The Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Selangor Branch’s Photogroup is participating in the Earth Month at Publika, Kuala Lumpur by holding an exhibition from Friday, 23 March to Friday, 6 April 2018. The exhibition features 72 curated images by 16 photographers that highlight the beauty of nature, as well as the problems that plague our environment today. The organising committee curated 6 of my photos for the exhibition.
The exhibition is located next to Paparich in Circle, Level A3, Block A. It is right at the entrance where cars drop people off to walk in.
A little card placed next to my photos
Do come to visit the photo exhibition if you are coming to Publika. There will be other activities held in conjunction with Earth Month here as well.
I have heard of the Mah Meri indigenous people a few years ago, but never had the opportunity to visit them. So when my travel blogger friend Kathleen Poon of Kat Pergi Mana asked me to join her on an outing to visit the Mah Meri on the day they celebrate Hari Moyang (Ancestors’ Day), I said yes.
The indigenous peoples, known locally as Orang Asli or Orang Asal, are divided into three main groups in Malaysia, according to their language, lifestyle, dwellings, facial features and skin colour. These three main groups, namely the Negrito, Senoi and Proto Malay, are further divided into 18 tribes, each group consisting of six tribes (as shown in the following figure).
The indigenous peoples of Malaysia are well-known for their handicrafts, and among them, the Mah Meri and Jah Hut are famous for their figure and mask wood carvings.
About the Mah Meri
‘Mah Meri’ means ‘forest people’ or ‘people who live in the forest’. ‘Mah’ refers to ‘people’, while ‘Meri’ refers to ‘forest’. Similar to most of the other tribes, the Mah Meri originally lived in the forest.
According to their elders, the Mah Meri originated from Johor Lama, also known as Kota Linggi. However, researchers are of the opinion that the Mah Meri are not originally from Malaysia. They belong to the Senoi, who are believed to come from Cambodia and Vietnam. Genetic research has so far classified the Mah Meri community as descendants of the Mongoloid people.
In terms of religion, the Mah Meri are animists. The Mah Meri depend on the forest and the sea for their livelihood, and their spiritual life closely revolves around them. This is expressed in their figurines, which are intimately connected to their ancestors and the natural environment. The Mah Meri believe that there are two forms, the good and the bad. Therefore, various ceremonies are conducted as a sign of respect and to appease the spirits or unseen beings, believed to be responsible for structuring as well as meting out punishment on their lives.
Two of the most important ceremonies of the Mah Meri are the Hari Moyang (Ancestors’ Day) and Puja Pantai (Beach Ceremony). We are very fortunate that the Mah Meri has allowed visitors to see and participate in these two ceremonies.
Directly translated as Ancestors’ Day, Hari Moyang is one of the most important and biggest festivals celebrated by the Mah Meri community living in Carey Island, Klang. The Mah Meri explained that this festival is celebrated 30 days after Chinese New Year, because they also observe the lunar calendar.
Hari Moyang is celebrated in three locations, which are the house of Moyang Gadeng (who looks after the central part of the village), Moyang Amai (who looks after the areas on the fringes of the village), and Moyang Keteng (who looks after the areas at the northernmost parameters of the village). For the Mah Meri who live near the coast, this ceremony will be conducted on the beach and called Puja Pantai.
Moyang in the context of the Mah Meri refer to their ancestors and also their natural environment. The ancestors who are supposed to be present at Hari Moyang are Moyang Getah, Moyang Melur, Moyang Tok Naning, Moyang Bojos, and Moyang Tok Pekong Cina.
These ancestors are believed to protect the community’s happiness and are also capable of punishment. Thus, the Mah Meri believe in revering and appeasing them. The Mah Meri’s famous statuettes, carved in the form of figurines and masks, are closely connected to their ancestors and environment, and the statuettes’ names are derived from the more famous ancestors.
