Thursday, 31 December 2009

JobStreet Penang

Okay, so this is the end of a personal journey. For slightly more than eight years, these people at Penang have been an integral part of my work life. How I'm going to miss them. And how I'm also going to miss the privilege of working with everyone else in the family: from the other Malaysian offices to the far flung corners of the region such as Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India and yes, even Japan. Maybe our paths can cross again in the not too distant future, maybe they will not. But no matter how the destiny, I've got to say this to my JobStreet friends: so long, everyone...

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Trespassers will be converted

Yes, this is an Ajahn Brahm original. He confirmed it earlier this week. It seemed that when the Bodhinyana Monastery was being built in Serpentine, south of Perth in Western Australia, the Buddhist monks there had a lot of problem with keeping trespassers out. There was no wall around the land, just a wooden fence to demarcate it. The initial signboard read: "trespassers would be prosecuted." Nothing inspiring about it, of course, and it had to be stolen one day too.

Therefore in a fit of inspiration, Ajahn Brahm changed the text to "trespassers will be converted." He told me that if there was anything that Australians would be afraid of, it would be the threat of conversion. And the monastery has been left well alone ever since. Later, when the Jhana Grove meditation centre was being built, he included the same text into the signboard.

Old friends (Old NOMIS friends) chief executive officer Mark Chang flew up from Singapore yesterday to join us for lunch at a Japanese restaurant in Bukit Jambul, Penang. I was very glad to see him as it wasn't often that he'd be around at the Penang office. Coincidentally, Eng Soon (far right), Ted (far left) and I had been thinking of having a small get-together of the remnants of the pioneering North Malaysia Internet User Group (NOMIS) in Penang which we set up in 1995 or thereabouts -- at least, those of us that remained at -- and Mark showed up at the right time!

Right from the start, he was at the forefront of forming NOMIS. Soon he became our acknowledged ringleader (we took no leaders as everyone was one, so at best he could only be the ringleader among ringleaders) and helped to move our regular meeting venue from the YMCA to the Universiti Sains Malaysia. In the later 1990s, NOMIS helped shape Internet use in Penang when we gave talks and demos at several annual computer events events by The Star newspaper.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

At peace with ourselves

Recently, my family was in Malacca. Although our visit was disrupted by rain and a horrendous traffic congestion in the town centre, we still had our fair share of fun when the clouds disappeared and the sun came out to play.

Here is one of the tourist sites I managed to visit while my family was preoccupied elsewhere around the old historical place in Malacca town: the Museum of History and Ethnography at the Stadthuys.

Stadthuys. Long have I pondered over the pronunciation of this word. "Stadt" is no problem with me. No matter how you say it, it comes out as "stud". But "huys" is actually pronounced as "haus" in the Dutch language, not "hoys" or "hoose" or "hoois", and Stadthuys is an old Dutch colonial word that means Town Hall.

Anyway, enough of pronunciation lessons for the day. So, I was inside the Stadthuys and I went wandering into this part of the building to get and know someone better. A salt of the sea type of fella Here's me with my new-found sailor friend, Mr Cheng:

"Don't call me Cheng Ho now," his look seemed to tell me. "It's Zheng He. I've got to change with the times and time dictates that I've to Pinyinise my name." Okay, okay.... Cheng, Zheng, it's the same with me. How's the outlook from up there, I enquired. Must be good because with a flip flap of his clothes, Zheng just stood back to gaze into the far distance. I turned around and ah-ha! No wonder he was so quiet. He's at peace with himself. This is what Zheng saw of the courtyard from his lofty point up there:

As for my perspective of the courtyard from ground level, I think it still looks peaceful. In this courtyard, you can be at peace with yourself, just as I was also at peace with myself, at least for the present.

Monday, 28 December 2009

My kingdom for a Buah Keluak

Malaysia is supposed to be a food lover's favourite haunt but sometimes, I am so disappointed with the quality of the food especially when I feel ripped off by sub-standard stuff.

