Friday, April 30, 2010

Changes.... by Jim Butcher

8 books for the month of April!
  1. The Politician (Andrew Young)
  2. Sweet Land Stories (E.L. Doctorow)
  3. Nights In Rodanthe (Nicholas Sparks)
  4. The Veiled Kingdom (Carmen bin Laden)
  5. The River Kings' Road (Liane Merciel)
  6. Alex Cross' Trial (James Patterson)
  7. House Rules (Jodi Picoult)
  8. Changes (James Butcher)
Yoooooohooo!!! Finished my 8th book for the month yesterday. Didn't know this latest one is part of a serial (Dresden files) about the main character, Harry Dresden. I picked it cos it's on the NY Times Best Seller list.

This is another epic fantasy in a modern setting. A fiction where vampires and wizards can be killed by bullets but magic and spells seem the preferred choice in action. It's a story about faerie godmothers with magical powers, knights, retired angels, archangels.... the writer weaves everything imaginable into this book. Very subtle with many twists.

This latest sequel starts with Harry being told by his former love (now half vampire) that he has a child (Maggie). Maggie was kidnapped by the King of the Red Court to be sacrificed in a ritual; a blood curse that will kill all those related to Maggie. That of course meant, Harry would die too. The quest for Maggie was fraught with battles of the supernatural. The story is full of action.... you don't get bored cos something would turned up just as you think things are slowing down.

But a few things I noted... despite having a super duper faerie godmother, Harry realized that brains still play the more important role. There're quite a few other insights which I thought were quite nice but just cannot seem to put them into my own words here.

Personally I'd have reservations about letting my younger kids read this. Too many 'mixes' in the novel; compromise between good and evil, too much gray.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Another Cuti Lembaga....

Today is another Cuti Lembaga.... a day off for my school when other schools were still on. 8) I spent a short time at the gym and did some errands in the morning. Then I went home and slept. Am tired out by the activities of the week and also trying to pull Son away from the computer; his digital world. Trying to pull a kid (he says he's an adult) at that stage from a computer is energy sapping.... 8( The day's highlight was probably this... taking my girl for her swim at the Club. Had a nice time with friend by the pool catching up and watching everyone else. 8)

Been only to school one day this week. Was away for meetings and debate competition. And I missed my school's Speech Day too. 8) A break away from school is always nice... though there might be some overzealous bosses who will go to great lengths to make us feel bad...

It's nice to meet up with teachers from other schools; teachers who share familiarity of sorts. English teachers are usually very noisy (and loud). In a group, sometimes it be quite hillarious! Come to think of it, when I was in uni, the Lit people were usually the loudest at the Dataran where we hung out in between classes.

It's at such times that we compare notes... school stories and tales of 'bitches' and 'witches' which sometimes will leave you in stitches. But it helps us de-stress a bit. So what did I learn? Most schools are on a 'uniform' frenzy.... tis the time of the year when Speech Days are on. Schools are trying to look uniformed! And all kinds of amounts have to be forked out by the teachers... the highest I heard was RM350!!! That in spite and despite the fact that there is nothing in our General Order that says we have to wear uniforms. We are in the crazy business of 'monkey see, monkey do'. Then there are also tales of horrors. There are bosses who feel they own their teachers' lives. Teachers must do their bidding or life becomes miserable at school... that's supposed to strike fear in us! Over the years, I personally feel that the bosses' professionalism are on the downhill...

And I realized this too... I notice that where I am, there seems very few (or perhaps none) HMs who are English optionist even though there are more HMs with Social Sciences background. Guess the Science people are too 'kayu' to make a successful climb up. No oratory skills to help them kelentong. And also maybe one reason also why schools are getting so many frills every where now... the feminization and 'artistic' bent. I think there is a difference.....

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pulut Udang

... or coconut shrimp rolled in glutinous rice, grilled, wrapped in banana leaf. Guess how much the bag below cost?
Pulut Udang
There are 10 pulut udang(s) inside. RM3.00! Lelong price! I think usually it's priced at 40 sen. This is Alor Setar, city with kampung prices for the kuih(s); where you still pay 30-40 sen for a pulut udang and one of the reason I think it's a good place to live. These were bought Jln Sultanah Sambungan, near the traffic lights just before the furniture shop, Classy Glory. Further down the same road is TESCO Alor Setar.
Kuih,Kuih,Alor Setar,Alor Setar
If you want to have a bite of local kuih and desserts in the afternoon, head for Pak Leman's kuih truck, now found at Jln Sultanah; right outside Sanusi Junid's house, quite empty from the looks of it... the house, I mean.

This was the original site from where he operated until Sanusi became MB. Then for security reasons, he was asked to move. So to Jln Tun Razak he went, just a short distance away from the Fire Station. That was until last year. This pakcik who has a valid hawker's license was asked to vacate his Jln Tun Razak location because the other traders who had set up stalls there left their rubbish behind. He's law abiding, and he still kena.

People complained and the MBAS came and chased them away. I feel sorry for this pakcik. He has a stern face but if you get to know him, he's actually quite a nice man. His kuih(s) are good and cheap! My boy likes his curry puffs and cucur udang. My favourite is the tepung talam, one of the nicer ones around.

Anyway, this Alor Setar where kuih(s) still come cheap!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

1Malaysia and Parliamentary Debate

It's debate season now. One of the requirements for any team to take part in a Parliamentary Debate is one of the 3 main speakers on each team must be a Bumiputera. BTW, Parliamentary Debate is for upper secondary school students. It's a souped up version of the old style debate with more oomph and kick. And it's good exercise for the gray matters too! 8)

And last I checked, our PM was still with his 1Malaysia thingy... So where is this 1Malaysia in a competition like this? Is he so far ahead that the rest of the gahmen institutions have yet to digest his call?

And there'll be lots of yadda, yadda, yadda...must give chance-lah, Malays not good in English-lah; plenty of reasons will continue to roll as to why special clauses are needed. I should think that the standard of English among the majority of students regardless of race is roughly the same now. Thanks to our short sightedness and the always-seems-to-be-under-siege gahmen... who always seem to feel the National Language is in danger of losing its importance! It shouldn't matter whether you have all non-Bumis or all Bumis in one debating team. Cos sometimes you also do get an all-Bumi team which can be quite mengancam.

So, 1Malaysia.... it's just one laughable PR exercise for the gullible. A lot of things are still in the 2 or 3Malaysia mode. Once you see real effort in dismantling the race-based-everything under our blue Malaysian sky, only then the PR exercise becomes for real. Anyway, what's all this protection going to do for the protected ones as the world becomes smaller? Sure they'll seem successful on the outside (or as long favours and privileges continue to swing towards them) but a couple of traits will become their baggage. For one, they will not be able to 'jiak-kor' (that's Hokkien for standing up to tough times). They miss out on the adage tough times don't last, tough people do thingy. Or tough times come, they go running to the Atuk! Just like my kid who comes running to us to solve his problems cos we shield him too much. Two, they won't be competent enough to compete... I could yadda, yadda some more but this is an old tale, 30 years old this year.

But the main thing is it's just not right! Fairness, Justice, Righteouness, Ethics... all the good moral values that we keep teaching our kids via religious classes and moral studies seem kinda twisted in our environment. It's like this Parliamentary Debate thing... each team is forced to have a Bumi speaker... I wonder if it's the other way around... do they also make it compulsory to have a non-Bumi speaker for debates in Bahasa Malaysia? I thought the PM's been hyping about 1Malaysia? Best to just do away with all this nonsense and start teaching our kids to go by meritocracy....

We are teaching our kids that we go by majority (that's cool)... but ours is the skewed type of majority, the bully-type of majority... in Hokkien, we say 'pau-yar' (sure-win). So, if every time we pray, we beseech to God Almighty who is supposed to be fair and just, merciful, etc, etc... and then in practice we get the impression that it's 1Fairness (justice) but 2 standards that we experience. Hmmmm, God of 2 standards??? You wonder. You see, almost everyday I'd listen in to some prayers... we are a very religious nation.... and somehow, after some time I begin to question the sincerity of their faith.... Well all this Parliamentary Debate thingy sort of just opened up this floodgates of thoughts....

