Friday, November 26, 2010

pervelly, dunsborough, busselton, bunbury...

... and finally, the last installment of a whirlwind trip to the great Australian southwest.

Checking out of the YHA at Margaret River early on a Monday morning, we headed straight for the beach! Nearest to Margaret River is Pervelly, a beach bum surf village (because to call it a town would be grossly over-embellishing it) which was a tranquil bay with waves that were just nice to learn with... I think... I've never surfed, so what would I know? It was great to just take in the view and believe me, it was a very lovely view indeed.

But we had no time to waste, we had a boat to catch. So off we went to Dunsborough, where we arrived at early enough for a leisurely breakfast. It's a nice town with a kind of rich-folk-vacation-cum-retirement-home town to it. For a small town, it wasn't exactly cheap, as I mistakenly expected. Breakfast was lovely nonetheless, if you like a combination of beans and chorizos to start your day with a bang.

Ok, now for the one thing that we had come all the way to see - WHALES. Dunsborough has licensed only one operator for whale-watching tours, which I think is commendable because the Aussies really do respect nature and is fervent about keeping it natural. Hence, the controlled number of excursions will ensure minimal encroachment on wildlife habitat. Very commendable.

All safely on board a 17 metre catamaran, the Cetacean Explorer, we set off into the wide expanse of Geographe Bay and within five minutes of casting off, we are greeted by a pod of dolphins in the midst of hunting breakfast right beneath the boat! There must have easily been about 10 of them, unfazed by our presence and systematically crisscrossing the shallow water to herd smaller schools of fish for their feed. It was a truly amazing sight to see so many of them streaking full-speed right below where we stood. Oh, and here's a tip: wear polarized sunglasses, they will help you see things in things in the water a great deal better, especially on bright days.

After our first marine mammal encounter, it was then time to sight our second mammal - the southern humpback whale. I think these magnificent creatures creatures came to Geographe Bay for a summer holiday (like Germans to Cherating in the month of August) because they were everywhere! A mother with her calf, a "bunch of young boys" doing what boys do best; showing off by frolicking in the water, giving flipper high-fives and doing the backstroke. Unfortunately, the boat's hydrophone was on the blink, else we would definitely have heard some whale song.

After an amazing two hours of encountering two of the largest mammals in the sea on a clear, blue, sunny day (no less!), we were now off to Bunbury, stopping over at Busselton for a look-see. Busselton is home to one of the longest jetties in the world. At 2km in length, that is a very long walk. The length is due to the shallow depth of Geographe Bay and it had to built a long way out back in the day, so that larger boats could disembark cargo and passengers. There is also an underwater observatory at the end of the jetty, which was unfortunately closed for refurbishment at the time.

Bunbury. Another town that I would describe in exactly the same words I did with Dunsborough. But it is a much larger town though and it was here that we found a little time to do some shopping. Oh and of course, I should say that we checked into Ocean Drive Motel to find ourselves in the best room on the property! It had a huge, low window which perfectly framed a view of the sun setting on the horizon of the great Indian Ocean.

Short of anything exciting to do in a small town, we decided on a movie; Social Network. It was a nice little movie to watch but at A$18 per ticket (on a Monday night!! really??!), let's just say you could comfortably watch this on your own tv, in your own living room back in good old KL after a visit to your local "DVD shop". To be fair, the movie is a must-watch, tho I won't give any of the storyline away. It is riveting. and Justin Timberlake is so hate-able.

We woke up to grey and drizzle the next morning. Looks like the sunshine wouldn't hold out another day for us. But that didn't stop us from heading out to the Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre. It is another Australian wonder of the idealistic marriage between wildlife tourism and preservation; the dolphins are wild and everything is done to preserve it that way. And I mean not in idle chatter. They actually do make sure that the dolphins are kept wild and do not spoil them by baiting them with free food. They are given little rewards of no more than 300 grams of fish a day per dolphin and never a species that is alien to Koombana Bay, where they live.

The dolphins come and go as they please, so visitors to the centre have to wait for the dolphins to come in. On that grey morning, we were graced by the presence of Levy, a 16-year old (est.) mother. The staff (mostly volunteer, some of them elderly and retired) identify the dolphins from their dorsal fins and it is amazing that they can rattle on about each individual dolphin like they were telling you about a close relative. Lingering on the beach brought a reward - Levy came back again to visit after a while. It was rainy and the water was murky, which isn't the norm in Koombana Bay, so the dolphin was understandably wary of coming too close but she was close enough. But then, how often do you get to come so close to a dolphin in the wild anyway?

And that was all the mammal encounters that we had. It was time to go. But we had one more winery to visit on the way back to Perth; Vineyard 28 (so named after the noisy parrot found mostly in Western Australia), one of the last ones you will come across from the south before you reach Perth. It's a bit of a trek of 2km on dirt road to get to the cellar door but it is a lovely property and you'll be greeted by the handsomest, friendliest brown mutt south of Perth.