For example, if you are in George Town, Penang, do avoid the nameless char koay teow stall that operates one or two steps away from the duck meat porridge stall along New Lane. Also, do avoid the over-rated Sisters char koay teow at MacAlister Road. Seriously, they are not worth the money that you'd spend on them. There are more appealing char koay teow stalls anywhere else in the city!

But the above comment comes only as a "by the way" because my real grouse is about the Ole Sayang Nyonya Restaurant in Melaka Raya, Malacca. Yes, this is a very popular restaurant and you'll be hard put to find empty tables unless you arrive early or are prepared to wait.

They have a reputation from various recommendations in the Internet -- that's how I got to know about this place, anyway -- but what I'm suggesting is that we shouldn't accept totally the good reviews that we read. We thought that they would serve good Nyonya food but it turned out that their versions of otak-otak and fried mixed vegetables weren't up to my family's expectations. The lady taking our orders didn't even recommend the jiew hoo char to us and when I asked her about the chicken buah keluak curry, she said the kitchen wasn't cooking the dish that evening. Moreover, the cendol was quite miserable. What a letdown indeed!

On the other hand, the Kocik Kitchen in Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock was a good find. Maybe it was because I was so excited over their buah keluak dish that I forgot about everything else!

The buah keluak is actually the nut (some say it is a fruit and yet others call it a seed) of the kepayang tree that grows wild in Malaysia and Indonesia. People say that the nut is poisonous and the hydrogen cyanide contained therein must be cleaned off properly. When properly prepared, the black kernel of this nut imparts a dark colour to the curry. Plus, you'll need to have an acquired taste for it because its distinctive bitterness will put off many people.

In Malacca, my aunt didn't like it, my in-laws didn't like it, my wife didn't like it and my son didn't like it. In the end, I finished off all five or six of the nut in the chicken buah keluak curry. I can only say "yum yum".

It's been a very long time since I ate this delicacy, mainly because it's almost impossible to buy the nut in Penang. I hear that you may possibly find the buah keluak from the Indonesian traders at the Chow Kit wet market in Kuala Lumpur but I don't have any detail, not having tried searching for it myself.

Anyway, my mother used to cook buah keluak curry when I was small and still living in Seang Tek Road, George Town. I don't know where she bought the nuts from in Penang. You don't ask that sort of question when you are a six-year-old, do you? The norm in Malacca was to cook the nut in a chicken curry but I remember my mother cooking the buah keluak with fish. She would prepare the nuts by burying them with ash and then soaking them in water for a week, presumably to neutralise the poison. That's how much preparation going into the nuts. Ah....the good old days.

Australian travellogue: An alpacan moment of truth

4 Nov 2009. For a moment, we thought that we were looking at the Andean llama. However, the signboard at the Lavender & Berry Farm said otherwise. It wasn't a llama but an alpaca, and the difference between the two would be their ears. Alpaca have straight ears while the llama have banana-shaped ones. Besides, the alpaca stands smaller than their Andean cousins.

So there we were, after lunch at the Farm, and going on a walk-about around the vast land and we came across these two handsome alpaca specimens. Serious-looking specimens. Brooding-looking specimens. Cool-looking specimens. One was grazing and the other sitting still. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that it was bored.

I looked at it and it looked at me. Then it ignored me. I walked up closer to it and it still ignored me. I took a photo of it from afar and it still ignored me. Therefore, I went in even closer and its eyes started to train on me.

The next few milli-seconds went by in a blur. As I aimed my camera closer and closer to this beast, it starting some chewing motion. Then, at a most unexpected moment, just as I was pressing down on the camera's shutter button ... click, blrrt, pttui! A mouthful of alpaca spit hit me spot on. Luckily, it was only air with little bits and pieces of undigested grass and seeds, not acidic stomach contents. But yes, I was a victim of an alpaca and I lived to tell this tale....

