Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Digital dreams

I'll just get straight to the point. I'm dreaming of either one of two Japanese beauties. A DSLR camera by Nikon or Canon. Yup, I hope to lay my hands on a Digital Single-Lens Reflex camera. But the ones that I'm dreaming of are sure damn expensive.

It's a toss-up between the Nikon D80 or the Canon EOS450D. These cameras are not really for beginners in DSLR photography but neither are they the top of the range cameras that the pros use. Rather, they are the mid-range models for the `serious enthusiasts', whatever that means. Both cost in excess of RM3k.

I could go for the entry-level models that retail at RM1k less but having read advice and reviews by seasoned photographers, it is worth spending that little extra to go for the mid-range model if we plan to be using it for a reasonably long time. The problem is that I don't have that much spare cash to splurge on a new digital camera. So I guess it's just back to dreaming for now...

My interest in photography started very young when my father gave me a Fuji pocket camera as a present. Later on when I was in university, I managed to save enough money to buy my first SLR camera, a Yashica FXD Quartz. The original setup came with a standard 42-75mm zoom lens. As I began to explore the different techniques in taking photos, I added a Tamron 70-210mm zoom lens to the setup. This hobby continued after I finished studies and started working but I was never really serious about it. The best that I got in publication was seeing my pics in the in-house company newsletter.

The interest started to wane after I got married and started a family. I guess priorities became different after that.

But now, when I look at the beautiful pics taken by other bloggers, I get green with envy. Close-up shots, macro shots, low depth-of-field, panaromic views, long exposures, silhouettes.... the myriad of great photo compositions are really amazing.

I still have the Yashica and Tamron. The camera no longer works but I'm sure a little bit of servicing and repair could make it functional again. I plan to give the camera and lens to a nephew of mine who has started picking up photography as a hobby. He completed a photography course recently and surprisingly, the course has encouraged him to start with conventional SLR cameras first. He is now already using his father's old Minolta X300.

A seasoned Yashica FXD Quartz with Tamron zoom lens hoping to get a new lease of life

In the mean time, let me dream of owning my first DSLR so that I can resume to take great photographs again.

Friday, 25 July 2008

The turtle state

The state of Terengganu has been in hot news for the past week or so with its Menteri Besar deciding to buy Kompressor Mercs for the State Exco to replace the existing 4-year old `expensive to maintain' Proton Perdanas. Even the Deputy Prime Minister, whose official car is the locally-produced Perdana, is cheesed off and wants to discuss the matter in a Cabinet meeting. Sheesh! As if there's no other important things to discuss...

Anyway, my post today is not about this issue. I've said my piece on this thing (a rather skewed one at that) as comments on other blogs. Today's post is about events that happened during my years working in Terengganu in 2000 and 2001. Actually, there are two stories that I wish to tell...

1. Breakfast in Dungun

The most popular breakfast food in the whole of Malaysia would probably be roti canai. Of course, each state and sometimes even each town has its own local special delicacy. Terengganu is famous for its nasi dagang. In addition to nasi dagang, I found that there are some other dishes served during breakfast time in Terengganu that I've not seen elsewhere in Malaysia. Among these are nasi minyak and nasi kunyit.


Now in Johor, nasi minyak is normally found at wedding receptions only. I've never come across any foodstall or restaurant in Johor that actually sells the dish, at any time, let alone for breakfast.

Nasi kunyit is also known as pulut kuning. It is glutinous rice cooked with tumeric to give it a bright yellow colour. It is normally eaten together with either a beef or chicken curry or with beef rendang. In Johor, pulut kuning is also normally served on special occasions. If you come to JB and ask me to take you to a breakfast of pulut kuning or nasi minyak, I'd be at a loss.

But not in Terengganu, or at least in Dungun where I was once posted to. Every morning, my colleague Steve Wong and I would go for breakfast before heading out to the project site. One of our favourite makan place was a stall run by this chubby lady with a friendly smile and a sweet-looking young assistant. Come to think of it, all the makan places that I went to in Dungun are run by ladies... Anyway, we liked this stall because she sold nasi dagang, nasi lemak, nasi minyak, nasi kunyit plus a whole lot of other side dishes. In short, she had variety (and did I mention a sweet-looking young assistant?).

