Saturday, 31 December 2016

It's the end of the year...

Events that happened in this month of December 2016 :

1. The Sultan of Kelantan, Sultan Muhammad V, was appointed as the country's supreme ruler, the 15th Yang Dipertuan Agong.

2. The invitation to former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir to attend the Agong's installation ceremony was cancelled because the Palace authorities `could not allocate him with a seat'. Rather than letting the Tun be `embarrassed' by being forced to stand (as opposed to other dignitaries who would be seated), they decide it is better to withdraw the invitation.

3. A few days after watching a CGI-enhanced Princess Leia say something about `Hope' in the closing scene of Rogue One (I must say, the CGI image was quite horrible, not the way I remember the young Leia in Episode IV), Carrie Fisher departed this world.

4. My 7-year old grand-nephew, Qhamarull Suhayl bin Suhainizam, lost his life in an automobile accident in Subang Jaya.

5. My second son, Harith Shahiran, completed his studies in Medicine at Hasanuddin University, Makassar, Indonesia.

Happy, sad and indifferent news.

Wishing all my friends and readers a happy and fruitful 2017 ahead. May your days be filled with joy and laughter. May sorrows and hardship take a back seat. May the Almighty grant you patience and perseverance to face all challenges.

Achievement after 6 years of hard work and onward for greater challenges

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

From tip to tip...

If we are to look at the map of Malaysia (both the peninsula and Borneo Island), there are two locations of some note. These points are at the very edges of their respective land mass. While it may seem that they are just another place where land meets sea, their unique geographical positions have made them tourist attractions. I have recently made a visit to both locations.

1. Tip of Borneo (visited on 5 December 2016)

This tip of land is located on the northern-most point of Borneo Island. The actual place-name is Tanjung Simpang Mengayau in the district of Kudat in Sabah. The area is a slight hill with a gentle cliff leading down to water. The actual tip itself is a large slab of bedrock, peeking just above water level which cause incoming waves to break upon impact. It is a quiet and beautiful place.

The tip marks the meeting point between the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea. Looking north, the calm blue sea shows nothing on the horizon. A slight turn of the head to the right and we can see the two large islands of Pulau Balambangan and Pulau Bangi, also within Kudat district.

Loacation map from Google Earth

Capturing a memory of the Tip of Borneo
A beautiful day to sail around the tip

2. Tip of mainland Asia (visited on 17 December 2016)

This tip of land has the local name of Tanjung Piai. It is located in the district of Pontian in Johor state. It's claim to fame is due to its position of being the southern-most point of the whole Eurasia continent. Wow... imagine the scale of things. Theoretically, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, could walk from Cape St. Vincent (the southwestern-most point in continental Europe, facing the North Atlantic Ocean) and head towards Tanjung Piai (facing the meeting point of Straits of Melaka and Straits of Singapore) without needing to cross any sea.

The area around Tanjung Piai has been designated a national park. In contrast to Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, this area is muddy flatland and mangrove forest. In its own way, it is also a beautiful place. It is a designated Ramsar site, meaning the wetland is of international importance. Looking southwards from this point, the Indonesian island of Karimun is visible on a clear day.

Tanjung Piai is actually not very far from where I live. You may observe that the tip which is nearer was the one I visited later. Now how do I explain that...

Location map from Google Earth

Standing on the edge of a huge land mass
A walk among the mangroves

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Below the wind...

What is it about mountains that make us gaze at them in awe? That drives men and women to leave behind comfort in exchange for pain and agony to climb them. Just because it is there?

Well, for whatever the reason, humans have been fascinated by the view of majestic mountains for a long, long time.

We have just been back from a week-long trip to Sabah where I got to see Mt Kinabalu up close for the first time. I am in no shape to attempt to climb it so enjoying the views from a distance would suffice for now.

There's much to write about but I'll start the initial post with some photographs. Still... no promises if a full-length vacation story would be available soon :-)

Pic taken at dawn just before she hides behind a veil of clouds and mist

One of the very few times when the sky is clear enough to see its full span

This pic captured at a spot along the KK - Kundasang road

Sunset at Kota Kinabalu

Friday, 25 November 2016

40 days mutton curry

If you are traveling on the North-South Expressway from Johor Bahru heading north, you would reach the Ayer Hitam exit at around the 80km mark. From this interchange onwards, you would notice that the old trunk road known as Federal Route 1 running parallel to the highway on your left. This visible parallel stretch goes on for about 10 km, at times so close to each other that I would think they share a common boundary.

At almost exactly the 88km mark, an intriguing shop signboard on the old road would catch your eye. The signboard is large, with a nice typeface design, obviously intended to grab the attention of the highway users. It proclaims : `Restoran Kari Kambing 40 Hari'.

