Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas in Kuching

To avoid being misunderstood, let me first start off by saying that I do not celebrate Christmas, not in the religious sense of the word. I have been advised by some Muslim friends that even wishing my Christian friends a `Merry Christmas' is a wrong thing to do. There have also been opinions by some learned Muslim scholars that doing so would lead the Muslim greeter into shiriq. On the other hand, there are also views of other scholars who say that such an act is permissible. Whichever line of argument you may choose to follow, the important thing to keep in mind is that each differing opinion comes with its own basis or reasoning. Respect that others may hold a different view to yours. And as I mentioned earlier, while I do not celebrate Hari Natal, as what Malays call it, I do however respect that my Christian friends have the right to celebrate the occasion, just like any other citizen of this country.

But this post is not to discuss the issue of religion. It is to tell the story of how I made the trip to Kuching, Sarawak on 25th December, to meet up with a friend I last saw more than 30 years ago. Before that, let me relate the background story...

In January of 1980, a group of young teenagers fresh out of secondary school were selected to further their studies to the United Kingdom. Among this group were myself and an Iban chap from Sarawak named Gabriel Mason. When we first arrived at London for the A-level course, Gabe and me somehow got along with each other and we became close friends. After the initial week of sorting things out, we decided to share a rental flat together to save cost. To survive the high expense of living in London on a miserly student's allowance, we pooled funds to cook our own meals... actually I did most of the cooking while Gabe would do most of the cleaning-up. Gabe would eat anything that I cook without complain and he always respected my need to buy only the halal stuff. We shared stories about our families and learned about each other's hobbies and peculiar habits. We even went for a summer backpacking tour of Europe together.

Our paths separated when we went to different universities. Both of us graduated at the same time and returned to Malaysia but we lost touch. Over the years, I had wondered how my friend was getting along but I didn't know how to look for him... or perhaps I had not tried hard enough. Then in 2008, I went for an alumni event at our old school in Kuantan and met Gabe's younger sister Cordelia, who was also our junior. Cordelia told me that her brother is back home in Kuching and had fallen on some hard times. She knew of our close friendship and hoped that I could call him and lift his spirits a bit. She gave me her brother's mobile number and I immediately placed a call. My long-lost pal was surprised to hear my voice after all these years.

Over the past four years, I kept regular contact with Gabe through phone calls and FB messages. I had hoped that he could travel to the peninsula so that we'd have the chance to meet up. On my side of the equation, I was going through a roller coaster ride on the work front and couldn't muster enough spare funds to fly over to Sarawak. And then earlier this month, Gabe called me up and invited me to come over to Kuching and join his family for their Christmas celebration. I initially gave the excuse that I was busy with a new project that had just started and didn't think I could find the spare time. After thinking about it for a day or two, I realized that if I never put in the effort, then I will never find the time.

I quickly put in an application for 2-days leave during the Christmas period and once the leave was approved, made hotel and flight bookings for me and my wife. We flew in to Kuching on the evening of 24th December for our first visit to Sarawak.

The next day, Gabe picked us up at our hotel and took us to his family's Christmas dinner party held at another hotel. We were introduced to the other Mason siblings plus a whole lot of other in-laws and cousins and aunts and uncles. While primarily an Iban Christian family, some of the siblings and cousins have inter-married with people of other faiths and nationalities. Gabe's mother has a number of Muslim grandchildren, so my wife and I were not the only Muslims in attendance that evening. Indeed we were made to feel like family...

It was a very short visit to Kuching, so we really didn't have the time for much sight-seeing. Nonetheless, I am very pleased that I made the decision to travel to meet up with a very dear friend whom I've spent so much memorable time with.

I guess it's nice to end the year with a happy story. Wishing all my readers and friends a wonderful year ahead...

Cloudy sky over Sungai Santubong
Old pals... and I mean real old
Gabe with one of his cousins singing on stage
Me with the Mason siblings. Cyrus, Edith, Oldstock, Gabriel and Cordelia. All ex-students of MRSM Kuantan 
Footnote : Earlier stories in this blog where I've made reference to Gabe can be found here -> Finger lickin' delicious; and here -> A day in beautiful Belgrade.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Weekend family picnic

I have previously written of this holiday place called Warisan Bernam Agro Resort owned by a brother-in-law of mine, located on the banks of Sungai Bernam that forms the border between Selangor and Perak.

We went there again yesterday after last going there more than a year ago. My BIL invited in-laws from his wife's side of the family and we had a lovely picnic by the riverside. The weather also played its part... except for a five-minute brief spell of rain, it was a wonderfully dry day all along. The kids and parents had a splashing time dipping themselves in the cool running river water.

I had a brief dip in the river myself but spent most of the time trying to improve my photo-taking skills in capturing landscape and macro shots. Here are some pics from yesterday's outing.

Warisan Bernam Agro Resort, front view of A-shaped huts
Stream running at the rear
Purple flowers, but donno the name lah...
Smoky picnic site...
And the smoke coming from this BBQ pit
Bee on purple flower

Saturday, 15 December 2012

It's a nice feeling when you are proven right...

... and it sucks when you got it wrong.

Throughout our lives, we come to situations where we have to make decisions. The easy situations are a breeze : do we wear white or blue to work today, shall we have fish 'n chips for dinner or do we go for the lamb chops, would taking Jalan Tebrau be faster than taking Jalan Larkin to get us to town? These are the easy decisions because whichever choice we make, the outcome wouldn't have a significant impact.

It is the hard decisions that would set us back a bit. Such situations are sometimes called `problems'. Such problems would be even more difficult when the decision you make is on behalf of a higher authority (eg. your boss). Add to that, you don't have much time to consider your options and there is a huge financial impact involved. Intense!

Many years ago, I was posted to work at my former employer's branch office in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. I was there to handle a coastal project for a resort hotel. After a few weeks in Fujairah, another job opportunity came along, this time to construct an effluent discharge pipe from a new sewage treatment plant, laid from the outlet on the beach and buried underwater for a few hundred metres to the sea. My colleague and I prepared the price quotation and after obtaining agreement from head office, we submitted it to the Arab main contractor.

We were then called for a price negotiation meeting. Now... for those of you who have been in price negotiations before, you would surely have in mind a top target value (ideal case), a mean value (kira ok lah) and finally, a bottom limit (cukup makan saja) below which there's no deal. There were two Arab gentlemen from their side. Me and my colleague on our side.

