Monday, February 28, 2011

Australia, Finally!



You will be surprised that I have not been to Australia all my life. I've been to Europe, to USA and Canada, to several Asian countries and to New Zealand, but no, I have been giving Australia the miss, maybe because I did not have the glint in my eyes for the land down under. But I thought I should at least add it to the list of places I've traveled before I cannot make it. After all it is just 10 hours away and I really have little excuse. Recent years have given me fewer opportunities to travel but I try to travel at least once a year, which is very infrequent for people who are supposed to have retired. This year Australia is on my mind and hopefully Hanoi too in around November.

Last month SIL Stanley gave a good review of Sydney while there on training. He said it is a must visit destination, that the harbor cruise will be memorable. I thought why not? The opportunity has come. Next month he will have another training in Melbourne so we are going as a family to Melbourne and Sydney.

Unlike previous holidays my wife and I have this time we are having Grace and Andrew, our 2 grandchildren along with their parents. To accommodate the children's needs we are having a leisurely holiday with nothing specific in mind. While there we try to visit 2-3 friends we haven't seen for awhile.

Yesterday four of us have our new passports made. The service was exemplary. We got our travel papers in one hour flat! Then we went home to buy our air tickets online. It was a relief that we got a good promotional rate. We had feared that with the sudden spike in crude oil prices caused by the overthrow of dictators in 3 Middle Eastern countries airlines will suddenly hike their fuel surcharges. Thankfully we miss it.

The holiday to Melbourne and Sydney will be for 3 days each. It will be primarily exploratory. At the end I can safely say that I've finally been to Australia! More details after the trip is over.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Christchurch Revisited

Page last updated at 18:54 GMT+08:00, Thursday, 24 February 2011
Christchurch: Broken city faces life after quake
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Christchurch

Many Christchurch residents are facing months of rebuilding
As the grim toll from the Christchurch earthquake continues to rise, New Zealand's shattered southern city has been rattled by a series of aftershocks.

Buildings again convulse under the power of unpredictable underground forces and for a few seconds walls and windows shudder.

At first there is a rumble like distant thunder before the earth shifts underfoot, then within a few seconds all is still.

Some of the jolts have measured up to magnitude 4.5, far less menacing than Tuesday's quake, which witnesses say made the streets of Christchurch roll and rise like a wave.

But more than 100 aftershocks have made an anxious city even more fearful.

"Even the little tremors bring back the terror of the big one," said Roger Marshall, 32, who had brought his young family to an evacuation centre set up at the Burnside High School in Christchurch.

Roger Marshall and his family saw the house opposite them collapse
Here the homeless have sought shelter as they swap horrible stories of the day Christchurch changed forever.

"The house was totally shaken and when we did get outside, the three-storey house across the road was just one storey and there's hands and limbs sticking out and (people) saying 'help, help, help!'. It was unreal," said Mr Marshall.

"We had cars falling into holes and everything was upside down. It was the worst I've ever felt in my life."

The ripples of the disaster have spread far beyond New Zealand. Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Thai students are among the missing, while there have been Australian and Irish casualties. A British survivor is in hospital with severe injuries.

UK diplomats have set up a crisis centre at a hotel near Christchurch airport to issue emergency passports and help its citizens escape the quake zone.

Tony McLeod, the consular manager for the British High Commission, said he had been stunned by the scale of the destruction.

"I've seen things that normally you associate only with stuff on newsreels, of private vehicles and trucks being used as ambulances," he said.

"That brought it home to me, when a city like Christchurch runs out of ambulances then things are pretty severe."

Bewilderment

It is the heart of Christchurch that has suffered the most, where landmarks and office blocks lie twisted and broken.

Central areas remain sealed off by the military, with roads blocked by soldiers and armoured personnel carriers.

No-one knows the sort of horrors that are buried beneath the rubble but as rescuers begin a third night searching for survivors, New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key has warned the country to brace itself for more traumatic news.

Teams from around the world are searching the city for survivors
Emergency workers, though, are optimistic that life will be found in the wreckage more than two days after the earthquake. A British search and rescue team has recently landed in Christchurch joining others from the United States, Japan and Australia.

Its spokesman, Peter Crook, told the BBC that his specialist unit was hoping to find survivors.

"At this stage it's still rescue. Clearly, as time goes on hopes diminish, but we've rescued people far further than this into an earthquake scenario," he said.

"Normally four or five days is the window we have to work in, so we've only a couple of days left out of that."

As the rescue mission continues, there is a discernible sense of bewilderment here as the aftershocks continue to shake this fragile corner of New Zealand.

The authorities are urging residents to leave the city but many are worried about looters targeting empty houses or want to stay to do their bit to help in the immense recovery effort.

Christchurch may never be the same again but Mr Key says now is the time for the city's "great comeback" to begin.

