Friday, May 27, 2011

Vietnamese Holiday Flavors

Vietnam is a holiday destination for me and I am more intrigued by the north rather than the central or the south. Basically going to Vietnam is exploratory and through searches on some popular Vietnamese tourism websites landed myself at these 3 highly recommended places to go. First to Hanoi city. Although it has more than a thousand years of history, marked by destruction, wars and pure calamities, Hanoi still preserves a lot of historic architectural works including the Old Quarter known as 36 business streets and over 600 pagodas and temples. And I can expect life slower and perhaps more nostalgic reminiscent of what I experienced in the 1960s.

Then the world renown Halong Bay which been recognized as world natural heritage by UNESCO not once but twice. The first was in 1994 for its beautiful landscapes. The second was in 2000 for Halong Bay’s geological formation. To enjoy this natural beauty a cruise is a must, if time permits, an overnight stay on the junk to take home a memory of a lifetime. And I shall plan for that memory.

Finally, a visit to northern Vietnam would be incomplete without taking to the hills. Sapa is close to the Chinese border and about 340 km north west of Hanoi. By train it is some 10 hours away. Sapa town is located at the altitude of about 1600m. There visitors can enjoy the spectacular scenery of Sapa and its terraced paddy fields formed by multi minority groups close to a thousand years. Here visitors can also discover totally different cultures of 7 colorful ethnic groups living there.

Yesterday I bought air tickets for a 7 days holiday to the above 3 destinations with my wife. It will be during October when Vietnam enters the autumn season, recommended to be a good time to travel there. Although it is more than 4 months away I have decided to purchase this 3 Flavor Vietnamese cuisine. In my heart I know my wife and I will enjoy it, to the city, on the sea and to the hills. Details of the holiday after it is done.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My iPad, Our Pad

It has been 6 months since the iPad become my living companion and I confess I spend lots of time with it that it has infiltrate my life. The iPad has made my dependency on my PC and notebook infrequent and only for applications that the iPad don't have. Since I access my emails, blogs and read digital news daily, the iPad provide the perfect gateway. And almost instantaneous! To a point that it has become an addictive gadget and toy. It has become a challenge to my weak eyes to squint through the tiny fonts which in some applications can be spread larger or smaller by swiping your fingers.

The home wifi is certainly a boon to my freedom and the addition of the Samsung Galaxy Ace Android smartphone over a month ago complements the iPad (mine is a non-3G model) by providing 3G Internet tethering capability, extremely useful when my broadband service is down, which has happened twice since the Galaxy became by no. 2 companion that threatens to displace the iPad as I learn to discover its usefulness more and more.

Lately the iPad had become a tool for my grand daughter Grace. She is 3 years 8 months and is starting to write numbers and alphabets. She show mild interest using the traditional method of paper and pencil but the handwriting application tools on my iPad has transformed her interest in learning. And she is absolutely attracted to the Angry Bird game that I downloaded. Plus the reading books and mathematics apps that I discovered through the Apple Store have made her an iPad fan and user. And little Andrew, her year plus brother is discovering this exciting toy and will soon fight for his right to play as well.

About the Galaxy Ace. I've always described it as a baby iPhone wannabe which sells for half the price. The iPhone is a smaller version of the iPad with the ability to make calls. However I feel that having both the iPad and iPhone is like having a bigger and smaller version of the same product. Also being an ardent Samsung mobile phone user for the past 6 years my loyalty is with this brand-name which I believe is snapping at the tail of the iPhone judging by its popularity. I got mine at RM999 and found it worth every sen. Only that in the first week or so I was dismayed by the short battery life. I had set my wifi, 3G and GPS on active modes that they drain the battery like a leaky pipe. Now I've learned how to conserve the battery life to last 2 days or more depending on usage.

