Saturday, December 23, 2006

My Top 10 Most Memorable Dives

Morning at Mabul

Sunset at Mabul

Since earning my PADI diving certification 5 years ago, I’ve logged 94 dives. It’s not a lot compared to the dive pros who log hundreds of dives a year. But it’s still a pretty good figure, considering that I do an average of 2 dive trips a year, for an average of slightly under 20 dives a year. The early years were crazier, due to the novelty of my new-found hobby and the gung-ho factor. This year (2006) I’ve really slowed down – only 6 dives!

If you noticed, I said “memorable” dives in the title. Not “best” dives. These are not necessarily the most enjoyable dives, but they stick out vividly in my memory. You see, in diving, there is no such thing as a bad dive. There are only different dives. Even a “bad” dive can be good, because it’s different and offers a new experience from which to learn and remember. For example, a dive in low visibility would be bad for recreational purposes, but good for training, so that one would be more prepared for similar low visibility conditions in the future. It builds confidence.

There’s a lesson for life and a spiritual parallel there too. That is, things don’t always go well. Sometimes there are screw-ups and bad weather, but in all things there is a positive side. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Like Joseph, things may look bad now, and people may intend it for evil, but God intends it for good in the end.

So here goes the good, the bad and the ugly… in chronological order.

1. My First Ever Open Water Dive
Anemone City, Pulau Redang, August 2001

Straight after getting my temporary cert from my instructor Nic, the bunch of us five students plunged in for our first dive as qualified divers. Nic took us to Anemone City, which is an obscure dive site off Redang. No buoy, no line. Few people know of this site, and Nic had to direct the boatman to the spot, using the position of the islands for navigation. The current was strong, and Nic went down first with a float and line to set the descent line for us newbies. Guess what? It didn’t work, because the current was swift and the moment we dropped in the water we were carried on the surface away from the line. The boat went round to pick us up and turn around upstream to try descending again. Again it didn’t work. Since we were brand new to open water diving, we were not so quick to descend and ended up separated by the current. Jannie and Cindy were together. Daniel and Beng Hui were together. And I was alone. Well, due to Nic’s *ahem* excellent training, we didn’t panic. We each found our way to the bottom and regrouped with Nic. I remember seeing lots and lots of anemones covering the rocks like a giant rug. Towards the end of the dive I ran low on air and had to share with Nic (how embarassing!). We got back on the boat and headed back to shore. I can't remember what happened after that.

2. Night Diving
Pulau Redang, August 2001

My first night dive was actually an “unauthorized” one. According to the PADI syllabus, divers only learn night diving in the Advanced course. But since our instructor was keen to give us a feel of night diving right after our basic Open Water certification, he took us out one night to the shallow reef in front of Redang Bay Resort. You could say it was an unofficial introduction to diving in darkness. We grabbed our underwater torchlights, geared up and walked down to the warm sea water after dinner. To cut a long story short, I don’t remember seeing anything but rocks and boulders. I guess we were more concerned with overcoming our initial fears and sticking close to our instructor, so as not to get lost. You could tell we were really rookie divers, because towards the end of the dive my buddy thoughtfully handed me her secondary regulator (the “octopus”), thinking that I was low on air. Well, we didn’t realize it, but we were floating at the surface already!

I followed up with a proper Advanced course at Perhentian in March 2002. There, the instructor took us out for a proper training night dive. We went through the skills test and simulations. Since then, I’ve done a handful of night dives. Night diving is always exciting and adrenaline-inducing. The only bummer is that I have to get wet and salty again at the end of the day, when I would rather be snug and dry, and enjoying the sunset and dinner. Instead, I have to eat dinner early, or rush through dinner, or eat leftovers later, coz the best time for night diving clashes with dinnertime. I’ll also miss the sunset coz I’ll be busy preparing for the dive. And after the dive, I have to pack and wash the gear, and shower again. If the dive ends late, I’ll have wet hair till late at night (I don’t believe in hairdryers, except in emergencies). Kinda spoils the relaxing mood… but I’ll still go night diving, because you never know what you’ll find. I saw a moray eel once, right in front of Coral View Resort, Perhentian. I think it was a honeycomb moray -- white with black dots -- or perhaps it was a black spotted moray...? :)

3. The Puke Dive
Rayner’s Rock, Pulau Dayang, October 2002

This was one of my “worst” dives. People usually ask, what bodily functions can you do underwater? The answer is, everything. The only problem is, your wetsuit gets in the way. Divers routinely pee in their wetsuits. There’s no other way out. The urge to let go is due to the cold water and immersion diuresis, which is the urge to pee induced by the effect of being submerged. Scientists have documented this fact but the exact cause is still not clear. Anyway, I should be talking about puking, not peeing.

