Sunday, 31 August 2008

In hot soup

Merdeka Day is turning out to be wet and gloomy in Johor Bahru. So what better way to lift the spirits than by having a hot bowl of sup tulang kaki kambing?

A bowl of this soup at Jalan Kurniawan in Kebun Teh, JB cost RM5 and contains three pieces of mutton bone with some slivers of meat and gooey tendons still attached. There's a bit of sizzling sambal kicap if you want to spice things up. Note the straw that's provided for you to suck out the tasty bone marrow.

It's not doing the heart any favours but it sure is good for the soul!

Update 04.09.08 : In the comments section, I mentioned to Jabishah and Emila about another tasty soup concoction called Sup Tulang Merah.

Emila asked how Sup Tulang Merah looks like. Here's a pic taken at Beach Road Hawker Centre, Singapore. Sing $10 for 10 pieces of mutton bone. Sorry to show only the few remaining pieces. Didn't have time to snap a photo of the full plate. As soon as the plate arrived, my sons quickly swung into action...

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Wishes for the occasion

1. Selamat Hari Merdeka 2008

A very warm wish to all on Malaysia's 51st Merdeka Day. Somehow this year's merdeka celebrations seems a bit subdued to me. I have not put up the Jalur Gemilang in front of my house. Even other business premises around town are not flying as many flags as previous years.

It's not that I'm unpatriotic but somehow the present situation that our country is in is quite a sad state. My hope is for a brighter and happier outlook for next year. There's plenty that I want to write about but let's just pray and wish for better times.

The least I can do is to fly the flag in this blog.

Photo credit : Matt & Debs Picasa Web Albums

2. Ramadhan Al Mubarak

To all my muslim friends and readers, the warmest of wishes for the coming month of fasts and abstinence. Praises to the Almighty for granting us the extension in our lives to be able to meet this holiest of months again.

I seek forgiveness from all of you should there have been any mistakes on my part. Ramadhan teaches us to be steadfast, patient and moderate. Hoping the month will be gracious to you all.
Salam...

Friday, 29 August 2008

Just a silly question from me

Now why would makers of the latest high-tech gadgets like smartphones still want to adopt the archaic Qwerty layout for their keypads? It's not as if the users of such phones would be doing any touch-typing, would they?

Have a look at the following phones from Blackberry, Palm and Apple. Tell me if you can neatly fit the fingers of one hand (let alone two) on the keypads. In fact, the Apple iPhone has a touchscreen keypad, where users would normally use a stylus or just a single finger...


Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Now, that's just fine...

If you do not enforce what you say, then people will never believe you.

Monday, 25 August 2008

A good makan spot in Bangi, Selangor

This makan spot is really way out of my normal zone. I just had to post about it because I managed to find the place by chance although I had read about it vaguely in an online forum discussion board some time ago.

We were actually at KLIA yesterday morning to send off a nephew who was going for further studies in Jakarta. Late afternoon was spent doing some shopping at Jusco Equine Park, after which I decided to make a detour to Bangi on our way home to JB. There was no particular reason why I wanted to drive around Bandar Baru Bangi except that I had heard of a few good eating places that are maybe worth trying. It had also been quite a while since my wife last visited Bangi (she was a student at UKM) so the detour was to refresh her memories too.

Of course, Bandar Baru Bangi has developed tremendously since our last visit but we didn't get lost because I have a fair idea of the town's layout and the road signs were adequate. We drove leisurely past UKM along the winding road all the way down to Bangi Old Town and then made a turn back. I then remembered about this makan place supposedly situated somewhere near the Atomic Energy Board on the road to Dengkil, so I took a left turn when I saw the Dengkil/Banting signboard. A few kilometres down, I spotted a signboard that shows the way to Tasik Idaman Restaurant.

