Monday, 31 August 2009

Iftar with a good friend

The nature of my work has taken me to many places in Malaysia and also overseas. Most of the time, such postings were of a temporary nature and hence my family would be left behind in Johor Bahru. I was, in essence, a part-time bachelor (or looking at it the other way, a part-time husband).

I have gotten used to such situations but nothing brings about the real feeling of loneliness like having iftar (the breaking of fast) on your own.

Many years ago, I was working in a small family-owned construction firm in Kuala Lumpur. Most of my co-workers are Chinese and Indians. I was particular close to a Chinese colleague by the name of CP Toh, who is an engineer a few years my junior. During the non-fasting months, Toh and I would normally take our lunch together at a mamak stall nearby our office. It was only during fasting month that I see Toh have his lunch at the Chinese restaurants.

One afternoon, Toh asked me where I would be breaking my fast. At that time, I was a part-time bachelor staying at the company's apartment in Cheras. Sometimes I would just buy some food and break my fast at home but more often than not (to avoid going through heavy evening traffic), I would work late at the office and then break my fast at the same mamak stall.

"At the mamak stall," I replied.

"Let's go to a Ramadhan buffet at one of the hotels," Toh said. "Never mind... I belanja."

I remember Toh taking me to The Legend Hotel near PWTC for iftar that day. The meal costs RM60 per head, one of the most expensive buffet at that time. I told Toh that it costs too much but he simply replied, "Don't worry lah. Once in a while maa..."

A few days later, I thought I would return the favour and asked Toh if he'd join me for buka puasa.

"Sure," he replied. "Where shall we go today?"

I told him that I read about a few good restaurants at KLCC and thought of trying there. He agreed and so we headed for the city centre in my car. We were a bit late in leaving the office and were caught in the terrible traffic. By the time we reached KLCC, it was already a half-past six. We surveyed all the restaurants but they were all fully booked. Even the food court and fast-food joints were packed. Not a single seat available.

I was regretting my choice of place to buka puasa, when Toh suggested, "Why don't we buy something light for you to buka puasa first... we have the light meal outside at the park and try the restaurants again later when most of the people have finished."

What a wonderful idea... trust my Chinese friend to come up with a solution to problem that actually affects me more than him. And so we ended up buying some pretzels from the Auntie Anne kiosk and pack drinks from the newstand store. We then sat on the steps facing the fountain at KLCC park and chatted away while waiting for the sun to set. Although my friend could have munched into his pretzel anytime, he respectfully waited for the appropriate time.

After what we thought was ample time for the crowds to finish their meal, we went again to the restaurants to try our luck. There were seats available at Kelantan Delights, a restaurant serving Malay east-coast delicacies. Although the buffet spread was quite extensive, I didn't think it was that tasty and value-for-money. I can get more delicious Kelantanese food at cheaper prices at many other simple restaurants around KL.

Toh and I parted ways when both he and I left the company at around the same time. It has been quite a while since I last spoke to him. I am thinking that perhaps I should give him a call tomorrow, setakat untuk bertanya khabar...

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Selamat Hari Merdeka

Our nation turns 52 tomorrow. It may not be smooth sailing on the political front at present but at least let us be grateful that we are still living in peace and with a fair degree of prosperity.

As someone once put it, `Negara kita ini kecik aje... kalau bukan kita yang jaga, siapa?'

Happy Merdeka Day to all my fellow Malaysians, of whatever creed or colour.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Resipi Kacang Pool

In the previous post, blogger Hliza asked about the taste of kacang pool. It is quite hard to describe. So I thought that if I posted the recipe, readers who are unfamiliar with the dish can sort of guess the taste by reading the ingredients used in its preparation.

While my whole family likes this dish, there are some people who do not. It is not widely available at restaurants or foodstalls. I know of only 3 places in Johor Bahru that sell it. When I previously lived in Kuala Lumpur for 3 years, I never came across it. After posting about this dish last year (click -> here), I received an email from a reader who says that he runs a cafe in Shah Alam that serves kacang pool. I haven't had a chance yet to drop by his place so I can't say if his kacang pool tastes okay. But if any readers in Klang Valley wish to give it a try, you can click this Facebook link for more information -> Fiescanto Cafe.

Kacang pool is originally a middle-eastern dish called foul medames (or variants of it, depending on region). The recipe I'm putting up here is of course, a local variation as modified by my mother. So here goes, the first ever recipe in Just Observations...

Ingredients (serves 4) :

1. Broad beans (a.k.a fava beans) - 250g. The dried beans are actually quite difficult to find in the local market. You can substitute with the canned variety.