It was a windy day and the waves were rough. I was sleep-deprived from the previous night’s traveling. Rough sea + fatigue = sea sickness. On top of that, I had a heavy lunch which included greasy mee goreng. Ah, recipe for disaster. For the afternoon dive, which was soon after lunch, i.e. no time for the food to digest, we went out to Rayner’s Rock. This is supposed to be one of the best dive sites at Pulau Dayang. But my memory only remembers the puke. About 10 minutes into the dive, my headache began throbbing and my stomach started feeling queasy. Nausea. Vertigo. Lunch was on its way out... and out it came, at 18m underwater. I whipped the regulator out of my mouth, but I was just a bit too late... and so parts of the barf went into the regulator (Yuck!), while the rest went into the watery world! Little bits of lunch started floating away in the current, and hungry fish darted over to gobble it up. Vomit certainly looks different underwater. It spreads out in a thin film, with strings of digestive mucus clinging on. I felt much better after getting it all out. Vomit leaves a bad taste in the mouth, so I gargled and spit with seawater. Ptooeyyy! I put the regulator back in my mouth, but it smelled of vomit! Arrgghhh! So I took it out and flooded it and purged it a number of times until it was clean. I continued the dive feeling much better. Later when I got back to the jetty after the dive I cleaned out the regulator properly… there were still bits of orange sacs and fibre stuck inside. And that ends the story of the puke dive.

4. The Combo Dive
Pulau Tenggol, May 2003

This was the deepest night dive I’ve ever done. It was down to 100 feet (30m), to a fishing boat wreck in the bay where all the resorts on Tenggol are located. But I was on a live-aboard dive trip, so I didn’t touch land for 3 days. Our dive boat was tied to the mooring buoy which was anchored to the wreck. During this dive, I also had to do some navigation at the bottom. So, in a sense, that one dive fulfilled the requirements of the Advanced course: Deep dive, night dive, boat dive, navigation.

It was an eventful dive. Earlier that day, we dived the same wreck to check it out. It’s a rule of night diving, that you should dive in familiar sites, which you have previously dived in the daytime. So, anyway, Andrew, Cheng and I descended with the others. At the bottom, Cheng suddenly made some signals that he wanted to go up. Andrew also followed him up. Later, I found out that Cheng had bad air in his tank, and couldn't stand breathing that air and therefore aborted the dive. I didn’t get the message, so I stayed back, thinking that I could join the other group. In the commotion, the other group had gone ahead and left me behind too! So, there I was, all alone in the dark, 100 feet below the surface… For a moment, I panicked. But then I remembered the procedures taught during training. And as long as my air supply was OK, I should be OK. First step is to look for my other buddies. So I blacked out my light by pointing it onto my wetsuit, and scanned 360 degrees around for other sources of light. After a few seconds of hovering in darkness, I saw the faint beams of the other group’s torchlights in the distance. I quickly made a beeline for the group, and was surprised to find that they were exploring another nearby boat wreck. So, I dived (1) from a boat, (2) to a deep wreck, (3) at night, and (4) navigated from one wreck to another. A combo dive.

5. The Glamour Dive
Sharon's Stone, Pulau Redang, August 2004

I did a dive trip to Redang with my brother. We stayed at Redang Bay Resort, which has probably the cheapest dive rates on the island. Sharon’s Stone sounded alluring enough, and so we geared up and boarded the boat eagerly. Well waddaya know, the visibility that day was bad, just a few metres. Even the divemasters couldn’t get their bearings. It was a comedy of errors. We descended without a line, which would have been OK in clear water, but in low viz we couldn’t see where we were going. Then there was a diver from another group who couldn’t equalize, thus keeping us waiting. A divemaster stayed back to help the fella descend, while the rest of us chased after the other divemaster who had gone ahead of us and was speeding into the distance, oblivious to the delay. I was afraid that we would lose sight of him in the poor visibility. And so, there we were madly chasing the divemaster, who was zooming ahead in search of the Sharon’s Stone reef. Well, he couldn’t find it! We spent the next 20 minutes skimming over the sandy bottom.

Sand, sand, sand everywhere. As a consolation we did manage to see some cute little shrimps on anemone clumps out in the middle of the sandy bottom. I saw some sea pens, starfish and worms too. Diving in poor visibility can be disorientating, especially when you can’t differentiate up from down. When you can’t see the bottom, or any reference point in the distance, your eyes start playing tricks on you. It’s like an autofocus camera trying to focus on a blank sheet of paper. After a while I even started feeling a bit of vertigo. So, we finned close to the bottom, with our noses almost in the sand… well, almost. We ended the dive with a safety stop in open water. Later, the dive shop gave us a discount on the dive, since we didn’t arrive at the intended destination. How nice of them.

