Sunday, 29 May 2011

Teluk Iskandar Inn

I am sitting at a lovely veranda as I type this entry... enjoying a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast with black coffee, while at the same time taking in a splendid view of the calm South China Sea. The day is bright and not yet warm and a gentle breeze blows. No doubt in a short while it would be hot and humid once the sun reaches its peak. Even so, I don't think that would spoil the peaceful and tranquil setting of this place.

The breakfast veranda

I am presently lodged at Teluk Iskandar Inn in Mersing on the east coast of Johor. We checked in late evening yesterday and plan to attend the wedding reception of our niece later this afternoon.

Teluk Iskandar Inn is a quaint, privately-run establishment owned by an elderly Malay couple, Puan Kamariah and Encik Ibrahim. It is located on a piece of land with sea frontage, not too far away from Mersing town. I have noticed this place many years ago but never had the chance to set foot in it. Mersing is my wife's hometown and it doesn't make sense to `balik kampung' and yet go stay at a hotel. This time around, we are back only for a wedding. The family kampung house has not been occupied for a few months and would need some effort to get cleaned.

I got to know of this inn from online reviews and have been keen to give it a try for quite some time. It doesn't have that many rooms and early booking is recommended. The rooms are set out in a elevated terraced layout that extends from the house proper (where the owners stay). The upper level is where the rooms are located while the area below (what Malays call kolong) have been simply but tastefully decorated as a lepak area. The bedrooms are basic but adequate... no fancy flatscreen satellite TV or the like, which would actually look out of place in such a rustic setting. But online addicts (yours truly included) need not fret... the wi-fi signal here is strong and reliable.

View from the beach side towards the house
Nice place to relax

Foreigners have been coming to Mersing and staying at this inn for many years. Their recommendations have made it even to Lonely Planet. At the rest lounge below the rooms, there is this framed hand-written list prepared by a Matsalleh couple. It lists out all the birds they have seen while staying here. There are 24 species. I'm no bird-watcher, so most of the names escape me... but one did capture my attention, the brahminy kite. This is a type of bird-of-prey that feeds on fish and other marine animals. I kept an eye out for the bird during my early morning walk on the beach to catch the sunrise, but did not spot any.

Lovely place, this Teluk Iskandar Inn... how I wish I can own such a place as this when I retire.

Sunrise on the east-coast

Friday, 27 May 2011

Sesekali ku rasa teringin...

I first started my career as an engineer with a state-government agency in Johor back in 1984. I shared a house with a few other bachelor friends from the same workplace. Our office was situated in the tower block of Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak, smack in the middle of Johor Bahru town.

Those days, the town's central wet market was situated next to Komtar. At the end of each working day when the market closes for business, the lanes surrounding it are taken over by push-cart hawkers and night vendors selling a variety of cooked food items and other knick-knacks. Among those selling the foodstuff is this one stall that sells nasi beringin. My housemates and I used to frequent this stall after work because the food is very tasty.

The central market was later torn down and shifted to another site in Larkin. In its place they built a shopping mall and office block now known as City Square. With the demolition of the market, the temporary night traders had to make way too. I didn't know where the nasi beringin seller moved to... and so ceased eating this dish for some time. There wasn't any other makan place in JB that sells the same stuff.

Many years later, a friend from Muar told me that there is a shop in the Tanjung Agas area selling nasi beringin. Whenever I have the chance to visit him, he would take me dinner at that place. The rice wasn't as tasty as the one I remember from the stall at JB wet market, but it wasn't too bad either.

During my first working stint in Kuala Lumpur a few years ago, an acquaintance from TNB Hq mentioned that there is a foodstall in Bangsar which sells delicious nasi beringin. I asked him for the exact location and then went to search for the place. The stall is located within a foodcourt inside an office block behind the NST Balai Berita... not really that difficult to find but getting a parking space is near torture. That is why I have been to the stall only once.

