Saturday, 13 February 2010

Caffeine Getaway

The Ipoh duck restaurant was great. Coffee Ritual was less so, mainly because to much time passed between my last visit and the day I finally wrote about it, so the ardour for the place had cooled down somewhat. Poor Alex was pulling more than her weight when editing this piece...

I've gone back there once or twice, but there are fewer reasons nowadays for quiet coffee rituals.

An intimate Coffee Ritual
by KW and Alexandra Wong

first published in The Malaysian Insider, 13 February 2010

Alex practically shoved the address down my throat. "Here." She had discovered it while waiting for her notebook to be reformatted at Digital Mall. Not wanting the usual fast foods, she had looked around and spotted the corner shop at the end of the road.

She did a pretty good sales pitch, oohing and aahing over voluptuous latte, scrumptious sweet crepe, refined gourmet coffees at "proletariat prices." But she didn't have to mention the pricing.

She had me at "gourmet coffee."

My name is KW Wong, and I am a certified coffee-holic. Which was why I made a beeline for Coffee Ritual as soon as Saturday rolled around.

It didn't take long to spot the café, though finding a space for my car took considerably longer. There is a reason Section 14 is also known as Parking Hell.

On the outside, it looked pretty modest. At the shop-front, a standee tried its best to tease potential patrons with pictures of some of the delights to be found within.

As I entered through the nondescript front door, I noted a fleet of coffee paraphernalia lined the racks by the front door. A porcelain-bodied coffee machine was mounted on one side of the magazine cabinet, while coffee-themed paintings hang on the walls. After flipping through the menu, I decided to go with Alex's recommendation — café latte, and the sweet crepe, which purportedly featured premium Haagen-Dazs and Berkeley's ice-cream.

My latte arrived in a tall glass with a crown of creamy foam above a thick layer the colour of chocolate malt. I took a sip. The milk had been expertly steamed, its natural sweetness cushioning the palate from the coffee's more aggressive, bitter aspects. If I were a cat, I would purr with approval.

I took a bite of the sweet crepe. The still-warm parcel enfolded a stream of sweet custard, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and generous lashings of chocolate sauce. Crispy at the edges, the texture turned chewier as my teeth edged towards the swollen centre.

I quickly reported to base. "Verdict: coffee tastes like your tongue is in a bed of silken sheets, in a room that smells of the finest Arabica brew."

Her reply: "I gather you approve?" My coffee craving was temporarily sated, replaced by a new curiosity. I walked over to speak to a gangly bespectacled gentleman who was fiddling with a grinder — the boss I presumed — to find out more.

"Why Coffee Ritual?"I began with the obvious.

"Because the preparation of coffee to a ritual must be religiously followed for the perfect cup," he smiled. Turns out he sourced and roasted the beans himself, and tries different brewing methods on occasion. "Artisan" is not a word to be tossed around lightly, but I couldn't think of a more apt description for the owner.

Parking hell or no parking hell, I've become a regular, and developed a healthy partiality for the single origin gourmet coffees. For the uninitiated, these beverages are prepared with freshly ground beans using vacuum-powered siphon brewing, resulting in a liquid that has little to no residue.

What would interest coffee connoisseurs though, is this: the assertive Sumatra Mandheling's earthy, smoky notes are reminiscent of its source's rich, volcanic soil. The smooth, subtly aromatic and refined Colombian Special is hugely popular; after drinking one straight, even casual drinkers can feel the change in a cup of Colombian Special after adding one, and then two sugars. The bosses themselves drink single origin coffees neat and recommend that clients do the same. (Psst, rest easy, nobody will throw you out for coffee crimes.)

Sorry… I've gone on and on about the coffee, to the neglect of the packed menu that offers a decent selection of teas, as well as an extensive range of pastas, sandwiches, pies and salads as well as Asian favourites. Combine selected items to form a three-course value meal with starter, main dish and dessert. Hint: the nasi lemak is particularly popular. As for me, I am just glad that we found this unexpected oasis.

For a little peace and quiet from the madding crowd, few things beat the tranquil sanctity of a private coffee ritual.

Coffee Ritual
35, Jalan 14/20, Section 14
46100 Petaling Jaya

Now the site of Anjappar Indian Chettinad Restaurant

Premises have moved to Jin Yi Coffee Ritual at 68-M, Jalan SS21/39, Damansara Uptown, 47400 Petaling Jaya. Now sells only coffee-making equipment.

Friday, 12 February 2010


Whatever brickbats come One Republic's way, I can't deny that a number of their songs are the bomb. Lately though, there seem to be a One Republic song for any occasion, never mind if the lyrics might suggest something else.

Occasions such as our country's political turmoil, and the silencing of the masses, even those that are appealing for reason. And unless a blogger makes a career of sticking it to the government (you know who you are), it's unfair to hang him or her out to dry over several postings that "might disrupt public order".

While I'm prone to tut-tutting at the antics of our Generation Z, there's a small part of me (that will disappear when I turn 35) that still has something to say.

Hello world, hope you're listening
Forgive me if I’m young, for speaking out of turn

I don't criticise for fun, and I don't think many of us do that. If an injustice is the result of possibly questionable, less-than-transparent machinations of a corporation, political party or government, speaking out against it is perhaps the least damaging thing we can do. To criminalise responsible dissent for the sake of a few fragile egos is damn irresponsible, and the kinds of messages that sends flies in the face of all we have been taught all these years.

A generation struggling to know themselves and find their place in this world shouldn't be bogged down by these ethno-religious games these old-timers are playing. After all, how much currency does colour and creed really carry nowadays? Being more white or less black doesn't make one less of an idiot when one's stupidity is in full flower.

There’s someone I’ve been missing
I think that they could be, the better half of me...

