How should we judge a government?

In Malaysia, if you don't watch television or read newspapers, you are uninformed; but if you do, you are misinformed!

"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." - Malcolm X

Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience - Mark Twain

Why we should be against censorship in a court of law: Publicity is the very soul of justice … it keeps the judge himself, while trying, under trial. - Jeremy Bentham

"Our government is like a baby's alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no
responsibility at the other. " - Ronald Reagan

Government fed by the people

Government fed by the people

Career options

Career options
I suggest government... because nobody has ever been caught.

Corruption so prevalent it affects English language?

Corruption so prevalent it affects English language?
Corruption is so prevalent it affects English language?

When there's too much dirt...

When there's too much dirt...
We need better tools... to cover up mega corruptions.

Prevent bullying now!

Prevent bullying now!
If you're not going to speak up, how is the world supposed to know you exist? “Orang boleh pandai setinggi langit, tapi selama ia tidak menulis, ia akan hilang di dalam masyarakat dan dari sejarah.” - Ananta Prameodya Toer (Your intellect may soar to the sky but if you do not write, you will be lost from society and to history.)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Love at first sight

This could be Alex as a baby, though his eyes are not as big now.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Killer found

This poor fella was in the wrong place at the time and with strong circumstantial evidence he was pronounced guilty as charged.

Can you identify the culprit?

A birdie was found killed. The suspects were put on identification parade…

The only witness said she could not tell the difference...

Thin line separating sanity

Jim and Edna were both patients in a mental hospital. One day while they were walking past the hospital swimming pool, Jim suddenly jumped into the deep end. He sank to the bottom of the pool and stayed there. Edna promptly jumped in to save him. She swam to the bottom and pulled Jim out.

When the director of Nursing became aware of Edna's heroic act, she considered her to be mentally stable. When she went to tell Edna the news she said, "Edna, I have good news and bad news.

The good news is you're being discharged; since you were able to rationally respond to a crisis by jumping in and saving the life of another patient, I have concluded that your act displays sound-mindedness. The bad news is that Jim, the patient you saved, hung himself in his bathroom with the belt to his robe right after you saved him. I am sorry, but he's dead."

Edna replied, "He didn't hang himself, I put him there to dry. How soon can I go home?"

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Old English customs and sayings

BH sent me some interesting facts and it is timely to mention about the origin of some old English customs and sayings.

Wedding bouquet
Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence, the custom today, of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

It’s raining cats and dogs
Houses had thatched roofs - thick straw - piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “it's raining cats and dogs”.

Canopy beds
There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence, the saying, “Dirt poor”. The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the saying “a thresh hold”.

Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old
In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old”.

Bring home the bacon
Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon”. They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Tomatoes were considered poisonous
Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Upper crust
Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Funeral wake
Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence, the custom of holding a wake.

Saved by the bell
England was old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, “saved by the bell” or was considered “a dead ringer”.


I had to deliver a handphone from my nephew to his son, ie. my grandnephew, in KL. Of course, it was also an opportunity to jam with my friends.

Months ago, I told them, what is most urgently needed is simply a bass guitar. Yet, after a purchase of a new electric guitar (not bass) and a bass amplifier, I had to bring my own bass guitar! Because of this additional item, and because I had to put out the clothes to dry, I forgot about my overnight bag! I did not realise till I was about to reach Tapah! No way I was going to turn back.

Anyway, it was quite a good session as my friend's brother was around to play the drums and sing. I had a shower in another friend's place and put up with a brother so that we could catch up on news.

Just imagine, after so many days, just because he sent me a message and my phone got lost in KLIA, with no news from me, he thought I was still in UK!

Anyway, I meant to remind our youngsters about the modern amenities which they have taken for granted. BH sent me some interesting facts and one of them was this:

In olden days, baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water".

With this in mind, what is going to KL without overnight bag?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Wake up, mum!

The bull is gone!

How many times must I tell you I have nothing to do with the stock market?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Natural phobias

This family used to be afraid of Colonel Sanders.

Now they are even afraid to catch a cold.

Golf balls

A man entered the bus with both of his front pockets full of golf balls and sat down next to a beautiful blonde. The puzzled blonde kept looking at him and his bulging pockets.

Finally, after many such glances from her, he said, "It's golf balls".

Nevertheless, the blonde continued to look at him for a very long time, deeply thinking about what he had said.

After several minutes, not being able to contain her curiosity any longer, asked, "Does it hurt as much as tennis elbow?"

Getting over the natural fear of water

Once I jumped in, I’m ok.

Hope I can make it to the proposed sports complex in UK.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Jewish connection?

Before this picture was taken, nobody knew our connection with this Jewish outfit, probably one of those in Khairy's boycott list.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Let sleeping dog lie...

in the current political situation, our ex-PM, Dr. Mahathir (whose nickname is "lou mah" which literally means "old horse" in Cantonese) has been advised to do just that.

But instead of "he ain't heavy, he's my brother", it looks more like, "the last dog that is going to break the old horse's back".

Educational flight

Heathrow must be huge in terms of physical size. Though we checked in at Terminal 3, we had to take a transit bus, which took us on a 10-minute ride which included going through a tunnel before we could actually board the Thai Airways jumbo jet.

Thai greeting, “sawadee ka” with a clasp of both hands by a beautiful air stewardess must be one of the winning points in getting customers. It gives us a sense of promise and reassurance that we will be treated well, with respect and attention. Having tried their service on the flight to UK, I was actually looking forward to being pampered again.

I was seated between a gentleman next to the window and SP. We started chatting and I was told he is from Bhutan, which is a kingdom situated between India and Tibet. He said he was undergoing training in Canada and now on route to Bangkok where he will be meeting some friends who were visiting China. He said he is a primary school teacher.

To be honest, I know very little of Bhutan, always lumping it together with Nepal and Tibet, as small Buddhist countries up in the Himalayas. Tibet is actually part of China now.

The most amazing information I got from Leedup (his name I got to know only when we were disembarking and he even asked the steward to take a picture of us) was that Bhutan’s main source of revenue is selling electricity to India! The country has the natural advantage of fast-flowing underground rivers, which could be easily harnessed to run turbines to generate electricity. But instead of building dams that we know, most of the turbines are situated underground! He said Bhutan is able to build the power stations using its own engineers, thus dispelled my presumption that the construction and technology was supplied by India.

So, on my way back from UK, I learnt a few things about Bhutan: that it is not backward and has a relatively high per capita income of over USD2,000 because of its small population of 600,000.

One glaring point about passengers on Thai Airways, to and from Bangkok, is that I estimate some 80% are Caucasians, presumably attracted by the cheap exchange rates, almost no-holds-barred fun activities. Some could be on business, attracted by Thailand’s more accommodating foreign investment policies, unlike Malaysia.

It is a real eye-opener for me to notice the frequent flights out of Bangkok International Airport, almost every 5 minutes, when we were waiting to board the flight back to KLIA.

What a difference the impression we got, when we were about to land at KLIA, to see one lone Middle Eastern airline plane parked and only a couple of MAS planes to be seen. On the way by light rail transit to KLIA proper, we could see some semblance of an international airport where we could see a few more planes at the place for take-off.

