Sunday, 31 December 2006

Year-End Travails of 2006, Continued

It seems that my itinerary of year-end hijinks hasn't come to an end just yet.

Car Service Centre, Act I
What was supposed to be a routine car service became not-so routine when they found a failed brake fluid pump, along with worn brake pads and faulty windshield wipers. After more than a year, my piece of Pauper's Plastic made a return appearance. I needed liquid cash, and if my fate involved being entombed within the wreck of my car, it will not be my fault.

While waiting, another customer joined me in the waiting room. Without the buzz from my morning coffee, I revealed details about myself I'd usually keep from strangers (like, where I came from, my age, etc). When I told him I wasn't attached, he asked, "Are you, like, gay?"

Him being a stranger, I forgave him. Nobody challenges my sexuality and comes away unscathed.

"Come on, no shame to admit it if you are."

Man, was he pushing it. Is this how members of my community engage in conversation with people they'd just met? Forget 2007; if this persists there will not be a single good day - let alone a good year - to set foot in Malaysia.

Car Service Centre, Act II
Later, when I was alone, I read a copy of The Star. It was yesterday's, but I didn't mind. When I reached the Citizen's Blog section, I found that a few self-righteous individuals just painted over fifty-five million bloggers worldwide, including yours truly, with a really broad brush. So what if all we cared about was the speed of our Internet connection? You'd be mad too if you're not getting what you paid for, which was what many users of our glorified narrowband service had to deal with. And it's not as if we're totally immune to disaster.

I was relieved to be able to continue on to my destination: Bandar Utama. It was the first time I'd used the Damansara-Puchong Highway totally unsupervised. I reached there in no time, and I didn't even get lost.

Launch of Write Out Loud, Ikano Power Centre
I heard about another book launch, and was intrigued; among the names were faces I wanted to see (like Alexandra, whom I've heard about from Irene), so off I went. Again, I was early, and again, I forgot the details of the event. I had the date, time and general venue correct, but... where exactly was it? I connected the dots and headed to what was probably the largest in the chain of Popular bookstores in the country.

After the launch there was a short reading session involving some of the contributing authors, among whom were Her Majesty Boadicea, who'd read her contribution, an abstract piece of prose with a misleading title. She later cajoled me into buying a copy, effectively backing me up a wall. I'd just come from servicing my car; any purchase I'd make from that point onward required serious thinking.

In the end, there was just no denying Her Majesty's will.

Returning with my newly-purchased copy, I spied Irene, who had come to "surprise" Alexandra with her unscheduled presence. I chatted briefly with Ted Mahsun, and collected a few signatures. My request that Alexandra use that timelessly endearing line, "Thanks for buying the book, YOU CHEAP BASTARD!" was politely turned down. How disappointing.

A real surprise (not like Irene's) was the business card given out by Karen-Ann Theseira, captain of the Write Out Loud (formerly known as The Book Project) project. Turns out she has a day job. I did recall someone saying, "If you want to be a writer, get a job that doesn't involve writing."


Meatballs at IKEA Restaurant
The ladies were hungry, and there were plans to eat at the IKEA Restaurant. I gatecrashed the gathering in my typical fashion; I was hungry, too - and I had an unsatisfied curiosity about Swedish Meatballs. New tastes, and a chance to expand my social circle. "Killing two birds with one stone" should be in my résumé's Skills section.

Apart from Alexandra and Irene, there was Kat, also another of Irene's friends, and a friend of Kat's as well. Both have blogs, apparently, but I wasn't in the mood to ask for URLs then (I had meatballs in my head). We did have an interesting conversation, where Kat's friend, Z (wonder if he knows V?), demonstrated an unusual level of maturity and intelligence.

Where did I go wrong when I was growing up?

From Alexandra, I learned about an old schoolmate from my days at Penang Free School. She didn't say anything about a funeral, so I assumed that he must still be alive. The guy was a regular at the school's Chess Club, which I joined only to pad my school testimonial. I'd sign the attendance form and let him or some other club member whup my ass in less than fifteen moves, before leaving for my Malay language tuition class. Besides, I had no patience for the game.

This year's going to end on a peaceful note for me. See you all next year.

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Like Rain On Your Wedding Day

The buzzword of the day is SLOW, with varying numbers of Ws, depending on the levels of stress, boredom, or an unhealthy mix of both. It's half-past midnight, and the local blogosphere is absolutely buzzing with busybodies who are having better luck updating their blogs than I.

While fifty or so Malaysian bloggers sing "The Internet is Slow-Wow-Wow-Wow-Wow", I'm stuck here waiting in vain for the Blogger home page to load.


If ExaBytes came out with a special Quake-Proof Web Hosting Package for bloggers, they might see lines longer than those formed for the PlayStation 3.

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Taiwan Quake Boosts Productivity

Malaysia was effectively cut off from the rest of cyberspace when the latest Taiwan quake shook some undersea cables to bits. Sites hosted within the country are unaffected by the interruption.

The local ISPs are downplaying the severity of the outage by claiming that reductions of connection speed, rather that total inaccessibility, is to be expected for the next several days while the damage is being repaired. Mostly true, of course, but speeds are so slow while accessing overseas sites it might as well be inaccessible.

Meanwhile, millions of office drones all over the country (including yours truly) have no choice but to work more, now that many of the latest on-line soccer/golf/basketball scores, news sites, forums, blogs and gossip columns are temporarily unavailable.

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Year-End Travails of 2006

Last weekend was spent hopping between a well-read, intellectual, boozing, fun-loving crowd to a wild, hardcore-partying, boozing fun-loving crowd.

My first Readings session saw the launch of Project Elarti, a magazine by the boys of Neohikayat. I was among the earliest arrivals, besides Sharon Bakar and Nicholas. Other highlights of the event included Sharon's forgetfulness, an incident with a recalcitrant wine cork, and my first glimpse of a blook.

The crowd was smart, open and unafraid of the new and unexplored, not to mention much more cosmopolitan, with more Malays and Caucasians. The atmosphere was not unlike that of a penny university where intellectuals gathered to talk shop, split hairs or gossip over a warm cuppa. Frankly, I felt intimidated.

I was very much afraid of yawning or falling asleep during the readings; most of them read their own pieces. Original works. No cop-outs reciting Hemingway, Burns or Tennyson here. Fortunately, I stayed relatively awake during the whole session, which was interrupted by the muezzin from a nearby mosque.

Sorry about the wine bottle, Sharon. I'll practise.

KY's Christmas Eve Party
There was a surprise at the party: the attendance of ex-colleague WildGuy. At a birthday party last year, I found out the KY and WildGuy worked at KLCC, and assumed they'd eventually bump into each other. They did and are practically best friends now.

WildGuy hasn't changed; he's very much that pumped, angry, unrestrained, sexist, misogynistic, ultra-macho xenophobe he was a couple of years ago (still the same bundle of fun). I missed his frank and unvarnished assessments about everything, including myself. I also discovered that his angst remains at the same level, sober or otherwise.

Overall the party atmosphere was quite muted (but still intoxicating), at least up till the Secret Santa session; Fireangel, the Spice of Every Party was elsewhere that night. Though I knew why I couldn't drink, the word "allergy" disappeared from my vocabulary that evening, which was how I ended up being force-fed alcohol from a communal Grail. I also tore my knuckles open bashing the punching bag that hung in KY's kitchen (with some encouragement from WildGuy.

I made it home safe. Thankfully, there wasn't a single police roadblock.

Friday, 22 December 2006

Getting Wet in Johor

It was shades of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in our own backyard as Johor saw flood waters at levels never seen since half a century ago. Damage estimates and death tolls will inevitably rise like the waters, as the next few days of news will testify.

True to form, the politicians scapegoated Mother Nature, vainly hoping it would cover up deficiencies in the flood control and rescue capabilities (like the time they blamed a "squall line" with equally vain hopes, and also to imply a certain amount of sophistication on their part). When shown the offensive article, a colleague (whose hometown is in Muar), shook her head and sighed, "They'll say just about anything right now."

Of course they would. Why should that surprise me?

If I were to see signs in this tragedy, they would all bear the same message: being a "pivotal" part of your country doesn't mean you don't have to get your feet wet.

Tackling Tennyson - Sort Of

Encouraged by some regulars of Readings@Seksan's, I wrote about my impressions about this poem by Tennyson for a local poets' community blog. I didn't feel confident at first, but when told to "write my impressions about a poem of your choosing", it became easier.

Charge of the Light Brigade
first published in Puisi-poesy, 22 December 2006

A slip of the keyboard gave away my fondness for narrative poems, which included Robert Browning's Pied Piper of Hamelin, and Tennyson's Charge of The Light Brigade.

Charge was a bit more memorable because it commemorates an event that took place in one of the many battles fought during the Crimean War. From the moment I learned to read, I found fact more fascinating than fiction. This was evident in the number of encyclopaedias at home, one of which mentioned the infamous charge ("...the 600-odd riders charged towards the wrong guns!").

I first Tennyson's "account" of the charge during secondary school; the poem was part of a comprehension exercise. I vaguely remember flipping through all my English books looking for poetry and excerpts from books, more out of boredom than anything else; it was the only subject I excelled in without having to study. But I digress.

So, what was the Charge?

