Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Kuala Selangor

Here are some photos of Kuala Selangor -- the Nature Park, Bukit Melawati and seafood restaurant. There are no photos of the fireflies because we were not allowed to take photos. Anyway, it was way too dark.


The road less travelled


The wetlands

Mangrove "boardwalk"

In the woods



Protectors of the fort

Lighthouse bathed in the warm evening glow

Guns ready for battle

The last of the cannons

On the brink of night




Thursday, May 17, 2007

Island Hopping

Sunset at Koh Cheuk, Trang, Southern Thailand, Dec 2002

The lunch time topic somehow ended up revolving around islands... someone asked me how many times I've been to Perhentian... so this got me reflecting on the all the islands that I've ever been to in my life. Islands have a special place in my heart... Ahhhh... OK, enough, stop dreaming...

Pulau Pangkor, 1974, now and then, 1992, 1993, 1995, 2000

Pulau Langkawi, occasionally, most recently 1999

Singapore, 1976, lived there for 1 year, visited now and then, most recently 1998

Borneo, 1980, lived there for 5 years, visited many times thereafter

Pulau Gaya, 1984, 1991

Pulau Manukan, 1984, 1991

Pulau Sapi, 1984, 1991, 2005

Hong Kong, 1985

Long Island, 1987

Manhattan, 1987

Britain, 1987

Pulau Sembilan, 1992

Vancouver Island, 1998

Taiwan, 1998 but only on transit in the airport

Penang, too many times to remember, CNY visit almost every year

Pulau Perhentian, 1992, 1995, 1998, 2002 (3 times), 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006

Pulau Redang, 2000, 2001, 2004

Pulau Dayang/Aur, 2002, 2003

Koh Wan, Koh Mah, Koh Cheuk, 2002

Pulau Tenggol, 2003

Pulau Mabul, 2005

Pulau Sipadan, 2005

Bali, 2005

Pulau Tioman, 2005 (2 times), 2006, all trips to Tioman were for work

Pulau Lang Tengah, 2006

Putrajaya Core Island, numerous times

Pulau Layang-Layang, 2008?

Sulawesi, 2009?

Maldives, 2009?

Palau, 2010?

Pulau Tikus, but that's not really an island.

The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice;
Let the many islands be glad.

Psalm 97

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Love thy neighbour

Looks like the Malaysian and Singaporean Prime Ministers are getting pretty chummy with each other. It just makes my heart melt.

I think it's awesome that the leaders of both countries are keen to settle the outstanding bilateral issues (that they "inherited" from their predecessors). As a concerned citizen, I too would like to see the issues resolved for our mutual good. So here are my proposals:

Issue #1: The price of water sold to Singapore

Solution: Singapore should just be a gentleman and offer to pay more realistic, up-to-date, market prices for the water. We don't have to revoke the Water Agreements, just review it. Singapore is now paying RM0.03 per thousand gallons of raw water. It's not a matter of money for both sides. It's a matter of principle. Singapore can afford to pay higher rates, and Malaysia can afford to forgo the extra revenue. But if Singapore refuses to budge, then Malaysia should drop the issue and just wait for the agreements to expire in 2011 and 2061, because an agreement is an agreement. It's a pretty clear issue. I don't know why it has become so muddied.

Issue #2: The use of Malaysian airspace by the Singapore air force

Solution: Malaysia has so much sky, we should allow Singaporean air force planes to fly over -- just charge a toll for it. All SAF planes should be installed with an EAP (electronic airspace pricing) device, and the toll will be automatically deducted every time they fly past the virtual gantries. Beep beep, Ka-ching! I'd put the honourable Malaysian Works Minister in charge of the toll system. I'm sure we can keep the toll charges reasonable.

Issue #3: The development of KTM Bhd land in Singapore

Solution: Malaysia should just sell it back to Singapore at a good price, plus a premium, if Singapore is generous enough. I don't understand why Malaysia needs to own real estate in Singapore when there is more than enough back home. Yeah, right.