We noticed there are obviously many development sites near KLIA, with their newly cleared terrains which look terrible like open wounds among the mostly oil palm plantations.

While walking towards Customs and Immigrations, the banners shouting out KLIA as the world’s Best Airport, seemed to ring hollow. To my simple mind, what good is “best” by a certain criterion, when it is not fully utilized? For some reasons, Malaysia is not attracting airlines, tourists and business travelers like Thailand.

With increasing terrorism...

even a kitten knows how to react.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Aug 7 London Heathrow Airport

Ten days earlier, when we were coming back from Leeds, we saw on the other side of M25, a huge traffic jam because a trailer jack-knifed. I was getting worried over being caught in a jam the day we were supposed to be on our way to Heathrow airport. I even considered staying with my nephew in Wood Green, which is on the Piccadilly line, which runs direct to Heathrow. But Alex insisted that he had taken leave on the Monday to send us there. I joked that he wanted to make sure we really got on the plane!

Alex related to us of how years ago when he first took a flight from UK, he and friends managed to catch it even though they reached the airport past flight time! It seems they took a wrong turn and was heading towards Slough instead of Heathrow. Not one to give up, they parked the car and found that the plane was delayed and had only minutes to board. Then they had to return the hired car first before doing so. Amazing determination, indeed.

All of our three children were with us the night before so that they could see us off. As parents, we felt glad that they are independent and capable of looking after themselves. Alex and Clem seem to take on the role of foster parents well and I can only hope that our children’s presence in their home, off and on, can make their lives more interesting and enjoyable too, though bit heavy on their pockets. I feel it is up to them to strike a balance somewhere.

We were glad Beng managed to get an offer, subject to Criminal Record Bureau clearance, from his first job interview with Lewisham College, as Marketing Assistant. He had just realized that fortunately he had cleared his traffic summons before he went over. For someone who has just been in UK for only two and a half months, it is considered good, unless one is being posted there by the same company, or one of those who works in a restaurant and can actually start work without even having to know English! But if without work permits, some were earning as low as 1.50 an hour instead of minimum wage of 5. 50.

He spent at least a month traveling about to familiarize with traveling within London, and other cities and had been to Paris a few times before he started applying. With his previous experience as a Marketing Manager in a university college, they could use his experience in their planned expansion and upgrading as well as recruiting students from Malaysia.

Beng explained to us his rationale of being in UK as with his “right of abode”, if he did not make use of the opportunity while young, he might live to regret when old. Very clearly, it is to earn and save the pounds to bring back to Malaysia!

Well, he had to eat humble pie first, leaving a job, house and car to start from scratch – without house and car and yet to rent a place for himself. He still could not get used to the 36-hour per week expected of his new job! He might have time to work at a football club for the fun of it.

Cheng was so excited when her fellow Rotary International exchange student, Adeline Choo was chosen as the new Miss Malaysia/World. She had been in touch with her during a period when she was undecided as to her options. Taking part in beauty contests seemed a good challenge. As destined, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for her.
Cheng is looking forward, if time permits for both, to meet in Poland when she takes part in the Miss World contest. Congratulations Adeline!

I met Adeline at a Rotary meeting at the Titiwangsa Golf Club. Cheng was away then, and I was asked to give a speech on how I felt as a father who has a daughter on an international student exchange programme. Adeline’s parents were there too.

When Alex mentioned over the phone about strict rules on hand luggage, we thought he was joking until we read in the newspapers the next morning about the havoc at Heathrow airport after the discovery of plans to bomb planes from London to New York. We consider ourselves very lucky indeed to have left 2 days earlier, without even having our heavy hand luggage weighed– one with a mantelpiece clock which got them suspicious when scanned but they did not even bother to open it, another with a crystal glass decanter and 4 glasses and a few mugs!

Nee’s housemate, Kak Jas was one of those affected when she went to the airport and found that her flight was cancelled. Over the weekend, she had yet to book her flight, as the ones for Monday were fully booked. I wish her luck.

For one who prefers to travel light, the new requirements on hand luggage actually suit me. Very soon, enterprising manufacturers will be producing transparent hand luggage bags!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Aug 3 to 6 Thorganby – The School House, Bed & Breakfast

We set off from Dartford, in Alex’s, and Clem’s cars, to join M25 and then M11 to head towards Cambridge, then join A1 towards Leeds, then A64 towards Wetherby, all of the towns we bypassed, and stopped in York, Alex’s previous abode. He used to live near the medieval walls, which surround the ancient city.

We parked in Sainsbury and walked towards York Minster, England’s largest medieval church. It is the see or office of the Archbishop of York, who is second to Archbishop of Canterbury, in the hierarchy of the Church of England.

Walking the narrow streets, one is likely to be attracted by the Shambles and its old shops selling all kinds of souvenir items. Alex was more interested in Moss Bros’ sale.

After spending two hours in York, we headed for Thorganby, which I like to think of as a Chinese name, Thor Gan Bee! Just before reaching The School House, we had to pass a sign “North Yorkshire” and I presumed we came either from South Yorkshire, or West Yorkshire where Leeds is in.

Alex drove straight into the compound, followed by Beng, who drove Clem’s car. I noticed there is no sign to indicate a Bed and Breakfast or that it is called The School House. Later, we were told that many new guests went to the opposite house known as The Old School House where there is a signboard, even though it is not a B&B, in spite of being told it is opposite it.

The back garden was really nice and cosy. We could find plenty of vegetables in it, like courgettes, lettuce, and tomatoes; flowers and an apple tree. Behind the fence, there is an enclosure where we could see some chickens and sheep. Beside the common fence with the neighbour, there is an old building, which houses some ducks too. Paul and Helene are vegetarians but they eat fish and chicken!

Paul had been busy preparing dinner, after fetching Helene, back from home in Ireland, from the airport. While waiting for dinner, Harry who lives a few doors away arrived. He is in his mid-80s. He became a widower recently when his wife, Innis passed away because of cancer. It was a pity we were months too late. Cheng knew her and according to Harry, could converse well in Spanish with her. Harry was born in Spain though his parents were British. They were instrumental in getting Paul to start his business in dealing with Spanish products like olive oil, wines and so on. Their influence was evident even in Paul’s cooking! Already, Harry had suggested to us to join them in another of their holiday in Spain when we go next summer.

Paul used a hot plate to cook the sausages. Then he cooked some chicken cutlets, followed by some yellow courgettes, tomatoes and green peppers, which looked really appetizing. We tried the sausages first, like appetizers, before we adjourned to the main dining room where all the plates, glasses and cutlery were placed. It looked formal but everybody was at ease because we know each other and Paul was always joking with Alex, they being old friends.

It was a great dinner with free-flowing white and red wines and good jokes. Harry mentioned about a time when he was having some health problems and the doctor recommended push-up exercise. One day he stopped his car at a quiet stretch of road and started doing exercise. A Spanish on a horse cart called out to him, “Senor, your senorita missing?”

The next morning, we set off towards Whitby. On the way, we stopped for a short while at Castle Howard. Later we stopped at a point in Yorkshire Moors where we could see acres of heather in the valley below. Here we took a group picture with Alex, Beng and myself doing an exaggerated “Chinaman pose” which I hope to upload later.