By now the drizzle is easing, making the Highway #2 drive at 100/60/90/50/70/80/10 km/h ever more painful. But I was oblivious. It was Sone's turn to drive while I took a nap. And she hated it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

mandurah, margaret river, cape leeuwin, augusta...

... our Western Australia road trip begins!

First day of our trip starts off early when we head off down south towards Margaret River. Stopping off at Mandurah for a lazy breakfast, we drove around in circles for a while before settling on a random place that jumped out at us; 1957's Cafe - barracuda wrapped in bacon... heavenly.

After a lazy breakfast, it was time for the longest part of the drive - two and a half hours to Margaret River. Now, you might think that 2.5 hours is KL to Taiping... let me just correct any misconceived notion that driving long-distance driving on Australian highways are fun... unlike Malaysia, where speed limits were specially made to be lovingly broken, that is not the case in Australia... It kinda kills the joy of driving out on open highways where traffic is sparse, at best. But be warned; break the limit at your peril; Australia is where cops are watching and the coffee-money don't matter. And that is the end of my complaints about Australia, I promise.

We reach Margaret River and head straight for the YHA, our accommodation for the night. It is "at the edge of town"... which means it was one street down Main Road (which was also the Bussel HIGHWAY, fyi). The YHA was basic but the grounds were lovely with two types of parakeets frolicking in the soccer field. It was serene and the only sounds you could hear were all made by some organic organism!

Anyway, no time to lose. We had so many vineyards to visit! Eeny-meeny-miney-mo... we picked Leeuwin Estate as our first stop. Best decision of the day. Leeuwin Estate grounds were lovely and we saw our first kookaburra there. However, the cellar door experience was something else. The staff were rude and the wine was... not nice... and we weren't compelled to stay any longer, so we legged it to the next stop. It was the best decision made because every vineyard experience after Leeuwin just got better and better.

Redgate Estate - now, here's a vineyard visit that I loved. The grounds were humbler than Leeuwin but not at all in a bad way. The cellar door was cosy and the one guy manning the shop was friendly, helpful and very knowledgable. It was here that I picked up two of the most memorable items of the trip; a beautiful bottle of Cabernet Franc 2008 and a block of Jamaican Coffee Fudge... It was the best fudge IN THE WORLD!!! My regret is that I didn't realise that the best fudge on the face of god's green earth was right there in Margaret River and therefore couldn't go looking for more because we were bound by a ridiculously tight schedule.

Anyway, we had a fudge party in the car on the way to Hamelin Bay, where we encountered Eagle Rays, some of which can grow up to 2m span. The rays come close to shore and it is easy to spot from the waterline. The bay is calm and is part of the Leeuwin National Park. It seems there is some good diving/snorkelling to be had as well. If only I could get a hold of a canoe or kayak to explore the shallow waters. Take a look for yourself:

After Hamelin Bay, it was off to Augusta and Cape Leeuwin in an attempt to catch the sunset where the Southern and Indian Oceans met. It was too cold to stay for too long, and the lighthouse was closed for the day. I don't get why they promote beautiful sunsets at the cape when the lighthouse closes at 5:30 every day...

After a shot of fuel, it was then back to Margaret River for dinner at Settler's Tavern TAB. I had a big slab of moo-moo and it was gorgeous. Sone had lamb but no one would believe me if I said that she raved about the salad more than she did about the lamb!

And since kitchens close at 8:30pm and everyone's asleep by 10:30 everyday in Margaret River, I guess there was nothing else for us to do but to call it a night too...

Whales and dolphins next...

perth & perth...

... the two monkeys are at it again...

This time, the escapade to was to Western Australia. Perth is tiny. I can already imagine Sonya crinkling her nose and rolling her eyes in disagreement... "it's NOT a city" is what she would say.

Perth-lings (what DO you call people who live in Perth??) are a friendly bunch and curiously easier to understand than some other Australians that I have encountered from other parts. Things were easy to organize and get around, aside from a long queue just to clear customs to get INTO the country (Ozzites are paranoid about travellers importing unwanted critters and bugs in their bags). Car rental was booked online and pick up was easy-peasy. Even when I encountered an issue with the GPS unit I had booked, money was refunded with very little questions asked... and all done over the phone! Dang, I liked Australia already... but it was to get better!

We arrive at Shimmi's house in Bentley in time to wake the whole family up at 8:00am... after a very late night. But Niranjan was quick into action whipping up a BIG breakfast on the barbie. Washed down with beer. I am now liking Australia even more...

