Friday 28 June 2013

Snapshots: Quotable Quotes

The next time you are in a bookshop, see if the decor is 'inspiring'. These are snapshots of quotations praising books and reading; and adorning the walls of two bookshops. Don't they just inspire you to buy books and read, read, read?

Borders at the Curve, Mutiara Damansara

MPH at the Setia Alam Mall

1 June 2013

Thursday 27 June 2013

Sultan Mansur Shah & a Palace in Melaka

The Melaka Sultanate Palace (CNB 2009)

As gleaned from the Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals, 'the Malay rulers were very particular patrons of the arts. While checking on the workmanship of his new palace, Sultan Mansur Shah expressed his displeasure because one of the crossbeams was undersized and its colour too dark, [so] a new crossbeam was immediately procured to replace it'. A modern rendition of this palace of Sultan Mansur Shah, who ruled Malacca in 1456-1477, is the Melaka Sultanate Palace.

This Museum on the history and culture of the Malay Sultanate of Melaka was opened in 1986. This three-storied building has many rooms and galleries housing various artifacts, prints, photographs and drawings. There are also dioramas depicting historic moments and costume/jewelry exhibits.

On our first visit to this Museum in 1990, I cannot now recall the exhibits, but on the second visit in 2009, I realised that the 'models' used in the dioramas are pugly (pretty ugly; I dare not say fugly in full!). Even Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat. I have always pictured these two heroes as dashing, i.e. tall, dark and very handsome. I blame reading too many Barbara Cartlands during my teens for my romantic perception.

Ref: Zakaria Ali, Notes on the Sejarah Melayu and Royal Malay Art in Malaysian Art; Selected Essays 1979-2009. Penerbit UPSI, 2010. Ex Libris PPAS.

Monday 24 June 2013

Books I Love: Sylvia; Queen of the Headhunters

Sylvia; Queen  of the Headhunters by Philip Eade was published in 2007. It is a biography of Sylvia Brooke, who was the consort of the 3rd and last 'White Rajah' of Sarawak. Ranee Sylvia's eccentric behaviour was thought to have contributed to the downfall of this 'bizarre dynasty of English despots who ruled their jungle kingdom on Borneo' from 1841 until 1946.

I love this book because the history of Sarawak seems bizarre enough with having had 'White Rajahs'. The short version: James Brooke became the 1st Rajah when he restored order in this province which was then under the suzerainty of the Sultan of Brunei; he was succeeded by his nephew Charles Johnson who assumed the surname of Brooke. Charles' son Vyner then became the 3rd and last Rajah, who ceded Sarawak to Britain. Vyner's wife Sylvia was this multi-talented but very erratic, quirky/kooky, even 'racy' 'White Ranee' to add to this interesting period. Also their three daughters and their colourful lifestyles. Sounds like a Hollywood movie? Well, I think it all seem much, much more intriguing!

This is Philip Eade's first book and it deals with a subject no one ever did before, other than Sylvia herself who wrote two autobiographies: Sylvia of Sarawak, Hutchinson, 1936 & Queen of the Head-Hunters, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1970 (plus nine other works, mainly fiction). There are books on the 'White Rajahs' dynasty but none focused on their Ranees.

Note: When we visited Sarawak before, we only visited the Cat Museum, not the Sarawak Museum. So I cannot ascertain how much of Sylvia is documented/recorded there, but the author did mention '... that the Malaysian government is not excessively keen on harping back to the days of the White Rajahs - witness the dismantling of the display devoted to their dynasty at the Kuching museum'.

Ex Libris CNB 1898

Friday 21 June 2013

Eat. Drink. Talk. Watch

It was Mother's Day Sunday, we were at Suria KLCC and since it was lunchtime, there were queues at most eateries. We had no reservations because where food and eating is concerned, we leave it up to chance. Whatever seems okay. We eat to live, right? Right? Not live to eat, right? Right? Really?  So we found ourselves at a table in Chinoz On The Park, as they put it, to 'Eat. Drink. Talk. Watch'.

We ate so-so pasta (pan fried salmon with linguine in pesto sauce, actually), burger (can't really remember the details of B's order) and a very nice Caesar salad. We drank water to be healthy/kedekut (think what you like). We talked, and we watched. There was a lot to talk about, but not much to watch. Only other people eating, drinking, talking and watching. Just like us. C'est la vie!