Earlier today, I was in the Bangsar area and remembered about the nasi beringin stall again. Since it was not yet quite mid-day, I decided to drop by the place ahead of the lunchtime crowd. But all would depend if I could find a space to park. As luck would have it, I manage to find an empty lot on my second driving lap around Jalan Riong and Jalan Liku. And so my lunch today was nasi beringin with beef rendang and boiled egg curry.

Today's lunch of nasi beringin and ice-lemon tea

Nasi beringin is rice flavoured with coconut milk and other spices, not unlike nasi lemak but with a more pungent aroma. It is normally eaten with chicken or beef, cooked in any style... fried, curry or rendang. The name has nothing to do with the pokok beringin (banyan tree), more famously known because of relation to ghost stories.

As far as I know, there is only this one place in KL that sells nasi beringin. Personally, there is nothing really that spectacular about the taste but if you wish to try a slightly different flavour from the normal rice, then it is worth it. This stall is very popular. The guy in front of me placed an order for thirty packs to `tapau'. As I enjoyed my meal, the clock approached lunch hour and the crowd started to form. Very good business.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Always give your best... no half-measures please

The following is a story I heard from the imam at the mosque after the zohor (mid-day) prayers earlier today. It touches on a theme which I have often heard but when presented with a fresh angle based on a supposedly true story, it makes it all the more interesting.

A medical student in a middle-eastern country and his professor were sitting down having tea one afternoon at a cafe. The  professor takes out a one-dinar (or whatever the unit of currency of that particular country) note and with a pen, starts to draw caricatures on the face of the country's leader shown on that note. The defaced portrait clearly indicated the lecturer's dislike for the leader.

He gives the note to the student and tells him that he can go buy anything with it.

`But this note is now worthless,' says the student. `It has been damaged. I can't buy anything with it.'

`Well... let's just try and see how ingenious you are,' the professor responds.

`Is there something to be learned from this?' the student asks.

`If you manage to part with this money by buying something, call me when the note makes its way back to you,' the professor replies.

They both leave the cafe and the student starts thinking on how he can use the defaced note to buy something. He decides to try at a fruit vendor. He buys six-dinar worth of fruits and hands over six one-dinar notes to the seller. Within the folded notes is the one with the defaced portrait. If the seller spots the worthless note, the student plans to pretend ignorance and replace it with another one.

The seller flicks through the folded notes and nods his okay. Phew, the student thought... my strategy works.

A month later, the student takes a taxi from the university back to his hostel. The fare is seven dinars. He hands over a 10-dinar note and slips the 3 dinar change the driver gives him straight into his shirt pocket.

Later that day, he prepares to wash his clothes and out comes three pieces of 1-dinar note from the shirt pocket. One of the three is the defaced note he had first given the fruit vendor. It has somehow made its way back to its starting point. The student remembers his professor's words and gave the senior man a call.

The lesson to be learnt here, says the professor, is that, whatever you do in life... one day you will get back the same in return. If you do slipshod work or put in half-hearted effort for others, the same will be done to you in the future. So, in anything that you do, please always do your best and with full sincerity.

Now... that indeed is a timely reminder to oneself.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

There is no chemistry between us

Before readers get any wrong ideas, let me clarify that, no, I don't have any relationship problems. This post is a story about what happened a long time ago when I was in secondary school.

What reminded me of this story was a post around two weeks ago in fellow blogger Dr Sam's blog about his experiences when conducting experiments at school that later spurred his ambition to become a scientist. I dropped a comment in that post by telling about an incident I went through in Science class. I decided that I may as well share the story in this blog with some extension and correction.

The year was 1979 and I was in Form Five. Our Chemistry class was taught by a teacher whose name is Mr Wong Seng Kuang. I wasn't that particularly good in Chemistry. I seem to have a weakness in remembering chemical formulae and how many protons or electrons there are in the atom of any particular element. I have always preferred Biology because I find it interesting and easy to memorise facts about living things.

