Thursday, 29 December 2011

School child harvest

There is a small rambutan tree in the front compound of our house. It was planted by my mother quite a number of years ago, I can't remember. A few years ago it started to bear fruit but the quantity wasn't that much. Last year was not very good at all, with most of the fruits falling off the tree before they were fully ripe.

This year is different. Seems to be the best produce of all... a bumper harvest. Part of the tree's branches overhang past our front fence and the neighbourhood kids are having a field day plucking the fruits as they please. Some of them ask our permission while others do not. To those who asked, I say go ahead. There's plenty to share.

Since last Monday was a holiday and it wasn't raining continuously like previous days, I decided to do some rambutan-harvesting. My son and his cousin pitched in to help. I climbed part way up the tree to trim some of the branches using a saw. The fallen branches were then gathered by the boys who then pluck off the abundant fruits at the tips. Trimming the branches help new leaves to sprout for the next season.

As my son started to gather the branches, three of the neighbour's kids came around to help... and this kind Pakcik then rewarded them with a plastic bag-full of their pickings. I had trimmed maybe four or five small branches when I felt too tired to continue. We had already collected 2 large bucketful of the fruits. There are still plenty more up there on the tree. Maybe I'll continue the harvest this weekend.

The rambutan my mother planted is of the variety known as `anak sekolah'. Strange name for a fruit but very sweet and juicy with a reasonably thick flesh. I wondered how the name came about. According to a friend, this type of rambutan is well-known in Kelantan state since many years ago. Moktea anok skoloh, that's the way they say it.

The young man using a stick and ladder to pick the lower fruits

The plucked fruits are gathered in a bundle and then shared

Red hairy skin...

...with white juicy flesh.

Monday, 26 December 2011

The day after Christmas

The first time I spent my Christmas holidays at a place where most of the people actually celebrated Christmas, was in 1980 in the small town of Wrexham, in the northern part of Wales, in the United Kingdom. The bunch of us students from Malaysia didn't actually do very much during that term break. It was freezing cold outside so we just stayed at home, kept warm and watch TV. No snow though, so it wasn't a white Christmas.

It was the first time I heard the term Boxing Day, the day after the 25th of December. It is also a public holiday in the UK. If we in Malaysia can have 2 days off for Aidilfitri plus another 2 days off for Chinese New Year, then it is not difficult to understand why the Matsallehs cannot have 2 days off too.

I was puzzled why they called the 26th of December as Boxing Day, so I asked my British friends. None of them could give me a definitive answer. Even today, trying to search for the origin of the name via online sources does not give clear results. The name has nothing to do with the sport of boxing (you know, the game where one man punch another man, in a ring which is actually square in shape). The most accepted theory is that it has to do with boxes (the thing that we keep stuff in), whereby charity boxes containing donations from the public during the Christmas service the previous day are collected and then shared with the poor.

Well, what ever the origin of the name, I remember Boxing Day for another reason. It is a full day programme for English league football. So I'll be tied in front of the telly tonight.

Hoping my friends had a lovely day-off yesterday. Me and the missus had a quiet day resting at home. Our son with a number of his cousins, had a blast spending the whole day at Universal Studios in Singapore.

Once a lifetime experience...

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Swift as an arrow

I drive to work this morning (yes, I work on Saturdays). The traffic on the highway to Pasir Gudang is lighter today compared to the weekdays, but still busy nonetheless.

I am on the right lane of the two-lane road, driving at a leisurely 70km/h. A few cars are not far in front, at the same pace. The left lane is conquered by the slow heavy lorries, as usual. I glance at the rear-view mirror and see a car in the distance, speeding towards me. Pretty soon it is right up on my tail and I see it is a red Suzuki Swift. It is so close. The sight of the car fills the whole rear-view mirror. The driver seems to be bugging me to move over but not poking my bum with his headlights. I buat bodo aje...

Image borrowed from
Suzuki Malaysia website
A gap in between the trucks on the left-hand side appears. The Swift makes a quick lane switch, overtakes me on the left and weaves in back in front of me. I see a young man driving and a young lady in the passenger seat... a prick impressing his girlfriend, no doubt. He continues to weave in and out to overtake the other cars in front.

As I watch him fly away in the distance, I realise that another car is close behind my tail. Another Swift! This one is black. It has a lone driver. The same thing happens... as gaps on the left lane present itself, blackie makes swift lane-switch manoeuvres to get to the front. Crap, I thought. I'm being hit for a double trouble this morning. Tak boleh jadi ni...

A thought crosses my mind... I should give them a chase. But then I realise that this old car of mine is no longer a sprinter but a long-distance runner. A few years ago, I would've stepped on the accelerator and perform them nifty moves myself. Age is catching up on me.

Turns out to be a good decision. As if on cue, I hear the sound of a siren behind me. A police patrol car is crawling on my back. I move to the left when I see a safe gap. The coppers zoom past, switch on the flashing blue lights and catch up to the two Swifts. Both Suzuki cars are directed to pull over to the road shoulder.

As I pass them, I note that it could've been three cars in the police summons book. God is kind to me today...

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone

The original singer of this song, Bill Withers, released it in 1971. The song became a classic hit. Since then, a number of other singers have performed cover versions. A few months back, I discovered this youtube video of Joe Cocker singing the hit in his distinctively raspy style and I like it very much. I thought it appropriate to share at this present time... what with the weather being gloomy and rainy for the past few weeks.

Youtube credit to : Andranik Azizbekyan



"It's not warm when she's away...."

Yeah, you're right Joe. The missus has been away at the hospital for ten days now. The doctor says she may be discharged tomorrow if everything's okay.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Common and self-admiration

As a young boy in primary school, my interest in reading was sustained by poring over Enid Blyton's books, particularly the Famous Five and Secret Seven series. Whenever I come across a new word, I would borrow my father's pocket-sized Collins English-Malay dictionary. That tiny book became my reference companion for a few years until my father, either on seeing my keen reading habit or wanting his own dictionary back, bought me a thick full-fledged dictionary published by Larousse. I was in awe when I received it as a present. It must have cost my father a bomb to buy it and I treasured it very much.

From reading Blyton, I went on to read more classical authors like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. Reading Dickens was tough. He used so many words I didn't understand that I had to refer to the dictionary too often. This took out the fun in reading so I went back to reading mystery and adventure stories. The Three Investigators and The Hardy Boys were among my favourites. As I entered late teens, my reading scope expanded to include horror by Stephen King and spy thrillers by Frederick Forsyth and Robert Ludlum. Most of the thrillers that I read are fast-paced and I can become so engrossed as to miss dinners and postpone sleep. Unputdownable, if there is such a word.

If I come across new words while reading such thrillers, I never stop to check their meaning in the dictionary. It spoils the momentum. Usually I just try to guess what they mean from the context of the sentence. Only after finishing the book would I flip the dictionary to check if my guess was right... but I'll do that only if I remember or if the word interests me. Sometimes I wouldn't bother... especially if I think the word is too complicated and that I'd never use it myself, either in speech or in writing. Sounds like I'm limiting my vocabulary, but hey... there are millions of words out there, so it's okay if we don't know a few.

I was listening to a classic song recently when I heard a particular word that I didn't know the meaning of. I googled the lyrics and part of it I reproduce here :

You drove me, nearly drove me, out of my head
While you never shed a tear
Remember, I remember, all that you said
You told me love was too plebeian
Told me you were through with me and...

The word that stumped me is plebeian. According to my dictionary, the word means something relating to ordinary people or the common folk. If used as a noun, it is a degrading word for someone of low social class. Now how's that for an insult.