Here are photos from the Hari Moyang Festival in the form of a slide show:
I followed the Mah Meri’s customs and received blessings at the Rumah Moyang, and left a Bunga Moyang on the giant cone in front of the building to pay my respects to the ancestors.
Photo by Kathleen Poon
Photo by Kathleen Poon
The Mah Meri’s mask carvings are inspired by their spiritual beliefs and the natural environment, and display their artistic and abstract imagination. The carvings are based mainly on myths and legends.
Here are some of the interesting and enigmatic large masks hanging outside the walls of the Mah Meri Museum in the Mah Meri Cultural Village, Carey Island:
The masks are used in ritual dancing when worshiping their ancestors’ spirits. The masks are worn to represent the ancestors, who are believed to have extraordinary powers, and also believed to have been outstanding public figures during their lifetimes. The following are photos of some of the prominent masks inside the museum.
Here are some of my favourite figurines from the Mah Meri Museum.
The story of Moyang Puting Beliong revolves around a family with seven children. The youngest daughter became the spirit of a cyclone (puting beliong).
The story of Moyang Buaya was about a grieving man who vowed to become a crocodile when his brother disappeared in the river.
The origin of Moyang Pelandok was quite sinister and rooted in meting out punishment. A man was cursed into become Moyang Pelandok because he was always lying.
The legend of Moyang Sempuar revolved around a story of doom and gloom – a man drowned in the sea because he was taken by Moyang Sempuar.
The legend of Moyang Galak is somewhat similar to the story line of some of today’s horror movies. It was about the story of a child disturbed by Moyang Galak.
Meanwhile, on a positive note, Moyang Sauh is the guardian of fishermen who ensures that their anchor will never get stuck.
I have collated photos of the more interesting and captivating carvings from the Mah Meri Museum and Mah Meri Cultural Village in the form of a slide show:
Special 3D Origami
I was really touched that the Mah Meri let us view and participate in their festival, and I truly enjoyed the cultural experience. I found their masks, attire and intricate 3D origami particularly interesting.
Their origami is environmentally friendly and 100% biodegrable because they are made from Nipah palm (Nypa fruticans) leaves.
After the Hari Moyang ceremony, we were given the opportunity to learn how to make some of the basic origami.
Here are some of the 3D origami that I liked the most, which reminded me of hanging mobiles:
All in all, I had a lovely time with the Mah Meri community at their Hari Moyang Festival. Before we left, the villagers provided us with a hearty lunch as well, after which our group went back to Kuala Lumpur in the LokaLocal van.
I would love to come back again the following year, and will be looking forward to experiencing next year’s Puja Pantai.
In September 2017, I volunteered with the Nature Guides for the first time, helping them to conduct nature walks in the gardens of Carcosa Seri Negara, as part of the Jalan Merdeka programme in conjunction with Malaysia’s Independence Day 2017 celebrations. I wrote an article about my experience, and it was published in the Pencinta Alam November 2017 issue.
Here is the article, as published in the newsletter. Pencinta Alam is the national monthly newsletter of the Malaysian Nature Society.
Here is the text version for easy reading:
On the Trail as a Nature Guide
Article by Khor Hui Min
Photos by Angeline Siok and Norazmir Mustapha
In all the years I have been a member and volunteer of the Malaysian Nature Society, I had never volunteered to be a nature guide. I had joined various walks conducted by nature guides once in a while, and found it interesting. The wealth of information about nature, beneficial plants and animals the nature guides had was enough to fill volumes of books, I imagined.
At last in September 2017, I finally volunteered myself to assist the nature guides to conduct walks as part of the Jalan Merdeka programme at Carcosa Seri Negara.
I missed the initial briefing for volunteers on 19 August due to other commitments, but reported for duty on 16 September, which was Malaysia Day.
‘Jalan Merdeka – Traversing the routes to Merdeka’ was an exhibition on our country’s journey towards Merdeka from 1896 to 1957, showcasing the historical Carcosa and Seri Negara buildings, which were next to the Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur. Jalan Merdeka was organised by the Asian Heritage Museum, and ran from 1 September till 31 October 2017.