Mr Wong is a Sarawakian and speaks with a peculiar tone. Sometimes we find it hard to understand what he says. He has difficulty in pronouncing my name properly and every time he calls out to me, the girls in class would giggle. Despite this situation, I liked his Chemistry class and paid attention. In the end, when the MCE exam results came out, I scored better grades in Chemistry than Biology.

One day, Mr Wong gave the class an assignment. We were each asked to select a chemical compound but not let any of our other classmates know of our choice. We were then to exchange our compounds and carry out experiments on the sample given to us to determine what it is. Examples of such tests include lighting a bit of the stuff over the bunsen burner and see the colour of its flame, or checking its pH value to see if it is acid or alkali.

The next day, when we returned to class, all the girls were ready with their samples but I was the only guy out of 16 boys in the class who prepared a test specimen. Talk about being the odd one out. Either the rest of the guys misheard Mr Wong's instruction or simply did not like the subject of Chemistry as much as I did. Mr Wong was real displeased but he decided to proceed with the experiments with those of us who had come prepared.

There were nine girls in my class, and with me being the odd boy out, it made an even ten. Mr Wong drew lots and I ended up being paired with Yana, who is one of the prettiest girls in the class. I don't think I had ever spoken a word to her before that day. Come to think of it, I hardly spoke to most of my girl classmates those days (yeah, right! I hear you say).

Anyway, Yana and I exchanged samples and we proceed with our experiment. The compound that Yana gave me was a grainy white powder that looks very similar to common salt. I carried out the first test and confirmed that it was a type of chloride. It then crossed my mind that I should maybe skip the next proper step and just taste the stuff.... and so I did. Heck, it nearly burned my tongue! Definitely not common salt.

I quickly took a large gargle of water from the sink and spat it out. I wasn't sure if my lab partner had noticed it but if she did, she didn't ask me about it. And I was too embarrassed to tell her.

It was only towards the end of the year when I finally owned up by writing in her autograph book about it. I'm not sure if she found it silly or funny, or perhaps both.

And so nowadays, when it comes to testing chemical substances, I never take anymore shortcuts...

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Bloggers, Books and a Bird's-eye View

It was quite a fun weekend for me the past two days. After working four straight weekends without a rest, I decided I'd better give myself a break. My operating system was near crashing point and was about to hang any moment. The problems at the worksite can sort themselves out.

I forgot about work for a while and went out to town to do simple but interesting stuff. To tell you about them, I have grouped the stories into three headings.

1. Bloggers

When I first started to write this blog three years ago, I wasn't sure if other bloggers would find it interesting enough for them to link me. I registered with the Blog Malaysia directory and started to read some of the other blogs to find ideas on how I could improve mine.

One of the earliest blogs I discovered in that directory belongs to the self-taught illustrator Emila Yusof. I am impressed with her artwork and became a regular commenter. Pretty soon, we linked our blogs and later became friends on FB as well. Emila's creativity comes in many forms. She produces her own greeting cards, handicraft items and also does blog headers for customers. She has now published her own picture-book for young readers. Her style of drawing is unique and distinctive and her popularity improved over the years, to the extent other people have `ciplak' her creations. Copyright infringement is never a good thing, but the fact that it has happened, shows some measure of her success.

When I was at MPH the previous Saturday for Awang Goneng's book signing, I took the chance to pick up a copy of Emila's book called My Mother's Garden. Since I have bought one book written by a blogger, why not get one written by another blogger, I thought. Emila's book would make a great present for my grandniece.

A few days later, Emila posted in her blog of a Picture Book event at Silverfish Books in Bangsar. Her book is part of the promotion ; purchase her book there and buyers would get a free set of flashcards. I commented that I have already bought a copy. She replied that if I turn up, she would give me the free cards anyway.

And so, two days ago I made the trip to Bangsar and met Emila for the first time in person. I asked her to sign the book for my grandniece who I'm sure will be thrilled to read the handwritten message by the book's author. Emila also graciously gave me a few notepads and greeting cards which feature her own drawings. Thank you my friend, for those gifts.