The Arabs started off aggressively... complaining aloud that our price was ridiculously high and that we were out to make a huge profit. I guess it's their standard tactic but in my daily dealings with the locals, only a few of them I would consider to have grace and politeness. I calmly asked them back what would be their reasonable counter-offer. They didn't offer any but pressed me to reduce our price. So I indicated a reduction to my middle value. Still no go but plenty of harsh words. Heck, I thought... no wonder God sent a prophet to these people. I kept my cool and made a final offer at my basement price. Unacceptable, one of the Arabs shot back... you must reduce lower, he said with a glaring face as if he's a headmaster reprimanding a schoolboy. And then he mentioned a breakdown of costs for machinery and material, in a move to justify why he thought our price was high. Well I thought, if you already know what it's going to cost, why don't you go ahead and do the work yourself?

I did not budge and the situation was becoming tense and intimidating. I could feel my blood pressure climb up a notch or two. I turned to my colleague and purposely spoke to him in Malay, "Aku rasa Pak Arab ni dah main kasar. Kita balik aje lah. Buat apa nak dapat projek tapi nanti rugi. Kau rasa macam mana?"

"Aku rasa kita takyah buat projek ni," my friend replied. "Tapi kau tak risau ke apa nanti Dato' kata?"

I had already considered that part in my mind. My boss would probably be not pleased that we did not secure this job. But if I had taken on the work at a very low price and then completed it at a loss, he would be even angrier. So I made up my mind, that was it. I told the Arabs, "I am sorry that our offer price is too high for you and regret that we could not form a working relationship. But thank you for giving us the opportunity to give a quote in the first place."

I then packed my files back in to my bag, stood up and coolly left the meeting room. The Arabs were stunned and speechless.

As we left the building and walk to the car park, one of the Arabs called out to my friend. I continued walking but my friend turned back to talk to the Arab. I waited in the car while this side discussion was going on. When my friend returned, he said that they would be asking our local sponsor to talk direct to our boss in Malaysia. They hadn't expected us to walk out.

"Tapi Pak Arab tu terkejut lah yang kau berani keluar macam tu," my friend said. I finally managed to smile for the first time that day.

I had already guessed that they would try to approach my boss after this, but I wasn't worried. If my boss agree to offer them a discount just to secure the job, then that is his right as the owner. It will then be his risk.

True enough, a call was placed from UAE to Malaysia the next day... and my boss was made to promise to come to Fujairah the following week for further negotiation.

When my boss flew in the next week, he asked whether I could accompany him for the second round of negotiations. I declined, saying that we have already offered them the best price and we should not be going any lower. Stubborn, aren't I?

To cut a long story short, my boss went for the second negotiation meeting alone, agreed to a huge discount and then got the job. He went back to KL, declared to the other head office staff on the good news of a new project he secured and arranged for another colleague to be sent to Fujairah and be the project manager. Fine by me.

The new project manager arrived a month later and handled that project separate from mine. From the very start, a few technical problems surfaced. I helped out as much as I could in sharing of resources, but otherwise kept myself out of it. The problems became worse as time progressed and the project ran into delays. I returned to Malaysia and later resigned from the company. But information from my ex-staff in Fujairah told me that the project that I initially declined to take on, had now run into losses.

Not for me to gloat about but I do feel sad for my former boss. As I said, it was a risk he personally took... and that I have been proven right.

Ok then, perhaps I should also share with readers on the times I have been proven wrong. I do still wince when I recall the occasions when I made bad judgements... but let's leave that for another day.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Another good makan place in JB

There is this wonderful page in Facebook which I just joined last week. It's called Johor Sedap and features the suggestions and contributions from group members on the various halal food outlets in Johor (with JB in particular). If you are new to Johor Bahru city and wish to know of any restaurant selling say, good laksa johor, then just pop the question on the page and pretty soon some members will respond with suggestions.

So far, I have tried 2 new places from the many that have been recommended and I quite agree with the reviews. I still have a few more in the list that I wish to go to... but I hope not to bore readers with too much of my gastronomic adventures.

Last night, we went for dinner at this place called Din BBQ Station located in Taman Nusa Bestari. This restaurant serves fresh seafood, chicken wings and lamb chops grilled over charcoal fire. To go with the grilled stuff, you can also have fried rice or nasi lemak plus some fresh greens (ulam). The selection of drinks are not too bad too.

For our maiden visit, we had grilled sea prawns, squid, chicken wings and some lamb. There were some fish on offer but I thought I'll try them on my next visit. The prawns and squid were tasty, the chicken wings not bad but the lamb was just okay. The home-made BBQ sauce was just the way I like it, mild and not too strong. If there is one minus point that I can mention, I do hope they can use a proper plate for my nasi lemak.

Din BBQ also opens for lunch. The owner told us that they still serve BBQ during the day, in addition to the standard fare of nasi campur and lauk pauk. Maybe one of these days I drop by for lunch and see how their daytime food tastes like.

The shop front
Grilled sea prawns
Grilled squid
BBQ chicken wings

Thursday, 29 November 2012


Go fly a kite...
"I am." is the shortest complete sentence in the English language. Some say that the sentence, "I do." is the longest...

Friday, 23 November 2012

Fresh green chillies

It was a public holiday in Johor yesterday, so we made our way up to Tangkak to visit my brother-in-law who had just returned from performing the hajj in Makkah. The lovely thing about visiting pilgrims who have just returned home is hearing their stories of the many interesting and sometimes mysterious happenings in the holy land. It brings back memories of the time my wife and I were there and of course, it make us long for the opportunity to be able to go there again.

But this post is not about stories from Makkah.

My brother-in-law, together with his eldest son, run a small-scale commercial vegetable farm in Tangkak. Every time we visit them, we are rewarded with a bounty of harvest from their kebun. Depending on what's in season, they would pack some vegetables for us to take home. On our previous visit in September (before my BIL flew off for the pilgrimage), we took home some pumpkins (labu). This time around we were given some green chillies, pisang tanduk, keladi and lemongrass (serai).

Actually, not some green chillies... but a lot. Probably about 8 to 10 kilos worth. The chilli plants were fruiting so abundantly, to the extent that our nephew ran out of manpower to pluck them all. We picked as much as we could yesterday afternoon... and today my wife began sharing some of them with our neighbours and relatives here in Johor Bahru. We now have fresh green chillies to last us a whole month at least.

Green chillies ripe for picking
Chilli padi just sprouting, so no picking yet
Plot cleared for pumpkin planting. Cloud-shrouded Gunung Ledang in the background
Keladi plants in between the bananas
I love green chillies. I prefer them to the red ones. Freshly-cut green chillies are an important ingredient in most of my favourite dishes such as mee rebus and kacang pool. I add them in almost anything that I cook stir-fry style.

