The Journey of a Journalist (Part 12A) – A SUMMER STINT BACK IN MALAYSIA
Posted on November 14th, 2009

By Shelton A. Gunaratne©2009

I returned to Malaysia as an educational consultant””‚an external examiner for the department of communication (Jabatan Komunikasi) at  Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (National University)””‚more than two decades after I left my lectureship at Universiti Sains Malaysia (Science University).

Mohd Safar Hasim, head of the UKM department of communication, was at the Subang Airport in Kuala Lumpur to welcome me on the Sunday morning (June 15, 1997) I arrived. Safar was a student of mine at USM in the mid-“ƒ”¹…”70s. He was a reporter for Bernama, the Malaysian news agency, at the time he came to study at USM.

photo12A_Safar (3)Photo Gunaratne (right) and his former student in Penang, Mohd Safar Hasim, meet in Kuala Lumpur 1997.

Safar and I renewed our ties when we ran into each other at the 19th scientific conference of the International Association for Media and Communication in Seoul three years earlier on my way out of China. In Seoul, William May, a staff reporter for Kyodo News Service, interviewed Safar and me for a feature on the new news paradigm. The same afternoon, the two of us, joined by UKM colleague Rahmah Hashim, went sightseeing to Itaewon Shopping Center and Tongdoemun (East Gate). As we walked the streets of Seoul, I told Safar that I would be delighted to spend a summer break at UKM as a consultant.

Safar delivered the goods and persuaded UKM to invite me to serve as an external consultant for two months.

We talked shop at breakfast at the airport. Then, Safar gave me a ride to a two-storey terrace house in Bandar Baru Bangi, my residence for the next two months, northwest of the UKM campus. We drove on the North-South Expressway, a toll road that did not exist 20 years ago, when I wrote letters to the editor complaining about high taxi fares to and from Subang.  With a hefty toll added for using the expressway, I wondered whether the taxi drivers were ripping off the hapless passengers again.

 Delicious Mauritius

Let me go back a week. I landed on the island of Mauritius on June 9 and enjoyed the hospitality of the University of Mauritius for five days before coming to Malaysia. Over my stay, I recalled what Mark Twain wrote in Following the Equator: “From one citizen you gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then heaven; and that heaven was copied after Mauritius. Another one tells you that this is an exaggeration”¦”

Mauritius is a small island republic (2,040 square km) off the southwestern coast of Africa. It has a multi-ethnic (68 percent Indian, 27 percent Creole, 3 percent Chinese, and 2 percent French), multi-religious (52 percent Hindu, 28 percent Catholic, 17 percent Muslim, and 3 percent other) population of 1.2 million. During my short stay, I sensed that the Indians in particular resented their African identity.

I stopped over in Mauritius to attend a workshop organized by Roukaya Kasenally of the university’s communication and media studies unit. Mohd Safar Hasim of UKM, Kasenally and I had written a paper (through correspondence) titled “Small is beautiful: Informatization potential in three Indian Ocean Rim countries”””‚Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Mauritius. Kasenally and I presented this joint paper to the workshop participants on June 11.

The previous morning, I gave the workshop a lecture-demonstration on computer-assisted reporting. I showed the Mauritian journalists attending the workshop how they could use the documents readily available on the Internet to create news stories and features.

On the day of my arrival at Plaisance Airport in southeastern Mauritius, Ravin Sagum, a driver employed by the university, came to fetch me. About one hour later, he dropped me off at the Pearle Beach in Coolmar, Flic en Flac. Kasenally came to the hotel in the afternoon to welcome me. That evening, Sagum turned up again to take me to a dinner reception in Vacoas, at the home of USIS Director Dale Baker, who was not too shy to let us infer his profound knowledge of communication as we chatted about the workshop.

I commuted between my hotel and the university campus, a ride of about 30 minutes, by joining a van pool of external examiners. Among those that I got to know during these rides and at dinner in the hotel were Maurice Pendlebury, professor of accounting at the University of Wales; and Bill Franklin, president and CEO of Texas International Educational Consortium.