Next: Beedelup
Previous: Pemberton attractions

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Malacca curse

Malacca is a great holiday destination BUT for their traffic. If there is one area that the state authorities have failed Malacca, it is in the lack of traffic management. When I was in Malacca about 10 days ago, I was appalled by the helplessness of their state government to implement an effective traffic control in the town centre. When speaking to long-suffering residents there, I was told that they have simply given up on travelling into the heart of town during the weekends and especially the public holidays.

The reason for this horrendous situation is that Malacca is cursed by being exactly at the half-way point between the Klang Valley and Singapore. During long public holidays that spill into the weekends, troves of holiday seekers from these two areas descend on Malacca - a mere two hours of driving from either Kuala Lumpur or Johor Bahru - and their vehicles fuck up the whole traffic system.

Of course, it's not to say that there is no traffic congestion outside of the public holidays. Even on normal days, I hear that traffic can be bad enough, especially during rush hour in the mornings and afternoons or during school dismissal times, but there is nothing like the public holidays that bring out the worst in Malacca. Businesses may be happy to see the holiday seekers but not the residents.

How much of this problem is being addressed by the Malacca state government remains unknown to me because after all, I was only a casual visitor to the state. However, two days was enough for me to come to a safe conclusion. So much more can be achieved than to turn the narrow roads in the town centre into one-way streets. Imagine....for me to leave the Stadthuys and go to the Jonker Street area, I had to make a big, slow circular drive that took me past landmarks like the Mahkota Parade, Hotel Equatorial, Malacca High School and the Francis Xavier Church and then - only then - after fighting the traffic along Jalan Laksamana to inch from the left side of this one-way road to its right side, cross the Malacca river: a 45-minute travel time to a destination that was just across the river!

In this aspect, the town planners have failed Malacca miserably. What's the use of building a flyover over the mouth of the Malacca river when it hasn't reduced the traffic congestion problem? From my vantage point at the Mahkota Hotel, I could see that 90 percent of the time, the traffic congestion was mono-directional. In the other direction, traffic flow was totally minimal, almost negligible. And then there's the problem of Jalan Merdeka being the main traffic artery in this part of town. This road is already bursting at the seams with the Mahkota Parade on the right and the Dataran Pahlawan on the left and yet, traffic in all directions seem to be converging on this one road before dispersing everywhere else, which makes it a classic example of a bottleneck!

Hence this request for the Malacca town planners to re-look into your traffic flow and decide whether (1) you can close off some of the narrow ones and convert them into "pedestrian only" passageways during weekends and public holidays, (2) build more infrastructure that will bypass the town centre and (3) you can disallow any more new commercial development within a 10-kilometre radius of the town centre. This much, you owe your long-suffering residents in the state.

Australian travellogue: Pemberton attractions

4 Nov 2009. Right after checking out from the Lavender & Berry Farm, we headed straight for the Visitors Centre. We were a little surprised that the centre also housed a little pioneer museum which chronicled much of the town's past: especially how it developed from a timber settlement (and in fact, there is still a timber mill smack in the centre of the town).

We left the Visitors Centre at about 10 o'clock and headed out to Broadway Street to await the crossing of the Pemberton tram.

Originally, we had planned to take the tram ride all the way to Northcliffe and back but decided to cancel it due to time constraints. So what else was there for us to do but to take pictures of the tram instead, as it rumbled on past us? Ah, well.....

Next on the itinerary was a visit to the Gloucester National Park. The main attraction here was the Gloucester Tree, a huge 61-metre-tall ancient karri tree that was chosen as a fire look-out in 1947.

It was so named because the Duke of Gloucester, in his capacity as the Governor-General of Australia, visited Pemberton as the lookout was being built. But maybe, we should have visited the Warren National Park instead because the Bicentennial Tree stood even higher at 75 metres.

So after these activities, we headed back to the Lavender & Berry Farm for lunch. I don't normally write about our food experience but I must mention here that the plate of fresh trout was one of the most delicious meals I had in Western Australia. Then came the pièce de résistance .... the celebrated pancake with ice-cream and hot berry sauce. It's worthy of a photo here:

Next: Hit by an alpaca
Previous: Overnighting in Pemberton

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Wither the direction of Theravadin Buddhism?

