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