Tuesday, August 11, 2009

of elephants, bears and two grown monkeys…

On a whim, a friend and I decided that we’d want to do something a little more adventurous last Sunday. We had heard of Kuala Gandah and the elephant sanctuary there, but were apprehensive about going ourselves because of the mixed reviews and opinions fed to us by various sources. What if it was like so many of these pseudo-conservation parks who exploit animals but don't keep them well?? But we decided that the best way to know for sure is to go find out for ourselves. And so we did.

Kuala Gandah is about an hour and a half from KL along the highway to Kuantan (exit at Lanchang), so it is a pleasant and easy drive, although passengers may feel differently about the winding roads from Batu Caves, all the way up to Bentong. All the same, that drive has some breathtaking scenery and is among my favourite stretches of road to drive in Malaysia.

Getting to Kuala Gandah, the first thing we had to do was ensure we had our passes for the elephant activities later in the afternoon. Arriving for registration at 10:30am, we were already #64 and #65 for the day; the sanctuary only hands out 100 passes a day for the three activities in the afternoon, which makes sense because one wouldn’t want the poor creatures to be hauling too many people for their cheap amusement. The sanctuary doesn’t charge for entry but it only felt right to leave a donation at their office.

After collecting the passes, we had time to spare before activities start at 1:00pm, so we went to Deerland, so called because of a large number of deers on its compound, but the name belies the fact that they have some other treasures as well – sun bears!

It’s a tiny little park but it is well-organized, well-staffed, kempt and clean… all this on a charge of RM5.00 per adult for entry. All this, amidst the bonus of lush green tropical jungle in a designated permanent forest reserve.

First, to the deer enclosure, visitors are given raw tapioca slices to hand feed deers with and being amongst so many of them can be an intimidating experience, since they all are capable of standing on their hind legs and in so doing, would be far taller than an average human being! They love their tubers…

There are a few types of pretty birds and colourful fowl which I cannot name now. Perhaps, the one thing noticeably missing is proper labeling of enclosures and information boards that you might find in zoos and such.

There are also rabbits (an entire family of angoras, complete with 4 tiny little babies), a young python, hedgehogs and one solitary juvenile sun bear named Hitam, frolicking in a large grassy enclosure. That’s the nice thing I found nice about Deerland is that the enclosures are open making the animals look like they are not in a cage.

Finally, near the exit, the final enclosure is for another two sun bears, a large male named Muda and his mate, I forget her name. Both are parents to Hitam. Visitors get to feed Muda condensed milk from their palm and he will dutifully lick it all off with his soft, pink tongue. He loves his handlers and his handlers obviously love him.

Some may argue that this sort of interaction shouldn’t be allowed but I think that the key is that there must always be respect and that this creature is allowing us to interact with it and not the other way around.

Deerland is tiny. You’d be done in 45 minutes tops! And that’s with a lot of time spent lingering and observing Muda.

Then it’s back to the elephant sanctuary and a picnic in the activity area is recommended (there are no eateries around the area, so you'll have to pack a lunch anyway). There are attap-shaded sheds where one can have lunch while elephants in the distance hover. Again, the openness of the sanctuary and the elephants seemingly free to roam the area is remarkable.

Another thing worth noting is the staff, especially the handlers; take time to talk to them and ask them questions. You'd be pleasantly surprised at how much they do know and how much they love what they are doing.

The sanctuary has 17 elephants on its compound. ALL were rescued and some are more used to the presence of humans than others. The sanctuary is managed by PERHILITAN, Malaysia’s wildlife and park authorities. The unit also works to relocate wild elephants, transplanting them from threatened or dwindling forest areas to more sustainable areas, such as Taman Negara. The sanctuary doesn’t collect money from visitors to the sanctuary but will accept donations at their office for support of their work in general.

A video-screening about the elephant unit relocation work is screened for visitors and that kicks off the activities for the afternoon. Visitors then proceed to hand-feed the elephants with fruits, after which, the elephants take visitors for a very short ride.