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Kota Tinggi, Johor

Kota Tinggi in 2006 from a hotel window (CNB)

My nephew NJS (Iman) lives and works in Kota Tinggi, Johor. Recently we met up in our kampung in Pulau Pinang and I reminded him that he still owes me all those photos that he took of his mum and me when we were in Kota Tinggi for his wedding in 2006. (My own camera failed after a few shots.) But unfortunately he told me that all those photos taken at the various historic sites were long gone - terdelete! Ah ... no wonder he was stalling all this time ... now he confesses ... such is life...!

Looks like I have to revisit the place, especially now that he told me there is more 'history uncovered' in Kota Tinggi.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Tamu Kianggeh, Bandar Seri Begawan

I was looking through our photo albums of the Brunei trips made in 2003 and 2006 and remember the local produce market, the Tamu Kianggeh in Bandar Seri Begawan. Situated at the Jalan Sungai Kianggeh by the river bank, this tamu started in the early 60s, when the area was the convenient landing place for Kampung Ayer (water village) folks to come to town. I read in an article in The Brunei Times (Sojourn at Tamu Kianggeh, 20/2/11) that  "... Tamu Kianggeh still looks and feels very much like what it did in the olden days. ...". For me, markets (more than museums?) are the best places to start when visiting a new country.

Sunday 16 June 2013

I Remember My Father & Mother

I remember my father Ba often, more so on Father's Day. Even though he has left us nearly a decade ago, yet I remember instances with him like it happened yesterday. He was a very disciplined man who woke up very early every day of his life. When he was working with Keretapi Tanah Melayu, he never missed a day's work. I had always wished to emulate him during my working years and I hope I did.

During retirement, he kept busy, first driving around family members and running errands in Ayer Itam, then later working in his fruit orchard behind the family home in Teluk Kumbar. While my mother Mak was the busy housewife looking after eleven of us, Ba made sure we were not deprived of anything, even though his salary was not big. He saw to it that we wanted for nothing. He strongly believed in good education and ensured we all did okay in school and later could earn a decent living. He encouraged us to save from a very young age and I remember my siblings and I had Bank Simpanan Pejabat Pos (Post Office Savings Bank) accounts before the age of ten. Pity though we later learnt to withdraw and spend our money faster than we saved them! Blame the big, bad world ... for Ba's words about 'money making money' falling on deaf ears.

As far as food was concerned I remember Ba always bought the freshest of fresh from the wet market and was very selective about eating out. His favourite eateries in Tanjong (Georgetown) became our favourite too. He was also generous in sharing whatever rezeki (sustenance) was his. He provided for relatives who came to stay with us when they had a need to. During the durian seasons, he would always have a kenduri (feast) for the family, relatives and neighbours; Mak preparing the pulut santan to eat with the yummy durians from the orchard.

Ba and grandchildren A, B, Iman & Riduan.
Mak is in the background.
When I started secondary (boarding) school in Seremban, Ba still gave me pocket money although he knew that we boarders received adequate stipend (scholarship allowance). And I remember every new term before being sent off on the train to Seremban, my Mak would place the pocket money plus school fees into the pocket of the skirt I was wearing and sew it up securely. Then I would later unravel the sewing, pay the school fees and spend all my pocket money faster than you can say, 'How much?'

Ba was very subtle in advising his children. I remember during the days of the 'very mini' skirts, he did not forbid me wearing them because he knew that would encourage a teen to rebel more. He knew the 'fad' was only for a while and he was right. I went on to wearing catsuits very soon after! When I was taking my driving lessons after Form Six, he gave me many pointers about safe driving which till today I adhere to and am truly grateful for.

Ba never imposed on us what we wanted to do career-wise. He knew I loved books and reading and so did encourage me to go ahead and go to London to be a librarian. Ba and I had always read the newspapers together (Straits Times) and he would keep aside those I missed. He would regale friends and relatives with the fact that I love reading so much, I even read outdated newspapers! He was initially disappointed that I wanted to marry a foreigner because then I would be living overseas, but he consented anyway. Then as life would turn out, we later came back to live here.

