Friday, November 28, 2008

From Blogger to Scrapblogger

This morning, slightly over one month after he stumbled across scrapblog in Kak Teh’s choc-a-bloc blog, Papa is fiddling with that creative thingy which was launched nearly 2 years ago. He rummaged through the family photographs taken in Cambridge, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, St. Andrews, Cornwall, Lake District, Stoke-on-Trent, Cardiff, Bath, Cotswold, Blackpool, Brighton, Bournemouth, Norwich, Leamington Spa and of course London, to name some of the fine cities they had visited in the UK during their stay in Coventry from 1997 to 2001.

After several attempts, he managed to figure out how to embed the scrapblogs with this post. These are a couple of UK scrapblogs he has designed so far. Alas, you won’t see me in any of them. But not for long, I hope. With Air Asia new KL-London services, more people can now fly to Europe. Yay!

UPDATE: At 10.30 pm, Papa has just completed a third scrapblog, which incidentally is my personal favourite - Day Out With Thomas.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An Unloved Planter's Bungalow in Jerai Estate (Harvard)

Yesterday, on our way to visit Opah, Papa stopped at the Harvard Golf and Country Club, which is only 10 minutes' drive away from Opah's place. Papa was curious to see the bungalow that is briefly profiled in the delightful coffee table book The Planter's Bungalow. It was once owned by the Malayan American Plantations Ltd, the only US plantation company in the Malay Peninsula. At the time the book was published in 2007, it was occupied by the staff of the golf club.

In a brief span of less than two years, so much has changed for the worse. The bungalow lays abandoned, but the old trees near it are still standing tall with the leaves on the creeping branches and lush foliages of the epiphytes providing a welcoming shade. Papa went inside the dilapidated bungalow. It is in such a terrible state of neglect. He only saw the living hall and did not have the heart to see the kitchen, and the bedrooms upstairs. But he can imagine the views of the graceful Mount Jerai from the bedroom balcony.

What can be done to restore the hitherto low profile bungalow to its former glory? Surely its owner (a deep pockets corporation?) can think of a suitable Corporate Social Responsibility project. Perhaps, it can be converted to a People's Restaurant with BBQ facilities for the public at its magnificent sprawling lawn overlooking Mount Jerai.

Note: In July 1925, 6,300 acres known as the Harvard Estates, were purchased in Kedah, Malaya. United States Rubber Plantation ran these estates under a subsidiary known as the Malayan-American Plantations Ltd.(MAP),which was incorporated into the Federated Malay States (FMS) in 1920. These acquisitions and the cost of their development were financed by the income from United States Rubber Company plantations in Sumatra, which by 1919 had the largest rubber plantations in the world.
Extracted from Yacob, Shakila. Model of Welfare Capitalism? The United States Rubber Company in Southeast Asia, 1910-1942

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Picnic and Feast @ Bujang Valley

The picturesque country road to Bujang Valley, with green emerald paddy field, and the imposing blue Mount Jerai.
Tupah Recreation Park - my territory.

Tupah Recreation Park - encroaching the Big Boys and Sisters territory.

Anjung Muara in the villagey Tanjung Dawai - celebrating seafood dinner of lala in chilli and oyster sauce, steamed crab with lemon grass, grilled red fish, stir-fried baby kailan with salted kurau and teochew paste, and crunchy deep-fried squid in batter served with spicy sauce.

The soul of Malaysia probably resides in Bujang Valley, or Lembah Bujang as it is more affectionately known to the locals, opined the award winning travel writer Gavin Young. In Malaysia: Heart of South-east Asia, he categorically wrote:

“I am certain it is hovering very happily under Mount Kedah where Kamaruddin tends his ancient temples among whistling birds and rushing waterfalls.”

Yesterday, my family made a short visit to that place where the soul of Malaysia is crouching, according to the famous author of Slow Boat to China. Leaving Kubang Pasu at 4.30 pm, we first took the North South highway. From the Alor Setar South exit, we took the almost unbending country road that passes through the never-ending panorama of lush emerald-green paddy fields against the majestic backdrop of Gunung Jerai (also known as Mount Jerai or Kedah Peak). The road then snakes through little towns such as Yan, Singkir and Merbok.

The Lembah Bujang Archeological Museum which has received more than 100,000 visitors so far this year was already closed by the time we approached the site, so we headed straight to the nearby Tupah Recreation Park. When Papa dipped my feet into the refreshingly cold and surprisingly clear stream, I was not intimidated at all. Rather, I took to it like duck to water. However, Papa soon noticed my discomfort after submerging my feet inside the icy cold water, and water splashing with gay abandon, for 20 minutes or so. He quickly took me out of the water for Mama to towel me dry and put on my brother’s old clothing, for our (or my rather) next fun activity. Just when we were about to leave the place, we heard rustling noise in the branches above, and by the time we reached our car, we saw a group of monkeys rummaging through the rubbish bags left by picnickers, looking for scraps.

