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.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

On the road

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Easy conversion

Each Friday night after work, Bubba would fire up his outdoor grill and cook a venison steak. But, all of Bubba's neighbors were Catholic....And since it was Lent, they were forbidden from eating meat on Friday.

The delicious aroma from the grilled venison steaks was causing such a problem for the Catholic faithful that they finally talked to their priest.

The Priest came to visit Bubba, and suggested that he become a Catholic. After several classes and much study, Bubba attended Mass.....and as the priest sprinkled holy water over him, he said, "You were born a Baptist, and raised a Baptist, but now you are a Catholic."

Bubba's neighbors were greatly relieved, until Friday night arrived, and the wonderful aroma of grilled venison filled the neighborhood.

The Priest was called immediately by the neighbors, and, as he rushed into Bubba's yard, clutching a rosary and prepared to scold him, he stopped and watched in amazement.

There stood Bubba, clutching a small bottle of holy water which he carefully sprinkled over the grilling meat and chanted: You wuz born a deer, you wuz raised a deer, but now you a catfish.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

3-D Art - seeing is believing

First, draw the outline

Final touch-up


Greetings from Portugal!

Having arrived more than a week ago, it is already my last night in Lisbon. I leave for Porto, another seaside city further north in the country. With Valeria, we leave Porto and Portugal on Tuesday.

After all the initial setbacks (e.g. I missed my flight to Portugal from Germany and had to book another one leaving from Brussels), I wasn't sure if I would make it to Portugal. But reality and enthusiasm finally hit me when the plane was descending to this cloudless, dry land mass with sparse greenery and surrounded by aquamarine waters. It was quiet relief mixed with excitement meeting Valeria (my IMPALLA coursemate from Milan) and Henry (Ecuador) again at the entrance of the campsite in Quarteira, a family resort town in the southern region of Algarve. The campsite was well above expectations - it was walking distance from the beach and town centre which came to life at night (even after midnight) with food and souvenir stalls, tourists, street performances, and a small book fair.

The following day, we moved from Quarteira to Albuiera. Originally, the plan was to catch the next bus to Lagos (a beautiful bay in this Algarve region) but we missed that bus (what do you expect when you have an Italian, a Latino and a Malaysian?!). The historic old town centre of Albuiera is extremely chic with many English tourists. We saw more of the latter as we move westwards (where the more famous beaches are located). Also ubiquitous were the posters of young Madeleine McCann (the Scottish six-year old who mysteriously disappeared from her family's holiday apartment in Praia La Luz in Lagos) found in many shops and public areas.

Fast forward and since Tuesday, we have been in Lisbon. Today, I visited the Maritime Museum. There was a world map with all the years and places "discovered" (I find this word so misleading simple because cities like Malacca have had centuries of foreign trade with the Arabs, Chinese and Indians before being "discovered") by the Portuguese next to the "Padrão dos Descobimentos", a monument commemorating the Golden Age of Discovery (15th to 16th century). I couldn't suppress my excitement of finding "Malaka" and "1511" on this erroneous map (which almost made Europe the size of Latin America), or "Praça da Malaka" (a disappointing small patch of grass with five trees and a bush), and "Praça de Mouzinho de Albuquerque" (the funny-name guy who conquered Malacca).

Henry couldn't understand my positive sentiments over the Portuguese (he prefers to spit at anything Spanish). I tried to explain my personal interest in history (this part of Malaysian history superbly introduced to me by Mr Chee) and the ways the world and its people are linked to one another. For example, I tried the local "pasteis de Belém" (cake of Belém) or what I've previously come to know as the "Portuguese egg (custard) tart" of Macau. Fancy that I know this from the Hong Kong style ones made in Malaysia, presumably copied from Portuguese Macau.

Deprived of good seafood during my stay in the Benelux region, I have been eating seafood nearly everyday. Cod fish (known locally, as "bacalhau") is the unofficial national food. Ironically, it is not fished locally, and is sold salted and preserved. While seafood is generally fresh and tasty, I was not impressed with the Portuguese chilli sauce, "piri piri" (think Nandos). Coffee is excellent and cheap (an expresso shot sold for a mere 50 cents - this is for Pa's information *wink* *wink*).

It has been really nice to be out, backpacking and travelling again. But I do admit that I will appreciate some peace and quiet in Maastricht when I return on Tuesday.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Singing in Church

A minister decided to do something a little different one Sunday morning.

He said "Today, in church, I am going to say a single word and you are going to help me preach. Whatever single word I say, I want you to sing whatever hymn that comes to your mind.

The pastor shouted out "CROSS."

Immediately the congregation started singing in unison, "THE OLD RUGGED CROSS."

The pastor hollered out "GRACE"

The congregation began to sing "AMAZING GRACE, how sweet the sound."

The pastor said "POWER"

The congregation sang "THERE IS POWER IN THE BLOOD."

The Pastor said "SEX" The congregation fell into total silence. Everyone was in shock. They all nervously began to look around at each other afraid to say anything.

Then all of a sudden, way from in the back of the church, a little old 87 year old grandmother stood up and began to sing, " MEMORIES."

Choosing a wife

A man wanted to get married. He was having trouble choosing among three likely candidates.

He gives each woman a present of $5,000 and watches to see what they do with the money.

The first does a total make-over. She goes to a fancy beauty salon, gets her hair done, new make-up and buys several new outfits, then dresses up very nicely for the man. She tells him that she has done this to be more attractive for him because she loves him so much. The man was impressed.

The second goes shopping to buy the man gifts. She gets him a new set of golf clubs, some new gizmos for his computer, and some expensive clothes. As she presents these gifts, she tells him that she has spent all the money on him because she loves him so much. Again, the man is impressed.

The third invests the money in the stock market. She earns several times the $5,000. She gives him back his $5,000 and reinvests the remainder in a joint account. She tells him that she wants to save for their future because she loves him so much. Obviously, the man was impressed.

