Saturday, 27 May 2017

Are wolves really bad?

In the European fairy tale 'Little Red Riding Hood', a big bad wolf tricked a little girl by pretending to be the girl's grandmother and then ate the girl up. Wolves have had a bad rap for a very long time. At the Yellowstone National Park in America, they were hunted to a near wipe-out by the 1920s.

In 1994, the US National Park Service embarked on a project to re-introduce wolves at Yellowstone. Over the years, the project was closely monitored. More than 20 years has passed since the project started and the researchers have found that wolves bring a positive impact to the ecosystem at the park. Apart from keeping the population of deer and elk in check, the subsequent effect of less grazing resulted in more growth for certain types of trees and bushes. This in turn brought in more birds and beavers. The dam-building habit of beavers caused change to waterway courses which resulted in the increase in population of fish and other small mammals. Overall, the wolves are now seen as the good guys.

(For a short video about the wolves at Yellowstone, click this link -> How Wolves Change Rivers)

Yesterday 26 May 2017, I went to meet a good wolf, although the wolf himself claims to be bad.

The Big Bad Wolf Book Sale at Mines International Exhibition & Convention Centre in Serdang began yesterday. For this sale, the organizers have opted for the box concept first introduced in 2014. Customers buy a box for a fixed price, then fill the box with as many books as he wishes as long as the box flaps can be properly taped down without bulging.

This time around, BBW offer two box sizes, a large one priced at RM100 and a small one priced at RM80. There is an additional option of buying both boxes (named as the Family Tapau Pack) at only RM160. This was the option I chose. I gave the small box to my son while I of course, took the large box.

We spent about two hours browsing and selecting books we liked. In the end, we came back with a haul of 42 books of various size and thickness. Therefore the average cost works out to a mere RM3.81 per book! Now tell me if that isn't a good deal.

Hard covers, fiction and reference books. Should last until the next book fair.

My own selection of books consisted mainly of paperbacks in the general fiction category. A large number from my favourite authors such as Jeffrey Archer, Stephen King and Bill Bryson. Quite a number too are from writers I have not read before.

Of all the books, my most interesting pick would be one that is titled 'The Indispensable Book Of Useless Information' written by Don Voorhees. To use the publicity blurb on the back cover, nothing you'll ever need to know is in this book. I had a quick flip of the contents and immediately decided that I wanted it. You see, I'm a sucker for trivial bits of seemingly useless information. Have a look at the sidebar of this blog page and you'll see a category marked as `merapu'. Go ahead and read some of the posts in that category and you'll understand what I mean. Hehehe...

Apparently this is part of a series of already 8 books

As a teaser of what's in the book, I'll share the following :

The ATMs in Vatican City are in Latin.

Maybe I'll include more of such useless facts later when I've read the whole book. Okay that's it for this post. Good day folks. Wishing Muslim readers a blessed and fruitful holy month of Ramadhan.

Footnote : BBW Book Fair at MIECC is on until Sunday 4 June 2017.

Friday, 19 May 2017

One local destination a month - Part 4 : Taiping, Perak

I had not planned that the 4th instalment of this series to be again about Perak. My original intention was to spend some time to explore Jugra in Banting, Selangor but my wife told me that an old friend of hers from university days had invited us to attend the wedding of her son at her hometown in Trong, Perak. So I said, yes... why not. I have been to Trong once before and even blogged about it (A town called Aubergine).

Trong is not very far from Taiping and it was at the latter that we stayed for the night. Taiping is an interesting town with quite a bit of history. It used to be the capital of Perak before Ipoh took over the role in 1937. It has a number of tourist attractions within its vicinity, the most famous of which is perhaps the picturesque Lake Gardens. But I'm not going to write about the gardens, or the zoo, or Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill) or even the savoury delights of mee udang Kuala Sepetang. Instead, I'll write about two lesser-known places.

1. Taiping War Cemetery

On the road leading to the foothill of Bukit Larut, you will pass by a serene and well-kept graveyard that is the final resting place of Allied servicemen killed during World War II. When the war ended, the British military authorities headed by Major JH Ingram, decided to move the remains of their fallen personnel, spread over various villages and temporary burial grounds, to a common cemetery where the men would be honoured and remembered.

There are more than 850 graves at the cemetery, including more than 500 who remain unidentified. The cemetery is divided into two parts on either side of the road to Bukit Larut. One side holds the Christian graves while the other hold the Muslim and other denominations. If you observe carefully, the headstones on the Muslim graves are at an angle to the central dividing road whereas the Christian headstones are perpendicular. This is because the Muslims are buried facing the qibla in accordance to religious requirement.

The upkeep and maintenance of this war memorial is under the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which explains why the place looks very tidy. A slight drawback is the absence of a proper parking space. To stop and visit, I had to park my car by the roadside where the narrow side-table meant that half of the car's width still sat on the roadway. Luckily, the road to Bukit Larut is not that busy, otherwise the obstruction would surely inconvenience other road users.