I would normally go for nasi dagang or nasi lemak but my friend Steve had this strange preference for nasi kunyit, everytime. Steve was a big guy with an equally big appetite. The first time we ate there, Steve asked the stall-assistant to add more rice because the standard portion was too little for him.

`Nasi lebih, nasi lebih', Steve gestured to the girl. She had a confused look on her face so I ventured, `Mu tamboh agi nasik tu, Mek.'

So she scooped up the extra rice but still with the surprised look. A Chinese guy eating double portions of nasi kunyit with mildly hot beef curry early morning at a stall somewhere in the small town of Dungun in Terengganu?

The surprised looks later turned to smiles of appreciation when Steve finished his plate and announced, `Sedap...' A good burp would've rounded the scene nicely but luckily that didn't happen.

On subsequent visits, Steve would get his extra portions with no questions asked. (Nasi kunyit photo credit to koleksiresipi.blogspot.com)

I loved eating out with Steve. His healthy appetite meant that I ate well too. I could never really match his capacity but most times, I was close. He never hesitated at sharing. When the two of us ate at this delicious chicken rice shop in Dungun old town, Steve would order portions for 3 persons plus additional cuts of chicken liver. I would finish the meal with him on equal basis, 50/50.

Steve and I parted ways when our company completed the project. Steve works in Singapore now and we are still in touch.

2. Oh, you're so vain

So now on to the second story... but before that, I have this question to ask you. Do you remember the first time that someone called you Makcik/Pakcik (Auntie/Uncle)? This `someone' is not your real nephew or niece and he/she would probably be working in a service industry such as a cashier at the supermarket checkout, a waitress at a restaurant or a teller at a bank counter. Remember? Sure you do!

When I first set foot in Dungun in 2000, I was quite surprised to see that Terengganu girls are generally fair and beautiful. I arrived at this assessment after meeting so many pretty `Mek Ganu' at shops, foodstalls, cashier's counters and at government offices too.

The first time I drove to a Petronas petrol station in Dungun, sure enough the pump attendant was a pretty young lass. As I got out of the car to open the tank cap, she flashed a sweet smile and asked, `Nak isi berapa ringgit, Pakcik?'

Whoa! Time out.... I was like, what? Did she just called me Pakcik? Hey, what happened to Abang, I thought. Do I look that old? The vanity in me suffered the knockout punch that very moment.

I was dumbstruck for a while, before I slowly realised that it had to happen sooner or later. I have grown old. From that day on, I have officially entered the group called the `older generation'. Tak boleh lagi nak perasan muda.

So there you have it, my friends. My answer to the question that started off this story. I was first called a Pakcik by a pump station attendant girl in Dungun, about 8 years ago.

My nickname of Oldstock, given to me during college days, finally became appropriate. No turning back now.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

If tomorrow never comes...

A few days back, I posted about this pastime of blog-hopping. It's quite remarkable that by visiting other blogs, dropping a comment or two and getting the response, we get to become friends without even the need to physically meet each other. It is indeed a borderless world now.

When we read about the situation of our blogger friends, we do feel empathy. I daresay, this feeling even extends to blogger friends of blogger friends. And so, when my blogger friend U. Lee posted about the demise of his blogger friend Shera, I cannot help but feel a little sad too.

Lee who resides in Toronto Canada, is the author of a very interesting blog called A Moonlight Rendezvous. Lee's blog is full of amusing stories and eye-catching pictures and is visited by many Malaysian-based bloggers. Shera was a frequent commenter. Unfortunately, Shera passed away on Tuesday 22.07.08 due to an automobile accident. She was 34.

Shera had a blog, charmingly called SheraCuppaCoffee. Her last post was about the king of Malaysian fruits, made a day before she died. I visited her blog yesterday. From the way she wrote, I could guess that she must've been a cheerful and caring person. I was most touched by the 2nd-last posting, which tells the story of how she met and fell in love with her husband. To have written something so meaningful to someone you love, just two days before you meet the Almighty.... is it irony or is it fate? I cannot imagine what her husband was feeling when he read that piece.