The man thought for a long time about what each woman had done with the money he'd given her. Then, he married the one with the biggest boobs.

Men are like that, you know.

There is more money being spent on breast implants and Viagra today than on Alzheimer' s research.

This means that by 2040, there should be a large elderly population with perky boobs and huge erections and absolutely no recollection of what to do with either of them.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka?

"I want to be fair. I am fair and I will always be fair." said Pak Lah. Of course, he cannot speak for his SIL who said this coming election is only for the Malay cause.

While we are preparing to celebrate our country's 50th Anniversary, I am drawn to reproduce 2 letters from Malaysiakini which I believe show what we have been through especially with the prolonged NEP.

Towards creating better battlefields
Thian H The, Melbourne Aug 17, 07

I have been worked up, for a very long time, over the many things wrong in Malaysia. When I was a boy growing up in Klang, I lived on a street with about half Chinese homes and half Indian ones. In school, however, my classroom was probably reflective of the racial distribution of the country, which was approximately 60% Malays, 30% Chinese and just under 10% Indians with the odd boy out who was English. I also remember an American who was of Italian descent.

For a long time, the idea of racial differences was non-existent as I played the games boys played then, with boys of all races. In the classroom, there would be the usual competition to top the class and such competition came from all races. I have my usual suspects who were my competitors for ‘First Boy’ and these came from all races.

Sure, the Malay guy gunning for first spot would leverage against his superiority in the Malay language and the Chinese boy would have to pull his strength from the other subjects, usually mathematics. The Indian boy usually does well in English but everyone had a fair shot to top the class.

Racial differences simply did not register then, at least not in any significant or bigoted way.

Then, very slowly, we were made to feel and experience the differences. The Malay boy could get into a select school (usually in the capital) a lot more easily than the rest of us, even though we all did equally well. There were schools only Malays could get into. There were also scholarships only Malays could apply for. Yet, there was no ill feeling. The only sentiment was one of slight unease but I was happy to just move along and do my thing.

When I was in university in Sydney however, I started to slog really hard for my keeps. I had to work several jobs at any one time, to make sure I could pay the rent and not go hungry, as well as contribute as much as I could towards my university fees. By the time I finished my degrees five years later, I had made my family poorer by about RM20,000. I had from my earnings, saved almost that same amount, which I used for my airfare back to Malaysia and to start my new life back there. Soon however, I realised I had to battle again.

Getting a job, buying a home, investing, applying for anything from local, state or federal government, all these major areas of day-to-day life showed up the preferential treatments that the bumiputeras received. It was still okay, because I had my job, earned my promotions, made my investments, and established my network of friends and professional relationships. I generally lived life and enjoyed it.

I could not, however, eliminate the effect of being a victim of discrimination. It built up over time. Initially it was just a sense of annoyance and occasional snide remark by me or someone else against it. As it became more and more in your face, the effect escalated.

Many things change when you have a child. As a parent you start to think ahead a lot more. You start to think not just about the battles you have to wage, but also how to equip your child for the battles she has to wage as she grows up and goes through life.

As a parent, I no longer just get annoyed or even angry at injustices and inequitable policies. I start to think about how these injustices and inequitable policies would handicap my child’s battles. Life can be hard enough without these issues. If the energy spent on dealing with these matters could be channeled elsewhere, how much more productive, beneficial and therefore edifying our efforts and work would be.

How then do I minimise the incidence of having my child battle these fronts, and how do I create better battlefields for her? By exercising my voting rights? I voted in two elections. Both saw the BN win huge victories. In one of them, I worked for an opposition party. Starting from Lim Guan Eng’s arrest in 1996, I started being active in engaging in social and political causes.

All along, I worked in the corporate financial sector. I saw how government officials used racial discriminatory policies to enrich themselves and their friends and relatives. I saw how political and business leaders ‘worked together’.

I knew then where my child’s battlefield lies. It wasn’t in the country I grew up in. Not when the racist policies would continue. Not when the religious bigotry has started to take on very dangerous proportions. We left Malaysia three years ago.

It was a difficult rebuilding process. Our wealth here is only worth one third of what it was in Malaysia. Factor that into the higher standards of living here and we are no where near where we were in Malaysia. Professionally, my wife and I had to start again as well. From head of departments hiring and firing, we are now minnows seeking to be hired and avoid being fired.

We worked and struggled all over again to re-establish our lives. We have had to move house twice in three years in search of equilibrium in terms of commuting, schools and neighbourhoods.

After so many years of anger however, I now think perhaps Malaysia needs prayers more than angry dissent. The present leadership has not demonstrated a willingness to listen, be reasonable and work things out. They have chosen to be belligerent and defensive, even lie. Against this, the ordinary Malaysian’s approach cannot be more speeches and articles and calls for public meetings. These would only fall on deaf ears.

You cannot reason with people with such a stance. The ordinary Malaysian would think the cost of a confrontational approach too costly and dangerous and would therefore let things fester a lot longer before acting. I have decided therefore to pray a lot harder for Malaysia. I hope some of you will join me.

I bade my son farewell today
A Father's Yoke Jul 16, 07

My son, Ryan, who is 18, left to further his studies in Australia today. He goes to embark on his tertiary studies at a reputed university - ordinarily, something to be proud of. However, it was more sadness than pride that ruled the day.

I have pondered many a time as to why we come to a point where it is like tossing your child out of a flaming or sinking ship. We have many universities here, yet we have to sacrifice so much to send them abroad. Why? Thanks to the politicised education system, it is not in his interest to study here - even when we are now a global village.

Many nations who lagged behind us have closed the gap or gone ahead. Had he gone through the local universities, his mobility in terms of employability worldwide would be seriously curtailed. The major corporations in Malaysia generally prefer the foreign graduates - especially those from ranked universities.

The polarisation that is systemic ensures that his circle of friends more likely would be non-Malay or non-Muslim. This would be a major disadvantage in a multi-cultural society - increasingly the trend in many progressive countries. When I was a student in the 70s, our friendships were not determined by our race or religion. In fact, in many cases, we got to know our friends' ethnic origins many years later when they got married and we attended their wedding ceremonies.

