Monday, 26 August 2013

Terengganu kita...

I really do have to apologise to some of my regular readers for not keeping to my word. In the previous post, I had promised to write in greater detail about my trip to Jordan. However, hectic time at work plus a number of days out due to ill-health caused this blog to be stagnant for nearly two months.

I will make good on that promise, God willing... but in the mean time, here's another short post while on the road. We are in Kuala Terengganu at the moment, the main intention being to source for that beautifully woven classic textile known as the `songket samping', used by Malay men as part of the complete attire of the traditional `baju Melayu'.

My present piece of samping is more than 15 years old. Nothing wrong with it; it still looks good. Not surprising, of course, since I only wear it maybe once a year, during Hari Raya Aidilfitri. I am one of those guys who tries his best to avoid attending formal functions.

This time though, I thought that a new piece of the hand-woven fabric is about due to be added to my wardrobe... because a special occasion is coming up soon. But is it really necessary for me to drive all the way up to Terengganu just to buy the cloth? Of course not. I could have purchased songket in Johor Bahru or Kuala Lumpur, albeit at slightly higher prices. On pure economic terms, it is more costly for me to travel to the east-coast for this objective alone but having worked and lived in this state before, any small reason is good enough for me to find the time to come here.

Indeed, with this multiple objective in mind, after completing the shopping I set about to look for a person and fellow blogger whom I have admired and respected for some time through the reading of his blog entries. Pakcik Hassan of the Al-Manar blog, is a personality who I have previously only interacted with in blogosphere. He comments regularly in this blog of mine and I visit his blog quite often too, although I must admit I do not comment as much... and this is simply because I am almost always in awe of what he wrote and can't seem to think of anything better to add. Drop by his blog at the link highlighted above (or on the blogroll on the left) and you'll probably understand what I mean.

I did not announce to Pakcik Hassan that I was coming. I do not exactly know where his house is located. I do not have his telephone number. I wasn't even sure he would be at home. In my typical style of just trying my luck, I set forth.

Based on his blog postings, I remember the mention of an orphanage located not far from where he lives. I also remember him writing about his house by the sea. Googling the name of the orphanage gave me the location of Batu Rakit, somewhere north of KT town. Another search on Google maps showed me a kampung road running parallel to the coast. That must be it, I thought.

Batu Rakit is located about 20km from Kuala Terengganu but in the heavy after-office traffic, it took me more than 30 minutes to reach. I discovered the orphanage easily enough and after doubling back on the same road, I came upon a house that looks most likely to be that belonging to a distinguished gentleman.

It was very quiet on the outside. I rang the doorbell on the left pillar of the sliding gate. After a few minutes, the front door opens and a senior citizen steps out. I give my salam, `Assalamualaikum Pakcik!' which the old man promptly reply.

By the will of Allah, two strangers who crossed paths in the virtual world have now met in real life. Pakcik graciously invited me and my family into his house and what transpired afterwards was an enlightening conversation with a very kind man that I'll treasure for a long time.

To Pakcik Hassan, again I wish to apologise for dropping by on you unannounced. Thank you so much for indulging us. May the Almighty grant us the time to meet again some time...

The primary objective of the trip to Terengganu
The secondary objective also successful. Pakcik Hassan and me.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Week long travel to some places of history

We have just returned from a week long holiday trip to the middle east. I was surprised to arrive home to hazy weather. The places that we went to in Arabia were hot and dusty... but not half as bad as what South-east Asia is suffering at the moment.

There's plenty to write about and many more photos to share but I'll start with just the one. This is a picture taken at a place called Wadi Rum in south Jordan. A really spectacular desert and rocky mountain landscape. As to it's link to history, I'll give a brief write-up on that in a later post. There's still tons of unpacking to do plus sifting through the hundreds of snapshots that were taken. Hope to have that whole travel experience in a full-length blog post very soon....

A view into the sunset

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The last of the brood has flown the nest

As the cycle of day and night turn into months and years, the passage of time brings us closer towards the sunset period of our lives. A sure sign of this ageing process is when our offspring grow up to be as tall or even taller than we are, ask to drive our car because they already have driving licences and no longer feel comfortable accompanying us to social events like weddings and the like. And when they enrol into college and have to live on campus, you'll soon have to adapt to the quiet life where you wouldn't have anyone left to ask to do errands any more.

Our youngest son has left home to study at UiTM in Pulau Pinang. Two weeks ago, we sent him to register for the diploma course in mechanical engineering. It was our third trip to Pulau Pinang this year.

In the blink of an eye, the missus and I are back to being a sweet couple... a sweet old couple. It doesn't feel that long ago when we were busy handling 3 energetic boys through various changes and challenges. Now that they have all grown up, perhaps it is time for us to focus on other things and think of the days to come. I was thinking of doing more travel and possibly getting involved in some social work. And catch up on reading and writing too...