BTW, this year is another new experience... I helped and 'kay-poh' with a friend's students. This time it's Keat Hwa. Over the years, I've lent my gray cells to my friends' kids who seemed to think that nestled among the crevices of my gray cells are goodies they can use.... So this year, it was for a friend's students. I enjoyed working with them; it was fun to see their enthusiasm. It was actually quite gratifying to see light bulbs going on in their eyes as they picked up steam in the prep process... that's what such activities are supposed to do for them. And it was extremely nice to see the two girls I was coaching scale up that steep learning curve with such determination and one of them did real good too.

This is the other side of education which I enjoy tremendously... the mugging part is over-rated; with its results being very hardworking and tenacious (the good thing) and rigid and self-centred (the not good thing). The prodding of the mind to be more critical in a constructive way, the challenge to understand the world around us (not just the little coconut we're in)... I think those are things which should hold equal importance to us.... and parliamentary debate is a small step towards the creation of that awareness. After all our world now is a world of adjectives... creative, sharper minds. Information?? It's very senang to get. It's such adjectives like critical, discerning, forward-looking, creative, that will separate the boys from the men, girls from the women! And our education system is not working much on those adjectives.... cos it feels like we're still at the noun stage...

Monday, April 26, 2010

House Rules... by Jodi Picoult

No 17. And I am extending my target to 25 from 20 this year.

Another repeat author. The other book by the same author I read was Keeping Faith. This is a mystery novel with an Asperger's Syndromme twist, and that's what kept me glued. The plot of the novel is actually quite thin with an ending that is quite an anti-climax. The mystery was solved way before you get to the end. But the Asperger's description was very educational.

The character of Jacob, the just turned 18 character with Asperger's Syndromme was the reason for my continued interest. It's well researched though he seems to display many of its traits to extremities. But then again, if it's not the book would not have the drama intended.

In a nutshell, Emma (his mom) is a single mom who takes care of him and bro, Theo who is 3 years younger and normal. Father bolted after his diagnosis. Why is it that in the novels, men are the ones who usually bolt and the women the ones who seem to be the one sacrificing? Then the 'murder' of Jess Ogilvy, his tutor for social skills and the courtroom drama that follows.

I minored in Special Education for my Diploma in Education, because I was inspired by Kamal, a blind post-grad student whom I used to read to and bring around to do his research during my undergrad days. So in my Dip Ed, all my non-compulsory slots were taken up by Special Ed papers... from both end of the spectrum; from gifted to special needs. It meant a heavier work load but I signed up anyway cos I had a friend who did the same..... peer 'pressure'. LOL! But it was a very good experience. My world got a little bigger and in the process I became a little smaller.

From there my lecturers exposed us to the various special needs children... kinda explains why I like the book. Back in those days, Asperger's Syndromme was non existence. Autism was. I remember visiting a centre for such special needs kids and somehow, this image of a teenage boy sitting under the table and rocking himself non-stop the whole time I was there got stuck in my mind. Even now, that's the thing I remember first of that particular visit. He was autistic. Even then, we learned autistic people experience sensory overload.... bright colours, loud noises affect them in a way that overwhelms them. My coursemate who did a case study (we had to do a case study each) on autism told of tales of really cute children who seemed so adorable yet distant... physically there but not really there!

Asperger's Syndromme is actually a diagnosis for high functioning autism. And some are brilliant. When Rain Man hit the cinemas, the term used for brilliant autistic people was idiot savant... they are brilliant in a field but a total 'social failure' in our world. And more boys are afflicted with this than girls... Asperger's on the other end of the spectrum and within it exists another spectrum.

But I think they are many Aspies among us, the high functioning ones who can fit into the society but with some awkwardness. Silicon Valley probably has more Aspies... diagnosed and undiagnosed than other places. Their brilliance... you've got to have certain traits to be a geek...

I find the many descriptions very familiar sometimes too.... of Jacob lining up his toy cars in straight lines on the floor, of him taking things literally... in one scene, the lawyer asked him what he understood by waiving his rights... he took up his hand and started waving it like a metronome... literal understanding. Yet when asked about rights he could recite word for word... how many of us have kids who exhibit some of these behaviours. There are kids who don't seem able to pick up the subtleties in a situation. There are also kids who just cannot seem to comprehend that... no matter how many ways you try to put it to them. I think for me as a parent and teacher, to be able to indentify kids with such traits might go some way in dealing with them.

As for my case study for my Special Ed, I opted for a spastic girl. She also was afflicted with hydrocephaly, a condition where the fluids build up in the brain area and compresses it. It was quite an experience for me to listen to her pump kicked in to drain the fluids from her brain to her stomach. The whirring sound from her ear was very unsettling the first time. I spent many hours with her both at the Centre and home. I continued going to see her even after I was done with my report. I've one thing to say about those teachers who work at such centres, it takes a lot of compassion and love. You've got to love the kids and have loads and loads of patience.

My case study was 7 then. Sharinna was her name and I still think of her sometimes, wondering whether she is still around. Kids with her condition are not expected to live long. Too many things can go wrong. I never did go into special ed.... didn't think I could do it cos it was just too heartbreaking often times.... House Rules, it's an educational read but do it with some pinches of salt. 8)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

PLKN Revisited...

Went to visit Son again over the weekend, even though he is due for his semester break tomorrow...

For parents who worry for their children attending PLKN, it's actually not bad-lah. Consider this... for the first time in years my son's BMI has fallen within the normal range. He says one of his friends put on over 10 kilos! Actually, I can't ever remember him being ever in the normal range, being a picky eater and all that. Now he tells us he is hungry all the time. Not that they don't eat enough. They are fed 6 times a day! All the outdoor activities seem to have done him good. He's tanned and actually looks so much better.

And for the first time too he observes that the 'abnormal' people at camp just don't seem to understand the need to be obedient, even after repeated 'punishments'. As a result they've had many of their privileges removed. Theirs was one of the few camps where handphones were allowed. But that went after the 2nd week cos some of them couldn't stop texting even during lectures! And that repeated offences have increased their marching frequencies from 2 to 6 times daily! LOL! We told him, we too had to put up with his 'abnormality' that he observed among his PLKN mates. Nothing like real life experience as the teacher.

He reads his BM papers now, he says cos there is nothing else much for him to do. He has reread the 2 novels he brought with him thrice! That's super cool! Cool not because BM papers provide balanced news... Cool is because he is doing it because he sees that he needs to.... plus the fact that there is nothing else to do. I think our papers like Berita Harian and Utusan suck at news reporting.... kinda speaks volume the kind of journalists they have. One must have a little bit of time sometimes to force one into doing some reflection.... 8)

And frankly speaking, it was actually nice to be able to sit down with him for a whole hour and have a real conversation about his future.... that would not have been possible at home with the computers taking up his attention as well as time..... Oh yes! He plays football there too... All the staying at home, with the computer there ever to distract, a kid actually narrows his world to that realm of the digital world that eats them up...

So, yes! PLKN does have its pros... it helps to bring their little feet a little closer to earth. The cons still need some addressing that's for sure. But there is good that one cannot deny too.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Latihan Dalam Perkhidmatan

Can't remember when this was implemented but it's within the last 2-3 years. In an effort to maintain our professionalism and also keep us up-to-date, every teacher has to go for 7 days of courses... well, that's for the first year. In order to ensure that everyone could meet that 7 day target, schools had to conduct in-house training. It was a problem for many schools cos to do that we need people to conduct. But there was no problem of allocations...

By the second year, they made some amendments. Meetings were counted too as part of the 7-day thing. Still, some people found it hard to meet the 7 day requirement. And the gahmen was in the midst of another economic crunch.... but allocations were still rolling in...

