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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ten observations about Hamburg

This is probably my last post on Hamburg for a while. These are just some interesting observations I have on Hamburg, which may or may not be agreed upon by others:

#10: I have been informed that there are nearly 50 mosques in Hamburg! One taxi driver who drove one of the speakers to the hotel from the airport said that Hamburg is the place to be for Muslims. I managed to visit two mosques in the city centre, and I can say that Islam is thriving here. One mosque complex even houses a barber shop, a book shop and a restaurant. Aside from being a house of worship, it has the original spirit of the masjid during the time of the Prophet where it is also the hub of activities for the Muslim community.

#9: The Alster (picture at the top) is magnificent! Don't miss a cruise on the Alster Lake when you are in Hamburg. 'Nuff said.

#8: One of my major concerns before going to Hamburg was communication. As I can only speak Malay and English, I wondered if I would have problems communicating in a country which uses German as its main language. Fortunately, my concerns are unfounded because English, to my pleasant surprise, is spoken quite widely here. It is definitely much easier to communicate in Hamburg, compared to when I went to countries like Algeria, Egypt and Japan.

#7: As with most countries, the Germans are very passionate about football. When the German team won their quarter-final tie against Greece, you can hear, literally, their ecstatic cries of joy!

#6: It is quite easy to find halal food. Most of the halal shops in Hamburg are owned by Turkish migrants to Germany. However, there is one halal restaurant not far from the University of Hamburg and the hotel that I stayed in which is owned by a Pakistani. It is called "Balutschi" which serves a very nice chicken briyani dish. I would recommend it for anyone who has the opportunity to go to Hamburg. More information on the restaurant can be found at this link.

#5: Most shops close early. So it is quite difficult to buy things after 6 p.m. and even more difficult after 7 p.m. Then again, this is quite typical of most European cities. Only the Asian shops would close slightly later. When you come from a country like Malaysia, you need to adjust yourselves to the business opening hours in Europe. One cannot assume that every country is like Malaysia where it is easy to find shops that are virtually opened 24 hours a day.

#4: Generally, the city of Hamburg is very clean. The only down side to it is there are graffiti almost everywhere.

#3: Cycling seems to be an important way to get around in Hamburg. I just admire the way people in Hamburg, young and old alike, cycle. In fact, there is a service for people to use public bicycles which can come in handy.

#2: For some strange and unexplainable reason, I find Hamburg has a very familiar feeling to it. The city reminds me of Glasgow. The two cities are very different but somehow I find the air to them have some striking similarities, which unfortunately I cannot put a finger on.

#1: I have always had the perception (perhaps wrongly) that Germans are not friendly. However, throughout my experience in Hamburg, from the time I arrived at the airport until I departed from the airport, everyone I encountered were pleasant, friendly and helpful. The immigration officers at the airport were very friendly (unlike the ones I have encountered at Heathrow), the security officers were polite (unlike the stern and unfriendly-looking ones at most airports that I have been at before), and most people I came across on the streets would smile and say "guten tag" (good day). While I cannot generalise for the rest of Germany, I can certainly say that from my short stay in Hamburg, the Hamburgers (people of Hamburg) are very friendly.

There you go. Ten observations on Hamburg, a city I would not mind going to again if there is an opportunity. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hamburg - Day 4

I am already back in Malaysia as I write this overdue posting on the final day in Hamburg. I was unable to post anything on the final day in Hamburg as the schedule was packed. I had to check out first thing in the morning before attending the conference. Check out time is 11 a.m. in Germany, and I would not be able to check out at that time as I would still be at the conference's venue. I was also unable to check out later since the room was already booked by someone else.

In any case, the final day of the conference went smoothly. Another four Malaysian speakers presented their working papers, including myself. In fact, I was the first to talk, and the topic given to me was "The Role of Diverse Stakeholders in the Malaysian Bioethical Discourse". My PhD supervisor, Professor Datin Dr. Azizan Baharuddin went up next, with her paper entitled "The Role of the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM) in the Malaysian Bioethical Discourse".This was then followed by Datin Dr. Lela Yasmin Mansor's paper on "The National Transplant Resource Centre (NTRC)". All three of us actually shared the same session with another speaker representing UNESCO who took the stage before me.

In the final session of the conference, my colleague from Yayasan Ilmuwan, Muhammad Zaki Ramli presented the preliminary findings of his master's study on "Exposure to Islamic Bioethics among Biomedical Science Students in Malaysia".

All in all, I would say that the conference was a success. The deliberations and discussions were lively. Kudos to the host, the Asien-Afrika-Institut (AAI) of the University of Hamburg for organising this timely conference. On a personal note, I hope that the networking established during the conference would continue and be strengthened. My sincerest thanks to the organiser and sponsors who made my trip to Hamburg possible.

