Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Eat to live, live to eat

The subject of food never fails to interest me - especially if it concerns new locations where you can find great tasting food. We Malaysians are willing to go to great lengths to search out that sometimes elusive motherlode of delectable delights. I mean I've heard stories of people who drive all the way to Ipoh early in the morning from Kuala Lumpur just to treat themselves to some dim sum there. That's a two-and-a-half-hour journey! Ridiculous? These people certainly don't think so.

While it is possible to get 'replicas' of those famous foods just about anywhere in Malaysia, there is nothing like the original. That's one statement I can heartily testify to. My in-laws live in the royal town of Klang, where a certain river that runs through Kuala Lumpur gets its name. It's renowned for a few things - like crows. Lots of them. It's also famed for it's seafood. But, as far as I'm concerned, Klang's most famous commodity should be its bak kut teh. It's simply second to none.

Now, you may snicker at this, but trust me, if you even have a slight liking for bak kut teh, even the tiniest, itsy-bitsiest fondnest towards that soupy herbal preparation, then you owe it to yourself to at least drive, fly,walk to Klang and try out the bak kut teh there once. It should be on the "100 things to do before you die" list. Every other bak kut teh I've ever tasted just pales in comparison.

So, when we had bak kut teh for dinner this evening, it was just a foreshadow of the real taste of the real thing when we go back there. My wife said that there was no satisfaction eating the bak kut teh here just now. And I agree. It's not like the bak kut teh was bad (after all, the shop we went to is one of the more famous shops here in town), it's just that we've tasted the best! So, every time the family goes back, my in-laws make it a point that we feast on bak kut teh at least once during our stay.

In case you're wondering, no, chicken just doesn't cut it.

Kota Kinabalu bak kut teh - good, but no where close to Klang's!

p.s. My wife also commented on how different people eat bak kut teh here in Kota Kinabalu and in West Malaysia. I think KK people generally eat their bak kut teh with big chilies, garlic, and a dollop of thick black soya sauce to eat with the dish. However, this doesn't happen in West Malaysia. There is chilli but it's the small variety, and there's not thick soya sauce - only the light one.

Sabahan-style eating with chilli (left) versus West Malaysian-style (right)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson: RIP

Not having read the papers or listened to the radio today, I was shocked to see that the eminent entertainer, Michael Jackson, has passed away. The last piece of news I read about him was about his preparations for his big comeback to the music scene. But, it looks like it's not going to happen no.

I'm not a very big fan, but I've more or less been following on the fringes his life and his music. While his eccentricities have often dominated news about him these past many years, I've listened to enough of his songs to know that he was a very capable song writer and singer, and dancer to boot.

So, the world has lost a great entertainer - perhaps one of its best. Goodbye, Michael Jackson, the King of Pop.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A time to reminisce

I'm not sure about you, but sometimes I feel as if time seems to move faster nowadays; so much so, that sometimes life just becomes one great long blur. You don't remember what happened just a few days ago, let alone a few months back. Having said that however, I'm sure there are those moments in your life which somehow just stays in your memory, despite happening ages and ages ago. I have quite a few, but I'm not going to pour them all out to you!

I do have one thing to share though, and it happened more than 20 years ago, way back when I was still in my first years of secondary school. It was not a dramatic or a life-changing experience - nothing of that sort. Rather it was the more mundane act of filling in a form. Surprised? Let me explain.

Now, during my time here on earth, I have filled in many, many forms (as I'm sure you have, too), and I'm quite certain that there's still more to come. But, I don't remember much of anything about all the forms that I have ever filled - except this one a long time ago.

You see, what was so special about this form was that it was about the only form you'd ever find where it asked you this for this piece of information: your ambition. All the other forms had the usual details: name, address, occupation, and yadda, yadda, yadda, but I've never come across another form ever where it asked you what you'd like to be when you finish your education. And of course, as is normal with guys (at least those whom I know), I put soldier, police, fireman, Then, I think it was the second year when they gave the same forms, just to update the schools records, and I wrote the same things, just that I remember this time that I even put in musician!

And what was the outcome? I'm nowhere near any of those supposed ambitions, except maybe the musician as I play in the church music group. How differently I have turned out from what I pictured myself to be all those years ago. Such were the days of innocence.

I wonder what I'll write in now, if a similar form appeared and asked me of my ambitions. Hmmm...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Not just your common flu

What started out as a problem that was considered only "foreign" a few weeks ago has now progressed to become quite local; so local in fact that over a thousand people have been affected by it all at the same time. If you have been following the news, you should already have guessed what I'm talking about by now. It's about Influenza A, or more popularly known as the swine flu caused by the H1NI virus.