Issue #4: The new bridge to replace the Causeway

Solution: Take one of the blueprints of the Putrajaya bridges, increase the height and stretch the length, add a railway line and water pipeline, and build it next to the Causeway. When the bridge is done, demolish the Causeway. As long as it's not a crooked bridge, I'm fine.

By the way, here's my current favourite bridge.

Issue #5: The early withdrawal of Central Provident Fund contributions by Malaysians working in Singapore

Solution: I'm not so clear on this issue. As far as I know, only citizens and Permanent Residents of Singapore have to contribute to the CPF. So, Malaysians who hold Singaporean PR status should be prepared to contribute to the CPF. That's the rule. As long as the same rules apply to everyone, it's not an issue to me. Does an Indonesian with Singapore PR also have to contribute to the CPF and cannot withdraw it before the age of 55? Of course, Singapore could choose to be kind and allow Malaysians to withdraw their CPF early. Life is short mah. Got more money means can spend more at Jalan Kebun (a.k.a. Orchard Road) lor. Then can increase velocity of money and create multiplier effect on economy. U happy, I happy, everybody happy happy.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spiderman 3

Verdict: I like it.

Halfway through, I almost thought I'd give the movie a thumbsdown, until the last section of the movie tied everything together nicely. I felt that everything was getting too dark and there were too many complex, parallel and confusing plots and characters, but the atmosphere changed towards the last 20% of the show, and the resolution at the end was pretty neat.

My conclusion is that the whole debacle started because Mary Jane didn't tell Peter that she had been fired from the musical. Well, OK, I'm not blaming either party. No wait, I'm blaming BOTH parties. MJ, for not telling, and Peter, for not asking. That made MJ feel rejected, misunderstood and unloved. It did not help that Peter was too engrossed in his superhero duties and thus seemed insensitive to MJ's desire for a listening ear and shoulder to cry on. And it also made Peter unable to understand why MJ was giving him the cold shoulder, despite his attempts to encourage her, which unfortunately were interpreted as condescending and egocentric, talking about HIM when it was supposed to be about HER. He thought he was helping her. She thought he was too self-absorbed. Oh boy, is this like real life or what?

Still, I don't understand why MJ didn't just shut Peter up and tell him that she had been fired, instead of walking off in a huff... and leaving a trail of misunderstanding which led to another mess of bad choices. And why didn't Peter just calm her down and give her a little extra attention instead of watching her walk off in a huff...?

Miscommunication, lack of communication, presumption, bitterness, pride. All these cause us much grief.

I Like:

1. I like how the dark side of Peter Parker emerges in the movie. My negative assessment during the movie was premature. Yeah, now I can say that I like it, because he didn't stay that way forever. Duh, it's a movie, I should have realised earlier.

2. I like the message of forgiveness. Peter actually says, "I forgive you." He releases his bitterness and vengeance and thus paradoxically becomes free from its blood-thirsty and self-destructive grip. Those who fester vengeful thoughts kill themselves in the process.

3. I like the message of "You always have a choice." Truly, life is about choices. Now, haven't I heard that somewhere before...

4. I like Aunt May's premarital counselling wisdom. Aunt May has the best and wisest lines in the movie. Peter is so blessed to have an aunt like that.

5. Harry redeems himself at the end. That was the most touching moment of the movie, when with his dying breath he calls Peter his friend. The funeral scene was moving too... Peter staying behind, all alone by the grave, under the rain...

6. Spidey/Peter did not kill off Goblin/Harry at the beginning. It was a tough decision, as Harry wanted Peter dead, but Peter still had compassion for his friend. I face this moral tug-of-war when I'm stuck in KL traffic jams and keep getting cut off by queue jumpers. I might face this dilemma too at the next general election. Ack! :)

7. Some other things I can't remember now.

I Had Problems With:

1. I don't like the lack of info about the black symbiotic glob. For people like me who have not read Spiderman 101, I have no idea how or why it works.