On my regular drives to Kuala Lumpur over the years, I have always wondered why the restaurant is named as such and why it is so popular. Even from the highway, you can see the many cars parked along the roadside, an indication of the large number of customers. The fame of the place grew with many reviews appearing in Facebook and personal blogs.

Two weeks ago, I decided to satisfy my curiosity and make a visit. A friend in KL had invited us to his son's wedding on Saturday so I decided to start our journey on the Friday, one day earlier. This allowed us to drive at a leisurely pace and make a number of stops along the way, the first of which was at 40 Hari for our breakfast.

For breakfast, the restaurant offers nasi arab and roti canai, accompanied by their trademark dish, the mutton curry. They run on a self-service concept where customers queue at the serving counter, place their order for food and drinks, collect the food and drinks, and pay at the cashier's counter down the line.

The seating area is large and spacious. From what I can see, the roof is newly renovated with a high ceiling level to reduce mid-day heat. Turnover of tables is brisk with a team of workers clearing and cleaning the tables as soon as customers finish their meals.

Okay then, what about the taste, I hear you ask? Before I answer that, let's find out about the restaurant's name. As we placed our order, my wife asked the girl at the counter, why 40 Hari? The girl surprisingly replied that there's no particular reason, the boss chose it to be so (which I don't entirely believe but we'll just leave it at that). I then remarked that she must be bored to face the same question every day. This drew a sweet smile. I suggested to her, get her boss put up a smaller sign so that whoever asks the question can read the answer for themselves. Save a lot of trouble, no?

I tried their nasi arab kambing (RM13) while my wife had roti canai with the mutton curry (RM2 for 2 pieces of roti + RM7 for the curry). Overall the taste of the mutton curry is not bad. A tad on the sweet side for me but I guess it works for the general Malay taste-buds. As for the nasi arab, the taste and texture is no where near mandy or kabsah. Again, I guess it works because the chef has modified it to suit local tongues. So I would still give the place a `can come back again' rating.

To reach this restaurant from south, you exit the highway at Ayer Hitam, travel towards Yong Peng on the old trunk road. If you are from the north, then do the reverse. Exit at Yong Peng Utara and travel on the old trunk road towards Ayer Hitam. The place is about 10km from either direction, you can't miss it.

Note : Open daily from 7.30 am to 3.00 pm.

Front ordering counter

Nasi arab kambing

The truck in the background is on the N-S Highway


Sunday, 20 November 2016

World Psoriasis Day 2016 : Support from a spouse

Earlier today, my wife and I attended the World Psoriasis Day 2016 at Hospital Sultan Ismail, Johor Bahru. The event was organised by the Psoriasis Association of Johor (PAJ) with the support of hospitals and sponsors.

It is an annual event but the last one we attended was in 2012, which I blogged about here -> An ailment without a cure. We missed the past few years because of my wife's poor health condition. She was hospitalised a few times last year and the year before. This year, she seems to responding well to a new medication regime and is healthy enough to attend. In fact, this time around, the programme included a new addition, a talk by a psoriasis patient to share her experience of the disease plus another talk by a family member of a psoriasis patient on the support given to the sufferer.

My wife and I were approached by Dr Choon Siew Eng (Head of the Dermatological Department at Hospital Sultanah Aminah) to become the speakers and we gladly agreed.

We were each given about 10 minutes of speaking time. My wife's talk was well within that time limit but I spoke for around 19 minutes. Hopefully, some of the audience found the talk useful.

It took me over two days to prepare my speech. I had it written down because I wanted to be sure I do not miss certain important points which I wanted to share. The following is the basis text I used for today's talk. Of course, the actual delivery itself included a few spur of the moment adjustments and additions :

"Supporting Loved Ones Living With Psoriasis
By : Mohamad Fadhil B. Ismaiyatim

1.  Introduction

Terima kasih Sdra/Sdri Pengerusi Majlis. Bismillahirahman nirrahim. Assalamualaikum and good morning to all.

My name is Mohamad Fadhil. I am the husband of Rashidah Md Amin, who as you have all heard, is a long-time sufferer of psoriasis. Thank you to the organising committee for inviting us to this event. I have been asked to share my experience as the spouse of a psoriasis sufferer, how our family has coped with the situation and the support that we gave to my wife from the very start.

I had not thought that what I’ve done as anything special. To me, it was mostly routine and second-nature. Of course, a bit tough at times but generally okay. Perhaps, when viewed from another perspective, I guess there could be something worth sharing and I hope that some of you may find my talk useful.

2.  Background

When I first got to know my better half, she wasn’t inflicted with the disease yet. Before we were married, she had smooth beautiful skin… what Malays would call as kulit hitam manis. (of course now, after being married for 28 years…. Still manis laa J. Our anniversary was just 3 days ago).

