Wednesday 31 December 2014

2014 Was a Good (and Bad) Year

It was a good year, it was a bad year. On all fronts. On this last day of 2014, I will attempt a very brief summary of a year that was.

For Malaysia, I guess it was a fairly good year mostly, till our aeroplanes started dropping off the sky. It is still a very great mystery where our Flight MH370 is. Our hearts go out to the families involved in the three plane disasters. Then at the close of the year the worst ever floods in a long time occurred in several states, hitting Kelantan, Trengganu, and Pahang badly. Sabah, Sarawak, Johor, Perlis, Perak, even Selangor were affected. May flood victims find relief soonest possible.

For the family, it was mostly a good year. Personally, there were many 'firsts' for me, and a few items got ticked off my bucket list. But we don't all live in a perfect world, and there was some bad that happened in the year. So we will be stoic about things and carry on with hope for a better new year. May 2015 be a blessed year all round.

In Progress*. 

*If you see these two words at the end of any of my blog posts, it means that I am not fully satisfied with the write-up or accompanying pictures, if any and I need to do more; to rethink/research,reference. And this may take a long, long time...

Saturday 27 December 2014

A Mah Meri Cultural Experience (Part 2)

After the (mock) wedding ritual at the Mah Meri Cultural Village, the intrigue with Mah Meri culture continued. We were in awe of the beautiful and intricate weaving of wild pandanus leaves by three Mah Meri women, in a demonstration led by Maznah. Weaving is one of the most important of various activities of the women in the Mah Meri villages. Strips of wild pandanus and nipah leaves are used to make bunga moyang* accessories also baskets, bags/pouches, and mats. These handicrafts are derived from their rituals and involve special techniques. The art of the Mah Meri leaf origami is said to be older than the Japanese paper origami.

Maznah and her friends wore pandanus weave 'jewelry' - earrings, chokers, and bracelets. During the demonstration they very deftly wove snakes, birds, bird nests and butterflies for the guests (A was gifted with a charming butterfly, and for me, a very pretty bird on the nest). These gifts are living crafts that we will definitely treasure because they are the art of a people with prehistoric roots.

After the leaf origami demo, we had a break for lunch. What we had was the freshest barbecued seafood with fried rice and an array of fried tubers. All very delicious indeed.

The Indonesian tourists had to leave after lunch (they had a cruise ship to re-embark), but A and I stayed on. Encik Rashid and his wife Norlia were very gracious hosts. We were given more insight into the lives of the Mah Meri by this couple who have been very closely involved with the Orang Asli for nearly three decades. It was also nice to meet up again with Madiah and her grandniece Siti Aida whom we encountered on our first visit to the MMCV in August.

Before leaving we watched a video program on the various aspects of the fascinating art and culture, and unique lifestyle of the Mah Meri. We also got a close look at their wood art of sculptures and masks exhibited in the galleries.

"Woodcarving among the Orang Asli is believed to originate from a healing ritual (sakat buang to the Mah Meri). During the ritual, the shaman transfers the evil spirit causing the sickness from the patient's body into wooden sculptures of ancestral spirits (moyang), which are later left in the jungle or thrown in the sea. The Mah Meri also carve wooden masks to be worn during ceremonies and dances. These masks are used as a means of communication with the moyang, and have movable jaws so that the spirits may speak through them. The Mah Meri believe that whoever wears such a mask will be imbued with the particular spirit. The Mah Meri have more than 450 varieties of sculptures and masks. These sculptures have become sought-after collectible crafts".

The carvings of the Mah Meri tell stories of the tribe and their beliefs. One that fascinated us is the story of Moyang Harimau Berantai - about a tiger caught in a trap and dying because nobody dared to set it free. Craftsman Encik Alias a/l Sayor (son of Encik Sayor and brother of Siti Aida) explained to us that this sculpture is carved from a single piece of wood and features seven inter-connecting rings to represent chains and a ball in the tiger's mouth.

The Mah Meri honour their ancestral spirits annually with day-long feasts and dance rituals, known as Hari Moyang. Due to their sea gypsy origins, one ceremony involves food and tobacco being placed in small woven baskets atop a seashore temple for the spirits. Hari Moyang is usually held about the time of the Lunar New Year.