So a high-ranking Malayan commie is still loose. So there was a race-related riot in that summer of '69. For me, it's water under the bridge. My concerns: racial and religious extremism; the economy; global pandemics; the climate; and an increasingly unstable, and perhaps violent world that's becoming less friendly, and less human.

We may be obliged to inherit certain things from our forefathers, but for myself, I would rather not inherit their emotional baggage. Not when it keeps me from living my life and fulfilling my dreams.

It speaks a lot of our civilisation when there are leaders who burnish their credentials by teaching its flock to fear and hate The Other, simply because of who they are. Worst of all, is how some of them are getting away with it - as if they have someone's tacit support.

It's no different back home, where our elders appear to be digging their heels with regards to politics, governance and administration, too obsessed with numbers to care about the rabid ideologues poisoning our straining socio-economic fabric.

What of the young, who have to inherit, grow up in, and cope with such a toxic environment? How will their dreams take root and grow?

...I get lost in the beauty of everything I see
The world ain’t as half as bad as they paint it to be

But I see some hope in the way Perak turned out. If the Opposition is serious about working with the ruling state government for the state's sake, and if the government reciprocates, perhaps old dogs can learn new tricks, as they might say. Who knows? A new brand of politics to replace the old might be born out of what many see as an unfair judgement, if it all turns out right...

...If all the sons, if all the daughters stopped to take it in
Well hopefully the hate subsides and the love can begin...

I'm also encouraged by the show of support for Daphne Ling with regards to this case. Why should charity be kept within one's communal or religious circle? And what better way to break down barriers than to disregard them and just reach out to help a fellow human being?

It might start now... Well, maybe I’m just dreaming out loud...

It must be a relief for everyone that whole communities didn't go berserk when houses of worship were attacked. However, we've been treated with the sight of the extremist fringe's collective assholery - perfect examples of the kind of leadership we don't want. The kind of leadership I don't want.

Who wants your special privileges, your sacred spaces and your tax-payer-sponsored hand-outs? If this is what you've become after 30-plus years of that, I'm not sure I would want them, either. As if they would save you from flu pandemics, recessions and climate change.

So hear this now, Come home, come home
Cause I’ve been waiting for you for so long, for so long

So stop this nonsense. This country is bigger than "us", than "The Other". It's bigger than Chin Peng, May 13, PKFZ, Anwar and Zulkifli Noordin. Definitely bigger than Dr M.

We don't need to join that squabble in the sand-box to "give a damn". There must be another way.

There's got to be.

...right now there's a war between the vanities
But all I see is you and me
The fight for you is all I’ve ever known... ever known...
So come home...


"Come Home" by One Republic
Dreaming Out Loud (2007)
Mosley Music Group, Interscope

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Changes... and Bad Drama

Change. It's in my pocket, my drawers, in cash registers, safe deposit boxes, and election campaign promises. Most of all, it's in the air. It's happened in my life, and now, it'll happen to this space.

I have a dream. Something I hope will be a life-long pursuit.

In shedding an old image, some things will have to go. There'll be a clean-up - many entries will be gone, but there will also be additions, transplants from a more private space. Some existing entries will be updated, changed to reflect the person who owns this place now, rather than who wrote it then. Much of the layout will remain - for now.

And perhaps, finally, the real name behind this space will see the light of day.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Readings' Fifth

I've been missing a few Readings sessions due to personal problems, but things got a little better for me to attend the latest one, and a milestone of a session at that. It's Readings' fifth anniversary.

Three cakes were brought for the occasion, including two evidently home-made Red Velvets with lovely white butter-cream.

But it was one session where I was never more ill-prepared. I left home late. I forgot my camera's tripod. I didn't make enough room in the camera's 8GB SDHC card for footage. I was afraid of not having enough batteries. And there wasn't a single thing of suitable height for my camera to stand on.

Readings' fifth had an impressive line-up with a mix of two or more of the following: poets, authors, performers and rebels. Almost everyone spent their allotted 15 minutes, some stretching into 16 or 17, including commentaries. Hearing authors read their own works is a delight, but not as much as when they talk about themselves and their work, as evidenced by Shamini Flint's monologue.

The loud and forthright Elaine Foster said she wouldn't perform, but there was still a bit of drama in her recital of a poem where "the revolution will not be brought to you by Celcom, DiGi and Maxis, nor is it Malaysia Truly Asia," and so on. She would find good company with Peter Hassan Brown, whose voice also carries a long way.

Jo Kukathas read a sombre tale of a loner who lives in a dark room and is fond of his dogs. Readings' founder Bernice Chauly gives us a hint of her roots as she reads from what will be her work of "faction".

From the Little Red Dot comes O Thiam Chin, whose collection of short stories (Never Been Better) is available for sale here. He read a passage from that book (naturally), copies of which were on sale at the venue (ditto). Too bad they weren't offering discounts.

When Kam Raslan reads, it's almost certain that he'll entertain. Especially with a sneak peek at the continuing (mis)adventures of the irrepressible MCKK old boy, Dato' Hamid. Being ambushed by fragrance salesladies is as frightening as he tells it, and hilarious too - as long as it happens to other people.

The dreadlocked and tattooed rebel poet Rahmat Harun was a sight to behold as he greets the audience, "Hi, bro!", waxes lyrical of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in two languages (with some help from Hishamuddin Rais), and shows us how to fly a kite.

The fifth anniversary event ended with a couple of announcements: NST's Umapagan Ampikaipakan trumpeted (sort of) a book club at BFM89.9, and Bernice's call for help with some charity - I think.

There has also been talk of compiling the prose that has been read on all five years of Readings and CeritaKu (a sister event of Readings at No Black Tie) into a series of books, and a shout-out for contributions has been made. The deadline is 31 March.

Here's to five more years of Readings.