2. Curry powder - 1 cup

3. Coriander - 5 tablespoons

4. Cumin - 5 tablespoons

5. Onions - 4 nos. (3 for cooking and 1 for garnish)

6. Garlic - 9 cloves

7. Ghee - around 3 to 4 tablespoons, for frying

8. Green chillies - around 3 to 4, for garnishing

9. Salt and white pepper - to taste

10. Eggs - 4 nos.

Method :

1. Soak the broad beans overnight until they soften. You can skip this step if you use the canned stuff. Boil in a pot of water until soft and cooked. Put in blender and puree for a short while until medium to soft consistency. Set aside.

2. Dry roast the coriander and cumin in a frying pan until brown and fragrant. Allow to cool and then grind to a powder. Mix together with the curry powder.

3. Puree onions and garlic in blender. Add to spice powder and mix evenly.

4. Heat up pot and melt the ghee. Saute the spice/onion/garlic paste until fragrant. Add the broad beans and cook over medium heat for 15min to 20min. Add some water if mixture is too thick. Add salt and white pepper to taste.

Serving :

1. Dice one onion and roughly chop the green chilles to be used as garnishing.

2. Fry the eggs in ghee, preferably sunny side up.

3. Place bean mix in a bowl. Put fried egg on top. Garnish with onions and chilles. Sprinkle with a bit of the melted ghee. Squeeze a bit of lime juice, if desired.

4. Serve with bread of your choice.

In the middle-east, foul medames is eaten with traditional flat bread. Personally, I prefer to eat it with french bread or baguette. Cut the baguette in 1-inch thick slices. Lightly toast them in an oven so that the outside is crisp but the inside still soft. Tear off a bite-sized piece and dip it in the kacang pool. Ummm... sedaaaap.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The first day of breaking fast (1430 Hijrah)

This post is a little late in coming. It's the fifth day of Ramadan already and I am writing something about the first day. A thousand apologies.

The first two days of fasting was okay but I had problems for the next three days. I was down with some gastric pains to the extent that I spent most of the day in bed. Not really a good way to while the time in this holy month but the alternative was to forego the fast and line my bowel with some food. I've been to the doctor earlier today for some medication with the hope that I can see through this pain without the need of missing any fasting day, if possible.

Anyway, back to to the original intention of this post. It has been a tradition with us to spend the first day of breaking fast at my parents' place whenever possible. In fact, this year we spent the first two days of Ramadan in Singapore because they conveniently fell on a weekend.

Normally my mother would cook kacang pool for the first day (like she did last year, see story -> here) but there was slight change of plans because the fava beans she kept in stock had turned bad because of weevils. Instead, she cooked some lontong. Added to that, my wife prepared some mee goreng while my youngest sister brought some roti gulung sardin and begedil. My third brother and his family also joined us for the iftar and his wife brought along some mini meat pies and goreng pisang. Drinks included air katira (which I bought from a bazar ramadan stall in JB) and some watermelon juice. All in all, it was a truly a sumptuous spread. So I guess you can understand why some people say that they actually gain weight during the fasting month.

Later that evening, I did my terawih prayers at the Ar-raudhah Mosque that's located just across the road from my father's flat. As in previous years, the mosque committee has arranged for the prayers to be led by a team of imam hafiz (those who memorised the whole 114 surahs of the holy Quran) from Terengganu. All the imams are young men in their mid-twenties and they have such beautiful voices. One of them has a lovely recitation melody so similar to middle-eastern imams that it reminds me of prayers at the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah. I am quite proud that skills of our young imans are exported for good use to be shared with our brothers in Singapore.

The following morning, I accompanied my father to another mosque in Bukit Timah area where he is helping to cook some bubur lambuk. The cooking of bubur lambuk or rice porridge is somewhat of a tradition at most mosques in Singapore and Malaysia. The porridge would normally contain spices and some minced meat, and is distributed free to anyone who care to come and collect. It would be interesting to know how this tradition started.

At this particular mosque, Masjid Ba'Alwi, the bubur is prepared specifically for those who wish to break their fast at the mosque itself.

Ba'Alwi Mosque is located at Lewis Road off the main Bukit Timah Road, near the old university area. The location of the mosque is somewhat at odds with its surroundings. The dwellings around the mosque consist of private housing and condominiums. I doubt there is a single Muslim house within walking distance. Despite this, the mosque is very popular and has a large congregation. I haven't had the opportunity to study its history but I guess when it was first built many years ago, the surrounding areas must have included a Malay kampung or two. As the years progressed and private development swallowed the kampungs, the mosque must have faced tremendous pressure to relocate. Perhaps, its direct links to Arab benefactors has helped it remain where it is to this day.

