Thursday, December 31, 2009

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 what happens when the "waited" doesn't appear?

Does your desire for it become habitual?

And does that longing develop into optimism that soon it "would turn up at any given moment"?

Sillada describes "this intangible form of waiting, which is beyond the empirical certainty of the two elements (the waited and the appointed time), as the metaphysical aspect of waiting".

All of us have experienced this type of waiting.

"Even if the chance of the waited to come were nil, something ineffable and magical could happen to the waiter, because the metaphysical aspect of waiting" has the power "to motivate the waiter to do something worthwhile within the process of waiting".

That is the most important point of Sillada's message.

As the following view puts it:

"Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow -- that is patience." (Source unknown)

My conservations with thoughtful people reveal the same central idea: patience is absolutely necessary when we embark on anything significant.

It could be looking for a new job, searching for the next break or writing a book.

Don't expect overnight success, however we define it.

And the period of "restlessness" that comes with the journey is a given.

But that "gives us wisdom to dissect and rationalise the purpose and meaning of our existence", writes Sillada.

"The tension between despair and anxiety, boredom and activity, joy and sorrow as well as victory and defeat": that is part and parcel of the long wait.

I draw comfort from the words of Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, jurist, theologian and sufi mystic.

"Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form."

Happy New Year!

Picture by Jehan Mohd

Sunday, December 27, 2009

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 back home.


It was a wise decision.


The taste was incredible.


As journalist Jehan Mohd describes it: "It was love at first bite."


You will feel a "slightly gritty sensation when the bottom of the cake is put into the mouth," states a brochure inside the box.


"This comes from individual grains of finely ground brown sugar crystals."


"It is nice and rich without being overly sweet. It is soft and fluffy," says Jehan.


For journalist Aref Omar eating the cake sends "a shot of bliss" through his taste buds "which takes me back to my childhood".


The Castella is a heart-warming story of East meeting West.


The cake was introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries (some accounts say Portuguese traders) in the mid-16th Century and it is one of the finest examples of Japanese innovation.


The flavour is great and the history is fascinating.


Altogether it is a very satisfying experience.

 
I tasted the Japanese delight again when Takeshi Kokubu -- senior editor of The Nishinippon Newspaper -- presented every participant of the Third ACJC, which was held in Nanjing, China last November, with a box of Nagasaki Castella.


The Fourth ACJC was held in Fukuoka City, Japan on December 14, this year.


The obvious move for me, needless to say, was to go back to the same duty-free shop at Fukuoka International Airport for the Japanese sponge cake.


The picture below shows journalists Suzieana Uda Nagu, Jehan Mohd and Sharifah Arfah enjoying the Castella with hot tea.





Tuesday, December 22, 2009

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 tarts.

For many the celebration continues well into the small hours.

Selamat Hari Raya Natal, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noel, Merry Christmas.

However you say it, it means "have a good time"!

From me to you:

Merry Christmas or just enjoy your day off!

NOTE: Pictures by Jehan Mohd

Thursday, December 17, 2009

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 Susuki’s suggestion.

Indonesian journalist Robert Adhi Kusumaputra (KOMPAS Jakarta) volunteered to create the UN HABITAT’s Asian City Journalists’ Conference Group on Facebook.

After the dinner party, Kusumaputra, Cynthia Delgado Balana (Philippine Daily Enquirer) and Faezah Ismail (New Straits Times Malaysia) adjourned to set up the page.

Do check out the group on Facebook.







Thursday, December 10, 2009

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 watch Spooks.

Give me one good reason why you did that, Astro!!!

I am so grateful to KBS World for Iris.

NOTE: Picture courtesy of New Straits Times

Monday, November 30, 2009

'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 in Standard 5 when this song became famous. We all could sing Rivers of Babylon," said Maybank Head of Corporate Communication Celina May Benjamin. Yani and this writer were guests of Maybank at the dinner show.

Similar comments were heard elsewhere throughout the night.

    


It was Mitchell's first trip to Malaysia although Boney M had performed here a few times.

Mitchell  was responsible for most of the group's chart-topping songs from the mid-1970s to the early 80s.

Boney M garnered 18 platinum and 15 gold LPs, and 200 platinum and gold singles over the course of 10 years.

The original Boney M split up in 1986, and Mitchell went on to record four solo albums.

Mitchell returned for the group’s Gold and More Gold compilations in the early 1990s — this time with a new line up comprising Carol Grey, Patricia Lona Foster and Tony Ashcroft.