A few months after we got married, she complained of having skin problems. Initially it was spots, like rashes. Then her skin became dry and scaly. The skin on her scalp starts to fall off in patches. She had itches and it became quite uncomfortable. From a small area of skin, it then spread to the whole body.

At the time, she was also pregnant. The 1st assumption that came to mind was that the disease appeared because of the pregnancy, because of the body’s hormonal changes. Her skin would hopefully return to normal after giving birth.

At first, we went to a private Specialist Skin Clinic for treatment. At that time, I had this belief that Private Specialists would be the best course of action. They would have all the answers, all the correct treatments and all the cures. I have since then, not believed it to be entirely true, the reasons of which would be clear towards the end of this talk.

It was at that 1st consultation that I learned what the ailment is called. Psoriasis, the specialist said. I’ve never heard of it. It was even difficult to pronounce…. the sound does not follow the spelling.

Psoriasis…. Silent `P’. I am uncomfortable with words like this… you know, words like Pseudo or Psycho. Creepy kan?

Anyway, like it or not, I have to get used to it. The specialist then continued to tell us a bit about the disease.

What is the cause? Don’t really know…
Is there a cure? No, not yet…
How do we treat it? There are a few ways, we have to try…
Is it serious? Ummm, depends. It can be mild… it can be serious.

Depressing, isn’t it.

Is it contagious? No…    At last, some positive information. Positive for me, maybe… but still does nothing to improve my wife’s hopes.

The specialist gave me some booklets to read. I later searched for more reading materials to find out as much about psoriasis as I can. Of course, not enough to be an expert like Dr Choon laa… just enough to know what we are facing and what options are available. At that time, there was no Internet… jadi tak boleh simply nak click and tanya Pakcik Google, sebab masa tu dia belum lahir lagi J. So it was old-school style research, at first. Later when Internet became available, I visited medical and health websites. I downloaded articles. But after a while, you reached a stage of having known as much as you need to know. Going any further would mean that you might as well become a medical student.

Among the first treatment methods the specialist did was the ultra-violet light therapy. I don’t know what the UV machine looks like because I did not see it. I guess it looks like those sun-bathing machine that Matsallehs use to get an artificial tan. This went on for a few times, without any noticeable improvement. And it was expensive. We were a young couple at the time, just starting our family.  We made the decision to stop seeing the private specialist.

At that point of time, I had my first thoughts of inadequacy… am I shirking my duty of being a responsible husband? In trying to run away from giving my wife the best possible treatment?

From then on, we went to seek treatment at government hospitals and have not looked backed ever since. My better half is a very regular customer of HSA. You just have to take a look at her appointment booklet. It’s tattered and torn and stapled all over. But I guess it is the same for all skin disease patients J.

3.  Challenges

Ok then… I would not touch on the disease itself. The severity, the various treatment methods. That, I’m sure is common knowledge amongst today’s participants. What I’ll try to do is to talk a bit about the challenges and the expectations.

a)   Level of understanding

Psoriasis is by comparison, relatively not well-known. Compared to other chronic ailments such as diabetes, hypertension or even cancer. Of course, I do not mean to say that it would be better to have the other diseases… far from it; no one would wish to be inflicted with illness of any kind. It’s only that those sorts of diseases take less explaining to family members and friends.

When I attend friend’s or family functions alone, I would surely be asked, where’s the wife? Normally, I would just answer, she’s not so well and can’t make it. This, in the hope that it would suffice and there would not be a follow-up question. But if the next question is, dia sakit apa?... I would tell the truth, she has psoriasis. I would then have to be prepared to answer a series of additional queries. Ten times out of ten, the person asking the question has not heard of psoriasis before.

Of course, people ask us questions because they mean well. They are concerned . They genuinely want to know. .. Kebanyakannya lah. Sometimes you get one or two individuals who are the kay-poh-chee type, tanya soalan mengalahkan Special Branch J.  But it’s okay lah… human nature kan.

Over the years, I have developed a standard set of answers to the expected questions. I have condensed them into 4 or 5 sentences that would satisfy the general curiosity, without leaving the questioner feeling offended and without me needing to go into lengthy explanations. Nowadays, if the enquirer is a bit educated, I can say, google `psoriasis’ if you are interested to know more.

b)   Alternative medication

Next to answering questions about psoriasis, another challenge is getting suggestions or advice from relatives or friends about alternative treatment methods. I am sure many of you know the feeling.
“Have you tried this method? I heard that so and so took this medication and he became well. Don’t eat prawns or crabs… they are not good for you. Try drinking alkali water, this lady had sores and after drinking the water for 2 months, her skin became beautiful again.” Etc. etc. etc…

The suggestions for alternative medication or treatment come in various forms. Herbal or dietary supplements, many types of lotions, homoeopathy, traditional kampung-style methods… these are some examples. We tried a few, but really it was just to `jaga hati’ the person who made the suggestion. No need to appear as arrogant.