The attraction of the Galaxy Ace is the extensive library of apps in its Market (Android's equivalence to Apple Store) both free and paid. As long as there is Internet connection, and it home it's is my default wifi, I can surf the Market and choose the apps I like. The feature of Galaxy Ace that auto-detect any available wifi (free and secured) made it a very convenient tool. As I get out of my house into my workplace and public space, turning on my wifi detection start the phone scanning for available services which are stored for future auto connections. This morning I was in a nearby mall and discovered no less than 10 wireless connections, some of which are free. The Galaxy Ace also becomes a GPS navigator which for its size is not very practical but handy when the need arises. There are many other productivity apps I downloaded, all free, that make using my Galaxy Ace a breeze. Since it gets email notifications when in the vicinity of a wifi zone I am never away from realtime email communication from my office and my friends. Before I get my Galaxy Ace, I thought my iPad will be my traveling companion. But now it has been relegated to second spot, and only earn priority when a larger screen becomes important. But when I need to journalise an event while on the move, the iPad will come into its own.

It is my belief that the iPad and iPhone will face serious challenges from the Android OS based devices and the coming year will see exciting developments that will free us from many over-priced products as well as enable us to move about under the shroud of a interconnected wifi service that are offered free of charge. This I am experiencing as I take my Galaxy Ace to public places. I was amazed to discover the school next to my church provides free wifi service! And the state government has started setting up Seremban where I live to be a wireless city, at least in the city centre. Truly we are living in a new era that communicates invisibly.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Happiest Day

Would be when I am recognized for what and who I am. And I don't hope it to be when my eulogy is read for my earthly ears would be sealed beyond hearing and my heart dead beyond responding.

Up to this point I guess my happiest was when my company was publicly listed last December. It was the culmination of 22 years of business endeavors not without growing pain and anxieties. It is almost like a son becoming his very own at his 21st birthday and you proudly release him to be his own man.

In the years of building up my family and my career I also stumbled into church, not by chance but by divine will. God was and is still very much in our lives, family and business and I give thanks to Him for His grace. My journey with my church is as long as that of my business. Through it all I am proud to have a great family.

But I have my sorrows too. My country went off tangent from the blessings I received. My past was happier times because there was less me and more us. Now it is the reverse and I have become part of the new culture. Each year we cross May 13 anxiously, some of us still stock up rations for emergencies (I did not) or stay alert for any sudden newsflash or SMS. The foundation for national unity was not well laid after the 1969 incident. So many of my contemporaries will continue to reflect sadly was why as a nation we never grew up. My happiest day to supercede that above would be, in my lifetime, to have a new just and people-centric government established to heal our wounds and restore our dreams. That, above all else, would even make Malaysians the happiest people.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Day without Blog

Like all bloggers and readers of Blogspot accounts I wondered the whole of yesterday what shot down Blogger. Am I glad that it is restored this morning. Yeterday's post could not be uploaded in realtime but today. However, since it was about a serious anniversary of my country I tweaked the post date to coincide with it instead of today. Hopefully our missing posts and comments will be restored soon. Here's explanation given.

Blogger is back
May 13, 2011 — permalink

What a frustrating day. We’re very sorry that you’ve been unable to publish to Blogger for the past 20.5 hours. We’re nearly back to normal — you can publish again, and in the coming hours posts and comments that were temporarily removed should be restored.  Thank you for your patience while we fix this situation.  We use Blogger for our own blogs, so we’ve also felt your pain.

Here’s what happened: during scheduled maintenance work Wednesday night, we experienced some data corruption that impacted Blogger’s behavior. Since then, bloggers and readers may have experienced a variety of anomalies including intermittent outages, disappearing posts, and arriving at unintended blogs or error pages. A small subset of Blogger users (we estimate 0.16%) may have encountered additional problems specific to their accounts. Yesterday we returned Blogger to a pre-maintenance state and placed the service in read-only mode while we worked on restoring all content: that’s why you haven’t been able to publish.  We rolled back to a version of Blogger as of Wednesday May 11th, so your posts since then were temporarily removed. Those are the posts that we’re in the progress of restoring.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Day to Forget

Exactly 42 years ago today Malaysia recorded her first race riot that transformed the social and political landscape of the nation. I was in my 2nd year at the University of Malaya ragging a new batch of students who just joined the new semester. I was in a residential college with some friends collectively teasing some freshies. It was fun to be in control when just a year earlier I was in their shoes. However, being a non-hostelite, meaning a non-residential college student, I escaped the brunt of the seniors. On that fateful night I found myself under curfew in a safe place of the college for the following week or so until the curfew was lifted and I was able to return to my rented room outside.

