A conversation at the hospital

By Zairil Khir Johari | 7 December, 2011
The Rocket

The most noticeable difference in experience between a private and a public hospital is the fact that in the former, the waiting room is air-conditioned. Other than that, the unavailability of parking lots, infinitesimal queue numbers and staff members adept at ignoring your eye contact are all characteristic of Malaysian hospitals, no matter how much you pay.

“Sometimes I wonder why we pay more for such service?”

I turned towards the source of the unsolicited comment. He was middle-aged, middle-class and probably undergoing a mid-life crisis judging from the way his hair was carefully combed to cover a bald patch. I smiled.

“My wife is here for a check-up,” he said, glancing in the direction of a neatly-dressed lady with an exasperated expression that said there he goes again.

I nodded politely. “Apa khabar, Auntie?”

“Baik, Alhamdulillah,” came her polite response.

“We’ve been coming to this hospital for thirty years. Our three children were all born here,” continued the man as if he was never interrupted.

“That’s a really long time,” I remarked. “Are you originally from KL?”

“No, no. I’m from a small kampong in Perak.”

“Ah, is that so? Your English is very fluent for someone from a small kampong.”

“Well, of course! I went to Anderson. At the very least, our teachers made sure that we could speak well.” Somehow the mention of schools got him a little excited. “My parents were poor, but I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to continue my secondary education at Anderson in Ipoh.”

Now that his interest had been piqued, I decided to press on. “Do you think that it made a difference, the fact that you went to an English school?”

He looked at me like I was from another planet. “Of course, young man. We are shaped by our education. Some of my best friends until today are from my schooling days. We had friends from all races then. It was never an issue like it is today.”

“But is it because of the language, or just the current education system?”

He shrugged. “I guess it’s both. Schools today are worlds apart from what they used to be. For a kampong boy like me, to be able to advance my studies in America, that was really something. And that would not have been possible if my education did not prepare me for it.”

“Which part of the States were you at?”

“California. San Francisco. Beautiful place. I even had an American girlfriend for a while.” He chuckled, throwing a quick glance at his wife. “But it really opened my eyes. You know when I first went there, hardly anyone knew where Malaysia was. I was a novelty, and people there were really impressed that I could speak English so well. It was very easy for me to fit in.”

“So mastering English definitely made a difference?”

“Completely. It’s a shame how it is today though. My batch was the last to undergo the English stream. This was in the seventies. The politicians then decided to abolish English schools. You-know-who had of course just taken over the ministry of education.”

I nodded. “The grand old man himself.”

“And then today he regrets that Malaysians are unable to keep up with the rest of the world. The fact is, we have lost at least two generations of Malaysians. And it’s not just about English. Everything went downhill from then on.

To give you an example, my eldest daughter, who recently graduated from UiTM, recently got herself a job with a starting pay of RM2,000. Believe it or not, that was about how much my starting pay was 30 years ago after I came back from the States!”

I shook my head. “That’s what I call income stagnation.”

“Opportunity for them is now very limited, and the education system is not preparing them for the real world. Sometimes I really worry for my kids. They all went to national schools, and I can tell you schools today are not even half the standards they were during my day. As I said, it’s not just the level of English that is declining, but the overall quality of education. Have you looked at the history syllabus today? At least you can’t say they’re not good at writing fiction.”

I nodded in agreement. Even in the last decade, the content of our history textbooks have evolved so much that I would probably think I was reading the history of a different country. “So what’s your take on the whole PPSMI issue?”

“Teaching of mathematics and science in English? I think PPSMI is symptomatic of a larger problem. The fact that it was even introduced in the first place is proof that something is already terribly wrong. But to me, it’s too little too late. As I said, we have lost two generations because of unnecessary politicking.

The whole world has not only caught up, but is leaving us behind. Even in China, English has become mandatory in primary schools. This was a comparative advantage that we had a long time ago. And what did we do? We allowed politicians to experiment with our future. The PPSMI flip-flop is the best example of arbitrary political decision-making.”