This was how I spent my Christmas this year: attending a talk on Buddhism by Ajahn Brahmavamso (more popularly known as Ajahn Brahm), abbot of the Bodhinyana Buddhist Monastery and spiritual director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia.

He was at the Mahindarama Buddhist Temple in Kampar Road, Penang to conduct an annual retreat for followers and was speaking about the creation or origin of the Universe from the Buddhist point of view. I found the topic very interesting but unfortunately, my wife was lost in space.

Nevertheless after the talk, we went up to him. We told him that we had actually gone to the BSWA at Serpentine on 1 Nov 2009, hoping to meet him but was informed that he was away in Thailand. Apparently, at that time, he was embroiled with fundamentalists within the Theravadan branch of Buddhism in Thailand. From his website:
Ajahn Brahm has also been influential in establishing Dhammasara Nuns' Monastery at Gidgegannup in the hills north-east of Perth to be a wholly independent monastery for nuns, where the Sri Lankan trained, Australian nun Ajahn Vayama is currently abbess. He has been instrumental in providing full Bhikkhuni ordination at this monastery, thereby re-establishing the Buddha's lineage of nuns which had died out in Theravadan countries (October 2009). The selfless action of providing an authentic pathway for women to lead the Holy Life led to a reaction from fundamentalist elements within his original training Sangha who excommunicated him. Large parts of the the international Buddhist community have since rallied and campaigned in support of him.

Australian travellogue: Overnighting in Pemberton

3 Nov 2009. Pemberton is a nice, quaint little town with a number of interesting attractions but unfortunately, we didn't have much tome to explore them. If you remember, we arrived at the town quite late after taking a detour to the Windy Harbour. That had delayed our arrival in Pemberton by at least 90 minutes, which meant that even the office of the Lavender & Berry Farm, where we would be spending the night, was already closed.

We were a little concerned about this but our worries were soon dismissed when we saw that the Farm's office had left a little personal note by their main door...together with the keys to our chalet. So gratefully, we retrieved the key and headed to the chalet to drop off our luggage before heading back to the town centre in search of dinner.

When we drove into Pemberton earlier, we noticed that one of the few eateries opened was the pub at the Pemberton Hotel. There was a Chinese restaurant right next door but despite the owner offering us a 10 percent discount, we opted for pub food instead. Maybe we should have gone Chinese instead because the wait for the food at the pub was tremendously long. By the time we left the pub, it was pitch dark.

The chalet's interior was quite cosy with a living area, a kitchen and two bedrooms, one of which contained a double-decker bed. A travelling family of four members will fit in quite comfortably here. To boot, there was a complimentary breakfast basket of cereal, bread and fresh farm eggs. But first...we had to get the fire going which was actually quite easy.

One habit which I've found very difficult to break during my travel in Western Australia was waking up at 5 o'clock in the morning. Maybe, this was also because by that time, it was already daybreak. I left the chalet to wander down to the pond and watched ducks paddling in the cold morning air. Across the pond was the Farm's office, still closed at that unearthly time in the morning.

Of course, it was already opened by the time we had breakfast and checked out from the chalet but we promised to be back later for lunch. I had heard too much of their famed pancake with ice-cream and hot berry sauce and I wouldn't want to miss it.

Next: Pemberton attractions
Previous: Our lodgings in WA

Friday, 25 December 2009

Kings College Chapel, Cambridge

I don't celebrate but on every Christmas Day, I still make it a point to listen to A Festival of Lessons And Carols from the Kings College Chapel, Cambridge. After all these years, I still get a wondrous feeling when listening to the choir, especially as they begin making their way into the chapel. Merry Christmas, if you are reading this.