With a fresh supply from the farm, I couldn't resist using them tonight in a recipe I learnt from my mother - ikan bilis goreng asam (fried anchovies with tamarind paste). It is an exceedingly simple but tasty recipe that helped me survive the lean times when I was a student overseas.

Ikan bilis goreng asam

Ingredients :

  • a handful of ikan bilis (use the good quality type)
  • one large onion (sliced)
  • a clove of garlic (chopped finely)
  • two or three fresh green chillies (rough-sliced)
  • half-a-cup of tamarind juice (air perahan asam jawa)
  • an optional pinch of shrimp paste (belacan)
  • a teaspoon of sugar (also optional)

Method :

Heat some oil in a wok and fry the ikan bilis till crisp. Remove from wok and set aside. Reduce the oil in the wok and fry the onion and garlic until fragrant. Add the sliced green chillies and fry for a short while. Add the tamarind juice and the pinch of belacan. Stir until the liquid thickens. Add back the fried ikan bilis and mix well so that the tamarind paste coats the ikan bilis evenly. Sprinkle in the sugar and turn off the heat immediately so that the ikan bilis remain crisp and not soggy.

I prefer my onion and chilli to be a bit crunchy, so I sometimes put them towards the end of the cooking process. If you prefer to have a bit of gravy, then dilute the tamarind paste and don't reduce the liquid by too much. Serve with steaming hot rice and bull's-eye fried egg with some kicap, and that's enough of a meal for me.

Below is a pic of tonight's handiwork. Sedap tau...

Ikan bilis asam - the dry version

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Another steamboat makan place in JB

With the existence of many food blogs and pages on Facebook nowadays, restaurant owners and operators can have a quick online presence to promote themselves. I would occasionally check out such links to see if there are any new makan places worth visiting.

Last night, we tried out a new halal grill and steamboat restaurant which I discovered online. D'Chagar Grill & Steamboat is located in Taman Molek, Johor Bahru, within the same block as the Astro outlet. It is a simply decorated shop, with the array of steamboat ingredients placed in trays arranged on a long table against one wall (some other steamboat restaurants have these ingredients in chillers, which I think is more hygienic).

In my earlier post on halal steamboat BBQ makan places in February this year, I listed out a few points on how I judge such restaurants. Using the same reference, I'll outline my views on D'Chagar :
  • They have a large selection of the steamboat stuff, i.e. meatballs, fishballs, beancurd, crabsticks etc. but their meat/chicken spread is pretty basic. The seafood choice is limited to small prawns, squid and anak ikan selar. No shellfish at all. Vegetable choice is too little. No fried rice or noodles.
  • Only one type of broth is on offer, a simple chicken soup. But tasty enough.
  • Drinks are okay with 4 types available (soya bean, asam boi, jagung and guava, plus plain mineral water). 
  • 4 types of sauces are available : black pepper, homemade hot ground chilli, chilli-tomato and black petis paste.
  • Each rectangular table has a cut-out centre portion where the stove is inserted, hence the BBQ pot does not stick out too high. The restaurant is quite spacious and movement is not hampered by closeness of the tables. But they could improve further if the drink dispensers and ice container are arranged as a separate station from the foodstuff.
Ok then, what about the overall taste? I guess I'll give it average marks. The soup is not too bad but the meats (the main reason I go for BBQ) are not as good as some of the other places that I've been to.

The advertised price is RM18 per adult but we were charged a promotion rate of only RM10. This promotion price ends tomorrow. Perhaps because of the promotion period, their spread of ingredients is not extensive. I may patronise this place again and see if the full rate would entail more choice.

The shopfront
Large table with a cut-out centre section to fit the stove

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

It's reading time

We went to the Popular Book Fair at Danga City Mall last night. It has been a while since I last went on a book-buying spree. I picked up 4 novels while the missus chose 2.

The four that I selected are shown in the photograph below. With the exception of Stephen King, the other three authors are new territory for me, although I have to say that I've heard of Arundhati Roy before. Her award-winning book, The God of Small Things, first came into print in 1997. I've seen it on the shelf of my local library but was never moved to borrow it for reading. This time around, Popular offered it for sale to members at only RM9.90, so it's a steal.

Also on offer at RM9.90 is Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. By just looking at the cover, you can tell it's a `girl' novel. What prompted me to give it a try was a few lines of introduction to the story written on the back cover.

"They say to live every day as if it's your last - but you never actually think it's going to be. You always think you have more time."

Recent events have got me thinking about the short time we have in life... so I thought this book might be a good read. We shall see.

The only non-fiction book of the four is Three Cups of Tea. It tells the story of mountaineer Greg Morrison's mission to build schools in the poor and remote villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I guess I'll start my reading with this one.

If this blog doesn't look like it's being updated in the next few weeks, you guys will know what I've been up to.

Selamat Tahun Baru Hijrah 1434 to all Muslim friends and readers...

Should tide me over till the end of the year

Friday, 9 November 2012

Lost for a while...

Sometimes we need to be lost for a while for us to be found... 

The above quote was posted as a status update on my Facebook wall in April of last year. I was facing a rough patch in terms of my job direction and was thinking of laying low for a bit, just so I can re-check my bearings and plan for something new.

The remark triggered a series of responses from friends that centred more on the issue of loyalty of friendship, on being taken for granted, on being ignored and on the desire for reciprocal attention. Somewhat different from what I expected but interesting nonetheless.

The exchange of comments reached a sombre tone when my late friend whom I wrote about earlier, Roswati Abdul Wahab, joined the discussion by saying that she always look out for friends but sometimes friends tend to forget about her.

This prompted someone to reply : Ros, not forgotten. Dalam ingatan.

The response from Roswati : Dalam ingatan tu untuk orang dah tak ada.. agak2 bila I dah tak ada orang ingat tak kat I.. ehmmm agaknya terus lupa.. dah lah lost..

I guess at that time, my good friend was in low spirits, which is perfectly understandable if you know what she was going through. I put on my thinking hat to say something that would hopefully take away some of her gloom.

My response : Cikgu Ros, sometimes we cannot help if others forget about us... human nature being what it is. Actually, when we are gone it wouldn't matter if our friends remember us or not... because we wouldn't know about it anyway. The important thing is that while we are alive, we have done good for our friends.. that would be the measure.. 