*Encik Rashid Esa has written a book on the leaf origami of the Mah Meri entitled Bunga Moyang; Seni Lipatan Daun Mah Meri (Siri Buku Kraf Orang Asli). Published by Kementerian Kebudayaan, Kesenian dan Warisan Malaysia, 2007.

Note: The Mah Meri Cultural Village was built in 2011 under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage Malaysia.

23 December 2014                             (In Progress)

Friday 26 December 2014

A Mah Meri Cultural Experience (Part 1)

The Mah Meri Cultural Village (MMCV) is the place to go to get an insight into the life of the Mah Meri (or Ma Betisek/Ma Besisek) of Pulau Carey. The Mah Meri belong to the Senoi group which form about 54% of the Orang Asli (aborigines) of Malaysia.

Earlier in August we had been to the MMCV but we only had a walkabout then. (See my blog post 'A Glimpse of the Mah Meri, Pulau Carey' dated  25 August 2014). Recently A and I joined some Indonesian tourists in their visit program at the MMCV. Visitors are usually garlanded and 'crowned' on arrival with the beautifully woven wild pandanus leaves. Encik Rashid Esa, the Director of MMCV, then graciously greeted visitors with an introduction to the mystery or enigma that is the Mah Meri. Who are the Mah Meri people?

Some aspects of the culture of the Mah Meri were revealed to us. These included their marriage ceremony (with A and a Manado lady tourist being the unlikely couple in a simplified mock ceremony!). The Mah Meri traditional wedding involves seven rituals which may take up to four days; 'the engagement, henna colouring, tooth-filing, finding the bride, presentation of the bridal couple, dining ceremony and cleansing ritual'. It is thought that the Mah Meri marriage traditions and attire have not changed much since the 1950s.

The marriage ceremony is celebrated with 'blessings' and the 'Mayin Jo-oh' dance, accompanied by music rendered by instruments such as the tuntog (two sets of bamboo stampers), jule (viola), ambo (double-headed drum), and tawa' (brass gong) etc. The dancers wear the traditional costume made of bark and freshly woven pandanus skirts and accessories. The accessories on their fingers, across their chests and on their heads are very beautifully woven. They dance around the busut or 'ant hill/mountain' (but I forgot to ask about the significance of this item) and are joined by male dancers wearing traditional masks.

The very expressive masks of the male dancers provided some comic during the 'ceremony'. The ancestral spirits they represent must be in very good ... spirits, and celebrating as well. In fact it was a joyous celebration all around!

Visitors were invited to join in the Jo-oh dance at the end. The repetitive steps may seem easy to do but one does have to somehow 'get into the rhythm'.

During our visit, young Diana (named after Diana Ross apparently) was especially assigned to be the guide for A and me. We found out from her that she is in Sixth Form at a School in Teluk Panglima Garang (Hilariously translated as the Gulf of Fierce Commander in a travel website!)

Our special thank you to Encik Rashid Esa, Director of the Mah Meri Cultural Village, for enabling us to join this visit program.

1. Peoples and Traditions (The Encyclopedia of Malaysia, volume 12). Archipelago Press, 2006. Ex Libris CNB 2081.

23 December 2014                 (In Progress)

Thursday 25 December 2014

Merry Xmas

To all who celebrate, Merry Christmas. (The above very pretty card was sent by Stella Lowe of Salford, England. She was my boss at the Salford College of Technology when I was working there in the late 70s/early 80s).

On an unhappy note, our hearts go out to the victims of the current very bad flood situation in the states of Kelantan, Trengganu, Perlis, Johor, Pahang and Perak. We hope the floods will subside very soon.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Book Buying Binge at the Big Bad Wolf Book Sale

Bookaholics and bibliophiles must be bingeing at Sri Kembangan still... because the annual Big Bad Wolf book sale there at the Malaysian International Exhibition & Convention Centre (MIECC) has been extended to the 21st of December. Started since the 5th of the month, the 24/7 sale event has been attracting quite a lot of people, especially now that it is the school holidays.