Shera had a music widget on her blog sidebar. Some of the songs on the playlist also happen to be my favourites. In light of what has happened, the wordings to a few of these songs seem to carry a deeper significance..... songs like Belaian Jiwa (Innuendo), Perpisahan (Anuar Zain) and If Tomorrow Never Comes (Ronan Keating).

I reproduce here the lyrics to the Ronan Keating song :

If Tomorrow Never Comes

Sometimes late at night
I lie awake and watch her sleeping
She's lost in peaceful dreams
So I turn out the lights and lay there in the dark
And the thought crosses my mind
If I never wake in the morning
Would she ever doubt the way I feel
About her in my heart

If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That she's my only one
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face this world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes

'Cause I've lost loved ones in my life
Who never knew how much I loved them
Now I live with the regret
That my true feelings for them never were revealed
So I made a promise to myself
To say each day how much she means to me
And avoid that circumstance
Where there's no second chance to tell her how I feel

If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her
Did I try in every way to show her every day
That she's my only one
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face this world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes

So tell that someone that you love
Just what you're thinking of
If tomorrow never comes

My condolences to the husband and family of Shahira Bt. Abdul Ghani. May Allah bless and protect her soul always...



Footnote : Additional info about Shera can be obtained at her friend's blog, here --> Chahya's Candle.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Time off

I drove to Kuala Lumpur last weekend to attend a wedding invitation and a house-warming kenduri. Caught a flu bug on Sunday morning but still drove back to JB that afternoon.

Went to see the doctor on Monday morning and was out like a log the whole day after taking medications. Feeling a bit better today but still running a slight fever as I type this.

So I might be off for another few days, I guess. You guys take care.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Every day a new Homer

Blog-hopping can be a really addictive pastime. Clicking on one link on a blogroll will bring up a new blog for you to explore and with it, another blogroll.

When we find a weblog that captures our interest, we linger for a while. We read the older posts and sometimes even the comments from other bloggers. We go on to click on links in posts and pretty soon we forget how we reached the particular page we are now reading.

Today's post is about an interesting find on Flickr. It's a photoset by harry.1967 called One Object 365 Days Project where Homer Simpson is captured doing something different each day. Very creative and amusing.
This pic is called Homer Wants The Vespa. It's Homer's 11th pose for the year. The set is presently up to 189 pics. I chose this pic because it reminded me of the B&W photo I posted a few days ago.

I found this Flickr page from reading this blog --> I Wanna Hold Your Hand whose author is a lady who identifies herself as ~W~. How I reached her blog, I can't remember.

A huge maze, the blogosphere is...

Thursday, 17 July 2008

What festival?

Crap! The 5th Johor Bahru Arts Festival runs from 5th to 19th July 2008. And I only got to know about it yesterday, by way of a commercial break on Astro. I immediately did an online search and guess what, I missed Mia Palencia's performance which took place last Thursday 10th July. Crap!

How come the organizers did not put billboards or banners highlighting the festival? My office is smack in the middle of JB city and I haven't seen any on my drive to work. Heck, today I even made the conscious effort to look out for such banners but still I could not see any. At the very least, the organizers should have made use of online advertising, but I've not seen anything on the news portal websites either. Have I been living under a coconut shell these past few days?

The festival ends this Saturday with a vintage car and bike show in the afternoon and an RTM Jazz concert in the evening. But I'll be on my way to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow night after work. Crap...

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Memories in Black & White

Pardon me for being a bit nostalgic this past few weeks. My father kept his old B&W photographs in a few albums. There are some pics of him during his bachelor days which I guess were taken in the 50's. There are many pictures of my brothers and I during our years growing up at Princess Elizabeth Estate.

I've been meaning to transfer and rearrange all the photographs in newer albums but this particular skill that I have called procrastination is always getting in the way...

I'm including two B&W pics in today's post.


