A low wall marks the perimeter of Taiping War Cemetery. Visited 30 April 2017

The Muslim section of the graveyard

2. Kota Ngah Ibrahim

Ngah Ibrahim was a Malay statesman from Perak and administrator of the Larut district in the 1870s. The `kota' was his private residence. Although not quite a fort in the strictest translation of the word, the two-storey house sits within a large compound that is enclosed by a high brick wall. For its size at that period of time, it is quite obvious that the owner was a very rich man.

Kota Ngah Ibrahim is now officially known as the Matang Museum. It is located about 8km from Taiping on the Kuala Sepetang road. The building has an illustrious history. Apart from being the home of a local headman, the British used it as a court to hear the case of the murder of JWW Birch, the first Resident of Perak. On 2 November 1875, Birch was killed by a group of Malay men led by Dato Maharajalela while taking a bath by a river in Pasir Salak.

The trial was held from 14 to 22 December 1876. At the end of the proceedings, three men including Dato Maharajalela were sentenced to death by hanging. The other two were Dato Sagor and Pandak Endut. The hanging was carried out in Taiping on 20 January 1877. Dato Maharajalela's real name was Lela Pandak Limo, son of a Bugis king from Sulawesi. The 'maharajalela' title was awarded by the sultan to one his ministers with the specific authority to decapitate anyone who oppose the king. Nowadays, the Malay word maharajalela carries the meaning of someone who acts or does things as he pleases or out of control. The word is almost always used in the negative sense.

Sultan Abdullah and Ngah Ibrahim were also found guilty of collaborating in the assassination of the British Resident. Both were exiled to the islands of Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. Ngah Ibrahim was later allowed to return to Singapore where he died in 1887. He was initially buried within the Aljunied Mosque compounds in Singapore but in September 2006, his remains was brought back to Perak and re-buried near his house.

The artifacts on display at the present-day museum are really nothing fancy or impressive. The main exhibit on the upper floor of the house is a mock-up of the courtroom where the trial of the Birch killers was held. Although the displays were static and simple, I thought that it was 45 minutes of my time well-spent. I learned a bit more of Perak's history in that short visit compared to the actual classes in school. Admission is free.

In the neighbouring compound beyond the walls of Ngah Ibrahim's fort is another old building which used to be the dwelling of the first Assistant Resident of Perak, Captain Speedy. The house seems well-preserved but was not open to the public.

Home of a Perak statesman

Part of exhibits on the ground floor

Present-day grave of Ngah Ibrahim that was relocated from Singapore

Historical personalities of Perak during those turbulent times

Courtroom mock-up of the Birch murder trial

House of the Assistant Resident of Perak

The Matang Museum as viewed from one corner of the boundary walls

Monday, 8 May 2017

A debt of gratitude (Part 2 of 2)

Headnote : The preceding part to this story can be read here -> Part 1

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Simon began his father’s story.

“It was late 1942. The time of the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II. My parents are originally from Kluang. According to my father, he was about 5 or 6 years old at the time. My grandfather had a small provision shop near Kluang town which he operated from a rented lot owned by a respectable Malay man named Pak Haji Rashid. The landlord’s own house was located behind the shop lot, meaning that my grandfather and Pak Haji Rashid were in fact neighbours.

It was a very hard life in those days. My father said the Japanese soldiers were extremely cruel. They were especially merciless against people of the Chinese race. They would arrest and torture anyone whom they suspect is opposing them. My grandfather had seen a few of his friends lose their heads at the stroke of the samurai sword. Business premises owned by the Chinese were plundered and taken over at will. Even schools were not spared. When they ran out of firewood, the soldiers took some wooden chairs and desks from the local Chinese school. The chairs and desks from the upper floor classrooms were simply tossed over the balcony so that they crash and splinter to the ground below. Easier to burn, they said.

To avoid capture, many able-bodied men ran into the nearby jungle to hide and fight back. My grandfather was sympathetic to the cause and he secretly helped the fighters by providing basic necessities. Of course, this was a very dangerous thing to do. If the Japanese found out, he would definitely lose his life.

Indeed, this was what happened. Somehow, the information about my grandfather’s activity was leaked to the Japanese and word was out that the soldiers wanted his head. That particular evening, my grandfather was hiding in the shop together with my grandmother and my father. He didn’t know what else to do. He heard a sharp knock at the back door and the voice of his neighbour, Pak Haji Rashid. My grandfather opened the back door and Pak Haji Rashid told the whole family to leave the shop and follow him to his house. The Malay gentleman had offered to hide his neighbours from the search party. Using two large mengkuang mats, he rolled my grandmother and my father in one and my grandfather in the other. He placed the rolled-up mats, squeezed between a clothes cupboard and a sidewall. He told the family of three to be quiet. Be very quiet.

My father remembers this episode quite vividly. It was dark. It was hard to breathe. He wanted to cry. He wanted to pee. He hugged his mother as hard as he could.

The Japanese soldiers came and broke into the shop. They ransacked the place and not finding their intended targets, took away whatever little provisions that the small store had left. Somehow, they did not search the Malay man’s residence at the back.