6. Sugar Wreck
Pulau Perhentian, August 2004-2006

This has to be one of my favourite dive sites. I’ve dived there on each of my annual trips to Perhentian over the past 3 years. Each time, the diving conditions were different. The first time had no current, good viz. Second time had moderate current, poor viz. Third time had strong current, moderate viz. But I saw the most fish during the third time. The current was so strong that we had to grab the line during the safety stop, and we ended up looking like flags flapping in the wind – a whole line of divers trailing from the line. A bit like a clothesline caught in the wind.

Sugar Wreck is a sunken 90m bulk carrier ship. It was carrying sugar (hence the name) when it sank in December 2000. It now lies in 18m of water, but because it’s a pretty big ship, the top of the wreck is only 6m below the surface. There’s a warning buoy anchored to the wreck.

Sugar Wreck is good for reliving the Titanic experience, especially on the descent, where you glide over the hulking mass of the wreck, avoiding the railings, cranes, masts and ropes that protrude through the water. Most of the wreck’s surfaces are covered with slime, or soft corals, or barnacles. There’s lots of pufferfish near the stern of the wreck. You can also see a school of razorfish that swim vertically, head down-tail up. There’s also lionfish and scorpionfish. A bamboo shark hides under one of the masts. I saw a turtle the first time I dived there, but none ever since. A lone barracuda resides in the hull of the wreck. The divemaster will usually take divers on a tour of the wreck, from one end to the other, and detouring into the open hull of the wreck. The ship rests on its starboard side on the silty seabed, leaving the hull opening sideways. Strictly speaking, this is not technical wreck diving, as there is no penetration of enclosed passages. We always make sure there is a direct access to the surface in case of emergency.

7. Sipadan-Mabul
Pulau Sipadan and Pulau Mabul, May 2005

It’s difficult to pinpoint the most memorable dive at Sipadan-Mabul. Besides the first ever dive at Sipadan, which I mention in No. 8 below, the memory of Sipadan-Mabul just can’t be dissected into individual dives. It’s more like a mosaic than a snapshot. Among the scenes that stick out clearly are the first boat ride from Mabul to Sipadan. You know, it’s like after all the hype about Sipadan, I was finally on my way there, on the speedboat skimming over the deep blue waters of the Celebes Sea. I had my camera to take some landside photos of the island, but unfortunately I had no underwater camera. Someone said they saw dolphins, but of course, I had to be the one who didn't see them...

Some flashbacks of Sipadan-Mabul:

- Snorkelling at the Drop Off during our surface intervals. It’s like no other snorkeling experience I had up till that time. Imagine, swimming over sandy bottom 3m deep… then suddenly the bottom just disappears over the edge, and all you see is a wall dropping almost infinitely into the deep blue below. I ventured out from the sandy bottom, towards the open water and bottomless sea, always keeping a watchful eye on the white sandy bottom nearby and making sure I knew how far away I was! I didn’t want to get into trouble while hovering over nothing but water. See, if I dropped my watch there, it would fall for 600m before hitting bottom. It’s a really awesome feeling of fear mixed with adventure. There’s a lot of hard and soft corals growing on the wall and ledges, and a profusion of fish that patrol the edge between beach and abyss. The resident lone barracuda hides among the legs of the wooden jetty. A turtle swam by. Ladidadidumdum. I didn’t dive at the Drop Off, but snorkeling there was just about good enough!

- Barracuda Point was a terrible disappointment, because there were NO barrucudas. Zero. I dived there four times to no avail. But there were some other interesting sights that partially made up for the total lack of barracudas. I saw lots of reef sharks. Loads of them. There’s a place called The Airport where a whole “squadron” of grey reef sharks would rest on the flat rocky bottom, making it look like an airport with sleek fighter jets parked on the tarmac. At one point, a rare leopard shark sped past in the swift current. I only managed to catch a glimpse of its side and tail, as it quickly disappeared behind us. Divers are incredibly clumsy in water compared to fish (Duh~!). I was being pushed along by the current (doing what we call a “drift dive”), and the shark just went the opposite direction, against the current, effortlessly!

- Turtles, turtles, everywhere. I stopped counting after a while. There’s turtles swimming, turtles eating, turtles sleeping, but I didn’t see turtles mating…

- Lots of fish! At Sipadan, you'll see many types of fish that you can see elsewhere too, but they're in greater number at Sipadan. If you see one batfish at Redang, you'll probably see five at Sipadan. Just multiply the numbers.