This year, they changed the 7 day course/meeting thing to reviews for 7 books! Obviously the allocations have run dry! We hear of allocation trimming every where. Anyway, we've been told that the 7 books must be 'academic' or professional books. LOL! I can already forsee many loopholes. With the internet, there is actually no need to read. Just google reviews of the academic books 'you want to review' and you can cedok here and there and cook up your own. 7 synopsis shouldn't be too difficult. 8)

Anyway, perhaps the gahmen should consider making sure teachers remain competent by having a licensing or competency board, every few years go for some assesment or produce something that is quantifiable. Maybe that might do a thing or two to weed out the incompetent teachers or keep them on their toes...

And there is also nothing to prevent those who are more 'industrious' to do some business on the sideline. Compile book reviews in 7s and sell them! Nobody's going to know who did it! Or do exchange with friends from other schools.

We're trying to encourage people to read... and failing quite miserably at it. Teachers are to encourage students to read; but teachers themselves don't read save for the newspapers. Some teachers don't even read the papers! Plagiarism, anyone? LOL!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Alex Cross' Trial.... by James Patterson

Book 16 and 6th book for April! Also, it's the first repeat of an author since I started this reading frenzy of mine. I, Alex Cross by the same author. This one is interesting, a mix of history to give it a real feel plus it's light reading. Light reading means I finish the book in 2-3 days.

Setting is America of the early 20th century, in a little town called Eudora (remember Eudora Mail the e-mail software?), Mississippi. Mississippi is one of the Confederate states during the American Civil War. Even though the Civil War had ended eons by then, the blacks were still not treated equal with the whites. It was an era of Ku Klux Klan... I haven't read about the KKK for upteen years. Last I read about it was during my Encyclopedia Britannica reading frenzy teenage years! Used to devour pages and pages of the set that Dad got for us. Guess that set sort of sealed my love for reading stuff other than novels.

Anyway, Alex Cross' Trial is a tale of America divided.... whites on the privileged side, blacks on the other. Apartheid in practice but not from the law standpoint. Of whites looking good on the outside but bigotry, prejudices, reside deep within. Politicians, the regular town doc, dentist, pharmacist, grocer, inn keeper..... under all the nice nice exterior, many were bigots and racists. They subscribed to this racial supremacy thingy...

If one were to draw comparison to our present, here in Malaysia, you might still find yourself looking at the same of a lesser intensity.... we are supposed to be more civilized now....

Politicians, your regular everyone who fills up what we call our society, the same feelings run deep. Take a look at the civil service... where are the 'colored' people in high positions? Minus the horrific lynchings in the novel, we have the cow head incident, the torching of the churches, the claim on Allah (as in the use of it), the keris wielding incident, incitement of racial suspicion by our racist leaders... they too point towards the same bigotry, intolerance, greed, fear.....

Who says books don't have lessons for us all? This is not a book review per say but just a rambling of the connection I made... past and present. History does repeat itself... same manifestation, different era. Man is rather consistent, don't you think?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tennis...

Tennis was my last hols' project.... But the lack of 'kaki' as well as a tight schedule has put the game on shelf since CNY. Add that to the more than unusually hot weather of the last 2 months, I found myself moving into the gym more, apart from the occasional squash which I still play... sheltered from the elements! 8)
Royal Kedah Club
But then my 'coach' called me up yesterday and asked whether I was still game to play.

I said yes! 8) Beggars can't be choosers! And for every extra coaching that I get, I count it a bonus! Originally there were 7-8 of us. And 8 lessons were slated for us by Sydney. But he continued to make sure we didn't lose interest beyond the 8 lessons. But even before the 8 lessons were up, there were only 4, and soon the number dwindled to 3. Yesterday, it was only me. But I got a really good workout today... actually feel lenguh for a change. Have not felt this tired after a game for a long time. Better stamina means I don't get tired much these days... even my low BP problem has not plagued me for some time. And for the first time in my life, I actually can run a couple of hundred metres without feeling as though the air has been sucked out from my lungs. Never been much of runner even though I'm a games person.
Royal Kedah Club
The club tennis courts are undergoing renovations. 6 of the hard courts have been resurfaced. The one above will be an artificial grass court. It's not quite completed yet. Was told that each of those artificial turf cost 70K! But they are supposed to last around 15 years. That compared to the hard court which was only 17K. I am told that the grass court is very nice to play on... but I'll have to wait till I'm good enough to play on them.
Artificial Grass
Bales of artificial grass. These seems to be the leftovers.... but I wouldn't know. Anyway, I had almost an hour of tennis on a one to one basis. Been a while... and I enjoyed the workout. And Sydney tells me once the courts are laid, he'll try to arrange for me to fit into one of the groups.
Artificial Grass
Artificial grass on real grass. The former is more expensive than the latter. What did I learn today? For the people who do things out of love for something they believe in or like or even committed to, they make our days feel blessed. And as the Captain of the Tennis Section, I've to tabik Sydney for his commitment to make sure us minnows who show interest get the encouragement and his time..... For that, I am grateful, thankful.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Weekend @ the beach...Shangri-la's Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa

... spent the whole Saturday morning out, first by the beach and the later part under the big shady trees by the pool.
Photobucket
Went for a walk, actually it was more of chasing my lil girl on her horse! And yes! My gym sessions have paid dividend. I could actually keep up without panting like crazy! Twas a nice morning, beach was almost deserted saved for a few people here and there.
Rasa Sayang Resort Penang
I spent the rest of the morning lounging by the poolside with my Touch while my girl played in the water. She can swim quite well now and these days dare venture to the deep end, with supervision, of course. 8) Finished another book! Midway through the morning, met another fellow kampung mate by the pool, my adopted kampung that is.
Riding Horse
My girl on the horse. Surprisingly not much fear, this gal of mine! 8) She even managed a small gallop on the former racing horse. Other Half was not there when I put her on the horse... he might have had some reservations. 8) I gave up chasing them the second time around. 2 years ago, she rode a pony. This time the pony has grown into a real horse! 8)
Rasa Sayang Resort Penang
Rasa Sayang Resort is not too bad... nice pool area with big trees over it. One can swim there the whole day and not feel the sun beating down. Resort living, no wonder it's popular.
Rasa Sayang Resort Penang
One kinda gets shielded from what goes on around the world. It's easy to forget that the day before had been dubbed Ash Friday... European skies cleared of planes because of the volcanic ash spewed from Iceland. Or that the second wave of H1N1 is probably making its rounds, despite vehement denials from the DG of Health.... I just got my flu jab. The languages at the pool were garbled... many different tongues! Kids of many nationalities... kinda interesting!
Chador
I saw a couple walking by; the male was clad in bermuda shorts and short sleeve cotton T-shirt. His companion was dressed in a chador... kinda reminded me of the 2 books I read recently, Sold and The Veiled Kingdom. In this weather, the chador is suffocating! You can see her blue jeans peeking from under the chador/abaya/hijab. Apparently in Arab Saudi that might give reason enough for the muttawa (religious police) to flail one. The woman had to bear with the humidity while her male companion made adaptations as per weather.... They seemed to be a couple in love... But maybe that's enough for her....
Rasa Sayang Resort PenangRasa Sayang Resort Penang
Anyway this is one of the few hotels that we've been which actually provides free complimentary highspeed broadband in their rooms. Wi-fi is accessible everywhere. But then again, at the rates they charge, I guess it's already factored in! And oh ya! There was a complimentary fruit basket when we checked in. It's been so long since I experienced that, the last time being years ago at E & O. Back then, their fruit basket came with Belgium chocolates!

It's a nice enough weekend... but Daughter left her swimsuit behind. She cried torrents upon discovery. So we called the hotel. We'll be getting it back. 8) Nice weekend, great place, good service... 8)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The River Kings' Road.. by Liane Mercial

This is an epic fantasy... in a setting where knights and lords roamed, where lands were divided into fiefdoms and allegiance to the king based on might and wealth. Glory is through the battlefields. My first of this genre for a long time. You have Celestia vs Kliasta in the realm of immortals; and in the mortal world, Sir Kelland vs Severine and the rest of the mere mortals versus each other in the clash between good and evil. Good prevails of course in the end, but not without great losses.