Early evening on Tuesday (June 10), a driver from the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation picked me up at the hotel to take me to the MBC studios in Curepipe. I was one of the two guests that host journalist Gerard Manuel interviewed for his radio program “Club 97.” The other was Eric Cader, an expatriate Mauritian from Toronto.

Dev Ramana, a Mauritian Indian businessman whom I met on my flight from London to Mauritius Sunday (June 8), visited me on campus Wednesday afternoon. He took me to show his furniture factory in Les Pailles, and then took me on a tour of Port Louis. We parked near the harbor to explore the central market and the shopping paradise.

On Friday, I had a day-long tour of the southwest, courtesy of the University of Mauritius. Ravin Sagum, the same driver who transported me to visit places since my arrival, became my tourist guide for the day. He took me to see the island’s largest reservoir Mare Aux Vacaos and Grand Bassin, one of the island’s two natural lakes situated in the Black River Georges National Park. A vast complex of a Hindu temple adorns the edge of the lake. Atop the hill is the shrine of Hanumanje. Astounding scenery is an endemic characteristic of this patch of the island, including Alexandra Falls. What I saw confirmed the claim of the islander who told Mark Twain   “Mauritius was made first, and then heaven.”

The next day (June 14), Sagum transported me to the Plaisance Airport for my Mauritius Airlines’ flight to Kuala Lumpur early afternoon.  Sagum seemed happy to accept my Rs. 100 token of appreciation for being my faithful driver during this dream trip to “heaven.”

 Meeting in KL

Kasenally followed me to Kuala Lumpur to participate in the sixth annual conference of the Asian Media Information and Communication Center (Amic), which had accepted our joint paper for presentation on June 19. When Safar and I arrived at Hotel Nikko about 11.30 a.m. to register for the conference, we found Kasenally impatiently waiting for us at the hotel.

Kasenally and I had presented the paper at the Mauritius workshop, which Safar could not attend. Safar decided to leave the presentation of the paper, scheduled for 2 p.m., to the two of us on this occasion as well because he had hardly any time to prepare. It turned out to be an hour-long presentation. Among those who attended this session were two professionals from Sri Lanka””‚A. M. Karunaratne, chairman of Independent Television; and H.M. Gunasekera.

The three of us attended the Amic welcome dinner that evening and listened to the inaugural address by the acting Prime Minister Datuk Anwar Ibrahim (before he fell from grace).  

The next day, two senior communication scholars from Universiti Putra Malaysia provided me the transportation from Bangi to Kuala Lumpur to attend the Amic conference. Salleh Hassan accompanied me in the morning, and Musa Abu Hassan brought me back in the evening.

During lunch break, I ran into Fatimah Saad, director of the IEC division of the National Population and Family Development Board. She identified herself as a student of mine at USM in the mid-“ƒ”¹…”70s. Although I could not recall her nƒÆ’-¾marƒÆ’-¦«pa after a quarter-century of ongoing change (anicca), I was deeply flattered by her enthusiasm to talk about old days with her erstwhile teacher. 

I also had the opportunity to strike up a conversation with D.E.W. Gunasekera, then director-general of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.

Kasenally left Malaysia on June 25 to return to Mauritius. She had scheduled to visit the UKM campus the previous day but she canceled it because she had to be at the airport in the early hours the next day for her return flight. The real reason, I believe, was her reluctance to use public transportation.

It’s a black mark on me that I could not reciprocate the hospitality she accorded me in Mauritius while she visited Malaysia. The arrival of my family in Malaysia on June 21 to spend a month with me diverted my attention away from my Mauritian colleague, who later received a doctorate from Sheffield and became the senior lecturer and head of communication studies at her university.

The Gunaratne-Safar Hasim-Kasenally joint paper was published in Media Asia (24/4) in 1997.

Next: Part 12B Examining in Bangi and Observing Changes

[The writer is professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead. He dedicates this installment to the memory of all his departed teachers, both in Sri Lanka and overseas, who had an indelible impact on his determination to become a global citizen.]


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