Ditta Amahorseya’s memorial tomorrow


The details for the memorial service tomorrow are as follows:

1830 – 2000      : The Memorial Service

2000 – finish   : The celebration of Ditta’s life
                         – Speech from Citi by Tigor M Sihaan
                         – Songs from Jasmine Z and Citi choir
                         – Others by mbak Ditta’s friends

Just got a message from a friend that says “any of you who have photos of Ditta you would like to share during the memorial service Wednesday 28 March please e-mail to memoryditta@gmail.com.” Please forward to all Ditta’s friends.

The memorial would be held at the IES Church, 9th Fl UOB Building, Jl. Thamrin at 6pm tomorrow.

also see: RIP Ditta Amahorseya

R.I.P. Ditta Amahorseya

Update: Ditta’s wake will be at the IES Church, 9th Fl UOB Building, Jl. Thamrin at 6pm this Wednesday

I’ve known Ditta since my days at Ogilvy PR when we won the Citibank account, way back in 1998. Since then, I’ve worked together with her on and off for the past 15 years.

When I started up Maverick with my partner in 2002 Ditta and another Citibanker were instrumental in getting Citibank to become our first client. It was a professional relationship that would last until last year.

Even then we remained friends and fellow professionals in Public Relations. We also had one more thing in common – both of us were heart patients, although what Ditta had to go through made my quadruple bypass seemed like a walk in the park.

What I liked most about Ditta was that inspire of the congenital health problems she had she faced it courageously and openly and lived life to the full. In conversations she would be telling you about the movies she just saw, the plays and concerts she attended and the friends she went out with. As anyone who knew her can attest, she had many, many friends from all strata of society. Going out with her was like being with a celebrity or a queen waving incessantly to her subjects.

Ditta was open to trying out new things too and at one time I convinced her to try her hand at blogging. As she, by her own admission, was technically inept, I had to set up her blog for her, that she called Dittaville. She wrote a few posts, but soon got busy with other things.

At the same time she would also be completely open and candid about her health problems. The last time we met was at The Pad in SCBD, where she ordered a cheese soufflé and a steak – because her doctors kept telling her that she needed the nourishment for her blood. She also described the procedures that she would have to undergo in New York.

When we parted, I wished her well for her operation. That was the last time I saw her. Now I hear she did not make it through her operation because of internal bleeding.

I and the team at Maverick who worked with her will miss her. As a client she could be strict and demanding but she was always fair and understanding. She was more like a partner to us than a client and for many years we took pride in helping her build Citibank’s image in Indonesia.

Ditta is now no more. We at Maverick mourn her passing, but we take comfort in that she knew how to live life to the full, even when faced with the difficulties imposed by her health. You couldn’t ask more out of life that Ditta did, and for that we admire her and wish her well in the next journey.

A journey back in time to Taiping

Time distorts, and its greatest distortion, more than 30 years after I left Taiping where I spent my childhood and teenage years,  was in the dimensions of the house I grew up in.

It had seemed so large when I was a boy. The rooms and garden that I had wandered through in the spacious idleness of youth now looks small, even toyish. Back then, time and space seemed to stretch on forever. Now, not only the space seems constricted but the passing time also seemes compressed.

Nonetheless it was a pleasure to see that the old house was still standing stolid against time. The house, on Cator Avenue, which was subsequently renamed Jalan Panglima, had been built by the British. My father was particularly proud of that fact, partly because it was British built and, I suspect, partly because he could purchase something that had been built by the Brits. It was in the early 1960s when he bought the house, and there was that strong residue of colonial admiration/antipathy in most things.

Time had also shrunk the road leading to my house, making it look narrow. My neighbors houses had also taken on different appearances since I last saw them. Some had become decrepit, others abandoned, others passed on to children or sold off to strangers. Some looked like they have had a new lease of life breathed into them through renovations, others looked sad and forlorn, marking time before inevitable decay.

Apart from that, however, the other aspects about Taiping seemed pretty much intact, with very few changes in the past three decades. The significant change is that they now have a Tesco and  a Giant supermarket . And trafffic lights. Otherwise Burmese Pool remains much as it was, bouldered with rushing water and refreshing with a smell that is a mix of water vapor and decay of the forest.

Something’s that changed, however, is Coronation Pool, at the foothill of Maxwell’s Hill. They’ve tarted up the place and it nowhas modern pools. I tried to get in to get a look but the ticket collector would not let me in unless I paid. He did give me a spiel on how it was the only pool in Malaysia with pure water from the hills that is devoid of chlorine that makes your hair difficult to manage, your eyes sore and your skin itchy. So they now have a sales pitch as well.

The spiffed up Coronation Pool. Cold green water from the hills

One institution that’s remained is Ah Lan Che’s chicken noodles. It’s now in a shoplot with the official name of Restoran Kakak on Jalan Pasar but the food and many of the waiters there still remain the same, even after four decades. It’s still one of the most popular breakfast hangouts in Taiping, harkening back to a time that is Pre-Starbucks.