One is kept glued as the epic unfolded on many fronts and finally merge at the end of the novel. In a nutshell, there are 2 brothers. The older one, Galefried is the favourite of the father. He has an infant son, Wistan. Galefried is portrayed as the leader without vision or brain. The younger Son, the treacherous Leferic is described as brainy with a vision. He hired the Maimed Witch (Severine) from Ang'arta (this is the evil kingdom) to kill his brother so that he can inherit his father's fiefdom, the Bull's March. A whole village, Willowfield (part of the kingdom of Oakharn) was decimated by the witch. Murder was via bloodmist, invoked by spells. But the blame on this murder fell on the Kingdom of Langmyr. Both kingdoms have never been able to exist peacefully for long. Somehow, Bryss (a mercernary knight of Galefried) survived and so did baby Wistan. From the village, Odosse, a common peasant baker girl survived too with her baby Aubry because she was away from the village. Brys and Odosse met and thus are forced together for survival.

The epic weaves treachery, loyalty, cruelty and goodness with the latter prevailing at the end but with too many loose ends. The bodies of Sir Kelland and Severine disappeared after their duel, leaving Bitharn heartbroken. Sir Kelland is a Blessed Knight, committed to his cause and is supposed to be celibate. Leferic sealed his inheritance of Oakharn after he declared Aubry as Wistan to seal his dead brother's liegemen's allegiance to him. His debts problems (inherited from his bro) are solved by his dead sis-in-law rich parents after they were informed of their (impostor) grandson's miraculous survival. Wistan had actually died because he was never quite well after making it through the bloodmist. There is plenty of room for a sequel as you can see... Bitharn's quest for Sir Kelland, the fate of Oakharn under Leferic, the future of Aubry (now Wistan, the heir to the Bull's March fiefdom), the peace between the kingdoms of Oakharn and Langmyr, the struggle between Kliasta and Celestia via the witches and blessed knights.... The novel is newly published. It will take some time to see whether readers catch on and get hooked... but with fantasies like this, I won't be surprised. Might even see a movie out of this. 8)

The Maimed Witch, Severine (kinda reminds me of Severus Snape from Harry Porter) is as cruel and horrific one can get where evil is concerned. The relationship between the Blessed Knight, Kelland and his companion Bitharn pulls at your heartstrings, the sacrifice one makes for a greater cause. Yet that very same thing caused him to falter in his duel with the Maimed Witch. It's an interesting read.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Daorae Korean BBQ Restaurant

We went to try something Korean but how authentically Korean I won't know. Anyway, this was unfamiliar territory. We were heading for Batu Ferringhi and our stomachs were growling as it was past our dinner time. Feeling more adventurous, we decided to stop by this Korean joint at Jalan Tanjung Tokong. Our Korean dining was limited to Seoul Garden (gone there with the kids as well as my volleyball kakis)... and there isn't much to that in the sense that a lot of their food is processed food.
Daorae Jln Tanjung Tokong
The tables were set on square holes. You can either sit cross legged or with your legs in the hole. I think this section is definitely for those people who still have young joints. There is another section for those people with cranky joints... with real tables and chairs. The snaky metallic things hanging over each table deliver air via suction over the 'bbq-pits' on the table. No sparks fly from the briquettes cos the air is sucked upwards. Quaint, huh?
Korean BBQ,Daorae
This is the bbq stove. Fire is from charcoal briquettes and the metallic tube made sure high heat was achieved pronto. I read somewhere that barbecuing implies machoness... after all, it's one of the earliest cooking method of the Neanderthal man! We were actually quite lost with the paraphernalia used. The metal chopsticks were so flat that I had difficulty hanging on to my food... goes to show how inept I am with them!
Daorae
Spoilt for choice. I've just learned the side dishes are called banchan, small dishes of food served with the main meal. Kimchi is one of the many banchan(s) that came together with the bbq order. We had these super big bean sprouts, apple salad, some pickled black beans, pickled radish and some sauces which I've no idea what they're called. From their barbecue menu, we called for Hanbang Dweji Wang Galbi (marinated pork) and Yang Nyum Yang Go Gi (mutton). The meats were nice, juicy and tender.
Korean popiah
And this is how you eat them... popiah style with the salad leaves as the wrap. The waiter showed us how to throw the stuff together. One of those you put into the wrap is raw garlic, and surprisingly it added a different sort of pleasant flavour to the wrap. The waiter was very helpful even though we didn't quite understand his instructions. What we had to do was to put a little of everything and rice and roll it up the best we could without them dropping out. Other Half simply loves the burst of taste (as he so describes) when you bite into them. LOL! It is quite nice actually and I've gotten some idea for dinner at home to try in future. Grill some meat and roll them in salad leaves...not bad! The natural stuff in the veg will not be destroyed by the heat.
Daorae
And the food just kept coming.. there were pajeon, a kind of Korean pancake, steamed eggs or gyeran jjim. I'm a sucker for steamed eggs and the one I had here had bits of vegetables in it. It's nice to eat with a little of the sauce for the meat. And all that for 3 of us... Son is still stuck in NS.
Daorae
We also ordered the Beo Sut Jeon Gol, mushroom soup in beef stock with pieces of beef in it. There were a few types of mushroom in it. The soup was soothing as the night was getting late and it was a bit cold in the restaurant. Service was excellent. The waiters hovered around and were quick to serve. They even had people stationed outside to guide the patrons in.... and of course they were all foreigners. I cannot imagine our own local people this hospitable or so hardworking these days.
Photobucket
Anyway, this was an adventure in the sense we went in not quite knowing 'how' to eat the food and came out of the restaurant feeling a little less ignorant. I think many of us don't try new stuff because of fear that we'd look like fools.... to which I'd say it's good to throw caution to the wind sometimes. You gain more than the loss of the little so-called dignity. LOL!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why Read?

Over the last few years, as the busyness of life caught up with us, I read less of novels and books and went for quickies; mainly articles and news. There just seemed to be other things which fancied me more...

The novelty of the Touch which I got for Other Half somehow got me into the reading mood... and the first book I read on it was Mitch Albom's Have A Little Faith. It kinda brought me back to a past which seemed so distant... a time when I'd used to pick up a book whenever I had free time.

I moved on to other books after that, different genres; fiction and non-fiction. A decision to get my own Touch made reading even easier. And it's been interesting, to be whisked around... 8) in my imagination.... like going back to my childhood where books provided me the opportunities to travel, imagine and dream. But these days the books tend to make me think more, reflect and draw lessons.

In those 'early days' I found that if I picked up the book after putting it down for a while, I actually had trouble remembering what I had read. My brain had gone rusty... probably from the lack of brain workout! 8( Sometimes I actually had to reread certain sections after a short break from it! This went on for many books (and months)... until recently, it hit me that it wasn't taking so much effort like before to continue after a break. And that it wasn't that difficult to remember the storyline anymore too. I could pick up after a couple of days and would still be okay with the flow of the plot, the characters, their roles etc. I could remember what I had read quite easily and with better clarity too. Some of the rust must have been dislodged from the crevices of my brain, apparently. 8) And reading speed has improved greatly too...

A couple of weeks back, I read an article on why certain people live longer and remain alert and productive. Reading was listed as one of the things many of these people do. The mind does begin to rot when we leave it idle... just as our bodies too. To live, to remain alert mentally, feel up to doing activities... all these require effort. Put our guard down and lethargy, senility creep into our lives, slowly eating into us... and I'm already on the downslide of the curve.

As these last few months have shown me, reading does sharpen the mind. That apart from giving me something different from my usual fare of activities. 8) Plus it gives me lots to think and wonder about.... and wander too!

Depth from reading... I think today's generation lack that. Young and old alike. Too many quickies, too much time wasted on digital farming, digital building of empires, gaming, social networking (in flesh and in bytes) etc, etc... it robs them of that opportunity to build ideas, imagination, dream dreams from reading....

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Veiled Kingdom... by Carmen bin Laden

Thomas.... if you are reading this, I finally finished this book. Will be returning both books to you soon! 8) Thanks!!!!