Our youngest son, Imran cutting his 18th birthday cake in January this year
Scanned photo from year 2000 with the youngest man in the middle
We took the ferry from the island to the UiTM campus at Permatang Pauh

Friday, 31 May 2013

Another meeting with the Wolf

When I went to the Big Bad Wolf book sales at the Mines Convention Centre in Sri Kembangan in early March, I came out with a haul of 14 books (see story here -> Buku Lima). In the almost 3 months period since then, I have finished reading five books and am now starting on the sixth. That's an average of 2 a month, just about right I guess.

The Wolf is presently in Johor Bahru. Even though I have another 8 novels still to devour from my earlier scoop, I can't help myself from searching for more. I dropped by Danga City Mall last night to browse amongst the hundreds of stacks of publications being sold at unbelievably cheap prices. This time around, I came back with a slightly modest haul... just 9. Two are coffee-table hard covers, one non-fiction book about language, a manual on digital photography and five fiction novels. Of the fiction collection, four of the authors are my first-time reads.

I hope this reading binge won't affect blogging too much...

Now let's see how long I'll take to read through all of this
The Big Bad Wolf book sale is on at Danga City Mall in Johor Bahru until 2 June 2013.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Weekend at the betel palm island

The betel palm's correct name is actually the areca palm. In Malay it is called pokok pinang. It is often called the betel tree because the plant produces a fruit, the areca nut, that is often chewed along with the betel leaf. The betel plant is a type of vine whose leaves are thought to have medicinal properties. In Malay it is known as daun sireh.

Not many people that I know of, chew betel leaves nowadays. My late maternal grandmother was one of them. I must've been around five or six-years old when I first watched her go through the ritual of this amazing habit. She had this small brass basket that held four tiny cups with covers plus a small shear-like implement called a kacip. The kacip is used to cut the areca nut (pinang) into small strips and also to shave off some slices of gambier. She would take a clean betel leaf, dip her finger into a can containing lime-chalk (kapur), and smear the chalk onto the surface of the leaf. She then sprinkles some pinang and gambier onto the leaf, fold it up maybe three or four times before popping the thing into her mouth and start chewing happily. Sometimes tobacco is added into the mix but I'm not entirely sure. After a few minutes of blissful chewing, she would work out a glob of grossly-coloured saliva which she spits into this special container with careless ease... a remarkable woman, my late grandmother. May the Almighty bless her soul.

Anyway, this post is about our trip to the island named after the areca palm, Pulau Pinang. Apart from lending its name to an island, the pinang fruit also feature in a well-known Malay proverb, `Bagai pinang dibelah dua', a metaphor used to describe a very nice, if not perfect, match of two persons. The phrase is commonly used as a polite compliment to a newly-wed couple at their wedding ceremony.

Pinang, as a word on its own, also carries the meaning of seeking the hand of someone's daughter for marriage. And I guess this ties in nicely with the objective of our travel to Penang in the first place.

Two weeks ago, we traveled north for the engagement ceremony of our eldest son to a sweet young lass from Balik Pulau. The formal pinangan process had actually been carried out three months ago and was hinted in an earlier post here -> A taste of nasi lemuni in Pulau Pinang.

It was a very small representation from our side because both parties agreed to make it a simple and brief affair. Alhamdulillah, things went smoothly and we hope the wedding, planned for September this year, would be without any hitches as well, insyaAllah.

Tepak sireh, the traditional symbol of gift in Malay engagements and weddings
The engagement ring and tanda hantaran (folded RM notes)
A simple assortment of gifts from our side
The future mother-in-law slipping on the ring on the future daughter-in-law's finger

Monday, 6 May 2013

The case for fence-sitters

I wrote the following piece as a short article for my Facebook page on the eve of our 13th General Election. This morning, we all know of the final outcome of that event. The ruling political alliance Barisan Nasional have been returned to power, albeit with a poorer performance than their last outing in 2008. The opposition alliance of Pakatan Rakyat did not succeed in their attempt to become the new government.

Both parties are obviously now analysing their results; one is trying to understand why it didn't do so well while the other is perhaps wondering if it had done enough. This is where I think what I wrote earlier would still apply.

The case for fence-sitters

It is polling day tomorrow 05.05.13. I guess most of us by now are sick of the political campaigns and have already made up our minds on who we are voting for. This short piece of writing would therefore probably be my last mention on the subject of our 13th General Election.

Many years ago, I was in a discussion with a former boss of mine about some technical issue at work. He was putting forth an argument about something to which I already agree, but he wanted to say it out anyway.`I know I’m preaching to the converted,’ he told me, `but I like to see you agreeing to it all the same.’