And then for the grand finale; visitors then get to ride on an elephant’s back into the nearby Teris River where the elephant will then take a dip… with visitors still on its back! Other elephants (especially the babies) are also frolicking in the water and visitors can bathe with them and if they’re lucky, the elephants will spray bathe the visitors in return!

Interaction and activity with elephants take no more than two hours and the visit is over by 4:30pm. Leaving Kuala Gandah for a short drive back to KL, and you’re home in time for dinner. In short, a very compact, yet eventful day trip. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

the amazing australian adventure...

... we packed so much into 8 days, i think it best to just write it in point form. There will be many notables on food consumed because the trip was good for all the eating done but also because everything we had was just so good:

Day 1 (Fri):
- Finally arrive in Melbourne, met by Sumi, Hardeep and Chicky! Sonya, Sumi, Chicky and I will end up spending most of the time together
- First coffee at the airport
- Tub of lamb & chicken kebab on the way back to Sumi's and Hardeep's (home)

Day 2 (Sat):
- Fandango's, Errol St.: Breakfast with Sumi, Chicky
- French Quarter, Queensberry St.: Attempted to get almond croissant at but they were sold out
- Victoria Market: walkabouts
- Market Café at Vic Market facing Elizabeth St.: Coffee
- Off to Mt. Dandenong
- Ranches, Olinda: tea and an out-of-this-worldly sticky date pudding by a very pleasant wood fire in the afternoon
- Pie In The Sky, Olinda: went in for a look but no eats

- Olinda: cute toy shops all over Olinda that we couldn't resist visiting
- A Sweet Shop, Sassafras: Sonya's Double Decker bar was worth a mention
- Sky High Observation Deck, Mt Dandenong: to watch a very magnificent sunset
- DOC, Drummond St. in Carlton: mushroom and prosciutto ham pizzas
- Brunetti's in Carlton: great coffee and pretty desserts; the selection of pastries and sweets will have your head spinning from choice!

Day 3 (Sun):
- Carlton Gardens: walkabouts to view the museum and exhibition centre, and a lot of butts of sleeping possums
- Lambs, Lygon St.: take-away a tub of chicken & lamb souvlaki, debated on the net to be the best in Melbourne... we would taste a better one :)
- Tom Phat, Sydney Rd. in Brunswick: breakfast with Chicky at this excellent fusion cafe; claypot baked egg & roti omelette
- City: Bourke St. (Giant Purse), GPO, Royal Arcade
- St. Kilda: walk along the pier; black swans in the sea??
- St. Kilda Esplanade: walked the length of the weekend market
- Acland St., St Kilda: had juices for drinks (mine was tomato and celery juice) and NO PASTRIES! I was forewarned that the pastries in the windows look far better than they taste
- San Churro at Docklands: chocolate drinks and churros
- The Thai Place in Brunswick: dinner of tom yam soup, som tham, duck curry, pandan chicken
- Carlton Gardens: walk through the gardens to get home and we were greeted by possums! There were just tons of them running riot all over the gardens

Day 4 (Mon):
- Off to Mornington Peninsula
- Somewhere in Mornington Peninsula: spotted a kangaroo in the wild... well, in a vineyard... to a first-timer, it's the same thing la!
- Montalto Vineyard: walkabout, wine tasting
- The Pig & Whistle: lunch starred a lamb rack, duck rack, bangers & mash and a chicken parma
- Peninsula Hot Springs: hot springs and cold dip; it was 42 degrees celcius at the hottest
- Home: Sumi makes a simple but delicious dinner of potato & chicken soup and self-saucing chocolate pudding for dessert
- Crown Casino, Southbank: played roulette and with sheer beginner's luck, made the easiest A$72 in 5 minutes. i bought coffee after that and we watched the fire show outside the casino along the banks of the Yarra River