In the 19th century, an alliance of British, French and Turkish soldiers faced off the Russians in the Crimean War. The battle which saw Tennyson's Charge was to prevent the port of Balaclava, the British supply base, from falling into Russian hands. At one point during the battle, Russian soldiers managed to overrun a position manned by some Turks and made off with a small cache of British cannons. The Light Brigade, a detachment of lightly armed cavalry, was sent to retrieve the hardware.

However, the army commander who gave the order forgot to take the terrain into account. While he could follow the thieving Russians from his vantage point high above the battlefield, that path was not visible to the Light Brigade. They ended up charging into a narrow valley bristling with a live battery of guns manned by the Russian Don Cossacks. The army commander could only watch as the cavalry rode towards their doom.

Fortunately for the Light Brigade, all wasn't lost. The Don Cossacks, caught off-guard by the cavalry's reckless manoeuvre, didn't score as many kills as they should have. Unable to retrieve the stolen guns, the Light Brigade had to make do with the Don Cossacks.

While the Charge completely freaked out the Russians, it was less well-received at home. The usual finger-pointing and drama took place over who was to blame. It's all depressing when you realise all this hasn't changed much after two centuries. Nobody chose to fault the soldiers, who were eulogised by press and poet alike.

Warfare has since evolved, but the factors that made the Charge possible still haunts today's armies. When it eventually ends, who will pay homage to the US' Noble Three Thousand (and Counting)?

Friday, 15 December 2006

Some Water Cooler Conversation

"What? No way!" exclaimed the Tall Dude with Glasses at the office pantry's doorway. I'd just come back from lunch and was about to make some coffee-flavoured beverage.

"Yes, there's a tiny ring on the cap to help you pull it out to expose the hole," explains Tea Lady. From what I could see, Tall Dude and his ilk had no idea that there's a cap on the water cooler bottle that has to be removed before it's installed. That didn't surprise me.

"Whoa! Like, totally news, man!" he said, moving a stray strand of hair back into place. "We just plunk the whole bottle in there!"

I believed him, because there was evidence of that. Outside the pantry laid the said bottle. The removable cap had caved into the hole where the tube's supposed to go. Sometimes we get bottles that are sealed with plastic labels with more visible tabs, but they just ignore the obvious and puncture the seal anyway - before "plunking" it in. I wonder if they do that in "real life" as well.

"Well," said Tea Lady, "now that you know, don't do it again."

"Okay," said Tall Dude.

I entered the pantry a moment later. "What a frog-in-a-well," I cracked, probably within earshot of Tall Dude. Not that I care, anyway. Besides, I have almost seven years of experience in the office. Even so, one would be able to do the right thing with a bit of exploration. Specimens like Tall Dude are everywhere nowadays, no thanks to the education system.

"He's not the only one," Tea Lady told me. "The people upstairs do the same thing." A brief stop "upstairs" later in the day confirmed it. Where's the creativity, the constructive daring in today's youth? It makes one despair.

"Maybe we should have a water cooler usage seminar or something," I mused, half-serious about the notion. Other seminars worth conducting would include essentials like writing (with pen and paper), interpersonal social skills (without cellphones and the Internet), proper washroom habits, anger management, along with sex and driver's ed. And yes, respect for public property.

Tea Lady brushed it aside. "No, that's not necessary. But it does get frustrating when things get broken. They (presumably Accounts or Purchasing) get testy when requests come in. It's getting harder to get things fixed now."

I agreed. Since the building's administration left, faulty wiring, air-conditioning and water supply became bigger problems than they used to. "Why don't we record Tall Dude's statement and send it to them?" I suggested earnestly. "It'll make things easier, I'm sure."

Tea Lady balked. "That's not necessary, either. But thanks for the suggestion."

"No charge."

Monday, 4 December 2006

Why, It's My First Book Launch Too

As a spectator, that is.

The book launch went well; more so for me because I set out to 1Utama earlier than usual. I arrived around noon, so I killed some time at the Crossfire Arcade.

At the fifth level parking lot, I watched with incredulity at the two cars parked on a designated roadway, blocking my route. Two irate guards were already there, radioing for backup, which arrived not long afterwards. I watched with satisfaction as the guards transformed the plot of concrete into a secure RM50 VIP parking spot, complete with locks (wheel clamps). When a bunch of flummoxed youngsters found their car firmly clamped to the concrete my joy for the day was complete. They learned a valuable lesson.

Yvonne had returned from Los Angeles after a successful tumour-removal and brainstem implant surgery, and was officially launching her first book. It would've been a shame to miss it. Not only is she an author, celebrity and friend, she's also the local blogosphere's first bionic woman. I was disappointed with the low turnout among the local blogging celebs, but Kenny Sia more than compensated for it. His presence there was a surprise. Suanie and Jack were also present (and I neglected the Hoegaarden!).

After fixing a few glitches with the mini-amplifier, the launch was underway. Yvonne talked about herself and the story of how she finally got published, taking sips of water every five minutes or so (a side-effect of the surgery, a theory she later confirmed). A short Q&A session followed. Most of the questions were fielded by an elderly Caucasian man with neat handwriting.

I now have a signed copy of the book, which I finished within an hour. There wasn't much volume, but Yvonne's message was conveyed in a concise, direct manner, a blessing for people with short attention spans. "I'm Not Sick, Just a Bit Unwell" may sound cliché, but it's a nice, uplifting read. More proof that good things don't need to look big.

Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Do They Dream of The Girl From Hell?

The first season of the anime series Jigoku Shojo (Girl from Hell) ended last night. I found the ending OK, but a bit anti-climatic. The whole series wasn't all that spooky to begin with.

It does, however, offer a peek at what's going on in Japanese/Far Eastern society lately: bullying, back-stabbing, unrealistic expectations, the stifling demands of centuries-old traditions and the desire to retaliate against all that. Thus, in true escapist fashion, fantasies like the Girl from Hell were born. How many of these angry, bitter souls would give up their chance of entering Nirvana in exchange for vengeance? Plenty, I'd say.

In the same report, according to the BBC's Tokyo correspondent, views on suicide in Japan haven't changed much since the days of the samurai. Even my cynical self finds this abhorrent beyond words. They are notoriously clingy when it comes to traditions. What is tradition anyway, other than behaviour sanctioned by ages of use? This kind of obstinacy annoys me a great deal. The willingness to lie and bribe to justify whaling; encouraging middle-aged princesses to supply male heirs for a purely symbolic dynasty, without any heed to their health and the objections of their spouses; and now, this.

Suicide, like vengeance, should be never be a "responsible" choice for anyone.

If the BBC correspondent's claims are true, Japanese society is in terminal condition. This country needs its young more than ever. The Administration, however, is overrun by dinosaurs who are instead brainwashing them about the "good old days", cultural superiority and that those fourteen losers in Yasukuni are actually heroes. The Mainland Chinese aren't helping either, with their ceaseless demands for "atonement", "apologies" and - the magic word - "compensation".

Confined by tradition and bogged down by other people's emotional baggage as well as their own, it's no surprise that some Japanese choose to take their own lives. How many others would be dreaming of the Girl from Hell?

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Sense Over Sensitivity

One day, while surfing the radio channels on the drive home from work, I stopped when Red FM 104.9 announced the airing of a "prize-winning ad". I kept my hopes low. "Prize-winners" from this country are famous for antics that draw laughter and ridicule from the international community.

"Oh, beautiful monster," sang a man in archetypical Indian-accented English, "why are you jumping in my heart?"

Before the defense could rest, the singer went and strengthened the case further by quoting Roberta Flack: "Now you are killing me softly with your smile... ."

It was Celcom, extolling the virtues of its new Tamil SMS services, "because some things make more sense in Tamil". After that horrid demonstration by that Hariharan-wannabe I could find no argument against it. That logic could be applied to foreign groups like Modern Talking and Michael Learns to Rock.

To drive the point home for the more thick-headed listeners, a melodic female voice posed a question in a similar accent, "How can baby fish eat a killer whale? How can that be?"

At that point I cracked up. It was awful, derogative and insensitive.

It was also hilarious.

Friday, 3 November 2006

Hopping Onto The Book Ban(d)wagon

Are you upset with the latest list of books banned in this country? You're not alone. A small cadre of bibliophiles have even set up a blog to reverse what they feel is a worrying trend. While I find the ban irksome, this kind of excessive mothering shows that the government doesn't think we can decide what's good for us.

Frankly, I'm not much of a book lover, so it doesn't affect me a whole lot. I'm doing this for fun. And I don't like being painted as a cloistered, immature puritan out of expediency.

One thing noticeable (and predictable) about the list is that most of the titles have something to do with sex, religion and women, or a combination of two or more of those. It looks as if the censors took just one look at the title and BAM! Down came the rubber stamp. Maybe it's the exhilaration in the stamping, like a power trip. Or, maybe it's something else that's the real focus of the stamper's ire.

Anyway, with the help of, I took a closer look at some of the books not investigated by fellow watchdogs.