We all pile into my newly rented Hyundai Getz and set off for Churchlands to visit my cousin in the house that she had newly built with her hubby. It was stunning. Hardwood floors, an enormous entertainment room, a pool and a magnificent view of Herdsman Lake.

After a quick tour of the house, we pile into the car again and we are off to Cottelsoe Beach for a snack at The Naked Fig. Wonderful food, wonderful views, wonderful weather and wonderful company. The kids made friends!

After dropping off Alicia and her kids, Shimmi, little Ridh, Sone and I head off to Fremantle Market or Freo, as the locals call it. By now, it is close to 5:00pm and the sun is hanging low and the market is almost closing. But we still did manage some souvenir shopping and a small bagful of very unique honey and chilli roasted seed mix.

We drop Shimmi home to prep for a Diwali party that they were going to while Sone and I skipped off to Subiaco suburb for some highly recommended North Indian at Chutney Mary's. It was probably the best that I had ever had and trumps Northern Indian you can find anywhere in Malaysia, any day.

The following two days were spent out of town in Margaret River and Bunbury.

Upon return to Perth after two nights out of town, we pick Shimmi up and head out for a sumptuous lunch at Palais 85, in South Perth. To accompany the grand view overlooking the Swan River, we shared a seafood platter and decandently washed it all down with a glass of white wine each.

Before heading home to Shimmi's, we caught up with Alicia and kids again at San Churro in Subiaco for tea/dessert. Tasted as good as I remembered it a year ago in Melbourne.

Back at home, we attempted our first round of packing... it wasn't easy! There was a lot of weight to balance and regretted that I had only bought 15kg of check in luggage instead of of going straight for 20kg. Oh well...

Final dinner was at Siena's Pizzeria & Caffe, where we met with more fellow Malaysians on visit to Perth. Adjourning early to bed and an early rise to head for the airport and our flight home. Perth said farewell in grand fashion with an amazing sunrise, making sure that we were sufficiently stunned enough to come back for more soon.

amsterdam... a short and very hurried recap...

My first taste of amsterdam, unsurprisingly, was at Schipol International Airport. After arriving from KL on a very pleasant KLM flight, (my colleague) Connie and I landed in 9˚C at 5:30am. But that was the extent of our first encounter with Amsterdam. We were on transit and Amsterdam had to wait. So close, but yet so far beyond the immigration gates.

But after four days in Monte Carlo and work finally behind us, Connie and I were set to take Amsterdam by storm! Joined by another close friend and ex-colleague, Winnie, Connie and I were set to paint Amsterdam a bold shade of red!

The weather was pleasant enough in the day (at least in the first two days) but temperatures dropped quite drastically during the night. But we were all ready to warm ourselves in one way or another. So we checked in at Hotel Luxer, very conveniently located on Warmoesstraat which is a 3-minute walk from Centraal rail station. Right after checking in, we walked a couple of streets down and in the midst of Chinatown, we checked out Steven's Bar and had ourselves a pint of a local ale. Yummy.

Now warmer, we strolled around Chinatown and the notorious Red Light District and eventually end up having dinner at a Tibetan restaurant... it was so-so and don't remember much of the food to describe! Now EVEN warmer, we strolled to the Amsterdam Ice Bar for our -10˚C experience... we just had to take the warm winds out of our sails la. Got a photo of me doing a bad impersonation of South Park's Kenny.

All of Amsterdam is walkable. Just watch out for trams and bicycles. And if you have had too many ice beers, watch that you don't walk straight into a canal; it's cold at this time of year! We took about 20 minutes to take a really slow stroll from the Ice Bar back to the hotel, passing Dam Square and many pretty night canal-scenes along the way.

The next morning, after fueling up on McDonald's (we had to... Connie insisted that we take a picture there as well), we walked about Damrak and Haarlemstraat for some souvenir shopping. It was a rainy morning and as with any where else in Europe, rain in the morning normally means a steady drizzle and greyness for the rest of the day. No different here, unfortunately.

So we stopped in at The Coffee Company on Haarlemmerdijk for coffee; or in my case, I had the most amazing hot dark chocolate. Enough fuel for more walking and shopping before stopping for lunch at La Pampa, and Argentinian restaurant. Delicious steaks.

On our last night, we decided on watching Boom Chicago's Upgrade Or Die. American improv theatre at its Dutch best. Winnie insisted that they do a musical skit in Chinese Opera style, so that was a refreshing breath of originality.

Our last morning began with a big breakfast at Prins Heerlijk, a cute little bakery just down the street from the hotel. Alas, this is where Winnie left us but that was not the end of the day for Connie and I. We trammed straight down to the Heineken Experience. I WAS a skeptic who wondered just how much of a story can be told about a beer. I was bowled over. It was a grand Experience and I recommend it for any first-timer to Amsterdam, if for nothing else then go check out the very cool, personalized merchandize available for sale.

