Wednesday, 7 December 2005

The Rushed Verses

Budding ideas / Jumbled thoughts
Brave new visions / Not yet wrought
Teary ballads / Love and loss
Breaking news / Plus hots and nots

Causes championed / Battles fought
Once surrendered / Come to nought
Jokes remembered / Worst and best
Off-colour banter / Said in jest

Inner struggles / Logic bent
Childish rants / Deadly intent
Raging tempest / Worldly passions
Suppressed fury / Caged emotions

Fear and fetish / Spending spree
All kept under / Lock and key
Days and nights / Far and away
Sparkling colours / Shades of grey

Brooding weekends / Halcyon summers
Magic moments / Tranquil waters
Days go by / No looking back
Recollections / All fade to black

Buried sorrows / Forgotten pasts
Cherished romance / Forever lasts
Calming mantras / Soothing tunes
Immortalised / In ancient runes

Blank white paper / Flowing pen
Writing words / Beyond my ken
Poem and sonnet / Prose with flair
Rhyme and reason / Who would care

Measured tempo / Bold quatrain
Balanced stanzas / Far from plain
Pentameter / Text in twain
Synching couplets / What a pain

Request granted / All penned for you
Of whom do I speak / Oh, you know who
Chapter closed / All mood has gone
Mind is numb / Leave me alone

Thursday, 24 November 2005

Dear Customer, Allow Me to Shaft You

Just got this with my RHB My1 Current Account statement today:

Important Notice to RHB MY1 Account Holders

Dear Valued RHB My1 Account Holders,

Due to the large numbers of you with less than the necessary amount in your My1 Accounts, we have decided upon a move whereby we could earn more from what is becoming a non-profitable service.

The RM10 half-yearly fee will be discontinued for accounts with less than RM1,000. Instead, we will charge RM5 every month for accounts with a daily balance of less than RM5,000. Accounts with more than RM5,000 will not be charged this amount.

So, instead of RM20 per annum, I have to fork out RM60 for treating my My1 premium current account as a two-bit, run-of-the-mill current account. Since my deposits will never reach RM1,000, there's no other way out. I'm also sure that there could be another hidden charge somewhere.

You see, with the number of people treating this premium service as a two-bit current account, we feel that some form of mitigation-cum-encouragement measure is necessary to: a) squeeze you a bit for your craven treatment of the My1 Account facility and b) encourage you to use this facility as it is meant to be used.

We hope you would understand the circumstances that led to us implementing such a measure, and bear with us while you think it over and realise that we are right, and that there is nothing you can do about it, being bound by the terms and conditions for using the said facility.

For more information, refer to the nicely worded numbers at the bottom of this notice.

Thank you.

OK, that was not exactly what I got in the mail, but the meaning is there. I took the time to read it and run the numbers through my head - twice.

RM60 per year may not sound like much, but I have another savings account with RHB. That money isn't just sitting idle there; they can take part or all of it and invest it somewhere. That's part of the deal, and they'd be dumb not to. Yet it's still not enough for them. Their service is slightly better, but come on...!

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Democracy: It's All Greek

Democracy.

It's a nice word, isn't it? Brings up connotations of freedom, civility, and other utopian concepts. It reflects the ability of ours to choose the right goals, the right paths to those goals and the right people who will take us there.

Not many people know that the word "democracy" comes from two ancient Greek words, but as we all know, the ancient Greeks were also hopelessly romantic and idealistic. Today's flag-bearer for this ideal form of government is, of course, the "United" States of America. Once a democratic government is installed, freedom and humanity will automatically flower and grow. Milk and honey comes forth from the earth and spills over into everybody's homes, bringing joy and peace.

Given the existence of bigotry and xenophobia in the real world, especially when sanctioned by tradition, culture or radical religious figures, true democracy doesn't stand a chance in hell. In what many perceive to be autocratic regimes, leaders use religion and tradition to keep their subjects in comfortable mental bubbles, shielded from harsh reality, the existence of what lies beyond and the consequences of making wrong choices. Breaking through that bubble requires education and enlightenment, which are anathema to these malignant shepherds. To keep themselves relevant and in power, they have little choice but to keep their herds corralled and tightly reined.

This is the problem facing "recently-liberated" nations in hotspots around the world: the mental bubble was pierced too soon. Entire societies that have lived like corralled sheep for so long have been freed without being educated about the weight of their new responsibilities. They were basically told that they could initiate change simply by putting a piece of folded paper into a box.