The government offices, dating back to colonial times are still there. And the Lake Gardens remain pristine in its beauty (see previous post).

From Colonial times
One of the loveliest sights in Malaysia, the Taiping Lake Gardens
Even the prison reeks of history, having been built in 1879

The railway station, however, has come in for huge changes. Malaysia is in the throes of building a dual track high speed railway from north to south. Apparently the initial plan was to do away with the over a century-old railway station (that constitutes one end of the first railway line in Malaya). But after there were some protests they decided to build the new railway lines some distance behind the railway station, leaving the building intact.

This was one end of Malaya's first railway line

The Taiping market remains very much as it was when I was a boy. The century-old steel and wood building still stands, looking a bit decrepit but still serviceable. It is roomy, airy and seen much history.


One feature that still survives and is quite remarkable considering the price of things these days are the pork-seller’s stalls. Made of concrete, these stalls are unique in that they have huge solid marble slabs for tops. My sister and I could not help wonder what the marble slabs alone would cost these days.

Most expensive pork stall table tops?


My old secondary school, St George’s, has seen few changes but one major change is that it’s now all locked up in the weekends, with the only access through the main gate with a sentry. Its a testament of times and innocence lost. Once you could stroll into the school compound at will through three or four unguarded gates. Go there to meet friends, play basketball or just to wander through its storied halls. But no more. I guess they have theft, drug addicts, child predators and other ills of modern life to deal with these days.

St George's institution. You used to be able to walk in there anytime and there's be a familiar face, an old teacher

One institution nearby is Ansari’s, home to very delish cendol, pasembor (rujak to KL-ites) and  the best gandum. The cendol and pasembor are still there but unfortunately they’ve stopped serving the gandum.

Cendol and pasembor still there. Unfortunatley no more gandum.

One thing that seems to have changed, and this seems to be a common theme throughout Malaysia, is in the sense of security. Speaking to friends who still live there, you get the impression that everyone’s a little afraid for the own safety. We were treated to lots of stories of Indian gangs extorting and robbing residents. It seems that some Malaysians of Indian origin, a group has had a rough time economically in Malaysia, have  resorted to gangsterism and crime to make a living. The Indians are now apparently leading Triads and extortion rackets.

In spite of the changes, however, Taiping still remains quintessentially the small town I grew up in. Two days is too short a time to visit the place and Unspun plans to bring the wife and the Unspunlet there for a longer stay the next time. There is still the Zoo, the temple with the dometicated wild boars, Austin pool, Maxwells Hill and other favorite haunts to rediscover.

Oh yeah, there was also the oddly named store. Imagine sleeping on Simony or in the Mlay-ised spelling Simoni.

Sleep on this

KL a damn good place to recuperate

Unspun, it would seem, has spent too many years out of Malaysia that he’s forgotten some of the better aspects of this country.

In normal times Unspun would zip in and out of the country for a short visit to the folks but this time around medical circumstances forced him and family to spend more than a month in KL. Unspun was recuperating and part of the recuperation called for Unspun to walk as much as possible to help clear his lungs of gooey stuff after a major operation.

It so happens that Unspun’s mother’s house, where Unspun runs to in times of trouble and distress is located in TTDI, That’s Taman Tun Dr Ismail, on the edge of the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and bordering Petaling Jaya. What’s great about the location is that its just a stone’s throw from Taman Rekreasi Lembah Kiara a park that’s well laid out for walks.

It has two tracks, a lower one around a lake (where you can feed fish and turtles) fed by clear flowing streams where children go to catch little fish in the weekends.

In the center of the park are also common areas where senior citizens go for mass Tai Chi and other forms of exercise like traditional Chinese swordplay.

It also has a larger loop that cuts into the hill where you can work up a bit of a sweat. Both tracks are clean and well-maintained  (things that are seemingly impossible in Jakarta) and well used by a multitude of people ranging from pensioners to young children and the convalescent. This is one aspect of things that the Malaysian and the city government has done very well and they deserve praise for it.

Unspun’s been doing two to three loops of the park almost every morning and every time Unspun’s there he cannot help wondering why Jakarta cannot have something like this, or if it does the vendors and thousands of gawkers would spoil everything.

A bypass in life V – the best heart surgeon in Malaysia?

One of the things that Unspun has learned from this bypass saga is that while the bypass operation itself is important, it is actually the post-surgery care that is just as important. Get bad aftercare and you’re stuffed in more ways than one. One of my friends tell me this horrendous story of a patient who had his lungs collapse, a steel pin holding the sternum together come loose and all sorts of unnecessary suffering her uncle went through because of bad aftercare.