  • The Beauty of Chinese Yixing Teapots
    This ban is a mystery; all the book apparently talks about is tea and teapots. I see no reason for this, except that maybe it's the author that's banned, or if there are pictures of teapots that look remotely sexy. Or, maybe it was really, really late at night. They were sleepy and thought they were looking at The Beauty of Chinese Yixing Sexpots instead. So, down came the rubber stamp.
  • Women
    This book, by Annie Leibovitz and the late Susan Sontag, does have some provocative pictures: partial nudity, exposed innerwear, etc. Of course the chances that it could be abused are great, but better stroke materiel is available through the Internet, and from our legion of young, brilliantly-coiffed bootleggers. Big heavy deal.
  • Company to Company Teacher's Book
    "...for anyone studying or working in business, commerce or administration who needs to correspond in English," says the blurb. I don't know why this was banned either. Did the author use an unflattering scenario about Malaysia in a case study? Or maybe it's the emphasis on using English as a business medium that offends the officials?
  • How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It's Best to Start Early, But It's Never Too Late : a Step-by-Step Guide for Every Age
    I still shudder with dread when I recall the New Straits Times report about our youth's ignorance on sexual matters ("You mean, sex is for making babies?"; "I can get AIDS through sex?"; "Sex makes me pregnant?"). They need to know, have to know. Don't deny them the knowledge.
  • Taking Chances
    Unfortunately, the ISBN given for this book was wrong, and a word search turned up multiple results. But I guess the title alone is threatening enough. Too many Malaysians are causing catastrophes by taking chances on roads, gaming machines and Magnum 3-D betting centres. What would happen if they started taking chances at general elections?
  • Life on Earth: And Other Pieces (The New Cambridge English Course)
    They banned an English course supplement? Can you blame me for thinking this is part of some covert nationalistic war on the perverse penetration of the English language in our society - which might actually be a good thing?
  • Addicted to Love: The Kate Moss Story
    What's worse than a book that "glorifies" an anorexic, neurotic supermodel, or a book that "glorifies" a drug addict? A book that "glorifies" an anorexic, neurotic supermodel who also happens to be a drug addict, with a topless but covered picture of said stick-figured substance-abuser splashed on the cover... Gah! My eyes!
  • The Poor Bastard
    An anonymous reviewer talks about this book, thus: "...Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy feels trapped, treats girl like crap and takes her for granted. Girl breaks up with boy and moves on. Boy can't get over it, ...and falls into a hellish, self-conscious existence pondering his hang-ups, aging body, mortality, inability to meet women, obsession with porn..."

    Hmm. Does this sound like people we know?
  • The Missing Page and Ransom
    These books by Singaporean Douglas Chua, set in an alternate reality where we are really at war with Singapore. Somebody has issues.

On the other hand, banning Spongebob Squarepants from the airwaves is a much better move. His bizarre laugh gets on my nerves.

Thursday, 2 November 2006

Today's Matinee Feature

More than 5,000 policemen. 1,000 Road Transport Department enforcement officers. 8,000 firemen. A 15-day nationwide campaign.

Road accidents: 15,716 cases.

Death toll: reduced by five.

Ops Sikap XI
Malaysians Don't Give a Damn

Today The Malay Mail sarcastically asks, "Is Ops Sikap XI worth it?" The answer's blatantly obvious.

They don't care about their loved ones, and don't mind leaving them with tragic memories.

They don't mind being compared to four-year-olds or the colour-blind.

They don't mind spending the rest of their lives in a coma (they don't like cookies baked by their children too, it seems).

They don't mind orphaning their children or widowing their spouses.

They don't mind orphaning other people's children or widowing other people's spouses.

They're convinced that driving big or expensive vehicles grants them g*d-like status on the roads.

Most of all, they don't think it could happen to them. So far, at least 15,716 people found out they were wrong.

So was it worth it? Not to me. But such a minor setback won't stop the roll-out of the next big production, Ops Sikap XII: Malaysians Still Don't Give a Damn.

Friday, 13 October 2006

Lite Bites 13/10/2006

It's the end of the day, and drafting posts at home while online is a real drag.

I opened the front door this morning and Cloud, one of the two black cats of the neighbourhood was sitting there at the porch. Friday the 13th greeted me in style.

My first Moonshine event was OK. The bands were good, but unfortunately I couldn't stay long (my apologies, Albert). I'm recovering from another bout of food poisoning and I wasn't feeling too good that night. And there was still all that second-hand smoke.

My friend Sarah had joined me after a chat with her friends. She couldn't stay long either; she'd been up since 6am and I was afraid she'd fall asleep behind the wheel and crash (like an accident site I saw on the way home last night), so I gave her leave to leave.

The girls from Rhapsody were great, as was Lightcraft. Sei Hon was OK, although he did forget some lyrics, and his song about a guy in love with a lesbian also touched a raw nerve in Sarah.

Before I left I had to thank the man who made it happen. Great job, Reza.

Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor is irritated because, according to him, the foreign press is unfairly targeting Malaysia about the haze. "On BBC, on CNN, everywhere I look, it's all about Malaysia. 'Stay away from Malaysia; it's the haze season.' Why don't they bash Singapore, Brunei or Indonesia? It's hazy there, too," he rants. "Maybe it's me they're after, I don't know. I know that some people like me, some don't. They're jealous, I tell you. They're jealous of Malaysia."

I don't know about the "being jealous of Malaysia" part, but honestly, the reason I think we're so popular is because of the tremendous noise we make every time our neighbour starts exporting smoke particles from burning trees, grass, palm trunks and the occasional charred orang utan or arsonist. As an asthmatic, I can't be too quiet about this. Especially since this might be turning into an annual event. The air in KL is already bad without the haze.

With regards to our Tourism Minister: It's always the prerogative of the ruling elites to pull out some Western conspiracy theory from the air (and there's plenty of substance in the air right now), so I'd suggest taking his "envy of Malaysia" theory with less than a pinch of salt. Until recently, I've never even heard of him.

Case in point: When I brought this up with Irene during a phone conversation, her reply was, "I don't know either! I don't have time to care or find out! My finances are a mess, my car's a mess, my life's a mess! I have more important things to worry about!"

Same here. I'm beginning to feel kind of jealous of the Tourism Minister. He seems to have so much free time.

Novels, art exhibits, cartoons, plays, and television shows have been the focus of radical Islamic rage throughout the world recently as these born-again warriors of the faith emerged from the shadows where they lurked, at last finding their voice and power after that event known as 9/11.

The latest target of their ire? A glass structure built for Apple Computers. Why? Because it looks like a cube, and it resembles the Ka'ba.

Problem is, nobody's even reported on this when I came across the news bit this afternoon. In fact, some reports are claiming that the "furore" over Apple's Glass Cube, along with other issues, was largely exaggerated. There's even some kind words from Muslims for the design.

But let's give our Muslim brothers and sisters some credit. The majority of them are generally unfazed by any threat to their faith, real or otherwise. When a senior official at a local company postulated that greeting non-Muslims Happy Whatever-Their-Religiously-Themed-Holidays-Are that included invoking names of alien gods was blasphemous, government officials begged to differ. The chief of a local Muslim think-tank went so far as to suggest the fellow be sacked. Hey, live and let live.

Monday, 18 September 2006

Part-Time Ascetic

The light fever came just before I was getting ready to go home from work. I drove straight to the clinic. The same doctor I saw in July was in, so I'm in good hands. He's a tad more humble and friendly than some of the others on duty at the premises. What is it this time, you say? The old complaint, of course: my infected throat.

This time, he laid down the law. Plain gruel. Plain bread (with honey, if it gets too monotonous). Soy is OK too. No dairy products, no oil, no fruits and vegetables, no cereals, and definitely no meat, nothing cold, and nothing spicy.

"So, essentially, I'm going to have to live like a sadhu," I quipped.

"Ha ha, exactly," was the doctor's enthusiastic reply.

Hell. I'm back in Hell.

Friday, 15 September 2006

They Will Not Be Tamed

Two factions face off in the print and digital versions of The Star. The authorities have declared war on the illegal motorcycle racers collectively known as Mat Rempit, promising hell for the racers and their fans - once they figured out what kind of hell they want for the job.

The racers, meanwhile, have made their stand: unless the authorities build more racetracks to accommodate their favourite pastime, they will continue with what they've been doing. This comes after the antics of a group of racers and their hangers-on embarrassed Putera UMNO with their wild behaviour.

"Why are there so many golf courses in the city and so few tracks? It looks like nobody bothers about us because we have no money."

— Fairuz, 24, mechanic and illegal racer

Because golfers, unlike your pimped-out rides, don't roar like a swarm of gigantic mutant mosquitoes the likes of which only Godzilla can fight. Nor do their hobbies endanger the lives and mental health of innocent bystanders (barring that unlucky stray shot). Even if the anger from your frustrations is tamed, who'd be able to tolerate the noise? Then again, he has a point: why do we need so many golf courses?

"Mat Rempit will gamely take part in government-organised roadshows and convoys. But after that, it’s back to their cliques and street racing."

— Kechik, 23, student and illegal racer

What was that famous phrase? "Be, and it is?" It works both ways, it seems.

"All this negativity about us stems from the activities of a small number who were reported beating up people and caught for vandalism."

— Zaki, 25, IT professional and illegal racer

That will be little comfort for the victims of the small number, who will have to brave insurance claim hell, empty their pockets and live with the fact that the perpetrators of their misery may never be caught. If the illegal racing is nobody's business but theirs, they shouldn't drag innocent bystanders into it.

To be fair, some valid points were raised. Some of them have brilliant minds (to be expected of rogues "who can overclock a motorbike to go up to 200 klicks per hour"), like Zaki, who lays bare the motives behind Putera UMNO's re-branding exercise: "Looks like someone's trying to get political mileage out of 'taming' us."

So there you have it. They say they will not be tamed. Expect more shallow, cynical hair-brained schemes from Putera UMNO, and (unless something else is done) future clashes between these lawless thrill-seekers and the public, or the authorities.