May 13 is remembered as an evil day like September 11. It is the day many of us Malaysians above the age of 50 would like to forget but still a lesson must be learned especially by the generation who were not there to watch or hear it happen. May 13 is ugly although it was well confined but it can be repeated if the government does not handle the race relationship well. Each year we remember this ignominious event we are ashamed to have happened in our colorful and multi-racial society. We are forgiven if we explain it took place just 12 years after our independence. We can forgive the government for being ill-prepared to handle the riots. But having 42 years of resolving the grave issue of inequality among the various racial components and finding ourselves today actually worse off is a sign of gross failure of the government that has ruled the country since independence. Today we read and hear extremist comments and incendiary remarks made by one race against another, by one religion against another, by one political coalition against another. Polarization has reached breaking point and it is because of the very tolerant nature of the majority of Malaysians that we have survived. But there are hotspots ready to break out much like 42 years ago. We surely cannot risk another repeat.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

If Only ...

It would be a lie to deny we never wish things were different, that somehow we could have been a better or different person than we are today. This inner dissatisfaction would claw our hearts when we think of missed chances, wrong decisions and delayed actions. If only ...

I sometimes wonder if I could have been someone else if I have had some of my prayers answered. As a youth three things shaped my growing years. My pimples, my lack of musical talents and my weak physique. My pimples would condition my public confidence and shy me away from making friends of the opposite sex. It however made me more aware of my academic talents so I did quite well in public exams. Maybe being engrossed in books spoiled my eyesight. I never deny old folks tale that reading in low lights can weaken your eye muscles.

Perhaps, because of staying away from parties and other social gatherings I turned towards music as an outlet to express my feelings and moods. I learned to sing in the early 1960s and I was able to pitch my notes accurately although I could not hit very high notes. I had a good rhythm and learn songs quite fast. Sadly I was unable to skill myself in playing a popular musical instrument nor know how to dance. I tried hard to learn guitar, in fact I owned 3 guitars in my life, but never acquired the discipline to play beyond strumming the basic keys. Lastly I wasn't born to be an athletic person so never excel in sports. In fact I dislike strenuous exercises and once nearly fainted while on a cross country endurance run. The only exercise I did well but since stopped playing is badminton.

What if I have had a better complexion, skillful in playing a range of musical equipment, can dance and have better physical health? Would they mold my outlook towards life in general? Would I choose a different lifestyle, mix with different companies, enter a different career, choose a different wife, have a different family? I guess all these are possible and likely but I have to give some credit to what you call destiny because what you have (and don't have) steer you towards certain options in life. You guide yourself towards whatever you feel confident in and therefore narrow down your options. Each choice directs you towards another set of sub-options from which you make your next choice, often unplanned and subconsciously done. In the process, as your personality, character and maturity grow, your outlook change and so will your range of options.

I chose an academic path towards my career which led me to meet my wife and together we built our family. My business has to be due to my choice of Chemistry for my degree major. I'm sure if part of the equation of my life had been modified, everything thereafter would have been completely different.

We cannot take full credit for the way our lives turn out. We can plan our lives but often opportunities, timing and luck would steer them to a different direction. You cannot have the cake and eat it. I realize that it is wishful thinking to become a guitarist and pursue a musical career because it would lead me towards a totally different life from what I have today. A life I would not be able to accept. If a time machine were to take me back 45 years to make changes I would hesitate getting in because I am afraid to be someone I don't know.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Handling Change

In a competitive world, change is the end result. Perhaps I should even say that change is inevitable in a healthy environment. However, I disagree with too much or too vigorous change. The human race cannot handle rapid change. In a short cycle, yes, but not for a long period. We need rest to recover from the stresses of managing change. Just consider the life of an air traffic controller or a stock broker. Both deal in a rapidly changing environment and put lives and money at risk if they misjudge in their decision. I believe they will be tired and need time out to recover. The long term damage to their health as well as their relationship with others may be worse than we can imagine.