Perhaps the most annoying of such suggestions, are those coming from people with certain agendas. Those pushing the sales of certain products (consumable or equipment) and claiming the effectiveness of their items based on testimony of other users.

So how do I deal with such situations? I would politely say that the missus is under a specific medication regime fixed by the hospital and this cannot be interfered with other methods. But thank you anyway.

c)    Daily lifestyle

The toughest of all challenges is probably adapting our lifestyle to suit the situation of my wife being a psoriasis sufferer. We are human beings and by nature, we like to be with or around other people. That’s why we have friends and interact with family members.

Psoriasis is a skin disease. This means that the disease is visible. It is on the outside as much as it is on the inside. It affects physical appearance. It is human nature to want to look good. Having to carry such an ailment is emotionally stressing. My wife has mentioned the feeling of low self-esteem, embarrassment and other difficulties.

How do we handle the situation?

By accepting the fate as it is (takdir) and adopting a positive attitude as best as we can.

Of course, it is easier said than done. But that’s the way it has to be.
a)    Say or acknowledge what the problem is.
b)    Then do something about it.

There are no short cuts. There is no need to hide, or tell untruths, or isolate ourselves. There is no need to measure ourselves against other people’s opinions.

It does not mean we live a carefree life but we do things with thought and care and with minimum reservations. We traveled, we have dinner at restaurants, we attend functions… as and when we feel it is convenient and comfortable to do so. The fact my better half has psoriasis is never thought of as a major hurdle.

We visit friends who truly understand our situation. We stay away from people who do not appreciate our presence.

4.  Conclusion

Without doubt, the most trying time I had was when my wife was hospitalised last year and the year before. It was the severest form of the illness that she had experienced.

Every day she was in hospital, I would leave the office on the dot at 5.30pm to head to HSA. Normally I would be the last one to leave the office. So leaving on the dot, would naturally invite questions from my staff. So I tell them, my wife’s in hospital, which of course would bring the next question… dia sakit apa?

As you have heard earlier, her complications included infection on her skin (pustules) and allergy to antibiotics. Her skin was peeling off in strips like she was molting (bersalin kulit). Each brush of her hair would cause clumps to fall out. I even remarked that her hair loss is similar to what happens to chemo-therapy patients.

But the most despairing moment for me was when I reached the hospital ward one day after work. When I entered the room, she was sitting on the bed, looking outside the window. As she turned, I saw that the skin on her face was peeling all over. Her eyes and cheeks were puffed. She was having an allergic reaction. She was in pain.

Over the years, the areas mostly affected are her body and her scalp. Very seldom, her face. At that moment, I didn’t know what to say. You know, there’s this phrase – crying inside. I guess that was I did… because I could not let her see my tears.

My simplest form of support I presume, is just by being there. There are many a time when we know that there is nothing much we can do. Of course, we pray to the Almighty for help. But it is also important for us to remain calm, cool and patient. If we can’t help to solve the problem, the least we can do is not to add to it.

For the past few months, my better half seems to be responding well to this latest regime of medication, alhamdulillah. I would not want to see her being hospitalised again. I don’t think I can be crying inside the next time. But with psoriasis, we can never know. There is no guarantee. We hope, we pray and we keep our spirits up.

Ending remarks

Before I end my talk, I’d like to express my appreciation to Dr Choon and her team at the Dermatological Department of HSA.

Throughout my wife’s various stints of being in-patient, I observed how dedicated the doctors and nurses of HSA were. I have nothing but praise for them. With the recent mishaps that have occurred, I’m pretty sure the staff there is working under very serious constraints. I have nothing but praise for them. How I wish the government would spend as much money as possible on healthcare in their annual budget.

Thank you for doing such a wonderful job. For my wife and for all those skin patients who have faith in you.

Thank you."

At the auditorium entrance of HSI, before the event

Opening remarks by Puan Marina, Deputy President of PAJ

Long-time psoriasis sufferer, Puan Rashidah Md Amin

Last speaker of the day, the spouse to Puan Rashidah

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Klopp at the top

It's a good week to be a Liverpool FC fan. The Reds completely outclassed their latest opponent Watford by a score of 6 - 1 last Sunday. They now lead the Premier League after completion of 11 games. It's the international break next weekend and this will allow Liverpool fans all over the world to savour the view from the top.

No doubt, it's still early days and the gap in points among the top 5 teams is still too close to call. But one thing's for sure.... Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, has instilled an open attacking style of play that's truly a delight to watch.

Of course I hope that the thrilling wins would continue and God-willing, we'll clinch that championship that's been so elusive.