For two consecutive weeks, I had the good fortune of meeting blogger-friends in real-life. It is my hope that I can meet more such friends soon.

The picture book, flashcards, notepad and greeting cards
The author's message and signature

2. Books

Every year, when it comes to filing my tax returns at the end of April, I always regret that I have not purchased enough books to make use of the full deduction allowed by the taxman. The following month, I would go on a shopping binge to buy a few books to make full use of the allowance, but then I tend to forget about it towards the end of the year.

As I mentioned above, I bought Awang Goneng's and Emila's book at MPH. While I was browsing at Silverfish Books on Saturday, I picked up a few more. Over two weekends, I have purchased 6 books, enough reading material to last me the next two months.

Silverfish is a small privately-owned bookstore that sells a limited selection, especially titles seldom seen in the larger shops. But it has a reasonable section of books written by local authors. One of those that I bought is a book written by Brian Gomez called Devil's Place. I have never heard of the book or its author before but I decided to buy it after randomly opening a page and reading a few passages. It was a correct decision.

Devil's Place is, or more exactly was, a thrilling read. Yes, I have finished reading it (in two sittings). It is a fiction novel about terrorism, crime and conspiracy set entirely in Kuala Lumpur, but you'd be surprised how the author has included international elements to spice things up. But what makes the book terribly exciting is Gomez's use of local settings and cultural colour to tell his story. His style of writing is crisp and snappy. The text is gross and vulgar but exceedingly funny in most parts. Sometimes you are left wondering if the events he wrote about can actually happen here in Malaysia... but upon pondering about it a bit more, you'll think... heck, kenapa tak boleh?

I had initially thought of writing a book review about it but later changed my mind. Suffice to give you a brief summary, I guess. Makes a refreshing change from reading all those western-based crime thrillers.

First-time effort by Brian Gomez

3. Bird's-eye View

I was actually at Borders bookstore at The Gardens Mid-Valley on Sunday to meet up again with Awang Goneng. The purpose this time was to have the author sign another copy of AMoT specially for blogger-friend Pak Zawi, who lives in Kelantan. Pak Zawi plans to come down to KL later this month but by that time Pak Awang would've returned back to London. I thought I could do Pak Zawi a favour by getting the book signed first and handing it over to him later. It gives me good reason to be able to meet another blogosphere friend in person.

After Borders, I drove to the airfield at Sungai Besi to meet up with an old friend and former classmate for a flight over Kuala Lumpur city in a Cessna airplane. My friend, Captain Norhisham Kassim, is a commercial airline pilot who occasionally flies small aircraft for leisure. He had previously offered to take me flying but the timing was always not right. This time around, I didn't want to miss the chance.

It was the experience of a lifetime. We flew over KL at around 1,500 feet, headed out towards the old Subang airport where he did a touch-n-go, and flew back to Sungai Besi. The view of the KL skyscrapers from way up there is indescribable. The weather was a bit hazy but I did manage to capture a few good shots with my camera.

Thanks Captain, for a wonderful afternoon yesterday.

The Cessna aircraft that we flew in
View of KL city centre from high up
The pilot and his passenger

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Never buy things on impulse...

I am sure most of us have heard of this sound advice. More often, it is the men who utter these words to their spouses than the other way round. But a few days ago, the tables were turned on yours truly. After all these years, I would have thought that I am now smart enough in deciding on things that I need to buy. Apparently, I do still make dumb decisions sometimes.

So what was the object of my unwise purchase? The humble ironing board.

A few weeks ago, the missus asked me to buy an ironing board. To the uninitiated, the seemingly simple ironing board actually comes in a few variants carrying differing price tags. I first surveyed the item at Jusco and was surprised that they sell the top-range ones at prices above RM80. My next stop was at Giant. The ones sold there are probably the mid-range ones selling at around RM50. I deferred from buying, thinking that I should look some more at some other stores.