- Diving at Mabul is great for seeing little critters and bottom-dwelling creatures. It was my first time seeing frogfish, crocodilefish, ribbon eels and loads of big, colourful nudibranchs. I was diving with some seasoned divers who talked in scientific lingo, like “Oh, did you see that beautiful Chromodoris?” And so I had to quickly brush up on my Latin to counter with phrases like, “Oh yeah, wasn’t that a Phyllidia?” I like a mix of little critters and big fish in diving. Some people are macro lovers, others prefer wide angle. I like both.

- Sunsets at Mabul are lovely... so too is the morning sky, as you can see in the two pictures above.

8. My Virgin Sipadan Dive
South Point, Pulau Sipadan, May 2005

My first time at Sipadan also happens to be my deepest dive ever. We went down to 130 feet (40 metres)!!! The water was so clear that it didn’t feel that deep. I had my first taste of Sipadan’s legendary depths, as I couldn’t see the bottom which was another 600 m below. My only indication of land was the sloping wall on my left. Unfortunately, the marine life was rather sparse. Hardly any fish worth noticing. And at that depth the wall was devoid of corals. Everything was a shade of blue or grey. The most obvious sign of life was the hissing of the dense air coming through the regulator with every breath that I took.

But the idea of logging such a depth on the depth gauge was thrilling enough. OK, maybe it’s a cheap thrill. But it doesn’t happen everyday. I’m still wondering if I actually got nitrogen narcosis on that dive. I don’t recall getting a “high”. That only means one thing, I gotta go back and do it again to find out. :P

9. Big Fish Dive
West Ridge, Pulau Sipadan, May 2005

Imagine the largest shoal of fish you’ve ever seen. Then imagine swimming into it, under it, through it, around it. Yup, I swam right into a massive shoal of trevallies. From a distance the reflective silver scales of the fish made the shoal appear like a fuzzy gray blob on the blue background. The current was carrying us divers along, and soon we were drifted into the living wall. The current was flowing but the shoal was stationary, hovering in the water like a hot air balloon in the sky. I was at the bottom about 12m deep, and I saw the shoal extend from the sea bed almost to the surface. That’s a 12m-high wall of fish. That’s A LOT of fish. Swimming into the shoal of thousands of fish was a truly incredible experience. It’s like being surrounded by an amorphous living blob that shifts, swirls and folds around you as you play with it. I dropped to the bottom and slowly ascended through the middle… slowly the mass of fishes parted and surrounded me, swirling around. The fish wouldn’t let us divers too close to them, but it was a pretty close encounter. I could see the sleek silver fins gleaming in the sunrays that pierced through the water and almost gaze into their eyes, if only they would stop swimming around! The wall of glimmering silver was disorientating at times, when the fish started circling me and making me lose my sense of direction. Exhilarating! I think I spent 10 minutes with the blob of fish before I had to continue with the drift dive and watch the silver slowly fade to gray and nothingness. This is what diving is about! =)

I didn’t get to see the famed school of barracudas at Sipadan, despite diving at Barracuda Point four times! So this school of trevallies is the compensation. Not as majestic as barracudas but better than nothing.

Oh BTW, trevallies are good to eat. Once when I was diving with my instructor on my first few dives, we came across some trevallies. Being the ever-helpful instructor who wanted to educate his students well, he scribbled on his underwater slate “Lunch” with an arrow pointing to the trevallies swimming by. :P

10. My First No Wetsuit Dive
D’Lagoon, Pulau Perhentian, August 2005

Most divers dive with a wetsuit. It’s for protection against the cold, and against scrapes and scratches from corals and rough surfaces, and stings and bites from creatures. But in warm tropical waters, there’s not much need for insulation from cold water, unless it’s a deep dive into colder water, or there happens to be a thermocline or cold currents. For shallow water dives, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s warm enough to dive without a wetsuit. And in my opinion, there’s no need to protect oneself from the corals. In fact the reverse is true. The corals need protection from divers! That’s why the more environmentally conscious dive operators prohibit divers from wearing gloves, so that they don’t go around grabbing live corals.

Back to the wetsuit… we were going to dive in the warm shallow waters of D’Lagoon a.k.a. Teluk Kerma and I decided to ditch my wetsuit. I figured that since it was afternoon and the dive was shallow, it would be just nice to try plunging in wearing just a pair of shorts and lycra vest. The sense of freedom was very refreshing. Another advantage is that I needed to use only one piece of weight because there’s no need to counter the buoyancy of a wetsuit. My last 4 dives at Perhentian this year were without wetsuit -- just skinsuit top and boardshorts. It also eliminates the hassle of lugging a damp heavy wetsuit back from the trip. And there's no need to rinse the wetsuit. Yay. Well, I know wetsuits are important for protection against the cold and for general protection against exposure to the elements, including the sun when at the surface. But I just like the freedom of no wetsuit on me. Maybe I'll change my mind when I get caught in a cold current one fine day, or run into a horde of jellyfish. :)