Soon we passed England’s well-preserved protected countryside where sheep are allowed to roam freely. We stopped at appropriately named Goathland to take some pictures.

As we moved along, we saw a steam locomotive with loads of passengers enjoying a nostalgic ride.

By the time we reached Whitby, it was lunchtime.

Alex with Paul and Beng dropped us at a fish and chips shop, which according to Paul, is the best though it is not the famous one. We were lucky there were no queue and within 10 minutes we got our 9 pieces of golden-fried Cod with half-portion chips each. Paul and Alex like batter scraps as well and we had it separately wrapped. When Paul arrived, Clem
deliberately gave him the scraps. It was fun watching him so disappointed exclaiming, “Where is the fish?” Pity we did not take a picture of him! Beng pointed out that Whitby’s fish portion is the biggest he has seen and tasted best. In fact, we could not even finish the half-portion of chips that we fed the gulls and ducks. On the way to the shops, I overheard SP telling Beng that years ago, she came with Pearl.

While standing near the collapsible bridge, we saw it opened to allow a single sailboat pass. Seems a bit much as it caused a jam in traffic.

We continue our journey to Robin Hood’s Bay. I had not been to this place before. While walking from the car-park to the seaside, Paul was telling Beng that he used to live there as a young man. When asked about the history of the place, Paul said it used to be a smugglers’ haven and he did not think Robin Hood was there before!

It was a fairly steep walk down to the seaside. We walked past two fat guys who kept throwing something for a dog to catch. If only they were running instead.

On our walk back, up a street, we stopped to watch a group of Morris dancers with their band, passing by.

From Robin Hood's Bay, we moved on to Scarborough. Looking up towards the hills quite far away, where I could see a row of terraced houses or shops, I found it very similar to those in Clackton. Paul, Alex and Beng walked to the beach and threw stones trying to make them skip on the water surface without much success. Then Paul placed a brick a distance away as a target and all three of them tried to hit it. Only after Paul hit the target, that they were willing to set off. SP could not recognize this part of the town until we reached the amusement park area. We were in a hurry, so we did not stop.

We took a different route back. We were fortunate that Paul was familiar with the roads leading to Thorganby as we could have been stuck in a massive traffic jam. Even so, we were following a tractor for a couple of miles and were glad that it did not go the way we wanted!

For dinner, Paul prepared his paella, a Spanish dish of rice with chicken, vegetables, etc. seasoned with saffron, which looked like fried rice, but steamed instead. He prepared a gravy with green peppers, tomatoes and courgettes to go with it. For dessert, he prepared a delicious bread and butter pudding.

The next day, all of us went to the Designers’ Outlet in York. It was a clever idea with all the branded names in one complex. It has Marks & Spencer, Ralph Lauren, Clarks, and many others, which were on discounted sale. It was here that Beng and Alex picked some good bargains. I went on my own and spotted two vehicles on display. One was a new model Daihatsu Terios which is likely to be a replacement for our Perodua Kembara, and a Daihatsu Copen, a small roadster.

While on the subject of cars, somewhere near York, we saw a dealer for our Perodua cars. In their forecourt, I saw a couple of used Kelisa with prices below 2,000 and 3,000 pounds. To be honest, in our 3 weeks in UK, I could hardly count 10 Malaysian made cars on the road.

At the Designers’ Outlet, I spent about an hour on the internet, checking my mail which took me a while to delete the many junk mails as well as visiting my favourite sites.

In the evening, Paul prepared a quick dinner because he had arranged with his fellow musicians to meet at 8.00pm. Every Sunday, his group will jam at the pub or some other appointed place. It was by special arrangement that they were going to meet for us on a Saturday evening. I felt honoured.

While we were having dinner, Paul got a phone call from one who could not make it because of the traffic jam. He was visibly disappointed. Anyway, most of us walked to the Fairy Boat Inn pub. Paul introduced us to the landlord, Phil and his wife, Jackie. After settling down with some drinks, we went outside to enjoy the summer evening. Near the pub is a canal and Paul told us that before he got settled in Thorganby, he took a boat ride up to the pub. Then one day, he visited the village and fell in love with it as well as Helene then, who persuaded him to buy The School House, which was for sale. Though there was already a prospective buyer, he approached the seller and offered to settle immediately since the other buyer had problems in going through with it.

Among other guests I was introduced to was Mary, who speaks with a typical Yorkshire accent which reminded me of a character in Coronation Street, a television serial which went on and on like Crossroads. Her husband, Dave and John were two of the classical musicians who performed that night. With their classical background, they played Take Five so effortlessly. When I suggested Irish washerwoman, their version seems different from the one I knew played by The Jumping Jewels. Paul tried to accompany them with his harmonica. With their kind of refined play, I just could not show what little I know since guitar playing has never been my strong point, if any! Later, three young lads came. One of them, Robin is Paul’s neighbour. When asked about his mother, he said she was in Robin Hood’s Bay! Helene was so surprised and said if only we knew as we were there earlier. It seems she stayed in a house owned by a member of Dire Straits!

Robin and his friend played a few songs and I could relate more with their kind of music with hard strumming. Then, Paul showed his skill by strumming his guitar and blowing his harmonica, which suited the blues type of music. Later that night, I could see the landlord, Phil watching the musicians and us. Later, someone who knows him well coaxed him to play. Reluctantly, he plucked the guitar and sang. He then played a classical piece, which has a nice riff and it showed his skill.

It was midnight when we left the pub. Earlier Clem had sent Rose and Harry home. It was dark and without street lamp. The group of us walked, and I could not really see the road I was walking on. Alex was drunk and he sang while we walked. Paul was afraid it might upset the neighbours. Before reaching the house, I could see two cars outside. Then I realized the three lads had decided to drop by for a chat. We were too sleepy and we left them to chat with Alex, Paul, Nee and Beng. I was told they chatted till 2.30am! Now Alex likes to tease Nee with TBB or Thorganby Born British while Beng changed it to TBF or Thorganby Born Farmer!

In the morning before we left Thorganby, Alex offered SP a chance to visit the York Museum while we walked the ancient walls. He pointed to a house, which he used to live in. When we came to York Minster, it was the end of a Sunday service. In spite of signs stating no photography, Alex kept asking me to pose. Outside, I was impressed with an artist who was painting on a large piece of canvas on the floor, already outlined with images of Michelangelo’s Sistine. Then in the city center, it was the first time I came across a basker using a grand piano! Mindful of Paul’s reminder that we were having lunch at 1pm, we called SP and she said she would be waiting at the same place where we left her.

We left Thorganby after a nice lunch prepared by Paul. He had to get us out earlier so that he could prepare for incoming paying guests who are expected in the evening.

Harry, the handsome old man, who looked like a typical country squire with a pipe, was there too. I said “Adios, Senor Harry” and he reminded us about the trip to Spain next year. After all the hugs and kisses, we hit the road for Dartford where we were expecting Cheng to turn up, after a stay in London, as guest of a daughter of His Excellency, the Austrian Ambassador to Britain.