It was the first time I heard the phrase, but preaching to the converted is what most of the politicians are doing, or so it seems to me. You get the feel-good vibes but you do not score too many new points. It is the fence-sitters that you need to swing your way.

A typical trait of the fence-sitter is that he/she does not favour one party… but then the other side doesn’t look too appealing either. So for this rare piece of political opinion, I’d like to touch on the particular angle of why a person would dislike a party. No point talking about the `likes’… there are too many, whichever side we choose, and the reasons are obvious anyway.

It is also not difficult to zoom in on the issues that cause us to dislike (some would say `hate’ is a better word) a political party. From the various FB status updates and subsequent comments that I read on my friends wall from both sides of the divide, I have picked some for objective discussion. They are in no particular order of importance.

The anti-PR crowd

1. Voting for DAP would spell doom for the Malays. DAP is a Chinese racist party. The Chinese can’t be trusted. Once they are in power, the Malays will lose their privileges. Worse still, Islam may cease to be the country’s official religion.

2. PAS will implement Hudud law once they are in power. We will no longer have any entertainment shows. The casino at Genting and all 4-D shops will have to close. The country will be governed by a select group called the syura council. We will descend into a Taliban-like era. Investors will run away.

3. The Pakatan Rakyat alliance won’t last. The component parties don’t have a common ideology. PAS is fighting for Islam. DAP is fighting for racial equality. PKR’s struggles are only for Anwar Ibrahim. They only band together now because of a common enemy. Once in power, they’ll be fighting amongst themselves. The country would be in chaos. There would be no stability.

Of course there are many more issues raised by the opponents of Pakatan Rakyat but the above sample should suffice. Let’s now play the devil’s advocate and think for a bit on why such issues are of concern.

The reasons : 

1. In the minds of many Malays, especially the rural folk, DAP is still a Chinese party, even though they have been trying their best to project themselves as multi-racial. There are still sections of the Malay population who do not trust the Chinese, for whatever reasons. Bitter pill to swallow but still a fact.

2. The spectre of religious extremism is not lost to certain sections of the Chinese populace. PAS has never dropped their ambition of implementing an Islamic state and the actions of some of their members do not portray the image of moderation. Their youth wing have been active in raising protests when overseas entertainers come to hold performances in Malaysia. While PAS is now advocating the welfare state approach, their efforts have yet to convince many non-Muslim citizens.

3. It is not difficult to see that the common objective of the PR alliance is to remove the present government. Once that objective is achieved, many people doubt that the cooperation would last. Of course, PR says that this is untested as they have never been in government before. Try them out for one term, they say, only 5 years… but then there are still many people not willing to take that gamble.

Okay then, let’s jump to the other side of the fence and see some of the views from there…

The anti-BN crowd

1. Barisan Nasional is a corrupt party that is wasting millions of ringgit of public money. They enrich only their cronies and even allow Ministers to use public funds for personal gains. They control the law enforcement agencies and practice selective prosecution. They catch the small fry but let the big sharks get away. They use government facilities for the party campaign process. They control the newspapers and television and say only bad things about the opposition.

2. The Chinese component party MCA is ridiculing Islam but UMNO as the dominant member is not doing anything about it. UMNO is allowing the official religion to be disrespected by its own ally. The BN as a whole, practices politics along racial lines.

3. PM Najib Razak is not a firm leader and is not in full control of his party. He still fears the influence of former premier Tun Mahathir. The Tun has done more than enough damage during his 22 years in power. How can Najib transform the country if old hands still pull the strings in the background?

The reasons :

1. The handling of certain scandals involving Ministers and well-known personalities connected to BN have not been forthright and conclusive. The NFC fiasco was actually first highlighted by the Auditor-General before being pounced upon by PKR. Funds for a project that was meant to increase livestock meat production, were utilised for purchase of luxury properties. Yet the PM can let it slip by. He should have been firm and taken action against Shahrizat. What he only did was let her senatorship run the full term and not renew it. Pretty lame. Even worse, TPM Muhyiddin, who was Agriculture Minister at the time the project was first approved, hardly offered any explanation. For the even bigger PKFZ scandal, 2 former ministers from MCA are facing separate court charges but their trials are exceedingly slow to the extent that they might as well be on holiday. And what about the money spent to rescue Perwaja, which in the end, failed anyway? Don’t even think of asking about Bank Bumiputera.

2. UMNO cannot claim to be the protector of the religion of Islam while ignoring the deplorable way MCA is criticising Hudud. The MCA President has been making this attack on Hudud law as his primary tactic because he is out of ideas. His party is about to become insignificant just like Gerakan. UMNO can even allow MCA to carry full-page newspaper adverts attacking Islam. Shameful.