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

The ROCK4HOPE Report

I couldn't write about ROCK4HOPE - or anything else - earlier this week because the oyster omelette I had last Saturday night eventually 9/11-ed me. I had little sleep last night as well; the pressure from my sinuses and the headache from sleeping too much kept me wide, wide awake, forcing tears from my pressurised eyeballs.

For a rock concert it was a pretty low-key affair. That was the overall impression of the ROCK4HOPE event at Sunway University College last Saturday night.

I got there earlier than expected and spent about forty-five minutes at the foyer, pacing up and down or sitting down, while passing a bottle of mineral water between my hands. I helped two friends of Yvonne, CY and Cecilia, carry a huge plastic bag full of T-shirts to the multi-purpose hall (and back down to the parking lot when it was over). I also bought a button, from the folks who created, home of a stylised Martian giraffe. There were also door gifts: Cadbury chocolates and Halls' eucalyptus candies, courtesy of the sponsors.

The concert, nearly two hours of brain-jarring, heart-thumping, ear-deafening fun, started late, apparently to accommodate the late-comers. The turnout, however, was a complete disappointment. Attempts at espionage hinted at discrepancies between ticket sales and attendance (more sales, less attendees). A pity really. The bands played quite well and the event organisation went smoothly. Yvonne's book was also on sale, and the author herself was there to sign copies for the lucky buyers.

Bona fide head-bangers Albert and Her Majesty Boadicea were really into it that night, I can tell you (offers of medicated oil and capsicum patches for sore necks and shoulders were gracefully declined). And the bass man of Deja Voodoo Spells plucked the themes from Super Mario Brothers and Doraemon, much to the delight of the crowd.

"Betcha feel real old, don't you?" Albert said after the concert.

Well... yes.

Monday, 4 September 2006

Monday Mourning

I open the Yahoo! main page and - Crikey! Steve "Dances with Crocs" Irwin is dead...! Shanked in the chest by a stingray, no less. By now all of meatspace and cyberspace are afire with news of his passing. But no surprise here; many feel that his antics with animals too dangerous to even approach would eventually be his undoing.

Still, it is also the same infectious enthusiasm that has gotten people interested in wildlife conservation, and not just for his beloved crocodilian species. Lots of viewers, yours truly included, followed his adventures and misadventures with no small amount of trepidation, wondering when would the fatal encounter be. It's a tragic irony to be tagged by a stingray after so many close shaves with saltwater crocodiles and venomous snakes.

The late Crocodile Hunter joins a list of exceptional personalities whose pursuit of their passions led to their deaths. Among them are:

  • Joseph Slowinski, a herpetologist, died in 2001 after being bitten by a krait in a rural area in Myanmar. The snake was brought to him in a sack; he'd reached into it without even a peek at the contents. Too far away from any medical facility, the bite eventually killed him.
  • The Kraffts, Maurice and Katia, were a husband and wife team of volcanologists who were killed in 1991 by a pyroclastic flow at Mount Unzen in Japan, along with a number of journalists. The wave of hot ash and gases caught them completely off-guard.

Catch y'later, Stevo.

Viva La Bodega

As part of my continuing Misadventures in Getting A Life, I journeyed last night to La Bodega, KL for the final Troubaganger gig at that venue, titled Voices From Next Door. The emcees later informed the audience that the place was making way for a steamboat restaurant(!) and added cheerfully, "...maybe they'll have karaoke!"

Like Japanese words of a similar bent (Ringu and Ju-On come to mind), the very mention of karaoke fills me with stark naked horror. What a terrible thing to do.

After I raised the subject during a conversation, a friend decided to tag along, and maybe bring another friend with her. The catch was that I'd be driving. After a roundabout trip to a spot where they could park their cars, I played chauffeur to two gorgeous women: Sarah and her friend, Kuldip. Turns out both ladies had been to La Bodega before, so no difficulties in getting there.

When we arrived, the staff told us we were early; the gig was to start at 9pm (as opposed to 8pm, as advertised on the web site). No matter, we decided to have dinner there. We got seats on the first floor, directly facing the window. Dinner was some salmon with salsa verde, chicken fried in olive oil, and fried Mahon cheese, with lots of bread. I was tempted by the snails, but Kuldip would have none of it. Maybe next time.

Sharanya Manivannan was the first familiar face I spotted, although it was also the first time I'd met her in person. Kyels was there (surprise) and Sarah #2 (surprise, surprise). Jason Lo (whoa) was in attendance, too.

The gig's main aim was to promote a compilation CD, also titled Voices From Next Door. Sarah bought a copy; I decided to wait for its appearance at a record store.

Overall, the performances were great. Izzy Mohamed, Owen Nicholas and Kevin of Broken Scar were exceptional. Nicholas, in particular, threatened to bring the house down (with his foot stomping, if not his vocals). The performance by the soulful Reza Salleh, however, was marred by the band's loud instruments.

We had to leave at the half-time break; it was late, I had to escort the ladies back to their cars, and I had work tomorrow. And there was also a stopover at a mamak stall for a late-night bite. Maybe we should've had the snails. More bread would've been nice, too.

I had a real good time. Good food, good company, good entertainment. I could've done without all that secondhand smoke, though.

Monday, 28 August 2006

Out of My League at MPH

With nothing scheduled in my social calendar, I gatecrashed the E-Book Forum/Hi-Tea with Local Authors event at MPH, 1Utama yesterday. After catching the Gen-Y wave at KLCC last month, I thought I'd hang around people around my age. I mistakenly assumed that the forum was an invitation-only event, so I stayed outside the Booker Room briefly before wandering off. I'm not really for e-books - not where novels and poems are concerned anyway.

I returned later, just as the hi-tea was in full swing. Lillian Too, Queen of Afflictions had come and gone, which was fine by me (I'm not really a fan). I met Yvonne and her friend Cordelia, with whom I had an interesting conversation. I was full at the time, so I didn't eat a bite.

I also met towering personalities like Lydia Teh, Sharon Bakar, Xeus and Lim May Zhee, probably the youngest published chick-lit author in the region. While Vanitee Bee won't be appearing on my bookshelf anytime soon, I hope she and her talents continue to grow. If she writes something other than chick-lit, I might consider a peek.

Sharon and Lydia remembered me through my comment-box moniker, and the suggestions for fixing the sidebar menus on Sharon's blog. Normally anyone's head would swell, but I felt humbled. Gobsmacked. Just like when TV Smith remembered the name of BP Bites...! Version 1.0 on Geocities when I introduced myself to him during the PPS 2nd Anniversary Bash last year.

Other bloggers in attendance (for different reasons) were Boadicea and Kyels. Her Majesty Boadicea thought little of the coffee being served (if it's Nescafé, I don't blame her), giving me some ideas for a future post.

It was great to see new and familiar faces in the event. On top of that, I had a fanboy moment after shaking Reggie Lee's hand. Can or not?

Saturday, 19 August 2006

The PopCon Chicken Caper

Hi, I am BP, and I'm writing about my experience with KFC's Popcorn Chicken Shake nearly two years ago.

"Popcorn Chicken"? This marketing gimmick was simply chicken coated in KFC's special recipe batter and cooked into semblances of popcorn-like balls, served in an authentic popcorn box. Like most KFC specials, it had to be combined with various side dishes before it can be considered a meal. The Popcorn Chicken Shake promo just meant that you could add another dimension to your already flavoured chicken bits with a choice of three (or was it four?) artificial flavourings in small convenient satchets. The available serving sizes were Microscopic, Tiny and Small.

Being a creature of habit, and egged on by the ludicrous radio ads for the entreé for days, I took the plunge one fine day at a KFC outlet near the office.

There were about a dozen individual faux popcorn bits in my order. The shaker was a small paper cup with a plastic cover ripped off a 7-Eleven Slurpee stand. My flavouring of choice was smoky barbecue. I felt a bit foolish pouring the contents out of the box and into the shaker along with the seasoning. Surprise, surprise, there wasn't enough room for all the pieces. Nearby, a small family consisting of a bawling ill-tempered Brat, his mother and an elderly female relative sat by a window.

I tipped the contents of the satchet and started shaking.

shake shake shake

Oh yeah. I was absolutely suave and debonair doing this - not. I tried very hard to ignore the imaginary stares boring into my back and forehead.

shake shake shake

Ten seconds into this and I was totally embarrassed. Even today's kids wouldn't even give this a second look. Me and my curiosity. I opened the cover and dig in. I tasted very little of the smoky barbecue flavour, but it was there. Strangely familiar, too.

shake shake shake

Oh right! It's the Generic Smoky BBQ Flavour™ used in every food chain owned by KFC Holdings Malaysia. Mmm, yes. Nothing like the taste of home. Meanwhile, Brat dropped his toy on the floor for the third time and howled for its return.

shake shake shake

It started tasting more and more like chicken in barbecue marinade - after lying in an oven under medium heat for about three hours, that is: dry and totally rough. Brat dropped his toy for the fifth time.

shake shake shake

"The more you shake it, the better it gets™", huh? No kidding. There was an increasing amount of batter chips at the bottom of the shaker, which explains why the balls were tasting even more and more like chicken. I also spied some crystalline slivers of monosodium glutamate (MSG) among the batter bits. My mood does not improve. In fact, it gets worse as Brat droped his toy for the eighth time. I no longer kept count after that.