2. Spidey shouldn't have kissed Gwen Stacy. Hello?!? You have a girlfriend, remember!?! D-u-h! A peck on the cheek may be OK, but not that upside down French kiss. Similarly, what was MJ thinking when she kissed Harry?!? Just friends? Hello?!? :P

3. I didn't like the dark side of Spiderman. But then I realised that we humans are not that far off either. The Bible says that all have sinned. So, in effect, we are all black as tar in our hearts. My aversion to the darkness is probably due to the fact that I detest that very darkness in myself which makes me do things I don't want to do but yet do, and which leaves bitter aftertastes after the saccharine sweetness has worn off. The things I despise in others are often the very things I despise in myself, but which I subconsciously deny or outrightly refuse to admit. Oh God, save me from self-righteousness and bitter-root judgment.

4. Peter reaches deep within himself to choose right over wrong, good over evil. That's a good idea to teach. But as we know, no human can save himself totally. See, Spidey got rid of the black suit, but created Venom in the process. No matter how good we are, we can never be good enough, and we can never overcome sin by our human efforts. We need a SuperSaviour.

5. Spidey smashes Eddie Brock's Nikon D200 into the wall. I feel for the camera. Ouch!

6. Spidey did CPR wrongly. He forgot to give 2 rescue breaths before starting the chest compressions. The cycle is 2 breaths and 30 compressions. Repeat 5 times. Stop, check for breath. No breath? Continue 5 cycles again. Repeat. Spidey stopped after only less than 10 compressions. You're supposed to do it until the ambulance arrives, or you yourself drop dead, or the person revives.

7. Some other things I can't remember now.

I have a few niggling questions and reservations. Perhaps due to my ignorance of the bigger Spidey picture. I have not read any of the Spidey comic books. My apologies.

1. What was that black amorphous symbiotic glob from outer space? Does it merely enhance a person's physical powers and thereafter hope to incite the person's inherent evil desires, or does it actually take over the person's mind, will and emotions? How does it do that?

2. Where does Spidey anchor his web line when swinging around among the building tops? I mean, he's already at the top and there's no other structure above him, so where does he shoot the line to? The sky?

3. Particle physics test facilities have incredibly lax security. Just a big hole in the ground. No wall around, no roof over. It looked more like a kitty litter than a top-notch US government research facility.

4. No matter where Spidey loses his mask -- and he seems to lose it or tear it in every fight -- he always shows up in the next scene with a mask in his hand. Does he carry a spare mask in his pocket?

5. Sandman could have easily killed Spidey by burying him under tons of sand, instead of trying to pound him to death with a sand fist. But no, that would be too easy.

6. Why didn't the butler tell Harry earlier?!?!! Oh, but that would spoil the effect.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sawatdee Khrab

Some thoughts on my recent Thai excursion to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai:

1. Thai people are friendly. Perhaps it's due to their tourism culture. Taxi drivers in Chiang Mai seem to be friendlier than those in KL. They don't haggle their potential customers.

2. Thai food is really spicy. It's not that I didn't know that before. But when I was served tomyam soup for EVERY lunch and dinner for 3 days, it suddenly struck me that chili padi is a standard ingredient for probably half of the dishes there. And it made me go to the toilet a bit more often than usual.

3. Thai roads are really good. There's absolutely no reason for Malaysians to gloat over our so-called world class roads. In Thailand, you get 4-lane dual carriageways as standard intercity highways. Very few potholes. Wide hard shoulders, with motorcycle lanes. And they're toll-free. In Malaysia, the government is only now upgrading and widening certain stretches of trunk roads. I like the Thai road signage. It's systematic and consistent. Roads are all numbered and signposted. I think they modelled their system after the Americans. Malaysian road signs are more like advertisement boards. Each private highway concessionaire puts up their own signs to attract "customers." Not helpful for drivers who need to know where they are and where they're going. I drove around in southern Thailand during a road trip in 2002, and I can say that the roads are just as good up north and down south.

4. I couldn't help but notice the vast number of temples dotting the landscape. As a non-Buddhist, I found it hard to fully appreciate the religious aspect of visiting a temple.
The architecture was impressive, but that was about it for me. The Thais are religious people, so, as a Christian, I'm wondering what would attract a Thai to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is definitely a superhuman job, if you know what I mean.