The following morning, Pak Haji Rashid made arrangements to transport my grandfather and his family out of Kluang. My grandfather had relatives in Johor Bahru. That was where he would hide. Before leaving, my grandfather told Pak Haji Rashid that he and his family owed him their lives. How can he ever repay such debt of gratitude? The landlord had put his own life in danger in helping out his tenant. The Japanese would have surely executed him too had they found out.

My father told me he remembered Haji Rashid’s reply very clearly. You do not owe me anything, the Malay gentleman had said. But if you wish to repay me, then just repay mankind in general. Help out those in need, even if they do not ask for it.”

Simon paused his narration. He was looking at nothing in particular in the distance. After a silent moment, he made a slight shake of his head, picked up his teh tarik mug and took a long sip of the already cold drink.

He then looked at Suresh and me before saying, “And that is why I am here today with you, my friends. My father remains alive and healthy to this day because a kindhearted man made a decision to help someone in need, even though that someone had not asked for it.”

Sunday, 30 April 2017

What's 4-ever for?

Where's the 4th floor?
The above photo of an elevator selector buttons was taken at a newly-opened hotel in Bangi, Selangor. We stayed there yesterday as part of our weekend break to attend two wedding receptions.

When I looked at those buttons, the following possibilities come to mind :

1. The building/hotel owner is a very superstitious Chinese man.
2. The hotel owner/operator does not wish to lose business should potential Chinese clients decline to stay on the 4th floor.
3. The building owner obtained advice from a feng-shui master that the numeral 4 should not appear anywhere in the building.

I understand the Chinese culture of avoiding the number 4 as much as possible because in certain dialects, it sounds close to the Chinese word for `death'. But going to such lengths as to replace 4 with 3A on elevator buttons only serve to manifest the superstition to become a norm. Heck, staying in a room at Floor 3A still technically means that you are on the 4th floor.

To what extent would this practice be adopted? Would there actually be a limit?

Would there be no counter number 4 at banks or government service centres?
Things that cost RM4.50 would now be priced at RM3A.50?
Channel 4 on your TV remote control would now be Channel 3A?
No more meetings or appointments would be held at 4.00pm?

I can go on and on... but I'd rather offer a solution. Can the Chinese consider giving their number four another name? Call it something other than `ser' or `sey'. Something that does not sound like death? It would solve the problem. Serious.

There is nothing wrong with the numeral 4. It's all in the mind.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

When we come across the name Philadelphia, we are most likely to identify it as a city in the United States of America. It therefore surprised me a bit to find out that another city had this same name and at a time when the the US was not yet in existence.

Philadelphia was once the name of Amman, the present-day capital of Jordan. That name was in use when the area was under the Ptolemaic Kingdom (ancient Greeks based in Egypt) in the BCE period. I discovered this fact during my visit to Jordan in 2013. It was quite a delightful trip and the one week duration I allocated for the visit was not enough. If you are a history buff, then Jordan would be more of interest to you than the other middle-east countries. I'd say even more interesting than Egypt.

When I got back from the trip, I had planned to write about it in this blog. I only managed to put up an introductory post (here) but then failed keep to my plan. This entry is therefore a much-delayed effort at sharing some of the fascinating aspects of this beautiful country.

So what made me move my butt and decide to post on this subject? A friend of mine is presently enjoying a holiday in Jordan and uploaded some lovely photos on her Facebook page. It made me recall my own time there and caused me to peek again at the hundreds of photographs I took. I guess it is time to share a small selection here. I'll arrange the pictures based on the locations visited. In order not to flood a single post with too many photos, I'll spread them out over a few parts (I'll try my best to keep the promise, this time).

Amman

Within the capital itself are quite a number of attractions worth seeing. No doubt the most famous tourist site in Jordan is Petra but it is located some distance away from Amman, around 3 to 4 hours drive to the south. You'll need a full day to really explore the wonders of that Nabatean ruins. We decided to start with a tour of Amman and the following are the few places we manage to visit within a day.

1. Roman Amphitheatre

The old Amman city was built on seven hills. In downtown Amman, carved into the side of one of those hills, the ancient Romans had constructed an amphitheatre that could seat an audience of 6,000 people. Being the engineer that I am, the beautiful geometrical proportions of this theatre impressed me. The Romans surely had very skilled surveyors and craftsmen during their day.

The overall structure is still in reasonable shape. Credit to the Jordanian authorities for keeping it so.

I climbed the steep stairs to the highest level, walked to the centre section and sat down on the stone seating. As I viewed the stage far below, I imagined an ancient play being performed. Enchanting.

View of theatre from street level. The new plaza in front is modern-day construction

Three tiers of seating in semi-circular layout

The middle section of the lowest tier has wider seating area, presumably for VIPs

View from the topmost tier. The stage seems a long way down from here

2. The Citadel

Not far from the amphitheatre at the top of a neighbouring hill is Amman Citadel. The citadel is a fort that was occupied and inhabited by various peoples and cultures in its illustrious history. The structures and buildings that can be seen today come from the Roman, Byzantine and Umayyad periods. It is quite amazing to see the different cultural and religious influences, spanning thousands of years within the same site.

