Sun sea sand

Sun sea sand

Monday, April 21, 2014

Love Note I

Your name plays on my lips. Can you not hear me? I wish my sigh could tickle the membranes of your inner ear despite the miles between us, bringing you the message of how much I miss you. And with the breath carrying your name, I exhale my love into the universe, that you may feel the tenderness that curls around my heart when I think of you.

Or to add a bit more drama:

I sigh your name upon the southern wind that teases the sea into caps of white and pushes the waves to crash upon the shore on which I lay. Can you not hear me as the same wind weaves and dances its way between the mountains of concrete and glass in the city where you are? I wish my sigh could tickle the membranes of your inner ear despite the miles between us, bringing you the message of how much I miss you. And with the breath carrying your name, I exhale my love into the universe, that you may feel the tenderness that curls around my heart when I think of you.

Or in Shakespeare-type verse:

I sigh your name 'pon the southern wind that
teases the sea into caps of white and
pushes the waves to crash upon the shore.
Can you not hear me as the same wind weaves
and dances tween the mountains of concrete
and glass in the fair city where you are?
I wish my sigh could travel the miles that
cruelly sits 'tween you and I, bringing you
the heartworn note of how much I miss you.
And with that breath I 'xhale my love into
the universe that you may feel my heart's
tenderness whenever I think of you.

Written on Tioman Island in May 2013, when I was madly in love.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Pizza Uno is All Grown Up

It used to be Pizza Uno. Now it's just Uno restaurant, and the tagline is "Gourmet Comfort Food". My brother asked, as we were approaching the Taman Tun Dr Ismail outlet: "What does gourmet mean?" My immediate answer: "Expensive."

Yes, it's all grown up into a gourmet cafe, and the prices have expanded as well. Times change, of course, and a rise in prices is expected all around. From the restaurant called Pizza Italia I used to visit in Ampang for such  delicious pasta [the garlic prawn was memorable indeed], the go-to place then became Pizza Uno in Centrepoint, which offered more none-pasta dishes. Now it's Uno, in Taman Tun and USJ, and it has become a chill-out place for those who can afford it.

With soup at RM9, antipasti ranging from RM12-18, pasta RM16-28, pizza RM24-34 and tenderloin or the fish special up to RM48, it's now firmly in the mid-upper-level range. If you're not convinced, you only have to look at the soft drink prices of RM5 per can [of Pepsi, they don't offer Coca Cola].

Still not convinced? A meal with the small portions might sway you. The motto on the glass wall at the nicely done Taman Tun outlet says: Eat a little less. Enjoy a little more. I said to my brother, and I wasn't really kidding, "Eat a little less. PAY a little more."

I chose the RM24 beef lasagna, which the waiter assured me was freshly made. I specifically asked because I once paid RM28 at a boutique cafe for lasagna that came from a RM8 packet available at Tesco. At Uno, my lasagna was probably freshly made, but they made the cardinal sin of microwaving it before serving. At a mom-and-pop shop maybe, but at a gourmet restaurant, this is a huge no-no. As a result, my dish was nuclear-hot, and actually remained tongue-burning the whole 30 minutes it took me to finish it. Nuclear meltdown aside, the taste was just about similar to the instant lasagna at the supermarket, with no "wow" factor. Disappointing but edible.

My brother chose the RM24 fettucine carbonara, and it was tasty but otherwise bland, in the sense that there was merely the taste of the creamy sauce [which was a nice thickness] and beef bacon, nothing spectacular. Presentation wise it was also boring, with the little bit of scattered green [the same as on my lasagna] serving as the go-to decoration. Adequate.

On the plus side, the hot chocolate was delicious! So good in fact that I had two [although the size of the cup may have had something to do with it]. At RM8, it was just a bitter enough, while the foam, cream and chocolate topping gave it the taste of luxury. And it made the drink sweet, so do taste it before putting in more sugar.

Uno serves alcohol as beverages and in the food, so do be aware of what you're ordering. My brother was taken with the Lemon Spritz, and fortunately we were informed by the waiter that it was alcoholic [we didn't read the small print that it included limoncello]. Stated in the menu as under Other Beverages, below the water and soft drinks, it might be more mindful for the restaurant to put a little "with alcohol" sticker instead of relying on the waiters, especially with customers who can't read the fine print.

The waiters can't be expected to remember everything, after all. Our waiter spoke passable English, enough to the extent of taking our orders but perhaps not sufficiently to explain what our dishes were made from. They did, however, listen enough to change the spelling of the word "tenderloin" on their blackboards listing the April specials. It's the little things that count.