In today's increasingly common parlance, I am reminded repeatedly that I am a third generation 'pendatang'. My son therefore will be the fourth - one who like me, speaks only English and Malay. ‘Pendatang’ nonetheless. Scholarships by and large are a mirage for folk like us. Just like crumbs and morsels that fall off a dining table.

So what are we griping about in the land of blue skies and 'ais kachang'? Our land of blue skies could and should have been a land of milk, honey and plenty. Instead, we have increasingly unfettered corruption, polarisation, degeneration of our education system right from Standard 1 to full blown chaos at the tertiary level.

The perception of fair play as played out in the judiciary gives one little to look forward to in seeking justice. Our sports achievements - barring a few rare exceptions - have seen a massive slide. Even this has been politicised. From a feared soccer nation, we are now below Singapore and Thailand. Sportsmen sell out on their honour and country. Wonder who they learnt this from. From multi-racial teams for soccer, hockey and rugby, we put out almost homogenous teams today. The results speak for themselves.

When my son is ready to join the job market, the civil service would not even be a considered option. Turn back the clock about 50 years and one sees the stark difference - when the best brains competed to join the service.

So, as a 'pendatang', my advice to others like me is that you cherish and value the limited time you have with your children because unlike others, you are not guaranteed the opportunity to be at their side - or even a short distance behind - to see that they don’t tumble along life's walkway.

When they are packed off at 18, the chances of them returning is so much less. The plus side is that as parents, we know that we have given them the opportunity to make their best shot for the years to come. Farewell son, the grass may not be greener on the other side, but the skies are more blue. And even if the grass is not greener, it is grass you can stand on with your head held high.

God Bless.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Art in any form

Lapses in Memory

In my earlier posting, I mentioned how we used the idea of buying chocolates for grandma to pacify Jun. Actually, SP mentioned that it was while we were going through the security checks, after the initial ‘one hand luggage’ check, when I had to take off my shoes (she wore clogs, not required to) like everybody else who wore shoes, that she commented to Jun, ‘hern choeu’ (or very smelly) that she laughed and forgot about her problem of separation from her parents. It seems Beng used to joke about his smelly feet to her. Anyway, after that, it was a matter of getting her attention to the chocolates and story-telling to keep her mind pre-occupied.

Similarly, it wasn't until Nee sent me some pictures which we took in Cambridge that I remembered our visit the day after our arrival.

Alex decided to drive us to Cambridge, my first visit. After parking the car, away from the busy city centre, we walked towards it, and noticed the Fitzwilliam Museum. We decided to pay a visit. It was mentioned as ‘free’ but donations are ‘voluntary’ with a suggested amount of GBP3, obviously welcome. Later, in the course of conversation with a staff member, we were told that a Dutchman, Fitzwilliam, started the museum with his own collection of historical items, with the stated intention of maintaining its entrance free from charges. But judging from the high standard of care in maintenance and security, donations are necessary. I noticed there are many statues and pictures of Virgin Mary and Child but I did not find out why.

Nee was tempted by a guy who offered to take us on a ‘punting’ or boat trip at a reduced price but we were more eager to walk around to see and feel the atmosphere of Cambridge, so well known for its university. I joked to Alex, ‘can I get a degree in 2 hours?’ which was the time we put in the parking meter initially.

Going around in a group, there is always the problem of deciding what to eat. Personally, I would be tempted to try the German sausage at the market but after walking past it, I had to settle for an ordinary hotdog, regardless of what they think or decide for lunch. I have my own ‘Gestapo in drag’, to quote Malcolm in our last trip to Leeds. For lunch, we actually ended up in a so-called Italian restaurant, run or owned by Indians! Later, Alex told us that he wanted to back out upon seeing the Indian waiters!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Jury Duty

Sue reports for jury duty as ordered, and promptly asks to be excused because she believes she's prejudice.

"I took one look at those shifty eyes and that cheap polyester suit and I
immediately knew that he was guilty as sin."

"Sit down," says the judge. "That's the prosecuting attorney."

Proverbs without prejudice...

A first grade teacher collected old, well known proverbs. She gave
each child in her class the first half of a proverb, and had them come
up with the rest.

*As you shall make your bed so shall you......mess it up

*Better be safe than..........................punch a 5th grader

*Strike while the ............................bug is close

*It's always darkest before...................daylight savings time

*You can lead a horse to water

*Don't bite the hand that.....................looks dirty

*A miss is as good as a.......................Mr.

*You can't teach an old dog new...............math

*If you lie down with the dogs, you'll........stink in the morning

*The pen is mightier than the.................pigs

*An idle mind is..............................the best way to relax

*Where there's smoke, there's.................pollution

*Happy the bride who..........................gets all the presents

*A penny saved is.............................not much

*Two's company, three's.......................the musketeers

*Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry have to blow your nose

*Children should be seen and not..............spanked or grounded

*When the blind leadeth the blind.............get out of the way

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Greetings from Hungary

It's funny how something that is part of a national obsession is "no news" to other parts of the world. The current dioxin (guar gum) scare in Hungary is one example. Anna thinks that it is something occupying at least EU-level concerns, but I have not notice this in my regular BBC news updates. After some extensive googling, here is one small, not-so-updated article that I have found:

With Anna, we spent most the weekend with her energetic niece and nephews at her aunt's (we are going back later to stay-over for the night). I try to teach them some English words (they know quite a bit from school) and they do the same to me with Hungarian. One of them, Szabi (Anna's cheerful godson) couldn't get over the fact that I speak and understand no Hungarian, haha! *grin* The kids remind me of the younger days growing up with Ah Nee, Teng, John, etc, especially during the school holidays.

The house is just at the outskirts of the city and we did a little walk in the fields in front of the house, up to the local cemetery. From the tombstones, I discovered that Hungarian wives have the option of taking up, not only their husbands' last names, but also their first names (by adding "né" at the end of the first name).