The Roman Amphitheatre and downtown Amman as seen from the Citadel

At the entrance to the Citadel site are plaques displaying the names of the city at different periods of its history

Temple of Hercules, built by Romans in 162 - 166 CE

Temple of Hercules

Temple of Hercules

Temple of Hercules

Ruins of Umayyad dwellings

Domed gateway to Umayyad Palace

Local boys happy to have their picture taken by a tourist

Ruins of a Byzantine church in the foreground

3. Cave of The Seven Sleepers

The story of seven young men and their loyal dog who sought refuge in a cave and fell asleep for hundreds of years, is mentioned in the holy Al-Quran (Surah 18 : Al-kahf, The Cave). The exact location of the cave however, is not stated. Jordanians claim that the cave is in their country, on the outskirts of the capital. They base this claim on the geographical references deduced from the said surah. Whether the miracle event actually happened here or not isn't the main issue for me. The visit made me explore the story further and learn an underlying lesson contained in the surah. This tale has a parallel in Christian tradition.

My earlier post on this topic can be read here -> Cave of 7 Sleepers.

Signboard of the cave location

Entrance to the cave structure, thought to be built in the Byzantine era

We managed to squeeze in this stop just before closing time. As such, I was not able to take as much photos as I would have liked. Okay then... that's it for this post. The next post on this theme shall be about other interesting places outside of Amman, insyaAllah...

Monday, 10 April 2017

Sembilan bulan

I recently saw a quote which I thought was something that hits directly to the heart.

"Home is where mom is."

So very true. For someone who carried you in her belly for nine months, went through the pain of childbirth and raised you to the become a decent human being, no other person in this world deserve more respect and affection than your mother. As a French novelist once wrote, the heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.

My own mother celebrated her 76th birthday last month. She is coping as well as can be, considering her recovery from heart complications two years ago. I visit her as often as I can, which for me, is never enough.

Anyway, I'm putting up this post specifically to share some trivia about the numeral 9 :

a) In a normal non-leap year, the 9th of September is the 252nd day of the year. If we total up those numerals 2 + 5 + 2, we will get 9.

b) Any whole number multiplied by 9, would give an answer whose individual digits when added up result in 9. Example ~ 2 x 9 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9.  Or 32 x 9 = 288, 2 + 8 + 8 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9.   Or 126 x 9 = 1,134, 1 + 1 + 3 + 4 = 9.

c) The sum total of the ten digits in our arabic numerical system,
     0+1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9=45. 4 + 5 = 9.
    Works equally well in subtraction (change all the plus to minus), where we'll get -9.

d) Okay, let's try multiplication. Obviously we can't use zero in the equation, so it becomes,
     1x2x3x4x5x6x7x8x9 = 362,880. Therefore 3 + 6 + 2 + 8 + 8 + 0 = 27. And further on, 2 + 7 = 9.
     And does it work with division as well? I'll let you try that one out yourself.

So why this sudden interest in the number nine. It's just to let you know that this week marks the 9th year that this humble non-money-making blog is in circulation. Since writing the first post on 8 April 2008, I have now published a total of 468* entries. A mixed bag of personal stories, ramblings and sometimes worthless snippets.

Of course, the regularity of posting has somewhat declined over the years, as has the number of comments from readers. But I am not concerned about the figures. I just hope to have the interest and drive to continue writing and hopefully make the 10th anniversary target next year. Let's take it one year at a time.

Thank you to all readers and commenters for the company.

(* Coincidentally, 4 + 6 + 8 = 18, 1 + 8 = 9. I'm dreaming of nines this week :-)

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

One local destination a month - Part 3 : Lumut, Perak

Of all the states in Malaysia, I believe Perak is the one with the most peculiar place-names. By peculiar, I do not mean that they are strange or odd-sounding, but rather the names of normal everyday objects or nouns that somehow evolved to become the name of a place. This in itself is not abnormal (many places are named after the physical characteristics of the location, e.g. Kuala Lumpur, the muddy river mouth) but when you see the examples I'm about to give, you would perhaps understand what I mean.

The following examples and their literal translation :

1. Parit - drain or canal
2. Papan - wooden plank or board
3. Pusing - turn or rotate
4. Lumut - moss
5. Larut - multiple meanings i. dissolve in water, ii. late or extended
6. Matang - mature or ripe
7. Dinding - wall
8. Tambun - fat (a person) or pile (of earth, for example)
9. Mambang Di Awan - ghostly spirit in the clouds

There are of course, a number of other examples but I guess you get my point. Even the name of the state itself means silver, an error of description from ancient days for another mineral that is abundant in the state, i.e. tin. For its sheer freakishness and with no other comparable equivalent elsewhere in Malaysia, I'll give my vote to last place-name in the above list.