Books that are real, as in paper form, I try to finish it ASAP which I did for this one. Else I would start and it would be forgotten cos I'd keep forgetting to bring it with me. Had a lot of time to kill. So, I read... and this is about another woman's life story in the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia. I recently read Sold by Zana Muhsen.

Saudi Arabia practices Wahabism, a strict and puritanical kind of Islam. When Carmen, who is half Persian and half Swede married a Bin Laden (as in Osama bin Laden's half brother); her life was seemingly set since theirs was a tale in the lap of luxury. She moved to Saudi Arabia, a country where women did and still do not have their own identity. But she was filled with hope that things would change. The story is like the rest the books of this type.... women in the Middle East equals to objects to be owned. They are sex objects and breeding machines.

Makes me realize one thing though. The men, they know they own their women once the children come. The motherly instinct will see to it that women will forgo themselves for their kids. So, for many of these 'faceless' women, their salvation lies in producing sons... Arab culture which places in sons is very similar to the Chinese too, as in many Asian cultures. Conclusion, sons were more cherished in days of old cos they had the strength... women basically quite helpless. And it still feels like that in such countries.

A few thoughts cross my mind as always when I read such books. It is said that out of respect the women, that's why they have to don the abaya, hejab, chador, veil... basically become faceless. To wear those outfits which remove the identity of the wearer is supposed to imply respect. The women are veiled into anonymity... What they say, who they are.... they mean nothing! And they do it in the name of religion.... Isn't that rather selfish? Whatever happened to freedom of choice? What if the positions are reversed? Men be veiled instead, wear that cumbersome and heat retaining outfits? Would be nice to read a book about repression by women of the men. But I think that would be really, really hard to find.

14 in the bag.... and I did 3 books in 7 days. That's almost a record for me! This one I did in on Monday morning in between this and that. 8) Took a short break from books that afternoon and when I was at the gym, entertained myself with podcasts... listened to this interesting one from this precocious 12 year old girl.... more than once she made me smile at myself. 8)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gadget bytes.... Canon MF4350d

...my old printer, a Canon MF5750's aging rollers finally gave way. It's in the shop now, to see whether it's too expensive to repair. That old printer has been such a good workhorse. For the last 5+ years, it has churned out thousands of printed copies; all those years when I was teaching the 4 kids, it served me extremely well. I had my work cut out with its help. 8)
Canon MF4350
So we got another replacement for it last Wednesday.. a Canon MF4350d. Makes me sound like a Canon printer diehard, huh? But I'm not.

Was rather pleased with its size when I took it out from the box. It's smaller than the MF5750. I'm all for smaller size. 8) But I've one grouse with Canon for not putting the Mac driver into the CD installer. Mac users have to go in search for their driver in the net. I located one, downloaded it... and geram! Cannot print! Did some more searching... installing... searching. Turned out there were some teething problems with the software. But finally, we managed to get it going. Getting it to print on the PCs at home was no problem.

Fiddled with the duplex printing. This is our first unit of any printer with this function. And I must say I love it, especially for printing books from the site Reading A-Z that I'm subscribed to. What used to take more than 5 mins now takes 1 minute! That's automation for you! *Yay!* With the right tools, so much time can be saved... and there are so many interesting books I can print!

But where Mac is concerned, I think the brand that is most friendly to it is Samsung. I've an old Samsung ML1740 that I brought from home to work... even with my OS upgrade to Snow Leopard, I had no problem printing! It's the same with our Samsung CLP310; just plug and play. Very painless. Samsung and Mac seem to get along very well.

We've another HP Laserjet 1022 too. When I upgraded my MacBook to Leopard, the printer went on strike. No support for this particular model! That was months ago. Since then, I've not read up to see whether there has been any changes. But I'm not going to miss using that printer now that I've my Canon.

I'm quite happy with this latest kuda ....and got it at an unbeatable price some more! Sounds like another freakishly gadget crazy post..... LOL!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nights in Rodanthe ... by Nicholas Sparks

This one is a near tear-jerker at the end. Easy read; took 2 days. I finished the previous book before the weekend started. So I had more time on this during my drive-and-wait rounds during the weekend. And I had a little time at school to read on Sunday... reached the cliffhanger part in school.

So, after school, I immediately slipped into my shorts and T-shirt and headed for the gym. I wanted to read. I didn't want to just lie around and read. Sure doze off. Had actually planned to sit with Daughter to go over her work but she was asleep when I got home. It seemed a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Anyway, the gym is always empty mid afternoon. So, 40 minutes and 2.5 km on the treadmill on an incline, a couple of sit-ups and some weights later, I was done with the book. This is one reason why I love my Touch... can just place it on the little groove on the machine.

At 40 plus, the main lady character finds herself divorced. Her husband left her for a pretty young thing. One storm-filled weekend at Rodanthe, an encounter with a doctor whose wife had left him because he was married to his work changed both lives. It was to be their only encounter... they were supposed to meet after a year. He wanted to make amends with his son (in Ecuador) whom he never got along. And they were to be together again after a year. Never made it. He died rescuing his son. But Adrienne (the main character) found her confidence from that one encounter. Kinda sad to read the ending... but it is a tender story of hope and love.

Though the novel is kinda mechanical... cos the one who always seem to be the one left to mourn, hang on to old memories and relive them, mope, hope... well, it's usually the lady. Then again, mechanical or not, in real life too, most men would not hang on to the torch that long....

Once in a while, it actually can be refreshing to read a book like this. Made me pause a moment, take a look my Other Half and kids... love, hope, life! In midlife, one goes through 'crisis' of sorts. Marriages is one which often suffers most out of those crisises. Sometimes we forget that being middle aged doesn't mean that you should not be 'madly' in love still. We tend to forget - buried by children, mortgages, careers, caring for aged parents, etc.... The novel kinda serves that sort of jolt of a reminder.

I still had time to go get some groceries after that and cook dinner. Dinner was grilled 'everything' on rice... prawns, baby French beans with enoki, carrot and tomatoes with teriyaki sauce. Quick and tasty.... then it was off to church.

So, this is the 13th so far... reading is becoming easier. Almost mechanized in a way now. And my ability to remember details too seems to have improve somewhat. It does sharpen the mind. Practice makes perfect..

Monday, April 12, 2010

PLKN...

We finally visited our boy at his boot camp - PLKN! But I wouldn't say his boot camp is really uncomfortable. Hall has aircon; where very often they go fishing... (sleep while the lectures are on). And his campsite is actually part of a resort in an orchard, of course theirs is the 'downgraded' area! His living quarters is livable, in fact it would be considered luxury for the poor... though he complains about the 'communal' bathing.... but I think if put a Mat Salleh or city slicker (with a predisposition for adventure) there, he'd probably think of it as quaint.
PLKN
With 6 meals a day, enforced exercise thrown in and some pocket money at the end of the month, I'd actually have to say this does have its good points. From what I've heard from him, his meals aren't too bad. In some other camps, it seems food is not good. It's very dependent on the admin of each site... Money paid is the same. It's up to the commandants to see to it that the kids are not shortchanged. And also whether there is accountability...
PLKN
It was quite festive as many parents had come for the weekend visit. Some even cooked a feast for picnics under the trees! For the privileged kids, this might seem like 'torture' - aircon to no aircon, hot shower to communal bathing, perpetual battle with the humidity, hours of marching under the sun, etc, etc.... For some of the unprivileged kids, this is actually better than what they're used to. I've met some from the latter group who told me they wish they can go again.

At home I have to chase him to fold his blanket, eat his meals, keep (wash) his shoes, put his clothes properly, wake up... the list is actually endless. There, he is concerned about his shoes being polished, not argue when instructions are given, answer to roll calls even in the middle of the night and not kick up a fuss, learn to take care of himself, bear with the heat and 'discomfort'....