The restaurant is situated on the edges of two lakes which I reckon are disused mining pools. The owner has sort of rebuilt the place into a nice recreational area that includes a paintball arena, floating jetty for fishing, kayaking and the aforementioned restaurant. The restaurant itself consists of different seating options : you can choose to sit in a large but cosy dining area, small individual huts covering a single table or have your meal open-air at tables placed on a floating platform on the lake itself. If you have the itch to test your vocal skills, no problems too. The restaurant has karaoke facilities complete with a stage and dee-jay.

Since it was drizzling last night, we had our meal at the dining hall. Our dinner consisted of ikan siakap stim limau (siakap fish steamed with lime), sotong goreng tepung (deep-fried squid dipped in batter), udang kertas masak tiga rasa (large prawns cooked in three flavours) and kailan ikan masin (kailan vege with salted fish). The food was delicious.

The steamed fish had a real tangy taste of lime. The prawns were fresh and cooked in a savoury tiga-rasa style that I have never tasted before. The batter-dipped squid were crisp and served with a homemade sweet chilli dip. Sungguh enak dan lazat. The whole meal for four cost me RM152, reasonable enough.

I gather that this place is quite well-known among Bangi folks although is situated really out of the way. A google-search of this restaurant revealed that a number of customers have already blogged about it. It seems that the place is packed at weekends and customers may have to wait quite a bit for their meals to be served. We discovered the place early (around 6.30pm), so did not have to wait long.

Restoran Tasik Idaman have their own blog -> here. Click on the link to find out more about the place and also for a location map. Images above are from the restaurant's blog.

But to really understand why I say that this place is way, way out there... check the location on this wikimapia link. Zoom out on the map and scroll upwards until you can see the Bangi Exit of the N-S Highway, then you'll know what I mean.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

A deliciously edible pool

Let's talk about food, my second most favourite subject. I had posted earlier about the unique local delicacies that can be found in the various states of Malaysia. Nasi dagang is a delicious Terengganu dish while mee koloh is popular in Sarawak. Last week I had tasty nasi kerabu for breakfast in Kuantan.

In Johor Bahru, there is one place that you can go to for a breakfast of Kacang Pool. This dish is actually not a Johor invention but rather based on a middle-eastern recipe. The original name for this dish is foul medames (or variants of it, depending on the region) and it is a popular breakfast meal in the Arab countries. The word `foul' is pronounced as `fool', and in the process of translation into Malay, it became `pool'. Actually, I've heard the Malay version being called kacang ful or even kacang pol.

Kacang pool is a dish consisting of partially mashed broad beans (aka fava beans) cooked with some spices and sprinkled with freshly-chopped onions and green chillies. A single egg, fried sunny-side up, is placed on top and you can squeeze on some lime juice if you like. The whole mix is eaten with toasted bread. Delicious...

The shop that sells this unique dish is located at a row of foodstalls at an area we call Larkin Bomba. The owner of the stall, Hj. Saiful, introduced kacang pool in JB about 3 years ago, after experimenting with the recipe to suit local tastes. His version actually contains some minced meat whereas the original middle-eastern dish is purely vegetarian. It seems that this version is well-received by JB folks and business is not too bad. One set of Hj. Saiful's kacang pool costs RM4. Check out his website -> hjkacangpool.com, to read his story.

While Hj. Saiful may be the one to introduce kacang pool in Johor Bahru, it is not the first time that I tasted the dish. My mother cooks an even more delicious version. She would fry the egg in ghee and after placing the egg on the bean mix, the melted ghee is generously sprinkled on top. Hmm... the aroma of warm melted ghee... marvelous.

Fava beans, in a pod. Also known as broad beans or horse beans. In Malay, it is called `kacang parang' or `kacang kuda'.







Footnote : The mention of fava beans always reminds me of a scene in the 1991 movie, The Silence Of The Lambs, where Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins) mentions that he once ate the liver of a census-taker with some fava beans and a nice Chianti wine. Chilling...

Friday, 22 August 2008

Aftermath of the inferno

The raging fire at Tanjung Langsat tank terminal was finally doused in the afternoon of Wednesday 20 August 2008, almost three days after the first tank caught fire on Sunday evening.

Thankfully, no lives were lost.