Being a nature guide is not easy. There are a lot of plants and trees to recognise and remember, and we have to memorise their special qualities, medicinal uses, as well as other interesting facts, all of which are supposed to be interesting to the visitors joining the walks. After my briefing on 16 September, I could only remember half the plants, to my disappointment.
After some revision, and following on guided tours conducted by seasoned nature guides, with notes in hand, I finally conducted my first tour on 22 September, which was the following weekend. I was finally like, “What the heck. Just do it.”
It went rather well, which was a pleasant surprise for me. The large group of visitors, consisting of a mixed crowd of nature enthusiasts and casual drop-in visitors to the
exhibitions at Carcosa Seri Negara, spread out rather too much somewhere in the middle of the walk, so I had to wait for the people at the back to catch up with the people in front, but the weather was good for a walk, and I thought they rather enjoyed the fresh air and their morning exercise.
There was no prepared script, and we decided whether to share more detailed information or stick to the basics, or even shorten the walk, depending on the interest
shown by the visitors who joined each walk and whether they were in a hurry. Furthermore, I was not naturally good at public speaking, and did not need to speak to
customers at work, so this volunteer opportunity took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to talk (albeit rather loudly) to strangers. Thus, it was an opportunity
for personal growth and development, which was beneficial to me.
By taking the effort to recognise and remember plants, their flowers and fruits, and to memorise interesting information about them, I learnt so much more about our
garden plants over two weekends than I had ever done so in school. All in all, it was a good learning experience for me, I enjoyed spending time with the nature guides,
and I would definitely do it again.
In early September 2017, I joined a photography trip to Kuala Kurau, Perak organised by the Selangor Branch Photogroup of the Malaysian Nature Society. I then wrote an article about it, and it was published in the October issue of the Pencinta Alam, which was the national newsletter of the Malaysian Nature Society.
Here is the article published in the newsletter:
Here is the article text in plain HTML format:
Photographing Fishing Villages, Paddy Fields and Wildlife By Khor Hui Min
The last time I joined a photography trip organised by the MNS Selangor Branch Photogroup was many years ago. We took photos for Dr. Ruth Kiew’s plant book in 2010. At that time, I did not have a DSLR camera yet, and the coordinator Alex Foong was wondering aloud when I was going to get one.
Then, in early 2017, I bumped into Alex Foong in Ikea, of all places. He asked me if I had sent in photos to be considered for the first-ever Photogroup exhibition at WhiteBox, Publika in June 2017. I said that even though I had put it into the Pencinta Alam while editing it, I had forgotten about the deadline. I asked him when the deadline was, and he said the deadline had already passed, but the committee was still looking for more photos to add to the pool for consideration. Please send by tomorrow, he said. So, I went home and looked inside the folders of my hard disk and managed to find a few to submit. Three were selected for the exhibition and the rest was history.
The natural progression of things led me to join a photography trip to Kuala Kurau (8-10 Sept), organised by KK, George and Alex. The trip had about 24 participants, mostly with assorted DSLRs. Our trip started with a visit to the Taiping Zoo and Lake Gardens. Although it rained at the zoo, I was lucky enough to get a few good shots of the beautiful animals, before the rain became too heavy. My favourites for the day were the Baby Hippo, Crowned Crane, Flamingos, African Spoonbill, Milky Stork, Juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron, Lions, Axis Deer, Bawean Deer and Sambar Deer.
After we all arrived at the meeting point, we proceeded to Kurau Inn Homestay, which was about an hour’s drive from Lake Gardens. It was a lovely place to stay in the middle of a traditional village and surrounded by paddy fields. My room upstairs was spacious and had nice comfortable beds, fans, air-con, as well as a little pantry with electric kettle, mugs, forks and spoons, mini fridge, small dining table and chairs. The common area upstairs was big and airy, and our trip participants would gather for evening chit-chat after dinner there.
