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In the waiting room

People are always waiting for something.

They could be waiting for the train, an opportunity, promises to be fulfilled or the return of a loved one.

But "what does waiting mean in our lives and what is life without waiting?"


That question was posed by Danny Castillones Sillada in his article "What is Life without Waiting?" (The Metaphysics of Waiting).

The passing of the old year demands another round of gloomy introspection and Sillada's article came at the right time, given the value of waiting in our lives.

"Waiting," he explains, is "an emotional and mental state, which is preconditioned to anticipate someone or something to arrive at a particular time and place".

Sillada tells us that there are two types of waiting: empirical and metaphysical.

The empirical form of waiting is "where the certainty of the waited and the occurrence of event are tangibly expected to happen within a particular time and place of the waiter".

But wh…

Nagasaki Castella: Love at first bite

Cake lovers all over the world surely must have heard of Nagasaki Castella (picture).

It is a Japanese sponge cake (made of egg yolks, brown sugar crystals, refined white sugar, thick rice syrup and flour) and is said to be popular in Japan and other parts of the world.


I first tasted the cake in December 2007 after attending the Second Asian City Journalist Conference (ACJC) which was held in Fukuoka City, Japan.


(The conference was jointly organised by UN Habitat Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (Fukuoka) and The Nishinippon Newspaper).


I had plenty of time before my flight home.

So I browsed the shelves of one of the duty-free shops at Fukuoka International Airport for something interesting to buy and I chanced upon individually wrapped long boxes which looked very attractive from where I was standing.


The boxes contained the Nagasaki Castella.

I love cakes and I couldn't resist the temptation that was staring at me intently.


I bought three boxes for myself and friends …

Feliz Navidad ... however you say it ...

Christmas in many parts of the world is both a secular and sacred holiday.

Many countries bring their own cultures and traditions to the Christmas season.

It is as much a celebration of spirituality as it is of goodwill.

Those who observe Christmas go to church, sing carols, exchange gifts and attend parties as well as family gatherings.

Christmas in Malaysia is celebrated in typical Malaysian fashion where people of multi-ethnic and multi-religious backgrounds thronged the homes of their Christian friends to soak in the festive spirit.

This is consistent with the concept of "rumah terbuka" or "open house" which makes the celebration of major festivals in Malaysia more meaningful.






Food is the main component of any festival.

Visitors to a Malaysian open house on Christmas Day may find traditional Western offerings of the season -- roast turkey, mince pies and fruit cakes -- sitting comfortably with local delicacies such as devil's curry, beef rendang and pineapple…

ACJC now on Facebook

The Asian City Journalist Conference (ACJC) is on Facebook.

It is called UN HABITAT’s Asian City Journalists’ Conference Group.

It is a platform for environmentally conscious journalists and associates in Asia to hook up and communicate with like-minded individuals.

Japanese architect and urban planner Shunya Susuki first proposed the idea over dinner at a traditional Japanese pub in Fukuoka City, Japan on December 13, 2009.

Present at the dinner were journalists from Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The conversation over dinner mainly centred on establishing a space for journalists and associates connected with ACJC to create an online presence and to act as an alumni association.

That was when Susuki – who participated in ACJC as coordinating officer for UN Habitat Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (Fukuoka) prior to his transfer to Fukuoka City Hall in April this year – came up with the Facebook plan.

Everyone present enthusiastically embraced Su…

Lee Byeong-Heon sizzles in Iris!

Watch South Korean actor Lee Byeong-Heon (picture) in Iris an action-packed Korean drama series, now showing on KBS World (Astro Channel 303 on Wednesday and Thursday at 9pm).

As bitter National Security System (NSS) secret agent Kim Hyeon-joon, Lee keeps me on the edge of my seat leaving me asking for more when each episode ends.

His romance with NSS profiler Choi Seung-hee (played by South Korean actress Kim Tae-hee) is sweet and touching which seems strange considering his tough demeanour.

Not really. The "I am ready to kill anyone who opposes me" secret agent is actually a very soft and romantic man.

He is the guy every woman wants to have!!! Big, strong and loving!!!

Iris reminds me so much of BBC's Spooks, a "tense drama series about the different challenges faced by the British Security Service as they work against the clock to safeguard the nation".