The first B&W pic shows five small kids sitting on a field in front of a Vespa scooter. The kids are myself, my two younger brothers and our two friends (Peter Koh and Jumaat Selamat) who lived in the same housing block. If I remember correctly, the Vespa belonged to Jumaat's uncle.

















The second B&W pic is a photo of me, my cousin and friends of our uncle. It was taken near a lion's statue that marked the entrance to Nicoll Highway. I date this pic around 1966. The highway has been widened now and I think the lion statue is longer there.

Finally, a latest photo of the same field where we posed in front of the Vespa, taken last Sunday. Our old housing block has long since been demolished. Note the expensive condominium blocks under construction in the background.

I've lost touch with both Peter and Jumaat. Wherever you are guys, take care...

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

A walk on the causeway

I took a drive into Singapore last Sunday to visit relatives. Getting through the traffic jam on the Johor Causeway is mandatory. As my car crawled slowly with the thousands of other vehicles, I recalled the days when I commuted daily to school between Singapore and Johor Bahru as student in the mid-70s.

My house in Bukit Timah, Singapore was only about 12km to the JB side of the Immigration/Customs Checkpoint. From there it is another 3km walk to Sekolah Datuk Jaafar at Bukit Senyum. On good days, the bus ride from my house to the JB checkpoint would only take about 40 minutes, passport checks at both sides included. On bad days however, the jam at the causeway can double and sometimes triple the travel time. Bad days are of course the weekends and since Sunday is a school day in Johor back in those days, the weekly ritual of enduring the long hours of travel became second nature to me.

On such days, the buses are all full of passengers, packed like sardines. The return trip after school to go home was always the most trying. At the JB bus station, the queue to get on the bus was long and the wait for buses itself was exhausting since many buses were stuck at the causeway. At times like these, my friend and I would decide to take a walk on the causeway because it was faster. Once we reached the Singapore side and cleared immigration, we could take another bus service to get home. I would then reach home around 9 to 10 pm.

The length of the causeway is just over a kilometre long, so for us teenagers, it was actually a pleasant walk in late evening with hundreds of other people. The only drawback was the smell of exhaust fumes from all the vehicles caught in the jam. Even today, you can see many people who prefer to take the walk rather than wait for the bus.

Although I resided in Singapore back then, I held a Malaysian Restricted Passport (the one with the dark blue cover, no longer in issue at present). There were in fact, a number of guys like me who are Malaysian citizens staying in Singapore but studying in Johor Bahru. My daily entry into Singapore would be stamped with a 2-week social visit pass. Since we were almost daily travelers, the immigration officers would sometimes take a glance at the date when our passport was last stamped and then wave us through. Technically speaking, I was in Singapore as a social visitor rather than a resident. Ironically, I had a Singapore address in my Malaysian passport. Such lenient control is of course no longer practiced today.

Congestion at the Johor Causeway has been happening for as long as I can remember. No amount of widening or expanding the two countries checkpoints can alleviate this problem. The original width of the causeway was three lanes. One lane from the exit (of either side) widening into two at the half-way point. It was then widened into six lanes (three on each side). Of course, the traffic congestion was terrible during the construction works.

Nowadays, the jam is not getting any better either. The new CIQ complex in JB would open for use very soon and is expected to relieve some of the congestion. But pardon me if I have my doubts. The relief would only be temporary because the smooth flow would then encourage more people to travel. Despite the well-publicised disagreements between the government of the two countries, the ties between people of Johor and Singapore are closer than most people think.

View of Johor Causeway from the Singapore side
Image from wikipedia

Footnote : Fauziah Ismail has some more stories on the causeway in her blog post --> here.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Pandai makan, pandailah simpan...

I cannot help but chuckle when I read this story on The Star Online yesterday. It's about one supposedly dirty cop making a report on another allegedly dirty cop. I sure hope the cop who'll be in charge of the investigation is a clean guy, otherwise...

Friday July 11, 2008

Cops vs cops in Gemas station

By SARBAN SINGH

GEMAS: A policeman has lodged a report against all his colleagues including his superiors allegedly over dissatisfaction on how the monthly bribes from those operating illegal activities was being distributed.

