Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri 1432

SHR from Rumah Puteh, Pulau Pinang (CNB 2011)

A very happy Eid Fitr' to all who celebrate it. This year, the second day (31 August) also coincides with our National Day. May the feasting be moderate and the freedom be heartfelt!

After Ramadhan stories, there will be Hari Raya stories to reminisce about. Remember the Rayas of our childhood in the kampung? When we went around collecting duit raya (Eid money). We did not forget to salam and ask for forgiveness for anything wrong we may have done the past year! And it was occupants of big houses who were most kedekut (stingy) and gave children 5 or 10 cents only, while others were more generous. And how can we forget the 'overfeasting' on raya cookies and gassy drinks, after a month of fasting, that may have led to frequent visits to the restrooms!

Raya cookies, anyone? (CNB 2011)

Or lemang, satay? (I was so busy eating them that I forgot to take photos
of these food so I got the above from the Eastin Hotel brochure 2011)

This year will be the 3rd in a row that we balik kampung (in Ayer Itam, Pulau Pinang), making the annual migration up north with hundreds, maybe thousands (?) of other folks intent on celebrating Hari Raya in their hometown or kampung halaman. Previously we had lived in Gelugor, Pulau Pinang, so to balik kampung for Hari Raya did not have the same 'migratory' feel. It is good to meet up with family members, relatives and friends whom one might not have seen for a whole year or more. Catching up on everyone's stories over tables laden with rendang, ketupat & lemang, nasi himpit & kuah kacang, and raya cakes and cookies, etc., etc., foster great relationships all round. May we never tire of our balik kampung routine year after year.

Welcoming some special guests to Rumah Puteh (2011)

My brother AG & family at the Rumah Puteh (CNB 2011)
A beautifully lighted up house (with lampu raya or Raya lights)
in Kg Melayu (CNB 2011)
Bro MM and sons at Teluk Kumbar (CNB 2011)

Selamat Hari Raya from me, here at Teluk Kumbar, PP
on the 2nd day (2011)

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A Garden in August

The late August rains now make daily watering of a garden less necessary and I find that done every other day, even every 2 days, is sufficient. For my little garden anyhow. But I still 'inspect' it every morning, smell the jasmines, and then sit on the garden chair to listen to the birds, and the little angklung wind chimes if there is a breeze.

A Garden at SA (CNB 2011)

After a downpour/shower, the Plumbago flowers will be soaked and bow to the ground. Thankfully they straighten up again on drying out. The pastel blue plumbago look their most beautiful in the dusk, magical even. With constant light pruning, there will be blooms always. 

(Cape) Plumbago (CNB 2010)

Jasmines, or particularly Arabian Jasmines (Melur in Malay) exude a beautiful fragrant smell when they first bloom, but lose this before they fall off. It is one of my favourite flowers, so I never forget to stop and smell the jasmines every day (because I have no roses!). Jasmines are easy to grow from cuttings and they bloom almost all the time. I obtained my first cuttings from Port Dickson and they have grown very well, multiplying into three medium sized flower pots now. (This is the national flower of the Phillippines.)

Arabian Jasmine (CNB 2011)

Another favourite flower is the Frangipani (trivia: this is also Sir Cliff Richard's favourite). It comes in a variety of colours from white to yellow, orange, pink and red; plus a combination of colours in hybrids as well. Another very easy plant to grow, my first white/yellow variety was a 'cutting' from a small plant/tree near a graveyard in Taman Keramat. So now you know why it is also known as the bunga kubur (graveyard flower). A second pink/yellow variety was from a 'mother plant' growing near a TNB installation (?) in Section 7. It has bloomed profusely and I am glad to say that when I was out at Section 7 the other day, I noticed that the 'mother plant' is doing very well too. Twice I have failed to grow the red variety, having taken cuttings from fallen plants. But I shall try and try again. Know anywhere I can buy take a cutting?