I guess it was only a matter of time before a resident of this country contracted the disease, and so start a local transmission of the disease. Even a country like Australia which, if I remember correctly, was spared the avian flu epidemic a few years back, and is quite isolated from the rest of the world due to its geographic location, is not spared this time. In fact, Victoria, one of it's biggest and most populous states, has earned the distinction of becoming the H1N1 centre of the world due to the rapid transmission of the disease there.

And now with a whole school closing with several others to be possibly closed, I wonder how far this virulent disease will spread in this country before effective containment is achieved. I'm sure it's not going to be easy. I was just chatting with my colleagues today, and one of them talked about her experience of going to one of the health clinics here. There was a large white tent at the clinic which was set up for operations dealing specifically with Influenza A. What a medical staff told my colleague was if they detected that you had the symptoms then you would instantly be held there and be whisked away to the quarantine centre here. You cannot go anywhere else. All you had were the clothes on your back. You didn't go anywhere till you had been cleared of the disease.

Now, that is bothersome. So, it's understandable when some people do not wish to report if they had come into contact with suspected cases recently. I'm not saying it's right and that it should be done that way; I'm just saying that I understand why some people do it, or in this case, don't do it. But, as far as Sabah is concerned, people are still generally undisturbed by the issue. The popular eating places are still pretty much crowded, and so too are the shopping malls on weekends. I just hope this is not a show of apathy on the part of the people here.

Be safe.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Between the shoe and the sandal

I wonder who was the first person who ever wore a pair of shoes; and who invented them? I've searched the net and no ones seems to know. But, they are certainly a beguiling item. Imelda Marcos, the wife of the late Phillipines premiere Ferdinand Marcos, reportedly had over a thousand pairs of them. Most celebrities I'm sure have hundreds of them. Even I, myself, not exactly a shoe fanatic, have more than a pair of shoes. I have my work shoes, my sports shoes, my wear-once-a-week shoes, my...

And the fashions that shoes come in nowadays are just limitless! I mean just go to a shopping mall and you'd see several shoes stores. And in every shoe store there are at least a hundred different designs. And I'd say that that's just a conservative estimate! I remember a time some years back where platforms were all the rage. Now, those Converse All-Stars or their copies are quite the in thing. Or have they ever gone out of fashion?

I tend to buy shoes based on three criteria: the look, the comfort, and of course, the price. I'd say all three are of equal importance though I suspect some people may think that as long as a pair of shoes looks really good, then that's the only thing that matters. But, I say why kill your feet (and yourself) just for the sake of looking good, right?

Which is why a proper fit is important. I think one of the most comfortable pair of shoes I've ever worn was a pair of Hi Tec walking boots I bought many years back. They just fit my feet so snugly, and they're a real pleasure to go around in. The cushion in these shoes are incredible. I still have them with me, but they're in really bad shape now. The soles are coming off though I suppose I could just bring it to the cobbler to have it stitched.

But, now I'm thinking whether there is a need for another pair of shoes. My sister-in-law is getting married in August, and it's going to be by the beach. So, what's the best bet? Shoes or sandals? Is there even such a thing as wedding shoes for men? What if it rains? Do I get boots instead?

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

But no harm doing a little reading up before buying, is there?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Has it really been two weeks? Boy. I guess the school break really was a break from any sort of brain work!

But, now that school's started again, I will have to dust off all the cobwebs that have appeared inside my head and get those juices flowing again...which is not a hard thing to do after what happened at work today.

Just before the holidays we had our mid-year examination as is the norm for many schools, and the two-week break was supposed to be time for us teachers to finish marking our student's scripts. I had already marked several classes that had their exams earlier, but for the later ones...like I said, my school-side of the brain took leave as well during the break so none of the papers were marked and I used whatever free time I had at school yesterday and today to finish off.

And I discovered a curious thing about one of my classes. I was marking their objective paper, and everyone of them except one, scored more half right. I would have been overjoyed, except that this particular class was one of the weakest, and their scores suggested that they were better than the best class in the same form which I also taught!

I was gobsmacked!

Could a miracle have happened? Could it be that my students in this particular class were suddenly proficient in English? Then I marked their essay paper and reality came crashing down - none of them could answer the paper properly.

Which begs the question - how was it that they were able to obtain such high marks for the objective paper? I know that teachers are supposed to think good of their students, but the first thought that came to mind was that they had somehow gotten hold of the question paper along with the answer prior to the test and distributed them during the examination. I couldn't think of any other scenario.

So, when I went into their class today, I confronted them asking if any of them had copied. None owned up. So, I decided to do a simple test. I took an clean question paper, and asked them to give me the answers orally . My reasoning was if they really understood the questions then they'd be able to give the correct answer - as was in their answer sheet. After all, it was the same question paper.