I am annoyed that Astro has removed BBC Entertainment from the Metro Package. I can no longer watc…

'Daddy Cool' in KL

Those who danced to the hits of Boney M in the mid-70s and mid-80s are now a lot older, visibly rounder and arguably wiser.

All that didn't matter when they gathered at Sunway Lagoon Hotel on Saturday night to see the pop and disco group, which was originally based in West Germany, performed for charity at a show organised by Lejadi Group.

The moment Liz Mitchell came on stage and showed off her vocals with Amazing Grace, fans poised themselves for a rush that would last for several days.

The audience was easily persuaded.

Before they knew it, fans of Boney M were clapping their hands and getting off their seats to gyrate to Sunny, Ma Baker, Hooray! Hooray! It's a Holi-Holiday!, Daddy Cool (the group's first number 1 hit), Rasputin, Rivers of Babylon, No Woman No Cry and Bahama Mama, among others.

"We want you to get really happy ... we want to encourage you to dance so that your blood gets hot," coaxed Mitchell, the group's original lead singer.

"I was…

Running from the media

The drizzle early this morning did not deter participants of the National Press Club Media Run 2009 from taking part in the event.

Everyone wanted to complete the 5km stretch and return to the Press Club at Jalan Tangsi, Kuala Lumpur for the prize-giving ceremony which began around 10am.

The prizes were great; cash prizes and hampers for the top five in the different categories and more hampers and electrical items for the lucky draw segment.




This picture shows the Mohamed women -- Jehan, Nisa and Adibah -- adjusting the tags on their T-Shirts for the run.

Luck was on the side of these vibrant women. Although they didn't grab the top awards, they took home hampers from Giant and Milo.

Seasoned runner Adibah, who received two hampers, donated one to a very young boy.

The five-year-old youngster took part in the run with his father, who is an exco member of the National Press Club.

He looked so sad because he didn't get anything and that moved Adibah to give him one of her two…

What snow blizzard?

It's official. There will be no snow in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. There's not a vestige of truth in the  rumour that has been widely repeated on the internet -- that a snow blizzard would hit Kuala Lumpur at 7pm tomorrow.


Meteorological Department director-general Dr Yap Kok Seng said that it was impossible for snow blizzards to occur in tropical countries. Still, we should be prepared for bad weather until November 24 as predicted by the Meteorological Department.


Imagine snow falling all over Kuala Lumpur. Of course it's not true, what an absurd idea!


That's what you think.


Judging by the phone calls and emails which the Meteorological Department has had to handle over the past few weeks, many Malaysians seemed to have lost their capacity to distinguish between reality and fantasy.


I must admit that for several hours I was haunted by the possibility of snow-capped high-rise buildings in the city. I am happy that the Meteorological Department has taken action to douse the rum…

Your cheating heart!

"I don't trust him," JP said, in a rare moment of candour.

I was completely taken aback by JP's revelation that her partner had been cheating on her.

They have been together for nearly 19 years and that was the first time she had uttered those words.

JP's declaration got me thinking about the concept of trust: the belief that somebody is sincere and honest and will not try to harm or trick you.

A recent episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show disclosed that one in three men cheat on their spouses and 93 per cent of men hide their sexual affairs from their wives.

If trust is a rare and precious commodity in today's world, is there hope for relationships to thrive?

I don't have any answers.

Apparently family counsellor, rabbi and best-selling author Gary Neuman does.

He carried out a two-year study of 100 unfaithful men and 100 faithful men and the findings were documented in his book entitled The Truth About Cheating: Why Men Stray and What You Can Do To Prevent It…

The bridge of death

This picture of the suspension bridge across the Kampar River at the Kuala Dipang Curriculum centre, Kampar, Perak was taken on October 12, 2009 at 11.42 am. Who could have predicted that the bridge would collapse 15 days later as the picture below shows?



On Monday night (October 26, 2009) the bridge, which was opened a month ago, gave way. The 22 pupils on the overpass were plunged into the river. Nineteen were rescued from the river while three girls drowned.

They were among nearly 300 pupils attending a 1Malaysia unity camp. Another tragedy, another round of gloomy introspection.

Will we ever learn from our past disasters?

The usual calls for investigation have kept the newspapers busy. What's the use of making noises about safety and security? You and I know that we don't take these things seriously.

