Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Recent flowers...

Recent blooms from the odds and ends at the front of my house.

Monday, 19 June 2017

The tao of half-boiled eggs

Is there a science to preparing half-boiled eggs? I believe there is, although some people may scoff and not agree with me, just like people telling me that there is nothing much in the way of science to cooking the perfect pot of fluffy white rice (but that is another different story).

To me, there is one important variable in the preparation of half-boiled eggs, that is, the size or weight of the egg. The normal average free-range egg that I use would weigh 55 grams. The other factors in the preparation would be 400 milli-litres of water, a lidded metal container small enough for the water to cover two eggs completely and an insulation mat. That's it!

First, start by boiling the water. Place two eggs in the metal container and pour all 400 ml of boiling water so that it covers the eggs completely. Make sure the lid is closed and the container placed on an insulating mat to prevent the heat from escaping too fast from the container's base. Set your timer to nine minutes. [Note: The timer is variable too. Eggs heavier than 60 grams may require 10 minutes while smaller eggs may need only eight minutes.] When the timer goes off, remove the eggs and rinse them under tap water. Ta-dah....two perfect half-boiled eggs!


Ahhh....Perhaps I should update this story with some comments from one of my precious old schoolmates who now lives in Singapore. He wrote on my facebook with so much detail and care. Thank you, Alvin:
This is How to get a perfect set of Tenderly cooked Half / Partially Cooked Twin Eggs.
1. Take a 300 / 400 ml vessel preferably a stainless steel Koleh or mug, which comes with a Cap or cover.
2. Put 2 Medium Size eggs into the koleh. Eggs comes in Premium Size which are bigger and more costly. Medium Size eggs are of in between & of average cost. Small eggs are the smallest, you can find and it has the most Economic price.
3. Boil 2 litres of water, using the electric kettle, Phillips or other brands. Immediately pour, boiling water at 100 degrees spreading all over the eggs in the koleh vessel. Ensure that the eggs are covered over with boiling water. Put the cap or cover onto the koleh / vessel. Set time for 4 minutes. In the meantime, get a porcelain cup. Put one sachet of kopi Orr with or without sugar. Pour boiling water into the cup. Let it stand for 3 minutes. Take 2 slices of whole meal or plain bread and put it to roast in the Toaster for 2 minutes. Prepare your choice of butter and Marmalade or Strawberry jam or if your prefer local Kaya jam.
4. After 4 minutes, drain away the boiling water in the Koleh. Run fresh water into the koleh with the two eggs. Dispose the cold Tap water use for cooling the shell of the eggs. 
5. In a Saucer or small bowl, crack one egg at a time into the saucer after draining the cold tap water from the Koleh. Use a small Teaspoon to scrape any white of eggs stuck to the shell. Do the same with other eggs. Shake some pepper sparingly and Light Soya Sauce for taste. 1 teaspoon is sufficient. Your Kopi Orr is now ready. Just dispose of the coffee bag into the Trash bin. Your two slices of Toast is also ready. You two half boiled egg is done to perfection; two Golden Balls of Yolk and a puddle of egg White to accompany it with a dash of Pepper and Light Soya Sauce for finesse!
Take a photo of your Best Creation! Bon Appetite!

Friday, 16 June 2017

The real Xuan Zang

Who was the real Tang pilgrim monk, Hsuan Tsang (玄奘)? The man was real and his odyssey was real, but all that we have ever known about him is from the book, Journey to the West (西遊記), a 16th century fantasy novel attributed to Wu Cheng'en and first translated into English by Arthur Waley in 1942 (Monkey: A Folk Tale of China) and much later by Anthony C. Yu in  1977-1983 (The Journey to the West), and numerous movie adaptations of the story, of which the most memorable films emerged from the Shaw Brothers studios of Hong Kong between 1966 and 1968. These movie adaptations, however, gave full rein to the directors' imaginations of magic skills as the protagonists battled spirits and demons all the way to the West.

Xuan Zang (大唐玄奘) is the name of the latest adventure-drama film, a joint production of two film companies from China and India, that chronicled the perilous journey of Hsuan Tsang from Chang'an (長安) (modern-day Xi'an (西安)) to India in the Seventh Century to search for Buddhist texts at its source and take them back to China. This film, released to Chinese and Indian audiences in April 2016, never made it to Malaysian shores and thus, we have been deprived of viewing this historical drama.