From the picnic spot we drove to Tanjung Dawai for fresh seafood dinner at Anjung Muara, the most popular eateries among the lot. All the seafood that we ordered turned out to be exceedingly delicious. It was fine dining, no doubt. Alas, it was not refined dining. I took the water splashing experience a bit too far, and attempted to splatter the juicy lala and crab with ladles and all. They all had to find other ingenious ways to keep me entertained and amused throughout the dinner.

For more information on Bujang Valley, please click here, here and here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Today is the start of the long school holiday. Mama and my brother deserve a long relaxing break after working so hard over the last few months. Papa also has 22 days of paid leave still unutilised for this year. Since everyone is in a jolly mood, it looks like we are going to be doing a lot of travelling leading up to the New Year 2009.

On Thursday before the holiday, my brother made my parents proud by getting excellent result in the UPSR public examination. There are 46,640 other students all over the country who obtained straight As like him. In Kedah, the three top schools based on the most number of students with straight As are SJKC Keat Hwa in Alor Setar, SK Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin in Kubang Pasu and SK Ibrahim in Sungai Petani. My brother’s school, which is named after the grandfather of our Father of Modern Malaysia, is no longer one of the State’s premiere schools, which is rather sad really.

After he got back from school, his former Standard One to Three classmates from SK Bandar Baru Darulaman came over and later they all cycled to the eaterie by the murky river near our house to celebrate their exam success.

To kick off the holiday, on Friday we made a day trip to Penang, and had a jolly good time at the cinema. My siblings watched Madagascar 2, whilst my parents and I watched Wayang, and we were the only audience in Box 4 for the 4.30pm show. And that was a shame really because the movie is good, albeit the dialogue is almost exclusively in Kelantanese. It tells the story of Pok Awe, who keeps the dying art of wayang kulit alive in a quaint little kampong by the sea. Together with his wife, they raise up two orphaned kids, Awi and Melor, who have not only developed a special affinity with the fine art and each other, but are special in their own ways. Awi, the blind boy, is able to “melihat tanpa memandang” and Melor, the girl with sengau voice, later surpasses Pok Awe in the intricate craft of puppet-making.

The acting by the main casts is superb all-around. Particularly Ida Nerina, Best Actress at the 13th Malaysian Film Festival in 1997 for Layar Lara, who plays the loyal and serene wife of Pok Awe to the hilt. She is amazingly versatile as a Kelantanese Mak Cik and gorgeous without any make up. Papa chuckled when she uttered do-oh. Mama chuckled too at some other instances.

Unfortunately the movie has its fair share of cringe moments. The most glaring is the brief but unnecessary cameo appearance by the producer. The silly antics shown by the UiTM undergraduates during the fine art lectures given by Pok Awe, Melor and Awi are too much to bear. Their blur and terpingga-pingga (bewildered) looks are irritating, to say the least, and dredge the awful memory of Cinta Antara Benua.

One of the subtle messages that Wayang exudes is this: Do not be fooled by the lebai appearance (or tudung lingkup for that matter). The holier than thou appearance may be all wayang.
Note: Wayang kulit is a shadow puppetry play theatre. The two-dimensional shadow puppet is crafted from cow or buffalo hide and is gently presses on the translucent screen. The light bulb suspended behind the white cloth screen emanates a bright glow to project the shadows of the puppets on the screens. The shadow master cum storyteller, or tok dalang, conducts the whole show from behind the screen by sitting cross-legged and reciting the tale by moving the figures to the sounds of drums, gongs and flutes that, at dramatic moments, rise to a crescendo. Hearing the storyteller change his voice to suit the different characters is one of the highlights of the show. The puppet characters and stories are usually adapted from ancient epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, and thus the art is often associated with Hinduism. In 2003, UNESCO recognized wayang kulit as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. There has been call by Tuan Guru Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, a spiritual leader and the present Chief Minister of Kelantan to “mewayangkulitkan” local personalities such as Tok Kenali, and perhaps Tok Janggut.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hajj Akbar 1427H

Children Enjoying Ice Cream After the Gruelling Tawaf and Sa'ee

Children None the Worse for Wear and Tear

As Malaysian pilgrims started leaving for the Holy land beginning last week, Papa’s mind constantly wanders off to that singularly absorbing, overwhelming and uplifting experience that happened nearly two years ago. The year 2006 was about to draw its curtain, and Mama had settled down into the second trimester of her pregnancy.

