Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Friends are forever...

Since early this year, I have been fortunate enough to re-discover by way of Facebook, many old friends whom I knew during my boarding school days in Kuantan. Although I only spent two years there, the bond of kinship that was forged with my schoolmates are very strong... strong enough to span a duration of 31 years and for some, a distance across continents.

The re-connection in FB led to reunions or mini-gatherings so that we could meet again in real-life. For the past three months including this one, I manage to attend three such events, starting with a dinner in KL in March where 8 guys from the '79 batch turned up. This was followed with an afternoon tea session in JB in April where 9 persons (including 2 ladies) were present. The third mini-gathering was done early this month, and it had the largest turnout so far. The event was held at Beriyani Selatan House, a restaurant at Section 19 Shah Alam owned by fellow K79 friend Syed Idrus. Twenty-three of my MRSM Kuantan batchmates were there and it was certainly a fun and memorable evening.

The three occasions prompted me to write a note or article in FB as a way to record snippets of information about all the friends whom I have re-discovered. I do not wish to repeat the note in this post but re-reading it again just now reminded me of another Kuantan schoolmate whom I've written about in this blog, not once but twice. I re-connected with this friend in FB in early February, or rather she re-discovered me. Her name is Norhayati Shaharuddin.

The two earlier posts in which I mentioned about Yati were published in October 2008 and August 2009. The stories can be read here -> A rose by any other name and We've got talent.

In each of those stories, there were unanswered questions which I had hope to ask my friend should I ever get the chance to meet her again. By the grace of the Almighty, on 11th February an add-friend request came in my FB inbox, from who else but the girl from Gopeng herself. I have since invited Yati to read the two blog posts, primarily to know if she has any objections to my writing about her, and secondly to seek the answers to my queries. She has gracefully replied and I now reproduce both the questions and the relevant answers for the benefit of readers.

In the first post about nicknames, I mentioned that Yati was also known as Hai Hong (the name of the Vietnamese refugee ship that landed on our east coast shore in 1978), but I didn't know how she got it. She told me that the name was teasingly given by one of our Maths teachers, in reference to her fair skin and oriental looks. Apparently the teacher had mentioned that Yati's relatives had just landed on the beach.

In the second post, I wrote about our stage performance in a musical drama where Yati and I played the lead roles. I sang an old Malay 60's song which was then reciprocated by her... but I could not remember the song she sang. She told me that she sang `Mustika Hatiku'.

Thank you Yati for the explanations. The two stories are now complete.

And now, if only I can get to meet you and a few of the other girls for tea... that would surely be wonderful. Tapi kita fahamlah, wanita yang dah berkeluarga ni memang rumit sikit nak dapat kebenaran berjumpa dengan kawan lama.

Anyway, it's lovely to be in touch again... and thanks too, for the memories.

Group photo of the K79 mini-gathering early this month. We are already planning for another one next month.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Jalan-jalan & makan-makan

Ever since coming over to work at our KL Head Office, I have encouraged my staff, especially the junior engineers, to visit the project sites while the works are still under construction. This will broaden their knowledge and provide them with some understanding on the methods of construction. Sometimes, young engineers prepare designs based on ideal theoretical principles without consideration to practicality.

Last Friday, I took a group of them to visit two of our project sites, in Perak and in Penang. The first project in Terong, Perak is a secondary school in its early stages of construction. Afterwards, we headed out to Butterworth where we spent the night. The next day, we visited the second project at North Butterworth Container Terminal, where the construction of the extension berth and container storage facilities is nearing completion.

Apart from the technical visits, there are of course the makan-makan sessions which everyone looks forward to. We had dinner at Puncak Mutiara Cafe... the place I previously wrote about here -> Beriani Peha Kambing.

Lunch was at the famous Din Ikan Bakar of Kepala Batas. Actually to me, the taste of the grilled seafood at Din's is biasa-biasa saja... but what makes the place really special is the variety of fish that you can find. This includes ikan merah, ikan pari, sotong, udang and ketam. In addition to seafood, they also have a variety of daging and ayam bakar. All of them really mouth-watering... and I've not even mentioned the soups.

It was a really tiring two days but thoroughly enjoyable... and I hope my staff have learned something new too. Now what I need to do is to work out that excess food in my system...

  At SMK Toh Johan, Terong, project site

Post-panamax quay cranes at NBCT project site

Thumbs-up for the grilled kambing

Ikan merah bakar, ikan pari bakar dan ulam-ulaman... masa ni udang bakar belum sampai

How can you think about cholesterol when you see grilled prawns like these...

Just look at the size of that shrimp.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

At the end of the day...

I recently came across an interesting book titled `It's Not Rocket Science... an other irritating modern cliches'. Written by two British authors, Clive Whichelow and Hugh Murray, the book is a collection of modern cliches which most of us have heard (or used) with much regularity. Cliches are very useful to spice up a conversation... but when overused, as they tend to be, they do make some listeners cringe.