If you had expected the film to follow in the footsteps of all previous Journey to the West (西遊記) films where the Tang monk is protected against mythological demons by the divine powers of Sun Wukong (孫悟空), Zhu Bajie (豬八戒) and Sha Wujing (沙悟淨), you will be greatly disappointed. Xuan Zang is a slow-moving film and the historical main character, Hsuan Tsang, lived and died in China between 602 AD and 664 AD, except for his 16-year journey to India. That he succeeded against all the odds showed his great perseverance, self-belief and faith.

During his outward journey that began in 629 AD, he was hindered in his travel by a decree from the Tang Emperor Taizong (唐太宗) that forbade travel outside of China. Although he managed to evade capture, there were also other hardships along the way as he had to avoid bandits and cross physical terrains such as the Taklamakan desert (塔克拉瑪幹沙漠) and the Flaming Mountains (Huoyanshan 火焰山) of Turfan (吐魯番). In Turfan, the King refused to let the monk leave and only agreed when he went on a hunger strike. In his travel, he documented a visit to Bamyan in modern-day Afghanistan where he marvelled at the large Buddha statues of Bamiyan, now destroyed by the Talibans in March 2001.

Hsuan Tsang considered that he had arrived in India in 630 AD and he continued travelling and learning about Buddhism in the Indian sub-continent until circa 643 AD when he resolved to go home. The Tang Emperor had learnt of the monk's adventure and he sent a delegation to meet with Hsuan Tsang halfway on his homeward journey. The group arrived back in Chang'an in 645 AD.

Hsuan Tsang was fêted with great honour and he spent the remaining years of his life - he died in 664 AD - in translating the Buddhist texts from Pali to Chinese. Ironically I read that much later, the Chinese translations were re-translated back into Pali to fill a void after the original Pali texts were either lost or destroyed. Hsuan Tsang was also credited for participating in an 18-day religious debate on Buddhism whilst in India. In 646 AD, at the request of the Emperor, he completed his book Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (大唐西域記) which is today a primary source of information on medieval Central Asia and India.

Surprisingly, all this known stories were included into Xuan Zang, the film version of Hsuan Tsang's Indian pilgrimage, with very little embellishments. The film producers had followed the story quite closely to the accepted text. Except for one part where the monk's horse saved him from certain death from thirst, there was nothing magical at all about Hsuan Tsang. No Sun Wukong, no pantheon of Chinese deities, no bounding over clouds, no demon or spirit wanting to capture the holy man, no magic fan, no mountains in flame, just a determined pious man walking, walking, walking and overcoming obstacles like soldiers, robbers, the heat of the deserts and the cold of the mountains, to realise his destination and ultimate destiny.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Women are a special sort of a man

MEP David Coburn of the UK's UKIP party is a bit of a controversial loony, in my opinion. During an interview which he once gave last year, a Labour MSP, Hanzala Malik, had chastised Coburn for referring to businessmen when women work in business too. His response was that “women are a special sort of a man”.

In trying to set the record straight, he explained: “One of them asked me, after a faultless performance, about why I didn’t say ‘businesswomen’. I told them the genus is a man, as in mankind, and so women are a special sort of a man. What’s wrong with that?

“It is madam chairman. It is not madam chairwoman. When we talk about the ascent of man, it’s not the ascent of a bunch of hairy blokes with male genitalia, it’s about man as in women, men, the whole lot of us. Look at the word. The long and short of it is that a woman is a man with a womb.

“I said a woman is a special sort of a man. They are. They are a man that can produce children… But I am a feminist to my bootstraps, I believe in equal rights for women and I always have done, but I also believe women should have the same responsibilities as men."

The full story here.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The moment of truth

The Swee Cheok Tong (瑞鵲堂) have had this safe in our premises for....goodness knows how long. It had been sitting pretty in an unobtrusive part of the building, minding its own business just like we, the committee members, have been minding ours. But lately, it had become imperative for us to know what was inside the safe. What sort of secrets was it holding that may affect the running of the Quah Kongsi?