During his last years, Ba never left the house in Teluk Kumber much. Even if he visited his children, it was only a day trip. He was driving his trusty Morris Minor until his eyes eventually made it preferable for him to stop. He never stopped working in the orchard everyday, making sure it was clear of undergrowth and properly enriched so the trees may be productive. He even ensured that the little river that runs through it was clean so his grandchildren may frolic in the waters. I think he was most happy to be close to nature and toiling the land.

Mak & I (BB 2005?)
When Ba passed away in 1994, Mak lived with her sons (my brothers); first with AJ in Sungai Merab, Bangi then with MM in Teluk Kumbar. Later she chose to live in the family home in Ayer Itam with my eldest sister SP, where on 17th March this year she left us forever.

Ya Allah, cucurilah rahmat ke atas kedua-dua ibubapa kami selalu. Ba (1915-1994) & Mak (1921-2013) Al-Fatihah.

(In progress)

Wednesday 12 June 2013

SA Garden Catalogue: Sri Lankan Wrightia

The Sri Lankan wrightia produces masses of star-shaped white flowers throughout the year. Presently both my little garden and the next door neighbour's have plenty of these cheerful 'stars' of white, dancing in the sunshine and occasional wind. I happily (wrongly) call it Thai jasmine because someone told me it looks like the slightly fragrant Wrightia tomentosa from Thailand. Maybe I should call it Sri Lankan or even Ceylon jasmine? But then there is no fragrance as one would associate with most jasmines. So (Sri Lankan) wrightia it is. Some garden blogs give the common name as Snowflakes, Milky way, Arctic snow. Pick what you like.

Scientific name: Wrightia antidysentrica
Common name: Sri Lankan wrightia
Family : Apocynaceae/Periwinkle
Origin: Sri Lanka

The plants in my garden are grown in three containers, and one has grown so very tall (more than nine/ten feet?), but has lesser blooms. Although the usual for this small-leafed shrub is 1-3 metres, mostly the plant is kept short for more flowers. Propagation is usually by marcotting, but sometimes you can get lucky by just cutting the stalks and poking them into the soil. Of a few, at least one or two will grow! This Sri Lankan wrightia loves the full sun, so in our tropical gardens they do thrive very well.

'Stars' in the garden or is it 'Snowflakes'? (CNB 2012)

Note: When one writes about the garden, the state of the weather inevitably comes up. This month of June has been very hot and humid. Heck, I usually sleep with the fan on, but these days I have to resort to the air conditioning. There has been no rain here for some time in this part of Shah Alam.
*Update 25 June: The haze from Sumatra caused the API (air pollutant index) today to read an unhealthy 252!

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Movie nights at TKC

It was something all the girls looked forward to ... movies. Once a month, we gathered at the Hall to enjoy a movie night. Some movies I remember well, some I cannot recall at all. One movie I remember very well is Splendor in the Grass (1961), starring the beautiful Natalie Wood and the handsome Warren Beatty. Only what I mostly saw on the screen then were just blurred visions of this much tormented couple. Alas, that was the time I discovered to my consternation that I needed prescription glasses! Sheesh, what a time for a light bulb moment!

Another movie well remembered is Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, a 1955 movie adapted from the autobiographical novel by Han Suyin*; about a Eurasian doctor and her American journalist lover in Hong Kong. I still remember that ominous scene when a teacup fell and broke. And who can forget the beautiful theme song? I also remember with clarity (and some hilarity!) that there was quite a technical glitch that night. The film reel moved backwards a number of times, which meant that the actors walked backwards and ... it was during that romantic scene on the beach of the protagonists acted by Jennifer Jones and William Holden. The projector did play up that night and gave the projectionist (our classmate then, now eminent UN astrophysicist Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman) a hard time. It did not help I think, that we were laughing out loud every time the glitches happened and the actors started 'undoing' their actions!

Audrey Hepburn movies I recall because I admired this great beauty - in movies such as Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Charade (1963) and My Fair Lady (1964). The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) I remember because there were trains involved and West Side Story (1961) because it was such a sad, sad musical (sad movies make me cry). Other movies I cannot remember so much except for their titles. Like Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) - I remember because I had to look up the meaning of it. Then there were his other thrillers and their deafening sound effects - The Man Who Knew too Much (1956), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). Other movie night films include Harvey (1950), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Guns of Navarone (1961), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), To Kill a Mocking Bird (1962), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Dr Zhivago (1965), Bonnie & Clyde (1967), Mary Poppins (1964), A Hard Day's Night (1964), The Sound of Music (1965), Guess who's coming to dinner? (1967), The Graduate (1967), and Lolita (1962). Wait a minute - I may have seen some of these movies at the cinema, not at TKC Seremban. And ... was I even old enough to have seen these last two movies then?