And so my friend, I am saying this again... you have done remarkably good deeds for your friends while you were with us. You'll remain in our hearts. You rest well, Ros. God willing, we hope to join you in that promised place none too soon. Al-fatihah...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Makmum yang tidak mahu mengikut imam

Kira-kira dua minggu lepas, sahabat blogger saya, ayahanda Wan Sharif telah menulis di FB beliau tentang kisah seorang pegawai masjid yang kurang `user-friendly'. Beliau dan isteri telah singgah di masjid tersebut untuk melakukan solat isyak tetapi tidaklah mengikut jemaah lain kerana lewat sampai dari perjalanan.

Seorang pegawai masjid telah menutup kesemua lampu sedangkan isteri Wan Sharif masih mengambil wudhu. Apabila diberitahu bahawa masih ada orang dalam masjid, pegawai itu dikatakan telah menjawab, `Biarlah. Siapa suruh dia datang sembahyang lewat sangat.'

Kisah Sdra Wan Sharif ini telah mengingatkan kembali pengalaman saya sendiri tentang pegawai masjid yang tidak mesra pengguna ini.

Sekitar akhir tahun 1980an, saya bertugas sebagai seorang jurutera yang mengawasi beberapa projek pembinaan di negeri Johor. Satu petang, saya telah melawat tapak projek pembinaan rumah kedai di Kg. Melayu Majidee, Johor Bahru. Waktu telah hampir masuk solat asar, jadi saya pun menuju ke sebuah surau yang terletak tidak jauh dari tapakbina.

Saya sampai di surau tersebut ketika azan baru selesai dilaungkan. Saya terus mengambil wudhu dan mendirikan solat sunat. Dalam masa melakukan solat sunat, konsentrasi saya terganggu kerana bunyi suara kuat dari seseorang yang sedang membebel tentang sesuatu. Selesai solat sunat, saya menoleh keliling. Tidak ramai jemaah ketika itu, sekitar tujuh atau lapan orang sahaja. Suara yang kuat itu rupanya datang dari Pak Imam yang sedang berleter tentang sikap orang-orang muda yang tidak menghormati adab bersolat. Mukanya yang masam memandang sipi ke arah saya, seolah-olah menyindir. Saya hairan seketika... aku ada buat salah ke?

Bila iqamah dipanggil, saya pun bergerak untuk berdiri di saf belakang imam. Pak Imam itu mencampakkan tasbih di atas sejadah hadapan setiap makmum. Kemudian dia menunjuk ke arah saya dan dengan nada kasar berkata, `Awak pakai songkok!'

Aikk? Sejak bila pakai songkok menjadi rukun sembahyang? Saya tidak berkata apa-apa, cuma setakat mengangkat kedua tangan sebagai tanda, `Tak apalah...'

Pak Imam menjadi lebih marah dan warning pada saya, `Kalau gitu, awak jangan ikut kawan!'

Saya geleng kepala, pusingkan badan dan terus beredar dari saf. Saya masuk kereta, start enjin dan terus pecut ke arah sebuah lagi masjid yang berhampiran. Sempatlah saya bersolat asar dengan imam dan jemaah yang lain.

Peristiwa ini berlaku lebih 20 tahun yang lalu... tapi masih jelas dalam ingatan saya. Mengapakah sesetengah pegawai masjid mempunyai sifat yang sebegitu angkuh? Bukankah Islam itu menganjurkan supaya umatnya berlemah lembut dan tegur-menegur dengan cara yang berhemah?

Harap-harap tiadalah pemimpin-pemimpin agama kita yang macam ini lagi.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The passing of a kind-hearted soul

I had always thought that when the eventual event happens, I would be ready. I had rehearsed it over and over again in my mind, on how I would react to the situation. But I guess in the end, the shock and utter sadness of it will always overcome whatever preparedness we think we have.

My good friend and former classmate from secondary school, Roswati Abdul Wahab, went to Makkah to perform the hajj last month... but she is not coming back. She passed away three days ago.

Roswati and I studied at MRSM Kuantan. Apart from being classmates, both of us were active in the publication bureau of the school's student body. After completing our MCE exams in 1979, we lost touch with each other. She continued her studies at a local university while I went overseas.

In July of 2010 we re-discovered each other, thanks to Facebook of course. We exchanged news and met up again in reunions and gatherings. During the past two years, I learned more about what happened in her life during the `lost' 31 years. She got married while still at university, bore 3 children (a girl and twin boys), started work as a computer programmer in the private sector but ended up being a mathematics teacher in government schools. Some years ago, she was diagnosed with liver cancer. And as if that is not enough of a misfortune, her husband left her for another woman. Sudah jatuh ditimpa tangga...

Despite those challenges plus many more, she soldiered on with her life, always putting on a brave front to mask her suffering inside. She ventured out on a quest to search and re-discover old friends (especially the girls) from our MRSM days. I have a database of all the students in our batch which I used to help her recall names of long-lost friends. There were 121 students in the MCE/SPM 1979 batch, consisting of 87 guys and 34 girls. With the aid of Facebook plus a lot of actual legwork, she managed to track down all of the girls but one. But she did not just stop at being re-connected in cyberspace. She made the effort of actually visiting these friends to meet them in person, even though they are spread all over Malaysia. Her travels took her to Kedah, Trengganu, Pahang and Johor. At each meeting of a newly re-discovered friend, she would present a gift of her own handmade brooch (for the girls) and framed photo reprints (for the guys). Photographs taken at these reunions were then uploaded in a series of albums in her Facebook which were titled `Jejak Kawan'. In May of last year, she compiled the photos of all the girls into a collage and had it printed as a poster. Every girl that she re-discovered, got a copy.

All this she did while not being in the best of health... she seldom talk of her sickness with any of the friends. Most of us knew but not many dare broach the subject. I am one of the very few with whom she shares the state of her health.

She was slated for a chemotherapy treatment early next year and so decided that she has to perform the hajj this year. Otherwise, the chemo treatments would prevent her from travelling. At first she approached Tabung Haji to try secure a place but was not successful. She then went to a private travel agency to register under a scheme called Pakej Haji Tanpa Giliran. This package costs almost double of the basic Tabung Haji scheme and even so, is not a sure thing because it depends on the visa approval from the Saudi government. She was then told to wait for confirmation. She waited... and waited... and waited. By the grace of Allah swt, the travel agency managed to secure the visa for travel on the very last day of entry to Makkah for this year's hajj season.