In retaliation, one of his superiors, a sergeant, lodged another police report against the policeman, a lance corporal, for allegedly selling station property to scrap dealer.

A source said the lance corporal, in his 40s, was dissatisfied with his superiors for allegedly taking the lion’s share of the bribes while the rank and file received very little...

Read the full report --> here.

So it seems that there is such a thing as a common pool of the monthly bribes collected by the police. Presumably the higher your rank, the bigger share you get. If this thing happens at the district level, dare I assume that it can happen at state level as well? If it doesn't, then perhaps it becomes an incentive for OCPDs in the `poorer' districts to get promoted fast so they can be in charge of the `richer' districts.

I would think this piece of news is quite damaging to the reputation of the Royal Malaysian Police but surprisingly there is no statement yet from the top guns regarding this report.

Read the Navel Gazing blog's take on this same subject --> here.

On a related note, I've observed that the subject of police corruption is never potrayed in any of our local dramas or movies. I cannot recall any story or even a single scene about a cop on the take. Seems like a real taboo subject to our local drama or movie producers. Contrast this to the movies from Hollywood or even Hongkong. So why is that? I'm not sure too... but I guess it just shows that our society still does not have the maturity to have a realistic look at topics like this.

As with everything else, there are good cops and there are bad cops. But it is the duty of the good ones to get rid of the bad. If the cops don't make the effort to clean their own house, who else can?

Friday, 11 July 2008

Punishing those who are threats to society?

Some of you may have noticed my updated sidebar regarding a book which I am now re-reading. It is a Malay book written by Dr. Syed Husin Ali called `Dua Wajah - Tahanan Tanpa Bicara'.

Dr. Syed Husin published the book in 1996 while I bought it in June 1997. So what made me re-read a book I first finished reading more than 11 years ago? Well, a few days ago, I was reading a post in Michelle Yoon's blog I Am Malaysian, where she wrote about our current Prime Minister saying that the Internal Security Act being a `necessary law' and that, `we have never misused the ISA.'

Michelle's detest of this draconian law is obvious and I quote, `I may not be a human rights activist at the moment. But I don’t relent when it comes to the ISA.
No, I do not have any experience of the inside, nor the outside of Kamunting Detention Camp. I don’t personally know any of the ISA detainees. I don’t even know anyone who used to be detained under the ISA. In fact, I’ve never even been close to anything related to the ISA.
But if something is wrong, I will not stop.
The ISA is wrong. I will not stop. It is the ISA that has to be stopped.'
Read the whole of Michelle's post at this link.

In my comment to her post, I suggested that she try reading Syed Husin's book so that she can get a viewpoint of someone who has spent time in Kamunting as an ISA detainee. She replied that it would a bit difficult to find a Malay book in New Zealand but she'll keep it in mind. Well Michelle, if you are really interested, let me know your mail address and I will send a copy over.

Anyway, I thought is was good for me to re-read the book. The last book that I finished was a fiction novel, so a book about a real personal event was a welcome change.

As some of you may know, Dr. Syed Husin Ali is presently the Deputy President of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). But prior to that, he was the President of Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM) which in turn, was originally known as Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSRM). Syed Husin's book tells the story of his detention under the ISA in December1974 until his release almost six years later in September 1980.

Syed Husin Ali was picked up by police at his home in Kuala Lumpur at 2.00 am on the morning of 7 December 1974, suspected of being one of the key instigators of the student demonstrations in support of the poor farmers of Baling in Kedah. He narrates the story of how he was first detained in the filthy police lock-up at Jalan Bandar, the subsequent interrogations and the transfer to Kamunting Camp in Perak. After about 20 months at Kamunting, he was mysteriously transported back to a secret detention centre in Kuala Lumpur where he was subjected to further abuse, torture and repetitive interrogation.

I do not think it necessary for me to describe the details of the treatment Syed Husin received under these interrogation sessions. Suffice to say that his interrogators were mean and cruel. This may have happened more than 20 years ago but really, it's not hard to believe that the same thing can take place today.