I first heard of my heart surgeon would-be from my cardiologist, who’s no light weight in repetitional terms the Malaysian medical profession himself. In his opinion if I had to have heart surgery, and I did, then I should seek the best heart surgeon in Malaysia and that is Datuk Dr Rozali Wathooth from the Sime Darby Medical Center (they changed the name in a fit of rebranding but everyone else still calls it the Subang Jaya Medical Center). As a cardiologist, he said, he’s seen Dr Rozali’s grafts and they are all very good and lasting. he even ventured that one of Dr Rozali’s grafts should last me at least another 20 years, provided, of course, that I take care of myself in terms of diet and exercise.

The cardiologist also said that Dr Rozali was very fussy about which cases he took on, but he was quite confident that he would take on my case. That was abut two months ago and my trip to Malaysia was a short one.

What happened thereafter was a rushed attempt to meet up with Dr Rozali for my first examination with him. We managed to secure a Saturday morning meeting but was sent to the wrong hospital by the cardiologist’s secretary. That laid the ground for my first meeting with Dr Rozali. Once we (the missus was with me) we frantically called Dr Rozali’s office and tried to reschedule. The secretary said that Datuk would wait for us.

When we finally got there we met up with Dr Rozali, a 60+ slightly built man who’s calmness and geniality seemed like oases in our agitated state of having to rush about. He then examined me. What struck me about the examination was his thoroughness and insistence on doing things, even the simple things like taking your blood pressure, himself instead of delegating it to a nurse. He was also thorough in getting my medical history and debriefing me on what to expect.

That set the ground for my bypass operation, originally schedule for June 13 but was, as explained in an earlier posting, delayed to June 17 because of a fever. I checked in to the hospital a day before and was examined by Dr Rozali who also spent about an hour counselling me and my wife of what to expect during the operation and after.

This was followed by briefings from the anesthetist and the ward nurse, then we were sent up to the ICU for another briefing. I found that these briefings helped a lot because they made you prepared for what was to come.

The operation itself was dramatic (see Bypass IV) but it was nothing to me because I was out cold from the general anesthetic. When I came to my wife, sister and her boyfriend was there together with Dr Rozali.

Over the next few weeks Dr Rozali was to exhibit such a level of care, understanding, compassion and humility that I was swept away.

It seemed that he was always there at the hospital, making personal visits to me and other patients at least twice a day. In all our conversations he just seemed so understanding, caring and unperturbed that you felt better after taking to him, no matter the level of pain you felt.

He was also very strict about not taking chances with his patients. For some reason, probably a residual effect of the aspirin I was taking (but stopped a week prior to he operation) I had a tendency to bleed. Dr Rozali was very careful to keep the two tubes leading from my sternum to drain the “bad blood” from the operation scars for four days until the flow ebbed to an acceptable volume. It was only then that I was discharged from the ICU.

During my time recovering in the hospital I managed to speak to some of the nurses, some of whom had been with Dr Rozali for years. The head of the cardiac ward, for instance, speak of Dr Rozali in glowing terms. She said that he was so dedicated to his job that he has been knon to sleep at the ICU beside the patients. Also she said that Dr Rozali was exceptionally patient. All her nurses could call him at any time of the dy or night and he would answer in his unflappable calm manner. “He has never scolded a nurse or even been impatient with them, no matter what they called him on.”

This made him accessible to his patients at all times, something that Unspun tested when the aspirin he was taking caused him to have some hemorrhoids. All I had to do was to call the cardiac ward and leave a message with the nurses and Dr Rozali would call back soon after to listen and advice.

Two days after discharge Dr Rozali called Unspun to see if th rash he developed because of an allergic reaction to some medication was clearing up. And he called up direct, without a secretary to patch me through. I remember thinking to myself then: “How many top notch doctors would be that unpretentious and carign to do that?”

These and many other instances leads Unspun to agree with my cardiologist that Dr Rozali’s probably the best heart surgeon in Malaysia (Incidentally, a classmate of mine who also had to have a bypass operation more than a year ago did his homework more thoroughly than Unspun in seeking a heart surgeon. Aided by his sister who’s a doctor he made many inquiries and all answers seem to point to Dr Rozali as the best surgeon if you have to have a heart surgery. He went to Dr Rozali and now swears by him).

Dr Rozali has been at the forefront of cardiac surgery in Malaysia for a long time. A friend of mine in The Star in the 1980s remembers covering a story of how Dr Rozali performed the first open heart surgery in Malaysia then. Since then he’s gone on to perform hundreds of heart surgeries, reputedly with a 100% record of success. He also sits on the board of doctors for the Institut Jantung Negara, Malaysia’s premier heart center. That means he gets called in when VVIPs, such as former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, needs to have a bypass.

The information you can get about Dr Rozali’s achievements are abundant but what makes him so special as a a man and a doctor is the level of care, compassion, experience, expertise – and humility that he brings to his job. This sets him apart and makes Unspun, like his classmate, swear by Dr Rozali if you have to have a bypass. You’d never have a better heart surgeon anywhere else, IMHO.