Then one day, I was shopping for groceries at the new My Mydin Mart and spotted a board with a dirt cheap price tag of only RM19.90. The board was the last one left and was wrapped in clear plastic so I didn't check it's quality. Anyway, how much different can one ironing board be from another... or so I thought. I simply grabbed it and paid for it along with my groceries.

When I reach home, the thing was put to one side and left in its wrapping for a few more days until the wife wanted to use it. I tore open the plastic wrap to set the board up. Immediately I realised that it is of very poor quality. The clip for the adjustable legs on the underside of the board is flimsy and the legs are uneven. I had to insert a folded cardboard under one of the legs to reduce the wobbling. Even the metal side rack where we place the iron is made from thin wire frame.

I was already grumbling loudly to myself but the missus was smiling happily because she knew she can't be blamed for this one.

She proceeded to do some ironing but had to be extra careful because of the shaky setup. On completing the task, as if on cue, the board collapsed.... causing the hot iron to fall on the floor with a loud clang. Luckily the missus was not hurt. Lucky for us too that the iron was not damaged. I checked the board for the cause of the collapse. It seems that the part of the leg that attaches to the clip somehow slipped out. I continued to grumble... and wife added fuel to the fire by quoting that well-known Malay proverb, alah membeli, menang memakai.

I decided there and then that I will buy a new and better ironing board. So what's going to happen to the one that I have now? I have already re-wrapped the thing in cling plastic and plan to put it the garbage house downstairs. Hopefully one of the cleaner ladies will salvage it and put it to good use... and not hurt herself in the process.

So remember guys... do not buy things on impulse.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The GUiT feeling... and running AMoT...

Author and blogger Sdra Wan A Hulaimi or better known as Awang Goneng is in town to promote his latest book, `A Map of Trengganu'. When I first saw the event notice on blogger Kak Teh's FB wall about the book signing at MPH Mid Valley, I thought I must try grab the chance to meet the writer in person. After all, he is based in London and who knows when he'll be coming over again. Furthermore, the man has previously popped over to this humble blog of mine and dropped a comment or two.

It was actually a working day for me that Saturday 30th April 2011. I thought of leaving the project site early after briefing my staff on work that needs to be done for the day but could only manage to free myself past lunchtime. It was already 3.30pm when I left the workplace at Sg Besi. According to the notice, the book signing is fixed for one hour only, ending at 4pm. I could probably drive and reach Mid Valley in time if the traffic is light (which it seldom is) but finding a parking space at that shopping mall on weekends will take me ages. Suddenly it occurred to me that there is a KTM Komuter train line nearby that goes directly to Mid Valley. A quick change of plans saw me parking my car at Bandar Tasik Selatan station (RM3 per entry charge), pay a single ringgit ticket for one-way trip and riding a trouble-free train journey. A total cost of only RM5 both ways that solves a lot of headache.

Even so, I only alighted at the Mid Valley station at ten past four and I thought I had missed my chance of meeting Awang Goneng in person. I made a brisk walk among the weekend shopping crowd to get to MPH, which took up another 5 minutes, hoping the author would still be there. I needn't have worried. On reaching the bookstore, there was still a long line of fans queueing up for the writer's autograph.

I picked a copy of the author's book and quickly joined the queue. When my turn came, I introduced myself as Oldstock. Pak Awang was a bit surprised because he said that he didn't think I looked that old. He noted my sweaty palms as I handed him the book for signing. I explained that I was rushing from the train station because I thought I was late. He then said that if I had missed the MPH event, I can catch him again at Borders next week.

I have already read Pak Awang's first book `Growing Up in Trengganu' which I bought a few years ago. But I decided to buy another copy that day just so I can have it signed by the author. I now have both GUiT and AMoT personally autographed by Awang Goneng. Something to treasure for years to come.

Pak Awang signing a copy for Oldstock

Kak Teh aka Mrs Awang Goneng

My current reading material

Thank you Pak Awang for this signed copy