A and I went there on a weekday to avoid the probably overwhelming crowd on weekends rummaging through the purported 3.5 million volumes on sale. I bought 18* books for RM175 while A got 50 books (from two forays). At an average of less that RM10 per book, it works out to be quite a steal! So we reckoned we'd keep our book buying to this particular sale only, but we ended up with too many caveats (like special occasions, author book signings, etc.). So I guess we'll keep on buying books whenever and wherever. As a constant reader, I am seriously thinking of binge reading as a 2015 resolution... err, but this is what I have been doing since forever!

* My 18 books (because A's 50 is too long to list!)
1. Jane Austen; a celebration of her life and work/Lauren Nixon  2. Bold strokes; dynamic brushwork for oils and acrylics/Mark Christopher Weber  3. Practical container gardening/Stephanie Donaldson  4. Decorating with books (House Beautiful)  5. Grandma's kitchen journal  6. Give it up! My year of learning to live better with less/Mary Carlomagno  7. Five star billionaire/Tash Aw  8. Until I say good-bye/Susan Spencer-Wendel  9. Culinary pleasures/Nicola Humble  10. The Private world of Georgette Heyer/Jane Aiken Hodge  11. France (The National Geographic Traveler)  12. Traveler's South Africa/Mike Cadman (Thomas Cook)  13. Nigella Fresh/ Nigella Lawson  14. Jamie's America/Jamie Oliver  15. The Meryl Streep movie club/Mia March  16. The Goddess guide/Gisele Scanlon  17. Essential kitchens/Terence Conran  18. Borneo, Celebes, Aru/Alfred Russel Wallace                        (Ex Libris CNB 2178-2185)

Wednesday 17 December 2014

SA Garden Catalogue: Gynura Procumbens

Scientific name: Gynura procumbens 
Malay name: Sambung nyawa/Akar sebiak/Kelemai merah
Family: Asteraceae
Origin: Myanmar and China

This perennial plant is very, very easy to grow from cuttings. It is a shrub found in South and Southeast Asia particularly Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, and is a well-known traditional herb in the region. It grows well in shade and very rarely flowers (orange/yellow).

The leaves of this 'Longevity plant' may be consumed fresh or dried but I have read in some herb books the warning that not more than 2 leaves are to be consumed at a time. Yet in other information sources the leaves are touted as 'vegetables' (for diabetes and hypertension). Below is information found at the Taman Botani Negara Shah Alam on the considerable medicinal values of this plant. It is no wonder it is also called Longevity spinach or Leaves of the gods.

I have two containers of this plant, originally obtained from my sister's garden in Taman Keramat. I have heeded the 'two-leaf rule' and usually pluck and eat the leaves fresh. Best not to eat too much of these leaves of longevity lest one wants to live forever?

The December rains have brought the usual annual floods especially to the East Coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu. Here in Shah Alam, it rains almost daily, usually in the late afternoons and evenings.

Monday 15 December 2014

A Vicarious Travel to Ecuador (at MAHA 2014)

While visiting the MAHA Show recently, at one of the main exhibition halls, we were drawn to the booth of the Embassy of Ecuador. First by the very colourful posters (of roses, tagua beads, mangoes, chocolate, quinoa) and products exhibited; then by the smiling personality manning the booth. Surprisingly she is not from Ecuador but a Malaysian!

Marion is a physiotherapist married to an Ecuadorian attached to the Embassy of the Republic of Ecuador here in Kuala Lumpur, hence her presence at the booth. A and I had a lot of questions about Ecuador and she kindly showed us videos of this rather fascinating South American country. I found out that this country's main exports are petroleum, bananas, cut flowers, shrimp, cacao, coffee, wood and (canned) fish.

Among other products, there is the rather fascinating tagua (beads, jewelry and carvings made from palm nuts). The tagua nuts are from the Phytelepus, commonly known as ivory palms, ivory-nut palms or tagua palms. The tagua nut are also known as vegetable ivory. A very kind alternative to elephant tusk products.

Then there are some surprising food products, including quinoa which are grains 'from the Andes (Mountains) to the World' and award winning chocolate made of Ecuadorian cacao. We also had a taste of their banana crisps which was quite delicious.