Frangipani, white & yellow (CNB 2010)

Frangipani, pink & yellow (CNB 2011)

Then there is the Torenia fournieri.  Sounds Italian, but this plant originates from Indochina. This annual plant may have followed us to Shah Alam from Pulau Pinang or it may have come from other gardens in the neighbourhood. It propagates easily by small seeds transferred by insects or water and once you have it in your garden, it will not go away. It may even become a weed! But you don't really want to 'weed' out these plants with their 'happy looking' flowers. Just transfer them to where you want them to be. Happy gardening!

Torenia in two shades of purple (CNB 2011)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Pen Pals aka Pen Friends

Way back in the era before e-mails and Facebook, social networking involved the postal service (or the snail mail to some). One had pen pals or pen friends, both local and international. Remember writing that letter in your nicest handwriting to send to this friend at home in another state/town or over the seas? And sending your best photos by way of introduction? And then waiting for the postman to bring a letter to you? Better still if the letter had beautiful foreign stamps on it (because after all this inevitably becomes a 2 in 1 hobby; penfriendship and stamp collecting).

In the '60s and early '70s I used to have a couple of local pen friends and quite a number of internationals. The lingua franca was of course English, but I soon discovered that Malaysians then did  have a better command of the language, even when compared to the Americans, Australians and Europeans. We wrote and spelt better too, I think. Anyway I enjoyed finding out how my pen pals lived in their countries and told them about how we lived in our beautiful Malaysia. Of course after a while the letters ceased and we all got on with our own lives. Sometimes I think it would be nice to be able to seek out these friends again, maybe through that social network of Facebook?

Agatha Sciuto (right) from Australia (1965)

Sushil Kumar Sthapit from Kathmandu, Nepal (1967)

Cynthia Stange from the USA (1966)
James Thomson from Australia (1967)

Pirjo Karpinen from Finland (1968)
My pen friend from Japan wrote this in his beautiful handwriting (CNB 2011)
My Japanese penpal and his 79 yr old Granny (1974)

A Crush on the 'Bachelor Boy'

The New Penguin English Dictionary says, 'to have a crush on somebody' is 'to be infatuated with somebody, especially somebody unsuitable or unattainable'. And really, which teenager/adolescent never had a crush on a unattainable pop/movie star? Well, when I was a teen in the '60's, I certainly had one big crush for this 'Bachelor boy'. He was born Harry Rodger Webb in 1940 in India where his British parents lived. His family moved to England when he was eight, and at 18, he became Cliff Richard (CR), rock & roll singer, and he had girls screaming for him wherever he went. He was, then, what Justin Bieber is now, but me thinks CR was way, way cuter!

Cliff Richard at the drums (Picture taken from his autobiography)

I was infatuated in a big way and I even dreamed of marrying him (until I changed my mind, and wanted to marry Prince Charles instead!). I listened to his songs on radio, and wrote the lyrics in a special notebook dedicated to CR. I had a special CR scrapbook made, putting in all his pictures. But these two books have since been lost in transition. But I do still have one 'rojak' scrapbook where two duplicate CR postcards from the special one was pasted, hence the pictures below. I had some of his LP and EP records and cassettes (there were no CDs then, remember?), but managed to see only one of his movies - Summer holiday. I never went to any of his concerts until I was, lets say quite senior, and CR himself 11 years more senior! But I enjoyed that concert in Genting Highlands - and I should, because I paid a lot of money for that good seat!

Postcard of Cliff Richard from my 'rojak'
scrapbook (CNB 2011)

CR or rather Sir Cliff Richard (he was knighted by the Queen for his charity work) may be 71 now but he has still not retired from being a singer. In his autobiography 'Cliff Richard; my life, my way' written with a ghost/co-writer in 2008, he reveals among other things, the family's poverty during their early years in England, how he made it into the music industry to become a pop sensation and how he has been able to sustain his place even after 50 years! He was very much influenced by Elvis Presley in the beginning, and is the only singer who's had a hit single in every decade. For me, his best songs are Bachelor boy, Constantly, Congratulations, A Voice in the wilderness, and The Next time. In fact I love most of his songs of the '60's, when I had this great big crush on him!