The family was about to embark on what is dubbed as “the once in a lifetime journey”. At 20+ weeks pregnant, and after consulting widely among the gynaecologists in several hospitals in Riyadh, Mama felt assured of the fact that the risk of miscarriage was considerably reduced during the middle trimester. I was comfortably ensconced inside Mama’s tummy – and could twirl like a little astronaut, and not tightly crammed into a ball, inside her. As Mama was not lumbering towards the finishing line yet, so to speak, Papa also felt pretty confident to bring along my brother and sister, who were respectively 10 and 7 then, for this gruelling but rewarding spiritual journey.

My family joined the Malaysian Embassy Riyadh Hajj Group, led by Ustaz Hassan Abdul Kadir of Patani, who has been residing in Saudi Arabia for more than 20 years and is co-owner of the Mutiara Malaysian Restaurant in Riyadh. The group comprised mostly of staff from Ahmad Zaki Resources Berhad who were constructing the swanky Al-Faisal University campus, designed by Hijjas Kasturi Associates, who also designed the exquisite 38-storey hour glass HQ of the Lembaga Tabung Haji (Pilgrim's Fund Board) in Kuala Lumpur.

A few weeks before the pilgrimage, they attended Hajj classes conducted by Ustaz Hassan at the Ambassador’s Villa in the charming Diplomatic Quarter, which is not far from where they lived. Essentially, during the classes, intending pilgrims were drilled on the rites of performing Hajj according to the Quran and Sunnah; what is Rukun and Wajib, what is Haram during ihram, the need to pay dam, the different types of hajj - ifrad, tamattu and qiran, and the realities and what to expect in Arafat, Makkah, Mina and Muzdalifah.

Alhamdulillah, they were so grateful that they could perform the Hajj with millions other pilgrims from around the world smoothly and witness the greatest gathering of humankind on planet earth. The tawaf around the Kaabah amidst a sea of humanity stood out as it symbolises unity in diversity - race, age, gender, language and culture comingle perfectly without any notions of superiority (or ketuanan, as some persistently insist).

In short, the 7-day Hajj journey can be distilled as follows. The group left Riyadh on December 27, slept in Mina – the Tent City the following day, and continued sleeping at the same venue until January 3. And during their stay, they observed the rituals of Wukuf in Arafat (which happened to be on a Friday), stoning the three Jamrats, circumambulating the Kaabah, walking briskly between the foothills of Safa and Marwah, and tahallul. On the day of the Eid-al-Adha, December 30, many Muslims were outraged when Saddam Hussein was hanged by the American regime in Iraq.

To all the Guests of Allah this season, may your Hajj be accepted by Him, and please remember us in your deepest prayers at Arafat.

For a complete narrative of the journey written by a member of the Hajj group, please read here.

A Pictorial Journey:
1. Days and the Night Before ...

Hajj classes at the Ambassador's Villa, The meeting place in Riyadh prior to departure, The exterior and interior of the bus, First stopover.

Day 1: Ihram at Miqat and our camp in Mina (8 Zulhijjah)

Day 2: Wukuf in Arafat (9 Zulhijjah)

Day 3: Stoning Jamrat Aqabah (10 Zulhijjah - Eid-al-Adha)

Day 4: Tawaf Ifadah and Sa'ee (11 Zulhijjah)

Last 3 days: Winding Down in Mina, Stoning the Jamrats and Tahallul

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Luxe Life in Hong Kong - January 2008

The Top Editors

The generous host

Gift for the host - Signed copy of Growing Up in Trengganu
and the resident pianist at the Peninsula

Some of the highlights of the Hong Kong visit in January 2008, as enthused to the classy Ruby Ahmad:

Met several outstanding thought leaders in the fields of accounting and auditing and attended presentations given by eminent economists from the top US universities. I also got the opportunity to do one of Hong Kong "must" - having afternoon tea at The Peninsula Lobby, while the resident pianist who bears an uncanny resemblance to the talented playwright Alfian Sa'at played What a Difference a Day Made and many other beautiful songs on the piano.


Ahh, the vintage 80-year old Peninsula Hotel and its breathtaking Lobby ... old world charm in the midst of slick modernity, with no sipping and gossiping Mak Datins in sight. A walking distance from Peninsula Hotel is a clutch of museums and the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade with its dramatic harbour view. I was at the Avenue of the Stars and was accosted by, not one, but one after another, fortune tellers in Sikh turbans with the same and tired chat up line "Sir, your fascinating face reveals bla bla bla" or something like that to make one feels good and generous to a fault. I did watch The Symphony of Lights but once is enough, methinks (err, not really the bright light and big city type).

And spent a bit of time at the Kubrick Bookshop and Cafe too to marvel at the eye-catching books and other paraphernalia before watching a couple of ahem/woohoo movies at The Broadway Cinematheque next door. Oh such Luxe Life in magical Hong Kong.

Chairing a plenary session, The Symphony of Lights, Avenue of the Stars, and The Peninsula Lobby