It would have been a simple matter of unlocking the safe door to find out but for one problem. Nobody knew where the all-important key had gone to. Nobody could tell who was the last person to hold the key or who had last opened the safe. All our attempts to locate the key had failed, meaning that we had no other choice but to call in a safe cracker. Or perhaps, a master locksmith would have been a more polite description.

So we had this locksmith come into the premises last Friday morning. He fiddled with the handle, then removed it. Peered into the keyhole with a torch, mumbled to himself, then started work to fashion out a makeshift key before prodding it into the keyhole. Nope, it didn't work. He took out his tool, fashioned it again by sawing it down to make new teeth. Then poked it into the keyhole again. Nope, still didn't work. This went on for about two hours before the locksmith decided to give up and call it a day. He needed a fresh mind to rework the key and suggested to continue on the next day. Nothing we could do but agree to his proposal. After all, he is the master locksmith and we are just his clients.

First thing on Saturday, the locksmith came again. Raring to start afresh, he fashioned out another makeshift key. Poked it into the keyhole. Thud, there was a sound as if the lock had been disengaged. He tried turning the safe's handle. It stayed steadfastly engaged. It didn't turn. He tried a few times and then removed his key. He continued muttering softly to himself, then he filed down some of the teeth and tried again. Thud, that sound again. But no, the handle still couldn't move. Back to the drawing board again.

After about another two hours, I grew tired of watching him work. I retired to another part of the premises in order to check my mobile. Suddenly, I heard a different kind of sound. Piak! Almost immediately, the locksmith called out to me. The door's opened, he said. I leapt up immediately and rushed back. With some hesitation, I pulled open the door. The moment of truth. It was heavy but it slid open effortlessly. There, within the safe, were stacked documents in several old envelopes. Some books too. And an aluminium box, filled with more documents. There were two drawers inside the safe but they were empty.

At about the same time, my treasurer came back. So we went through the stuff in the safe as the locksmith began dismantling the lock. We would want a new set of keys since the old ones can now be safely treated as lost.

So what was inside the safe? To our disbelieve, old fire insurance policies. Old property assessment receipts. Old book-keeping ledgers. The documents dated back a very long time, some to the 1920s and 1930s, but the latest were dated in the 1970s. Which means to say that the last time that the safe was possibly opened was in the mid-1970s. But why on earth did the old committee keep all that old stuff? Were they that all-important? What was the purpose?The mind boggled.

I think in the next few weeks, we should get down to the task of deciding whether or not any of these old documents are worth retaining. Personally, I doubt there will be much to keep...

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Sitiawan sunset

This used to be called the Monkey Garden but since there were no monkeys to be seen, the archway proclaiming it has been dismantled quite some time ago. What's left now is a simple cement boardwalk that weaves out about 100 metres into the sea. In the late evenings, the mangrove trees cast very forlorn shadows on the surroundings.

We walked here, just a stone's throw from the Tua Pek Kong temple in Sitiawan, and were in time to view a fiery sunset at about seven o'clock. Question: are the mangrove trees lining both sides of the boardwalk here dead or alive? In my opinion, they looked more dead than alive. The ones beyond were much healthier, though.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Sitiawan: The Tua Pek Kong temple

We were lucky to have caught the 4.15pm ferry from Pangkor as we landed back at the Lumut ferry terminal just before five o'clock. With still some hours to go before evening, we decided to visit the Tua Pek Kong temple complex to the south of Sitiawan town, a journey of about half an hour.

Instead of guiding us through the main road, my GPS took us down the narrow roads of Kampong China - supposedly a shorter route - before we finally ended up near the Pasir Panjang coast. Initially, the winding journey made me doubt the reliability of the GPS but eventually, I heaved a sigh of relief when the unmistakable silhouette of a pagoda loomed large in the distance. That must be the temple up ahead, I told my passengers.

Turning the corner into the temple's car park, the grand scene before us practically took our breaths away. Yes, I had seen a picture of the giant statues that stood outside the temple but I never expected that in real life, the whole place was so immensely huge. " big, ah!" exclaimed my friend.