The rejuvenated group also recorded another compilation, The Magic of Boney M in 2006, which included a brand new song featuring Mitchell.

In 1990, it was decided that each individual band member was allowed to tour under the name Boney M, which gave birth to the moniker Boney M Revisited.

Boney M Revisited is a phenomenal live act drawing huge crowds with spectacular shows.



New Straits Times Group Editor Datuk Syed Nadzri Syed Harun (see picture) was one of the cool daddies at the show.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

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 hampers.




Nisa (see picture), like many other participants including this writer, walked rather than ran.

The route was from the Press Club at Jalan Tangsi, past Lake Garden towards Jalan Sultan Salahuddin, Jalan Dato Onn and back to the Press Club.


 

This participant gamely posed for a picture before the run.


She found the police outrider difficult to resist.




Thanks to the organisational skills of National Press Club vice-president Yani and her colleagues, the event proceeded smoothly.

Everybody present was happy to have been part of this activity.

Make it a walk next year, Yani.

Photos by Jehan Mohd and Faezah Ismail

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What snow blizzard?


  Malaysia has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.


It's officialThere 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 rumours.


Calvin, what are you going to do with your winter clothes?


I will be preparing for my next trip to the beach (see picture courtesy of Jehan Mohd).


Thank God for sunny Malaysia!

Friday, November 06, 2009

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.

I first heard about Neuman on The Oprah Winfrey Show and later read an article by Newsweek's Jessica Ramirez about his book.

His research showed that even good men are susceptible to cheating.

Many men turned to other women because they felt an emotional disconnection from their wives who no longer appreciate them.

So long as men feel that their wives value them, they will "stay in the game".

Otherwise, they will seek the company of other women: those who will give them the appreciation they crave so much.

I told JP about Neuman's book and his findings.

She groans: "Why does it always have to be about men and their needs?"

Photo by Jehan Mohd.

NOTE: For more on the topic, read Suzanna Pillay's interview with best-selling authors Allan and Barbara Pease about their book Why Men Want Sex and Women Need Love in Life & Times on November 10, 2009. The pair also wrote Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

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 validity of his statement.

Photos courtesy of New Straits Times.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

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!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

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.

Monday, October 12, 2009

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 various sections of the city, it is also conducive to contemplation.

Although "fear (and grief) can keep us up all night long," notes another unknown source, "faith makes one fine pillow".

Those who lead a life of prayer and contemplation believe that the secrets of the divine are revealed at night-time.

It is the time when they feel closest to their creator and spiritual obligations take on a whole new meaning.

Khalil Gibran urges us to celebrate the night because "one may not reach the dawn save by the path of the night".

An African proverb comments in a similar vein:" However long the night, the dawn will break."

NOTE: For more night quotes, go to this website.

Friday, October 02, 2009

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 genius?

Yes, if we accept Edward Said's explanation of what makes a genius.

"The essential thing about the actual works of genius is that they hide or eliminate all the traces
of the labour that went into them.

"Rather than trying to retrace the massive effort that went into the work's making, we ascribe
everything to 'genius', as if genius was a magic wand, or a secret chemical formula.

"This rather lazy idea of genius as something both final and beyond normal comprehension
sentimentalises, obscures, venerates what it should instead be studying with profit to everyone:
namely, the fact that genius is more a remarkable devotion to work, to patience, to slogging away
at a problem or a task than it is simply a matter of having a devastating flash of divine inspiration.

"There's no way of doing without the inspiration, of course.

"But that's less important than what the genius makes of it, through exhaustive work and an
obsessive attention to detail, going on for years and years.

"Patience is as important a virtue as ingenuity, perhaps even more so.

"Every genius works hard, though not everyone who perspires is a genius. The qualities that a
genius has include a certain incomparable elegance and inevitability: these take one's breath
away immediately."

Edward Said, the late Palestinian intellectual, may well be describing Susuki, who believes that
an individual is blessed with his or her own talent.

It is a matter of discovering what it is and taking it as far as you want to go.

The choice is yours.

NOTE: Read "Creative Genius" for more on Shunya Susuki.
Photo of Shunya Susuki and his Jang Geum Robot was taken by Maki Inoue
from The
Nishinippon Newspaper.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

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

Saturday, September 19, 2009

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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

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 as I can remember.

For now, I would settle for a cruise around the Malacca River.