After the conference, I had a bit of time before my flight later that evening. I accompanied Professor Azizan to the city centre as she wanted to find some souvenirs. After that, I went to one of the organisers' home, Dr. Jenny Schreiber, who was kind enough to invite the Malaysian delegation for barbecue. Unfortunately, because three of us had to rush to the airport to catch our flight, we were not able to stay for the barbecue as it was not ready when it was time for us to leave.

It was around this time that my former boss at IKIM who was also a speaker at the conference, Dato' Dr. Ismail Ibrahim received news of the passing of his mother-in-law in Kelantan. The news took everyone by surprise. Fortunately, Dato' and his wife, Datin Hanifat were able to make arrangements for an earlier flight the next morning. (More on this as written by Dato' Dr. Ismail in his blog).

My sincerest condolences to Datin Hanifat and her family for their loss. May Allah SWT bless the soul of her mother. Al-Fatihah.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hamburg - Day 3

At the time of blogging, Germany is celebrating their quarter-final win over Greece in the UEFA European Football Championship 2012. The Germans are very passionate with football and this is very much evident even before kickoff starts at 8:45 p.m. local time. I was in the city centre this afternoon and the anticipation of the match was very apparent. The sound of celebration can be heard from my hotel room even as I type this very sentence.

It is quite easy to be swayed from the actual reason for this posting. I did not originally intend to start off writing about football but the euphoria outside makes for an interesting observation. In any case, today is the second day of the conference at the University of Hamburg. In total, there were 14 papers presented today with three papers presented by Malaysians.

Ustazah Nor Safina Zainal from JAKIM presented her paper entitled "The Malaysian Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) in Relation to Bioethical Discourse". Professor Dato' Dr Ismail Ibrahim from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia presented his paper "Development of Fatwas in Malaysia with Special Attention to Bioethical Issues". Dato' Dr Zaki Morad Mohammad Zaher from Ampang Puteri Specialist Hospital spoke on "The Novel Legislation on Transplantation in Malaysia: How It Emerged and What Problems Arose during the Process".

The second day ended with a forum with the theme "The Future of Islamic Bioethics", and one of the five panellists was Professor Datin Dr. Azizan Baharuddin, the Deputy Director-General of the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia.

It was also an interesting day for me on a personal note. I had the opportunity to meet up with my former classmate between 1983 and 1985. After 27 years, we finally met in person and of all places, in Hamburg. Siti and I were classmates in Sekolah Rendah Seri Tebrau (now Sekolah Kebangsaan Seri Tebrau) in Johor Bahru. In 1985, I moved to Kulim following my father who got transferred there. Siti and her family meanwhile migrated to Hamburg in 1986. The picture below was our school photo taken in 1985. Siti is seated at the far right at the front row while I am standing at the far right at the back row.

Fortunately, because of Facebook, we were kept in touch again a few years back. But as fate would have it,  I am here in Hamburg to attend a conference, and Siti was around for a mini reunion of sorts. Although we met briefly, it certainly brought a nice feeling since the childhood friendship was able to be renewed and refreshed. The photo below shows our brief meeting in Hamburg earlier this afternoon.

I suppose what I blogged some years back do have a ring of truth. Life is like spaghetti. Imagine each of us is a strand of spaghetti in a bowl or a plate. And that strand of spaghetti is the path that we take in our respective lives. There are times when our paths cross one another at different points. There are times when our paths are separated. And yet, there are times when the strands (paths) are so near but yet are apart. I guess that is the beauty of life. No matter how far we go following our own paths, there will be times when our paths will cross again. And from my experience and observation, true friendship stay strong regardless of the length of time that has come to pass.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hamburg - Day 2

The long days of summer has been a distant memory for me, until I experience it again here in Hamburg. It brings about a familiar feeling when the day is much longer than the night. It can be disconcerting if one is experiencing jet lag, but fortunately for me the jet lag has been mild.

My second day in Hamburg is basically spent at the conference held at the University of Hamburg's Guest House. The conference began with the welcoming addresses by the convenors and sponsors of the conference. What fascinates me is the simplicity of the way the conference is run. Minimal formalities, no elaborate ceremonies, no masters of ceremony. Everything was straight forward, short and simple. Within less than half an hour, all the welcoming addresses were done and over with. This is a far cry from the protocol-laden opening ceremonies in Malaysia. While some may disagree with me, I think we can do away with much of the unnecessary aspects of officiating a conference, especially if the conference is academic in nature. If the conference is academic, let's just keep things academic. At least, that is my two-cent worth.

There were seven papers presented today. The only Malaysian speaker today was Dr Muhammed Anis Abdul Wahab of the National Transplant Resource Centre (NTRC). The other speakers were from the United States of America, Oman, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Germany. There were very lively and interesting discussions during the conference focusing on many bioethical and medicoethical issues revolving around the concept of brain death, organ procurement, end of life care, surrogacy and social insurance systems in healthcare. 