We liked the Panama hat (of Ecuadorian origin, hand made from toquilla straw) that Marion had on and so we posed for pictures wearing similar ones - A in yellow and moi in pink. Oh, of course I had to buy a set of tagua necklace and earrings. So even if I have not been to Ecuador, I have a beautiful reminder of this faraway country, that straddles the earth's equator and owns the wonderful Galapagos Islands.

26 November 2014

Tuesday 9 December 2014

A Kesuma Dance Showcase at the Universiti Malaya

The Kesuma Dance Showcase "aims to demonstrate the learning outcomes of practical courses offered to students during the semester, assessed by dance lecturers and instructors throughout the staging of the dance showcase. This showcase also serves as a platform for students to create, manage, and present a stage production as well as to introduce and promote programs offered by the Dance Department of the Cultural Centre, University of Malaya".

For Kesuma alumni like Ani, Amah, Kazi and moi, it was a trip down memory lane when we attended the dance showcase recently, because we were the pioneer batch in 1971/1972. But I was a member of Kesuma only for a year while the rest lasted for the duration of our Varsity years. (They had the reward of touring Bangkok, Hong Kong and Manila).

                            Alarippu (Bharata Natyam)              Ayak-Ayak

                            Terinai (Perlis)                                  Tarian Songket

                            Zapin Pulau (Johor)                          Tarian Cinta Sayang (Kedah)

                            Igal Tabawan (Sabah)                       Rejang Beuh (Sarawak)

                            Da Qing Ma Qiao (Yunnan China)     Joget Serampang Pantai

Indeed the ten dances of the showcase were performed well (with just one or two obvious glitches). The dancers' costumes were rich and 'classy'.

A memorable end to the evening was when Professor Dr Mohd Anis Md Noor (Advisor of this Kesuma Dance Showcase and witty compere as well!) called on the Kesuma alumni to join the performers on stage. Thank you for enabling us to relive our Kesuma experience.

3 December 2014

Monday 8 December 2014

An Island Sunset

This golden sunset over the hills was captured from the multi-storey carpark of the Queensbay Mall, Pulau Pinang on 5th December 2014.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Our Family Day 2014 in Pulau Pinang

Over the weekend we went on a road trip back to the kampung. It was for the occasion of our end of year Family Day. With B in the driver's seat, we started off from Shah Alam in the afternoon and it was good weather along the North-South Highway until we reached the vicinity of Taiping. As if on cue... black clouds engulfed us and the rain fell. But then there was light ahead. Though we moved towards the light... the black clouds followed us for quite sometime... This wettest place in the country certainly never fails to shower on us every time we pass by.

When we got on to the Second Penang Bridge it was quite lengang (quiet, traffic-free) so it was a fast and smooth ride across the 24 kilometres of it. But then we run right smack into the Island traffic jam as soon as we got off. Such is life!

We reached our family home after stopping by the Queensbay Mall for dinner at the Seoul Garden, B's choice of course (after discovering yet again that Tasha Dhal Kandar in Sungai Ara was closed! Note to ourselves: this TDK eatery is closed on Fridays).

The Family Day activities started early the next morning with a big breakfast of roti canai, serabai (my favourite), and other kueh-mueh. For lunch it was a catered kenduri menu of nasi hujan panas, kambing (aqiqah) masamah, kerabu timun nanas, dalca daging, ayam ros. All very delicious. Later in the evening, we all got together (some forty of us) for lucky draws where every single one was a winner. Your luck is really what you get to take home - there were hampers, vouchers, kitchen appliances, and other goodies including some coveted handphones. The day ended with a 'serious' meeting of the 'elders' of the family, including moi.

The very next day at noon we had to drive back to Kuala Lumpur. This time we used the (first) Penang Bridge to cross over to the mainland. (Certainly much busier than the rather traffic-free Second Penang Bridge. Which begs the question - do we really need an undersea tunnel to connect the island and mainland? I say definitely not!).

The sky was downcast when we were in the vicinity of Taiping and there was some drizzle, also in the area of Ipoh and the verdant blue hills there. But soon enough we reached KL and home long before dusk.

5-7 December 2014