We wandered off in different directions. The centre piece was the Tua Pek Kong deity, sitting serenely and staring off into the distance, which in this case, was the Straits of Malacca, flanked on both sides by other statues, prominent among them were Kuan Yin on the left and Ma Chor Poh on the right.  Interestingly, one of the statues depicted a tiger and I was told that this statue represented the White Tiger of the West or the Hor Yah which is worshiped during the Chinese New Year festivities in Chinese temples all over the country.

The Journey to the West by the Buddhist monk, Hsuan Tsang, and his three guardian disciples - Monkey, Pig and Sandy - depicted in stone

There were more surprises to come when we entered the temple complex grounds. More gigantic statues everywhere, depicting most, if not all, popular areas of Taoist worship. Among them, four statues depicting the guardians of the four corners of the world, Maitreya or the Laughing Buddha of the Future, the Ksitigarbha bodhisattva who teaches or instructs all beings in the six realms between the death of Gautama Buddha and the rise of Maitreya, and the Hock Lok Siew trio or the three stars of Prosperity, Status and Longevity.

A huge fountain in the foreground with nine dragons aiming their jets of water towards a central round ball. 

To the left of the grounds rose a newly completed seven-tier pagoda, the first three levels of which were filled with hundreds of small statuettes of Tua Pek Kong, Kuan Yin and Gautama Buddha. Devotees could have their names placed below an image with a donation of RM2,000. We climbed up to the top tier of the pagoda - a total of 134 steps -  and found preparation work still in progress. We looked out the windows. Airy. And the scenery from the top tiers, looking out to the sea and the mangrove swamp in the distance, was fabulous.

Don't ask why the statue has its eyes closed with a red sash. Most probably, the time hadn't arrived for it to be properly activated. There were several statues with similar red sashes across their eyes.

Climbing down, we then went into the old, traditional Tua Pek Kong temple building. This temple is not recent. It has existed for at least some 100 years already. It used to be very ordinary and modest, but some devotees must have struck it rich and made ample donations that had allowed the temple to expand into this complexity.

Behind the temple was yet another vast area worth exploring. A fish pond filled with countless numbers of carp. A statue of Jiang Ziya (姜子牙) sat prominently at one end of the pond with a hookless fishing rod in his hands. For the connection between Jiang Ziya and the origins of the Quah (Ke) (柯) surname, read it here. At the other end of the pond were statues representing the eight immortals (八仙) waiting to cross the sea. And somewhere in the middle of the pond, two cheeky statues of boys peeing an endless stream of water into the pool.

Moving on, we came across a long, colourful dragon hallway of about 100 metres. One enters through the mouth of this mythical beast and exits at the tail. But what's inside the long corridor? Scenes depicting the Halls of Hell where sinners meet with their retribution. Each Hall is ruled by a Judge (presumably the Yama Kings) who hands down the punishments of gruesome tortures. Very educational, if one hasn't seen Hell itself but if you have been to the old Haw Par Villa in Singapore, well, they are pretty much similar.

And finally, our last bit of exploration was to climb an ascending corridor along the perimeter wall of the temple grounds. Here, a long row of stone statues lined the walkway. I did not bother to count the number of statues; the significance of them fails me but each of these life-sized statues featured scholars, government officials, army generals, pugilists and other characters in various poses.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Sitiawan: Pangkor revisited

It must have been easily 10 years since we last visited Pangkor. It's a small island with locals staying on the east coast and tourists on the west coast. What a unique divide! There have been progress on the island, of course, but the place is still very laid back. Not that we were complaining; indeed, we enjoyed the brief hours that we spent there. First stop after we rented a car - RM50 for the four hours on the island - was to visit the Dutch fort. However, we overshot the place and ended up at Teluk Gedung at the south-east end of Pangkor. Before we turned back, we took the opportunity to gawk at a new structure which was to be opened on the following day. I'm sure this floating mosque will become the island's newest tourist attraction.

From Teluk Gedung, we then backtracked along the same narrow road and ended at the ruins of a Dutch fort which we had missed earlier. Of course, the fort has long been abandoned but we were quite surprised at how small it was. According to wikipedia, the ruins are remnants of a Dutch outpost to control trade in the Malay peninsula. The fort was built in 1670 for storage and protection of tin supplies from the Perak Sultanate. It was destroyed in 1690 by the Malays who were discontented with the methods the Dutch used to obtain the ore. The fort was rebuilt in 1743 and a force of 60 Dutch soldiers was placed to guard it until 1748, when the force was disbanded and the fort abandoned. Since its reconstruction in 1973, it has been gazetted as an ancient monument and historical site. (Story continues after the pictures.)