It is awfully nice to be with Anna again! She says hi, and I think I will miss her soon when I leave her town early Tuesday morning. Before that, we are going fishing in a lake with her sister and her boyfriend tomorrow morning (at an insane 4.30 am!). My guess is that I will probably be dozing off most of the time, haha.


Do not under-estimate the pennies...

A little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it was "too crowded."

"I can't go to Sunday School," she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by.

Seeing her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday school class. The child was so happy that they found room for her, and she went to bed that night thinking of the children who have no place to worship Jesus.

Some two years later, this child lay dead in one of the poor tenement buildings. Her parents called for the kind-hearted pastor who had befriended their daughter to handle the final arrangements.

As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled red purse was found which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was found 57 cents and a note, scribbled in childish handwriting, which read: "This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School."

For two years she had saved for this offering of love.

When the pastor tearfully read that note, he knew instantly what he would do. Carrying this note and the cracked, red pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his deacons to get busy and raise enough money for the larger building.

But the story does not end there...

A newspaper learned of the story and published it. It was read by a wealthy realtor who offered them a parcel of land worth many thousands. When told that the church could not pay so much, he offered to sell it to the little church for 57 cents.

Church members made large donations. Checks came from far and wide. Within five years the little girl's gift had increased to $250,000.00--a huge sum for that time (near the turn of the century). Her unselfish love had paid large dividends.

When you are in the city of Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300. And be sure to visit Temple University, where thousands of students are educated.

Have a look, too, at the Good Samaritan Hospital and at a Sunday School building which houses hundreds of beautiful children, built so that no child in the area will ever need to be left outside during Sunday school time.

In one of the rooms of this building may be seen the picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history. Alongside of it is a portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russell H. Conwell, author of the book, "Acres of Diamonds".

This is a true story, which goes to show WHAT GOD CAN DO WITH 57 CENTS.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Reverse pyschology?

Our Ministry of Domestic Trade will post a permanent staff here to check the items everyday!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Jun's early taste of the limelight

How many of us, especially Malaysians, can claim to have met Queen Elizabeth?
Well, Jun can!

When she was one year old, Queen Elizabeth visited Camden Town Chinese Community Centre. Jun’s mum works at the CCC. Somehow Jun got a chance to meet QE while her dad was holding her. Pictures of the meeting was published in various newspapers as well as televised.

Now, at 3 years old, she can claim to be a jetsetter, having travelled to Malaysia twice within 6 months!

She can understand and speak English, Mandarin and Cantonese. I was quite impressed with her command of English. For example:

What is your name? My name is Wai-Jun.
How old are you? Three years old.
Why are you going to Malaysia? To see my grand-mother.
Does your daddy smoke? Yes, in the toilet. He tells me to go away (with hand gesture waving).
In the plane toilet: Is it(poo)coming? No, wait ten minutes.
At baggage collection: This bag is mine. Are you sure? Yes. I wait for daddy’s bag.
SP lied to her: Your daddy’s will come next week.

When she looked out of the window, she saw a stranger standing next to our rented car.
Jun said in Cantonese, “Yaw yat ko wai tan yew tao lei ge che” and as we were trying to spot if the young bloke was really up to no good, she then suggested in Cantonese as well, after pulling the blinds “Kui mm hew tai dou ngo dei”

At the airport, she was screaming away when told to follow us through the security checks: “Pu yau! Pu yau! Pu yau!” “Wo yau Papa!” “Wo yau Mama!”
Actually, I nearly gave up and almost decided to call off the arrangement. I could empathise with the trauma she was going through.

Fortunately, by the time we entered the Duty Free area, my wife managed to pacify her by suggesting that she chooses some chocolates with different figurines for her grandmother. From then on, SP had to use all her years of experience as a mother and her teaching skills to tell her stories and relate to actual persons.

As soon as she was pacified, I decided to call my son who was waiting outside the security area, with my nephew and wife. I realised my phone with Digi pre-paid card does not have international roaming. Luckily, I could access his number from the phone memory and wrote in down. Then I used the public phone to call him to inform my nephew that everything is fine.

I was quite surprised that Beng had been checking on our flight. As soon as the plane taxied to a stop at KLIA, I switched on my handphone and as we were walking out of the plane he called and said he knew we had touched down and that he was doing it to keep the parents informed. Come to think of it, Beng, at about the same age as Jun, did experience something similar. He was with his mum at Heathrow sending me off and I could still remember how terrible I felt then. But at least he still had his mum then unlike Jun, being separated from both mum and dad. Jun is very fond of Beng. He didn’t lie to her that he was going to follow her to Malaysia . Not knowing that she was going, he unintentionally agreed when she asked, that he is going with her. It was a result of her brainwashing by her mum to get her mentally prepared I suppose. It would not have been a problem if indeed he were going back with us then.

July 30: Return flight

It was a great sense of relief when we finally touched down at KLIA. My anxiety wasn’t really over until we had passed through Malaysian immigration (checked personally instead of DIY electronic identification, as we had a child with us; myself all ready to explain with letter of authority from her parents and copies of her British birth certificate and notification with Malaysian High Commission, as well as copies of parents’ passports as well); collected all 3 suitcases and went through the Custom’s Green Lane and FINALLY handed over custody of Jun to her grandmother without her crying like how she did when we were at the departure area in Heathrow airport.

On the day of our departure for KL, we left Dartford around 10am as we promised Nee that we would send her back to Canterbury. Though her things were already in Brighton, she had to clean up the place before handing over the house keys to the landlord.

In Canterbury, we had lunch at Marks & Spencer’s Kitchen, M&S’s new restaurant outlet, which is proving to be popular. In fact, at GBP5.99 for a cooked English breakfast (two sausages, bacon, two eggs and toasts) with proper tea (unlike most hotels and restaurants) it was value for money.