As parents we worry lots about his safety, in that we're no different from many parents. News of tragic tales also add weight to those worries. He was down with a bout of flu recently... we were worried; what with the Influenza-like illness (ILI) concerns now. But he's 'forced' to do lots of things which he will not do at home.... of compliance and some discipline. Plus he learns to get along with the others, especially from the other races, be exposed to some of the vices of kids his age, decides for himself whether to steer clear. But I can also see that PLKN can actually be good if carried out to the spirit of its founding principles. But like many things around us, implementation very often is fraught with human shortcomings.

Many parents 'buy' their children's way out via placement in private colleges. I wonder whether anyone has statistics of those people who defer because of college. Private colleges probably earn more from such kids too. I am tempted too in those moments when I kesian him...

But it just doesn't feel right to bail him out. We seem to be abetting them for the wrong reasons. Boys should also be toughened by outdoor activities. Too many boys behave and look like girls now. By buying their kids' way out, parents are also showing their kids that everything has a price... you can buy your way out of anything. It's okay to shirk. If you don't like something, pay your way out... the rich still gets the upper hand.

We have other concerns as well, like the rumour going around that they have to finish the PLKN even after F6 starts. That's not fair as those who cabut to private colleges got their deferment. The authorities should chase down those defer... and make them go, at least if not all then a good part of it. In this, if the F6 rumour is true, it's not fair.
PLKN
Our boy is more tanned after 2 weeks... last weekend he was home for Easter. But at this point, he still cannot get out...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sweet Land Stories ... by E.L. Doctorow

This is fun reading, a collection of 5 short stories. Half an hour or so reading for each story, all different themes. And they were all quite riveting in their own rights. I actually wanted to get to the end as quickly as I could. And the endings were not your usual all ends well kind of short stories. In life, not everything goes the way we hope it... the stories reflect that.

These are all stories with an American bent. In A House On The Plains you find a 'widow' of many deceased husbands making a living out of marrying those poor men. A murderer who made murdering an art and a way of life, to improve her station in life.

In Baby Wilson, you have the kidnapping of a baby by a young woman who is a little bit off her rocker but still loved by the guy in her life. A crazy woman walking straight into a hospital and lifting a baby under the very nose of the nurse. But the love of her life went to great lengths to cover for her. Suffice to say the baby was returned to the rightful parents and they went on to have their own little Jesu (their baby), faraway in Alaska, where they escape from the clutches of law.

In Jolene, you have a girl whose life seems to go wrong even with every change after each tragedy. The same ghosts revisit her. Married at 15 to escape her foster father's advances, the uncle of her husband did the same. Things got real messed up... a few marriages down her life, still the same messy story; talk about life being a vicious cycle.

In Walter John Harmon, the life of a cult; of people looking for that piece of Utopia. It is so us to try to grab and grasp at the opportunity of perfection and happiness. And of the hope to come. We can be so blind sometimes. And in the end, when Walter John Harmon ran off with one of his commune member's wife, the commune members were still trying to justify their 'faith'.... blind faith.

And in Child, Dead, In The Rose Garden.... well, that's just a mini mystery thriller, of how a dead child ends up the Rose Garden in White House. It's a story that goes around trying to solve the mystery of the dead kid's body in the garden, the kind that has the Secret Service and FBI in it.

Book 12... light and easy.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Gadget bytes... Palm, Pocket PCs, Ipod

We got our first PDA in the late 90s. It was a Palm Vx; Other Half has a penchant for techie stuff. I used to just tag along but over the years I caught the bug as well. With 8MB of memory, it was a sleek gadget back then and I remember borrowing it to take to school to read the first of the Harry Potter's series; The Philosopher's Stone. It was a real cool piece of gadget.

Our affair with the PDA took flight after that. A Palm m505 followed 2 years (I think) later, with double the memory. We were hooked, with the makings of PDA diehards.

Other Half was really faithful to Palm. The m505 was followed by a Palm Tungsten T5. And it's still in working order... more than 5 years later! The leather casing is kinda worn out now but the machine is still good for a game of Cubis! 8)

In between all those Palm PDAs, I switched over to the dark side, opting for a HP Jornada which ran on Pocket PC. The colour was fantastic but it was not as 'user-friendly' as the Palm. And it would hang every now and then. I had to press the reset button quite often. The OS was actually quite cumbersome.
Tungsten T5 & Sony Clie NX
I dumped it for a Sony Clie NX Series later which operated on the Palm OS. My gal still kept the Clie after all these years. It finally went dead last year. The Clie's screen was a luxury... 8) These 2 gadgets look kinda sleek here, huh? I just threw my HP Jornada in my last major cleanup during the hols. Else it would have made a good trio.

The Clie was good for multimedia stuff but somehow I got swayed again and return to the Dark Side.
Ipod,Dell Axim
Went for a Dell Axim because it had the apps that I wanted. I got 2 units of it, a Dell Axim x50 and a X51 after I gave the former to my Son.... kononnya for him to use it as a mobile notebook; which never happened. Both my Ipod and Axim side by side... The Axim is at least twice the thickness of the Touch. Both have touch screens but Ipod Touch wins hands down...

So, after all those gadget bites, we're (me, mainly) now into Apple products... the Ipod Touch. Other Half, Son and I have an Ipod Touch each. 8) Daughter is eyeing to own one, but she is still too young!
Tungsten, Clie, Ipod Touch
We were just comparing the PDAs. Next to the Touch, they looked kinda bulky!.... A whole new meaning for sleek comes around! Screen wise, the Touch is awesome. But I guess in a couple of years, if I'm still into all these stuff, the screen would probably get a little more awesome... that's how technology is - always going forward.

And the Touch has brought PDA experience to a new level. It's a very intuitive and easy to use. Even a person who is not very computer literate would find it quite easy to handle. The Touch screen made that possible. If it's anything that Apple has revolutionized in computing, it's probably this. I sometimes troubleshoot for the older people.... even the buttons to switch on the device is awesome. One press and the screen comes on. Mobile phones don't make it this easy too!

Writing this post made me realize too that, the gadgets to me served me well especially in reading... somehow I kinda forgot that to be able to read was always the main consideration. The Ipod has made it more comfortable and easy too. An occasional games and other stuff made it more worthwhile. After all, how can I forget apps like Avantgo which kept me well-fed me with news and articles?

So there! Our journey into the world of PDAs... and a small fortune later....

Friday, April 9, 2010

Postage Going Up...

Come July, domestic postage rates will be going up 100%. Pos Malaysia says they need the increase. But like every monopoly in Bolehland, you've to listen to their reasons with many pinches of salt.

Personal snail mail is on its way to the grave. Letter writing is probably a dying art anyway. A new way of communicating and lingo has sprouted via MSN, FB, Skype, etc.... But parcel and courier services are picking up. Thanks to the internet, online shopping probably makes up for the lost business in the ordinary man's snail mail.

So are Pos Malaysia's days numbered? I was reading the BM version (here) and the English version (here).
Excerpt from mStar Online
Pengarah Urusan/Ketua Pegawai Eksekutif Kumpulannya, Datuk Syed Faisal Albar berkata, kenaikan itu akan memberikan dana tambahan bagi Pos Malaysia menyediakan perkhidmatan yang lebih berkualiti, setara dengan amalan terbaik antarabangsa.

"Penstrukturan semula gaji posmen dan kerani kaunter akan dilakukan serentak dengan kenaikan harga setem pos domestik," kata Syed Faisal.

Excerpt From mStar Online

He assured the public that Pos Malaysia would continue to seek ways to improve efficiency and enhance its standard of service and reliability.
And this is another report regarding their P & L for 2009. They actually made profit after a loss in 2008. But in March this year, Pos Malaysia reported that they had failed to meet their revenue KPI by 4%... they are still making profit. Is this the reason for the increase? Most people think the increase is okay. But the ripple effect should be felt soon enough.

Pos Malaysia is a privatised monopoly and also a GLC. So when rates are raised despite a profit, one can't help but wonder whether it is justifiable to pass the buck of salary costs to the public? Where did the profit go?

Anyway, this is not the first time they've increased postal rates. Read this 2005 account from Aliran. Our postal rates are low, but 100% increase?