In these days of online connectivity, everything is available at the `click of a mouse'. Some people boast of being so hardworking that they are at it `24/7'. And if you're not `up to speed' you'd be `left out in the cold'.

So how do we define a cliche? According to the authors, it not quite easy to do because one person's idiom is another person's hackneyed phrase and yet another person's cliche. One good test is if a phrase induces an inward groan... and possibly a roll of the eyes too.

Whichelow and Murray are TV and radio writers. They have grouped their collection of overused phrases into various chapters covering general, media, entertainment and political categories, although it must be said that some cliches are so aggressive that they can be heard in almost all situations. The classic one being, `at the end of the day'. Now you tell me if you have not heard this one mentioned by someone very recently... or perhaps it was you who used it!

The authors have listed many other lovely and familiar phrases but I'll just list down a few of my personal favourites for starters :-

Environmentally friendly : This is such a vague phrase to be virtually meaningless, but it puts a warm glow of self-satisfaction into most of us who like to feel we're doing our bit without actually changing any of our environmentally unfriendly ways.

Hearts and minds : Something politicians are always aspiring to win - haven't they got any of their own?

Your call may be recorded for training purposes : Yes, you often feel as though your experience at the hands of operators would be perfect illustration of how not to do it.

Quietly confident : Or `smug', as it used to be known.

The facts speak for themselves : Clever old facts, we say.

I can see where you're coming from : Why is this phrase so irritating? Is it because it is verbose or patronizing, or because you know that the speaker is just about to contradict you?

Having read the whole book, it seems to me that the authors may have missed out on a few other cliches... at least those that I would consider as such in my book. Among these are, `to be honest with you'. I've often heard this phrase used by someone who thinks he/she is bringing you into the inner circle by confiding something that is not being told to others.

`To be honest with you, we have spent more time preparing this proposal than our management allocated for.' Yeah, right... so you're honest with me only for this one. At other times you're not, is that it?

Another overused cliche is `the big picture'. I admit I'm guilty of saying this one too often in my discussions with my engineers when we come to minor disagreements. I use it when I need to overrule them on certain decisions without letting them know of the underlying reasons. Crafty, eh?

For better or for worse, cliches are almost impossible to avoid... so what's your favourite?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

A dedication to all my teachers

I have previously noted the joy I experienced when re-connecting with old friends on Facebook. Many of these long-lost friends are those I knew during my days at boarding school in Kuantan. Most of them I have not met since we left school in 1979. We were 17-years old then, and now, some of us are making the effort to meet up again to strengthen the bond in friendship first cemented 31 years ago.

On three different occasions over the past three months or so, I met up with my MRSM Kuantan friends over dinner or tea, in what we call mini-gatherings or reunions. The most recent of these was held last Saturday at a friend's restaurant in Shah Alam. Twenty-three of the MCE'79 batch turned up, made up of 7 ladies and 16 guys. Also present was our English teacher Mr Peter Ng and our librarian Puan Faizah.

I had first thought to post a story about the friends I met during those gatherings but upon meeting Mr Peter again last week, I decided it is time I write something about my teachers, in particular, the ones who taught me English at MRSM.

We have a peculiar, if somewhat unique way of addressing our English teachers. In normal convention, when we call someone by their name, the `Mr' would be attached to the surname, and not the firstname. For instance, we would address Tom Jones as Mr Jones (and not Mr Tom). But not at MRSM Kuantan... our English teachers like Peter Ng, Stephen Ambrose, Michael Tan and Kamini Devi are addressed as Mr Peter, Mr Stephen, Mr Michael and Miss Kamini. This way, we feel closer to our teachers because we reduce the air of formality while still maintaining a measure of respect. It may not be technically correct but I agree with it wholeheartedly.

Mr Peter once headed the English Department at MRSM Kuantan. When we re-connected on Facebook, I was quite surprised that he took the time to read this blog of mine. I was doubly pleased when he said that he liked what he read... what can be more encouraging than getting praise from your old English teacher?

The other English teacher who I remember particularly well is Miss Kamini... because of her height. At six-foot plus, she was easily the tallest lady teacher we had in the whole of MRSM Kuantan. It's a pity I do not have a photograph of her because my memories of how she look is starting to fade away. A few friends have uploaded old photos of our time at school and some are pics of us with our teachers, but so far, there isn't one that includes Miss Kamini.