Thursday, 24 December 2009

Yuletide postcard

Most of the shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur are decked with Christmas decorations. I took some close-up shots of these decorations at the MidValley on Monday and it surprised me that they turned out to be the postcard shots I had wanted. Here's one of them:

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Of shit and assholes

Warning: this is not a Christmas tree. It's only an organisation chart that's too good not to include here (especially when I'm too busy to write about anything else. Yes, I'm going to be away from Penang again for two days....)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Penang international airport (Bayan Lepas)

I've always a liking for aerial photography. There are so many things that can be seen from a great height: things that you miss out when looking at them from the ground level. It is a different perspective altogether. That's why pictures taken from high-rise buildings or from an aircraft have continued to fascinate me to no end. That's also the reason why I find Google Maps to be a godsend. I can spend hours pouring over maps and enjoying their Street View wherever available.

Recently, I came across this picture by Famil Sulaiman. He was an ex-colleague from the good old BHL Bank days. It needs a lot of luck to be able to take this type of picture. Everything must fall into place at the same time: the time of the flight, the direction of the flight, where you are seated inside the aircraft, the weather, the camera you use. Well, Famil certainly was in the right place at the right time! So here it is, an aerial photograph of the south-eastern end of Penang island:

BTW, if there's anyone who needs to check up on the daily arrivals and departures from the Penang International Airport (PIA) (previously known as the Bayan Lepas International Airport), this website is an absolute "must" to keep in your browser's bookmark.

I've always had an impression that the PIA isn't a terribly busy airport and that only few carriers utilise the place. But like I said, it's a false impresson because from what I can gather from this website, many carriers (big or small) do pass through the airport carrying passengers or cargo. There is an air cargo terminal on the opposite side of the runway. Apart from the obvious Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airline, AirAsia and Firefly, other airlines stopping by here include All Nippon Airways, Jetstar Asia, Sriwajaya Air, SilkAir, Korean Air, Lion Airlines, Wings Air, China Airlines, Cathay Pacific, etihad Airways, Tiger Airways, KLM, Air Hong Kong, Air Mauritius, Gulf Air, American Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Thai Airways, Lufthansa and EVA Air. Problem is, I can't tell whether these are passenger or cargo services. It's not very obvious.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Must everything be so complicated?

Sigh....must everything in life be so complicated? If you are in, you are in; if you are out, you are out. And never the twain shall meet.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Offline, again

Excuse me, ah...
It's the long holiday weekend ahead and it looks like I'm going to be off-line again for the next few days as I head into territory without an Internet-enabled equipment.....

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Australian travellogue: our lodgings in WA

Maybe it's about time that I mention something about the hotels we stayed in during our travel through Western Australia's south-western region.

Except for two towns in the itinerary, our travel agency in Penang had booked us into the Comfort Inn chain which we found to be, well, very comfortable as the name implied. All the basic facilities we ever wanted were there, so there was nothing significant for us to find fault with. Moreover, we could park the car right at the doorstep of the rooms, which was an absolute convenience with all the luggages and small bags in our possession.

Our first and final nights in Perth were spent at the Comfort Inn Bel Eyre right along the Great Eastern Highway. The hotel even had a Pay TV channel showing adult films but we didn't bother with it. Anyway, this is the hotel:

The interior is nothing to shout about but it was clean, which was the most important.

When we drove down to Albany, the Comfort Inn there was right along the Albany Highway, so there wasn't many chances of us missing the building:

The whale is the emblem of Albany which was a whaling station in the past

Neither could we miss the Comfort Inn Tree Top Walk in Nockolds Street, Walpole. It was another easily visible landmark, most probably because the town itself was so small:

Nobody seemed to be using this pool when we last saw it

At Pemberton, we were booked into the Lavender and Berry Farm along Browns Road, with its separate chalets lined up beside a picturesque lake. Each self-contained chalet had their own fireplace too, and it allowed us to cozy up warmly on a cold night:

A welcomed warmth from the crackling fire

And finally, we were booked into the Abbey Beach Resort along the Bussell Highway in Busselton for two nights. This was a fantastic place, especially since our room was upgraded (but I suspect they say it all the time to make the guests feel important) and it turned out to be by far the grandest hotel we stayed in during our vacation:

Next: Overnighting in Pemberton
Previous: Northcliffe and Windy Harbour

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

BBC Sports Personality 2009

"I'm hungrier for the game than I've ever been. I was sat there taking everything in during the ceremony and still thinking about the game (against Aston Villa) the night before. It still hurts that we got beaten. If defeats are still hurting you then it shows you have still got that desire to carry on, and that's certainly the case at the moment. I'm probably playing the best I have ever played at the moment and enjoying it more than ever before. As long as I'm enjoying it and getting picked and the desire is still there I'll carry on. I would not contemplate having a swansong at a different club. It's nice to be wanted and they know I don't want to go anywhere else, I want to end my career at United."

-- Ryan Giggs --

Bringing some closure to my life

For approximately 2000 days in the past eight years and seven months, I have been travelling on weekdays across the Penang Bridge from my home -- first in Seberang Jaya and then in Bukit Mertajam -- to my work place at Bayan Baru and Bukit Jambul, and vice versa.

The round trip is a daily grind of almost 70 kilometres on the road as I endure the traffic jams, the heat and the rain, the dirt and the grime, the bad and reckless drivers, survive the new breed of uncool radio announcers with their yucky accents and mindless drivel during the morning and afternoon drives, and everything sucking up about two hours of my time. Well, this daily travel is almost coming to an end.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Australian travellogue: Northcliffe and Windy Harbour

3 Nov 2009. "You haven't seen everything in Northcliffe if you don't go to Windy Harbour," the lady at the Visitor Information Centre told me when I asked her what was there to see around Northcliffe (population, 2006 census: 299).

She was only half right, you know, because even if we've been to Windy Harbour, we wouldn't have been able to see everything in Northcliffe anyway. But we were game. We asked her what was there at Windy Harbour. The name has a nice sound to it. "Oh, the view there is fabulous," she gushed at us enthusiastically. "We go there practically every weekend."

Mmm, I thought to myself, maybe the place wouldn't be so bad after all. "So how long will it take us to go there and back?" I asked the lady, casually mentioning to her that I wouldn't want to reach Pemberton too late for fear of meeting kangaroos crossing the roads again.

"Well, it's only a 30-minute drive in that direction," she gesticulated with her hand. "And don't worry, I haven't knocked into a kangaroo in my 30 years of driving."

Okay, we were sold. As it was only 3.50pm anyway, we could spend about an hour on the road to Windy Harbour and back, perhaps another 30 minutes looking around the place and then drive another 30 minutes or so to Pemberton and it still wouldn't be dark yet.

The drive was basically along a very long flat road. Except for several short stretches that took us through pockets of tall trees, all around us were wide open spaces. But soon, we reached the d'Entrecasteaux National Park and started winding up a small hill. So finally we reached it.....the look-out point to the Windy Harbour:

To say that Saw See was a little disappointed was an understatement. She had expected a harbour filled with ships and yachts and bustling with activity but what we saw was only a grand view of the Southern Ocean stretching for miles and miles in either direction and beautiful beaches lining the far distant shores. No ships. No yachts. No economic activity. In fact, no human activity. Such was the desolation of the place. But it lived up to its name. It was windy, real windy.

"Never mind, lah, let's enjoy the view instead," I said and to her credit, she really enjoyed our brief respite at Windy Harbour. We took a few snapshots then hurriedly drove down the hill and turned to Salmon Beach.

Well, this was a beautiful beach. On either side of us, majestic cliffs rose high to about 100 metres. To the cliff on our left, somewhere up there must be the Windy Harbour look-out point that we had just left a few minutes ago. But the sun was searingly hot and we couldn't stay for long in this weather. Moreover, we had to run along too. So another 30-minute drive took us back to Northcliffe and another 30 minutes brought us to the Pemberton town centre at about 6.20pm.

Next: Our lodgings
Previous: Going to the races