I threw a glance at the number on display and looked at the ticket I had in my hand. Like the Malaysian education system, I still had a long way to go. I returned my attention to the conversation.

“And so you feel that there is too much political interference in our education system? Is that the main problem?”

“Look, let’s put it this way. Becoming education minister automatically gives you control over millions of Malaysians, both teachers and students. This kind of power is double-edged, and if used irresponsibly, can result in disaster.

Unfortunately, most people in those shoes would immediately utilise it to advance their own political agenda. That’s why ever since the seventies, education ministers always assume the mantle of nationalist champions, at the expense of our kids.”

“So perhaps a solution is to reduce the power of politicians in education policymaking? What about separating the education department from the ministry, or at the very least disengaging the examinations board, the inspectors board and the syllabus regime from the purview of the minister?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, it’s not my job to come up with answers. But I think that it would be a step in the right direction. Although if I were education minister, I think my priority would be to bring back English schools.”

I weighed that for a moment. “Do you really think that would solve anything?”

“You can’t solve everything, but as far as improving English and increasing the attractiveness of national schools is concerned, then bringing back the English stream would be able to address both.

Think about it. It’s not a coincidence that all the great Malaysian schools were English schools, and that all the great Malay leaders were products of those schools. MCKK, STAR, Sultan Abdul Hamid College, Victoria Institution, English College Johor Bahru and so on.”

As he finished his sentence, his wife began gesturing impatiently. “Ah, our number’s up. Finally. Anyway, it was nice talking to you.”

“Likewise.” I shook his hand. “Take care.”

“You too, and think seriously about it. Bring back the English stream. After all, it’s what your father would do.”

I froze, totally caught by surprise.

He grinned as he got up. “Old people like me read The Malaysian Insider too, you know.” –The Rocket

  1. #1 by dagen on Thursday, 8 December 2011 - 6:12 pm

    Full english medium school? Yes definitely!

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Thursday, 8 December 2011 - 6:31 pm

    One national language (BM) and two official languages (BM and English) would be ideal, I think.

  3. #3 by country for good malaysian on Thursday, 8 December 2011 - 8:28 pm

    I am from a small kampong too and attended primary school in the early sixties. Of course back then it was SRJK English. I just do not understand why our politicians do away with this SRJK English ! Everything was nicely setup by our forefathers. Why on earth our politicians do away with it!

  4. #4 by Jong on Thursday, 8 December 2011 - 10:43 pm

    Zairil Khir Johari, LOL!!! Once you are in politics, you are public property! Yes, that’s what your old man would do.

  5. #5 by drngsc on Thursday, 8 December 2011 - 11:23 pm

    For 54 years, we were only a democracy in name. In the 80s we allow all the democratic checks and balances be destroyed. Anyone taking over from this useless UMNO / BN lot has alot of catching up to do. We need to separate politics from judiciary, politics from business, politics from education, politics from race, politics from law enforcement, politics from religion and politics from healthcare.

    Better get started. Better late than never.

    We need to change the tenant at Putrajaya. GE 13 is our best chance. Failure is not an option. We must work very very hard. It can be done.

  6. #6 by monsterball on Friday, 9 December 2011 - 3:40 am

    I only know…government hospitals are flooded with freshly graduated doctors .. walking freely around and checking patients…and not following a senior qualified doctor to learn things..as it should be.
    For cases where patients need real professional experiences and equipments…one die faster in government hospitals that private one.
    And the poor has no choice.