Click on this link to have a listen to the Susan Boyle version of the song -> Cry Me A River

Ok then, for good measure, I'll give you another word that is in my `hard to understand' category - narcissistic. I'm having trouble even pronouncing it. I first came across this word in a novel but I can't remember the novel's title. It means having an obsession with one's own image and ego.

So there you have it - plebeian and narcissistic. Two words I doubt I'll ever use...

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A Good Makan Spot in JB (4)

With the missus lodged in the 1st Class Ward of Hospital Sultanah Aminah, it has been consecutive dining out experience for my youngest son and me for the past three nights. Not that I don't know how to cook... but with the rush back from work, battling the evening traffic and trying to reach the hospital before end of visiting hours, I can't be bothered to spend time in the kitchen.

What I've been doing is to get home as early as I can, pick up my son and then head off to the hospital to visit his mother. On the way back, we stop by any convenient makan place to grab a bite to eat.

For our dinner tonight, I decided to re-visit a classy restaurant located at Jalan Abdullah Tahir, not far from JB city centre. Actually, the main reason for dinner at this place is because I wanted to wash my car. Jalan Abdullah Tahir is the carwash centre of JB.... there are maybe 7 or 8 places (I've lost count) where you can have your car cleaned.

Banafee Village Restaurant is located next to such a carwash and so it's terribly convenient to let your car have a shower while you have some chow. We first tried out this restaurant when it opened for business around two years ago. It was a Ramadhan buffet spread and I wasn't very much impressed at that time because the food wasn't that tasty. As such, it never crossed my mind to give the place another try.... until tonight.

This time around, I am happy to note that there have been improvements. The menu now is quite extensive. They offer Chinese, Western and even Arabic cuisine. I decided to try out the Lamb Hanith, a traditional Yemeni dish while my young man went  for the Baked Lamb Leg. I believe I've mentioned this before... father and son are both lamb enthusiasts.

The leg arrived first and my son quickly tucked into it. I asked him if it tasted good and he simply nodded. I always trust his judgement when it comes to the taste of lamb dishes. I cut off a piece of the meat from his plate and tried it myself and sure enough, the dish was cooked by a pro.

My order of lamb and rice arrived. When I opened the foil package containing the lamb, my first impression was that it looked a bit dry. Upon the actual eating of it, I decided that the taste was not too bad. Maybe slightly below my favourite lamb hanith dish at Saba Restaurant in KL, but I'll give Banafee the thumbs up. My plate of rice and the accompanying salad was wiped clean.

I believe Banafee Village also offer live music entertainment but we didn't stay to watch. My car is already washed and it was time to head home and blog about it.

Baked lamb leg

Hot and cold. Teh halia in the mug and choco milkshake for the young man

Lamb hanith... delicious.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Chances are...

My better half suffers from a skin ailment which afflicted her just after we got married. The cause of the disease is still not known and scientists have yet to find a definitive cure.

In September of last year, the situation became a bit serious and she had to spend a week in hospital. After a regime of antibiotics and other medication, her condition improved but the specialist doctor still could not pinpoint the exact cause.

Six months ago, the skin inflammation recurred and she had to be warded again. As I was helping her `check-in' at the time, it surprised me a bit that she was assigned the same bed in the same room of the 1st Class Ward at Hospital Sultanah Aminah, here in Johor Bahru. The HSA is the oldest government hospital in the city. Its 1st Class ward is located in a new wing and the rooms are quite comfortable. Nearly on par with that of private hospitals. The sad thing is that, admission to 1st Class is quite restricted and upon direction of the specialist doctors only. The rest of the common folk have to make do with beds in the lower classes. The Malay proverb of `duduk sama rendah, berdiri sama tinggi' does not apply in this case. How I wish that one day, all Malaysians can have access to equal health treatment.

The duration of my wife's second stay at the hospital was as long the the first. Again, still no clues as to what caused the recurrence.

Last night, her skin flared up again and I took time off from work to accompany her to the hospital earlier this afternoon. While waiting for the administrative work at the admissions counter, I casually mention that it would be a very slim chance indeed if she gets the same bed again. Once registration is cleared, a nurse leads the way to the room, and lo and behold.... it is the same bed, three times in a row! What a coincidence. My wife shares this fact with the nurse and we are all amused. I jokingly add that my wife has signed a long term tenancy with the hospital for that particular bed.

I did a quick mental calculation on the probability of such an event happening. The women's first class ward at HSA JB has 16 beds. That means 1 in 16 chance (or 6.25%) of being assigned the same bed on the second visit. If my memory of Probability Theory serves me right, the chances of the same thing happening the third time is not doubled but squared.... i.e. 1 in 256 or a teeny-weeny 0.39% only. How's that for great odds.

Well.... the jesting aside, I wouldn't want my missus to be spending time in that bed (or any other hospital bed for that matter) longer than necessary. I hope she gets well soon.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Original blogger creations

Two separate packages from two different bloggers came in the mail for me yesterday. I hadn't expected the items to arrive that early because I just placed the orders and made payment the day before. I salute my two blogger friends for their efficiency.

1. Emila's Illustrated Calender 2012

When illustrator-blogger Emila Yusof announced last month that she may produce a calender for next year, I immediately sent her a message that I'll buy one. She had previously made a calendar for 2010 which consisted of 12 pages of her own drawings. I was the owner of a copy and had written about it here -> 2010 calender. There wasn't one for 2011and so, when she was mulling about her second calender product, I was among the earliest fans to say yes.


Emila's calender is still available for purchase from her website or you can click on the following link to visit her online webstore -> Emila's Littleshop. The price is RM15.00 per copy not inclusive of postage. Pop over to her shop to see larger sample images and maybe also browse the other unique items on offer.

2. Coretan Xnuripilot

I first became acquainted with blogger Major (Rtd) Nor Ibrahim Sulaiman when he dropped a comment in the post where I wrote about Mee Banjir Udang Kuala Sepetang in May 2010. Following that comment, I made occasional visits to his blog to read stories and recollections about life in the Air Force. Major Ibrahim is a retired helicopter pilot who used to serve our country during the communist insurgency. His stories about struggles and confrontations with the enemy make very interesting reading.

I had missed dropping by his blog for quite some time and somehow late last month, I made a chance re-visit. The retired Air Force Major had apparently went on a mission to self-publish his collection of stories in book form. He is attempting to get the support of Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka to assist in a 2nd re-print.

I requested the Major to reserve a copy for me should DBP agree to help him out. He quickly replied that he still has a few odd copies in hand and would sell one to me if I don't mind some minor defects on the cover. No problem, I said... and after a few further exchanges of information and cash, I am now in possession of a book containing first-hand accounts of life as a pilot flying the Nuri (Sikorsky) military helicopters.

Thank you, Pak Ibrahim for sharing your stories with us... and thank you too, for your service and sacrifice in defence of our nation.

Inside cover of the book has the author's biodata and autograph

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The spreader of false news

In the days before there were social networking websites, dubious and misleading news tend to make their way across cyberspace via forwarded emails. Usually such news sound sensational in the first instance and carry some form of warning or community advice. The forwarders of such emails normally do not care to check the authenticity of the piece being passed on, preferring to resort to the maxim of `better safe than sorry' or `no harm to let others know'. It is as if by forwarding the news gives them this `feel-good' feeling of having done a great service to society.

Unfortunately, quite a number of such forwarded news are plain false, misleading and in some cases, carry ill-intent. The Malay word that applies to this situation is `fitnah'.