The meal started getting uncomfortable as the batter coating began tearing into the roof of my mouth. The orange-flavoured soda did squat for the wounds. The ill-mannered Brat was still at it. I began harbouring unwholesome desires to throw him out the window.

At long last, the ordeal was over. Many of the fast food promo dishes are mediocre at best, but rare were those that caused me such pain. I never ordered or accepted offers for KFC Popcorn Chicken ever again.

I emptied my cup of soda, and as I got up to leave, I saw Brat and his family at the top of the stairs leading to the exit. A man with a full tray was trying to get up, but Brat's mom refused to give way and squeezed past the fellow, followed by her entourage.

So that's where Brat got his manners from.

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Burning Passions

Silly season comes to Malaysia as the anniversary of our independence lurks just around the corner. The reason I don't join in is because I'm way too stingy and lazy to spend the money and effort to buy and install the flag; I have nothing to prove. Plus, this is nothing more than an attempt to stroke some really big, yet fragile egos who are merely riding on the sacrifices and successes of their predecessors.

Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin, however, has his own theories.

"Some people are shy to put up the flag at their houses. It is not embarrassing, so why feel shy?"

...those who did not fly the Jalur Gemilang were unpatriotic and had no love for the country. These people, he added, also did not appreciate what the country’s leaders had done and were ignorant of the fact that the comfort and prosperity they enjoyed today were the results of a long struggle.

If I had "no love for the country", I'd be dabbling in more exciting and profitable lines like drug trafficking, prostitution, sand theft, poaching and illegal logging, not to mention CD and DVD piracy. If I were "unpatriotic" I'd be spotting soft targets in the country for the likes of Jemaah Islamiyah or maybe Abu Sayyaf.

But no. Cowardly, honest me had to learn Malay to pass all my exams, take up an honest line of work cranking documents, pay my taxes, contribute to the EPF and endure inefficient bureaucracy for my driver's license, MyKad and passport. For the sake of family, friends and the wonderful cooks who make my daily staples, I decide to stay put and stay out of trouble.

Not only is that not enough, I'm being accused of being an unpatriotic, unappreciative, ignorant Malaysia-hater.

What did the Prime Minister say about lies and slander, O Minister of Information?

While the Jalur Gemilang (the Stripes of Glory - our flag) is being hoisted by those who gave in to your lame attempt at emotional blackmail, home-grown terrors still stalk the streets: loan sharks, snatch thieves, burglars, road bullies, loutish cabbies, carjackers, robbers and corrupt policemen. How about telling them to "love our country" and stop what they're doing?

Speaking of flags: The dagger-waving chief of UMNO Youth has given his underlings explicit permission to burn the flags of Israel - and if they feel like it - those of the US and Britain, in protest of the spat in Lebanon, with promises of a "tsunami wave of protest to force the mighty powers to bow to the demand for peace".

That's right, fear us! We burn flags! Repent and mend your ways or we will burn even more of your flags! And effigies! Tons of them! We'll reproduce your entire Senate/Cabinet/Parliament and set them ablaze! You will feel as if your own flesh is burning because of our extraordinary workmanship!

So what if it's currently the haze season? So what if open burning is against the law? We don't care!

The smoke from the piles of burning flags of the Great Satan, Evil Occupier and Subservient Poodle, while adding to the worsening quality of our air, brings us closer to the pain, the suffering of the victims of your scorched earth strategies! We will sacrifice our lungs, our sinuses, our eyes, our tonsils, every square centimetre of our mucous membranes in the name of peace and justice! So take that, you... youyou... you Minions of Hell!

...Oh yeah. That'll work for sure. Let me know when it happens; I need to book my oxygen tent and face masks in advance. Thank you.

Thursday, 10 August 2006

A Spirited Rant On Blackouts

Since the last blackout here, there have been two or three more, by my rough count. That's an average of one every... month? I was twice interrupted by blackouts while working on the PC, and things like that can't be good for the equipment. Sweating in my fanless, stuffy room last night, I was so furious, I was rehearsing a rant in Malay- and here it is. An English translation follows.

Wahai Mambang Kabinet; Mambang Rakyat Undi Masuk Parlimen; Mambang Jabatan Kerja Raya; Mambang Tenaga Nasional Tiap-tiap Bulan Aku Kena Bayar!

Baru-baru ini, bekalan tenaga elektrik ke kawasan Taman Overseas Union kerap terputus. Adakah ini sebab atau akibatnya harga bil elektrik seluruh negara "terpaksa" dinaikkan? Sudah dua kali ini berlaku semasa saya tengah guna komputer; satu kali semasa mandi. Tahukah anda semua betapa seksanya mandi dalam suasana gelap gelita?

Yang paling merisaukan adalah kemungkinan gangguan bekalan ini akan memudaratkan semua perkakas elektrik dalam rumah saya, khususnya komputer saya yang merupakan alat saya guna untuk cari makan. Saya pasti yang kamu semua tak akan menggantikannya sekiranya ia rosak.

Siapa dalang jenaka ini? Kalau bukan kerja Mambang Tenaga Nasional atau Mambang Jabatan Kerja Raya, ianya mungkin kerja Mambang Tukar Paip Air dari PUAS yang sedang berkeliaran di kawasan saya baru-baru ini. Mungkin juga disebabkan oleh jiran saya yang mempunyai sistem pendawaian yang rosak.

Negara ini bukannya sempurna sangat, tetapi saya tidak akan terima alasan bahawa ini satu "kebiasaan". Lebih-lebih lagi selepas mendengar khabar mengenai rancangan yang melibatkan Mambang Tenaga Nuklear. Dengan sikap dan cara kerja kalian semua yang membimbangkan, kebarangkalian besar nama sebuah daerah atau bandar negara tercinta ini akan menjadi semashyur Chernobyl.

Tolong selaraskan kerjasama di antara kalian semua dan pastikan kejadian seumpama ini tidak akan berulang lagi, sebelum kena bahang Mambang Api Keluar Mulut.

Sekian, terima kasih.

O Spirits in The Cabinet; Spirits Voted Into Parliament; Spirits of The Public Works Department; Spirits of Tenaga Nasional (Electricity Board) That I Have To Pay Every Month!

Lately, the blackouts in Overseas Union Garden have been rather frequent. Is this the reason or consequence of the tariff hike? Blackouts have occured twice when I was using my PC; once while in the shower. Do you know the torment of having to shower in the dark?

The most worrying thing is that this might adversely affect all the appliances in the house, especially the PC, the tool so important in my line of work. I'm quite sure you won't replace it for me if it's damaged.

Who's behind this joke? If it's not the Spirits of the Electricity Board or Public Works Department, then it's probably the work of the Spirits of Pipe Replacement from PUAS (water management company) that have been lurking in my area lately. Or maybe it's just one of my neighbours with a faulty wiring system.

This isn't a perfect country, but I refuse to accept the excuse that all this is "normal". Even more so after hearing the news of your plans involving the Spirit of Nuclear Energy. With your worrisome attitude and the way you work, there's a good chance the name of some district or town in this beloved country will be as famous as Chernobyl.

Please get your act together and make sure this doesn't happen again, or feel the heat of the Spirit That Breathes Fire.

That is all, thank you.

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Let's Rock4Yvonne

Since it's all for a good cause, I'm doing my bit for one of my favourite ladies. Frankly, I'm a bit embarrassed. This charity should have zoomed past its halfway mark in less than six months.

I got my ticket from the Canaanland bookstore at Centrepoint, where publicity for ROCK4HOPE at this site is virtually non-existent. No posters or even a handwritten notice to grab the attention of passers-by. Is it any wonder ticket sales were slow? Considering the poor penetration of Internet media in the country, even this post will do jack. But I'm giving it a try anyway.

Performing Artists: Deja Voodoo Spells and A Day At The Zoo
Venue: Sunway University College, Multi-Purpose Hall
Date: 9th September 2006
Time: 7:30pm onwards
Ticket Price: RM20 only.

The concert's all about Yvonne's condition. There are other ways to help her out. Ticket sales details follow.

Get Your Tickets At:

  • Fantasia Music Studio
    32-B, Jln 20/16A
    Paramount Garden, Section 20
    46300 Petaling Jaya
    Tel: 03-78738991
  • Jaq's and Jan's
    (next to Victoria Station or Jake’s Charbroil steak house)
    Very Near Bangsar Shopping Center
    (so near in fact, you don't need to call)
  • Attributes
    No. 8 Jln SS 13/6
    47500 Subang Jaya
  • Canaanland (PJ Branch)
    F14, (First Floor), Centrepoint
    Lebuh Bandar Utama
    47800 Petaling Jaya
    Tel: 03-77260461
  • Canaanland (KL Branch)
    8th Floor, Menara TA One
    22, Jalan P. Ramlee
    50250 Kuala Lumpur
    (Opposite Petronas Twin Towers/KLCC)
    Tel: 03-21662601/03-21662602
  • Canaanland (Damansara Perdana branch)
    Unit 2-15, Perdana The Place
    No. 1, Jln PJU 8/5D
    Bandar Damasara Perdana
    47820 Petaling Jaya
    Tel: 03-77264233
  • AYA Cafe
    No. 34B, Jalan SS 15/8
    47500 Subang Jaya
    Tel: 03-56378737, 603-5637473

So it's only RM20. Where else could you possibly get rock concert tickets for that price? You probably won't see me there, because I can't guarantee my presence at that date. What's your excuse?

Thursday, 3 August 2006

Would It Be Wrong?