Sunday, August 23, 2009

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!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

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!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

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 post office nearby to mail it always gives me immense joy. After that I will proceed to the nearest cafe for a nice cup of coffee to muse on my choice of card.

Admittedly, the traditional method of buying and sending cards can be time-consuming, if you have deadlines to meet. But it is worth the effort because the giver gets as much pleasure as the receiver, if not more.

Hallmark market researchers talk about "the emotional power of an unexpected card" and "sending a card is one of the biggest little things you can do to make someone's day".

"People are returning to a focus on basic human connection, reaching out and letting people know they’re loved and appreciated or just to say thanks," said Tressa Angell, Hallmark senior product manager.

I totally susbscribe to that view and I think we should often tell our family, friends and loved ones how much they mean to us.

The current economic recession is not likely to harm card sales, say industry watchers. Indeed, cards can be replacements for gifts during times of financial difficulty.

Make your own cards, if you feel so inclined. We must stay connected with those who matter to us.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

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.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

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 (2006)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

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 Little Red.
When owner Chang Teik Seng's father bought the plantation in 1955 for a mere RM3,500, it only had five durian trees.
Few farmers were interested in growing durians commercially at the time because government incentives were for rubber cultivation.
But the elder Chang felt that the King of Fruit had a lot of potential. He turned out to be right and today Bao Sheng is the THE place for the durian connoisseur.
Durians from the holding shot to fame when they earned top spot in a 1996 competition organised by the Agriculture Department; they went on to grab other coveted awards.
Chang started a website about his thorny gems soon after that and collaborated with a hotel in Penang to drive guests to his place for "Eat all you can" sessions, which have become a "must do" activity for visitors to the island.


Not surprisingly, foreigners are drawn to Bao Sheng. Chang Zhi Keong (second picture from top), Chang's son, related the following story.
Three Americans came to plantation recently and devoured the fruit as locals would. One of them even polished off eight durians. Apparently the smell didn't bother them.
Zhi Keong is a first-rate storyteller and he held his audience spellbound.
For me that was among the highlights of my afternoon at Bao Sheng Durian Farm.
Being told that he would pack rambutans (also from the farm) for us to take home (free of charge) was an added bonus of our visit to Malaysia's best kept secret (at least to me before this trip).

His website has played an important role in promoting Bao Sheng, says Chang, who eats durians daily ("my family and I love the fruit"). Many of his new customers are tech-savvy young professionals who came across his website while surfing the internet.
Since Malaysia offers some of the best durians in the region why do we still import from Thailand?
Thai durians flood the local market in March and April. Malaysia's durian season starts in May and ends either at the end of June or early July. The Thai durians are cast aside when the local season begins, Chang says.

Those who have tasted durians from Bao Sheng are not likely to forget the experience and would like to share it with their colleagues and business partners. That's where durian parties come in.
Organisers -- professionals in the 25-50 age group -- of these parties, which take place two to three times a week in Kuala Lumpur and on the weekends in Penang, get their supply of the fruit from Bao Sheng.
You can also buy these durians in supermarkets. Apart from Balik Pulau, excellent durians can also be found in some areas in Perak, Kuala Lumpur, Negri Sembilan, Pahang and Johor.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

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.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

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 but was not selected as a finalist.
She felt crushed by the outcome and pleaded with the then mayor, accusing the judging panel of vote-rigging.
The mayor, who was partial to pretty girls, fell for her charms and appointed her the “Muse of Manila” to cheer her up.
Imelda continues to shock the world with her comments. The tone of her "broke" declaration is consistent with the general tenor of previous remarks.
The following are a few examples.
Imelda on her shoes, jewels and paintings
“Shoes are not even my weakness. Many of the paintings I bought were for our poor museums at home. As for jewels, I was blessed with a husband who was very generous to me,” – July 1990.
“Before I had 3,000 pairs. Now the official count is only more than 1,000. Where have the rest gone?” – November 1991.
Imelda on Mrs Corazon Aquino
“I will ask her what it is she is angry about, what it is I have done. If I have done something wrong, I will say I’m sorry and do what I have to do,” – November 1991.
“I am so sorry for her and ultimately for the country. She had all this opportunity. Everybody wanted to give her a chance, and she blew it. – January 1992.
Imelda on aspirations to run for presidency
“When the people speak, Imelda follows. I am now considering all options for the survival of our country.” – December 1991
Imelda on her concern for Filipinos
“As long as there is one Filipino who is poor, Imelda’s work will not be over. I am my little people’s star and slave, ” – December 1991
NOTE: Imelda's collection of shoes is on display at the Marikina Shoe Museum. For more on Imelda Marcos visit this site.
TOP PICTURE: Imelda Marcos at her 70th birthday party on July 2, 1999
BOTTOM PICTURE: An official of Marikina's tourism council showing off Imelda's shoes on August 16, 1999
PHOTOS: AFP, AP (New Straits Times Photo Library)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