Top 10 positions for week ending 6 Nov 2016

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Blogging from Mersing

We are in my wife's hometown Mersing since yesterday. Today, my wife and her siblings are at the District Land Office to settle some issues relating to the inheritance of property belonging to my late father-in-law.

Being back in Mersing means the opportunity to enjoy the local delicacies that the town is famous for. Namely nasi dagang, keropok lekor and satar. It's cool and cloudy this morning.

Satar and keropok lekor for afternoon tea
A tributary of Sungai Mersing. 'Derhaka' is a really strong word.

Footnote : Mobile blogging on a smartphone or tablet would work fine if your post is pure text. When you start to add photos, it becomes too cumbersome. Editing, re-sizing and captioning the pics take a ton of effort.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Bercerai kasih talak tiada. Seribu tahun kembali juga...

Around this time last week, I received an email from fellow blogger Sharifah Hamzah of Building Bridges, inviting me to attend a launch and discussion of a book written by her late father, Hamzah Hussin. I was pleasantly surprised at Sharifah's invitation because I had dropped by her blog only occasionally. Since the event was to be held in Singapore and I had nothing planned that weekend, I thought it was a good opportunity to meet blogger-friends in real life.

And so last Saturday 22 October, I made the trip across the causeway and headed to the event venue somewhere in Geylang. It was the second book launch for two successive days in a row (see previous post about Tony JK's Find Dining).

Truth be told, I have never heard about the author Hamzah Hussin so I wasn't sure what to expect. But the event was later to reveal something new which I had neglected to pay attention to. And what might this be, you ask?

Fans of classic Malay movies from the 60's would know the film Gurindam Jiwa. It stars the handsome Nordin Ahmad and the equally beautiful Latifah Omar, playing the lead roles. In that film, the stars sang a melodious duet with the same name as the movie's title. The opening lines of the song goes as such :

"Tuai padi antara masak, Esok jangan layu-layuan.
Intai kami antara nampak, Esok jangan rindu-rinduan."

Hamzah Hussin wrote the lyrics to that song. He also wrote the script for the movie. 

The book that was launched last Saturday is a compilation of three stories : Perempuan Gusti, Samseng and Rumah Kosong.

Thank you Sharifah, for inviting me. It was a pleasure to be meeting you in person. My best wishes to your effort in re-publishing your late father's works.


Dark and sensational Malay creative writing from the 50's and 60's

Friday, 21 October 2016

Find Dining...

I cannot remember how or when I came across the food review blog owned and authored by a gentleman who calls himself Tony Johor Kaki. I am a food explorer myself, so it must've been through a simple google search. Once I discovered the blog, I included the link in my sidebar so that I can easily click for updates.

Tony JK's blog is quite impressive. He has visited and personally tasted the food at hundreds of outlets, ranging from simple hawker stalls to fine restaurants located mainly in Johor Bahru city. His entries cover both non-halal and halal eateries, properly labeled and categorised, complete with address and GPS coordinates. But what sets him apart from other food blogs is his amazing collection of mouth-watering photographs that accompany each post.

From blogging, Tony later set up a Facebook Page for halal food enthusiasts called Johor Sedap. He has now progressed to become a full-fledged author of a guidebook for foodies. With the help of a generous sponsor and a publishing house, some entries from Tony's blog have been edited and compiled into a book named Find Dining with Johor Kaki.

I have commented on Tony's blog a number of times and contributed to the Johor Sedap FB page occasionally. It's only today that I had the privilege of meeting the man himself for the first time in person. It was during a book signing and distribution session at Sutera Mall in Skudai.

The book is available for free. I had a quick flip through its contents. Of the 23 halal food outlets mentioned in the book, I have not yet been to 8. That's roughly a 65% hit rate.

Of course, not all restaurants and food joints in Johor can be featured in a tiny guidebook. In Tony's words, the food business is very dynamic. New eating places open every week while some of the existing ones don't make it and have to close shop. With this, I'm pretty sure Tony JK and his publishers would be looking ahead at future editions. Good luck Tony.

Tony JK now a celebrity :-)

Finally, one blogger able to meet another (more famous) blogger

My personal copy, signed by Tony on the inside intro page

Monday, 3 October 2016

Good, bad and indifferent news

Events that happened in this past month of September 2016 :

1. Three athletes from Malaysia won gold at Rio 2016 Paralympics, for the first time ever.
2. JDT made history by winning the Malaysia Super League, 3 times in a row. 
3. Our DPM made known to the world of his English public-speaking skills.
4. The no. 1 university in the country denies having awarded an honorary PhD to a well-known motivational speaker.
5. My sister-in-law, Hajjah Zainab Bt Mohd Amin (fondly known as Mak We to her nephews and nieces), lost her long-fought battle against cancer.

Good, bad and indifferent news. No prizes for guessing which one I care about the most.