Of course, things rarely work out that way. Guess what happens when the promised miracles don't happen.

Anarchy.

When order is replaced by chaos, the peddlers of this panacea are now regarded as quacks by unruly mobs. They see only ulterior motives in damage control and enforcement of the rule of law by the local authorities. Self-important, uncrowned and untitled autocrats tap into the newly-opened wellsprings of rage and discontent to further their own agendas.

Resulting in things and people going BOOM around the world.

Damned ancient Greeks and their romantic idealism.

Saturday, 1 October 2005

There Is No Spoon (at Work)

It seems most of my colleagues don't understand English. Warning signs have been dished out after spoons started disappearing from our pantry, and indicated that we would soon be bringing in stuff from home because management isn't going to replace them anymore. Another declared those who do not wash their cups after use were worse than kindergarten graduates.

Yet the trends persist.

The past few days I've had to use a knife to stir my coffee, pouring the ingredients into my mug with the precision of Jamie Oliver or Keith Floyd during one of their cooking skits. A knife. With a six-inch blade. One you could comfortably stab spoon-hoarders to death with. Somewhere in the sprawling office space where I toil, somebody fancies himself as Little Li of the Flying Daggers.

On the bright side, my coffee nowadays tastes much more bearable. You might even say it has an... edge.

Thursday, 29 September 2005

Giant Squid Caught on Video

They finally did it! Scientists have finally caught a giant squid on video. What's the big deal, you say? It's just a squid. A sotong. Jiu hu. Market also have.

Not really.

Randy Kochevar, deep sea biologist with the Monterey aquarium, via Yahoo! News: "Nobody has been able to observe a large giant squid where it lives. There are people who said it would never be done."

Well, they did it. It may be possible to expect more footage of these once-
mysterious denizens of the deep.

Not your average squid
The giant squid (genus architeuthis) can grow to be over twenty feet long from head to tentacle-tip. They are usually found around 1000 feet deep, but can surface to find food. No living specimen has ever been caught alive, even on camera - at least, up till now. We can't even breed one of these in a lab.

You do not want to bump into this creature when it's hungry. If its arms don't squeeze the life out of you, it'll drag you to its mouth, where a strong parrot-like beak waits to tear you into bite-size bits. It's not really tasty, either; it's full of ammonium chloride, which helps keep it from sinking to the bottom - and kind of smells like pee.

While chances of swimmers actually meeting a giant squid are nearly zero, its smaller cousin, the Humboldt squid (a real jiu hu), is no less ferocious. They will attack and eat each other. The fishermen who catch this squid call it the Red Devil, and are more afraid of it than sharks.

Would your opinions of the squid ever be the same again?

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Seafaring Riverboats, Unarmoured Humvees

We've all heard about how Kublai Khan's failed invasion of Japan, thwarted by the kamikaze or divine wind, that capsized his fleet of over four thousand ships. Centuries later, the young stupid suicide pilots of the Japanese air force would invoke the name of this conquering tempest when they ploughed their planes into enemy warships during World War II.

A recent archaeological expedition has revealed some startling truths about the Khan's failed venture, and downplayed the role played by the storm, long touted as the main factor.

Never mind that the Mongols knew scratch about sailing or sea battles, or that Japanese swordsmen were lethal in close-quarters combat. There were hints that Chinese ship makers commissioned into building the fleet had used shoddy workmanship as a means of sabotage. Kublai's impatience was also a factor; to complete his massive fleet within the unreasonable schedule, riverboats - totally unseaworthy vessels - were also drafted into the fleet.

The fleet had sunk even before it left the dry-docks.

We are strange, you know. We store history and quote from it, but never learn anything from it. Even today, people are still rushing to war with vague mission statements, poor preparation, and misleading preconceptions and lousy intelligence about the other side. When it all ends, usually in failure, the common folk have to bear the cost of the aftermath.

But we don't have to look back eight hundred years to learn about the folly of rushing to war. We only need to go back about two years.

Friday, 26 August 2005

Tut: The Final Conclusion

Tutankhamun, the famous boy-king of ancient Egypt, is famous for a few things: his parentage, short life and short reign; his world-famous funerary treasures; the "mummy's curse" and the rumours about his death.

Especially about his death.