But, none were able to give correct answers for all. Out of the 7 questions I asked (seven consecutive questions where more than half the class got all correct), the most they could give me were two or three correct answers. So, what's a teacher like me to do?

I reprimanded them for cheating in the exam and said that I'll deduct marks from their score. That was the end of that.

Or so I thought. The plot thickens! :)

Back in the staffroom, I was talking to a colleague of mine when another colleague approached me and asked me if I had accused a class for cheating. I said yes. And she then proceeded to tell me that they hadn't actually cheated but that she had translated the questions and answers for them so that they could understand.


I was gobsmacked again. I blinked at her, not knowing what to say or do.

Finding my voice, I asked her what I was to do with the marks. She didn't know. All she could say was that she was sorry. I told her then that I would stick to my decision of deducting the marks. She offered her apologies again and left.

My head was turning then. Not in a million years would I have thought of a teacher going to such lengths in helping a student during a school exam.

Well, now I know better.

p.s. But that still doesn't explain how all the students answers are all similar. Surely, they don't share the same brain as well, right?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Ka'amatan: The spirit of merry-making

This is going to be a long post, so I suggest you set aside more than your usual time in reading my usually bite-sized postings! :)

Every year, Kaamatan, or Harvest Festival, is celebrated by the Kadazandusuns of Sabah, Borneo on May 30 and 31. A similar celebration is also observed in the neigbouring state of Sarawak, called the Gawai Festival, but that is celebrated on 31 May and 1 June instead. For brevity's sake, here is the extremely condensed version of the story behind this celebration of the rice harvest:

According to Kadazandusun folklore, this event is celebrated in thanksgiving to Kinoingan, the god who created the Kadazandusun and the world, for a year's bountiful rice harvest and also for blessings for a better harvest the following year. It is also in remembrance of Huminodun, the only daughter of Kinoingan, who was sacrificed to become the first seedlings of rice so that people may plant them and have food to eat.

If you want to read a more detailed background concerning much of what the whole Kaamatan festival is all about, you can go here.

The Kaamatan Festival is perhaps the most famous among all the tribal celebrations here in Sabah. It usually starts at the kampung (village) level, then it goes on to the district level, and finally it climaxes with the state-level celebrations on the two last days of May. If you visited the Kadazandusun Cultural Association building here in Penampang, be prepared to be a witness to lots of fascinating events: there will be the stilt-walking race, tug of war, arm wrestling, finger wrestling (!), and catapult shooting competition. Those are just some of the competitions held in the quest to see which district in Sabah is tops. Those are in addition to the many cultural performances like dancing, singing, gong-beating. You'll also get to savour some traditional food and drink. The climax of the whole celebration is the crowning of the lass who wins the Unduk Ngadau (beauty contest).

But, be prepared as well to face throngs upon throngs of people. But it's well worth it if you've not experienced it before.

But, there is perhaps a darker side to this whole cheerful celebration. You see, a rather indispensable element for this whole merry-making activity is the drinking of spirits. As mentioned above, rice is the whole reason for the celebrations, and so the traditional brew tapai, or rice wine, is common company as far as Kaamatan is concerned. You'll often see people drinking tapai with long straws from earthen jars where they've been left to brew for months. And since such merriment often starts from day and continues on till late, what you get is a whole lot of drunken people. Such people are fine on their own, but the danger arises when they go to the roads, whether as drivers or pedestrians. They pose a danger not only to themselves but other road users as well.

You've probably read about Tong Ju, that Chinese national, who had dreams of trekking through 193 countries recently in the national papers. He was killed three days ago, and police have classified his cause of death as a hit-and-run incident. His body was found by the road side along one of the village roads in Penampang. The police have appealed to witnesses or the driver of the vehicle to come forward. If and when that happens, I would not be surprised if alcohol was part of the cause.

I remember driving at night in a residential area and I came to a part of the road where it was somewhat darker because the street lights were not working. I wasn't driving very fast and it was a fortunate thing as well because I suddenly saw a black heap in the middle of the road right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and I stopped just in time. I was wondering what the heap was when it rose and started walking wobbly, oblivious to my car which was less than 5 metres away! That guy was drunk to the core, and to make it worse, he was wearing all black! Just imagine what would have happened if I hadn't even seen him lying on the road and just ran him over...

I like these kinds of celebrations for they are a wonderful testament to the uniqueness and diversity of the people of Sabah. The only thing that puts me off are the people who seem to lose all measure of self-control when drinking, and so put other people at risk.

When you drink, stay off the roads, please!