The next day, we drove out at 6.15am to set up our tripods for a sunrise photo shoot at the nearby bridge. In fact, we set up on both mornings there, but since it was the rainy season, there was thick cloud cover that blocked most of the sunrise. It was nice on the bridge, and I particularly enjoyed the blue hour before the sunrise. Besides setting up to snap photos of the sunrise, we also busied ourselves taking photos of the fishing village lining the river on both sides of the bridge, the fishing boats and the fish cages floating in the middle of the river.
On the first evening, we went to the seaside to take photos of the sunset. Instead, we took photos of dark thunderstorm clouds rolling in and flashes of lightning. In the waning light of the setting sun, I thought the landscape was really dramatic, accentuated by the strong winds. I loved it.
Other highlights of the trip included snapping photos of smelly salted fish as they dried in the sun along the road, and salted eggs in the Joo Hong Chan salted egg factory.
On the last day, we visited a small cockle processing plant beside a river in Kuala Gula, but since it was Sunday, it was closed. I entertained myself by snapping photos of the docked boats and makeshift jetties, while most of the group had a discussion with the boss of the cockle processing plant.
Last but not least, it would not be a great Photogroup trip without endless varieties of food, to which we owe KK our thanks. We sampled the hawker food of Kuala Kurau for breakfast and lunch, and enjoyed delicious pre-ordered seafood dinners beside the river.
All in all, it was an enjoyable and productive photo trip, with great company and wonderful food. I shall look forward to future Photogroup trips.
Once in a while, I feel like I want to go travelling alone. The first time I did it was a trip to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah in April 2016. Mesilau Highlands in Kundasang was awesome, and I loved the view of Mount Kinabalu (but not enough to want to climb it. LOL). Poring Hot Springs and Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park were also wonderful.
So, what’s next? It has been over a year. I decided to take a bus ride to Cameron Highlands, Pahang. I go to Cameron Highlands every year with my parents and brother, but this would be the first time I would be going alone.
Where do I stay? Since I am going to be walking around, it has to be a location accessible on foot, and not too far from town and the bus station. I went to check out places to stay in Tripadvisor and Booking.com.
Since I had a great time with my first homestay/B&B experience in Taiwan in 2015, I thought it would be nice to stay in a B&B again. Finally, I found Do Chic In at Tanah Rata, next to Heritage Hotel. It is ranked the #1 B&B in Tanah Rata by Tripadvisor. In fact, it was awarded Traveller’s Choice for five years in a row (2013 – 2017) by Tripadvisor too. It has a superb rating of 9.0 in Booking.com. Best of all, it had a discounted rate for single travellers.
My room had 2 single beds. It was a corner room, so it had windows on two sides. Both had views of greenery. The theme was purple, one of my favourite colours. The mattresses and pillows were firm and clean.
The apartment was like a semi-D apartment. It consisted of two units side by side, with the dividing wall removed. Everything was neat and tidy. The whole apartment was very clean, and a lot of thought had been put into the arrangements and decorations. Nothing was out of place. There was not a speck of dust to be found.
The hosts, Jaycee and Jezzica, prepare breakfast every morning between 7am and 10am for the guests. Every day, we will get something different, and it will be a delightful surprise.
On Saturday morning, we were served French toast with fresh slices of mango and dragonfruit.
On Sunday morning, we enjoyed cheesy omelette on toast, and banana and peanut butter toast, with mango and dragonfruit. The breakfast every morning was made with much care, love and attention to detail. I felt it was this care, love and dedication that made Jaycee and Jezzica’s B&B such a wonderful success year after year.
Located on a hill on the fringe of Tanah Rata town, it is far enough to be away from the noise and the traffic congestion of the main road, but near enough to the shops and restaurants.