Last stop, Albert Cuypstraat open market where I took the opportunity to invest in a pair of warmer gloves because although it had stopped drizzling and the sky was turning a bright blue, the temperature was reduced to about 8˚C in broad daylight!

And that was that. Amsterdam is a great, compact city with much to see and do. Best explored on foot or on bicycle. I am definitely going back!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

1-malaysia? i think you have the wrong address...

In George Orwell's Animal Farm, there is a line that lives indelibly in my memory: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". I offer that line on the verge of another reflection on Malaysia and its current social state. And Orwell's line was ironcially dictated by the main protagonists of the book; the pigs who ran the farm.


My current state of disbelief at the new heights (or should i say lows) of what the country's social rot has degenerated into. A Malay headmistress in Kulai, Johor, had unmistakably described her Chinese students as passengers who should go "home" to Beijing and likened her Indian students wearing religious wrist bands to dogs wearing leashes. She was today defended by her boss somewhere up the heirachy as being the victim of a misunderstanding. A VICTIM?? And who was doing all this misunderstanding? All 17 of those students who heard what she said and felt compelled to lodge police reports against her?

In stark contrast, imagine this; a Christian Church plans to stage a religious play to coincide with Merdeka Day, on the door will be neon-litted signs that can be seen from the moon which reads "for non-Muslims only". But HORRORS... it is Ramadan, the holy fasting month for Muslims. How dare the Christians plan a play about freedom on our holy month and not invite us? OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! Have the police arrest them heathens for causing instability and inciting religious hatred. Actually, stop imagining... it happened. Today too.

So what has Orwell got to do with this?

I think that there is a large portion of the Malaysian population who live in a state of induced insecurity. The insecurity is created by a group of elites who have it in their best interest to perpetuate that state so as to maintain their self-delusional positions of power. But it's not them that I refer to by quoting Orwell. It's everyone else who are not in the group of elites but who are instrumental in the plan to keep those f*ck*ng (ab)users in the driver's seat.

This state of insecurity is fed by these ambiguities; (1) certain people have a birth-right, (2) enshrined within this birth-right is the constitutional proclamation of their religious identity and (3) what God/State/Dictator/Some Smart Aleck has put together, let no man put asunder.

The Driver's Seat uses the first two elements to create the ambiguity. I call it ambiguous because after a while, a person who was born to qualify for (1) is by default, also a (2). The problem is, they grow up to believe that (1) and (2) are one and the same and those who are discriminately neither number, can go home to China and live like dogs for all they care.

And the Drivers in the Seat allow for this state of delusion and insecurity to exist. That's how they compel this vast majority of (1)'s to keep them in the Seat. Maintain a false sense of threat. Perpetuate a distinction between (1)'s and NON-(1)'s. Enforce the fear of a god to ensure subservience. Create a society with two seperate sets of laws to make the upkeep of a holier-than-thou notion possible. Ultimately, anyone who is not on (1)'s side is perceived to be against them.

Hence, whilst all Malaysians are born equal, some BECOME more equal than others.


Tuesday, July 06, 2010

the absurdity that is english...

I had read this one a while ago and enjoyed it. I recently came across it again recently when it was posted through a mailing list that I am on. Still a great read:

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Then shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let's face it - English is a crazy language.
There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger;
neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England ...

We take English for granted, but if we explore its paradoxes,
we find that quicksand can work slowly,
boxing rings are square,
and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing,
grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham?
Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend.
If you have a bunch of odds and ends
and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
Sometimes I think all the folks who grew up speaking English
should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital?
We ship by truck but send cargo by ship.
We have noses that run and feet that smell.
We park in a driveway and drive in a parkway.
And how can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same,
while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language
in which your house can burn up as it burns down,
in which you fill in a form by filling it out,
and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

And, in closing, if Father is Pop, how come Mother's not Mop?



Monday, April 26, 2010

of luddites and euphemisms...

... of some new words encountered, researched, understood and learnt:

Luddite: [n. LUH-dite] The noun Luddite specifically refers to one of a group of early 19th century English workmen who were campaigning against the automation of the power loom. In the modern context, it refers to an opponent of technological progress.

Etymology: The original Luddites claimed to be led by one "King Ludd" (also known as "General Ludd" or "Captain Ludd") whose signature appears on a "workers' manifesto" of the time. King Ludd was based on the earlier Ned Ludd, who some believed to have destroyed two large stocking frames in the village of Antsey, Leicestershire in 1779. At that time in England, machine breaking could lead to heavy penalties or even execution, which might have led some to use fictitious names for protection.

In a slightly more removed context, Elton John on stage at American Idol Gives Back last week used the the word to refer to his ability to bumble through technology when he couldn't recall the website address of the AIDS Foundation he help set up. "I'm such a Luddite," he said. "I love that; some of the most famous people are so technologically challenged. Makes me feel better".


