Sun sea sand

Sun sea sand

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.