It is an excellent place to stay – quiet, clean and comfortable. The tranquil atmosphere and nice scenery will be a relaxing treat for city folks needing an escape from work stress. 😉
The hosts are really nice people. They helped me to buy my return bus ticket to KL, and also helped me to book a half-day tour to visit the mossy forest and Sungai Palas tea plantation. The tour was conducted by Eco Cameron, which had trained and certified guides.
They also recommended places to eat, and I particularly liked Singh Chapati Urban Restaurant, at Brij Court.
Do Chic In has many international travellers frequenting it, and while I was there, there was a couple from Spain, another from the Czech Republic, and another from Switzerland. It felt like a mini United Nations, or rather European Union. It was nice to have such a varied group, and I would usually see them at breakfast time. 🙂
All in all, I had a memorable time, and I would recommend Do Chic In to anybody wanting to stay in a nice B&B in a quiet place with friendly and helpful hosts.
And yes, I would gladly come back to stay again here. 😀
In December 2016, I went to Kuala Sepetang with my dad, mum and brother. I did not select the fishing village photos till a few weeks ago for uploading. For this series, I chose to have the village and boat photos in black and white.
My dad loves to draw watercolour paintings of fishing villages, which is why we visit various fishing villages throughout Malaysia quite often, and you can see some of his paintings at his blog, Colours of Heritage.
Kuala Sepetang is a coastal town located in Perak, Malaysia. It was formerly known as Port Weld, named after a former governor, Frederick Weld. It is located approximately 72 km to the north-west of Ipoh city, the capital of Perak state.
Part of the Larut, Matang and Selama Districts, Kuala Sepetang is a thriving fishing village, and the place where you can board a boat to Pulau Sangga, and visit the fish cage culture sites, which float on the river. There is a thriving Chinese fishing community at the river mouth which specializes in fish farming in cages.
Historically, Kuala Sepetang was well-known because it was part of the first railway line of Malaya. The railway line was 12.8km long and was mainly used to carry tin from mines from Taiping to Kuala Sepetang, so that they could be transported overseas through the port.
The old Taiping railway station was built at the location where the King Edward VII Primary School is presently located, while the Kuala Sepetang railway station was constructed in Port Weld. The railway was launched in 1885 and served for 70 years before being terminated and dismantled by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM). To read more about the history and legends of the railway, click here.
The Port Weld railway station was located at the centre of town. Now, only the ticketing booth and the Port Weld railway signboard remain to remind us of the golden age of tin mining in the little town.
Today, Kuala Sepetang is a thriving tourist attraction. In fact, it is one of must-visit places in Perak. There are lots of things to do and see, and they can be summarised as follows:
Visit Khay Hor Charcoal Factory
Visit the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve, the largest mangrove forest reserve in Malaysia
Visit the 131-year-old train station sign
Eat prawn noodles
Eat curry noodles
Take a boat ride
Visit Pulau Sangga
Visit a fish farm
Go eagle watching
Go dolphin watching
See the fireflies
Although Kuala Sepetang is no longer the important port town where tin was transported from Taiping via the first railway, and then shipped overseas, it thrives today because of its various cottage industries, fish farming and tourism. I hope the place will maintain its old fishing village charm for many decades to come. 🙂
I went to the Malaysian Nature Society Selangor Branch’s Volunteer Appreciation Day at Ulu Tupai, Taiping last weekend, 20-21 May 2017. We stayed at the Ulu Tupai Waterfall Homestay for a night. It was a quaint little cluster of traditional wooden village houses on stilts located right next to a large and pristine waterfall.
I spent the time dunking myself in the waterfall, and chasing after dragonflies and butterflies with my camera. I took only macro shots on this trip.
I decided to let my phone die and went off the grid. No phone. No Internet. It was the best way to chill out, de-stress and relax, while catching up with old friends and making new ones.
