Friday, February 13, 2015

Marked Mine

For about 10 years now, I've developed the habit of marking my office stationery with my name, in hope that they will not go missing. It does help, I think, since I don't lose that many pens and folders anymore.

However, when I leave the organisation, I don't remove my labels and leave the item for the next person to use.

And being in the banking line, where you colleagues will rotate from one bank to another, I've had ex-colleagues showing me my old stationery as they come across it.

The first was a clear folder (they're hot commodity and hardly get returned after it's circulated for contents to be approved). I use the back of my old name cards and write "For Approvals" and stick them on the folder so people know it belongs to me. It was discovered 2 years after I resigned from that bank and it's still circulating with my name card stuck to it!

The second incident was my old box of name cards, discovered still sitting in my old drawer, almost 4 years after I left! Ok, so this isn't marking my stationery but it was funny when my ex-colleague politely asked me permission to use my old drawer.

And recently, my pen was discovered in my old office building, being used by another department. I've left that building a year ago and it just recently surfaced.

Can't wait to see what else will pop up!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Of English Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales

I grew up with a load of nursery rhymes together with my siblings. I remembered bawling whenever mum tried to put me to sleep with Rock-a-bye Baby. Always imagined myself in that cradle that falls. Mum never knew why I cried as I couldn't express myself very well then lol

Anyway, I was going through a list of these nursery rhymes with my colleagues and they looked at me, bewildered of the extent of cruel rhymes I know. Grabbing these off the internet, here are some of my favourites:

1. Sing a song of sixpence
Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?

The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

The poor maid!

2. Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down,
And broke his crown;
And Jill came tumbling after. 

Apparently this is in reference to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette? I always wondered what crown Jack broke. Someone explained to me as a child that "broke his crown" meant Jack had a headache. Never quite made sense though.

3. Three Blind Mice
Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice

Kesian these mice. They were just minding their own business! And they were already disabled, now even more so!

4. Oranges and Lemons
Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement's.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.
I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

The delightful cassette we owned with this nursery rhyme even had sound effects of an axe chopping and a hollow plonk once the head dropped off.

5. Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Poor kids. Why she so hiao have so many kids until don't know what to do?

Anyway, there is a long list of nursery rhymes which I don't want to list otherwise this post will be too long.

Apart from rhymes, I was also exposed to some lovely fairy tales such as:
1. The Little Mermaid
Nope, not the Disney version. The one where she ends up casting herself into the sea and turning into foam. My cassette had Fingal's Cave accompany the narration of the story. Yes, I still remember this vividly and the book had a picture of her melting into the waves.

2. Tom Thumb
Who tricked a wolf and got his parents to kill the wolf so that he could be rescued. My book had illustrations of the dead wolf lying on the kitchen floor, forever seared in my memory. Never liked Tom for this.

3. Goldilocks
A spoilt girl who destroys the bears home and escapes without consequences. Humph. In line with the other stories, there should have been a gory ending for this one.

4. Hansel and Gretel
I couldn't feel complete joy when I read Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree/Wishing Chair when the kids encountered the land where everything was made of food, especially the house as it reminded me of Hansel and Gretel. Also, whenever my parents took us for walks, it crossed my mind to fill my pockets with something more permanent than breadcrumbs. 

My colleagues concluded that this is the reason why they consider me rather violent hahaha. I wonder what kids are exposed to these days...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Burying 2014

It's been a great year!

So goes Facebook's compilation of your photos and postings for the year 2014. I sort of cringe whenever I read that. This has been a year I've been rather glad that it's coming to an end, with the inane hope that things would get better in 2015, as though replacing 2014 with 2015 would somehow miraculously bring better days.

I started off the year with a fractured ankle and a month long MC just after transferring into my new department. What a way to start new beginnings.

For the first few months of 2014, I had an acquaintance (I'm still finding it strange for being affected by his passing), seeing my friend in agony and helplessness as she watched his life ebb away, a grandaunt and a granduncle pass away. A close friend went through a divorce and battles depressing emotion.

Right after that was the disappearance of MH370, with an ex-colleague's wife, mother-in-law and sister-in-law, Jan's friend's dad and two church members on that flight. The shock, the confusion, the frustration of witnessing how the whole investigation unfolded to no avail. Suddenly, the world felt like a very big place, with unknown depths of the sea swallowing an entire plane to oblivion apparently.

As the nation tried to grapple with the agony, MH17 happened. This time, the conclusion was swift, no one survived. At least there was closure and the nation mourned as the bodies were returned to tanahair

At this point, when I flew to Perth in September, I couldn't help but to take a good look around at the other passengers, wondering if our names and lives would forever be linked together.