I am reminded of an observation made by the late Syed Hussein Alatas: "Malaysia has no awareness of standards." This latest catastrophe is a further proof of the v…

An evening with Gary Thanasan

Popular businessman Dato' Gary Thanasan held a social gathering in celebration of Diwali at his residence in Petaling Jaya yesterday.

The above picture shows Gary, who is holding his daughter, with Prestige magazine editor Saleha Ali and journalists Yani (Bernama), Suraya (Life & Times editor) and Meena (Life & Times).


Miss Malaysia (Universe) 1990 and Mrs Malaysia (World) 2004 Dato' Anna Lim came with her husband Dato' Jeffrey Lim and their two children.

The friendly pair sportingly posed for a picture.


Yani baked Gary, a former radio and TV show host, a classic dessert -- buttery rich Pineapple Upside Down Cake -- which brought back many childhood memories.

She is pictured here with Meena, who came to the party in her usual Bollywood style.

It was really a nice evening!

Thank you Gary!

Zen Prescription

zenhabits (simple productivity) is one of the Top 100 blogs in the world.

It also happens to be one of my favourite blogs.

Its entries or posts seek to find "simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives".

The message is to "focus on what's important, create something amazing, find happiness".

It is the perfect pick-me-up when you feel down.

Check it out here.

Night falls in Kuala Lumpur

This image of the Kuala Lumpur Tower (foreground) and the Petronas Twin Towers (background) was taken by journalist Jehan Mohd from Maybank Tower in Kuala Lumpur City last month.

Isn't it interesting how everything looks different at night?

Take this view of the city, for example.

What happened to the grime, congestion and pollution?

Night-time covers a multitude of sins.

It hides the real situation or facts when these are not good or pleasant.

As one unknown source puts it, "night is the blotting paper for many sorrows".

From the Talmud comes this warning: "Never greet a stranger in the night, for he may be a demon."

While Somerset Maugham notes that "in the country the darkness of night is friendly and familiar, but in a city, with its blaze of lights, it is unnatural, hostile and menacing.

"It is like a monstrous vulture that hovers, biding its time."

If the black of the night sky inspires fear as we are likely to feel when power failures blacked out va…

The genius of Shunya Susuki

Japanese creativity teacher Shunya Susuki is a man of unusually great artistic ability.

His wide-ranging creations which include solar electric cars, kites of unusual designs, sculpture of women and computer graphics animation reveal a highly-inventive mind.

His recently completed Jang Geum Robot (see picture) is remarkable for its resemblance to Korean actress Lee Young Ae, who played historical figure Dae Jang Geum in the popular 2003 television series produced by South Korean television channel Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation.

The robot will bow with a smile when it meets a person.

Susuki's creative endeavours display a commitment of time, energy and resources which is very
encouraging to those who wish to hone their artistic skills.

Some would call him a creative genius and I think that description is apt.

Oxford Advanced Learner's dictionary ( Seventh Edition) defines a genius as a person of
unusually great intelligence, skill or artistic ability.

But can anyone be a …

Remembering Aslam

My dear nephew,

It has been a week since you were taken away from us.

We miss you.

Yes, death is inevitable, we accept that.

Still, the grief lingers on.

Time is a great healer, they say.

But we will never forget you.

We are glad that you had a full life.

And we will remember that when we think of you.

Al Fatihah

Write and Win

This image of Yani, Shah, Arni and Zu was taken by Jehan Mohd at a recent Ramadan gathering organised by Learning Curve, New Straits Times.

Why do you think they look so satisfied?

Email (surveypeopleplaces@gmail.com) me the answer to win a Kinokuniya voucher worth RM50.

The deadline for submissions is Oct 31, 2009. The entry with the most creative answer will be declared the winner.

Yani, Shah Arni and Zu are forbidden to take part in this contest.

Cruising the Malacca River

This picture of the Malacca River Cruise was taken by photographer Ham with my camera.

We were on the eighth floor of the Renaissance Hotel recently and the view of the Malacca River was quite stunning from where we were standing.

There was no time for a cruise, which is highly recommended, by the way.

We were on an overnight business trip to the historical city.

I remember Sumita Martin raving about it when she was reporting for the New Straits Times from Malacca a few years ago.

The river itself has an interesting history.

According to Melaka Malaysia Travel "throughout its history, the Malacca River slowly modified its role as a busy and productive port along the import trade route of spices to a popular tourism attraction".

It was called the Venice of The East by European colonialists who were looking for new areas to acquire and keeping them dependent.