Picture this entirely hypothetical scenario: It's late at night and I'm having a shower when the lights go out, and - by a fluke of nature - the water stops flowing. I'm left in the dark, covered in shower cream, my hair glued to my scalp by shampoo and I can't see my hand in front of my face. It might be nth hours before everything is restored.

Can you imagine the pain? The discomfort? The terror? Would it be wrong, seditious or treasonous to call the ten Biblical plagues upon the heads of all I would hold responsible for my predicament? Are such outpourings considered threats to security and harmony as well? Will blogging it land me in jail?

We don't know. Nobody's saying anything.

I couldn't have put it better than Jeff Jarvis, who ended a related post thus: "Blogging was a helluva lot easier when all we wrote about was our cats."

No shit.

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Bourdain on Beirut

Safe at home, Tony B finally put down his feelings on the aborted Lebanon shoot for his No Reservations series. A full excerpt is available here, if you find the original ad-riddled article at a bit tedious.

There is no overwhelming anger towards the warring parties. He does not point fingers, or issue any clarion calls. Just pangs of regret at not being able to party, mingle, eat yummy Lebanese food, shoot it all and tell the world to drop by and get a taste of what might have been a great Lebanese adventure.

Along with the senseless fighting and loss of life, it's really among the saddest things about the current Middle East situation.

Monday, 31 July 2006

Riding the Gen-Y Wave at KLCC

I arrived at KLCC around 11:30 on a Saturday morning for the bloggers' gathering. Fearing the city's notorious traffic jams, I left the car at home and surrendered myself to the whimsies of the public transportation system. The crowds weren't huge when I arrived, but they would soon swell.

After walking up and down the mall for nearly two hours I stopped at a San Francisco Coffee outlet and ordered an Iced Mocha. An American tourist spots me admiring one of the big-assed mugs they sold. "It'll be much better filled with coffee," he said. Well, duh.

I took my seat outside the outlet to nurse my beverage. Another tourist sat in front of me, clutching the day's copy of The Malay Mail. The cover grabbed my attention, and as soon as I emptied my cup, I rushed to the newsstand and took a closer, incredulous look at the headlines.

Exclusive survey reveals Malaysian bloggers talk bollocks!

What an earth-shattering revelation. How many eons did it take them to figure it out?

I didn't know whether to be insulted or relieved. While the report stated that contrary to the misgivings of the Ministry of (Mis)Information, not everybody in the country sees blogs as a source of news, let alone a source of credible news. However, a significant portion of those polled clearly bought into the bullshit that all blogs must be credible sources of knowledge and information, not vanity mirrors or private soap-boxes.

I'd suggest interviewing some real people next time, instead of zombies.

The meet was supposed to begin around 3pm at Burger King, but I was there a little before three. Lingesh and his buddy Raj were already there. Seeing no one, we dispersed for a while. When I came back, there was still nobody. As I spied a short, curvy lady with red highlights in her hair and a daring outfit re-filling her cup, there was a tap on my shoulder. It was Albert.

"Why are you still here?" he asked. Then I asked if he knew why the section at the back of BK was closed. "Closed off for us, you moron!" he chided. "Get your blur ass over there. The party's started."

Of course, Albert didn't exactly say all that, but he should have. I wouldn't have minded at all. I had a feeling he's dealt with my type before. Meanwhile, Lingesh loaded his camera with fresh batteries. Lock and load.

There was a flurry of activity, and I stopped keeping track of the arrivals according to sequence. Less than half of those listed at Jolene's made it for the meet, making me - perhaps - the oldest representative of the geezer contingent. I did feel embarrassed being there; I don't bookmark or blog roll most of them, and out of those that I do, there were only a few that I read regularly.

The short, curvy lady turned out to be Yvonne Foong. The Malaysian blogosphere has heard about her and her medical condition, but... she looked as normal as can be. And very nice. And kind of hot (I feel so wrong thinking that way). Yet her condition has impaired her hearing, and it might get worse. Where's the justice, I ask you? I initially thought she had a hearing aid, but I was wrong. Most of the time I communicated with her through a text editor on her laptop PC.

There was April Yim and her ear-ring tower, festooned with all her creations. Every piece was a work of art. The efforts must've been immense, judging from her complexion. Yvonne couldn't keep her camera lens off the masterpieces. She even bought a pair or so. Holding up two pairs: a pair of shamrocks and another with a Celtic motif, she sought help from me and another friend, Avril. My choice tanked. Well, what do I know? I'm a guy.

Jolene was there, of course, being one of the two organisers of the meet. Among the things I talked about with her were the green insects, her future dentistry practice and design for her business cards, the alarm clock poses and the likely scenario where she'd fill half of her digicam's memory card with shots of her first patient's mouth. I'll pity the fellow - and make sure I won't be the one.

Suanie, Erna and Fireangel (FA) dropped by briefly, followed by Eyes and Scorkes, whom I forgot to introduce myself to. I also missed former barista Sarah, who was among the meet's early birds. I'd prepared a gift for the affable beer-loving Suanie, and made an unscheduled purchase for Fireangel's upcoming birthday. Erna, meanwhile, wasted little time in promoting her upcoming gig, a little stage production called Refugee: Images.

Between poses for the cameras, Suanie and FA managed to find time to bust my balls over my presence at the meet. "Why are you here? You actually attend blog meets? Aren't you supposed to be this faceless people-hating recluse who throws barbs behind an alias? Mister 'Misanthropic Cynic', my foot! You're a fraud, you pretentious, man-whorish social butterfly!"

Guilty as charged. Sue me.

Before Suanie's bunch left, I wished FA happy birthday and may all her wishes come true. I did so with some trepidation; previous experiences show that the opposite sometimes happens whenever I wish someone well. Unfortunately, it held true for FA; her cellphone was stolen while she went shopping. I'm worried for Erna - I wished her well, too. It did not mean an end to future gift-giving and well-wishing endeavours, though.

I also chatted with Boadicea and Kyels, famous authors of deep, melancholy and thought-provoking posts. I don't read them a lot - their writings take me to places I'd rather not be. But damn, do they write good stuff I wouldn't dare to explore.

And Holy Linus Torvalds, Father of Linux! What's with the coloured contacts and fake eyelashes, Jasiminne?

PennyPupz arrived a bit later. I didn't recognise her at first because of the way she did her hair. She recognised me, though. In a way, it was scary. But not as much as the number of cameras at the meet.

I looked on as the Gen-Y contingent posed for the cameras, whilst thinking about that hack job The Malay Mail pugnaciously calls a "poll", and the nature of blogs and blogging in the country. Both PennyPupz and Kyels groused that it's no longer about "substance and deep thoughts"; most blogs today are picture albums, vanity mirrors and personal soap-boxes. Like Marie Clare, Cleo and FHM, I volunteered. They don't disagree. But is it a bad thing? No. A good thing, then? Not really. It did turn some gears, and I came to the conclusion that maybe it's better to just sit back and watch, like what I did as the flashes kept popping.

My anger towards the elitists, control freaks and petty-minded in the blogosphere and the government boils over as the cheerful tableau unfolds before me. Who the hell are you (and for that matter, who am I) to say what a blog should be? What makes you an authority on what a good blog should be? The gall of you to imply that all bloggers are bullshitting, anti-establishment troublemakers! Their blogs may be full of what you think is trash, but do you really think that's all there is to them? Can you see what they will be in the future? Just look at them now!

This is the unity and harmony you tirelessly preach, but won't foster if it didn't happen according to your grandiose plans. And worst of all, you're putting things in motion that will break it all up. Despite the absurd educational and socioeconomic policies, they managed to find common ground. Man-made barriers like skin colour, religion and creed are nowhere to be seen. Yes, they're vain, they war and quibble, but it's not forever. After the last bitch-fight involving Skyler and Jolene, they've patched things up, even before the meet, and are practically buddies. Much more than I can say about you.

These youngsters are having a good time. The time of their lives. In five, ten, maybe twenty years down the road, after their youthful enthusiasm and zest for life are worn down, these will be the best times of their lives, and they've got it all on film and blog. When the bills mount, mortgages loom, children rebel and when friends or loved ones pass on, they could look back at the craziness of yesteryears and laugh or cry, and perhaps, rekindle the flame that burned oh-so-brightly back then and find the strength to move on. They'll be a lot better off than I will be; there's much of my past that I've discarded for the sake of moving on.

As the crowd thins, I decide it's time to leave. I bowed gracefully and made my exit, my spirits mysteriously buoyant. I think there was an overflow of feel-good youthfulness somewhere, and I got caught up in it. Further proof comes in my impulse to buy a 400 gram block of Cadbury's Dairy Milk from the ground floor Chocolatier stall.

On a Saturday evening, I came away with fewer worries about this country's future. It's in good hands. A Parliament full of camwhores is a whole universe better than one with little Napoleons or street fighters - but no less unnerving.

Maybe I should worry - just a little bit.

Surf's up, my fellow fogies. The new wave's-a-coming, and to block its path is suicide. Have a little faith, will ya? Grab your boards, catch the wave, and hang ten. It's gonna be one helluva ride.

For more information and lots of pictures, visit Dr. Tan (Organiser #1), and Little Girl In A Reverie (Organiser #2).

What's In A Name?

This journalist, like many others, fervently believes the hand poised on the Made-in-Iran Launch button is connected to a brain with sub-code wiring. The proof is in statements like these.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has ordered government and cultural bodies to use modified Persian words to replace foreign words that have crept into the language, such as "pizzas" which will now be known as "elastic loaves," state media reported Saturday.