BBC © 2011

New Glasses for Old Eyes

I have been wearing glasses since 1963, like almost 48 years already, that not having them made me feel lighter and sort of 'incomplete'. Over the past few years my eyes have aged along with the other organs which isn't unusual. However I think I am more aware of their deterioration as I use them consciously everyday, except when I sleep of course. I am therefore more aggrieved if my eyesight fail to allow me to enjoy what I like to see. In recent years astigmatism has become more severe that corrective lenses cannot cure. Perhaps I was expecting to regain my 20/20 vision which is unrealistic. Coupled with early signs of cataract on the outer fringe of my left eye these 2 conditions have been frustrating. Recently I got a GPS as an aid to help me get around more safely. I've tried eye exercises which does not seem effective, maybe I should be more persevering. Going for laser contouring of my cornea to reduce my astigmatism is not advisable as the membrane was found to be too thin.

Yesterday I saw my optometrist Steven after a lapse of over 2 years. He examined my eyes and proclaimed them healthy for my age. The myopia of my right eye have weakened slightly to compensate my dominant left and weaker eye. So I need new glasses which I willingly spend. And a new pair of reading glass as well. Steven advised me to wear sunglasses whenever I am outdoor. My current glass had a clip on sunglass which I dropped while on holiday in Bali (read HERE) and I made sure my new glass will be similarly equipped.

Having good eyesight is the most important sense. I cannot imagine being sightless!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Christchurch I Cry for Thee



I was very saddened when I read about the killer earthquake yesterday that killed at least 75 people, the toll expecting to increase as hope of rescuing those trapped under the rubbles fade as time drag on. In 2006 my wife and I had visited New Zealand and took home fond memories of Christchurch. We had no inkling that this city sat on a fault line that would 5 years later built up a crack large enough to cause a quake. I pray that the government and city council will find the resolve to rebuild the damage. It is easier to rebuild broken buildings but harder to restore the spirit of many people who suffered losses. In time like this perhaps seeking the divine comfort and answer would mean much to some people.

Here is an evolving pictorial report of the quake.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

He Ain't Heavy ...

Little Andrew has grown much since his first birthday a fortnight ago. He has started walking several steps unaided. He mumbles several baby words. He emulates us. He wave back what we teach him. He smiles infectiously. He chases away rainy days and is everyone's lover baby. But he doesn't stop there. He climbs all over us. He climbs stools, trainer, tables, stairs, anything he can entwine his legs over, including guard rails and drawer handles. And he crawls faster than he toddles so we have to be super fast to grab him before he hits the toilets, kitchen stoves, power sockets, older sister's potty and the family dog Lipton which always stand a-begging for food outside the patio grille. Andrew keeps us on our toes except when he naps. Sometimes we have to plomp him inside the playpen much to his frustration but he quietens after awhile.

One nagging habit of his that I tries to wean him off is thumb-sucking. This has been a hygiene concern although we have the floors and most objects he touch wiped and mopped daily, sometimes twice. Lovable as he is, Andrew hasn't gotten reprimanded because he is still young. He just smile and blow saliva. He just love big sister Grace who love him back unreservedly. Often they'd hug each other and dig into whatever each other is doing with little signs of annoyance and temper.

Andrew is getting heavier no doubt since he eats whatever we feed him. To prevent him from injuring himself we have to carry him sometimes, and as of now he is not yet independent to be left alone. The coming months when he starts scrambling and reaching for anything within his reach will be times we start to rearrange some of the low lying items, like photo frames, decorative flowers, remotes and my iPad and laptop! It's no wonder my house is beginning to look like a nursery!

But Andrew ain't heavy, because he is our grandson. For that matter all our grandchildren before Andrew had the same love from us and will never be heavy. If we have to carry them momentarily we will, until such times they understand that we are too old to accede to their requests or they themselves become embarrassed to be carried. Until then we will let them enjoy popo and gung gung even if it means some backaches. After all, a little ache to trade for a lifetime of great memories and days of fun is really worth it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

38 Years Ago Today



My wife and I were married 38 years ago today. To today's generation to be able to stay together this long is considered a feat when many couples look at divorce as a convenient way to dissolve a pact. In my generation a divorce is frown upon as a shame to the family and all attempts would be made to keep the marriage intact. Happily for us we did not face any major issues to force either of us to consider a road of separation but through mutual compromise and tolerance cemented by love and care we built our marriage to this day. It is inconceivable at this age to even consider going our separate ways, certainly not to traditional and 'old fashioned' Chinese thinking that we are accustomed to. After all at the last stage of our life on earth who can have the strength to deal with major relationship crisis? Old age is meant to be reaped for harvest and enjoyment, not to destroy and build up a new relationship. Certainly I want to look towards the 50th anniversary that some of my older friends have achieved. But the 40th anniversary awaits us soon.