An example of such an erroneous email is the one I received in June 2009 about the so-called humiliation that Apple is bringing to the religion of Islam by opening a bar in New York resembling the holy Kaabah in Makkah. A simple google search on `Apple Mecca Bar' will yield the true story. The perpetrator of this piece is not a dumb fellow. He was banking on the emotions and naivety of a section of cyberspace citizens by touching on the sensitive subject of religion. The people who blindly forwarded his message are the dumb ones.

I replied to the person who sent me the mail, saying that the story is a hoax and to check the truth before forwarding. She still forwards me similar stuff, although not as often as before... probably because such news have found a new medium of transmission. Facebook.

Last week, I spotted a niece of mine posting a link from her friend's wall, warning readers not to partake drinks from a certain manufacturer. The message goes like this :

Untk beberape hari akn dtg,jgn ambil mnuman dr mana2 produk dr syarikat PEPSI spt pepsi,tropicana juice,slice,7up,coca cola dll kerana ada pekerja dr syarikat itu tlh menambah darahnya yg trcemar dgn HIV.Keluar berita dlm NTV7.Tlg sebarkn kpd org yg anda sygi.

I immediately posted a comment to my niece, asking if this is true. For starters, Pepsi and Coca-cola are 2 different companies. She then posted a similar query on her friend's link. The reply from the friend was a nonchalant, `Better xpayah minumla.. Lgkh brjaga2..'. So disappointing.

Since there was mention of NTV7 in the message, I sent an email to them asking about it. The television station replied that they had never broadcasted such news. And as if on cue, the very next day The Star Online carried an article quoting the response from Pepsi, saying that it was a hoax. The story originated as an sms in India since July this year. The full news article can be read here -> Rumours of HIV-infected drinks untrue, says Pepsi. This same link was given to my niece, who then extended it to her friend. I had a peek at this person's wall to see what her response was. Sadly... nothing. The least she could have done is to say sorry for perpetuating the lie.

I guess the spread of such khabar angin will not end any time soon, if at all. Information nowadays, travel at the speed of light. And we will continue to have ignorant and arrogant people who think they have done a good thing by being the spreader of false news.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Ditelan mati emak...

Back to another posting about Malay proverbs. In a previous post, I had mentioned how the late Pak Sako gave excellent commentaries on the use of peribahasa Melayu to suit any given situation. In general, the old Malay proverbs make use of metaphor to get the message across. Most of such sayings have deep and sometimes sarcastic meanings, but there are some that actually sound a bit inappropriate, whether used in the distant past or mentioned in the present day. Pak Sako took swipes at some of these and the following is an example.

`Duduk sama rendah, berdiri sama tinggi' or its equivalent `Hati gajah sama dilapah, hati kuman sama dicecah'.

The underlying message behind both these proverbs is equality. Not of the sexes, but of class. The Malay word for it is darjat. More often than not, the users of such sayings are those who are well-to-do and they apply the usage to curry favour or empathy from those who are not. According to Pak Sako, in almost all occasions (events, ceremonies, wedding receptions), persons of a certain standing will always be treated a bit special compared to the common folk. No such thing as equality. Which sort of reminds me of the quote from George Orwell : All animals are equal... but some animals are more equal than others.

So why am I again writing on this subject of perumpamaan Melayu? Dah takde idea lain ke?

Well.... earlier today, an old schoolmate named Zaim Mahmood, posted on his FB wall, a list of modified peribahasa purportedly uttered by the TV3 news reporter Karam Singh Walia, who's famous for such idiomatic quotes. Most of the sayings are hilarious and I doubt if Mr Walia actually said them, but even if he didn't, I'm sure he wouldn't mind the credit. I have chosen some real classical samples to share :

1. Terlajak perahu boleh diundur, terlajak kereta pun boleh undur. Terlajak kapal terbang takde gear reverse, sori.
2. Sudahlah jatuh ditimpa pula tangga, lepas tu tercium pulak tahi ayam.
3. Biar mati bini jangan mati anak (boleh kahwin lagi ape...)
4. Kalau tiada rotan, pelempang ajelah....
5. Hujan emas di negeri orang, hujan batu di negeri sendiri. Kalau macam tu lebih baik tak payah hujan.

There is plenty more from where that came from. Muahaha!

Ok then..... let's end this post with another of my own contribution : Ditelan mati emak, diluah mati bapak. Habis tu, kalau tak telan atau tak luah, sendiri yang mati lah ye....

Monday, 28 November 2011

Sour and spicy

In the days before there was the North-South Expressway, a trip by car from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur would eat up time in the region of 6 hours. You have two main routes which you can choose; the first is by way of Yong Peng - Segamat - Tampin - Seremban on the Federal Route1 while the second involve turning on to Federal Route5 at Air Hitam and onwards to Batu Pahat - Muar - Melaka before rejoining the route at Tampin.

I usually prefer to take the 2nd alternative even though it means passing through more small towns and villages (i.e. a longer journey time). I like to travel this way because I can break my journey at a few places of choice where I get to taste some lovely foodstuff. Depending on the time of travel, I could either stop for makan at Batu Pahat for mouth-watering nasi beriyani, or at Muar for some delicious mee bandung.

Ever since the completion of the highway, it has been ages since we last drove on the Batu Pahat - Muar road. That meant that it has been quite a while since we last sampled the original beriyani Batu Pahat or mee bandung Muar. Over the years, we hear more recommendations from friends about good makan places in BP, Muar and even Melaka but unless we have specific reasons to make a detour, we were unable to try them out.

On our journey to KL last Friday however, we decided to take the old road, just so we can try and taste a dish that has been highly recommended by a few friends and relatives. It is a dish that both Johor and Melaka folks claim to cook better than people from other states in Malaysia, and it is called Asam Pedas. According to word-of-mouth and also TV reports, the place to get the tastiest asam pedas is at the small town of Parit Jawa in Muar.

We have never been to this place before, so our decision to check it out is purely based on trial and error. Driving from south, Parit Jawa is located a few kilometres before reaching Muar town. As we approached Parit Jawa, we spotted a signboard saying `Medan Selera Asam Pedas'. We followed the sign and later reached an area by the river that looks like the place where fishermen unload their catch from the sea. There are a few food stalls claiming to sell the famous asam pedas so we simply chose one that seems to have more customers.

The stall we patronised is called Asam Pedas Mak Ngah. I left it to my better half to pick the dishes and she chose kepala ikan jenahak, kupang (mussels) goreng cili, tauge masak lemak, telur asin and ulam sambal belacan. It was a lovely spread and the taste was not disappointing. The trick to delicious asam pedas is in using fresh fish. The three of us (wife, son and myself) wiped the plates clean. Truly worth the extra miles in making the detour and the damage was only RM48. Now that's real value for money.

A view of the spread
Jenahak fish head
Tasty fresh mussels
The fishermen's jetty at Parit Jawa

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The new Hijri year 1433

Today is the the final day in the month of Dzulhijjah in the Muslim calendar for the year 1432 Hijrah.

Dua at end of Hijri year
“In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful and Allah swt bless our teacher Muhammad and his family and companions and grant them peace. O Allah, whatever actions I have committed this past year which have not pleased You, which I may have forgotten though You do not forget, while You are forbearing with me, though fully capable of punishing me, while You called me to relent and atone even after my audaciousness before You. O Allah, I surely seek Your forgiveness for that, so forgive me! O Allah, as for my actions that have pleased You and for which recompense and forgiveness has been promised, please accept them from me. And do not dash my hopes in You, O Generous, O Most Merciful of the Merciful. And Allah, the Exalted, bless our Master Muhammad and his family and companions and grant them peace.”


