Monday, 11 September 2017

An old name for Great Britain

In the English Premier League football competition, I support Liverpool Football Club. I first became an LFC fan when I studied in the UK in the 1980s. Last Saturday, they played against Manchester City and got the worst drubbing that I can ever remember watching. After the exhilarating game against Arsenal the previous fortnight where the Gunners were trounced 4 to nothing, last weekend saw Liverpool on the receiving end of a City goal-scoring spree.

Damn it hurts... but I guess if you are able to dish it out, then you should be able to take it too.

The only other team in EPL that I would consider myself a supporter of is West Bromwich Albion, although I cannot call myself a die-hard fan. I became a supporter of WBA much earlier that LFC, when I was still in secondary school. The main reason for my attraction to Albion was a certain player named Bryan Robson. A stylish and hardworking midfielder, Robson later transferred to Manchester United where he enjoyed a successful career. He also became captain of the England team.

After watching the horrible Liverpool team display on Saturday, I then switched to watch the later game of West Bromwich Albion versus recently-promoted Brighton & Hove Albion. As it turned out, the new boys BHA defeated WBA by 3 - 1. A rotten Saturday of EPL football for me.

Anyway, the item that caught my interest was that two teams with `Albion' in their names are playing against each other, the first time I've come across it. This caused me to look up what `albion' means.

According to Wikipedia, Albion is the oldest known name for the island of Great Britain. The name is ancient Greek in origin (as opposed to Britain, which has Latin roots).

Okay then... enough of rolling in sorrow and looking forward to next week's game.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Barely alive

In some of my responses to social media comments from friends, I often use the Malay idiom nyawa-nyawa ikan to describe the present political career of a certain minister. The phrase has a graphic impact and apply to a condition (life, career or business situation, for example) that is barely alive or in its last gasp of breath before expiring.

As usual, after using such a phrase, I often wonder how it originated. Sad to say, all my online search for Malay word or phrase origins have revealed very little. Apart from telling us what the idiom means, no website has provided information on how, when or who created the phrase. There aren't any websites whose authors or administrators are even willing to offer a theory on how such sayings came to be.

This pales in comparison to websites that offer the etymology of English words and origins of the most popular and common phrases. Malay language and literary scholars still have a long way to go, it seems.

In the absence of such theories, I guess I'll offer one of mine :

Nyawa-nyawa ikan ~ when a fish is caught on a hook and pulled to the river bank or into the perahu, it would flop here and there, gasping for water and struggle for a bit before finally reaching the end. The duration from the time it is taken out of the water and the time it stops moving is not a terribly long one. Some wise wordsmith of old then thought that this situation would aptly describe someone who is in his final throes of survival.

Not a nice situation to be in...

On sale at our local fishmonger at the central market

Thursday, 24 August 2017

One local destination a month - Part 7 : Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan

Welcome to the 7th entry of my 1LD1M series. This time it is about Port Dickson in Negeri Sembilan.

The visit to Port Dickson was somewhat unplanned. In early July, our second son received confirmation of his housemanship posting to Sungai Buloh Hospital in Selangor. Prior to his posting, he has to attend an orientation programme to be held at a hotel in Port Dickson. We took the opportunity to send him for his course while at the same time spend a day at the seaside town that's well-known by its shortened name of PD.

We have been to PD a number of times and for each trip we stayed at different accommodations. It was no different this time around.

1. Klana Beach Resort and Balai Cerap Teluk Kemang

Both these buildings are located within the same compound and are owned by Majlis Agama Islam Negeri Sembilan (MAINS), the Islamic Religious Council of the state.

The hotel itself is a low-rise building of only 4 storeys. It has one row of rooms facing the sea while the other facing inland. We took one that faces the sea. Although it cost slightly more, the nice view was worth it.

While it attaches the `beach resort' label to its name, the hotel does not exactly have a sandy beach where guests could easily access for a dip in the sea. The hotel sits on a hilly cape with a rocky coastline at the bottom. There is a well-constructed staircase and footpath that leads from the hotel grounds to the water's edge. You can't really swim there but I guess the walk around the cape would be enjoyable enough. If you are still keen on a beach swim, there are nice public beaches on either side of the cape.

As I see it, the main advantage of being located on elevated ground is the lovely view of the Straits of Melaka. On the day we were there, the weather was calm and serene. As we approached the end of the day, the glorious sunset was a sight to soothe the soul.