On 25 March last week, we were in Lumut to attend a wedding reception. After the reception, we booked into a budget hotel in Seri Manjung, the Ritz Garden Hotel. I have never stayed at this hotel before. I chose it after reading some guest reviews in Google Maps and I'm pleased to say that most of the reviews are accurate. I am satisfied with my stay there and I rate the place as value for money.

Later in the evening, we went to the small town of Lumut and took a leisurely walk along the jetty waterfront. This is where you board the ferry if you wish to visit the nearby Pangkor Island. It was a bright and lively place. There are a few roadside stalls selling snacks, drinks and souvenirs. Many people are taking a stroll or simply sitting on benches to admire the view of a glorious sunset. I guess we were there on a lucky day because the weather was nice and the orange-yellow sky was stunning. I lost count of how many shots I took on my phone-camera.

After the last light of the day finally disappeared, we went for dinner at the Horizon Garden Restaurant. Apparently this place is affiliated to another restaurant in Kuantan with the same name. I've patronised the Kuantan outlet a few times and I liked it. I therefore decided to give this branch a try and again I'm pleased to say that the food they serve are quite delicious. While the price may be on the upper range for some, I consider it reasonable because of the comfortable seating and satisfactory service.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we made another visit to Lumut town before making the long drive back to Johor Bahru. I had discovered on Google Maps that there is an old de-commissioned navy frigate which has been converted into a museum. This ship was not there when I last dropped by Lumut about ten years ago. I was very eager to take a step on this old vessel.

Alas, when we reached there that morning, Rahmat Maritime Museum is closed. The ship is moored there alright, but the gate at the front of the jetty walkway was locked. I had a look at the opening hours stated on the signboard. We were not early. So how come?

A stall-owner at the waterfront then told us that the place has been closed for nearly a year. Closed for what? It couldn't be for maintenance works because I see no activity on board. To me, the proper thing to do was to put up a `closure' sign of some sort at the front gate so that long distance travellers like me would at least know something. As it turned out, this was the only disappointment I had in our trip to Perak.

With this part of the itinerary cancelled, we made a short stop at Hasil Laut Jamilah, a store selling dried seafood products from Pangkor, namely anchovies (ikan bilis) and salted fish. I know that there are a few grades of anchovies but before that day, I didn't know that one of the highest grade is called ikan bilis mata biru. Really? I thought `blue eyes' is exclusive to Frank Sinatra... but what do I know about fish..

Fishing in the sunset at Lumut Waterfront. Visited 24 March 2017

No wind, just glorious evening sky

Nice view to end the day

KD Rahmat. A ship museum. Good idea but poor implementation

Good range of products at reasonable prices and very friendly owners

Mata biru, the best bilis that money can buy

Friday, 31 March 2017

A debt of gratitude (Part 1 of 2)

The old man was dressed in a simple light blue short-sleeved shirt and dark grey trousers. The white kopiah on his head seemed a bit frayed along the edges. On his right hand he carried a small packet of fish crackers while his left held a large red plastic bag, presumably containing more packets of the same.

He walked with a slight stoop as he approached our table where I was having a late supper with two friends at our favourite 24-hours mamak restaurant.

“Assalamualaikum encik,” he greeted me. “Sudi beli keropok ikang? Hok ni paling baik. Dari Kemamang.” His thick east coast accent indicated that he had come far just to peddle some produce. I was about to decline the sale when my friend Simon spoke.

“Berapa ringgit ni pakcik?”

Eight ringgit a packet was the reply.

“Pakcik ada berapa peket semuanya?” Simon continued, motioning to the large bag in the pedlar’s left hand.

The old man placed the bag on the floor and began counting its contents. He had a total of ten packs, including the one he first held in his right hand.

“Okay pakcik, saya beli semua,” Simon said.

The initial expression of surprise on the old man’s face was quickly replaced by a smile.

Simon then asked me and our other friend Suresh, how many packs of the keropok each of us wanted. Both of us replied that one was enough. Simon also wanted just one packet for himself and so requested the pedlar to place three individual packets into smaller plastic bags. For the remaining seven packets, the old man was instructed to go to the other customers in the restaurant and give them away to whomever he wishes.

The second look of surprise of the evening flashed over the old man’s face.

“Pakcik bagikan setiap meja satu bungkus, sampai habis semua,” Simon clarified. “Cakap yang ada orang sedekah. Boleh?”

Spoken like a true Muslim. Except that my friend Simon is not a Muslim and as far as I know, does not profess to any religion. Simon Yong is a third generation china-man of Hakka descent.

I have known Simon since we were in secondary school. Those days, I simply called him Ah Chye. That’s many, many years ago. We lost touch for a while after the final Form 5 exams when we chose different career paths. Throughout my adult working life, I had been posted to various states in Malaysia. A few years ago, I decided to return and settle down at my hometown of Johor Bahru. In that first few months I was back, my path was reconnected to Simon’s.