3. Najib is still beholden to Tun M for manouvering him into the PM position by kicking out Pak Lah. So when Tun M says put the Perkasa leaders as candidates, Najib tries to compromise by just putting Zul Noordin in Shah Alam. Tun M not happy. Che Johan Che Pa mysteriously withdrew from being the nominated BN candidate at Pasir Mas, thus allowing Perkasa supremo Ibrahim Ali to take on a one-on-one fight with Nik Abduh of PAS. Najib tak terkata apa. The old man still wields a lot of power. But the PR leaders and many followers hate the Tun more than Najib himself. Try ask Anwar, Karpal, Kit Siang and Nik Aziz. Many people believe that Mahathir was the one responsible in introducing money-politics within his own party… a disease UMNO leaders, at each annual perhimpunan agung, say they are trying hard to cure. Yeah… right.

So there you have it, a sampling of reasons why people from one side dislike the leaders from the other. For sure, you’ll have many other reasons of your own.

If I'm a politician looking hard to win a seat in parliament, I would focus on trying to address those concerns among the undecided folks known as fence-sitters. They are the ones who would most probably tip things in my favour… especially in a very tightly fought contest such as the one this time. But hey, who am I to to give such advice?

To all friends and unknown enemies, Selamat Mengundi. Jalankan tanggungjawab anda kepada negara.

Barely a full day has yet to pass and I'm already reading in today's Facebook, various opinions and comments on why the results turned out the way it did. These include some nasty and insensible remarks; one party claiming the other has cheated while the other chiding the other for being sore losers who plan to take the issue to the streets in protest. Not to mention quite a few with obvious racial insults. It surprises me sometimes that such remarks come from my friends who, at other periods of the year, are actually nice people.

As I have previously written elsewhere, I am a firm believer that each individual has a right to hold onto his own opinion and express it in any way he wishes. It is the way that opinion is expressed which gives us the judgement of character.

Anyway, I am also quite pleased to read a few very well-written analyses from people of moderation. It gives hope that our country can still be heading in the right direction for a better future.

I share this quote from the writer Amir Muhammad : `That the losers can't accept losing is normal. What's new is that the winners know they didn't really win.'

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Buku lima

Some time in early March last month, I managed to drop by the Big Bad Wolf book sale at the Mines Convention Centre in Serdang. Although I have heard of this spectacular book sale before, it was my first time visiting the event. As I stepped into the convention hall, I became awestruck... I thought I had reached book heaven. Klang Valley folks are so lucky. If such a fair is held in Johor Bahru, I'd be a regular customer for sure.

I caught the BBW book fair on the very last day of the extended sale period and even that was at late evening after settling the work stuff at my KL head office. If not for the need to drive back to JB, I could have stayed right up to closing time. There were simply tons of books that I wanted to browse through. Anyway, I made full use of whatever short time I had to return with a haul of 14 books. At a mere RM5 per copy, the total purchase cost me only RM70, which is about the normal price I'd have to pay for 2 brand-new novels. It was a mix of works from new authors (new in this sense, meaning that I'm reading them for the first time) plus some writers whom I'm already familiar with. Three of the fourteen are non-fiction.

The full list of my selection is as follows :

1. Boris Akunin - Turkish Gambit
2. Mitch Albom - For One More Day
3. Bill Bryson - The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
4. Harlan Coben - Long Lost
5. Michael Crichton - Pirate Latitudes
6. Alan Furst - The Foreign Correspondent
7. James Hamilton-Patterson - Empire of the Clouds
8. John Le Carre - The Constant Gardener
9. John Le Carre - The Mission Song
10. Elmore Leonard - Up in Honey's Room
11. Sue Miller - Lost In The Forest
12. Christopher Priest - The Dream Archipelago
13. Colin Tudge - The Link
14. John Wood - Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

This particular stack should cover my reading appetite for next 6 months
From the pile, I chose to start with Bryson. Having read three of his books before, I was pretty confident this work would not disappoint. Indeed, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a biographical account of life in the US in the 60's, is very hilarious.

I am presently digesting the second pick, a first-time read of Alan Furst who's fiction novel titled The Foreign Correspondent, is a spy/mystery thriller set in Europe before the start of World War II. Readers of this blog can now sort of guess why my postings have been a bit sparse of late.

Okay then... what has the title of this post got to do with a collection of books I got at a bargain?

`Buku Lima' is a Malay idiom that does not translate to mean `five books' (but if we really want to apply the direct translation rule, it could actually mean the `fifth book' or `book no.5', as in a specific book from a series of books... but then I digress). The phrase denotes a clenched fist and by extension, if displayed in a provocative manner, would mean a threat or an invitation to physically punch it out. Buku lima is also the name given to the hand-held weapon known in English as brass knuckles. Bizzare, isn't it?

