Monday, 11 September 2017

An old name for Great Britain

In the English Premier League football competition, I support Liverpool Football Club. I first became an LFC fan when I studied in the UK in the 1980s. Last Saturday, they played against Manchester City and got the worst drubbing that I can ever remember watching. After the exhilarating game against Arsenal the previous fortnight where the Gunners were trounced 4 to nothing, last weekend saw Liverpool on the receiving end of a City goal-scoring spree.

Damn it hurts... but I guess if you are able to dish it out, then you should be able to take it too.

The only other team in EPL that I would consider myself a supporter of is West Bromwich Albion, although I cannot call myself a die-hard fan. I became a supporter of WBA much earlier that LFC, when I was still in secondary school. The main reason for my attraction to Albion was a certain player named Bryan Robson. A stylish and hardworking midfielder, Robson later transferred to Manchester United where he enjoyed a successful career. He also became captain of the England team.

After watching the horrible Liverpool team display on Saturday, I then switched to watch the later game of West Bromwich Albion versus recently-promoted Brighton & Hove Albion. As it turned out, the new boys BHA defeated WBA by 3 - 1. A rotten Saturday of EPL football for me.

Anyway, the item that caught my interest was that two teams with `Albion' in their names are playing against each other, the first time I've come across it. This caused me to look up what `albion' means.

According to Wikipedia, Albion is the oldest known name for the island of Great Britain. The name is ancient Greek in origin (as opposed to Britain, which has Latin roots).

Okay then... enough of rolling in sorrow and looking forward to next week's game.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Barely alive

In some of my responses to social media comments from friends, I often use the Malay idiom nyawa-nyawa ikan to describe the present political career of a certain minister. The phrase has a graphic impact and apply to a condition (life, career or business situation, for example) that is barely alive or in its last gasp of breath before expiring.

As usual, after using such a phrase, I often wonder how it originated. Sad to say, all my online search for Malay word or phrase origins have revealed very little. Apart from telling us what the idiom means, no website has provided information on how, when or who created the phrase. There aren't any websites whose authors or administrators are even willing to offer a theory on how such sayings came to be.

This pales in comparison to websites that offer the etymology of English words and origins of the most popular and common phrases. Malay language and literary scholars still have a long way to go, it seems.

In the absence of such theories, I guess I'll offer one of mine :

Nyawa-nyawa ikan ~ when a fish is caught on a hook and pulled to the river bank or into the perahu, it would flop here and there, gasping for water and struggle for a bit before finally reaching the end. The duration from the time it is taken out of the water and the time it stops moving is not a terribly long one. Some wise wordsmith of old then thought that this situation would aptly describe someone who is in his final throes of survival.

Not a nice situation to be in...

On sale at our local fishmonger at the central market

Thursday, 24 August 2017

One local destination a month - Part 7 : Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan

Welcome to the 7th entry of my 1LD1M series. This time it is about Port Dickson in Negeri Sembilan.

The visit to Port Dickson was somewhat unplanned. In early July, our second son received confirmation of his housemanship posting to Sungai Buloh Hospital in Selangor. Prior to his posting, he has to attend an orientation programme to be held at a hotel in Port Dickson. We took the opportunity to send him for his course while at the same time spend a day at the seaside town that's well-known by its shortened name of PD.

We have been to PD a number of times and for each trip we stayed at different accommodations. It was no different this time around.

1. Klana Beach Resort and Balai Cerap Teluk Kemang

Both these buildings are located within the same compound and are owned by Majlis Agama Islam Negeri Sembilan (MAINS), the Islamic Religious Council of the state.

The hotel itself is a low-rise building of only 4 storeys. It has one row of rooms facing the sea while the other facing inland. We took one that faces the sea. Although it cost slightly more, the nice view was worth it.

While it attaches the `beach resort' label to its name, the hotel does not exactly have a sandy beach where guests could easily access for a dip in the sea. The hotel sits on a hilly cape with a rocky coastline at the bottom. There is a well-constructed staircase and footpath that leads from the hotel grounds to the water's edge. You can't really swim there but I guess the walk around the cape would be enjoyable enough. If you are still keen on a beach swim, there are nice public beaches on either side of the cape.