D’Lagoon is a very easy dive site. It’s shallow and without currents. We were blessed by the presence of a school of bumphead parrotfish chomping on the corals. There were about a dozen of the metre-long bumpheads. It was great. (I went all the way to Sipadan earlier in May 2005 but didn’t see any bumpheads! Maybe it was the wrong time.) Back to D’Lagoon, I also saw a cute reef cuttlefish that was hovering above a rock on the sandy area. Cuttlefish are nice to play with, as they hang around to check out divers and they have the amazing ability to change colours. On the sand they are white. On the reef they morph to brown or whatever colour the background is. Sometimes half the body is white while the other half is stone coloured. D’Lagoon is also known for the cleaning station where anemone shrimp clean fishes’ mouths and gills. Sort of like brushing teeth. The shrimp will pick off bits and pieces of food or parasites from their clients’ mouths, scales and gills. We divers get the same treatment too, but on our fingers. As we approach the anemones, we just stick out our hands and the shrimp will swarm over and start to pick at our cuticles with their little pincers. It’s a really amusing sight to see the one inch shrimps trying to clean our cuticles. Free “manicure”.


The Real Christmas Story

Luke 1:26-38 -->
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

35The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God."

38"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

Luke 2:1-20 -->
The Birth of Jesus
1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.

4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Things I like about Malaysia

Seeing the need to balance my previous posting on misgivings with regards to beautiful Malaysia, I would like to mention some nice things here.

1. Malaysia has some of the best dive sites in the world. Sipadan, Mabul, Kapalai, Lankayan, Mataking, Layang-Layang, Mantanani, Perhentian, Redang, Tenggol, Tioman, Dayang, and the list goes on. Of course, we don't have as many islands as Indonesia, but our dive sites are very accessible. For example, if you live in Kota Kinabalu, you can dive just about everyday. You can do an early morning dive at Pulau Sapi, and still make it to office by 9AM. You could even dive at lunchtime, if you have a 2 hour break! Peninsular Malaysia's East Coast islands are comparable to many of the resort islands in SE Asia.

2. Malaysia is one of the 12 biodiversity hotspots in the world. We have rich tropical forests filled with still undiscovered species. Tourists travel from around the globe just to experience the wild jungles that are millions of years old (according to the scientists). We have the biggest flower in the world, the Rafflesia. We have the biggest cavern in the world, the Sarawak Chamber. We have the highest peak in SE Asia, Mount Kinabalu. The forests of Peninsular Malaysia are one of the last remaining viable habitats of the tiger in the world.

3. We have lots of good food. Of course, you could argue that Malaysian cuisine is not pure or "pedigree" stuff. It's all mixed up. Chinese food here is not the same as Chinese food in China or Hong Kong or Taiwan. Indian food here is not exactly Indian food from India. And Malay food has absorbed flavours from the various traditions converging here. I'm not an expert on cooking (but I can eat!), but as long as it tastes good, it's OK with me. I don't need a fancy restaurant. Just gimme good food. Hahaha. Maybe I should brush up on my cooking... I'll need a big brush.

4. Durian.

5. Malaysia is seen as a exemplary model of racial harmony in a pluralistic society. Despite the hiccups, stumbles, blunders and tragedies in Malaysia's history, today many developing countries look up to Malaysia as a model for managing ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. It's not perfect, but much better than a lot of other countries. Some developed nations have even taken a look at how diverse Malaysian society holds together, hoping to learn some lessons on how to adapt to the increasing ethnic and cultural diversity that is the result of globalisation and immigration.

6. Malaysia is blessed with natural resources and free from major natural disasters. The earthquake belt hits Sumatra, south of Malaysia. Typhoons hit the Philippines, north of Malaysia. We suffer the tail ends of disasters that strike our neighbours, but never receive the full brunt. In this respect, all citizens and residents of Malaysia should thank God for this providence, and never take it for granted. It has been predicted that if an earthquake occurs in the northern Andaman Sea, a tsunami wave could possibly be generated that would travel directly down the Straits of Melaka and wreak devastation on the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

7. Malaysia has smart people. Unfortunately, not all of them become politicians and leaders.

8. Malaysia is home to the best rice in the world. It's Bario rice, grown in the paddies of the highlands of Bario, Sarawak. You just gotta try this rice. It's so good you can even eat it on its own. :P

9. Malaysia has a decent to excellent standard (depending on where you live) of infrastructure, like roads, telecommunications, water, electricity. It's just how we distribute and manage it that becomes the issue.

10. Malaysia is such a lovely place that even Singapore wants to be next to us... :) OK, please don't shoot me for saying this... I was just kidding. Freedom of speech ma. But honestly speaking, Malaysia has much to learn from Down South, especially in the area of government efficiency.