Sunset this evening will mark the start of 1433H. May the Almighty grant all my Muslim friends the blessings and protection for the coming year, InsyaAllah.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Give it back

I am still on the subject of Malay proverbs, this time touching on the short phrase form known as Simpulan Bahasa. The phrase I choose today is buruk siku. There seems to be no direct or proper translation for this idiom, nor is there an equivalent English saying that I can think of.

`Buruk' can be translated to bad, decayed, foul or worn out. `Siku' is literally the elbow but can sometimes be used to refer to a sharp corner or edge. The direct translation of `bad elbow' is not correct because in Malay, the adjective normally follows the noun. However the order is reversed when the words are used as an idiom. A few other examples : keras kepala, buah hati and panjang tangan.

The meaning of buruk siku is asking a recipient to return something that was previously given. Don't ask me why the human elbow is connected to such deplorable behaviour. I've tried to research the origin of this simpulan bahasa but have not been successful so far. In fact, I have yet to find a website or book that explains the origin of Malay sayings.

Anyway, why am I talking of this phrase? Because it aptly describes the extraordinary action of the Recording Industry Association of Malaysia (RIM) in revoking the Best Song award given to singer/songwriter Yuna during the 18th Anugerah Industry Music (AIM) ceremony held almost 2 weeks ago. Read the news report on Malaysian Insider here -> Yuna loses award.

It seems that RIM and their professional auditors made a blunder while tallying up the scores for the best song. Apparently, the winning song should have been Anuar Zain's Sedetik Lebih.

Maybe Sedetik Lebih is a better song than Penakut.... it doesn't matter to me because I like both songs, but it goes to show that even experienced professionals make the most basic of mistakes.

I feel sorry for Yuna because I know she is very talented. I was lucky enough to watch her perform live during an impromptu session some time last year. My friend invited me to join him and his staff for a simple company dinner at a restaurant in Subang Jaya. This restaurant has a small stage where live music is performed. My friend also invited Yuna's father who is his friend from student days. Yuna's father in turn, brought along his family but never promised if his daughter is willing to sing. The young lady was sporting enough to come on stage and entertain us with 4 songs, including her famous debut hit, Dan Sebenarnya.

Adakah perasaan benci ini sebenarnya.... cinta...
With her young fans...

Don't fret too much about the buruk siku action of RIM, young lady. With your kembang sayap efforts to popularise your music overseas, I am sure you'll go very far.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The art of saying things indirectly

I have previously written about my interest in old Malay proverbs or peribahasa Melayu in a post last year. It takes a certain skill to know when a proverb can be aptly mentioned to apply to a particular situation. Sometimes the reader or listener may not actually know the meaning of the saying but when applied to the situation of the moment, the reason becomes clear by way of inference and comparison.

I still have not yet mastered such skill... and that is why I continue to read and re-read books by literary craftsmen on the subject. I am presently re-reading the first volume of Pepatah Petitih by Pak Sako. The book, first published in 1989, is a collection of articles written by Pak Sako for a local humour magazine called Gila-Gila. In his articles, the writer deftly explained the use various perumpamaan Melayu in different situations, one such common area of use is in satire. Since Malays have this habit of not being able to deliver criticisms directly, many proverbs came into existence to cover for the situation. Sometimes, a properly placed proverb carries more sting than the direct comment. Pukul anak sindir menantu.

The publisher of the magazine, Creative Enterprise saw it fit to publish the collection of articles in book form. The compilation comes in two volumes and I have both. The repeat reading of Volume 1 is now filling up my spare time during these days of wet rainy afternoons in November.

Pak Sako's real name is Ishak Haji Muhammad. He was born in Temerloh in 1909 and passed away on 7 November 1999, just one week short of his 82nd birthday. Reading through his writings, I am tempted to give my own twists to some of the old proverbs... especially those that apply to the present situation that I'm in. I'll start with the following :

Harimau mati meninggalkan belang,
Gajah mati meninggalkan tulang,
Manusia mati meninggalkan hutang...

That last line above is my own modification. The original ending to this pepatah Melayu is : `Manusia mati meninggalkan nama.' Well, if I were to die today, I doubt that I'll be leaving behind any name worth remembering.... tapi tinggalkan hutang tu memanglah banyak. Just a few minutes ago, I received a phone call from the credit card company, reminding me of overdue payment. Oh how I wish I can be debt-free. I guess it's time for me to change my spending habits. Besar periuk, besarlah keraknya...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Leyla or Karmila?

I have just finished reading my latest book last night. It is a Malay novel titled `Lentera Cinta Albaicin', written by a local writer who's new to the literary scene.

I don't read buku cerita Melayu that much, let alone romance novels, so there must be a very particular reason why I read this book... but I'll get to that point a little later. Of the three words that make the title of this novel, I only knew the one in the middle. I had to look up what the other two meant... very humbling indeed.

Lentera is the Malay name for a lamp or lantern with an external casing of glass or glass windows. Albaicin is a district in the city of Granada, Spain. Also spelled Albaizin, this place is the old Arab-Moorish quarter of the historical city that is more well-known for the beautiful palace of Alhambra.

The novel tells the story of a young man from the small town of Mersing in Johor, who decides to travel to faraway Europe to help his friend of Arab-Morrocan descent whom he met while studying at UIA, set up an Islamic pre-school in Albaicin, Granada. He lives with his friend's family and gets to know the other relatives and also the friendly local Muslim community. But life as a Muslim in a Christian country is not without its challenges. The book tells the story of these challenges and how the young man tries his best to overcome them using the knowledge he has gained from his education and religious upbringing. Along the way, he meets the beautiful Leyla Zulaikha... but at the same time is reminded of the sweet and shy Nur Karmila from his kampung.

The Alhambra Palace in Granada with a view of Albaicin in the background on the right.
Within the Alhambra compound...

It took me quite a while to finish reading this book, mainly because it is not the type of book that forms my area of reading interest. But finish it I did, and I needed to, because the author may soon be asking me of my opinion of it.

Lentera Cinta Albaicin is the debut novel from writer Mazny M.R. The author is my niece. She is the first novelist in the family. I am perhaps, the only other family member who has any literary or writing interest. I only write in blogs but my niece has already achieved her dream of having her first fiction effort out in print. Way to go, Mazny. Keep on writing...

Book title : Lentera Cinta Albaicin
Author : Mazny M.R.
Pages : 506
Genre : Novel Tarbiah Dewasa
Publisher : Galeri Ilmu Sdn Bhd

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Stories from Makkah

I didn't post anything yesterday, the eleventh of November, 2011. I initially wanted to... but then couldn't think of anything significant enough to write about. Well, a friend of ours did complete her wedding vows yesterday but the reception was earlier today. So I guess, let's forget about this eleven, eleven, eleven thingy for a while and talk about something else. I mean, really... did you do anything special on the 3x10 date last year or on triple 9 date the previous year? And what about 12.12.12 for next year? That day falls on a Wednesday.

Ok then, let's write about some real stories... or maybe I'll start with just a sampler.

The Hajj season for this year is now over. In the next few days, pilgrims would be returning from the holy land, hopefully in good health and in high spirits. Most would be very grateful for the experience despite the difficulties and challenges. Pilgrims returning from Makkah always have plenty of stories to tell... and these stories range from the sad, the tragic, the heartmoving and sometimes even the mysterious too.