She texted me a few times while she was there, giving brief updates of what she was doing. In her last sms to me on 28 October, she mentioned of having a sore throat and losing stamina. Her text message ended with the words, `Please pray for me...'

I prayed to the Almighty to give her the strength to complete her hajj rituals and to return home safely. But the Almighty loves her more and has chosen for her the final resting place in the holy land of Makkah.

I will miss you dearly, my friend. You had such a kind heart and were an inspiration to most of us. May the Almighty bless your soul and place you in paradise amongst the righteous.

This scanned pic from 1979 showing Roswati (in tudung) sitting next to me
This pic from July this year, my two classmates, Roswati (right) and Suzyanna (left)
The K79 poster girls

Thursday, 25 October 2012

An ailment without a cure

Psoriasis is a chronic disease that affects the skin. While there are various methods of treatment, a definitive cure for the disease itself has yet to be discovered. Doctors and scientists still do not know what is the cause, although some research point to genetic links.

My wife suffers from this ailment. It occurred soon after we got married. We first went to a private skin specialist who suggested ultraviolet therapy, in addition to topical treatment. We tried it initially but the cost was getting way too expensive for us to afford. We went to other skin doctors and on the advice of well-meaning relatives, we even tried traditional medicine.

A few years ago, a GP suggested to my wife to seek treatment at Hospital Sultanah Aminah because they have a good dermatology unit headed by a very experienced specialist. The GP duly wrote a letter of recommendation and thus began my other half's regular visits to Johor Bahru's oldest government hospital. Since then, she has never sought treatment for her skin condition anywhere else. The level of dedication and service of HSA's skin clinic is excellent.

Last Sunday, the newly formed Psoriasis Association of Johor held an event day at a local hotel. The activities included a chance for the members and their family to show off their skills in colouring using paints and crayons. There was also a talk given by the Senior Consultant Dermatologist at HSA, Dr. Choon Siew Eng. My wife's treatment regime is now under the direct supervision of Dr. Choon.

The association hopes to gather all psoriasis patients in Johor with the objective of providing support and the sharing of knowledge. Hopefully this can help psoriasis sufferers and their family to cope with the challenges that such a disease brings.

The missus and her cousin Kak Atik, writing down their hopes for a cure
A collage of the painted posters
Smaller posters coloured with crayons
In my opinion, this crayon poster was the best
Dr Choon giving her presentation
Group photo of the team that won the colouring contest

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A grand old man... again

Last weekend, we made the trip to Kota Tinggi to visit the latest addition to our very large extended family. Our nephew's wife, Melati Razak, has safely given birth to her third child a few weeks ago. She now has a son to add to her two daughters. Our nephew is so happy to have a boy with whom he can probably later talk about football or table tennis or other sports.

Our grand-nephew was born on the daybreak of Friday 21 September 2012 and has been named Muhammad Hidayat Asraf. The sister to this baby named Nurul Aqilah, is the one I wrote about in a previous post in February 2009, titled A Grand Old Man. At that time, the sister is the 10th great-grandchild of the Hj. Mohd Amin clan. Three and a half years down the road, the new baby boy holds the 22nd position. My wife and I now have 22 kids calling us `Tok'.

Muhammad Hidayat was delivered a few days delayed from his due date. I told the mother that the baby purposely did not want to come out earlier because he wanted to wait for a special day. He shares the same birthday as his grand-aunt, Mrs Oldstock.

Oldstock with latest grand-nephew and 3-year old grand-niece

Saturday, 6 October 2012


"I should have listened to you," she says.

The soft sigh is only just audible. She looks out of the restaurant window but her eyes do not seem focussed on anything in particular. The gleam of tears pooling down the corners of her eyes can be clearly seen. I feel like holding my hand out to wipe those tears away but I am not sure how she will react. So I remain still... and silent.

The small boy sitting next to her happily munches down a slice of pizza. He doesn't bother his mother much, just occasionally asking her about this or that ingredient he finds on the topping. Seems like the first time he is tasting pizza and he is liking it.

She turns her head to look at me and continues, "He divorced me almost one year after I gave birth. He said that his first wife gave him an ultimatum. Either me or her. Of course I lose out. The family of the first wife is rich. They are the ones who support his business. If he leaves her, his business will go down."

"And what do I have? Compared to her, I may have youth and beauty... but that counts for nothing now. I am not rich. I cannot compete with the first wife on that. So I try other ways... I wanted to be a good wife, I treated him well, I loved him as much as I could. But in the end, the power of money beats everything."

"Men are only concerned about themselves. About their own comfort and happiness. About short-term gains. They don't care if they make life miserable for others!"

There is now a bit of sting in her voice. I don't want to add fuel to the fire so I continue to remain silent. She turns to look outside again... biting her lip as if trying to stop herself from further outburst.

I look closely at the son, slowly chewing on his food and oblivious to his mother's anger. Very well-behaved young man. He is around 4-years old, slight build towards skinny and with very fair skin. A thick crown of hair with facial features undoubtedly oriental. I have met the boy's father only once before but it is as clear as day that the boy has his father's looks.

"I know what you're thinking," she says as her eyes dart from me to the boy and back. "Every time I go out to the local market with my son, people will always say the boy looks like his father... anak Salim Apek. He has taken everything from me. Even my son cannot have a bit of my look in him!"

I let time pass by a bit before finally responding, "Looks are not everything... but I guess you do not believe me. You place too much importance on looks. Did you not use your looks to catch his attention in the first place?" The next sentence in my mind is, and look where that has taken you. But I leave that part unspoken.

She shoots a spiteful look at me and say, "You are cruel, you know... but very kind." A hint of smile is finally evident, but it disappears almost instantly. She shakes her head and repeats, "I should have listened to you, all those years ago."

"So what do you want to do now?" I ask.

"I am broke," she says. "He has not given us any money for the past two years. After the divorce, he provided the maintenance quite regularly but then he started to slack. Business problems, he said. I had to go back to court to get him resume paying. The judge has already given the order but he gets away with a thousand of excuses. I cannot afford to pay the lawyer any more to fight him."

"You know, the last time he came to see his son was during hari raya last year? The boy was just 3-years old then. Look at him now. I don't think the boy even knows that he has a father."

"I need to find work. But at the same time, I can't afford to pay someone to look after my son."

She looks lovingly at the young man, pats him gently on the head and with an unwavering voice say, "I am going to give him up."

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Go ahead... make my day

It was a Saturday afternoon and I was sitting in my site office cabin, looking at some paperwork. My Safety Supervisor popped his head past the door of the office and asked, "Boss, are you interested in shooting?"