Disclaimer: The list above is not meant to be an exhaustive nor authoritative list of pats on the back for Malaysia. The list is subject to amendment, whether for better or for worse, at any time.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


What to say? I've been involved in some casual talk with certain knowledgeable people over the past week, around the topic of Malaysia's state of affairs. I can't dwell on this topic too much, or I'll get depressed. OK, not terribly depressed, but a bit discouraged. Why? Firstly, because of the sad sad state of the nation in the hands of kindergarten kids masquerading as politicians, and secondly, because I seem pretty much hapless to do anything. Yes, I know, the Bible says we should pray for the king and those in authority, and submit dutifully to the God-ordained government. And I shouldn't just let situations dictate my mood. But it's sometimes easy to lapse into cynicism and despondence when hearing "insider" stories about recent events. Perhaps it's gossip and even slander, but the trend seems to show that, here in Malaysia, rumours become news. Just give it some time. Some of the conspiracy theories are incredibly juicy, but unfortunately too "seditious" to publish, even online, unless I wish to have a firsthand experience of the interior of Bukit Aman or some detention centre. Haha!

Some points to consider:

1. Malaysia is losing her competitiveness. Everyone's talking about it. I'm not an expert on this, but this is what I've been hearing. FDI is redirecting everywhere else. Investors have much more choice now.
Gone are the glory days. Our politicians must get out of their "katak di bawah tempurung" mentality. Do these folks know that there are other countries out there that are looking very attractive to investors? As both production bases as well as markets.

2. Narrow-minded leaders continue to play the racial card to garner support for their selfish political ambitions and financial gains. These fellas manipulate simple-minded folk by instilling fear and mistrust of others, instead of building up their own capabilities. Hello? There are other nations on Planet Earth too, y'know? Racial politics is still alive and kicking, and I haven't even touched on religious and money politics yet!

3. Outdated policies of yesterday are relegating our so-called corporate giants into backyard players. Look at Thailand. Next year, they're gonna make over a million vehicles, with 40% for export. What does Malaysia have? Malaysia has a national car industry, and Thailand has an international car industry. Perhaps you could argue that Thailand has a bigger domestic market, thus they can grow bigger. But exporting is a different story, isn't it?

4. The wealth ownership and income disparity is growing, despite the efforts of the government to redistribute wealth. And it's not just the disparity between the races that is the issue, but nowadays it's also the intra-racial disparity. The problem is, certain leaders are more content to give out fish rather than teach people to fish. These leaders know that giving out fish retains their power, and keeps people under continual servitude.

5. A lot of Malaysia's development has been funded by oil money. Question is, how long can we depend on such finite resources? Our agriculture sector is lagging behind, except for plantation crops. Our IT development in the MSC is more of a real estate project than IT development. I mean, with broadband and wireless technology, do we HAVE to concentrate people in buildings in the middle of nowhere? Sure, building a new city creates a lot of jobs for construction companies, but with borderless IT infrastructure, I'd say it's easier to pull in a few fibre cables into existing buildings in KL than to take years to build a new "smart" city. And those construction companies can go build other more necessary stuff, like the East Coast Highway, or more affordable urban housing. Hello TM, performance of Streamyx is getting really crummy.

6. We're fighting against a legacy of short-sighted and incredibly poorly planned infrastructure, for example, the Putra and Star LRT systems which do not integrate with each other. And the monorail which does not connect with KL Sentral.
The stations don't integrate and you need different tickets for different operators. I don't even want to know why one public transport system in one city was developed by so many parties with so many different systems.

7. We're still recovering from the financial crisis of 1997/98, whereas other folks have already moved on?!? See the performance of the stock market as an indicator.

8. The education system is ____________ (Fill in the blanks).

9. And I could go on... but it's getting late.

10. Add your own grouses here: .................................................

So, what can I do besides dropping on my knees and praying for the nation? Yeah, I should confess my own iniquities while interceding for the nation, like Daniel did in Daniel 9. Don't be part of the problem, or at least, try not to be. Pay your taxes, and then demand your right as a taxpayer. Vote in the next election, because you get the government you deserve. Read alternative news to get a balanced view. Don't just watch TV3 or RTM, or CNN or BBC. Watch Aljazeera also. Don't just read the NST or Star. Read Malaysiakini also. Don't let it get you down. But at least know a bit more of what's going on. Take the PM at his word on the fight against corruption. Don't let him get away with it. Work with him, not for him. There's more openness now compared with the times of Dr M, but of course, some clamps remain in place... too much clampdown causes loss of blood circulation which causes gangrene which leads to death...