And this.... I took this one afternoon at the Main Post Office in Alor Setar. So much for world class efficiency. This was a post box inside the Main Post Office that had its door left opened with its contents spilling out. Unsuspecting people who slid their letters in from the outside did not realize that their letters were swishing onto the floor right to the waiting area where I was sitting.
Alor Setar Post Office
I stared at one of the envelopes at my feet before deciding that I'd better let the people there know that letters were starting to get under our chairs! This is where things got funny. I had to go to great lengths to explain to the girl that the mailbox (which was less than 10 meters away) had its door opened and letters were strewn all over. She didn't understand. In exasperation, I told her to just follow me. She did so very hesitantly, as though it wasn't her job and she was just doing me a favour. *roll eyes*

And guess what? When I finally showed her, she just stood there not knowing what to do. She should have just pushed the letters back into the mailbox and shut the door. Instead, after a momentary wax-doll performance, she walked to her counter and told another guy. The guy and came back and pushed the letters in, closed the door. The lock had actually been pried out and there was a gaping hole. They didn't do anything about securing the door properly. Anyone could just go over and take any letter they want. No wonder letters never get to their destinations sometimes.

Well, I supposed maybe that's why they need to raise the postage... so that they can get their act together and be world class.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Pitfalls of Grandparenting...

Doting grandparents... that's what the kids of this gen are experiencing. But grandparenting as we know it today is actually a new phenomena. In the 18th century, you would be lucky if you lived past the age of 35. By the turn of the 20th century, the figure had risen to 50. 50 years of age is considered relatively young by today's standard. 2000 years ago, if you lived to the age of 25, you'd be considered old. The most famous mummy (as in mummified body), King Tut was believed to have lived 17 years. He'd probably be considered as having a 'normal' lifespan back in his days. And that's also one reason why people married early those days. In China girls were betrothed as young as 7, some at infancy!

Grandparents actually are good for our kids. They carry with them a wealth of life's experiences... many grandparents actually lived through tumultuous periods like WWII. They've seen how life has changed dramatically and are the living artifacts of wealth of wisdom (many times over) to pass on.... yet there are pitfalls of grandparenting as I'm seeing.

All my grandparents lived beyond 80. My maternal grandmother even hit beyond the century mark. But I saw very little of her in her last years... that's one of my regrets in life. I have the clearest recollections of her of all my grandparents; wry and small stature, I would tower over her even when I was 12; she'd tell us to pick any toy (my uncle ran a sundry shop) we fancied from those hanging in the shop during our visits. As she grew older, she spent most of her time on a wooden box (those that they use to transport fish) outside the shop, puffing away on her home-rolled cigarette. She would even let us try and taught us how to roll it. The kid in me enjoyed sitting with her sometimes, listening to her ramble, in her China Hokkien which I had difficulty understanding. And the teenager in me used to wonder what went through her mind as I watch her from near and afar, a silent figure on the box. Sometimes I'd sit with her.

A longer life expectancy and greater demands of today's life also means children are making more demands on their grandparent-stage parents. Better health grand also contributes. Many grandparents have been asked to take care of their grandchildren while their parents keep to their busy schedule. It's parenting second time over... not a very good idea, I personally feel.

I think parenting is part of our rites of passage. Parenting has a role in our lives. It forces us to take responsible for lives other than our own. That actually sets off and cements a whole series and chains of self realization. It helps us appreciate our own parents too. Take that away from a young couple, and you delay their 'growing up'. One can never fully understand how much crap they gave their own parents until their own kids start giving them the same. One would never be able to give the smug advice until they realize that teenagers can be the greatest challenge to unconditional love and perseverance.... in the process make you realize how unconditional the love of your parents to you too!

Grandparents should be grandparents. They should dot on their grandchildren, spoil them even but as grandparents and not their primary caregivers. Cos second time around as 'parents' too they tend to be more accommodating; often at the cost of discipline. The result is grandchildren who can tend to be rather spoilt. And sometimes a lot of blaming takes place too...

Grandparents... kids this generation are a blessed lot. They have more than one set of people who love them!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Food Gatherings...

Have food will gather... where there is food there'll be us! 8)
Prawn Fritters
But times have changed... used to be prawns will always be a hot favourite with everyone. These days, people actually bypass them. My boy will actually give it a pass if the skin is not peeled. But these are really nice. Crispy and tasty.
Angel Hair Pasta
Karyn came home, so Ah Ho got herself busy and invited some people over. We were among the lucky ones. 8) This is Angel Hair with scallops, ham and dunno what other goodies in it. I took a couple of helpings.
Mutton Goulash
Mutton Goulash... the mutton is absolutely nice and munchy. I got to 'ta-pau' some home for Son who was home from NS for his Easter break.
Home baked
And the mutton went well with the freshly home baked bread. Stuff the mutton and the gravy in and it's a meal on its own.
Ham n Cheese
Finger food... ham and cheese. Can't remember what the brown blob is but I think it was some kind of cheese too. Cut pieces of everything and roll them up in the ham. Then dig in... nice!
Cheese
Close-up of the brown blob... it looks like our dodol. 8)
On The Ipod
While we were busy tucking in, she was busy with her papa's Ipod. She was a little under the weather and groggy from medicine but still insisted to tag along when we told her we were going to Aunty Chua's.
Dinner Spread
This was from an earlier week's makan. All layers of stewed meat. It's good. My favourite and Ah Ho made it cos of that. How not to be touched! Notice the sambal udang kering beside it? Add the meat and gravy with plenty of sambal to white rice... it's yummy-licious.
Birthday Cake
That meal above went with this cake... You see once you reach a certain age where the number is supposed to be a 'sensitive issue', they replace the candles with just one teapot... LOL! Just kidding! Cake is buttercake... really flavourful with all the different nuts added in... in super generous amounts. Like I said earlier, I'm not much for celebrations but with such thoughts, very 'kang-tung'. Thanks too to my 2 other friends who took me out for lunch, Japanese.... a couple of days earlier.
Card
And last but not least, for the thought that went into this... am touched!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Politician by Andrew Young

This is a newly released book... finished it yesterday. My first 'political' book in a while. I started reading it during one of my 'waiting duties'. This took a longer time to finish as the last two weeks have been kinda packed. Most of the readings were done during gym time... and I haven't done many visits there lately and that more or less contributed to the longer time taken to complete it.

The title was a random selection. But it was an interesting read into behind-the-scenes of American politics. Andrew Young was the 'body man' of John Edwards, a two-time Presidential hopeful and once VP hopeful. What his book has done is open up a can of worms seldom seen. I mean, we know most politicians are there for the power, wealth and fame. Service to the nation - somehow that rings kinda hollow these days. Service to self first I think, then nation would be apt. Own survival first..

Edwards is good looking, had a bright future, came across as a family man rooted in his Christian faith; that's the glossy part. Now for the worms - he kept a mistress and fathered a child. But for 2 years he got Andrew, his 'body man' to claim paternity to his child while he denied all the rumours and allegations of his extramarital affair. He was gunning for the Democrats' nomination to run for President. And to make him look even worse, his wife had terminal cancer.

But after reading the book, one cannot help but wonder what kind of people the author (Andrew) and his wife are too. I get the impression that he knew what he was in for and his determination to take the crap that came with the job is at worst, still very admirable. There was no doubt that he was a lackey boy for the Senator. It's clear to see that money and a future at the White House were what he was after... can't blame him on that too. Ambition is after all what drives us! Of course he claimed he believed John Edwards would be good for the country. But politics can sometimes be likened to betting on a horse in a race. You place your money on a horse you think has potential and hope it wins. That's why we have financial backers for each candidate; each one hoping that they too win big when their 'horse' wins.

Politics is about getting the masses to support a candidate. In the old days, protection from the leader would have sufficed. The one who gets to be king (leader) would be the one with the ability to provide that. Life is more sophisticated now.... it's no longer just about the 'protection'. It's about how much the leader can reward his supporters too. And down the chain the rewards will filter, with those closest to him getting the most. But I'd say this arrangement benefits the masses more now than the older model.