It was awesome to just dunk myself in the freezing cold water at the waterfall for 2 days. A bit of yoga practice was a welcome treat. I also did grounding meditation to align my energies with the earth’s energies. I like it because I am close to nature, and it helps to give a calming, refreshed and peaceful effect.
We went to the Night Safari at the Taiping Zoo for the first time and seemed to have walked for a few hours, following the guide on foot. The last time I visited Taiping Zoo was many years ago, but I always remembered the animals to be beautiful and well fed. Their coats were glossy and they came when our guide called out to them. They were healthy and well taken care of.
While others went for a late night herping hike after returning from the zoo, I decided to catch up on my sleep, right next to the window. I drifted off lulled by the therapeutic sound of the waterfall. Luckily, I did not go herping, because people came back with five or six leech bites. :-O
Ulu Tupai Waterfall Homestay is accessible only via 4WD, because of the condition of the roads. Perhaps because of the difficult accessibility, the waterfalls remains pristine and unpolluted.
The flow of water is not too strong, making it ideal for visitors to dip in the shallow pools. Beautiful rocks frame the waterfall, making it an attractive place for photography. All in all, a visit to the waterfalls is a pleasant experience.
I spent hours taking photos of dragonflies, butterflies and water striders (pond skaters). When I arrived at the rocks, the dragonflies and butterflies all sped off. I had to sit down and wait for them to get used to me. I wanted to become another piece of the landscape. Then, after a while, the dragonflies started to come closer, and finally landed in front of me.
The water striders a.k.a. pond skaters were not easy either. When I inched closer, they would move faster. Back and forth, like clockwork. Their speed increased with my increase in proximity.
On the other hand, a tiny little brown butterfly perched on my arm for a long time. It would not leave even when I prodded it gently with a finger. So, I just left it there and snapped photos of it from time to time, holding the camera in my right hand and steadying the lens on my left upper arm.
I was glad I joined the VAD trip to Ulu Tupai. It was an awesome experience in a beautiful place, and I test out the theory that I did not have to do EVERYTHING and be busy all the time in order to be happy (first brought up by Low last year). It was true. Just relaxing surrounded by nature, taking photos, swimming in the natural waterfall pool, enjoying chit-chat with fellow volunteers in nature made my weekend a fantastic getaway from the city. ❤ ❤ ❤
In mid-January 2017, I attended a week-long self-discovery, life transformation and success in life programme – the first of this kind of programme I have ever attended. One year ago, I would not have entertained the idea of joining such a programme, but in December 2016, I decided to take a leap of faith. I thought – I should try something new, something different. Maybe it will be good for me.
So, I signed up for Awaken the Divine You, conducted by Master Umesh, the founder of The Golden Space (Malaysia). I like the universal and non-religious concept of the programme and the centre, where people from all walks of life are welcome, regardless of background, ethnicity and beliefs. It was different and interesting, and definitely beneficial. I felt that I have grown and improved on Hui Min version 1.0. Perhaps Hui Min 2.0 should be in the works? 😉 So would I recommend other people to take the same leap of faith? Well, yes! Why not? Never try, never know.
After the programme, I wrote a poem entitled ‘When did we meet?‘ Hope you enjoy reading it. 🙂
When did we meet?
When you walked past
Busy going about your lives
When did you stop to think last
Why the man leaning against the wall
Looked familiar, in a city so vast?
Jostling for space, shoulder to shoulder
In buses and trains, living life at a frantic pace
Did you wonder about the woman sitting yonder
Where did you see her last?
Was she from your school, did you ever ponder?
Busy about our lives; having time for nothing
To the point of eclipsing all else
What is that something that is missing?
The elusive feeling that you just can’t describe
That makes you lie awake at night thinking
Perhaps he was a brother’s long lost friend
Out of sight, out of mind?
Perhaps she was really an old school friend
Hidden somewhere in the recesses of memory
So busy in this city; till we’ve forgotten our friends?