On the way home from work one evening, I had stopped by a mini-market to pick up some groceries. The man at the cash register was about my age. After totaling up my purchase, he asked if I’m new to the area because he’s not seen me before. Just moved back a few months ago, I answered. But I’m a local lad, through and through, I quickly added. If so, which school did you go to, he continued to ask. When I mentioned the name of my alma mater, he suddenly paused. He squinted his eyes and stared at my face in deep thought. I didn't feel any unease under the scrutiny. Many people say I have a very recognizable face. When he resumed speaking, the man behind the counter took a guess at my name. He was correct. It turned out that we were classmates from years long gone and have now reunited after a span of nearly thirty years. I asked him if he owned the store. Being the modest man that he is, he replied that he only works there but the store belonged to his father. I later found out that the family operates three convenience stores around town and that my friend Simon effectively owns them all because he holds the majority share. But as long as his father is still alive, Simon would say that the senior Yong is the owner.

After that day, we meet up regularly, usually over dinner or teh tarik at our favourite mamak joint. It so happened that Ah Chye and I support the same football team in the English Premier League. Later on, Simon introduced me to his friend Suresh, who is slightly younger than us but share many common interests. Except that he supports Chelsea. So when it comes to football talk, we trade friendly barbs at each other. You guys are okay, Suresh would say. “It’s the other red team supporters I cannot stand. Those devils think they are the best team ever.” Of course you have to say that, I reminded him, otherwise our good friend here would have to look for another lawyer. Suresh and Simon laughed in agreement. You see, apart from being a good friend, Suresh handles Simon’s legal affairs.

I had once asked Simon how decided upon his new western name. Is Ah Chye not glamorous enough, I joked. You remember the old TV series called The Saint, he questioned me back. The one with that handsome actor?

Yes, I do. Roger Moore.

Well, I think I’m as handsome as that actor, he continued. “So that’s why I took his name.” Now, hold on. I was puzzled. The guy’s first name is Roger. No lah, came the response… Simon Templar, the hero’s name! Oh, okay… now I get it (rolling my eyes).

So why not Roger, I asked again, just for the fun of it. The reply was just as swift. “You remember another TV series called Combat? The one where soldiers talk on the walkie-talkie and say ‘roger this’, or ‘roger that’?”

Sure, I do.

“Well, if I enter the army, I don’t want to be confused by hearing people calling out my name so many times, hahaha.” I could hardly suppress my chuckle on hearing the explanation. Of course, Simon never went to military service.

Simon made payment for the whole of the keropok pedlar's stock with two RM50 notes and told the man to keep the change.

It was our turn to be astonished when the old man responded, “Minta maaf encik. Saya dok boleh terima duit lebih ini. Saya datang nak berniaga bukan minta sedekoh. Harap encik dok kecik ati. Duit lebih tu mungkin rezeki orang laing. Terima kasih.”

He returned the RM20 change to Simon, smiled kindly at us and then left our table to distribute the remaining packets as requested.

“You are a very generous man, Simon. Your mother must have taught you well,” Suresh said.

“Actually, not my mother but my father,” Simon remarked. “He was the one who taught me to be kind and helpful to others. Because he was once helped by a very kind man... a long time ago. Have I not told you my father’s story?”

Suresh and I shook our heads.

“Okay… I’ll tell you. But let me finish my mee goreng first.”

As Simon chowed down his fried noodles, I glanced around to see how the old keropok-seller was getting along. He was actually doing something not quite different from what he had set out to do, except that now he is giving away those fish crackers for free rather than selling them. Even so, every person he approached was surprised at the gift and he had to point to our table to indicate the source of the goodwill...

Thursday, 23 March 2017

One local destination a month - Part 2 : Tanjung Kling, Melaka

Without doubt, the most famous warrior in Malay history is Laksamana Hang Tuah, an admiral and royal aide in the court of Melaka's sultan during the 15th century. His bravery, strength and fighting skills are said to be legendary. His adventures and exploits are written in a literary compilation of stories known as Hikayat Hang Tuah, the author or authors of which are unknown. Also mentioned in those stories are his four close companions named Hang Jebat, Hang Kasturi, Hang Lekir and Hang Lekiu, all of whom were also brave and skillful warriors.

Perhaps the most intriguing and controversial of the stories (to me at least), is the one where Hang Tuah was accused of having an affair with one of the sultan's maid. The king, without further investigation or trial, ordered that his admiral be executed for the alleged offense. The bendahara (chief minister), not believing in Hang Tuah's guilt, did not carry out the sentence but chose to hide the accused at an isolated place.

On hearing the unjust punishment on his friend, Hang Jebat vowed to seek revenge. He attacked the palace and killed many of the sultan's guards but the king himself managed to escape. Hang Jebat's rampage was violent and without mercy. There was no one left with equal skills to fight him.

The bendahara finally had to confide to the sultan that Hang Tuah was actually still alive and that only Tuah could persuade his friend Jebat to surrender. On hearing this, the sultan pardoned Tuah and summoned him to surface from his hiding place. Tuah then confronted Jebat and requested the latter to give up his fight. Jebat was surprised that his companion still chose to be loyal to the king despite being unjustly accused and sentenced. A fight ensued between the two close friends and it ended with Tuah killing Jebat.