We reached Dartford about 7 pm and there was no sign of Cheng. Later we got a call to say she is at the rail station. All of us went to pick her before Alex took us to a pub called Falkum for dinner. We waited till 9.30pm and still no sign of food and I could see Rose getting worried because of her strict diet regime because of diabetes. Anyway the food was good enough to make up for the delay.

Back at Alex’s house, it was packing time which I dreaded. Suffice to say, SP made all the decisions as to what to take and what to leave behind for Beng to take next time and what goes into Alex’s garage or store. I went to bed past midnight. I think the packing with Clem’s help took another hour or two to finish.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Aug 1 to Aug 2: Dartford, Canterbury, and Windsor Castle

We decided to visit Canterbury, where University of Kent is situated. We took a drive through the university campus before going to city center. Soon after, parking our cars, Beng my son, decided that he needed to check his emails, especially to see if there is any development from his job applications. Nee took him to the house, where she stays, which has broadband service, while we continued our walkabout visiting shops and Canterbury Cathedral, The Church of England's spiritual home.

I could understand why the charity shops like Oxfam, Salvation Army, Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, and so on, are popular. The shops are well laid out just like other retail shops and well stocked with unwanted items donated by people. It is a haven for those like SP who look for collectibles like commemorative mugs and plates, nice porcelain and chinaware. The type of goods generally reflects the relative incomes of the residents. Nee was more interested in the wide selection of books for as low as 50p.

Emily, Paula’s niece from US, did not like the idea of us buying from the charity shops. In her opinion, we are depriving the poor and unfortunate of items to buy. I beg to differ, as the reason for the shops’ existence was to attract people to buy, regardless of background. The truly poor and unfortunate would have been offered those items which are being sorted at the back of shops. Anyway, being a retiree, those are the shops in UK in terms of price, which attracted me.

I could see the donors who contributed the items, the volunteers who manned the shops, the customers who provided the revenue and the profits going to the needy, in a chain, each group contributing one way or the other. Try discriminating the buyers and the system will collapse. The rich would not be interested in used goods.

Emily, just 14, seemed mature for her age but likely to have been pampered being only child, having a doting aunt like Paula and a godmother like Clem. She is more into designer clothes. Anyway, I was quite impressed she could prepare a delicious lasagna and a pasta dish for dinner for all of us, under the supervision of Clem and her sister, Rose.

The next day, Clem, Rose and Emily opted to go shopping at Bluewater, biggest shopping complex in Europe, while Alex took us and Nee to revisit Windsor Castle, summer palace of Queen Elizabeth II. A certain flag was not flying which meant she was not in.

On the way, I noticed Slough is only 6 miles away and I was tempted to ask Alex to tour the town so that I could try and look for my ex-colleaque, Aftab Ahmed. But it seems too much to ask for after what Alex has done for us. Moreover, on the way back, Alex was supposed to fetch Paula from Maidstone to Dartford to collect her newly bought Renault Scenic. Emily said it is a grandmother’s car and Paula was quick to tell her she has to walk home.

We had to queue to buy the tickets, after which the usual security checks with scanners before we are allowed in. Nee who had been before, waited with Alex for us outside the compound. We were each given an audio set and a guide as we go along. To get into the Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, the queue was expected to be 45 minutes as indicated. No wonder a visit usually takes at least 2 to 3 hours. Next to the Dolls’ House, is a section called the State Apartments, where the queen used to entertain foreign heads of state, which was most impressive, with the huge collections of exquisite oil paintings, furniture, chinaware and porcelain. It is amazing how they maintain their collections of everything.

I saw a group picture of Commonwealth Heads of State taken in 1987 and our Prime Minister then was Tun Hussein Onn. There were pictures of young Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret and I could not help wondering how different their destinies were. One, prim and proper in carrying out her duties as Queen of Britain, the other lived a carefree life, littered with scandals.

The St. George’s Chapel, where some of the former kings and queens were buried, gave a strong sense of close family ties, which the royal family had and continue to this day. There is a facility for any visitor who wish to include a name for prayers. The one I had in mind is not a Christian so it is inappropriate I suppose… wrong channel of transmission for want of a better description.

While in Windsor Castle, Nee had called me twice, not so much to hurry us but to inform us where to wait for them after we have done with. When it was time to leave, Nee said she went into one charity shop only. I asked why after about 3 hours waiting for us and she replied that their lunch itself took more than an hour! SP and I bought some salads and sandwiches and we ate them by the lake near an amusement park.

On our way to Paula’s in Maidstone, we stopped by a river to take some pictures.

July 31: Maidstone

Monday morning, we had brunch before taking a bus to central London to visit Victoria and Albert Museum. It has separate sections for South Asian, Chinese, Indian and others. Having seen some old phones, furniture and so on, I realized that we should not throw certain things away as it serves to remind us of yesteryears and it might be interesting to future generations. Cheng bought her train ticket for 6.00pm to go back to Colchester and we had to go back to pack to catch a train to Maidstone. We parted company at 4.00pm at a tube station and I was a bit worried because her phone battery could not be charged in the morning.

Back at the flat, Sharif could not wait to make sure we leave the keys with him before we left.

Paula had earlier agreed with Clem to give a surprise birthday party to Alex. Because of this secret, I had great difficulty in explaining to Alex on what plans we had. In fact, I find his questioning like some cross-examination when he asked about our trip to Leeds! I unintentionally let slip when I mentioned “July 31, when you have your celebration”. My wife also mentioned, “we are visiting Paula” and Alex asked, “why do you want to visit Paula?”

In the first place, I had put myself as a reluctant tourist, if not because I promised Cheng, “only, if you got First Class Honours”. Even the itinerary was sent out at the last minute so that I did not have to inform people if there were any changes. SP is still computer illiterate. Sometimes, it is also difficult not to be “wearing trousers” for a man, as it is expected.

When Alex sent us to Crayford railway station, he mentioned that he might visit us in London in the evenings. During our stay in London, I was quite surprised that he did not contact us, and we thought that he knew about the surprise party, but which he later explained that because Cheng said something about giving us some privacy as it was to be our “second honeymoon”!

The train journeys involved a couple of transfers before we could get to Maidstone. We were lucky our son was with us to show the way and helped carry the clock. Nee had to make her way by train from Canterbury to meet us at Maidstone railway station. Just before we arrived, Paula was notified so that she could fetch us.

It was a really big surprise for Alex when we walked to the back of the house where he was having a telephone conversation. He could not continue with it and just passed the phone to Clem! Anyway, it was a pleasant surprise for him. He did not realize that we were to be involved in that little party as there were already a small group present. Was it worth all that trouble? Well, for Alex, who is known to play pranks on others, he deserved it!

Once, my wife’s sister just arrived at Heathrow airport. She had yet to meet Alex who had been hosting her son when he was doing his medical training there. Having confirmed with her son that she was the right person, he walked past her a few times, asking “Mrs. Lau?” She, being a strict schoolteacher, got annoyed and said, “Which Mrs. Lau? There are so many Mrs. Lau.” They had a good laugh and so did we, over and over again whenever this was mentioned.