I hate too much changes. I lived through the years when there were so little changes that, by today's standard, they were boring time. When there were few changes, we can devote more time to building relationship, relaxing and enjoying this life. Many of us scream for such opportunities but it seem we are trapped in a spinning world in which if you stand still you become irrelevant or a has been. No wonder there are so many products that claim to help people to relax.

How can we handle change we hate to be a part of? My first suggestion is to be bold and sure of what you want out of this life. Being part of the mass that moves in a popular direction does not means the best decision for you. You have to evaluate what is good for you and follow your senses. Not all change are good. It is up to each person to find out which to accept and what to reject.

Secondly, I would say that we need to listen to our body. We should not be traveling long distance on a superhighway without a rest stop. We need to take breaks and reassess if we have detoured from our intended goals. We need to service our bodies to keep them healthy and fit.

My third point is to be protective of your social grouping. Be with people who can contribute positively to your social growth. Stay away from ill habits that can derail your plans to be successful. Where possible, be the energizer and mover of good change.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Crazy Hot Days

The changing weather pattern is worrying. What I experience now, the heat wave, I used to experience 3 months earlier in my youth. In just one generation, I see a distinct shift in changing seasons. I remember a clear wintering season during the Chinese New Year period of January to March in the 1960s when I was a boy. The rubber trees would shed all their foliage creating a tropical winterland. The winds would blow hard and the dried leaves would swirl and dust would fly. During these months the latex output would reduce to less than half the usual volume. There would be drought. Come April the trees would sprout young shoots and by May the latex output would normalize. We had a really distinct seasonal change. Unfortunately this has disappeared. Wintering is no longer as severe. Usually the shedding would be interrupted by earlier onset of rain and the trees became 'confused' as which in season they were in. I am sure the changes I saw in the last 60 years are part of an accelerating global warming pattern. The same degree of change may occur in the next 30 years unless we take drastic measures to reduce energy consumption as well as avoid certain wasteful activities.

Remember when we survived without air-conditioning? OK, perhaps it was a luxury then but we were quite happy to have whirling ceiling fans and living without refrigerators. And we could get along fine sitting in non-air conditioned vehicles. But today our bodies can no longer tolerate hotter and drier days and nights. Isn't it little wonder why the malls and cinemas are packed with people getting away from the heat?

It is a fact that the world is getting warmer. The highlands in Malaysia were cool and misty in my youth. But now I feel little difference from the lowlands that I no longer enjoy going up. I prefer going to temperate countries to experience a different environment for my holidays. It may also explain why more people from the tropics are migrating to cooler countries.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Don't Start Dying at 60

After writing the previous post I thought how often we started to die once we begin our retirement. No, I don't mean it in a negative way but with declining health we are inclined to limit our activities and live more cautiously in anticipation of greater risks if we live our lives the way we are used to.

I am one of these people but feel angry that I am locking myself out of opportunities senior people often resigned themselves to be out of reach. And I envy those my age and older who are really living it up as if there is no tomorrow. Having written this I wonder if such an attitude is not of my own creation? After all no one compelled me to think this way and certainly I have resources to do what I like. Rethinking out of the box will help me stop digging my own grave early and help live a more abundant and fruitful life in my remaining years.

Having fewer choices is one common excuse. Old already! Weaker knees. Poorer vision. Heart not so good. Must eat more carefully on doctor's order. Not used to staying away from own bed, etc, etc. Self imposed imprisonment. No one can undo this except the man himself.

I often advise my staff and family: never say no but say maybe. This way you don't shut the door completely but leave a gap to reopen it. You always keep a spare key to undo any decision you made earlier in case it was decided wrongly in haste. Eat humble pie if necessary but keep your sanity up by reviewing and redoing what is right.

Growing old can be a stubborn trait to many people. Ego and pride often stand in the way of change and admission of mistakes. And being stubborn always close the door, maybe I should say slam the door, before the question asked obtained its question mark. It is a grave mistake we older people make when we attuned ourselves to say no as a default answer. We should change how we respond to the way we interact with people around us. When we say no, we inject negativity into the air, we fill our personal space with 'You are not welcomed' or 'Sorry, I'm not here'. In effect we say 'I cease to exist in your world'. But being alive and available can have a life changing impact.