But hey... I don't want to be scaring off my readers with unnecessary aggression. It's just to let you know April 2013 marks the 5th year this blog has been in circulation. Thanks to all for the company...

Sunday, 31 March 2013

When things don't go your way, think of the times when they do

Life indeed, has its ups and downs. Sometimes we are lucky while at other times we are not. Nobody goes through life in a flat line; it would be such a boring experience if there is such a life.

For some of us who have gone through very tough times and faced many problems, it would seem that the downhill stretch of our life journey is always longer than the uphill part. Personally, I do not believe it to be so. We only remember the downward journey because of the suffering. We tend to forget the upward movement because we enjoy the nice view too much and forget the blessings that come with it. It is therefore worthwhile for us to appreciate that the good times which come our way more than sufficiently compensate the bad ones. To illustrate this point, I relate to you the following story which comes in two parts.

Some time in the middle of February, my wife called me while I was at work. She said that a motorcyclist had crashed into the front of her car on the very road in front of our house. The biker was coming from the opposite direction at very fast speed and apparently was not looking straight ahead. The lane in front of my house is not that wide and the passage is made narrower by cars parked along the side. The collision could not be avoided.

The young man who rode the motorcycle was flung off his bike but luckily for him, no serious injuries were sustained. My wife's car suffered quite a bit of damage; the right headlight and signal light were totally smashed, the hood and side panel were badly dented. To make matters worse, the biker has no valid license and it is quite doubtful if he had the required road tax and insurance cover too. To avoid a formal police report being made, he offered to pay for the damage to my wife's car. But he does not have any cash on him, so he told the story that he has a sister who would come later in the day after work, with some money as initial payment. The balance would be paid at the end of the month when he gets his salary. As a measure of his sincerity, he left his identity card for my wife to hold on to. Being the kind-hearted soul that she is, my wife accepted the proposal. Besides, there wasn't much else she could do; the guy was broke.

When I got home from work and had a look at the car, I estimated that repair works would cost in excess of RM500. While we waited for this so-called sister of the biker to show up, I had a look at the IC that was left behind. It shows an address within the same kampung but my wife said she actually went to the street mentioned in the IC but nobody in the area knows the man. That was when we had a feeling that we've been duped. The so-called sister never showed up. I called the phone number that supposedly belongs to the sister but the call was not answered.

The next day, I told my wife to proceed with making a police report. The guy has already disappeared and it became clear that we have to bear the full cost of the repair. I considered a few options on how I can try to go after the biker but in the end I decided just to let the matter go and swallow the loss.

The damage to my wife's Proton Wira
So that's the first part of this story which touches on misfortune. Now to the next part.

About two weeks after the incident mentioned above, I was on my way to Kuala Lumpur to attend a meeting at my Head Office. It was Sunday evening and I was driving alone on the North-South Expressway. As I reached Senawang, the traffic became heavy and all 3 lanes of the highway slowed down to a stop-go movement. It was a real struggle to be stuck in such a jam especially since I was driving a 4-wheel drive pickup with manual transmission.

The slow crawl took me past Seremban interchange when the unfortunate happened. During one of the stop-go cycles, I had a lapse in concentration and did not brake in time when the car in front had stopped. I hit into the back of this car which in turn caused it to jerk forward and hit the car in front of it. As I stepped out of my car to survey the damage, I realised that I had run into a Beemer. Crap, I thought... the repair to this car is going to be expensive. Since it was my fault, I'd better be prepared to cough out a sizeable sum.

The driver of the Beemer got out. He was a young man probably in his late 20's. I saw the initial disappointed look on his face and so quickly admitted my fault and said sorry. He then went to inspect the car that he had hit. The driver of this car, another young man, also got out and the three of us we looking at the damage to the rear bumper. There was a slight dent and some scratches. The two young men then had a quite discussion with each other, after which I saw the driver that I hit took out his wallet, gave some money to the driver of the front-most car who took it and drove away.

We then had a look at his car. There were some dents to both the front and rear bumpers. I asked him how much he needed but he politely declined. When I insisted on paying something, he said to pay whatever I can afford. I took some RM notes from my wallet which I'm sure is not enough to cover his cost but he took the money without question. I offered him my phone number just in case he needed more after the repairs were done but he simply said, it's okay, no need. He got into his car and we both resumed out journey. It was all over in a matter of minutes. No fuss and no aggravation. I didn't even have time to take note of his license plate number.

As I drove away from the incident, I couldn't help but be thankful that it turned out all right. I'm left thinking that the young man's parents had brought him up well. He's obviously rich but never once did he show any arrogance. And I'm not implying that rich people are. To the young man who drives a dark blue BMW 3-series whom I accidentally ran into on the NSE somewhere near Seremban, thank you for your kindness. Your parents must be proud of you and may Allah swt bless you.