5. We visited a small settlement of the Karen tribe, where we met some long-necked women and girls. They still practice the wearing of brass coils around the neck to enhance their beauty, although they are probably doing it nowadays also to sustain the tourism industry. I got a feeling that the settlement and people were being used like a commercial showcase to rake in some tourism dollars. Well, at least they are earning some money to support themselves, and hopefully not exploited by a middleman. Many of them are refugees from Myanmar who have no nationality.

6. Thais absolutely revere their king. They even have a yellow T-shirt that everyone wears on Monday as a sign of respect for their monarch. The king has not just commanded, but earned, the respect of the people by his concern for the welfare of the people. I think that's where the stability of the country comes from. Despite all the political upheavals and military coups, Thailand is still much alive and kicking.

7. Ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is from Chiang Mai. Our tour guide was giving us a commentary on why he is a Thaksin supporter. It's mainly because Thaksin brought much economic development to the area. I guess that's only natural for a politician.

8. There were no street peddlers swarming tour groups to get a sale, unlike in Bali, where the moment I got off the bus I would be engulfed by children and adults alike, trying to persuade me to buy a souvenir or trinket which I didn't want.

9. Thai public toilets are very clean, even those pour-flush toilets. And many are supplied with toilet paper.

10. Thailand has nicer cars. Thailand is the pickup capital of the world. They are the biggest market, and biggest manufacturer of pickups in the world. I think the nationalization and Protonization of the auto industry in Malaysia really cost us a golden opportunity, which eventually went to Thailand. So what if a car company is "foreign"? At least they're operating in and from your country, and exporting to the rest of the world.

11. I'm a lousy bargainer. I managed to knock down the prices of everything I bought, but not as low as other heartless, merciless shoppers. :P

p/s These are entirely my personal observations based on a visit of 72 hours. If I had stayed longer, like 2 years, I might have a different report.

Poser in the lavatory of an AirAsia Airbus A320


Silk weaver

Silk thread

Nice wheels

Poppy flower

Random motorcycle

Doi Suthep temple

Prayer bells in the temple


The stupa pagoda covered with engraved gold plate

Elephants showing off their strength by stacking logs

Elephants and me. I'm the one in yellow.

Elephants thumping the ground with their trunks. I think they were asking for food.

I see you...

Baby elephant

This is where the elephants live

Elephant artist

This snake "charmer" turned out to be more of a comedian who delighted in scaring the audience by "accidentally dropping" snakes on them

Side view of the white temple (I can't remember the name). The temple was founded by an artist/sculptor who built it and then got some monks to use it.

Golden toilet beside the white temple (it's for real)

White temple on a scorching afternoon

Lobby of the Laluna Resort in Chiang Rai

Swing at the Karen settlement. Whooppiieee!

Karen girl with the neck coils. They start as young as five years old, and never take it off for the rest of their lives.

Neck coils can weigh up to 4 kg

Example of a public toilet. OK, this is one of the better and more arty farty ones.

The Golden Triangle, referring to the tri-state border. I'm standing in Thailand, across the river in the midground is Myanmar, in the distance is the Mekong River and on its far bank is Laos. Lim Goh Tong co-owns a casino resort in Myanmar... if you look closely you can see the red roofs of the casino in the distance. Golden Triangle also refers to the illicit opium producing region, but we didn't go there.

The tour took us to the border town of Mae Sai. That's Myanmar/Burma in the background, on the far end of the bridge. There's an obvious difference between here and there. Here's rich, there's poor. Relatively speaking.

Public transport at 80 km/h on the highway

Night market in Chiang Mai. This stall is selling carved soap. Very intricate.

Ikea-ish lamp for sale at the night market

Muay Thai, or Thai boxing. This turned out to be a farce, as it wasn't a real match. It was just a show put on for tourists. The two "fighters" were friends who were smiling as they traded punches and kicks. I got the impression that they were saying to each other, "OK, kick me here when I'm ready, but don't kick too hard."