Another postcard picture of CR from my 'rojak'
scrapbook (CNB 2011)

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Ramadhan Stories

Muslims all over the world are marking this holy month of Ramadhan by fasting, praying, reciting the Quran, and giving charity; all the while remembering Allah. Today is the 20th day and in the last 10 days of Ramadhan, Muslims will hope to find Lailatul Qadr, a night better than a thousand months. It is the anniversary of when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. In these last 10 days, the mosques will be full, and may all prayers be rewarded accordingly.

Ramadhan is a time for sharing, hence the giving of charity and the spread of goodwill. It is during this period that the less privileged will receive from the generosity of their fellow mankind. I remember that in the kampungs, neighbours give each other food that they had prepared for iftar (the breaking of fast). Iftar ideally is a simple meal, but now the profusion of Ramadhan bazaars and buffets in hotels/restaurants sometimes promote indulgence during the breaking of fast. At the bazaars where one is shopping for food while fasting (read hungry), there is the tendency to 'overbuy'. So food is often wasted. At buffets one tends to 'overeat' because the food is there!

During Ramadhan some foods are iconic. Like the bubur lambuk, the most 'famous' being the one from Kampung Baharu, KL (It never fails to make the news every year! I have had a taste of it some years ago while in Taman Keramat nearby). Then of course the kurma (dates), which now comes from so many countries, from China to the Middle East to the US of A. Just check this out at the local supermarkets. You will be overwhelmed with too many choices.

But for me, the food I remember most during the Ramadhan of my childhood was the telur masin (salted duck's egg). It was my family's favourite appetiser, especially during the sahur/pre dawn meal. As a child, you wake up all groggy, but the freshly cooked steaming hot rice, some lauk (meat/vegetable dishes) and the telur masin entice you to eat with gusto in anticipation of another day of fasting.

Some stories of children learning to fast sometimes put a smile on your face. Like my little nephew who 'broke' his fast with just a half hour to go to iftar. He just could not resist the ais kacang  (shaved ice dessert) on the iftar table! Then there was a young niece who was fond of taking showers, many times a day. It turned out that she lets the falling water seep into her mouth, a lot! Sounds a bit like what I used to do too. Another puasa rookie would just buka & tutup many times throughout the day. My father's way of training us to fast when we were children was to disallow anyone not fasting to be at the iftar table. Non-fasters were relegated to another less-laden-with-food area.So my siblings and I were keen to gain our status at the coveted iftar table as soon as we could. We understood that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, pahala at the end of puasa.

Have a blessed Ramadhan and thereafter Aidil Fitri.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Those Schoolgirl Days...

... of telling tales and biting nails are gone,
But in my mind I know they will still live on and on...    (To Sir with love by Lulu)

My schoolgirl days were spent at the boarding school in Seremban, the Kolej Tunku Kurshiah/Tunku Kurshiah College (TKC). In my mind those days will live on and on albeit fading more and more as the years go by. I don't remember my adolescent years being angsty* but I think there were moments of despair. (Like at the end when an overseas scholarship eluded me!)

Anyway I recall being interviewed for entrance into the college. When asked what I wanted to be in the future, I said 'an air hostess', without hesitation. My father who was also at the interview was quite taken aback with this answer as he was thinking of some career more lofty for me! But hey, what could be more lofty than the skies? I wanted to travel the world and what better way than being a trolley dolly! Anyway my shortsightedness diagnosed soon after put paid to my flying the skies. I digress.

                                          TKC from the air circa 1967

TKC days saw to some lifelong habits, like sleeping at 11 pm or before midnight. It was lights out in the dormitories then. Making up the bed immediately on getting up each morning. Waking up was at subuh and breakfasts never to be missed.  Mainstay of  lunches and dinners were nasi (rice) and gulai kawah (I don't know the translation, something curry? couldron curry?). I still love the gulai kawah, it being reminiscent of the meals that were had together in the large dining hall.