Euphemism: [n. yoo-fuh-miz-uhm] 1. the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt; 2. the expression so substituted: e.g. “To pass away” is a euphemism for “to die.”

Etymology: The word euphemism comes from the Greek word euphemo, meaning "auspicious/good/fortunate speech/kind" which in turn is derived from the Greek root-words eu, (good/well) + pheme (speech/speaking). The eupheme was originally a word or phrase used in place of a religious word or phrase that should not be spoken aloud; etymologically, the eupheme is the opposite of the blaspheme (evil-speaking). The term euphemism itself was used as a euphemism by the ancient Greeks, meaning 'to keep a holy silence' (speaking well by not speaking at all).

I have to admit that I had never really known the true definition of the word, Euphemism. Now, I do!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

245 mb and counting...

You are currently using 245 MB (3%) of your 7434 MB.

That's what it says on the bottom of my gmail screen. So gone are the days when Hotmail offered 1MB of space for mail storage. And then, they upped it to 2MB but only because Yahoo! did too. And the race was on. But none of them ever came close to gmail.

7GB is a hellava lot of space to be storing email. And the number continues to grow.


Thursday, February 11, 2010


This curiousity started out sometime last week while at dinner with some friends, where amongst them, was an Indian national. Since the rest were Malaysian, we had a good time giving the Indian a hard time...

English-speaking Indians, if you have never come across one before, are as articulate as they are verbose... a very lethal combination. And I believe that this is one of the reasons why I tend to be cautious about novels written by Indian writers.

Don't get me wrong, I think they have an excellent grip of the language, better than many of the English themselves. My gripe is that they tend to over-do the verbosity when simpler words should sometimes suffice.

But what is stranger is the evolution of the English language in India, as spoken by English-speaking Indians. At dinner, we had pleasure in ribbing the poor girl from Bangalore about a word that is used in everyday business language there; prepone. As opposed to postpone. As in to reschedule a meeting to earlier instead of pushing it to later.

As strange as that word may be to us Malaysians, it doesn't change the fact that it is a word used commonly in India. And that was what I started wondering; how many of these new words have evolved in this fertile language pot into phrases or words that make perfect and concise sense. And some not quite so.

And then, by sheer coincidence, I came across another two today; quakening and updation. Quakening, as in the act of the earth shaking below you in the midst of an earthquake. And I received an email asking for me to send in my latest contact information for updation to their database.

Quirky. So now, I had an itch to find more and Google is my friend:

Convented: not like Sister Enda but more like an Assuntarian
Join duty: first day at work
Tell me: how can I help you?
Pass out: graduate
Redressal: not a red dress rehearsal but a remedy or redress
Hotel: is a restaurant...????
Eggitarian: vegetarian who takes egg and milk
Long cut: erm... opposite of short cut

Paining: this one, i think we all know
On the anvil: something about to happen, on the horizon
Today morning: just like yesterday night

Cent percent: 100%
Centum: one hundred
Full shirt: long sleeves
Half shirt: half sleeves (so means sleeveless is "shirtless"??)

Well, what can I say? And that's just some of it. If you have any more to contribute, please do. I would be chumma chumma (simply) delighted.

Friday, February 05, 2010

creamy chicken pasta...

a very simple recipe to try:

1 tbs of butter
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast pieces
1/2 onion, diced
12 shitake mushrooms
1 cup of heavy (whipping) cream
Ground black pepper

1. Cook pasta.

2. Melt butter in pan and cook chicken breasts until no longer pink. Remove and slice thinly. Note: very important not to overcook.

3. Saute onions until clear. Add mushrooms. When cooked, stir in cream and cook until thick. Note: for a lighter cream base add low-fat milk in proportion to make up the one cup of cream.

4. Stir in chicken and season. Cook for another 5 minutes.

5. Toss with pasta.

Prep time: 20 mins, serves 4

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

my bootcamp triumph...

When I started off Bootcamp enrolment last month, I really had no idea how tough it was going to be for me. I had heard a range of people saying how tough it was right down to how great the programme was. But I thought to myself that there was only one way to find out...

So off I went. First session of the month is always a benchmark assessment; a series of set exercises and a time limit to do it all in. This is so that you have a baseline performance to compare with as you progress through the programme. And the whole idea is to keep bettering your performance, of course.

The benchmark comes in two parts. The first is a set of exercises that start with a 400m run, followed immediately by 15 sit-ups, 10 grunts (or burpees) and 15 military sit-ups. After you're done with that, you repeat the exercises again another two times. There is a cut-off time of 15 minutes. The second part is a 1.6km flat run and the cut-off again is 15 minutes.