We were given clearance to enter our project site adjacent to the tank terminal yesterday. There has been a few theories discussed as to what caused the fire but the Fire & Rescue Department would be conducting a full-scale investigation soon, so it is better not to speculate.

The following pic shows the two tanks in the aftermath of the fire. The immense heat has caused the upper portions of the tanks to buckle. Scary...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Tanks on fire!

There seems to be a link in what's been happening to me in the past few weeks. In my previous post on the 123 Book Tag, I picked a book called The Smoke Jumper which is a story about fire-fighters.

On Sunday evening, I received a call from a colleague telling me that a fuel storage tank belonging to our client at Tanjung Langsat Port has caught fire. I managed to get a close look at the raging fire earlier today. At that time, only one tank was ablaze. Unfortunately, around 7pm, strong winds caused the fire to lick the top of a neighbouring tank and thus setting the second tank alight.

A huge team of firemen from various stations are fighting hard to control the inferno. No casualties have been reported. Cause of the blaze is still being investigated.

I just got back from the scene about an hour ago. The two tanks are still hot and raging when I left the place. Here are some pics that I managed to take. Updates to follow.

Tank No.1 caught fire on the evening of 17.08.08. Note Tank No.2 on the right still intact.

Tank No.2 also caught fire on evening of 18.08.08 after strong winds blew the fire across from Tank No.1

Footnote :
1. The Star Online carries the story here -> 16,000 tonne tank ablaze
2. Berita Harian's story here -> Tangki petrol pelabuhan terbakar

Update 19.08.08 @ 13:30 hours :
The Star Online update story here -> Another fuel tank goes up in flames

Update 19.08.08 @ 20:30 hours :

Both tanks are still ablaze. The Fire & Rescue Department has mobilized additional help from out of state, including their air chopper support team.

Occasional strong winds are making the job difficult for the firemen who are trying their best to prevent the fire from spreading to a third tank.

View of the blazing tanks from distance

Air support from Bomba's helicopter

Saturday, 16 August 2008

123 Book Tag

When Emila tagged me on this one, I thought... now which book should I choose...

~Start Copy Here~
Instructions:
1. Pick up the nearest book of at least 123 pages.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences after the tag chain.
5. Spread this tag to as many people as you can.
Book Tag Chain: 1) Only The Good Stuff, 2) What Simply Works 3) Reflexes 4) A Great Pleasure 5) Color It Green 6) Emila’s Illustrated Blog 7) Just Observations... 8) You’re next
~End Copy Here~
I decided to pick The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans. Page 123 of the book is just after the start of Chapter 8. The next three sentences after the 5th sentence on page 123 goes like this :

Julia had always adored him. He was her hero, a fine-looking young man, blond and tall, with a great sense of fun, the kind of dad a young girl's school friends envied. When you told him something, even some silly, trivial thing that happened at school, or gave him an opinion on something, he always made you feel that what you said was interesting and important.

Hmm... how so much can be said in just three sentences.

When I first read The Smoke Jumper, I was engrossed in the adventure story of the main characters who were volunteer fire-fighters. They help fight forest fires by parachuting down at the affected areas in advance of other firemen who follow on foot. It was only towards the end of the book that I realised that Evans was writing about a love story.

I'm inviting Nurie to join this tag!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

In and out of Kuantan in a day

The workshop in Kuantan that was fixing my car, called me yesterday to inform that the gearbox repair works has been completed. So I took the midnight express bus from Johor Bahru and arrived in Kuantan before daybreak today.

Lovely blogger-friend Versedanggerik, who resides in Kuantan, was kind enough to treat me to a delicious nasi kerabu breakfast and later dropped me off at the workshop. Thanks Verse!

I picked up my car and then went to Tg. Lumpur to look for some satar and otak-otak to bring home. I drove back to JB the same route I came but this time at a much slower pace, to allow the new gearbox to accustom itself to my driving style (yeah, right.... as if a car's transmission can compensate for the owner's poor driving skills).