He lived in a very screwed-up time (one of many) in ancient Egypt, no thanks to his predecessor, Akhenaten, who dismantled a centuries-old social order and nearly caused the country's collapse. So hated was Akhenaten and his bloodline that great measures were taken to erase them from history. The gaps in this time frame, dubbed the Amarna period, left plenty of room for scholars to explore - and pad.

For a while, the juiciest theory about his death was that of murder; Tut's vizier may have plotted his king's death and married the royal widow to seize the throne. In order to prove or disprove this theory, Tut's tomb and his mummy have been thoroughly examined. The initial findings seemed to prove the murder theory. Along with clues of a hasty burial, possible genetic defects and court intrigue, the "murder mystery" continued to tantalise many for years.

Early this year however, the Egyptians decided to conduct their own investigation (covered in the National Geographic documentary, Tut: Resurrected) with the help of CT scans. They concluded that Tut's death was caused by something more mundane: an infected knee fracture. Tomb paintings show that Tut was an avid outdoorsman, and that he fought in a battle. In either case, an accident or an enemy caused the wound that ultimately killed him.

Pretty convenient, I'd say.

When he was first found, Tut was "glued" into his coffin by the unguents used to mummify him, so a "Dr" Douglas Derry freed Tut from the coffin - by cutting him into pieces. That certainly didn't help those who would autopsy him in the future, nor did it improve the overall condition of the mummy. When they laid eyes on Tut, the Egyptian team was shocked to note the damage Derry had done, and the subsequent deterioration of his mummy.

Were the more plausible findings released to snuff out the wilder theories regarding Tut - along with any future exhumations - and allow him to finally rest in peace?

Sunday, 17 July 2005

A Rainy Night Out

A friend invited me out to The Curve on a Thursday night for a drink and maybe a light meal for my belated birthday. I was expecting some sort of payback after calling this friend up to wish her happy birthday - almost one month late.

The trip to The Curve for the occasion was rather uneventful: it rained, the roads were slick, and the street-lights reflecting off the wet roads obscured the lines. Adding to the mix were drivers who behaved like the typical Malaysian road demon.

It was my first time at The Curve; even though I had plenty of opportunities to go there, I never found the time or the need. I was unimpressed by the architecture, although the open-air "street" was nice. As I was wondering where she was (there was no sign of her at the rendezvous point), I spotted a Little Penang Kafé across the "street". Then I saw two of the Kafé's waiters gesturing at my direction. I ignored them (because usually, nobody gives me a damn) until someone shouted from behind me, and I realised what was going on.

My poor friend - dining at the Kafé - had seen me and came running after me, huffing and puffing. That was what the waiters were trying to tell me - and I did not have a clue.

Coincidentally, it was at MidValley's Little Penang Kafé that I had dinner with her and her mother, the first time we met after... a few years?

If you're curious: yes, she's a tad chunky, but that's just her. It's an improvement to what she used to look like. Frankly I was more concerned about her health than her silhouette, then and now. She's currently selling RO water (yep, selling water. You gotta have skill for that, you know). She majored in Mass Comm and taught English for a while. She's also an ex-neighbour who looked much hotter in her teens.

Let's call her Sarah.

After her dinner we left for a drink since "it was still early". She led me to a HaLo Café at first. We'd barely taken our seats when her phone rang. Five minutes later she decided that she had to finish her call in private - and because an ah beng in a cap was on stage, strumming a guitar and trying very hard to rupture some eardrums.

I've never been to HaLo Café (and a lot of other places) before. There's even one at OUG's Citrus Park. I don't know if they're all the same everywhere else, but G*d help me if they are. It seemed like HaLo catered to the Cina crowd. Nobody seemed to mind the awful singing on stage; from the prices I suspect some members of the top management were ah longs (RM2 for "skyjuice" is plain extortion); the menus, though well-designed, were riddled with corrections, amendments and language gaffes ("Gas Drink" cracked me up).

Sarah eventually returned, probably because her phone battery was dying. Sensing my discomfort, she suggested we go someplace else. She took me on a "tour" around the half of the mall that was not already closed because it was late (around ten, I think).

"There's a Coffee Bean, and IKEA's just opposite, and over there is a McDonald's..."

"Mm-hmm... yes..." (Mentally, I'm thinking: y'know, I could always come back and look for myself, thank you) Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for her invitation, but I just have this obscure need to have the occasional nasty thought.