Hajjah Zainab was the second child in a family of 13 siblings. She was my wife's 2nd eldest sister and used to reside at her hometown of Mersing until a few years ago, when illness and treatments at hospitals in Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur caused her to stay with her youngest daughter.

I have very fond memories of her. When I married my wife those many years ago, her house was where I stayed at before the nikah ceremony proper. It was there I was first introduced to my then to-be niece, a sweet little 5-year old girl. The little girl has now grown up, with a family of her own. Thank you dear Maslin Md Ramly and your kind husband Isa Hoo Abdullah, for your dedication in taking care of your mother until her final day.

Tiga generasi di pusara allahyarham Hjh Zainab Bt Mohd Amin
 kembali ke rahmatullah pada hari Isnin 26 September 2016.
Gambar diambil (tanpa kebenaran) dari FB Puan Maslin.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The hornet's nest

I have a friend from childhood days who now works at the military airbase in Butterworth, Pulau Pinang. He is very knowledgeable about military aircraft, whether they come from US, Europe or Russia. I, on the other hand, am quite ignorant about airplanes. Perhaps the only significant combat plane that I can identify is the British Harrier Jump Jet, the amazing aircraft that can do vertical landing and take-off. This jet was part of the fleet that saw action during the Falklands War in 1982.

My friend recently posted an interesting trivia to our Whatsapp group. The British RAF 100 Squadron has a Malay motto on their badge. It reads :

`Sarang Tebuan Jangan Dijolok'

The literal translation of this Malay idiom is `Never stir up a hornet's nest', meaning that one should not be looking for trouble on purpose. When applied to the macho men of the Air Force, the underlying message would be, `Better not mess with us. Or else we'll come and hurt you real bad!'

To confirm my friend's story, I googled the 100 Squadron. Indeed, their badge does have a motto written in Malay. The webpage gives a brief history of the squadron but does not provide any information on how and why the Malay motto was adopted. It does however say that the squadron was once based in Malaya in 1950, so that was probably when they came across a Malay idiom which took their fancy.

The link can be read here -> RAF 100 Squadron

Selamat hari raya Aidiladha to my Muslim friends and readers. The noblest aspect of sacrifice is expecting nothing in return.

The hornet's sting may kill you...

Sunday, 28 August 2016

A very thorny issue

In Malay culture, there is this peculiar term known as `saudara durian'. It is a sarcastic phrase which literally translates to `durian relative'. To properly explain its meaning, allow me to provide you with an example.

Let's say that you are a city-dweller. You have a relative back at your hometown or village who owns a durian orchard. At the time of the fruiting season, you would visit this relative and partake in the copious consumption of this delicious fruit (absolutely free, of course) with the further chance of the kind relative packing some more of the fruits to take home. At other times of the year, it never crossed your mind to visit this relative or even ask about his/her well-being. You are then a `saudara durian'.

Nasty, isn't it?

Well, I hope I'm not placed into such a category. I am not much of a durian kaki anyway. I very seldom buy durians from the market and can hardly tell the difference in taste between a D24 grade and the Musang King variety. Nevertheless, if some kampung relatives do send me some of these fruits, I gladly accept them. It is very impolite to decline such gifts.

Two weeks ago, I texted a cousin of mine, asking him about the yield of his durian trees. The previous year, he had dropped by my house and gave us a sackful of the so-called king of fruits. This time around, I noted that the local markets are already teeming with the thorny fruits but yet no news from my cousin of his harvest. He texted back, saying that this year's yield is not as bountiful as last year, but there is still more that enough for personal consumption. He invited us to visit his dusun so that we can collect some for ourselves.

Yesterday, the missus and I made the trip to Pontian and met my cousin at his fruit orchard. The orchard has about 15 durian trees plus some mangosteen, duku, rambai and rambutan. By the time we arrived, there was already a large pile of durians that my cousin had gathered. He sliced opened a few for us to eat. I probably ate only 4 or 5 seeds. Really, there is only so much that you can eat. Otherwise you should be prepared to experience the rise in body heat if you consume too much. The fleshy pulp of the durian fruit has this unnerving exothermic property.

In addition to the freshly consumed ones at the orchard, my cousin gave us a sackful to take home. The sack contained 9 fruits of various sizes. This morning the missus used 3 to make serawa durian and bubur kacang hijau. The remainder would cause that distinctive pungent smell to linger in our house for another few more days.

King of fruits, the kampung variety

Monday, 15 August 2016

Moving on to a new brand

In my final post of the previous year, I wrote about my brand loyalty to Sony mobile phones. The full article can be read here -> Is it worth being brand loyal?