Maybe he was a brother in a past life
Many millennia ago
Maybe she was a sister lifetimes past, or a wife
Although of different colours and beliefs
Our destinies are inextricably interwoven in life
Hidden in the quiet town of Chemor, Perak is a gem of a temple. Set up by a schoolteacher, the Confucius Temple of Seen Hock Yeen is well-known for bringing luck to students who are going to sit for exams. However, it is also a place for one to dispel bad luck in other areas of life, as well as to make wishes.
The entrance seems commonplace among temples, until you go into the temple grounds hidden inside. The pond, bridges and temple buildings all come together to create a most serene and beautiful landscape.
I would like to point out that this is the only temple where my photos turned out more beautiful than the view that my eyes feasted upon, and that is unusual indeed.
First-time visitors should come to the temple on either Friday, Saturday or Sunday, because that is when the tour groups from Perak, Selangor, and even as far north as Kedah and Perlis come to visit the blessed temple. When the tour groups visit, there will be guided tours led by the temple volunteers, with detailed explanations provided about the temple’s history.
If you are in luck, as we were, the founder of the temple herself will provide the opening introduction about the temple’s background and lead the first prayers for your personal well-being and that of your loved ones as well.
Visitors will be led to each deity or temple building, and guided on how to perform their prayers or share their wishes with their favourite deity, step by step. Confucius, being a famous sage who was highly respected in China, has been elevated to the status of a prominent deity here. Visitors also pay homage to the Goddess of Mercy and Buddha.
At one point, there is a bridge to cross to dispel calamities, where one must remain quiet, and only look to the left. Of course, one should not look back or turn around too!
The temple also collects donations for the needy all year around, especially single mothers who have to take care of their young children. This was the first temple I have come across that focused on helping single mothers, which is very good of the founder and volunteers.
The twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac are also featured here, in the form of twelve golden statues, and people were encouraged to pet their corresponding Zodiac animal, from head to tail, for good luck. 😉
There was even a bunch of cute little puppies, and the children were delighted to see them.
The highlight of the visit to the temple was the sudden appearance of a pretty rainbow near the pond, and I had the good fortune of taking multiple photos of it. In the warm light of the period before sunset, it was the most lovely view I have seen in Malaysia in 2016. 😀
The 2nd Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Human Capital Summit was organised to bring together senior representatives from the government, business sector, academia and training providers to discuss the key issues facing human capital development in Malaysia, with the intention of charting the way forward for the nation.
I was fortunate to be able to attend the summit on 25 May 2016 at Sunway Putra Hotel Kuala Lumpur. It was an interesting and eye-opening experience for me, and it provided valuable insights into the state of human capital and the mismatch between human capital demand and the supply provided by the institutions of higher learning.
Supply vs. Demand
As the day progressed and respected speakers took to the stage one by one to share their knowledge and observations, a marked trend emerged. Firstly, parents, teachers and school counsellors all prioritised professional qualifications such as medical and engineering degrees, and pushed students and their own children towards achieving success in professions which they thought were superior, until there is now a surplus of degree holders, but a significant shortage in skilled and technical specialisations. So, what sort of human capital do we actually need?
“Annually, 100,000 youth do not enrol in any tertiary programme after SPM. Not even certificate courses,” said Associate Professor Elajsolan Mohan, President of the National Association of Private Educational Institutions (NAPEI) during the CEO panel discussion. “To compound the issue, career counsellors in schools are not updated about the prime areas of human capital demand.”
He added, “The top area of demand is currently the manufacturing sector. There is a real and growing demand for Technical and Vocational Education (TVET) graduates.”
The graduate unemployment statistics he presented drove the point home. Among fresh graduates (with degrees), 31% are now unemployed, of which 43% are from the Arts and Social Sciences. Meanwhile, 25% were from Technical, 20% from Science, 4% from Education, and 8% from ICT.