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-grandchildren.
City mayor Makoto Nagamine said Tanabe "cheered many citizens".
I have my own questions about the elderly now.
* What do they think in the morning, afternoon, evening and just before going to bed?
* Do they have more regrets or wonderful memories?
* What is their definition of a full life?
* How do they feel when all their peers have passed on?
* How do they keep themselves busy?
* Do they receive only pitying looks from people or is the interaction genuine?
* How do they relate to the younger generation?
* Do their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren visit them often or if they are single do they keep in touch with their friends (assuming that some of them are still living)?
My parents lived long enough to see their nine children grow up and develop their own careers but I never got the chance to ask them these questions.
My father passed away when he was 76 and my mother at 74.
It was quite clear to us that they wanted to see more of their children as they grew older.
These questions demand another round of gloomy introspection.
NOTE: The oldest man is now World War I veteran Henry Allingham

Thursday, June 18, 2009

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 Times (June 20, 2009) for more on the fashion show.
Photo: LimKokWing University of Creative Technology.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

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 discover that Jeganathan (top picture) had read them correctly: they agreed that their families are very important to them and would do everything in their power to make their wives and children happy.
You would also perceive that they excel in public service.
Females, who were born on Monday (middle picture), are said to be keen observers of life and it would appear that the publishing industry was created for them.
Critics dismiss Jeganathan's work as "mumbo-jumbo": accusing him of being strongly influenced by astrology and numerology, among others.
What it all boils down to is little or no understanding of his take on human behaviour.
"My work is based purely on human watching -- there is a biological pattern which decides one's abilities," he told journalist Jehan Mohd (Learning Curve March 22, 2009).
He believes that his conclusions would help people understand themselves and their children better.
You would be surprised to learn that you could have been a great singer if only your talent had been discovered and nurtured when you were a child.
Please allow your imagination to roam freely.
The artist is currently working on a book based on his research and, hopefully, that will be a useful guide for parents.
"The book will help parents identify innate characteristics and abilities their children have from young and help them develop their offspring towards their full potential," he told Jehan.
"People CAN be what they want to be," he says.
NOTE: Survey will be talking to Jeganathan soon.
Photos: Jehan Mohd

Saturday, June 13, 2009

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, my father seemed like a walking encyclopedia: he knew everything, for example, the spelling of difficult words and why prayers were important.
I didn't always agree with him but thought it wise to remain silent.
Then I moved out of our family home to start life at university in another town.
New faces, new surroundings and lots of excitement.
I thought I owned the world until trouble hit me and my father came to my rescue.
That would happen several times in my life as a young adult.
Do Fathers know best?
I would say mine did, and with the benefit of hindsight I now see where I went wrong.
These days I find myself recalling his pearls of wisdom of which there are numerous.
New York writer Margaret Truman expressed it in the following manner: "It's only when you grow up, and step back from him, or leave him for your own career and your own home -- it's only then that you can measure his greatness and fully appreciate it. Pride reinforces love."
That is so true!
Like Mother's Day, the celebration honouring mothers, Father's Day is an excellent way to bring family members together.
It is a time to reaffirm our commitment to our family and to reflect on what it means to us.
Some say that families are under threat.
They cite longer working hours, absent parents and divorce as harmful influences that threaten the traditional family.
The United Nations admits that the changing social structure and an ageing population pose a challenge to both families and governments.
Other major trends that affect families worldwide are migration and HIV/AIDS.
Also, consumerism and globalisation have turned luxuries into necessities, forcing parents to work harder for the money because raising children in the consumer culture takes effort.
They built up successful careers but at the expense of neglecting their children.
Not many of us are really free of these issues.
If you are, then count your blessings and examine your own relationship with your family members with a view to improving it.
Do we spend enough time with our families? How often do we visit close relatives who stay in another county? Do we bother to check on older relatives who are ill?
These are uncomfortable questions but they must be asked if only to appease our conscience.
As we gather round our fathers one evening this month to honour them let us also ponder on the family as an institution and why we need to maintain it.
Happy Father's Day!