  7. #7 by drngsc on Friday, 9 December 2011 - 9:16 am

    Since Zairil did not dwell on it, I did not wish to elaborate on this chronic Malaysian Public Hospital problem.
    Since monsterball raise the point, I thought that I will tell you what I know, as I see it.
    Firstly, there are many good doctors ( I only know the senior ones ) still in public service, working under very challenging conditions, trying to resist the push from public hospitals. Athough it has often been said that doctors leave public service to private, because of the pull of the ringgit, but that is not always true. Many also leave service because of the push from public service. The push can be very strong when you see your juniors promoted on “kulification” criteria, and when they are your boss, they exert their position on you, their seniors. It can be very trying.
    Secondly, has it ever occurred to you all, that the poor service in public service is not by default but by design. Private hospitals ( 90% owned by GLCs), are doing well, because public hospitals provide bad service. If the government of the day decides to improve public service, then private hospitals will have to compete, and that is possible, by increasing the healthcare budget from 4.75% of GDP to the OECD / WHO recommended level of 8-9% of GDP. The mass production of doctors by our 30+ medical schools ( I have lost count ), only means not enough practical training for HOs, which means they cannot stand on their feet as MOs, which means all cases besides cough and cold from district clinics are referred to General Hospitals, which means overcrowding in GH and long queques. These can all be control by MOH. We have HO going on call once of twice a week ( we were on call every other day during our time ). How can they learn anything? To add to the problem, senior doctors in Public Hospitals spend a considerable amount of time coming to Putrajaya for meetings, and also to follow VIPs overseas. Sometimes they are in and out of their hospitals every other month. And when senior doctors are not available, no clinical decision can be made and so the patient is asked to come back for review again in 3 – 6 months. These are all admin work that need not involve clinicians. Remember, private hospitals are thriving, because the government does not wish to control the, and because the public service is allowed to stagnate, maybe by design.
    The whole health system need to be revamp, NOT transformed. Much improvement is needed.

    We need to change the tenant at Putrajaya. GE 13 is our best chance. failure is not an option. We must all work very very hard. It can be done.

  8. #8 by k1980 on Friday, 9 December 2011 - 9:18 am


    Hasnoor Sidang Hussein dipetik dalam akhbar-akhbar berkenaan dan Malaysiakini sebagai berkata parti komponen BN perlu menyerahkan kepada Umno semua kerusi yang mereka tidak yakin untuk menang dalam pilihan raya umum baru-baru ini.

    Hasnoor juga berkata bahawa MCA dan Gerakan tidak boleh memenangi kerusi tertentu di Pulau Pinang dan mereka perlu menyerahkan kerusi berkenaan kepada Umno.

    Why are those ‘heroes’ in mca and gerakan keeping so quiet over this grave insult from umno? Why are those bn ‘coordinators’ from Penang such as Lok Poh Chai, Koay Kar Hua, and so on not raising a whimper of protest? Because they are afraid of being sacked from their ‘coordinator’ jobs and hence deprieved of a lucrative income?

  9. #9 by Bigjoe on Friday, 9 December 2011 - 9:25 am

    The piece says something very glaring – The Real World is relative yet we have been measuring ourselves in absolute terms – UMNO has grown the economy, made middle income Malays a reality – those are absolutes. The discussion about graduate pay is about relative income. The real measure is what is the real GDP and Vs. the other countries.

    AND even in absolute terms we are failing. A new graduate pay is RM2,000 but the RM is a monetarily destroyed currency. RM2,000 years ago buy a lot more than RM2,000 today – so the graduate pay has actually fallen.

    Look through the article and there is a whole bunch of these. The PPSMI issue is just one thing. Even the last line – the old men can recognize Zairil – most of the young voters who against UMNO/BN, probably can’t.

  10. #10 by dagen on Friday, 9 December 2011 - 9:42 am

    Apologies. Out of topic. Just in case some of you are planning to go x’mas shopping this weekend, do consider coinciding your plan with this –> read on below.

    /// FTM, 8 Dec 2011: PETALING JAYA: The organisers of a protest campaign against the Peaceful Assembly Bill have been forced to change their activity from holding a flashmob to shopping for yellow items this Saturday after a legal threat from the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) management today.

    The organisers of the Free to Assembly campaign were issued legal notice via Facebook today by lawyers representing the KLCC management, stating that they will be applying for a court injunction to stop the flashmob from taking place this Saturday.

    KLCC management – which runs the Suria KLCC shopping complex and the KLCC Park – is claiming that the two previous protest gatherings by the opponents of the Peaceful Assembly Bill have disrupted business operations of the tenants ot KLCC.