Day 5 (Tue):
- French Quarter, Queensberry St.: almond croissants available - SUCCESS!!!
- Di Bella, Leveson St. in North Melbourne: for great cuppas on the go
- Off to the Great Ocean Road
- Jac Juc & Bell's Beach: breathtaking vistas from the cliffs above a world-class surf beaches
- Apollo Bay: stopped for lunch at La Bimba; chorizo tapas, chicken schnitzel on focacia, gnocchi, bowl of mussels, mimosa
- Along the Great Ocean Road: koalas and a kookaburra spotted in the wild
- The Twelve Apostles: awesome
- Loch Ard Gorge: witness the power of the sea at the beach, the blow hole and Sunset Cave
- Sunset B&B, Port Campbell: checked into our cozy accommodation for the night
- 12 Rocks Café, Port Campbell: dinner; grilled fish, seafood pasta, seafood platter
- Room 6, Port Campbell: dessert; chocolate platter for two which turned out to be enough to feed 4!
- Movies: watched P.S. I Love You, Dodgeball from the DVD stash at the B&B
- Stargazing: lying on a blanket in the nippy outdoors, watching a hundred star trails and a billion stars

Day 6 (Wed):
- Breakfast at Sunset B&B and off to Ballarat we go
- BiBo Cafe, Ballarat: a cute little retro themed cafe for lunch; bacon lettuce avocado & tomato sandwich, moroccan lamb cheese on focacia
- Ballarat Wildlife Reserve: wombats, koalas, roos, joeys, quolls, quokkas, kookaburras, emus, tazzie devils, turtles...
- Saray, Sydney Rd.: Turkish dinner along with with Chicky; eggplant, spinach, kidney beans, cacik dips with bread
- Golden Monkey, Hardware La.: funky ambience of 1930's Shanghai, fabulous drinks menu... the drinks matched up to the exoticsm of the menu

Day 7 (Thu):
- Uni. Of Melbourne: coffee from Plush
- Rose Garden, Elizabeth St.: lunch; duck and salted veg fried rice, chicken rice, noodles and a side of char siew and siew yoke
- Max Brenner, Melbourne Central: Chicky joins us for Belgian waffles
- Laurent Bakery, Little Collins St.: coffee and pastries
- St Paul's Cathedral, corner of Swanston and Flinders Sts.: hmmm... all i can say is old... but not quite. don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful Anglican cathedral and is in surreally excellent condition, unlike many older churches in Europe
- Hell's Kitchen, Centre Pl.: upstairs for more coffee/mocha
- Sofitel, Collins St.: snuck into the 35th Floor washroom for a 180 degree view of Melbourne
- Sister Bella, Snider's La. off Little Bourke St: for a jug sangria

- Chicky's Place: dinner; coffee spare ribs, lamb salad, fish, bok choy, dessert from Laurent

Day 8 (Fri):
- Atomica Caffe, Brunswick St.: for breakfast
- Polyester Books, Brunswick St.: weird bookshop; not sure if I should worry that I own or have heard of so many book titles featured in the shop
- Factory outlets on Smith St.: shopped for shoes & shoes
- Target, Bourke St.: clothes shopping
- Big W, QV Village: chocolate shopping
- Croft Institute, Croft Alley: probably would not be able to find this place again, even with map! a sinister feel to the place where they serve drinks in beakers and test tubes. the washroom upstairs looks like a morgue, so says my sister who saw the pictures
- Shanghai Village, Chinatown: dinner; dumplings, noodles, hot & sour soup, crispy chicken spare ribs
- Dralion Cirque du Soleil
- San Churro, QV: for a nightcap of hot chocolate
- Stalactite, Lonsdale St.: tub of chicken souvlaki for supper
- Movie: Nacho Libre at home

Day 9 (Sat):
- Shark's Fin, Chinatown: yum cha (dim sum) breakfast with Andy
- Victoria Market - souvenier shopping
- Fräus, Victoria St. in North Melbourne: stopped for crepes
- Di Bella, Leveson St.: couldn't resist the coffee here, one of the best ones I had tasted in Melbourne
- Movie: Nacho Libre continued
- Craig & Elaine's: dinner; 3 types of pizza, trifle, bread & butter pudding
- Cranium along with Trung & Orlane also; winners - Hardeep, Sonya and Ju... :)

I can't wait to go back!