Then there was the sudden passing of a Malaysian giant, Karpal Singh. The testimonies that flowed for weeks thereafter were evidence of what an incredible person he was. Malaysia truly lost a great man that fateful night.

In between, disturbing developments in this country were allowed to rear it's ugly head. Extremists were given free reign to say, threaten and do whatever they wanted without consequences, many were even defended by ministers! On the other hand, other people were slapped with sedition for the slightest things that "offended" those in the corridors of power.

In terms of weather, we've had a dry spell which had the capital city on water rationing for months, we recorded a fierce twister in the northern state of Kedah, we've had landslides on Cameron Highlands, and topping off the year, we had 8 out of 12 states on Peninsular Malaysia suffer from floods.

On a global scale, we had Ebola, ISIS, kidnapping of the Nigerian school girls, Sydney Seige, Talibans slaughtering school kids...

As 31 December approached, an AirAsia plane crashes into the sea in the midst of bad weather. AirAsia is my preferred airline and each time the plane goes through turbulence, I comfort and remind myself this is normal, nothing to worry about. I now know that whatever turbulence I will experience next time will be filled with fear.

My family and friends who are flying over the next month or so are having jitters for sure. It doesn't help when another AirAsia flight three days after the crash overshot the runway in Philippines, thankfully with no casualties.

In the midst of all this sorrow, pain and uncertainty to usher in a new year, I can only try and take hope in Prov 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.

To end this post with a little flashback, at the end of 2013, an ad agency came up with this funny video on averting bad luck associated with the number 4 in the year. If only...

Friday, December 05, 2014

Perth Tours

So we were in Perth again, this time in September. This time, we decided to make it a more relaxing trip in the sense that we didn't really have much plans.

However, looking back, we still managed to squeeze in several tours within that few days!

Ok, here are the tours we did:

We arrived on an early Friday morning, which meant we could make it for the Boom or Bust tour which began at 2pm. All we had to do was be at the iCity Information Kiosk at Murray Street. It was being renovated at the moment so it took us a few minutes to locate the temporary kiosk along the same street.
The Millennial Man 
It was an interesting tour. We learned a lot about the history of the buildings around the city, how the city was built because of the mining boom. Later when I told my sis-in-law, Yen, who's been living there for more than 10 years about about what we learned, she was surprised and confessed she wasn't aware of the history of the buildings and city either.

This tour is highly recommended!

What's there not to love about dessert tours, amirite? We stopped over at seven outlets, from San Churros, Ben & Jerry's to Darrell Lea to name a few. 

And we ended with pancakes, by that time we were so stuffed and could hardly take a decent bite out of the many flavours we selected. Being in a like minded group was fun!
Selecting our cupcakes
Macarons, served by a French guy, of course!
However, I felt slightly disappointment as I've already tried San Churros on my own, and Ben & Jerry's were just tasting two ice cream flavours dug with sticks, like tasting the flavours at Baskin Robbins. Considering this is a paid tour, I was expecting just a tiny bit more from the ice cream, not what any normal walk in customer would be able to get on their own.

Tour 3: Whale Watching
This tour departed from Hillary's Wharf with transport provided to and fro the city. The 2-hour tour excludes the ride from the city and because the first place we stopped had little activity, the captain decided to take us to another spot where we saw a little bit more action.

The ride wasn't very choppy that day, thankfully. Or maybe because we took sea sick pills. A poor lady threw up while the boat was stationary for a long period at the first stop while we were trying to watch out for more whales.

It was great to see these huge creatures in their habitats. One tidbit of information, this is also the time when the sharks are most active as they try to snatch the baby whales travelling with their mothers on their way down south.

Anyway, another activity ticked off my to-do list!

Other things we did was to visit King's Park since Jan didn't have the chance to go the last time.

It was also tulip season at Araluen Gardens so we headed there early Sunday morning and were so glad we took the effort to go early! By the time we left at about noon, the cars lining up to get in stretched for miles!


Other things to note for this trip was trying out raw food in Freemantle! Raw Kitchen serves vegetarian, non-dairy and gluten free food where nothing is cooked over 50 degrees Celcius. If you know me well, I hardly take veggies but til this day, that meal was the most memorable!

Dehydrated nachos!
Pizza with a dehydrated base and powdered cashew nuts as cheese. The combination of raw ingredients made this my favourite dish.
Spaghetti made from raw zucchini.
And of course, we were there to say hi to the furry residents of my Yen's home. Meet Cooper and Ah Ngiau!