It was the first time we met Paula and before that, she had already got ready her rooms to accommodate us for the night. Her house was bought recently and she was lucky because the previous owner had just renovated it. Like Alex’s, it was situated in a cul-de-sac, with a back garden adjoining a public field where there are apple, cherry and plum trees as well as field big enough to play casual football. I could see many people walking their dogs there.

The party was meant for two “birthday boys”, Alex and Dissa, for whom Paula had prepared a beautifully decorated cake each. Dissa’s wife, daughter and her boyfriend were also present. Paula’s niece, Emily, who was on vacation from US, was there too. She later followed us to Dartford.

Friday, August 11, 2006

July 27 to 30: Central Hill, London SE19

I had to return the Kangoo before 8.08am and my son had to attend an interview at 9.00am. Alex, in his usual hospitable and caring self, showed me the way before dropping my son off at the rail station and then picked me from the car rental place. Later, he called his workplace to ensure he could be later than usual, so that he could send Cheng and us to the station for London. He took us to Crayford instead of Dartford station so that we could save on fares, the former being in an inner zone.

While in central London, Cheng took us to China town area, which has grown to include a few other streets. What a difference 22 years (since our last visit) make! SP used to live in London between 1968 and 1973 and since then till she came back in 1982, she used to be leading the way whenever we were in London. Now, she is just like someone who came to Britain for the first time and need to be led, almost all the way. Cheng took us to Wong Kei where, for the budget conscious, “sam siu farn”, or rice with 3 types of roast, (duck, barbecued pork and roast pork) cost about 1 pound less. The Chinese tea was complimentary which was why when I asked for more hot water, the waiter ignored me!

She had difficulty finding the best rail route to Gypsy Hill Station. Certain platform has different trains going to different destinations, so one has to be careful which train to take. Some trains have longer intervals, so it requires experience to get the best route which takes least time to travel.

Coming out of Gipsy Hill station, I relied on the London A-Z to find our way to the flat. It was a long uphill walk. Upon arrival, we discovered that it was just off Central Hill Road and it was more convenient taking the bus.

Hakim was waiting for us outside the flat. He said, Sharif, who was supposed to meet us, was playing football. Anyway, we were late by almost 3 hours as we had arranged to meet at 1 pm! Hakim was in a hurry to go back to Colchester to work in the pizza restaurant and since Cheng was heading back, she got a lift from him later.

After showing us the second floor flat, which had pictures of their late freedom fighter hero who fought the Russians and Taliban, Sharif got back with Hakim’s younger brother Najib. With his long hair and being short and stout, Sharif looks a bit like Maradona. Najib is taller than Hakim and both of them have very short hair, almost bald.

The flat has a sitting room next to the kitchen at the front and a bedroom a few steps lower at the back, separated by a landing next to a toilet cum bathroom. Somehow, I got the feeling that we would not be alone in the flat.

We took a walk along Central Hill Road and checked out the bus schedules. We ended up at the Crystal Palace bus terminal. We took a bus to Oxford Circus. As it was summer with longer daylight hours, we did not head back till past 8pm when it was still bright. My hunch was right when late at night we heard the door opened and voices.

The next morning, I noticed the sitting room door closed but I had to disturb whoever was in there, to get to the kitchen to make some tea and have cereals for breakfast.

My nephew, William had already arranged with us to meet at Oxford Circus, to suit us because our bus stops there. After meeting William, we got a call from my son that he is on his way to Chinatown. Wearing one of his Leeds United jerseys I could easily spot him. Later, he told us he got a call confirming his job appointment pending medical check and CRB clearance. Proudly wearing his Leeds United jersey he said that it probably gave him good luck that day. Then we went on to visit Harrods where SP bought her Royal Doulton crystal decanter and glasses. For lunch, William took us to a Chinese restaurant for “timsum”.

The next morning, with Beng, we discovered an easier route to the city through Brixton. The Indian chap at the post office gave us directions, after telling us his father was actually from Seremban!

William took leave to accompany us for the few days we were in London. SP’s favourite has always been Portabello Road, famous for its display of antiques and other collectibles. I have seen tourists who stood next to the road sign just to take pictures.

SP always start by scrutinizing the first shop or stall at any place of interest. Her purpose is to compare prices in London with that in Malaysia. Basically, that is what trading is all about, but she has yet to sell any item for a profit. If a close relative is really interested in any of her collection, and if she were willing to part with it, she would rather give it, feeling good that someone appreciates her taste or choice. But she enjoys spotting bargains and collecting items that she likes. She enjoys the feeling that an item selling for 10 quid in Portabello was bought for 2 quid at a car boot sale.

SP has a friend, Angie, to accompany her and because they were so slow in moving, William, my son and I walked towards Nottinghill to look for food. We walked along the road but could not find anything suitable. When we turned back, we noticed a Mexican restaurant and decided to try it. It was embarrassing for William and myself because what we ordered was just spare ribs consisting of 3 bones 3 inches long, and there was hardly any meat on it! There was nothing else like some bread to go with it.

Next, we went to Camden Town to a place, which used to be a Horse Hospital, which has more antique stalls and a food center. The prices here were cheaper than Portabello. Here, William knows someone from Butterworth who has a stall selling Chinese and Indonesian foods. The boss treated us to some Malaysian food and bottled drinks.

William later took us to his place of work, Wagamama at Covent Garden, a Japanese chain owned by a non-Japanese. As chef, he is entitled to 30% discount.

We arranged to meet William at Liverpool Street station for the purpose of visiting Spitafields Market. But before we could meet, we found Petticoat Lane and took a look. I was running out of T-shirts and bought a couple for use. I watched a Chinaman bending a shiny thick wire to form names for 2 quid each. I regretted not asking for a price for our address, which is unusually long. The joke was while SP was waiting for someone to come out of a public toilet and if quick enough, could avoid paying 20 pence, she found that it was already vacant. By the time she came out, a Pakistani old man took the opportunity instead! Feeling hungry, we settled for sandwiches at Subway.

Spitafields Market is similar to our Central Market where there are many artistic designer items for sale. I spotted some coke bottles, which had their bottoms cut off to stick to the tops, and when turned upside down, it can be used as a glass for milk shakes. It was here that SP spotted an old French clock. While bargaining, a TV crew was actually recording the whole transaction. They were shooting for a programme called Sun, Sea and Bargain spotting.

Later, we decided to go to St. James’s Park for picnic. There was a brass band playing some nice music. We saw many deck chairs and found that it costs 1 pound 50p an hour. We decided to sit on the grass. We have arranged to meet Cheng here but she was on the other side, which was Buckingham Palace. I went over to meet her and Jabi. I invited Jabi to join us. Soon, William’s colleague, Chai, came as well. Chai is a head chef at Wagamama at Royal Festival Hall. Jabi bid farewell and we decided to walk from the park to Wagamama at Victoria for dinner. It was unbelievably quiet for a Sunday evening (at 7.00 pm it was still bright) and the walk was short and very nice. Upon arrival, we realized that this particular restaurant takes last order at 8.00 pm (because of its close proximity to some classy apartments) and we were there just 5 minutes before. We made use of their toilets before taking a bus to Wagamama at Royal Festival Hall where Chai works.