And so my friends, when things don't go your way, do take a step back and think of the times when they do...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Wedding weekend

We were in the Klang Valley this weekend since late Thursday night, primarily to send our eldest son who's flying back to Jordan on Friday morning after spending a few weeks of his term break back home in Malaysia. He is now completing his final semester at university and God willing, should graduate in the middle of this year.

How time flies... it seems just like a few years ago that we sent him to the airport for his first flight overseas.

Anyway, it was an opportune occasion that blogger-friend, Puteri Kamaliah invited me for her daughter's wedding at Taman Tun Dr Ismail yesterday 23 February 2013. Kak Kama had previously invited me for the wedding of her elder daughter two years ago but I missed going to that one because something cropped up at the last minute. This time around, the timing was just nice and so I made the effort to be there.

Until yesterday, I have never met Kak Kama in person before. We have been friends in cyberspace via the blogger network and Facebook for a number of years. I can't quite remember when she first commented in this blog but she wrote that she came by Just Observations by way of Kak Teh's blog. From that first comment, I directed her to read an old post of mine about Dungun town in Trengganu (because that's her hometown). From then on I guess, our online friendship developed.

I have previously written about my wish to be connected to my blogger-friends and regular readers in real life, and how in 2011, I have met six. Kak Kama was the first commenter in that post, mentioning that she and I have yet to meet. Alhamdulillah yesterday our wishes were fulfilled.

The wedding reception of Najiah Najib and her husband, Izhar Shazly was held by the poolside of the Sri TTDI Condo. It was a joyous occasion and the weather just held out nicely until the event was over.

Kak Kama has now successfully gone through the marriage ceremonies of her daughters. She now has to weave the same magic to get her two sons to follow the same steps...

Best wishes to the groom and bride for a happy life ahead

Sunday, 17 February 2013

A matter of opinion

It's really not that hard to write a review of something... a book, a movie, music, restaurants or anything else. Just put down a few lines of your thoughts on the book you've just read or the restaurant you had dined in and walla... you are a reviewer.

It's writing an objective, balanced and informative review that is hard, unless of course, you don't particularly care what your readers think of your opinion... but then that defeats the purpose of writing in the first place.

Regular readers would know that I have done quite a number of reviews in this blog, mostly on food and food outlets, some reviews on books and one or two on movies. Food reviews are my favourite because I can combine my interests in photography and eating out in one go. I have a very simple grading system when it comes to decide if a particular restaurant or food stall is worth writing about. I just base it on the answer to a question I'd ask myself : Would I come back again to eat at this place? A `yes' would mean that it was a good place (and worth writing about). A `maybe' would mean an average score but possibly still worth writing about. A `no' is something I need not explain.

However, in the more than 20 food outlets I have written about over the past 4 years, none of them fall in the `no' category. This is simply because I have made a rule of not to write on something that does not meet my taste or preference. One man's meat is another man's veggie... and when it comes to food, the variety of opinions is as many as there are colours in a rainbow. I do not eat petai, so I shall not pass judgement if someone says that sambal petai is the best thing there is. I may say that mutton briyani is the best rice dish ever but I should also accept if someone else gives his vote to sushi. Sometimes I cannot understand how certain restaurants come highly recommended but I find the taste of their food to be only so-so. But that's just the way it is with food.

I am writing on this subject of food review because in the past week or so, there was an active discussion about a particular food outlet in my current favourite Facebook page called Johor Sedap. This foodstall sells seafood dinners and had been getting rave reviews from members since a few months back. Some time in December last year I went to the place to check it out. I left with mixed feelings... the food was just okay but it was not as cheap as what some members wrote. To put it simply, I do not concur with the very high ratings that previous reviews had given but I kept my views to myself.

In the weeks that followed, I spotted the first negative review. This was followed by a few more, mostly to do with very slow service. The discussion became quite heated when those who previously recommended the place said that the negative reviewer was simply unlucky to come at a busy time. This prompted other members who had similar experience of poor service to give their views.

Apparently, the stall is a victim of its own success. With the initial good recommendations, people start to come and this resulted in good business and more recommendations. But the increase in customers was not matched by an increase in staff, hence the drop in service quality. And once you have dissatisfied customers, it becomes quite difficult to win them back. Publicity in social network pages can be a double-edged sword.

Anyway, the owner of that particular foodstall is also a member of the group and has taken note of the criticisms. He has promised to improve things and I wish him success. It is good to see the discussions have resulted in a positive response.

I'll end this post with a recommendation of my own. For a few years now, the only place in JB to get a taste of decent kacang pool is at Haji Kacang Pool in Larkin. I have recently found another restaurant that sells tasty kacang pool that can rival HKP's version. The place is called Rose Kopitiam and is located at the Larkin Idaman area near the football stadium.

