, say, lecturers who are paid to carry out a project, on or outside campus, which at the end of the project, shows that a certain method, technology, or product, has been successful in solving a problem. For instance, lecturers being paid to carry out field tests of new drugs. Or paying respondents to become the subjects of a research study.

If you are appointed as a consultant, and being paid for it, there usually is no ethical dilemma. You are paid for your expert view.

But if you are paid for research, then the alarm bells starts going off. In fact, that's also where independent reviewers zero in on. Out of all the research which supports or "proves" a claim, how many of that is truly independent - i.e. done outside the organisation, paid for by agenices or organisations which have no vested interest in the outcomes?

Should the development of the ethical mind be in our curriculum now?

p.s. Gardner, in discussing the ethical mind also talked about the ability and readiness to forgive. 

p.s.2.  I found this very interesting, and I feel quite balanced, paper about the "myths and science of mudballs" which you should read.

Friday, 4 March 2011

HBP must have got somethings right ...

Did you read this news item "Women Rule Councils in Penang?" Kinda insulting, right? Perhaps a little condescending?

Ah, but nevermind about that. What this post is about is that the heads of the two local authorities are graduates of the School of HBP, USM. Well, each of them got at least one degree from USM.

 On the right is Patahiyah, the current President (Mayor) of the Municipal Council of Penang Island. She got her first degree from HBP and then went overseas to get her professional architecture degree (HBP didn't offer this during her time - yes, long ago). This photo was taken during a break at the judging of the Rifle Range Design Ideas Competition in Oct 2010.

And the two gentlemen in the picture? Both are directors in MPPP. Both are also graduates of HBP, of course. One is a town planner (Roslan), the other an architect (Yew).

In the centre, standing is Maimunah, the soon-to-be President of the Municipal Council of Seberang Perai. She did her first degree abroad but the JPA said that the degree didn't qualify her to be a town planner so she crashed through the Masters in Planning course at HBP (with baby in tow) mid-way through her career in 1995.
Sitting, facing the camera is Alex Koenig, a German who thinks he's entitled to considered a Penangite by virtue of his frequent flier miles. He used to be a lecturer at HBP ... and if not mistaken, was also a student.

But the more interesting figures are the two gentlemen with back of heads to camera in the front. Both State Assemblymen. On the left is the EXCO member for local government. On the right is reputedly the strategist for the party in power. Both watching .... evaluating ... sizing up ... who should the next President? Picture taken 4th Mac 2010 at SERI.

So, HBP must have found a secret formula for "women to rule" the World? What made these two ladies stand  out and made the State Government take notice? Is it their people's skills (soft skills, lor)?

Or was it their technocrat background?

Was it a long career with proven track record of achievements? And initiatives?

Do they have politicals skills, to be able to bend with the winds (of change)?

Or did they impress the new masters with their professional integrity?

Did we teach them all those in the university? Or did they learn it on the job?