Before pilgrims embark on the holy journey, they are often reminded to be on their best behaviour when they reach there. This sounds like common sense but humans being humans, reminders are definitely needed. Especially when it comes to controlling what comes out from one's mouth. People tend to say things without giving much thought to what they are saying. If improper things are said while you are in the holy land, it wouldn't be a surprise if the payback is almost immediate. `Cash on Delivery' is the term that I use... God uses his discretion to decide if you get your dividend on the spot rather than wait for the hereafter.

There are many stories that fall into this COD category. If you complain that the air temperature in Makkah or Madinah is too hot for your liking, then don't be surprised if you'll feel the heat throughout your stay there, even when you are in your air-conditioned hotel room. If you grumble that the food served by the hotel is not to your taste, then you run the risk of eating tasteless food no matter where you buy the food from. If you think that you live in a big city and proudly claim to know your way around places, then you might just get lost within Masjidil Haram mosque itself. If you complain that some pilgrims within your group are always late getting on the bus and causing delays, then just wait for the time when you get lost and couldn't find the bus to get you back to your hotel.

Does it mean that we cannot complain about poor service or bad conditions? I don't know... but what I know is, it doesn't hurt to be doing otherwise. The underlying message here is always to be kind, patient and humble, especially when you are His guest.

A few of my friends are on Hajj trips this year and I await their return... not just to listen to their interesting stories but primarily to know that they are back home, safe and healthy.

In the meantime, I'll share with you my own story from Makkah... also in the cash payback category, although this is not for having bad intentions (I hope).

The hotel where I was staying is only about a few hundred metres from the mosque. When walking to the mosque from the hotel for the daily prayers, I would pass by a shoe shop with a large window display. In the display was a pair of leather sandals that caught my eye and I thought that maybe I'd buy it on my way back. After prayers, I stopped by the shop window, looked at the sandals again but decided to defer the purchase. This went on a few more days... I stopped by the shop window every time on the way back to the hotel but never stepped inside the shop. Nak beli ke tidak? Nak beli ke tidak?

Until one day, the decision was made for me.

When I go the Masjidil Haram for the daily prayers, I would normally enter by the same gate and store my footwear in a pigeonhole-type shoerack just inside the gate. In fact, I would try to keep it in the same pigeonhole every time so that it is easy to remember. Stories of lost or stolen (or probably misplaced) footwear is so common in Makkah. I had been quite lucky in not losing mine... until one day, after Asar prayers, I note that my sandals were not in the particular place where I had stored them.

This of course meant that I had to buy a new pair... and so that day, I walked barefooted from the mosque to the shoe shop and finally bought the pair of new sandals which I had been eyeing the previous few days. Now, let's ponder this : if I had not been indecisive in purchasing that leather sandals, or no footwear in that shop window had taken my interest, would fate still determine that I lose my existing pair?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

For the love of our parents

Around this time last year, I wrote about the Aidil Adha celebrations and the process of qurbani (sacrifice of livestock) at the mosque near my parents' home. In that post, I mentioned that the noblest aspect of sacrifice is expecting nothing in return. Today, that particular phrase is reminding me of the effort of one particular person, at this present time... and I thought it would be good to write about it, just so there is something for me to remember by, some time in the future.

My family and I are spending this year's Hari Raya Korban at my sister-in-law's place in Selangor. This particular sis-in-law is my wife's eldest sibling. Kak Long Salmah, a retired schoolteacher, is now 67-years old and lives with another sister at Seri Kembangan. Since early this year, both of them have taken on the task of taking care of their ailing and bedridden father. For those of you who have the experience of caring for an elderly person, you will know that it is not something easy. In this case, it is doubly difficult because my father-in-law is someone whose level of patience is towards the lower end of the scale. And to comply with the rule of inverse proportionality, if the one being taken care of is short on `kesabaran', then the one doing the caring needs to have tons of it. Otherwise, the situation would become explosive and ultimately untenable.

Kak Long is not in a healthy condition herself. Many years ago when in her late-forties, she suffered breast cancer. Through a lengthy and arduous treatment of chemotherapy and surgery, she survived. After the death of her husband, she raised her only daughter single-handedly. Being the eldest child in a very large family, Kak Long had been looking out for her 12 younger brothers and sisters all her life. According to my wife, Kak Long was the one who helped buy clothes and shoes for the younger ones during hari raya. A schoolteacher's pay is not lavish but when it comes to family, she was never stingy.

This is not the first time Kak Long is looking after a sick parent. In 1997, she and my wife took on the duty of caring for their mother who was suffering from stroke. My mother-in-law was due for an operation to replace her heart pacemaker when the stroke happened. She became paralysed on one-half of her body and was no longer able to speak properly. Because of this condition, she declined to have the pacemaker replaced, accepting whatever fate that the Almighty has written. Looking after her became a full-time job which Kak Long and my wife shared equally. I was only a bit player in the whole show, helping out here and there when required... to put it simply, there are just things that only daughters are able to do to help their mothers.

My mother-in-law departed in September 1998. Kak Long completed her service as a teacher and retired to live in Kuala Lumpur. My father-in-law re-married and stayed with his new wife.

In December last year, my stepmother-in-law passed away. One of the immediate issues that surfaced from this event was : who is going to take care of my bedridden father-in-law? As an interim move, one of my brother-in-laws offered to take in the old man. But this could not go on for long because my brother-in-law's wife is already looking after her own sick mother. Attending to two elderly persons in the same house is too stressful a task for one person to handle. Something had to be done to resolve this problem.

Ultimately it was Kak Long and another sister who offered to be caretakers. Although it is my father-in-law's wish to have his sons look after him, it ends up with the eldest and youngest daughters doing the job. Despite her own failing health situation, Kak Long has taken on a heavy responsibility at the expense of her own personal comfort. She has now done the honourable duty of the selfless daughter who has taken care of both her mother and her father. That indeed, is a clear example of sacrifice.

For Kak Long, this year's Aidil Adha was spent in a hospital ward. She was admitted last week and diagnosed with fluid in her lungs. Pulmonary edema.... that's the medical term.

I have been visiting Kak Long at Putrajaya Hospital for the past few days. My prayers to Allah swt for the recovery of Salmah Bt Hj Md Amin and bless her for all the good deeds she has done for our family.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The seat of the first Johor Sultanate

When I was a young boy doing the daily commute by bus from our house in Singapore to school in Johor Bahru,  I would walk past a small unimpressive signpost located underneath the flyover just outside the Immigration and Customs checkpoint. The signboard is a short description of how the city of JB got its name. Originally called Tanjung Puteri (if I recall correctly, spelled as Petrie on the signboard), the then small town was renamed Johor Bahru by Sultan Abu Bakar in 1866.

The signboard is of course, no longer there, since the construction of the new CIQ complex. In those days, it crossed my mind that if there is a place called Johor Bahru, then there must be another place somewhere called Johor Lama. Indeed there is... and upon studying a bit of history in school, I learned that the remains Johor Lama, considered as the first capital of the Johor state, can be found on the eastern bank of Sungai Johor within the district of Kota Tinggi. It has taken me more than 30 years since that classroom history lesson to make my first visit to the place.

The brief history of Kota Johor Lama written here

I wasn't particularly good at history while in school. I somehow find it difficult to memorize dates, so when history and geography became elective subjects as we entered Form 4 of secondary school, I naturally chose geography.

Anyway, following my maiden drive on the Senai-Desaru Expressway which I posted about last week, I took the chance to make a trip to Teluk Sengat and Johor Lama. The place now is easily accessible by car since authorities paved and upgraded the track that connects to the KT-Desaru trunk road. Previously, the land route to Teluk Sengat meant driving on earth tracks through palm oil estates. Not too long ago, the primary form of transport used by the villagers was boats.