"What, you mean shooting as in guns?", I asked back.

Yes, came the reply. He explained to me that the company we hire to handle the security at the project site is holding a shooting practice for their staff at a nearby shooting range and he thought that I might be interested to watch. Perhaps, if we are lucky, they may even allow us to handle the weapons. I have never done any real gun shooting before so I decided it might be a good experience to see them practice.

The shooting range was about 12 km from the project site. When we arrived, the practice session was already under way. We could hear the loud boom of shotguns being fired away. I was introduced to the security company's senior staff and also to the Royal Malaysian Police officers who were there to oversee the practice. I was told that all live firearms practice were carried out under RMP supervision.

There were four shooting lanes prepared in the open field. Each line had a simple table where the firearm and ammunition was placed. Down the other end at 25m away is the target board on which the printed bull's-eye paper is stapled on. After some of the security staff had done a few rounds, we were then invited to have a go.

Before holding the shotgun, a police officer briefed us on the safety and handling aspects. A senior staff of the security company acted as my instructor and stood behind me to guide me through the whole process. The shotgun being used was a Mossberg Maverick pump gun. Three rounds were first loaded into the chamber and I was shown how to place the gun against my cheek and look down the barrel to aim. When I was ready, my instructor told me to release the safety, place my finger round the trigger and fire.

I squeezed the trigger and heard a loud Boom! I immediately felt the hard kick of the shotgun's recoil on my shoulder. Whoa! Although I felt the pain, there was also a rush of thrill.

I couldn't see if I had hit the target but I heard my instructor tell me to pump the gun to eject the spent shell and load a new round into the chamber. Aim a bit lower, he said. I then fired off another two rounds, re-load the gun with 3 new rounds and shoot again. Aim, squeeze, boom, pump and aim again. Total of 6 shots.

At the end of the firing, the guns were checked to make sure no live rounds remain in them and safety lock re-instated. We then walked down to the target end to view our handiwork. The target paper was peppered with tiny holes caused by the pellets from the shotgun ammo. My first shot was a bit high but the remaining 5 shots all hit the paper, with a few quite close to the centre. Not bad, my instructor said. If my target had been an animal or a criminal,
 'pasti rebah' were his words. Not that I really want to be in a situation to be letting off a firearm at any man or animal.

I thought that was the end of our session but I was told to hang on for while because they'll be practising with handguns next. There were two types of automatic pistols on offer, a Sig Sauer and a Glock. I chose the Glock. A similar briefing was held before we were allowed to hold the guns. My instructor showed me how to load the bullet clip into the gun, hold it properly and aim at the target. When I was ready, he told me to release the safety and fire away.

The gun let out a bang as I squeezed off my first shot. I couldn't see where it went. Again, my instructor told me to aim lower. I re-aimed and let off the remaining 9 rounds in rapid succession. At the end of the firing, we were shown how to unload the empty clip and the instructor checked to make sure no live round remain in the gun.

We then made our way down to the target end. Fresh target paper had replaced the ones we punctured during the shotgun session. My target paper showed 6 small holes. That meant 4 shots had gone haywire. But of the 6, two shots were just about 3 inches from the centre bull's eye. Not bad for a first-timer, not bad at all. The instructor said that I had a natural skill for aiming and shooting.

Well, natural or not, and exciting as it was... I don't think I'll take up shooting as a serious hobby. I still have this uncertainty about guns. Maybe I'll take up archery instead.
The briefing...
The pump gun and ammo
Aim, squueze and fire!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A Johor delicacy named after another place

In my earlier post about the cookbook Nostalgia Medan Selera, I included a photograph of the book turned to a page showing the recipe called Mee Siam. The main element of this dish is rice vermicelli (or better known as beehoon) cooked in a mixture of dried shrimps, shrimp paste and blended dried chillies. Other ingredients fried together in the mix include onions, fresh prawns, bean sprouts with final garnishing of diced pre-fried bean curds and chopped chives. But this is no ordinary fried beehoon. What makes it unique is the special gravy made with fermented beans (tauco) and tamarind juice.

Although called mee siam, the Siamese have no inkling of what it is. The dish takes its name from the rice vermicelli which originates from Thailand.

Another Johor favourite with a misleading name is Mee Bandung. If you are in a restaurant in Bandung, Indonesia and happen to order this dish, all you'll get is a very puzzled look from the waiter.

The Muar district of Johor claims to make the best mee bandung in the state. In the old town of Muar (also known as Bandar Maharani), there are a few places that specializes in serving this noodle dish but our favourite has always been Mee Bandung Abu Bakar Hanipah at Jalan Abdullah, right in the middle of town. Last Sunday, we were in Tangkak to visit my brother-in-law. On the way back, we decided to make a detour into Muar town just for the fun of it... and of course, stop by for a plate of mee bandung.

En. Abu Bakar operates from a small stall within a Chinese coffee shop. I first visited this place back in the mid-80's and the taste of his mee bandung has remained the same, delicious as always. These days, he has two other branches in Muar, run by his son and daughter, but he still remains at the modest stall where it started. He has even expanded his business to sell his homemade bandung mix, neatly packed for storage in your fridge. With this paste, you can now make your own mee bandung at home by just adding the fresh ingredients and yet still maintain that authentic taste. It is a recipe handed down to him from his father since 1930.

En. Abu Bakar is a friendly old man. When he was not busy, he came to our table for a chat. We found out that the popular mee bandung muar stall near our home in JB is run by his nephew. That explains the very similar taste. At the end of our meal, I requested for photo shot with him and he willingly obliged. The wall of the kopitiam is adorned with pictures of celebrities and VIPs who have dropped by to savour his dish.

If you happen to be in Muar town in day time, try to look for Wah San Coffeeshop at Jalan Abdullah. Finding a parking space during weekdays can be quite a torture but the mee bandung is really worth it. And the coffee is quite good too.

Old shophouses along Jalan Abdullah
Wah San Kopitiam from the front
A nice teatime meal of mee bandung, satay and kopi muor
Celebrity pics on the wall. See if you can recognize any
The man himself flanked by the missus and yours truly

Thursday, 20 September 2012


It has been a while since we had an interlude...

Two men at the Pearly Gates

Two men waiting at the Pearly Gates strike up a conversation.

"How'd you die?" the first man asks the second.

"I froze to death," says the second.

"That's awful," says the first man. "How does it feel to freeze to death?"