As I see it, the main advantage of being located on elevated ground is the lovely view of the Straits of Melaka. On the day we were there, the weather was calm and serene. As we approached the end of the day, the glorious sunset was a sight to soothe the soul.

The front of Klana Beach Resort. Visited on 17 July 2017

A medium-sized swimming pool with separate zones for men and ladies

A lone jet-ski rider cutting across the calm sea

Final rays of the day before the sun sinks below the horizon
Another reason why I chose to stay at this resort is the Balai Cerap Teluk Kemang, an astronomy observatory that is well-known among Muslim calendar enthusiasts as one of the places in the country for the official moon-sighting exercise to determine the start of the Ramadhan fasting month. Guests at the resort are entitled to a free pass to enter the observatory and have a look at the sky through its telescope.

This telescope is said to be the biggest in Malaysia, but how big is big, I have no idea. From what little I know about astronomy, the reference size of a telescope is the diameter of its reflective mirror, which in this case is said to be 24 inches. To reach this telescope, you'd have to climb up 6 flight of stairs. No elevator. The telescope is very sensitive to vibrations, hence any mechanical equipment that would induce such jitters (such as a lift going up and down) cannot be accommodated.

It was a tough climb up the stairs for an unfit couple like me and my better half but the effort was so worthwhile. We were blessed with a clear night sky and the observatory staff could point the telescope at Saturn. Yes, the planet Saturn... the special one with those unique rings around it. As seen through the telescope, the planet was a small blob of light in a huge dark sky. But those rings were sharp and clear. No mistaking Saturn from the other planets. I could have stayed there all night to watch the skies but then they close the place to visitors at midnight.

The staff at the observatory were very helpful in answering questions we had about the solar system, stars and constellations. They also have a collection of images of the galaxy which they showed us on a large flat-screen monitor. I asked to see an image of the Milky Way (known as Bima Sakti in Malay) and the gentleman manning the computer pulled up a file from his archive to display a breathtaking well-composed picture of the observatory (foreground) and the star-filled sky (background). I hope to be able to capture a picture of such quality some time in the future.

Teluk Kemang Observatory, rear view facing Straits of Melaka

View of observatory main entrance

The main telescope at the top level of the observatory

2. Pengkalan Kempas Megalith Complex

Upon checking out of Klana Beach Resort, we took the main road (Federal Route 5) heading south to Johor Bahru. About 30km from Teluk Kemang along this road, Google Maps show a place with an interesting name. I thought it was worth a stop since it was on our return route anyway.

Pengkalan Kempas Megalith Complex (alternatively mentioned as Kompleks Sejarah Pengkalan Kempas on official road signs) is actually the grave of a Muslim missionary of olden days identified as Sheikh Ahmad Majnun. This religious teacher was said to be propagating Islam during the time of 13th century Melaka Sultanate. Around his tomb are some carved stones placed in peculiar fashion. Some of these stones are inscribed with old Jawi (arabic) script but what they actually say is not translated.

Personally, to call the site a complex is somewhat an overstatement. And calling the stones megaliths is stretching it too much. Apart from the official Jabatan Warisan (Heritage Department) plaque at the entrance to the site, not much other information can be seen. Who actually was this sheikh? Who carved the stones? When and why were they placed in such a manner? What do those carvings mean? I guess such questions would remain unanswered. Nonetheless, an interesting enough place to make a stop if you happen to be passing by the area.

On the day of our visit, the roof structure covering the grave was under repairs. At least this shows that effort is being made to keep the site in a presentable state.


Tomb of a learned man

Unique stone structures next to the grave. There is another smaller group of stones
a few metres away under a separate roof

Sunday, 30 July 2017

One local destination a month - Part 6 : Mersing, Johor

I have to start this 6th post of my 1LD1M series with an apology. When I first embarked on this set of travel stories, the intention was to write about a new place in Malaysia that I have never been to before. However, the month of June was mostly taken up by the fasting month of Ramadhan and later the Aidifitri celebration. Hence there wasn't much traveling except for the balik kampung trip to my better half's hometown of Mersing.

To keep the series in motion, I therefore have to slightly bend my rules and write about Mersing, a place I have written about a few times before. Sorry about that. Nonetheless, I hope the new information I'm sharing here would be helpful to readers who plan to drop by this small town on the east coast of Johor.