    The lawyers for the KLCC management added that it has come to their knowledge that another gathering is to be held this Saturday at the KLCC shopping centre and that this had raised concerns among the tenants.

    The lawyers urged the organisers – seven of whom they had named in their legal letter – to immediately revoke their invitations to others to participate in the gathering.

    They added that they have noted that so far 3,555 people have been invited through the Facebook and have urged the organisers to similarly uninvite these people from gathering.

    The lawyers said that if the organisers failed to do so in 24 hours, they will then take all necessary action, including filing an application for an injunction to restrain the organisers from proceeding with the gathering on Saturday.

    Organisers unmoved, to buy yellow items

    However in an immediate reaction, the organisers said that they will not be stopped from gathering at a public place.

    They also said that the attempt by the KLCC management was perhaps the first time in Malaysia, if not also the world, “where a flashmob is seen as a major threat that warrants a court injunction”.

    “We reject completely the KLCC’s accusation that our gatherings in the KLCC could have had “eroded and impeded the regular shoppers and visitors and members of the public to the premises and thereby disrupted the business operations of [the KLCC’s] tenants”.

    “None of the tenants operate in the KLCC Park. Rather than disrupting their businesses, our friends who attended have supported them by spending in the mall,” they said in a statement today.

    The organisers said that they will not stop inviting their friends to gather public places, adding that they will not respond to the 24-hour notice by the KLCC.

    “They may feel free to apply for court injunction,” said the organisers.

    The organisers said that they will not be calling their gathering as a flashmob but instead will invite their friends to wear yellow and shop for yellow items at the KLCC this Saturday afternoon.

    “Until proven wrong, we believe that Malaysians are also free to take photos with their yellow purchases in front of the beautiful Christmas trees in the KLCC at 2pm without police permits.

    “The Saturday event is therefore renamed as ‘Malaysians Can Go Shopping & Pose with Xmas Trees without Police Permit’,” they said.

    The organisers also said that they will continue to organise creative public gatherings to create awareness of the rigid rules of the Peaceful Assembly Bill. ///

  11. #11 by k1980 on Friday, 9 December 2011 - 10:25 am


    ..he tried to duck responsibility by repeatedly claiming a lack of intent and lack of recollection about key events that led to the firm’s downfall and its scrambled books.

    Legal experts said it was a clear tactic to try to avoid criminal charges…he “never intended” to break rules and had no clue what happened to hundreds of millions of dollars in missing customer money.

    When charged in court, Shahrizook and other umno bankrupts will use the same line of defence as Jon Corzine

  12. #12 by ENDANGERED HORNBILL on Friday, 9 December 2011 - 11:42 am

    Police permits for carolling!!!!!

    I wouldn’t c dame permits if I want to pray, sing, eat or just talk.

    They can put all the hundreds of thousands of christians in prison and feed them daily if they wish.

    Some laws are so “dungooo” (utterly stupid!). UMNO should try legislating that Frenchmen should wear french caps on the streets of Paris. Try that for size, eh? Stupid UMNO.

  13. #13 by k1980 on Friday, 9 December 2011 - 2:04 pm

    Bolehland Christmas carol–

    Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
    had a very shiny nose.
    And if you ever saw him,
    you would even say it glows.

    All of the other reindeer
    used to laugh and call him names.
    They never let poor Rudolph
    join in any reindeer games.

    Then one foggy Christmas Eve
    The police came and say:
    “Rudolph show us your peaceful assembly permit,
    Which you need to apply 30 days ago”

    Then all the reindeer ran away
    as they vamoosed in fear,
    But Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,
    was dragged away to jail!

  14. #14 by the reds on Saturday, 10 December 2011 - 9:14 am

    I am 100% sure that our English level is 100% not up to mark! That’s why Najib’s son goes to States to do his study….Whereas the rest of ordinary Malaysian, like us, stay in Malaysia and get a sub-standard education. When the rich’s sons and daugther comes back from overseas, they will continue to rule us… Yang kaya makin kaya, yang miskin terus miskin… This is Malaysia!

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