Apart from the academic side of teaching, the teachers at MRSM were also our homeroom advisors. A homeroom is a smaller group of students from different classes... a sort of small family of brothers and sisters with the advisor acting like a parent or big brother / big sister. That is why we feel very close to our teachers... and we know that some of our teachers are very close to us too. This can be clearly seen from the keen participation of our former teachers in many of the reunion events held by the various batches. Photographs of these gatherings are published in the FB profiles of friends and from these I can recall my cikgu-cikgu from yesteryears :- Cikgu Ramli (1st Principal), Cikgu Sharif (2nd Principal), Cikgu Idham (Geografi), Cikgu Fadhil Onn (Geografi), Cikgu Zamri (Chemistry), Ustaz Yusof (Pendidikan Agama), Cikgu Rahim (Physics) and of course, Cikgu Peter. There are certainly many more of my former teachers... some I am told, have already departed. My al-Fatihah and prayers untuk cikgu-cikgu yang telah pergi.

How do we do justice to the valuable knowledge and guidance that our teachers have imparted on us? My answer to this is, by trying to be the best person that we can be. This does not mean that we have to be successful professionals or rich entrepreneurs but simply being an honest and dedicated individual who pass on the noble values we have learned to our children and fellow human beings. The measure of this is when our old teacher whom we have not met for more than 30 years, comes to us and say, `I'm proud of you all!'. That, to me, is saying a lot.

Happy Teacher's Day to all my teachers, wherever you may be. You are the best teachers there are because you teach from your hearts and not merely from the books. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Teacher's Day greetings too are due to my K79 friends who have taken up this noble profession : Suzyanna Mokhtar, Zulika Abdullah, Siti Zaleha Md Said, Fauziah Abdul Ghani, Rohana Mustapha, Dr Adriana Ismail, Dr Khairanum Subari and Prof Shahrin Mohd. My apologies if I may have missed out anybody.
 Then : The English Department staff at MRSM Kuantan, late 70s. Mr Peter on leftmost of the group. Pic borrowed from K79 friend Norila Yahya's FB album.

 Now :  Mr Peter (left) with one of his students, Norhisham Kassim, an airline pilot with MAS.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Flooded prawn mee

It has been a while since I last posted about food... so let's do that now.

I'm not sure if I have translated the name of this dish correctly. In Malay it is called `mee banjir udang', the implication being that there are more prawns than noodles in one bowl of the stuff. Well... you know how people tend to exaggerate. The prawns don't quite flood the dish but there are a few large ones and fresh and juicy too.

Ada udang di sebalik mee? Ataupun ada mee di sebalik udang?

I am of course, talking about the famous prawn mee of Kuala Sepetang in Perak. Having heard of this delicacy from some friends and seen it on local TV food programmes, I couldn't resist heading out to the place although it is nearly a 40-minutes drive away from our project site in Taiping. But no distance is going to stop me from trying out something that many people claim to be so tasty. So tasty that some travellers going north are willing to make a detour and exit the highway at Changkat Jering just to have some of it.

I was told that there are many stalls that sell mee banjir udang along the road from Simpang Taiping all the way to Kuala Sepetang (formerly known as Port Weld). We stopped at a place called Warong Mak Teh, a few kilometres short of Kuala Sepetang town. The stall serves the mee udang in two sizes : biasa (normal) or besar (large). Of course I went for the large portion.

So what's my verdict? Ok, I guess... but certainly tastier that the other so-called famous mee udang of Sungai Dua in Penang. Maybe I did not stop at the correct stall. I'll try the other stalls on my next trip to Taiping before I come to a conclusive opinion. But then, someone told me to try the mee kicap in Ipoh first. Hmmm.... so many places to go and so many things to eat...

Sunday, 2 May 2010

It's the end of the run...

Wak Amid is a neighbour of mine who drives a taxi for a living. His youngest son named Yusof, was a close friend of my own youngest son Imran. Two years ago, when Imran joined the Astro Run For Fun activity, Yusof  wanted to tag along too. The story of this run was one of the earliest posts in this blog and can be read here -> Fun Run.

Notice that I referred to Yusof in the past tense...  A few hours ago, I watched Wak Amid bury his son, who passed away last night. Yusof  had been in and out of hospital since the beginning of the year. He had lost his appetite and became frail and skinny. I visited the young man at the Sultan Ismail Hospital, in Pandan, Johor Bahru last weekend and was close to tears at seeing his undernourished body, much like the image of the starving children of Africa. This morning, I could not hold back the tears anymore as I watched family members give their final kisses to the boy before the white sheets of the shroud were tied up for the final time.

Doctors could not really determine the cause of his illness but officially the COD was put down as tuberculosis. Yusof Bin Amid celebrated his 13th birthday in hospital on 31 March 2010.

Ya Allah, ya tuhan kami.... kami mohon kemurahan Mu untuk mengampuni dosa-dosa insan muda ini dan ditempatkan roh beliau di kalangan orang-orang yang beriman.

Running mates - Allahyarham Yusof (L) and Imran (R). Pic taken on 23 March 2008.