While Mersing is probably more well-known for its beaches (Air Papan, Penyabong etc.) and as the stepping point to the islands (Tioman, Sibu etc.), I'll focus my writing on a few makan places that are worth mentioning.

1. Nasi Dagang

Not many people know that Mersing has a good selection of food items that originated from Terengganu like nasi dagang, keropok lekor and satar. This is because a sizeable number of Terengganu descendants have settled there, especially in the area known as Mersing Kanan (locally known as Tanjung). Perhaps the most famous of all the nasi dagang in Mersing is Nasi Dagang Mak Yah, sold from a simple stall next to the main wet market. The nasi dagang is so popular that you have to queue to buy it.

However, Mak Yah sells her nasi dagang for take-away only. If you wish to have your nasi dagang as a sit-down breakfast meal or not patient enough to stand in a waiting queue, I recommend you make a visit to Nasi Dagang Warisan Kak Ju. It is a foodstall located on Jalan Makam, a road that runs along the coast on the north side of town. Other than nasi dagang, Kak Ju also sells nasi lemak, nasi minyak and other breakfast items. Although it is slightly out of town, the short drive would be worth it. Taste is good, price is very reasonable (still at kampung levels) and parking space is ample.

Warisan Kak Ju. Visited 28 June 2017

Nasi dagang on a plate

2. Nasi campur masakan kampung

For a kampung-style nasi campur (mixed rice) lunch meal, our place of choice is a foodstall called Kedai Ucu Selera Kita, also located on Jalan Makam but nearer to town. This place sells a wide spread of kampung dishes that would make you spoilt for choice. The slight drawback is that service may be a bit slow when the huge crowd hits at lunchtime. On weekends, hungry out-of-towners would flock the place, so if you wish to avoid it, try coming here before noon. Despite this minor inconvenience, we like to have our lunch here because we've not found another place in Mersing which can match the variety of dishes on offer.

Large seating area that's quickly packed

Typical nasi campur mix consisting of asam pedas ikan, sayur and telur asin

3. Mee bandung

You wouldn't think you'd find good mee bandung muar in Mersing, would you? I'll tell you now that you can. But you have to drive some ways out of town to reach the place. Mee Bandung D'gunung is an unimpressive stall located right by the roadside of Federal Route 3 about 10km north of town. If you are driving from Mersing town towards Endau, you'd probably miss it. But if you are game for a bit of difference, then make a look-out for it on your left-hand side after you pass the water treatment plant in Tenglu.

The stall is mostly a one-man show run by an amiable gentleman called Encik Mat. If you come in a large group, then patience is key. He operates from early morning to around 6pm with a short closing period around mid-day for zohor prayers.

While the mee bandung is not bad, Encik Mat also serves good mee soto too. Again, prices are still customer-friendly.

Location is just by the main road

Mee bandung in reasonable portion


Couldn't resist a bowl of mee soto after finishing the mee bandung

4. Satar and keropok lekor

Okay, back to the Terengganu delicacies of satar and keropok lekor. There are not that many stalls selling satar. We have tried almost all and the one we consider the best is located near the keropok gallery along Jalan Makam at Mersing Kanan. This stall has no particular name so I decided to give it the title of Gerai Satar Terbaik Mersing and recommended an addition to Google Maps.

They start business around 11 in the morning and would sometimes be sold-out by 3pm. They have a few small tables where you can sit and have your satar in-situ. Complete your selection with some keropok lekor, otak-otak, kuih paung and cendol which they also sell, and you have a satisfying tea-time meal.

Satar and otak-otak over charcoal fire

Satar is made up of fish, coconut and some killer bits of cili padi

Kuih paung whose insides are also fish and coconut

Sunday, 23 July 2017

An exclave in Peninsula Malaysia


exclave (noun)a portion of a country geographically separated from the main part by surrounding alien territory

It is quite common for us to come across the word `enclave', a country or region that is completely surrounded or enclosed by the territory of another country. Examples of enclaves are :

1. Lesotho (enclaved by South Africa)
2. Vatican City (enclaved by Italy)

Before the re-unification of Germany in 1990, the city of West Berlin was also considered an enclave because it was surrounded by the former East Germany.