We then travelled up the west coast of Pangkor to visit the other main tourist attraction, the Lin Je Kong (靈慈宮) temple, at the north-east of the island, passing through the touristy beach section. As this was practically during the heat of the mid-day sun and the Puasa season, the beaches were completely deserted.

The temple can be reached via a small lane from the main road. A small bay would be reached at the end of the lane. When we arrived, we saw a few families enjoying a swim in the bay. A glad respite from the afternoon heat, no doubt.

The main deity in this temple is Kuan Yin or the Goddess of Mercy. One can either choose to climb the outdoor staircase to the temple or walk along the waterfront, with waves lapping up the sea wall, passing by colourful statues of a frog, stork, turtle and a particularly dressed-up mouse, before climbing a second staircase. Both staircases would lead to the temple which would give the visitor a breath-taking view of the bay.

Finally, after the inevitable visit to the shopping district which was a stone's throw from the jetty, it was time to catch the ferry back to Lumut. We arrived back on the mainland at about five o'clock. All in, about six hours in Pangkor.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Sitiawan: Fine beach but jaded rooms

The Swiss Garden Beach Resort in Damai Laut, about 30 kilometers from Sitiawan in Perak, is supposedly a four-star hotel but unfortunately, we felt that the rooms were rather jaded and tired. The hotel could do with a refurbishment to bring back its glory.

When we entered our room, we found it rather impractical to keep the curtains pulled open because the room was practically next to the road, meaning that we would be within sight of people from the outside.

But by pulling the curtains shut, the room was dim even with all the room lights switched on. The wall paint was blistering and the furniture had obviously seen much better days. Yes, a refurbishment would certainly be in order to put the hotel right again.

And the bathroom. Apart from the absence of towels in the room upon our checking in, I would comment that no decent hotel should be seen with bath tubs anymore. The norm is a standing shower zone. While less water usage is an obvious advantage to the management, shower stands are actually more user friendly for the older guests. No need to climb in and out of the bath tubs. Dread to think what would happen if they were to slip and fall.

There is one other incident that should be well worth mentioning. Maybe it was an honest mistake but what if it was not? When we arrived at the hotel, I unloaded all our bags onto a trolley which the hotel bell boy then pushed to the side of the lobby together with the trolleys of other hotel guests. Fair enough, I had thought to myself. But some time after our check-in had been processed, I suddenly realised that our trolley had gone missing. Seemed that one of the bell boys had moved our trolley by mistake. We had to wait a while for it to be returned, with our belongings intact. If we had valuables in our bags, this incident would have been a cause for concern.

After checking into our room, we went exploring the grounds. First stop was the inappropriately named Samsara Spa. I know that it is exotic to call the Spa that name but if only the hotel had checked its meaning first. Samsara is a Sanskrit and Pali word that refers to the endless cycle of rebirth, mundane existence and dying. Samsara is considered to be dukkha, a state of dissatisfaction and pain, perpetuated by desire and ignorance, and the resulting karma. Samsara is nothing glamorous.

Then we turned our attention to their fitness centre that doubled up as a games room. Here, at least, we were quite satisfied with the facilities: a gymnasium, a sauna room and a jacuzzi. We promised to avail ourselves of these facilities in the morning of our final day at the hotel. Eventually, we found ourselves at the excellent private beach and spent some time wandering around until it was time for dinner. But too bad there wasn't any spectacular sunset that evening.

UPDATE: Comments and reviews are a-plenty on the tripadvisor website by people who have stayed at the Swiss Garden previously. Generally, the comments were made about the poor condition of the rooms. People aren't happy, and they are saying so. I wasn't alone in noticing that the hotel needs a refurbishment. But if one were to read the comments closer, it would appear that the hotel's management are avoiding to respond on the condition of the rooms but rather, they kept harping on the forthcoming improvements of their swimming pool later this year. Really, I don't know what should be more important: to provide a comfortable stay for their guests or a nice swimming pool for those guests who like a swim.