We were told to feel free to order but how could we knowing that either William or Chai would not allow us to pay. Chai insisted that we order some side dishes like prawn fritters and some desserts like cheesecake. Chai’s colleague, a fellow head chef gave us extra portions of prawn fritters. After the meal, Chai showed us the bill, which totaled 77 quid but the bottom line was zero. But William took out 10 quid to pay as tips to the waiters.
It seems, one of their privileges as head chef is an allowance for entertaining relatives.

In spite of that, Chai is due to make a career change to become a police constable in Brighton. We wished him good luck and hoped to see him next year in his Bobby's uniform.

July 24 to 26, Leeds, where it all began

From Dartford to Leeds, it is kind of awkward when we had to decide which route to take. We decided to take the A1 as far as possible because it was more direct but the smaller roads through villages took much time.

Years ago, we were more used to traveling from Leeds to a town close enough for a day trip, or from Leeds to London and back on the M1 which was straight forward and fast.

Just like Cheng in Colchester and Nee in Canterbury and Alex in Dartford, it is easier for them to meet in Dartford or London than either Colchester or Canterbury.

After a lapse of 22 years, because of the new motorways near Leeds, we almost could not recognize nor remember our usual M1, M62 and M621 to get to city centre. With directions from Sarah, SP’s ex-colleague in St. James’s Hospital, we got distracted by A61 (to Harrogate) to get to her place in Alwoodley in Leeds 17. Actually, if we had gone via the roads through city centre, I might have recognized the way through Woodhouse Lane, which passes Leeds Metropolitan University (formerly Leeds Polytechnic) and Leeds University, and Headingley before Wigton Lane to get to her place.

Anyway, we managed to get there, after some confusing directions from us. My son, the driver, was getting visibly annoyed. Sarah was waiting for us, and Stuart, who is a Principal Lecturer at LMU, was still at work. Sarah is now a lecturer in Dietetics at LMU. She had invited Nikki, their former District Dietitian, and her husband, Malcolm who is now a partner in a Surveying firm. We were supposed to have BBQ at their back garden.

Stuart and Sarah had been to Malaysia a few times and we had met twice, once in 1986 when we went to Pangkor Laut (which is beyond our reach now) and another time as recent as 2004 when they stayed at Hotel Nova in Jalan Alor. In fact, we had to go to Leeds earlier, before they set off for Sipadan, Malaysia for their deep-sea diving. Our trip to Thorganby, near York was scheduled for Aug 3 to 5, because before then, Helene and Paul would still be in Ireland.

I still could not get over the fact that Stuart and Sarah insisted that we sleep in their room while our 3 children sleep in the other 2 rooms and they on the floor in the dining room! To Malaysians, such hospitality is unheard of among “kweilos”. Their daughter, Claire, popped over for a short chat, before she went back to her own house nearby. Son, Richard was then working in London.

Malcolm was so glad to meet my son. They looked after him occasionally before they started their own family. We enjoyed listening to Malcolm describing for example, how he was looking forward to some nice pies when unexpectedly, his son turned up hungry and he ended up having to choose one, either apple or rhubarb.

The next day, to visit the shops, Sarah suggested that we go in her car and Nikki’s because she was going to suggest that we park at the university’s parking space for part-timers and that our green-coloured Kangoo seemed too strange looking which might attract the attention of the attendants!

We walked all over city centre and I took some pictures to show my friends who had been there before, to show how Leeds had changed. But because we were in a group, I wished I had the chance to do it slowly and choosing those that show a bit of old and a bit of new. Otherwise, it would not be recognizable. The previously run-down sections near The Corn Exchange had been redeveloped into nice apartments and other buildings. There were even some apartments beside the canal, which look similar to those in Greenwich on reclaimed land. Many more streets were turned into pedestrian malls.

After lunch and some window-shopping, we decided to head for Roundhay Park. On the way, we were looking out for our first house, a back-to-back near St. James’s Hospital. Stuart told us that those houses were demolished. We were so pleasantly surprised that they were still there and we suggested that my son posed for a photo in front of the house just like before. At least, now our daughters had a good look at where their big bro was brought up. I missed the chance of taking down the telephone numbers of a For Sale sign at a house across the road. Stuart and Malcolm could only guess that it would probably be 100,000 pounds, and we sold it for just over 3,000!

At Roundhay Park, we walked towards the Roundhay Mansion, which is undergoing repairs and has hoardings round it. While SP and her 2 ex-colleagues sat on a bench to chat, my 3 children and I lay on the grass to joke. The bonding was great and to be honest, it was one of the most memorable moments of the trip.

For dinner, we were treated by Stuart and Malcolm, to an Italian restaurant, Casa Mia, in Chapel Allerton. Malcolm was again complaining about how deprived he was by Nikki,
who, he nicknamed, “Gestapo in drag”! He was even afraid to talk about a nice fish and chips shop near the pub where we had lunch because he had been eating it for lunch without her knowledge!

The next morning, after breakfast at Sarah’s and said our goodbyes, we headed towards city centre via Roundhay so that we could look for our second house. We managed to find it and this time, Cheng took a photo of it.

In the city center, we parked near a church on New Brigate Road. During the previous day’s window-shopping, my son had spotted some bargains at a sports shop. He went there to buy some Leeds United jerseys. Later, we had lunch at a Greek café in a shopping complex next to old Merrion Centre. I had to rush to the car to check on the parking just to avoid getting a ticket.

I missed the chance of going down Woodhouse Lane to show my children where I used to walk from Methodist International House to Leeds Polytechnic; Cardigan Road, my first bedsit after MIH, which is next to Headingley cricket ground; Chapeltown Road where I first met SP (did not know it was a redlight district then); Church Lane where SP used to live; and Kirkstall Abbey where we used to go for walks. I would have liked to have lunch at Jumbo, if it was still there, to see if Tony Kwan is still around, but dared not even suggest because of my Gestapo in drag and her fellow commanders!

After the trip to Leeds, we had to send Nee back to Canterbury. Because my son was tired having driven from Leeds, I was supposed to do it. Again, our good host, Alex offered to drive which was a relief because it was late at night and I was not familiar with the route. The rented car was on “empty to empty” basis and we had to judge for ourselves how much petrol to put in. It was already down to the last eighth as shown on the gauge (though this is known to be inaccurate) I was prepared to put in another 5 pounds of petrol. But Alex was confident we could make it. So on the return trip, while he was driving, I was uneasily looking at the fuel gauge! It was perfect as we got back without having to refuel. If we had miscalculated, it would have been a big problem and we would look stupid with the benefit of hindsight. The next morning when I started the car, the warning light came on, just like when I first took over the car!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

July 21 to 23 Dartford, a base to dart forth…

We arranged with Alex and Clem to meet in Greenstead where we stayed in Colchester, so that we could go for dinner before leaving for Dartford.

Our hosts came in two cars, Alex in his E320 and Clem in her Polo. After dinner at Ha Ha, we went back to load our stuff and set off, without Cheng, because she had to work for the next few days.

Whether it was because I was still having problems with my “pain in the neck” or the hot weather, I seemed to feel drowsy each time I travel in a car in UK. So when Alex said something about crossing the bridge, I could hardly open my eyes.