And it was Red, my dragon's first time to Perth!
Trying to be friendly and do what locals do, sunning your wings...
Hello Perth!
It was also cherry blossom season and the tree at Yen's home was still in full bloom.
I've seen so many plastic cherry blossoms it was hard to believe these were real!
Thanks to the hospitality of Yen and Jason, we had a great time again in Perth. Looking forward to our bi-annual visit in 2 years!

Monday, July 28, 2014

My New DSLR Journey

A few years ago, I asked myself this question, if the world were coming to an end tomorrow, what would I have regretted not buying when I have the means to get it? (Yes, I do ask morbid questions). So I’m eliminating stuff like a ticket around the world, visiting the moon etc and the answer hit me immediately: a DSLR.

I’ve been going through this internal debate for years (it’s worse than me trying to buy a phone since a DSLR is not a necessity). If I start on this DSLR journey, I’ll need to then add on stuff, I’ll need to be able to keep it in a dry box to prevent mould and goodness, it’s darn heavy to carry it while I’m travelling!

Last year, an acquaintance found out he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The chances of survival were very slim and he had less than a year. So what did he do? He went ahead and bought a new expensive car, tried to travel as much as he could and still purchased properties. He passed away earlier this year but I must hand it to him, he really lived life to the fullest. He once said of me, "Analysis paralysis!" when I was sharing with him my struggle to own a DSLR.

This got me thinking, what am I so fearful about getting it anyway? My problem is that I regret something before getting it but know that after I get it, I will have no regrets.

So when there was a promotion to get the one I’ve been eyeing on, I took the plunge and now am very happy to announce that I have purchased my very first DSLR – the Canon EOS 700D!

KS suffered through the whole process with double intensity, “Should I REALLY get it? Should I get the zoom lens or not? What, you mean Nikon has better reviews for the same price range camera?” until I finally took half a day off to ensure I went to buy it on the last day of the promotion.

Poor Angku has been the main subject of my testing out my camera. After taking the first few shots, I was quite happy with the bokeh. Until I downloaded it and viewed it on my computer. The picture was blurry! Even on Auto mode! Oh the horror!

Seriously, these were the only two shots out of like 30 which were closest to being clear.

These were taken at night so of course it was trickier. My other daytime shots fared better but I don't intend to just use my new camera for outdoors now, do I?

Clearer shot in the day.

One day, I walked past this camera shop looking for silica gel when I noticed one wall displaying gorgeous black and white photography. Thinking they belonged to the owner, I was surprised to read the different names of the winners. Upon asking, the shop said they hold lessons and these are their students international award winning work. And oh, a new beginners class just started in English which is very rare since the teacher usually teaches in Mandarin, would I like to join?

I debated for about 10 minutes. Compared to my other decision making durations, I'd pretty much say this was an instant decision. SOLD.

Okay, sure I'd love to be able to have one of my photos published one fine day but for now, I think I'm just happy to be learning the basics of how to handle my camera.

Sharper focus on her annoyed face. She looks like she's saying, "Again?!"
Learning how to use f.22 to make the water "smooth"
Learning about lighting

Pretty excited about my new journey! And of course, the gear suggestions pour in every lesson. 50mm lens, various filters, solid tripod, dry box... I'm going to see how long I can resist not getting new stuff!

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Overnight in Halong Bay

For our trip to Halong Bay, we took the Royal Heritage Cruises arranged by the Hanoi hotel we stayed.
Red in the van on the way to Halong Bay

It was a two day one night trip, with 4 hours travelling one way from Hanoi in a van. Our tour guide told us interesting Vietnamese stories and facts along the way such as why are the houses in Vietnam tall but thin? Something to do with the space that is allowed per family so they build at least 4 stories high for that narrow space given, ground floor for business, second to fourth floors for three generations staying together.

We left at about 9 a.m. and made a pit stop at this place built for tourists, a centre showcasing beautiful pictures made from sewing colourful threads onto the canvas, lacquered wooden items, food stuff, huge sculptures and heavy wooden furniture.

That's a picture sewed with thread. Very stunning.
When we reached Halong Bay’s ferry terminal, there were hundreds of people milling about waiting for their boats to arrive. We were escorted to a tender who then brought us to our boat for lunch after checking in. There were 13 (+2 who joined us the next day) of us for that night from far flung corners of the world, Brazil, Canada, Melbourne, France, Russia and another family from Malaysia (who were sitting beside us in the plane when we flew from KL, how about that?).