I expect there are some great dishes at Uno, but it would be hit-or-miss, really. Overall, I would return for a perfectly acceptable meal, while testing a few more dishes if I'm feeling adventurous. At RM77 for two, though [two main dishes and three drinks], it's a big ask to play russian roulette with my taste buds.

Uno. 55 Jalan USJ10/1A Taipan, Subang Jaya
  12 Persiaran Zaaba, Taman Tun Dr Ismail

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Loving Kellie's Folly

Castles call to me; something about the romanticism of being a princess, with a room in the tallest tower. Disregard, of course, all the cons of life in the olden days - short life span, no dental care, the restrictions of royal life, etcetera etcetera - and the little girl's princess dreams come to life when walking around turrets and up stone spiral stairs and resting cheek upon hand on the window sill looking out at the view [or daydreaming about a prince].

There are not many castles in Malaysia, and certainly not ones open to the public, so one man's folly is truly a fortune for someone like me. This is Kellie's Castle, set in Batu Gajah, in the state of Perak north of Kuala Lumpur.

Also known as Kellie's Folly, it was built by Scotsman William Kellie Smith for his family, but abandoned following his death [read the tragic backstory here]. It's not a real castle, of course, but a wealthy plantation owner's dream of a magnificent mansion for his heir, and as some say, to be the Joneses of the time.

Whatever his reasons, Kellie's Castle stands as beautiful in its bare bones as it would have been if completed. To me maybe even better, as the rough bricks, crumbling mortar and unfinished windows give it the air of a true European castle. An expert architect suggests that finished, the mansion would probably have looked a bit different, and completely painted over, so I do like it this way.

Built in the early 1900s [work started in 1905], it's also just magnificent in its architecture and layout. There is a six-storey tower that would have been serviced by the country's first elevator, while the main part of the mansion features rooms with high ceilings plus accompanying decor details like corniches, secret stairwells and arches. The flat roof gives me the chills standing near the edge, but imagine what a rooftop party would have been like!

In a time when not many buildings in the country would have been made from stone, it's also a wonderful feat of engineering, and of the vision of the man who had to import most of the luxurious materials and even the artisans to create his masterpiece.

I first went to Kellie's Castle as a teenager, and I have returned to the site several times over the years and still enjoy each trip. And I haven't even fully explored the grounds, nor the secret tunnels that have been discovered. On every visit, I find something new to marvel over, though the last time I was there I felt an odd chill that I refused to attribute to stories of sightings of the spirit of William Kellie Smith himself or the labourers who died there. Regardless, Kellie's Castle or Folly continues to hold a fascination for me in terms of history and romance. Maybe it also does for the restless owner who never saw his dream come to fruition.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Eating, Drinking and Being Merry

Grilled Chicken
UPDATE: Outlet Closed

One of my current favourite hangouts since moving to this side of the world is Bucida Court, in the Penchala area. It's actually across the LDP from the higher-end haunts of Ikea and The Curve, and therein also lies the divide, as the "hawker-style" outlets, the open-air plus tin-roofed seating and sometimes-by-the-road parking means prices are lower than the premium sites.

Not true hawker prices, mind you, but reasonable in a mid-range kind of way. From RM3 snacks (fish crackers), RM5 desserts and less-than-RM10 satay to RM13 grilled chicken (my personal favourite), RM20 pizza and RM25 BBQ ribs, it's an acceptable option from a number of cuisines -- Malay, Arab, Thai and Italian, plus those Western steaks, chops and burgers (including those featuring colourful buns, whose reason for being I still can't quite grasp) and seafood.

Hot Dog
The fare is also perfectly acceptable. The food is never going to win awards, but your taste buds won't try to run away screaming, either. From what I've tried, I like the grilled chicken, while the pizza is OK but maybe not truly "authentic Italian". The pasta not so much, steak and ribs are sub-par only because I have had melt-in-your-mouth experiences and the satay's average, and nothing close to those of Kajang fame. Other popular dishes (I polled others) include spicy noodles with crab, meatballs and some Thai fare.

Some portions may seem smaller than what you're used to, but that's also a trade-off for the price. I always find myself full after each meal, but then again it doesn't take much to fill up my smallish tank.

Most nights you'll also find customers wreathed in smoke -- these are the shisha or hookah lovers drawn by the prices (RM10-RM15) and the mix of flavours that might be weird or inspired, depending on your taste. Bubblegum, Champagne, blue mist, Kickapoo, Red Bull, mixed with watermelon, orange or apple, and a pinch of mint -- you're limited only by your imagination, and maybe the counsel of the shisha mixer who will shake his head at suggestions he thinks won't work. But hey, if you're feeling crazy, just go for it!