I took over the wheel for the journey from Canterbury to Avis’s drop-off centre near Heathrow airport. Beng navigated with directions copied from an internet source. By the time we reached there it was past 3.00 pm and after sorting out the inspection and payment, by the time Avis’s shuttle van took us to Terminal 3 it was almost 4.00pm, more than 4 hours before our flight at 8.30pm! A lot of time is required when travelling international, especially when we had to allow for unfamiliar routes and likely traffic congestion, which M25 is now famous for.

The idea of having to look after a three-year-old girl during our return flight with two transit stops spanning almost 24 hours did bother me. It was at the back of my mind while I worry over the ‘Ba Chang’ on my way there.

2 cars to help Nee move to Brighton

What a difference a channel made!

Being in the UK, we chose to rent a suitable estate car to help Nee move from Canterbury to Brighton. Alex offered to help as well and it was like an outing where we ended up having fish and chips at the Brighton Pier!

For Cheng, we were unfamiliar with driving left-hand drive car in Europe, so she had to arrange with Jabi, her Afghan sidekick (excuse the expression)to help her (even though it was going to be his first time driving there)and she had booked only a Ford Fiesta, which I kept telling her to reconsider a bigger one instead of having to take two trips. Seems unfair to Cheng but she said she understands... hopefully.

Dartford: July 27 - 29 Family re-union at William's

We set off for London on the A1, well advised to keep off the M1, which later turned out to be wise. We had an appointment to have dinner at my nephew’s place in Clarence Road, Bounds Green where Cheng and Nee were supposed to be. Even though it was our first time along that route, with Beng’s prepared notes and map, I could navigate while he drove. When we arrived, as soon as Jun heard that Beng is here, she rushed to greet him. Another family re-union for us. William cooked a few of his specialities like Hokien mee, Bah Kut Teh, and fried chicken, with plenty of cherries and mixed fruits salad.

After dinner, Beng decided to show us his rented room in Charleton Dene. Driving in the dark and unfamiliar with the routes by car, he took a longer time to reach there. Because of the noise, his landlord and his little son came downstairs to greet us. It was getting late and we had to rush back to Dartford for the night.

The School House, Thorganby: July 26

As we were earlier than the appointed time agreed with Paul, we visited York first. This time, Beng parked at a different side of York. While walking along the fortress wall, we realised we were indeed quite far from our usual shops. We managed to visit a few shops before lunch. Though we were quite keen to have fish and chips for the first time this trip, the difficulty in finding a toilet led us to patronise the Oscar pub, a favourite with Alex. In fact we were there on our last trip.

Paul phoned Beng a couple of times to find out what time we would be there. Anyway, he used his new BBQ set to cook chicken, Barracuda fish, salmon and some mixed vegetables, and bread. Somehow, it looked as well as tasted really good. Harry, like last year, joined us. Alex and Clem were on our minds, though out of sight!

Later, we got a call from the Ferryboat Inn that a certain Brian did not know what to do with himself. So it was time to get ready to go to the pub. Because of the unpredictable weather, we decided to take the car instead of walk, though Helene had to minutes later.

The invited musicians came soon after we got our first round of drinks. Besides guitarist, Brian, there is Sue who is an accomplished flamenco guitarist and flautist and plays an Irish drum that looked like a kompang using a bone-like stick (I remember the Corrs using it), Jack who plays a different kind of flute (like John Kaizan), and of course, blues guitarist and harmonica player, Paul! We were honoured to have the landlord of the pub, Phil, who joined them too. It seems he seldom takes part, yet he took part the two times, we were there!

I realised later that music, though universal, is so wide in variety that it is not surprising not to have heard of certain songs before, like those folk songs played and sung by them. Paul mentioned that he has seen me and friends playing some Shadows tunes but he was not familiar. Then, Brian tried out Apache but it was nothing like it, so he really wasn’t familiar. Only later in the night did I realise that I should have at least shown them what little I know eg. melody, just to refresh their memory, then the rhythm, and then bass line. With their standard of play, they would have picked the tune without difficulty.

Later, Phil said that his acoustic guitar was made by a well-known guitar player in York and his present guitar is worth GBP3,500!

Leeds: July 25: Another nostalgic trip

A few days earlier, Beng had contacted Stuart to ask if it was alright if we stop over for a night. Just like last year, they were due to leave for Malaysia in a couple of days, for deep-sea diving at Pulau Perhentian. Last year they had a marvellous time in Pulau Sipadan, with great shots of some incredibly beautiful fishes and corals.

We started off from Dartford so we had to decide which is the best route. Last year we took country roads before joining A1 and lost our bearing to Plantation Gardens because we followed Sarah’s direction via A58 (which leads to Harrogate) just before Leeds city. This time, Beng had in mind to join A1 as soon as possible but on our way, past Cambridge turnoff, I influenced him to join M1, which involved travelling from East to West for some 44 miles, which seemed wasteful. But I had in mind motorway all the way to Leeds which we were familiar almost 30 years ago. It was much easier then when we travelled between Leeds and London as it only involved getting through northern London when it was time to leave.

What I had in mind was good only from M1, then M621 before looking for signs to Leeds City Centre. Once we reached the area near the railway station, I was totally confused with the new buildings, new roads (or at least familiar road names but I had totally lost their bearings which got me really disappointed with myself) and even a ‘loop’ road. What used to be a straightforward route to join familiar Woodhouse Lane wasn’t now and we were some where near the other side of Leeds University. Taking another round, we managed to get to the familiar area just before Headingley with Hyde Park Corner on the left.

I was excited to find my first hostel when I stepped foot in Leeds in 1973. However, it was so different now that I almost gave up at Cliff Mount until Beng encouraged me to look again. I even forgot the address until I walked further up the road and saw a familiar building on the right. It was now used for some kind of home and there was no sign about it being Methodist International House before. When I asked a man having a break next to the kitchen about the annexe, which I thought was there 30 years ago, he replied that he wasn’t even born then! When he confirmed that the address is 55 Cliff Road, it rang a bell indeed!