At the ferry terminal with all the boats lined up.
Activities included in our trip was a visit to the Surprise Cave, going to a beach, swimming, making Vietnamese rolls, karaoke, squid fishing, taichi in the morning, kayaking and passing by the floating villages.
Lookout point before entering the Surprise Cave
Villager selling her wares
Floating village
Inside the Surprise Cave
Still inside the Surprise Cave
Is Halong Bay a must see? I found it crowded, everywhere you looked was another boat, the cave was packed with people, there was rubbish in the waters and the mist was almost always present so I couldn’t really take clear shots of the limestones.

Boats everywhere
The mist adds a mysterious calm to the place 
More boats!
To me, I grew up with Langkawi at my backyard somewhat, so this experience was rather similar. The food was also close to home. For many, it would be a new experience so it would be worth it.

Of course the limestones were beautiful, I loved how they all had this parallel diagonal lines running around it, the calmness of the water where we stopped for the night, the peaceful hours just gazing at the stars from the top deck.

Can you see the diagonal lines on the top right? Most of the stones had it.
Our room
The dining room
Selfie at Halong Bay!
We also got the biggest and most expensive room which was lovely (I think we were fleeced because the amount we paid was exorbitant – but anyway...). And I also got to know the Russian guest, Orga, since I didn't join in the kayaking. She’s lovely and a little scary as she asked me very direct questions such as, “Why don’t you know Russian language? Is it because Malaysians don’t like Russians?” lol

Meet Orga!
The first thing she asked me was whether I heard some of them singing the night before at the dining room while I was star gazing, "Did we sing good?". Thankfully I didn't have to wait hours for the right answer to pop up, "You all sounded like you were having loads of fun!" and she laughed out loud. She also tried to teach me some Russian words (she's a Russian language teacher) but I did warn her I couldn't even speak my own mother tongue.

We disembarked right after an early lunch so effectively, we were on the boat for 24 hours.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Hanoi in 3 Days

Actually, we were there for about 6 days but we take away 2 days for Halong Bay and another one for the flight home.

Anyway, to introduce you to Hanoi, Vietnam, since I've always been confused with Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi is the one up north. It's the older city, the one with Old Quarters, the one nearer to Halong Bay and has Ho Chi Minh's (the person) body lying in state.

We stayed in a hotel called Rising Dragon Hotel (Hanoi means Rising Dragon by the way) who were very initiative and contacted us the minute we booked by offering us a tour to Halong Bay and Sapa. The staff were very friendly and helpful, with great recommendations on where to eat and where to go, would really recommend it! It's located in the Old Quarters and was a great base to explore Old Quarters. We got everywhere by foot easily. But of course, we walked like crazy (8.5km on our last day).

The first thing I noticed was that it is a right hand drive. I can't remember if this is my first time sitting in vehicles with right hand drive. And to look out the screen at the onslaught of motorbikes and crazy traffic and honking for just about anything. The noise level is so great that when we got back to KL, we looked at each other and said, "Wah! KL so quiet!".

We organized three tours from the Hanoi Free Walking Tour but only did two. Our first guide, Thuy, poor girl, arrived almost breathless as she was informed an hour or so ago about our booking even though we booked 3 weeks in advance. She was very nice and the first thing she taught us, unintentionally, was to cross a busy road by not paying attention and continuously talking to us while cutting across a busy roundabout!

Thuy helping KS buy some food from a street vendor.

Thuy took us around Old Quarters and covered as much as she could within the 3 hours (it's a really huge area) and showed us stuff we'd never have noticed on our own. For example, the streets were named after the product the shops used to sell, like silver, peaches and silk. She also pointed out narrow lanes in between the shops which actually lead to small tiny rooms which house families.

Families live inside these corridors in windowless rooms.
At the end of our tour, she took us into one of these dim corridors, up some narrow steps and entered what appeared to be a home converted into a shop. If we were on our own, we would have backed out there and then. Young folks sitting on tiny stools, kuaci shells coating the floor, a veil of smoke enveloping the generally dazed crowd.

This was where they serve egg in coffee, an original recipe made by this guy (who's family home is this place) who worked in the swanky Metropole Hotel as a barman. He concocted it while he was there and serves it only in this place. There are no signboards, so only those who know this place get to find it.

The froth arrived 3D, thick with the egg.
Squatting by a tiny table, we somehow squeezed into place and were promptly served with the famous egg coffee. I can't take coffee but had two tiny sips and immediately had a sore throat! Truly a must for coffee drinkers!