A logical extension of this concept is the 'exclave', where only part of a country or region is geographically separated from the main part by another territory. I have only recently found out what this word means and that there is an example in Peninsula Malaysia itself.

I was browsing Google Maps not long ago to look for interesting places to visit in Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan. I noticed that the cape of Tanjung Tuan (also known by its Portuguese name of Cape Rachado) has a state boundary crossing it. I have been to this place before and loved the shallow beach known as Blue Lagoon (see post here -> Port Dickson) but I never realised that Tanjung Tuan is not in Negeri Sembilan. It is actually part of the state of Melaka.

When I was in Port Dickson last week, I made a stop at Tanjung Tuan to take some photographs confirming this fact.

So there you have it. The small protrusion of hilly land extending its head to the sea known as Tanjung Tuan, which is mostly forest reserve and site of Cape Rachado Lighthouse is an exclave belonging to Melaka.

It has taken more than a half-century of my life to discover this. We learn something new every day...

The signboard on Federal Route 5, giving first indication that
part of Melaka is isolated by Negeri Sembilan

As we approach the cape, the state boundary signboard (right background) becomes evident

The road on the left leads to the lighthouse (Melaka) while the one on the right
leads to Pantai Tg Biru (Negeri  Sembilan)

The Google Map showing state lines cutting across the neck of the cape

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A clinic for the masses

Tucked in an obscure corner of the UTC Kotaraya complex in central Johor Bahru is the government health clinic known as Klinik 1Malaysia. It offers both medical and dental services at a nominal price.

Earlier this month I made my first visit. At the registration counter for dental services, I handed over my MyKad and was asked to fill up a form. The nurse then keyed in my data into the system. While doing so, she asked me a few questions.

"Have you been here before, sir?"

No. My first visit.

"May I know your occupation?"

Retired.

"Do you have a pensioner card?"

No. I work in the private sector.

She returned my identity card, gave me a queue number and asked me to wait until my number is called. There were not that many people in the waiting lounge, maybe six or seven, I can't recall now. The lounge itself is bright and clean. There is a television on, tuned to the Suria Channel of Singapore. The TV reception is quite good and I assume that is why it's tuned to a neighbouring country's programme. Unless you are subscribed to Astro, the reception of local stations using normal antenna can be quite dismal. Except for the stiff and uncomfortable metal seats, the overall waiting experience was generally bearable.

The duration of the wait, under different circumstances, I would call as exceedingly long. But then you have to remember that this is a government clinic. Waiting for one to two hours is normal. Furthermore, I was a walk-in patient. No appointment needed like most private dentists.

When my number finally flashed on the screen, I walked into Treatment Room 8 where I was greeted by a smiling young male doctor. He asked me a few questions and then told me to sit on the dentist's chair. The chair and other equipment in the room looked as modern as can be.

After performing the descaling process on my teeth, the doctor pronounced that all my white chompers are in good condition. He praised me for taking good care of them. Wow... no other dentists have praised me before.

Of course I walked out of the clinic with a big smile on my face. And I paid only RM3 for the whole treatment (RM1 to register plus RM2 for the scaling work).

Convenient and inexpensive. A very good government initiative.

Friday, 30 June 2017

One local destination a month - Part 5 : Jugra, Selangor

The 5th instalment of my 1LD1M series is somewhat delayed in making its appearance. The trip was actually done on 24 May 2017, before the Muslim fasting month. So I'm squeezing this post in just before the month of June leaves us.

This time, I managed to make the journey to Jugra in Kuala Langat, Selangor, the place where I intended to visit in April. There are a number of interesting historical spots here which are not so well-known and discovering them made our trip so worthwhile.

1. Istana Bandar

Within the district of Banting in a small village with the oxymoronic name of Kampung Bandar, there is an old palace built by a former sultan of Selangor. Known alternatively as Istana Bandar or Istana Sultan Ala'eddin, this royal dwelling was built in 1905 by the fifth Sultan of Selangor.