This episode has been subject of study by Malay historians and scholars for many years. Does blind loyalty to a wicked king take precedence over the life of your closest friend who stood up for you or does avenging a fellow warrior's unjust execution allow you to revolt against your ruler?

This story may just be folklore. Whether it really happened is hard to say. There are some people who think that Hang Tuah and his four friends never actually existed. According to one legend, Hang Tuah was part of the entourage that went up the mountain to seek the hand of Puteri Gunung Ledang on behalf of the sultan. On hearing the pre-conditions set by the princess for the marriage, Tuah realised that they were impossible to fulfill. Feeling that he had failed in his task, Tuah reportedly threw his kris into a river and vowed never to return to Melaka until it floated, which it never did. Another version of the story has it that Tuah did return to Melaka and died of old age. His grave is said to be located at Tanjung Kling, about 10km from present-day Melaka city centre.

On 17 February 2017, we were in Melaka to attend a wedding reception. I took the opportunity to visit Hang Tuah's mausoleum, using Google Maps Navigator to guide me to the location. I had not known of the place until I discovered it while browsing Maps a few weeks earlier.

The cemetery is old but well-maintained. The peculiar thing about the grave is its elongated structure, not corresponding to the average height of a normal person. I doubt the particular deceased had abnormal length. Indeed, it is also not definitive that it is the body of the great warrior that is buried there.

Anyway, whether it is actually the grave of Hang Tuah or not, it makes interesting contemplation nonetheless.

The mausoleum of a great warrior. Visited 17 Feb 2017

The entrance gate to the cemetery

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Departed List (updated to 12)

On 12 January 2011, my Facebook friend and former classmate at MRSM Kuantan, Roswati Abdul Wahab wrote a note in her FB page. In it, she listed out the names of our friends from the MCE/SPM 1979 batch who have departed ahead of us. At the time she wrote that piece, I already had some inkling of her intentions. It was a poignant reminder that our time on this Earth was only temporary and that we would be leaving it behind none too soon. Roswati herself was under treatment for liver cancer.

When she left us in October 2012 while performing her hajj in Makkah (which I wrote about here), I made a copy of her note and amended it by adding her name. She became the 10th name on the list.

Last week on 6 March 2017, after a lapse of more than four years, I made the latest amendments to the list. But this time, adding two names at one go. Indeed, the Almighty has written it to be so...

At 4.35am, our friend Puan Noorleha Darus exhaled her last breath in Johor Bahru. At 9.30pm, our friend Sdra Azmi Abdul Samad passed away in Seremban. Both succumbed to the vagaries of cancer.

The photograph below was taken in 2012 at the residence of our batchmate, Capt Norhisham Kassim, for the Aidilfitri gathering of that year. The late Azmi was standing at the back, 8th from the right as we view it. The late Noorleha was sitting at the front, 1st from the right. The late Roswati was sitting 2nd from the left.

May Allah swt have mercy on their souls and place them amongst the soliheen...

K79 2012 Raya gathering at Norhisham's

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Oscitant...

I have installed on my mobile phone, an app which I regularly use to check the meaning of words and their spelling. Unsurprisingly it is called Dictionary.com. This app has a `Word of the Day' feature, where it sends daily notifications of a selected word, its meaning, pronunciation and example of use.

Most of the time, it sends me words that I very seldom use or have not heard of (which I guess, is exactly the reason why they have such a feature). In such cases, I would often ignore the notification by swiping it away, without even opening the page to read the definition. However, the particular word chosen for last Friday had an eerie sense of coincidence. Or perhaps, synchronicity.

I was in Melaka two days ago. I decided to perform Friday prayers at the Masjid Selat Melaka, a relatively new mosque built partly on reclaimed land and partly with its main structure sitting on piles above the sea, thereby giving it the `floating' appearance. It is my first visit to the place and I like the beautiful view of the mosque with the blue sky and green sea as its background.

It was a hot and sunny day. The interior prayer hall is kept cool by three huge industrial-sized ceiling fans. In addition, the large open doors at either side of the hall allow the refreshing sea-breeze to flow through. It was as comfortable as can be. To the extent of making me sleepy. I was trying hard to remain awake during the khutbah (sermon). The tasty lunch of asam pedas ikan jenahak I had before coming to the mosque did not help either.

To help me snap out of the drowsiness, I took out my mobile from my pocket (which I should not be actually doing) and noted that I have not checked on the day's `Word of the Day'. I opened the page. Lo and behold... the selected word exactly described the situation I was in a few moments before.

oscitant (adjective) :

1. drowsy or inattentive
2. yawning, as with drowsiness; gaping
3. dull, lazy, or negligent

And that killed my drowsiness immediately...

Masjid Selat Melaka

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Sarah

I have a thing about babes...

The real ones, those tiny tots or newborns.

The latest one is this lovely beauty from New Zealand whom I'd like to call my grand-niece. Because among the large family of MRSM Kuantan brotherhood & sisterhood, any grandchild of yours is a grandnephew or grandniece of mine.