Kacang pool at Rose Kopitiam in JB. RM4.50 per serving.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

A taste of Nasi Lemuni in Pulau Pinang

We are in the bright sunny island of Penang this weekend to attend to some family matters, details of which would be revealed soon in this blog, God willing.

I have always loved coming to Penang... the prime reason being that there is no shortage of good makan places. My last trip here was in early 2010. This time we made the compulsory stop at Din Ikan Bakar in Kepala Batas. In addition to that, I got to locate and finally taste nasi lemuni, a rice dish similar to nasi lemak but cooked with leaves from the lemuni tree to give it a green tint and a hint of herbal taste.

I was first told of this dish by a friend who had stayed in Penang for some years. Knowing my interest in exploring new tastes, she told of a particular stall located within a foodcourt in Bukit Jambul. Finally had the chance to try it out...

Our selection at Din's - Ikan siakap, ikan keli and daging bakar
You can be spoilt for choice
Look at the size of those prawns
Nasi lemuni breakfast... only found in Penang

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Best wishes... all around

It has been a really packed weekend. Three weddings and one birthday. So my best wishes go to 4 persons in the past 2 days...

1. Selamat Pengantin Baru to my lovely niece, Noraliah Nawawi who tied the knot with a handsome gentleman from Selangor, Joreme Othman, yesterday 26 January 2013. Aliah is the eldest child of my brother-in-law Nawawi Mohd Amin and his wife Noraini Uteh. The wedding reception was held at Rawang, Selangor.

Joe and Aliah... semuga hidup bahagia dan berkekalan, insyaAllah
My previous reference to my niece in a blog post -> Faster than CNN

2. Selamat Terima Menantu to my good friend, Mohd Tahir Hamdan, whose eldest son's wedding reception was held earlier today in Johor Bahru. Tahir and I worked together in the same department at my very first workplace.

Old pals
My previous reference to my friend Md Tahir in a blog post -> No silver lining in the dark clouds over Perak

3. The same wish of Selamat Terima Menantu to another good friend, Prof Shahrin Mohamad, whose eldest son also got married today. The reception was held at UTM Johor Bahru. Shahrin is a former classmate from my MRSM Kuantan days. We also did our A-levels at the same college in Wrexham, North Wales.

Another old pal
4. Happy Birthday to our youngest boy, Imran Azizi. He is 18 years old today and just completed his SPM exams last year. Now taking on a part-time job to fill up his time.

No longer a child... but still our baby
So there you have it... weddings of three children who are anak sulong, and the birthday of one who is anak bongsu. May the Almighty grant his blessings to them all. Isn't life wonderful?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Re-visiting the past

Some time back, I saw a link on Facebook posted by a friend, displaying a quote which goes like this : No matter how much you re-visit the past... there's nothing new to see.

I do understand the underlying message of the statement but I do not entirely agree with it. I like re-visiting the past... because sometimes you miss seeing things the first time around. And when we discover things in our second or third or even fourth review, our perspective of the subject may change or we may realise that we have learnt something new. Or perhaps rekindle warm recollections of an event long stored in the depths of our memory. Which is why I like to re-read books I finished reading many years earlier, or watch DVD of movies I have already seen on the big screen, or dig up the archives of old blog posts.

Having finished digesting through the stock of new books I bought late last year, I decided to read some of the old novels in my collection. I am presently re-reading The Veteran by Frederick Forsyth, a book I bought in 2002. It is not quite a novel but a compilation of 5 separate stories or novella. The first novella in the book, which also lends its title for the whole collection, tells the story of the fatal mugging of a senior citizen somewhere in the north-east district of London and how a prominent lawyer intervened to get the criminals off the hook.

Although I had read the story 10 years ago, this second reading is no less exciting, even though I know of the twist at the end of the tale (as there is, in almost all of Forsyth's writing). This time around, I was caught by an interesting passage that made reference to the battle of Mirbat in the country of Oman. Surprised me a bit that I had not done follow-up reading of this event in the first instance.

The Battle of Mirbat is an actual historical episode that Forsyth had cleverly weaved into his fictional story. In 1972, the British government sent a small group of army personnel from their Special Air Service (SAS) to train Omani soldiers to help quell a communist-assisted rebellion in the southern region of Dhofar. The SAS team was based in the small fishing port of Mirbat, near Salalah. On 19 July of that year, the SAS training base was attacked by 200 to 300 local guerrillas. The story goes on to relate how the nine (9) SAS men rallied the aid of 30 to 40 Omani soldiers, gendarmes and militia, to fight and stave off the rebels until the arrival of air support. It is a story of sheer bravery to fight on even though hugely outnumbered.

