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