My first benchmark was easy to remember... For both activities, I was listed as DNF. "Did Not Finish". Yay. What a low standard I had set for myself to smash!

To be fair, my biggest issue is running. I can't. And I don't like running. It pains me to run. Literally. Over the month, I realised that I might have a genuine existing condition with my arches that I need checked into by a podiatrist. But that aside and all the same, my aim for January Bootcamp was to improve on my ability to run.

Fast forward to first session of OBC in February. Benchmark assessment time again. I did my first benchmark in 13 mins 34 secs but what I was eager to test was my 1.6km run. I did it, albeit slowly. In 14 mins 13 secs. It was a great feeling to be able to do something that I wasn't able to only a month before but Bootcamp is about breaking mental and physical barriers. And mine was broken to smithereens.

There was another feeling that I had at the end of that 1.6km; my initial aim was to finish in under 15 mins and now that I had, I felt that I could still do better. Which has left me with this unbearable itch to go right out and run some more.

Wow... I've have really surprised myself.

Now for the unsolicited plug: Original Bootcamp isn't for just anybody. It is very intense hour of dedication to pushing yourself beyond limits every single session. It isn't for those who prefer a clean and air-conditioned environment to work out some sweat surrounded by creature comforts. It isn't for you if you prefer to complete a workout that you have pre-planned and mentally prepared for. OBC is about getting down and dirty and it's about pushing through pain barriers. It's about disciplined adherence to instruction by trusted trainers and where punishment is part of the work out. It's about doing it in a group of people with equal abilities and the inherent motivation of everyone pushing through the same barriers. Try it. You might just become addicted!

Monday, January 25, 2010

malaysia: masih bowlay harap sikit...

I mentioned last week that I had unceremoniously lost my wallet, the careless idiot that I naturally am. Hey, it's been over 5 years that I hadn't lost it, that is some kind of record which I am quite proud of. :-)

So, I went through the tedious process of getting the contents of my wallet replaced. While there was a minor adventure with replacing my driver's license, I was also pleasantly surprised that my Identity Card replaced with absolutely no hassle (albeit a well-deserved fine for my carelessness). But
guess what surprise was even more pleasant? The IC was ready today. Exactly a week later. Now, who says that our government departments are beyond hope?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

guardians of driving license photos...

I thought nothing would shock me anymore when it came to ingenuity of the Malaysian race and their ability to adapt just about anything into almost any situation. But pleasantly shocked I was at a polished display of resourcefulness yesterday, made necessary by the opportunity to make a few ringgit of course.

I had suffered the major inconvenience of losing my wallet out of my own carelessness. One of the things I had to replace was my driver's license. Now, I know that you need to bring photos with you to have a replacement done but I also did remember seeing an elderly Chinese chap operating a Polaroid camera in a makeshift studio at the JPJ, where you could get photos done on the spot. So I chanced it and went with almost no identity and
almost no money , armed with nothing but a police report.

After taking a queue number from the information counter, a security guard taps me on the shoulder and whispers softly if I needed photos. I said yes and he takes my arm and leads me towards the outside of the building and points skywards (but toward the general direction of the car park) and whispers instructions to go to the guard house at the main gate.

I almost felt a necessity to tip-toe my way to my rendezvous point with the James Bond who would give me a sealed, self-destructing envelope with further instructions. At the guard house, I peep in through the window and who do I see? Not James. I saw a tiny man in a blue security uniform who didn't seem like he was a fan of speech and speaking. When I asked him where I should go to have photos taken, he smiles and signals for me to come into his guard house.

By now, I am highly amused by the whole cloak and dagger mystery. I enter the guard house (but not before I had to take off my shoes...) and in a corner is a swivel chair and a piece of blue cardboard stuck to the wall, as a backdrop for photos to be taken. I was trying to stifle my incredulous laughter by now.

He invites me to take a seat and proceeds to punch some keys on his mobile phone. I had assumed that he was calling for James with-the-camera Bond but again I was wrong. He swivels around on his chair to face me, points his mobile phone about 3 feet from my face and pulls the trigger. He pauses and then shows me the shot he's taken. Unsurprisingly, I looked like a bemused deer caught in headlights.

I'm not happy with the photo and ask for the picture to be taken again. In true Malaysian spirit, he simply says, "boleh" and proceeds to shoot again. This time, I looked a little more composed and said, "Ok. Now what?"

He asks me to go back to the information counter and wait for him there. He'd come to me in five minutes. So I do as I am told. Exactly 4.5 minutes later, he shows up with 8 photographs in exchange for RM10. That's it. Transaction complete.

This was one of the most bizarre encounters I have had in a long time but it was also the fastest photos I ever made, in the most number of copies and for a bargain; photo studios give you 4 copies of a Polaroid shot and charge you RM10 (some places RM12) and make you wait longer than 4.5 minutes for them to develop and crop the photos.