According to historical notes, the village known as Johor Lama was established by Sultan Alaudin Riayat Shah II in 1540 (hmmm... that's 471 years ago). Sultan Alaudin was the son of Sultan Mahmud Shah, the last sultan of Melaka. When Sultan Mahmud was ousted by the Portuguese in 1511, he escaped to Muar and then to a few other places, where he assembled troops to try re-capture Melaka (which he did not succeed). Depending on your point of view, it can be said that the last king of Melaka became the first king of Johor, although I note that most historians would place Alaudin Riayat Shah as the first sultan. This first sultan's real name is Raja Ali. The official name of Alaudin Riayat Shah the Second was taken when he ascended the throne. The first ARS was the second ARS's grandfather who ruled Melaka up to 1488, before the Portuguese invasion. Confusing, no? That's why I didn't do too well in history.

Mahmud Shah the last sultan, was also linked to the legend of Puteri Gunung Ledang. He was the king who really wanted to marry the mysterious beauty living somewhere up a mountain to the extent of agreeing to most of the practically-impossible pre-conditions set by the princess. This story is an extremely colourful legend... and as legends go, there is no way that it can be verified. Perhaps, that's the way it is meant to be.

On the other hand, if we are to go down further in the succession line of Johor kings, we will come to another sultan with similar name whose history is probably the next most well-known and no less colourful. Sultan Mahmud Shah II was the grandson of Alaudin Riayat Shah II, and therefore the great-grandson of the last sultan of Melaka. He was also the last king of Johor to have direct lineage to the royal Melaka bloodline, having no offspring of his own. Mahmud Shah the Second was said to have ruled his kingdom with a cruel hand. When Dang Anum, the pregnant wife of his trusted admiral Laksamana Bentan, ate a slice of jackfruit from the king's garden without his permission, Sultan Mahmud Shah became very furious. Dang Anum tried to appeal to the sultan by saying that her craving for the jackfruit was because of the baby in her belly. The king became even angrier and ordered Dang Anum's womb be cut open. Legend has it that they found the baby with a piece of the jackfruit in his mouth. I know it's stretching the imagination a bit... but hey, legends wouldn't be colourful without some form of exaggeration.

Laksamana Bentan, who was away at sea fighting off pirates, returned to find that his wife and unborn child had been killed by the king. The admiral swore to avenge the deaths and plotted to murder the sultan. He did so, one afternoon while the king was on his way back after Friday prayers. Laksamana Bentan was then killed by the sultan's guards. This incident led to another name being given to the king : Sultan Mahmud Mangkat Dijulang.

The graves of both Sultan Mahmud Shah and Laksamana Bentan can still be found in Kota Tinggi. The sultan's mausoleum is located at Kg Makam on the eastern bank of Sungai Johor. A few kilometres upstream on the same side of the river at Kg Kelantan is where we can find Bentan's final resting place.

Ok then... enough of history. Back to the present.

The village of Johor Lama is also known as Johor Kampung to the locals. The old fort (or `kota' in Malay) was located on a hill next to the river. There aren't any stone walls that remain today but for some earth mounds that do indicate some form of protective structure. If the present overgrown trees are cleared, I can imagine the fort having a commanding view of the Johor rivermouth.

Entrance to the Johor Lama historical site

View of Sungai Johor

The museum building

The area is now under the maintenance of the Muzeums Department and there is a muzeum there. Unfortunately I arrived late and the muzeum was aready closed. But if you wish to take a peek of what's inside, then have a look at their website here -> Muzium Kota Johor Lama.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Undecided

One man to another : "I want to marry a smart woman; a good woman; a woman who'll make me happy."

"Make up your mind."

KL night view from Ampang look-out point

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The link to east Johor

News articles relating to the findings of the 2010 Auditor-General's Report are coming in thick and fast. Among the items that made the highlights is the newly-opened Senai-Desaru Expressway linking central Johor to its eastern coast. Read the Star Online news report at this link -> RM1.3bil Desaru Highway.

Actually, this highway had been partially opened to traffic last year. The first completed portion from Senai to Tanjung Langsat in Pasir Gudang was made available for use, pending the completion of the bridge crossing Sungai Johor.

This post is not to discuss the A-G's findings about the expressway project. Upon reading the news article, I thought I might try take a drive across this new bridge just for the fun of it, having previously driven on the Senai to Tg. Langsat stretch. And so earlier this afternoon, I took my car out for a spin and headed eastwards towards Pasir Gudang and entered the highway at Tanjung Langsat. From there, it was a mere 38km to reach Desaru, a beach resort area facing the South China Sea. The original route from JB to Desaru requires us to take the long road via Kota Tinggi town, a journey that can take up to two hours.

From the Tanjung Langsat interchange towards Cahaya Baru toll plaza, the highway is the standard dual-carriageway design that we see at most other toll highways in Malaysia. From Cahaya Baru towards Desaru, the highway is surprisingly single-lane, just like a standard rural road. There is not even a central divider, which means that you can actually make a 3-point turn and go back the way you just came, although there are numerous signboards warning you not to do so. Obviously, this single carriageway construction is temporary, possibly due to cost constraints. At present, the traffic volume plying this route is way below the designed projections.

The bridge spanning Sungai Johor is a four-lane cabled-stayed bridge rising high above the river. To my eyes, the bridge design is quite beautiful. However, the quality of construction of the road linking this bridge is quite poor. I am surprised the authorities allowed the concession holder to operate the highway without first rectifying the defects evident at certain stretches. Notwithstanding this minor grouse, I do find the highway very convenient if I wish to make a trip to Desaru or any other part of south-east Johor. The toll from Cahaya Baru was RM5.90, reasonable enough if you consider the time saved. Just be extra careful when you drive on this road and don't speed unnecessarily.

I took a photo of the bridge before crossing it and was thinking of taking some more pics of the river from the middle of the bridge. Unfortunately, vehicles are not allowed to stop on the bridge itself, so I proceeded to take a leisurely drive towards Desaru and also to Tanjung Balau beach. On the return trip to Johor Bahru, I decided to use the old route via Kota Tinggi but first made a stop at Teluk Sengat village for another view of the bridge. Teluk Sengat is located on the eastern bank of Sungai Johor and the new highway bridge is downstream southwards.

Approaching the bridge. Traffic was light, hence this pic taken while standing right in the middle of the road.

View from Teluk Sengat southwards. Low tide.

Senai-Desaru Expressway Route Map. Borrowed from here -> SDE Map

Desaru and Tanjung Balau claim to have the best beaches in Johor and the state government has long been promoting this area as a tourist attraction. There are a number of quality hotels and resorts along the coast. I have stayed at Desaru only once before. Being a Johorean myself, I'd say that there are many other lovelier beaches you can find in other parts of Malaysia.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Selingan...

Ramai dari orang kita.... ilmunya tinggi tetapi pemikiran cetek.

Pengalamannya luas tetapi pandangan sempit.

Berlagak sebagai pemimpin kepada ramai tetapi tingkah laku dipengaruhi segilintir.

Berbicara dengan penuh kobar tetapi bertindak sekadar indah khabar...

Low tide at sunset (October 2011)

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Are you a keeper or a thrower?

The title of this post has nothing to do with sports. It is something that relates to human nature and behaviour. According to a study I read somewhere, when it comes to possessions, human beings fall into two main categories... either you are a keeper (one who likes to keep many of his old stuff) or you are a thrower (one who prefers to discard old items and replace them with new). Actually, I cannot remember the proper term used in that study to identify these two types of people but I'm sure you know what I mean.