However, Malaysia is blessed with natural resources and a rich legacy of (pretty) good governance... much more blessed compared to many other developing nations. Yes, I must say, we're blessed. We have much to thank God for. We've done well. It's not all gloom and doom. But I believe we could be doing even better.

And of course, every country has its problems. There's no perfect government. No perfect society.
But I'm trying to look at where things could be better for everyone. Even the mighty USA has its fair share of incompetencies and corruption. And Singapore... ah, you know la. Oh, did I say anything about Indonesia? Let me sniff the air first. ;)

The future looks bright, if oil continues gushing out of the ground and seabed. But, when the oil runs out, what will Malaysia have to offer?

Durians? :P

p/s Sorry for being negatively one-sided in my comments above. I don't have time to balance it. Perhaps I'll follow-up later with some nice words about where things are still looking bright and cheery down in sunny Malaysia.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Happy Feet

Happy feet is a really happy movie. Go watch it.

It's got great music and awesome CGI. It's got fish and oceans, some of the things I love. It's got lots of cute penguins. It's got funny lines that are witty and not too corny. It's got believable characters. It's got a flowing storyline. It's about relationships. It's about growing up. It's got a message on our (human) responsibility to care for creation. The only thing I didn't like are the pantheistic elements of the Great 'Guin. Otherwise...

Go 'guin, go!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This is what the LORD says:

"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,"
declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 9:23-24

Monday, December 04, 2006

Good Bye, Turtle?

Here's a good reason why we shouldn't eat turtle eggs.
Also, a sad reason why it may already be too late to save the leatherback turtle in Malaysia.

Casino Royale

[Caution: Reading this before watching the show may distort your expectations. Parts of the plot are revealed below.]

I watched the latest installment in the series of 007 flicks over the weekend. Casino Royale…Frankly speaking, I was expecting something a bit more, uh, royal, and grand. I have no idea of the original manuscript of the story, but I thought it was a bit of a letdown to have to endure such lengthy scenes around the gambling table. Hello? They’re in the
Bahamas, and all they do is spend time indoors!? They should have had more outdoor scenes, boat chases, jet-ski chases, underwater scenes. But Bond’s nemesis was a finance guy, so I guess he was dealing more with virtual dollars zipping around in the global banking cyber-network rather than real-world beat-‘em-up brute force. Perhaps the producers and director were trying to portray another side of Bond, to keep up with the times.

There were some highlights:

1. The opening chase sequence was extremely impressive. The Parkour-inspired stunts were incredible, stretching the limits of the human body. There should have been another one like that midway or at the end.

2. Eva Green was simply stunning as Ms Vesper Lynd (it goes without saying, of course). Pardon my failing memory of previous Bond girls, but this lady had some pretty sensible dialogue too. She wasn’t there just for decoration, although I couldn’t figure out whether her moment of weakness in the shower was her really breaking down emotionally, or just part of her mask of deceit to dupe Bond.

3. It was interesting to observe the gender clashes between Mr Bond and Ms Lynd. The steely cold guy with a license to kill versus the gorgeous and smart lady accountant. I was trying to picture the real life equivalents of such guy-girl interactions. However, the cruel twist to the plot towards the end smashed all my analyses of the heart and soul of the two unsung lovebirds. Why did she choose to die? Can a woman really have such a two-faced heart? Was she really blackmailed into deceiving and betraying Bond, or was she just plain cold, greedy and treacherous?

4. To give some credit to Bond, I’m pleased that he reveals a softer, more vulnerable side of himself. Of course, a man rarely changes in character just like that, overnight. Unless it’s a “Damascus road” experience, it’s more often than not a lifetime transformation process (I know, I'm too serious here). But, back to Bond, I’d say he really bared his true self, though, in my opinion, a bit too much too soon, and the lines were were kinda corny at times. The relationship developed way too quickly. But then, this is a movie with a compressed timeline and unrealistic plot, no?

5. Daniel Craig was OK as Bond. I hear some ladies are swooning over him, especially the scene where he emerges from the surf clad in nothing but his blue swimming trunks. Well, I don't see the big deal over it. I think he would have looked better in floral boardshorts.


But I have a few axes to grind with the storyline. In no particular order I list them below. Please read with a pinch of salt.

1. Firstly, Bond breaks all the rules of CPR. The medical and first aid people should be speaking out against this. It’s such a bad example. I mean, how can Bond just give up like that after 2 cycles of chest compressions and breaths? He should continue until the ambulance arrives. Besides, the poor lady was underwater for just a couple of minutes. She definitely had a high chance of survival. Oh well… ;P

2. I am appalled that airbags did not deploy in the Aston Martin during the crash. Yeah sure, the car is equipped with a defribrillator, but no airbag?!? Someone please remind me not to buy Aston Martin. Oh, and did I say the defibrillator has a serious design flaw in its wire connectors?