Life in the dormitories during the Form 1-3 years were quite interesting. We all had to make our beds every morning and keep the floors, windows, mirrors and bathrooms clean. Come night time, sometimes when pontianak/orang minyak/polong (all manner of ghosts!) stories were in circulation, then we joined our beds together, and made a 'tunnel' through our individual mosquito nets so we could see each other and not feel too scared to go to sleep. It was then I remember being really afraid for the first time, of the supernatural.

We had many expatriate teachers from the UK, USA and Australia. Our impressionable years were influenced by these and some very colourful local characters. There was gentle Miss Rachel Vaughn, feisty music teacher Miss Black, handsome Encik Ahmad Dahan and his wife Puan Kalsom, melancholic Literature teacher Miss Sobita Sinha, not too popular Miss Periathamby, Biology teacher Puan Hasnah, freshly graduated Cik Arfah, Cik Azizah, Cik Zawiah, etc. Then there was the Principal, Cik Asiah (who could forget her?).

                                         Form Upper 6 Arts with Cik Asiah (1970)

When in Form 4, I remember I wanted to leave TKC to go back home to school in Pulau Pinang, but I was persuaded to remain. I think boarding school was getting to me then - I was homesick and probably missed my big family. Anyway I stayed till the end. The last year in 1970 saw me as Head Girl but I must have taken my role so seriously that my friends recall my unsmiling, gaunt face. And indeed some pictures taken then testify to this. (Spot the girl with the most gaunt looking face in the photo above and that's me, probably!)

* Angst - anxiety and anguish, caused especially by the state of the world and the human condition (The New Penguin English Dictionary)

1964 - 1970

Monday, 15 August 2011

My Singapura

Singapore is the first and latest foreign country I have visited. Of course when I first visited in the early 1960s it was not yet 'foreign'. We all know it separated from Malaysia in 1965 to become the Republic of Singapore. However this is not a history lesson, so back to my forays (in 1962, 1991, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2011 Feb & Jun) into this 'little red dot on the map'.

Cartographically a little red dot, but truly Singa Pura, a Lion City. A city that roars. My latest trip down south in June was by the KTM train to Tanjong Pagar/Singapura station, 'to say farewell' before it closed on 1st July 2011. I really hope they will preserve the beautiful station building, built in 1932. This time I went to S'pore with my friends SH and RMN and the latter's son. We stayed 3 nights in Jellicoe Road, and used the MRT, taxis and buses to go sightseeing and shopping. I am glad that we did more sightseeing than shopping, despite the 'great S'pore sale' being on.

During the first visit in 1962, my father took my siblings and I to the Haw Par Villa/Tiger Balm Gardens, quite a sensational tourist attraction then, with statues and tableux depicting traditional Chinese myths/customs. I revisited it after more than 40 years later and am glad to report that it is as gaudy and kitschy* as ever! It remains as I remember it then, but I read somewhere (in guidebooks or Neil Humphreys' Final notes from a great island) that a lot had happened in between.
*Kitsch - Cheap and showy vulgarity or pretentiousness in art, design, etc. (Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary) 

Our group at the Haw Par Villa entrance (2011)

One of the many depictions of  'hell' at HPV (CNB 2011)

Horse face guard at the entrance of the '10 courts of hell' (CNB 2011)

A humongous laughing Buddha in the sculpture garden (CNB 2011)

Then there is the 'must-visit when in S'pore' Jurong Bird Park. I must admit I have never been there before my latest Lion City visit. So I cajoled my friends into going and the half day spent there was truly rewarding. I took tons of photos there. How could you not? There were colourful and beautiful birds of all sizes and hues; parrots, parakeets, flamingoes (my favourite), pelicans, etc., etc.