Friday, May 15, 2009

american dreaming, march 2009...

Highlights of my Sportel trip to San Francisco and Miami:

Location: San Francisco, en-route to Miami

My first sight of San Fran is Embarcadero, where i step off the BART, followed by a short F-Train ride to Pier 39 to see sea lions. That was a disappointment tho; they sleep a lot!

Initial plan was to rent a bike to ride the Golden Gate Bridge but late arrival of flight meant that it was a risky attempt. So, I went down to Fort Mason pier instead, where I watched a most glorious sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay area and Alcatraz.

Cousin Mike met me for a quick dinner and showed my some more sights of San Fran from the Twin Peaks and around Castro Street.

I like San Fran. I must come back for a visit that will last longer than 5 hours.

Location: Miami Beach, Miami

Front the beach in front of the hotel, I watched the US Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space from Cape Canaveral, 200 miles up beach.

On my fourth day in Miami, I decide to start off the day with a morning run along the Miami Beach-South Beach boardwalk... and it decides to rain. Nothing abnormal, except the precipitation was the first that Florida has had in 5 whole months... bringing my weather curse to new levels.

Spent time with Bin Soo and Ai Lei, without whom, I would not have had the chance to see so much more of Miami. With them, I was able to see Dademall and the Aventura area plus dinner at Hard Rock Cafe in Bayswater.

Leaving Miami for LA, the connecting flight was in a huge hurry to be ahead of schedule. We made it to LAX half an hour early, only to be made to wait 40 minutes to park... it doesn't pay, does it??

Thursday, May 14, 2009

pre-bangkok, february 2009

This is coming in kinda late... but I figured that I should put down some of my notes from my Bangkok trip before I recount my excellent Australian adventure.

So here it goes, some of the highlights, beginning with pre-trip amusement:

Location: LCCT, inside boarding hall
A short exchange that I had in the terminal pharmacy:

Me: (to someone in a uniform tunic) Dik, you kerja kat sini ke?
Penguin: Ya
Me: Saya nak tanya kalau you ada stok contact lens solution tak?
Penguin: Cuba tanya kat kaunter depan, I tak kerja bahagian tu.

Note: the pharmacy was tiny and had 4 shelves and aisles...

Location: LCCT, pre-BKK
A scene at the perfume and cosmetic duty-free shop:

In the corner of the shop is a bargain bin of nail polish with a large sign hovering above it that says: "NO TRYING PLEASE". A sales girl is seen rushing over to the bin, repeating what's written on the sign to a middle-aged Chinese lady with coifed hair, a loud floral-printed shirt and white polyester pants; "AUNTY, no trying PLEASE!". The lady coolly and carefully finished the edges of her pinky nail, capped the tiny bottle and placed it back in the bin and calmly walked away like nothing happened, leaving the poor sales girl seething in exasperation.

Location: LCCT , pre-BKK
Scene at boarding gate:

A long queue has formed by the time I arrive at the boarding gate. Just to be sure that I hadn't confused the queues in the congested hall, I walk up to a counter and asked if the queue is for Bangkok:

Exasperated Counter Girl: No, it isn't
Me: Oh, it's for Macau then...
Exasperated Counter Girl: No, it isn't either... we haven't called for ANY flight to board yet... (and she proceeds to roll her eyes)

Kiasu mentality: I must be close to the front of the queue as possible.
Herd mentality: Oh look, everyone's queueing... let's queue too

Nevermind if the queue isn't the right one.

And after re-reading the rest of my notes for Bangkok, I realised there wasn't really anything else momentous about it that I should want to recount. Except for the fact that I have never had so many massages in such a short time... total of 5 hours in as many days... blissful, it was...

Monday, February 16, 2009

how could i forget...

... it's mid-February and it's only now I realised that I've missed one humongous Eff and that is Far-flung Places, bringing my total number of Effs to 9.

