Don's Diary

February 16, 1996

FRIDAY. Eating satay in the comfort of Malaysia Airlines I ponder why I should be travelling 6,500 miles to teach on a masters in management degree course. British Aerospace had explained to me at a brainwashing session (oops! I meant to write "briefing session") that the Malaysian government placed a high priority on education. On the one hand it gave me a warm glow to know that someone still thought highly of education, on the other it concerned me that my trip was essentially being funded by the sale of military aircraft.

Overall I was glad that I had decided that it was better for good to come out of bad. Nevertheless, I was still dismayed at the memory of a colleague who teaches business ethics, to whom I had related the dilemma, saying it had not occurred to him that there was an issue at stake. Tried to adjust mentally to the fact that although this was Friday, my last working day of the week, tomorrow would be the first day of my new working week.

Ponder why British Aerospace had neglected to brief me about the rhythms of the Islamic week.

SUNDAY. Twenty-four hours since leaving home and Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) is still an hour's drive away - through the jungle.

Arrive at 1am at my eksekutif (yes, truly this is wonderland for the dyslexic) flat to find the bedroom a welcoming air-conditioned bliss. One slight problem - the air conditioning has leaked water on to the bed and the whole mattress is soaking. No, problem - it would only take a minute to move the bed to the other side of the room. However the flying cockroaches seemed to have found the moist carpet made a wonderful habitat.

Resigned to retiring to the couch in the living room. Wake to the call for prayer at 5.30am, find it surprisingly easy to resist. A blistering hot, humid day (yes it is still Sunday).

MONDAY. Dressed in a tie, shirt, trousers and shoes - this is Malaysia's business and management university, and nothing less than full business attire will do - I wait for a car to take me to the graduate school. In the daylight I realise that this is a university on a visionary scale. This should not really be a surprise, given that UUM is in the prime minister's constituency. Taken on an orientation tour of the campus which includes scenic golf course, several lakes, Olympic-size swimming pool and mosque with a capacity of 4,000. One thing stands out immediately - the environment is quiet and peaceful. Vast car parks are empty, academic offices are empty but the computer networks are busy.

Introduced to my students and accept their offer to show me the facilities of the library - well-stocked shelves of journals, rows of quiet, cool studying space - a researchers' dream. Yet paradoxically a meeting of the deans earlier in the day resolved to disband the graduate school.

Down to serious work, give a tutorial on the stages that information technology goes through when introduced into organisations. This represents an attempt to provide a theoretical background to my idealistic dream that Malaysia should learn from the mistakes made by other (more advanced?) countries when applying IT for the first time.

Stay in the office late (that is after 4.30pm when the faculty office closes) to read email from student in Leeds who is writing up an MSc project report. Discover that there is only one computer in the whole IT faculty that is connected for email. Attempt to send comments back but find the line editor (remember those?) defeats my jet-lagged fingers. Well it has been ten years since I used a line editor. Reflect that perhaps my tutorial was a little late. Time to go and try out the swimming pool.

TUESDAY. A full day of teaching lies ahead, without the enticing prospect of a swim at the end of the day. Tuesday swimming is for females only. Ask the students what time they would like to start the afternoon session, hoping they will suggest an early time. Can we begin at 2.30pm because we would like to go and pray at 2.00pm?

The dean offers me a choice of offices, either one with a telephone or a new one. Decide on the pragmatic option on the basis that communications will be essential. Phone the computer science department at Universiti Sains Malaysia to confirm arrangements for a seminar on geographical information systems I am due to give next week. Discover that all phone calls out of Kedah state have to go through the operator.

WEDNESDAY. A PC has been installed in my office. Start to load the geographical information systems software that I brought with me. Run a scenario as a test and discover that it takes more than an hour to run. This compares with a mere five minutes on the machine in my Leeds office. Reflect that the technology seems to be more tuned in to the pace of life here than I am.

THURSDAY. Graduation day at UUM and compulsory attendance for tutors. Colourful spectacle, somewhat pales when faced with a full day of ceremony in Bahassa Malaysia. Only four phrases that I recognise, British Aerospace, innovative, research-led and graduate school. Only problem is that the words are totally unconnected.

DAVID J. GRIMSHAW Senior lecturer in information systems at the University of Leeds.

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