Sunday, July 11, 2010

Two Weekends and a Full Weekdays - Can’t Get Enough of England

No, that is not Papa’s lamenting of England’s premature exit in the 2010 World Cup. When England’s wobbly group matches ended with a couple of draws and a mediocre win over Slovenia, her fate was sealed really, despite a plethora of optimistic headlines crafted by deluded sports correspondents on the eve of the last 16 clash with arch rival Germany. The Sunday Times screams “Our cunning plan on how to beat the Germans” and “Manager pledges: Rooney will be back to his best … and he’ll score”.

On the other hand, two weeks prior to the Sunday’s knock out duel, The Economist (June 12th) acknowledged the writings on the wall and was spot on in predicting four more years of hurt. The bankable Bagehot column forthrightly states that the England football team for World Cup 2010 is no better than the previous one, made up of the “golden generation” of superstar English footballers. Beckham-Owen-Lampard-Gerrard and the gang float in “a bubble of hubris and unearned kudos” and collectively exemplifies form over substance, or “swagger over authentic talent”.

As it turned out, England suffered the worst of the worst defeat, and the tone of the fawning media took a drastic 360 degree turn. Brutal words, some gratuitous, cram the pages: “lack of pace”, “lack of guile”, “fragile little minds”, “brainless, naïve, indiscipline performance” and “a fire engine going to the wrong fire” describes England’s woeful defence. Ouch! Notwithstanding all that, do Malaysians still can’t get enough of the English Premier League, going forward?

Actually, the title of this post sums up the splendid two weekends and a full weekdays we spent in England, which coincided with the 2010 World Cup group tussles. Thanks to Facebook, when friends got wind of our impending trip, they invited us to stay with them or at their unoccupied house. Welcoming their generous offers, we ended up not staying at a single hotel/travelodge/B&B during our sojourn in England.

Before arriving at London Heathrow, we had a 20 hour stopover in Doha, home to the Al-Jazeera Network, and took the opportunity to see the sparkling capital with its picturesque bay and wander around the grand 19th century Souq Waqif. The magnificent souq underwent bold restoration in 2004 to recapture its original glory. New but tatty buildings were pulled down and replaced with reconstructed people's market of yesteryear.

It is a huge market to explore by foot, and we spent most of our time crawling from one alfresco café to another, enjoying decent Qatari food and copious amount of sweet mint tea, and watching the Gulf world goes by. There is a Malaysian restaurant with a weird name, Sri Kebaya, which we understandably kept at bay. We loitered around the customer-friendly open-air pet shops. The pet shop boys did not mind when I fondled their disctinctively black rabbits and irresistable kittens.

Oh, needless to say, the hip souq has free wifi too, which Papa did not take advantage of, as there is a host of other more interesting distractions vying for his attention. All around us, we saw people were just happy standing for hours and hours to watch the World Cup matches on ubiquitous big screens.

Close by is a handsome hotel by the same name and the stunning Fanar Islamic Cultural Centre with its unique spiraling minaret.

The 15-hour (in total) flight to London gave Papa ample opportunities to watch delicious movies and TV series over and over again. Papa was rooted to Casablanca, The Devil Wears Prada and Glee. Papa is so impressed with Qatar Airways and following the unqualified success of the England trip, he has caught the travel bug. He is now plotting for the next trip away to Casablanca. Qatar Airways will get one there in October 2010 for less than RM2,600. So incredible. No wonder the airline is a conversation piece.


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Enter a Different World

Papa is now in the throes of planning for my first and their homecoming trip to “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”. Almost thirty years ago, Papa was among a group of nine JPA scholars (including three girls) who were UK-bound to be trained as professionals in the various fields that the young country on the cusp of adulthood desperately needed.

Margaret Thatcher had completed the first year of her eleven Downing Street years. In Malaysia, the change of guard to a “tough, shrewd and practical” leader was less than a year away. Their first stop was Malaysia Hall, then situated in leafy and elegant Bryanston Square, a short walking distance from the Marble Arch tube station and the famous Hyde Park. During the early days in London, a few seniors took them to some of London must-visit places including Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and the halal Indian food restaurants in Paddington.

On one occasion they bought Indian food take-aways and had a glorious picnic in the park overlooking the Royal Albert Hall. As for the food served in Malaysia Hall, breakfasts were invariably depressing. His face fell when he saw people all around him tucked not too keenly into their bowls of cereal. But lunch and dinner were a different kettle of fish all together, with young people enthusiastically and patiently lining down the stairs to buy 50-pence set meal of fluffy rice, daging masak kicap (or chicken dish) and vegetable (sometimes bean sprouts?), served by plump Caribbean ladies.