Sarah is daughter to Aida Farhana Zamri and Angus Archibald. Granddaughter to Norlaila Hussain and Ahmad Zamri Zahidin. Norlaila is a friend and sister from my MRSM days, more than 30 years ago.

Comel bangat....

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

One local destination a month - Part 1 : Bukit Kepong, Muar

On the final day of last year, a friend and former schoolmate, Cordelia Mason posted some of her aspirations for the coming new year on her Facebook wall. One of these was `one local destination a month'. I thought it was a splendid idea and commented that I would like to borrow it. And if we actually manage to see it through, we could perhaps compare notes.

This is my first step towards that initiative. I have chosen to visit a place in my home state of Johor which, ironically I've never been to before.

Bukit Kepong, Muar

In the early hours before dawn on 23 February 1950, the police station in the small village of Bukit Kepong was attacked by about 200 communist insurgents led by a man known as Mat Indera. Although overwhelmingly outnumbered, the station chief Sgt Jamil Bin Mohd Shah and his men put up a brave fight. Despite being told to surrender, the policemen did not give up. In the end, 14 police personnel, 5 auxiliary policemen, 5 family members and 2 local villagers were killed. The communists razed the station and living quarters before fleeing back into the jungle.

The Bukit Kepong tragedy is well-documented and has been made into a film. It is an example of the bravery and sacrifice that our policemen are prepared to face.

In recent years, the Royal Malaysian Police has constructed a memorial and museum at the site of the original police station. It is called Galeri Darurat Bukit Kepong. The soft-opening was done in 2012 by the then IGP, Tan Sri Ismail Omar. To date, the museum is not officially opened yet, which explains why not many people know about it.

On 27 January (eve of Chinese New Year), we made the trip to Muar with the intention of visiting this gallery. Little did we know that another event put a slight dent to our plans.

Bukit Kepong is located upstream of the Muar River, about 42km from Muar town as the crow flies. However, if you are to travel by boat (the common mode of transport in the 1950s), the meandering river route would likely double the distance.

The police station is located by the river bank. In fact, there is a small jetty for berthing purposes. This strategic position meant that it is prone to floods. That was what we encountered on the day of our visit. It was actually a dry day but the flood waters from previous days at the upstream district of Segamat had flowed down and accumulated at Bukit Kepong and Lenga. At the gallery area, water was about knee-deep. According to the staff, most of the exhibits at the ground floor were moved to the upper level in time.

Front gate of the gallery. Visited 27 Jan 2017

Welcome signboard to the town

The new building on the left with the old barracks on the right

Upstream view of the river which has overflowed its banks

The Bukit Kepong - Labis road is not passable by traffic

Kg Raja, Pagoh

Although we did not manage to enter the gallery, the day trip was not a total waste. We made a slight detour to Kg Raja in Pagoh on our way to Muar town. Within the compounds of the mosque at Kg Raja, there is the grave of the 7th Sultan of Melaka, Alauddin Riayat Shah. According to history, this sultan died of mysterious circumstances but how he came to be buried in Pagoh was not explained.

The final resting place of a king from Melaka

After the short stop at Kg Raja, we headed towards Muar town where we had a lovely steamboat dinner at a foodcourt with a lovely view of the river. On the way home to JB, we made another stop at Air Hitam to buy some local produce. All in all, a nice day out...

Monday, 9 January 2017

The previous year in pictures

The last time I did a post like this was in January 2011, where I selected one photo for each month of the previous year. Six years has since passed and I'm now resuming the effort because I feel that most of the photos taken on my mobile phone camera are of reasonable quality.

There weren't that many interesting pics in the earlier part of 2016 but towards the end of the year, we traveled to a few places and visited many interesting spots. So choosing just one pic to represent each month became a somewhat pleasant problem.

Click on each photo if you wish to view a larger image.

January :
22.01.16 - Crown on a quartet of swords. Mersing
February :
05.02.16 - Jambatan Putus Buloh Kasap. Segamat
March :
12.03.16 - Wedding of the son of my former colleague, Mariam Ibrahim.
Taman Perling in Johor Bahru
April :
09.04.16 - Wedding of Nornajmiah Nawawi, niece on my wife's side.
Bukit Jelutong, Shah Alam
May :
27.05.16 - Snake in the grass. Some of the hazards encountered in pipe maintenance works.
Bukit Indah, Johor Bahru
June : 
04.06.16 - Early morning exercise by the beach. Mersing
July : 
19.07.16 - Masjid Sultan Iskandar, Bandar Dato' Onn. Johor Bahru
August :
22.08.16 - Preparing for homemade briyani. Johor Bahru
September :
16.09.16 - Masjid Tengku Ampuan Jemaah, Bukit Jelutong. Shah Alam
October :
14.10.16 - Young man and old man. Dareez with his grand-uncle.
Surau Al-Hijrah, Kota Kemuning. Shah Alam
November :
06.11.16 - Selat Mendana, Kong Kong. Johor Bahru
December :
22.12.16 - Masjid Amirul Mukminin. Makassar, Indonesia