On a personal note, I find the discussions stimulating. The nature of the conference, small and semi-formal, contributed towards the lively discussions. Almost everyone was able to comment and ask questions. The only constraint was perhaps the limited time available.

After the proceedings of the first day ended, all the conference guests were taken for a cruise on Lake Alster, which is an artificial lake within the city of Hamburg. The cruise was about two hours, and the view was spectacular. It was kind of a relaxing end for the first day of the conference. (Picture below shows Dr Anis and I on board the cruise).

Two days to go before the conference ends on Saturday. Looking forward to another two days of intellectual stimulation.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hamburg - Day 1

I am currently in Hamburg, Germany attending a three-day conference which begins tomorrow. The journey here has been quite long. At this age, I don't really fancy long distance trips but sometimes they are just unavoidable.

In any case, the first thing I noticed with a sense of déjà-vu is the cool summer temperature. It is very pleasant to be walking around without feeling too hot or too cold. This is one of the things I miss of temperate countries.

The long journey has been tiring. Fortunately, the only thing in the programme today was the reception and registration which was very much informal. The paper presenters got the chance to meet and mingle over buffet refreshments at the conference venue which is the university's guest house.

The conference will begin tomorrow. I would definitely want to get some rest especially to overcome the jet lag after a 20 hours journey.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Euro euphoria

Not to say that I have been living in a cave somewhere, but I did not really "feel" the heat of the UEFA European Football Championship 2012 since it started. I have never really been a football fan, hence I have not really been following the championship in earnest. I have not even watched a single match on television (live or recorded) thus far, and have no plans to do so as yet. The reason is simple, I have other more important things in mind to bother about the championship.

Having said that, I do take a quick glance at the results in the sports section everyday. So I am aware of which team is winning or losing, and which team has qualified to the next round or which team has been sent packing.

When I was a student in Glasgow, I was around during Euro 1992 and Euro 1996. The euphoria wasn't as great in Scotland as it was in England, but it can still be felt nonetheless. Interestingly it was in 1996 that England got to the semi-finals (which was the second time, the last being in 1968, and they haven't got through to that level since).

Now, I suspect I will be experiencing the Euro euphoria again when I arrive in Germany in two days time. I have seen with my own eyes the level of fanaticism of English, Scottish and Welsh football fans. Now I guess I will get to witness the German fans in action, especially with Germany doing well so far.

I am glad I am not that much of a fan of football. Otherwise I would have probably made arrangements to go to Poland or Ukraine after the conference in Germany.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hamburg conference

As I blogged before, I will be travelling to Hamburg to participate in an international conference with the theme "Health Related Issues and Islamic Normativity" organised by the Asien-Afrika-Institut of the University of Hamburg.

The paper presenters are from many parts of the world. Aside from Malaysia and Germany, there are presenters from the USA, Tunisia, Oman, Sweden, Lebanon and Qatar. From Malaysia, there are eight speakers altogether. I have been made to understand that the Malaysian delegation is the largest from outside Germany.

My former boss at the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM), Professor Dato' Dr. Ismail Ibrahim will be presenting a paper entitled "Development of Fatwas in Malaysia with Special Attention to Bioethical Issues". Professor Dato' Dr. Ismail is currently Holder of the Syeikh Abdullah Fahim Chair at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. He was also Chairman of the National Fatwa Committee and former Ambassador of Malaysia to Saudi Arabia.

Former head of nephrology at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital and currently consultant nephrologist at the Ampang Puteri Specialist Hospital, Dato' Dr. Zaki Morad Mohammad Zaher will speak on "The Novel Legislation of Transplantation in Malaysia: How It Emerged and What Problems Arose in the Process".

My PhD supervisor who is currently Deputy Director-General of IKIM, Professor Datin Dr. Azizan Baharuddin will talk on the topic "The Role of the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia in the Malaysian Bioethical Discourse". She, who is also professor at the Department of Science and Technology Studies, Faculty of Science, University of Malaya, will also participate in a public forum on "The Future of Islamic Bioethics".

The head of the National Transplant Resource Centre (NTRC), Datin Dr. Fadhilah Zowyah Lela Yasmin Mansor will present a paper focusing on "The National Transplant Resource Centre in Malaysia".

Her deputy, Dr. Muhammed Anis Abdul Wahab will speak on "Current Clinical Practice on Organ Transplantation in Malaysia".

Ustazah Nor Safina Zainal from the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) meanwhile will present a paper on "The Role of JAKIM in Relation to Bioethical Discourse".

My colleague at Yayasan Ilmuwan, Muhammad Zaki Ramli, will present his paper partially based on his master's research. The topic that he will touch on at the conference is "Exposure to Islamic Bioethics among Biomedical Students in Malaysia".