Pleased with it, I decided to drive past Headingley junction to look for my second place, 30 Cardigan Road. Again, my memory failed me and I took a left turn too soon and ended up somewhere in Park Lane. We decided to give up and find a parking space near Merrion Centre for a walkabout. Like last year, I volunteered to go to the car first to avoid getting a parking ticket. Later, we look for directions to get to Leeds 17 via signs to Harrogate.

Beng relied on his memory based on last year’s trip to get to Stuart’s house. With some uncertainty, we found the right road but neither Sarah’s nor Stuart’s car was there so we relied on my memory that it was No.38. Soon after being greeted by Sarah, Stuart’s car pulled up.

It was the usual exchange of pleasantries and a brief catch-up on news before we settled for a cup of tea for more details. For the second year we have an English couple and a Malaysian couple having holidays in each other’s country. They have been to Malaysia a few times. Sarah said she wasn’t prepared and would be cooking Indian curry a la Marks & Spencer! It is a bit strange that we have an English lady preparing Indian curry to entertain a Chinese couple! It was a splendid spread involving nan, basmati rice, chicken, fish and prawns to go with red or white wines.

Their son, Richard, is in the process of doing up their back garden to incorporate a little pond and fountain with some landscaping features. Later, we were told, Claire is getting married in September and the reception is to be held at the fabulous Hazlewood Castle.

Next morning, Stuart said goodbye before he went to work. During breakfast, I asked Sarah for directions to Kirkstall Abbey which is near where SP used to live. Beng as usual checked the internet and printed out a map for directions, made difficult because we were at Leeds 17 instead of Headingley.

We managed to find Kirkstall Abbey but because we were in a hurry, we looked for SP’s former accommodation, thinking all the time that it was Church Lane. Using the church as landmark, we managed to find the road but realised it was supposed to be Park Mount! I used to visit her and leave in time to catch the last bus at 11.15pm, after having to walk past the church compound, which has a graveyard! Somehow, I was brave then even though the cold weather made the night seem darker.

Coming out to the main road, I remember the road past Headingley Stadium, well known among cricketers. Turning right we went into Cardigan Road, another place I was looking for. As SP wanted to visit the shops, we set off for York earlier before going to Thorganby.

Hotel Nord, Paris: July 23

Unlike Hotel Viator, Nord is just opposite Paris Gare de Nord (or Paris North Station). Nee felt ideally we should have skipped a night in Paris and gone back to UK from Brussels instead. But I can understand the problems faced by Beng when planning our itinerary. For Eurostar, it seems it is cheaper to book return on a longer trip than two singles on a shorter trip. We actually had return tickets from Waterloo to Paris but we ended up getting off at Ashford on our return, to suit our car rental arrangement which was to collect car at Ashford and return it at Heathrow.

Beng was spot on when we arrived Ashford to sort out the booking he made with Avis. As soon as I had discussed with the lady, he was there, having came straight from work.

Accommodation at IMPALLA, Differdange, Luxembourg: July 19-22

With most of the students having left the Institute, we were left alone most of the time, making full use of the kitchen as well as the computer in the fifth floor where I checked my mail and catch up on news portals like Malaysiakini and Malaysia-today. Though we suspected there should have been cctv installed, we could gain entry without problem. Having seen the set-up, I can understand why Cheng said the fifth floor is like home to her. She used to work until the wee hours (her best time for work) and sometimes slept on the couch overnight. The past few weeks had taken a toll on her as she slept an average of 2-3 hours a night. Whenever we were travelling in a train or car, she would doze off. She had to worry about her move from Differdange to Maastricht in Holland on the day we were due to fly off. While Nee had our full support with rented car and Alex’s, she had to rely on Jabi to drive (his first time) on the continental roads and she booked only a Fiesta.

While based in Differdange, we went on day trips to Brussels in Belgium, Nancy in France and Trier in Germany. On the way to Brussels we could see Volkswagen and Audi plants with many cars parked in the open areas. We walked to the park in front of the Cathedral and decided to join an open top bus for a city tour. I always enjoy such tours because it was easy on my legs. It was not easy keeping up with SP where walking is concerned. I was worried that my problematic right knee might just give way and ended up in hospital instead. Having reached home now, I can say that instead of the knee, I had backache instead because of lifting the heavy luggages, one weighed almost 30 kg and marked ‘heavy’ when we checked in. It is now strictly enforced that a luggage is not to exceed 32 kg to be fair to the airport workers. I find it a problem when normally I try to be chivalrous yet I know I am not fit to be so. So, if my wife is the type to insist on carrying the maximum (preferably testing to include a few kg more) how would it look if I just stand by and said I could not lift it whenever necessary?

Accommodation at Leuven Catholic University, Belgium: July 17 & 18

We left it to Nee to take us to Leuven where Cheng had arranged accommodation for us. We arrived at the station and started to find our way, not knowing the distance. We were dragging two suitcases and a hand luggage bag on wheels in our search for the hostel. We had to ask people twice for directions. Because Nee’s map did not show the railway station, she got the bearing wrong. The next day, with the map provided in the room, we found that it was quite straightforward but had we known distance, we should have taken a cab. It was like getting off at KL rail station and the hostel is at Jalan Dang Wangi but we walked to Puduraya first before finding the way there.

Hotel Viator, Paris: July 15 & 16

Beng advised us to take a cab once we reached Gare de Nord in Paris because of our luggages. The hotel was so obscure that even the taxi driver needed to refer to his map to find it and even so, we found it at the wrong end of a one-way street.

SP suggested that we head for Champs Elysees to see how much have changed since our last visit almost 30 years ago. We found out that we were too late for the open-top bus tour. Anyway, during our 3-day 2-night in Paris, we enjoyed a river cruise, looked around at Eiffel Tower (long queues even if we were interested to go up), walked up to Montmartre, and visited other tourist destinations like Notre Dame Cathedral and Gallerie
de Lafayette. At Lafayette, we chanced upon the open-air top level where we could see across Paris in all directions. It is amusing to see Orientals crowding round designer sections, especially LV, where they even have oriental staff members to serve them.