— Associated Press (AP), via Yahoo! News

Drastic, yet absurd measures to preserve the purity of the national language from the onslaught of corruption by foreign influences. By golly, it sounds so dreadfully familiar. But the prospects for comedy are good. I look forward to the day when I can yell, Roti liat, satu! (One "elastic loaf", please!) at my neighbourhood mamak stall, while enjoying a "short talk" with whatever friends I have left after twenty-odd years of separation, and mulling over the building of a "small room" somewhere in Langkawi.

I'm sure my "elastic loaf" would taste great, too.

And why didn't I hear of this in the local mainstream news? Is this the reason why the Government has its entire digestive tract in Gordian knots over unfettered, free-for-all reporting via online media? Checking the related news sidebar on the BBC page, I'm starting to see a pattern, and for once, I can't blame them.

What takes the cake about this ban is that the names of animals, insects, fruit, vegetables or colours are involved. If this piece of legislation is actively enforced, it presents a particular dilemma for a certain minority. Words like huang (yellow), lan (blue) or ma (horse) are used as Chinese surnames, while long (dragon), feng (phoenix) or lin (unicorn) are powerful names for those with high expectations for their offspring. There are other words like feng (bee/wasp), hou (monkey), or ying (firefly).

No matter. As this post demonstrates, creativity is boundless.

Friday, 21 July 2006

If You See Red, Don't Go Green

Will Greenpeace See Red?
I've always been ambivalent towards green groups like Greenpeace. Over the years public sympathy and funding have morphed them from a free-floating fringe group into something akin to a political party. As everyone knows: When a group professing altruism becomes political, things invariably go wrong.

I remember an old Readers' Digest article about how their "Save the Seals" campaign, led by that witch Brigitte Bardot, ruined an Inuit community by depriving them of a livelihood. Today, the Inuit are hunting seals again, as well as - what I regard as a slap-in-the-face for Greenpeace - Canadian fisherman, who partake in an annual seal slaughter to eliminate the competition for cod, pollock and salmon, while earning a profit doing it.

How long will it be before they cross over to the dark side and employ the terrorist tactics so favoured by loony legions like PETA and various animal welfare groups, who pick the easy battles and ignore the good fights?

Life After Whales
It confounds me that Japan, a well-spring of innovation and improvisation, is in no hurry to find a solution for the sword of Damocles hovering over dozens of fishing communities who supplement their income by killing or capturing whales and dolphins: "What the hell do we do, once we drive them all to extinction?" There's one Japanese fisherman who has given up whaling and dolphin hunting to organise whale watching tours. Others may not be as receptive to the radical idea that a live whale is just as valuable as a dead one.

Maritime patrols would be a good career path for former whalers. Pirates? Terrorists? Straying North Korean vessels? Suicidal Greenpeace pontoons? Imagine the large metal shank of a harpoon several feet long protruding out of the eye-socket of some stubborn captain of a trespassing ship. What other "Don't Bleeping Mess With Us" message could be more straight-to-the... -point?

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Being Real Sports

So they're dumping RM490 million into a sports complex in the UK? The lifestyle changes brilliantly proposed by the Government must be working; they've saved enough for another prestigious monument. Personally, I don't think it's necessary, since we've already got the infrastructure and training plans in place.

Don't believe me? All the runarounds the civil service and government departments put us through has the whiff of a secret exercise regime. Once the wild goose chase ends, you'll feel the after-effects of an entire Iron Man race, complete with the mental and physical agony. We do, after all, love our flatbreads and sweet pulled tea.

Our Government cares. Really.

Sunday, 9 July 2006

Whale Safari, Redefined

Whale-watching tourists in Norway were given a first-hand look at the country's whaling industry when an animal they were watching was harpooned. The carnage was not taken well by the tourists. I wonder if any children were on deck at that moment?

The blood flowed and it wasn't a pretty sight. This really wasn't what we came to see.

— Leontien Dieleman, Dutch tourist

No shit, Leon. Whale-watching-slash-whaling tours, while economical and possibly educational, will never catch on. Not until the nasty bits of the business are resolved, anyway.

While Japan stoops to bribing poorer countries in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for control over whaling restrictions, Norway doesn't even bother with politics or pretensions. This, however, goes beyond "rubbing it in your face".

Friday, 30 June 2006

How Not to Start the Day, Part III

Turns out Cleo might be a "he". There weren't a lot of androgynous names in my vocabulary that day when I sat down to write the post. The name stays. After what happened this morning, neutering the feline is now an option.

This morning, under the porch, sitting next to the broom next to the lower half of a mouse was a small pile of regurgitated meat. Up to now, I always thought only big cats would hoard left-over kills for a rainy day. Following that thought is a sense of relief, knowing that lions, et al never evolved the attributes needed for domestication. I'd have a very difficult time explaining the presence of a partially-eaten neighbour in my front yard.

I'm sure they had a great night of hunting, and it'd be rude not to share, but we hairless apes live on a different kind of diet. And Sisters #1 and #2 are a bit more squeamish than I am. The last gecko they brought home sent Sister #2 into an angry, insecticide-spraying frenzy - to no avail, I should add.

As I was disposing of it, Cleo and the other black cat (whom I shall label "Cloud") walk past the gate. I quickly conclude my business, clean up, lock the gate and drive off to work. If it was their doggie-bag that I'd just dumped, I do not want to be near either one when they're hungry. At least they'll be able to eat. My appetite, meanwhile, checked out for the rest of the morning.

Friday, 23 June 2006

The Rude KLite

The Deputy Prime Minister objected to a Reader's Digest poll that ranked Kuala Lumpur among the top three rudest cities. While the results don't exactly indicate the true nature of KL (which is also a mixed bag), those who took an online poll organised by The Star Online begged to differ.

The overwhelming majority of the 286 readers who took part in an online poll found nothing to disagree with in the Reader’s Digest survey that rated Kuala Lumpur the third-worst among 35 cities in terms courteousness.

...with many voicing concern that people in the city seemed unable to say "thank you" or "sorry".

There's something else they unanimously agreed on: motorists are the rudest. Being one myself, there's nothing I can do to refute that. But there's no way you can get the whole picture based on input from 286 pollsters, especially when they're only airing their grouses, rather than genuinely contributing to the survey.

Non, one of Mix FM's better DJs, took up the issue with callers in his evening shift, and asks, "If the rude person is someone you know (or recognise), would it change how you feel?"

You know what? It does, and it explains the DPM's sheltered world-view - who would dare to be rude to the second-most powerful man in the country?

Thursday, 22 June 2006

Smacking The Blogosphere, Et Cetera

Is the blogosphere the vanguard for the new media? Not if the mainstream media fogeys have anything to say about it.

Andrew Sullivan reports on the drubbing of blogger Instapundit and (unscrupulous) online reporter Jason Leopold by the fogeys. The Davids vs Goliaths battle seems to be shaping up, but it won't be on the scale of a WWE Smackdown event. It's only a verbal battle, after all.

On a related note, Counterpuncher Alexander Cockburn is unhappy because bloggers in that big lefty-blogger event, the YearlyKos are beating on dead-horses Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, instead of the other equine-carcass, known as the Iraq War. Iraq, says Cockburn, is a much bigger spectre than Rove and Old "Sneering" Dick. And he's taking out his frustrations on the "blathersphere".

Disappointment. Not a burden everyone can carry with dignity.

15-year old student, Ava Lowery shot to fame after creating and publishing an animation critical of the Iraq War. Since then, she's produced lots more, all of which are available on her web site. There's even a blog and an online store.

I keep hearing about how grown-up American teenagers can be, but this is hard to swallow. I'm also questioning the US lefties' motives in putting her in the spotlight. Can she handle the pressure, the scrutiny and the snark, all meant for older and more experienced pundits? For all I know she could be in this spot because her hobby just so happens to coincide with the left agenda. Reading her story, I recall with horror the Gaede twins, who were only 13 years old when they recorded their racist album.

In the US, the law says teens are too young for sex and booze, but not showbiz, politics or xenophobia - apparently.

Monday, 12 June 2006

Beware of Cat

Another reason to respect cats:

Jack, a 15-pound orange and white cat, keeps a close vigil on his property, often chasing small animals, but his owners and neighbors say his latest escapade was surprising.

"We used to joke, 'Jack's on duty,' never knowing he'd go after a bear," owner Donna Dickey told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Friday's editions.

— via Yahoo! News

Note that only male cats are that territorial. The black bear in question is probably an adolescent or a newcomer in the neighbourhood. Either way, any creature that encounters a cat for the first time wouldn't have known what to make of a hissing furball with claws and teeth.

Had it been an orange and black cat, there'd be plenty of Garfield references.

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Too Sexy For The Pitch

It has not been a good start for the Big Guns of football. Although I'm not following the competition, I'm happy to just skim the sports sections for the final scores and watch other people beat their brains out commenting on this millennium's most dismal World Cup. Watching the matches is as strenuous as playing them.

The most notable signs were Germany's hard-fought four/two win over Costa Rica and England's "victory" over Paraguay; if not for the own goal, the Poms might have been humbled in the penalty shoot-out.

"See? T'was roight t'get Rooney 'ere. 'E's good luck, 'e is."