I managed to take home some of the bubur lambuk that my father cooked. My father also bought some fava beans and thus my mother was able to prepare kacang pool after all. So for the second day of breaking fast, we had some bubur lambuk and kacang pool. Delicious.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Ramadan Kareem

The passage of time is usually marked by the return of annual events such as the New Year, birthdays and anniversaries. But to me, no other occasion is more significant in telling us that time has sped past like the return of the holy month of Ramadan.

It seems like only yesterday that I was posting stories about fasting in other countries. And tomorrow we'll start the new cycle of this ritual in abstinence and patience. The Almighty has gracefully extended me the time to again experience this month of forgiveness, blessings and reward.

To all my muslim friends, selamat menjalankan ibadah puasa dengan penuh tabah dan kesyukuran. Semuga dosa-dosa kita diampuni Allah swt serta amalan-amalan baik kita diterima.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Memories in black and white (2)

I am now carrying out a mini project to re-arrange my parents' old black and white photographs into new albums. The photos are now in a few slip-in albums but I remember they were originally in the old stick-on type albums with the black matte paper.

There are many classic pictures including those of my father and my mother before they married. My father's collection in particular, has many photographs with captions written on the back, thus giving them some history. I am thinking of grouping them into themes in a new stick-on album with proper caption and notes. And since both my old folks are still around, I'd better get them to tell me something about those pictures that are uncaptioned and undated.

I've selected a few choice pieces for scanning and I'm sharing a few with you today.

Photo 1 : Yours truly in a pram circa 1963

Photo 2 : Family photo taken in 1966. The eldest boy on the left was 4 years-old.

Photo 3 : Family photo in 1967. My parents now have 4 sons.

Photo 4 : This one was taken in 1968, the last family pic in B&W.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

We've got talent

At the awards ceremony of the 22nd Malaysian Film Festival held last Saturday, the late Yasmin Ahmad won the prize for Best Director for her movie Talentime. This posthumous award is the final recognition that the local film industry can bestow to a talented individual who has given joy to many people who watched her movies and TV adverts over the years.

Through her work, Yasmin had long ago been a propagator of racial understanding in Malaysia, even way before the PM’s marketing people came up with the concept of 1Malaysia. This latest movie of hers is no different. It has a multi-racial cast but handles a seemingly simple theme. We may be different in skin tones but our aspirations are the same. I wonder now, when another talent such as she, will surface from among us Malaysians.

This subject of creative talent reminds me of the first time I had to perform on stage. I was a teenager studying at MRSM Kuantan. Life at boarding school was fun. In addition to the normal academic studies, everyday was filled events and activities of all kinds. Being teenagers, we were up to the usual mischief as teenagers are wont to do. But apart from the normal diversions, we were a creative and resourceful lot.

On nights prior to school days, it was compulsory for us to attend `prep’ sessions. But on Friday and Saturday nights, we were free to do what we like. To fill up the time on such weekend evenings, we would organize concerts, stage performances or plays. On alternate weekends, the school’s Movie Club would screen movies. The concerts would normally run along a theme, usually performances from all the classes of a particular year (or batch, as we like to call ourselves). Each class would perform two or three songs and the music is played live. There is always a few guys in each class who can play the guitars, keyboard and drums because music was also taught in our school. Once the roster for musical concerts was completed, we would go on to dramas and stage plays.

Main Hall of present day MRSM Kuantan where all the performances are held

All the events were handled and executed by students with minimal input from the teachers. It covers all aspects including stage decoration, lighting, sound effects, costumes and even the emcee. This was how we nurtured the talent among us in non-academic fields.

I am hopeless at playing musical instruments but I can sing fairly well and apparently, can act quite a bit too. So when it was time for our class to prepare for a performance, I was conveniently selected to take the lead or hero’s role in a musical drama. The heroine’s role was played by classmate Norhayati Shaharuddin, one of the prettiest lass in school at the time… so kira okay la tu :-)

Try as I might, I cannot recall what the storyline of our musical was about… but it must have something to do with a love story because I can clearly remember the song I sang that night. It was the A. Halim song called Kisah Dan Tauladan. Fans of 1960s Malay Pop Yeh Yeh will know this one in an instant. Nowadays, when I come across this song at any karaoke session, it will always bring back the memory of my stage performance.

Youtube video credit to malin7597

Yati, the heroine, also sang a song… but I can’t remember what it was. If I do get a chance to meet up with her again sometime, I think I’ll ask her. I’m sure she’ll remember the fun times that we had when we were teens. Kadang-kadang terasa macam kelakar pulak…

The last item of our performance was a group song by all the cast. Yours truly is the skinny guy on the right

That was about my only participation in acting. MARA then sent me overseas to study something else. Good thing too… because I doubt I can cari makan based on my acting skills alone.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Orchids and bonsai

The Johor Bahru International Orchid and Bonsai show was held at Danga Bay from 6 to 9 August 2009. We had the chance to visit the show earlier in this afternoon, the last day.