At the end of his book, the author attached a copy of the Detention Order issued by the Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs under Section 11(2)(b) of the Internal Security Act, 1960. It lists out six (6) Allegations of Fact to support the grounds the order was made. I'm reproducing Allegation no.4 for you to read and ponder :

4. On 29 Jun 74, speaking at a PSRM mass rally at Kampong Masjid. Sg. Selisik, Selangor, you strongly condemned the Government for the `arbitrary arrest and detention' of PSRM members. You also alleged that there were rampant corrupt practices amongst Ministers whose activities were never investigated into. Your malicious allegation was obviously designed to arouse public indignation against the Government.

Wow... arousing public indignation of the Government by complaining about corrupt practices by Ministers is something that can get you detained without trial. Unbelievable!

In the Foreword to his book, Syed Husin mentions that he has forgiven all. But what he sincerely hopes for is that the current leaders who had previously promised to review this piece of legislation, to actually do so. It is time for the government to totally repeal this act.

As I said, Syed Husin wrote the book in 1996. We are in 2008 now and ISA is still with us.

And today, I read in Rocky's Bru the story of the daughter of an ISA detainee who died without seeing her father for the last time. Do the people in power have no compassion at all? I pray to Allah for the soul of Aina Mardiah Shahrial.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Childhood memories

While I was reading `A Thousand Splendid Suns' (see post of 30 June 2008), I remembered that I once had a friend who hailed from Afghanistan. I say `had' because this friend was from my growing-up years back in the early 1970's.

I was staying at a public housing area in Bukit Timah, Singapore that was called Princess Elizabeth Estate. Nice name, wouldn't you say? A background story about this estate and how it got its name can be read from a posting in the blog Good Morning Yesterday.

Anyway, our family lived in a rented unit within a block of single-storey dwellings containing 10 one-bedroom houses. In front of our block was a small field where my friends and I played football and sometimes `rounders', depending on the particular `season'. To those of you who are wondering, rounders is a bat-and-ball game not dissimilar to baseball. Most of the time we played football of course, but rounders was also popular because the neighbourhood girls could join in the fun too.

One afternoon while playing football, I noticed a scruffy-looking boy standing at the edge of the field watching us play. He looked different - he's not a Malay, an Indian, a Chinese or even Eurasian (yes, I had multi-racial friends). His skin was a different tone of brown and his hair had the colour of rust.

One of us asked if he would like to join the game and he said yes. After the game, I asked if he was from Pakistan. `Bukan (No),' he replied, in peculiar-sounding Malay. `Dari (From) Afghanistan.'

And so that day we became friends with an Afghan boy whose name is Faisal Khan. He told us that he just moved to the area and was staying with his uncle who ran a `sarbat' stall at one of the factory lots nearby. Faisal was two or three years younger than me but he had a sturdy build and was big for his age. Initially it was difficult to understand what he said but after some time mixing with us, his Malay improved. His uncle enrolled him to the same primary school that I went to. Sometimes after school, we would walk home together and he would stop by my house to share lunch with us. I remember my mother saying, `Poor child, so young to be living away from your mother...'

Faisal was understandably not too bright at school but he was friendly and helpful. He wasn't terribly good at football but if he played in my team, I would assign him to play defence. I told him that if he could not properly tackle the opposing strikers, just bulldoze them. Use your size to intimidate, I said. Even at that young age, I was already a master tactician, *grin*.

My friendship with Faisal did not last long. His uncle's `sarbat' stall and the makeshift hut that they were staying in had to make way for development. I heard that his uncle shifted his business to a hawker centre at a new housing estate but I didn't know where.

And so after more than 30 years, I'm being reminded of a childhood friend from a land so far away. To my friend Faisal Khan, may Allah bless and watch over you, wherever you are.

Footnote : I was going through some old B&W photographs last Sunday to look for a suitable pic of Princess Elizabeth Estate. The above photo is of my younger brother taken circa 1970. In the background is a typical single-storey block of houses.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Cheer up, the worst is yet to come

I was tidying my bookshelves earlier today and re-discovered an interesting book that I bought in 1982 when I was still a student in the UK. The book is called `The Book of Heroic Failures' and is a compilation of real stories of unsuccessful attempts at doing things. It seems that being a failure can sometimes make you famous too. Examples of disaster stories include The Worst Burglar, The Man Who Almost Invented The Vacuum Cleaner and many others. I can remember having a good chuckle while reading these stories.