Today my wife and I celebrated this wedding anniversary simply. We always believe in simple celebration and in thanksgiving to our God for preserving us this long. Growing older, companionship becomes even more pertinent and important, helping each other get by so our days are more bearable and meaningful. Ask any old couple, the answer will be predictably similar. Less demands on each other and seeking opportunities to recover lost moments before they are lost forever.

We still fulfill our role today looking after our grandkids and escaped for our dinner for two and a movie show in a shopping mall nearby to make today different from the other days.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Don't Trust Your GPS 100%

Whilst I still believe that GPS makes life easy, by making sure that you'll get home, even if you have to make a 100km detour, the purpose of using such a device should be getting where you want to go with the least distraction and inconvenience, which my GPS was unable to deliver in my recent holiday home to visit my mother. It isn't that I don't know the way but I just want to get to know my GPS better. So on my outbound trip I set my destination to my mother's place expecting Mr. Daniel, the Englishman who would be my guide at crucial junctions and exit points, to pronounce his commands intelligently. Leaving my daughter's house in Petaling Jaya, Daniel guided me out of the city into the highway. I 'patted' his back for a job well done. But then he began to behave erratically. He started telling me to drive off the highway at every toll exit towards the trunk roads. I resisted Daniel thinking that after a few 'recalculating' he would take the hint and stay quiet for the rest of the drive until a major exit appear. Daniel, perhaps thinking he is Mr. Know-It-All, kept misguiding me all the way until the exit to Bidor when he correctly took me to my destination.

On Saturday when I left my mother's and taking the same route back, at the traffic junction after the bridge between Kampong Koh and Teluk Intan, Daniel decided that I should take the coastal road instead of the highway. Maybe he prefers the countryside. Calling the shot he commanded me to turn right. But I turned left, so Daniel began to recalculate a new route for me. Thinking that he is a smart Englishman, that he would plot a new route to Bidor and then the highway, remembering the route I took a few days earlier, I left him to guide me but no, Daniel kept telling me to make a U turn, not less than 15 times. Obviously he was annoyed I did not obey him at the bridge and insisted I turn back at every opportunity he can find. Daniel forgot I was in control of the wheel. Finally when I exit the Bidor toll into the North-South Highway, Daniel threw in the towel, conceding defeat and tracked me to the Bukit Lanjan Interchange an hour away.

I must say that the battle of willpower between Daniel and me could have been conceded to the Voice if not for the fact that I know the way. Otherwise I would have been taken for a ride by an Englishman who may never have been to Malaysia! Which is to say that you should try to know the route you want to take to go to your destination and resist being sidetracked by a total stranger. But in city driving where the roads are more complex I would surrender to Daniel's guidance. I think he would make a great city guide but not one in the country.

I could have mis-set the priority: fastest time, shortest distance or off the road, but I believe that a good GPS should be intelligent to 'read' the mind of the driver and react intelligently. Or newer models should allow for pre-determined routes to be saved for other drivers to follow.

Peter Meets Peter



For the first time in over 45 years I met up with my old schoolmate with a common English name as mine. The occasion arose during the recent Chinese New Year holiday when I was home to visit my mother. Peter L was in the same home area, some 15 km away and I could not resist meeting up and curious to know how much he had changed since that day when both of us was caught on B&W photo giggling away somewhere neither of us can recall. Honestly Peter L and I were not that close, he wasn't even in my class. We just shared the same year in the same school for a few years but that fleeting moment was sufficient to acquaint us. A semi-retired lawyer, he retained an easy lifestyle that many of us would envy, but not the recent mild heart attack he suffered that he fortunately recovered with little damage. On that afternoon when my wife and I drove to his house to meet him and his wife I did not know what to expect.

Peter lived in the house he had lived for over 30 years so it was homely in an established neighborhood. There were 4 cars in the compound and mine became the 5th that Peter guided inside so that the gate can close after it. Once inside we were ushered into a friendly tea room where we were served Japanese green tea and cookies and tidbits. Coincidentally his wife and mine came from the same town so they had much to talk about on their own. We chatted of old times and shared our families. There were much similarities. We both have 3 kids except he has 2 boys and I have one. He has 5 grandkids and I have 4, beating me by one. Over the 3 hours we spent in his house I discovered to Peter's great joy that we both love Cliff Richard! He played the old vinyl records of Cliff's songs on a turntable he kept in prime working condition. Then he brought out his CR concert DVDs and I was impressed. As if these weren't enough he treated us to a big screen experience in his entertainment center equipped with professional hi-fi systems and a massive collection of music and video DVDs. I was rocked off when he gave me an original copy of Cliff & The Shadows Final Reunion Concert in London in 2009 which he said he bought 2 copies. He must have known how much I love Cliff's songs and that I would appreciate the gift very much. Just to make sure I made the most of my visit I asked, and he obliged, to borrow a few of his DVDs.

Peter L's children and grandchildren were all home for the new year and we were privileged to be invited to join them for dinner that evening. It was a day I consider as most memorable.

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