Orange feathered Caribbean flamingoes (CNB 2011)

The pink feathered flamingoes (CNB 2011)

Feeding the parakeets at JBP (SH 2011)

Pelicans in a feeding frenzy at JBP (CNB 2011)

The very odd looking shoebill (CNB 2011)

A beautiful ginger flower
Garden and nature lovers must of course visit the Singapore Botanical Gardens, conveniently at one end of Orchard Road. Gawk at the flowers and trees first before going on to gawk at the designer stuff in the Orchard road malls/shopping centres. That way you will be tired enough to not abuse your credit card and spend too much (I think, maybe). We spent a morning at the SBG and the fascination for the ginger flowers, the huge old trees, the sculptures nicely placed, all made for many, many photos. Here are some.

Chopin and appreciative ladies at the SBG (SH 2011)

The Vanda Miss Joachim, S'pore's national flower (CNB 2011)

With garden artist, SH and Ras (Ariff 2011)

A grand old tree - Kapok, planted in 1933 (CNB 2011)

'Girl on a swing' by British sculptor Sydney Harpley (CNB 2011)
To be cont'd. (My Singapura 2)

Ayer Itam, Pulau Pinang

After Gemas, my father was transferred to Pulau Pinang, to Prai actually (because there is no KTM railway station on the island). But we lived in Ayer Itam on this 'Pearl of the Orient'. I guess it really was in the days of yore, but then there was a time when it was 'Darul Sampah'! Anyway it is my family kampung till today. I still go back to the family house in Ayer Itam every Hari Raya.

The family and visiting relatives in Ayer Itam (1960's)

I went to the Methodist Girls' School in Anson Road for a year only, but have fond memories of my time there. Not so much the schooling but the food, especially in the canteen! Who can forget the mee kuah (yellow noodles in spicy sauce) cooked on the spot by the 'mee lady',  the coconut strips in pink syrup drink just ouside the school gates, or the sweet and juicy coconut candy that a classmate sold.

Methodist Girls' School (Internet picture)

One incident that will not be forgotten by my older sisters SP and CY, and me was the day we walked back home from school. That's from Anson Road to Jalan Kg Melayu, quite a long distance I assure you. Normally we take the bus, but on that particular day I squandered my pocket money, on food (what else?), and so did not have the bus fare. So I decided to walk when my sisters playfully refused to lend me the money! And they had to walk too (discreetly behind), because they were afraid if anything happened to a younger sibling. At the time I thought 'serve them right, shylocks!', but later I knew they cared for me and wanted to teach me a lesson about being careful with how we spend our pocket money.

Achievement in the last year of primary school? I must have done okay because the next phase of my education was in that premier boarding school in Seremban, Negri Sembilan.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

A Garden at SA,SA

Gardens, no matter how big or small are always things/places/spaces of beauty. The botanical gardens in Penang and Singapore are beautiful showcases of flowers, plants and trees of the tropics. The gardens in England have always been famous especially for roses. Then there are the tulips in the Keukenhof in Netherlands. In Malaysia we are fortunate to have a climate that encourages the growth of plants very well. Even a small space in a terrace house lot can accomodate a garden. Also the balconies of flats and condominiums can support a potted garden.

I have a little garden in which I potter around every morning before the sun gets too hot. It is a great pleasure to smell the garden early every new day; the flowers, the grass, even the soil. Work on the garden involves planting/replanting, potting/repotting, pruning, weeding, fertilising, grass trimming and of course watering. On my last count there are more than 50 varieties of plants even in this tiny plot. The garden is about 2 years old and has flowering, foliage and herbal plants. For identification, the book Tropical horticulture and gardening by Francis S. P. Ng is most helpful.

                                          Hydrangea (CNB 2010)

In 2009 I planted both blue and pink hydrangeas, but now realise how difficult they are to bloom. The above blue cluster was the only success last year, despite fertilising, putting in flower inducers, and even burying rusty nails in the soil. Don't laugh, but the last advice I got from a garden expert!

                                          Crown of thorns (CNB 2010)

The Crown of thorns is easy to grow in pots and when flowering, display very colourful petal-like bracts which may be in a variety of pinks, yellows and even greens. The above blooms lasted a very long time last year, but this year ceased to do so. Instead another pink variety has been in bloom since early this year (I will upload the picture in a future posting about the garden).