The next day, Alex and Clem took us on a tour of beautiful Kentish countryside.
The first stop was a town called Hythe where we stopped for a walkabout.
I was mesmerized by nice music coming from a shabbily dressed man, with unkempt hair and beard, blowing a windpipe musical instrument to pre-recorded accompaniment. One of my regrets was not buying one of his CDs which I found expensive at 8 quid though we gave about 1 quid in coins.

We continue our journey to Dymchurch beach where Alex and Nee had ice cream at the bund. Then we went to Rye, where we visited an antique shop. On our way to Hastings, we took a wrong turn because we were able to see a sign to Hastings but meant for the other road! After Hastings, we headed towards Battle. Battle of Hastings came to my mind.

On Sunday, Alex took us to a car boot sale and we were surprised at the size of site. Cars were directed to specific parking sites and charged one pound fifty each. There were many stalls and after every 10 or 15 stalls, we could see a Chinaman selling pirated DVDs. Thee were many items which suit SP, but we have to bear in mind the problem of how to get them back to Malaysia. Among other things, Alex bought an old mantelpiece clock for 12 quid while I bought a brass horse and cart for 3. SP bought some old commemorative mugs and plates. I missed a blue towel with a bold BMW logo. We spent hours there and we had to rush back to take the others for lunch.

Alex took us to Peninsula, a popular Chinese restaurant next to Holiday Inn for lunch. Even at 3.00pm, we had to queue for a table. Besides good food, the other attraction was the 2-hour free parking, an advantage in UK. Later we went to a big Chinese supermarket where Alex bought 2 roast ducks and other items for dinner.

Later, we went to the Millenium Dome, owned by our Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew. We walked around the Greenwich Peninsular which was on reclaimed land. There were some modern apartments next to a canal and a park.

Then we went over to Cutty Sark where there were a number of stalls selling European foods – or at least, the stallholders were European. I could detect Greek and French, selling mixed nuts and biscuits, and horrible looking preserved stuffed animal stomachs, respectively.

We stood for a while, looking across the Thames River, admiring the scenery. On the banks near the railing where we were, we could see some geese, foraging for food. Alex, with mischief in his mind, told us that he is throwing a used bubble gum, which he found nearby. We actually saw one picking the piece and trying hard to swallow. Naturally, it went to the water nearby to use it to help it swallow. Initially, it looked gorged halfway and I really felt sorry for the goose, thinking it was going to be fatal. Fortunately, shortly after, the thing came out. Apparently, it was not bubble gum but I would hate Alex, if it were, honestly! As Paul used to say, sometimes he and Alex need to grow up!

Mr. and Mrs. R-alexing, after a hard day's dart forth.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

July 17 to 21: Colchester, to attend Cheng's convocation

Marek, Cheng’s current beau, took the trouble to drive to Heathrow to pick us. Unfortunately, instead of seeing them as we come out from Customs and Immigration, we got a call from Cheng that they (not sure who) made a mistake and went to Terminal 4 instead of 3! London Heathrow Airport is a big one and its current expansion works is causing confusion especially among those who go there occasionally and the high cost of parking means, any mistake can be costly (if I am not mistaken, an hour parking costs 3.90 (or Rm27) an hour!)

It was our first meeting and introduction and my first impression was that he looks smaller than the usual “kweilo”! The weather was hot and as it turned out, the newspapers described that day as a record at 102 degrees. Imagine a hot day without car air-conditioning and you will know how we felt during the journey to Colchester. Actually, most buildings and cars are not geared for unusual hot weather, so cars without air-conditioning as we know it, are the norm instead of the exception.

Marek has kindly arranged with his Turkish landlord for a room for us during our short stay. Sorry to complain again, the room’s design was again without consideration for hot weather and by this, I mean, not well ventilated. Unlike our Malaysian houses, even without air-conditioning, we usually have ceiling fans, if not stand or table fans. But the location was best, with Tesco literally just across the road (single lane two-way to show how near it is).

Tesco is currently a huge success in UK and other countries and I was impressed with the wide variety of food and other items available. The availability of numerous parking spaces meant for disabled people would make us shameful in comparison. Imagine almost all the parking spaces next to the store are reserved for them. SP even noticed the trolleys with double seats meant for twin babies! And, on top of all that, it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

On July 18, the morning after our arrival, Cheng took us to Colchester town to visit the shops and the museum. She had problem with her new camera, which we brought from home. Fortunately, after trying out the other 1-Gigabyte memory card, which I brought for Nee, the fault lies with the upgraded card provided by the same shop in Ipoh, which I can exchange when I get back. The important thing was that the camera could be used.

With instructions from Cheng, the following day, we managed to take a bus to Clackton, which is a seaside town. Like any seaside town in Britain, fish and chips can be found everywhere. We opted for it, which was our first for the trip. Later we passed a stall near the pier selling other sea-foods. The lobster tail turned out to be fake as it tasted like fish paste. We then walked to the pier and it was nice to have strong breeze blowing against us. Even some seagulls seemed to enjoy it as they stayed as stationary as possible midair!
As an ex-dietitian, SP could not help noticing many fat people there! We went on a motorized train ride along the seaside, which was nice.

On July 20, again with instructions from Cheng, we took a train ride to Norwich. Before that, we had to catch a bus to the train station. Here we were inconvenienced by the bus ticket system. We bought a return ticket but the change of buses somehow turned out that the second bus driver had punched, either by mistake or deliberately, which other drivers would assume that it has been used. Luckily on our return after Norwich trip, both bus drivers gave us the benefit of the doubt. I was prepared to argue it out with them as we had train tickets to show that we just got back by train.

On July 21, the most important day of our trip, we had to get ready to attend the convocation ceremony. By prior agreement, mother and her two daughters wore sarong kebaya while father and son wore suits. The ladies in my family were the only ones wearing something, which can be considered Malaysian national dress. After the ceremony, when we met some Malays, a female graduand felt a bit embarrassed that my wife and daughters wore kebaya instead of her.

At the lecture theatre where the ceremony was held, the building was described by the Chancellor as designed as a bomb shelter or something to that effect, as he apologized for the uncomfortable condition. Everyone was seen fanning using the booklet and all I could see were two stand fans, which we see in our homes, not even those heavy duty ones, which we can see in our factories. The Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Mayor and other local dignitaries were in their traditional robes, which added to their discomfort. On the other hand, my son said he was in another room, which had proper air-conditioning where he watched the proceedings on a video screen.

As parents, the proudest moment for us was when the lady read out our daughter’s name and that she was awarded two prizes in 2005-2006: Jean Blondel Prize for Best Undergraduate Degree Result (Department of Government) and Oscar Arias Prize for Best Undergraduate Dissertation; and Best Performance in Second Year Undergraduate Degree in 2004-2005 (Department of Government). Similarly, Marek won a prize for Best Joint Degree (Economics and Politics)and his mum and grandma were there to share his proud moment. Between them, they swept all the awards. Incidentally, for MA degrees, a married Danish couple won both awards. Does that mean, love plays an important part in excellence in studies?

Cheng, if you are reading this, I wish you could upload the video clip taken by your sister who could not control her shaking hands (was it because she was thinking “my turn next year, how can I emulate her performance?”)