A voyage by sea, stopping at various places and savouring local cultures ala Slow Boats To China has been my dream for as long…

And we will eat dates ...

Ramadan, the fasting month for Muslims, is here once again.

Muslims in Malaysia began observing Ramadan on Saturday (Aug 22, 2009) and will do so for a month until the dawn of festivities known as Hari Raya here.

Ramadan is special for many reasons: savouring dates (as in the picture above) and traditional food, strengthening family ties and initiating gloomy and not-so-gloomy rounds of introspection.

The last activity is particularly important because examining my own thoughts, feelings and motives will motivate me to improve myself when I understand my obligations as a human being on Earth.

Prayers are important throughout the year but there is something about Ramadan that makes prayers even more meaningful.

Performing specific additional prayers that aim to bring the faithful closer to God is highly encouraged.

Selamat Berpuasa!

Jehan bagged it!

Journalist Jehan Mohd is 30 today.

I thought she would like a mer? original handbag so I invited Ice to design one that would suit her charming and vivacious personality.

Ice did not disappoint and I am very happy with her creation. I think Jehan likes the stylish tote (see picture) too.

Happy Birthday Jehan and enjoy the bag!

When a card came out of the blue ...

This post is prompted by a remark made by my good friend Wei Lin. She saw me reading a card I had received from a friend recently and said: "Traditional cards are so old-fashioned."

I wondered if that was true and decided to probe into the issue. A Google search revealed numerous articles on the debate between traditional paper-based cards and e-cards. Tracey Grady's examination of the pros and cons of each type is informative.

In my opinion, e-cards are not substitutes for the real (traditional) ones and they shouldn't be. I treat e-card e-mails with suspicion because spammers could be using them to download viruses and software onto my computer.

I have never sent anyone an e-card and I don't plan to; I dislike the cold impersonality of conveying greetings electronically.

I have always liked sending and receiving cards the traditional way.

The ritual of going to a bookshop, browsing at the card section, picking a suitable one for the recipient and then walking to a p…

Slow boats to nowhere

Wouldn't it be nice to take a slow boat to nowhere? The picture of these small boats with flat bottoms, used along the coasts and rivers of Southeast Asia was taken at the Jetty Complex, Sungai Merbok in Kedah, Malaysia. These boats or sampans remind me of Gavin Young's Slow Boats to China (1981) and Slow Boats Home (1985) which detail his "ship-hopping adventures". These books are standing in the bookcase in my living room, beckoning to me to read them again. And I will do that soon.

Follow the trail

Nature trails such as the one pictured above make me want to go for long walks. It is a joy to take a path through countryside, along which interesting plants, animals, among others can be seen. When was the last time you got out of the city to enjoy the countryside? When was the last time you reflected on the state of the environment? Do you even care what happens to our green areas? There is nothing better than treading a new path with congenial company and savouring the sense of freedom that it gives us. Equally important, the activity allows us to assess the extent of damage we have inflicted on our natural world, which biologist E.O. Wilson says "is in deep trouble". "Scientists estimate that if habitat conversion and other destructive human activities continue at their present rates, half the species of plants and animals on Earth could be either gone or at least fated for early extinction by the end of the century." For more read The Creation by E.O. Wilson …

A blissful afternoon

Close your eyes and imagine that you are sinking your teeth into the creamy, custardy yellow flesh of premium durians.
The company is good and the conversation is light and amusing. You roar with laughter at all the funny bits.
You scoop another piece of durian from its shell and put it into your mouth as you sit back to enjoy the view from the terrace of a modern farmhouse which overlooks durian trees and the mountain.
If that is your idea of bliss, then an afternoon at Bao Sheng Durian Farm in Penang is just the thing for you.
The seven-acre spread is situated in Balik Pulau and is becoming increasingly popular with serious durian lovers especially those from Penang and Kuala Lumpur.
I was there with my siblings recently and it was an afternoon that would be hard to forget.


For starters, the durians here are of the highest quality.
Bao Sheng has 180 durian trees and they belong to the kampung (village) varieties with curious names such as Red Prawn, Horlor (Hokkien for melon) and Li…

Odour and passion

These are some of the varieties of durian that you will find at the Bao Sheng Durian Farm in Balik Pulau, Penang. Many Malaysians can't get enough of it yet there are also those who can't stand it. It is that overpowering smell, they say. Yes, it is a complex relationship. Find out more about the Bao Sheng Durian Farm tomorrow.