                                          Periwinkle (CNB 2010)

The Periwinkle comes in a variety of colours, the most common being the above purple ones. For me, every time I look at the flowers in my garden, I am reminded of their origin. I don't mean Madagascar where they came from, but of the garden of my sister-in-law's late mother in Port Dickson. She generously gave me a lot of plants and cuttings to start my own garden. The periwinkle was one of them.

                                          Straits rhododendron (CNB 2010)

The purple Straits rhododendron I have in my garden is but one of more than 300 species of rhododendrons found in the world. I did not really grow it but it followed me to Shah Alam when I transferred from Penang 3 years ago. It was a little plant in the pot of another plant, a palm I think. So I put it in its own pot in a corner of the garden. And it grew and grew... into a little tree producing delightful purple blooms. I call it the tree of life because of the fauna that visit daily - birds, butterflys, bees, even squirrels.

My garden thrives even as I have to leave it sometimes to go somewhere for a while. I thank my next-door neighbour for helping to water the plants when I am away. She is a keen gardener too and keeps a very pretty garden.

More on gardens next time. Meanwhile, happy gardening, and don't forget to stop and smell the roses! Or in my case, the jasmines.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

A Return Journey by Train

In mid June recently I made a return journey by the KTMB (Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd) train to Tanjung Pagar/Singapura just before the closure of the station at the end of the month. This is the log for that journey, made in memory of my father Ba who was working at the Singapore Botanical Gardens before accepting the offer to work with KTM, which he served till compulsory retirement.

9.00 am:  The Express Sinaran Selatan leaves KL Sentral at the precise time.

All Aboard! (2011)

9.30 am: We reach Kajang station. My friends and I have breakfast at the buffet car. It is a bit disappointing really. No more freshly cooked fare on board but nasi lemak, bihun, sandwiches and breads offered in plastic containers.
10.15 am: A five-minute stop at Seremban, Negri Sembilan.
11.10 am: Tampin/Pulau Sebang
11.45 am: Batang Melaka
12.01 pm: We reach Gemas; the railway junction of the KTM train network. I had lived here in the early 60's but the station now is pretty unrecognizable. Anyway I get down to take some photos to remind me of  one of my late father's 'work place'.

Pity there was no time to sit on the lonely bench beside the Gemas station signage.
Maybe next time! In the background they are building the 'double track' (CNB 2011)

Gemas railway station (CNB 2011)
12.43 pm: Segamat, Johor
12.54 pm: At Genuang we stop for another passing train.
1.05 pm: We reach Tenang. Along the railway tracks after this station I notice many tempua (weaver bird) nests on the trees.
1.19 pm: At Labis and after, coffee trees seem to be in abundance.
1.40 pm: Bekok
2.20 pm: Kluang

A KTM railway guard along the Kluang station platform (CNB 2011)
3.05 pm: Kulai
3.30 pm: Kempas Baru
3.40 pm: At JB Sentral, the Malaysian immigration check our travel documents.
4.10 pm: We cross the causeway into Singapore. At Woodlands, we leave the train (with all our luggage, sheesh!) for the Singapore Immigration and Customs check. This took 40 minutes before we boarded the train again (with our luggage in tow) to our final destination across the island.
5.30 pm: We arrive at Tanjong Pagar/Singapura station, passing by the closed Bukit Timah station on the way.

Tanjong Pagar/Singapura Railway Station (CNB 2011)

We were in Singapore for 4 days and then returned to KL Sentral riding the night train, Senandung Sutera at 10.30 pm. We 'forgot' to get down at Woodlands for the immigration check until a knock on the door by a young police/immigration (?) officer reminded us to do so. The sleeping berths were okay; we were also provided towels and toiletries for the shower. I think I slept like a log that night, rocked by the moving train. We reached KL Sentral the next day before 7.00 am.

Arriving in the eerie dawn at KL Sentral (CNB 2011)