I have now given up on Sony and would never purchase another phone from this manufacturer or recommend any of my friends to buy it. Two weeks ago, my Xperia M5 Dual phone which I bought in September 2015, gave me problems for the second time. This time, the phone had trouble in detecting the telco network, causing difficulty in making and receiving calls. When I sent it to the local authorised dealer, I was told it was either a software problem or a system problem. If it was software, the repair could be done in a day or two. If it was a system problem, then they would have to send it to their main office in KL and this would take much longer.

After two days, I called the dealer and was told that my phone has a hardware problem and they may have to change the motherboard. The repair would take up to 3 weeks. Crap...

I cannot wait that long and not have a phone. Unfortunately, the phone that I used prior to the M5, an Xperia V which I had from 2013, was also not working due to a faulty power charging port. I made the decision to cut my ties with Sony and buy a new phone.

This time, I opted for an HTC Desire 626 Dual. It is not the top model of the HTC range of smartphones. In fact, it was the cheapest of the 3 models on display but it had the minimum specs that I wanted, namely two nano-simcard slots and a separate microSD card slot. More importantly, it met my budget. Feature-wise, it is very much inferior to the M5. For example, the camera is less powerful (lower resolution, poor macro focus) and the operating system is still Android 4 (Kitkat). Nonetheless, at this moment in time, connectivity is more important to me than features.

So let's see how this new phone from HTC perform. Maybe I'll write a review on it later.

Dual sim with 5" display, 13MP main camera and 2GB RAM

Friday, 29 July 2016

No escape from the taxman...

In the previous post, I mentioned how this year's Aidilfitri is somewhat special because it coincides with my birthday. It was supposed to be a joyfully memorable day and which I shall remember for many years to come.

Well, it turn out to be memorable indeed, but all for the wrong reasons.

As in previous years, with the exception of the last, we would celebrate the 1st day of Syawal at my parents' home in Singapore. Since my parents are the eldest living relatives in our clan, most of my cousins in Singapore from both father and mother's side, would visit them on the first day of Aidilfitri. This means that their tiny flat in Bukit Batok would be filled to the brim with guests coming by throughout the day.

On the last day of the fasting month, my wife had slogged throughout the day to cook various dishes for the hari raya celebrations. This included the traditional chicken rendang and a large pot of nasi briyani. It was nearly close to midnight when her dishes were ready and it took another hour or so for us to be ready to load the food and our other stuff into my son's car. By the time we left our JB home to head for Singapore, it was technically already Wednesday the 6th of July 2016.

When we reached the immigration checkpoint at the Johor side of the causeway, my passport was cleared. So were the passports of my eldest son, daughter-in-law and youngest son. But there seemed to be a problem with my wife's passport. My wife and I had to alight from the car and go the Immigration Office to find out what the issue was.

The lady officer checked her computer and told us that my wife is on the Inland Revenue Board's blacklist for alleged non-payment of income tax and therefore barred leaving the country.

What?!

My wife left the employment scene 21 years ago when she was pregnant with our 3rd child. She has never been in full-time employment since then. In my own tax returns, I declared that my wife has no income and for which I'm claiming spouse relief. It therefore came as a huge surprise that IRB is chasing her for unpaid taxes.

Of course we had a thousand and one questions to ask but the Immigration officer was not in a position to give reply. All she could do was offer her sympathy and say that many people have been caught in similar situations. She is only doing her job in following IRB's directive.

My wife and I are not tax evaders. I know that IRB has set this procedure to go after those who owe the government tons of money in unpaid taxes. But the least that IRB can do is to first notify us of any possible outstanding amounts instead of resorting to this drastic method of preventing people to travel outside the country. My wife had never received any letter or other forms of communication from the taxman prior to this. In today's age of information technology, IRB cannot say that they don't know of my wife's current address. In fact, they could have relayed the information to me by mail, e-mail or telephone call. My income tax file is very much active and all those contact details are there.

It was turning out to be a bleak hari raya for us. We were not allowed to spend the special day with our parents. We had to turn back. My wife was so crestfallen.

When we got home, my son took out our luggage and rearranged the stuff in his car boot. He and his wife then retraced their route to their grandparents' home in Singapore. They became our representatives for the family gathering. No doubt my son would face endless questions from the relatives on why his mother and father are not home for hari raya.

To add salt to the wound, the long holiday break meant that we had to wait for another 6 days until Monday before we could visit the Inland Revenue office to find out more about our case. This we eventually did. For now we have reached an interim solution with them. It's not fully cleared yet so I'll perhaps write on that part after the case is settled.

So what did we do on the first day of Aidilfitri? We decided to visit my maternal uncle and aunt at my mother's hometown of Pontian. At least we did something meaningful to wash away the sorrow caused by a government who claims that they have the rakyat's needs as priority.... rakyat didahulukan. Ya lah tu...

I'm sure you can detect my sarcasm.