I googled everything about the Edwards... seems the revelation of this book has caused Elizabeth and John to separate. It's in-news thing in the US now. John Edwards has recently admitted to fathering the child (who is 2 now) with his mistress. Well, on hindsight we could also say the people saw through him and he didn't get voted to one of the most powerful political seats in the world. But then again, Bill Clinton too had an extra-marital affair. Makes you wonder how much of the glossy pictures the politicians paint are actually covering up the dirt. Politics is after all about packaging your product for purchase... whether or not we buy it!

In Malaysia, we too have our own versions... the one caught on tape in a hotel room, another whom people alleged to have had a hand in blowing up a lady, yet another alleged to have sodomized his own kind.... but they've had better luck and pulling wool over their electorates. Their wives too, are remarkable (and ambitious) and in the likes and leagues of Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Edwards.

This was a surprisingly interesting book.... So, coming in at number 11 for the year, my first 'political' book. BTW, it's on the best-seller list. It means Andrew Young must have made a small fortune publishing it too, though his allegations of having a tape of Edwards and his mistress in compromising acts seems to have landed him with an order to be jailed for not producing it to the courts.... These are stuff that makes the gossip papers, talk shows, etc, etc... There are always people who like to 'mengumpat' and watch with glee all these downfall sagas...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sakae Sushi...

I like Japanese food... but it took this to win Other Half over. And because of this, he was game to join in a one-hour drive for it. LOL!
Sakae Sushi
Mochi... we have our own version called the tang yuan. I am no fan of it having been 'forced' to eat plenty of those after helping mom roll them when I was a young kid. Don't get me wrong, rolling them was fun. It's just the eating them that I didn't seem to relish. But according to Other Half and Son, the mochi in Sakae Sushi is actually quite smooth. Father and Son have the same liking where this is concerned.
Sakae Sushi
Anyway, we've been there twice in a fortnight, the second time with friends. 8) One kid gets to eat for free if you have a credit card from HLB and order their bento set. This is the train set and it's definitely nicer than the bus bento that we had during the second visit.
Sakae Sushi
The bus set... all of us found the noodle (udon??) mixed with some salad sauce and some fish roe rather tasteless. This set lacks the oomph of the first set.
Sakae Sushi
The chicken and mushroom in teriyaki sauce with a few endamame sprinkled on top. It's okay enough. Sakae Sushi, despite it's Japanese sounding and cute frog mascot is actually a Singaporean franchise... but frankly speaking how many truly authentic Japanese restaurants does one expect to find in this part of Malaysia. It'd cost a bomb to get a real Japanese chef! First world coming to third world to cook!
Sakae Sushi
There's a curry that comes with this. And it smells like real Indian curry to me. Scallop is nice enough. Fried chicken tastes just like fried chicken. Can't go very wrong unless you leave them frying in the oil for too long. Bento sets come with a bowl of steamed Japanese rice... but friend who has been to Japan said the rice she had there seemed nicer...
Sakae Sushi
I think this is their Niko Niko Gozen set.... can't quite remember their names. I didn't realize that I had to cook my own duck meat in a slab of butter over the small little stove. The meat is tender enough even though I left it on the stove quite long. But still, duck meat is not something that I like where Japanese food is concerned. The tempura is quite ordinary though. Their bento sets come with potato salad with bits of vegetables in it. Makes it lighter on the stomach in a way.
Sakae Sushi
My personal favourite is the Sakura Bento - came with cod, octopus, duck, tofu, chawanmushi or egg custard. I like their chawanmushi; smooth and soothing to taste. The tofu with the roe and salad sauce was quite nice too.

But their teppanyaki menu is not available. The menu has this plastered on it... 'Temporarily Not Available' but I wonder how long it's been unavailable or it's not meant to be available at this joint. Anyway, we've been to their Sakae Teppanyaki at Auto City. I think Sakae Sushi seems to offer a better fare in terms of taste compared to Sushi King...

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter...

I'm not one for any form of celebrations... even our wedding was low key. If not for parents, I think the simple church wedding that we had would have been very okay for me. So Easter celebration to me is more of essence than the celebrations...

Easter... promises of hope to come. Holding on to faith means walking that narrower path. More difficult than easy. But somehow this Easter my mind goes back to someone whom I've crossed path a couple of times. Her dad is behind bars. Her mom expects her to work so that they can pay the lawyer. She hopes to finish her studies so that she can try for a place in the university but has to miss classes most of the time to work. What is hope to each one in this family?

Hope is what drives many of us... some of us hope our children will make it big or remain with us. Some of us hope that we become rich... I hope to own an Ipad. 8) All of them kinda point to the same thing... something better for ourselves. Yet all these hopes even if materialized finally will also be taken from us. And we'll be left with nothing; as how we came with nothing when we entered this world. As a tiny baby, all we had was just hope in our parents - that they'd nurture us, watch over us. All there was was just faith in them.

This Easter, I am reminded of the hope that I have in God. Hope for eternity, for when this journey on earth is done, my hope is that my Father in heaven will nurture me, watch over me... it's the same, these two journeys; journeys of faith.

"For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness." Isaiah 38:18.
For the one sacrifice of atonement, the purchase of my soul, plucked from the pit... that is the hope that one act at Calvary has done for me.

Blessed Easter... and oh ya! Easter eggs given at church service this year was herbal tea egg. How's that! Not only were they delicious but the extras were snapped up.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

At the break of dawn...

Breaking Dawn
... we made a trip to our usual hiking rendezvous at Pokok Sena. Our Saturday morn hike has been off for more than a year now. It's difficult to tear people away from the comfort of their beds in the wee hours. And after a while it can get kinda disheartening... but still, at Tim's request, we had a decent number of 8 in our group. 8)
Chew Neng Pui
So here's an award of chew neng pui (that's Foochow for rubber trophy) for all who made it. LOL!
sun rays
The rays breaking through the leaves bathing us in its full glory... there's always hope breaking through obstacles in life.... With the mist and all that, I'd say this is one of the more beautiful mornings here.
fungi
The rains have come back with a vengeance after a really hot and dry spell. Everywhere was damp and teeming with life. Mushrooms seem bigger too, what with the heavy rains and also after the more than normal fall of leaves which meant more 'food' for them. This one was on the ground and it was bigger than usual.
fungi
Do you know that mushroom specialists are called mycologists? And that mushrooms can be used to filter (purify too) water and neutralize toxic chemicals? Or that their mycelium actually helps to build deeper soil layers so that trees can grow bigger and taller? They can be a fuel source as well. That apart from being quite yummy as a source of food. I learned that from one of my podcasts. 8)
moth
This particular hike had a little extra oomph it it. Karyn saw this huge moth hanging on a tree; actually perched on a pupa. That's my hand behind for size comparison. It was still misty and cold and the moth wasn't going anywhere. One of the biggest I've seen in this area. Simply beautiful! My lil one would have probably oohed over it.
spider web
A mass tangle of spidery web.... ain't life like that too sometimes? Nature is full of parallel comparison for us. Can be perfect and nice and a tangle the next minute. But in a tangle there's still lessons, functionality, etc....
goose
Find the aberrant goose... LOL! Ain't life like that too? There are always aberrant ones among us, but that doesn't mean they're not part of us... as long as they continue to stay in the group. This gaggle of geese was really noisy. The kepala started heading towards the water and the rest followed suit quite immediately. Talk about charisma and herd mentality. BTW, the collective noun of gaggle can also be used for salt.....
curry mee
And after the huffing and puffing, sweat and smell... we went for our refueling. I didn't take this but notice the si-ham (cockles)? The 3 who ordered curry mee don't fancy them. So they ended up on my chicken rice. 8) Oh ya! You can order an extra topping of yu-char-kway to go with the curry.

So, all in all it was a good hike. We bumped into another group of people from FGC while we were there too. The pastor was telling his flock that praying alone for good health won't be enough; we've to get down to the hard work also. So very, very true.... a morning of fun and thoughts for me...