The front of Klana Beach Resort. Visited on 17 July 2017

A medium-sized swimming pool with separate zones for men and ladies

A lone jet-ski rider cutting across the calm sea

Final rays of the day before the sun sinks below the horizon
Another reason why I chose to stay at this resort is the Balai Cerap Teluk Kemang, an astronomy observatory that is well-known among Muslim calendar enthusiasts as one of the places in the country for the official moon-sighting exercise to determine the start of the Ramadhan fasting month. Guests at the resort are entitled to a free pass to enter the observatory and have a look at the sky through its telescope.

This telescope is said to be the biggest in Malaysia, but how big is big, I have no idea. From what little I know about astronomy, the reference size of a telescope is the diameter of its reflective mirror, which in this case is said to be 24 inches. To reach this telescope, you'd have to climb up 6 flight of stairs. No elevator. The telescope is very sensitive to vibrations, hence any mechanical equipment that would induce such jitters (such as a lift going up and down) cannot be accommodated.

It was a tough climb up the stairs for an unfit couple like me and my better half but the effort was so worthwhile. We were blessed with a clear night sky and the observatory staff could point the telescope at Saturn. Yes, the planet Saturn... the special one with those unique rings around it. As seen through the telescope, the planet was a small blob of light in a huge dark sky. But those rings were sharp and clear. No mistaking Saturn from the other planets. I could have stayed there all night to watch the skies but then they close the place to visitors at midnight.

The staff at the observatory were very helpful in answering questions we had about the solar system, stars and constellations. They also have a collection of images of the galaxy which they showed us on a large flat-screen monitor. I asked to see an image of the Milky Way (known as Bima Sakti in Malay) and the gentleman manning the computer pulled up a file from his archive to display a breathtaking well-composed picture of the observatory (foreground) and the star-filled sky (background). I hope to be able to capture a picture of such quality some time in the future.

Teluk Kemang Observatory, rear view facing Straits of Melaka

View of observatory main entrance

The main telescope at the top level of the observatory

2. Pengkalan Kempas Megalith Complex

Upon checking out of Klana Beach Resort, we took the main road (Federal Route 5) heading south to Johor Bahru. About 30km from Teluk Kemang along this road, Google Maps show a place with an interesting name. I thought it was worth a stop since it was on our return route anyway.

Pengkalan Kempas Megalith Complex (alternatively mentioned as Kompleks Sejarah Pengkalan Kempas on official road signs) is actually the grave of a Muslim missionary of olden days identified as Sheikh Ahmad Majnun. This religious teacher was said to be propagating Islam during the time of 13th century Melaka Sultanate. Around his tomb are some carved stones placed in peculiar fashion. Some of these stones are inscribed with old Jawi (arabic) script but what they actually say is not translated.

Personally, to call the site a complex is somewhat an overstatement. And calling the stones megaliths is stretching it too much. Apart from the official Jabatan Warisan (Heritage Department) plaque at the entrance to the site, not much other information can be seen. Who actually was this sheikh? Who carved the stones? When and why were they placed in such a manner? What do those carvings mean? I guess such questions would remain unanswered. Nonetheless, an interesting enough place to make a stop if you happen to be passing by the area.

On the day of our visit, the roof structure covering the grave was under repairs. At least this shows that effort is being made to keep the site in a presentable state.

Tomb of a learned man

Unique stone structures next to the grave. There is another smaller group of stones
a few metres away under a separate roof

Sunday, 30 July 2017

One local destination a month - Part 6 : Mersing, Johor

I have to start this 6th post of my 1LD1M series with an apology. When I first embarked on this set of travel stories, the intention was to write about a new place in Malaysia that I have never been to before. However, the month of June was mostly taken up by the fasting month of Ramadhan and later the Aidifitri celebration. Hence there wasn't much traveling except for the balik kampung trip to my better half's hometown of Mersing.

To keep the series in motion, I therefore have to slightly bend my rules and write about Mersing, a place I have written about a few times before. Sorry about that. Nonetheless, I hope the new information I'm sharing here would be helpful to readers who plan to drop by this small town on the east coast of Johor.

While Mersing is probably more well-known for its beaches (Air Papan, Penyabong etc.) and as the stepping point to the islands (Tioman, Sibu etc.), I'll focus my writing on a few makan places that are worth mentioning.

1. Nasi Dagang

Not many people know that Mersing has a good selection of food items that originated from Terengganu like nasi dagang, keropok lekor and satar. This is because a sizeable number of Terengganu descendants have settled there, especially in the area known as Mersing Kanan (locally known as Tanjung). Perhaps the most famous of all the nasi dagang in Mersing is Nasi Dagang Mak Yah, sold from a simple stall next to the main wet market. The nasi dagang is so popular that you have to queue to buy it.