My lil bro and his friends - Pic from Bucida Court
Weekend nights (Fri-Sun) also offer the enjoyment of a live band, whose performance is pretty good, although they still cater to the Malay-speaking audience with mostly local songs, and some Santana thrown in once in a while. Pretty lively overall, just don't sit too close to the speakers if you want to maintain a conversation with friends.

Bucida Court opens from early evening to the early hours, and is WiFi enabled (most of the time).

Monday, March 31, 2014

This time last year: Tioman

My first trip to this island off the coast of Johor was in 1996, and I returned for scuba diving after I got my licence in 2000. It's been 10 years, and I still regularly drop in for some rest and relaxation, and recreation. Swimming, diving, snorkelling, stuffing my face, sitting on the sand, and more recently, looking up at the stars in the nighttime. 

This time last year, I was living on the island, sorta. Not exactly in a house, but in one of the touristy chalets; eating at those local restaurants that offer cheap fare. It was eight months of trying to find myself, and starting to become the author that I have always wanted to be. It's still a journey, though, but I have not given up my dream. 

And it was a privilege to live my dream in the paradise that is Tioman Island. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

This Time Two Years Ago: Baby No 2

Smokey came to live with me. This neurotic psycho kitty has taken over my life, my bed and now the top of my wardrobe. And this neurotic psycho kitty's hair has taken over those three things and absolutely everything else...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Love you... Just kidding

"I miss you," I told him. He gave me a grin and said, "me too". I know he's kidding but he thinks I am too. And how do I say that I'm not?

How do you tell someone you've been fun-flirting with that you're no longer joking? That every day that I see his empty chair is a sliver of ache in my chest? How do I let him know that his smile plays on my mind before I go to bed every night, and his laugh echoes in my thoughts when I'm lying there restless and unable to sleep? How do I make it clear that when I say "I can't live without you", I'm expressing what's in my heart?

But more importantly, should I? Or should I carry on tossing out "Love you, darling!" with a cheeky grin that says, I'm just kidding...

Friday, July 30, 2010

This Time Last Year: My Baby

I took possession of an Electric Blue Mini Cooper S. Sweet, and still is.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

This time last year

Spring in Ole Blighty, and a spring in my step, during the "epic" roadtrip with Carl in his Aston.

Monday, February 08, 2010

A Roaring Year

No matter that the stars may say
The year is not too great for me
Luck and love are too far away
And fortune I will never see

The tiger is the king of earth
The yin to dragon in the sky
It is not known for joy and mirth
Instead for letting tempers fly

The tiger roars, the tiger fights
And in its year it finds no ease
Yet I believe in setting sights
On happiness and loving peace

I tempt fate for a tiger's tale
Far from the one laid out for me
Buffet me hard with wind or gale
I'll not be swayed from destiny...

A Tiger roars from the centre of its being, yet chuffs from the heart.
Also in memory of Tiger the cat, which probably looked a bit like this one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lost in Happiness

I hide my sorrow with a laugh,
A smile belies a truthful frown,
You seem happy, the people say,
Yet, deep inside I'm feeling down

I can't negate this dark despair,
Nor easily cast this mood away,
And more, the sadness doubles when,
You say "you should not feel this way".

I can't erase the things I feel,
As words deleted on the page,
How can I ask birds not to fly,
Or tell the storm to stop its rage.

The only thing that I can do,
It works quite well, I can attest,
Is just to smile and let them think,
The sad is lost in happiness.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Boot's on the Back Foot

The moon is still up as I arrive at Padang Astaka on a cool Tuesday morning. Haven't seen the moon in a while, certainly not at this time after I wake - it's usually been while I haven't slept yet.

The moonlight barely lights up the crowd gathered for the first session of Original Bootcamp this November day. Some are seniors from previous months and some, like me, are the new recruits. Remember that word - recruits - as this is a distillation of military training and we're bound by certain disciplinary rules akin to that field.

Okay, so I thought I wanted to be in the army at one time, but being undersized saved me from that. No size restrictions here, though. Discipline aside, the programme (so says the website) takes the best of military training for civilian use in its exercises and drills.

How shall I fare, then, being super unfit, small and suffering from a bum knee? Well, there's only one way to find out.