You start off by being a happy self first. Happiness is not a gift someone gives you like a fairy touch you with her magic wand. Happiness is from inside yourself, a sense of wellness that you yourself decide for yourself. You can actually be happy when you are sorrowful because happiness is a standalone characteristic a person acquire through understanding what he wants out of his life. A happy person is in control of his destiny and life's changing circumstances are like changing weather. A happy person knows when to bring out the umbrella and not get annoyed or depressed by the environment. I think successful old people who are happy are positive and infectious in sharing their values, and likely to be welcomed and heard by people much younger.

I am inclined to think that that older people who are happy and know where he is heading also have a spiritual life he is comfortable with. We are after all not flesh and blood only but aside from our soul there is a spirit that keeps our body alive, that leaves when we die. A spiritual person knows where he heads upon death and has no fear in dying.

I love planning and I happen to believe that half of one's success in any venture is secured if we plan ahead and plan thoughtfully and realistically. Good planning must have a sister - frequent reviewing. Life is a lot like driving. You plan your destination, choose the route, drive and make frequent adjustments to changing driving conditions. Sometimes we can be on auto-pilot but most of the time we must stay awake at our wheel. Sometimes we set our life on cruising mode but consciously alert to brake or accelerate to avoid obstacles or danger. At whatever age we never stop driving. We can be chauffeured but we never leave the decision to the driver.

Some people draw a bell curve to represent our life cycle. The two tails stand for our childhood and our old age which have similar aspects of helplessness. There comes a time when we start to lose our mental faculty and physical coordination that require able adults to help us decide for us what to do. When that time does come we must willingly succumb to be led and fed. We are then ready to start thinking of dying. But not when we can still move, breathe and think on our own.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Alive Again After 60

A blogger friend recently wrote on 'Life Begins at 60'. Reading his long but interesting and colorful post I think his life is one that perhaps less than 5% of us can claim to be in the same league. Maybe I can even say that 99% of us lead mundane lives and I belong to that category. I choose to title this post differently because while we reckon retirement as a cut-off point there is still this 'other side of retirement' we cannot ignore. A productive albeit totally different type of life awaits those after 60. I've been following the obituary columns and noted people are dying in their 80s and 90s so there is some 20-30 years left before we queue up to kick the buckets.

How do we spend those remaining 1/3 of our earthly lives? Unfortunately some of us spend those time fussing over little things and making life difficult for others, especially our families and neighbors. Others chose freedom to do what they like. Some decided in discharging their personal social responsibility to help look after grandchildren and perform community service. These are self sacrifices requiring discipline and commitment.

Declining health is a common problem as well as excuse in justifying a laid back life. Another reason is that it is our just reward for all the hard work to raise up our families and provide for their future. But a new trend is evolving for seniors not to waste their lives but give back through social work. In the west it has happened. Retired professionals contribute their knowledge and skills in exchange for free flights, accommodation and meals to participating corporations. While at these assignments they get to take local holidays. Retired professionals can also guide the youths and share their experience on problem solving. It is a matter of discovering where their services can fit in.

There is a category of seniors who cannot retire for various reasons. Financial insecurity is one, marrying late and continuing to support their families is another. Yet a third category is business people who are needed to lead their organizations. Last are people who just cannot see themselves stop working. They will work to their dying days without regrets or remorse. To them life is all about working and providing for the welfare of future generations. Such traditional thinking is fast disappearing as today's seniors seek to balance what they owe to family and society as well as to themselves. Pleasure seeking has become an industry worth billions of dollars.

As much as we pay great attention to growing children, we are now paying attention to how older people live. It is little wonder why great publicity is given to cultivating healthy living habits for mid age adults in order that they can enjoy a healthier old age rather than becoming a burden to their families and themselves. When the time is due almost all seniors wish to go with no debilitating diseases or incapacity of body, spirit and mind. Not thinking about going Home is unreal. As we near that moment the inevitable question will pop up with greater urgency. That is when our faith becomes relevant and peace giving.