However, Mak Yah sells her nasi dagang for take-away only. If you wish to have your nasi dagang as a sit-down breakfast meal or not patient enough to stand in a waiting queue, I recommend you make a visit to Nasi Dagang Warisan Kak Ju. It is a foodstall located on Jalan Makam, a road that runs along the coast on the north side of town. Other than nasi dagang, Kak Ju also sells nasi lemak, nasi minyak and other breakfast items. Although it is slightly out of town, the short drive would be worth it. Taste is good, price is very reasonable (still at kampung levels) and parking space is ample.

Warisan Kak Ju. Visited 28 June 2017

Nasi dagang on a plate

2. Nasi campur masakan kampung

For a kampung-style nasi campur (mixed rice) lunch meal, our place of choice is a foodstall called Kedai Ucu Selera Kita, also located on Jalan Makam but nearer to town. This place sells a wide spread of kampung dishes that would make you spoilt for choice. The slight drawback is that service may be a bit slow when the huge crowd hits at lunchtime. On weekends, hungry out-of-towners would flock the place, so if you wish to avoid it, try coming here before noon. Despite this minor inconvenience, we like to have our lunch here because we've not found another place in Mersing which can match the variety of dishes on offer.

Large seating area that's quickly packed

Typical nasi campur mix consisting of asam pedas ikan, sayur and telur asin

3. Mee bandung

You wouldn't think you'd find good mee bandung muar in Mersing, would you? I'll tell you now that you can. But you have to drive some ways out of town to reach the place. Mee Bandung D'gunung is an unimpressive stall located right by the roadside of Federal Route 3 about 10km north of town. If you are driving from Mersing town towards Endau, you'd probably miss it. But if you are game for a bit of difference, then make a look-out for it on your left-hand side after you pass the water treatment plant in Tenglu.

The stall is mostly a one-man show run by an amiable gentleman called Encik Mat. If you come in a large group, then patience is key. He operates from early morning to around 6pm with a short closing period around mid-day for zohor prayers.

While the mee bandung is not bad, Encik Mat also serves good mee soto too. Again, prices are still customer-friendly.

Location is just by the main road

Mee bandung in reasonable portion

Couldn't resist a bowl of mee soto after finishing the mee bandung

4. Satar and keropok lekor

Okay, back to the Terengganu delicacies of satar and keropok lekor. There are not that many stalls selling satar. We have tried almost all and the one we consider the best is located near the keropok gallery along Jalan Makam at Mersing Kanan. This stall has no particular name so I decided to give it the title of Gerai Satar Terbaik Mersing and recommended an addition to Google Maps.

They start business around 11 in the morning and would sometimes be sold-out by 3pm. They have a few small tables where you can sit and have your satar in-situ. Complete your selection with some keropok lekor, otak-otak, kuih paung and cendol which they also sell, and you have a satisfying tea-time meal.

Satar and otak-otak over charcoal fire

Satar is made up of fish, coconut and some killer bits of cili padi

Kuih paung whose insides are also fish and coconut

Sunday, 23 July 2017

An exclave in Peninsula Malaysia

exclave (noun)a portion of a country geographically separated from the main part by surrounding alien territory

It is quite common for us to come across the word `enclave', a country or region that is completely surrounded or enclosed by the territory of another country. Examples of enclaves are :

1. Lesotho (enclaved by South Africa)
2. Vatican City (enclaved by Italy)

Before the re-unification of Germany in 1990, the city of West Berlin was also considered an enclave because it was surrounded by the former East Germany.

A logical extension of this concept is the 'exclave', where only part of a country or region is geographically separated from the main part by another territory. I have only recently found out what this word means and that there is an example in Peninsula Malaysia itself.

I was browsing Google Maps not long ago to look for interesting places to visit in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan. I noticed that the cape of Tanjung Tuan (also known by its Portuguese name of Cape Rachado) has a state boundary crossing it. I have been to this place before and loved the shallow beach known as Blue Lagoon (see post here -> Port Dickson) but I never realised that Tanjung Tuan is not in Negeri Sembilan. It is actually part of the state of Melaka.

When I was in Port Dickson last week, I made a stop at Tanjung Tuan to take some photographs confirming this fact.

So there you have it. The small protrusion of hilly land extending its head to the sea known as Tanjung Tuan, which is mostly forest reserve and site of Cape Rachado Lighthouse is an exclave belonging to Melaka.

It has taken more than a half-century of my life to discover this. We learn something new every day...

The signboard on Federal Route 5, giving first indication that
part of Melaka is isolated by Negeri Sembilan

As we approach the cape, the state boundary signboard (right background) becomes evident

The road on the left leads to the lighthouse (Melaka) while the one on the right
leads to Pantai Tg Biru (Negeri  Sembilan)

The Google Map showing state lines cutting across the neck of the cape