Tapi la kan... bawak slow ni cepat mengantuk. Anyway, I've safely reached home, alhamdulillah.

I leave you with the following pic of Kuantan's mosque that was snapped early this morning.

Masjid Sultan Ahmad I, Kuantan, Pahang. Totally re-built in 1994

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

An east-coast education

In my earlier post, I mentioned that my car broke down while driving from Johor Bahru to Kuantan last Friday night.

I was in Kuantan over the weekend to attend a sort of homecoming programme organized by the alumni of my old school, Maktab Rendah Sains MARA Kuantan. The main objective of the programme was to strenghten the relationship between former and present students. Former students are allowed to share their experiences in tertiary education and career paths with their younger brothers/sisters.

Components of the programme included career talks and motivational sessions. But perhaps the most effective effort was the Big Brother / Big Sister relationship whereby each alumnus becomes a mentor to a small group of students. In my case, it was more of an `Uncle' relationship, if you know what I mean.

In order for this to work well, quite a large number of the old boys/girls need to attend. Sure enough, more than 120 of us turned up. With a Form 5 population of about 340 students, the ratio was close to 1 : 3. Not bad at all.

Our alumni association goes by the nickname of Kuatagh. This is the 12th time that Kuatagh has organised this programme and according to our President, it has grown every year. The programme goes by the official name of `Sirih Pulang Ke Gagang' or SPKG for short. It is the first time that I managed to squeeze some free time to travel back to my old school and attend the programme. To see the faces of our young brothers/sisters light up when we tell stories of our student days and early working life... makes our spirits rise too.

The old dining hall building now called Dewan Selera. It was simply called Dewan Makan in my days.

Some of my friends from the K82 batch

I left MRSM Kuantan after the MCE exams in 1979. This visit has brought back many fond memories of my days at boarding school. The challenges, the friendships, the struggles and the joys of teenage life far away from home. There were many interesting incidents that happened those days that maybe I would write about soon in this blog.

It was a weekend well-spent. There are many things that we all like to be proud of in our lives. Our children, our workplace and our old school, among others. As of last weekend, I am most proud of my new-found friends and fellow ex-students of MRSM Kuantan, who took the time and trouble to help out our younger brothers/sisters. To Areehan Abdullah and his organizing committee from Kuatagh `91, congratulations on a job well-done.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

08.08.08 - A day to remember (for the wrong reasons)

Yesterday, the 8th of August 2008, was considered a lucky day by many people. Plenty of couples opted to tie the wedding knot on this day. One of them is a niece of mine who got married yesterday at Kangar in Perlis.

Unfortunately, Kangar is at one end of the peninsula while JB is at the other end. The distance is too far for us to go, plus the fact that school's not out yet. I however took the opportunity to drive to Kuantan, Pahang to attend a program being organised by the alumni of my old school.

I left Johor Bahru last evening and headed to Kuantan using the PLUS highway up to Yong Peng. From Yong Peng, the route passes Segamat town and then the Muadzam Shah road onwards to Kuantan. The Segamat-Muadzam-Kuantan road (Federal Route 12) is my favourite stretch because it is well-designed and constructed. The road has nice curves, wide shoulders and relatively even surface. It mostly passes through palm oil estates and large areas of jungle. Although the traffic could be quite busy at times with lorries, I find overtaking maneuvers can be smoothly done. It is one of the roads that I tend to drive fast.... very fast.

I've used this route countless of times without much incident but yesterday, I was not so fortunate. Firstly, I had a near-miss somewhere after Muadzam town. A pick-up truck was in front of me and we were behind a larger lorry. When the pick-up driver signalled right, I thought he was overtaking. I followed suit because I could see that the lane was clear ahead. But the pick-up was actually turing right to an off-road and when it suddenly slowed down to stop, I had to brake hard. My car tyres screeched and I had to swerve left to avoid ramming into his backside (a risky business in present-day context). All-in-all, I can still consider myself lucky because the accident was avoided.

Lesson to learn here : Do not tailgate another vehicle while overtaking!