The building sits on a 12.6 acre flat plot of land and is a combination of Malay and Moorish architecture. It is a 2-storey design; the upper floor having the grander rooms and balconies while the lower floor has a relatively low ceiling height. When Sultan Ala'eddin (also known as Sultan Alauddin Sulaiman) passed away in 1938, his successor did not take residence there and the palace became empty. Over the years, the building went through a series of transformations in its use before reverting back to being an empty shell, left to be appreciated by only a few who care to have that inkling of interest in history. The palace is presently registered as a heritage building under Jabatan Warisan Negara.

On the day of our visit, we were the only ones there. The guard at the security post was probably surprised seeing a car with Johor license plates driving up to that quiet location on a weekday afternoon. After I signed the visitor book, he allowed us into the compound and said that we are free to walk around.

The palace is totally empty inside - no furniture or furnishings or exhibits. A number of broken windows and rotting floor planks (properly cordoned-off) show the age of the building. Nonetheless overall the place is clean and tidy. Even the external grounds are well-maintained, i.e. no overgrown bushes or creepers and the like.

Serene and peaceful. And if you are alone, can be creepy as well.

View of Istana Bandar from the front. Visited 24 May 2017

A water reservoir or kolah in the internal courtyard

A view from inside to outside through broken windows

Wide staircase at the rear

2. Bukit Jugra

On the eastern side of Sungai Langat near its mouth, there is a hill known as Bukit Jugra on which sits the Jugra Lighthouse. The hill slope next to the lighthouse is a popular place for para-gliding enthusiasts. On the day of our visit, not a single para-glider was in sight because it was a weekday. I was told that they pack the place mostly on weekends.

Anyway, we were there to enjoy the view from a lovely vantage point. The Langat river mouth where it meets the Melaka Straits can be clearly seen. This viewing spot is surprisingly quite accessible by car. The road up the hill to the lighthouse is paved and there is even space to park your car safely, although I can imagine some congestion on weekends.

A barge being towed upstream of Sg Langat. The Melaka Straits on the horizon

Jugra Lighthouse

3. Makam Sultan Abdul Samad

I came upon this royal mausoleum by chance. As we were heading towards Jugra Lighthouse, I saw a signboard that indicated the grave of royalty. The cemetery itself was not visible from the small road and I decided to make a stop on the way back.

Sultan Abdul Samad ibni Al-marhum Raja Abdullah was the 4th Sultan of Selangor. He reigned from 1857 to 1898, a span of 41 years. At the time of his death he was 93 years-old. The heir apparent to the throne, his eldest son Raja Muda Musa had already departed ahead of him. This resulted in Raja Muda Musa's eldest son, Sulaiman Shah Musa (later also known as Alaudin Sulaiman) becoming the next-in-line. The 5th Sultan of Selangor was therefore the grandson of the 4th.

Perhaps the most famous building in Kuala Lumpur that bears his name is the Moorish-styled landmark known as Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad, located opposite of Dataran Merdeka and the Royal Selangor Club.

This mausoleum at Jugra is a hidden gem. The place is well-kept with a wide parking area for visitors. The security guard on duty was kind enough to give me an impromptu tour. Other than the king, members of his immediately family are also buried there.

Resting place of the 4th Sultan of Selangor

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Salam Aidilfitri 1438 Hijrah


Ramadhan berlalu Syawal menjelang,
Yang jauh datang yang dekat hilang,
Pergi kembara tak akan pulang,
Jasad tiada budi dikenang...

Salam Aidilfitri buat sahabat-sahabat dan pembaca di blog ini. Saya doakan agar semuanya sihat dan selamat sampai ke destinasi masing-masing. Mohon maaf dari saya sekiranya tersilap kata, terkasar bahasa dan terlebih bicara. Tersinggung perasaan, tersalah pesan mahupun tertulis yang bukan2...

Semuga Allah swt panjangkan umur kita untuk bertemu dengan Ramadhan sekali lagi...

Monday, 19 June 2017

The fragrant aroma of clarified butter

My mother is an expert in cooking Indian-style briyani. Her skills have been passed down to my better half who has now become the go-to person when her siblings crave for tasty mutton briyani. For Aidilfitri, it is normal for our house to serve briyani when the normal Malay raya dishes would be ketupat and rendang.

There are many different recipes to cooking briyani, depending on the region or version. Pakistani style, Hyderabad style, Batu Pahat style, just to name a few. The ingredients in my mother's version are quite extensive. One of the most important is ghee. It gives the briyani rice a unique fragrant aroma. Recipes that make use of other fat substitutes would simply pale in comparison.