I am declaring upfront that I am a keeper. I keep a lot of my old stuff. Knick-knacks, souvenirs, handwritten letters, postcards, books and of course photographs. These things are kept because they all have some form of memory or history attached. But you cannot call yourself a true keeper until you keep other items as well. Things that are outdated and in most cases, practically useless. Under this group of stuff, I have in my possession old receipts, credit card statements, ATM slips, my university lecture notes, shoes, spectacles and my box of LP records bought when I was still a student. Crazy, huh? I mean, who listens to music played from vinyl albums nowadays? Firstly, you'd have to look for a turntable to play it. Secondly, the sound quality is not as good as the widely available CDs. Even if you crave to listen to music from the '70s and '80s, much of them are available today in MP3 form and downloadable from the internet.

Just to let you know, I still have my first turntable. It no longer works, of course... and sits there in one corner of my store gathering dust. Why haven't I thrown it away? Why do I still keep receipts of items I bought many years ago? What use can I have of those old round-shaped John Lennon type of spectacles which I thought looked cool when I was in my twenties? Why do I hang on to a bunch of keys that open doors or locks that I do not know of anymore?

I really can't give you a simple answer... but if you put a gun to my head, I'd say,"It's in the genes..." It is not that I don't throw stuff away. I do carry out spring cleaning every few years (the `few' here is very subjective) but when carrying out such tasks, I end up flipping and reading up old items and re-living the memories attached to them. Like for example, when I wanted to dispose off large files of my lecture notes... I flipped through one of the folders and found an old assignment paper regarding construction law. I re-read what I wrote nearly 30 years ago and felt a certain kind of warmth. It brought to mind the time I spent reading up on the subject and the effort in writing that paper. After finish re-reading it, I decided to keep my notes for a while longer.

Envelope containing handwritten letter from Japanese friend Akemi Koga. The letter is dated 12 April 1992 and she wrote the first two paragraphs in Bahasa Melayu. How can I throw away such a lovely item like this?


British Railcard from student days
Apart from memories, another factor that holds back keepers from disposing off stuff is the thought that there could be some handy use for the item at some particular point in the future. When any of my household appliance breaks down, I always try to salvage parts that still function. It gives me satisfaction when the occasion would come where the part that I saved becomes useful... but more often than not, such parts are never re-used and end up being stored as junk. Call me stingy, if you like, but re-cycling is in my blood.

My mother is also a keeper (did I not say earlier that it is in the genes?), even more hardcore than me. When we were renovating our house many years ago, she instructed that a separate shed be built at the back to be used as a store. Half of the stuff in that store today belongs to her. You can probably guess what some of these things are... plates, bowls and cups. Pieces of china from the '60s era.

My youngest sister, on the other hand, is a thrower. She doesn't like to keep too many old things. When she moved to a new house, she bought mostly new furniture and disposed off the old ones. When her hobby of keeping aquarium fish waned, she wanted to get rid of the lovely wrought-iron tank stand. Guess who offered to take the thing off her hands?

My habit of keeping stuff is still not that serious... not reaching the stage of being a hoarder yet. But I seriously need to get rid off a lot of objects in my store because it is too crammed now. Throw away a lot of the old junk... so that I can create some space for newer junk...

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Food for thought...

When I was a young boy, I loved eating durians. It used to puzzle me back then, why westerners find the smell of the fruit so disgusting. I used to believe that the king of fruits has the best aroma in the world... so how can anyone describe the smell as being stinky?

As I grow older, I slowly come to realise that different people have different tastes and perceptions. One man's meat is another man's poison. And we don't even have to look at a foreign culture to understand this. Even within our own country, the type of food commonly found in one particular region may not necessarily find favour at another.

My exposure to the varying regional flavours began when I entered boarding school. The school is located on the east coast but students come from all over the country. Indeed, the first boy whom I met when checking into the hostel was this guy from Kedah. He spoke in a thick northern accent which I initially thought sounded weird. Later when I met boys from Kelantan, I thought they sounded even weirder. It was from one of these Kelantan friends that I learned about budu. After returning back to school from one of the term breaks, he brought along some of the stuff to show me and sample the taste. My first thought.... Good lord! How can anyone like this?

Till today, I still have not acquired the taste for budu although now I do like to eat nasi kerabu, which in itself gave me a somewhat apprehensive first impression. I mean... purple-coloured rice? Bizzare.

When I got the chance to study in England, the experience of foreign food culture became more interesting. The English love their fish and chips. They liberally spray their chips with salt and vinegar. When I buy this item from the takeaway chip shop, I always say, `Just salt, no vinegar please.' Vinegar, to me, is the stuff my mum use to soak kaffir limes to make her delicious acar limau.

While on a backpacking trip to Europe during one of the summer holidays, I came upon a shop in Switzerland selling all kinds of cheese. The view from outside the shop window was quite lovely... there were cheese of different shapes and sizes in varying colours of white, yellow and even shades of red. I decided to enter and have a better look. The moment I opened the door and took my first step inside, the pong hit me like a blast. I made a quick u-turn for the fresh air outside. I thought the cheese smelt terrible!

It then dawned on me... this must be exactly the same feeling when Mat Sallehs get a whiff of our durians for their first time. Strangely nowadays, I don't consider the durian as my favourite fruit anymore. I still eat it... but I won't go crazy if I don't get it.

So why am I writing about food today after not posting for such a long time? Well, a few days ago I was watching this overseas cooking show on satellite TV and saw a familiar looking vegetable being used as one of the ingredients, but the Mat Salleh called it in a name I've never heard of before. The vegetable (or more correctly, tuber root) is called jicama, pronounced in the Spanish style as hi-ka-ma. Locally, we all know it as sengkuang, a favoured ingredient in our rojak. Also a compulsory item when my mum cooks her kuah lodeh for lontong.

I had always thought the English name for sengkuang was turnip. Apparently I am wrong. You learn something new every day. Seems like some westerners like to have sengkuang in their salads too...

Note : Pic on the left borrowed from TryMasak Online.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Gift or inducement?

It is the norm, come festive seasons, for many of us to be giving or receiving gifts in the form of hampers. Such a practice is normally done based on a business relationship rather than a personal one… I mean you’d never send a hari raya hamper to your old school friend, would you? Also, the act of giving and receiving is almost always a one-way street. From a supplier to a customer. From a contractor to a client. From a sub-contractor to the main contractor. In short, from a beneficiary to another who is in authority. Never the other way round.

Which begs the question : is hamper-giving during festive season to be considered a token of gratitude or an inducement of (future) favours? Having been on both sides of this equation throughout my working life, I can offer arguments either way… indeed, I’ve had long and serious discourse with colleagues on such an interesting topic, but that is not the intention of this post. We’ll leave the discussions on ethics for another day.

I’d like to talk about the hamper itself… or rather, the things that are packed or wrapped inside the standard hamper to create a visually enticing gift.

Many years ago, during the early days of being in the work market, it used to be quite exciting to be receiving hampers. The feeling is not unlike a school kid getting a gift of candy. It did not matter what was inside the hamper, as long as it was BIG and nicely wrapped in colourful cellophane paper. Pretty soon, the novelty wore off when you realise the stuff inside such hampers are simply packs or cans of everyday foodstuff, most of which you would not normally buy on your own anyway. I may sound like an ingrate but the things they give you are so easily predictable… boxes of chocolate, confectionery, cookies, cans of preserved fruits and maybe some glassware. All these arranged in a plastic basket with a bottle of orange squash concentrate or bubbly fruit drink forming the pinnacle.