A different type of hari raya this year

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

A special Aidilfitri

Today marks the last day of the holy fasting month of Ramadhan for the Hijri year 1437. Tomorrow is the first day of the month of Syawal where Muslims celebrate Aidilfitri.

It would be a very special Aidilfitri for me because, for the first time as I can remember, the 1st of Syawal (Hijri calendar) coincides with 6 July (Gregorian calendar). It is also my birthday tomorrow. Praise to the Almighty for this special occasion.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri to all Muslim friends and readers. May all of you be in good health and joyful spirit.


Thursday, 30 June 2016

Double exit

Last week, the people of Britain voted to leave the European Union, not by an overwhelming majority, but by simple advantage of 52% against 48%. This means that a very significant number had chosen to remain. Indeed over the few days after the referendum results, social media was abuzz with so-called claims that many have regretted the exit choice.

Brexit does not affect me directly, so I cannot claim to have a keen interest in the subject or have good knowledge of the implications. Nonetheless, having stayed in the UK for a number of years, I do have fond memories of the country. If I am there now and have a right to vote, I would have chosen to leave.

But who would have thought that Brexit would be an ominous sign for another departure a few days later. England was knocked out of the Euro 2016 football tournament by minnows Iceland.

I have not watched any of the group matches over the past few weeks. A bit strange for me actually, to have minimal interest in the current tournament. Especially since my favourite EPL team Liverpool, has 12 players in the different Euro squads, joint top club with Juventus of Italy. Somehow, the interest has waned compared to previous years. I have stopped being a supporter of England many years ago. In the previous World Cup, I cheered for Holland. But Holland failed to qualify for Euro 2016 so this time around I guess I'll cheer for Wales.

The Wales vs Northern Ireland match was the first one I watched live on Astro. I am rooting for Wales because I studied at Wrexham in North Wales for a short while. Before that, I had not known that the Welsh speak an entirely different language from English. In their language, their country is known as Cymru. It is a pity that I had not taken the opportunity to learn more of the Welsh language and culture while I was there.

I do hope that Wales beat Belgium in the next game and progress to the semi-finals. The chances may be slim but we can always dream. Give me hope, Joe Allen...


Monday, 6 June 2016

The Nine States

The newest addition to our extended family of the Hj Mohd Amin clan is a sweet lass, Nur Diyana Zainal Abidin, who married our nephew, Ridzuan Zaid in March this year. Diyana hails from the neighbouring state of Negeri Sembilan. Literally, the name translates to Nine States but perhaps is more appropriately mentioned as nine districts or provinces.

I am surprised to find out that modern Negeri Sembilan has 7 (and not 9) districts. The original 9 districts were :

1. Jelai
2. Jelebu
3. Johol
4. Kelang (now a district in Selangor)
5. Naning (now part of Melaka)
6. Rembau
7. Segamat (now in Johor) / Pasir Besar (now in Tampin, a town that straddles the NS - Melaka border)
8. Sungai Ujong
9. Alu Panah (now divided between Jelebu and Pahang state)

Diyana's hometown is called Batu Kikir which is in the district of Jempol. As you can see, the present-day Jempol is not one of the original 9 districts.

Anyway, to get to Batu Kikir from Johor Bahru, we took the North-South Highway and exited at Senawang interchange. From there we took the road heading towards Kuala Pilah. I had been to Kuala Pilah twice before, the last trip more than 25 years ago to attend the wedding of a close friend at his hometown of Seri Menanti.

It was an interesting drive on the road to Kuala Pilah. Once past the area known as Bukit Putus, you can see many stalls by the roadside selling smoked duck (itek salai). This is quite unique because duck is not commonly consumed by Malays. Outside of Negeri Sembilan, you would be hard-pressed to look for halal duck meat.

The royal town of Seri Menanti in Kuala Pilah district is an interesting place to visit because of the old palace or Istana Lama. However, on the day we were there, the palace was closed for renovations. From what I read in Trip Advisor, the renovations had been ongoing for a fairly long time, causing much inconvenience to tourists. A sad thing, really.

Another little known fact is that the source of the Muar River (the length of which is mostly located in Johor state) is in Kuala Pilah. I took a detour off the main road to explore the upper reaches of this famous Johor river. As I passed one of the isolated villages, I saw a young boy probably still in his early teens, riding on an awesome looking motorbike which had the shape of an extended custom-made chopper. I was too slow in getting my camera out and hence missed out on an opportunity for capturing a classic scene.

Ok then, that's enough of a write-up on the 9 States for now.

Best wishes to my muslim friends and readers in this holy fasting month. Ramadhan kareem...

Batu Kikir, a town made famous in a local pop song, sung in the Nismilan dialect
Istana Lama Seri Menanti
Sungai Muar in Kuala Pilah

Too late to capture a side view of this kid on a chopper
Smoked duck which was later cooked into rendang itek