Warmups jogs, and I'm already out of breath. Then comes the assessment. We have to run a 400m loop and then do 10 push-ups, 10 grunts (pushup position into a jump and back) and 15 sit-ups. Three times.

I'm okay with the body work, but slow right down in the run with a stitch. Finish in the slow-poke section.

Then it's a 1.6km (1 mile) run, eight laps of the marked course. By lap two my knee is hurting, so I walk it. I end up in the bottom quartile, but I'm not too bummed, as I am seriously unfit.

After the session, I head to A&W for a heavy breakfast... yummm.

Day 2, Thursday. Body aches haven't been too severe, so I'm all set. Little did I know...

In groups of three, we attack five activities in one loop, 40 seconds for each manoeuvre and 20 seconds to move to the next station:
1. Deep squats with bags of sand at chest height
2. Squat and jump
3. Squat and lift (bag of sand)
4. Push-ups
5. Jackknife with heavy pipes in lieu of "rifles".
When we finish one loop, we just go on and start another. It's almost never-ending, and I'm seriously out of breath after a short while. Time is added on for everyone owing to recruits' dawdling, not running fast enough or chucking the bags of sand and pipes.

We cheer as a break is called, but we're not done yet. Back to the stations for more loops, this time of 30-second manoeuvres, with the last 10 supposed to be of higher intensity, and 15 seconds to get to the next station. People are wheezing and decidedly whiffy, but we soldier on.

When time is called, we can't just fall about on the ground, though. A jog to cool down, and some stretches, and then we're let off the hook... until Saturday.
Day 3, it's the weekend! And I'm here at the field at 5.30am! I'm starting to think this isn't such a good idea, as I only finished work about four hours ago. I thought it would be easier not to sleep after work, attend the 5.45am session and be done by 7am, rather than try to sleep and trying even worse to get up for a 7am start. Will have to see how this pans out in the weeks ahead.

Today we do more loops. Several cones mark the stops, where we drop down to do push-ups, lie down to do sit-ups and try our best not to cheat in lunges. And run between the stops! I'm panting in a few short minutes, pretending to jog after a while and just wondering when the pain will stop...

Then it's over to the next loop for more running, jumping squats, running ladders and holding the plank position (braced on elbows and lower arm and toes, with abs off the ground).

Funny thing is, when the sessions are over, we are not completely shattered. We can walk around laughing, or skip about (me, usually), and even go off for breakfast and chat. So, obviously, the sessions do not tax us beyond our abilities. It's just that our ability to do the manoeuvres, at a certain pace and of a certain number, is being pushed (sometimes seeming mercilessly). The muscle pain is a testament to that, sure, but I'm surprised that I'm even considering continuing with a jog right after the session.

Well, thankfully that only lasted until I got near the car, as then some of us recruits got to talking, and decided to go have breakfast.

As I reach home replete with the third breakfast in a week, more than I ever get in two months, I consider the past three sessions. It's been okay, I guess. Not too great on my shoes, though, the pair that I've decided to sacrifice for the benefit of Ezanor-kind looking decidedly shabby, and just look at the state of the T-shirt! But, this is good for me, I tell myself. I vow to carry on... and we'll see how the coming weeks treat us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm A Lamborghini Murcielago

Cute test says:
"You're not subtle, but you don't want to be. Fast, loud, and dramatic, you want people to notice you, and then get out of the way. In a world full of sheep, you're a raging bull."

Quite apt. And I certainly like the yellow Murc.

Which Sports Car Are You? Take the quiz and find out.

Monday, June 22, 2009

This Little Stiggy Went to Market

So the Internet and newspaper world is abuzz that Michael Schumacher was unveiled as the Stig on the opening episode of Top Gear's Season 13.
He's not the Stig. For various reasons, and as qualified by certain news reports -- especially if the writer actually watched the whole episode, not just heard about it from someone who had seen a snippet of the show.

This is part of my current disgust with the world of citizen journalism -- exactly this: quoting without context. This is a long diatribe, so in short: Where impressionable people read someone's self-aggrandizement "column" -- which has for starters been written without regard to basic rules of reporting (my rules are: get it right, get both sides of the story, be unbiased) -- believe what they read and then, to make things worse, perpetuate the repetition of certain bits over the Net. Bits that probably have no base.
A misquote.

Despite politicians' overuse of the word, misquoting people is one of the things completely detrimental to the faith of journalism, but is the easiest for a reporter to do, either deliberately or otherwise. And we make as if it's not a big deal anymore. It's just like using scripture only for your purposes, quote one line and leave the context out -- it validates your point but could be completely off base from your religion. Ah well, I guess I see where the nonchalance is coming from, else The Bard wouldn't have written "The devil can quote scripture for his purpose". I really despair at how people will believe the first thing they hear. How stupid can humanity get?