And what's this I hear about hot weather being a factor in the teams' shoddy performance? That's rich, I tell you. Retreating ice caps. Megahurricanes. More frequent thunderstorms. Amphibian extinction. Degrading coral beds. Now it's under-performing football athletes. Too bad the countries allegedly responsible for global warming are also those that don't care or don't even have a chance in hell of reaching the quarter-finals.

Is it still about the game any more? Seems to me it's more for the money, product endorsements, and the chance to roll in the hay with a supermodel or a member of a hot all-girl band. When it's time to finally play ball, the catwalks, press conferences, photo shoots, filming, sex and booze have already taken their toll.

Thursday, 8 June 2006

Sucker for Felines

After a two-weeks without iced drinks and curry, I entered a mamak1 eatery and got myself re-acquainted with fried noodles, curry and roti canai (with kaya, the local coconut custard). Not to mention the salty crispy fried chicken, gleaming yellow from the overpowering turmeric marinade. Who can resist the lure of a cheap and versatile staple that threatens the position of rice in my community?

Halfway through my fried noodles and chicken, I see a ball of fur. It saunters towards my table and sits down. It lets out a heart-rending meow every time I make eye contact. The humble cat may be a self-sufficient predator of the highest order, but in the city, it's not above scavenging or pan-handling. Anything to get by, I suppose.

I fall for it most of the time.

I donated some chicken, more afraid of the cat (which I named "Oliver") ignoring the morsels than the half-score or so vicious-looking floor staff in the vicinity. I finish my meal and go after my warm coffee. I take another look at the floor.


. . .

Darn cat.

I find myself picking whatever edible bits I could from the pile of bones on my plate and gathered them into a tiny mound. Fearful of the pinch of chicken-scraps falling all over the floor when I dropped it, I hesitate. Oliver encourages me with a swipe of his right paw. No worries about wastage here; he cleaned up whatever I dished out.

If the real Oliver had that much pluck, he could've taken Fagin on with only one arm.

The footnote of my catty day ends with the presence of another transient in the front yard. A black ball of fur that I assumed to be Cleo peeks out between the grills of the iron gate that shields the sliding glass doors. A careful peek behind the glass doors revealed a bigger, rounder face with equally bigger and rounder eyes, and a lot more fur. Not Cleo.


Good grief. The lair is becoming a cat hostel.

1 The local tag for an Indian-Muslim, as opposed to Indian-Hindu. While all Indian-run restaurants look the same, you won't find beef in Indian-Hindu places.

Sunday, 28 May 2006

The Impatient Nation

The results of a poll conducted by Associated Press seem to show that Americans are an impatient lot.

Americans are demanding, too. Half in the AP-Ipsos poll said they refuse to return to businesses that made them wait too long. Nearly one in five owned up to speaking rudely to someone in the last few months when they weren't served efficiently.

— Calvin Woodward, Associated Press Writer

In a way, that explains their attitude over Iraq, which wasn't as "instant" as the White House had hoped. It also explains the drop in Bush's approval ratings, now that Americans are finding that out too.

Names, And Links

What's this about naming or renaming airports after famous people? Can you imagine the hassle of informing numerous organisations about the impending name change every time a national hero dies, maybe once a decade? Or situations where you tell your associates: "I'm flying out of Dr M?" I'm so glad it's just called the "Kuala Lumpur International Airport".

Is it really necessary to have a URL to all your sources, especially when they will eventually expire? Do you have to clean them up or check them every now and then? What do you do about it?

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Do Not Pet Snakes

The issues raised in the National Geographic Special America's Deadly Obsession: Snakes is nothing new; after all, it's just an extension of what my previous entry was all about: the average American's ignorance and hubris when it comes to dangerous wildlife. Both involved real snake experts who got careless, and both happened on September 11th, 2001. One died; the other lived. There's even a report of a guy who was strangled to death by his pet python.

Yet Americans continue to buy exotic and venomous pets, and release them into the wild when they get too tough to handle. Buying saw-scaled vipers from Pakistan. Baby cobras. Black and green mambas. Reticulated pythons. Gaboon vipers. King cobras. Taipans.

What strange, warped, heavily medicated or intoxicated mind would consider the above as pets? Playthings? Worst of all, these species aren't even native to North and South America, which already boast some lethal species like the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, cottonmouth, and lance-head vipers. Consider the following:

  • King cobra: Possibly the largest venomous snake in the world. Neurotoxic venom, delivered in large doses, kills by paralysis. Can take down an elephant.
  • Saw-scaled viper: Small, agile and bad-tempered - like most Middle Easterners it shares the environment with. Strikes very quickly. Probably used to kill Ramses III.
  • Black mamba: From Africa. Fastest snake in the world. Aggressive; will stand its ground if cornered. Will bite multiple times. Its neurotoxic venom is deadly.
  • Gaboon viper: One of the largest vipers in Africa. Haemotoxic venom that turns flesh into a soft Slurpee-like consistency is delivered via a pair of five centimetre fangs.
  • Taipan: Native to Australia, and distant cousin of the cobra. Some species carry neurotoxic venom that is far more lethal than their cousins.

All this gives me the impression that the American attitude towards danger is pathological, extending all the way to the White House. I'm sure that Carter, Reagan and Bushes Sr and Jr thought that the two-bit dictators, warlords and extremists they used to coddle were cuddly and harmless too, until they grew too big and too dangerous.

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Just Who Is King of The Jungle Here?

This is one of those cases where the American freedom of expression supports a cause borne of a warped sense of altruism: Keeping a pet lion.

This family's case is not unique in the US. Across the country, people buy and keep exotic pets: lions, tigers, bears, pythons, leopards, etc "out of love" and the "spirit of conservation". Most of these animals are rejects left behind after a zoo, circus or animal park goes under, and they go relatively cheap at exotic pet markets.

I won't doubt that some of these pet owners are really serious about their charges. However, all of this pales in comparison with the real significance of these animals in the wild. The big cats keep the number of grazing herd animals in check. That's what they were built for, and nothing else. Everything in the wild was hunky-dory until we humans came along. We found fire, invented the axe, and bred like viruses. We took over the job of hunter-killer, effectively firing the native predators from their jobs.

Keeping wild predators as pets is not an act of love or mercy on our part.

It's an insult.

Thursday, 27 April 2006

A Cat Named Cleo

There is a cat that's quite fond of my corner of the neighbourhood. I'd take pictures, but since I'm too much of a tightwad to invest in a cheap digital camera, I'll write about it instead.

I have no clue as to the animal's gender. There's no trace of a nut sack, or any indication that it's been fixed. Therefore, being the sexist creature that I am, I'm going to assume it's a female and call it Cleo for the sake of this narrative.

Cleo was part of a litter born of a neighbour's cat. She and a feisty ginger-coloured kitten were left after her other siblings were given away. Unlike many pet owners in the country, this neighbour didn't believe in caging cats, so they were left to wander all over the place, though not too far away from their home. As time went by, only Cleo was left. I never knew what happened to the other one.

For a cat her age (about one year old), Cleo is small and scrawny. She's mostly black; there's a patch of white at the base of her throat. Her green eyes has a piercing gaze and there are times her claws never fully retract. She distinguished herself by sleeping in the most unusual places in our front yard: the empty shrine where the previous house owners burnt joss-sticks and left offerings, the narrow space between the front grill and sliding glass doors, and on top of either gate-post where there would be stone lions if we ever believed in feng shui.

Being a good tenant, she tries to pay the rent. Problem is, cats utilise a different kind of currency, which usually takes the form of dismembered body parts of small animals. On several occasions we've found half-eaten mice, geckoes and lizards on our front yard, which really freaks my younger sisters out. Sister #1 is scared of rats; Sister #2 has gecko phobia. Their unfortunate brother (me) has to assume the role of undertaker when Cleo brings home the bacon (which we respectfully decline).

Once, in broad daylight, we caught Cleo in the process of butchering an iguana-like lizard, thus confirming the identity of our mystery rent-payer. Nature-lover that I am, I knew that she has the right to kill anything she comes across - it's her nature. But nobody commits murder while I'm around, so I chased her away and grabbed the lizard, snake-wrangler style, and deposited it in some vegetation. I didn't think it would make it; a patch of red on one side showed that Cleo had already done some damage.

For weeks afterward, there were no body parts. I'm pretty sure I pissed Cleo off for spoiling her fun. But cats aren't dogs; they don't learn. Upon returning home yesterday, there was a dead lizard, a mouse with a missing midsection and the top half of a gecko.

And she still sleeps in the shrine (proof that cats are condescending to the point of demanding worship), or on either gate post. I don't know about the worship thing, but if it ever came to warding off evil forces, my money's on Cleo. No expensive, overcrafted paperweight endorsed by Lillian Too could ever match Cleo when it comes to personality, attitude and the lethal killing arts.


Chicago Says Non! to Foie Gras
Score one for the animal welfare fundamentalists. I was disappointed that the ban had nothing to do with bird flu, although it could have been.

Chicago has banned the sale of foie gras in its restaurants because city officials think the French delicacy is cruel to ducks and geese.

— from Agence France-Presse, via Yahoo! News

Fundamentally, killing and eating animals is a form of cruelty. Snuffing out the life of a creature to consume it, especially when it's not a matter of life and death - what could be more wrong, from a moral standpoint? But we still do it. We encourage others to do it; for some of them it really is a matter of life or death.

Bans like that really won't make a difference. Once a duck's fate is sealed, whatever else done to it before or after it's killed is just procedure.