It was smooth driving the rest of the way until I reached the Gambang intersection. As I turned right at the traffic lights and slowly picked up speed, the car's automatic gear shifted to 3rd but failed to change to 4th. The engine growled heavily and after a few moments, there was a rattling sound. Suddenly there was no response from the wheels even though I stepped on the accelerator. Sure sign that the gearbox has gone kaput. It was good thing I had enough momentum to steer the car onto the road shoulder.

It was near 10pm and the surrounding was dark except for the headlights of passing traffic.

Now, for those of us who have been trained to find a positive thread in any negative situation, I can say that I was quite lucky that my car broke down not too far away from Kuantan town. I was able to call the Automobile Association of Malaysia (AAM) who sent their tow-truck. Imagine if the breakdown had occured somewhere on the dark Muadzam stretch beside the jungle and possibly without mobile phone signal. Scary...

As it is, my car is in a workshop today and it's confirmed the transmission is gone. It'll take a few days to put a replacement gearbox in. Don't ask me how much. It hurts.

And you want to know another irony? My car registration number is 808. Co-incidence or what...

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Interlude

You'll always be laughing happily while eating at this restaurant.

Restoran Ha Ha Ha, Masai, Johor

Sunday, 3 August 2008

A day in beautiful Belgrade

Belgrade is the present day capital of the state of Serbia. Prior to that, it was the capital of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Photo credit to the City of Belgrade Homepage

Yugoslavia, as a single country, no longer exists today. Before its demise, Yugoslavia was a federation not unlike Malaysia. It was made up of six different states : Serbia (including the autonomous region of Kosovo), Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The War of the Balkans that started in 1991 saw the collapse of this federation.

I had the opportunity to visit the city of Belgrade during the time I was a student in the UK. It was the summer of 1981. The whole of Yugoslavia was a peaceful and progressive communist country back then.

As is the norm with students in UK and I guess the rest of Europe, the summer holidays would mostly be spent traveling. It was (and I believe still is) very convenient to travel all over the Euro continent on efficient trains because we could purchase a monthly rail pass that is valid on almost all the trains in the various countries. That particular summer, me and two friends Gabriel and Hazim, went on a travel adventure to explore the length and breadth of this amazing continent.

The story of the whole adventure itself could probably fill a book but I choose to highlight on Belgrade because of the sad and horrific events that happened in the past decade against the memorable experience of spending just one day in that historic city.

Yugoslavia is a beautiful country. (Now, I guess I should be using the past tense here but, just for the sake of this post, allow me to imagine that the country still exists.) In our travels to the various countries in Europe, I've found the people of Yugoslavia to be one of the friendliest.

Actually, our trip to Belgrade was more like a stopover rather than a planned visit. We had planned to visit Athens in Greece and the train journey passed through Yugoslavia. At that time we didn't know that Yugoslavia was a federation but we knew it was one of the less restrictive communist countries in the Eastern bloc.

Our overall travel plan was not based on any fixed itinerary. Most of the train journeys were decided ad-hoc. When we decided to make the trip to Athens, we applied for a visa at the Greek Consulate in Munich. Since we would be entering Yugoslavia en-route, we would be needing a Yugoslav visa too. This we also did at the Yugoslav Consulate in Munich.

When the train stopped at the border town of Maribor, in present-day Slovenia, an Immigration officer boarded the train to check our passports. Although we already had a visa, we were asked to report to the passport control office. Gabriel, Hazim and I had to lug our backpacks and alight from the train. Apparently, only a handful of passengers had to alight for passport checks because most other European citizens need not require a visa to enter Yugoslavia.

A page from my passport showing the visa we obtained from the Yugoslav Consulate in Munich. The visa was applied on 6 July 1981, my 19th birthday. The entry stamp at Maribor checkpoint showed that we entered Yugoslavia the next day.

The passport check was quite straight-forward but the customs check was very thorough. We had to empty our backpacks and they inspected everything. It was understandable I guess, since Asians are somewhat notorious for being dope carriers. I suspect that this was the actual reason why we had to step off the train. But the overall process was pleasant enough and when the checks were completed, the customs officer smiled at us and said, `Welcome to Yugoslavia.'