Okay, I'll save the diatribe for later. Anyway, here's cutie-pie Schumi Bear. Wish I had a Stiggy Bear! A note to Top Gear, then -- moneymaker!! Stiggy Bear, white racing suit and all.

Here are some good reports on the Stig/Schumi issue, from The Telegraph, The Times (coincidentally also the papers James May and Jeremy Clarkson write for, respectively). And just go and watch the show, especially that last bit. I have.

As for my own conclusions: It's a Top Gear stunt, maybe because Stig's identity was already revealed earlier and they didn't want to kill him off, like they did Black Stig. Hey, come on, white Stig is really smart-looking and is mayhaps even more telegenic than his predecessor. Besides, if they kill him off, they can't really bring back Black Stig, and then, what? Pink Stig? Red Stig? Chartreuse? He'll be harder to match with the cars they're testing.
Besides, Schumi's body language was nothing like the Stig's. And, even I was silly enough to earlier believe that it's all one man inside the suit. I mean, where is it easiest to hide? Behind a mask.
Evey: Who are you?
V: Who? Who is but the form following the function of what, and what I am is a man in a mask.
Evey: Well, I can see that.
V: Of course you can. I'm not questioning your powers of observation, I'm merely remarking upon the paradox of asking a masked man who he is.
V for Vendetta

So, live on Stiggy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Channelling French Chic

From black cat to a feline of a different nature, I'm trying to channel the classy dame that is Carla Bruni. Well, not the pose-naked-and-show-the-world side of her, but the one with what people say is a Parisian's natural flair for flinging on some "simple old thing" and still looking tres chic.

Aside from the megabucks brands the French First Lady wears, it also takes a good sense of style to pass as a successful first lady, something I'm not convinced Michelle Obama has much of. The US First Lady is more hit-or-miss, plus look at the way she's sitting, at an official function, at that! Even I know that ladies and princesses don't cross their legs while sitting in public. (This is something I'm trying to channel too, but urggh it's so hard not to fidget.)

I have to get a fashion consultant! Anyone up for the job? Shopping is easy, but creating a style that looks good while also being suitable for your figure is very hard.
Also, in Paulo Coelho's book of short stories, his discourse on elegance elevates it beyond a mere affectation to something that enriches the soul. I agree, but we don't happen to come across examples of elegance too easily. (Although, there are some women in my office who are extremely well-put-together on an everyday basis and whom I try to surreptitiously eye.)
When I was in London, I tried to keep a lookout for those fabled fashionable London girls, but it was so cold that everyone was wearing huge coats. However, I did fall in love with this one girl's bright red trench coat in Edinburgh. Can I get away with wearing a trench in Kuala Lumpur, I wonder?

Friday, June 12, 2009

What Kitty Did

When is a cat not just a cat? No, this is not a Sphinx-like riddle. The answer is pretty common nowadays, with the proliferation of Internet-based social networking sites. Cat websites? Pah, old news and litter box liner. Doggy blogs? Been there, sniffed that.
But a cat is not just a cat when it tweets on twitter with a stream of consciousness that is humorous. Not the boring "meow, meow, feed me" but comments that go to the root of a cat's character.

Having been described as a 21st century Garfield, Sockington's owner is a really funny dude, because he can take what we accept as normal cat behaviour and make it seem like the cat's consciously doing them.

Some stories about Sockington are here, a video here, and a radio interview here.

Cool. And I think those people who diss him are just jealous. It's humour, people! If it doesn't hurt anyone, people should let others be. It also lets people like me live vicariously through another cat owner without needing to have cat hair all over the place.

Of course, I haven't actually looked at tweets by other animals, but I might if they are as funny as Sockington's.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Goosebumps: Final Destination revisited?

Look at this news item and tell me that you're not a little bit spooked: "Woman who missed Flight 447 is killed in car crash", relating to the Air France flight that disappeared over the Atlantic. The woman, who was a tourist to Brazil, had missed the flight out of Rio de Janeiro on May 31 and got a later one. She was killed in a car crash in Austria. Read the story here.
Coincidence, for sure, but also spooky, as most coincidences are.