The book was written by Stephen Pile, who calls himself the President of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain. Contrary to his tag of not being terribly good at anything, his effort became a bestseller. It prompted the compilation of a sequel called `The Return of Heroic Failures'. A tagline on the second book says, `The runaway success of The Book Of Heroic Failures was a severe embarrassment to its author.'

I wish to share a story from the second book relating to the Equality of Sexes theme. Appropriately today is the end of Wimbledon Tennis fortnight. The story involves one of the all-time great Wimbledon ladies champion, Billie Jean King.

The Least Successful Male Chauvinist

Sick of hearing about female equality, Mr Bobby Riggs challenged Billie Jean King to a `battle of the sexes' tennis match.

`I want to set Women's Lib back twenty years, to get women back in the home where they belong,' he said, adding that they are at their prettiest when they're barefoot, pregnant, taking care of the kiddies and doing the housework.

Although he had not been a Wimbledon champion since 1939, he told a press conference before the match on 20 September 1973, that natural male superiority would be enough to defeat the reigning women's champion.

`I will scrape her up,' he said. `She is a woman and is subject to women's emotional frailties. She will crack up during the match.'

In front of 39,000 people, the largest crowd in tennis history (at that time), Mrs King thrashed him 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Pic of Billie Jean King from the sports biography in hickocksports.com

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Pay toll to pass

Earlier today, a neighbour of mine held a wedding reception to celebrate the marriage of his eldest daughter. I arrived at the reception at just about the same time as the groom's entourage.

Now for those of you not familiar with the wedding customs of the Malays in Johor, there would normally be some form of human barrier made by the relatives and friends of the bride to hamper the approach of the groom as he makes way to the wedding dais or pelamin for the `bersanding' ceremony. If the reception is self-catered, sometimes even the cook would partake in this ritual by barring the groom's path with his long wooden spatula, akin to guards of old preventing access with a spear.

For the groom to progress, his best-man would need to hand out tiny envelopes containing moolah so that the barrier would disperse and let them pass. If the groom is unlucky, there would be multiple barriers.... perhaps one at the gate and another at the front door. In instances like these, the best-man better be well-prepared with a thick wad of the small envelopes. How much money is put into these envelopes is entirely up to the groom's generosity. Usually a single RM1 note would do, so just 50 of such packets would set the groom back only RM50, and this is more than enough to cover the path-blockers.

Of course the envelopes are not just simply given away... the best-man should exhibit his negotiation skills and attempt to deliver his man-of-the-day to the side of the bride while paying the minimum of toll. A lot of light-hearted jesting and friendly banter goes on in these negotiations. Sometimes when its taking too long for the barriers to make way, a senior member of the bride's family (normally the father) would sound a warning to rescue the groom's party.

`Sudah lah tu... nanti pengantin lelaki patah balik, baru tahu!'. Roughly translated, `That's enough... otherwise the groom may decide to turn back, then you'll know!'

But that's not the end of the story. When the groom reaches the pelamin, there is still the Mak Andam or make-up lady to contend with. The bride would be sitting on one of the two chairs on the pelamin. The Mak Andam would be sitting on the other chair with one hand holding a paper fan that covers the face of the bride. For the beautifully made-up face to be revealed and the seat be given up, the best-man again has to dish out more envelopes but with contents of a higher value than those given out earlier. Only after she's satisfied on the amount of toll she receives, will she vacate the seat and let the groom take his rightful place beside the bride.

Sounds like a complicated process, doesn't it? A friend of mine who's not Johorean, had once remarked that it's really troublesome to marry a Johor girl. Well, perhaps it is, but what's norm in one culture may seem odd in another. When I was still a bachelor, I have accompanied many friends getting married at places outside Johor state such as in Melaka and Perak. There are of course differences in the wedding customs at these places but I find these differences interesting rather than disrupting.