We re-boarded the train and found a compartment that was occupied by a lone young man in smart military uniform. Gabriel asked the man if we could come inside. The officer did not reply in English but I guess he understood what Gabe meant because he nodded and gestured to us to sit down. As the train pulled out of the station, we made ourselves comfortable. Gabe, being the most sociable guy among us three, started to strike a conversation with the army officer. He did not speak any English and Gabe of course spoke no Serbo-Croat (the local language). But this did not deter the both of them to exchange sign languages to keep the conversation flowing. You could imagine the various hand gestures, facial expressions and head nods as they tried to make each other understand what the other was saying. Amazing.

I did not join the conversation for fear of adding to the confusion but just sat back and looked out of the window to enjoy the scenery. My, what a beautiful countryside we passed through as the train headed towards Belgrade. When we reached Belgrade or Beograd as it's known locally, Gabe said good-bye to his new-found friend. I asked Gabe what they talked about. He told me that the army officer was on his way back to his hometown near Belgrade on short leave from his posting at the border town. The officer also talked about life in the Yugoslav army. Trust Gabe to understand something from nothing.... he's that sort of guy.

As I mentioned earlier, we never really intended to visit Belgrade but since we had to break the train journey, we took the opportunity to take a walk around the city. The next train from Belgrade to Athens was late at night so we had a few hours to kill. We stashed our backpacks in the coin-operated lockers at the train station and proceeded to take a walk, basically to nowhere in particular. I didn't know what to expect since it was our first time in a communist country. Surprisingly, the city of Belgrade was modern and historic at the same time. It is situated on the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. It soon became obvious that a single day would not be enough to see all the interesting sights in the city, so after having a look at the large city map at the train station, we decided just to go the Kalemegdan Park that was within walking distance.

When we reached the park, we first took a rest by sitting at one of the park benches. It was a beautiful day and the park was lively with visitors, both local and tourists. As we were sitting on the bench enjoying the nice views, a young local girl approached us. She was about our age and was dressed in denim jeans and jacket. She first said hello but the words that followed were incomprehensible. She offered a handshake and the three of us took turns to shake her hand eagerly. The rest of our conversation proceeded in typical sign language mode with Gabriel doing most of the `talking' on our behalf. The girl offered to guide us to visit some of the sights located within the park. Among these is the impressive Belgrade fortress.

Belgrade Fortress at Kalemegdan Park. Photo credit to Panoramio on Google Maps

After a couple of hours of sightseeing, we took a break and sat on the lovely green grass. I asked the girl (in sign language) if there was a shop nearby where we could buy some drinks and something to eat. She motioned to me to give her some money. I wasn't sure at first but I looked at Gabe and he nodded. So I gave the girl some Yugoslav dinars... how much exactly, I can't remember. As she walked away from us, the sceptic in me said that I probably won't be seeing her again.

Surprise, surprise... about fifteen minutes later the girl returned carrying a plastic bag containing four cans of Coke and a packet of biscuits.

An old 20 dinar note I've kept as souvenir of the trip to Yugoslavia

As it was late evening, we told the girl that we had to make our way back to the train station. Before saying goodbye, I asked her to write her name down on a piece of paper and also how to say `Thank you' in the local language. Try as I might, I cannot recall her name but I do remember that `Thank you' in Serbo-Croat is `Xuala'.

The central train station in Belgrade is not really big when compared to stations in other European capitals. But outside the station is a large square where most of the passengers sat or mingled about while waiting for the next train to Athens. We joined the many backpackers who spread their packs on the floor and huddled in groups. The night air was mild and the atmosphere was cheerful.

As we sat there in the square leaning against our backpacks, I noticed a stocky local youth staring at us. The guy was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt that showed his muscular arms. His face reminded me of a young Charles Bronson (to those of you in the younger generation, Bronson is an old-time Hollywood movie star).