So the next time you're in the neighbourhood and decide that you need some photos taken, please do look up the guard house at PJ JPJ branch... no need to ask for James.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

aal izz well...

I've never watched a Hindi movie in totality before. On any medium. So watching a Hindi movie in a cinema, on a planned outing, was really a first for me. And I think there was no better movie to lose that virginity to than 3 Idiots.

I didn't know at the time of agreeing to watch the movie right up to the time I got home and googled it, that Aamir Khan's 3i was already the highest grossing Bollywood movie of all time... it was released on Christmas Day, less than 3 weeks before! It had, in fact, obliterated Ghajini's top box-office standing within days of release. Aamir Khan wrote on his blog on 4th January:

Last year GHAJINI had broken all records and had gone on to become the biggest grosser in the history of Indian Cinema. No film since has even come close to the business. In fact very few films even before GHAJINI are close, just a handful. Examples Gaddar, Hum Aapke Kaun, DDLJ, Raja Hindustani.

Now hold your breath, and take a seat.

3i has already crossed the business of GHAJINI even as you read this post!!!

In less than 10 days 3i has overtaken the ENTIRE business of GHAJINI!!!

India, Overseas, everywhere!!!
Wow! What an achievement. 3i was breaking records everywhere and not just in India alone.

Anyway, we found ourselves looking like the three idiots going along this outing. And between Sonya, Tzee and myself, I joked that there were exactly 2.5 Chinese audience in the hall that day; Sonya being the 0.5, of course.

The movie was thoroughly enjoyable. It was a coming-of-age comedy which had excellent lines within a superb script, with a tight story-line to boot that didn't leave any nagging questions unanswered. It all came together spectacularly. The three main protagonists were excellent in their respective characters, with Aamir Khan, at the ripe old age of 44, managing to play a 19-year old engineering student flawlessly.

And I was told that Kareena Kapoor, for once, was not playing a role that made her annoying to watch. Another notable member of cast was Boman Irani's cantankerous, no-nonsense character as Professor ViruS. Truly unforgettable.

The story also revolved around the reality of paper-chasing amongst middle and lower income Indian society. Aamir's lead character, Rancho, says in the movie that "people study engineering, then management and then become bankers; so what is the whole point of studying engineering?" Rancho challenges conventions and mind-sets in the movie, much to the chagrin of Prof. ViruS. And Rancho shows his two closest friends how to break out of their own inhibitions and fears.

One apprehension that I did have going into the movie was song & dance sequences... it is a Bollywood production, after all. If you are not big into twirling around palm trees, spectacular changes in scenery on a dime and world-record attempts at wardrobe changes in a number, then you will be heartened to know that this movie contains minimal amount of bursting into song and I can also assure you that those handful of occasions were very situational and entertaining.

And while I am on the subject of scenery, one cannot help but be awe-struck by the beauty of the northern Indian city of Shimla and the breathtaking Ladakh regions, including Lake Panggong in the final scene of the movie.

Another thing that I was wary of were subtitles. I generally don't like reading subs as I am watching a movie unless it is done well. And Malaysian standards of subtitling are notoriously known for anything but well. But to my delight, the subs for 3i were done in-movie and were thus, studio-controlled. And it was excellent. It was great to watch a subtitled movie so seamlessly where the difference in language was hardly noticeable. It's not quite the same experience to be watching, say for example, a Raymond Chau slap-stick with subs, if you know what I mean. Some things defy translation and subtitling. Perhaps it's in the intricacies of language. I don't really know.

All said, it was a highly enjoyable and entertaining movie and I recommend a watch, whether you are a hard-core Aamir Khan fan or someone like me, a first-timer being introduced to Hindi movies for the first time. And the verdict on the excursion from a first-timer, borrowing a line from a song in the movie, aal izz well... very well indeed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

eff-all 2009 in review...

I started off 2009 with something that was less of "a resolution" but more of a promise to myself to adhere to a list of 8 things I saw as centrally important to my life. I wasn't going to change or discard anything, per se. I was just going to consciously do more of the things that mattered. Thus began what I titled my Eff-All Campaign 2009.

And what a year it was for me. I'd done so much that to read all that I had taken time to record over the last 12 months still boggles my mind now. "I did ALL that?? WOW..."

And here's the re-cap:

1. Family: I've somehow succeeded in spending more time with my Ma (and sis) with the now-regular Saturday breakfast outings to Sri Paandi, me for my ghee dosai and Ma for her appam. She would dutifully carry her own little container of gula merah in her handbag to sprinkle on the appam because the shop doesn't serve it. I spent more time with extended family as well, making a conscious and concerted effort to attend more family gatherings, made more meaningful with the number of deaths experienced in the immediate family last year; four to be exact, three of whom were in succession within a three-week period. I've met cousins, nieces and nephews from all far-flung corners who I have not met for a long while and Facebooked many more long-lost cousins.