The sad thing is, most of the items are from unknown manufacturers (ok lah… if you want me to say it crudely, `unbranded’). In the hamper that I received this year, the only recognizable item is the box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates (to give the hamper a look of respectability, agaknya lah). The box of biscuits is an unknown brand from a factory in Batu Pahat. The can of fish cracker snacks is made by a manufacturer I’ve never heard of before. The bottle of mango cordial is similary from some obscure source, definitely not found on the supermarket shelves.

There you have it… I totally sound like an ungrateful jerk, aren’t I? Dah dapat hamper, nak komplen lagi!

Which now brings me to the point that I really want to make. If you honestly want to give something to somebody to show your appreciation, then please put some thought into what you intend to give. Don’t just pick a typical package from those fly-by-night hamper packing companies that mushroom during festive seasons.

At one of the place where I used to work, we gave our clients gifts of quality hari raya cakes and cookies packed in beautiful wicker baskets, each tied with a lovely ribbon. Doesn’t cost much more than the standard food hamper and certainly much smaller, but I’m pretty sure, much more appreciated.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

This year's Aidilfitri...

The first day of Aidilfitri this year was spent at my parents' home in Singapore. My father and my mother are the oldest surviving family members this side of the causeway and as such, they have become the focal point of visits from relatives during this festive occasion. My wife and I have to act as hosts in receiving the large number of guests, most of whom are my cousins and their children.

As always, it was a noisy and joyous day throughout, even though it was pretty tiring... but then, it is only for one celebration each year. Otherwise I doubt us cousins would meet up at all.

It was also a happier hari raya for us this time because my youngest brother who's based overseas, is presently home for the holidays with his family. I got to meet my two nieces and one nephew whom I last saw more than three years ago. With the exception of my second son (who is back in college in Indonesia), my father and mother had an Aidilfitri with the full complement of their grandchildren.

Grandparents and their grandchildren. The eldest grandson is 22 years while the youngest granddaughter is 8.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Kekurangan jemaah

Tapak projek di mana saya bertugas sekarang terletak di kawasan pendalaman di daerah yang dikatakan sebagai tanah paling selatan di hujung benua Asia. Nak kata jauh dari jalan utama... tak juga sebenarnya, tapi kira memang kawasan kampung.

Banyak juga kampung di kawasan ini yang mana penduduknya rata-rata adalah pekebun kecil ataupun nelayan. Dengan adanya beberapa projek pembangunan, maka adalah peluang pekerjaan bagi anak-anak muda tempatan untuk bekerja sebagai pekerja binaan mahir ataupun buruh biasa. Namun begitu, tugasan seperti ini bersifat sementara. Anak-anak muda dari kampung lebih gemar mencari pekerjaan tetap di bandar-bandar besar.

Pejabat tapakbina syarikat saya terletak berhampiran dengan kampung yang sedap namanya... Kg Sungai Dinar. Bila ada kelapangan, saya serta staff-staff yang lain gemar melaksanakan solat waktu secara berjemaah di masjid kampung itu, lebih-lebih lagi di bulan ramadhan yang mulia ini. Apa yang saya perhatikan pada setiap solat jemaah ialah bilangan makmum yang tersangatlah sedikit... itupun majoritinya dari kalangan kami yang bukan penduduk tempatan. Kalau dalam satu saf itu ada sepuluh orang, tujuh darinya adalah kami pekerja-pekerja dari syarikat binaan yang terlibat di sana.

Pada solat asar petang semalam, saya ke masjid bersama seorang rakan setugas. Setelah azan dilaungkan oleh Pak Bilal, tiada lagi makmum yang muncul tiba... jadi akhirnya solat berjemaah kami tiga orang sahaja. Ya, mungkin orang lain sudah bercuti atau sibuk ke pasar membeli persiapan hari raya... tapi sedih juga lah kan.

Dan saya rasa... perkara yang sama turut dialami oleh masjid-masjid kampung pendalaman, di mana jua di tanahair kita ini.

Salam Aidifitri buat semua pembaca. Semuga Allah swt menerima amalan kita semua...

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Ada mee di sebalik udang...

If you happen to travel from Pontian town towards the fishing village of Kukup, you may notice a bridge crossing Sungai Rambah. Next to this bridge is a small fisherman's jetty and a simple foodstall. The look of the foodstall is nothing to write about... I've passed by this road countless times and had not noticed it until a friend suggested I try tasting the mee bandung udang. And when it comes to trying out tasty makan places, I'm always up for it...

A few days ago, I was on my way to look for a place to break my fast and noticed that the foodstall was open. I made a stop and had a look at the simple handwritten menu on a large card pasted on the wall. I ordered a nescafe tarik and mee bandung.

The stall owner asks if I want mee bandung biasa, mee bandung udang or mee bandung udang special. `Yang special tu macam mana bang?' I ask back.

`Oh, yang itu udang lebih,' was the simple reply. Of course I have to go for the special la kan?

Prawns and noodles are really meant for each other. Any dish involving the combination of these two ingredients normally cannot go wrong. When my plate of mee bandung udang special arrived at my table, the large prawns actually covered the noodles. The whole dish was delicious. The prawns were fresh and the gravy tasty too. Of course I had to sort of not think about the effects of increased cholesterol intake... if you know what I mean.

Makanlah selagi ada selera.... that's my motto.

At only RM8 a plate, this dish was worth it

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Going back to my roots...

It has been quite a while since my last post. The new job I'm involved in now has really sapped up most of my time and energy. There have been times I have thought of giving up but that would've been the easy way out. Things have gotten a bit better the last few days and I guess it is fair for me to follow the sort of advice I normally give to others when facing similar situations. Going through tough times can only make you tougher... you won't learn much by doing things the easy way.

I am now working at a project located in the district where I was born. I can't actually say it is my hometown because I did not grow up here. I was born at my late maternal grandfather's house in Pontian, Johor but I grew up in Singapore when my father moved the family across the causeway the year after I was born. The only childhood memories I have of this small town are the times when my father took us back to visit our grandparents for Hari Raya.

My grandfather and grandmother of course, both have left us a long time ago but the old house is still there, now occupied by an uncle and his children. The story of this house was posted earlier here -> Day trip back to the kampung.

Now I find myself spending a bit more time at this small town, probably more often that I have ever done before.

After settling most of my work stuff earlier today, I had some time to kill and so decided to take a drive to Pontian and look for a place to break my fast. On the way, I stopped by a recreational park near Rambah to enjoy the beautiful sunset. There is this Bugis Museum nearby but it has already closed for the day. Maybe I'll drop by another time and have a look at what's on display.

Suspension bridge
The sky at sunset. The dark shape on the horizon is Pulau Pisang.
After snapping some photos of the sunset with a simple compact camera, I left the park and proceeded to Pontian town for some chow.

I'll end this post now with my first fasting month story. This incident actually happened last year and I am prompted to tell it after reading blogger-friend Kak Teh's status update in her Facebook yesterday...

The family and I were visiting a Ramadhan bazaar near our home in JB. We stopped by a stall selling nasi lemak ayam goreng berempah. While the seller was packing our order, I casually out of habit, picked up a kacang tanah goreng (fried groundnut) from the large plastic container in front of me and popped it into my mouth. I was happily munching away when I noticed the seller strangely staring at me. My first thought was... eh, tak kan kacang sebiji pun kau nak kira ke? Lokek sangat.

After paying for the purchase and walking away, I then realised he was staring at me for another reason! Orang tua ni tak puasa ke?! Hahaha....