"It's very uncomfortable at first," says the second man. "You get the shakes, and you get pains in all your fingers and toes. But eventually, it's a very calm way to go. You get numb and you kind of drift off, as if you're sleeping. How about you, how did you die?"

"I had a heart attack," says the first man. "You see, I knew my wife was cheating on me, so one day I showed up at home unexpectedly. I ran up to the bedroom, and found her alone, knitting. I rushed down to the basement, but no one was hiding there. I ran up to the second floor, but found no one there either. I went as fast as I could to the attic, and just as I got there, I had a massive heart attack and died."

The second man shakes his head. "That's so ironic," he says.

"What do you mean?" asks the first man.

"If you had only stopped to look in the freezer, we'd both be still alive."

Moral of the story : You don't want to die of a heart attack in your own house, so keep fit.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

A recipe book from the past... the Revival

I wrote about an old Malay recipe book called Medan Selera belonging to my eldest sister-in-law, in a post published on 18.03.11. In the last paragraph of that post, I mentioned that someone I know is involved in the re-publication of the book in modern form.

I am pleased to announce that I'm now the owner of the latest revision of the classic reference for Malay recipes from Johor, now re-named Nostalgia Medan Selera. Gone are those archaic measurement units such as kati and tahil, replaced with familiar metric units. The text for the method of cooking has also been presented in simple point or bullet format, plus the language has been modernised to suit the times. No more ketumbar : 5 chamcha besar or kunyit kering : 2 inchi panjang. To substitute for certain hard to get spices mentioned in the original book, the new edition offers alternatives more commonly found today. The new book also contains quality photographs of some dishes from selected recipes.

The update of the classic book was the effort from seven grandchildren of the original author, Haji Ahmad Bin Yaakub. It is now available through online order via the publisher's website at Shakespot Sdn Bhd. It costs RM130 including postage. A beautifully bound hard-cover edition that makes a valuable addition to any food enthusiast's collection.

135 recipes that include some Arabic and Westerns dishes too
Mee Siam, a classic Johor favourite served with fermented bean sauce

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Friends are forever (Part 2)

In May of last year, I wrote a post about this good friend of mine who took me flying above KL city in a Cessna plane. Captain Norhisham Kassim and I went to the same boarding school in Kuantan. After leaving school in 1979, we lost touch with each other for a quite some time.

Over the years, I did hear that he went to flying school to become a pilot and that he flew for MAS when he got his wings. Whenever I fly on the national carrier on business trips, I'll always listen carefully to the steward's announcement, with the hope that my old classmate would be in the pilot's seat. It never happened.

When I first got to know my wife, I found out that she comes from Mersing, the same hometown as Hisham. Upon getting married, I further found out that my wife's family is remotely related to Hisham's family. His brothers and my wife's brothers are close childhood friends. It was during the wedding of my brother-in-law's son some years ago that my contact with Hisham was re-established. While Hisham lives in Seremban and me in Johor Bahru, we do meet quite regularly in recent years, mostly for gatherings or reunions of our schoolmates from the batch of 1979.

Last weekend, Hisham held an Aidilfitri open house for his K79 friends at his home in Seremban 2. It was quite a sizeable turnout. A total of 35 former teenagers now already 50 years-old, made the gathering a lively and memorable occasion. While most of my friends came from around Klang valley, there were a few of us who came from much further away such as from Kangar, Perlis and Pekan, Pahang. From JB, five of us turned up including myself. That just shows how close the bond is between us.

Our thanks to Captain Norhisham and his wife for being gracious hosts and for putting up with the crazy antics of a bunch of old guys and gals who still think they are seventeen.

Brothers and sisters who grew up eating the same nasi kawah

Friday, 7 September 2012

Remembering the one who has gone before us

Around this time 14 years ago, my mother-in-law passed away. She had been staying with us for some time. She was not in the best of health at the time, having suffered a stroke that paralyzed one side of her body and made her speech incoherent. She was also surviving with the aid of a heart pacemaker, which at the time of her stroke, was already at the end of its service and due for replacement.

Despite all the setbacks, my mother-in-law took her situation with all the patience she could muster. She hardly whined or complained. Redha is the Malay word for it.

I still remember the last few days before she left us. I was working at a construction project in Negeri Sembilan at that time, but was at home in Johor Bahru for the Hari Merdeka holiday. That evening, my wife noted that her mother was in severe pain and asked me to take her to the nearby clinic. I helped my MIL into a wheelchair and pushed her to my car. We drove to the clinic located about 10 minutes away. Dr. Ismail whom we personally know, took one look at my MIL and immediately advised us to go to the hospital. We drove straight to Hospital Tun Aminah and my MIL was admitted.

After the admission process was done with, I had a feeling that this could be the time. I told my wife to call her father (who was living alone at the kampung house) and one of her elder brothers. This elder brother would then be tasked to inform the other siblings, most of whom were staying in the Klang valley.

The next day, my father-in-law arrived from Mersing. Some of my other in-laws also arrived on the same day and many relatives came on the next. But by that time, my MIL was no longer conscious. She passed away early morning on her third day in hospital. She is now buried at the At-Tahiriyyah muslim cemetery in Kg Sri Pantai, Mersing.

Every year during Aidilfitri, usually on the 2nd or 3rd day of hari raya, the family would gather at her grave to recite the surah Yaasin and pray to the Almighty to pardon her sins. Actually, this practice of gathering at the cemetery at Aidilfitri is not a religious command but rather a cultural one. Many Muslim scholars have debated on this issue but it is not my intention to elaborate about it in this post. I am not against it because it is perhaps the only one time of the year where most of the family members can gather at the same place. While the original intention is for us to remember the dead, I believe it also helps to foster closer relations among those still living.

On my own side of the family, this ritual is not practiced. My mother has never brought us visit her father's or mother's grave during our hari raya trips back to her kampung. But one of these days, I would like to bring her to visit my grandparents' resting place because I have fond memories of them, especially during those happy days of hari raya where we would spend at the old kampung house together with so many of our cousins.

I was wondering the other day, if my youngest son has any memory of his late grandmother, because he was only 3 years-old at the time. My wife says that he has... which sort of surprised me a bit at first, since I myself can't recall anything from that age. But I guess it is possible for my son because my MIL was living with us for a few years.

My late mother-in-law, Hajah Sapiah Bt. Mohamad, passed away on 3rd September 1998. On the same date this year, one of our nieces gave birth to a healthy baby girl. The new baby is the 20th great-grandchild in the family.