2. Friends: I've met a lot of new people throughout the year, including a lot of kids! It is an achievement because I still maintain that I am a dreadful curmudgeon and generally very anti-social. But meet new people, I did... somehow. And some have been great, they know who they are. Rekindling old ones is a little more lacking but for sure, there have been some significant recognition of who were NOT worth my time and a whole lot of one-on-one conversations.

3. Fitness: I wanted to be involved in a lot of sporting activity. And I was. I wanted to try new stuff and here, I will just rattle off the things I did of significance or for the first time in 2009: 78km bike ride to Putrajaya, not-quite-ultimate Frisbee, 40km group ride in Putra/Cyberjaya, Cycle Singapore 2009, Dragon Boating, 5km at the Stanchart Marathon 2009, Diving in Perhentian, Badminton Tournament (where Tzee and I didn't lose ALL our games), Tennis with random strangers and intermittent table tennis games. It's been GREAT!!!

4. Free time: Phew! I was quite breathless amidst everything in 2009 and kept busy a lot. I think I now crave my me-time more than ever! Seriously, I would have liked to spend more alone time but that hasn't always been possible. On that note, I have somehow managed to travel 6 new cities, watch 55 movies, attended 11 arts/theatre events and read a measly 3 books.

5. Faith: On my Facebook profile, I listed religious view as "Catholic Agnostic" because I was Catholic first, before I could even recognize who my mother was, and then grew into agnosticism later. I posted that in my warped sense of humour. But I now truly believe it more and more. Learning to surrender when all else fails and in doubt has been more trying. Breaking away from human forms and conformities of the human mind is never easy. I learn, yet.

6. Filosophy: It has been a tough to shut up and conscientiously listen to other points of view before offering my own (if at all). It has been a large challenge but once the I had gotten the hang of it, it was really quite insightful. And what was most apparent to me was the fact that what I thought or what I had to say was sometimes irrelevant or more powerful left unsaid. I don't always have to say something, nor is it expected of me. Silent observation offers a world of insight.

7. Food: Oh, my word... where do I start? I had been to 166 new places to eat in 2009 that I had never been to before. And this does not include the places (including the 166) I've been back to for repeat visits. And the evidence of all this?? It's in my gut... I feel it! ;-)

8. Fear: [Not of fear itself but the acknowledgment of its existence acceptance of its influence and effect on the things that we do.] This one was a little more complicated. It was more of externalizing and understanding other things and people around me and why things happen the way they do. Understanding the fear that drives people to do the things they do and say what it is that they say. It's hard to quantify how successful I have been in this area but it is something that I continually strive to achieve.

Top 5 of 2009:

1. Melbourne, Australia (May 2009)
2. Showdown of Champions 2009, Kuala Lumpur (December 2009)
3. Carcassonne, Figueras, Barcelona (October 2009)
4. Bangkok, Thailand (February 2009)
5. Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary (August 2009)

It's been a an action-packed year. It had its ups and downs and its share of drama but never once, has it been dull. I could write so much more but I fear that writing about the past year will only eat into my time of recording down the year that we're in now. And 2010 will be even greater!

Monday, January 11, 2010

hello 2010... it's been mortifying...

Another year. Is it just me or does time fly faster with every year one adds on to one's age?

It's been a grand old 2009 for me. I'm retrospectively browsing through my 2009 to see how much of my eff-all objective I had achieved and I shall write my observations and achievements in due time. Meanwhile, I'd just like to wish the handful of people who do read this humble and intermittent blog a Blessed and Peaceful 2010.

The date today is 11th of 01 in the year '10. Auspicious as the date may seem, it belies the tough times that we still live in. Economy is supposedly recovering and peace has yet to rear its head in Malaysia. The nation is polarised by an issue of the usage of the word "Allah". Yahweh. God.

Whatever one's religious leanings are and whatever the form or shape that God takes for a person, how can anyone want to claim an exclusivity on the name of God? If you have that much faith in the existence of God and all that is good about Him, then should we not be sharing His name with all and sundry, and IN HIS NAME?

Allah is a name that has been in use to describe God since the ancient forebears of the major monotheistic religions dating back to Abraham. Have the Jews, Muslims and Christians forgotten that they are ALL Abrahamic religions? They all acknowledge Abraham. And back in the day, Abraham worshiped only one God. He is still one and the same God, no matter what you and I choose to call Him today.

So what's in a name?? Get on with life already. There are proposals to write, hungry kids to feed and laundry to do. There's too much to do to be wasting time on arguing semantics and building petrol bombs.