If I were in your shoes, ...

Imelda Marcos turns 80 on July 2, 2009 and told the Associated Press in an interview that “she is nearly broke”. “Here I am, at 80, still struggling to look presentable,” the widow of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos told the news agency in “her swank two-storey penthouse in Manila, wearing a dark red dress over matching pants and red slippers”.
Imelda, whose shoe collection became a worldwide symbol of extravagance, and Ferdinand fled the Philippines in 1986 following the “people power” uprising, which installed Mrs Corazon Aquino as the next president.
According to a 1990 news report, she left behind 508 gowns, 427 dresses, 71 pairs of sunglasses and 1,060 pairs of shoes.
Nicknamed the “Iron Butterfly” during her 20 years as First Lady, Imelda was at one time known as the “Muse of Manila”. The way she had earned the title gave a fascinating glimpse into her philosophy of life: take EVERY opportunity that presents itself!
She had entered the Miss Manila contest at the age of 20…

The clock is ticking ...

When my eldest brother was in his forties some 25 years ago he threw the following question to his younger siblings: "how do you live your life when you are very old?"
He was referring to people in the above 70 category.
My brother had some issues about growing old at the time and was questioning his own ability to age gracefully.
Naturally, none of us knew the answer to the question but it did stick in my mind for a while.
The announcement of Tomoji Tanabe's death who was named as the world's oldest man in June 2007 at age 111 took my mind back to the question.
Tanabe was 113 when he died in his sleep at his home in southern Japan on Friday (June 19, 2009).
A statement from a city official in Miyakonojo on Japan's southern island of Kyushu revealed that Tanabe, who was born on Sept 18, 1895, had eight children — five sons and three daughters.
He lived with his fifth son and daughter-in-law.
He also had 25 grandchildren, 53 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandch…

Style me batik

Sultry females and bold batik prints make a lethal combination as this photo of Indonesian student Cynthia Chaerunissa shows.
She is wearing a sexy, one-shoulder dress which is fashioned from zebra striped batik by student designer Stacia Andani, also from Indonesia.
Chaerunissa modelled the outfit at a fashion show organised by students at LimKokWing University of Creative Technology, Cyberjaya campus.
Both Chaerunissa (mass communications) and Andani are students at the institution.
The snazzy presentation howled Animal Print as 49 designers -- fourth and fifth semester students from Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, Botswana, Indonesia -- revealed their creations.
The grey and black toga-style robe looks great on the model: she reminds me of Indonesian singer/songwriter Anggun.
Batik is terrific for many reasons: you can style it casual or glamorous, among others.
Women and men in Malaysia have been wearing batik for a very long time and, yes, I am a fan!
See the YOU section of the New Straits…

Who am I?

Malaysian artist Jeganathan Ramachandram will be exhibiting his paintings in Singapore if a deal with a company to display Human Watching: A Visual Poetry on the Science of Human Watching in the island republic is successful. The intuitive artist told Survey that the move is still under negotiation. Human watching made its debut at Galeri Petronas in March, 2009 and was well received by both art critics and art lovers. Fourteen portraits representing females and males born on each of the seven days in a week were put on view. The depictions (acrylic on canvas) were based on his observations of human behaviour for the past 14 years. Images of seven females and seven males inform viewers through symbols of their strengths and weaknesses and their relationships with other people. Those who have seen Human Watching identified with their profiles almost immediately. Admit it: you are curious about yourself! Males, who were born on Sunday (bottom picture), were pleasantly surprised to discov…

Happy Father's Day

June is a significant month for fathers and those who have acted as father figures: stepfathers, uncles, grandfathers, big brothers, teachers and mentors. It is the month when some countries including Malaysia celebrate Father's Day. As American poet Anne Sexton put it: "It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was."
My own father, who was a major influence in my life when I was growing up in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia, passed away a long time ago.
Since then there has been one major father figure in my life: my mentor, who is also my uncle, and he has helped me through difficult times.
Fathers teach by example. You learn important values from them and you acquire some of their tastes for things. It could be anything: a love for English literature, words and books, among others.
Sometimes you did not agree with their viewpoints but realised later that they were right about many things.
As a child, growing up in a hometown known for its laid-back ways, …