For a gardening enthusiast like me, it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. In the convention centre, there were decorative pavillions prepared by horticulturists from different countries. Hundreds of species of orchids were on display and the myriad of colours was breathtaking.

Mrs Oldstock at the entrance display

Combination of colours
The Sarawak pavillion

This arrangement from Taiwanese participants

At a separate section of the centre there was also a display of bonsai plants. The beauty of these miniature trees is simply amazing. It must have taken the bonsai growers so much patience and care to shape their plants to such lovely living sculptures. A trait that I do not have.

A backlighted bonsai plant

Miniature asam jawa tree

Pine bonsai

Slender sloping bonsai

Short squat bonsai

Outside of the convention hall, the organizers had set up stalls where orchid growers displayed their products for sale. As it is the last day, many of the stalls offered the plants at discounted rates. There were so many to choose from... rambang mata dibuatnya.

After much browsing, I finally bought one with white flowers and a few cuttings of other varieties. Cultivating the cuttings and seeing them grow gives me more satisfaction, although I must say that I'm not that successful in getting my orchids to flower they way they do at the nurseries. In fact, with the exception of bougainvillea (bunga kertas), I do quite poorly with flowering plants. I am more adept at the leafy plants such as palms, ferns, shrubs and caladium (keladi).

Colourful orchids on sale

One of the nursery stalls

I like the colour of this flower

And these ones too...

The latest addition to my collection

For the past month or so, I have been spending most of my weekends trying to rehabilitate my garden after more than a year of neglect. The plants that I have re-potted are now looking healthy and I hope to post something about this in another month or two when hopefully, some of them have started to bloom.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The signs of getting old

There are times when you feel so tired of doing things that you do... that you just want to drop everything and do nothing. I'm sure you know the feeling. It has nothing to do with mood swings or that `time' of the month. Just mental fatigue, I guess.

Today feels like such a day for me. But rather than mope about it, I'm sharing an interlude with you that hopefully would lift some spirits, especially mine.

Duda bertemu janda

(Credit to speedo at

Di sebuah perkampungan ada seorang duda yang sudah berumur dan tinggal seorang di rumahnya. Anak-anaknya semua bekerja di bandar. Berdekatan rumahnya itu ada seorang janda yang juga agak berumur dan juga tinggal seorang diri. Sudah bertahun lamanya mereka berjiran dan sering juga berhubung kala kesunyian.

Suatu hari… di petang yang redup... si duda duduk di bawah pokok rambai.. merenung ke arah rumah si janda. Si janda perasan dan datang menegur si duda... "Pak Uda oii.. ape yang dimenungkan nye tu... "

Si duda menunduk seketika... lalu menjawab, "Ada perkara aku nak bagitau ko ni Mak Jan.."

Berkerut dahi si janda... kerana kelihatan serius pulak si duda tu. "Ape nyer ..serius je bunyi nyer.."

Si duda merenung si janda... lalu dengan segala kekuatan yang ada dia berkata... "Aku ni kepingin nak berbinikan ko... ko sudi tak?"

Si janda tersenyum… dan diam seketika ..lalu si janda menjawab, "Erm... sudi... "

Setelah berborak seketika... si janda dan duda pun pulang kerumah masing-masing kerana hari sudah menjelang senja.

Pada malam itu… si duda gelisah... dia tidak ingat jawapan yang diberikan si janda petang tadi. Adakah dia sudi atau tak... yelah dah tua... memori pendek sikit. Setelah berfikir sejenak... si duda tidak jugak mendapat jawapan... lalu terpaksalah dia bertanya sekali lagi kepada si janda. Si duda pun mendail nombor telefon si janda… nak datang rumah tak molek pulak dah malam-malam camni...

"Helo... Mak Jan.. Pak Uda di sini. Aku ingin bertanya... almaklum dah tua mudah lupa... petang tadi aku bertanya pada ko, sudikah ko berkahwin dengan aku. Err.. apakah yang ko jawab?"

Mendengar suara si duda.. si janda pun berkata, "Aku jawab aku sudi… ikhlas dari hati. Selamat ko telepon aku, Pak Uda... "

Si duda pelik dengan kata-kata si janda lalu bertanya... "Kenapa?"

Dan si janda menjawab, "Aku pun lupa siapa yang ajak aku kawin petang tadi….."