Crayford to Waterloo; Waterloo to Paris by Eurostar

Alex was kind enough to take us to Crayford rail station to begin our journey to Paris. We had to put in a spare suitcase inside a new one, which we have bought for Cheng. To me, an occasional traveller, all these time schedules meant having to pay attention to time and making sure I have the right tickets ready for use and ensuring those meant for later are intact and can be found! My new sling bag has so many hidden sections that it became a joke each time I could not find anything.

At Canterbury

We spent most of the time in Canterbury visiting mainly charity shops which I discovered this time that they have some nice collections of CDs which were normally given away with the daily newspapers. Donated by well-wishers, the shops sell them at 20p or 30p though shops in York sell them at 50p. Besides some old songs and tunes which I have been looking for like, Many rivers to cross and I can see clearly now by Jimmy Cliff, Albatross by Fleetwood Mac, Touch me in the morning by Diana Ross, Save your love by Renato and Renee, I feel good by James Brown, All right now, and many more which by the time we were ready to pack, I have collected almost 50! I bought one on It ain’t half hot mum with episode titled ‘Road to Jannu’. Later I regretted for not buying a CD teaching French when we reached Paris.

SP enjoyed looking at old collectibles but this time with having to bring along a 3-year old child on our return journey, she had to restrict herself. We had to forget about buying the almost routine duty-free alcohol or cigarettes or chocolates. I was quite hurt when the girl at our local telecommunications shop asked even jokingly of why no chocolates for them. If only they knew that by the time we came through the Customs check, it was already almost 1am. Jun’s grandma had already arranged for his son to take us back to PJ for the night. Though I planned to get up early to catch the LRT before the working crowd, I woke up at 11.30am! We had to go to Puduraya to catch a bus back to Ipoh, so our luggage bags remain in PJ until our next visit.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Borderless European Union a boon to travellers

It is so convenient now to travel within the borderless European Community, though with the exception of Britain. Travelling from London, on the Eurostar, we just need to go through French immigration control before boarding the train, and similarly, on our return, to go through British immigration control while in Paris. But within the EC countries like Luxembourg, Belgium, France and Germany, there is no checking of passports.

With the use of the common Euro, it has also got rid of the hassle of having to change into different currencies while travelling from one country to another. But I can imagine the leaders of each country must have had a hard time thrashing out the details of joining, in order to get a fair deal.

Britain, under Margaret Thatcher, seemed to have got a good deal in terms of subsidies from EC for the farmers. But the fact that Sterling remains so robust must have been the major stumbling block in its replacement by Euro.

What a difference a year made!

Last summer, when we went to UK for Cheng’s convocation, the weather was so hot at around 38 degrees that the older buildings and cars were found to be wanting without air-conditioning. Bringing along sweaters and jackets seemed out of place.

This year, the temperature was generally between 15 and 20 degrees, with frequent drizzles, while certain parts of UK like Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire and Sheffield were extensively flooded. An electricity sub-station serving half a million people, had to be manually surrounded with sand-bags to prevent outage. There was ‘water, water, everywhere and not a drop to spare’ in terms of drinking water. Human greed reared its ugly head when a supermarket spokesman said he noticed all his bottles of water snapped up early in the morning and later sold at GBP5 per bottle outside his store! The government had to step in by providing millions of bottles of drinking water.

Friday, August 03, 2007

July 11: Nee's Convocation

We called for a cab to take us to the Canterbury Cathedral. Like Cheng last year, Nee put on her new Sarong Kebaya for the occasion. Aren't we patriotic?

The University of Kent held its convocation ceremonies, which were steeped in tradition with ceremonial robes, at the Canterbury Cathedral. It added a bit of prestige to the event. I could see posters of ‘Save our Cathedral’, which signified the need for financial support. Each graduate had to pay GBP36 and it seemed a good idea to generate income.

The weather was windy and chilly with temperature of around 16 degrees. Our jackets were not warm enough when we waited half an hour in a long queue before they let us in.

Nee’s course, Bachelor of Science in Psychology, was taken by predominantly white students (90%), and mainly girls (80%). Though some of the blondes are artificial, they are not as artificial as our blondes with Chinese features!

As expected, the ceremony got boring and still having jetlag, my wife and I nearly dozed off while waiting for Nee’s turn. My son had to wake us in case we missed the moment we had been waiting for!

Dartford, Canterbury & Thames River Cruise

Dartford: July 6 - 8

We have been very lucky to have Alex and Clem in Dartford for the past four years, who had been providing home and transport, for all our three children, whenever necessary.

This time, like last year, he extended his usual fabulous hospitality to us during the days when we were not visiting somewhere else.

Upon our arrival at Heathrow, he took a couple of hours off work to fetch us to his house where we stayed. He used his BBQ set to cook us a scrumptious dinner with free flowing red wine. If there is a fault in him, it has to be his insistence on us finishing all the food, every time! Such is his generosity.

Canterbury: July 9 - 12

We had an appointment the next morning with Angie, my nephew’s wife, who works in a Chinese Community Centre in London. She invited us to join a Thames River cruise, which she had organised for some Chinese senior citizens. To be there at 9.00 am meant we had to leave early to catch a train and peak hour fare from Canterbury was almost GBP40 per person one-way! Even the ticketing man asked whether we are aware that it was going to be expensive.

About 30 of us gathered at the Chinese Community Centre, which is near Charing Cross Station. Then we took a double-decker bus, occupying almost the whole of the lower deck (Chinese invasion) to London Bridge. From there we walked to the Westminster Pier where Joe bought the special rate tickets for the River Cruise.