Top 15 job sectors that are most sought after by applicants in Malaysia since 2011
RANKING BY YEAR (By Average Applicants)
Oil & Gas
Financial & Banking
Manufacturing – SemiCon
Manufacturing – E&E
Manufacturing – Production
(Source: Associate Professor Elajsolan Mohan’s slides)
Top 15 job sectors in Malaysia since 2011
Manufacturing – Production
Financial & Banking
Wholesale & Retail
Manufacturing – E&E
Oil & Gas
(Source: Associate Professor Elajsolan Mohan’s slides)
Mohan also shared with us what employers are saying about graduates these days:
68% of graduates are asking for unrealistic salaries
With 30% asking for a whopping starting salary of RM6,500 (no wonder they are unemployed!)
59% exhibit poor attitude or character
64% do not have a good level of English
60% lacked communication skills
“Employers also felt that fresh graduates lacked adaptability, multitasking ability and decision-making skills,” he added. So, university students and fresh graduates have to take note to improve on these important areas to raise their level of employability.
What can be done?
“The universities are not supposed to produce 100% employable graduates,” said Mr. Tay Kay Luan, Chief Executive of the Asian Institute of Chartered Bankers, who provided a realistic viewpoint.
“A workable approach is the 70:20:10 rule, which is 70% effective learning on the job, 20% coaching and mentoring, and 10% training and certification,” Mr. Tay explained. Created by three researchers and authors working with the Centre for Creative Leadership in the 1980s, the 70:20:10 model for learning and development is a common proven formula within the training profession.
Daniel Bernbeck, the Executive Director of the Malaysian-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was invited to provide some advice because Germany was well-respected as a developed nation where industries flourished.
“Originally, what is Germany today was a collection of small kingdoms, and they all did things differently. Even until today, 80% of Germany still consists of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs),” said Bernbeck, providing some historical information. “To standardise everything, guilds and chambers of industry were set up. They, in turn, set the standards, and ensured the commitment to the standards was upheld.”
Bernbeck further elaborated, “The onus is on private companies in industries, and TVET training is provided by the companies themselves. Students spend two days in classes and three days working as apprentices in the company every week. They are fruitfully employed, are paid for work done, and have a three-year apprenticeship contract. Now, the latest trend is to move the classroom into the company itself, because education cannot keep up with the developments in industry fast enough.”
However, when asked how Malaysia can emulate the successful free education of Germany, Bernbeck gave a candid response. “Germany’s free education is funded by taxes. High income earners can pay up to as much as 53% in taxes.” Gasps of surprise were heard from the audience.
The future of tertiary education
The way forwarded in education was summarised well by Prof. Dr. Ahmad Rafi Mohamed Eshaq, President of Multimedia University, in the final panel discussion, which consisted of representatives from institutions of higher learning. He shared the drivers of change (university of the future) published by Ernst & Young:
Digital technologies is the way forward – blended learning, with a mixture of traditional and digital tools
Integration with industry
Contestability of markets and funding
Democratisation of knowledge and access
Finally, Prof. Wahid Razally, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of University Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia, highlighted that TVET instructors as well as graduates needed to be provided ample avenues for their continual growth and development in institutions of higher learning.
“TVET graduates can work in a company for 20 years and remain exactly the same. Universities should provide higher TVET courses to offer the chance for them to upgrade and develop themselves further, even to Master or PhD level,” said Prof. Wahid Razally.
It was a thought-provoking day, and it was hoped that participants took back new knowledge and fresh insights to their companies and organisations, to better inform them of the actual trends in the nation’s human capital developments, and how to address the significant mismatch between demand and supply.
A shorter version of this article was published in Lakeviews Issue #48. Lakeviews is the bulletin of the Rotary Club of Lake Gardens, District 3300.
Citation: Khor Hui Min (2016). Revving up the nation’s driving force. Lakeviews Issue #48. Kuala Lumpur: Rotary Club of Lake Gardens (District 3300).