Older people are unique. Love us, hate us, we are who you who are younger will become one day. It is blessed to be old. Families with 3 or even 4 generations living under one roof or in close proximity are indeed rare and deserving to be admired in these days when the family unit is breaking up.

Monday, May 02, 2011

An Overnight Trip to Penang

My wife and I joined our daughter and husband for a trip to Penang last Saturday, they to attend a charity dinner to help the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami victims and we to see how Penang had changed/or not changed since we were last there in 2006.

Admittedly the short duration cannot produce a just and accurate impression so I depended on the opinion of a family friend who visited us on the evening of our arrival. He and his wife had stayed on the island for 21 years and would be fairly accurate in assessing if the present government is doing a better job than the previous one it ousted in 2008.

We stayed at the Hotel Royal Penang along Jalan Larut. The porter was quick to tell me that this was an old hotel, known previously as the Merlin, the Sheraton and the Dorsett. I did not have the chance to ask why so many management changes or if there were any problems before. Suffice to say that when we arrived at the hotel at 5.30pm after a long drive (no thanks to the holidaying traffic during the long Labour Day weekend) we noted the hotel facade was clean and looked new and the staff friendly and ready to serve. The hotel was also very central. We were fortunate to get a family apartment - 2 rooms with attached bath and another toilet, at the highest 20th floor and overlooking the sea and Gurney Drive.

Unlike the heavy traffic along the highway, when we got onto the Penang Bridge after paying the one way toll (RM7 for non-Penang residents, RM5.60 for the islanders) we felt like entering an easy going territory. I wonder if on a working day the scenario had not been vastly different as workers moved in and out of the island to their workplaces and homes. Once on the island we took 15 minutes to get the the hotel.

At 7pm our family friend and wife came and took us for dinner nearby. Although I had read and heard great reports about how Penang has improved under the administration of Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) a member of the opposition coalition front, Pakatan Rakyat, I need to see for myself and hear from an independent person. Maybe it is the weekend that Penang displayed its genteel and old fashioned character. Maybe Penang had gotten stuck in a frozen time machine, maybe I was not where the actions and development are. But I was actually looking for faults to tell myself that this government had not improve the life of Penangites. 'Sadly' I found the streets relatively clean (by which I am saying that it still cannot compare to the like of Singapore or Honolulu) but overall it is a clean and neat city by Malaysian standard. This my friend affirmed over dinner.

The following day we enjoyed some of the Penang delicacies as well as visited the morning bazaar along Jalan Kuala Kangsar. Here are some pictures I took.

Looks like the White Coffee craze had also hit Penang. Supposedly originated from Ipoh now everywhere there are white coffee available.

This is where we had our dimsum breakfast.

The bazaar scenes. You can buy almost anything (but I could not find an aquarium shop).

A surprised find. While driving for our assam laksa brunch I saw this familiar sign of a hotel, Ai Goh Hotel, which was where I stayed in with my late grandmother around 1960 when she took me to Penang for a visit. The hotel never change at all! I wonder if it still take in guests but appear well maintained in the exterior.

Our laksa and cendol brunch. I was dismayed that cost of food has crept up here. I remember the same laksa I ate in 2006 cost RM2.00. And the cendol cost RM1.90 a bowl if drank at the stall outside the coffee shop which levy a RM0.50 surcharge to the customer if he ordered it to consume inside. Apparently justified since the customer would not be ordering any coffee or tea from the shop.

I caught this sign at a traffic junction. Even sign-makers are riding on the Japanese tsunami tragedy to donate 10% of their proceeds to help the victims.

Ah ha! Penang is not as perfect as I thought. This is the worst I caught with my camera. As I said I cannot have the right perspective with just a 24 hours fleeting stay on the island.

Before we checked out of our apartment I took this composite panorama taking advantage of the clear morning skies. Click to enlarge. Hope you like it.

We returned to the mainland via the ferry to let the children enjoy the breeze and water.

The drive home to Seremban took 5 hours although SIL was a capable driver. The delay was caused no less by the very heavy monsoon rain that struck us from Butterworth all the way till after Kuala Lumpur with intermittent break of cloudy skies.


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