We finally settled for a drink at a TGI Friday's (the original rendezvous point). It was last order time, and given Friday's reputation for good food, the urge to snack was hard to resist. "Do you have 'last customer' discounts?" She asked the waiter at one point. Her brazenness alarms me. She even had the audacity to ask a waiter at a mamak stall about the prices for a dish (we know they follow "market prices"). We ended up having just drinks.

We had the longest conversation ever since we both left Penang. Friday's was quieter (no live band, but the one in the Slippery Senoritas opposite was trying hard), and despite the absence of alcohol, the words flowed freely. We both certainly aged a lot. Got sadder too, but a bit wiser (though I do have frequent lapses in judgement fuelled by fury).

There was a funny moment when she was describing a blind date incident (hers).

"My friend introduced this guy to me," she began. "He likes music, and musicals - things I also liked. But when I saw the guy, it was like, oh my God! He was so fat, and his moustache was all over his face, he was like... like..."

"Lu - Lucianno Pavarotti?!" I stage-gasped as she groped for a description. "You - dated - Lucianno Pavarotti?!"

I couldn’t recall exactly what else we talked about. It was a simple meeting, hardly even a date. No fancy food. No alcohol. Most of the shops had closed. Yet I felt great. It’s been an hour and two dozen MP3s, and I’m just wrapping up this post.

Maybe that's the state of mind everybody should be in when schmoozing with buddies. Because it is special. We only go round once.

So do our friends, by the way.

Friday, 24 June 2005

How Not to Start the Day, Part II

My project manager entered the office, and by way of greeting, recalled the gory details of an accident site she passed by this morning (probably the one I heard on the radio, the one near Bandar Utama).

"It was so terrible," she went. "The body was pinned under the lorry, there was blood everywhere... the victim's organs were scattered all over..."

Good morning to you, too.

"...there was blood and organs on the floor, and the policeman had to use newspapers to scoop it all up and take it away..."

Forget what I said earlier. Skip breakfast if you want to.

How Not to Start the Day, Part I

One 21 June, the Minister in the PM’s Department blew his top in Parliament in such a way that defies belief.

The MPs were debating the Malaysian Medical Council's decision to no longer recognise medical degrees issued by Ukraine's Crimea State Medical University. The decision unfortunately affected a number of Indian students. The discussion got somewhat heated, and said Minister, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz, added fuel to the fire with outbursts (which I translated) such as:

"Yes, sit, sit, sit, sit, racist, this Ipoh Barat (refers to M Kula Segaran, DAP and MP of West Ipoh) is racist, sit, sit."

"Sit, racism, racism, racism, this is racism, sit, enough."

"Bloody racist, racist, racist, racist..."

The MP being harangued spoke up, only to be told by Nazri, "Sit, racism, you are racist, racist, you are racist, you have got no place in this country. Malaysia doesn't want racists, you are racist."

The drama starts at the end of page 127 of this document. I'm surprised this was actually on public record.

And that is why, you should never, ever skip breakfast.

Thursday, 16 June 2005

Ah, Cats

Interesting creatures, cats. Carefree, cuddly, nice to have around, they're a favourite choice for people who want a low-maintenance animal companion. There's a reason why they're so low-maintenance.

Cats are built to kill. Agile and nimble, with sharp retractable claws, silent footsteps, quick reflexes and excellent night vision, they are the ninjas of the animal kingdom. (In an English suburb, domesticated house cats that have been allowed to roam freely at night actually threatened the local bird and rodent population.)

There have been reports of pet cats "sharing" their kills with their owners. If it's happened to you, it's no compliment. Cats are predators, and hunting skills mean a lot to them. It's their way of saying, "Hey, here's my catch of the night, you bald useless ape of a den-mate. When are you going to start pulling your weight?"

Because of their self-sufficiency and excellent survival skills, cats are solitary by nature (who needs humans, anyway?) - unlike dogs, who are much better at schmoozing.

So action, right? It has every right to be - it's an efficient and effective hunter. (Why do you think Jessica Alba's Dark Angel was spliced with cat genes?)

When you meet a sweet, mewling, cuddly furball of a kitten however, your heart melts and you'll forget all that I've just told you.

Ah, cats. Eat your hearts out, fellow humans.

Sunday, 12 June 2005

A New Beginning...?

"Hello World!"

My, that was so cliché... (if you're a programmer, chances are you'll get it).

And that's that. Now leave me alone while I fool around with this new toy of mine.