January/February was a Chinese New Year excursion with the Ma, Jo and Sean to Bangkok, my first. February will also see me in Singapore again, to fulfil another Eff; the OCBC Cycle Singapore, my first bike challenge. March is time for Sportel Miami; a shorter trip than usual for me and will spend some extra couple of days in Miami. New York will have to wait.

April/May is another huge, huge first - Melbourne. I've always wanted to go and was planning for later in the year to coincide with the Fringe Festival in September. Now, I have an opportunity to do Melbourne with new-found friends who live and breathe the city, a different experience and, I know it in my bones, it will be one hellava trip.

Sometime after Melbourne will be a continuation of my diving adventure, which will see me completing my Advanced certification and then, the world will truly be mine to share with oysters. :-)

And THAT is my half-year of Far-Flung Places in the bag... stay tuned for Q3 & Q4...

Monday, January 19, 2009


1. [adj.] Of, or relating to hubris.
2. [v.] Displaying hubris (as a personality characteristic)

Root word - Hubris:

1. [n.] Overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance: "There is no safety in unlimited technological hubris" (McGeorge Bundy)...
2. [n.] Excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance.

Synonym - Hubris:

airs, audacity, brass*, cheek*, chutzpah*, cockiness, conceitedness, contemptuousness, disdain, insolence, loftiness, nerve, ostentation, overbearance, pomposity, pompousness, presumption, pretension, pretentiousness, self-importance, vanity

All in all, it doesn't sound like a good trait to be toting through life, does it? But what if that arrogance was borne out of a valid reason? Or is there ever a reason valid enough to warrant such arrogance and unbridled pride?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

One last Eff...

... Fear.

Not fear in itself but but the acknowledgement of its existence, acceptance of its influence and effect on the things that we do and finally the application of remedial measures to ensure that we don't screw up (again) because of it.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Doing Eff-all in 2009...

I generally don't do New Year resolutions.

"What's your New Year resolution?" - standard question in the first week of every new year. In the last few years, my standard answer to that question is "I don't make any that I can't keep and frankly, neither should anyone else". HAHAHA... too grumpy an old coot to be encountering on New Year's morning, don't you think? The kind you'd like to kick in the ass, I'm sure... :-)

In any case, I don't believe that there is anything extra that one can do on New Year's day that can't be done on any other day in a year. But if making resolutions are still a must, then I think making ones that are achievable should be the way forward. And there should be no shame in making a list of 100 small do-able things than making one big one that is insanely improbable.

I choose to look at things with a view for continuous improvement and the onset of a New Year is when I remind myself of what it is that I am focusing on. These are things that I already do and/or practice daily and this is merely my way of 'taking stock'. Hence the Doing Eff-all in 2009 is an open-ended work-in-progress which does not end come 31st December. And here are WHAT THE EFFs mean:

1. Family: Filial piety is something that should never be mistaken, misplaced nor disregarded and I think I have been guilty of that for too long; making the conscious efforts to repay those who unquestioningly give me no shite about my life and the way I choose to lead it, especially to my mother.

2. Friends: Cultivating new relationships and rekindling old ones; recognizing those who are ‘worth my time’ and keeping them close. Making time for meaningful conversation in smaller groups, preferably one-on-one.

3. Fitness: In the loosest sense, to avail myself to any type of activity (especially to try new ones) that requires some form of perspiration. Kicking off 2009 with a 78km bike ride was a good start! Cycle Singapore, here I come!!

4. Free time: To do things for myself that are outside of the first three Effs and work; me-time, quiet time, time to think, time to be solitary.

5. Faith: Constantly reminding self that there is a higher power at work that moves and shapes things in ways that are not always immediately clear to us but trust that things happen for a reason, often a good one. And when all else fails or in doubt, SURRENDER (thank you for perspective, scsf).

6. Filosophy: Everyone has something to say no matter how young or old, how (seemingly) sane or not; listen, learn, reflect and analyse. To be more open to what others have to say and being less judgmental is the key.

7. Food: The ultimate savour of life, as experienced through my taste buds.

All said, this will evolve as the year progresses because LIFE in itself, is a work in progress.