Prayers for our mother at this year's gathering

Friday, 31 August 2012

Sometimes it doesn't last...

I have been pondering for a while whether to post this, the reason being that it is not a happy story. There is always this reservation of possible regret, or being ashamed or causing embarrassment. As the Malay proverb goes, membuka pekung di dada.

But then life is not always about the rosy things that happen. It is not always a fairy tale. We have to take the bitter with the sweet. Langit tidak selalu cerah. Writing about it may not change anything but hopefully it will serve as a reminder to myself that things do go wrong sometimes, and that there is nothing that we can do about it. Except to learn and persevere.

In the past year and this one, two of my closest kin ended their respective marriages. By some twist of fate, it is the youngest sibling of each family, one from my side of the family while the other is from my wife's.

My youngest and only sister got married in January 2000. It was a very happy occasion. I played a lead role in the wedding arrangement, helping to plan the proceedings and even became the `ketua rombongan', a role traditionally held by my father. Things went nearly perfect and we received praises from guests and relatives who attended. It was a good training for me because in the near future, the experience would be useful when I plan for the weddings of my own children.

My sister's marriage lasted almost 12 years. She and her husband divorced some time last year. I had suspected that things were not going well for quite a while but I have never asked her on the details. It is not that I don't bother but I prefer that she comes to me voluntarily for advice. She chose not to.

She has never revealed to me the real reasons for the break-up except to offer the well-used reply of `we are not compatible any more'.

So who is to blame, if indeed there is a need to find fault? As it stands and based on my own assessment of the situation, I would not blame my former brother-in-law. In the years of being married to my sister, he has behaved in a very respectful manner. He speaks in a soft tone and gets along well with my sons and his other nephews and nieces.

I know it is hard not to side with my own kin but that's the way it is. Some things will never change... although we pray hard for them to. Subsequent to her separation, my sister's life has been going downhill. I helped her out of trouble on occasions but sadly she does not keep to her promise of changing for the better.

Am I disappointed? Yes, I am.

Do I love her any less? No, I don't. But my patience has its limit.

Ok then, now to the other sibling story. Two weeks ago, during the aidilfitri gathering on my wife's side of the family, we received news that my wife's youngest brother is now back to being single. The divorce actually occurred a few months earlier but my brother-in-law chose to keep most of his family in the dark. Needless to say, my wife (plus the other sisters) are very disappointed. But we will leave it at that, for now.

Selamat Hari Merdeka to all Malaysian friends and readers. May the Almighty grant us peace and patience in all the tough situations we face in our daily life.

Monday, 27 August 2012

If you have nothing better to do...

I have just discovered this amusing little website that allows you to create word clouds out of any passage of text that you have penned down yourself or copied from somewhere. It is called Wordle.

The output from the word jumble can be formatted to a number of preset layouts, fonts and colours. Enough variations to fit whatever is your mood or fancy.

The following is the result of a wordle run using the text from one of my earlier blog postings. Now, is that cool or what... or perhaps something utterly unproductive. Don't blame me if your boss catches you wasting time on this thing...

Update 28.08.12

Can't resist doing another one. Here's the result from my Pantun 4 Kerat post...

Friday, 17 August 2012

Aidilfitri greetings

In a news article on The Star Online yesterday, a retired teacher laments the dying tradition of sending and receiving Hari Raya greeting cards. En. Mohamed Yahaya of Penang, collects such cards over the years and to date has more than 300 pieces in his collection. This year he has received only two.

Well En. Mohamed, I have to admit that I am one of those who no longer sends Hari Raya greeting cards. I stopped doing so around 10 years ago when it became convenient to wish my friends via sms. Nowadays, we have even more options to convey our greetings by way of social networking websites.

At one time, I was an ardent card sender. I had a mailing list of around 30 to 40 names which I update annually. It was a nice way of keeping in touch with friends and business associates. A personalised message written on a greeting card gives that satisfactory feeling of closeness compared to a short text message on a mobile phone that is sent to many.

When I stopped sending cards using snail mail, the number of cards I received of course, started to dwindle as well. This year, the postman has delivered to me only two. One from a former colleague who has never stopped the practice while the other is from a former employer. Of the many companies that I have previously worked in, this particular one has never failed to keep in touch. It feels good to be remembered.

I take this opportunity to wish my friends and readers a wonderful Eid Mubarak. May the Almighty keep us all in good health. Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Going for gold

The 2012 edition of the Olympics in London has ended. Quite an exciting sporting event. I stayed glued to the TV to watch a few sports, some of which I never had any interest before. Looking back to 4 years ago, I can't recall any significant time I spent watching the Beijing games. This time around, I eagerly switched channels to view athletes perform their skills in archery, shooting, diving, weight-lifting, volleyball and of course, track & field.

Why the increase in interest this time? Maybe because London is a place I am familiar with... but the real reason must be that Astro had so many channels on offer.

I have never watched archery before. I never knew about the format of competition, the method of scoring or which nation was favourite to win. This time, I learned a bit about the sport by watching it on television. The main reason for my interest is because Malaysia participated in the event. We did not win anything in archery but I believe we are in the right direction. A bit more training and talent search, I think we can be in the top flight of this sport quite soon.

I remember a chat I had with a friend, a long long time ago, about the chances of Malaysia ever winning a medal at the Olympics. At that time, badminton was not yet an Olympic sport. We had a few good track & field athletes but they never stood a chance against the well-trained and physically superior Americans and Europeans. The well-known Olympic phrase of `not about the winning but the taking part' was starting to sound bland. My friend mentioned that if we can't match our opponents in terms of physique, then we should involve ourselves in other sports that rely more on skill rather than just pure strength. Sports like shooting and archery.

Over the years, we have seen more of our participation in such sports. The medals aren't coming in yet but if we keep at it, I'm pretty sure we will have a champion soon. Just look at the sport of diving. Pandelela's bronze medal is something to be proud of after many years of hard work. The sporting authorities should build on this success and make diving into a more popular sport. Hopefully we can have both male and female winners in diving at the next session in Rio.

With 2 medals (1 silver and 1 bronze), it is the best Olympics we have had. Malaysia ranks no.63 in the medal tally, not as good as some less-developed nations (Ethiopia or Mongolia) but still better than our richer neighbour. I watched the badminton singles final match and I think Lee Chong Wei did his best. I don't think he can do any better in 4-years time, so BAM should perhaps plan for another strategy. We sorely need a replacement for Chong Wei. In fact, we should also have a top-class doubles pair too so that we have more options in our search for that elusive Olympic gold...