Meanwhile, I have been asked by the organiser to present a paper called "The Role of Diverse Stakeholders in the Malaysian Bioethical Discourse".

I hope that everything will go smoothly during the conference. Insya-Allah I will be blogging about the conference in particular and Hamburg in general in future postings.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


My wife was marking the exam papers for Chemistry during the school holidays. She came across one interesting exam script. The student, a below average one, apparently answered the definition of protons in terms of quarks. The student answered, "a proton is composed of two up quarks and one down quark."


I am not one who looks down on a student's ability to excel, but this is really amazing. In the syllabus for SPM's Chemistry, there is no mention on quarks whatsoever. Only when you get into university and you do theoretical chemistry, do you come across the idea of quarks, which by the way was a concept proposed in 1964 and was debated at great length before being accepted by the physicists and theoretical chemists much, much later.

My wife related to me that this student was caught cheating with a smart phone in another paper in the examination. I have a feeling that this student also cheated in Chemistry because the sentence used in most of the correct answers given are identical to what is found in Wikipedia.

Yes, we have to give the student the benefit of the doubt. The student may have read about quarks out of interest. However, I suggested to my wife that she should call the student and test the student's understanding to be sure that the student did not cheat. If indeed the student is very interested in Chemistry and used her initiative to read more, then I am sure she will be able to answer whatever question my wife throws at her.

In actuality, the student barely passed. She was not able to answer most of the essay questions. The questions that she was able to answer have too many similarities to articles in Wikipedia.

If it is true that she cheated using her smart phone, I find this very disturbing. What is the point of answering correctly when you cheat? Cheating will not get you anywhere in the long run. You may get good grades but in actuality, you do not deserve the grade. Learning is about obtaining knowledge, not just about getting good grades. If one gets a C with his/her own effort, that is way better than obtaining an A by cheating. There is no barakah in cheating.

The fact that the student answered using terms only known to university students gave her away. Had she known what to answer based on the syllabus taught, it would have been more difficult to spot that she probably cheated. When you use terms like "quarks", the alarm bells will no doubt ring. I am pretty sure that even university students may not be able to define protons in terms of quarks so convincingly. As such, when a Form Four student answered in such a manner, you tend to be suspicious.

The point I want to make in this posting is this: WYGIWYD.

"What You Get Is What You Deserve".

Nothing more, nothing less.

Cheating is a zero-sum game. You may think you gain something today, but at the end of the day, you get nothing.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Destination Hamburg

Insya-Allah, if everything goes according to plan, I will be leaving for Hamburg, Germany in about 11 days time. This will only be a short working trip but I hope the trip will be meaningful. I will be participating in an international conference entitled "Health Related Issues and Islamic Normativity" organised by the University of Hamburg.

There are eight speakers from Malaysia, most of whom are people I know personally. So I guess I will be surrounded by familiar faces there. Nonetheless, I do look forward to knowing and networking with people from other parts of the world during the conference.

It has been a while since I participated in an international conference outside Malaysia. If memory serves me well, the last was a conference I participated in was the one in Cairo, Egypt in 2006. Since leaving the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia in late 2005, opportunities and invitations to conferences are very few and far in between. In a way, I am glad that I have more or less kept myself in the academic world. Otherwise I would have probably been very much out of touch with the academia.

Frankly, I feel that I should participate in international conferences on a more regular basis. It is one way to make sure that I do not lose that academic touch. Mayhaps I should just jump into the academia on a full time basis?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Carpe diem

There are a couple of movies that I like to watch from time to time. These movies, to me, are inspiring. "Dead Poets Society" was one. The other being "Good Will Hunting". The obvious common denominator for these two films is Robin Williams who starred in both of them. The other common denominator is that both these films are about the relationship between students (or student in the case of "Good Will Hunting") and their teacher/mentor.

These movies drive the message that teachers can be inspiring. Teaching (or lecturing) need not be boring or by the book. The process of knowledge dissemination can be fun, lively and meaningful, without it being dry, dull and a one-way traffic. I am definitely not John Keating, the English teacher played by Robin Williams in "Dead Poets Society", but I share the message of the film, i.e. carpe diem (seize the day).

I am fortunate to have many great teachers and mentors all throughout the years, from my schooling days in Alor Setar (1981-1982), Johor Bahru (1982-1985) and Kulim (1985-1991), all the way to my UK days in Glasgow (1992-1996), as well as my postgraduate studies at the University of Malaya (2002-2005 and 2007-2012).

I suppose that indirectly I have been influenced by these great teachers I have to jump into the academic world. I have never had a formal training in lecturing but I strive to do what I think is best and correct. So far, after doing part-time lecturing on a regular basis since 2009, I am really enjoying it.

The happiest moment for me is to see my students succeed in what they do. That is reward in itself which money can never buy.

To all my students who are going to sit for their final exams soon, I wish you all the best. More importantly, do not forget to seize the day!