Oh yeah NOTE: Her husband was with her both times, and he survived the car crash, though injured. That was not played up by the report. I guess he's super duper lucky... or...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Life in Shades of Brown

The sky is more azure, the sea a deeper hue of blues. The pink bougainvillae shines a bright fuchsia. The sun sets in vibrant reds and oranges.
You don't need rose-tinted glasses; brown will do for a vibrant focus of God's colour palette.
The new shades I bought myself for my birthday were great, and the wraparound offered uninterrupted vistas of Tioman Island, where I went to celebrate. It was all good for five seconds, until I dropped them on the floor. And then twice more. I now have "slightly interrupted" vistas due to the scratches. Sigh.

Monday, May 25, 2009

What I Did On My Holidays

Since it takes me forever to update my blog with funny, insouciant takes on life, including such things as my recent UK holiday, here's a quick recap of how things went.

May 3, Sunday: Take off at 5pm in Malaysia, arrive at 11.55pm local time, Stansted Airport. Having not been to many really busy airports in the past oh, seven years, I'd forgotten how crap waiting can be. Rush out of the plane, only to have to wait for the rail shuttle to the main terminal. A small two-carriage shuttle means a long wait for the packed commuters on our AirAsia X flight not to mention other planes arriving at around the same time. Another wait to clear Immigration – look at the lines for UK passengers! And a snaking queue for non-UK and non-Euro visitors, luckily I was a ways way up front. Hi there, I'm here for a holiday, not to overstay, yes here's my ticket home, thank you! Bag's waiting for me on the carousel, cool, and I exit to find Carl (right) waiting for me. Easy enough to spot him, he's not changed at all in 11 years, and he says neither have I.
Exit airport into the cold – 7 degrees Celsius it says: a warm welcome by the British weather – and Carl faffs about a bit looking for his car. I guess he could do with a pedestrian satnav. We find his Aston, get in and the car satnav says getting to his house will take one and a half hours, which doesn't take into account some diverted roads, a few U-turns and a stop at a kebab shop because the little one is a bit peckish. We get to his house on Abbey Road near 3am, he gives me a little tour of the place, we polish off the kebabs, decide who gets which bed (I take the guest bed in the second-bedroom-cum-dining room) and go to sleep.

May 4, Bank Holiday Monday: Despite not sleeping on the plane in the 13-hour flight, I'm up by 6am. Go back to sleep, up again at 7, then again at 8ish and 9ish. Go bug Carl by jumping on his bed, but he wants to sleep some more, so I make myself some breakfast by toasting crumpets in the oven and smoking out his kitchen. Tea and telly, then a shower and some Internet surfing until Carl feels ready enough to face me and the world. Luckily he doesn't have to work, so we go out walking in London, even though it’s a bit cold and rainy.
Tube to Bond Street, then hours and hours of walking, stopping for pictures, food, coffee and hot chocolate (and ice cream) in a meandering route – past the shopping areas, Carnaby Street, Soho, Chinatown, Piccadilly Circus, (he points out Trafalgar Square but we give it a miss as I’ve been there, and there are no more pigeons to feed) the Mall, St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace (above), Westminster Abbey and South Bank. Take pictures of the London Eye but don’t bother to go up, cuz it takes forever, walk along South Bank where there are many unemployed people playing at being statues and artists trying to make a living, have a cotton candy, end up at the Tate Modern, where we had tea but no cultural revelations as the place was closing.
Cross the river and walk aimlessly some more, decide not to try to go back to his place before the start of the evening’s Jack the Ripper Walk, so sit in a coffee shop (more hot chocolate for me and a choc au pain) and then walk to Tower of London, which is closed, for the start of the London Walking tour outside the nearby Tube station at 7.30pm. Walk hosted by Donald Rumbelow takes us from the original City of London to the East End, ending at Spitalfields (formerly a hospital, then a market, now a high-end market-y place). Little Devil sees a Routemaster, has to clamber onto Routemaster (of course) then we go home, discover I’ve had my pocket picked (crummy!), Carl goes out for a bit and brings home fish and chips for supper.