3. Mr Bond somehow manages to evade a hail of bullets from 2 machine guns! Just like in a Hong Kong cop show. He’s not even hit by splinters. OK, let’s get real here. I know he’s the good guy, but surely… ah, forget it.

4. Daniel Craig’s enunciation was a little difficult to catch at times. Maybe it was encrypted. I couldn’t figure out what he was saying on some of the longer lines. His accent didn’t sound really British. I caught him pronouncing “either” as “ee-ther”, which is Amerian pronunciation. Am I the only one with this problem?

5. There was hardly any car chase. In the only semblance of a chase, Bond miraculously manages to flip the car on a straight road. Again, is there a serious flaw in the Aston Martin? Where’s the ABS? Was he using retreaded tyres?!

6. I have no idea how the building collapsed on itself. What in the world were those tanks that burst open and gushed water after Bond shot them? Are Venician building foundations that weak? And the building flattened down nicely on itself without hitting any neighbouring structures. Beats me.

7. When the building collapsed, the surrounding water was still crystal clear! With all that stuff crashing down, there’s hardly any debris or mud or sediment in the water. The water should have been so murky that Bond can’t find his way underwater.

8. Bond makes the Africans look like incompetent clowns. I found that too stereotypical.

9. The show glamourizes and tacitly approves of gambling (which happens to be a major cause of social ills, family breakups and suicides).

10. There was a lot of gratuitous violence... oh wait, isn't that an oxymoron?


I have some suggestions for improvement (also to be taken with a generous sprinkling of salt):

1. All the characters should wear name tags. This will make it easier for me to follow the plot and to track who is who.

2. As I said above, we need more outdoor, sun, sea, sand and surf scenes and less indoor casino. But then, it wouldn’t be Casino Royale, would it?

3. Ms Lynd shouldn’t die. She should realize the eternal, undying love Bond has for her (yeah, right), and repent there and then, after being pulled out of the water by Bond. They should embrace and sob in each other’s arms. Then go off to the nearest cathedral and get married properly. Then she should glance over coyly, bat her eyelashes and ask Bond, “May I call you Jimmy, just between the two of us?” And they lived happily ever after. Uh-huh.

4. Bond should use Nokia instead of Sony Ericsson. And Vesper should use Canon or Nikon cameras. Yeah I know, just because it's a Sony Pictures production...

5. The terrorist financier should go around “earning” money by a more realistic method. Who in their right mind would use gambling to multiply their loot? Why bank on a game of chance when there are other methods where you can be in control of your finances? They should open an Ah Long business, or start a restaurant, or deal in pirated DVDs, or hijack a shipment of computer chips to make some fast bucks. They should venture into territory unfamiliar to James Bond.

In conclusion

James Bond typifies everything a man should not be. Proud, lustful, greedy (see 1 John 2:16). But on the flipside, he’s highly inspiring too. He’s a man of strength. He’s smart. He’s focused. He’s patriotic. He’s passionate. Too bad his ego gets in the way, and his passion is spent in the wrong direction. He just can’t keep his hands off pretty women. But at least he’s transparent about it!? Yeah, Bond is what just about every man daydreams he were, but knows he shouldn’t be. This does not mean that men should aspire to be sissies, but that the energy and passion should be directed in the right way at the right things.

It’s sad to see that Bond reverts to his cold, stone-walled self at the end. What happened to forgiveness? Couldn’t he go for some counseling and forgive Vesper. He needs to forgive himself too. He needs to let go and move on, not move back to his previous self. I would suggest that he read the Bible, hear the gospel, believe in Jesus and start attending church. There are many good Bible-believing, Christ-centred, community-building, mission-minded, Spirit-filled churches in London. :)

Yup, the greatest temptations men face are Money, Power and Sex (but not necessarily in that order), as Richard Foster aptly titled his book (which I should read, but have only managed to browse through thus far). In Malay, it’s the three “ta’s”: Harta, Takhta, Wanita. But lest I be guilty of being a hypocrite and having a judgmental spirit, I need to remind myself that I could easily fall into the same trap too. It doesn’t help that movies tend to sugarcoat immorality with humour and glamour such that it tastes deceptively good and we swallow it unwittingly. Ingesting too much of it desensitizes the conscience.

As for the portrayal of women, I think I’ll let the women speak for themselves… does Vesper aptly reflect the real-life woman, or is she just another silver screen stereotype?

Or am I just over-analysing the whole thing? ;P

It’s just a movie, right? Or is it?

p/s I'm bad at following movie storylines, so please correct me if I got any of the details wrong. Thank you. :)