After a few blissful days in London, they made their way to a very archetype English market town in East Anglia to begin their A-Levels programme under the tutelage of some eccentric yet keen sixth form teachers.

For the impending homecoming visit, Papa looks forward to revisit the sixth form college and the house opposite the college where he lived at close quarters with other 17/18 years old former students of VI, MCKK, KGV, Anderson, MRSMs, SMSes, etc etc.

Alas, no such opportunity to revisit the great Malaysia Hall that we have lost. Wish us a safe, hassle-free and meaningful trip to the Old Blighty, will ya.

UPDATE (Jan. 2013): Cartoonist Lat has also documented the atmospheric dining experience in Malayisa Hall here!/photo.php?fbid=10151322046893567&set=a.10151279734313567.487691.692788566&type=1&theater

Friday, April 30, 2010

An atmospheric weekend in Port Dickson

Last weekend was atmospheric, wasn’t it?. Especially for those who were in Hulu Selangor. Likewise, we had one atmospheric weekend recently at a resort in PD. Papa had to attend a workshop and we tagged along.

Opah came with us too as she wanted to see her other grandkids in Seremban, and buy a wedding present in Nilai, the shopping haven, for her splendid and amazing neighbour. “Nilai really lives up to its name – shopping wise” – so opined Opah.

The workshop was essentially work work work for Papa, with no shopping in store. They worked beyond Buletin Utama, believe it or not. One of the team members in the workshop, Gaz (sitting second from left in the 1985 photo below), happened to be Papa’s former coursemate at UEA, who is married to Zu (last row, also second from left), another UEA alumna.

For me, I enjoyed the touch-a-pet, feed-a-pet and bathe-a-pet sessions. We did chase-a-peacock too eventhough it is not included in the kids package.

Three days ago, I turned 3. I can now recognise most of Thomas's friends; Gordon, Percy, Hayold, Onri, Annie, Toby, Trevor, James, etc. I have stopped the bad habits of chewing my shirt and inadvertently revealing my navel, plus saying the T-word, tibai. Which means that the time is ripe to enrol me in a kindergarten. Shall I follow my siblings’ footsteps and march onto Tadika Superkids?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Penang Rawks

Admittedly, on the entertainment front, Alor Setar is so so stale. Mercifully, Penang is able to fill the vacuum, and it is little wonder that all of us have a soft spot for the pearly island and its capital George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage City. In George Town, the dilapidated second-hand bookshops on the first floor of Chowrasta Market is one of Papa’s regular haunts. After several visits, the book dealer knows exactly Papa’s reading genre, and he often sets aside hard-to-find travel and lifestyle magazines to enrich Papa’s eclectic magazine collection.
Mama, on the other hand, loves to frequent Kenko to partake in reflexology and fish spa therapy. While both of them indulge in their simple pleasures, my siblings and I take the opportunity to spoil ourselves by watching the latest 3D movies at the Golden Screen Cinema, Gurney Plaza. The pamperings are invariably packed with a walk about the food trail and the heritage trail to savour Penang's glorious street foods and ogle at the old buildings, unravaged by time and the Barbarians.

In the later part of 2009, Penang's magnetic pull is bolstered by another irresistable attraction. The Hard Rock Hotel in Batu Ferringhi (formerly Casuarina Beach Resort), the third in Asia after Bali and Pattaya, is a highly sought after place to escape to.

The hotel is adorned with mosaics, statues and memorabilia associated with the Fab Four. They are all over the place; on the wall, on the roof top, in the teens club and even inside the guestrooms.

The Penang Hard Rock Hotel seems to translate the 1Malaysia concept to a tee, as reflected in the staff mix and the muhibbah local guests. The foreign visitors are also diverse and serbanika.

At night, when the poolside and beachfront are deserted, guests decamp to the Ferringhi night market, a walking distance from the hotel, for a bout of shopping. Here one can find DVDs of all time movie classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany's sell for a mere RM4. Rockers who find the pasar malam ambience tiresome make a beeline and converge to the hotel’s lounge lobby to listen to a lissom and energetic warga emas belting out Mick Jagger’s I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, with lips pouting, head banging and all, accompanied by sing along choruses from the appreciative young-at-heart audience. While we still can’t get enough of HRH, for our next trip to the revitalised Penang, Papa is already persuading us to try a new "fun" venue, next to the Methodist Boys School. Haiyaa.

And finally, for the record, here are my family members previous encounters with the Fab Four and Hard Rock, taken almost a decade ago in London.