May 5, Tuesday: Carl has to go out of London for work, so I have to entertain myself. Meet up with my friend Az’s youngest sister Azyan Syahira, who’s studying at LSE. Meet at Baker Street Station, she’s worried that she won’t recognise me, but it’s okay, I recognise her as she’s also friends with my youngest brother Emirin and I had seen a picture of them with some other friends on holiday in Austria. Deliver her goods (Maggi mee and three-in-one Milo) and have brunch. She has revision class as she’s taking her final exams, so I’m off after a chat.
End up on the shopping street again – Selfridge’s! My calling! – but I’m too skint to buy anything. Wipe up drool and head out again, go to cheap store Primark but don’t find anything I fancy, end up with a hot chocolate and decide to go to Notting Hill to look for the house with the blue door in the movie or the famed Portobello Road Market.
Wander around – I’m not lost, the market is that way, or is it this way? – until my feet ache and find the road nonetheless. Not that many sellers on a week day, but it’s okay. Look in the window of some shops, then end up at a shop selling Malaysian food – samosa and karipap, but the teh tarik is a bit sweet. End up buying shoes.
Then it’s back to Piccadilly Circus to have a bit of cultural adventure… what shall I watch in my first theatre experience? Too many to choose from, gah! So I go for the safe Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Such a cool performance, from the stage-set point of view. I’ve only been to one theatre performance in Malaysia, at the Istana Budaya, and I’m afraid we still have a long way to go. It ends near 10pm and walking out of the theatre, into the crowd of other theatre-goers, gives me a weird feeling of culturalness. Tsk tsk. Cheap thrills. Back to Carl’s place to pack for my journey to Bristol to see cousin Rozi.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Going to X-tremes

The Little Devil is going to the XTerra off-road triathlon in Kuantan this June. To watch, of course. But, who knows, I might be next in line to join up!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Passing: "Apai Star"

Just to remark on the death of Star newsman Rapaee Kawi, known to the world press as Apai Star. Known to me as Apai, too, though we had only met twice – at the Kapit rafting assignment in April of 2008 and the Miri Jazz Festival a month later. Here is a picture of Apai (rightmost) in Kapit with me and Johnson Yong, a reporter based in Sibu.
No details so far on what exactly happened, just one posting found here.
Sad day. Sad day indeed.

: Read some more words about this very nice man: Goodbye to The Star's Veteran adventurer and in the Samosaurus Chronicles here which also has a nice picture of Apai as a young paratrooper.
Apparently, Apai died while having his blood pressure checked, after complaining about feeling unwell.

More notes on a good man found on the Internet, and hopefully they offer a balm to Apai's grieving family.

I did not know him too well, having only met Apai twice. But, honestly, I thought he was nice. Yes, he talked a lot, as mentioned on the Net by one his friends, and as mentioned by a few people after I first met him in Kapit. In the picture above, Sarawak Tourism Board's Gustino has an early story-telling session with Apai at the hotel before we set out.
And Apai had the tendency to tell the same story over and over no matter how many times he had told it... to the same person. But I never got the impression – and this was important to me – that he was ever mean-spirited. And you know what, never had he mentioned what would have been the crowning glory of his career – the Everest assignment – unlike some people who would have sneaked that fact into a conversation five minutes into meeting someone new.

And, above all, what struck me about Apai was that he seemed to love his job. Yes, he was complaining a bit about doing two jobs while being paid for one, as he was doing both still photography (and writing) and videography for his employers. Nevertheless, he was still toting both still and video cameras around, and wanting to do a good job. The Kapit assignment where we met was not his first raft race (I was a captive audience for stories about his past assignments in the six-hour boat ride to the longhouse), but he still did it when others without that drive for news would have passed. And for a jaded newsman going on the same assignment he had been on before? "Been there, done that, wake me if something interesting happens" would most likely be the mantra – certainly not as seen in the above picture of a hatted Apai in probably his most usual pose: With a camera to his face.

I suspect he loved news gathering, and would have loved being defined by his dedication to it and being remembered fondly for it. It's something we can all aspire to.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sinusitis in Spring: We Need Plasticine Flowers

As hay fever or allergic rhinitis is associated with runny noses, sneezing and itchy nose or eyes, I think I was suffering from sinusitis, though I have no idea what prompted the flareup (could be a virus). The swelling (it's the swelling of the sinus membranes, apparently) later moved to the bridge of my nose and the pain sort of ebbed and flowed. It was worse on the plane back to Malaysia, maybe because the air was dry or the infection was getting worse. As soon as I got off the plane, the pain lessened, and after taking one antihistamine pill, the swelling is all gone. Yes, there is much to be said about going to a proper doctor for antibiotics, but from my last experience and some Internet reading, doctors can't really tell what causes such infections anyway. Might as well self-medicate.

Apparently sinusitis can be caused by other things and not stuff floating around in the Spring air, but hay fever is definitely caused by Spring. Anyway, this brings us neatly to the plasticine garden mooted and created by Top Gear's James May (helped by many, many others) which opened at the Chelsea Flower Show today. It didn't win any gold medals (apart from a gold one made of plasticine, which I'm not sure was ironic or a thumb to the nose to his idea). Nonetheless, it's pretty cute (it's part of another TV show on toys), and obviously the Royal Horticultural Society thought their gardens needed a bit of stirring when they approved his idea. Of course, that hasn't stopped people sniffing in disdain (and not due to hay fever) as the garden has no live plants.