The ferry could take in 500 passengers and has toilet facilities and beverage service. The tour commentator gave a very good account of the names and history of each of the famous buildings. Some of which, have been tastefully renovated. One of the new buildings, which looked like a crash helmet made of glass, is the London Mayor’s office. The Mayor is noted for his emphasis on environmentally friendly ideas like solar-power and even preference for mail or other delivery by bicycles wherever possible.

We stopped at Greenwich and Joe led us through a tunnel, which goes to the other side of Thames River. It required taking a lift down on one side and up on the other. We were amazed at the engineering feat for that era.

Buffet lunch was at the Saigon Restaurant (again at reduced rates for senior citizens) and sitting with us was a guzzler from Hong Kong who not only ate almost all items, left some to waste, as well as ‘ta pau’ some to take back.

Though we have been to Greenwich a few times, we were surprised there is another part where there are grand old buildings like the Maritime Museum and the Maritime College Chapel and Trinity College of Music, which is a part of Greenwich University.

We then boarded the ferry to head back to Westminster Pier where we parted company and some headed straight for home, while we ended up going to Arnos Grove for dinner with William, Jun and Beng as well, at the Harvester. Later we said goodbye to William and family and began our long train journey back to Canterbury .

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bringing along ‘Ba Chang’ or dumplings

My wife’s insistence on bringing 12 home-made ‘chang’ (unlike the traditional pointed ones, these are shaped like small pillows) really had me worried, especially with the recent scare in London and bombing in Glasgow. How are we to explain to the British our harmless ‘changs’ which could be ‘hand grenades in disguise’ to them? We were reminded about confiscation of liquids in containers exceeding 100ml, what more strange looking solids which could be thrown like grenades?

Fortunately, we managed to get through KLIA, a 6-hour stopover at Dubai and walking through the Green Lane at Heathrow. We were grateful, as usual, to Alex who took a couple of hours off work at Dartford to pick us from Heathrow. My younger daughter came earlier from Canterbury and she related to us the amazing coincidence of seeing her brother while the bus passed Lewisham College area! Anyway, Beng joined us later at Alex’s house in Dartford.

Having gone through the worries over the ‘changs’ it was gratifying to see Alex, Clem, Beng and Nee enjoying them one morning. Cheng did not get to eat them till we came back from Europe. She had only half as we shared the last 3 ‘changs’ among 6 of us.

Price comparison: for your information, before we went, Nee bought 3 ‘changs’ from Chinatown in London for GBP 2.50 (Rm 17.50) each! Anyway, I have more or less decided that Europe, especially GB, is not my place for travel because I am not loaded and I do not earn money there. Just as examples, imagining having to pay Rm7 for a small bottle of water or a litre of petrol or diesel! Over here, we complain of coffee-shops charging between 20 to 50 sen for a glass! I am glad I am back in my own comfort zone paying Rm3 and Rm1 for a bowl of wantan mee and a cup of tea! I rather they come back to visit us in future, though my wife is not sharing the same view, being a Hakka, aka nomad. I am more a ‘Cheong Moon Yan’ which literally means a person who guards the door, or ‘jaga’ in Malay. It is also HK actor, Eric Tsang’s nickname and he owns a restaurant by that name in Sri Hartamas.

Oh! What a relief!

As an incurable pessimist, my trip to UK and short excursions from there, to certain parts of Europe was fraught with images of events that could go wrong. But thankfully, everything turned out right. To overcome my irrational fears, I just think of where to go and what to do, one day at a time.

A few months before the trip, I had to book the air tickets. My immediate worry then was ‘what if either of my daughters could not pass their exams?’ It did not help when later, my younger daughter, who is just like me in being a pessimist, said that she is worried over a certain paper.

Anyway, nearer the date of departure, we got the great news that she had obtained Second Class Upper. To me, it was ‘one done, another to go’.

My elder daughter is such an optimist (she takes after her mother) that her dissertation was being completed as we were on our way there! My eldest, son, planned our itinerary in such a way that we spent time visiting Paris for 2-3 days, then to Leuven for a couple of days before we met up with Cheng. In other words, we had to stay away from her while she was busy finishing her dissertation: online copy by July 18 and hard copy by the next day! In fact, being a perfectionist, she asked for permission to extend by another day so that she could re-read her work before handing in! She wasn’t alone, as there were others, including Livina, a Bulgarian, who were still working on hers when we were there for a few days.

When we first arrived Differdange, an Italian student, Silvia, was about to leave together with her parents. We said goodbye to them, which involved ‘3 kisses’ and she could not help crying. Later, Cheng told us that she had been through a few of those teary goodbyes the past few days, which took a fair bit of her time!

Differdange may not be known to ordinary folks, like us, but it exemplifies Luxembourg and her slogan “So small, yet so great”. It seems, the company, which used to be called Arbed (it has been taken over by another company) produces the strongest steel for use in building the world’s tallest buildings, which include our Petronas Twin Towers!

I was truly impressed with Luxembourg the city and the country in general. Being small, probably the size of Singapore, but with a population of only half a million, it is rich enough to provide infrastructures which are more than sufficient for its own population. For example, we enjoyed travelling in their new double-decked trains which seem to be half-empty almost all the time we were there. We noticed the great difference on our way back from Brussels to Paris, travelling in a packed old train run by Thalys.

I could not get over the small palace of the Grand Duchy (by comparison, like our Samad building in Merdeka Square) and attached to it, a building which is a third of the size of the palace, its Parliament House! Luxembourg City is very picturesque with its beautiful valleys next to the old fortress and other buildings. It was great looking down from the road as well as looking up from the valley, seeing cars or trains travelling across the high- arched bridges.

Cheng planned for us a day trip to a German border town, Trier, to come back in time to watch the Jazz Festival held in the valleys of Luxembourg City. We managed to watch a junior orchestra playing some well known tunes, a group called ‘MG Blues Band’ with the logo of the car marque, MG, as well as a jazz quartet playing by the riverside, and a Latin group sponsored by Volkswagen, playing some latin tunes, before we decided to walk towards the station to catch the last train back to Differdange.