For me, the toll-demand ritual in Johor Malay weddings is not about the amount of money to be paid but rather the gesture. It's all done in the spirit of fun. In Malay, we say, `Setakat bergurau-gurau saja...'
For you non-Johor guys who plan to marry a Johor girl, the best piece of advice that I can give is to have a steady and cool chap to be your best-man. He'll need to have a thick skin to face the barrage of playful mocking and teasing. It wouldn't hurt if he has a good sense of humour plus the skill of quick repartee. Take it from me, I speak from experience.

And today I observed that the best-man of the groom has such skills. The groom, whom I was told is from Kelantan, need not have worried. It was smooth sailing all the way.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The dust settles on Bukit Chagar Flats

Two months ago The Star Online published the following story :

Tuesday May 6, 2008

Demolition work on Bukit Chagar flats finally begins

JOHOR BARU: The city’s most famous eyesore, the Bukit Chagar flats, located near the Causeway, is finally coming down.

Yesterday, workers started ripping apart the 25-year-old flats using tractors and other heavy machinery.

To businessman G.W. Tan, 54, who has been living in the area for the past 48 years, it’s about time the structures came down.“This place is an eyesore,” he said, adding that he was hoping that their television reception would improve once the flats came down.

... read the full article at this link.

The Bukit Chagar flats were constructed by the Johor State government in the 1980s to house the low-income group. There were a total of four blocks, each 16-storeys high. The four blocks housed 1,536 units of one-bedroom dwelling. Now if the federal government is really serious about spending petro-RM on subsidies, proper and adequate housing for the poor should be one of them.

The flats soon became an eyesore due to lack of maintenance. Their location very near Johor Bahru city centre did not help in creating good first impressions to visitors.
So when the Gerbang Perdana CIQ complex was launched, the authorities found a convenient excuse to have the flats demolished. The demolition works started on 5 May 2008.

I took the first picture below on 4 June 2008.

In just about 3 months, all the four blocks have been reduced to rubble. The following photograph taken yesterday shows just a bit of the final block to go.

It's good that one old eyesore has been removed. But if you look at the tall building on the top right of the same picture, you'll see what has become a `new' eyesore. That building is the Pacific Mall, one of the several abandoned or incomplete commercial complexes that can be found all over JB city.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Of Love and Beauty

Dr. John Gray wrote the best-selling book called `Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus'. It has become the reference handbook for tips and advice on relationships between the two sexes. I haven't read the book, so this post is not about a review.

It's just to give you snippets of information about the planet Venus itself.

The planet Venus is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. It is the only planet in our solar system to have a female name. You probably already know that but did you know that it is also the only planet that rotates clockwise (as observed from a position on the north pole of the sun) ? All other planets rotate counter-clockwise. Apart from the Sun and the Moon, it is the brightest heavenly body in our sky.

While Venus is considered a sister planet to Earth because of its similarity in size (95% of Earth's diameter and 80% of Earth's mass), its behaviour is poles apart. It rotates very slowly.... a single Venus day is equivalent to 243 Earth days. It takes Venus about 224.65 days to do a single orbit around the Sun. This means that a year on Venus is actually shorter than a day. Go figure!

While the orbital path of all planets are elliptical, Venus is the closest to circular (less than 1% eccentricity).

By comparison, the planet Mars is named after the Roman god of war. The solar day of Mars is only slightly longer than an Earth day : 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds. One year on Mars is equivalent to about 1.9 years on Earth. Mars has an axial tilt of 25.19 degrees, about the same as Earth. Hence Mars has seasons like Earth except that the seasons are almost twice as long due to the longer calendar year.

Size comparison of terrestrial planets (from L to R) :
Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars
Images from Wikipedia


So if Dr. Gray says that women are from Venus, I believe him. Women have a mind of their own. They can take a terribly long time to decide on something but once decided, they can be very resolute. They are many times brighter than men (except maybe for blondes). But above all, women are really, really lovely and beautiful. Men only have action on their minds...