Anyway I do remember those movie nights at TKC (1964-70) with great fondness and maybe quite a few of us (including moi) became movie buffs because it was recreation we enjoyed with a lot of camaraderie.

*A Many-Splendoured Thing by Han Suyin (1916-2012) was published in 1952. Han Suyin was the pen name of Elizabeth Comber, born Rosalie Matilda Kuanghu Chou of Chinese-Flemish parentage. Her very interesting life also included a six-year marriage to Leon F. Comber, a British officer in the Malayan Special Branch and they lived in Johor. In 1956 she wrote  And the Rain My Drink, perceived to be very anti-British/Government. 

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Foods of our Childhood: Colourful Sugar Bisquits

Sugar bisquits at Rumah Puteh (CNB 2013)
Remember how pretty and deliciously nice these small sugar biscuits used to be when we were little? How we would chomp on the colourful icing sugar on the top first before we get to the 'button' bisquit? How the icing sugar would melt in our mouths? I guess they are not so 'delish' anymore now (that we are watching our waistlines), but they are still such pretty things anyway.

In Malay we call them by many names - biskut gula, biskut gula aising, biskut cotek, biskut butang, biskut warna warni and biskut bunga. One supermarket chain labels these as 'Ice gem bisquits'. Do you call these bisquits by any other names?

Note: Today is World Environment Day, so do not forget to 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' - always, not just today!

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Landmarks of Selangor: Kota Darul Ehsan

Travelling along the rather busy Federal Highway from Shah Alam to Kuala Lumpur and vice versa, I have passed under this spectacular double archway of Kota Darul Ehsan more times than I can remember.

Kota Darul Ehsan at dusk (CNB 2013)

Kota Darul Ehsan is a ceremonial gateway that marks the boundary between Selangor Darul Ehsan and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur (a 244-square-kilometer area created out of a part of Selangor state in 1974). The gigantic double archway, (constructed in 1975), 'straddles what was the first dual carriageway in Selangor, the Federal Highway connecting Petaling Jaya and the nation's capital'.

The architecture of Kota Darul Ehsan is largely based on the features and motifs of the notable Mogul style buildings of Kuala Lumpur. Kota Darul Ehsan has twin pointed arches with two smaller side arches that spring from 'Y'-shaped capitals on grooved concrete pillars. Bands of decorative Islamic geometric patterns frame the arches. Across the top the name of Kota Darul Ehsan is spelt in English and Jawi. Crowning the central pillar is a chatri (from the Hindi chatta, 'umbrella'), the umbrella-shaped cupola surrounded by finials, replicated from the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. Small onion-shaped domes top the corners and over the small side arches are two smaller chatris.

Kota Darul Ehsan during the blue hour (CNB 2012)

There are cannons at the base of the archway facing both directions. These old cannons, are originally from Kuala Selangor. Kota Darul Ehsan lights up at night and is indeed an impressive gateway.

Ref: Landmarks of Selangor. Jugra Publications, 2003.

Saturday 1 June 2013

Taman Yang Ideal

taman angan-anganku
taman yang kecil

pintunya kecil
dan sebilah pisau tajam
selalu mengintip aku dari belakang
dan batu-batu kecil yang selalu dingin
yang berembun selalu

bakawali yang mengeluarkan
bau hijau         bau biru
bakawali yang tumbuhnya dari awan

taman bunga kecil
dengan sebuah pintu yang kecil
lelahku menyusup

sebuah pisau yang kecil
mencekik angan-anganku dari awan
seratus bakawali         seratus bakawali

seribu angan-anganku mati
seribu pula angan-anganku
                                      hidup kembali


Dari Sebuah Antologi Sajak dan Cerpen 'Menganyam Bulan'
Penerbitan Tra-Tra, 1983.
Ex Libris CNB 0448