I have been to Oman before but on short trips related to work rather than a holiday... which is a bit disappointing because it really is an interesting country with friendly people. It was also where I had my first taste of lamb mandey, that very delicious arabic rice dish that is becoming famous here in Malaysia. Hopefully, I get the chance to visit Oman again someday...

Sohar Fort, on the north-eastern coast of Oman
An Omani fisherman prays on the beach, just soon after he had landed his catch

Saturday, 19 January 2013

When the chips are down

Last week I had dinner with two friends whom I have not met in years. Both of them are architects and both previously studied at MRSM Seremban. But I first met them separately at different times during my student years in UK. The first friend, who is now based in KL, was my college-mate during A-levels at Wrexham while the second one, who in now in JB, I met while at Sheffield.

We had dinner at the mee rebus tulang restaurant at Damansara Aliff in Tampoi. The dinner was actually the secondary event... we spent most of the evening catching up on news and developments of each other. Both of my architect friends are going through a rough patch in their professional careers and sharing of stories sort of help lift some of the gloom and perhaps spread some moral support, however little that may be.

Slightly more than a year ago, I read the story about a multi-storey carpark built by the Penang Development Corporation that had to be demolished because of so-called improper design. The news article mentioned that PDC would take civil action against the building's original architect, including reporting him to the Board of Architects. That particular architect is the friend from Wrexham days.

When I first read the newspaper report, I did not believe my friend could have made such a basic mistake as under-designing the space requirement for each parking lot. There must be more to it. Indeed there was... and during dinner that night, I got to hear his side of the story.

My friend told me that he had been made a scapegoat by certain people in power. The incident was one of the lowest points in his life. It wasn't enough that they fired him. They even wanted to ask the Board to withdraw his license to practice. But my friend wasn't going down without a fight. He had kept all the necessary documents to prove his innocence. To date, his case is still under negotiations, so I am not able to share more of what was told to me. My friend would just like to see a quick settlement because he wishes to move on.

The sad part of the whole episode, my friend said, was that during the most critical of situations, the friends whom he had previously helped out, turned their backs on him. You learn who your true friends are when you are in deep trouble.

As for my second architect friend, he told us the story of how he was doing quite well a few years ago. His firm had a few reasonably-sized projects in hand and had minimal debts. The situation made a u-turn when, unknown to him, his partner spent the firm's profits on personal interests. Since the expenses were made under the firm's name, my friend became jointly responsible. To avoid being declared a bankrupt, my friend has been scraping funds for the last few years to make monthly payments to creditors.

Listening to the stories of both these friends had me count my own blessings. I have been through tough financial situations myself but they are nowhere near the emotional stress that my friends are facing now. I may not be able to offer any monetary help but I hope the time spent in re-living our friendships would somewhat help ease some of the pain...

Friday, 4 January 2013

The previous year food adventure in pictures

Let's start the first post of the new year with a collection of photos taken during my makan-makan adventure throughout 2012. Some of the pics have appeared previously while some were taken from my FB album, so please excuse the repetition.

It is slightly different from the pictorial series I did in 2010 and 2011, which was what I had initially intended for this year as well... but when I browsed through my picture library, I decided that a series of delectable food pics would probably make an interesting entry. So the following are my selection...

Lamb Kabsah. Banafee Village, Jln Abdullah Tahir JB - Jan 2012
Lamb mandey. Wadi El Arab Restaurant, Majidee JB - Jan 2012
Crab in salted eggs. Permata Senibong, JB - Feb 2012
Tropika Steamboat & Grill. Setia Tropika, JB - Feb 2012
Grilled lemon chicken. Aunty Aini's, Nilai - Feb 2012
Mayami burger. Planetz Burger roadside stall, Taman Munsyi JB - May 2012
Nasi dagang. Stall at Mersing Kanan, Mersing - June 2012
Mee bandung udang special. Stall next to Sg Rambah, Pontian - Aug 2012
Mee bandung, satay and coffee. Wah San Kopitiam, Muar - Sep 2012
Rice and chicken kebab. Del's Kitchen, Tmn Pelangi JB - Nov 2012
D' Chagar Steamboat & Grill. Tmn Molek, JB - Nov 2012
Nasi padang JJ. Tmn Johor Jaya, JB - Nov 2012
Briyani hyderabad. Kempas, JB - Dec 2012
Grilled prawns. Din's BBQ Station, Nusa Bestari, JB - Dec 2012
Mee udang black pepper. Roadside stall at Kg Tiram Duku, Gelang Patah, JB - Dec 2012
Char Kuey Teow. Jalan Rawa Tmn Perling, JB - Dec 2012
Update 09.01.13 : I've gone to Tropika Steamboat & Grill (the 4th pic above) twice since my last visit but they were not open. I think they may have `closed shop'.