A Notre Dame-ish looking church in Hanoi, St Joseph's Cathedral
The locals call these sweets but they are actually preserved fruits, sweetish sourish stuff.
A fruit usually used for prayers because it looks like upturned fingers 
Every shop had the Vietnam flag hanging from their shop for Reunification Day on 30 April.
Thuy, our wonderful guide for the day
On our second Free Walking Tour, we combined the French Quarters Tour and Food Tour since the Food Tour was cancelled at the last minute since there wasn't an available guide.

Mai really opened our eyes to food which we didn't dare to try or didn't even know existed! She first brought us to eat cut fruits with yoghurt (or condensed milk if you prefer).

When we stepped into the shop, there were these tiny plastic stools which we use for kids in kindergarten in Malaysia. Scattered amongst them were a few normal height plastic stools. Both Mai and I took a small stool, I thought of leaving KS with the higher stool to sit on but it turned out that stool was the table!

Throughout the next few places we were taken to eat, we sat on these small stools. It's definitely not easy if you're not used to it. I had to fold in my fat to tuck myself in lol!

Cut fruits in yoghurt
Beef strips mixed with nuts and loads of veggie. Very yummy!
Fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. The combination of each veggie was just right to give the perfect flavour.
Bits of pork mixed with wood ear mushroom wrapped in a thick gooey rice paper sort of thing.
Since we had already stuffed ourselves, we headed to the French Quarters.
The Opera House
THE most luxurious hotel in Hanoi, Hotel Metropole Hanoi. We walked inside in all sweaty shorts and slippers :)
We ended our tour with a visit to the most popular ice cream shop in Hanoi, Kem Trang Tien. This place is amazing.
The entrance. See the motorbikes being pushed in? 
The customers drive in, park and make their orders. There was a constant stream of customers while we were there polishing off a cone each.
Time to say goodbye to Mai
Food in general:

We had:
- Pork noodles
- Pho
- French baguette
- Egg coffee
- Beef noodles
- Grilled fish
and more...

Our first meal was this pork noodle place, Bun Cha. Oh-em-gee... it was so good. And such a large portion. We wished we could have gone back a second time but so much food, so little stomach! Don't speak Vietnamese? It's ok, just sit and they will serve you. "Eat whatever they place in front of you" was our motto.

Bun Cha (pork noodles) was our very first meal. 
Our first baguette from a roadside stall
Our second baguette, operated by this lady who had very basic equipment to run her business at the side walk. This is something I noticed, the women did business with the least things they had. Just do it.
We were also recommended to try this grilled fish along Hoan Kiem road with the basic instructions of "Cha Ca La Vong". When we got there, a guy rushed out and implored us to go into his shop with the magic words "Cha Ca La Vong? Here! Here!". We were a little taken aback and I sensed something wasn't quite right especially when he said something along the lines of "You're looking for number 14? This is 14!" so we sort of guessed the right place was addressed 14.

Looking around the street, we noticed everyone had their business signage as 14! So we stepped into the one with the address as 14 instead.
See the signboard which says 14 but the address is 16? So we stepped into the shop next to it.

It was fish pieces being pan cooked in oil with loads of veggie. You eat it with noodles.
Pricey, delicious but honestly, nothing really to shout about but I guess it was for experience.

Our last night's dinner, beef noodles. It was SO good...
Places of interest and things to do in Hanoi:

Besides what we covered in the tours, we did:
- Hoan Kiem Lake
- Water Puppet Show
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
- Hanoi Temple of Literature
- Pagoda in West Lake
- The bridge designed by Eiffel
- Longest tiled mural in the world

The Ngoc Son Temple at Hoan Kiem Lake
The red bridge at the lake which connects to the pagoda
A 45 minute Water Puppet Show
Changing of guards at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
Pagoda at the West Lake
Longest tiled mural in the world
Bridge designed by Eiffel. Notice the similarities in it's structure to the tower?

The people of Hanoi:

The folks of Hanoi are business people. Just like the French baguette place mentioned above, with what little equipment they had, they'd just open a stall anywhere to sell anything. These hard working people made the place really come alive.

The highlight for us was getting to know our two tour guides. Passionate with a cause, Vietnam has a good future with these young sharp minds.

We saw quite a few people modelling and taking photos all over. I love the traditional costume for ladies, it really makes them so stunning and graceful.

Leave throwing for effect
Spotted this railway which people use as their backyards. They clear off as soon as they hear the train. I even saw a man set up a table right in the middle of the track to sit and read his paper.
And here's a photo of us being silly:
Us goofing while waiting for our dinner one night
Halong Bay blogpost coming up.