He then started to walk towards us in a tough-looking swagger. Crap, I thought... we're gonna be in deep trouble. I whispered to my friend, `Habis la kita, Gabe...'

Gabe, ever so cool, replied, `Steady...'

When the guy reached us, he squatted in front of Gabe, pointed a finger towards Gabe's chest and asked, `King Kong?'

Gabe answered back, `Huh?'

I already had a lump stuck in my throat...

`King Kong, King Kong?', the guy repeated. He then moved his hands to do some karate chops in the air and added, `Jacky Chan!'

Gabriel grasped what the guy meant immediately. `Oh, you mean Jacky Chan from Hongkong? Kung-fu?'

`Ja! Hongkong, Kung-fu!' the guy echoed back, this time with a wide smile on his face.

Apparently he wanted to know if we came from Hongkong. Gabe, an Iban from Kuching Sarawak, had the most Chinese-looking face of the three of us. That was why he got the question asked first. Phew! What a relief!

Gabe explained that we were from Malaysia. Of course, the Yugoslav guy didn't know where Malaysia was so Gabe took out a piece of paper, drew an outline of south-east Asia and then marked out the relative positions of Malaysia and Hongkong. Pretty soon, Gabe was happily chatting with the guy, the topics - if I deduce correctly from the animated movements of his hands - being Jacky Chan movies, Bruce Lee movies and perhaps anything to do with martial arts. The guy seemed genuinely interested in Gabe's stories and soon gestured to some of his friends, who were watching us from the other side of the square, to join us.

And so there was that night, a group of about 8 to 10 Yugoslav youths crowding around three Malaysian chaps in a square in front of Belgrade train station, chatting loudly and freely as if they had known each other for a long time.

During our conversation, the guy who first approached us, said that he came from the state of Macedonia and his hometown was Skopje. I didn't fully understand it at that time but later realised that Yugoslavia was a federation of different states, somewhat like Malaysia. But unlike Malaysia, the people of the different states are ethnically quite different.

When the train to Athens arrived, it was time to depart. We said our goodbyes with the Yugoslav youths with firm handshakes and hugs. It was like we had been friends for a long, long time. I took the chance to say `Xuala' to all of them and this brought bright smiles to their faces. You should have seen the surprised looks of the other Mat Salleh backpackers around us.

I really wished that I could have spent more time in Yugoslavia. The country's scenery, like most of the European countryside, is breathtaking. But it is the people that makes the country truly beautiful.

Alas, Yugoslavia the country, is no more. Despite the terrible infighting between themselves in the 90's, I will remember the Balkan people as among the most friendliest that I have ever met.

And to my old Iban friend Gabriel a/k Mason, take care, wherever you are. It was an adventure to remember...

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Randy Pausch's Last Lecture

On 11 May 2008, I posted a story about an aunt of mine who was suffering from pancreatic cancer -> see story here. She succumbed to the complications and passed away on 17 May 2008, about a week after I posted that story.

Yesterday, I came across a blog post that gave information of a remarkable university professor who recently died of pancreatic cancer. I've never heard of Professor Randy Pausch before but a link to the Carnegie Mellon University website told the story of an inspiring individual who delivered his last lecture about `Achieving Childhood Dreams' after being told that he had only 3 to 6 months to live.

Pausch passed away last week on 25 July 2008 at the age of 47. He gave his last lecture on 18 September 2007. This lecture is available on Youtube -> here. The video is a fairly long watch at 1hr 16min but there are many useful things that I learned from the Professor's last speech.

For a man facing imminent death, he started his lecture in fairly upbeat mood. Pausch said, `If I don't seem depressed or morose as I should be... sorry to disappoint you,' to a good laugh from the audience. `And I assure you I'm not in denial. We cannot change the cards we are dealt... it's just how we play the hand.'

Towards the end of his speech, he mentioned something about karma. `If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself,' Pausch said. `The dreams will come to you.'

Thank you to the blog I Wanna Hold Your Hand for this piece of inspiring information.