Ghee or clarified butter (commonly known as minyak sapi in Malay), is an expensive component. Even among the many manufacturers of this product, there are varying qualities. We have tried cooking briyani using different brands of ghee and conclude that the one from QBB is still the best. Not surprisingly, it is also the most expensive.

So expensive that the Mydin Supermarket chain has to attach security caps on the cans of QBB ghee to deter shoplifting.

Compare the prices of the 2 brands on this shelf

Anti-shoplifting bands on the QBB cans. Proof of its popularity

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Spread a little cheer...

No matter how bad your situation is, there would always be others far worse off than you. So be thankful, don't despair and never give up hope. Something I subscribe to for a very long time.

At every large city in the world, there is the problem of the homeless and destitute. Johor Bahru is no exception. These unfortunate souls gather around the old central train station where they lay down for the night on used cardboard boxes as their mattress. Men and women of various races and ages.

Last night, I joined the team from Free Market Johor and Friends & Strangers, to spread some cheer. We distributed food packs and some basic toiletries (small towel, toothbrush and toothpaste). As a special occasion to celebrate the coming hari raya, the FMJ team collected a large number of pre-loved baju melayu to give away for free. The fast food chain Macdonald's also contributed to the event by giving burgers and drinks.

The distribution was held at the KTM cargo bay at JB Sentral train station. Around 100 persons came and collected the food and clothes. It was a small effort by the team but I'm pretty sure well-appreciated by the recipients.

Volunteers helping to prepare the food packs

KTM Sentral Cargo Bay became the distribution point for the night

Pre-loved men's and women's clothing for some raya cheer

With fellow MRSM Kuantan alumnus, Amin Shade and his lovely daughters

More pics can be seen at this Facebook page -> Friends and Strangers

Monday, 12 June 2017

Iftar @ Chill

I can't quite remember when I first went to a ramadhan buka puasa buffet. Probably around 20 years ago. In those days, upmarket hotel restaurants would hold these `all you can eat' buffet spreads where you pay a single price to eat and drink as much as you like at the time of breaking of fast. Those days it cost around RM30 to RM40 per head, still quite a princely sum if you are to consider the average take-home pay of the time. If you can't quite afford the meal, the next best thing you can hope for is to get invited to one.

During my early career days, being invited to such events was quite exciting. Sub-contractors and suppliers would rush to get your confirmation of attendance to their invitations. The junior staff would always look forward to such events. We would then compare which hotel or restaurant had the best spread of food at what price (not that we would be actually paying, of course). It then became a somewhat a tricky decision among subcontractors on which hotel to choose because they would not want to be seen as being sub-standard. This is one of the unsavoury aspects of this practice.

The other negative aspect is unnecessary waste. While the spread of so many delicious food can be very alluring, there is really only so much that one person can eat. Buffet food layouts fuel human greed. More so when one is selecting food on an empty stomach.

Nowadays, the price of ramadhan buffet at certain 5-star hotels has reached three figures. Melampau. Over the years, I have declined attending such buka puasa meals, to the extent of needing to apologise to those who have invited. It is becoming too excessive. Last year I went to only one and even that was as a treat to my small team of 3 staff.

So far this fasting month, I have been to one iftar buffet. It was at Chill Cafe of KFCH International College where my third son is currently pursuing his diploma in Culinary Arts. The college holds this buffet event as a way to expose and train their students on the skills of running a restaurant. The buffet is open to the public.

We went there in the first week of fasting when the promotional price was at RM35 per pax. The choice of menu was reasonably good with offerings such as roasted lamb, various Malay kampung-style dishes and even pasta. Taste-wise was not too bad too. My son was part of the kitchen crew that day. He made the pulut mangga dessert which sadly I did not manage to try.

Since the opening week, the price has gone up to RM58.90 per pax, which is way too much for me, no matter what dish you serve.

Chill Cafe @ KFCH International College is located at Bandar Dato' Onn, Johor Bahru.

Chill is cool...

Roasted lamb. The most popular dish, of course

Mix of a few things for my 1st round

Sup utara and toast for my 2nd round

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