Anyway, I wish I were still in the UK, as then I could go and see him (refer to past infatuated post James May, the lovey). I had intended to be in London and stalk him for a bit (or even Fusker, for that matter), but I ended up going shopping instead. The closest I got to stalking him was taking the tube on the Hammersmith line. Ah well, maybe next time.

Read some of the stories on the plasticine garden here:
Award; Gaining interest; Picture gallery; and of course, the links to car matters: his appeal for help using plasticine and the resulting plasticine Porsches (some are so cute, too).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's Spring in the UK: My Nose Says So

There have been some lovely sunshiny days here in the UK and flowers are in bloom. Aside from the obvious spectacle of colourful darling buds of May in well-designed flower beds and even sprouting from cracks in walls, I think the other hint that Spring is in the air is the fact that my sinuses are acting up.
I didn't realise this was happening earlier in the holiday as I gingerly touched the bridge of my nose and wondered what sized pimple could be causing this amount of pain. I didn't immediately think of sinuses or hay fever as I had no symptoms of sniffles, blocked nostrils or throbbing pain in any of the sinus regions. Just a slightly swollen nose, which was not even that obvious.

After a few days and no sign of a mega volcano pimple, I remembered that I had suffered a sinus blowup once before. That incident was – I think – accompanied by some other pain, which took me to the doctor. Thing is, I don't remember when this incident happened or what the weather conditions were like at the time (part of the adventures of a nomadic lifestyle, but that's another story), so I can't say with any authority that I am allergic to pollen. Just a bit funny that my sinuses are acting up at this time, unless I am allergic to the cold weather.
My family has intimate knowledge of hay fever, with the silence of the day punctuated by the (really) loud sneeze of a nose irritated by dust or changes in temperature. However, I had never noticed sensitivity to flowers on my part. Malaysia has no particular Spring season during which ad houses work overtime to attract allergy sufferers to their clients' products. In areas with four seasons, the time of frenetic bee activity and technicolour landscapes can be a complete misery to some.

I suppose the problem is so big that a kiddie story book on fairies my cousin Rozi bought for her daughter Aiesya even mentions one fairy school student who wants to be a flower fairy but can't because she suffers hay fever. (Happy ending though as the book's main character gives her fairy friend a hanky with a magic powder that clears up the hayfever. I wasn't reading the book... really. I was just looking at the pictures.)
Though there is no cure for hay fever, there are many suggested ways to reduce the symptoms, and I guess any kind of help is a godsend to people who dread the coming of Spring. Anyway, I didn't really give my nose much thought as the holiday proceeded as it wasn't bothering me that much, apart from hurting if I accidentally touched it. It wasn't even bad enough to seek medical treatment so I just enjoyed the wonderful colours of the English and Scottish countryside we drove through and sometimes stopped at to take pictures.

The pictures are: London's St James's Park (first four shots) where Carl and I walked through from The Mall to Buckingham Palace on our foot tour. Quite a nice park, though we did not really linger due it being a wet-ish, cold day and the fact that the little river/pond thing is being dredged or cleaned so there was not a lot of water for the ducks and other fowl to play in. Cute squirrels, though, one of which was just about friendly enough to come looking for food from an outstretched hand.

The two pictures below that are from the Pavilion Garden in Buxton, which is part of the Peak District (mostly of hills and caves, and where the Exeter Climbing Club went for a weekend of merriment and rock climbing all those years ago).

These last pictures are of the grounds at Haddon Hall, a manor house in Derbyshire dating back to the 12th century (with additions over the years). Cool place to go and have a look at what life could have been like in those and Tudor times (with a documentary shown inside). The award-winning garden features tulips in various (and unexpected) colours and a romantic rose plant growing up to a window which reminded me of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (it just does, even though the story has no mention of roses). There are also many wildflower meadows (left alone aside from some needing to be furrowed to loosen up the earth), which gave Carl the idea that he needn't bother to tend to the garden at his house in Portsmouth, and just label it a wildflower meadow.

Cool, I'd do that too, in Malaysia, and call it a lalang (weed) meadow.

And though I have no pictures of daffodils, I'll include here Wordsworth's poem, I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud, because of the cheerful imagery of a fieldful of yellow flowers.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazedand gazedbut little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.