After the convocation, at the reception of the Department of Government, Cheng introduced me to John Bartle, the Admission Officer who rejected her 3 years ago, and thankfully, decided to change his mind, before he went on a year sabbatical the next day! For me, mission accomplished because I have met him. Cheng, upload his photo please.

Incidentally, we met an Afghan, Mustajab (better known as Jabi) who came seeking political asylum and he graduated as well with good results. He provided his tickets for my son and daughter and his cousin complained that he was not invited! He had been a great help to both Cheng and Marek, not only to provide extra large portions of pizzas where he worked part-time!

The return of a proud Yorkshireman

We managed to hire a Renault Kangoo for 3 days for our trip to Leeds. It happens to be the only car left at the small car rental company which runs a car repair business too. It was a bargain at 25 quid a day, unlimited mileage but we had to pay our own petrol as expected. We spent a total of 145 quid for all the convenience compared with about 100 quid each for the 5 of us if we were to take the train! Believe it or not, I have always wanted to try out a Kangoo or Berlingo and I must say, it is very very practical. We actually spotted one with a name Chairman Kangoo which even had a collapsible ramp below the bumper and saw a handicapped woman sitting on her own wheel chair, behind the driver, in the car!

On our way back, we saw a sign to Elland Road Stadium, home of Leeds United. My son said he would like to visit. He spent some time at their shop outlet, bought a few jerseys which were on sale and posed in front of the stadium. He was actually beaming with pride!

I remember as a toddler, he was told that if he were good enough, being born in Leeds, he is eligible to play for Yorkshire! Anyway, one day when we were at the shops in Canterbury, one of the charity volunteers spotted his Leeds jersey and asked where had he been and where he was born. When told that he was born in St. James’s Hospital in Leeds, he said he was born there too! He said he was glad someone, especially a Chinese, is willing to support the team!

We were surprised to see our first house, a back-to-back, still existing as we were told that those were demolished. My son posed in front of the house, just like when he was a toddler. The day we were leaving Leeds, we looked for our second house, a semi-detached, and Cheng took a picture of it. It was a heart-sick reminder for me, as with the benefit of hindsight, if we had kept it for the past 22 years, we could have gained Rm1 million from the increase in value!

But then again, life is such that with more wealth, will it necessarily translate into happiness? I rather count our blessings for now: a son and two daughters, two graduated and one expected to graduate next year.

What comes to mind about my UK visit

Except for certain names, I did not take notes for the purpose of writing about my UK visit. The reason being, I am using my memory as editor, it being selective on its own!

Briefly, my itinerary in UK was:

July 17 to 21: Colchester to attend Cheng’s convocation;
stayed at Alex’s (our base) in Dartford from July 21 to 23;
hired a car from July 24 to 26, to Leeds to show our 2 daughters for the first time our first and second house which they have heard so much about and to visit SP’s ex-colleagues; stayed in London from July 27 to 30 with some Afghans;
surprise birthday party for Alex and Dissa, and stayed at Paula’s in Maidstone on July 31;
stayed at Alex’s on Aug 1 and 2; These 3 nights were originally planned to stay with Nee in Canterbury.
Alex and Clem took us to The School House Bed and Breakfast in Thorganby near York, as guests of Paul and Helene from Aug 3 till 5;
and last but not least, Aug 6, stayed with Alex and Clem and last minute packing before our flight the next day. Alex, true to his helpful nature, took a day off just so that he could send us to Heathrow and stayed till we checked-in!

Because of the big difference in currency values, my main problem during my visit was this uneasy feeling, of being increasingly indebted to him and others!

“Tempus Fugis” which we can find printed on many European clocks means “Time flies” in Latin, especially when we are enjoying ourselves.

Just unpacked the luggages at home, and I have always wondered how SP could manage to pack so many breakable items like porcelain flowers and commemorative mugs, decanter and crystal glasses and believe it or not, a wall clock as well as a mantelpiece clock which she promised Alex that she would bring back for repairs!

The wall clock is supposed to be an old French one with an enamelled face. While she was bargaining with the seller at Spittafield Market near Liverpool Street rail station, she was shocked to see a big mic near her, and it turned out to be a team from ..TV on their rounds to gather material for a tv programme called Sun, Sea and Bargain spotting. She had to sign a statement agreeing to the clip being aired and also not to sue them because of it.

Though it was a bargain at 15 quid, it was hard work for us, especially my son and my nephew, as it traveled with us on buses and trains, lugged by hand or sitting on a baby buggy! As it could not fit into any of our hand luggage bag, it had to be thickly bubble-wrapped as well as protected by Cheng’s Mexican poncho and other clothes to go into a luggage bag. Fortunately, it was intact when we unpacked. But imagine my constant worry over “what if the customs asked to see each and every item!” Packing is only one part of the job, as it can be a real hassle having to unpack for inspection and then put it back in front of everyone.

One of our 2 hand luggages contained a Royal Doulton crystal decanter with 4 glasses bought from Harrods sale and SP insisted that she carried them personally all the way! I was hoping that she would give it to Alex and Clem as a present but we should know what collectors are like – sorry Alex!

Cheng was upset when we were packing because mum promised to take a luggage bag full of her stuff on her return, but with her own shopping done, most items were pushed to Big Bro, which in effect, he will have to sacrifice his own shopping…unlikely, at the rate he spotted bargains at Designers’ Outlet in York!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I'm back... but lost my handphone

Always a pessimist, my trip to UK turned out to be much better than expected (details later), and each step of the way back - from the journey to Heathrow airport, plane on schedule, successful liftoff, trouble-free flying, easy bowel movements, successful landing at Bangkok airport, then transfer to another Thai airway flight back to KLIA, landing and clearing at customs, seemed like a hurdle to be crossed.

All that was over without a hitch! Too good to be true! Wait a minute, I could not find my phone... The last time I used it was while waiting for missus outside the duty free shop in KLIA, sending a message to Nee, then realised it was probably 5am British time!

After we have collected the luggage bags, I could not wait to go to the loo. I left my waist pouch on top of the tissue container and I reminded myself not to forget as the passports were in there. Somehow, I believe the auto flushing and its noise could have covered the noise of my dropping my phone in its pouch clipped to my belt.

I managed to get in to check, after convincing the policeman with my boarding pass and I even told the customs men and one of them even tried using his own phone to call my number and as it turned out, "cannot be reached" means someone had found it and taken the simcard out which is standard procedure to avoid being traced.

It is really upsetting, after having gone through smoothly for the whole of 3 weeks. What I am going to miss most are the numbers in the memory which I cannot recall or do not have a record. I have given out a few personalised stickers with the phone number on, to some foreigners and hopefully, they are not likely to call anyway.

I planned it so well, telling my wife to leave hers behind, even making sure that I have enough credit and at least a day or two access time for my use once I touched base in Malaysia. Just imagine, in this day and age, I had to call my sister-in-law to make sure someone is in before I take a cab, using a public phone! The irony was I had another phone with me, from my nephew to his son, but it was barred and had to be unbarred before use.

Like always, to make me feel better, I like to think that it could have been worse!